Wednesday wanderings, April showers and falling

My hiking might get cut short today, if it occurs at all, with the gully washer we got yesterday and one more expected today. If I do walk, it will likely be on streets which will be less muddy. I don’t want to see this old body slipping on a wet hiking trail.

Being a tall person, when I fall it can be quite theatrical. My wife still laughs at me when I walked out of a restaurant in “slippery bottom” shoes I had packed for a trip and started to slide backwards saying “I am going down.” Fortunately, I avoided my prophesy and caught myself on the door rails, but it was funny. Apparently, I had forgotten why I did not wear those shoes anymore.

Each of us are at risk of falling, whether it is the Lucille Ball type fall or a metaphorical one. The key is to get back up, dust yourself off, make sure you are not hurt and keep going. One of the more memorable “I Love Lucy” shows for me is when Lucy took a tumble at a gala with several dignitaries. After washing herself off, she reluctantly went back out to the event. A Spanish diplomat asked her to dance and when she asked why, he responded she had the courage to walk back out here after falling. That was profound for a little boy to hear.

My father fell once in a noticeable way. One of the things I inherited from him is a fondness for alcohol, which I do not imbibe anymore. After rising to a senior position in his firm, my father let his drinking get in the way of being where he needed to be. Something happened in his absence and he was demoted. He had to go into work the next day as a peer not a boss. Now my father never put on airs when in charge, but still that had to be humbling. He eventually worked his way back up and before he retired he was asked to be on the Board of Directors of the parent company.

I have fallen as well. My father’s lesson is a good one. When you fall, the key question to ask yourself is what am I going to do about it? I have shared the lesson before about being demoted to the second team on my high school basketball team. So, I worked even harder in practice and eventually was asked to rejoin the first team. I have also passed many professional exams, but I failed three along the way. The key is to study harder and learn from my mistakes. Eventually, I passed them all and was accredited, but it still hurt to not pass, a feeling I will never forget.

Whether it is Lucille Ball, my father or me, everyone falls. So, don’t forget the answer to that key question and do something about it. You may end up with a skinned knee or bruised feelings, but if those are the worst things, you will survive.

Mental Health is presenting unprecedented challenges

In a recent article in Benefits Pro, a piece on the rising mental health challenges caught my eye. An excerpt from the article follows:

“A new report from consulting firm McKinsey finds ‘unprecedented’ behavioral health challenges among Gen Z Americans. The age group, which ranges from middle-school students to younger members of the workforce, has significantly more issues with behavioral health than other age groups, the study found. Their conclusions are not unique: the U.S. Surgeon General recently issued a public advisory describing a ‘youth mental health crisis,’ which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report pointed to consumer surveys that found Gen Z members more likely to report behavioral health issues, more likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions, and more likely to contemplate suicide than other generations.”

Unfortunately, there remains a stigma attached to mental health that prevents too many from getting the needed help. With that said, a possible reason for the uptick is more younger folks are realizing the need than in previous demographic generations. Nonetheless, getting help is something that should be easily enabled. And, it is not just medicine that should be prescribed. Therapy paired with medicine is essential to getting the most productive level of help.

Before I retired as consultant, I used to travel with a behavioral psychologist who helped large companies set up mental health programs for its employees, including depression and obesity management ones. She would tell our clients that 1 in 5 people will have some level of mental health issue in their lifetime. She would add that if she looked at any prescription drug claims report, she would see 10% of the prescriptions be for mental health issues. What she was looking for is who prescribed the Rx, as she would prefer to see a psychiatrist rather a general practitioner.

I have a number of friends and relatives who have had mental health challenges, often multiple diagnoses – anxiety and paranoia are often paired together, eg. Therapy is the key. Having someone to help work through the problems is essential to managing them. The word management is critical as many of these problems don’t go away, so having tools to deal with them on a daily basis is utile.

