Inter-generational Wisdom

I gained a lot of wisdom from my dad when we fished together, tossed a baseball back and forth, worked under the hood of a car, and in my early adult years, as we simply conversed. All my sons are older now than I was when I lost dad, and we’re scores of miles apart. Wisdom is still shared when we get together, but it sometimes happens in text messages, too.

My sons and I have a group text thread that captures collective exchanges. I suppose that I have a few years’ worth in my phone’s data files. My oldest son has undertaken crafting a wood shop in a shed in his backyard.  He loves woodworking of many types and is creating a place to maximize his interests and talents in a space that is efficient and effective. His tone is rightfully proud and excited as he shares with his brothers and me in the group texts.

After a recent update from him, I replied, “Places of craftsmanship are havens. Ah, I miss my darkroom.”

He replied, “I’d go crazy without them” to which I said, “I understand. It is good that you did not give up on them. They will never give up on you.  A little wisdom from an old man.”

I smiled out of love and nostalgia: love for my sons, of my dad, of the memories and of our relationship.

I recall when my dad had a neighbor build a shed in our backyard so he would have a place to store yard equipment and, more importantly, so he would have a place to convert old metal files and other pieces of steel into knives ranging from tiny to machete. He had surrendered his previous workspace in the garage years before so his son – me – would have a place for a pool table and fun. He was not nearly the craftsman that two of my sons are in workshops, but he loved the haven for the respite that it provided. As an accountant, a cruncher of numbers and a knight for people against the IRS dragon, he used the grinding away of steel into form and edge as a way to grind away the stressors of the work. He was also able to create something tangible.

Long after I am gone, my sons will be in their places of craftsmanship (of various types), and hopefully they will remember the wisdom from their old man who remembered it from watching his old man. “Places of craftsmanship are havens… It is good that you did not give up on them. They will never give up on you.”

Wisdom does not just flow from older to younger.  Not by a long shot.  My sons’ wisdom has come to me in expressions that constituted “out of the mouths of babes,” as well as in poems, conversations, reflections and musings shared in all manner of times and activities throughout their lives. Much of what we shared weaves between the many stories in my book, Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad.

As the book states, it is the moments that matter. In moments, wisdom can be shared. It grows with each passing on to another, and between generations makes it even more important.

A Dad’s Lessons

He left her with important wisdom by the way he lived; he is gone now and she hopes to honor his life by writing a book, a memoir of their life together. Father and daughter. He has been gone about a year.

She is a colleague and we held a virtual chat the other day to talk about writing and publishing books. This would be her first, though she has loved writing and dreamed of publishing a book since she was a kid.

“How old was he when he died?” I asked.

“64.”

My heart missed a beat. I turned 64 a few months ago, and two of my sons are older than she is.

“I’m sorry…” I said.

She smiled politely. “He was healthy. Strong. Then he was diagnosed with brain cancer and died not long after. But he lived life. Some people wait until they retire to live their dreams. My father didn’t. He lived fully and sought his dreams.”

Their story provokes important considerations:  How is the way we live our life an example to others? Are we living or waiting for some change in the future to begin living our dreams, using our talents, learning new skills, seeking new adventures? How do we honor and celebrate those who positively influence us?

I believe she will complete the book; it will be her way of letting her dad know that she learned from his example, and his love.

Lessons from 12-year olds

I have been blessed with several life coaches throughout my decades on earth.  Some of the most important were about 12 years old, as I was.  This is what they taught me.

  1. Kathy taught me: Boys and girls can be friends, and their friendships develop with different types of sharing, including letter writing over years. The written word matters.
  2. Mark taught me: Leadership means to be true to yourself; those who want to follow can. Don’t aim for followers, aim for authenticity. Never stray from that path.
  3. Jeb taught me: Be spirited, adventurous and align with your interests, not the “age group” others expect you to be in. (In youth, don’t be afraid to play above your age, and in later years, don’t be afraid to play below your age.)
  4. Luke taught me: Studiousness and intelligence can live harmoniously with activity and play. One does not have to choose between being a scholar and being active, enjoying play as much as enjoying learning.
  5. Brian taught me: Stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. Life will present many opportunities when one has to stand up for others in various ways.
  6. Chip taught me: Accept consequences and don’t blame others for situations or challenges. No matter what happens, find within yourself the integrity to own your part of the situation and work to improve it.

