A Downeast Father’s Day reflection

We all try to emulate our parents in one way or another. Whether it is with subtle elements of our personalities, or attempting to follow one of them in their footsteps, such as an occupation. We strive to succeed by following their examples and guidance in pursuit of a better life. But here in Downeast, there is work, and with that comes an intense desire to learn and follow the lead of a parent. The young watch and learn, and ultimately end up doing what it is they learned, no matter what life has thrown their way. Perseverance is deftly on display in the commitment that it, the work, will continue no matter what.

Growing up in Pennsylvania I watched my father go to work and make a living as a carpenter. Occasionally he moonlighted on weekends or evenings, building things for people to use or places for them to live. As I grew older, the watching ended and the process of doing things took hold. I found myself tagging along with my father, observing and helping where I could. Those lessons stuck, as I found out much later in life. Things I never thought about as we did them together have never left; they were always there, underneath the other experiences in life. The skills learned back then matter now, and as we carve out this new life for ourselves, I find myself drawing upon them more and more and thinking about those days with my father. In a sense, the memories became skills, and today’s building projects in Maine are a memory of those days with my father on the job sites in Pennsylvania. A really cool thought.

Go down to any harbor here in the early morning hours as the sun blinks above the horizon and you will pretty much see the same thing I experienced as a boy, the only difference being the very serious focus attached to the activity. The young watch the old; the old teach the young. This is done not only with words but also with touch, hands on experiences as well. Whether it is tethering a boat, preparing bait for the ride out, or simply loading and stacking tackle or traps, doing is learning. The sound of it is magical and the rhythm of it soothes the soul. It is a cadence that can only be found if one looks for it. It is this Downeast cadence that provides for families and makes this place special.

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The way we make a living is a primary objective for all of us. Sometimes we like the job we have, sometimes we do not, but we all know in order to live life we must do something. This area does not offer many job opportunities. Industries are centered on fishing and timber and have been that way since pretty much the beginning of time. At least that is the way it seems and that is ok, because I think it is this limitation that sets in motion a determined spirit and a true sense of stewardship over a place that is both hard and beautiful. Downeasters learn from each other and exemplify the true spirit of teamwork. If industries were bountiful and jobs were plenty, then this place we call home would not be the Downeast we have come to know and love, which is a sad thing to contemplate.

On trips home to Pennsylvania I find myself sometimes driving to some of the spots I worked along side my father. I look to see if the small buildings and deck projects are still there. They are. I also see some of his work on a much grander scale, in the bricks and mortar of institutions of learning, medicine and recreation, buildings that provide service and in their own way provide a cadence to life there.

Here in Maine I sometimes go down to the nearby harbor and often see examples of what I experienced with my father. I see plenty of sons learning and, most assuredly, following in the footsteps of a father or grandfather. I look out to the waters deep and cold, and imagine the young on the docks doing the same thing, looking out and seeing their buildings of work with a father on a sea of experience. I look on this with fondness and smile, as I now know where it all came from and how it started. And like those lyrics from an old Dan Fogelberg song, I am reminded that it still goes on here today as it did yesterday. “It’s father and son, it’s the way it’s been done since the old days.”

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over a year ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.