No On-the-Job Training…

April 19, 2011

Imagine with me for a moment, you got a new job…

It’s a pretty important position, and everything is riding on it. You’re not exactly sure what qualified you for this position, or what exactly you’ll even be doing, but you’re determined to give it your best shot. You show up to the first day of work and there is a note on your locker. It reads, “Hi there. You will be responsible to create different formulas, that will in turn create different outcomes, either resulting in success or failure. There will be no on-the-job training, but I am sure you have some skills that might help you with this position, you just have to figure out what they are, and how to use them. Good luck! Oh, and don’t fail! Be productive!”

You break out in a cold sweat, and look up from the note in absolute horror. A sage, older employee slams his locker shut and scoffs, “At least you got a note kid! I didn’t even get that on my first day!” His comment doesn’t really help at all, and only makes you feel more insecure. You put your lunch bag in the locker, and go to the main work room, an enormous warehouse-type, spacious workspace, with all different types of men, at all different types of work stations, doing all different types of random work.

You stand at the entrance, waiting for instruction; someone to guide you, tell you what to do, heck, even someone to reprimand you. Nothing. Eventually the sage old employee looks up from his work and says, “Kid, you’re work’s not going to do itself. Get at it!” Before you can ask what you’re even supposed to be doing, he looks back down, and carries on with his work. Suddenly a loud siren goes off and red lights begin to flash. All the employees look around in fear.

Leroy, a rough-looking guy wearing baggy clothes and thick gold chains, throws his hands in the air and shouts out, “Yeah, I did it again! What?! It’s not like I ever had anybody to show me what’s up!” Leroy stands on the table of his work station, takes off his shirt, and bangs his chest. Some of the employees cheer in Leroy’s support and praise, while others just continue working, trying to ignore him. All of the sudden, men dressed in all white uniforms come busting in the back entrance, armed with batons and tasers.

Leroy tries to make a break for it but one of the uniformed men shoots a taser that flies through the air and connects with Leroy’s back. He falls to the ground and convulses. The uniformed men stand over Leroy and hit him a few times with their batons. They handcuff him and drag him out of the work space. The flashing lights stop, and the siren turns off. Everyone continues to work. Now you are really scared.

You go up to a work station with a nice looking man, who seems to be hard at work. He sits in front of a computer, typing frantically. Every few seconds the computer makes a ding noise. Curious, you ask him, “What’s that noise?” Without looking at you, and continuing to type like a mad man, the man answers, “Success.” You stare at him in awe. Ding, ding, ding, DING! You ask him how he became so good and he smugly replies, “Oh I had an excellent mentor who was there from day one. He was the best in this field and taught me everything he knows. Now I’m the best.”

Surprised, you ask, “Wait! On-the-job training?”

He looks at you, completely annoyed, “Yep.”

“But I had a note that said there’s no on the job training.”

He rolls his eyes, “Not for you, I guess. It’s different for everyone.”

“But how am I supposed to know what to do?”

The man stops typing and sighs, “Don’t ask me! That’s your problem. But I suggest you start trying to figure it out, before they come for you!”

You look over at the red lights that had flashed not so long ago, and then down at the work space. Gulp. The table is filled with different tools. You pick one up, and the man shouts, “No! Not that one! You can’t use that!” You put it down quickly. You are completely overwhelmed, and it doesn’t get any better. And without any guidance, or help from your fellow employees, you begin to fumble your way around, trying to accomplish tasks that you are not fully sure how to do, or if you are even supposed to be doing them in the first place. It takes years and years for you to fall into a comfortable work flow, still never fully knowing if you are doing what you are supposed to, but always aware of your successes, and even more aware of your failures. That underlying insecurity never leaves.

That job would suck, right? It would be terrifying. I could not imagine it even being real.

Now imagine with me for a moment, a young boy coming into his teenage years, with no dad around, and no positive male role models in sight. This young boy basically has the same task as the person in my previous scenario, but this scenario is unfortunately way more real, for way too many young kids. What are we doing to ease their suffering?



March 1, 2011

My friend Andrea is a photographer. There are two well-known photographers she sees as inspiration. They are her heroes. The one is dead already, and the other is William Eggelston (the “father of color photography”). The Frist in Nashville currently has an Eggleston exhibition, and Andrea went a few weeks back to see it. She was pumped, to say the least!

