To be a plumber
“That’s my Dad, he too was a Plumber.”
A young man had just applied for a position with an award winning Mechanical Engineering firm. The president of the firm would do the interviewing of applicants.
“I see you attended my alma mater!” stated the Engineer.
“Yes, Sir! I wanted to attend the best engineering school in the country.”
As the Engineer reviewed his application he asked, “What makes you want to be a mechanical engineer?”
“Well, Sir,” replied the young man, “I don’t want to be like my father, I want to be the best mechanical engineer; I want to be successful!”
At this the Engineer looked up, sat back in his chair and asked, “What does your Father do?”
“He’s a Plumber, Sir. He owns his own business with my Mom.”
The Engineer looked at him for a long time. The young man grew nervous, had he said something wrong? Was it his Father’s business? “I so hate plumbing! I can’t wait to get as far away as possible,” he thought.
An interview to remember
Finally the Engineer spoke, “Tell me about your Father.”
“He’s a one man shop. All he does is work, work, work. Sometimes seven days a week, goes out at any hour of the night, always dirty. We haven’t had a decent vacation in years. He even works for people who still owe him money for work he did before. And he never tells anyone, “No.” I just want to be successful, better educated and have a future.”
“I see,” said the Engineer. “So, tell me, in the application you were asked to draw a drainage system for a back to back restroom. You, unlike other applicants didn’t use double wye’s or cross tee’s. Why?”
“My father always said they can cause problems and are horrible to try to auger out. We always had to use more fittings than anyone else, because we had to do it his way.”
“Tell me about his hands.”
“They’re stained all the time. He’s got these big calluses, and in the summer he has big white splotches on his fingers from where the solder and flux burned him. His pinky on his left hand is bent from getting caught in a cable and he said he, “didn’t have time for pain”, so he just taped it up because he had to get to the next job.”
“Any other pains?”
“Oh, yeah, his back is always sore. His knees are sore. He can’t see under a sink anymore without glasses and a flashlight.”
“What does he drive?”
“He doesn’t have his own truck, I mean, all he has is the service truck. I hated getting picked up in that truck. It’s old and smelly. Loaded down with tools and parts, it rattled all the time — especially going around corners.”
“Your Mother, she does the paperwork?”
“All of it, pays bills, sends invoices and answers the phone. She would bring us water and food when we went long. One time Dad had a sewer backing up at a reception hall and he was on the other side of town. Mom pulled the snake into her minivan by herself and met us there. He popped it open a half hour before the wedding party showed up. We just barely made it out of there unseen!”
“And he’s not very educated?”
“High school only. He should have went to college, made something of himself. “
“Does he have a lot of friends?”
“Good grief! We can’t go anywhere without him talking to someone! He knows everyone, their kids, where they work. Takes forever talking to them. He even rattles on with new customers like they’re best friends.”
The school of hard knocks
Again the Engineer looked at him a long time without speaking. Eventually he turned his chair and pointed to a black and white picture of a boy and a man in overalls with his arm over the boy’s shoulders, beaming from ear to ear.
“That’s my Dad, he too was a Plumber.” The man stared awhile at the picture, picked it up and held it in his hands. When he turned back to the young man, tears were in the corners of his eyes. “I was in your shoes once. I felt the same way as you. Now let me share with you what I now know.
“Your Father works for you! He sacrificed for you to go to that college, because he too wanted you to get ahead. He would work late into the night, feeling the tiredness in his bones and could barely stay awake when running the sewer machine. And even though his head had just hit the pillow, he didn’t hesitate to load up and head back out when needed. He didn’t have time to hurt from the countless burns, cuts, bruises, and any number of injuries over the years.
“He endured discomfort when most would have called in sick, because he couldn’t. Time off would have been welcome, but there wasn’t someone else to pick up the calls. He kept that old beater running to control overhead costs. I’m sure a newer vehicle would start easier, use less oil, and the air conditioning would actually work.
“He caters to his customers, building relationships, creating new ones, always taking care of his base. He is genuinely concerned for them and their family, and would treat them as his own. Even though he knew he wasn’t going to get paid, he helped them, because that’s what you do for people. Sometimes it’s not about the money, but feeling good from helping those without.
“But he didn’t do it alone. Your Mother held up her end too! She worried about him, you, bills, getting paid, whether work would pick up. She saw his condition and worried for his health. She saw him put others before himself, and still made time for her and you.
“I used to think my Dad was uneducated as well. Let me tell you, they both went to a school that was far more ruthless, intensive and unforgiving than our alma mater. And that is the School of Hard Knocks Life. You don’t get a grade, there’s no scale, it’s either pass or fail, succeed or lose, eat or go hungry. Only the most creative, adaptable and dedicated graduate from there. And the cost is incomprehensible.”
Join the club
Now the Engineer fell silent, stared at the picture one last time and placed it back on the table.
“You showed me some of the lessons he’s learned in the drawing you rendered today. None of the other applicants know this and will spend years learning what you’ve been taught. So because of that, I would like to offer you the job with the nation’s finest Mechanical engineering firm.”
The young man had been silent and still while the Engineer was speaking, no one had ever talked to him this way, and now a look of revelation came across his face. Slowly he stood, extended his hand and spoke to the Engineer, “Thank you, but even though it would be a tremendous opportunity to work for your firm, I believe I need to continue my education with the best, and carry on a tradition of craftsmanship and pride in a trade. To provide a service to community. And maybe someday I can be as knowledgeable as him, and pass along the trade in honor of him.”
Both men were in tears, and the Engineer nodded his head and spoke as they shook hands, “Now you get it, welcome to the club! The Club of Hard Knocks!”