Dead Skunks

It would be an understatement to say that I am proud of my children.  I have written about them many times in this column, and I have even occasionally included pictures without their consent.  My sons and daughter are, of course, no longer children, but adults with families and careers of their own.  I received a call from my youngest son earlier this week letting me know that he experienced something as an assistant city administrator that has never happened to me during my somewhat longer career.  It seems that a disgruntled resident of Adair Village put a dead skunk on the steps of City Hall as a way of punishing the City for sins real or imagined.

My son was incensed but also smart enough to realize that whoever put the skunk on the steps had to do more disagreeable work to get it there than the unfortunate Public Works employees who had to remove it.  I acknowledged that while I have been involved with the removal of dead rats and have heard more than my share of dead animal complaints, I have never had to deal with a dead skunk.  I also pointed out that the advantage of being in a small organization is that it is more difficult for employees to claim that the really nasty jobs are the responsibility of another department.  The disadvantage is that you often end up having to handle them yourself.

Unhappy people are a part of nearly every job, and I learned long ago that the best first response to complaints is to listen to them with respect.  I have seen very angry people change quickly once they learned that their concerns were important to me and that I was sincerely interested in helping them.  I think my son has also learned that lesson, and I believe it is one of the many reasons he will be a successful city administrator.  I’m sure we could both do without dead skunks or other disgusting ways that people sometimes express their opinions, but the rewards of this work generally outweigh the occasional disagreeable task.  I should add that my son would ordinarily have buried the skunk himself, but he was the only one in the office that day and was concerned that visitors might take offense if the only person who could help them smelled like a dead skunk.

It is gratifying to see your children grow up to be caring and responsible people.  It almost makes me forget that I was ready to banish a couple of them to a penal colony somewhere when they were teenagers.  We celebrated my mother and father-in-laws’ 60th wedding anniversary last weekend, and I know their greatest joy in that occasion was being surrounded by four generations of their family.