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The Words of My Father: The Paperhanger

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Welcome to a new series! From time to time, I’ll be writing about favorite sayings my dad was fond of saying. Fifty years after his death, his words still reside in my brain. They pop up at the strangest of times, unbidden and yet welcomed, the warm fuzzies spreading over me when they do, and I’ll be sharing them with you in this series of articles.

Credit for this series is due to my friend Zulma, who suggested it last week. Zulma, thank you! As always, I would do well to listen to my friends.

My Dad!

My Dad!

The First Time

I must have been ten or so. I do remember I was cleaning my bedroom, picking up toys, that sort of thing, and Dad walked in to deliver this jewel: “Bill, you’re busier than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs!”

Let that one sink in for a moment. A one-armed paperhanger would be quite busy, but one with crabs? I’m not sure I even knew, at ten, what crabs were, other than crustaceans found at the beach. What did crabs have to do with hanging wallpaper?

Dad thought it was quite funny, so I joined him in a good laugh, me not wanting to insult him by not laughing at his joke, but it took a trip to the library one day, months later, for me to discover that Dad was referring to pubic lice. Suddenly, the humor was considerably lessened with that information. Suddenly, the idea of a one-armed paperhanger, already struggling with his work, having to continually scratch his privates, well, let’s just say that pearl of wisdom has stayed with me most of my life, for good reason. How can you possibly scrub that vision from your mind?

Eleven-year old Bill

Eleven-year old Bill

More Than a Silly Saying

Anyone who knew my dad knew that hard work was hard-wired into his DNA. There is no hyperbole when I say he was the hardest-working human I’ve ever known. As I’ve mentioned many times, he dropped out of high school his sophomore year, packed a bag, and “rode the rails,” illegally jumping on box cars, riding the train from town to town throughout the Midwest, looking for work during The Great Depression.

After the war, he moved his little family out west, to Tacoma, Washington, and then spent the next twenty years working a manual labor job for a sand & gravel company. No matter the weather, no matter how he felt physically, he was up at dawn, off to work, and I literally do not remember that man taking a day off from work in all the time I knew him, not until the first of his two heart attacks forced him to bed, but then only for one week and then he was back to work.

Home each night, eat dinner, and then outside working on the lawn or landscaping or whatever, finally collapsing into his easy chair for a couple hours of television, more times than not falling asleep in that chair, exhausted, only to do it again over and over and over.

So for that man to tell me, even in a joking manner, that I was busy cleaning my room, well, that was a badge of honor for my young self. It meant my father, who I adored, approved of the work his son was doing.

It meant the world to me!

A room in need of a paperhanger

A room in need of a paperhanger

And It Stayed With Me

I got my first job when I was fifteen, working in the local bowling alley part-time, evenings, low pay but free bowling tossed in as a bonus, and I remember how proud Dad was that his son had a job and was doing that job well. And then for four years after that, summers and Christmas vacation, I worked in a fruit & produce warehouse, hard, physical labor, and you could just see on Dad’s face that he was beaming, so happy that his son was respected in the workplace, that his son had learned the value of hard work, the pride that comes from doing a job well, taking no shortcuts, giving an honest day’s labor for an honest pay.

I’ve worked, now, for fifty years, longer than my father lived. I’ve had tough jobs, lumber yards, cleaning pig pens, loading blast furnaces, and I’ve had easy jobs, but I’ve always remembered the importance of working hard, taking no shortcuts, giving an honest day’s labor for an honest pay. And many a night, after work, I have come home and done chores around the house, around the property, and fallen asleep in my favorite chair, because, well, that’s how I was raised.

An Interesting Side Note

It should be noted that there was no grand plan associated with working hard, not for my dad. He was a pragmatist, with a sprinkling of realist, although I’m quite certain those words were not part of his vocabulary. Dad did not believe that a man can be anything he wants if only he works hard enough. He did not believe his son could achieve any dream if only he applied himself properly. In fact, I firmly believe Dad knew the cards were stacked against the lower middle class, right out of the chute.

Dad had two goals regarding his son, and they were quite simple: he wanted me to have a better life than he had, and he wanted me to understand the intrinsic value of working hard. There is pride to be taken from working hard, from doing your best. There may not be awards or rewards. There may not be cheering crowds. But there is self-satisfaction, and that meant a great deal to Dale LeRoy Holland, and he wanted it to mean a great deal to me.

