Saturday, December 21, 2013

We're At That Point, Apparently…And I'm Not Sure We Can Find Our Way Back. Thoughts Sparked By The Duck Dude

As I start, just let me say that, much like anyone else, these are purely MY OPINIONS.  I've written more than a few times and hope it's always, if nothing more, thought-provoking.  Something that will spark debate.  Cause the need for argument on both sides.  Please understand, too, that when I say 'argument', I am not talking of fighting but, rather, of two (or more) sides expressing their viewpoints in a calm, rational way so as to help the other side better understand.  For this to happen, we need to be open-minded and LISTEN to the other side.  To argue with a close-minded person is pointless.  No matter what the debate, they will never allow for the possibility there might be another viewpoint other than their own.  With that said, do you REALLY think I was going to let this go without commenting? Where, oh where, to begin?

Yes, a few days ago, the patriarch of the 'Duck Dynasty' family, Phil Robertson, was quoted in an article with GQ Magazine.  I want to state publicly before going forward, that I have never seen this show.  Yes, I've heard about it and seen the merchandise, however I have yet to see the show.  I know this is a deeply devout, religious family with strong Christian beliefs and morals.  This is what I have heard, then read, of them.  I did read Phil's statements about both homosexuality and blacks in his native Louisiana.  In my humble opinion, Phil was not comparing homosexuality to bestiality.  Perhaps I'm wrong (oh, like THAT would be a first!), but it seemed to me that he was listing sins as he understands and views them.  He could've mentioned anything he considers sinful - let's say he mentioned homosexuals, then suggested we, "morph out from there to thieves, adulterers, etc."  Would we be having the same conversation?  Would we be in an uproar because he compared homosexuals to the man robbing a store at gunpoint or someone cheating on their spouse?  Probably not.  Bestiality might not have been the best choice to throw in as the next sin, however he (again, my opinion and interpretation) was merely listing sin, not comparing.

He also made comments about pre-civil rights blacks that he knew.  His quote was,

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," Robertson is quoted in GQ. "Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

Again, this is purely my opinion, however all I am reading are the words of a man stating what he saw during his life experience.  He spent time with them.  He worked the fields with them.  I'll tell you right now, there are people I work with that, when asked about me, might tell you they never saw me unhappy or complaining about anything.  Does that mean I don't?  Does Phil not witnessing something mean it didn't happen or didn't exist?  Not at all - he was merely telling the interviewer HE never saw it.  I did not read anything in the article that said he thought blacks should be slaves, that he thought slavery was right, or that he hated homosexuals.  As a matter of fact, I do believe (actually, I know it's there) he said we should love everyone - it's The Almighty's job to sort them out.  So why the uproar and why has this made mainstream, everyday news?  Because those asking for tolerance have become the intolerant.  Because being politically-correct has become the expectation rather than common decency and courtesy, not to mention using common sense.  There, I said it.  Now, I'll expound on it.

Oh, and let me clear up one myth - this is NOT a First Amendment issue.  Phil exercised his right to free speech.  Free Speech, as noted in said amendment to the Constitution, merely says the government may not infringe upon that right.  A&E was purely within their rights to place Phil on hiatus.  The question, though, is are there anti-discrimination laws that would protect him?  Probably not.  They cannot discriminate based on his religious beliefs, however they can terminate him if his views are something the network doesn't like.  To me, it almost sounds like a very narrow line and I'm not sure where it gets drawn - that's for the courts to decide.

Now…back to my rant (the one you saw coming some time ago).  First, I find it difficult to be politically-correct.  Not because I don't want to, I just don't see the need.  When people are NOT politically-correct, we tell them they must be tolerant or say their views are offensive.  No, I don't say, "the N-word, or the R-word," but at the rate we're going, you're going to have to fill me in on all the 'insert-letter-here' words.  I can't say, "nigger," but it's okay if blacks do?  I don't care if it's 'Nigger' or 'Nigga' - if it's not right for me to say it, it's not right.  Period.  Let me get this straight - you won't accept me using derogatory terminology but YOU CAN?? For the record, I do NOT use that term and, when I did hear it many years ago, my parents taught me to ask, upon hearing it from someone else, if the person meant a 'white nigger or a black nigger'.  They then told us that, should we feel the need, we could politely say, "I'm sorry but I find that offensive."  If the person insisted on continuing to use the word, remove yourself from the situation.  There needn't be conflict - just leave.  Just like this situation - if you don't like what the man is saying or his beliefs, change the channel.  Period.  All I am saying is respect is earned, not given.  If you can't respect yourself enough to NOT say something derogatory, why should you be able to DEMAND that I don't?  By the way, I also understand the offensiveness of the word, "Retard."  Again, can we please be adults?  If someone says it and you find it offensive, let them know, politely, and if it happens again, remove yourself from the situation.  Is there really a reason to be hateful and despise a person for insensitivity?  I've a better idea - try educating them.  Whoa!  What a novel idea, huh?

I don't say, "African-American," for several reasons.  NONE of those reasons are because I don't like blacks or have friends that are black.  No, it's because of what most of THEM say, most notably (at the height of the fervor) a black man in Richmond, VA that was a US Marine.  He wrote to the Richmond Times-Dispatch and said he found the term offensive to him.  He traced his family's roots and, going back 5 generations, could not find anyone that was from Africa.  He was born in the United States and served proudly in the US Marine Corps.  He was not in any way associated with Africa, nor was his family.  Yes, we all studied our history - we know they were brought over from Africa and sold as slaves.  I never have, nor would ever, own a slave.  This was our history, not our 'today'.  My family came from different parts of the world, too, and we traced our roots back to Ireland and Greece.  Why am I not referred to as an 'Irish-Grecian American'?  You get the point, right?  Ironically, most of you that are sitting there nodding, are in the majority.  The people that feel we need to be tolerant and despise those that don't use their politically-correct terminology, are in the minority.  Funny, though - most of us do it, not because we want to be politically-correct, but because it's easier than going against the system and it avoids conflict.

The same applies to the homosexual comments Phil made, too.  For years, ever since homosexuality has become more open ( remember the term, "coming out of the closet?"), we have been told we need to be more tolerant.  Again, I have friends that are homosexual.  Okay, if that's your choice, that's YOUR choice.  Do I agree with it?  Do I think it's right?  Ha - like I'm going to bait myself into answering that.  You see, I understand the backlash - it's a losing proposition no matter how you answer.  It's a trick question.  What is NOT a trick, though, is our tolerance.  We (heterosexuals) have seen Gay Pride parades, the struggle for 'domestic partners' given the same rights as spouses, etc.  Why, just recently, a gay friend of mine got married.  Do I have a problem with it?  No, because it is not my place to judge.  When someone like Phil Robertson, though, openly makes statements about gays, blacks, etc, my question is this - Where is the tolerance from those demanding tolerance of us?  Again, I am not agreeing or disagreeing with his comments - my problem is with the intolerance and hypocrisy.  I saw a great quote regarding this earlier today in regard to the radical groups that beg…nay, demand….our tolerance.  It was:

"It's moved far along from these radical groups just asking for tolerance of their lifestyle.  They now demand endorsement."

