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.

Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

Movies worth a look

As a means of distraction or illumination, movies provide a necessary vehicle. Looking past the blockbuster action hero movies, here are few to consider for theater-going or downloading.

In no partiicular order:

“Knives Out” is in theaters now and is an entertaining who-done-it? Daniel Craig leads a very recognizable cast.

“Dark Waters” is more illuminating than distracting as Mark Ruffalo stars in a true-life chemical cover-up that went on for years hurting consumers, locals and employees.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the story of Mister Rogers’s impacting the lives of many children, but also helping the life of an interviewer, the basis for the movie. Tom Hanks ably plays Mister Rogers.

“Midway” is a well-rounded view of the crucial battle of Midway a key refueling island in the Pacific during WWII. Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Ed Skrein star in an ensemble cast as the movie focus on both American and Japanese perspectives.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” is an excellent drama around Ford’s efforts to compete in Le Mans racing against recurring champion Ferrari. Christian Bale and Matt Damon star as the racer and racing car designer.

“Judy” is an excellent piece of acting by Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, late in her career. It focuses on a brief time where Garland plays a London venue to enable her to keep her children.

“Once upon a time in Hollywood” stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in a remake of a Hollywood tragedy. It is a Quentin Tarentino movie which is akin to the rewriting of history in “Inglorious Bastards.”

“Tolkien” did not do well at the box office, but is quite good. It focuses on Tolkien’s boyhood and early adult life which led him to his creative fantasy writing of “The Hobbit.” It stars Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as his muse and love interest.

Let me know what you think of these movies, avoiding spoilers where possible. Also, what other movies would you recommend?

May the Force be with you – don’t click

Black Friday turned into hefty cyber sales. Today, is officially Cyber Monday, so the expectation is high for even more sales. However, a key financial lesson is if you don’t buy, you save even more money. So, use the Force to not click.

I realize I am not telling anyone anything new. But. people want your money, so they will make it easier to get it. I think there has been a trend toward more personal purchases from holiday gifts. It is clear the car commercials have gone down that path to lower year-end inventory. If you must buy a car, your best savings will be at the end of December not the beginnning.

Yet, resist the urge as much as you can. I tell people you can go broke saving 1/2 off if it leads to more purchases. The other reason to resist is the hyper-commercialization of Christmas. This is a key reason I am frustrated with the infringement on my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving.

So, use the Force. Resist the urge. Don’t click on Submit or click far less. Black Friday and Cyber Monday lead to Red Debt.