Learning to Cry Uncle Humbling

This week I believe I finally fell into the category of ‘wuss’.

For those of you who are not particularly familiar with the schoolyard definition, ‘wuss’ is generally not a term of endearment. As a matter of fact, the words – and its colorful synonyms – are even used in the adult world.

“What happened to you?” my wife asked the other day.

“Looks like I twisted my back,” I said.

People twist their backs all the time – many times in the middle of performing glamorous or dramatic situations. Maybe while running from a burning house with a box filled with dozens of kittens. Others while lifting an overturned tanker on the side of an interstate while rescuers race to the scene.

Me, I twisted my back making the bed.

Talk about a story you don’t want to tell your friends over a few beers.

Around our home, my mechanical skills are legendary.

“Let me ask,” said an electrician once to my wife after being called to our home, “did your husband happen to install this ceiling fan?”

Even with instructions, some of us are better off not owning tools.

Last week I found myself with a broken yard blower. The pull cord handle somehow pulled off my nearly new, bright red unit.

After a quick trip to the hardware store I picked up a $6 part and began to tear down the unit.

When you find yourself searching through the house for a simple screwdriver, you could consider this an indication you might be over your head. My dad always told me true mechanics protect their tools like family. Well, I found the lost ‘member of the family’ upstairs my wife’s laundry room. Darn kid must’ve wandered off.

Within a few minutes I’d removed the protective housing and placed the screws in an orderly fashion so I might remember how to reassemble it afterwards. I then began to carefully remove the round wheel where the remnant of the white cord was anchored.

“Hey,” I said to myself, “I can do this.”

Well, an hour later I found myself replacing my tools and lifting the half repaired unit in the back of our SUV for delivery to the nearest small motor repair shop.

A while later my wife found me stewing in my misadventure. No matter who you are, these things can eat at you. Egos are particularly sensitive on the male side about such things.

She then uttered a few words of encouragement, words laced with love and support.

“Honey,” she said, “don’t worry, you can still put air in the tires on the car.”

Suddenly I found myself being transported back decades to the days of elementary school, the days of when we all began to understand the power of words as weapons.

But today, as my lower back is barking at me after me making the bed and my blower is across town sitting on the bench of a local small engine repair shop, I know when concede the ‘uncle’.

– 30 –

You’re Crazy — Just Ask Someone

The only people in the world who aren’t crazy are those people you don’t know yet.

I think about this phrase quite a bit lately – not to say I live in a world of crazy people, but it helps give me perspective.

In general our society tends to flock towards hero-worshipping, making decisions about another person based on large, broad-based assumptions. And only when we peer through the veneer do we see imperfections hidden below the surface. And then, of all things, we act shocked and surprised at what we discover.

In reality we need to lighten up on each other. It is the very fact we are all so different that makes life so interesting. People are as unique as their individual fingerprints.

I remember growing up in a world where one man collected hubcaps to the point it filled his house and backyard. Another tried to build a boat in his backyard so large Noah would’ve been proud. I even know fully-grown adults who wear uniforms from the 1960’s television show ‘Star Trek’.

But believe it or not, you can pass any of these people at the grocery store or sit beside them on the church pew and never suspect their unique interests. They all put their socks on the inside of their shoes like the rest of us and will cheerfully return a ‘hello’ should you offer.

But in the end, we are all crazy to someone else. Yes, you. Yes, me.

Think about it – and someone you closely know verses someone you might only know in an almost passing manner. Odds are, the person you know the best is also the one who most likely to be a bit on the interesting side of life.

For me jumping on my skateboard and dropping down into a half-pipe is still one of my favorite things in the world to do. And I wear a suit and tie most days.

To many in society, tattoos still carry a stigma reflective of a time long gone. While years ago tattoos tended to mainly be a badge in time representing a tour of duty in the military or to link one to another, today’s world is filled with those embrace tattoos for the art of self-expression. Today the art of the tattoo is in fact, art. I would imagine if you peered beneath the fabric of a few $1,000 custom suits you’d find a world of individuals who choose to privately express themselves with ink. And yes, these very same people are in your carpool line, donating to charity and raising families – just like you.

Let’s learn to resist judging each other for our individuality. People are like a giant pot of gumbo – a mixture of a little of this and that. I mean, who really wants to eat an endless diet of tasteless chicken broth?

Call me crazy, but I like mine with spices and hot sauce on top.

– 30 –

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Recently I found myself at the center of the Earth.

“Dad,” my 21-year old son said the morning after we arrived in San Francisco for a weekend visit, “How do you feel about driving out to the Silicon Valley?”

Ah, I thought to myself, Mecca for the digital generation. Home to Apple, Google, Facebook, and literally countless other technology firms who continue to create the new economy. Drawing from a community rich in engineering and a rebellious streak, the region is in many ways the new Detroit – a powerful economic engine single-handedly shaping the world.

