Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As a kid I naturally preferred Christmas, but now that I’m older and have growing children of my own, I’ve come to realize that the anticipation of receiving gifts robs Christmas of much of its potential. That potential, of course, is spending time with our family simply because we enjoy their company (hopefully more than their presents). Also, I like the fact that Thanksgiving is all about, well, being thankful. Something I’m trying to get better at.

Most of us spend far too much time throughout the year wishing we had more. More money, a bigger house, a nicer car, new clothes…just more stuff. However on Thanksgiving — one day each year — we find time to be thankful for what we already have. Let’s face it, most of us have enough, if not more than we need. This year I find myself giving extra thought to how fortunate I am. I’m thinking not just about how incredibly lucky I am to have my family and all the other essential “stuff,” but also about how and why I got where I am today.

I’m thinking about how I was born into freedom in the United States, why I happened to make the friends I did, how I fell in love with such an incredible woman, and why I was somehow chosen to get the two amazing children I have. I’m thinking about how each step along the way — hundreds or thousands of seemingly irrelevant decisions — could have taken me in a completely different direction. While I can imagine taking a different route in life, I can’t imagine doing it with different traveling companions.

This year I find myself not only thankful, but thinking about those less fortunate. I think about anyone who truly doesn’t have someone to love, parents who have a child fighting some horrible illness, and those with little time left to live. I could be one of these people. I’m grateful that I am spared from problems like these this year, but my heart goes out to those who are not. I sincerely hope they find something to be thankful for.

I ask myself why I’m not one of the homeless people I drive past who are standing in the cold under a waning sun, holding up a sign asking for food. Many of these people had the same opportunities that I did, but were wounded in war, suffer from mental illness, or perhaps just made bad decisions that they now terribly regret. I think about how they might feel tonight as they look for a warm, safe place to rest their worn out bodies. What do they go to sleep thankful for — a piece of bread, a blanket, or maybe a bottle? I’m grateful I don’t share these circumstances, and I hope these people can turn their lives around. Until then, I won’t look away, but instead will do what I can to help.

I think about those who happened to be born in other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, the poorest villages of Africa, or communist North Korea. This could have been me — I was given no choice. I could be an innocent man assumed to have a hidden agenda, who is running from a war-ravaged home with nowhere to go, desperately trying to make my family safe. It could be me who is forced to walk miles to the nearest stream each day so that I can get just enough dirty water for my family to survive. I could have been born in a country that won’t allow me the freedom to raise my family the way I see fit. What are these people thankful for? I trust they can at least find gratitude in having a family to care for. 

I’m not using the unfortunate circumstances of others as a measuring stick to make me feel better. I simply feel it is important to remember what others may be experiencing, and to avoid taking anything for granted. Imagine how much happier we could be if we truly practiced gratitude each day, rather than wishing for something else. If we can’t be happy with what we have, why is there any reason to believe we would be happier with more? Keep in mind that our lives can change extremely fast. What we think isn’t enough now, could easily become much less.

Melody Beattie wrote, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house in a home, a stranger into a friend.” This year I hope all of us — regardless of our circumstances — can find something to be grateful for. As we are being thankful, let us also make sure to be “thinkful,” and remember those who are less fortunate.

Cheers and happy Thanksgiving. May everyone’s glass be full enough.

 

 

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I’m not a veteran. Like many life-long civilians, who haven’t had any close ties to the military, I don’t think about our servicemen and women very often. This is a shame, I know, but when I do really think about them, it’s hard for me to comprehend. It’s more than I really want to consider.

I think about the people who join the military today. They are typically kids — often still in high school. They come from all walks of life. Some are following the footsteps (or expectations) of past generations. Some are needing a way to get into college or learn a trade. Many may be unsure of themselves and in search of some purpose and direction. A few could be running away and looking for a fresh start. Whatever the reason, these kids are volunteering to put their lives at stake for their country. That’s quite a commitment. One that they may not even fully understand or appreciate when they sign on the dotted line. I’d like to think I could do it, but I’m honestly not sure.

