A Note to Graduates 

May 13, 2017


Dear Graduates,

The month of May is possibly my favorite. I love the weather — summer is trying to shove its way in with welcomed warm breezes, yet spring is holding its own, providing crisp mornings and pleasant evenings. Birds chirp outside my open window at dawn, and a late-inning baseball game glows on my television screen at dusk. There is a freshness in the air that makes me feel renewed. Life is grand.

Perhaps the best part of May, however, is school letting out for the summer. I think back to my own school days and can vividly remember the feeling of sheer excitement and joy as that final bell rang each year. Having kids of my own and working in a school now, I must admit I still feel it — maybe for different reasons — but there is still that sense of adventure that lurks at the start of each summer.

For you, this year truly is the final bell. It’s the endless summer. Social media is filled with photos of you in your caps and gowns. Smiles are plastered across your faces and invincibility twinkles in your eyes. Many of you are heading off to college, while some will opt to go find jobs. You will become our next generation of doctors, teachers, farmers, politicians, steelworkers, lawyers, carpenters, and accountants. The world needs all of these and one is no better than another — remember that. You “kids” will be taking care of the rest of us just a few years down the road. And believe me, kids, the years will go fast. So fast.

I don’t know much, but I’ve managed to figure out a few things along the way. I’d like to offer you some simple advice. I’ll keep it short, as I know you have better things to do:

1. Advance your education beyond high school. Whether it’s a certificate from a trade school or an advanced degree from a university, education gives you power and promotes the freedom to change jobs and careers. Do it now, because going back to school when you have a wife, kids, a job, and other responsibilities is really hard (trust me). Take your education seriously.

2. Happiness isn’t expensive. Yes, you need to make some money to reach a certain level of happiness and to give you and your family some opportunities. But be very aware there is much more to life than striving to “be rich” and possessing material things.

3. Despite everyone telling you who and what to be, please do what makes you happy. You may not even have a clue yet what you want to do with your life. That’s okay. You may think you’ve figured it out, then change your mind. That’s okay, too. Whatever you end up being, be a great one. Trying to be your best self will make your life better in many ways.

Look, kids, I know you’re not really paying attention. I’m trying to give advice to 18 year olds who already know everything. I used to be as smart as you all are… If nothing else, remember that regardless of our age, we are all writing our own stories. My generation has already written many chapters, and you may be searching for the right words to get started, but none of our stories are complete. No matter how much or how little we have written, no matter how many failures, hardships, and disappointments we face along the way — and there will be many — as long as we are alive, we get to keep writing. So make your stories long, fill them with love and kindness, include many crazy and wonderful adventures, and — most of all — make sure you keep writing until you are happy with the ending. It’s never too late for any of us to change our tale.

Now get out there and make a difference. Each one of you can alter the world in at least some tiny yet amazing way. We are counting on you. 

Sincerely,

A Friend


With the early-morning squeal of the bus’s brakes, I knew that the end of summer was actually a reality. Sure, summer isn’t over on the calendar. There will be some heat, humidity, and fun yet to be had on weekends to come. But the days of the kids riding bikes past dark and sleeping in past noon have been halted for another year. We will continue to hear the hypnotic hum of weed-eaters, have our favorite baseball team to cheer on, and be met most days by singing birds and beating sunshine. There will still be some splashing in pools, backyard badminton, and — at least for now — the ground still feels very inviting to our bare feet. But a change is coming soon.

Summer certainly swims by faster than when I was young, but so does the rest of life, I suppose. Sadly, I don’t see it slowing down any in my lifetime. It feels as if the earth’s rotation is gaining momentum, and there are simply no brakes. The passing of summer is not all bad, however. It actually brings plenty I look forward to.

Like Friday nights, when my family will wrap ourselves in comfy sweatshirts and sit in our driveway, listening to the distant P.A. system announcing names and numbers at the local high school football game. We will watch leaves turn colors and breathe the strange, wonderful smell of decay when they fall to the ground. Autumn brings Halloween and Thanksgiving, flannel shirts and cozy blankets, bonfires and the roasting of marshmallows.

