The Coolest Generation

Today’s society seems obsessed with putting helpful labels on each other. In recent years historians have made a sport of naming certain generations so we could better appreciate one’s proper place in history.

We have the Lost Generation, describing those who fought in World War I and the Silent Generation, those born during the Great Depression but too young to serve in World War II.

In 1998 Journalist Tom Brokaw took the naming game upon himself when he penned the blockbuster book titled The Greatest Generation, which celebrates the legacy of those who served and sacrificed in World War II.

Since then we’ve christened their children with probably the most famous of names – the Baby Boomers. But then, as exciting as Baby Boomers sounded, we went on a lame streak based on what we could easily call the Alphabet Soup generations (Generation X, Y, and Z).

This officially stops now. From now I’m herby claiming the title of the Coolest Generation for all my friends and me.

Yesterday while walking along the beach with my wife we passed a group of young men lounging (fishing, talking, watching the scenery) when we couldn’t help but notice music from the classic rock band Boston blasting in the background. Considering this song hit the charts in 1976, this is the equivalent of using nearly 40-year-old music as the backdrop for your day at the beach. I don’t know about you, but this did not happen when I was in my twenties.

Add that to the fact a few minutes later I watched a 70-year old man wade in from the surf with his grey beard contrasting a black t-shirt promoting the Beatles. Later that afternoon, while walking to dinner, I spotted a woman old enough to have teenage grandchildren sporting a concert t-shirt from The Police’s 1983 Synchronicity tour.

Then came the man taking his grandkids for ice cream wearing a tan concert t-shirt from the current tour of one of the 1980’a most successful arena bands, Foreigner.

The simple fact is, people of my generation saw all the coolest bands. Never has a single generation spawned a sound that became the welcomed soundtrack of future generations like we did from the 1970’s to early 1990’s.

We are quite simply the coolest generation of all time.

Several months ago my son came home from college excited about an artist he’d recently run across.

“Dad,” he said, “did you ever listen to a guy called Bob Dylan?”

Granted, my generation, the now aptly titled Coolest Generation, did not change the world with technology as our children are doing nor did we create world peace. But we did invent the soundtrack of music for generations to come.

This year the Rolling Stones will celebrate 50 years of changing the musical landscape. Bob Dylan is now 71-years old and the Allman Brothers are still selling out venues around the world.

Yes, I saw everything from The Who to the Ramones live in concert. I’ve even stood near the front of the stage before Bruce Springsteen hit the big time.

So with apologies to Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven, you may be the king of the classics, but those of us who grew up with a front row seat to what was to become classic rock, we are the coolest generation of all time.

– 30 –

Baseball Retirement Stirs Emotions

Recently I was reminded why I love the game of baseball like no other.

Last week marked the voluntary retirement of a 34-year old pitcher who worked his innings out of the bullpen as a middle relief pitcher. Not an especially glamorous role for a pitcher – particularly one who most considered a first ballot entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame only a few short years ago.

The name of Kerry Wood might or might not mean anything to you. But if you witnessed his final outing – fittingly a strike out of a right-handed batter for the cross town rival Chicago White Sox – you couldn’t help be moved by witnessing the deep bond between players and fans as he left the field of play for the final time.

You see baseball, for all its oddities and rituals, treats its players like no one other sport – and it is a mutual feeling between players and fans.

Statistics will tell you Kerry Wood accumulated a mediocre won and loss record of 86 – 75. His lifetime earned run average finished with a respectable 3.67 while pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and a short stint with the New York Yankees.

Kerry Wood, knowing his career was coming to a close, turned down larger payday offers elsewhere in order to return to his roots in Chicago and finish where he’d started.

In baseball, this is called a ‘hometown discount’ – foregoing more money to finish where you wish to play out your time.

But what the raw statistics won’t tell you is why Kerry Wood is so loved by not only by the fans behind the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field, but baseball fans around the world.

Kerry Wood, quite simply, was the greatest pitcher on the planet for a much too brief time in history.

With an arm like whip, his fastball repeatedly nudged 100 miles per hour as it blurred past batters. His pitches, so laced with hop and fury, he once struck out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. He also became the fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts.

Off the field, he was a gentleman and worked tirelessly for charities raising millions in his beloved Chicago.

But then, like others, injuries rudely interrupted what many thought could be the best pitcher in a generation – or longer.

Repeated injuries led to invasive surgeries and prolonged absences from the mound. His fastball, still clocking over 95 miles per hour the day he retired, found itself too often crossing the plate without the hop and movement needed to keep batters guessing.