I find it difficult to do.  I find it unbelievably offensive and hypocritical that groups that demand our acceptance and tolerance are, well, hypocrites.  Lest I generalize, let me also say that many of them are NOT like that.  I read many comments from blacks that said Phil Robertson's comments were merely stating his experiences.  I saw many comments from gay people that were accepting of his right to say what he did and respected his beliefs.  They might not agree, however they were showing that tolerance.  The ones that bother me are the organized groups like the NAACP or GLAAD that have to use the media to create a bigger media circus and frenzy than is warranted.  I simply don't understand.  I mean, I turned on the television today and, turning to Bravo, immediately saw a gay Persian man in bed with his…male lover.  I was subjected to 60 minutes of this show that openly showed a gay man.  Sean Hayes openly plays one on NBC.  Phil Robertson, however, cannot make a statement (in response to a question, by the way) stating he is against it because his beliefs and the Bible say it is wrong.  Wait…WHAT???  People are going to make insensitive, irresponsible statements.  Period.  I guarantee it, actually.

The actions will take place, too, that are slanted toward the demands for 'equality'…while being unequal.  Don't believe me?  Let's think Trayvon Martin.  Then, let's think about the little white girl that was brutally attacked by three young black men and killed.  Didn't see it on the news or listen, repeatedly, to how she was a good girl that did no wrong and didn't deserve it?  Of course not.  Sad & tragic, yes.  An opportunity to make a point on national television?  Hardly.  If the story had gone on the air, we would have had Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson screaming about how these boys were racially-profiled.  Amazing how they show up to criticize a certain situation…..but only if the victims are black.  I have yet to see their 'equality' organizations fight equally for anything.

So, I've gotten off the topic…kinda.  I think it applies, though, as I am painting with a wide brush and these are, overall, part of a bigger picture.  We ALL need to be tolerant and understanding.  Start using common sense and decency.  Be kind to one another.  We don't (and won't) all think the same ever.  All I am saying, though, is that if you demand I be tolerant of your sexual orientation, skin color and past injustices, or religious orientation even in the face of our country being attacked, then I deserve the same tolerance.  Is that so difficult?  We need to understand we don't have a lot of time here.  Do what is right and just.  Do what is fair.  Do nothing more than (and let's face it, it all comes down to one thing) respect and practice the 'Golden Rule' - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Quite honestly, doesn't everything come back to that?  Why, I'm betting the Ten Commandments wouldn't even be necessary if we practiced that, eh?

Until next time…………be kind, gentle, and loving in this Christmas Season.  Yes, Merry Christmas.  Don't even get me started on THAT one………..

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013 - A Rough Beginning, A Better Ending

As I sit here preparing to share Thanksgiving with my family, I have time alone and was reflecting on the year so far.  2013 began with such promise (don't they all?) as we watched the Swarovski crystal ball drop in Times Square on New Years' Eve.  I was home in Alabama and in only a few days would be leaving for Florida to watch my beloved Crimson Tide compete for another BCS National Championship.  I'd be going there with my daughter - one of the two important ladies in my life that shared my passion for Alabama football.  My wife was unable to travel and sit that long as she was disabled, her body attacked by severe fibromyalgia.  While nothing would have made her happier than to be in the stands, she was disappointed but still wanted me to go.  Brittany and I went to the game and, as we all know (because I make no secret of sharing it constantly), Alabama spanked Notre Dame 42-14 to win consecutive crystal trophies.  It was amazing....and something I wouldn't trade as an experience.  It was only two short months later, though, that 2013 began to turn for the worse.  In early March of this year, my wife passed away at home.  It was sudden and unexpected.  It was a time that, through the coming weeks and months, was the starting point for the year that seemed would never end.  In the following weeks and months, it seemed the only news I got was of another friend or family member of friends passing away unexpectedly.  Suffice it to say, I started to believe 13 is, in fact, a very unlucky number.

Over the past few weeks, I have seen many people on social media sites posting the reasons they are thankful.  Some are doing it on a daily basis and numbering them - "Day One - I am thankful for my kids.  Day Two - I am thankful for my job. Day Three - I am thankful for my friends," and so on and so on until they are finally reaching for things to be thankful for. "Day 26 - I am thankful for the wind and the grass and the....."  You get the idea.  Others are writing a long post about the reasons they are thankful.  Some (SO annoying) are even writing a blog post.  Wait...what?  Yeah, yeah....please keep reading?  So here I am reflecting on the reasons I am thankful and came to the amazing realization that my reasons are all....people.  I mean, I'm thankful for many reasons but, ultimately, it all comes down to people.  I know all of us have, at some point in time, been touched by the loss of a loved one.  When it happens unexpectedly, we tend to look inward and reevaluate our lives, what we've done, are doing, and can do.  We question how we want to be remembered and how we want to touch the lives of others.  Been there, done that - believe me.  One of the things I also came to terms with was how I treat people and how little, truly, the everyday things don't matter in the big scheme of things.  If you think it really matters that your child broke your grandmother's vase, try to remember that, in about 60 or 70 years, it won't be such a big deal.  It may be difficult at first, but trust me, you'll get over it.  So, as is typical of my posts, you're starting to wonder where this is going.  Well, I'm trying to say, "Thank you...and I am thankful for you."  Never at a loss for words, I'm about to become more specific.  In light of all that has transpired, it's important to me to say these things, you know...'just in case' I don't have the chance in the future.  If I do, great.  If not, they'll have been said...and THAT will make me feel better.  So why am I thankful and who are these people?

First, to my family - my mother, grandmother, sisters, brother-in-law, step-mother and daughter - I am thankful for all of you first and foremost.  There are also many cousins, aunts and uncles - I am thankful for you as well.  My grandmother, who has battled breast cancer not once but twice, is the rock of our family.  She did the 'single parent' thing long before it was as common as it is today.  She helped raise us while mom was in college and then, after her graduation, my grandmother was always there for us.  My mother, whom I have said repeatedly was a 'one woman show', was the lady that gave us our values and taught us about life.  She worked hard to provide for us so that we had what we needed...and more.  She is a brilliant woman with a sense of humor that showed us what it meant to be a friend and care for family.  My sisters are both hard-working women that I love dearly, and I wouldn't trade the time I get to spend with either of them or their families.  My brother-in-law is someone I rarely get to spend time with, as is my step-mother, yet they are both invaluable to me.  They are both only ever a phone call away should I need anything.  My daughter is the girl I am watching become a lady.  She has a deep compassion for others and a sense of humor that is quick and unparalleled.  I am amazed at her daily....and so incredibly grateful I get to share any and every part of her life.  She is my lasting legacy and of that, I am proudest.  I could not and would not be who I am today were it not for all of you.  I love you, appreciate you, and I am proud of each of you.

