When I was growing up in Rock Island, the adults always asked "Is there any girl at school that you like?" but never "What do you want to be when you grow up?" That was already decided. I would go to work in the factory.
Rock Island was a factory town; almost every adult I knew, and the dad of almost every kid I knew, worked at J.I. Case, International Harvester, Caterpillar, or John Deere. They all made tractors, harvesters, and other farm machines.
My factory was going to be J.I. Case Company, with its logo of an eagle digging its talons into the world. Like my father and grandfather and three of my uncles and two of my older cousins. Like everyone.
You started on the assembly line, then after a few years got promoted to lineman, and maybe, eventually, to foreman.
I could think of no fate more horrible than getting up at 5:00 am for a day of screwing things into things, then returning, dirty and dripping with sweat, to the small square house where my wife would have dinner on the table.
So, occasionally, in grade school or junior high, I said that I didn't want to work in the factory when I grew up. Dad laughed.
"Of course no one wants to work. You probably would rather spend the whole day playing football with your pals. You have to, so you can make money to support your wife and kids."
"No, I mean, I want to do something else besides the assembly line at J.I. Case Company."
"Like what? Sell shoes in the mall? The factory pays better, and you don't have to work nights, so you can spend time with your wife and kids."
Tenth graders at Rocky High were put into "business" or "academic" tracks. I had high grades, so they put me into the academic track, explaining that it was for kids who planned to go to college.
College? The possibility had never crossed my mind before. No one in my family had ever gone to college (actually, my grandmother went to art school, but I didn't know that at the time). Wasn't it just for rich people?
No, there were lot of scholarships. I could probably get one.
"Don't be crazy!" Dad said when I told him about college. "You don't need college to work in the factory! Besides, what are you going to do in college but read books?," he added with a derisive sneer. Nazarenes thought of books other than the Bible as worthless at best, and most likely tools of Satan.
"Yeah, and play the violin," I said, to rub it in: classical music was also suspect, redolent of decadence and effeminacy. "Maybe I'll major in art. And grow my hair long, like a girl."
I expected Dad to yell, but instead he just stared at me, open mouthed. Eventually he said "Why don't you come and take a look at the factory? Who knows, you might like it?"
"All ladies up here," Dad pointed out. "But they never go out onto the floor. That's 100% men."
The "floor" was a vast concrete hangar where the tractor parts moved on conveyor belts until they were assembled on a gigantic machine and then hauled out. It was all noise and bright lights and grime, all wires and tubes and pipes and complicated sharp things. I couldn't understand what anything was for, but I did notice that Dad was right: 100% men.
None with their shirts off, but still....
The third building was for painting, finishing, and licensing. There was also a small tv lounge that stank of paint, a lunchroom with vending machines, and because you got dirty and sweaty during the day, a locker room with showers, so you could be fresh and clean when you returned to your small square house, where your wife had dinner on the table.
Dad took me back to the car, and we drove up the hill again. "That wasn't so bad, was it? It's 100% men. No girly influences at all. Do you think you'd like to be down there on the floor every day?"
"No. This was fun, but I still want to go to college."
Why did Dad bring me there? I didn't understand at the time, but now I do:
He thought of college as a feminizing influence, a place where I would read books, study music and art, and "turn" gay.
So he was offering a masculine alternative: the factory floor, 100% men, sweat, grime, muscles, and swinging penises.
He hoped that looking at male bodies all day would "keep" me straight.
See also: Dad Explains the Facts of Life; Class Rings and Arabic