My father had a picture in his workshop. I noticed it when I was around 10 years old.
The picture was a reprint of a painting created by my cousin, John Fadden. My cousin was the son of the famous Ray Fadden, founder and curator of the Six Nations Museum in Onchiota, New York, way up in the Adirondack mountains. Our old stomping grounds.
That print was a scene of a Mohawk family from before the Revolutionary War: Mom, Dad and infant son in a snow-covered spring wilderness. In this tableau Mom is sitting on the bank of a river, a campfire in front of her. Dad had just dipped his son into the icy waters and lifted him up in the air. The boy was crying, yelling in protest. The Dad is laughing and the Mom has a look of, “…here we go again, with the tough love thing.”
The story behind the happening is that the Dad is introducing his son to all the elements of life. Water, air and fire.
My Dad took that painting seriously. It is the way he grew up and so, if it was good for him, it would be good for me.
These two pictures illustrate how my Dad raised me.
He dunked me into cold spring waters and taught me how to swim. He and I climbed a mountain together, somewhere in the north Pennsylvania and southern New York region. The ground was so steep it was like climbing a wall. I was afraid going up and could not wait to climb down. That was the first hint that I was not cut out to work at great heights.
The picture of my father, Julius M. Cook, was taken by me when I was 12 years old. At that age Dad felt it necessary to find out if I had what it took to be a world class Iron Worker. A skywalker.
My Dad is standing on the outer wall of what I think is Tower A of the World Trade Center. The Center was comprised of seven or so multi-floored buildings. On that job, my Dad was the superintendent of welding on the site. Not a weld was completed without his inspection and that of an x-ray machine.
The second picture is of me, at 15 years of age, the second time my Dad took me up on the job. I am peering over the edge of Tower B, on the 86th floor.
It was at that time I realized that I was not cut out for this sort of living. I was scared of going that high. It felt like a force was trying to push me off the girders. I felt like my body would betray me and cause me to fall.
So, instead, I joined the Marine Corps three years later. I ended up at great heights anyway as a machine gunner flying around in helicopters. The irony was not lost on me.
The best part is when I told my Dad at the end of that long working day, “I don’t think I am cut out for this type of work.” He breathed a sigh of relief, and said, “I am glad you know your own mind. I am glad that you decided against it. In the end, you would end up with a bad back, bad knees and prone to doing daring things that you should not do.”
My Dad was more than an ironworker, he was an advocate for our Mohawk rights and our right to continue as a political entity based on our traditional form of government. That was the job I was interested in. It would allow me to continue our family tradition as workers and protectors of our sovereign rights as original free and independent peoples with our own laws and our own way of representing our collective voice.
I continue that work with my fathers and uncles in mind. All their sacrifices and hardships, now that they have walked on, are my responsibility and those of my cousins and brothers and sisters.
I am glad I chose to work in the role I occupy today. My father and uncles are proud of me. This I know.
This story was originally posted on July 13, 2016.