The Lessons I Learned When Running Away

Some of the most important lessons we learn from our Fathers are those during time of conflict.  It is inevitable that a son and his Dad will have a confrontation as a son grows to a man.  A good Dad  turns that confrontation into lessons that the son takes with him for a lifetime.  On this Father’s Day, I recall one confrontation and what my Dad taught me.

When I was 16, I made the rash decision to run away.  I was distressed that I was moving away from my home in New Jersey and losing my friends.  It was understandable in some respects.  I was half way through my junior year and was tied to my school and in particular my first girlfriend.  I thought the world was ending but really it was only beginning.

I remember the day as it is almost yesterday.  My Dad was a bit steamed after my Grandpop, Uncle, Aunt and cousins came over to wish us off.  As to be expected, everyone was sad to see us leave and a lot of tears were shed.  I remember my Dad saying something to the effect that he could not take another person crying (my Mom’s family was Irish and as the stereotype goes a bit emotional).  I just got upset and belligerent after hearing that.  I told him “Well, I am half my Mom’s side and I am not crying and promised to take off.”  He half dismissed it but I did not.  At that moment, I decided to run away.

My great idea was I would run as fast as I could the 5 or 6 miles to Yardville to my Uncle Johnny’s house and hide out in the woods.  Then when my family left for Texas heartbroken, I would have my cousin bring me food while I lived out in the woods behind their house (I said the idea was rash!).  Just to show what crazy things teen age love can do, I decided then and there to take off.  I ran with all my might and with the stuffed toy Dog (Little Rascal) my girlfriend gave me.  I set off to Yardville to hide out in the woods.

Back then I could run fast.  I ran out of Crosswicks out past Ocker’s Barrel where my Dad worked when on strike (which you see below).  I got 4 and a half miles and was just about to turn off the main street to my Uncle Johnnie’s house when my Dad in the car caught up to me.

Ocker's Barrel
Ocker’s Barrel as I ran past

I do not know how he knew where I was going.  I will never forget it.  He told me that he was sorry and that I and all of my Mom’s side were tough.  He then explained that we needed to move to Texas to make a better life.  Part of the steel mill was moving down South and as a result he was not reelected as union Vice President.  He got an offer in Texas for his work and we needed to move to make a new life.  He then hugged me and I got in the car.

My brothers and my sister (although she was a bit young) can attest that I was not a happy camper on the way to Texas.  I sat sullen and made sure that I never took a turn in the middle seat.  My brothers adjusted better.  Each chance I could I would either write or try and call my girlfriend.  Let’s just say I was not a happy camper.

But I should have been!  Texas turned out to be a great place to complete my High School years.  And we literally were still in Jersey (not New Jersey but Jersey Village, outside of Houston)!  I learned four valuable lessons on my attempted run away and capture:

  1. I was self-absorbed. Yes, I lived 16+ years in New Jersey but my Mom had lived 38!  She was leaving the family and friends she grew up with for the family she nurtured and loved.  I still remember my Granpop’s hands shaking and my Mom tearing up on the day we left. My Dad, although a Texan by birth, was also leaving behind more. He had lived in New Jersey for 20 years and was now had ties as deep there than in his native state.  Known as Big D, he was leaving his friends, co-workers and the community where he was the coach of the Red Sox, the Cubmaster of Pack 55, and institution at NBC wresting matches and football games.
  2. Moving to a new place meant new friends. After a few months adapting (boy the football coaches had fun with me and my brother’s accents!), I met new friends, dated new girls and created lasting relationships that still endure.
  3. I learned a lesson that I covet as a Father. Sometimes when you are providing for your family you have to make a hard decision.  My Dad would have liked nothing more than to stay in New Jersey where he built so many bonds.  But the steel mills were moving South (and later off shore).
  4. The last lesson from him is the power of apology.  I should have apologized to him not the other way around! I will never forget when he caught up to me in the car and took me home.  It takes a big man to apologize to angst filled son!

American Anthem: More Crosswicks less Crosswise

I turned off the news yesterday because I just could not take it any more. Whether you watched CNN, MSNBC, or FOX, it was all the same. People pointing fingers. People shouting at people and not listening to each other. And much worse than that. As I shut down the vitriol on my TV, I asked how has this nation devolved into an us versus them mentality.