Next, I am appreciative and thankful for my friends I have known for years.  Those from 'the old days' that I grew up with, went to school with, shared families with.  It's rare, I think, to have reached the age of (almost) 52 and to have friends that I can say I've been close to for 47 of those years.  These are people that, to this day, will welcome me home when coming back to the town where I grew up, and sit for hours sharing meals and adult beverages talking about everything and nothing.  We spent many hours together as kids and, though there are some that were only acquaintances during those years, I have gotten to know them 'again' and appreciate the people they've become and their lives. We are in the process of planning our 35th Class Reunion and the one recurring theme as we've planned has been, "We never really knew each other in high school, but now...".  It's been fun getting to know and appreciate these people.  They are all good people that have grown into their own lives, and sharing our collective stories has been amazing, interesting, and fun.  How much better would it have been if we hadn't had the 'cliques' that are inevitable when you're a teenager?  I am thankful for all of you...and want to know and hear more.  We need to get together more often.

I am also thankful for, and appreciative of, the people I have gotten to know through my job and profession.  I've worked for only a few companies in my 28 years in the industry.  10 years with the first company, 8 with the second, now 10 with my currrent employer.  I remain friends with a select few that I met with the first company as we've watched our familes grow, watched as kids have gone off to college and gotten married and, sadly, have watched some die.  I am thankful for these people because, though the years have passed, they have remained a constant and I know they will always be woven into the fabric of my life.  They are part of me and whom I have become.  Over these past 10 years I have met even more people, some who are now competitors, of whom I am thankful.  When my wife passed away, I expected (as is standard) a flower arrangement or sympathy card from the company and my 'work family'.  What I got instead was nothing short of absolutely amazing.  To see people coming to support me from all corners of the country, literally, moved me in ways you can only imagine.  These are the people with whom I spend more than 1/3 of my life now, and to know I can pick up the phone at any time and count them as friends, too, makes me incredibly thankful.  They have been there in my darkest hours, as well as my best days...and without them, life would be much less enjoyable, fun, and amazing.  To name all of the people that I am truly thankful for would entail listing names that would exceed what I've written so far.  I thank you all and hope nothing but the best for you and your families always.

Lastly, I am thankful for the 'family' I have come to know in Alabama.  My neighbors and close friends that were there, and remain so now, when things changed so very drastically.  The people that supported me with their kind words and gestures, that take care of pets when I travel, that never hesitate to stop what they are doing to come say hello when we see each other.  The people that are with us, too, in Tuscaloosa when we tailgate.  It restores my faith in people to know there is still much good in the world, and to know these people is to love them.  We read stories and see it on the news daily about the downward turn of society and how people care less than they did in years gone by.  If these people are any indication, I can honestly say that 'southern hospitality' is alive and well, as is love kindness, caring, and compassion.  They are truly amazing and I feel blessed, and am a better person, for knowing them.  You are there for me daily and I am so very thankful for you all.   

Shortly before finishing this, I got a note from my daughter.  One of her high school classmates was killed in a car accident last evening.  That news reiterates what I was saying - I cannot wait for this year to end.  It brings echo to the sentiment we should all remember - "Tomorrow is promised to no one."  If I have been remiss and not specifically named any group of friends, please know it is not intentional.  It's because it is Thanksgiving morning, I'm getting old and the memory is shot, and there is cooking to be done.  I'm supposed to be showering so I can help, as well as the fact that there is a parade on television.  I've got to go and, if you're reading this, well.....I am thankful for that, too.  Please know that, while I am still hoping this years ends quickly and on a better note, I am thankful for everyone in my life.  While we are pulling for the beloved Crimson Tide to win an unprecedented third straight National Championship, people ROCK...and I am a better person, truly blessed, because of you.  May you and your families have nothing but the best and, as you sit around the table this Thanksgiving day, take the time, if even only quietly and to yourself, to appreciate each and every person there with you.  God Bless all of you...thank you again.

Until next time..........................

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why Racial Inequality Will Not End Soon

As much as I've said in the past that we've come a long way toward ending racial inequality, I realize now just how far the pendulum has swung...the other way.  Does this still exist?  Absolutely.  Who bears the brunt, though, of this inequality?  I'd say whites, though that simply won't be a widely-accepted opinion.  How can it be denied, though?  How can anyone, anywhere view the events of the past few days and think that whites aren't the ones that are on the outside looking in?  In a day and time when Paula Deen is almost crucified for, "using the 'N' word," as they say in politically-correct circles, I am amazed at the audacity of some people and what they can get away with saying on national TV.  After George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin (a juror, by the way, said they did NOT feel this was about race), I watched as two black men were interviewed on The Today Show.  The same people that want to tell us how racial tensions need to end and how we need to have "The Conversation' about the race relations, said some pretty damning things.  Dare I say, too, that this so-called conversation (based on what we've experienced so far) would probably amount to not much more than a list of demands and how we should further cater to the minorities.  Whatever happened to, "All men are created equal?"  I don't mind equality.  What I mind is people telling me how I have to give so others can get.  When there are people in a position to initiate the conversation, though, and they say the things they did, I submit that we will not get where we need to be very quickly.  Case in point, and what I heard - here are the comments from the black men that so desperately want "Equality":

"Black life means a little bit less than white life in America."

"With an almost all-white jury, you'll almost never get justice in that case, especially in the South."

"All black men feel vulnerable because we are all racially-profiled."

"When we have Stand Your Ground laws and a gun culture that allows us to be vigilantes and a court system where we are over-arrested, over-prosecuted, over-convicted, and over-sentenced as black people, then we can't have the conversation about race."

Read those again if you're not fuming and angry about it.  You see, that's what this does to us.  I truly try to be color-blind, however when you have educated black men saying these things on national television, they're giving other blacks permission to act any way they deem fit.  IT IS NOT OKAY!  You want to have 'The Conversation'?  Okay, but let's remember a few things first:

No one I know has ever owned a slave.  Please stop screaming about past injustices in which none of us were involved.  I understand that you'd like reparations for the 'sins of our fathers'.  While I won't stroke a check and hand it to you directly, I think it safe to say that we are doing our part by working so many can have government services provided at no charge.  Again, I've dealt with the mentality of (yes, I know it is a stereotype, however I saw it firsthand) a black woman that had four kids and was pregnant with a fifth because, "The government pays me more if I have more kids."  Direct quote.  You want to end the stereotype?  Stop the behavior.  Let's also take a look at the Evening News.  There are far more crimes and acts of violence with complete disregard for others committed by blacks, statistically speaking.  When this is mentioned, there are multitudes of reasons - he came from a broken home, couldn't get out of the ghetto, had no role model, lived in a society of drugs, etc, etc.  They're called excuses.  When you see a black President, don't tell me there's inequality.  It's about doing for yourself rather than expecting someone to do it for you.

