Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Oh Lord! What have I done?

I came from a family that couldn't afford to send me to college.  I had to work my way through with the help of the G.I. Bill, which I earned by serving four years in the Air Force.  So, I have little sympathy for those who whine about how difficult or expensive it is to get a college education.  Where there's a will, there's a way.

Besides, a piece of paper from one of today's diploma mills pretty much does nothing more than guarantee you'll spend the rest of your life working for someone else, but that's another story.

This story is about my oldest daughter and when it came time for her to go to college.

As luck would have it, this time came not long after her mother and I had separated and both of us were struggling to get back on our feet financially.  But we were determined to make it easier for her than it was for us and decided the best and most affordable route was for daughter to get an associate's degree from a community college and then transfer to a major university to finish out.  The same route I took.

By doing this, all she needed was a little part-time job to help with living expenses and her mother and I would take care of everything else.

Needless to say, we were both distressed and angry when daughter decided, a year-and-a-half into her two year degree, that she wanted to join several of her friends and attend out-of-state Auburn University in Alabama.  By doing so, she would lose virtually all of the college credits earned so far.  A year-and-a-half pissed down the drain.

I was very angry and told her, "I can't stop you, but if you do this, you're on your own.  There is no way in hell I can afford out-of-state tuition."

Determined, she went anyway.  She got around part of the problem by transferring to a community college that accepted many of her earned credits and where she could live with friends and establish residency, greatly reducing the cost of tuition.  But still, she was on her own.  She was going to have to work her way through school.

Things were pretty rough.  She took jobs in the service industry and struggled to make ends meet.  But all the while, she continued her studies and soon transferred to the university.  I truly couldn't help much, but now and then I would send her a little and helped her buy a car, etc.

Then one day I got an excited phone call, she had landed a coveted job as a bartender at The Supper Club, where the money was really good.  While I wasn't crazy about the idea of my little angel being a bartender, I did like the idea of her working at a supper club where she would at least be around a higher class clientele.

A few months later I decided to pay her a visit and drove up to "The Loveliest Village On The Plains."  Auburn really is a pretty little village.  A typical college town, dominated by the university and all that surrounds it, but the town itself, the neighborhoods and surrounding farmlands, is quite lovely.

Daughter went out of her way to entertain Daddy.  She directed me to the big old barn of a house she shared with three other girls and they all pitched in to make me feel at home.  They even made me dinner which we, of course, ate off of paper plates.  It was a lovely evening and when it came time for daughter to go to work, off we went to the supper club.

I protested that I needed to return to my motel to change into some nicer clothes but was assured by daughter that jeans and t-shirt were fine.  Still, I felt uneasy going to a nice club looking like a slob.

After a short drive to the outskirts of town, we pulled off of the road and into the unpaved parking lot of a run-down, concrete block honky-tonk.  Across the front of the faded orange and blue building was emblazoned, "The War Eagle Supper Club!"

My heart sank.  Oh Lord, what have I done.  I've thrown my little girl to the wolves.

As we walked up to the front door of the windowless building my heart sank even lower.  Next to the front door was a plywood ticket booth with a sign that read "Memberships."  This was another one of those "private" clubs designed to skirt the laws of a dry county which allow only private clubs to serve alcohol.  The price of admission was your club "membership." 

Once inside things only got worse.  It was a dump.  Beat up tables and chairs.  Broken linoleum tile floor.  Black ceiling with black lights.  A mosh pit dance floor.  The men's urinal was a tiled floor level trough that ran the entire length of one wall.  But I did note that as foul as it looked, the place was clean and there was no expected odor of stale cigarettes.

Soon daughter had the entire staff out to meet Daddy.  They were all as friendly and warm to me as possible and it was clear, they all loved my daughter.  Drinks were on the house for Daddy.

As the college-aged crowd started to arrive, I took the time to wander around and take a closer look at the place.  The one thing that struck me right off was how friendly the staff were to their patrons and, more importantly, to each other.  As the evening went on, it was clear that they were not only friends, but good friends, family.  Laughing and joking with each other, always willing to give someone a hand. The owner, John, looks out for his "people."

