Dad did good (a revisit)

My Dad had a hard life growing up. His parents split up early and neither played a big role in his formative years. Fortunately, he was provided a safety net that would not let him fail. He was raised by his Great Aunt and Uncle.

His Uncle ran a general store in a small Georgia town. My Dad was asked to help out there. This eventually led my Dad to start his career with a regional supermarket after college and a stint in the Navy. More on that later.

He went to college in north Georgia, but it was under a required work study program.  You had to work to attend and that was the only way the students could afford the tuition costs. He met my mother there and they married in 1951 and moved to Jacksonville, FL.*

He had a stint in the Navy when the Korean Conflict started joining with several friends. Serving on an aircraft carrier, he learned of 25 second showers, discipline and visited some exotic places,  Once home, he decided soon a supermarket career was not for him. Even with his low salary, he would have to cover bounced checks as a manager.

He and his good friend George decided to move into this career called data processing, the precursor to IT. He worked for a regional insurance company and eventually worked his way up. He was there until he retired in the early 1990s.

He and my Mom raised us three kids. She was a schoolteacher. I mentioned in my last post in a comment that he would pitch batting practice to me after work and coached me on occasion. He was a very good athlete in college playing basketball, baseball and track.

He also was a great outdoor cook. He would love to smoke hams and turkeys, and cooked a mean roast and chicken. He would tease us saying the chicken did not have any wings, as he would sample them outside. His team would have indoor office picnics and he would usually bring a ham or turkey. They tended to request this of him.

He and my Mom were a great couple, married for 54 years. He died too early after a life of smoking and drinking, even though he quit both a dozen years before he passed. Like me, my Dad was an alcoholic. I stopped drinking myself the year after he died.

When he passed in 2006, there were a half dozen couples that met in college like my parents and were still together that came to his funeral. He was remembered well, but it was a tribute to Mom, too. My Dad was not perfect, but he was a good man, husband and father. I love you Dad. Your lessons are remembered and appreciated

*Note: I learned in the past two years, my father was on the lumber crew at college. One of his college classmates and good friends from back home told me they would go into the nearby forests and saw down trees a couple of days, then haul them back to campus the next two days. After that, they would saw them up at the sawmill. He said when they were teens, they would work for the power company and go into the swamps of south Georgia and cut down trees. They had waders on to protect them from the elements, which included snakes and alligators.

The more I practice the less I suck (once more from the top)

The following post of five years ago has been revisited as its message is timeless. If you want to get better at something, practicing will help, especially when you practice the right things to improve.

The above phrase was uttered by Joe Walsh, the legendary guitarist with The Eagles and as a solo artist. Walsh was a guest on Daryl Hall’s show “Live at Daryl’s House,” where Hall has a studio in his mountain house and the crew and guest jam together, then cook and eat a meal. It is worth the watch (see a link below).

After jamming on Funk 49, Rocky Mountain Way, and Life’s Been Good along with a few of Hall’s songs, the group sat down for a meal which they prepared with a guest chef. As they spoke of how they got started in the music business, Walsh regaled them with his story.

In essence, Walsh spoke of an early band where “we all sucked.” This brought lots of nods and smiles. Then, he said The Beatles came out and they learned to cover The Beatles’ songs. He said if you knew the songs, you could get gigs and they began to play more. But, they also had to practice more beforehand. Eventually, they got closer to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours of practice, which ironically referenced The Beatles in his book “Outliers.” Gladwell noted The Beatles were sent to Hamburg to learn to play better in front of an audience with seven shows a night, six days a week.

And, he then uttered the above line. The more I practiced, the less I sucked. This succinct lesson applies to far more than playing music or singing. It could be related to golf, tennis, free throws, research, business analysis, teaching, presentations, general medicine, surgery, investing, etc. It could be as basic as driving a car or learning to cook or bake.

If we put in the time, we will suck less. Doing something once, does not make you proficient. It means you did it once. It takes practice to get better at something. Thanks Joe for your music and advice. You no longer suck.

http://www.livefromdarylshouse.com/

Random life lessons from sports or other interests

Whether it is playing an individual or team sport, marching in a band, or working in some group effort, life lessons abound. These lessons may not be earth-moving, but they will serve you well, if you heed them and use them elsewhere. In no particular order:

