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

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I, too, sing America.

When I was young I sang loudly.
I learned what they wanted, minded my manners, recited the pledge.
My white friends and I pedaled our bicycles through suburbia, swam the summer away, and sat in our air-conditioned homes watching MTV when the heat was simply too much to bear — sometimes it was so hot.
Just living the American dream…

Two decades passed and I wasn’t sure what had happened.
I had a wife and a mortgage, two kids and two cars.
My pockets were full but my stomach felt sick.
I was sleep-walking through life,
Just living the American dream…

Then, one day, I turned into the wind and woke with a start.
Dirt stung my face as I walked our gritty streets.
I saw people with dreams of their own —
Like living in that big house on the hill,
And driving that big fancy car,
And wearing those nice clothes that the pretty people wear in the magazines left in the trash cans.
Like finding a bite to eat and a way to make their children warm again — sometimes it gets so cold.
Yes, we all have an American dream…

So while I lost my faith, I found some purpose.
And tomorrow I will continue to trudge along, singing my song and trying to make some tiny difference.
Because I, too, sing America.
And I’m wide awake.


When I was young, my father said Sonny

If you want happiness you must make lots of money

People adore those who acquire great wealth

It demands respect and promotes good health…

Swimming laps in the cesspool and recording great times 

First in class (Ivy League), and my car is so fine 

Engaged to the best girl, yeah her daddy’s real rich

An aspiring actress, she has perfect fake tits

KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE

Swimming laps in the cesspool and in the lead pack

A nagging wife and two kids are a pain in my back 

You have the best of everything, so give me a break 

Don’t bother me now, I have too much at stake

White lies and blurred lines, my eyes have turned red

Have to get the deals done, I’ve got the enemy in bed

KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE KEEP UP THE PACE

Swimming laps in the cesspool but falling behind

My arms burn, my legs ache, but I’ll keep up the grind 

Working each day to pay for my sins

Swimming laps in the cesspool is a race no one wins

KEEP UP THE PACE…KEEP UP THE PACE…KEEP UP THE PACE…

Treading water is really no fun, the pool is so cold, and my body’s gone numb

I stretch out my toes, but I can’t touch the bottom 

I’m stuggling and realize that my time has come 

Young swimmers splash by, they’re moving so fast

I reach out my hand, but they simply rush past 

They don’t even see me, they’re focused ahead

GODDAMMIT SOMEONE HELP ME! 

I can’t hold my breath…

 

Photo Credit: theartistsproject.com

 
The other day I had to run an errand. It wasn’t just any day, it was a Saturday. Oh, and it wasn’t just any errand…it was going to the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Put the two together and you are basically asking for it. Believe me, I was dreading it so much that I lost a little sleep the night before, but I got up early Saturday morning because I had a frog to eat.

Eat the frog. Many people have heard the phrase, but I find that equally as many have not. If you fall in the latter category, to “eat the frog” means to get the worst thing over with so that you may enjoy the rest of the day. I first heard it years ago when I was interviewing a potential employee at work. I was quite impressed, although I didn’t hire him because, upon checking references, I learned that not only did he apparently never eat a frog, he was probably allergic to them. Nonetheless, the phrase stuck. Mark Twain commonly gets credit for its origin, but a little research suggests that the idea actually came from Nicolas Chamfort, an eighteenth century French writer.

Regardless of the true source, it’s something that I’ve been making a conscious effort to do. It started as a way to be more productive, but it has evolved into something completely different. It has become not just a way to get something difficult or dreaded out of the way, but also a sort of challenge to make myself better. It is a mindset. Allow me to explain.

I think I’m a pretty good dude. I care about others and try to treat people with genuine kindness and compassion. I spend a great deal of time with my family and would do anything for them. I’ve never had a speeding ticket. I’m lucky to have a number of talents and skills, but I also have two big problems — I procrastinate and suffer from anxiety. These do not mesh well together, although I think they are commonly attached at the hip.

Someone smarter than me said that nothing cures anxiety like action. I’ve grown to believe this, even if the action consists of slow-motion baby steps. I’ve eaten frog and felt great about it, so I thought about the idea of finding a specific frog to eat daily, weekly, or even monthly. Usually my frog doesn’t actually cause anxiety, but is just something I don’t want to do (and tend to put off longer than I should) such as the visit to the DMV, home maintenance, or exercise. Getting these types of things done on a regular basis — especially when done early in the day — has made life much more enjoyable and surprisingly more fulfilling.

Sometimes, however, the frog is an anxiety producer. Maybe it’s seeing a doctor for that nagging health concern (despite feeling fine at the moment), taking the car to the mechanic because of that occasional odd noise (despite it running great), or calling a financial advisor to get a better handle on retirement investments (despite having plenty of money now). These types of things are unpleasant for many of us, so we don’t address them. Yet they linger in the back of our minds and we begin to worry. The more time that passes, the more we wish we would have done something sooner, then it becomes even more difficult to take care of the problem — which at one time was probably (and may still be) very simple to fix. I’m not saying this mentality is rational, but it is real. The simple solution? Eat the frog and get things done.