She took her time, walking through and perusing the prints of one (of two) of her greatest life inspirations. She was moved by the experience. After she had spent enough time amongst his work, she made a stop by the gift shop. She bought a few things, and when she came out, on exit, she stopped abruptly in the foyer and froze, like a deer caught in headlights. Her eyes exploded with tears, and she literally began to cry. There, standing a few feet away from her, was the one, the only, actual real dude, William Eggleston.

He was alone, apart from a lady who was helping him set up a table for book signings, and no one else seemed to recognize him. But Andrea did, and she could not believe her eyes. Completely overwhelmed, she walked up to him in tears and said, “You are the reason I wanted to become a photographer!” He was flattered by her sentiments, and he asked her to sit with him for a while. They chatted, Andrea got a chance to take photos with him, and got his autograph. The moment was dear and moving to all who witnessed.

As Andrea retold the story to me, obviously deeply impacted by the experience, I wondered if there was a human being who could spark that kind of response in me. Nelson Mandela immediately came to mind, but beyond him I could not think of anyone else. Ever since then I have been thinking about it. The Grammys and the Oscars have taken place in the meantime, and I watched both, seeing numerous very talented people, who the masses look up to, and idolize. Other people who serve as “heroes” to many. It was only a reminder to me that, though there are some of those “stars” I wouldn’t mind meeting, I could honestly care less if I ever do. And for me, it has only validated further who my true life heroes are.

These are the people I look up to…

The single mother, holding down a job, raising kids on her own, busting her butt to give them the future she never had.

The man who sticks around and raises his kids, dedicated to not just being the “cause” of their life, but also a positive part of it…a man who is a father.

The kid surrounded by negativity, who keeps his chin up and his head down, focused, and determined to be something more than the harsh reality that surrounds him.

The person who has absolutely nothing, and yet has everything to complain about, but lives as though every day is a gift, thankful, joyful, and grateful, without grumbles.

The single mother who has the bravery to pursue her dreams, when the world around her tries to hold her back and keep her down…maybe dreams she once had to put aside because she was forced to “grow-up” before her time.

The person who has so little, but gives so much.

“Normal”, every day people who are dedicated to being the change they want to see in the world.

Yep, these, and many others like them, are my true heroes. And I am fortunate enough to have easier “access” to them than the average person does to his or her hero. So, to all my heroes I say, continue being an inspiration, and living a life that shouts out change, and dances in determination.

Fathers’ Rights…

May 25, 2010

I am helping a young man apply for his passport. It has been a little more tricky because this particular young man has lived in different institutions for most of his life and, because of human trafficking, Home Affairs make it a bit more difficult for a minor to apply for a passport. At first I was really happy about this, even though it was extra trouble for us, because I think being more stringent and minimizing the chances of young people being trafficked is a good thing.

So yesterday, after being told on the first visit the legal court appointed guardian has to sign if the young person is not under the parents’ care, I took the young man’s grandma (she is his legal guardian though he does not live with her) and him to Home Affairs. They took the papers, did everything that needed to be done, and we were on our way. This morning I got a call from someone at Home Affairs saying that they need the letter from the court (an official document) saying that his grandmother is his legal guardian, or both parents signatures. I was annoyed that they and not told us that when we were there.

I asked about just getting his mother’s signature, because the father is, and has been uninvolved for the child’s entire life. The lady told me that because the father signed the birth certificate, he also has to sign consent for a passport. “Even if he has never been involved in the kid’s life, and doesn’t even know what the kid looks like?!” I asked, kind of aggravated at the concept. The lady said yes. I said it was a bit ridiculous, in my opinion, and she told me that it was because of new laws the government has made to “protect fathers’ rights”. I laughed and said, “I do not believe fathers who make babies and don’t look after them have any rights as a father.”

The lady, maybe sharing my sentiment but more just wanting to get off the phone said, “Yeah, well they do now.”

I wanted to shout and scream. I wanted to tell the lady that having a penis and the ability to make babies does not make a person a father, or even a “real man” for that matter. I wanted to tell her with rights comes responsibility. I wanted to tell her her stupid rules were…well, stupid. But I realized I would just be shooting the messenger and she really has nothing to do with this bigger picture that makes me so angry. So, I had to vent somewhere!