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Living Honorably

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / lucidwaters

As the rain fell, I sat quietly in church behind my drums, waiting for the cue for the next song (I play in the worship band). A guest speaker, standing at the podium, began to talk of some difficult times and challenges he had faced. He mentioned that there was only one way for him to truly clear his head when problems persisted. “I drive my car to the Metroparks, take a deep breath of fresh air, and immediately start to sort things out. Don’t know what I’d do without those gorgeous parks.”

The congregation knows I work for Cleveland Metroparks, where I have helped people reserve picnic grounds for weddings, graduations, and other special occasions. I have made my pitch for levy support to the congregation, suggested golf courses to take dad for Father’s Day, and told members of the church of the best spots to find the fish biting in the vast 22,000 acres of park land that encircles Cleveland. When summer jobs become available, I alert the parents of college kids and older teenagers that the Metroparks is a great place to start building a resume. Actually, I haven’t just “worked there” since I graduated from college, but I’ve been entrenched. The Metroparks is the type of place that welcomes people, and I’m the type of person who thrives in that atmosphere.

When the congregation looked over at me, the guest speaker, not knowing my background, asked what was going on. I quickly explained that he had mentioned the place at which I work, and he noted that I seemed personally flattered.

“Have you worked there long?” he asked.

“Over thirty years,” I responded.

“Wow,” he said. “You just don’t see that much longevity anymore. You must be happy there.”

“I have been blessed.”

He continued with his speech, and as I sat down, I noticed that my face was flushed, and I was getting choked up as well. “What kind of softie am I becoming?” I thought. “The speaker mentions where I work and I’m so jazzed I react like this? Man up, for Pete’s sake!”

But there I was, looking like my face was on fire. What made me react that way?

Occupational Pride

As I drove home, I reflected on the incident. My dad had worked for Ford Motor for 40 years when he retired. My grandfather was a 25-year veteran of Alcoa Steel. My other grandfather had worked as a coal and delivery man for decades until his shoulder gave out, and then he began delivering milk and eggs—keeping much of the same clientele and same routes, only with a lighter load to carry. So clearly I come from the type of stock that knows the value of loyalty and a good, consistent effort over many years.

But there must be more than that.

I concluded that what made me react in an emotional way was pride.

My employer took a chance on me 30-plus years ago, promoting me six times during that span and even asking me to secure my Master’s degree, for which he helped me pay for it. He entrusted me with major projects and capital dollars to enhance the parks. He provided benefits to my family members as they grew, and continued to see to our healthcare as we grew older. I received a fair day’s pay for a good day’s work.

This “place,” this company, had become something I was proud to belong to and proud to serve. I am proud of my wife and children, their education, our home, cars, and reputation, all made possible through those wages that made us secure and strong.

Absence Or Excess

What’s happened to pride?  Is it lacking because there isn’t much to be proud of these days? I doubt it, for as long as parents are in the world, there will at least be the type of blind pride family always exhibits.  For example, the host of Family Feud says, “Name a common vegetable,” and the contestant replies, “Deep-fried bell peppers!” While the rest of the country is saying, “You idiot,” the relatives in the audience are probably thinking, “Good answer, good answer!”

That’s the type of pride that can be dangerous, though.

I recall seeing the full effect of Dr. Spock’s theories when I coached Little League baseball. Parents were using positive reinforcement far too much. Their child may have struck out, but they yelled, “That’s OK—good swing, good swing!” As the player wasn’t’ paying attention and got hit in the crotch with a hard grounder, they responded, “Good stop, way to use your body!” Or as the kid tripped over the base face first, he heard, “Nice slide, Aaron, nice slide!”

I mean, come on.

Beaming With Pride

Being in a child’s corner is one thing, but being proud of real accomplishment is another. A young man in my son’s marching band squad has been blind since birth. He is a talented musician and very affable. He marches with the assistance of a helper, a same-age volunteer who stands by his side and interlocks his arm. They learn the routines together and the less he needs her, the less they touch. The young lady can also play an instrument, but she has essentially given up her time playing so the blind member can enjoy his years in the band. Week after week, fans of the visiting teams are so impressed with his work ethic (he never misses a step) that they come to the home side of the field after halftime to congratulate his parents. One evening I overheard one of those exchanges.

“You must be so proud of him,” the visiting parents gushed.

The father nodded and said, “Thank you, but I’d like you to meet his guide’s parents,” gesturing to his right side.  “Only because of their daughter are we allowed to be so proud.”

The visiting couple then nodded understandingly, reaching for the guide’s parents to shake their hands. “And what an angel you have raised,” they said.

“Well, we’re proud to call her our own, but you can’t raise an angel. They are given to you.”

Now that’s pride.

Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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