I saw a sign that read, "It's not a crime to be black."  Certainly not and I couldn't agree more.  When you use that, though, as justification to demonstrate, cause violence, beat others based on the color of THEIR skin, how does that make you any better?  I read a few comments following the story about the rioting folks in Los Angeles, and one person asked a great question - "What happened when OJ was acquitted?"  Hmm.....interesting thought.  I don't recall any whites rioting, burning buildings, throwing rocks through business windows, or beating random black people on the streets.  If we had, what then?  Do you think the police would have allowed that behavior?  Not at all.  In fact, I'd say the whites would have been treated rather harshly immediately.  With the blacks (or other minorities), however, we have to be sure we don't step on their civil rights lest Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson arrive on the scene.  I heard Al Sharpton say, "Trayvon Martin had a civil right to go home."  Well, yeah, he did.  Let's remember, too, that HE initiated the physical altercation with George Zimmerman.  As they stood facing each other, the kid sucker-punched him and it went from there.  Tragically, one person lay dead. Yes, it was tragic, but what if they had both looked at each other and said, "Look, I'm just going home."  I don't think george Zimmerman would have pulled his gun and fired.  Call me crazy, but I believe he pulled the gun when he was in fear for his life.  I can also tell you I would have feared for my life, too.  I hope I am never in that position, but I do empathize a bit.  Still, it was a tragedy that could have been BOTH parties.  To say, though, that this was a violation of just Trayvon Martin's rights is ludicrous.  That argument can be made for both of them.

Equal means just that, folks - equal.  The same for everyone.  I submit to you that things are NOT the same for everyone at this point.  I don't like it - not for me, but for future generations.  Where are we headed when we cannot get the masses to even agree on what equality is?  I'm not sure, however I know I'm glad I'm on the 'other side of the hill' at this point.  Things need to change...on that, we can all agree. It's how we get there that will determine the extent of that change.....IF it comes.

Until next time...........

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

When Do We All Get Held To The Same Standard?

I've written on this same type of subject a few times, however Paula Deen has brought it to the forefront again.  For anyone asleep this past week, Paula Deen was accused of, and has admitted to, using the "N-Word."  She did it six years ago when describing to someone what she wanted for her brother's wedding.  She also admitted to using it, I think, in a situation a little over 30 years ago.  I'm not going into specifics of what she said, however she admitted to it when legal action was brought by a former employee.  Now, in light of this, she has been dropped by the Food Network, Wal-Mart has ended their relationship with her, and (I believe) Caesar's has also terminated her.

Do I believe using this word is wrong?  Of course, I do.  In an interview with Paula Deen this morning on the Today Show, Matt Lauer asked, "Don't you know this is the most offensive term for African-Americans?"  Well, yeah, Matt....we all know this, HOWEVER - I have always explained to my kids that, while using the word is wrong, it isn't only used to refer to blacks.  As an aside...while I do find that specific word to be offensive, I refuse to be politically correct.  I will not use the term 'African-American' because I have friends (that are 'people of color') that have said they are black.  They have done their own research and gone back generations, yet still cannot find ancestors from Africa.  One gentleman, a US Marine, went so far as to state, "I am an American.  Period.  I also happen to be black."  I like it...but I digress.  So yes, Matt, we know the word is offensive.....isn't it?  Wait, I'm supposed to know that saying that word, the horrific, dreaded, anger-inducing N-word is WRONG?  How, exactly, am I to know that?  I suppose I should know it when, if used, a black person will politely tell the offender, "Pardon me, but I find the use of that word to be repulsive and morally reprehensible."  Okay, I'll buy that.  The problem is, I've heard the music of rappers and other certain blacks.  I've heard them speaking to each other on the street.  So what I'm to glean from this is, it's only a bad word when a white person uses it?  It's okay for a black to use it, but not whites?  Okay, I'm learning.  Sadly, I thought the rules applied to all of us when it came to something as repulsive as this.  Let's be serious, folks, either it is or it isn't - there is NO GREY AREA on this one.  Trouble is, no one has the nerve to stand up and say so because you'll be labeled a racist.  Personally, I cannot accept the double standard.

I'm also finding it difficult to agree with the corporations that, in situations such as this, distance themselves from people who have added a bit to their bottom line.  Wal-Mart has the audacity to drop Paula Deen because of something she said six years ago?  Wal-Mart?  Don't I recall a few short years ago when they faced their own troubles because workers brought suit against them?  Here's a quick news flash - dropping Paula Deen is not going to change anyone's perception of your corporation outside the most extreme individuals.  It just won't.  John Q Public, Mr Everyman (or woman) has a brain and will not be swayed by your termination of your relationship with Paula Deen.  As a matter of fact, some of these companies might want to be careful - I've read quite a few comments of folks that will now boycott their stores because they HAVE dropped her.  The people, in many cases, are supporting Paula - both blacks and whites.  Her cruises, as a matter of fact, have doubled in reservations since this has happened.  Again, we have brains - any action taken for something she said years ago, right or wrong, is not going to make any of us say, "Well, they kept Paula Deen after she made a racist comment.  That must mean they are racist, too."  We're a bit more intelligent than that and, in my opinion, you look hypocritical when taking certain actions based on your company's history.

Lastly, Paula made a comment this morning that I immediately revert to in a situation such as this.  Show of hands - who has NOT made an insulting comment at some point?  Whether it be an offensive joke, a racial slur, joking about riding 'the short bus', or others, I want to meet the person that hasn't done it.  I'm not saying people are running around every day making these comments, nor do I think Paula Deen makes this a habit.  I think most, if not all of us, have done it at one point in our lives.  This does not qualify you, in my opinion, as a racist, either.  A racist, to me, is a white supremacist.  A racist, to me, are the blacks that want to see an end to whites forever.  These are racists.  Calling Paula Deen, or anyone that has made an inappropriate comment, a racist (or worse) is just not fair nor is it true.  Lest you think I am a Paula Deen fan, I'm not.  I think if I ate her cooking, I'd be the size of a house and, though I live in the south, think her southern accent is WAY over the top.  My point, though, is that she is no more a racist for using that term one time six years ago than I am a race car driver because I got caught speeding.  Yeah, I'm reaching on that analogy, but you get my point.

As I said initially, we know it's wrong to use the word because somewhere along the line someone said they found it offensive and it has a very negative connotation.  My parents taught me that.  I didn't need the courts to tell me.  I do know, though, that I have yet to see a court case where a white person was able to sue someone of color, a black, for calling them 'cracker', 'honky', or....what else do they call us?  Again, you get my point - I want standards and equal to mean just that - EQUAL.  I'm not going to use the N-word and neither (I don't think) are many of you.  The system is not equal, though, when whites are held to a higher standard than others.  Again, living in the south, I know the Civil Rights movement isn't over, but it is damn sure close.  Think back, my friends, to a time when we were growing up.  It was just a few weeks ago that the 50th anniversary of Gov George Wallace standing in a doorway blocking the entry of blacks to the university was recognized in Tuscaloosa, AL.  Now, when entering the mall, a doctor's office, a restaurant, or a convenience store, I will often hold the door for a black man or woman and think how, in our lifetime, we HAVE recognized equal rights.  We've come quite a distance.