The Good and the Bad of It

I do believe there is great value in working hard. I believe there is great value in being known as a good worker, someone who can be counted on to deliver, but I also believe, now, that moderation is important. I had to learn that on my own, without my father for guidance.

I have learned there must be balance in life. I have learned, and this took me years to admit, that man is not known simply by the job he performs, but also by the relationships he makes, and nurtures, and by the quality of his day-to-day existence, not measured simply by sweat and toil. It’s a lesson my dad never learned. He died, three days short of his fiftieth birthday, incomplete and resigned to that fate.

I do not say that with remorse, for my father never wanted anyone to feel sorry for him. He was a shining example of Thoreau’s belief, that men lead lives of quiet desperation. He knew he had molded the life he lived. He knew he was restricted in his movements forward, and he was resigned to it. You work hard, you play hard, and you die. Life according to my Depression-Era father.

Final Thoughts

Would he be proud of me today? I think so. He was, after all, a pragmatist and a realist. I don’t think he believed, for a moment, that his only son would end up famous or rich. I think he truly believed I would have a better life than he had, and he would be happy to know that I had. And he would be beyond proud to know that I had worked harder than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs because, well, that is a thing to be proud of.

Thank you, Zulma!

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 08, 2021:

Thank you Devika!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 08, 2021:

Thank you Nithya! One day I'll be able to ask my father if he was proud of me. I hope his answer is an affirmative.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 06, 2021:

Neem trees are fascinating and nature is beautiful.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on February 05, 2021:

Thank you for sharing these precious memories with us. Your father would be very proud of you and yes moderation is the key to success and happiness in life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 05, 2021:

Gaurav, thank you for sharing that in a comment. The power of words from our loved ones....it's amazing, really, what we remember from our childhoods, and the effect it has on us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 05, 2021:

McKenna, in all honesty, that could have been a saying my dad would have lived by. I think my dad would have made a good Buddhist. He knew all about suffering and deprivation, and he accepted it as a reality of life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 05, 2021:

Thank you, Zulma! I'm never too busy for a good writing prompt, and your idea was a good one. I'll have more as time allows.

Will we see his type in the future? Honestly, I hope we never again see the circumstances which gave birth to his type. Those men, and women, were molded by times so tough I'm not sure our generation would survive. I'm afraid many of our fellow humans have grown soft thanks to technology.

Anyway, enough for the ruminations. We have a weekend to enjoy, so let's get with it.

Happy Friday my friend!

gaurav oberoi on February 04, 2021:

Hi! When I read your hub, my mind was flooded with cascading memories of my childhood, that was filled with the love and warmth of my grandparents. My Grand-Dad was a retired army man, a Captain, highly disciplined yet incredibly kind. The words of wisdom he used to offer to me and my elder brother became the foundations of our lives and characters. Unforgettable, Really!

McKenna Meyers on February 04, 2021:

Bill, your article triggered a memory about a saying that my dad would always use: "Life is hard and then you die." It reminded me how powerful thoughts and words are in shaping our lives. That expression of his defined him and limited him. What we believe is like the food that we put in our bodies; it can give us energy and sustenance or it can make us unhealthy and even sick. Thanks for triggering that memory and giving me some inspiration today!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

There is no doubt, Gilbert, my inspiration to work hard came from my father. Thank you sir!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

Oh I hope you do share them, Denise. They need to see the light of day. I, for one, would really enjoy reading them.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

Thank you DW! He was a remarkable man and he would laugh to hear that description. He didn't think he was special at all.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

Allen, I am humbled by that. Thank you doesn't seem to be enough, but that's all I have for you. I'm literally blushing right now. I'm not accustomed to such nice words about me. They raise gentlemen in Iowa, that's for sure.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

You are very kind, Marlene. Thank you so much for your friendship and loyalty.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

Thank you Pamela! Dad taught me how to be a man; Mom taught me how to be a loving man.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 04, 2021:

Sha, I hope you are correct. I suspect you are. I love the "wiggle like a worm in hot ashes." That's a classic deserving of its own story, don't you think?

