What’s Next ??!!

This Wednesday is the next milestone I am fortunate enough to experience in this journey we call “life.” I’m turning the clock over to another decade !! Now, I understand that aging isn’t exactly an accomplishment. Time moves forward whether we want it to or not. However, in my family line reaching 60 is an accomplishment !!

My biological father passed away at age 26. His brother passed away in his early 40’s and his other brother made it to his late 60’s. Therefore, I am truly grateful when I get to start yet another year roaming the planet.

What does the next decade hold? I honestly don’t know, and I’m comfortable with things being unknown. I’m relatively healthy and active. Work has never been this exciting, robust, and creative !! My wife and I will celebrate 35 years of marriage in October, and our adults are successful as they learn how to live their lives and careers.

I’ve never been a person who had to have the next steps of life planned out or predetermined. The truth is when things are overly scheduled and structured, I get a bit itchy. I am far more comfortable with spontaneity and going with the flow of whatever presents itself. Ironically, my approach to life makes my wife itchy. That’s one of the many reasons we’ve been successful as a couple. We balance each other in almost every aspect of our lives together.

I do know this. I am going to continue to look forward to what’s next. I do this with anticipation, curiosity, joy, and positivity. I don’t really see another option. I know that I’ll meet new people in the coming years. I know that I’ll get to visit and explore different areas of the world, and I hope to get to meet and connect with more HR peers. I’m sure that I’ll make that transition from work to retirement sooner rather than later. That only means new adventures are just around the corner.

I know these exciting opportunities will present themselves because in looking back over my prior 59 years, I cherish the amazing things that have already happened. I never thought I’d ever be an author growing up, and now I’ve written three books. I could never have imagined speaking in front of any group, and yet I’ve taken the stage to speak to thousands of people. I never anticipated I’d find the love of my life and be blessed with two amazing kids. And yet, we continue to enjoy each other as time marches ahead.

I couldn’t have understood that I was led into the field of Human Resources which has fit me like a glove for my entire career. I’ve been fortunate to connect with peers from every type and size of industry around the globe. Literally !! I’ve had the opportunity to work with and impact thousands of employees for 37+ years. How amazing is that?

Not one of these experiences was part of a wish list or a vision board. (remember those?) I also don’t think that my life is a series of happenstance. I’m a man of faith and I trust that whatever comes throughout my life happened on purpose.

So, what’s next ?? I’m not sure, but I’m geeked to see how it all plays out.

Fix You

A situation recently occurred that I can’t shake. I share about my family often, and I’m fortunate to have such an amazing, supportive wife and incredible kids. They are well on their adulting ways which is a new parenting adventure itself. It’s wonderful to take the steps of life together including the highs and lows, the joys and challenges.

Our son lives in the greater San Diego area while my wife and I are in Ohio. Having him thousands of miles away has its downside because it would be great to see him in person more easily and often. However, I’m also geeked he is in a place where he can stretch boundaries and make a life for himself. One thing Josh won’t readily admit is that he and I are more alike than not. He is creative, emotional, passionate, and talkative and struggles when he feels confined by authority (just like the author of this post).

We have an agreement that if he ever feels like he’s going to lose it, I’m his first call before he reacts. Please don’t think he’s ready to pop at any random moment. Sometimes, the emotions just build up and I’d rather be a safe outlet than have that release be detrimental to him or others. I’m proud of him and love him more than I can express. So, if I get a call that doesn’t quite fit my time zone but it fits his, I pick up the phone.

A few weeks ago that happened. He called me as both his Dad and his HR counsel. His work situation isn’t good. He works for a branch of a nationally known bank for a difficult manager. Please understand every time we talk about his work environment, I make sure to talk about what he’s facing AND his part in it. It’s too easy to have him, or someone at work, just complain about their supervisor. Everyone does this to some extent at some time. You need to make sure to see if there is an issue or if it’s a mismatch of styles and approaches.

