What a difference a month or two makes. My life is different in a changed sort of way now, not just the normal different as in “Hey dad, that’s some comb over” different.
My daughter said that to me the other night, tongue in cheek, and it’s the closest I have ever come to smacking the little red haired girl. I love that she has my sense of humor.
She is graduated from high school now, ready to begin the next step in her life. If Alyssa does as well in college as she has done to this point, her life is going to be a very good one.
There is always that pressure of I, her dad, screwing up and ruining some of that potential. That thought crossed my mind as I drove out of the parking lot of the company I had worked for nearly 25 years. Fired. A week before my daughter’s eighteenth birthday, less than two months before her high school graduation, and in the midst of working on the financing for her college education.
I have been a good father, I know, not because I am good at it (whatever that means) but simply because I have tried. Really that is all that I can do. Try.
And that is what made me drive away from one of the most helplessly frustrating moments of my life with a sense of fight in me, a stubborn resolution to keep my chin up, to keep trying. That red haired smiling girl and her shining potential kept me from giving up. I drove home, changed my clothes, walked out the door and met her at the high school as I had promised I would do that evening. She had asked me to volunteer as a parent to play a song during her final senior band concert. No way was I going to let anything, even getting fired from my job, keep me from doing that.
March 26th. That was the day.
I realize now that it wasn’t just that day. My boss had been trying to find reasons, to build a case against me, ever since he had become my boss less than a year ago. His boss, the company sales director, has wanted that for years. Instead of recognizing me for going above and beyond, he had been inventing reasons to say I was not doing my job. And he truly had to make up reasons. I was working my butt off, including working three consecutive Saturdays in February to complete three jobs worth $1-2 million EACH (no one I know had every tackled more than one job like that at a time and no one ever was expected to), on top of training other employees and handling numerous smaller jobs. Last year, the stress literally made me sick, putting me in an ambulance that rushed me away from work. I knew it was stress, anxiety, but the doctors eventually said it was physical and I had surgery in November. I came back to work in December with guns blazing, giving my best effort.
Which isn’t enough when you have a target on your back. A loyal employee of nearly 25 years should not have a target on their back.
January came with the senior guy in my department having a heart attack. The other senior guy was fired. That left a lot on my shoulders, thus my taking on the large dollar jobs and a lot of responsibility, working the weekend days.. with zero recognition. My supervisor tried to help but there just was not anyone who had the experience to help. And there was that target on my back.
Two weeks before March 26 I wrote a letter to the owner of the company, someone who has called me a friend for years. I have never asked him for anything before. I did not want to take advantage of our friendship. I simply asked for recognition. Did not name any names. Did not point any fingers. Asked him to consider reward to go with that recognition. His response? A question.
What do you expect me to do?
I should have known then. He knew what was happening.
March 26 was a Wednesday. The whole week up to that day was hell. Million dollar jobs always have lots of follow up and revisions. I had three solid weeks prior to March 26 of just that.
My review was scheduled for the Friday prior. My boss reserved a meeting room and time. No one showed up. No one told me it was supposed to be rescheduled. I should have known something was up.
And I did know. I just was trying to survive.
March 25. The stress was so great that my coworkers were trying to console me. One even went to my boss, in his office, closed the door and told him not to fire me. I had said nothing but everyone knew. I was coming in two hours early, staying late, trying to keep up with the expectations. My supervisor was gone. His boss, my boss, was doing nothing to help and probably because he was trying to push me over the edge. He pushed, actually telling me I wasn’t doing my job.
March 26. In at 6:30 AM to start on a revision to one of those million dollar plus jobs. Boss man thought I should be able to get it done in one day. I said I needed three days minimum but would try. In a department meeting he asked me if I would get it done. I said twice that I would try but would submit what I had done at the end of the day if it was not done. The third time I paused, then looked him in his crooked eye and asked “What did I say the other two times you have asked me in this meeting?”. The room fell silent. He asked me to stay back when the meeting was done, then simply told me I had better have it done and to work on nothing else. I told him I already was, asked him why he thought I wouldn’t. No answer. I stood up and walked away.
Coworkers, more than one, sent me scripture to comfort me that day. More than one did that, even one who claims he is agnostic. One woman spontaneously gave me a neck and shoulder rub to help me relax, whispered that she just wanted to help me in some way. I worked constantly that day, trying to do the impossible revising the majority of a quote that had taken three weeks for me to prepare originally — with pricing that had no list price and often no cost to use to generate a price. It was a nightmare.
My boss followed up with me periodically during the day. Not face to face, but using an instant messaging system from the computer in his office. By mid afternoon it was starting to get ridiculous, so much so that I just started to say I would get the revision done just to make him stop interrupting me.
