The men in my life are important to my wife.
I was only 14 when I decided not to pursue a career in accounting. Instead, I set my sights on becoming a graphic designer.
How did I decide that? One of my teachers, Herr Schmidt, declared that I was never going to be good at math. The other, Herr Hengstler, told me that my artistic talents were remarkable. Especially in our formative years, we are easily influenced.
In college, the man who influenced me the most was Armin Hofmann. He taught graphic design at the School of Applied Arts in Basel, Switzerland. I was one of nine students in the four-year master’s class. Upon graduation, he told me to take my portfolio to Munich, where my first job awaited me. It was that easy.
Working for leaders
There, as a member of the design department of the Organizing Committee of the 1972 Olympic Games, I met two other extraordinary men in the field of graphic design. One was Otl Aicher, the head of the design department, Rolf Müller, the second in command, and my boss.
I was very fortunate. The transition from college to work could not have been better. Always equally interested in visuals and words, I was allowed to design and write. To this day, I still count the design and production of a 584-page book as one of the biggest accomplishments in my career.
I had the best resources and complete control. I had access to all the pictures taken by the world’s best sports photographers. I penned every picture caption. I designed new ways to depict the results of certain sports. Some of these became the standard for displaying results.
My interests in all kinds of sports made this pure joy. I found a way to manually input vast amounts of statistical data to mimic the layout of the printed version. To do that, I had ordered typewriters with gigantic cartridges. There was no desktop publishing yet, and the digital revolution in publishing happened many years later.
Rolf Müller, my boss and mentor in Munich, believed in delegating authority with responsibility.
Learning the corporate life
I also learned how important it is to have a mentor, especially in a large organization. In my first corporate job in the United States, I had such a mentor. His last name, ironically, was Monter. Jerry was only three months my senior, but he was experienced in the corporate ways. To me, the recent immigrant, he was the all-American man. Jerry not only had a college education but also was a licensed electrician. Something you can always fall back on, he said.
He taught me to act as a manager. While in Germany, manual skills are highly regarded, I learned from him that in the United States, doing something is not nearly as highly valued as knowing someone who can do that thing. Sad but true. And, I hasten to say, today’s Germany has forgotten some of the old virtues.
Today, I called Jerry again. We haven’t seen each other for years. There was no answer, so I left a message, my third over the past two weeks. He lives in Florida. He suffers from an incurable disease. I fear the worst.
The importance of male friends
The older I get, the more I am aware of how important it is to have other men as friends. I don’t mean drinking buddies but real friends, the kind you confide in with your fears, the kind that trust me to be there for them no matter what.
I am blessed with several close male friends. We mentor each other. We hold each other accountable. Our wives know how important this is not just for their husbands but for them.
Published originally as the 126th issue of The View from the Street.