It was not always that way.  We once had civil discourse and the social intermediaries (clubs, little league, community centers, and other institutions) that brought us together.  I think the late Charles Krauthammer who both served as Walter Mondale’s speech writer and conservative commentator, said it best: “Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.”

We have gotten extreme, but it was not always that way. We did not always launch ourselves into the opposing sides of Twitter feeds at the drop of a hat, but rather listened to the opposing sides of people we respected in our community. We sought out the commonalities that brought us together and the spark of humanity that resides in each one of us.   We listened to one another and learned from one another at the PTAs, Little Leagues, Community Centers and institutions of everyday life.  We need to return to these social institutions and turn away from the emptiness of social media.

The best example of a community of sharing and caring is the town that I grew up in Crosswicks.  My town’s main claim to fame was it was the launchpad of the revolution – the Battle of Trenton that won us a country and a nation.  In that town of Crosswicks, we had a mix of liberals and conservatives that all got along and progressed for the betterment of our country and our community.  Thinking about my hometown, I started thinking how did our nation – the collective Crosswicks – become so Crosswise?  What caused the demise of the democracy?  Simply this.  When you cross the wicks (Crosswicks) of a candle, the light burns brighter.  But when you get cross wise, the fire of freedom becomes extinguished.

Picture of Crosswicks

So tonight, I will ruminate on what made our little hamlet of Crosswicks bring people together instead of pulling them apart.  And the answer is quite simple – it was community organizations not affiliated with governments, Facebook, or corporate organizations.  It was organizations by the people, for the people and run by the people.  Let me talk about three of them:

  1. Little League – Back before the day of club Soccer run by professionals, we had Little League. It was run by volunteers who wanted to teach kids a sport and bring communities together.  I am now 55 and can still remember every moment of every Chesterfield Red Sox versus Chesterfield Black Sox game.  The whole community came together to watch the teams compete.  There may have been some arguments on the fields of friendly strife, but what I remember the most was being with my friends, learning from my father and other parents, and sharing fun with the community.  I am not trying to cut down club soccer which is still a unifying organization.  But there is something different learning from the people of your community instead of professionals that are getting paid.
  2. Scouts – I cannot talk to Girl Scouts, but I can talk to Cub and Boy Scouts. These institutions brought together people from all walks of life for fellowship and fun.  Both my mother as a Den Mother and my Father as a Cubmaster were involved.  We got to learn how to compete fairly in the Pinewood Derby and Rocket races.  We also learned how to develop our skills and help one another with our various badges.  As part of a Den, Pack or Troop, you learned how to cooperate and care for those in your group.  You also learned about how through differences and diversity, you create strength.  I will never forget how our Boy Scout troop was able to take the disparate talents and succeed in a weekend campout.
  3. Community Center and Library – The heart of Crosswicks was the community center and library.  In the summer program at both institutions, I first fell in love with books, learned how to draw a cartoon dog and cat, and participated in parties on Halloween and Christmas.  It did not matter the color of your skin, your political institution, or your religion.  All the people in Crosswicks were brought together to share in fellowship and learn new skills.  In the end, it is really what you learn and apply rather than what you earn and deny that makes a mark on the world.

These are just three of the intermediary institutions that brought us together in Crosswicks.  I will never forget the friends that I made. And, even 40 years later, when my friends from Crosswicks express their disparate views, some quite different from my own, I listen and learn.  Never underestimate the power of Crosswicks and intermediary institutions to bring people together.  Let us all as a nation, cross wicks and make the light of our common humanity shine brighter!

Commissioned to Love

What does it mean to be commissioned?  The simple Webster definition is “an instruction, command, or duty given to a person or group of people.”  But what is the instruction, what is the duty?  Who gives the command and to whom is the command given? And is their one great commission that we all should follow? 

I started thinking about this on May 24, the day when as a Catholic, I celebrate Jesus’s Ascension and the Great Commission.   Here is the first reading that occurred on that day from Acts 1:

He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons
that the Father has established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
throughout Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.