Before we know it, there is snow on the ground and flames in the fireplace. Wet boots and heavy coats pile up by the front door, with sleds and shovels waiting just beyond. The frigid air stops our kids’ running snot in its tracks, causes our old joints to ache, and keeps everyone from wanting to leave the warmth of our beds. But we keep forging ahead, until the holiday season and new year bring joy and hope to all. Slowly the snow begins to disappear as the mercury creeps upward a notch or two at a time.

Spring renews our faith in all that is good. We feel truly alive for the first time in months as the grass turns green, leaves fill the barren trees, and neighbors come out of hibernation. Bicycles are dusted off, balls are aired up, and cars are washed. We inhale the aroma of freshly mowed grass, budding flowers, and charcoal. Life is finally good…although it was never actually bad.

And in the blink of an eye, school is out again. But our children are a year older. So are we…

My kids are excited to get back to school. It’s a time of endless possibilities for them, and excitement of the unknown. I guess it’s bittersweet for me. I’m happy to see them ready to go back, but I will miss our summer life when laziness is not only respected, but encouraged. When happiness is the main goal. It seems like that should be the case more often. The occasionally melancholy, over-thinker in me realizes that summers with my kids are a fleeting time and one day will truly be only a fond memory. But, as with the changing of the seasons, I know there will be more to experience, love, and remember as they grow older and become adults, themselves.

In the meantime I hope and trust that we can all make an effort to pay attention to what’s happening around us, and appreciate what life offers us. There really is so much it offers. Let’s cherish the time we have with our families, and look forward to the changes. Sometimes life will be good, sometimes it will be bad, and we may never know the reason. But may we all have endless summers, regardless of the season.

 

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
I’m only 43 and am very young at heart, but I am starting to realize that you might be getting old if…

…minivans seem like a logical solution.

…you get out of bed at night because you remember you forgot to take your vitamins.

…you think the kids today have it so easy.

…Saturday mornings are for oil changes.

…you ask yourself, “how would my parents handle this?”

…the “oldies” station is playing songs you loved in college.

…the expiration date on food doesn’t seem as important.

…you still enjoy wearing Crocs.

…the thought of getting hair plugs has crossed your mind.

…you get your tax return filed before April 15th.

…you look forward to yogurt with granola.

…you look in the mirror and it’s your father’s face.

…you pass up an invitation to play golf with your buddies because the blinds need a serious cleaning.

…a good evening is simply being able to take a dump in some peace and quiet.

…on the way to a play date your five-year-old daughter says, “just drop me off here and I can walk the rest of the way.”

…you actually yell at a neighbor kid for cutting across your lawn.

…you use the little ladder to get in and out of the pool.

…your wife tells you to drive faster.

…you wear ear and eye protection while weed-eating.

…your family is more important than anything else.

…it’s so damn hot out there.

…you injure your back by sneezing.

…SPF 50 seems inadequate.

…your twelve-year-old son has to show you how to work your new cell phone.

…you start wearing a bike helmet without even considering how ridiculous you look.

…during the big ballgame you find yourself sipping on green tea instead of a beer.

…you have no clue what the cable channels are.

…going to sleep or having sex becomes a mental tug of war.

…you worry about how your family would get by if you were to die. 

…back hair has entered the picture. 

…your kids (and/or wife) routinely say, “I’m sorry but you’re not wearing that.” 

…you routinely tell your daughter, “I’m sorry but you’re not wearing that.”

…prostate exams, while uncomfortable, seem necessary.

…movie theaters are perfect for napping. 

…you realize you’re not going to live forever.

…you think you should probably take a jacket. 

…your children are asking for the car keys. 

…it’s too loud. 

…it’s not loud enough. 

…you can laugh at how pathetic you are.

Getting old ain’t so bad. It beats the alternative, as they say. Let’s raise a glass (or cup, if you’re drinking green tea) to getting much older and much wiser. Cheers.

