Take the Daughters to Work

by Hadley Duncan Howard

In my pre-teen years, my Grandpa developed a habit of taking me to work with him. I spent many a Saturday with him in his seventh-floor office, straightening reams of paper and drinking Coca-Cola. He needed my help, he said, putting labels on envelopes or organizing office supplies or alphabetizing something. He never spoke to me much – he seemed to be a man of few words, unless there was a story to be told – but I felt even then that he invented this work for me as an expression of his love and an opportunity to connect. He proudly showed me off to all his colleagues, letting them know, in my presence, how invaluable my expertise was to the success of the operation as a whole. He paid well, and insofar as “say yes to snacks” can be a policy for living, it was his. He was a Grandpa with twinkly eyes and a gift for turning a phrase, and I was devastated when he died in the middle of my eighth grade year.

When I think back on those few years, all those times he invited me to work for him, the one memory that remains the clearest is a conversation we had while I freed paperclips from the bondage of their immense chain. I was sitting at Grandpa’s secretary’s desk, and was enjoying myself so much that I told him I wanted to be a secretary one day, just like Sandy, his secretary and dear, lifelong friend, and work in an office on the seventh floor, maybe one that smelled of coffee and ink and importance.

“You are a very capable young lady,” he replied. “Don’t be a secretary. Have one.”

And there it was: the moment when I began to grow up.

It was then that a dim awareness began to seep into my teenage semi-consciousness, the idea that I would, indeed, eventually come of age and would therefore become some fill-in-the-blank answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was then that I understood that I was powerful enough to fill in that blank for myself.

It was then that I realized my parents’ constant and abiding counsel to aim high and achieve wasn’t just rhetoric, but a way of life, a plan for happiness, an avenue of worship through gratitude and duty. It was then that I started to understand that I had an obligation to fulfill – to others, yes, but primarily to myself – to become Someone, to give place to the Capable Me that I already was.

Many years have passed since the rainy autumn afternoon when this five-second exchange got stuck in time. What interests me now is the acknowledgement that Grandpa was so progressive for his generation, that he sought opportunities to introduce me to his world, that he encouraged me to see my options for what they are and choose wisely for myself.

I’m so grateful to my Grandpa for his influence in my life, for the types and shadows of his goodness and wisdom and wit I glimpse in the woman I’ve become. I’m a family-oriented professional woman; I couldn’t have authentically become anything else.

And part of that provenance is a twinkly-eyed, rather portly, quietly emphatic encourager – male – who told me I could.

9 Comments on “Take the Daughters to Work

  1. I know many an executive who would fail for want of an exceptional assistant. Each person has unique talents and if those talents are of the secretarial variety, that person should be deeply appreciated for them.

    • Without question! I’ve known many an assistant who was infinitely more professional and capable than the person being assisted! My grandpa would’ve been lost without his assistant, who he loved, appreciated, respected and worked with for many years (and who I still send Christmas cards to!). His point wasn’t that secretaries aren’t valuable, but rather that it’s important to choose your work deliberately, and not let it choose you by default. He was from a “women are either teachers or nurses, if anything at all” generation. He was ahead of his time in his views on “women’s work.”

  2. This is such a sweet, wonderful, and powerful post. I wish all grandpa’s could be like yours.


  3. Delightful, insightful . . most of us can relate to someone like grandpa . . . a someone with quiet and observing wisdom

  4. Delightful! I remember the disappointment my dad felt when I told him that I wanted to be a teacher–his response was “Why not a principal?” In the years since he has come to understand that I’m exactly where I want to be and feel the most fulfilled; but I’ve never forgotten how important it was to my dad that I didn’t settle; and that I not limit myself into being “just” anything.

  5. You have inspired me to bring my grand kids into my career world. Thanks.

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