Rather offer advice that I am not qualified to give, let me just say this simply. If you, a loved one or friend are having mental health issues, get or encourage them to get help from a therapist. Often, the therapy will come from a licensed clinical social worker LCSW. Your health plan or other networks will have several therapists to offer, so go through their bios and typical clients. They will suggest a psychiatrist if medicine is in order. Yet, if you or your relative or friend are having suicidal thoughts, call 911 or a suicide hotline (see below) and don’t wait on a therapist.

Life can be beautiful, but it is also hard. Sometimes it is harder than it needs to be. Just because you need help is nothing, I repeat nothing, to feel bad about whether you are the one in need or if it is your child. Get help. And, manage those challenges.

Why is it important to help (a reprise from eight Christmases ago)

When I am asked about my volunteering to help the disenfranchised and how can someone go about doing it, my answer is to follow your passions. I usually ask what interests you, how much time do you have and what groups of people do you feel most comfortable helping. For some, it is visiting, talking, reading and singing with the elderly; for some it is mentoring or tutoring school kids; for some it is helping homeless people find shelter, find employment, or gain assistance. These folks need what you have to offer – your time, your experiences, your feedback, your coaching.

I was reminded of this yet again earlier this week. I was meeting with a formerly homeless father who the organization I serve with helped regain a home after he and is wife made poor decisions. He was a former Army soldier and was gainfully employed when he began a cocaine addiction journey that led him to being imprisoned. It also claimed his wife, as he noted, she was in worse shape than him. After his release from prison, he had a hard time and became homeless. He also did not have custody of his son.

Through the help of this agency, he regained a home, regained custody and eventually reconciled with his wife. He was doing well until he lost a second job in short order. He was among seventeen workers who were asked to not come back on January 6 unless called as the company is downsizing to four staff. He is in a bad mental place, so I met with him as I am helping the agency expand a pilot an employment initiative.

He was doing all the right things (resume drafted, applied to 25 or so places) to find another job and I offered some additional suggestions and companies he may wish to consider based on his needs. He also needed someone to offer support and reinforcement. Someone to say keep doing what you are doing and offering constructive feedback. He has interview on Thursday, so keep your fingers crossed.

Yet, I also want to share with you another reason why we should help. You see, through all of these troubles the mother and father have had, his son just graduated with a Master’s degree at a state university. Through all of this, his son was able to find opportunity. Through all of this, his son was able to complete his education. Through all of this, his son was able to break the cycle of poverty. One of the things we emphasize to others, is the homeless kids don’t have a place to study. Oftentimes, they may not eat or go without healthcare. So, helping the family find a home means more than just a roof for kids – it is stability.

When I speak with some people who are more conservative in mindset, I do my best to convince them to help these people climb a ladder. To some, I am wasting my breath, as they view these parents as lazy, drug addicted, or welfare bound. Some like to paint with a broad brush everyone who is in need based on the observations of over-dramatized anecdotes. Yet, the people I encounter are hard-working and are in need of a second job as hours have been cutback or they lost a job. Before the state of Florida was asked to unwind unconstitutional drug testing of welfare recipients, the data from the four months of the program said welfare recipients’ rate of drug use was 1/4 that of general society.

Yet, what I do get even these strident conservative folks to agree on is let’s do something to help the kids. There is a higher propensity for homeless children to become homeless adults than for general society. There is also a higher propensity for children who are violently abused to marry or become abusers themselves when they grow up. I mention the latter as 30% of our homeless families are homeless due to getting away from a domestic violence situation. So, if we can help the kids and parents find homes and help them climb the ladder, we can break the cycle of homelessness and domestic violence.

The Christmas season brings out the generous spirit of many. Yet, the needs last beyond the season. As someone who volunteers, I can tell you there is such great sense of purpose to help others. Follow your passions and offer your help to others. You will be helping more than just one generation. Plus, you will be helping yourself.

Merry Christmas and have a successful New Year.

Just a few truisms (and a word about Joe)

As my wife and I traveled to a funeral for an extended family member, I had time to reflect. on a recent post about the “Second time you die,” meaning when the last person who remembers you passes away, you die for a second time. The point of the post is how do you wish to be remembered?

