Calling names…was Dale Carnegie right?

Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” He’s right.  Well, maybe. It depends on the situation and it serves us well to recognize the power of names…all names.

My nickname growing up was DeeDee, a name gained from a niece who could not pronounce “Dion” as a kid; she is only three years younger than me, so I was a kid, open to nicknames, when she was at the age learning how to speak. DeeDee became D for some family members. Those were well and good, but then came the name that always catches my attention and warms my heart:  Dad.

Now that there are three Dions in the clan, though we each have different middle names, it is not unusual to hear “Dion” called out at family gatherings.  I only respond to the name when a sweet tone is associated with it; I leave the frustrated or irritated sounding “Dions” to my son or grandson to respond to.  I didn’t get this old without getting just a little bit smart.  “Dad” will always turn my head though whenever I hear it, or some of the other variants my sons use, like “Pops” or “Old Man.”

About 28 years after I earned the name of Dad, I reached Deepaw status, though I only gained the name when my first grandchild was looking for a name to call me.  The “Dee” of yore married the old grandfatherly term of “paw” and “Deepaw” was born. A special title indeed, it still comes in second behind the dad-related names.

Those names are for family. I believe we also have other names that hold a special place for us. We learn a lot about others by knowing and recognizing those other names. For many in the medical field, and in academic circles, they seem more concerned about hearing “Doctor” than the personal name that follows, for example.

Decades ago, a friend would sometime address me with “Oh captain, my captain,” as a tip of the hat to the movie Dead Poets Society and the use of Walt Whitman’s poem in the film. That was pretty cool and I don’t ever expect to have someone use that name with me again, though it was more of a salutation than a name, not unlike “Doctor” is not a name although some folks want it used that way.

The non-family name that I miss the most, the one I respond to when watching movies related to the title, the one that stirs up such fond memories and reminiscences, the one that captures a very special time for me in oh-so-many ways is “Coach.”  The first time I was recognized on Father’s Day was before I had any children; it was a community club track team that I coached that gave me a gift that Sunday when we were in Ruston, Louisiana for a track meet. Movies about well-meaning coaches or father-son relationships will almost always bring tears at some point.  

I sometimes wonder how much more empathy, compassion, understanding and love we’d have in the world if we took the time and energy to learn about each other’s other special names and why they are so. Short of that, let’s at least remember Dale’s wisdom.

I wished I could ask…lessons about what to share

I often think of questions that I wished I could ask my mom or dad now; they have been gone for decades, the decades where I became wise enough to realize how much wisdom they had, and the decades where I gained enough humility to listen more open mindedly. I remember a lot of what they shared and have come to understand through hindsight the wisdom they possessed. If only I could ask them now.

There are others I wished that I could talk to now. Converse with. Get into gnarly conversations with. Alas, those old neighbors, strangers encountered on the fishing dock, relatives and others, are gone and/or I will never see them again.  If only I had asked about…

Perhaps the onus should be more on each of us to share wisdom and insights, instead of waiting to be asked. The wisdom could be a simple phrase or a long conversation. When I was 17, a customer at the grocery store that I worked out had this to share when I said that I couldn’t wait to turn 18:  “Don’t be wishing your life away.”  I’ll never forget it. Wisdom in the checkout line.

Wisdom is best served simply, not with ego, self-aggrandizement, or a sense of superiority. And it will not always be accepted in the moment, but it may stick in the other person’s mind like the wisdom the customer shared with me. Think of the types of things you wished you could ask today of people who were part of your yesterdays; share such things with people today.

“Look ma’! No hands”…and learning to take risks

Ahead of me was a balding man driving a motorcycle. He was slowing down as he approached a traffic light. Within 100 feet, or so, of the intersection, he held his arms out wide, a letter t like a kid standing in a windy rain or like the notable scene from the movie Titanic. The gesture that was likely to relieve tension in his arms also expressed freedom and feeling. I wonder if he had performed that move so often that he had lost the feeling of “Look ma!  No hands,” the feelings we all had once we overcame the fear and accepted the risk to take our hands off the handlebars of our bikes: exhilaration, accomplishment, pride, and freedom.

