In a swanky, downtown restaurant, a tall, grey-haired figured approaches a makeshift stage. The room, previously filled with the usual din of a dinner where drinks are complimentary, quickly goes quiet.
The speaker is the long-time senior vice president of Subaru Canada. He has an easy, affable manner but his long features also hint at a professional seriousness.
His role today is to congratulate the assembled dealer body for their achievements in the past year. It’s a role he relishes, for not only is he a shrewd businessman, he is also a born showman.
After an uptempo recitation of sales figures, he begins to work the crowd.
“What do you guys think of those numbers?” he asks to a chorus of applause.
He then scans the crowd with a hand cupped over his eyes.
“Where’s Carmen? I want to hear what Carmen thinks.”
When he finally locates his target, his face beams and he leans back happily.
“Let’s hear from Carmen Vigliatore of Scarboro and Markham Subaru…”
Here he switches from his normal, reedy voice to a very exaggerated and extremely WASPY version of an Italian accent.
“Eh, I luva my wife.”
Although surely strange to novice ears, this introduction has become a type of shtick between the pair. It plays a bit like the Odd Couple, the polished and highly educated VP and the brutally honest, heavily accented immigrant who speaks with fiery passion.
“Yes, that’s true,” my father shoots back. “I do love my wife.”
He waits a beat for the giggles to subside.
“You know why?” He asks rhetorically.
“Without her, I would never be here today.”
It may be a bit rehearsed but there is no doubt to anybody listening that my father sincerely means what he says.
I don’t know if there is a higher rate of divorce among automotive professionals but anecdotally, I know a lot of dealers, managers and executives who are on their second or third marriage.
That should be no surprise to anybody with even a casual knowledge of the car industry. It’s just not conducive to a normal home life. Automotive retailers need to be available when their clients want them to be. Our office is open until 9:00 pm weekdays and every Saturday until 6:00 pm for the convenience of our clients.
Although all of our commissioned salespeople have regular shifts in which they theoretically work no more than 40 hours a week, the fear of losing a deal is too great to ignore. On top of their unconventional office hours, they also routinely sacrifice portions of their precious off days on the whims of their clients.
I’ve written in the past about how difficult it was to have a father trying to establish himself in the industry. The only day my family really had him to ourselves was when the store was closed on Sundays. Even then, those days were often split checking in on the dealership in the morning (while my brother and I tagged along) and then visiting extended family in the afternoon.
I don’t think my mother had any illusions about what she was getting into when she married my father. He had just started the business when they met and was already working around the clock. But it still must have been hard.
My mother is quiet and reserved (the exact opposite of my father) but is by far the strongest person I know. She raised my brother and me virtually single-handedly.
I grew up in a time of traditional gender roles. It was assumed that mothers would do the majority of the heavy lifting in their households. That was true for most of my friends, but their mothers at least had a father to call upon when needed.
I was always amazed to see these men emerge from their dens or basements like a relief pitcher from the bullpen. My mother just didn’t have that option. She was pitching a complete game whether she liked it or not.
After more than 40 years of marriage, my parents bicker with the best of them but I’ve never doubted their devotion to one another. My father in particular, is not ashamed to admit that his successes are in direct correlation to the work she did at home.
Now that my cousins and I are managing the dealerships, we’ve found that, despite all of the sociological progress around us, we are fundamentally the same as our fathers.
I recently celebrated 13 years of marriage to my wife. She is wonderful for a host of reasons but one of her greatest attributes is her selflessness.
When we met, I lived in Markham and she was in Brampton, nearly 60 km away.
When we married, I was already working at Markham Subaru, so there was no debate about where we would live. She knew that if she ever wanted to see me, it would be best if we lived nearby, even if it meant she had to drive 45 minutes to get to work or to see her family.
I never fully appreciated the depth of her sacrifices until COVID-19 came along.
Although the dealership never fully closed, our hours were drastically reduced. The work was never easy, but it was completed much earlier in the day.
COVID even wiped out my only regular social outing outside of work, Thursday night beer-league hockey.
Suddenly I was home every night for dinner with my family (including the inevitable cleanup afterwards).
For the first time in their lives, my children enjoyed unfettered access to me daily. I played board games, worked on elaborate puzzles and read to them every night.
We blew through classics such as The Secret Garden, The Wizard of Oz and a whole host of books by Roald Dahl. We read so much that one of my first stops when stores re-opened was to a local thrift shop to find more chapter books to read.
Even as we gradually re-opened our sales department, our business model changed. We booked appointments rather than relying on walk-in traffic. Our days looked and felt drastically different. The normal chaos of the sales floor was replaced with predictability, allowing me to adjust my schedule and experience something I never thought possible — a two-day weekend.
Before COVID, I took a day off during the week, during which I usually mowed the lawn or handled other household chores. Our weekends typically began Saturday night at about 7:30 pm and were split between visiting relatives (Italian parents are very demanding) and trying to squeeze in private family time.
A few years back, my wife and I invested in a cottage. It is a great escape and I am thankful for it but visiting it required both creative scheduling and heaps of understanding from my family.
When we visited, I would often still work my full Saturday shift. My wife would give my kids a late snack and then load both them and all of our supplies into her car. In theory, she would pick me up at the store at closing and together we’d drive up north. Of course, that almost never worked perfectly because car buyers have been conditioned to arrive at dealerships late in hopes of negotiating slightly better deals from exasperated sales staff.
If the kids weren’t too irritable or hungry by the time we reached our place, we would watch a bit of TV over a quick dinner and maybe go for a walk. The next day would consist of squeezing in a quick (but always enjoyable) day at the beach before packing everything in by sunset in preparation for yet another work day.
Now we drive up Friday night, spend a blissful Saturday doing whatever we want at whatever speed we want and leave whenever we feel like it on Sunday.
Although these changes arose from dire circumstances, they are still luxuries I never dreamed possible.
I recently asked my kids how they would feel if I returned to my pre-COVID schedule. They reacted as if I was a vilified sports figure returning to a scene of infamy. I was cascaded with boos, taunted with emphatic thumbs downs and not allowed to speak or even eat until they had calmed down.
Although my wife has joked once or twice about having to cook for me every night (I am many things but a chef is not one of them), I know she’s enjoying the reduced dealership hours as well.
If life feels easier for me, I can only imagine how different it must be for her. She who has eaten alone, changed diapers alone, helped with homework alone and goodness how much else.
I don’t think you can be married to anyone for a significant length of time without loving them for the right reasons. My wife is kind, funny, caring and supportive. She is an exceptional person and I love her for all of that.
In addition, much like my mother and aunt a generation before, she is the most important person in our business. She provides the structural support needed to keep our family afloat while simultaneously providing the emotional strength to talk me off the ledge when I rant and rave about a job that takes me away from her for so long. That is true grace.
So yes, I do love my wife. And if proclaiming it means being the butt of some cheesy jokes, so be it. I wouldn’t trade her for anything.