Being a Dad

It’s Father’s Day once again. This can bring up a variety of memories for people. I know that not everyone has had a great relationship with their father. I’m fortunate because the experience with my fathers has been great for different reasons and for different periods of time. In the past, I’ve written about my biological dad who passed away when I was only four years old. I’ve also been able to capture the amazing time I had with my “stepdad” who was around for the majority of my life who passed away at the end of 2020. This year I wanted to share my reflections about being a dad.

I’ve been a dad for over 27 years now. My wife and I have two wonderful kids who are now adults – Melanie and Josh. I don’t take it for granted that we fit into the stereotypical nuclear family model. We have had far more ups than downs. Please understand that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our struggles, arguments, and disagreements over the years. It’s intriguing to me that when people share experiences that are positive, it’s met with skepticism and critique. There’s this insinuation that there must be something else that just isn’t being shared. Sorry to disappoint.

I love being a dad. It is probably the “work” that I value more than any other personal accomplishment I’ve been able to have. You see, I want my kids to know that they are loved just as they are and through whatever they face. I want to be the dad who laughs with them and holds them when things get emotional. I want to listen so that they are heard, and offer solutions only if they ask for options. It gives me great joy to celebrate with them when they have new life experiences. And, it touches me deeply when they contact me for advice.

You see, the most important thing I get to do is to be a model for them. They’ve seen when I’ve been loving and affectionate with my wife and with them. They’ve also witnessed when I’ve failed them and others. At times they’ve heard me yell at something I thought mattered SOOOOOO much when it usually didn’t. I’ve always strived to be genuine, vulnerable, and transparent with them. I cherish when they make fun of me when I tear up at a TV commercial. They eagerly wait to pounce on the first senseless tear and howl with glee when it happens (which is often.)

I love seeing them grow up to learn about life. I want to jump in and take care of everything, but know that I need to step back so they learn from life just like my dad did for me. I make sure to check in on them often to hear what’s happening in their corner of the world while also sharing what’s happening in mine. I share my faith, my successes, and my frustrations. We jostle over politics, social issues, and musical tastes.

They have always known that I’m the dad who was willing to jump in, be goofy, and make sure their friends always felt our house was a second home for them. I continue to strive to be the dad who encourages and takes interest in the people in their lives. I want to be the dad who can’t wait to see the next Marvel movie or ride the scary amusement park ride with them.

I know that this may sound sappy and sentimental (and I’m cool with that in so many ways.) I wouldn’t trade a second of the time I’ve been a dad. Not one. I look forward to growing old and staying an intricate part of their lives whatever comes. I don’t have a set of goals for them to meet or unreal expectations to measure whether they’ve “made it” or not.

It’s just a privilege to be a dad. I love it !!

All You Need Is . . .

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m exhausted. It’s not physical exhaustion. It’s that I’m emotionally and mentally drained. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel that I’m alone in feeling this.

I know there are a multitude of factors that play into this, but the main one is the constant message bombardment of fear, negativity, and inflammatory stories I see from the “news” regardless of the outlet. It seems that we continue to put out information that is meant to put us on edge and evoke some overly charged response of disdain or disbelief. Add on top of this that once something is posted, shared or released, then the wave of comments starts hitting the shore. People reply in snippets of raw emotion and rarely seek, or ask for, context. It is far easier to launch a volley. And, I think people long for a returned volley so the comments can spiral into a deeper and deeper hole of disparagement.

Ironically, it’s come to the point that when people choose to post something positive, people launch on that as well. They claim that people are faking their lives and only showing good things. Pause. Reread that sentence. We’re pissed that someone has something positive to share.

I understand that the world is filled with horrific things. I’m not naive to think that these things can’t be shared or unearthed. When things get overlooked or buried, the terrible actions and/or behaviors continue. I just think that we can change the approach and method of how we communicate with each other – including the tough things.

(Random side thought – My head is already wondering if people are just sitting there waiting to counter each word of this post. That saddens me to even have that thought. Back to the post . . .)

