The hotel routine fostered impartial contemplation. In spite of myself, I excelled at organizational productivity. I worked my way from managing the café, through night audit-an accounting function, right up to a support position in the executive offices where I was proficient without prostituting my integrity.
While I was home, my father took me out to trial a new hull design. He asked me about my work. We talked about the financial aspects of running a business, the things the customer doesn’t attach a dollar value to. He told me what happened when he lost the yard and my mother bailed on us. When they married she came from nowhere with nothing. He loved her the way she was. She was happy and pretty. Maybe she was pretty because she was so happy. She laughed a lot, so did he. I remember that.
He was always more of a boatbuilder than he was a businessman. My granddad was the businessman; Frankie managed yard operations. My father was learning the business from the outside in. He’d only been working with Frankie a short while when my granddad died. The business part of the yard died with my granddad. He carried it all in his head. There were ledgers that illustrated the cash position but the crucial thing was my granddad’s knowledge. My father didn’t understand that the yard stayed solvent because it was self-sustaining. My granddad made improvements and hired as he could afford it. He did not borrow from the bank. Frankie never questioned the way the business was run; if there was money available for purchases, fine, if not he waited until there was.
My father borrowed money for expansion; the economy dipped, orders dried up. He was heavily leveraged. A private equity firm bought him out for a fraction of what the business was worth. They managed the finances and left him and Frankie in place to manage labor and operations. My mother saw my father transition from a business owner to an employee overnight. She didn’t like seeing herself as a workingman’s wife so she left. My father never relinquished the dream of owning the yard again. I knew it was only a dream and I knew it was his only dream.