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My dad’s formal schooling ended after the ninth grade. There was a small event, popularly known as “The Great Depression” (you may have heard of this), that encouraged him to get into the workforce at an earlier age than he had previously anticipated.
He starts a trucking company. In a few years, after enormous hard work and hustle, the company is a success. By “success” I don’t mean he became a millionaire. I meant he and his loved ones all had three hots and a cot; he had a nice ride (a Packard), and soon a great gal a.k.a. my mom, and wanted for little.
When he was in his early twenties he ran into one of his former school teachers in a local tavern. The teacher said to Dad, “Oscar, too bad you had to quit school. You had a lot of brains.”
My dad, by then a successful entrepreneur who was making more scratch than the teacher, responded, “Brains? I can buy brains.”
Dad loved to tell that story. It always put a big smile on his face and it puts a big smile on my face writing it.
It’s a story that’s easy to misunderstand. Dad was not putting down the importance of learning. He didn’t say, “I don’t need brains.” He said he could buy them. Or to put it with less bravado, he could get brains in ways other than formal schooling.
The five ways below can work well by themselves, but work best when combined.
Dive In & Do
I have a saying around the homestead when it comes to repairs and renovations,
“If it doesn’t involve electricity, water or making something an eyesore that would tick off the Smokin’ Hot Wife, I’ll probably give it a shot.”
Once I rule out the dangers of electric shock, flooding my home or ticking off the Mrs., I’ll see what I can do. And every hardware store across the fruited plain is full of Old School men doing the same thing. Save Angie’s List for the stuff you can’t handle. Do your own HoneyDew List.
Books (printed, ebook & audio)
Growing up I’d see commercials on TV for career schools for auto repair, heating, electricians and I’d always think, “My dad can do all that stuff and he never graduated from high school.” How did he learn? He dove in, did and he read. He didn’t have a big library, but the one he had was packed with technical books on all these subjects.
Old School guys read. And when they need to, they read deep. This next point isn’t so much of a rant, but a bemused observation. Lately I’ve noticed a number of atheists stating, “I read the Bible every day.” I’m not sure if this is some sort of proclamation of open mindedness on their part or just a way to defend their arguments. Either way, it has limits. Most atheists see the Bible as a collection of stories written by a culture a few thousand miles and a few thousand years away. Don’t you think an experienced guide would be a help? Try this: Tim Keller’s New York Times bestseller, The Reason for God. Start reading this and you will get on the road to reading deep and beyond comments like the pithy tripe (“tripe” — good word) that litters Facebook — “Darwin is highly offended by your stupidity.” Ditch that lightweight banter and actually engage people and, who knows, you might be able to sit at the adult table next Thanksgiving.
Audiobooks redeem driving time. While I’m sure you would love to hear the political opinions of some guy on the radio (is there a font for sarcasm?) you’re much better off with an audiobook. All those Old School classics you pretended to read in high school and college (Is Cliff Notes hyphenated?) you can listen to now.
I am 100% sure that more than 50% of the dads and moms who put on a scouting uniform didn’t know diddly about the outdoors and other scouting stuff at first, but they didn’t let that stop them from volunteering to help their own kids and others. Same for every volunteer firefighter and medic.
Youtube & other online sources
Shortly after I built my chicken tractor, I found myself showing it to every guest we had in our home for the first few weeks of its existence. I am pretty sure this bored the tar out of some very polite people. (Of course I could be wrong. Those looks of despair, eye contact avoidance and their statements of “I bet your wife is missing us up at the house” could have been red herrings.)
The truth is I knew these people were bored, but I just didn’t care or, more accurately, I couldn’t help myself. I think Old School men are a lot like that cat that insists on showing you the mouse he just killed. Yeah, he knows you think it’s gross, but, “Looky!! Looky!! I got me a mouse!”
This all has been facilitated YouTube. Now a guy is not limited to boring friends with his chicken tractor. Now he can bore people he hasn’t even met.
Enter the guy who actually wanted to build a chicken tractor, a.k.a. Me. Rather than having one guy tell in a book tell me what to do, I am able to tap into the smarts of hundreds of guys who have actually done it and are looking to tell people how they did it.
It’s amazing how three or four questions to the right person and five minutes can take the place of hours of research.
I have a friend that owns and runs a pick-your-own organic farm. He’s what I’d call a gentleman farmer, in that farming is not his primary source of income. But aside from the scope of his operation, he’s the real deal and knows his stuff. Next spring I’ll be planting an area about 1/10 the size of his, which coincidentally is commiserate with my level of agricultural knowledge compared to his. But his friendship and availability to answer questions has and will add demonstrably to the success of my efforts. It’s amazing how three or four questions to the right person and five minutes can take the place of hours of research.
Keep it Old School, my friend
The Old Man