I believe in people. I believe in those who share my views, likes and opinions just as I do with those who don’t share them. Do I struggle with people? Yes. Just as sure as I think others struggle with me. We’re human and we live in a broken world. Even in the midst of that, I believe most people are good. I really do.

Just having that posture makes people scoff and throw up skepticism. We share experiences of how someone hurt another person. I’m sure each of those experiences are valid and personal. I’ve been hurt. I’ve had people hurt others in my immediate family. I’ve experienced loss of family and dear friends throughout my lifetime.

I don’t view life as a mass of either/or situations where I’m forced to land on one side or another. I’m an if/then person and in every circumstance in my life I choose to say that “if” such and such happens, “then” I choose to respond as positively as possible – even in the most difficult of incidents. You may think that’s unrealistic, but it’s something I hold on to.

We live in a time when people don’t feel they have anyone who believes in them. It fills conversations at work, on social media platforms and in public forums. I understand that it’s not feasible to reach everyone and close this gap. However, for those I’m fortunate enough to have in my life, I can act and lift them up.

I have faith that this small action will make a difference – even for a moment. I want to see the tone of conversations change to become a rich dialogue where people are heard and valued regardless of their perspective. If they are struggling with an issue in life or society, they know they have someone who is there for them to listen – not to solve or jump to conclusions. I don’t want them to feel invisible, unheard or ignored. I want to be someone at work, in HR, online, and in-person who is willing to challenge the norm and change the narrative. I want to show that there are amazing, positive and uplifting things happening all the time around us. It’s not all awful. In fact, it’s far from it.

It’s ironic to me that we set one day aside each calendar year to “celebrate” love on Valentine’s Day. I would rather suggest that love become our norm every day. I know it’s easy to think it can’t be this simple, but you need to start somewhere. For you see, all you need is . . .

Write This Down

This past weekend a significant life event occurred for me and my family. My dad passed away. I’ve written about him often here on this blog and in my books. I have incredible peace about this and let me tell you why.

Technically, Don Fleming is my stepfather. My biological father, John Browne was a Vietnam veteran who passed away from cancer in 1968 and I was four years old. My mother had been a widow for about eight years when Don came into our life. He and my mom connected right away, dated for a while, and then got married in 1976. It was a full-blown 1970’s gala where my dad, my brother and I all wore the obligatory polyester suits. (They were powder blue by the way. Rockin’ the fashion even then !!)

As soon as Don married my mom, we never called him “Dad” because we were pre-teen knuckleheads. However, he didn’t push back and handled it with grace as he did everything in life. As my brother and I got older, we realized how amazing he was and “Dad” replaced “Don” naturally. My father was an incredible role model of so many attributes that define my life now. I mentioned how he showed grace because he was a man of faith. He would never press this upon others, but he also was very self-assured of who he was. He also was the model husband. He was openly affectionate with my mom and would make sure to give her a kiss when he left for work and when he returned. He never missed a day – ever.

He always emphasized that my brother and I should be “couth” (a word that isn’t used anymore) when it came to respecting our mother and other adults. He expected us to do our share around the house, and he is responsible for our work ethic because of how he modeled it professionally and personally. My dad was never strict, but he was direct and intentional. He expected accountability from us which he always defined as following through on what we had committed to. He came to every. single. event my brother and I were involved in at school. He was supportive, proud, and kept us grounded to be thankful for any honor we received.

As we all grew older together and my brother and I went off to college, we saw my dad less and less because his goal was for us to get on our feet and provide for ourselves. In fact, the day I graduated from high school, Dad hugged me outside the school, told me he loved me and asked when I was leaving. True story. This transition happens to most families, so as life continued, we’d see each other less and less. As my brother and I started families of our own, those gaps naturally grew longer and longer.

Every time I’d visit Dad in Ada, at my house in Cincinnati or at family events all over the Midwest, he’d make sure to share his thoughts and opinions on life. He would grab your attention by saying, “Write this down . . .” Then he’d share a quote he had memorized, a quip or quick story and most assuredly a joke or two. He wanted me to remember these points because he knew they had an impact, reach and meaning. It became so common that I’d hear him pause, raise his hand and I’d jump in and say, “I know. ‘Write this down . . .”