Acts 1

And what was the power that was bestowed by the Holy Spirit?  The power to know that you are loved and to bestow that love on others. To live out the commandment in courage and strength that Jesus gave on the last supper

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.

John 15:12

This was the Great Commission and commandment that we are meant to follow.  What happened on May 25th , 2020, the very next day after this celebration, was the opposite of the Great Commission.  Call it the Great Betrayal.  An officer who was commissioned:  “TO PROTECT WITH COURAGE, TO SERVE WITH COMPASSION” did the exact opposite.  There was no compassion shown to George Floyd nor courage displayed by the officers that renounced their commission.

Now as the nation struggles with this betrayal and the many that have occurred before it, we need to cling to the hope and love set forth in the Great Commission. We need to practice the three P’s:  Protest Injustice, Protect Your Neighbor and Heart, and Pray for Love and Understanding.  We have seen many doing just this but unfortunately there are others who tear down instead of build-up.

In search of hope, I look back and forward to two other commissioning’s – one recent and one happening this week.  On Saturday May 30th,  Nasa and Space-X went on a successful co-mission as they launched the first commercial manned rocket to the space station.  The private and public sector blended their unique talents on a co-mission to space and allowed us to hope that we could boldly go were no man has gone before – a world were differences are celebrated. As Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek puts it: 

“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.”

Gene Rodenberry

I also look forward to the graduation and commissioning of the West Point Class of 2020 on June 13th.  I look forward to the cadets to taking the oath to serve.   In the words of LTG Darryl A. Williams, our first black West Point Superintendent (you can read the full letter here https://s3.amazonaws.com/usma-media/inline-images/about/Public%20Affairs/homepage/pdfs/superindendent_sends_06.04.2020.PDF):

“The oath to support and defend the Constitution binds us together as one team, dedicated to defending our Nation and upholding its values. We strive to embody these ideals and aspire to live by our core values of duty, honor, and country. Every word, every action, and every attitude should uphold those values so that we may live and lead honorably. The Nation looks to West Point as an example of what is possible when people from diverse backgrounds unite and aspire to honorable living.

Consider how your words, actions, and attitudes impact other people. Are you building up others and making them feel valued? Are you strengthening trust within the team? Are you extending forgiveness, and actively listening to other points of view? Are you inspiring others to greatness? If so, encourage others to do the same. If not, then choose to improve—immediately. Muster the moral courage necessary to confront and solve problems with effective, honest, and empathetic dialogue that seeks solutions rather than sowing seeds of division and disunity.”

LTG Darryl A. Williams

Let’s build up instead of tearing down.  Let’s celebrate the differences.  Let’s love one another and protect each other’s heart.  Let’s live out the great commission!

A Walk with History: Overcoming Slavery’s Stain

I wrote this blog a few years back but have decided to re-post due to recent events. It is relevant today as we stand in solidarity to stop the brutality we saw done to George Floyd. We must take this opportunity to work to overcome slavery’s stain. To stand with people of color and all of us to Protest the Injustice, Protect our Neighbors, and Pray for Love, Kindness and Justice for all.

I am just returning from a week long vacation visiting historic sites in Virginia.  This is the first of a series of blogs on what I learned.  This lesson is the most important.  I gained it while visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC and tours/talks on slavery at Montpelier, Monticello, and Colonial Williamsburg.

National Museum of African American History and Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture

What I took away from this experience is four things:

