Thanks old man.

When I started my career, I worked for an old man who had 5 years left until he retired. I absorbed a lot of knowledge from him, and listened to his stories of long ago. Long ago, when he plied our trade without a radio, safety equipment or my fancy college degree. Back when they never hired guys that wore glasses, or women…with or without glasses. Back before I was born.

Sometimes he walked into a situation and changed it just by arriving or with a few words. I asked him how he did it. He smiled and left. I watched closer next time.

I wrecked a car one night when the old man was working.  It embarrassed me to have to tell him. He did the paper work and sent me on my way. The next night the dismantled door of the damaged car was waiting,with my name written on it, in the office. I recognized the old man’s handwriting. I’ll never wreck a car like that again. He saw to it.

He also let me know that chocolate milk wasn't what adults had at lunch with the boss

I often wondered back then what it was like to be the old man. What was like it for him, knowing he’d close his locker one day soon and walk away? Did he know he’d be part of the stories the kid with the glasses told years later? Did he know it scared me to think of what it would be like to work without him?

I never really brought all that up with the old man. I wouldn’t have dared, anymore than I would have mentioned seeing him wearing glasses to do his paperwork, or that I learned he’d gone back to school and gotten his degree.

Times are changing. Technology has replaced what I learned to do on paper, back  before Microsoft started poking into my field. Stuff happens now that makes me shake my head and walk away wishing we did it the old way. The system goes down and people look lost. Once, it happened and I gave someone a legal pad and sent him out into the field. I’m fairly sure he didn’t know how to work it.

Kids show up at the office now and go to work. Not all of them are guys and we’re better because of it. I recognize that I call them kids sometimes and know it pushes their buttons. I do it anyhow.

Sometimes I put things right when they’re in tough spots. Sometimes they ask and I’ll tell them how, but smiling and walking away just seems right.

When you really care, say it with concrete.

One of the kids hit a concrete barrier in a parking lot with one of our cars the other day. He hung his head when he explained to me how it happened. I did the paper work and sent him on his way.

When the kid came back to work, 200 pounds of concrete  were waiting for him. He knows where it came from. He even said thanks.

Less than four years left. I’m going to enjoy each of them, then close my locker and walk away. I’m starting to realize the old man had fun his last few years.

He’s gone now. He still watches over my people, but they only see me.

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26 Comments on “Thanks old man.”

  1. Roger's Place says:

    What a great piece. It makes this old guy feel good.

  2. shutterboo says:

    We learn a lot from our mentors – I always watch to see how people work and react in our office.
    But one question: chocolate milk isn’t an adult lunch? Really? I must have not gotten the memo.

  3. linlah says:

    It’s nice when a lesson learned can go full circle and be passed on. Great story.

  4. mares97 says:

    Definitely well-said. I would bet the old man would be proud of you. Thanks for sharing.

  5. sgottahurt says:

    Chocolate milk never goes out of style. Just like riding on the backs of filled shopping carts.

    (I should note that it does spoil, though.)

    • omawarisan says:

      The parking lot at my supermarket has a great downhill slope I ride carts down all the time. Now, if I could just manage to do it while chugging some chocolate milk…

  6. KathiD says:

    Oh, now THAT is a masterpiece. I hope you tuck this particular story away in a safe place to be found again one day. Actually, it belongs in a book. Maybe a project for your Golden Years.

    My oldest brother worked in the radio business, first selling advertising and eventually being the boss of the ones selling advertising. He was perpetually young (even into death after a sudden heart attack while playing softball with the younguns) and so he was taken aback one night when a young employee invited him to dinner. My brother noted that his favorite beverage was offered, along with a thoroughly fancy steak dinner, and plenty of deference, with a bit of nerves, all while the employee tried to appear “casual.”

    It became clear to him that night that he had become the Old Man, because that’s exactly the way he entertained the boss back when he was The Young One.

    • omawarisan says:

      I was kind of struck by the fact that I didn’t know I’d crossed the line to being the old man until I’d already been across it for a few years. There apparently is not a ceremony – but then, it sounds like your brother had one, that is so cool! It is kind of a treat anyhow.

      God, I wish I had a book in me. Maybe I do, but none of the chapters will connect!

  7. spencercourt says:

    With three years left, with the last 17 years in the same office where I’m the “go to” guy, this blurt certainly evokes a “right on.” But I am looking forward to retiring. I’m just wondering *which* stories they’ll be telling about me!

    My favorite is when, after just a few months on the job, I was challenged from the audience by the principal of the biggest consulting firm in our program about something I said during my workshop presentation. I knew I was being tested.

    I repeated my statement and was again challenged that I was incorrect. I happened to have the regulation with me, so I stepped off the dais, walked over to the challenger, who had an aisle seat, showed him the regulation and, in a calm and even voice, asked him to confirm what I said. He did, and he never challenged me in public again.

    The audience also took note that I knew what I was talking about. That one incident in front of all the “players” pretty much sealed my reputation as the “guru” on federal procurement policies and that I was unafraid to “look up” anyone disputing me.

    • omawarisan says:

      Glad you liked it.

      Amazing how some folks think nothing of trying to embarass people in public like you described. God forbid if you did it when he was presenting though. Well played sir!

  8. shoutabyss says:

    For some reason this post reminds me of the Lion King, circle of life and all that.

    I really like the way you tell the story.

    In my experience it is a rare thing when youth gets the importance of listening to and understanding their elders. Of course they gradually pick up on this as they get older themselves until they realize the shoe is on the other foot.

    Hakuna matata.

    • omawarisan says:

      You’re right, listening is not valued by the people who should value it most. That, and that half of what you hear you’re not going to understand for years.

      Figured that out with my Dad, half of what he’s told me since I was a kid I got on the spot, the rest I’m just figuring out now at 48. He’s still talking and I’m still listening. I could write a library about what he’s taught me, but I’m too busy making sure I get the same stuff to the Omawari-son.

      Hadn’t really considered the Lion Kingishness of this piece until you pointed it out, but you’re right.

      Hakuna Matata

      Lion Kingishness ™(c) Omawarisan, 2010

  9. Pie says:

    I have nothing to add here. That was truly beautiful.

  10. planetross says:

    Where I work new staff seem to know everything already.
    … I just have to tell them what’s going on when they ask.

  11. shoutabyss says:

    Come on. You can tell us. Did you really lug in 200 pounds of concrete? 🙂

  12. […] My employer has some pretty strict rules about my appearance. One of them concerns facial hair. I’m allowed to have a mustache, but I am not allowed to grow one on days that I’m working. Beards are forbidden. Most of the people who were around when I still had my experimental college mustache at the start of my career are long gone. I haven’t really had the urge to invite the mustache back, but I do miss some of those old timers. […]

  13. […] wrote of the old man before, here. 35.410694 -80.842850 Share this:FacebookStumbleUponDiggTwitterEmailPrintPinterestLike this:LikeBe […]

  14. […] written of The Old Man before in these posts: Thanks, Old Man and Tonight, You’re Someone. 35.410694 […]

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