Once we got good enough at the hands-free riding, we could go great distances. I recall seeing friends riding along, playing air guitar or air drums, or sipping on a cold drink, or with arms at their sides. I can’t help but think we enjoyed those rides more than the super-serious riders on bikes with toe clips on the pedals, hunkered over the under-turned handlebars and dozens of gears to choose from. Maybe those other types of cyclists enjoyed the speed and exhilaration of their rides, whereas the hands-free capable riders enjoyed the scenery and moments.

Sometime between training wheels and hands-free riding were short, wobbly rides and the “Look ma! No hands!” moment.  Risk taking, bumps and bruises, and a bandage or two were part of the journey.

As I watched the motorcycle rider, I considered the importance of risk taking, and the multitude of benefits – large and small, physical and emotional – that come from taking a chance. It occurred to me that I cannot remember the last time that I saw a kid riding a bike with no hands while playing air drums or air guitar. It is hard enough to recall seeing a kid riding a bike that was not designed for competition of some sort, much less one simply enjoying the moments of the ride.

Taking risk brings more than great accomplishment; taking risk can bring simple pleasures, quiet enjoyment, subtle confidence…all of which leads to future confidence, enjoyment, and joy.

Time machines…and other ways to take you back

I was about 12 years old the other day when I walked across the parking lot to the mailroom of our subdivision. My new/old fishing lures were supposed to have been delivered and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.

My dad and I were bait fisherman until we encountered the son of a man on whose farm we fished in his several stock ponds. His son introduced us to Abu in-line spinning lures and our world changed.  In addition to getting hooked on that style of lure, I was smitten with the young man’s reel:  a Garcia spinning reel. I still have the one that I bought shortly after I was introduced to the brand and the style.

The lure style was mimicked by Shyster and other manufacturers.  My dad went all-in for fishing lures, picking up varieties at little shops as he travelled through small towns for his work; back in the “old days,” a lot of little gas stations and convenience stores had lures on cardboard displays tacked to the paneled wall behind the register or in the “fishing section” of the store.

I could share scores of wonderful fishing memories with my dad, and hundreds that came later with my sons. The new lures that I purchased the other day take me back to old times when I had the earlier versions of the lure, when I could be found practicing casting in the front yard (sometimes with friends), when I caught a bass that had a baby duck’s feet hanging out of its mouth, when my friends and I would ride our bikes to Oshman’s sporting goods in Town and Country Village to patrol the aisles of fishing gear, when… and on and on. The memories are fond, the emotions sweet and my energy picks up like the corners of my mouth as I recall those times.

The point is that there are a variety of things that serve as time machines that take us to times that help us better understand the present, that connect us to our periods of change and development, that remind us of friends made or accomplishments achieved, that make us smile anew or sigh with healed sadness. 

I chose the lures because I aim to fish again in the less stressed, more playful ways of my youth and I wanted to go back to those times to re-learn the style.  The internet hosts more time portals that you can travel. I have sought out other time machines there, too, like songs from specific years, candies from when a quarter in a young boy’s sweaty palm would yield a small paper bag of sugared smiles, toys from specific birthdays or Christmases…again, the list is endless.

Time travel.  It’ll do you good.

The ingredients of a good life…not all are pleasant

Many of the ingredients in a tasty recipe are not good by themselves. They can be pretty disgusting. Life is much the same way:  You can’t judge your life by an event or occurrence but must look at the result of it all blended together.

Try chewing on a mouthful of basil, or sip on an ounce of vanilla extract, or put down a tablespoon of cinnamon (DON’T try those things…it can be dangerous) …flavors that we love in the final product can be anything from annoying to unbearable by themselves.  Such is life.