My cousin Joe passed away after a life well lived. He was a devout man who loved his wife and family. He also gave back to his community, his church and his profession. One of three wonderful eulogies noted he was a “servant leader” meaning a leader is measured by how many people he helps, not vice versa. That is a wonderful way to be remembered.

Remembering Joe reminded me of some truisms we should not forget. Here are a few to digest and offer feedback on:

If you get up with an attitude of let’s make it a great day, you have a better chance of fulfilling that prognostication. The opposite attitude is also true.

If you have the impression kindness is a weakness, then you could not be more wrong. Reread the comment above about servant leadership. A great leader deflects credit to others and asks how can I help?

If you go looking for trouble, don’t be surprised if you find it or it finds you. Some people place themselves in harm’s way and are surprised when harm befalls someone, even them.

If you surround yourself with people who care less you about you and more what they can use you for, get new friends or acquaintances.

If you feel you are the odd person out, then you often are. There is an old saying that when three adolescents find themselves alone, one often becomes the foil. Don’t be anyone’s fool.

If you treat people the way you want to be treated, do not be surprised if you are treated well in return. A very old book called this rule “golden.” You can actually disarm people or lessen tension with kindness.

If you remember this saying, people will pay more attention to what you have to say. You have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.

If you give to others, it usually pays you a psychic income in return. Feeling better about yourself, especially when you give anonymously is an amazing gift to you and the recipient..

If you put someone down to elevate yourself, it will usually come back to haunt you. One thing is for certain, the person who is being put down will always remember it. Some may be slow to act, but they won’t forget.

If you work for an employer who treats people poorly when they exit, get your resume together and look for another job, as that could be you someday. Treating people with dignity matters.

If you take away only two things – remember that golden thing and the two ears and one mouth proportion and you will do fine. These are just a few thoughts to contemplate. Let me know what you think. Tell; me a few others that spring to mind.

Joe, you are remembered well by many. If there was any doubt, I have rarely if ever witnessed a minister choking back the tears during a eulogy.

Lessons from Dad (a repeat of an old post)

The following post was written nine years ago. I was searching for another post, when I stumbled onto this one. It is worth the reposting, at least to me. Stay with it as there is a major life lesson at the end courtesy of my father around the issue of what do you do when you really screw up.

Six years ago this month, my father passed away. I have been thinking about him a lot this month, as my middle child graduated from high school and my youngest had her 15th birthday. In fact, I wore his anniversary ring my mother had given him during the graduation so he could be there. Like all of us, Dad was not perfect, but he was one of the finest people I have ever met.

He was raised by his Aunt and Uncle, since his parents had a messy divorce. He tried living with each, but that was not a productive co-habitation for any of them. He learned the grocery business at a very young age working in his Uncle’s small store in a small town. Like many people of his time, he started smoking when he was 12. A near life-long habit that was a contributing factor to his death, even though he had quit for over ten years beforehand. His smoking is a reason I don’t.

He graduated from a small college in north Georgia that had a work-study program, the only way he could have afforded college. There he met my mother and literally fell into her lap while diving for a loose ball during a basketball game to which she arrived late. To say he fell for her would be an understatement. It is not ironic that many couples they befriended there were still married when he died (he was married to Mom for 54 years when he died).  My father went to work as a management trainee for a large grocery chain, but moved over into the then called data processing business, the computer science of its time. Back in the 1950’s, everything was new in the computer business.

Dad was a great athlete – track, baseball and basketball – and gave back by coaching his boys (and girl). My best friend and I used to call him the 45-year-old pitching machine, as he would always go throw batting practice to my brother, sister and me. His selflessness was one of his great attributes.He was always giving to others whether it was getting up early to check on a smoked ham or turkey (or both) he was cooking for his co-workers or family or helping someone.

He taught me many things which I try to emulate. Let me mention a few before closing with an anecdotal lesson that I shared again with my children last night.

