My Father’s Business

In appreciative wonder of God's handiwork we become like little children again



In 1944, my father worked as an apprentice electrician at Bethlehem Steel’s East Boston facility, one of eighteen American shipyards that built 2,710 Liberty Ships as supply transports for WWII. Between 1941 and 1945 the facility cranked out three ships every two days. By the next year my father was a master electrician and launched his own marine electrical contracting business. In a small brick building on Border Street, his business repairing damaged Navy vessels flourished.

One day he showed me off, his first-born at age seven, to his loyal crew. As Dad toured me around his work shop, we passed wooden storage bins stacked to the ceiling with electrical hardware. His employees paused work for a moment to smile and shake my hand. Each wore a gray company uniform with their first names on them.

My immigrant Italian grandfather worked below in a dirt-floor cellar, stripping insulation off coils of spent cable. Dad let me climb down, and Grandpa stopped to help me off the ladder. His function beneath the surface intrigued me, with its piles of scrap copper, boxes of used nuts and bolts, and stacks of salvaged parts, where nothing went to waste.

I climbed back to the awesome machinery and tools in Dad’s work shop. He took my hand and walked me to a windowless back room fitted with belt-driven machinery. He pressed a green button and a motor started churning a wide link-belt. It circulated over a series of ceiling pulleys, each separately feeding power, if needed, to his lathe, grinder, drill, and bench saw. While I watched he refurbished a worn out motor commutator with a diamond bit, turning, grinding, and polishing it to a shiny-new brass finish. When he applied voltage, the rebuilt motor revved up to speed, as if Dad had resurrected the dead.

To a lad my age, it was overwhelming to be the boss’s son, revered as potential heir to my father’s business. I gawked about the place, wondering how my father could do so many things. Someday I would learn to own and operate everything my eyes surveyed. I suppose not many children have had opportunity to enjoy such pride and joy in their dad. It was a glorious feeling for me to bask in his success, as if I myself had earned it.

Some 70 years later, my father’s business still lives in my memory. During my morning walk, at age 79, I pass construction sites that revive my childhood experience of awe.

I stop to marvel how a 136-unit apartment block was wholly demolished in one day. Two excavators separately attacked each end, their enormous five-tooth buckets devouring storied rooms in crashing thumps. All the cables, doors, windows, and beams were strewn upon a tangled heap of rubbish to be hauled away. Dust and smoke lingered over that demolition site like the ghosts of events past and forgotten, making room for the future.

Farther on I see new apartments being built in different stages: this one framed in wood, that one laced with wire mesh for a stucco finish. A hundred workmen wearing heavy tool belts cat-walk the staged platforms, some hauling, others sawing and drilling. The sound of nail guns rat-a-tat as if waging war. This is where an old ethnic market and restaurant stood not four months ago, before machines with human handlers arrived to destroy the old and make way for the new.

Gazing upon all this, I feel like I’ve become a little child again, as when my giant of a father gave me a tour of his workshop. Only now it’s my heavenly Father who allows me to admire His machines and countless workers. He shows me that honey bees gathering pollen from an aromatic lilac bush are following strict orders, diligently working at His business of preserving life. Along our walk together, He stops me to also observe His army of black ants in a long trail, undertaking a dead raven from curbside, to recycle its parts in their subsurface nest, where nothing goes to waste.

His Word commands all the agents of life on Earth: every stream quenching the thirst of plants and animals, every prey dying in sacrifice to a hungry predator pregnant with cubs. He orders the trees to breathe in our CO2 and exhale oxygen in a vital relationship. His domain has galactic reach, lighting up the sky with that daystar we take for granted.

God’s global corporation runs the biosphere of Earth itself, allowing Man to exist. In appreciative wonder of all these things, I see “my Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). It seems God whispers to me, Because you’ve turned and become like a little child, enter my kingdom as my beloved son — its glory is yours to behold (cf. Matt 18:3).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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