The boy who said ‘Yes, sir’
The young man stood beside the gravel road and watched the car approach. He saw two men inside. Further down the road, where the mine was starting operations, the young man knew they were hiring workers. The same car passed by each morning on its way to the plant. Every morning he stood beside the road at the stop sign, hoping to speak to someone, wanting a job.
One morning, the car stopped right in front of him. This morning, the driver rolled down the window, leaned out, looked him over, and asked a question. “Son, how old are you? “Sir, I’m 16 years old.” “Can you work hard?” “Yes, sir! I’m a hard worker.”
“I’ll give you a chance to prove it. Climb in.”
This became his first job in a career that lasted a lifetime. The driver was my father. He had been a union organizer for a phosphate mine. Smith-Douglas hired him away to be a shift foremen for their new plant, the Tenoroc mine in Lakeland, Fla.
Dad was on the lookout for reliable men. At the plant’s peak, a thousand men worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They went a million-man hours without a lost-time accident—an industry first—in a hazardous industry where men worked beside heavy equipment like bulldozers, pressurized pipes, hot steam, acids, and massive draglines that could walk.
Dad gave the young man a shovel and put him on the midnight shift. His job was dirty and hard. He followed behind heavy equipment, cleaning up, finishing jobs, making things look good. It was a tough task done at rough hours. He earned a reputation for good work. He was known for helping other men after his job was complete. Helping others, he learned how to do their job. In a few years, he was made foreman of the night shift.
When dad became plant superintendent, he chose this man to be on his team, making his career endure for decades. Now retired, this man and his wife live well and enjoy life.
The blessings began when he said “sir” to the right man at the right time.
I recently sat in a High School class hearing a coach attempting to get through to a sullen boy. The student was failing, not focused, and seemed unwilling to try. For every admonition, he had an excuse. For each instruction, he had a retort; a wisecrack. In his eyes, he was popular. That was enough. To me, he seemed smother-loved and father-lost. He’ll be shuffled along to a new class, another grade, but he’ll never make the cut to become a grown-up, responsible man.
The coach finally gave up. “It’s hard to pour water into a full cup,” he said.
At another school, in an elementary class, one boy caught my eye. I’d learned that things were chaotic for him at home — issues beyond his control, a mother in jail. He was missing opportunities at school because he had a sullen attitude. His teachers got the brush off. I took him aside. We had a “grandpa” talk. I told him about the power of using “Yes Sir” or “Yes Ma’am.” I explained how showing respect to his teacher could help him pay attention, listen, and learn.
You may never know what opportunity passes you by because of disrespect. If you give respect away, it comes back to you. You may be one person away from a lifetime of blessings — but only if you pay attention, are willing to work, and from your heart you can say, “Sir!”
Ron Wood is a writer and minister. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.touchedbygrace.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.