I didn’t realize how ingrained this short phrase had become in my life, but even now, when I give a presentation at a conference I will find myself pausing, looking out to the audience, and say “Write this down . . .”

I am grateful for this man who came into my life 44 years ago. The man who married and loved my mother so incredibly deep and made me who I am today as a husband, father, friend, man of faith, and a professional. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have had the model of grace, respect and humor that also make me who I am.

I know that as I write this, that not everyone has a great relationship with their parents and/or family. I do not take this for granted or feel that my example is greater than anyone else’s experience. I have learned from both my mother and father to be others-focused and value every person for who they are and where they come from. If I can ever be someone to confide in, converse with, weep with or laugh with, I am here for you. That is a fact and not an idle aspiration.

So, as I close I want to share something that Dad told me to write down. It’s from the poem Desiderata which was one of his absolute go to quotes.

Travels

This past weekend I happened to travel. I’ve come a long way personally when it comes to trips. I used to get very anxious about almost every aspect from finding a place to park at an airport to talking to a desk clerk at a hotel. It’s not rational. I know that. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m an uber-extrovert. I easily approach folks and find it energizing to meet strangers and get to know about them. So, the anxiety I experienced while traveling was even more troubling because in every other situation I rarely hesitate to interact with others.

Over the years in my volunteer roles with SHRM, I had to face my anxiety more and more. As I took on larger positions, travel became much more regular. Fortunately, I have a dear friend who was patient with me who taught me how to have confidence during my travels. I learned how to not get overwhelmed and started enjoying the time I had in airports and in new geographic locations. Now, I’m at a much different place because I’ve put in place some simple patterns I follow to keep things in order. You have to understand that this is a giant challenge for me because I tend to be carefree and spontaneous.

Since I’m more at ease with travel, I’ve slipped back into what I normally do – observe others. I’m an avid people watcher !! People fascinate me. I love seeing how everyone is unique in their appearance and their approach to traveling themselves. The vast majority of people have a destination mindset. They will do all they can to get through security quickly and without incident because they don’t want to slow down. Once they’ve cleared this first hurdle, they keep their head down and their pace increases as they dash to their gate. If anything inhibits people, they will audibly huff, groan or sigh. They only care about their destination and everyone else is honestly seen as being in their way.

I get it. I see the anxiety and stress on the faces and in the voices of my fellow travelers. I’m not judging because there are so many factors that can upset your plans. You’re hoping for each moment to go smoothly, and you convince yourself that something will go wrong. Unfortunately, it can. The volume of people who are traveling is only increasing and many of the systems are over capacity or not modernized. Also, not one airport is the same. There is variety in how everything is handled.

Because I know my triggers, I’ve learned to be more patient with other travelers. I’ve also decided to show grace, appreciation and thanks to those who help us along the gauntlet from the parking lot to our final destinations. The employees on the travel side get bombarded with all of the people who are wired and on edge. They deserve to be treated well instead of launched upon. Many of the delays and idiosyncrasies that pop up are out of their control.

This past weekend I noticed a piece of art which captured who I try to be and how I thought I’d travel. I’ve seen it in the past, but it truly caught my eye this time. I’m sure I’ve missed so much in airports, hotels and even the towns I’ve gone to because I was focused on arriving more than enjoying the journey. That’s a shame. It truly is.

I’ve been doing my best to keep my eyes and ears open so I can take in the experience around me far more than worrying about where my gate is. I’ve found that it’s lowered by stress, anxiety and probably my blood pressure. I don’t want to miss the people, sights and interactions that swirl around me. I am now embracing the pace with all of it’s chaos.

It’s a great reminder to use this same approach at home with my wife, at work with my peers and out in public. This week I hope you slow down and calm down. Life is short. We casually say this all the time, but we don’t take steps to do anything about it and savor where we are and who we’re with. Change that today. Our lives can be full and abundant if we embrace the experience during all of our travels as well as our destinations !!

Take It In !!