Out back was a BBQ pit, a volleyball court, and an old school bus with a front tag that read, No DUI.  Anytime a patron got too tipsy to drive their keys were confiscated and they were given a ride home, at no charge.

The place was packed.  On football weekends it was not unusual for daughter to bring home $300-$400 in tips each night.  To give you a better idea of how popular this place is, the bands play for the gate receipts.  I am told that on one football weekend, a very popular band collected $12,000 over two nights @ $2 a head admission.  Simple math tells you that 6,000 patrons came through the Supper Club over that two night period.  Supper Club alumni include Dave Matthews and Taylor Hicks.

My fears were totally unfounded.  It turns out that what appeared to be neglect and carelessness was actually brilliant business sense.  This place was designed so that no amount of student or football fan partying and abuse could damage it and it could be cleaned with a fire hose.  It was the ideal spot for kids to let off steam in a safe, non-violent environment.

A year or so later, daughter graduated.  I swelled with pride and tears filled my eyes when her name was called and she walked onto the stage to receive her diploma.

She did it on her own.


  1. Sounds like a cool place, to work & play. Isn't it funny how some of the worst first impressions are totally unfounded?

  2. Beautiful, Mr. C. I understand how tough it is to do what is ultimately the right thing, vs. the safe or easy thing, with our kids.

  3. Mr C, that right there is one of the best goddamn posts I've read in a long time.

    I never went to college but I think that's fairly typical for business owners.

    While I'm sure that even if you had paid for her tuition at Auburn, she would have done well, the fact that she had to rely on herself to get through school probably taught her a lot of real-life responsibilities that other peers of hers wouldn't realize until after school.

    When I was 23 I decided to go into business myself (window and siding renovations). I had saved up around 30k and I put billboards up, big newspaper advertisements, direct mail, etc...

    Well I really did a good job of making my company appear to be this gigantic operation not just a young salesman working out of his house. Well one time a customer decided to 'visit' the office and got extremely confused when they saw an apartment building haha.

    They were looking for what they figured was some gigantic building full of showrooms and galleries, etc. It wasn't too long that I was able to get an office and my own house but your story reminded me of those times and how you can't 'judge a book by it's cover.'

  4. Diane... it is a great place... but still a honky-tonk and the hours are long and late.

    Intelli... I wish I could take credit for knowledgeable tough love, but the truth is, I didn't have the money to spoil her.

    Thank you Mr. C. You are living proof of two things, you don't need a college degree to be successful, or even educated, and a little moxie goes a long way.

  5. Wow, congrats on having done a pretty damn good job of parenting. You definitely taught her to have a killer work ethic as well as the importance of being independent.

  6. Wow. You know I teach college. I admire your daughter and you as a father. Wow.

  7. Beautiful post. Thank you. All I can think with a 14 year old now is sheeeeeesh. The expenses are so tremendous. In my family, college wasn't a choice. It's just something you do. In Husband's family, it was different. We're trying to lean toward the "not a choice" thing. I see some student loans in his future. But $3-400 tips isn't a bad thing. Congratulations for you and your daughter making it through this time!

  8. I probably should have dated this piece. This all occurred in the late 80's and back then, even now, $300-400 in tips was huge.

  9. my youngest is having to work part-time too, as a divorced one-parent household times now are tough! Sometimes all we can do is let go and hope they'll dig in and make it through the tough times, looks like yours did just fine; hope mine does as well.

  10. A really great story. I'm glad that she did it her way and that she had such a great place to work. Thanks for sharing this.

  11. I can totally relate to this, as it is facing us in four years.

    It sounds as if your daughter's head is screwed on straight. You are, and should be a proud peacock dad.

  12. Mr C, your family story is very encouraging. Velvet goes back to school next week, and even though I already felt like everything was totally cool, I feel even better after reading about your daughter.
    congrats to you both

  13. You must have done a pretty good job raising her. I think it was great that she had the backbone to do what she wanted to, yet was still able to graduate.

  14. Hi Mr. C,
    I haven't been around for awhile but it was nice to drop in on this post. It sounds like you raised your daughter well to be independent and self reliant but one who still understands the value of good friends and family. I think you have earned the right to be proud of your daughter and your own role as father.

  15. Great post, from a father proud of a fine daughter. Life is good.


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