In his current job, he’s hit both. The branch has the highest turnover of all branches for people in his role. He has stuck with them through all of this and has the most tenure even though it’s only a little over one year. I won’t go into details of why I received his call because he’s going to work through it – as he should personally and professionally.

The part of the conversation that broke me was that he was two words into the call, “Hi Dad . . .” when he burst into tears. The kind of crying where you can’t catch your breath. I felt helpless sitting at my desk knowing I couldn’t get to him and embrace him for comfort.

“You told me to call you. I don’t want to f&*#ing go back to work. I just don’t. I can’t take it anymore,” he was able to get out between the sobs.

“You don’t have to. You can walk out. I don’t know that you should, but you have that ability. Before you do that, tell me what’s going on,” I inquired.

Fifteen minutes later, we landed in a good place and he went back to work. Even though the call was so emotionally charged, I was grateful he reached out to me first. I got another call a few weeks later because of another incident. He shared what happened and we went through more time together calmly so he could continue to move forward. I’m not sure where this will land, but I hope he leaves this situation with a challenging manager to find another opportunity where he can apply himself. I know it’s just around the corner if he takes the first step.

No one wants to see their children struggle. Life is tough. It will have struggles. No one is exempt from this. You wonder if you’re making enough of a difference and an impact to make sure they know they are loved and supported. Not just with words, but with actions and behavior.

I share this story because I know I go to work with a multitude of others who are also working through “life” in various ways. It may involve children, parents, finances, decisions, disappointments, etc. Regardless of what is in front of everyone, they bring what they’re facing to their jobs. They do their best to put those interactions aside to focus on their work. Most of us mask things enough as to not let others in because we don’t want to burden them with our “stuff.” I get that. However, to be flippant, ignorant, or dismissive of what others have going on is unacceptable.

We can’t pretend we’re interested in the well-being or mental health of others if we ignore what people are experiencing. It’s naive and narrow-minded. I’m not going to give you a method, approach, or steps to follow because I don’t have the context and knowledge of the people you’re around. This is only a request for all of us to be more conscientious and aware that the work people do is literally a very, very small portion of their lives. It may be where we interact, but it is strongly influenced and swayed by life’s circumstances.

Just knowing you’re available to genuinely be present for others is enough. It’s a start many long for because too few have that assurance. You need to be that “first call” like I am for Josh for others. It makes a huge difference !!

After the first call, Josh texted my wife and me to thank us for being there for him. He shared a song that he said he plays to remind him of this truth. He said it gets him through because it’s how life has been so far. He knows we are always his “home” even though we’re miles apart. He shared the link in the text and I began to weep. These weren’t tears of sadness. They were tears of love and support.

Be there for others. It’s who we are as humans.

Here’s the song from Coldplay . . .

All We Have Is . . .

This past weekend I was back in my hometown of Ada, Ohio. I know I write about this tiny village often and it may seem that I romanticize it at times. I’m good with that. I’ve had far more amazing experiences there than most other places.

You see, a combination of two events collided all at once. The first was the 109th Farmers & Merchants Picnic, the longest consecutively running festival in Ohio. It brings the entire town together at the only park for a full day of activities ranging from an opening parade to people playing Bingo to a tractor pull. The park teemed with people of all ages visiting with each other and taking in everything they could. The weather was a bit cloudy and cool so more people were drawn out to enjoy the picnic.

The second event was my 40th High School reunion !! 40 years.

I graduated as a member of the Class of 1982 from Ada High School. I have fond feelings and memories of my classmates and my time in high school. There were 73 people in my class. I know this is considered small by many, but it was the perfect size for me. It was the kind of school where you could participate in as much as you chose. I was in everything. I mean it. Everything. Clubs, sports, choir, and all things academic. I thought that was normal because many of my classmates did the same things.

Now, when it comes to reunions, many thoughts pass through your head. You wonder who’s going to come. You wonder what people will look like, where they live, what they do, and how they’re doing. I mean it’s been four decades since we graduated !! I know that I’ve had a ton of “life” that has occurred and I’m sure my friends had as well.