Today I find myself thinking about being deployed. I try to imagine just driving down a road in the Middle East today. The searing heat, the scorching sun, the dust everywhere, covering me and the vehicle. Would I constantly be flinching, just waiting to hit an IED? Would I ever be able to relax, knowing I could be ambushed at any time?

My mind wanders to the horrors that one might experience on the battlefield. Blood everywhere, detached limbs, piercing screams, people who have become not only your allies, but your best and only friends, dying in your arms. There isn’t a single thing you can do to help, other than make them feel as comfortable as possible, and maybe say goodbye.

The shockingly sickening sights, sounds and…the smell. I know it’s impossible to accurately imagine. I’m quite certain I can picture the most gruesome thoughts in my mind, without even scratching the surface of the reality some of our American brothers and sisters face on a daily basis. Do they ever become immune? Do they just block it out and push on?

They come home to little or no fanfare. It seems our people in uniform have become boring to the media. Some don’t have anyone on American soil to offer emotional, physical, or financial support. Their old friends have moved on, their new friends may not have come home with them — if they came home at all.

Some veterans struggle to cope when they get out of the service. Others go on to do great things. Regardless, I have to guess that even those who are most successful — however that is defined — are never truly liberated from their experiences and memories. Once a soldier, always a soldier…

But who am I to say that. Do I even deserve to think it? I’m just a guy who relies on a holiday as a reminder to be thankful for all our servicemen and women — both past and current — do for me and my country.

This needs to change. Our attitude as a nation needs to change. Regardless of our personal beliefs, these men and women are true heroes. Without their sacrifices, our personal beliefs may not matter. They deserve so many things, most of which you and I may not be able to provide. However, if nothing else, we can all say hello and thank them for their service. We civilians have no idea what these people have been through or are currently going through. A simple kind word might go a long way. This shouldn’t just happen on Veterans Day, but it seems like a fitting day to start.

  
I rarely use my blog as a podium, but today I found myself inspired.

I have been following the recent news about Quentin Tarantino, who is very upset because he feels that numerous police forces are sending the wrong message about him by threatening to boycott his new film, “The Hateful Eight.” In case you missed this story, the potential boycott is due to Tarantino participating in an October 24 protest at New York City’s Washington Square Park, where he encouraged people to “rise up” against police brutality and the killing of suspects. “I am a human being with a conscience…I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers (police) the murderers,” he said.

Despite receiving a lot of flak, Tarantino has not backed down, other than conceding that not all police are bad. He has been in the news often, giving peace signs and talking about the fact that police are getting away with murder because of the “blue wall” that provides unjust protection. I have no problem with anyone speaking their mind. No one can question that there are good and bad cops, and standing up against injustice or corruption of any kind is not only admirable, but is something that is sorely lacking in the world today. However, I’m curious about Tarantino’s outspoken issue with murder.

“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” “Kill Bill (both volumes),” “Grindhouse,” “Inglorious Bastards,” and “Django Unchained” have one consistent characteristic that stands out more than any other. Extreme violence. More specifically, grisly murders of (sometimes) innocent people. After this recent protest, I thought Tarantino might be changing his ways — then I saw the trailer for “The Hateful Eight,” and quickly realized he isn’t slowing down in the death department. (By the way, “The Hateful Eight” premiers on Christmas Day. What better time to serve the world a giant slice of hate and violence?)

I can’t help but wonder why someone who would publicly denounce killing and declare, “I have to call a murder a murder,” would make movies that glorify what he is apparently so against. Fans might make the argument that in many films the “good guy” is killing the “bad guy,” but remember that Tarantino said a murder is a murder. Oh, and let’s be honest, his protagonists aren’t exactly good people.

A 1994 Newsday piece had the following Tarantino quote:  “If you ask me how I feel about violence in real life, well, I have a lot of feelings about it. It’s one of the worst aspects of America. In movies, violence is cool. I like it.” Unfortunately, his opinion hasn’t changed.

I understand that he is an artist, and he isn’t expecting or wanting people to recreate the fantasy world he puts on the screen. I also believe people are responsible for their own actions, and that art can’t (and shouldn’t) be to blame for things that happen in reality. But perhaps — if he is sincere about wanting to decrease violence in the real world — Tarantino could use his art to inspire people to be better. Over a century ago, Oscar Wilde wrote in his essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” That may be more true now than it was then. The more our society is exposed to violent death, the more we are all desensitized to it — even our supposed real life “good guys,” such as policemen.