Do I think Paula Deen should have apologized for what she said?  Absolutely.  Do I think we've already taken this too far and cost the woman much of what she built on an unfair basis?  Absolutely.  Let's move on.  In a few weeks this will be 'old news', yet will have had an indelible lasting impact on her life forever.  If you disagree with me, try.....for just one put yourself in her shoes.  Remember, we all agreed none of us are able to 'cast the first stone'.  Think back to something you said 5 years ago.  Would you want the good things you've done every day to hinge on a single comment?  I can tell you from firsthand experience, life is far too short for us to live in that fear.  I'm going to digress for a second, as well as wrap this up - I was listening to an English comedian the other day, Eddie Izzard, and he made the comment that he is agnostic.  He was talking about the 10 Commandments and how we really didn't need them.  He thought that the one rule sort of summed it up and covered anything and everything else.  Ready for it?  It isn't rocket science - The Golden Rule.  Treat others as you wish to be treated.  As he said, I think that kinda sums it up and, should we choose to live that way, we'd be fine.  Be kind to each other.  Is it really that hard?  Times like this, I think we, as a world (not just nation) need to examine how we act.  Stories like this, then, would be a thing of the past.

Until next time................

Sunday, June 16, 2013

We Get A Day, Too...and Our Band-Aids Were Dirt

Okay, so at least give me some points for creativity with titles.  I thought a great deal about the differences between mothers and fathers and yes, that was the first thing I came up with.  While many of us, as kids, ran to mom when we fell and scraped a knee or cut ourselves, they'd provide a bandage.  While it is a generalization about dads, a lot of the, "Rub some dirt on it," comments are true.  Let's face it - while moms bandaged us, dads were busy telling us to "Get back on the horse," or, "Walk it off."  We did...and life went on.  The entire thought process took me to the differences between our parents and how they are both so very deserving of their respective days.  I've heard, too, that the best writings and stories come when people are open and honest about their lives.  After the initial start to this year, I have neither hesitation nor concern about sharing anything of who I am and what led me here. tangent - this all plays into the story.

I have been blessed/cursed with three fathers in my life.  Before you start thinking this stems from an episode of Maury, it was simply a matter of life beginning in the 70's.  Divorce, and consequent remarriage, is now more natural than it was prior to that.  That's how I ended up with my personal set of fathers.  I've learned from them all, both positive and negative...and hopefully (and I think they'd agree), I have taken the negative experiences we might have had and turned them into learning life-lessons with positive outcomes for myself and my kids.

My biological father was only in my life, initially, for the first seven years.  He and my mother divorced, he remarried, then later moved out of state.  I wasn't to see him again for 15 years, with the exception of a couple of times over that span for the deaths of family members.  I remember his MG Midget and going to SCCA autocross events with him.  Perhaps the love of driving, in a not-always-so-slow fashion was ingrained in me at this early age.  I remember, too, how he'd take me along with him, on occasion, to work at the family's dairy.  For you youngsters, milk wasn't always in plastic containers at the supermarket or 7-11.  They used to deliver it to your door and place, we're getting off this part.  It's irrelevant and making me feel WAY too old.  Anyway, we spent time together that must have made an impression because I remember it to this day.  For the earlier years, I have photographic evidence that he and mom were happy, yet married too young to have a lasting relationship confined in close quarters.  As I said, they toughed it out for seven years.  In my later years, it was I who 'forced' a relationship on him.  I say forced because I believe he thought too many years had passed to have any type of relationship with me.  I, being my usual 'won't-take-no-for-an-answer' self, went to visit.  It was then that I could go to him for advice when I chose sales as a profession and golf as a hobby.  Nothing made him prouder, I don't think, than knowing I have a great career in sales and could, with unquestioned regularity, beat him on the golf course.

Mom got remarried several years later and her husband, our step-father, wanted to adopt my sister and I.  It meant we'd have the same last name as both parents which, in the early 70's was still common.  It was having a different last name that required explanation, though I spent many years (and still do) answering the, "Oh, you're John's son," questions.  The easy answer was always in the affirmative - thank you mom for marrying two men with the same name.  Piece of cake.  Anyway, I had a father figure that was there for some important milestones - learning to play baseball, buying my first car, graduating high school and college.  Honestly, it was he that reminded me of the dirt-rubbing, get back on the horse-type thoughts.  Vivid memories of standing in the back yard trying to become a better baseball player and he, only 16 years older than I (something for which to be commended alone), throwing the ball harder and harder to ensure I wouldn't be afraid to get in front of the ball.  Everything was going splendidly until.....fastball right at me.  I brought the glove down a fraction of a second too soon and the ball glanced off the pocket and webbing, landing squarely forehead.  Literally knocked me on my ass.  Hard and fast.  I'm laughing as I write this, but he says to this day it sounded like the crack of a wooden bat and I crumpled like a rag doll.  Many of you that know me are now sitting there saying, "Ohhh....that explains so much!"  There was no permanent damage.....of which we are aware. Aware. Aware.    Okay, maybe a little.  Seriously, though, my dad taught me a lot about respect for elders, when to speak in social situations, and discipline.  A LOT about discipline.  Don't get me wrong, I did my part, too.  I mean, you can't dole out discipline unless someone is screwing things up.  Enter....ME!  In all fairness, it is a Yin-Yang thing.  Can't have one without the other, right?  I remember, too, dad coming to school while I was in college and hanging out for a weekend or two.  Our relationship had evolved.

In the late 80's however, this marriage ended and mom was content to be single....somewhat.  I'm firmly convinced, too, she would be to this day had it not been for Bob.  She met what would be our...what do you call them - step-step-father?  Step-father once removed?  Hell, we just called him Bob, yet he was as much a father, and more so a grandfather, as the others.  He was a devout family man and, most importantly in that time in the life of my sister and I, he loved our mother.  He had children of his own, yet accepted us as no different.  We got to see he and mom more routinely than his own children, so it was only natural that he take that role in our lives, though he certainly did not have to.  He was there for our weddings, offered wisdom that was beyond measure, and was always good for an argument.  Please understand - when I say that, I mean argue as a lawyer argues a case.  Perhaps a better word would be debate.  What I learned most from Bob, though, was unconditional love and patience.  As I said, he might be in a heated discussion with you while debating a point, yet was always the most kind, caring, gentle person.  When I married and had a step-son, he enjoyed taking him in the surf at the beach to teach him to fish.  When my daughter was born, he cradled her in a hammock for hours.  He was a gentle giant that would give you anything he could - mostly, in the form of stellar advice - to see that your life was headed in the 'right' direction.