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

The next morning we found ourselves driving down the interstate as my son read directions from the app on his phone. The irony of us driving to the center of a world where the dreams of smartphone were born was not lost on me.

Within a few minutes of exiting the interstate, his phone led us to the Google campus. Talk about going to the Land of Oz – as we entered the grounds, we drove through soccer fields, softball fields, and waking trails. As we parked the main office, we found not only multi-colored bikes provided for employees and visitors to explore the grounds, but giant statues representing operating systems. In front of a 12-foot Android statue sat a melting snowman – a leftover from the day before when Google trucked in snow for employees to build snowmen and toss snowballs at each other.

Walking the grounds we found beautiful sculpture gardens, a free haircut station and friendly employees (one who invited us in for lunch). The environment was a surreal as anything I’d ever visited.

But the experience did not end there. A short while later my son’s phone led us to the campus of Facebook. We were welcomed inside, offered bottled water and invited to look around. While we were asked not to take photos, I will always remember seeing a giant whiteboard wall with literally thousands of Post-It notes with ideas written down on them waiting for development.

Finally we found ourselves arriving an address better known in the tech world than that of the White House: 1 Infinity Drive – or home to Apple, Inc. Standing in the parking lot, I watched as tourists captured photos of themselves standing next to the white horizontal entrance sign. This, for many, was an iconic symbol rivaling Disneyland or the New York City skyline. And like any good tourists, my son and I did the same.

As the day ran out of hours, my son and I followed his phone to the across ridge of mountains and back down to a two-lane road which ran alongside the ocean. There, standing on the sand with waves crashing in front of me, I found myself trying to process and digest all I’d seen and experienced over the afternoon.

In one afternoon, I realized, I’d traveled to the center of the Earth. Arguably, this relatively small patch of real estate is now the most powerful and influential collection of companies on the planet. Measure by lives it touches each day. Measure in total market capitalization value. Measure by the sheer volume of who’s who of company’s signs you see outside the car windows as you drive down the tree-lined streets. Hands down, there is no other region like it on the planet.

As we drove back to the hotel realized I’d just seen not only the present, but also a possible glimpse of the future – a world moving towards living and communicating without regard to man-made borders. If this is indeed the future, I’ve great faith for our little blue planet.

– 30 –

Storms Threaten Security of Life Raft

 

Tornado warnings carry an entirely new level of tension when you can’t see your children with your own eyes.

Last night, like a good part of the country, my wife and I watched as dangerous storms raced across the county – many leaving wide paths of destruction behind.

Only last night, she and I sat alone on the sofa knowing both of our children were not under the same roof. One, hours away at college and living on his own, the other, an hour away with a group of friends. As parents, our protective instincts set off loud buzzers inside of us. But for once we found ourselves without anyone to protect.

What an odd, uncomfortable feeling. Your mind races – generally in the wrong direction – as you want to reach out to them, telling to head for cover.

The television weathercaster only increased our collective anxiety by placing a red box over our community showing us in the direct pathway for an oncoming tornado-producing storm.

Yes, this was our first taste of what we might soon find ourselves experiencing as empty nesters. And you can file this one under ‘no fun’. 

As a parent, we’ve all developed our ‘safety plan’ – taking comfort in knowing we all know what to do and where to meet when dangerous weather visits. My wife and I each playing different roles, would go through the house getting everyone downstairs to a hall bathroom. When we’d all meet in the cramped space, she’d have blankets, flashlights, shoes and a few other emergency items stashed in the corner. If nothing else, all of us being together made us feel better.

But last night, with hundreds of miles between one of us and knowing our other was with friends in a nearby county, we felt uncomfortably out of control.

We all raise our children to be good adults, trusting they will make the right decisions in the face of danger. But at one point as a parent, it is no longer your place to pick up the phone and call out orders from your old structure. Sometimes geography interrupts, other times allowing them the opportunity to grow steps in the way. Either way, I can’t imagine parents ever get comfortable with this this new structure.

While I know the time has passed, some of my favorite memories include our family coming together when weather swirled and pounded outside our four walls. Flashes of thunder and lightening followed by the sound of small feet racing down the hallway and leaping into the air and landing in our bed are one of the greatest moments of life as a parent. For, even if just for a few moments, everyone in one bed feels as if you’re safe on a protective life raft. And with each additional flash of lightening you feel everyone instinctively inch closer as they wait for thunder to physically crash through the walls an into the bedsprings.

In many ways, this one of the moments you understand what parenting is all about – putting your fears aside and playing the protector even if you, too, are scared inside.

But last night, as dangerous storms raced towards us, there were only two of us on the once comfortable ‘life raft’ of safety. What I wonder is will we ever be able to unwind our instincts? If not, this could be a long ride. 

– 30 –