As happens in baseball, sometimes a change of scenery is prescribed to jump-start a career. Kerry Wood soon found himself on the road playing with teams looking for a hired gun. But eventually, time and the physical limitations began to eat at the once great pitcher.

They say elephants will march for hundreds of miles to finish life in a place they consider home. Baseball, in yet another oddity, sees this regularly.

On a sunny May afternoon Kerry Wood calmly announced to the Cub fans that his next outing would be his last.

There was no outcry, no finger-pointing. Everyone understood. Even elephants instinctively know when it is time to move on.

With his final pitch from the mound at Wrigley Field, Kerry Wood earned strikeout number 1,582.

With an odd sense in the air, everyone watched at the manager stepped up from the dugout and onto the field.

Teammates slowly walked to the mound as the manager asked for the ball. Kerry Wood, as he’d done for most of his life, obeyed and handed over the ball. As he stepped off the field the fans – a mixture of both Cubs and White Sox fans – stood in unison to emotionally applaud a man of the likes they knew they might never see again in their lifetime.

But the salute was not limited to the stands as player for the cross-town rivals also stepped forward to applaud as Kerry Woods made his final step across the white chalk line.

And then, as if to remind us all about what is important in life, Kerry Wood’s young son burst up onto the field and ran into the emotional embrace of his father’s arms.

One day the retirement of Kerry Wood will be nothing but a footnote in baseball history. But for those of us who understand what we witnessed on the day of his retirement, we will always remember why we love this game like no other.

– 30 –

Worldly Lessons for Graduates

(Please note, this column originally published several years ago when my son graduated high school. Being as I didn’t really write this — the contents are contributed from friends and family are generally timeless — I believe it is worth sharing with yet another class of graduates. Congratulations!)

With the end of this school year my son will graduate from high school and move onto another stage in life in which I’ll most likely play a contributing role at best. No longer will we share the day’s events over the dinner table or just hang out on the front step talking about how to deal with a troubling situation he is contemplating. My relationship will be transitioning from parent to consultant in many aspects. In the end, the decisions – and results – will be his and his alone.

While I’m accepting of this development, I realize as a parent you’ll never feel your work is complete – as if there is always going to be an urge for a “just one more thing I want to share” moment.

This brings me to this week’s column. The random lessons below – written in no particular order – are a culmination from not only my life, but from those people I value in my life most: friends and family.  Wednesday afternoon I posted this idea for a column on the social-networking site Facebook and within hours received nearly two-dozen individuals contributing to this piece – and therein lies the credit for the wide and varied wisdom. This is, for all intents and purposes, a virtual conversation with people around the country with graduating high school students.

So as yet another high school class approaches graduation, here are a few final thoughts from those who’ve been there.

The “one more thing….” list:

If you can only afford to replace two tires on your car, put the new ones on front.

Always do your best – especially when you think no one will notice. They do.

Telling the truth is always easier to remember.

When using a wrench: lefty loosey, righty tighty.

Take action on things when you first think of them – time has a way of getting away from you.

Remember to tell important people in your life you love them regularly.

Regardless of what you hear, God does exist and will be there when you need him most. Really.

Change your oil every 3,500 miles and rotate your tires every other time.

The tip of a shoelace is named an anglet.

Being right isn’t always the most important thing in life.

Moderation is usually the best choice.

You’re not likely to be the smartest person in the room – so don’t act like it.

Counting to ten before you get angry works.

What goes around comes around.

Never SPEND more than you MAKE.

Don’t eat yellow snow.

If you don’t make mistakes you don’t make anything.

You will experience failure, the key is to always fail forward…never repeat a failure

Don’t stand up in a canoe

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Never underestimate the power of kindness to make a difference in the lives of others.

Treat everyone like you would want to be treated!

Call your momma.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.

You need to learn how to laugh at yourself.

Your beliefs determine your actions; think seriously about what you believe.

Always expect that others can change; it is what you would want others to believe of you as well.

You are entitled to your opinion; the world is not obligated to hear it.

If you think you can or you think you can’t – you’re probably right.

You want it, earn it.

Remember you to listen more than you speak – that’s why you have two ears and only one mouth.

Everything is sales. EVERYTHING.

Learn how to prioritize.

Great love and great achievements involve great risks.

God first, others second, me third…a hard one.

Believe “failure is not an option” and you will be a success at everything.

Worry is like a rocking chair: it takes up a lot of energy, but doesn’t get you anywhere.