So there you have it.  A glimpse into the three mean I typically called on this day, Father's Day.  it was a call I actually enjoyed making to all of them.  Then, three years ago, Bob was diagnosed with lung cancer.  On a particular visit to the hospital in April, he was admitted unexpectedly.  My wife and I went to visit at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.  While I worked from my mother's home, my wife stayed with Bob and mom at the hospital daily.  I was thankful for my wife, as I am certain my mother was, as she held his hand and comforted my mother until he died a few days later.  A short four months later, while headed home from a sales meeting in Washington, DC, we happened to stop our motorcycles on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a rest.  My phone rang.....and I got the news that my biological father had passed away earlier that morning unexpectedly.  Four months and one day apart, I had lost two very important influences in my life.

As I said in the beginning of this post, it hasn't been a stellar year so far concerning people I love and care about.  As many struggle with the rhyme or reason to why these things happen, I am only plagued with more questions.  A few short weeks ago, a good friend and coworker went into the hospital for a surgery that is considered almost routine at this point.  True, it was a cardiac valve replacement but, as he and I discussed, they do these every day and, while I don't believe there is ever any 'minor' surgery, I knew he'd be fine.  I was wrong.  A day after his surgery, he passed away at the age of 55.  He left a loving wife and two sons that will no longer be able to make the call I so desperately wish I could make today, too.  We cannot, but hopefully many of you can.

I'm simply saying this - many of us (okay, MOST of us) ran to our mothers when we were kids and either needed something or were hurt.  Let's face it, no matter how many times the cameras pan the sidelines of a football game, I have yet to see a player turn to the camera and thank the dude that taught him to throw the football, how to tackle, or how to pick up the cheerleader after the game.  What do they say?  "Hi, Mom!"  Guilty as charged.  Not the football player part, the 'running to mom' part.  I already did a post on moms, though, and wanted you to realize, as I have, that dad isn't always going to be there.  None of us are always going to be there, but today might be a good time to remember that, while mom was bandaging that cut or helping ease the broken heart when the cheerleader (or football player) dumped you, dad was probably at work making sure you'd have money for the mortgage or the camp or any vacations he made you sure you experienced.  Many dads can appear to be 'asleep at the wheel' during certain periods in your life - trust me, we're trying to think about how to make your lives better and easier, while planning any way we can to protect you as much as possible.  If you don't believe that, think about how many single moms there are and how we applaud their undying efforts.  Now, think about the dads doing the same thing.  There are many men that have never, nor will ever, shirk the responsibilities of having children.  They are raising their children alone, too, and deserve equal applause, along with the fathers that make sure their child support is never late.  We're fathers - a title we don't take lightly...and love every day.

I'd do anything to be able to give my dads a hug and a kiss again, to tell them I love them, to play one last round of golf with them.  I'd give anything to have one last conversation with them.  Please tell me, if dad is alive, you'll make the time today to make dad the SOLE priority when you see him or speak to him.  Treat this as what might be your last chance to say, "Happy Father's Day, Dad."  If it's not, what have you lost?  Lucky you, you get to do it again next year.  I don't...but it doesn't mean I'm going to stop reminding you.

Happy Father's Day, Pop.....thank you and I love you.

Until next time............

Sunday, May 12, 2013

One Day Almost Seems Not Enough...

There are probably many men, at this point, asking what I'm thinking.  Truth be told, they're secretly agreeing with me.  One day for moms is not enough.  I've had the chance, over several weeks, to reevaluate what you women do for us.  When I say 'Us', I am referring not only to your children, but we, the fathers, that double as your additional child.  I am...I think we all, after proper reflection, would be...amazed.

I watch my mother, retired and living alone, take the time to call me almost daily since the loss of my wife.  She also takes the time to be with her own mother (another amazing woman) who still lives alone at the age of 86.  My grandmother, herself, is a two-time breast cancer survivor that has taught all of us life lessons with her unstoppable spirit and determination.  She continues to cook for us when we are home, and makes sure we are all 'properly taken care of'.  Neither of these ladies ever takes the time to stop, consider what they do for everyone else, and ask, "When is it my turn?"  They simply continue to do.  My mother has been doing it since we were born.  I watched, and learned from, her determination to make sure we had everything we needed, many things we wanted, and the life lessons and discipline to become proper adults.  She would discipline as needed...and love unconditionally.  Honestly, she helped us become the people we are today which, I believe, is a true measure of her success.

It doesn't stop there, though.  I watch many of you women do the same every day.  Single mothers who have to work multiple jobs to provide a home for their children, while making sure they have everything they need in the form of love, discipline, and kindness - those very life lessons I mentioned earlier.  I watch the mother of a special-needs child who never asks why this happened to her but, rather, speaks of how precious their child is.  Those children, to you amazing mothers, are truly special, and the love you show them helps change ideas and attitudes the world over.  I've seen people use words on social media that will turn a calm, cool, collected mother into a raging Wonder Woman that will protect their child at ALL costs - as it should be.  While we still consider the notion that a father is the 'Protector' of the household and family, there are many that might challenge that with a mere observation.  Behind many a protecting father, I think, is a mother waiting to tear people apart lest they mess with their family unit.  I like it - you wear it well, ladies.  Very well.

I have a 17-year old daughter that many have heard me speak of, especially recently.  She has become an amazing woman and support for me.  She shows love, caring, kindness, and empathy toward others.  These are remarkable traits and I am extremely proud of her.  When I do mention her, many friends have said, "She learns what she's taught.  You did well."  While I'd like to take some credit for that, I truly feel I am entitled to only a small part of said credit.  She lives 700 miles away and, though we did the 'every other weekend' thing often in the first few years, she grew up and got a social life of her own.  We are close, true, however we don't see each other anywhere nearly as often as I'd like.  My point being, the 'credit' for her upbringing falls much to her mother, my ex-wife.  I'm honest enough with myself (and all of you) to say her mother did much of the 'heavy lifting' when it came to Britt.  She has provided her with good morals, good habits. discipline, and a life that she loves.  Her mother has done an amazing job and I wish her a Happy Mother's Day, well as my eternal thanks and gratitude.

You cook, clean, do our laundry, bandage the cuts and kiss the bruises.  You provide comfort when it's needed, as well as the dreaded 'kick in the pants', too, when we are being fools and aren't motivated.  You are the security we need in an insecure, unsure world.  I have to say, too, that there are many single fathers that deserve recognition today.  I cannot imagine it, yet you do it without question or hesitation.  I know why.  It's the same reason I would drive 700 miles to spend 1 1/2 days with my daughter.  They're your kids.  It's as simple and pure as that.