  • Sporting activities teach us how to handle failure. The best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Think about that. What you do when you fail is of vital importance.
  • Specific to golf, it is a terrific metaphor for life. Golf is a game of managing your mistakes. The worse the golfer, the wider array of outcomes to any given shot. The next shot is of importance, but also managing that six inches of area between your ears. The just completed bad shot needs to shoved out of your mind before the next one.
  • Marching band is hard work and involves a lot of team work. Think about playing an instrument while weaving in and out of patterns avoiding other marchers. And, doing that until you get it right for the day.
  • Any team member knows we each have a role on the team. Not everyone can be star or lead the effort. We just need to roll up our sleeves and do our part. In basketball, teams with too much talent are not necessarily the ones who win. There is only one basketball, so someone has to pass the ball, rebound the ball, play defense,…
  • You cannot change the past, only the present and future. The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser said when he starts out, he wants to throw a no-hitter. Once the opponent gets its first hit, he sets out to throw a one-hitter and so on. He said he was good at putting the past behind him, as I mention about golf in the earlier example.
  • Life is not fair. Neither is sports or music. No matter how hard you practice, there will be some who are more talented than you. So, just do your best, work hard and find a way to contribute. There is an old lesson that the best coaches are the former players who had to work harder to succeed. Think about that.
  • Practice the things you do not do as well, not what you do well. This is a common mistake. Practice is good, but practicing what you need to practice is better. Also, do not shirk on practice efforts. Work hard to improve as if you do not, then you are only cheating yourself.
  • Focus on sustainability as you practice or work out. What are your goals? Then work toward them. Whether it is better chipping, more accurate free throw shooting, or more aerobic exercising, work toward those goals.
  • Play the game the right way treating all participants and team mates the way you want to be treated. Recently, I wrote about Dean Smith teaching his basketball players to thank the person who passed the ball leading to their basket. Also, trash talking serves no constructive purpose. Win and lose with class.

There are so many more life lessons that can be mentioned. Please share your thoughts and other lessons you took away from such interests.

Win or lose with class (a repeat)

This post is a repeat from three years ago, but applies still today. I wrote this originally on the anniversary of 9/11.

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.

What are you going to do when life knocks you down?

This is a repeat of a post from three years ago. In light of the NCAA basketball tournament going on, I thought it might resonate.

A few days ago I wrote a post noting “We are ALL fixer uppers.” I shared a story with my oldest son yesterday about when life knocks you down. This one now seems small, but when it happened to me as a high school senior, it hurt.

I was a varsity basketball player who started for a very good team. I was a co-Captain, but not our best player. I was the one who focused more on defense, rebounding and passing. About 1/3 of the way into the season, I was moved to the second team as we had several pretty good players.

I had two paths in front of me. I could sulk and go throw the motions. Or, I could work hard in practice to make our first team better and try to win back my position or playing time. I chose the latter – life knocked me down and I got up and tried harder.

Everyday in practice scrimmages I would set out to keep our best tall player from scoring. Playing good defense requires effort. It should be noted that our best tall player would only wash his practice jersey periodically, so extra effort was required as I had to stick my nose into a sweaty, smelly jersey as I guarded him.

In short, he got a good practice work out and the coach saw my effort rewarding me ample time as the sixth man, the first substitute. Eventually, I would start again.

I shared this with my son to let him know we all fail. I have failed at other things as well. The key is what we do about it. We can mope or we can get back up, dust ourselves off and keep going. If you do otherwise, you let yourself down. And, you might even let your teammates down.

So, my wish for everyone is if (and when) life knocks you down, ask yourself the question, “what am I going to do about it?” Then, get up, dust yourself off and keep going. Winston Churchill famously said “When you are walking through Hell, you should keep walking.”

Thank the passer – the legacy of Dean Smith (a reminder that the one who gets the glory had help)

This was written following the death of Dean Smith a few years ago. With the NCAA Basketball Tournament back in action after a year off, I thought it would be good to honor him with a repeat of this story on a key legacy.

For those who follow basketball, the legendary basketball coach Dean Smith passed away this weekend. Smith coached the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for many years to great basketball success. He also coached the US Olympics basketball team to the Gold medal when we still used amateur players. A great many things are being said about Smith by his former players, fans and the media. They are all deserved. Last fall, his wife accepted the US Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Smith did much to help young men grow into adults. He taught valuable lessons about basketball, but life as well. He also helped integrate the UNC team with its first African-American player, which is widely known. But, he also helped integrate the Town of Chapel Hill by eating in restaurants with African-Americans. He did not want fanfare over this, as he noted to author John Feinstein, who was told the story by someone else, “doing the right thing should not get publicity.”

Being a former basketball player, I also wanted to share a basketball and life lesson that Smith instilled in his players. This may sound trite at first, but please bear with me. Smith made his players who just scored a basket to acknowledge the person who passed him the ball as they ran back down the court. If you have played basketball, you know that the most fun thing to do is score. Yet, this is a team game, just like life. Someone else saw that you had a better chance to score and passed you the ball.

This sounds so simple, but at the end of the 1970s, the NBA had turned into a game of individual moves to score. This individualism promoted selfish play and the NBA was in trouble. In fact, TV ratings were so down, some of the Championship games were shown on tape delay at 11:30 pm. Think about that. It was not until Magic Johnson and Larry Bird joined the NBA in 1980, that the NBA started a come back. These two players were renowned for their passing ability and seeing a bigger court.

