There are of course many qualities and behaviors which should be nurtured as we’re trying to learn to be good leaders; aspects like integrity, trust, mutual respect and several others. I’ve always tried to lead and manage by applying The Golden Rule. I understand what it means to have the ‘luck of birth’. We don’t get a choice as to our fathers and mothers or how they choose to raise us. No one likes to follow, (or even be around), people who think they are better than others. Humility is an important aspect to display when you’re trying to gain the respect of, and lead others. Nowhere is this perhaps more important than in dangerous areas – whether it is in a militaristic situation or, in my case, working for 8 years in a foundry where perhaps 20% of our population had criminal records.
I never received any personal threats at the foundry, never was pushed or punched, never felt I was in personal danger. This isn’t to say though that I didn’t tread lightly around certain people – I did. In fact, I can remember one guy at the foundry who had a serious reputation, so serious that no one ever messed with him. He didn’t look to be the strongest of our employees; it was his eyes. His look at you sent a direct message – don’t cross me. On the very few occasions I had to ask this person to do a task, I was always ‘overly’ polite. “Hey Rick, would you please take those flasks out to the back yard when you have a moment?” Rick wouldn’t say a word, but he would just go do whatever it was I had asked. I was polite and he respected my position of authority.
The purpose of this short story is not to write about leadership or respect, though showing respect towards this rough group of guys does come to mind as I’m recalling my foundry days’ memories. No, what I really wanted to do was to share a few paragraphs about a couple of the characters there – Joe and Dave.
Pound for pound, Joe was the strongest person I personally have ever known. Joe weighed 175 pounds and was pure muscle, perfect for foundry work. I once saw Joe do 40 1-arm push-ups like they were nothing. I’ll never forget that. Boom, boom, boom – like it was nothing. When they were over, he jumped up with a huge smile. I was genuinely impressed with his strength. I knew it was important to Joe and so when he did something like that, I made sure my behavior demonstrated my respect. In return, Joe treated me unlike every other “office employee”. He treated me with respect. I’ve received many compliments over the years for my ability to treat people as unique individuals – working at the foundry I think helped me to hone that skill.
Joe had a few other qualities which were unique. He had perhaps the nastiest mouth of anyone I have ever met. I’m reluctant to put into print everything I’ve mentally recorded from these days, but when I took on the project of recording these episodes, I promised myself, (and my readers), that I would try to be honest and try to put it all down to paper. With that said, if you are overly sensitive, I suggest you fast forward to the next couple of paragraphs.
No? Ok then, here is an example of Joe’s nasty mouth and lack of couth.
Each of us took turns taking the men to the eye doctor when they got a piece of metal in their eyes. We’d use one of the company-supplied cars which also were for personal use by two of our managers. As soon as Joe got into the car, he’d ask me “is this Kenny’s car?” He, like many others, hated Kenny – Ken had a tendency to not show respect to others. When he learned that it was indeed Ken’s car, out would come the filthy hands on the dashboard. That’s not the dirty part though. As we were driving through beautiful downtown Hamilton on one such occasion, we slowly drove past a pretty lady, perhaps on lunch break. Joe quickly rolled down the window, hung himself out the side and uttered the following words, “baby I’d suck your p***y till your head caved in.”
Damn it Joe, you want to get me in trouble? Joe was so dirty that on Wednesdays when it was time to pick up the pay checks, he would sometimes bring in his little two-year old with him. He would whisper something in his boy’s ear and with that, the little one would flip us the bird! Such a proud papa.
The other thing I remember most about Joe was that he absolutely loved to fight. He didn’t care how big the opponent or how many of them there were. He just loved to fight. I saw this personally a couple of times in basketball games. I played with the shop men in an industrial league (got my name in the paper a couple of times as high scorer, thank you very much). Joe was a fair player but I don’t think he ever played a game without getting thrown out for fighting. In fact, he got suspended from the league for picking a fight with a referee. The epitome of stupidity was the day he came to work with a huge black eye. I asked what the heck happened and he said the black eye came from a pool stick. He was so proud of himself as he retold his story of walking into a small bar where a few blacks were playing pool and he told them, “shit, you ni****s don’t know how to play pool”. “They got the best of me, but I took two of them out – it was a great fight.” I doubt Joe is still alive today. How would a person like that make it to the age of forty?
In terms of gaining respect though, a fellow by the name of Dave Sandefer comes to mind. Dave spent a tour in Viet Nam and displayed apparent issues. I heard he eventually died a young man from exposure to agent orange. I heard his family received $3500 – apparently this is what a life was worth in 1988. While I worked there though, every now and then I would stop to chat with Dave. One particular discussion with Dave went like this, and I quote:
“Rob, I fu**ing hate those damn office people.” (I was one of those people). “Sometimes at night, I’ll be in my living room cleaning my M-16 and I’ll have fantasies of coming into work and just wiping everyone out.”
My response: “uh, gee thanks Dave.”
To which Dave replied, “oh don’t worry Rob…I like you….I’ll kill you last.” And then he would laugh. I didn’t laugh – I made my escape plan. If I saw Dave coming with his M-16, I was headed for the walk-in vault with the thick steel door!
Joe and Dave – great examples of who I worked with for 8 years in a hot, dirty foundry.
It’s a little ironic that as I was writing this story, I was sitting in my family room where the movie Field of Dreams is on the television set. In the movie, a couple of the characters have choices before them and are offered an opportunity to go back into time. I am grateful for the learning and experiences I gained from my foundry days, but ask me if I’d like to go back and relive those days? No thank you!