March 26, 5:30 PM it became obvious the revision would not get finished that day. Not completely. I was supposed to meet my daughter at 6:30 PM. So I sent an instant message to my boss that I had two hours work left to do, I needed to meet my daughter at 6:30 PM, would send what I had at 5:45 PM and leave. If he needed me to come back later that night, I would. Too bad he had not given me the option or capability to work from home (and I told him so).
March 26, 5:40 PM my boss left his office and approached me face to face for the first time that afternoon, except instead of coming to my desk, he leaned across the other cubicle in front of me.
“What’s going on with the quote?”
I paused. I knew he had seen my message, knew I was planning to leave in five minutes. Should I ask him why he was choosing not to acknowledge that message? I didn’t. I just repeated what I had said in the message at 5:30. He pursed his lips, looked angry.
“If you don’t stay, I am going to fire you. You have had long enough to finish that quote.”
Say what? Did he just say he was firing me? Oddly enough, I wasn’t furious, just frustrated and wondered how this thirty year old who knows nothing about my job could treat me like that. I knew there were basically two choices — walk away or tell him what I was thinking, which was really what he wanted.
I gave him what he wanted. “Fuck you, Darren”
“That’s it, you’re fired.”
He walked behind the cubicle wall, then yelled at me “And fuck you too”.
I stood up, yelled it back at him, sat back down. Then told him to let me do what I said I would do, send what I had, then go.
John Heiser, who I now call the “Magne-hole”, came rushing into the room yelling “That’s it you aren’t getting another chance. I am calling the police. You are fired. Get out of here now.” He wouldn’t come within twenty feet of where I was sitting.
“How about you just let me do what I have been working on all day. I’m a loyal, long term employee. Why don’t you just treat me like that, sleep on this, and let cooler heads prevail. We can talk about this in the morning.”
“I’m calling the police. Pack up now. You will not be allowed in here tomorrow morning.”
And that was that. Twenty four years, six months of my life down the tubes in roughly two minutes.
I was fired. No severance. Paid for the last week I worked plus the vacation time I had earned. My retirement money is mine.
My friend Jeff of course refused to do anything. He washed his hands. Forget friendship, although that should have meant something. It’s a matter of respect for someone who has been a significant contributor, an employee with nothing but excellent reviews for 24 years. In an instant I also lost a friend, someone who had shared countless hours, days, and trips on bicycles plus all kinds of time just plain sharing life. It is going to be a long time before I can talk to him, if ever.
I am trying to forgive. I have to.
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, FORGIVING EACH OTHER, just as in Christ GOD forgave you.”
Ugh. That was the scripture used for church services two weeks after March 26. Yeah, yeah, yeah God, I get the picture.
Not so easy. Like I said, I am trying to forgive. I will forgive. But I will never forget.
My life is different now. On March 28, I talked to a friend who sent me to a friend who was looking for an employee like me. His office is five minutes from my house. It’s a subsidiary of a Hungarian company who makes the same product I sold the last twenty four years. The subsidiary had two employees. As of May 1 it has three employees, all with their own office (a luxury I was not afforded for twenty four years), no time clock, no dress code. I spent 9 days in Budapest, a real treat even as it was hard work.
I got to party there and made new friends, one who took this picture while they were dancing with me. I’m a good dancer. I have new opportunities, ones that I would never have been given at my old job. I got to see God at work through friends and family. He didn’t prevent the bad thing from happening. He just showed me that He had put the right people in my life to survive, recover, and stay strong during a real bad time. What God showed me was that I have real, genuine friends. A lot of real, genuine friends. I found out how much I need them.
Thank you Erika. God gave you as his ears and compassion. You were the friend who brought God to me at work, a gift. Later he put Pat and Kimmie on both sides, both believers, but you have always been that godly friend that I sorely needed each work day.
Thank you Scott. You dug in and worked hard to find that job opportunity for me. 22 years ago I trained you and you became a true and loyal friend to me.
Thank you Becky for telling me how much you appreciate my ability to be real. That helped me deal with what happened in a much better way in public. I needed that.
Thank you Mom and Dad. Money. Support. Love. Example. Frank advice. Dad told me that night on March 26 to not avoid telling Mir, so I told her right away instead of taking a day to stew. That kept me going and I am so grateful.
Thanks, Frank Damato, for giving me the time and buying me Malnati’s while sharing your story with me, so similar to my own. I wish I could have been there for you when you needed the same kind of friend last year.
Mir’s family has been very supporting. Friends listened to me with sincere interest. I got the rest I needed, just enough.
I have hope. I feel strong for making it through the last two months. I see life in a new way, my eyes a little more wide.