  1. We owe a debt of gratitude to those enslaved and their descendants for building this country that is hard to repay. The impact that African Americans had on building this country far surpasses their percentage of the population.  From the plantation slaves to the Tuskegee Airmen from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, the smarts, sweat, ingenuity and determination of African Americans was a driving force in building this country.
  2. Slavery was just pure evil and despite the myth, there was no such thing as a “good” slave owner. This was hammered home on both at the Montpelier and Monticello tours.  Madison’s stepson John Payne Todd after taking over the estate, ran the estate into bankruptcy and along with his mother Dolly Madison sold off the slaves and broke up families in attempt to pay off debts due to John’s profligacy.  Monticello’s tour of Mulberry Row hammered home even more poignantly the evil nature of slavery.  Our tour guide was from the Bronx and in the typical no-nonsense way of a New Yorker shattered the myth that Jefferson was a lenient slave owner.  Although he decried slavery in his writings, he only freed 6 slaves (less than 1 percent of those at Monticello).   And, of those freed, 4 of the 6 were his children by Sally Hemmings as genetic testing suggests.  Most of the rest were sold to pay off the debt of Monticello upon his passing.  This does not take away from all the good that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison done.  Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Madison’s Constitution set in motion the ideas that would eventually topple the paradox of slavery.  But these flawed men could not fully escape their times.
    Slave Quarters at Monticello
    Slave Quarters at Monticello
  3. The stain and impact of slavery continued through segregation and still echoes today. The African American museum is arranged so you start underground with the initiation of slavery and progresses as it is abolished in the Civil War and segregation is ended with the Civil Rights Act. You learn the impact on family structure as families are broken apart and sold to different owners.  You see the injustice of people being lynched just because of the color of their skin.  Perhaps, the most moving moment in the whole museum and one that makes me ashamed of my historical ignorance was the memorial to Emmett Till.  I always thought that the event that initiated the Civil Rights campaign of the sixties was Rosa Parks, but it was the murder and memorial for Emmett Till six months prior.  Emmett, a fourteen-year-old young man, who was visiting his relatives in South, was brutally murdered for supposedly looking at a white woman in a disrespectful manner.  His beaten body was then dumped in a swamp.  When his body was recovered, his mother bravely requested an open casket funeral for all to see the evil of racism.  Unbelievably, the two individuals that all evidence points to have committed the act were found not guilty by an all-white jury.   I was happy this week to see the case to be reopened with new evidence. Emmett Till and his brutal murder was one of the key event that launched the Civil Rights movement and we as Americans must remember its history along with Rosa Parks, the sit-ins, and Martin Luther King.  We must not forget. And we must stand-up and pass the legislation in Emmett’s name being held up in the Senate currently.
  1. We must be ever vigilant. The museum climbs from the basement to the ground floor with the presidency of Barrack Obama.  In this way, it is meant to show America as it progresses from the depths of slavery to the promise of a more equal future.  But there is nothing in the museum that prevents a person from walking back down through history into the basementIndeed, in the last years we have taken some giant steps back with George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor. But we have and need to start climbing again. America in better than this! We still hear the echoes of slavery and the vestiges of the past.  This time I spent in our nation’s past has hammered home in me the need to be ever vigilant.  We cannot let the mistakes of the past repeat themselves.  We must continue to stand for civil rights and secure justice.  To be on guard and fight for equality for all and a more perfect union.

Memorial Day Walk with Heroes – Respect Their Sacrifice and Each Other

Memorial Day Honoring Tuskegee Airmen
Memorial Day Honoring Tuskegee Airmen

I just finished watching my favorite annual show – The National Memorial Day Concert.  But this year it was different.  Unlike other years, the show was not live in front of a large crowd because of the current pandemic.  Despite being apart, the stories, speeches, and songs of the soldiers that sacrificed their lives for this country served to unite.  And served to remind us we are all in this together.  Also, how important it is to respect the sacrifice of our fallen by being kind to each other and working together to defeat today’s silent enemy. 

I believe one of the most improbable goals in human history was undertaken by our founding fathers and mothers when they established this country.  A country formed for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

But the experiment is fragile.  Too often in today’s time, we do not listen to our fellow Americans.  To see their side and to honor their equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  Indeed, there is too much me and not enough us.  And it is a disgrace to the sacrifices that these brave service men and women gave.  They gave all for us.  Can’t we honor their memory by at least listening to the ideas of our fellow Americans and engage in Civil Discourse?

We all must endeavor to see in shades of grey.  To listen with open ears and understand what the other side is saying to honor the memories of our fallen.  Indeed, it is fitting that the uniform of the United States Military Academy is Grey.  Life is seldom Black and White.  It is grey!  And it is our responsibility to diligently discern the grey by nurturing this fragile dream of democracy and listening to our fellow Americans.   To hear a compelling podcast on this topic from a guy pleading to you as I do, listen to Dan Carlin’s Common-Sense podcast linked here Common Sense – Shades of Grey.

