“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. “
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires“
(William Arthur Ward)
After about a year working in a gas station when I left home at 16, I had the good fortune of getting a job in a Vancouver based non-ferrous foundry called Advanced Foundry (now Hastings Brass I think). I had literally escaped a very violent and abuse family environment and was lacking in good adult role models, especially men. Since I was very much the young kid at the foundry I really felt I had to earn my way by working as hard as I could. What I soon found was that the harder I worked, the more all the older Italian and East Indian men took notice and not only watched out for and supported me, but soon started pushing me up the ladder of available positions. I worked hard and soon became the furnace man melting and pouring brass, aluminum and manganese for ship propellers. Shortly after turning 18 I took a position at one of Vancouver’s steel foundry’s called Ardiem Industrial (A1 Steel) right at the corner of Hastings and Terminal. I feel truly blessed to have found good paying and satisfying work during those emotionally and psychologically difficult years. But most of all there is no doubt that I grew from a boy into a man during those foundry years with the support, the mentorship, of some exceptional men who took me under their wings. One of those exceptional men, one of those mentor’s to a young broken boy trying to grow into a decent and hard working man, was an East Indian Olympic wrestler named Mel.
When I first met you Mel, I was a young man of 18 and had only been on my own for a couple of years who had escaped a painful and abusive home environment. I was unsure of who I was, felt isolated, and certainly lacked any confidence in myself. I was a bruised young man who only recently had recovered from the catastrophic and life-changing mistake – moral crime – of nearly killing an old man with my reckless and stupid behavior (car accident). Since I entered the adult work-force so young, I truly felt out of place, alone and with a sense that I had something to prove. I felt that I needed to demonstrate strength and maturity in order to feel like part of the team and someone who, in spite of my young age, could still make a contribution to this super-man’s world of molten metal and searing heat. I also know now that what I needed the most, was the acceptance and approval of good men. This post is about sharing my thanks and immense gratitude to one of those exceptional male role models in my young life.
Some of my first memories of you Mel were of your unbelievable strength and I could see from your build that you had certainly done some weight training when you competed as an Olympic Wrestler. I was also a weightlifter at the time and so maybe this is how, or where, we first connected. I also remember that you always seemed to acknowledge when I did something well, or when I demonstrated unusual strength for my size and age. One of my fondest memories were when we both worked on the pouring floor and would challenge each other to see how many of the 500-1000lb moulds we could push along the tracks. But most of all Mel, I always remember you as being so quietly and subtly supportive, almost invisibly at times. You would sometimes watch me when I would try something that was clearly beyond my strength and may have even led to an injury. You would just suddenly “be there” even when I didn’t know you were around watching. You were always so respectful of my feelings and pride, and you would gently encourage me to allow you to help, or perform the task yourself since you probably knew it was beyond my abilities or thought I might injure myself. And you never even had to say those words aloud, almost as if you knew they might hurt my feelings and so you would just gently gesture, or give me a kind and compassionate look that said, or asked with a smile, “let me do this Johnny”.
Then there was the incredible interest you showed in my diet and weightlifting workouts. You started to bring in bags of fruit and that thermos filled with chicken wings and the other thermos filled with some gross-tasting vegetable, fruit and who-knows-what mixture. On top of that you would often buy me numerous bottles of juice or other items high in carbs or protein from the lunch truck. But my most favorite memories Mel, were during those afternoon shifts when you would notice me walking towards you from the far end of the foundry, often from the furnace, and you would take off your hard-hat, assume a wrestler’s stance and gesture towards me to (attempt) to take you down. Of course I never did, even when I tried to sneak up behind you and catch you off-guard. You were such a powerful man that you could have easily demonstrated your superior strength over me, yet you remained calm, gentle and always just allowed me to give it my best shot and then you would show how quickly, but gently, you were able to easily overpower me. Just enough of a lesson for me to want to try again, and again, and again. Mel, you were the first true hero of a male role model in my life, my first Renaissance Man. You allowed me to be the young fragile boy that I was, while also showing me the respect, compassion and even love of a father, a mentor, a colleague, an equal. You never felt the need to “tell me” anything, judge me, or outright dismiss anything I said or did. You never seemed to feel the need to flaunt your superior wisdom, greater experience, knowledge or incredible strength as an adult can sometimes do when they dictate or lecture a child. You could have played the all-powerful, all-knowing and controlling grown-up role. Yet you showed me the respect of an equal, the wisdom of a teacher, and dare I say if felt like the love of a father for a child.
Mel, you were the first man whose character and behavior I wanted to emulate, the first man I wanted to be like. You possessed remarkable strength, wisdom and courage. Any one of which you could have forced into our relationship as so many men, so many people, often do as a sign of their perceived superiority. But clearly you had another kind of strength that I would not have recognized back then, but do now. You possessed the inner strength and selfless compassion of a Spiritual Warrior. One with True Courage, True Heart and True Strength. An inner strength, compassionate heart and profound wisdom which worked behind the scenes. An inner spiritual strength which never required you to make a bold demonstration, but simply a kind or gently nudge. I will never forgot you Mel, you were, are, a man’s man. A warrior’s warrior, a hero of a man in my heart and memories. If I have managed to become a fraction of the man you were (the man you are if yo are still alive), then I have you to thank for this Mel. Thank you my friend, my guide as I grew from a boy to a man with your gentle, yet powerful encouragement and profoundly deep spiritual strength and wisdom.
Note: I came across this image (above) of a Vancouver foundry and there is so much in that shot that looks familiar, the walls, that door, the pouring floor and the size of the heat (ladle), it is possible this is the same foundry I worked at in the 70’s.