  
Today I turn 43. Despite the aches in my back, knees, and hands, I feel very young. Younger than I have in a long time, actually. I’m fitter, happier, and in an overall better mental state than I’ve ever been as an adult. Not that 43 is old, necessarily — age is really just a relative number. To a child, 43 seems like a lifetime away; almost certainly incomprehensible (and why should a child need to understand or think about it). To the very old it may seem like a lifetime ago. Although I doubt it. The one thing I notice most with aging — my biggest complaint — is that time seems to move faster and faster the older we get. I’m trying my damnedest to change this, however. And it’s working.

Obviously time is constant, but our perspective and perception of time seems to become completely screwed up as we age. Most of us rush around all day, meeting schedules and deadlines. We worry about what happened yesterday and lose sleep over what may (or may not) happen tomorrow. The free time that we do actually have is often wasted by us believing it isn’t enough time, so we discard it completely. This wasn’t the case when we were kids. The ancient philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Time is a game played beautifully by children.” I think he’s right. Kids are better at making good use of time than almost all adults. Especially younger children. If there’s a spare minute in the day, they will find a toy to enjoy. Five extra minutes of playtime before bed is like a gift that is gratefully received. Kids don’t worry about it getting dark, but instead play hard until they can’t see. Unfortunately we regress as we age to the point that most adults are dreadful at this “game.” I know I used to be.

I’m far from an expert now, but I’ve found that I’m getting much better by reminding myself to be mindful, grateful, and frugal. These are really all related, and once you start to understand and practice them, worry and stress naturally fall by the wayside. I find myself appreciating life more, desiring less, and not caring much about keeping up with the demands put on us by American society and consumerism. By this I basically mean not worrying as much about money and material possessions. When you are truly aware, thankful, and consciously spending less on unnecessary items, life becomes simpler, more fulfilling, and time is much less of a constraint. It is a very liberating experience.

Many people think I’m crazy. I traded a very lucrative career to be a stay-at-home dad, and am now pursuing a career in teaching. My life is much fuller and my time is much better spent — and appreciated. I’m not suggesting anyone give up a career, but I would also caution against knocking it if you haven’t tried it. The older you get the more you understand the old “life is too short” saying. It is certainly possible to juggle a busy, stressful job and have a productive, happy personal life. But the key is to be sure you are happy — a question we can only answer if we are truly honest with ourselves. Time — or the lack thereof — has a unique knack for showing us what really matters in life. Sometimes it’s too late. My sincere birthday wish is that everyone eventually finds happiness…and has the time to enjoy it.

Cheers.

 

 

 

  
It’s a very cold and rainy spring break morning in my neck of the woods. Regardless, I’m still feeling very fortunate to be able to be home with my kids (well, mostly), and the weather provides a perfect day to make some popcorn, cuddle up under blankets, and watch movies. We have cable and Netflix, and movies are just a couple clicks of the remote control away, yet I would love to be able to take my son and daughter to the local video store to pick out some old classics. Something they have never had the pleasure of doing.

While technology certainly has its upside, our kids are missing out on some things that my generation took for granted. Long gone is the excitement of perusing the new releases at the pre-Blockbuster corner video store (don’t forget to check the recently returned cart — and try to sneak a peek into the Adult section), the joy of getting dropped off by our parents at the mall (my mom can take if yours can pick up?) and slowly flipping through records at Musicland (either before or after slurping an Orange Julius), or even just playing board (bored) games like Life, Monopoly, and Clue.

Perhaps I’m suffering from a worsening case of silly nostalgia as I get older, but it seems like it was just a simpler, better time when we were kids — despite being more difficult to do some things. I’m aware of course that every older generation thinks such things about the current “troubled” youth of society, but maybe the old geezers are on to something. I mean think about it…we rode our bikes everywhere (my kids literally dislike bicycles), we played outside from sun up to sun down in the summer (my kids would rather lie in bed doing “stuff” on their electronic devices), we got severe, tissue damaging sunburns (my kids wear sunscreen if they happen to enter sunlight), we played actual sports (my kids excel at virtual bowling). This is messed up, man.

Who am I kidding, my kids would probably freak out if they had to go to an actual video store. Part of how they act is on me for not being a better parent, and I suppose part of it is just the way things are today. That being said, my children do great in school, are generally very kind to others, are not complete spoiled brats (despite how I describe them), and my wife and I love the hell out of them (and that love is definitely reciprocated). They also recycle sometimes. The world may be going to hell in a hand-basket, but things could be much worse. As the old saying goes, the kids are alright (they just aren’t as good as when we were young).

