I would have been a terrible plumber

Somewhere there is a photo of when I was born where my father had painted “And Son” on the end of “Lloyd Hopgood, Plumber” which was on the side of his Humber 90 or the trailer it towed. It seemed that my fate was sealed.

As I got older I went through the usual phases of following dad around as he grew his company he bought from his father (more pressure for me to be a plumber) and grew it as Cromwell grew with the Clyde Dam project. I used to hang around the workshop watching what he and the men he worked with making flashings, soldering, cutting sheet metal, bending and welding copper pipe. They pretty much did everything plumbing, drain laying and roofing related except for gas.

The early 80’s arrived and things for Cromwell Plumbing and Drainage really took off. The government had decided to build the Clyde Dam which meant Cromwell was chosen to house the workers for that project and a number of others on the Clutha River. Some 300 houses, a new high school with gym and auditorium, and a new town centre were built from around 1977 to 1985 and dad was in the thick of it as well as continuing with maintenance and domestic work. All awesome stuff and I’m extremely proud of what dad and his company achieved.

Somewhere along that path I lost the plumbing bug. Also, I discovered that I wasn’t very good “on the tools”. Though not completely useless, I’m missing the craftsman gene that my grandfather, father and also two great uncles had.

For sure, I could do the work however, a successful tradie has to do a very good job at a very good pace. To me, that didn’t quite work. I could either do an OK job slowly or a crappy job fast. Dad wasn’t the best teacher for me either though he’d always seemed to have an apprentice and they went on to be successful. I frustrated dad as to him it all seemed quite natural as he’d been working for years in the field and his expectations were that I’d do the same.

Sick and tired of years of “you’ll be a plumber, just like your dad” remarks, well meaning as they were, got on my nerves. I stopped paying attention to what was going on and only helped when I was asked to the point of “get your backside moving and lend a hand” was the motivating force so to speak. My behaviour was typical of a teenager at that stage, in hindsight, though I was OK at helping with the office work. Then I left school, home, Cromwell and went down the IT path.

Dad kept going of course. The massive projects finished, Cromwell and the general economy in the early 90’s went into a slump (dad could not have offered an apprenticeship to me even if he’d wanted to and there were only three for all trades in Central Otago at the time). Some people wrote it off as another Twizel which I knew was wrong as Cromwell had been a busy small town before the projects and now had top infrastructure and a lake.

Late 90s’ and through to 2007-8 Cromwell had a resurgence and dad was busy again. He retired about eight years ago and wound the Cromwell Plumbing and Drainage up after over 45 years of continuous activity.

I felt sad. I think back to all that activity and all those guys working.

I feel a certain amount of regret that I didn’t pay attention to how things work and how things get fixed.

When I go “home” to visit dad we sometimes go for a drive around to see how much Cromwell has changed and I particularly enjoy when he points out what he did. That’s a key difference between what he did and what I do in IT, working for someone else. He can see it. He also always says “we did that” rather that “I did that”.

I’m not 100% sure about why I’ve not followed the entrepreneurial or business path that dad took as he has shown how it is done and I’ve worked in consulting too. I think it is because I saw first hand the toll working that hard for that long took on the family side of things. The balance wasn’t always right though I certainly understand why.

A business owner, particularity subcontractors in construction, is constantly hunting for the next job while finishing the current one and there is a risk of the builder not paying. Also, it isn’t just the business that needs to be kept well oiled but there is the responsibility to get that next work to keep the guys working as they have families to feed too. I have a huge appreciation for the trades and small business in what they do day in and out.

I’m thankful for what I have however, I regret that I rebelled against taking an interest in what dad did at the time. I didn’t appreciate enough what was right under my nose.

Still, I would have been a terrible plumber.


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