I was up at my chapter today, and a new member said something that pissed me off. I wanted to take a minute to share my reaction because I think it might be helpful to others.
This kid, in front of his pledge class, several actives, and an advisor (me) said he wanted to vote out a pledge brother who wasn’t there for the meeting and apparently this wasn’t the first time. Probably not smart to do that in front of actives, but that’s not what got my blood up.
I told them a story about me, my Dad, and ATO.
I’m privileged to not only be a legacy, but to have ATOs in my family going back to the late 1800s. I was raised around ATO with my Dad acting as an advisor for several years. His pledge brother was the National President that signed the charter of the chapter I’d ultimately join. I knew I was going ATO when I was 12. I didn’t know what chapter or what it really meant, but it was something I always wanted.
Anyway, I found myself going through rush in 1998. I checked out KA and Sigma Chi where I’d also be a legacy, but ATO was where I fit and felt called to be. At the end of invite night, day before we took bids, they’d send us rushees off together to get to know each other. I’m still convinced that’s in part to keep them from interviewing with another fraternity, but it does start the pledge class unity.
We all ended up in a dorm room together getting to know each other. At some point I decided to go out in the hall and call my Dad to let him know I was taking a bid from ATO. Of course he was happy, but made sure I was picking ATO because it was right for me and not because of him. Then I started complaining.
I told my Dad some of the other guys there were terrible. From the weirdo that was into hippie girls and pot to the Canadian that wouldn’t stop talking about high school wrestling. It was a diverse group. They were so different from the chapter I’d gotten to know. I didn’t understand why they’d bid these people.
My Dad said, “Son, do you know your creed yet?”
That surprised me. Of course I didn’t know it. I hadn’t even formally taken a bid yet.
He said, “Well I pledged in 1970 and it goes like this…” At which point he proceeded to rattle it off perfectly (which I did as well in repeating this story to them). I was impressed.
Then he said, “You don’t even know those words yet, much less what they mean. The guys in that chapter ‘get it’ and they decide who gets into the brotherhood, not you. You need to shut up, do your job, learn all you can, make your grades, and don’t do anything too stupid. The day you understand what this is all about, give me a call. Until then, it’s not your fraternity to run.”
I hung up from that conversation and walked back in the room with my future pledge brothers. I told them we were in this together and no one quits. If they tell us to do something too insane then we’ll either all quit together or no one does. We talked about some examples, which turned out to be pretty outrageous compared to the stuff we actually ended up doing. But we agreed that it was all for one and one for all to the bitter end. It was hard work sometimes, but we did our job and held that class together without losing one single pledge brother.
I didn’t talk to my Dad again about ATO until the day I invited him to my initiation. He showed up and pinned me with my Uncle’s pin. Of course I treasured that moment and still wear that pin, but that wasn’t the important part. Like probably all teenagers, I’d drifted away from my parents and my Dad in particularly as I’d gotten older.
On that day, when I finally understood what it was really about, and as my knowledge and appreciation of it has continued to grow since then, I finally really understood what my Dad was all about, what he deep down believed in but couldn’t express, and what his life meant. As personally meaningful as that would have been in its own right, I realized I believed those things too and I felt the calling to the work of our ritual. It is the thing that defines my relationship with God and has shaped everything I believe in or have accomplished from that day forward.
My fraternity isn’t a social club for deviant college students. As much as we did make friends, drink beer, and chase women, it is something else completely.
New members have no idea what they’re getting into. They hung out for a couple weeks going to parties wanting to be part of our lifestyle. That’s fine. Even if I could show them the ritual before they took a bid they still wouldn’t understand what it means. It’d be wasted on them. I don’t really care what sells a guy on taking a bid. I just care that we’re bidding people of shared beliefs, character, capability, and potential.
Over time they’ll be shaped into warriors to accomplish that ritual on the world. But right now, they are just about the last people on earth qualified to say who should or should not be in his pledge class. Their job is to keep their pledge brothers around while they learn what this thing really means, and make grades and not do anything too stupid. Just like my Dad told me years ago.
So, for all those guys out there that just took a bid and don’t know if you necessarily love the guy next to you yet, understand what you don’t yet understand. Trust your fraternity and do your job. When you have earned the knowledge and experience to make those decisions, make sure you’re making them for the right reasons.
– This answer was written by Dennis Nall, an alumni brother from Alpha Tau Omega and contributor for the thefraternityadvisor.com. If you are interested in writing for thefraternityadvisor.com – let us know (CLICK HERE)!