Here’s to a happy spring break for all and some true quality time with your damn children (oh, and better weather than we have). Cheers. 

 

 

 

Recess

February 17, 2016

Photo Credit: A Photographer

 
If you’re one of the seven people who read my blog regularly, you know that I quit my job — no my career — almost a year ago to pursue happiness. I spent about six incredible months as a stay-at-home dad, and have been working as a substitute teacher since school started. I love being a sub and working with kids. It’s challenging, rewarding, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to work in the same school as my kids, which is pretty cool for all of us.

Back when I worked for “the man,” there was a trendy deli in a quaint neighborhood that I went to often for lunch. Okay, it was actually a Subway, but this particular location truly had some of the freshest ingredients, and it was in a cool part of town. It backed up to a park bordered on the far side by a school. On nice days I would get lunch to go and eat in my car with the windows rolled down. While enjoying some fresh air and a mediocre sandwich, I was always able to hear the school kids playing during recess. I couldn’t see them because a little hill was in the way, but I didn’t need to. What I could hear was pure joy. Jubilant laughing and playful screaming was perfect background noise on a warm, sunny day. The students were obviously elated, without another care in the world at that moment. It was a great — albeit very temporary — escape from the conflict resolution meetings, particularly particular clients, and general negativity and stress of the daily grind.

I’ve been a long-term substitute at the same school for nearly two months, and I now get to experience recess up close on a daily basis. Being able to physically see recess gives me a newfound appreciation — no awe, really — of the early coordination skills of our youth, which I formerly perceived to be somewhere in the range of fairly awkward to dangerously clumsy. Every day I expect to witness broken bones, lacerations requiring urgent medical care, concussions, or worse.

Let me attempt to paint a picture for you: at each recess there are about 125 kids playing on a chunk of rock-hard concrete that’s approximately the size of a football field. Sound scary? Wait. Now imagine these 125 kids playing seven separate games of tag, two games of basketball, a game of four square, and pretending to have a gymnastics meet. All while a soccer match is taking place. Oh, and a handful of the students like to just sit on the ground and talk. When I worked a recess for the first time, I asked one of the seasoned, full-time teachers where the ambulance was kept on standby. I was only sort of kidding. Amazingly, I have never witnessed more than a scraped knee (knock on wood), and even that is rare. It’s similar to what I would expect if several flocks of birds were put in a giant cage. The kids just magically follow their group around at high rates of speed, never running into the ever-present trouble surrounding them. It is truly something to behold.

The school I’ve been at recently happens to be designated as one of the district’s “English Language Learners” elementary schools. This means that students who are new to the country or unfamiliar with English are brought in from outside of the school’s normal boundaries in an effort to help get them up to speed before middle school. This results in a wonderfully diverse student population. I get to not only hear the youthful fun, but I see children from many different races, nationalities, and religions playing together (mostly) in harmony. Sure, there are disagreements and even occasional scuffles, but at this age there are really no cliques or clubs, just kids having fun together. It’s firsthand proof that love — or at least acceptance — is natural, and hatred is learned. This is a great thing to be able to witness.

Remember when we were kids? Most of us didn’t worry, judge others, or overthink our existence. Life was pretty simple, and most of the time was simply great. Despite that, we couldn’t wait to get older. Now many of us make things more difficult than necessary, as our remaining time on this earth races by at an ever-increasing rate of speed. Someone more clever than me said that “these are the good old days.” Trust me, you can do better than briefly escaping over your lunch break, over the weekend, or even over a vacation. Live your life like the kids on the playground — with exuberant energy, with kindness, and by making the most of the moments we have left. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, regardless of age, everyone says they feel like a kid at heart. After all, we are just kids who grew up. Find time for recess.

Summer has invaded Kansas City.  The kids are out of school, the temperature is climbing, and our beloved Royals are having another great season.  It was last night while watching the ball game that I made a disturbing discovery.