I have gone to a few of the 5-year gatherings after graduation, but not all of them. I felt pulled this time to be there . . . and I’m so glad I did.

We met at the house of one of our classmates. She had hosted before and it was just the perfect place because it gave us the chance to be relaxed and informal which fits our class to a tee. We even had a potluck dinner which is a staple of most small towns. Again, an inviting way to reconnect and catch up.

What was even better was that 40 years laid the path for genuine, incredible joy and affection when we saw each other. As each classmate made their way to the patio in the backyard you saw smiles that stretched across each face followed by a long, warm embrace. That was before one word or story was shared. We were just glad to see each other once again.

What we had come to realize is that we all had one thing in common . . . time.

Time is the only connecting fabric of every human life. It can be our friend and our enemy. It can be something we’re blessed with, or it can be cut short. Time, and only time, is our common bond as people.

The question you have to ask is – What do you do with the amount of time you get to experience during your lifetime?

I think my classmates have come to terms with this and it only took 40 years !! We didn’t spend time being comparative. We didn’t spend time judging whether or not someone was “successful.” Instead, we savored every moment we had and listened to all that had happened to each of us since the last time we were together. People shared joys, challenges, and rich anecdotes. Each of us talked about the addition and loss of family members over the years. We also took time to see if we could recall and locate those that weren’t able to come to the reunion. We did this because we missed them and hoped they had been able to join in.

The majority of our time together was filled with laughter. That was perfect because no matter what we had gone through since 1982, joy was where we landed. We committed to staying in touch with each other, and I’m hopeful we do until we meet for our 50th reunion in 10 years.

We all have the opportunity to be mindful of the time we’re given. I hope you have decades and decades of time to share with others. That would be a blessing. But, don’t take it for granted. Don’t wait 40 years to realize that every moment you have can be cherished.

Remember . . . all we have is . . . time.

Being a Dad

Father’s Day is a wonderful time filled with a mix of emotions. It’s a day to be thankful and fondly recall my two dads. My biological father, John, passed away when I was four years old. I don’t have a ton of memories of him, but my extended family has told me we have the same walk, same loud laugh, and the same dose of extroversion. My dad never met a stranger. He would make quick friendships at every turn. It served him well as a Seargent who served in Vietnam because he was always focused on his men instead of himself.

My mom remarried when I was 13 years old to my second dad, Don. It wasn’t easy for him to jump into a family with two teenage boys. However, he made it work. He was a glorious example of work ethic, serving others and the community you lived in. He was always the wittiest person in the room, and he taught me countless lessons on how to be a consistent husband and father. He passed away at the end of 2020 and I miss him daily.

My “kids” are now adults. They are out on their own and I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are finding their way in life, their careers, and their relationships. We are having real conversations about every topic possible and I love seeing them continue to grow and develop. There have even been a few times where they’ve asked my advice !! I nearly fainted the first time it happened and cherished it at the same time. Making the transition where we are now has been the best stage of fatherhood yet.

I know I have been fortunate with my two dads. Trust me. We have had our ups and downs and disagreements. I’ve had the same with my kids. But that’s honestly just life. Life happens and I wouldn’t change a moment. My two dads were with me through all the facets of my life and I plan to be there for my kids for as long as I’m on this planet.

I’m not sure what the future will hold for me, my wife, or my kids. I hope that one day they have fond memories of their dad and share the experiences they had with me over the years.

For everyone who is a fellow dad – Happy Father’s Day !!

It’s quite an adventure. An adventure worth taking.

A Christmas Wish . . .

As we are in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I wanted to capture my thoughts in a poem. Wishing you, your families and your friends only the best !! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a blessed holiday season to one and all.