Next one coming in a couple weeks. Thanks for always being here.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on February 04, 2021:

Hi Bill. Hope you're well.

Thank you for doing this, Bill. I realise you have a full plate already so I appreciate your taking the time to do this.

Your father certainly had a...colourful way of expressing himself. The whole image of him saying this to you, your confusion, and the look on your face when realization hit has had me actually laughing out loud.

Your Dad may not have had a long life, but it sounds like he did a whole lot of living regardless. He was a product of his times and I doubt we'll see his kind again. I've no doubt he's proud to see how you took his lessons to heart and applied them to create an enviable life for yourself.

A lovely start to what I'm sure will be a popular series.

Have a great day, Bill.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on February 03, 2021:

Bill, you wrote a personal heartwarming story. I understand where you got inspiration to work hard and value each day as you continue to live.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on February 03, 2021:

Your father certainly packed a lot of experience in those short years. It is remarkable the imprint our parents leave on our lives and minds. I still hear my father's little sayings as well. I began writing them down years ago because they were so unique (with the accent) I didn't want them to fade away for me or never to have been experienced by my kids and grandkids. It's hard to write an accent but I gave it some effort. I may have to share some of them for fun later.



DW Davis from Eastern NC on February 03, 2021:

Bill, your father sounds like a remarkable man, though I am sure he would eschew the description if he were to hear it said. You are his legacy, and I believe, from what I know of you through our interactions here, that you have done him proud.

Allen Edwards from Iowa on February 03, 2021:

Bill, as a new found descriptive phase took hold of me similar to what I imagine the form of those damn "crabs" scrounging amongst that hinterland of my "pubic hair forest", seeking to tap the sweet essence of said sap dripping forest..I have to use "soul-satisfying" as a almost complete description of what I feel everytime I read one of your compostions!

Thank you for your dedication to your Art Bill!

Val and Yourself make this site of great benefit to so many, and if it were not for both of your inner passions..the world -- as perceived I'm my silly little space of neuron charged cranium -- would be incomplete!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on February 03, 2021:

At least, in the world where I reside, you certainly are famous. I am going to truly enjoy and value this new series. Thank you very much for sharing your world with us.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 03, 2021:

Your father sounds like a wonderful dad. It sounds like he taught you to be a man, and a good man too. I found this article about your father very interesting.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 03, 2021:

Bill, I think your father would be proud of all you've overcome in your life to get to where you are today. I think he'd be proud that you are realizing your out-of-the-box dream of becoming a writer. He'd be proud of the kind, giving, caring man you are. I think he'd be so damn proud that he'd wiggle like a worm in hot ashes! (That's something my mom used to say to me when I was young and antsy.)

I've heard the one-armed paper hanger thing, but never with the added affliction of having the crabs. Holy crap! Can you imagine?!

I can't wait for the next in this series. What fun!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

And much love to you, Audrey, and a huge thank you. I am my father's son and very proud of it.



Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on February 03, 2021:

Bill Holland, a "chip off of the old block." Hard-working, high values, determined, giving., and much, much, more. Your father would be beyond proud of you.

It is obvious to me that he loved you very much. What a fine man he was.

You have shared something wonderful here.

Much love,


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Aww thanks, Linda! I appreciate your kindness. I hope you are feeling better. Get your energy back yet?

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on February 03, 2021:

What a wonderful gift your dad gave you--your work ethic and determination are invaluable. You give with love in your heart, expecting nothing in return. Yes, he would be so very proud of you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

We certainly can be, Peggy! I remember my dad teaching me how to shake hands...look them in the eyes, firm grip, let them know it's an honor to meet them...I will never forget!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Thank you so much, Bill! My dad lives on in me, and I am happy to say that. Bless you, buddy, and good luck with that snow.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Manatita, thank you so much. To think that the master, Sri Chinmoy, would have been proud of me is very gratifying. I will smile the remainder of this day thinking about that.

