“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)
My first “serious” job after leaving/escaping home at 16, was to work in a small, non-ferrous foundry where I quickly went from a laborer to furnace-man melting and pouring aluminium, manganese, brass and once even silver! This was an incredibly physically challenging job with daily temperatures reaching 160 degrees and more, in the furnace room. When I was 18 I moved on to a much larger steel foundry where the “heats” (ladles of molten metal) went from a maximum of around 800lbs in the non-ferrous foundry, to 10,000 lbs. Although I also started as a pourer in the steel foundry, I was such a hard worker, pushed myself to the limit each and every day, managers and foremen took notice and in spite of generating numerous grievances from other/older, workers, I was moved through many different positions in the foundry in order to get me skilled in more areas and eventually ended up as a moulder For the first time in my life I felt respected, “good” at something and many of the older Italian and Indian men would bring me home to meet their families and in some cases, daughters.
I developed a genuine sense of pride and self-confidence working in the foundries and built many powerful relationships with these men who made me feel like their son’s. One Indian man (Mel) that I worked with was a champion Olympic wrestler and since I ran (and lived in) a gym at the time, and was an avid weight/power-lifter, Mel would feed me daily with pounds of chicken, vegetable juices and bags of fruit. On the evening shifts, if Mel would see me walking towards him from across the foundry, he would stop, take off his hard hat, bend his knees and spread his legs to get a solid stance and gesture for me to approach him and “try” to “take him down”. Of course that would never happen and whenever I tried and Mel quickly got the upper-hand he would just flip me around and motion as if he was about to SLAM me down on the concrete and then, just before I hit the ground he would stop, and gently place me on the ground with a smile on his face saying “maybe next time Johnny, but keep trying”. I am emotional over the incredibly beautiful, compassionate, loving and mentoring relationship I had with Mel and all the men I worked with at A1 (Ardiem) Steel in Vancouver between 1977/78 and 1981. The photograph is of my moulding trowel which signifies those very, very important and developmental years in my young life where I went from a boy to a man with the help of some extraordinary male role models and mentors who took me under their wings. That trowel is one of, if not the first “sacred objects” of my life and so holds a very special meaning for me as it represents my transition from the small, abused, victimized young man who was never good at anything, or liked/loved by anyone, into a powerful, respected, self-confident and even loved super-human foundry worker that many grown men could not stop bragging about and who wanting to give me more and more responsibility.