I’ve always told my sons that if they love their lives now, they must respect and appreciate everything involved to get them to this point; likewise, what is yet to come is also part of making the grand recipe of life. In the present of any circumstance, we cannot know how that affects our future.

What we are and what we have are the summation of experiences (I explain this and provide useful tools to understand your experiences in my LIFElines book). Seemingly minor meetings or occurrences can affect your life immediately or way down the road; traumatic experiences can cause major course corrections to a better life and becoming a better person. We won’t know the effect until life blends it all together, just like we can’t project the taste of the vanilla icing by swigging from the extract bottle.

Be patient with the “recipe” and trust that the “ingredients” of your life are there for a reason: to make you.

Polished shoes…wisdom for today

I spread out the towel on the floor, laid out two brushes – one stiff bristled and the other soft – took two specific cloths out of the box and lifted the jar of boot polish from the box, too, before sitting cross-legged on the floor. Time to polish my boots. Time to get lost in the sounds and scents of the ritual, one that my dad was much more committed to than I am.

One of the routines on Sundays before going to church when I was a kid, was watching and listening to dad polish his shoes. Once I was big enough, I was able to participate by holding down the shoes while he took a buffing rag to them. The rag was long and narrow and dad popped it crisply, much to his youngest son’s enjoyment; I use a buffing mitt from the goodies that hotels leave for visitors.  I followed his example of using old socks to spread the polish deep into the lines and crevices of the leather.  It is a satisfying process.

The stiff brush cleans the leather before rubbing in the cream. For years, I used the same brand shoe polish that dad did, but my latest taste in boots have required cream, instead of polish, to achieve the look that I like. Dabs of soft cream rubbed into the leather stirs scents. After letting the applied cream dry sufficiently, the soft brush brings out a shine with fast back-and-forth strokes that emulate my memories of dad’s ways as much as possible. The soft buffing mitt finishes the job, ten minutes of memories and lessons.

I think people cared more back then about appearances, about looking presentable. As I polish my boots, I think that I should pay more attention to them more often. Looking presentable has been frowned on with contemporary take-me-as-I-am mentality. That may be well and good, but there is something to be said about having the self-respect to look…well, polished.

My mom told me that during the “old days,” you could see by dirt on the back of men’s slacks where they would give them a quick buffing by rubbing their shoe on their calves before heading into a meeting. 

Polished shoes mattered. I remember when the soles of dad’s shoes had holes, but the leather was shiny. No matter the toll on the soles, the outward appearance was positive and polished. That sounds like a good concept for life and living.

30…light years

It was great to have a chance to catch up with my youngest son and his special lady for a slightly belated celebration of his 30th birthday. For the past few years, he has not been around for his birthday due to his job’s travel requirements.

All three of my sons are light years ahead of where I was at their respective ages. I’m okay with that. Instead of following in their old man’s footsteps, they pulled over to the passing lane. They are on similar paths in terms of using public speaking, photography, sales, relationship development, communications, strategic thinking and other areas of interest that we share, but they use them differently and have taken them further than I have. It all makes for a fascinating view.

One of the clearest things I see is that influence is more important than imitation. I feel like my influence has helped them to become the successes and kind of men they are; I may have put a bit of wind in their sails, but they charted their paths and navigated the waters. That is altogether different than having them imitate their dad.  I was blessed with a dad who responded to my curiosity of taking over his accounting business someday with, “I’d love for you to, but I don’t think you’d like accounting. I don’t think it is you.  Read this book (which he pulled off his shelf) and we’ll talk.”  I took the book and that semester I took an accounting class, too. He was right; he knew that imitating him would have put me in a role that I hated. He influenced with me with courage, tenacity, independence, and never-surrender attitude in the quest to do things I love.

We all have the chance to influence others; our goal should not be imitation. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, which is a matter of pride; influence requires humility for all involved, which is more fertile ground for growth.