Smith knew this first hand, which is why he had his players acknowledge the passer. Just as in life, most success involves a team effort. Of course, there are stars, but Michael Jordan, who played for Smith, knew he needed a good team to win. So, as a former basketball player who took pride in passing, I admired this trait. It is a good one to take away from the court. I have made this point before about the best leaders – they tend to deflect credit to others. This is a great way to sum up Dean Smith, he deflected credit to others. But, they knew who passed them the ball and are pointing back at him.

Rest in peace Coach Smith.

Two lanterns for the South (and humanity) – a reprise

I wrote this article over four years ago, I felt we needed to escape politics of the day.

Two of my favorite authors have died in the past weeks – Harper Lee and Pat Conroy. They both were lanterns into southern life, showing the world our love, anguish, bigotry, eccentricity, manners and eccentricities. Yet, they showed all of humanity these same attributes and asked us why must we have these barriers to each other?

Harper Lee wrote the best and most impactful novel I have ever read about the south in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She created through Scout’s eyes a hero in her father, Atticus Finch, that she had to learn how great and brave a man could be. She had written a previous manuscript, which was initially not accepted, but it was released this past year as “Go set the Watchman.” I have this book, but have not read it, as it paints a different version of Atticus, a journey I do not want to take.

In her Pulitzer Prize winning Mockingbird, we learn what racism under Jim Crow looks like. She sneaks it up on you, so by the time the reader understands what is going on, they are hooked and ready to take up for Atticus and Tom Robinson, just like Scout and Jem did. I have written before about the novel and movie, but let me repeat my favorite parts. First, when Atticus leaves the court room after losing the case, the minister admonishes Scout to stand like everyone else is because “Your father is passing.”

The other is when the female neighbor is consoling Jem after the loss. She notes “There are people who are put on this earth to do our unpleasant tasks. Your father is one of them.” Yet, that is what makes the book so marvelous, we are seeing Atticus and racism through a child’s lens. And, it also confirms what is noted in the Rogers and Hammerstein “South Pacific” that bigotry has to be carefully taught. Scout and Jem have been taught not to be bigoted.

As for Conroy, he put in words stories and characters who make the south live. Critics have noted that he has written novels around his father being a very abusive man. It is true that many of his novels, like “The Great Santini,”  “The Prince of Tides,” of “South of Broad,” have elements of his father therein, with Santini being a thinly veiled biography. Yet, his books are much more than that.

My first Conroy book was “The Lords of Discipline” which is about a young cadet being asked to look after the first black cadet at a southern military school, which looks and smells like The Citadel, where he went to college. I normally like to read the book before seeing the movie, but the latter lead me to the book. The Bear was the grandfatherly mentor at the school referring to his mentees as “his lambs.” And, he called the lead character Bubba, which is a nickname for brother, usually because a younger sibling could not pronounce brother.

“The Water is Wide” is great auto-biographical read and was made into a movie called “Conrack,” which is how the Daufuskie Island children, who spoke Gullah, pronounced Conroy’s name. He set out to teach these kids how to read and expose them to new things, rather than just shepherd them along. Eventually, he was fired for being rebellious, as the principal did not want these kids getting aspirations.

He also penned “My Losing Season,” which is a true story of his basketball playing days for a very poor and inconsistent coach. Reading this book led me to a realization that I actually saw Conroy play basketball in the mid-1960s, when The Citadel played Jacksonville University. He spoke of the players I saw for the Jacksonville team, as my father would take us to the games and this is where I learned what The Citadel was.

Yet, my favorite is “The Prince of Tides,” which also was made into a movie with Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner and Nick Nolte. The movie was good, but left out the best example of a character in a Conroy novel. The grandfather was so religious, every Easter he would drag a cross around town to suffer like Jesus did. When he got too old to do this, the family put the cross on roller skates, so he could wheel it around. That is classic eccentricity.

If you have not read them, please give them a chance. The movies are excellent, but the books have so much more to offer. These two will be missed.

Why is the English language so difficult?

In one of life’s ironies, the citizens of the United States speak an Americanized version of the English language, yet so few Americans bother to learn a second language. It has been argued that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, yet because of the exploration of the English and the success of two large English speaking economies, people feel the need to learn it.

I inherited from my mother a love of Crossword and other word (and number) puzzles. As I wait for my computer to boot up, I will pick up a pocket dictionary close by and just leaf through it, testing myself on words that I may use or need. I do not prefer to know arcane words, as using them will be more pretentious than communicative. There are some editorial writers who prefer to show how smart they are rather than make the reader understand what they are saying.

But, why does English have to be so difficult? Here a few case in points.