As I mentioned earlier, when my wife passed away a few weeks ago, the first person to arrive was my mother.  We had a day before anyone else arrived and it afforded me the opportunity to tell her, one-on-one, what I had wanted to share for so long.  I wanted to thank her, personally, for raising us to be the people we've become and to let her know that the sacrifices she made, both of her time and freedom, were not without appreciation.  Today might be a good day for everyone to really do that.  I can attest to the fact that your mother might not be here next year.  I'm a big proponent of saying things NOW - as I tell my daughter often, I want you to be able to say, "I'm glad I did, rather than I wish I had."  Take the time today.  Tell mom how awesome and amazing she is.  Honestly, I may have never met your mother...but I know she is.

I love you, Mom.

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY - to all you wonderful moms.

Until next time..............

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Won't Wear Black...and Where We Go From Here

Interesting title, huh? Yeah, I thought so, too.  You didn't?  Too bad - you're already reading, so why not keep going?  C''re already trying to figure out where I'm going with this.  Here's the thing - I don't know what a requisite period of mourning should be.  I don't mean that to sound callous, but I'm new at this.  Understand one thing, though - I will not dwell.  That's the point of me saying, "I won't wear black."  I actually fancy (oh, yeah, I said 'fancy') that shade in clothes so, while you will see me in black, it's because it makes me look taller.  Maybe not, but work with me here.

Already, I am walking around trying to figure things out.  Not so much the 'why's' but, rather, the 'what the hell do I do now' types of questions.  Regardless, the title of this post was meant to be a signal to myself and a direction of purpose.  When things like this happen, we have choices.  We always have choices.  It's what we do with those choices that signals to the world what we truly are as individuals and the fiber of which we are made.  Again, I'm new at this so I'm not sure if there is a proper way to act.  No one, so far, has handed me the "Widows/Widowers for Dummies" manual.  In its' absence, apparently, we all guess...and lean on others for guidance.  I bring this up because, though it was less than two weeks ago that it happened, I ventured out of the house and back to work earlier this week.  True, it was only for a few days, however work took me to a convention in Atlanta.  I wanted, and more importantly needed, to be there.  I did not go for the sympathy hugs and handshakes that I new would come.  I did not go so I could share my pain with others.  I went, quite honestly, because I needed some normalcy.  I heard from a friend late last evening that a few people said they could not believe I was there.  I suppose they thought I was being cold or heartless or that I did not care or was not affected by all that has transpired.  Though I do not feel the need to explain to anyone, I will...because I choose to.  There it is again - a choice.  Being around the people that I see annually at this convention provided me a sense of normalcy which, truth be told, will have to come eventually anyway.  Gee, folks, I wasn't there to find another wife or another woman.  I was there to be around normal which, knowing some of my friends, is the last thing they'd be called.  It's a relative term, though, so I'm using it.  They're MY normal....and it did me wonders.  Being there allowed me to laugh again, find my voice again, and work again.  These things are important to me as I'm certain they are to you.  I spoke of my grief and pain when asked, as well as gave advice on preparing when it came up in conversation.  If you haven't read the previous post, what are you waiting for?  It's what I have to offer.

So where do we go from here?  I use a collective, "We," because I've come to realize that, no matter how we think of it, we're not on our journeys alone.  We all have friends that are along for our ride, as we are theirs.  Personally, I've already come to a few 'truths' that will make every day better.  Things like...the love of a family and an incredible bond with your parents, children, and siblings can make you feel as if you can conquer the world, and that you are truly unstoppable.  You'll make it through anything because they are simply there.  I've come to realize the incredible power of a simple text message from (and to) my daughter, as well as my sisters.  I realize that true friends leave an indelible mark on our souls that changes who we become - we are now the sum of all those parts....and it is amazing.  I realize that the power of laughter can cure much...and that tears don't always have to be for sorrow.  Yes, I knew that before, but some people made me laugh to the point of tears this weekend...and it felt great.  I realize that someone whispering in your ear, telling you, "Things are going to be okay," and, "I'm here for you," makes you gain strength and recover a little as you find yourself again.  I realize that people are inherently good...and they care.  I know I've said it before, but will continue to do so for as long as I have a voice - I am grateful and appreciative of my friends.  I've known some, literally, all my life, while others I've only known for a few months.  I value and cherish them all.  They are where I will get the strength to, as I said before, end the chapter and start a new one.

Lastly, I've come to understand the value and power of love and the many forms it takes.  Whether it's from family or friends, it's important and, as I said earlier, all we have.  None of us will be getting out of here alive - we all know the two unavoidable things are death and taxes, right?  So what do we do with that?  I say we try to make a difference.  A difference in our lives, the lives of others, and in the world.  We'll be leaving people behind, so why not make it a better place?  At the risk of sounding like Miss America hoping for 'World Peace', or doing a Rodney King impersonation and asking, "Can't we all just get along?", I dare say we can do right by others at very little cost to ourselves.  In the end, it's the best we have.  As I sit here writing this, there was a knock on my front door.  When I received the package and opened it, I thought how appropriate and fitting with what I am writing.  It was from yet another dear, sweet, thoughtful friend that I love and adore.  She sent a plant - it's name is the Red Rose of Sharon Hibiscus - in honor of Sharon's love for red roses.  How incredible and amazing.  Are you understanding the point of all this?  It took very little, yet made such an impact!  I was, and am, moved beyond words.

I've said before that my beliefs lead me to try and understand the lesson from all of this.  As I sat pondering this again the other evening, a familiar quote I've always liked from one of our favorite series, The West Wing, came to mind.  It was a simple story being related:

This guy's walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, "Hey you, can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."

I know that, when a friend experiences this very same thing (as we all surely will), I want to be the one that jumps in the hole.  I will state with certainty that I have, in fact, been there.....and know the way out.  Many of you have given me much to think about recently.  As I said, new chapter - not the end of a book by any means.  I will look back, eventually, at the previous chapters with fondness and love, knowing they shaped who I have become today.  Think about that as you're going through the day-to-day.  Learn to live in, and be keenly aware of, the moment.  As I sit here now, I have images that I recall from the 'good times' we all experience...and I am smiling.  There's much to be done and I will figure it out.  No, I'm not becoming philosophical (well, any more than usual), but want each of you to take the time that I know I will surely embrace as I experience everything from this point forward.  As my daughter pointed out to me in a text message earlier - Dad, I just wanted to let you know that if anything ever happened to either of us, that I love you and you're the best dad in the whole entire world.  Life's too short not to tell the people you love that you appreciate everything they do for you, so thank you.  People could be gone in the blink of an eye, so I don't want anything to happen, ever, without telling you that.  