  • Everyone is welcome in our home. To this day, our children’s friends are always welcome to stay for dinner. My wife and I live in chaos on occasion, but hearing your children and their friends laugh is the greatest sound on earth.
  • Do your best at whatever you try. To do less harms both you and your employer. It is a hard concept for children to grasp that they are cheating themselves when they don’t do their best.
  • Treat everyone like you want to be treated. Dad grew up from very humble beginnings and a broken home. He never put on airs and was as genuine a person as you could find. He was a natural leader, but you would never know that from talking with him. Think of the movie “Dave.”
  • Have dinner together with your family. My wife and I strive to do this as much as possible. The kids grow tired of the small dinner bell, customary blessing and “how was your day” or “anything unusual, funny or interesting happen today” questions. Trust me, you have to vary the questions. They may complain, but would not trade a moment of it if you asked them.
  • It is more than OK to hug or kiss your wife in front of the children. One of the greatest gifts a father can give is loving his children’s mother. That is harder these days with so many scattered families, but it is worth the effort when you live together.
  • Marriage is hard and you have to work at it. Three musts. Be friends with your wife as it gets you through ups and downs. Confer together on children issues that arise, so you are on the same page (raising children is joyous, but not easy especially in this day and age) And, have a sense of humor. Life is too short and it is easier to laugh with people rather than have them laugh at you.

While, there are many other lessons learned, let me close with a final lesson that I was reminded of by my son’s graduation speaker. A successful woman told the graduates you will fail at something. Get back up, dust yourself off and keep on going. Life will go on. My father was not perfect as I said. I carry a curse with me that he had. I am an alcoholic. I have not had a drink in almost five years. I tell people I drank more in my first 48 years than many people do in a lifetime. I use the verb “am” as I want to have a drink everyday, even now. They key is to say to yourself – “I am not going to drink today.”

Dad was an alcoholic, as well. He had risen to the position of Senior Vice President in his firm. He was very successful. Yet, one day he was not where he was supposed to be and something happened at work. Since his goodwill at work was so large, he was not fired, but demoted instead. He had to go to work the next day as a peer of the people who used to report to him. He could not just go somewhere else; he had to go face the music every day. Going back to the graduation speaker’s counsel. He failed. He knew he had to feed his family, so he got up, dusted himself back off and went back to work. He told people “I screwed up,” but he made up for it by going back to work every day.

Dad was a smart man, well-respected and great employee. By the time he retired,  he had worked his way back up and was on the Board of Directors of the same company. This is what being an adult (or in this case) a man is. I tell my guys being a man is not being macho, wielding a sword like they do in the games or being proficient at weaponry. Being a man is being accountable and responsible each day. It is owning up to your mistakes and saying I will do better. I should say it is “doing better” as anyone can say they will do better.

Dad had many lessons for me (and others). This last one which shows how someone handles failure is the deepest as we are all “fixer uppers” and will fail. The key is what you do next.  My father showed how. I love you Dad.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye – a review

My wife, two boys and I watched “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” this week which is out in theaters. It is about the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker of the PTL Club. For those who may not know, PTL stood for Praise the Lord, and the club was a very popular Christian tele-evangelical show that raised a lot of money. Unfortunately, the money brought in could not keep up with the money going out.

The movie stars Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye and Andrew Garfield as Jim, along with an excellent supporting cast, including Cherry Jones as her mother and Vincent D’Onofrio as Reverend Jerry Falwell.The movie was directed by Michael Showalter and written by Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato and Abe Sylvia. Chastain wanted to produce the movie after seeing a documentary that painted Tammy Faye in a different light.

The movie is excellent, but our main reason for wanting to see it is we live in Charlotte where the rise and fall took place in the 1980s. We remember the award winning newspaper articles in The Charlotte Observer and a radio DJ who had a recurring comedy segment called the “Pass the Loot” club. Tammy Faye was mercilessly teased for wearing an awful lot of make-up and crying on camera. As Chastain said in an interview, I watched many hours of footage and I never saw her cry so much that her make-up ran, which was a popular spoof.

Her husband was a narcissist who had to have things his way, even forcing his wife to apologize to him on air when she strayed (his straying at the same time would come up later). And, all the negative press about his fraud on his “partners” as he called his faithful, were, per Jim, reporters out to get him or who just did not like him (he was later found guilty on 24 counts of fraud and went to prison).