Memories Held Together With Love

Michael Peter Smith wrote a beautiful song in 1968 titled “The Dutchman.”  I recently discovered it. It haunts me, this story of a man who has lost his memories and realities. I have come to love the song because it speaks to me of how others love us no matter how much or little we remember. Key to all this is that memories are often held together with love so that they are accessible over time.

Long ago, I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me

The song revolves around those two lines that are in the refrain. The song has been covered by a wide range of musicians, each bringing a different flavor to loving, nostalgic recipe of the lyrics. Watching the New Kingston Trio perform the song with Bob Shane singing with the aid of a canula somehow ties the messages of aging and patience ever more tightly. This is not a song review; it is a reminder of love and the importance of stories shared and remembered.

Find a way to move memories forward in time:  write stories, send letters, create lyrics and songs, accompany photographs with recollections, share stories with family members and loved ones. Don’t be too quick to throw away what you have created or what you have received. Remember letters held together by adhesive tape? Love has a way of holding together those things that are not on paper.

No one has perfect recall, making the preserving and sharing of stories and memories all the more interesting. After I published my book Daddin’:  The Verb of Being a Dad, my oldest son pointed out a correction to a story shared in the book. I am sure his correction was valid because the particular story was about him in college. I am sure that as I get older, more and more of my memories will need “editorial adjustments” delivered with love, not judgment.

So it is for all of us. Our memories are not perfect, neither the ones we hold nor those we feel to correct of others. At some point, those memories may disappear or become something that never really was.  And that’s okay, because the mortar that can, and should, hold together all memories is love; of all the things we can forget, let’s not let that be one of them.

I once was what you…

My mom would occasionally use an expression that caught my attention from my early teen years on. That was a long time ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. “I once was what you are now.” Perhaps it was observations like this and the fact that my parents were “older” by the time I arrived as a surprise; dad was 43 and mom was almost 40.

I have always been fascinated by the “growing older” process. “Puff the Magic Dragon” always saddened me because of the changes in the friendship described in the lyrics. When my friend, Brian, drowned when we were 19, I could no longer listen to the song. Innocence lost. It was 35 years before I listened to it again; growing older and its subsequent changes to life have intrigued me, while also producing a bit of melancholy.

The next phase to mom’s phrase is “You will be what I am now.” Older people were once young; young people will become old. Life is a continuum.

A high school friend and I were sharing emails about our parents a few days ago. I shared with him a poem that I wrote in 1972, influenced by Neil Young’s song, “Old Man.” My poem, also titled “Old Man,” has six stanzas, the first two are:

Old man can you manage

With that cane in your hand?

Can you continue watching

The dropping of the sand?

Do memories plague you

Of the days in the street?

Do memories haunt you

Of the people you did meet?

My dad was 59 when I showed the poem to him; he cried. I read it now, at 66, with different eyes. I have become what he was then, plus some.

 Young gain wisdom from the old; old tap into energy from the young. Life is a continuum. Don’t forget from when you came and look forward with hope to where you’re going.

It’s HOT…a great opportunity

I just came in from watering. The temperature is 109, but the heat index is only 112, four degrees lower than forecast. Ya gotta love the small favors.

Grumbling about heat is a common occurrence in these parts, and rightfully so. There are opportunities with this heat; they sure beat grumbling and getting grouchy.

Read a book; write a book; sew or quilt; slow dance with your special other in the living room; drink sweet tea; eat watermelon; get up early to enjoy tolerable temperatures at the time the birds are waking up; write some letters using pen and paper; sit in front of a box fan and get lost in the white noise and the sensation of the breeze in your hair; go outside for 15 minutes of Vitamin D and get a healthy sweat going; paint; play an instrument; listen to some music from your youthful days; call someone you haven’t talked to in too long; experiment – try to cook an egg on the sidewalk; nap; read a book to your kids or grandkids; have a call (video or phone) with friends or family; put together a jigsaw puzzle; learn to play chess (or something else you don’t know how to do yet)…and so on.

Yeah, it is hotter than the hinges of the gates of Hades, but there are opportunities because of it. Enjoy!