*****************************************************

A Christmas Wish

Another year’s about to pass

          A trip around the sun

We always quip time flies so fast

          We’re always on the run

What have we learned this time around

          Through all the highs and lows

We keep yearning for some certainty

          Amidst the ebbs and flows

We’ve all felt joy and also loss

          We’ve seen things displaced

We wonder what emotions

          Are masked upon our face

There’s been so much exhaustion

          We all seek some release

We want to see each other

          We seek much needed peace

The world still has its problems

          Some folks don’t get along

I wish we’d come together

          For then we would be strong

My wish for you this season

          Is not that hard to do

Reach out to one another

          Connect, lift up, break through

Encourage folks each day

          Be a light that shatters dark

Let people know they matter

          Your impact leaves a mark

Avoid the trap of anger

          When conflict comes, show grace

Embrace that we are different

          And watch discord erase

Another trip’s about to start

          Another year begun

Let’s make this next year special

          And value everyone !!

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 !!

17 Years !!

I live in the great State of Ohio are we are in the midst of a generational event. Brood X has emerged from their slumber to take over every outdoor space imaginable. What’s Brood X? It’s a giant number of cicadas. You can’t really picture how many there are without experiencing it. What makes this a different situation than most years is that broods only come to life after 17 years in the ground !! 17 years !!

Once they start arriving and burrowing out of the ground, they typically crawl up whatever’s closest to them to latch on. Our trees are covered with them because they live around tree roots while they are in the ground of their 17-year trek. They start as an exoskeleton that is much harder than their final appearance. The insect cracks open the exoskeleton and comes out fully formed with wings and an adult body. It’s an amazing transformation.

After they are fully formed, they go on to the next phase of their very short lives above ground. They make an incredibly loud sound to attract other cicadas. They find partners, mate, lay eggs on tree branches and then die. The eggs mature and turn into small larvae that drop to the ground. They burrow down and down and down to start the 17-year cycle over again.

Just a few of my “friends” on one of our fence posts.

When you see this many cicadas, you get the willies. It’s like being surrounded by countless aliens that chirp, fly, crawl and . . . creep you out. They don’t bite you or sting. They’re like big insect puppies who don’t really notice you at all. They’re extremely focused because the future existence of their species counts on them finding others and mating.

This is the third brood I’ve experienced in person. I’m 57 now and Brood IX was around when I was 40. My kids were 10 and 6 respectively and they still have memories of us camping surrounded by cicadas that crawled all over our tent as we slept. The ground pulsated, literally, with the mass of bugs around us. One of my favorite pictures of them is the two of them plus two of my friend’s kids who have a line of cicadas covering each of their forearms !! Brood VIII was present when I was 23 and new to Cincinnati. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Think about it. How much has your life changed in 17 years? Chances are you can’t remember a tenth of what has happened. Since I’ve now experienced three broods, thirty-four years have passed. It’s staggering when you think about it !!

I’ll be honest, I kind of dig the cicadas being around. I think they have some lessons for us to learn. Here’s what I notice:

Live with Purpose – Cicadas go through very slow phases of life for almost two decades without any interaction with others. So, when they get their chance, it’s on !! I don’t mean to be lewd. They know instinctively that their time above ground is short so they don’t waste a moment. Everything they do has purpose. Everything.

We don’t do this. In fact, we spend far too much of our time “above ground” consumed with what’s wrong in our lives, the world, our families and our careers. There are moments when we feel in a groove that has purpose, but they are more mountaintop experiences than a full lifetime. Wouldn’t life be more full if we were intentional and existed with purpose?

Live with Passion – Again, no inappropriate intent with this. We aren’t passionate. We mull through life with all of its challenges and they consume us. I’m not making light of this. Everyone has challenges that may range from something life-threatening to difficult relationships. It can be daunting and crippling.

So, what if you turned this around as well. What would life look like if you threw yourself into it every day? This doesn’t deflect the challenges ahead, but it does change your energy and outlook. Passionate people are usually positive people. They see the obstacles in front of them as something to address and work through. The challenge may win in the end, but the light they shine constantly is attractive and engaging.