A few years back, I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans.  It at the time seemed an “improbable goal”.  But what is more improbable, is that a citizenry of people of every creed and race giving their lives for a single idea.  So today as a plea for all of us to get along and work together to defeat this pandemic, I take you through a virtual 50-mile walk with each 10-mile marker in honor of the fallen in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.

Mile Marker 0 to 10.  Army.  Col. Richard (Dick) McEvoy.   I will start with the person that I know best.  Richard (Dick) McEvoy, USMA class of 1980, was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor with DynCorp after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. He was the S-3 and I was the S-2. I also worked with him when he was the Commander of A Company. His company always got the highest scores in inspections and had astounding Esprit de Corps. I looked up to Dick and he was a role model as a calm, no nonsense commander that balanced mission and troops.  He went on to train other soldiers as the Commander of the National Training Center.   Here’s more about Col. McEvoy here McEvoy Memorial

Mile Marker 10 to 20. Navy. LAUREL BLAIR SALTON CLARK, M.D. (CAPTAIN, USN), NASA ASTRONAUT.  Service is not confined to battle in wars, but also advancing the cause of freedom through the courageous act of exploration.  Captain Clark perished in Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 while reentering the earth’s orbit.  I remember it like it was yesterday since she perished near Palestine, Texas where the Space Shuttle broke apart upon reentry.  She advanced the US Space mission by conducting over 80 experiments.  She also had a distinguished career in the Navy prior to her mission.  Her squadron won the Marine Attack Squadron of the year for its successful deployment.  She represents the brave women that defend our country and advance the cause of freedom.  Nearly 200 women have been KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq alone.  Read more about Captain Clark here Captain Clark

Mile Marker 20 to 30.  Coast Guard.  Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal.   The Coast Guard is a crucial branch of the Armed Services.  They defend our country and embark on humanitarian missions that serve our country and advance our image.  Petty Officer Bruckenthal was a damage controlman, who with two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.

Bruckenthal and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. As they boarded the boat, it exploded. Bruckenthal later died from the wounds he sustained in the explosion.  Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard member killed in action since the Vietnam War.  His service as well as others in the Coast Guard such as our family friends the Lawrence’s advance the cause of freedom by defending our coasts.  Read more here about Petty Officer Bruckenthal here Petty Officer Bruckenthal

Mile Marker 30 – 40.  Marines.  Ira Hayes.  Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American who was immortalized both in the statue in Washington as he lifted the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII but also in one of my favorite songs by Johnny Cash called the Ballad of Ira Hayes linked here Ballad of Ira Hayes.   Ira did not die on the hills of Iwo Jima but back in the country he defended.  He represents all the Veterans that defend us with all their hearts, guts and souls but when they return we do not care for them adequately or honor their sacrifice.  He is memorialized in a statue; let us remember him in our hearts and our actions as we care for the cause of the Native Americans.

Mile Marker 40 – 50.  Air Force (Army Air Corps).  The fallen of the Tuskegee Airmen.  The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.  They have been immortalized in the movie Red Tails and they went on to produce 3 Generals in the Air Force – Daniel James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon for keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and Lucius Theus, who retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force.  They were one of the most decorated units in WW II and had an amazing record against the German Luftwaffe.  This group of the first African American Aviators fought valiantly in WW II even though they did not have rights in the Jim Crow South.    66 of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives in WW II, dying for a country that did not accept them in some areas.  Read more about the importance of memorializing these great Americans and others on Memorial Day here in a letter from the Tuskegee Airman Institute President Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Letter.

Our journey of 50 miles on Memorial Day demonstrates the resilience and sacrifice of the men and women of this nation.  Immigrant or native, white or black, men and women -each gave the ultimate sacrifice.  The least we can do on this Memorial Day is to listen to one another with respect and support this fragile goal of Democracy!  We are all brothers and sisters with one idea – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So, the least we can do is to love and understand one another!

A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 1 of 2 Part Series)

Two recent events forced me to accept something that I have been putting off for two years.   I am now officially a “Senior”, and, as such, there are certain things I need to adjust.