This past week I celebrated another trip around the sun and became another year older. I find that I now look at each new year as a time to reflect. This is something newer for me and something I wish I would do more. For instance, I have now been alive 30 years longer than my biological father was. That is staggering to me !! I’m fortunate that I am still walking this planet, but sometimes wonder what life would have looked like had he lived as well. I’m sure it would have been completely different and I wouldn’t be writing a weekly blog, just as one example.

My kids and wife are an amazing and significant component in my life. Now that I’m older, I tend not to get any “things” as birthday gifts. I’m grateful that I get time with them far more than any material object. Debbie, my incredible wife, did get me something that will have incredible value – a set of experiences. She got me some tickets to Xavier University basketball games – my fave college basketball team – and some tickets to see part of the “Whose Line is is Anyway?” cast perform an improv comedy show. I can’t wait to go to these events. She made the gift even more meaningful by saying that I can take others with me to some of the games because she knows I’m a massive extrovert.

The reflection that has hit hard this year is this – You need to enjoy the experiences in your life !! Every. Day.

You need to be honest about this. You rarely take in what’s going on around you. We’ve been programmed to stay focused on whatever task is laid out in front of us. This isn’t only related to work. It is how we approach every aspect of our lives. We miss the majority of any event or encounter, and that’s a shame.

Don’t believe me? Tomorrow when you go to work watch how others interact with each other. Greetings are cursory and polite as everyone rushes to what they want to get to. No one seems to notice or care. Conversations are curt, concise and matter of fact. You will hear most people share some personal stories, but to say that both parties are “present” during the interaction would be startling. We feel the invisible push to move on. The vast majority of our daily experiences are more like a series of pass-by movements. There are short pauses in the rush of pass-bys, but they are limited on purpose.

I consider myself someone who consciously makes time to focus on others, and I have to constantly remind myself to be present in conversations. I have to fight the urge to follow distractions which are always tugging at me. I feel this is true with most people. I don’t think that this has to be the case. I know that we have time to be present when we interact with others throughout each experience we have.

Now that Debbie and I are empty nesters, we are doing more activities as a couple. We’re relearning what it’s like to spend time together just as a pair. We aren’t committed to running to this event or another for either of our kids who are now grown. So, we go out to dinner or make dinner together after a full day of work. We’ll go to the gym and also go to a movie in a theater (we’re old school like that.) Whatever we’re doing, I’ve decided that I am going to be present and take in every second we’re together. I don’t want to miss something because I’m yearning to get to the “next thing.”

I want to be like the two young kids I saw at the grocery store this weekend. They had pulled two of the bags you use to put produce in and were throwing them into the air. The bags would puff out and float slowly back and forth toward the floor. The kids would squeal, catch their bag and throw it back into the air. They were exuberant and present in the moment while their mother was trying to get her shopping done. Instead of chiding the kids, she laughed along with them and commented how beautiful the new “toy” they had created was.

The new year is still young. You can change your approach to how you embrace every day, and in turn, every person you meet. Slow down and take it in. Everything. Every. Single. Thing. You’ll be astonished how much more you’ll enjoy life !!

No Words

Sunday night is when I sit down to pen my weekly blog. Usually, the words flow easily and I can put something together relatively quickly.

If you don’t know, I am an extremely positive person 90% of the time. It’s natural and genuine. Honestly, it feels a bit odd to type it out because I don’t mean this in either an arrogant or naive way. I believe in the good in life and in people.

Then, the mass shootings of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio happened this Saturday. Dayton is a mere 25 miles north of my home. These tragedies are always horrible and senseless. So, I am floored by this weekend and the mass loss of life. We often get moved by the horror until something else grabs our attention.

I know that there are millions of people who are continuing to move on and live life well. They may see the news online or through social media, and feel remorse or disbelief. And yet, life continues.

This week, instead of writing about the good in people (which I still firmly believe in), I’m taking a break to reach out to those close to me. I’m being intentional to tell them how much they mean to me, and the impact they make in my life and the lives of others. I can’t take the chance that I’d miss the opportunity to do this. I don’t want to take any day for granted.

For those of you kind enough to read my blog, please know that you matter. Every. Day.

Stand Up and Cheer !!

