Winter Musings: Dad showed how to get jobs done, brick by brick by ...

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School's starting again, and I hope the lesson I tried to drum into my daughter's brain last semester stuck.

She had a full-blown crisis of confidence before finals and burst into tears over an avalanche of schoolwork she kept putting off until she was completely overwhelmed. She avoided telling me because she thought I'd be angry, which I was, but unfortunately, I understood.

It doesn't matter how many times a parent interrogates, cajoles or threatens (and believe me, I did all three) -- some kids are just procrastinators. I have two of them. Karma lovingly passed it down via my shady genes, but I've worked hard to move beyond it.

I'm still terrible about sending timely birthday gifts, but when I have work to do, I've learned to do it right away. I learned the hard way that procrastinating and worrying just made things worse.

I was lucky; I had a great teacher -- my dad. He was a union bricklayer, and proud of it because he came to this country with nothing more than his clothes and a desire to work.

Learn a trade, they told him. His fifth-grade education and lack of funds limited his possibilities, but since he loved physical work, being outdoors and building things, bricklaying suited him. He learned his trade well and was one of the most sought-after brick masons around Beaver County.

When our family no longer fit in our first home in Rochester, my dad knew what he had to do: build a house. For some that would be overwhelming. For Dad, it was just a matter of beginning. He approached everything that way. "You just gotta do it," he'd say.

And that's what I told my daughter. He started, and every day he did what he had to, to the best of his ability. Whether it's a house, a college degree or a homework assignment, the hardest part is getting started and doing it every day.

After working a full day at his job, he'd work on the house in the evenings and on weekends. He started with 12-inch blocks in the basement. Were they heavy? Absolutely. Did he sweat bullets? He certainly did.

But he showed up every day and worked hard. Pretty soon the house started taking shape with course after course of red brick.

My mother was his mortar mixer. The two of them worked side by side, and brick by brick, and the house went up. It took two years, but in the end, they had a lovely home in New Brighton large enough for our family. They took great pride in it.

After I told my daughter the story, I realized how similar it is to the story in "Bird by Bird," the book about writing by Anne Lamott. In it, she tells how upset her little brother was at the prospect of doing a report on birds. He procrastinated, too, and his father gently sat him down and told him to just do it bird by bird.

Ms. Lamott and I were lucky to have fathers who knew the meaning of hard work, whether they were building a house, brick by brick, or writing a report, bird by bird.

I think my daughter got it. She worked non-stop on her schoolwork for weeks, finishing one project after another. There were no more tears, just the satisfaction of knowing she accomplished what she needed to and did it to the best of her ability.

My dad would have been proud.

Fran Tunno of Los Angeles, a copywriter and voice actress formerly from New Brighton, can be reached at

The PG Portfolio welcomes “Winter Musings” submissions touching on this time of year, in addition to other reader essays. Send your writing to; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.

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