“Respect your elders and especially your mother!”
That’s one of the principle behaviors Eric Graley wants his kids to grow up knowing. It’s Sabrina, his wife of 16 years, he says who helps him to be successful as a driver. When he decided to drive over the road more than three years ago, it was a decision both of them weighed in on. Sabrina’s opinion was also considered when he moved to drive for Prime in 2018. “She’s my rock,” he says, and adds, “I wouldn’t be driving without her.
Eric Graley has been driving an 18-wheeler for three and a half years, the past year for Prime. He is also the father to three daughters and a son ranging in age from four to 15. Eric serves as a trainer for new Prime drivers, spending up to six weeks (or 30,000 miles) with a new employee. He enjoys it; the money is good; and he views driving as a way to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his family. “Driving for Prime, I’m able to provide a good life for my wife and kids,” he states.
Just because he’s gone from home six to eight weeks at a time, does not mean Eric is not thinking about his family. The stuffed animals from the kids that Eric has on his dash in the truck and the daily phone check-ins mean they are often on his mind. “Every morning,” he explains, “I try to video call and check in with each of them—even for just five minutes, to find out what they’re doing and tell them I love them.”
Eric also stresses the importance of including his family by telling them where he’s at and where’s he’s going. (The day we caught up with Eric he was headed south out of Colorado in route to Laredo, Texas with 43,000 lbs. of yogurt.) He told us, “I try to take pictures of things my kids are interested in seeing.” His 12-year-old daughter, for instance, likes to see snow and city lights, so Eric has sent her several photos of snow. The night skies of Houston, Dallas, St. Louis and others have also been included. Noticing and photographing some of her current interests help her know he is thinking of her. He said he had a similar experience with his older daughter who was fascinated with cactus for a time.
Eric says he also likes to bring his kids small gifts when he comes home after a month or two on the road to see his family for a week or two. This might include a dream catcher in honor of their Native American heritage or a new beanie baby. “It’s not the size that matters,” he explains. “It’s that I want them to know I’ve been thinking about them.”
As much as he loves his children, Eric insists he would not be where he is today without the love, support and encouragement of Sabrina. Perhaps this, and his southern heritage, is one of the reasons it’s critical to him that his children learn to “respect their elders,” and especially their mother. When he comes home he does everything he can to make her life easier. Even when he’s on the road, he’s not afraid to be stern with the children if necessary.
“Sometimes,” he says, “I give them a stern talking to. At other times, there might be a group scolding.” If necessary, he’s not afraid to add, “You don’t know when I’m coming home.” And although it’s not easy to discipline children you’ve been missing, Eric says he is not afraid to do what’s necessary to help his children develop into respectful adults who use “Yes, mam” and “No sir.”
“If I need to deal with some misbehavior,” he explains, “I try to do it right away after I get home so we can get it done and over with and enjoy the rest of our time together.”
We wondered if Eric talked to his trainee drivers about more than driving, for instance, about how to stay connected with your family even when you were gone. Eric’s response was swift and certain. “Trust your wife and don’t act on ‘bad dreams,’ i.e. the thought she’s not being faithful to you.”
“I’ve seen marriages ruined simply because a guy acted on a ‘bad dream.’ Keep including her in your life on a daily basis and it will make things much easier.”
From Eric’s perspective, success as a driver means making it a family affair. Respecting, valuing and loving your wife or partner is an important first step. Staying connected with your kids while on the road is the second. Together, they form a powerful bond even when dad is driving over the road.