I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I’m a fiercely proud alumni of Ohio University !! It’s a phenomenal university that is tucked in the hills of southeast Ohio along the banks of the Hocking River. It has the distinction of being the first university in the State. Those that have attended OU will make sure to let you know that they are NOT from that school in Columbus, Ohio which shall not be named.

I cherish every time I get the chance to visit the campus. It still has the vibe of being a welcoming home for all that pass through. The students oddly look much younger than I remember looking when I attended, but that’s to be expected. After graduating and starting my own career and family, I never thought that either of my kids would attend my alma mater. When it came time to make college visits, I told them both that they would visit OU even if they didn’t attend. My daughter visited first and liked the campus, but didn’t feel the same pull I did when I attended. She attended the University of Indianapolis and earned her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. She did fine !!

When my son was about to graduate high school, we took the trek across the State to visit OU one more time. I made sure to visit the Bagel Street Deli to make sure he had the experience just in case I never would get to again. Josh surprised me by deciding he would attend Ohio University !! To say I was geeked would not cover how I felt.

The new OU Bobcat Alum !!

That was four quick years ago. This weekend I had the distinct pleasure to see my son graduate as an OU Bobcat. I sat in the same gymnasium 33 years earlier wondering what would happen next. As soon as I walked into the Convocation Center, tears streamed down my face. The reason for that had little to do with my alma mater and everything to do with my amazing son.

You see, I hoped that he would have an incredible time like I did when I went to OU. His experience was his own and had its various ups and downs as it should. I didn’t want him to mimic what I did. I just wanted his college experience to be memorable. It was. Josh was not a big fan of high school. He did well but he couldn’t wait to get out. He didn’t enjoy many classes and I was wondering how his next academic adventure would go. I had nothing to be concerned about. He graduated Magna Cum Laude and embraced all facets of learning.

After the graduation ceremony, my wife and I spent the entire day with Josh enjoying every moment. We made one last stroll up and down Court Street and made sure to buy one more batch of OU apparel. As the rain started to come, we stopped off at Donkey Coffee and Espresso (the coolest coffee house I’ve ever been to !!) It was so cool to sit and talk with the young man who started as an unsure teenager four years earlier. We talked about life, politics, his college memories, and it was obvious that he was ready to step out into the next phase of his life.

The fight song for Ohio University starts out with the lyrics “Stand up and cheer, Cheer loud and long for old Ohio . . .” Today I stand up and cheer for my fellow alum, my fellow Bobcat, my son.

It wouldn’t be an OU post without the Marching 110 – the most exciting band in the land !! Bobcat proud. Bobcat for life !!

The Best Presents . . .

There are two more days until Christmas. There are so many emotions that come to the surface during the holidays. For me it’s an amazing time to reflect on faith as well as being grateful. My best “present” each year is my daughter Melanie because she was born on Christmas Day 25 years ago this coming Tuesday !!

I also know that the holiday season can bring about a ton of mixed emotions that may not all be positive. I ache for those who struggle because there aren’t enough good words to try and help people through what they’re facing. When you have conversations, you want to help so desperately and offer possible solutions. Honestly, most people don’t want solutions, they want your presence.

As we come to the end of another phenomenal year, I am more and more thankful for the people in my life. This ranges from my family to my co-workers to the thousands (not an exaggeration) of HR and business connections that I cherish from SHRM, the global HR community and social media.

I can’t come up with the appropriate words to capture this sentiment of the value of connections. However, I can always rely on one of my favorite philosophers that I grew up with – Bill Watterson. Who’s he? He’s the genius creator of Calvin & Hobbes. So, I want to wish you all a phenomenal Christmas and holiday season and I’m sending you a “best present.”

Thanks for being a connection. Trust me, you matter to me and the lives of others !!

The Best Gift to Give !!

We’re in the midst of the holiday season. You can’t escape the endless string of Christmas music or the many, many television channels completely dedicated to Christmas movies. Every retail location is decorated to the hilt as well. You can’t escape it.

Now, I’m not complaining, and this isn’t a Grinch post railing against the commercialism of the holidays. I enjoy most facets of this season. Most. The one area where I struggle every year is shopping for others. I have never been a list person in any aspect of my life. That isn’t a cry for help and a need for more structure and organization. It’s just a fact. My amazing wife is a list person and it suits her well. So, when she asks for gift ideas for myself or my kids she gets an audible groan.