The first event’s linkage to my advancing age is apparent.  My youngest of four children Kendall graduated from college recently.  She may not have been able to walk across the stage due to the current pandemic.  However, her name flashing across the scoreboard at Texas A&M’s Kyle field signified that my wife and I were officially empty nesters (Gig’em!)!  

Graduation Name - Kendall

The second event, our dog Boots’ reaction to the loud rainstorm in Austin last night may not be so apparent (more in Part 2 of this blog!) A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 2 of 2).  But both conspired to make me finally accept my new season in life.

I did not embrace my age two years ago! When I turned 55, I staged a ritualistic burning of my AARP card application on YouTube (see video below).  

I was trying to show that I had no intention of slowing down in what I then thought was a humorous way.  It was not! The part not captured on the video could have caused me to miss my next birthday, but in hindsight was funnier.  The part I cut out is the AARP card caught fire rapidly and I had to drop it.  I asked for someone to give me some water to dash the flames.  Unfortunately, the pan with the water had been in the sink with some oil that had not been removed.  The pan lit up like a torch until someone gave me a lid to snuff it out.  Almost lit the house on fire!  Not good for my health and those around me (although that video would have gone viral!).  How did I finally embrace my age and adapt to stay fit?  Read the second part of the blog series on the event that was the final tipping point – Boot’s whimpering at the rain here link A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 2 of 2)

A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 2 of 2)

In the first part of this blog series here A Daughter, A Dog, and A Not So Old Man (Part 1 of 2 Part Series) , I showed I was ready to risk life, limb, and house instead of embracing my age.  So how did the dog and the rain change my disposition

Boots and my attempt to calm him reminded me that I no longer had the stamina that I once had.  At 3 AM, with the lightening striking, thunder rolling, and Boots barking, I decided to sing him a lullaby like I did when the recently graduated Kendall and her three older siblings were scared.  It worked for a bit.  I sang the following to the tune of Bing Crosby’s Little Man Your Crying while petting Boots.  Like Kendall’s lullaby I changed the lyrics but this time for a dog, not a girl.

Little dog you’re crying,
I know why your blue,
the rain is loud and took
Your time to walk away.
Better go to sleep now,
because little dog you had a busy day.
Lacy took your dog bones,
now I’ll tell you what I’ll do,
I’ll go out and get you new ones right away,
better go to sleep now
because little dog you had a busy day.

Lacy is my oldest daughter’s Pit bull. The song worked! But I had to keep singing it or Boots would cry. So, I decided to get up and do the next logical thing.  Do aerobics!

What?  That does not sound logical.  Well I was not going to come up with multiple Boots lullabies.  Unlike my kids, the dog did not fall soundly sleep. Each flash of lightening made him howl anew.  Since I had to stay up with my frightened dog and it was my weigh-in day for WW, I decided to do some exercise to music earlier than usual.  But unlike other Saturdays, I was feeling all my 50+ years and was not ready for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or something like that.  So, I did what I never said I would do.  I did an exercise video for Seniors. 

And boy was I glad I did.  I had avoided Senior based videos since I thought that such videos would be boring and not much of a workout.  Instead the videos by Paul Eugene (see here) were energizing, fun and just the right level to get a great workout. 

I liked the first one on Latin Dance for Seniors so much; I did a second Aerobics one!  If I had done HIIT or something more strenuous in my dog induced, sleep deprived coma, I would have ended up with a pulled muscle or on the floor.   Instead, I was ready for the day and more. 

When the videos ended, the rain had stopped, and Boots was finally asleep.  Lucky for me he feared rain but loved Paul Eugene!  The sun had started to come out and I decided to take a walk.  And then the biggest surprise happened.  On the path to my park, I saw a Doe that looks to be ready to give birth!

 It took me back to the days of Kendall and lullabies, but not depressed with my advancing years.  And hopefully in a few years as I stay healthy Sweating to and with the Oldies, I may have the chance to rock a grandchild instead of a dog!  Embrace your age! Stay Healthy!

A Mother’s Love Goes On

My site is about weight loss and leadership. But today, on the eighth year of my Mother’s passing (May 7th), I feel called to write about the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my Mom.