This from a young lady not quite 17 years old yet.  Am I the best dad in the whole world?  I never thought so, but if she does...if your kids do...isn't that what matters?  Go.  Right now.  Hug them for absolutely no reason.  Find your spouse/significant other and put your arms around them and whisper in their ear how much they mean to you.  Kiss them on the cheek and look into their eyes...really look...and tell them how much richer your life is for having them in it.  If your relationship isn't the best, think back to what drew you to them in the first place so that your grumbling and complaining might lessen.  You do NOT want anything to happen without letting them know how you truly feel.  It will cost you nothing but a little time...and in the end, you'll feel better, too.  I'm not trying to be 'sappy' (what does that mean, anyway?) but I am here to bear witness - some of us missed chances when we had them.  That goes for friends as well - tell them how you feel, always.  Then, after you've done those things, walk outside and take a look around.  We're still here and have much, all of us, to be grateful for.  Lastly, remember to like yourself and enjoy life....and simply breathe......

Until next time...........

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Letter of Thanks...and The Importance of Friends

Death is not easy.  It's certainly not something we choose to deal with every day.  Actually, it's not something we choose to deal with ANY day.  Still, it happens.  It is as much a part of life as living.  By now, everyone reading this knows that my wife died last Sunday.  Certainly not something I'd wish on anyone.  Still, it forces a few things upon us when it does happen, and we are put in a position to examine, reexamine, question, and plan as never before.  It is, in short, a life-changing scenario.  I was asked, shortly after it happened, "Dave, why do these things always (seemingly) happen to you?"  First, I don't think I have any more or less negative experiences than anyone else.  My personal belief system allows me to expect things to happen as a matter of destiny, then try to understand the lesson I am to be learning from it.  It doesn't work for everyone, but suits my needs.  It's how I choose to deal with situations such as this and make sense of them, if even in a small way.  This particular situation has brought many revelations and clearer meaning even in the short time I have had to examine it.  For many, these lessons need to be shared and repeated. If what I have to offer helps anyone in the future, then the lessons and pain have not been in vain.

The first lessons I can share involve planning.  I will always be the person, from this day forward, that stresses the need for planning 'In the event of...' an unexpected emergency.  Allow me to ask of you a few questions.  Do you have a will?  If so, great - you are a head of the curve.  If not, why not?  Do you have your papers in a safe place where someone knows where to find them?  I suggest everyone go to Wal-Mart and buy a fireproof lockbox for $25 - $30.  Place your will, life insurance policies, instructions for your funeral, etc, in that box, then label it, "OPEN ME FIRST IN EVENT OF DEATH."  If you think that sounds morbid, cold, ought to see what happens when you don't have this in place.  A nightmare - trust me.  Are your named beneficiaries current and as you truly wish them to be?"  Just because you think something will go to the people you want to take care of, don't assume.  PLEASE.  You never know, there might be a policy you forgot to update.  Your spouse might be thinking they can use that policy to help cover some of the costs of the funeral.  If you haven't updated the policy, you might be gifting a former spouse that was abusive to you....all because you assumed it had been done or you were too lazy to take care of it.  Look around your home at the people you love - your wife, husband, children - are you really too lazy to fill out a form to ensure they aren't struggling at the time of your death?  Trust me, all you want them to do is miss you and grieve.  If you were not maintaining your policies, their grief may be short-lived as they try to figure out how to cover the costs of your ill-timed demise.  Please, for the sake of the people that share your life with you, plan for the eventual end.  That includes considering pre-paying your funeral.  It's similar to a term-life insurance policy.  You make a payment for a period of 10 years, then the costs are covered.  The good news is, if you make one payment and something unexpected happens, the costs are covered.  100%.  Completely.  Why am I making an issue of this?  Because when the funeral director says, "Here's the cost for the package you've chosen," he will expect a check.  No, there are no payment plans at that point.  Your plan then is to hand him a check.  I have yet to find a package that is less than 5 figures.  Do the math and take care of paying it ahead of time.  It's the message I have, and I'm spreading the word.

The other lessons I have gleaned from this experience involve the importance of friends.  Not just having them, but of being one.  I was amazed and speechless at the outpouring of love, caring, and kindness shown by so many people from all across the country.  For what seemed like days, I was carrying two phones and receiving calls from people almost non-stop sending their condolences.  In the days after her death and as the plans were being made, people began to arrive in Alabama.  They came from Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and as far away as the State of Washington.  I received cards, thoughts on Facebook, and individual e-mails from people expressing their concern and sorrow, while asking if they could do anything.  My response to these calls was to let them know that the only thing I really wanted them to do was turn back time.  In the absence of that, there was nothing they could do...or so I thought.  The calls I received were, honestly, enough for me.  To know there are people in your life that take the time to attempt to console you during these periods, is amazing and wonderful.  The fact that many of them continued to call (and still are, actually) is something that makes me shake my head in wonder and disbelief.  Again, powerful and amazing.  I realized, too, that many of them made the comment, as I thanked them for being there, calling, etc, "Don't be silly, you'd be the first one there if it happened to me."  It's nice to have them acknowledge that as I strive to be that kind of friend.  Of course, they are the same (as they showed this past week) and, truth be told, I will always be there for them.  I just hope it never has to be for the same reason.

I have been blessed with amazing, incredible friends and this is an open letter of thanks to you all.  The words, thoughts, prayers, kindness, and concern you have shown for me, not only this past week but in general, touch me beyond belief.  You have absolutely no idea how it affects me in such a positive way.  One couple could not attend...yet made certain that we were all fed after the viewing.  A caterer showed up at 2:00 on the dot...and proceeded to put out a spread to feed many.  We walked in to the funeral home and the floral arrangement above greeted us - something near & dear to Sharon's heart - and these were sent from our Penn State friends ('family', actually), along with a few Crimson Tide fans (more 'family').  There were coworkers of Sharon's that had not seen her for over three years...yet they always loved her and attended her service.  To have someone tell you that your wife considered you the 'love of her life' is something we all want to hear, and when they shared it, it brought tears to my eyes.  To have people continually call just to, "see how you're doing," is something that, for me at least, will never get old.  To have a home filled with people that will share their fondest memories of your spouse, the times they spent with you both, and the crazy things the two of you did, is what it takes to ease the pain.  My home was filled with laughter a few nights ago as we recalled a life that, while taken too soon, was lived as fully as possible and I appreciate all of you for making me smile.  This is not going to be easy, I realize that.  The support has come from my family - my daughter, my mother, my sisters....and all of you.  I cannot consider you anything BUT family.  I have said since the day it happened - I will continue to wake up, get dressed, put one foot in front of the other...and breathe.  I said at her funeral that I wanted hers to be a celebration of life rather than a somber occasion.  This situation, more than any I can recall, made me think of a quote I think we've all heard - "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."  I could be incredibly, horribly sad and, though I am having my moments, will admit to being grateful that I had seven years of a great life.  I consider this the end of a chapter, not the book.  The rest of my journey begins now - in fact it's already begun - and I want each and every one of you along for the ride.  You are my support, my family, my life.  I promise to make yours as special as you have made mine.  Thank you from the heart...and more than I can ever express.  I love you all.

Until next time.......