Work boots with red shoelaces.
They sat in my father’s closet.
Way back in the corner.
Peeking out from under a pile of dry cleaning.
As a child, they always stuck out to me. As I would play among the dress shoes and loafers, this pair seemed so out of place. I never saw him wear them, not once. The father I knew was a businessman with a closet full of dress shirts and suits. He set off each day for Union Pacific working his way up the ranks of the corporate world, armed with both a college degree and an MBA.
It was only after he was taken from us much too soon, at the age of 45, that I began putting the pieces together. In hearing his brothers reminisce about the summers my dad had gotten them jobs working in the rail yard (they still claim it is the hardest work they have ever known), I learned that he worked right alongside them. Before the fancy suits and wing tips, my dad worked in the yard, first as a laborer and then as a time keeper. It was while working for Union Pacific that he had the opportunity to go to college. His career gathered steam as he moved out of the field and into the office. He went on to complete his MBA and the momentum continued.
My father’s drive and ambition coupled with the opportunities afforded him by UP, gave him the means to provide for our family. My sisters and I knew a comfortable and stable upbringing because of the education my dad earned while working for the railroad. An education that continued to serve him after his time at UP, opening up career paths that a young kid with a high school diploma could never have imagined.
I didn’t make the full connection to those work boots until my own career crossed paths with Union Pacific. I think it would amuse my dad to know I now work at an advertising agency and my client is UP. In my role, I too have been afforded some pretty amazing opportunities. I have attended the Democratic National Convention, ridden on the Heritage Fleet and visited the Library of Congress.
One of my first major projects required spending considerable time in the rail yards. And because it is always “safety first” at UP, I needed a pair of steel toed boots. It was in that moment, standing in the store, that it clicked. The boots that had gathered dust in my dad’s closet had been the work boots he wore during his early days with the railroad. They had been the start of a career that provided for our family.
So now I have a pair of work boots that sit in my office gathering dust, red laces and all. I am never quite sure where my involvement with UP will take me next. But I am prepared for anything, just like my dad.