Perhaps the frog isn’t something that actually needs to be done, but is simply something that you’ve wanted to do (or have purposely been avoiding) for years. Public speaking, skydiving, asking that gal from the grocery store out on a date, changing careers, buying a home, getting a tattoo, traveling to some far off destination, going back to school, or joining a rock ‘n’ roll band. It could be anything, the point is that you are putting yourself in an uncomfortable position. Whatever the outcome, you will feel so good for going for it. Growth happens outside of your comfort zone, and committing to eating frogs is a trap to get yourself there.

Once you get a taste for frog you’ll want more. You will love how your sense of accomplishment swells, how your confidence improves, how your desire for adventure flows, and how your zest for life starts to ooze. Okay, maybe I’m over-selling it slightly, but if nothing else, a frog a day will form a habit of getting things accomplished. Trust me, you’ll love the liberating feeling that is a natural byproduct of this. There is more to life than anxiety, fear, dread, and wanting. Eat some damn frog before life eats you.

  
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.

 

 

 

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.

  
It was about 8:30 last night when I realized I hadn’t yet showered.  I don’t know why it continues to surprise me, as this has happened many times since I became a staddy (stay at home daddy, for the lay person) a couple months ago.  I have high standards regarding personal hygiene, and I don’t consider myself lazy, so why would I forget to shower?  Oh, maybe because I’m working about 12+ hours a day, and it isn’t usually a priority.  Let’s get something straight – I’m not complaining at all.  This has has been a very positive and rewarding experience, and I knew going in that it would be challenging.  I just want to make sure people in the working world understand that taking care of children and managing the household is actual work.

I have known a number of guys (I’m sure women do this too, but depending on the source, moms makeup over 90% of the stay at home parent population) over the years who complain about their stommy (you see what I did there, right?) wives.  “How the hell isn’t the house clean?  Why isn’t my dinner ready when I get home from work – where I make all the money, by the way?  She has it so easy!”  Every man over the age of 30 is aware of the stereotype about women watching soap operas and eating bonbons while their kids play and nap all day.  I admit there were times when my wife was off work on maternity leave that I would come home from work and wonder, “Is this it?”  That was when she was home with a helpless, hungry, pooping, crying baby – what an idiot I was!  I totally get it now.  Being a stay at home parent ain’t easy.

Each day is a little different, but a typical day goes something like this (not necessarily in this order):

6:45 – 9:00:  Make coffee, go for a run, make a simple breakfast for the family, make a sack lunch for my son, get my son up and ready for school, clean up the kitchen, take my son to school

9:00 – 9:20:  Relax (coffee me)

9:20 – 11:00:  Start a load of laundry and fold the load that I left sitting in the dryer (LISTEN UP MEN – laundry sucks and never ends, you can only try to keep up.  Two loads a day keep the piles away, but don’t expect to see the bottom of the hamper very often, if ever.  And don’t get me started on the tedious, annoying task of folding/hanging clothes!), art or a game with my daughter, bathe and dress my daughter, shower (sometimes) and dress myself

11:00 – 1:00:  Quality time of some sort outside of the house with my daughter, lunch

1:00 – 2:00:  Grocery shopping, errands, etc.

2:00 – 3:00:  Read books to my daughter and get her to sleep (I will take a short nap myself sometimes – you got something to say about it?)

3:00 – 4:15:  Some kind of household chore (cleaning, vacuuming, etc.), MORE LAUNDRY

4:15 – 4:30:  Pick my son up from school

4:30 – 5:00:  Dinner prep

5:00 – 5:20:  Relax (beer me)

5:20 – 6:15:  Practice sports or some kind of quality time with my son

6:15 – 7:30:  Make dinner, eat, clean up the kitchen (I’ve been slacking on the night-time kitchen cleaning and doing some the next morning, but dishes need to be rinsed, food is put away, counters are wiped down, and so on)

Throw in yard work, home maintenance, unexpected errands, paying bills, kids’ school/sporting events, etc., and it’s a damn full day.  Not to mention that I’m keeping my daughter entertained the entire time. 

I don’t want to imply that my wife doesn’t help, because she does plenty when she gets home and on weekends.  The truth is, though, that I don’t want her to have to do much in the evening after she has been at work all day (she is more than welcome to help on weekends).  This is my job that I want to do right now, and I feel responsible to make sure the things on my list are completed each day – just like I did when I worked a “real” job.  I’m not comparing what I do to the working world, however, because at the end of the day my “clients” are going to love me no matter what.  That takes some pressure off, and also makes it that much more rewarding.

You can go online and find a number of studies that show what a starent (you should get this now) would earn if they were getting paid for the work they do.  I’ve read anywhere from $15,000 (absurdly low) to $150,000 (too high).  Sure, you can estimate and add up what a childcare provider, cook, maid, handyman, etc. would earn, but can you really place a value on what it means to your children to be home with a parent?

Again, I’m not complaining, I’m also not saying what I’m doing is more difficult than working a traditional job or being in a situation where both parents work.  I’m just giving my perspective as a former working dad.  It’s not just fun and games all day.  So to all the breadwinners out there, I commend and thank you.  But guys (and gals), the next time you come home and your starent spouse didn’t get your dry cleaning picked up, please remember that there’s probably a very valid excuse.