I rely on those lessons today, as I have for the more-than-half-century since I learned them. They remind me that wisdom comes from all corners and at all times of life. We cannot throw out the lessons of yore for the lessons of today; wisdom is borne in the mix of influences. It comes as no surprise that in my motivational presentations, I often use kid stories in which wisdom and depth are found. Harken back to lessons you have learned in the past and be open to wisdom shared by all you meet today.

Learning New, Learning Anew

“The movements are not normal,” the dance instructor told the participants in the country and western two-step dance class. “You will get the hang of those turns. It’s muscle memory.”  Muscle memory. I must have heard the term dozens of time throughout the four sessions, and dozens of times more with other new things I am working on learning, and an old thing I am learning anew. There’s wisdom there.

When my wife and I practiced the steps at home, I would think, “I’m working on my muscle memory” when I mis-stepped instead of two-stepped. I thought it frequently.

Muscle memory is what enables us to go from stalling out our standard shift car at every start to becoming as fluid as an automatic transmission over time and with repetition;  it is what makes playing musical instruments, casting in fly fishing, making the perfect putt , transitioning from hunt-and-peck typing to 90 words per minute, and a million other functions possible and natural. Muscle memory. I had forgotten about its power, and the lessons therein.

We learn by doing

It is obvious to all that one cannot learn the violin by reading a book and never picking up a violin. We learn by doing, by taking some sort of action. Consistent and persistent action is better; we call that “practice.” We become more accomplished if we also chart our progress in a systematic way; we call those “lessons.” We even become better readers by taking notes, highlighting sections and adding thoughts and observations along the way; we call that “deep reading.” We were born for doing.  Learn that way. Begin learning something new today.

We gain proficiency by doing

“Practice your lessons,” you might have heard from your parents when you were learning a musical instrument. Not only were they protecting their investment (music lessons aren’t cheap!), they were reminding you that to learn you need to practice and the best practice habits are built around a system of lessons.  Okay, maybe they weren’t putting that much thought into it, but “practice your lessons” is sage advice of what to do and how to do it. Whatever you do now, become better at it by doing it more, whether it is creative or practical, and keep working to improve along the way. This applies to everything you do. Even the mundane, like doing the dishes, can become an opportunity to gain proficiency.

Muscles can “forget”

I wished that I could apologize to my dad. He is gone now, but he was a bit younger than I am now (64) when he wanted to join me at a local track when I was 18 so he could run while I did my workout. In his youth, he was strong, athletic and grabbed headlines in the San Antonio newspaper as taking the local boxing world by storm. On the track, he jogged in short little strides with his arms tight to his body, not at all a comfortable or efficient way to run. I teased him about it. Fast forward to a few years ago: Dad had been gone 30-plus years and I set out to begin jogging for my health. I couldn’t. My legs didn’t know how to do what they are supposed to. Walking is not running; I had retained the ability for the former, but not the latter. Eventually, my legs remembered how to stride. A month ago, one of the runners from my high school class and I reconnected via email and the topic of re-starting running came up. Among his tips, “you have to regain muscle memory.” Muscle memory.

And so it is in life. We can, and should, continue to learn new things (by doing, by taking action); we should seek to become better at whatever we do; and, we must remember that skills, once mastered, can be lost without practice.

There are some things best learned when young, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try learning them when older. Whenever I would share a hair-brained idea with my dad about something new I wanted to try, he would say, “You ain’t gonna learn any younger.” Those words are as true today for me as a gray-haired guy as when I was a crew cut kid or a shaggy haired teen.  In other words, learn…and start today. Learn, rinse, repeat.

Happy Ripple Day

I watch my grandkids and how they enjoy their fathers, and vice versa. Daddin’ is on full display. I feel like the pebble in the pond; perhaps, I am a ripple. Or both. To all dads and father figures, Happy Ripple Day.

No matter what dads do, their effects ripple out. My grandfather left a lot to be desired as a father, but my dad chose to not replicate that performance. My dad wasn’t perfect – his epitaph says, “He left for us a most noble pattern” – but I never felt unloved. He affected how I believe fathers should be. I am totally confident that my sons would say that I wasn’t perfect either, but I think they have picked up some things about being a dad that they chose to follow, and some they chose to leave behind. The ripples continue out and I hope to live long enough to see how my grandsons take on the role of fatherhood.