My Mom was the leader of the family.  She was the soul and the heart who taught us how to laugh, love and get along in the world.  I learned many lessons from my mom but here are just three with appropriate antidotes.

  1. How not to take myself so seriously!  Anyone who knows me knows that I am an intense guy.  Part of that is from my Dad who always said this or that is the greatest or the best thing ever.  And part of that is just my anal retentive self.  Mom was the opposite.  She used to loosen me and my Dad up.  Here is an anecdote.  My mom went with me to back to school day back in my junior year when we moved to Texas.  Every 15 minutes we would have to switch classes and meet the teacher.  I walked directly to class while people were trying to flag me down and say high.  My Mom in her Jersey accent would say Donn…nie, why didn’t you say hi to those cute girls that were saying hi to you!  I said something like Mom we have to get to class and I do not want us to be late.  As always, I was too focused on the mission and what was next.  My Mom tried to focus me on relationships and what was now.
  2. Sing from your heart.  My love of singing and whatever literary skills I have come from my Mom.  She loved Debbie Reynolds and old Irish songs.  I grew up with the songs “Tammy”, Irish tunes, and “Frankie and Johnnie Were Lovers” running in my mind.  She taught me to sing from your soul, from my heart.   She also was quite a writer herself as was my Mother In Law Audrey.  To this day, I can never hear the song Tammy without weeping out loud.  It was the song of my childhood and is cemented on my soul!
  3. Love, love, love to the End!   What is it with Mothers?  They love us always and to the end.  My Mom was the same way (as was the Mother of all, the blessed Mother).  Two anecdotes stand out.  I remember back in Jersey being bullied by some kids.  I was the nerdy kid.  Heck my nickname was Richie Cunningham.  My Mom one day tracked them down and chewed them out.  They never bothered me again! The second anecdote was the time in the aftermath of my Dad’s passing.  Mom was the rock that kept us all going.  She demonstrated devotion and everlasting love by staying out in the country of East Texas until the house was sold and the estate settled.  She was struggling but she continued to lift us up and get things done.

Last Thoughts.  My last memory of my Mom is the most meaningful and testament to her love.   I was sitting in the hospital in Richmond, Texas.  My mom was on a respirator and the Doctor asked me and the rest of the family if we should pull her off the respirator.  Even though she pointed to it to stop, we were struggling to give our OK.  We sat there and finally gave our OK.  But Mom had saved us.  She knew her time and had passed.  I will never forget her final act of love.  How she protected us from that decision.

In closing, there will never, ever, ever be someone as great and more deserving of your respect than your mother.  Love them!  Bless them! And, thank them for what you are and what you will be!  Not just this Mother’s Da

Getting Rid of Junk Food and Throw Away Values

I would never say that the current pandemic is a blessing in disguise.  It is a painful scourge that has caused pain to many and has dramatically changed our lives.  But I would call it an opportunity, if we are bold enough to seize it.  An opportunity to reflect on what is important and perhaps change the direction that we are taking individually and as a nation.  In that way, it is reminiscent of a personal health scare that I had some five years ago.   This event, while extremely negative and scary at the time, changed my life for the better. 

Six years ago, I was on a downward trajectory. The bottom hit in 2014 when I was out of shape (350+ pounds), stressed and overworked. I was in Kansas on a work project and I was trying to keep up with one of my colleagues who had offered me a lift to the hotel. I was trying to keep pace with him  as we climbed the stairs. On the third flight as we approached the car, I could not catch my breath in the brisk air. It took more than 5 minutes of deep breathing to get it under control. My chest was constricted and heart beating out of control.  In that way it had some of the symptoms of the current virus.

Something had to change! Left to my own devices, I would have done what I always done – driven on. But this was something scary and new. The Iron Man’s armor was beginning to rust, and I had to reassess my habits.  In this case, one of the habits I had to change was eating junk food.   A sugar junkie I used to literally drink Peanut M&M’s as I drove through another 14-hour workdays.   

This scare made me make abrupt changes to some of my habits, but not all.  Instead of eating junk food such as M&Ms, I switched to apples.  Instead of sitting in a chair for 14 hours, I got up and took a walk.  Slowly over a year and a half I took off a 150+ pounds and got healthy.  But I still retained some bad habits.