What we learned from the newspaper reports, national interviews and his trial, that the Bakkers had a lavish lifestyle built off the hard working donors who sent their money. As Jim famously told Ted Koppel in an interview, “the Lord wanted him to have nice things.” He arguably is the first prosperity preacher at least on air. Now, there is a whole flock of them. But, the key to his fall was his taking in more money based on promises of lifetime stays at a Christian resort that he could not possibly fulfill. So, the only answer was to sell more, in his mind, not unlike a Ponzi scheme.

There was a sex scandal with a young woman, who I won’t name, that was more scintillating than his fraud. Per the movie, we also learned Tammy Faye’s infidelity was a due to an inattentive husband who had wandering eyes for men and women. Forcing his wife to apologize to him on the air was unnerving given what we learned about Jim later. And, per earlier segments, the apology appeared to be a ploy to raise money.

Yet, a key takeaway is Tammy Faye actually had a more progressive view of treating everyone fairly, like Christians should, as she noted on air. A key example is she had an AIDs patient on her show whom she interviewed via satellite. She was outwardly moved by his plight and told her viewers that everyone is the same in God’s eyes. It was very touching. But, that seemed to be par for the course even though her willingness to help was frowned on by Falwell’s Moral Majority.

The part that seemed surprising in the movie is her lack of awareness of the fraud going on. She did ask questions and got poor answers, but she did not follow-up. She was too trusting of her husband when he had abused that trust. His narcissism was, in part, a defense mechanism.

To their credit, you have to applaud their rise through the ranks of tele-evangelists. More than a few of the old guard scoffed, but at their height of fame they had 20 million viewers. Yet, it truly was all smoke and mirrors. God may have wanted them to have nice things, but he sure did not mean for them to take donations from poor people to buy them.

The movie is worth the look. It can be silly at times, as Tammy Faye was an over-the-top personality. Yet, Chastain does an excellent job of showing some depth that needed more exploration. And, Garfield plays Jim Bakker quite convincingly.

RESPECT – a movie worth watching about Aretha

My wife and I saw the terrific biopic about Aretha Franklin called “RESPECT” yesterday starring Jennifer Hudson. Hudson does a highly commendable job as Franklin, but that is less a surprise given her credentials and that Franklin asked her to play the role before she passed.

The acting is excellent with Forest Whittaker playing her dominant father, Audra McDonald playing her mother, Marlon Wayans as a first love interest, and Skye as a young Aretha. The movie pulls few punches showing Franklin’s shortcomings (such as her bout with alcohol) as well as her many successes.

However, the music, its creation and its performance, is what got folks clapping in the theater. Seeing Hudson as Franklin work with musicians to create “I’ve never loved a man” or with her sisters to adapt Otis Redding’s “Respect” is worth the ticket by themselves. Seeing Hudson perform “Natural Woman” and “Amazing Grace” are quite eventful.

The movie is directed by Liesl Tommy off the screenplay written by Tracey Scott Wilson based on the story by Callie Khouri. I will not give any more of the plot away, but simply encourage you to go see it.

Friday memories

Since I am exhausted from talking about our modern day Voldemort, let me offer a few random memories on this Friday, Greenwich time. In no particular order:

When my father used to cook chicken on the grill, he would always return to the kitchen with a wingless chicken. When asked, he noted said chicken could not fly as it had no wings. Of course, he would eat the wings outside to make sure he got the basting right, at least that was his ultimate story.

When he smoked meat in his Cooking Cajun smoker, he would cook a ham on one rack and a turkey on another. The poor cook would start the large turkey around 2 am in the morning and then add the ham later. I wish I had his knack for smoking it right. He did say he basted the turkey with mayonnaise to keep it moist. Whatever he did, both were excellent.

My mother was a terrific cook as well, so these meals were accentuated with her casseroles, side dishes and desserts. One of her wonderful dishes was a layered salad, which must be served in a glass bowl to see the layers of lettuce, cheese, mostly thawed frozen green peas, mayonnaise (we southerners love our mayo), bacon and green onion. She also had a fruit pie made with fresh strawberries and bananas.

