Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Fitter's Funeral or A Funeral Fit for a Fitter

We drove to Brighton today to attend the memorial service of Bob Taft, a fitter in Local Union 669. It was close to 100 miles one way, but honoring Bob and letting his family know that he was valued is important. The past couple of days I've heard stories from Steve I have never heard before, like his first day on the job, he was working for Bob Taft. After driving at least 1 1/2 hours to the job, Steve realized that he had left his work boots at home. Bob gave him 1 hour to go get boots and get on the job. Steve found a Goodwill, but all they had were size 12 black boots (Steve is a size 9). Bob laughed and told him they were the wrong color (cause clown shoes are usually red). Another time while working with Bob for Steve's dad, still a new apprentice, Bob sent Steve in search of a particular kind of wrench and gave him a detailed description. Steve dutifully emptied both gang boxes looking for the wrench. In walked his dad. "What are you doing?" Steve told him. "You idiot, there is no such thing." So Steve had to clean up the mess quickly and get to work while Bob laughed.

I'm not going to say much about Bob. I never worked with him and only met him a few times, though Steve has known him for 20 years. The people who knew him best seemed to be the guys he worked with and his family.

Fitters are an unusual bunch. When invited to a company party at the Lakewood Country Club, a couple might wear a suitcoat and tie, more will wear khakis and a nice golf shirt, and even more will come dressed in jeans, with either a long-sleeved button up shirt, a sweater or a t-shirt. Yes, I said t-shirt. At one party, one of the wives came in jeans and a sweatshirt, the kind with a screen printed picture on front. It's interesting.

When attending a fellow fitter's funeral, a few will wear suits. I'm glad Steve is in this group. I think it shows respect for the family. For the rest, the attire listed above will also be seen, but today, with temperatures reaching near 90 degrees, there were no sweaters or sweatshirts, but there were t-shirts with the sleeves torn off, shorts, denim capris, and everything in between. One of the guys was in his leather biker vest, chains hanging from pockets, belt loops and other places I couldn't figure out.

Years ago I would have been horrified and felt that this showed a lack of respect, but I think I've learned by now that there is no pretense among these guys. They would feel stiff and unnatural in a suit, or anything upgraded from a dress t-shirt. They likely don't even own anything like that because they don't need it. Outback Steakhouse does not require dressing up. They don't go to many funerals. Guys in the trade often retire at 55 or so. Their bodies take such a beating that they will quit carrying the heavy loads, retire and go do something else. By the time you reach 55 or so, you aren't accustomed to your friends dying.

Bob was 51. So young. And Bob was one of the last ties to Steve's dad. There is almost no one out there who remembers working with George, but Bob did. Bob was going to come and work for us in a couple of weeks. Steve was really looking forward to it. Bob told Steve, "We'll make the old man proud." For Steve, it's not just the loss of a man he really liked and respected--a friend--but it is yet another reminder of the loss of his dad.

So I go to funerals. It is something I believe in, though others sometimes refuse to go because it makes them too uncomfortable. At a seminar recently one of the speaker said (it was either Rudy Guliani or Colin Powell) "Weddings optional. Funerals manditory." By which he meant that when you have people around you, be it work, friends, church, whatever, you can go to the weddings if you want to, but you must go to the funerals. People need to know that their leaders, their bosses, whatever, care about them. Attending a wedding is fine, but you aren't needed there. Times of crises and sorrow are when people need to know you care. I so believe that. Soloman said that it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth, for a wise man will take it to heart. (Ecc. 7: 2? 4?) So, not only do I go to show respect and honor for the deceased and their family, but to remind myself that life is short and to value what is important, not what is temporary.

So when we were discussing yet again the finish on the living room walls and ceiling, I just said, I'm not going to fight about this. I prefer it a bit more textured than you are talking about, but this isn't worth arguing over. I need reminders of that. Remember that when you have your disagreements. I try to put disagreements to this test: Will it matter in 5 years? If not, it doesn't really matter and isn't worth fighting over. I forget to do that so many times and wind up getting worked up over temporary, trivial things. Bob's family can never get stressed over his mullet, or any annoying habit he may have had again. They can't have petty arguments with him. That's worth remembering.

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