Live for Others – Life is too short to do it on your own. The cicadas know this. They don’t throw up a bunch of limitations about how people are different and how will they look at me. They don’t have voices in their heads that accentuate weaknesses and they aren’t comparative. They look at others and instantly connect with them.

What would life look like if we all were more comfortable connecting with others? I can tell you from experience that each day is more full knowing you have people in your corner who are encouraging, supportive and available. There is no need for isolation. We have to be more committed to making connections. It will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine !!

I’m not sure what the next 17 years will look like and I’m not concerned or worried. I’ll be 74 when my friends come back as the next brood. Most likely I’ll be in the next phase of my life if I’m fortunate to make it. (I’m confident I will). I choose to live life with purpose, passion and with others. I hope you learn from the lessons as well and do the same.

Every Moment

This post represents quite a few milestones !! It’s a New Year, it’s my birthday and it’s the 10-year anniversary of my blog. Hard to grasp that all of these events convened at the same time. It also is a great example of what I wanted to “talk” about this week.

You do tend to reflect more as you get older. I never thought that would be the case, but it happens because I think you realize your time on this planet is on the downward side of the curve. Please don’t think I’m being pessimistic because that rarely occurs in how I live and see life. I’m being realistic though because I’m much closer to my sixth decade roaming the earth than my first !!

So many people have sentiments about escaping 2020. I am not one of those people. Yes, it was a tough year for most everyone I know including me. The loss of my father and my boss will alter my life. There is no doubt about it. I can’t adequately capture the myriad of events that happened around the world that seem that we’re far more unsettled and divided than we are cohesive.

As I reflect on getting the chance to celebrate another year of life, I’ve come to realize something is so true that I never grasped until late last year. My brother was with me and our mom as our dad was passing. As we were discussing all that was happening, a well-intentioned surgeon was telling us he was sure he could perform a procedure which may have a sliver of success for my dad. We discussed this as a group, and my brother, a doctor himself, shared a piece of advice he received from his Chief Nursing Officer. She told him, “Mark, you need to remember that we see people for only a few moments of their life.”

That struck me. It’s true. We act on very little information with very little time in each other’s lives. When you step back to look at it, the majority of how we live, what we believe, and how we view the world is made up of a series of very small moments. For some reason, our brain takes these various interactions and pulls them together to make thoughts, opinions and perspectives.

We need to keep this in mind because it seems that we are acting on these small moments to make massive assumptions, judgments, and movements. We tend to expand these encounters to make our feelings and attitudes absolute. We fill in the pieces on people without even thinking about asking them for any details or context. This concrete approach leads to putting people into compartments that validate our personal view and outlook on life . . . and they may be very skewed and we don’t even see it happening.

The surgeon I mentioned earlier was trying to do his best based on his talent, skills, and experience to help our dad. Fortunately, my brother remembered the advice he was given and called his colleagues to explain the situation and get input from others. It confirmed his suspicion that the chances of my dad recovering were remote. So, we thanked the surgeon and chose not to proceed. The surgeon was indignant about our decision. He was very confident in his abilities. I’m sure he was talented, but he didn’t realize that he had little knowledge of who my dad was and what his wishes were if he were in a life-ending circumstance. He was only in my dad’s life for a moment but didn’t recognize that.

As we all take our next trip around the sun, I’d ask you all to join me in stepping back to acknowledge that we are in each other’s lives for mere moments. Hopefully, you have family and friends who get to experience more moments than others and that is positive. I know that may not be the case with family or friends, but as I mentioned earlier, I’m an eternal optimist.

I don’t want to overlook any opportunity I have to be in a moment with others. Not one. I want every person I meet to know they matter and that I would rather enjoy our time together regardless of the circumstance. You never know. The one time you are with another person may be the ONLY time you’re together.

Why wouldn’t you take that brief time to make it the best possible moment you could? You need to remember that you will be remembered by whomever you encounter – every. time. You have the choice to make that a positive experience. I would encourage you to embrace that !!