The whole idea of roaming from store to store and aisle to aisle gives me the shakes !! It’s not the thought of spending too much money on things. It’s because I do so much people watching that I don’t pay attention to the items that could be potential purchases. I’m not “focused” according to my family because they are much more apt to locate, compare and acquire. They can accomplish all of their shopping in a matter of hours. This is true whether they go out to stores or browse various internet sites.

This year I took a new approach. I changed my attitude about shopping and decided to keep an open mind about the experience. Instead of being filled with dread, I was positive because I included a “gift.” The gift was my time. I chose to intentionally be with my wife and enjoy every interaction and encounter. Ironically, this is how I approach most every day outside of the holiday season. Taking a simple shift in MY attitude made an incredible difference !!

For the first time since I can recall, I enjoyed shopping. The lists had beautiful lines running through completed purchases. Debbie and I laughed often and found some surprises outside of the list which filled me with glee. We were even able to get some people watching in. I was patient and kept my wife calm because she doesn’t like large crowds.

You see, giving Debbie my time on purpose meant more to her than anything written down on a list. It was a phenomenal reminder of how powerful giving someone else your time is. As the quote notes, your time is priceless because you can’t get it back !! It goes to the other person and then time moves on.

We all tend to feel that time is fleeting and that we never have enough. That  just isn’t true. We get frustrated because we don’t have enough time for what WE want. Our self-centeredness dominates our daily activities and where we choose to spend our time. I’m not pointing fingers because this affects me as well.

This week, and this holiday season, shift your approach. Give your time to others. This will take more effort than you think it will. It’s not like you can just turn this off and on like a switch. Giving your time to others takes a concerted effort. I’d even recommend that you start looking at how you can give your time to others on a consistent basis throughout the year. Get ahead of the whole New Year’s resolution nonsense that is just around the corner.

Time is something we ALL possess !! Make it your gift.

What You Have . . .

This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving in the States. It is my favorite holiday because it is a chance to step back, reflect and give thanks for all that you have. We kept things low key as my immediate family gathered. It was wonderful to spend time and cook with my wife and two kids (adults). Everyone pitched in as we put our meal together and each person was responsible for a dish. After eating we watched a little football and then a new Christmas movie on Netflix.

The following day we continued our family tradition by putting up Christmas decorations throughout the house as well as lights in the front yard. This time always brings the four of us together and helps us break out of the crazy pace we all seem to follow. The break was needed for all of us.

Now, I know this isn’t “unique” to many situations that happened this past week. Most of the people that I regularly talk to, or hang out with, were fortunate to have similar Thanksgiving gatherings. I was reminded, however, about the power of being thankful for what I have . . . not what I lack.

Too often our days are filled with all that’s “missing” or desired. Few people ever seem content with how life, work and relationships are going. There seems to be a missing component somehow. If someone is grateful, or satisfied, with how things are going, others seem sarcastic, doubtful or challenging. You may even hear someone retort that if you’re not always going after more and more, then you’re actually slipping behind.

To be honest, this negative mindset is exhausting to me. I ache when I hear that people are struggling. I also understand that there are tangible and legitimate mountains that people face every day in regards to all facets of life. I’m not naive. However, I choose to be grateful in the midst of all situations that I face. This runs against the grain of how most people face each day, but I’m good with that.

To help in launching a counter movement to what society has to offer, I choose to encourage others, connect others and let others know that I am thankful for who they are.  This simple approach is daunting because every comment is often met with resistance. The key is to keep moving forward and be persistent. I truly believe that being  genuinely consistent in this approach breaks through in the end.

This week take note of all that you currently have in your life regardless of your circumstances. I’m sure that you’ll find a mix of friends, family and connections all within reach. Tell them that you’re grateful for them and how they impact your life. Don’t let it pass by as an assumption. Make a call. Write a note. Send a text. Whatever it takes, let them know how much they matter to you and others. Who knows? It may be just the spark they needed.

Image from www.sticky-quotes.com