My mother was an Education and Home Economics major in college, so she would plan out our meals for two weeks between paychecks. Pot roast, fried chicken, cubed steak, spaghetti, lasagna, ham steaks with limas and cheese, etc. were usually in the mix. Back then, she went to the grocery store once in two weeks. Think about the planning behind that statement. We did not make runs to the grocer as we do now, with the exception of fresh milk which we got from a nearby dairy store you could actually drive up to.

With three kids who all played sports, we liked to eat and ate a lot. So, my mother keeping the refrigerator full shopping once every two weeks was a chore. One of the wisest things my high school did was, if you played sports, you automatically took PE in the last class of the day, so we could start practicing early. With a full load of classes in the preceding years, I found a free period for lunch in my Senior year, so I would eat at home and return for practice. So, more food was needed to fill this growing boy’s body. Did I mention I ate a lot?

When I got home, I would do my studying at night. So, my brother, sister and I would watch the reruns of Star Trek, Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, The Wild West, etc., before and just after dinner. With one TV, we all watched the same thing. I must confess, the love interests of Captain Kirk and James West were fascinating to this adolescent boy. And, it did not dawn on me, at first, the comedic genius of Don Knotts as Barney Fife and Lucille Ball as Lucy. I would get irritated with how silly they were, but realized later that was their gift.

Well, that is enough for memory lane. I had a good childhood, not perfect mind you, as I have left off my parents’ fighting, but it was largely good memories. I have written before about my father’s drinking problem (which I inherited), but he was still a good man, who just had a problem. He was sober the last twenty years of his life and I have been without a drink for over thirteen years.

Thirteen years and counting

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

He IS heavy and he’s my brother

Per an article by Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press called “CDC survey finds about 40% of US adults are obese,” Americans are indeed “heavy.” And, some of us are very heavy.

“About 4 in 10 Americans are obese, and nearly 1 in 10 is severely so, government researchers said Thursday.” This comes from a 2017-18 health survey by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The survey found that the obesity rate was 42%….The severe obesity rate was more than 9%…But, it’s clear that adult obesity rates are trending up, said the CDC’s Cynthia Ogden, one of the reports authors.”

This should not be news. The World Health Organization has determined the US as the most obese country in the world for at least decade. A former Global Wellness UK based colleague of mine would say to clients, “one of the US’ greatest exports is obesity.” We have exported the gift of high calorie fast food.

The next time you are in McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc., read the calorie content on the orders. An average adult man is supposed to intake 2,500 calories per day with an adult woman limited to 2,000 due to size differential. If a fast food meal tops out at 1,250 calories, that is 1/2 a day’s calories. And, don’t even think of super-sizing.

But, it gets worse as we have too many kids with Types I and II diabetes. And, pre-diabetic is the diagnosis du jour for kids and adults. The key culprit is carbs. Bread, potatoes, pasta, rice – think white foods – convert into sugar and lead to diabetes.

So, what should we do about it? Here are a few ideas that worked for me as I shed about fifty pounds over a several years. The key words to remember are “sustainable change.” Whatever path you choose to follow, make it more than a fad change – make it sustainable. Here are a few paths to consider:

– Portion control – put your meals and snacks in a plate or bowl with smaller portions. Make yourself get up if you want more, but resist that urge.
– Less fast food – no or fewer fries (share them) and less fried food
– Less white food – this one is hard, but cut back
– Snack with nuts, trail mixes, and fruits (ripe or dried)
– Read the calorie contents – I might break a breakfast bar in half if it is 200 calories
– Indulge earlier in the day, so you can burn it off
– Walking is your friend

It goes without saying to check with your doctor before you embark on major change. Other anaerobic, core and stretching exercises (yoga, pilates, jazzeercise, calisthenics, etc.) are excellent, but I recommend something you can keep up over the long haul.

Let me close with a comment another wellness colleague who is a doctor used to say. “We are train wrecks waiting to happen.” Being heavy now will haunt you even more later. So, think sustainable change and get off that track.