That is where the current pandemic comes in.  It is a similar shock to the system.  But instead of getting rid of junk food, it has forced me (as I suppose some of you) to reassess and replace junk values with real ones.   Chiefly these three:

1.  Reassessing Work-Life Balance.  I am not sure I ever practiced work-life balance.  I was more Work first then life; but the current situation changed that.  Work can disappear in a second.  If you pour yourself into work only, you lose your identity.  And then what do you have when work goes away?  Fortunately,  that has not happened to me yet.  But the situation has caused me to reflect and rebalance.  I focus now on life first.  That has also rippled into my reactions with others.  I used to focus exclusively on work in discussions. But with everyone working from home, it has made me more tolerant and even appreciative of the lives of others seeping into work.  Just the other day I had the joy of seeing a colleague’s child sing “Baby Shark”.  My kids are all adult and with no grandchildren to date it was fun (although you younger parents must think I am nuts!)

2.  Slowing down instead of speeding up.  I used to change gears at the moment’s notice.  With no restrictions, I would get in a car or plane to meet a friend, take in a movie or fly to a client site.  The need to social distance and shelter at home has slowed everything down and took away our freedom of movement.  But if you think about it, maybe we were too frantic in the first place.  We now have more time to plot our next move and to think reflectively.

3.  Appreciating the human touch.   I am not one for crowds.  Truth be told I am a bit of a curmudgeon.  But with the inability to see people real time, I now have a longing to be back with friends and family.  I cannot wait to be back in the office and see my colleagues at work or sit with my Weight Watchers group in the studio again.  Virtual Zoom meetings can help replace some of the interaction, but it cannot fully satisfy the human longing to be with each other.  Springsteen says it best that when facing a world with too few answers:

“You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch”

 – Bruce Springsteen “Human Touch”

I would like to close with one a verse of my favorite Irish song.  Although I could not sing it with others on St. Patty’s Day, I am hoping the shock of Covid-19, like a thunderstorm in April, can lead to a flowering of new life in May.   And we can again shake hands …

Slow Down You Move too Fast

One of my favorite songs is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and nothing makes me feel groovier than taking a slow walk Saturday around Lady Bird Lake in Austin. The song goes something like this with apologies for some modifications:

“Slow down you move to fast,

Got to make the Saturday last,

Just kicking down Lady Bird Lake,

Austin is great and feeling groovy.”

Here is a picture I snapped last weekend during my weekly trek.  These turtles sure know how to Slow Down, bask in the sun, and feel groovy.

While the word Groovy may have been out of vogue since the Seventies, slowing down to regroup is still key to a better life.  Even more so in this time of constant noise and nuisance.  Nothing restores the soul and the spirit then a good podcast, a crisp wind and nature all around.

Slowing down is the key to the healthy and happy life.  I seldom miss a Slow Walk Saturday for the following three reasons:

1.  Time to reflect and adjust.  When we are running from one task to the other, there is seldom time to reflect, learn from experiences, and adjust.  I find that when I slow down and quiet my mind that I come up with the answer that I need.  Proof point?  I have been so busy with work and life that I have been having writer’s block.  A few minutes and miles and I had ten new ideas when I had been stuck for at least a week.  Sometimes the best thing when you are struggling for a solution is slow down, quiet your mind and be thankful for the nature all around you. 

2.  Destress and feel blessed.  Nothing stokes compassion and soothes the soul than to experience nature.  It is hard to feel hassled when you see 20 turtles sunning on a log or see a bird take flight.  It is a wonder this world! Our role is to revel and reflect the love of God in his creation.  Not to strive and stifle.  Slowing down makes us thankful for the pauses and pleasures that are in each day!

3.  Listen and learn.  When you are alone with your thoughts and those of a good book, you learn new things about yourself and your place in the world.  I recommend to everyone the library application Libby which provides audio books for free if you have a library card.  I have learned so much while walking and listening from how Changing your Habit can Change Your Life  to  How to be 10% Happier.  Truly my Slowdown Saturdays have made me a better person!

Life is not a sprint. It a slow walk to the better angels of our nature. So, take the time to slow down and feel groovy.