Tarantino has a booming voice in this world. He is protesting violence, but doesn’t seem to walk the talk. He could make movies glorifying peace, love and understanding, which could be seen by millions. He could be a real agent for positive change in America and the world. I hope someday he will be.

In the meantime, remember that we all have a voice — a podium — even if it’s in the form of a blog read by a very few. Change starts with each of us. Please, go out and let your voice be heard.

  
In case you haven’t been following my blog (and based on my pathetically low number of followers, you probably haven’t), I quit my job about eight months ago to become a stay-at-home dad. This was a very tough decision, but it has been one of the best choices I could have made for both me and my family. While I’ve had a ton of support and encouragement from family and friends, I frequently encounter people who — for various reasons — seem to think that I’m not living up to my responsibilities as a red-blooded American man.

This most recently occurred during a field trip I attended at the zoo with my eleven year old son. Parents were not allowed to ride on the school buses, which were characteristically running late. As a result, a large group of parents were milling around the zoo entrance impatiently waiting for their children to arrive. I passed some time making small talk with a few moms, who made up the majority of the crowd, then saw an older man walking my way. He wore an expression that clearly said he was very relieved to see another dad. 

This gentleman, let’s pretend I don’t recall his name, introduced himself with a firm handshake. He quickly informed me that he was a retired truck driver. “I could drive any kind of truck, anywhere you needed me to go,” he boasted. “I spent a lot of time away from my family, and now I get to do this type of stuff,” he continued. I couldn’t tell if he was happy or annoyed to be there — maybe he was somewhat indifferent — but he made it sound like “this type of stuff” was his sentence for all the family time he missed before retirement.

“What about you?” he inquired. “Did you have to take off work to be here?”

“No I’m a stay-at-home dad,” I said. I could tell where this was headed.

The older man let out an uncomfortable snort of laughter, “Well, hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of (as if I must obviously be very ashamed and embarrassed about my unfortunate situation). Whatcha makin’ for dinner (more laughing).”

My first impulse was to give this mother-trucker a flying roundhouse kick to the trachea. However, I quickly reminded myself that I no longer worry or care about what others think of me. I decided to take the high road.

“I know, I’m not ashamed, and am actually very proud of it,” I calmly replied. “And roasted chicken.”

I followed this with my quick spiel about how I left the construction industry after nearly twenty years so that I could spend much more time with my son and daughter. His eyes lit up. I had a glimmer of hope that I was getting through to him.

“Oh yeah? What kind of construction were you in?”

Ugh. Some people just don’t get it — and many never will. I’ve learned to accept the fact. If I was a woman, he probably would have been very happy for me. Keep in mind though that if anyone thinks a man shouldn’t be a stay-at-home parent, but a woman should, it’s not only an insult to the man, but is a bigger slap in the face to women.

There is a growing number of dads who are making the choice to stay home with their kids. I don’t understand why our society doesn’t embrace this. It means that men are putting their families first. It also means that women are perfectly capable of being the primary bread-winner. Most importantly, it means kids are spending more time with their dads.

Being a stay-at-home dad isn’t for everyone, and I’m certainly not saying there is anything wrong with being a working parent. I was one for years, and I know many people who do a fantastic job of it (starting with my wife). Fortunately, I had an opportunity and I jumped on it. I can rebuild my career and make more money when my kids are older, but I will never have another chance to relive this time in my kids’ lives. We make some sacrifices, but we are happier than ever.

If you are a stay-at-home dad, good for you. Be proud of yourself. Your kids probably don’t realize it today, but you are making a significant difference in their lives now, and are also affecting how they will function as adults. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel ashamed or embarrassed — or like any less of a man than they are.

On the other hand, if you think what I’m doing is crazy, that’s okay too. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we are trying to make a positive impact on our families, and are not worried about impressing you. I simply ask that we are shown the same respect that you would want anyone to show you. Please remember that the world needs all kinds of people, including truck drivers and stay-at-home dads.