No man ever lay on his deathbed wishing he’d spent more time at the office.

– 30 –

Toy Propellers And Graceful Exits

I may miss my mother, but I see her everyday.

One of the best things about having children is discovering little flashes of their grandparents in their faces or personalities.

My mother was a nut. For her, and her three sisters, life was one big walk though an amusement park. They never had much growing up – that is if you measured life in material objects. But on the other side of the scorecard, the place where you find love, respect and knowing you were never alone, she did better than most. For her, life in the early part of the 20th century was one of difficult economic times, world wars and political uncertainty.

But then there was a stream running behind the little stone cottage where she and her sisters would spend their time. I guess being rich in imagination and never knowing you were poor helped her forge a character of optimism and a disposition for always looking for the good in life.

My mother never took herself too seriously. Life, in her eyes, was much to short to get caught up in the busybody lifestyle or worrying too much about what others might think. If she felt strongly about something, well, that was it.

I remember a story once about when she went to visit an elementary school my brother and I would be attending after a move across state. Dressed in a colorful dress and heels, she strolled through the halls looking into each room and sizing up where she’d be sending her two boys during the day. She must’ve visited with a dozen people that day – from administrators to teachers. Only later, when leaving the building, did she realize she’d toured the entire building with a plastic toy propeller twirling in the wind from the back seat of her dress. Apparently either my brother or I’d left a wooden airplane in the front seat and she’d inadvertently sat on top of it when she went to visit the school.

I only tell this story because I know if my mother were alive today, she’d tell you the same story, laughing all the way. That is just how she was.

Today I see my mom everyday in her 17-year old granddaughter. Our daughter’s confidence and self-assured disposition is exactly of my mom with the overriding attitude of don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve seen our daughter trip and fall in the most unexpected moments to only bounce back up and leave a room with a brilliantly disarming smile silently saying “I meant to do that”.

Not once, but so many times the past seventeen years I could never hope to keep count of her graceful falls and exits.

My mother’s granddaughter is strong-willed, free-spirited and always going to land on her feet with a smile. Although the two never met, there is now doubt they are cut from the same piece of wild, crazy and sometimes irreverent bolt of cloth.

Today marks the thirty-fourth year without my mother in my life. But through the magic of genetics, she’ll always be near as my daughter.

– 30 –

Living LIfe Requires Effort

Truly living life is not for the passive.

The other day an out of town friend of mine and I were trying to work out dates together for a weekend this summer.

“My summer is literally booked on weekends between now and August,” he wrote.

Although he lives a few states away, he and I do a good job of staying in touch and calling each other periodically. With the both of us with kids in the throes of teenage life, we’ve a lot to share with each other. Sometimes you just need a friend to talk to.

While he and continue to compare schedules, I know we’ll both find a way to make this work.

Recently, in the past several years that is, I’ve come to realize life cannot be fully experienced on autopilot. We each get seven days in each week and 24 hours in each day. How we choose to spend them is what makes the difference between living life and marking time.

Someone once told me if something is truly important to you, you’ll make the time to get it done or make it happen. Although I was younger when he shared this with me, as I’ve grown older, I increasingly find myself truly understanding what my friend was sharing with me. While we tend to placate ourselves by pushing off many decision or actions with the justification of “we’ll get around to them later”, this formula is flawed.

Life, to our rude awakening, does not offer an endless pool of tomorrows.

My younger brother lives several times zones away. He’s truly busy and to a certain extents, so am I. But for the past decade we’ve tried to make sure we were able to see each other and spend time together each year. And as time continues to march along, I find myself literally aching to spend more and more time with him. Sometimes I feel as if there is a powerful magnet pulling me across three time zones – and this quiet, gnawing feeling refuses to be satisfied.

The term ‘living life’ places the emphasis on the first word – living. And ‘living’ life is an active process, filled with the challenge of making difficult decisions or commitments you could easily justify pushing off to another day. But truly understanding everyone’s pool of tomorrows is limited with each day the sun rises in our existence changes our perception of how we may choose to spend our personal time allotment.

Maybe you love to travel and have long list of places you’d like to see. Or maybe there are some friends right around the corner whom you’d like to spend more time with. The solution, surprisingly simple: do something about it. Dial a number, drop an email, or grab lunch together. Truly living live is all about investing your personal time in order to build a wealthy life unable to be measured by dollars and cents.

Learning how to live a full life truly takes effort – but the payoff can make all the difference in the world.

– 30 –