I typically write to an audience of HR pros because I feel we can always improve how we work with others. I believe this approach of enjoying every moment should be the baseline for great human resources. If you choose to adopt this, I guarantee that you will enjoy not only the work you do but (more importantly) the fabulous people around you.

Enjoying every moment with all people is an even bigger expectation, but I think it’s needed now more than ever. If we would cherish the moments we have with each other, I think we would appreciate people as the wonderful, creative, and humorous works in progress we ALL are. I know there will continue to be trials, disappointments and failures. However, I can be assured that I will have people who will be doing life with me and the moments we share together will help us work through whatever we’re facing.

Start your year with a positive outlook which will take you forward through the years to come. Enjoy every moment !!

Grateful

I’m geeked about this week because one of my favorite holidays is happening – Thanksgiving !! I love intentionally taking time to pause, reflect and give thanks for life in general. Yes, it has its ups and downs and difficulties. However, I am grateful for every aspect of life. It’s not some false pretense or posturing. It’s how I choose to face each day – grateful.

I’m not blind to all that is going on in the world. Far from it. I would contend that everyone is being touched and/or affected by many things ranging from the political environments which are not positive globally, the reality that the pandemic can (and does) reach anyone in any corner of the world, as well as the personal situations faced in every family which run the gambit of a myriad of circumstances.

On top of being barraged with the on-going waves of trial after trial, people are more divided now than any time I can remember. I’m not trying to make a right/wrong statement with this. It’s just our reality. Unfortunately, the majority of taking sides seems to only pull us apart and exacerbate the general malaise we find ourselves facing.

However, I am still grateful !! Truly. I have an amazing wife who is my partner in everything and two phenomenal adult children who are also trying to navigate the same world of uncertainty. I have an incredible extended family scattered all over the globe who have been more connected and in touch with each other to try to remind us of the family bond we all share. If that wasn’t enough, I have a global professional HR community that is filled with talented, diverse, thoughtful and passionate people who want to see things healed in all facets of society and the workplace. This doesn’t even capture my grateful list completely, but I hope it gives you a glimpse of how I view life.

All of these thoughts, feelings and “nudges” have been pulling at me. I feel that similar forces are at work around the globe because I am having more and more similar conversations with folks. When I get in this mindset, I feel the urge to write. Long before I had a blog or wrote two books, I wrote poetry. I still write a “poem” regularly when I do the song parodies for the HR Net forum I facilitate. It has been quite some time though since I wrote some verse. So, I want to close this blog post with a new set of stanzas.

(Friendly disclaimer: Please note that the poem below isn’t specifically about and one certain division occurring in the world. Please don’t misconstrue, label, or read more into it. I am trying to capture the general sense I feel and see and also how I hope things improve and move forward. )

I am grateful for you, the reader, who is kind enough to read my regular thoughts. I appreciate you, the work you do and the lives you touch. I wish you only the best this Thanksgiving and hope that you see life in an encouraging light. Peace to all !! – Steve

THE GREAT DIVIDE

We cannot run
  We cannot hide
We’re living in
  The great divide
 
Things uncertain
  Nothing’s clear
We seem to live
  In hate or fear
 
If you speak up
  Or if you post
Few will agree
  And some will boast
 
We’re choosing sides
   No matter what
With words that pierce
   And words that cut
 
We do not talk
  We only state
And if opposed
  Choose to berate
 
I am concerned
  For those I know
The gap between folks
  Seems to grow
 
I’d like to see this
  Turn around
With dialogue
  While voices sound
 
I’d take the steps
  To understand
Listen first
  And not demand
 
Start with grace
  Don’t jump to solve
Hear new perspectives
  Then evolve
 
Measured steps
  The gap will close
Value others
  Compassion shows
 
This won’t be quick
  It will take time
But it is worth
  The rugged climb
 
Be positive
  And strive for peace
Exhibit kindness
  Let light increase
 
I ask you to join
  And decide
Together, we bridge
  The great divide

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.