In my daddin’ workshops, I remind attendees that every man is a father figure, whether they are dads or not. Every man has boys and younger men looking at him and thinking “I want to be like him.” The man who is a ripple himself becomes the pebble, causing pulses of influence by the way he lives. The popular song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” comes to mind.

Our dads are that – the ripple (influenced by who came before them) and the pebble (influencing others by the way they live). Never perfect.

On this Father’s Day, I reflect on the blessings of having had a loving father who tried to be better than his own, and for having wonderful sons and grandkids who love well, too. Every day is Father’s Day for me. Pause this Father’s Day to thank your dad, whether you still have him or not, for what he did well, sometimes despite amazing odds and negative influences. It will please him to know you are part of the positive ripples he created.

I miss you every day, dad. Love you.

Wrong Number, Right Message

I don’t know the man who left a voice mail. It could have been God. The message said, “… you called me. It was good to hear from you. I’m trying to call.  I love you and am doing good. I’ll try again later.” I wasn’t able to understand what he said when he introduced himself, but it sounded like he said it was a pastor.  The number associates with Gainesville, but it is the kind of message that God tries to send His children.

I have replayed the message a few times, imagining the call being directly from God because it provides me a few insights and reminders. It also provides me comfort. As in the caller’s message, God…

  1. Acknowledges when we call out to our Father. “In those days when you pray, I will listen.”  Jeremiah 29:12  God listens to us when we pray. Many are the scriptural references and encouragements to pray, how to pray and how prayer is answered. His answers likely won’t be in a voicemail message, but we know and can trust that he is listening and His answers will come in His time, not ours. God, the creator of the incredible universe of a magnitude that is incomprehensible to us, knows our name. He knows the number of hairs on our head. He listens to us.
  2. Likes hearing from his children. “But he listened! He heard my prayer! He paid attention to it! Blessed be God who didn’t turn away when I was praying, and didn’t refuse me his kindness and love.”  Psalm 66:19-20  What greater gift to give in return for someone sharing with us?  Our love. We share with God by praying and he responds by listening and giving unceasingly his love and kindness.
  3. Always tries to reach us; the issue is whether we are listening.    “And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his scarf and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  And a voice said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”  1 Kings 19:12-13  God speaks to us in quiet times, with whispers. Whispers are a language of love, not overpowering or commanding, but calling us to closer relationship with God and in service to Him.
  4. Loves us and all is always well with and through our Father. He does good, and we are agents on Earth of that good. “If Timothy comes make him feel at home, for he is doing the Lord’s work just as I am.”  1 Corinthians 16:10  We are the body, each of us serving special roles in God’s work on Earth that no one else can do. We are all called to our Lord’s work, and that work is of love.
  5. Will never give up on reaching us.  “So Jesus used this illustration: “If you had a hundred sheep and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found.”  Luke 15:4–6   Ultimately, we all are lost at some time or another. God never stops looking for us, reaching out to us. He reminds us daily, if we pay attention, that He is calling us back…to Him.

The Florida man’s message will forever remain on my phone. I will listen to the message of his inadvertent call from time to time when I need a reminder of the truths above.

Memorial Day Wish

tomb of unknown soldier guard

On Memorial Day, In Your Honor We Wish For…

 

 

Peace

For those we lost in battle

For those we lost in service

For those who came home to be lost to PTSD

Peace

 

Peace

From the fears, hunger, loneliness and aches you endured

From the grief of losing others

From circumstances the other 99% of us could never fully understand

Peace

 

Peace

Shared by us to others

Shared by families and friends in our magnificent country

Shared through freedoms that we have thanks to you

Peace

 

Peace

On earth, in our hearts, amongst those in the world who you protected

Peace

For you

Because of you

In honor of you.

 

Peace

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

On this Memorial Day and every day, would there be any better way to honor those who sacrificed with their lives than by living in ways of peace and understanding in each moment of our lives?

Unconditional…a Mother’s Day Message

Dorothy Ann Sobieski McInnis’ gravestone reads, “Tender mother and faithful friend.” Yep, that was my mom. She passed away a quarter century ago but not a day goes by that I don’t tap into her wisdom and all that earned her epitaph. I also try to emulate her cornerstone:  unconditional love. All else was built around it.