300 travels in service? Bless you a thousand times, my friend. We need to clone you about a thousand times and keep spreading the love.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 03, 2021:

Your dad would definitely be proud of you! That saying of his is a funny one. Hard work is to be admired, as is truth and morality. My dad also worked hard and died 5 years later than yours. His word and handshake was his bond. We can both be proud of the lessons our dad's taught us.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Ruby, I am still in awe that they adopted a blind child. How lucky was I? Thank you! I'm glad you liked that old saying. I still smile when I think of it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! I'm trying to immortalize him; I think we all deserve to be remembered with fondness.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

I appreciate that very much, MG, and I agree, this is how we show respect to our elders. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

I like to think that, Gyanendra, our spirt never dies. It brings me comfort to know that. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

It really is amazing, Heidi! I can't remember what I went to the grocery store to buy, but I can remember those sayings of his. :) Happy Wednesday, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Thank you very much, Rosina! I think he would have been proud, but it's nice to read your words about it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Ann, if you're starting to sound like your grandmother, then I'm parroting my grandfather. lol But I agree with you, the desire to work hard, and well, is not as common today as it was a few decades ago. Society is getting soft, me thinks.

Happy Wednesday to you, my friend!


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on February 03, 2021:

Thanks so much, Liz! I'm so happy you enjoyed it.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on February 03, 2021:

Bill, thank you sharing your father with us and his influences on you. It’s sad that he did not live longer, but for certain he is proudly looking down on his son. As I read this I thought back to my own dad and what he imparted on me, and it brings a smile to my face. Thank you.

manatita44 from london on February 03, 2021:

Bill, straight away, you reminded me of one of the two most used words in Yoga Philosophy: the mind and the Heart. The mind is described as a restless monkey, bitten by a scorpion. Probably infinitely busier than your one-armed paper-bag, bitten by crabs.

Just saying, but yes, your image is awesome and I don't want to demean it. Sorry.

Bill, I have written so much about you, that I sense the value of what you're saying here. Diligence and assiduousness, or just sheer hard work. Instilled by your father, together with moral and disciplinary values we can all learn from.

I have told you before, that Sri Chinmoy would have been proud of you. For him there was no Saturday or Sunday, and change of work was rest. He lived his entire life that way. Serve, serve, serve and never be tired of serving, was his motto. 'Time is so precious while I am on Earth.' - Sri Chinmoy

Not stealing your shine, but towards that end, I have travelled over 300 times in 46 countries or more, serving ... serving. In my last trip, I led 4 Europeans and two Africans across five countries, just a year and a half ago. 'Nuff for now.

They don't come like us these days. I started at 15 and will be 69 in 7 days. 54 years of work. I'm including the stuff at home for the last two years. I know I will love this series. Pax Vorbiscum!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 03, 2021:

This was a great read Bill. I didn't know that he died so young. I do know that your dad and mother were special because they adopted a blind baby, ' You ' I hope you will write about that aspect of your life? I have never heard of the one armed paperhanger with crabs, how funny that saying is!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on February 03, 2021:

This is so heartfelt and inspiring.

Your father has greatly influenced you and your thoughts. He would have been so proud of you.

Thank you for sharing your personal stories, so much relatable to my own.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on February 03, 2021:

This is a wonderful article you shared Bill. I liked reading every word of it and what a wonderful picture you created of your dad. This is how we must respect our elders, thank you.

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on February 03, 2021:

Bill, Thank you for sharing your Dad's story. He is surely proud of you in spirit. Because our spirit never die. He's would have been amazed of you to know the fact that his son mentors around the world. Thank you again.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 03, 2021:

Isn't is funny what we remember of those who are no longer in our lives? In reflection, we can see how those funny little things made us what we are.

Thank you for sharing these memories with us!

Rosina S Khan on February 03, 2021:

I am glad your Dad would have been proud to see who you are today, having a much better life than he did. Thanks for sharing this educative article, which certainly is a good lesson for every reader, Bill. Have a great week.

Ann Carr from SW England on February 03, 2021:

Absolutely wonderful! Brilliant! Your pride in your father shines through and I love those sayings. Funny that most families have them, isn't it? Even some going on to the next generation.

We all need to recognise the importance of working hard. There doesn't seem to be so much these days - oh dear, I'm beginning to sound like my grandmother!

Have a great Wednesday, bill, and a wonderful week.


Liz Westwood from UK on February 03, 2021:

This is a fascinating article. I really appreciate the way you have taken this phrase as a starting point to explore your Dad's life and attitudes, leading on to an exploration of your own.

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