August 20, 2016

A Man's 500 Ton Initiation

In a recent blog post, I wrote about how a young fisherman was initiated into his profession with a trial by waves, tobacco juice, fish guts, and heat. It was a tough rite of passage. In many professions we still see some form of testing, formal and/or informal, required of the beginner or novice in order to earn the full acceptance and privileges of man's world.

At the end of that "fish guts" post, I asked you, the readers, to let me know if you had encountered any ordeal, testing, or initiation into man's world as you went through life. One reader, Brian E., sent along this story about how he earned the respect of the men in his world of work with BIG cranes.

Hi Earl, part of my passage into manhood was about earning acceptance into my profession. I was 28 when I joined the International Union of Operating Engineers. I started as a journeyman apprentice at a crane company and, initially, my company would use me as a "yard kid." I would help the mechanics, run for parts, pick up trash, and so forth. To prove myself, I would always go beyond my regular duties to straighten up the rigging and do a good job of keeping the yard organized.

Liebherr 500 Ton Crane
The company was in the business of delivering, setting up, and operating the large cranes you see on big construction sites. One of the crane operators took notice of my work and told the office that he wanted me to become his new oiler, even though other journeymen wanted that position. An oiler has a lot of responsibility, everything from driving the crane to the site, positioning the crane on the site, and helping place the counter weights during setup and operations. So it was a kind of compliment to get picked.

...only two men ever made him cry...

This operator was nice, but was often a real jerk. While he'd compliment me every once and awhile, if I did something wrong he would yell at me and really make me feel less than human. If he caught me without a rag in my hand and not cleaning the crane while he was operating, he would yell "if I'm working, you're working," and slam his door closed. I didn't like getting yelled at so I didn't make the same mistake twice. He would tell me that I was getting off easy and that he had it a lot worse from the operator who taught him. Once he told me that only two men ever made him cry, his dad and the operator that taught him.

I'm a pretty smart guy. I knew he was really teaching me to become a darn good hand who can work anywhere and be accepted by the elite in my trade. A lot of it had to do with safety, because my profession is very dangerous. In the past ten years, I've seen many men with missing fingers, men who have been crushed, and men who have died. Behind all that gruffness, he was actually protecting me, maybe keeping me alive.

I became a better man . . . because of him.

I appreciated the tough love, and I know I became a better man, coworker, and crane operator because of him. Like I said, I didn't get a lot of compliments from him. However, when I recently went to my old company and worked with him for a day, he told me he really missed having good help around. Coming from him, that meant a lot to me.

If you're paying attention, you'll often hear these initiation stories and their impact. They are most often about building up new guy and preparing them for success in their future. If you have a story about this kind of "welcome to man's world" in your life, please send it to me. If you're really motivated, give me a shout and let's talk about how you might create an intentional passage experience in the life of a young man you know.

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