There was never a single day in my life that I didn’t feel loved, which frankly made the real world a bit shocking to me to learn that not everyone loves me for who I am. The shock and disappointments are but a small price to pay for the blessing to have been loved unconditionally, which I am quite sure was not always an easy assignment for mom. There were times when I was a handful.

Unconditional. Without condition. No strings or bait-and-switch, no caveats or disclaimers came with mom’s love. I grew up with permission to be me, knowing that my mom’s and dad’s love for me would not waver based on how I met or did not meet their expectations or ideals. The times of tough love were not exceptions to the reality of unconditional love.

For all the roses and cards, breakfasts in bed and special dinners, family get-togethers and special messages, perhaps the greatest thing we can give and get in honor of mothers and Mother’s Day is unconditional love for all, and the courage to be tender and faithful in our relationships.

More than 40 years ago, I drew a tombstone with an epitaph that I hoped to earn in life. It read, “People knew he loved them.”  I hope mom smiles when I try to discipline my thoughts and actions by remembering that drawing and says “That’s my son. I’m proud of him and love him.”

Happy Mother’s Day, all, to the moms, to those who have moms, to those who had moms, to those who serve as moms to others…to everyone.  We are all shaped by mothers and their greatest influence:  love.

Rise Again

What with conditions in the virus response world of today, this Easter brings extra-ordinary lessons for everyone, whether they are Christians or not. Listening to life is as important now, if not more so, when life leaves its familiarity of normalcy.

Much of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society team that I am now part of operates virtually and a common frustration for many is the sense of confinement, limitation and lack of community due to the variety of quarantine conditions they are experiencing around the country. The supervisor of our team encourages everyone to get outside when they can, take in fresh air, move around and take in the views. What would normally just be a walk to the corner is now thought of as therapeutic, mentally, emotionally and physically. The same walk but totally different perspectives of it.

My wife and I enjoy sitting on the front porch late in the day and watch the world go by. The same people who walked by previously and shared waves and friendly greetings, now walk by with waves and greetings, but there is a different look on their faces. There are new messages in the greetings. People are trying to come alive again. In their own way, they are resurrecting from their homes in search of life, living and spirit, if only on a walk on which they hope to encounter others on the road.

I can’t help but be reminded of the power and importance of resurrection this Easter weekend. The word “resurrection” has its roots in the Latin word resurgere which means to “rise again.” In conversations with team members, neighbors, family and friends, there is the oft-expressed need, desire and hunger to rise again. It is innate. We are called to it. We know there is life in that act, no matter how small or grand the “rising again” happens to be. Never stay down; rise again in each moment.

 

Happy, blessed Easter to you all.

Now is a good time to…

Remember as a kid when it was rainy or snowy or hot outside and you felt trapped inside and couldn’t have your normal fun? Then your mom would say, “Why don’t you read a book?” Mom was onto something.

Over the past several months I have read a lot of books. The job I held was eliminated in early August and the job search (and increased reading) began. I was blessed with a new job with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (a nearly impossible to believe, truly exceptional organization) a month ago, and with the current Wuhan Virus situation I have returned to books in the evenings. Mom was definitely onto something.

I have re-engaged my relationship with three wise men: Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale and Og Mandino. Consider the trying times in which these authors learned the lessons in life and business that they then shared as authors and speakers. They listened to life. We can, too.

Just their book titles suggest important, timeless wisdom that is certainly appropriate to the challenges and changes we face today.  How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, How to Win Friends and Influence People, The Power of Positive Thinking, The Positive Principle Today, The World’s Greatest Salesman, and more.  I leave it up to you to track down which title applies to which author.

We all have access to good books. Your list may be quite different than mine, though I heartily recommend the cited authors. (Want more ideas?  Send me an e-mail!)  Personally, I prefer paper so I can mark up key phrases and thoughts which helps me remember and apply the wisdom shared in ink. This sight can also be very helpful:  www.GoodReads.com.

No matter what is going on, others, including your relatives, lived through worse. Much worse. Remember, all the joy, courage, strength, happiness and success you desire is available to you because of the live you’ve lived, not despite it.