Ingenious vs. Ingenuous – the first word means clever or resourceful, while the second word means naive or artless. Only one letter divides an insult from a compliment.

Impunity vs. Impugn – the first word means free from harm or punishment, while the second word means to challenge as false or questionable.

Reproach vs. Rapprochement – the first word means to blame or rebuke, while the second word means an establishing of friendly relations.

Glib vs. Glum – while these words sound like they are similar, the first word means fluent or a good talker of banter, while the latter means gloomy. I have often said glib is one word that means the opposite of what you think.

Curate vs. Curator vs. Curative – the first word means a clergyman helping a vicar, while the second word means a manager of a museum, while the third means having the power to cure or offer remedy.

While I was compiling these words, I was reminded of the great college and NBA basketball player David Robinson. Robinson attended the Naval Academy and served his country after his graduation. A very smart man embodied this 6’11” basketball player. When a reporter asked him why he was good at blocking shots, he said he did not want others driving the lane with “impunity.” The reporters had to go find a dictionary.

What are some of your favorite, confusing English words? Before I leave, my wife and I watch the show “Law and Order – Special Victims Unit.” At the introduction to the show, the narrator mentions the special unit that handles crimes that are “heinous.” Now that is a word that means what it sounds like.

Stress is a significant influence

Stress is an obstacle for us all, most often being harmful to performance whether it is a big test, big game or big presentation. It impacts both your memory and confidence causing self-doubt.

John Smoltz, the retired baseball pitcher was known for his ability to perform well in big games. But, he would tell folks he was not elevating his game, he was able to perform at the same level, as the stress made opponents play worse. This is a reason coaches like to replicate stressful game situations in practice to prepare players, but it is hard to emulate actual game stress.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his latest book, “Talking to Strangers,” how stress affects people’s ability to remember things. One of the subjects he delved into is PTSD due to torture made it a less effective means to get information from prisoners. A famous terrorist who planned the 9/11 attacks revealed over thirty pieces of information with torture, but most of it was fabrication. About 1/2 of the pieces of infotmation occurred after the terrorist was jailed. He would say anything to stop the torture. This is a one reason former Senator and Vietnam POW John McCain was not too keen on the US torturing people – the other is torture demeans the image of the country doing it.

While I have written before about stress, I repeat it now after the news Brionna Taylor was killed in her own home when a botched middle-of-the-night police raid ended up with her being shot eight times. A no-knock warrant executed during the night seems to heighten stress of all concerned. She is dead and her parents are owed answers.

So, if we can minimize the stress through planning, training, and mitigation, performance will be improved. And, maybe lives will be saved.

Did I tell you about the time…?

We all need some outlets from the news of the day, the Coronavirus. Words like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing” are in many discussions. So, with a Thank-God-its-Friday sense of purpose, here are few things I want to share.

Did I tell you about the time…

– I called the Senator’s office and shared my concern with the staff member and learned I was speaking with the wrong Senator’s office? Oops.

– I said to a small gathering in front of our Health and Wellness coordinator, that we need to do these Mobile Mammogram screenings for our employees to honor “Breast Awareness Month” in October. She corrected me saying that would be “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Oops.

– I watched a colleague walk into the wrong gender bathroom by mistake at a client’s manufacturing plant only to see a line of three women looking puzzled as he walked out? He said he thought it was pretty progressive move to have a tampon machine in a unisex bathroom (this was 1985). Oops.

– I listened to a colleague recounting small talk with a female prospective client who had picture of Don Knotts in his Barney Fife deputy uniform in her office; after multiple probing questions he learned that she just had a crush on Barney Fife? Oh my. Don’t tell Thelma Lou.

– I watched a colleague try to take a charge from an opponent during a league game for our company basketball team; he did not want to get hurt, so he started falling before he was hit and slowly fell to his backside chuckling all the way down? Ouch.

– I almost fell on my backside at our wedding when we were lighting the unity candle and stepped wrong off a step, catching myself without too much notice? Almost oops.

– I did fall on my backside at a community play, when we returned to our seats after intermission, and my folding chair back leg was off the two-feet high choral riser; as I sipped my wine, my first thought was my date was going forward, but it was me falling slowly backwards to a loud crash? Ouch, indeed. My ego was more bruised than my tail bone.

– I was working with my son last week to pull up some stumps from trees that we had cut up after they fell; as we pulled the stump as I squatted using my weight, the stump freed itself and landed me on my backside. Oops.

We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and these events. My bride is still my wife. The date went out with me again. The Health and Wellness coordinator and I still laugh about the story. I reminded the faux charge basketball player of the story when we met up again after twenty years to laughter. The Senator staff member and I had a good chuckle and I am sure she shared the story. And, my son, my wife and I laughed about my stump removal techniques.

Have a great weekend. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Especially when you fall on your backside.