I grew up in a blue-collar house that turned white-collar over the years.  My dad earned his GED soon after my brother was born, then continued with his education throughout the early years of my childhood, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree and finding his way into running nursing homes.  I graduated high school (barely, thanks in large part to just not going very often) and since I’d gotten hurt my senior year, my football hopes had evaporated.  I chose to pursue interior demolition as a means to make money while coaching football on the side, because when you’re nineteen and lift weights, there aren’t a lot of better gigs you can land than smashing down walls with your best buds and a sledge-hammer.

Over the years, my brothers and I found our unique niches – eldest brother went into the racing world (one I dabbled in with far less success), my younger brother is a professional video game player that works for Blizzard in California, and after running around the globe in uniform for a while, I eventually (and with quite a bit of luck) managed to convince a few companies to pay me to write.  My mother, who might be the toughest lady on God’s green Earth, even went on to graduate from college the same week that I did.

All of us have distanced ourselves quite a bit from the small camping trailer my family shared as a home when I was young, but none of us have forgotten the days of earning a living with our bare hands.  Even now, as a snooty writer with a master’s degree and a member of a bunch of silly societies we use to slyly point out how high our GPA’s were, I spend most of my free time with mechanics, welders, and the types of folks that take whatever job they can to keep the bills paid.  It’s not that I don’t like my white-collar brethren, I just don’t share a lot of their worldly experiences.

A lot of television shows would have you believe that the types of people who spend their lives busting their knuckles for a paycheck just aren’t as smart as those of us who make a living at a desk – something I always had trouble stomaching.  I knew my mom and dad were smart, I knew my friends’ parents were too – they just weren’t working in the suits and high rises I saw on TV.  Fortunately, just as I was making the transition from interior demolition to race mechanic, a show called “Dirty Jobs” debuted on the Discovery Channel.

The host, Mike Rowe, demonstrated week after week that the people who make a living by “getting dirty” aren’t less than those who make a living in an office building.  He was immediately a hero of mine; an articulate man who truly honored and respected the guys and girls that do the world’s dirty work.

As a Marine, I spent a lot of time doing dirty work.  Every Marine is a rifleman, but every Marine is also a janitor, a landscaper, a hole digger, and a whatever-the-hell-else-we’re-told-to-do’er – and my love affair with Mr. Rowe continued until his show came to an end just a month or so before I left the Corps.  Since then, he’s become a huge supporter of people pursuing trades instead of degrees when they’re not necessary – encouraging the world to stop assuming someone needs a bachelor’s degree to have value, and start respecting the plumbers, the carpenters, the farmers of the world for the invaluable services they provide our society.

He’s also a huge supporter of the military.

He now uses social media and podcasting as a means by which to spread his message, one that is mirrored by his non-profit, mikeroweWORKS.  Of course, no one in this day in age can avoid the political vitriol that is internet commenting, but Rowe often responds to his critics in a measured, reasonable, and downright polite tone.

So as we see the most controversial president of the modern age take office, I thought it could benefit us all to read one of those responses.  In particular, one about his appearance at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas this past week.  Rowe was criticized by a “former fan” for associating with folks like us.  I’ll let “Marla” take it from here:

“I just read that you’re speaking at the SHOT show in Las Vegas this week. VERY disappointing. There are already too many guns in this country, and too much faux patriotism surrounding the second amendment. I can’t believe you’d risk your good name associating with a bunch of gun nuts. You’ve lost a fan.”

How terribly sad for Mr. Rowe.  I’m sure Marla would have been super fun to hang out with otherwise.

Rowe didn’t respond with the same eye-rolling, “gimme a break” response I did as I read her comment.  Instead, he replied by telling her just what he intended to do while there: some corporate team building with the aid of a group of Navy SEALs.

“It’s true, I’ll be in Vegas this week, addressing a roomful of people who like to shoot guns. I’m not sure what I’m going to say yet – probably the same thing I tell anyone who invites me to discuss the various ways we might close America’s skills gap. But one things for sure – while I’m there, I’m going to make sure I see my friends at The SEAL Family Foundation.” Rowe wrote in his response.

“You’d love these guys, Marla. They look after the families of those involved with Naval Special Warfare. Remember Ty Woods and Glenn Dougherty – two of the men who died in Benghazi? The SEAL Family Foundation raised over $500,000 for their memorial fund.”

Rowe went on to talk about his team meeting up with, “Matt, Bobby, Jeremy, and Danielle – four SEALs who spent the last fifteen years getting shot at by bad guys and returning the favor – with far superior results.”  After the training, they all went back to the bar so have a few drinks and listen to their new SEAL friends tell them stories about their service.  Rowe described the conversation as, “Fascinating. Eye-opening. Humbling.”

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He then went on, “One day Marla, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to experience something similar, and listen to the stories of people who use guns to protect us.”

He concluded his blogged response to Marla by inviting her to attend the SHOT Show as his guest, though I find it unlikely that she obliged.  He made sure to point out that she’d need to respond soon so he could secure her a second room; “you’re gonna need your own hotel room. (Just so we’re clear…)”

This isn’t the first time Rowe has gone out of his way to praise those who have served.  Just a few weeks ago, he received a message on social media from the parents of a former special forces soldier who was now losing his battle with a terminal illness.  I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion to this story than Rowe’s somber response.

“I would like you to know, that your note reminded me of just how tenuous it all is. Our freedom. Our liberty. Our health. It’s all so fragile. And so damn easy to take for granted.

Sooner or later, our bodies will fail us. There are no exceptions. But what Justin did with his body while it was still in his control, has left me forever in his debt, and mindful of what matters most. Because ultimately, there is no greater threat to our freedom, than a lack of gratitude to those who provide it.”

Thank you, Mr. Rowe, for being a spokesman for hard workers and grateful Americans everywhere.


 Image courtesy of Mike Rowe on Facebook