Let me fill you in on the startling scenario.  It was the first inning of the game, and I was stretched out in my well-broken-in recliner.  Although it was toasty outside, the AC was kicking out some chilly air, so I had covered myself in a comfy afghan.  Rather than a beer, which I might typically enjoy during the early innings, I had opted to have a cup of warm green tea at my side.  I was just settling in when I remembered that I forgot to take my fish oil pill after dinner.  So, with a huff, I got up to do this (because you should really take it with a meal).  While getting the pill, my son came running in from outside, leaving the door wide open and allowing the scorching heat to invade our home.  “In or out, dammit!  I’m not paying to cool off the neighborhood,” I yelled.  As I made my way back to the family room, my world came to a halt.  I saw the game on the TV, the recliner, the blanket, the tea…  Tea?  “Oh shit,” I said out loud.  “I’ve become my father.”

I guess I’ve seen it coming for a while.  For starters, my twelve year old son is embarrassed by almost everything I do.  According to him my clothes look bad, my shoes are worse (hey, Crocs are super comfortable), and I constantly say stupid things or ask questions that any halfway intelligent person should already know the answers to.  I’m not saying that my dad is this way, but I certainly remember thinking the same things about him at one time.  It’s kind of ironic, my dad finally started wearing white socks with tennis shoes just a couple of years before all the kids started wearing black ones.  Oh well.

I have noticed my wife regularly saying, “You sound just like your dad” or, “Oh man, you just looked exactly like your dad!”  It might be something I say, how I laugh, or just an expression on my face.  She doesn’t mean it in a negative way (usually), it’s just an observation.

Mostly, I see it myself.  I’m in my early forties, which I don’t think is old at all.  I consider myself to be in decent shape, very active, and fairly hip.  At least as cool as my friends (and I have some damn cool friends, at least I think I do).  Hell, I play bass in a rock band!  I truly still feel like a kid, but when I look in the mirror I see this old dude staring back at me.  Tiny wrinkles everywhere, hair in wrong places, strange spots and scars, sagging eyelids…  Whoa, that’s my dad.  Does anyone else do this?  Do you ever catch an unexpected reflection of yourself and feel shocked by how old you look or how much you look like a parent?  It happens to me often.

Luckily my dad is a great guy (and decent looking).  We are different in some ways, but very similar for the most part.  We may not always see eye to eye on politics or the importance of regular oil changes, but, among other things, we share a similar (odd) sense of humor, as well as a love of sports and music — although sometimes different teams and bands.  My father instilled many great values in me, which we also now share.  The most significant is the importance of family.  There is nothing he wouldn’t do (or hasn’t done) for his family.  He was far from perfect, but his actions when I was young made me be a better parent, and he continues to inspire me today.  I am now trying to set a similar example for my own kids.

When I think about it, if I had to “become” any single person, my dad would be my first choice.  With the exception of my wife, there is no one I look up to more.  So when I complain about becoming my father, I guess I’m actually just bummed that I’m getting old.  I haven’t discussed it with him, but if I think I’m getting old, I’d assume my dad feels the same way, but even more so.  He is young at heart, but is he thinking about his mortality?  Does he look in the mirror expecting to see a young man’s face?  Does he see his father?  Like most children with aging parents, I have thought about the fact that my mom and dad are entering their twilight years.  The older I get, the less invincible my parents seem.  

The first concert I ever saw was with my mom and dad.  It was The Beach Boys — a band my dad and I both like.  Mike Love, one of the founding members of the band once said, “The great thing about getting older is that you get to tell the people in your life who matter how much they mean to you.”  I like this, but would add that it is great to get older and still have your parents around to tell them how much they mean to you, because the older you get, the more you understand and appreciate them.

Some day, I truly will be an old man and my father will be gone.  I hope I will still get to see him when I look in the mirror.  In the meantime, I’ll stay young in my heart and mind, and fight growing old — or at least try to grow old gracefully, causing my kids as little embarrassment as possible.  Tonight I’ll be sure to have a beer while watching the game, but I may still need the blanket.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been wanting to do a little research on full synthetic versus synthetic blend motor oils.  Like I said, I’ve become my father.  I’m good with that.