Black, White or Gray. Which would you choose?

Throughout my life I have always been worried when I don’t know what’s coming next. However, in raising the two of you I have become more comfortable with that because kids are about the most unpredictable things in the world.

And puppies…puppies are unpredictable too.  Your new puppy Remi has reminded me of that. You go 16 years without a puppy and you completely forget how hard they are to deal with. Thankfully your mom is about as good as they get when it comes to dog whisperers.

People refer to things being black and white when they are clear. People, including me, love clarity. A clear direction, clear steps on how to get where you’re going, clear plans to how to overcome obstacles that might come up and a clear finishing point. However, life only has one ultimate finish, death. Even death to some is just another journey’s beginning.

When things are not black and white, people refer to them being gray. The definition of gray is a color between black and white. While I enjoy black and white I know that things truly move forward and I have been happiest in my life in the gray.

The two of you make me happier than anything else in this world. You are the grayest of the gray. I have no idea what you are going to do next much less in your lives. What I know you have is potential.

Gray while uncomfortable is where all potential lies. This is true in almost every aspect of life. I not only hope for you that you become comfortable with the gray, but learn to embrace it and seek it out. Expand your horizons and never embrace clarity.

Seek adventure. Seek to always be better. Be better than you are today, tomorrow and ever day.


 

 

 

I Learned Everything I Need to Know From Caesar – Love Changes Things

While we would have loved to bring Caesar home with us that first night we saw him, he was too young to take from his beagle mom yet.  It broke my heart leaving him know that his brothers and sisters would probably continue to get the best of him in the weeks to come. However, we knew that we would be back to rescue him.

In the weeks to come your Mom and I had lots of discussions about what was going to happen and how we were going to take care of Caesar. However, when you love someone as much as we loved Caesar a lot of those plans and rules that we made got bent or broke.  They started with the car ride home.

We had decided we were going to crate train and that Caesar would ride in the car in a crate because that was supposed to be the safest way to do it.  Almost before we even got out of Litchfield on the hour ride home Caesar was on your Mom’s lap in the passengers seat because it broke our hearts to listen to him cry inside the crate.

He would rarely ride in the crate in the car and he definitely spent more time in our laps in the front seats or buckled in his harness in the back seat than he spent in a crate in the car.

We had also decided that when we got home Caesar’s crate would be downstairs in the living room because we knew he would cry and we knew it was best for his house training to stay in the crate.  The first night he was in the house the crate made its way up to our bedroom.

In fact while he was in his crate being trained, until he fell asleep or whenever he would wake up one of us would lay on the floor next to his crate with our fingers inside the crate to keep him from crying and comfort him.

We had decided when Caesar was trained that he would lay on the dog bed next to our bed because their was no way he was sleeping in our bed.  He not only slept in our bed, but he created the standard H position and created a whole other set of challenges.

He not only slept in bed in between your Mom and I.  He slept under the covers, but only until he got overheated and would come huffing and puffing out from under the covers.  That would last until he was ready to go back under where he required one of us to lift up the covers so he could go back under the covers until he got overheated……Wash, rinse, repeat.

We broke a lot of the rules and plans when it came to Caesar and we did the same for both of you.  Because when you love something as much as we loved Caesar and as much as we love you it does not always lead to logic.

Balance

“At the end of your life no one that matters will care how well you managed a balance sheet, but the balance you managed to maintain in your life will have mattered to them.”

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite day of the year, because it isn’t about presents and over-commercialization seems to have not found a way to ruin it yet.

This year more than ever I have a lot to be thankful for, which I will get to more in upcoming posts.

However, my list everyday and magnified on my favorite day is my thanks for my family, friends and my health. My life is full just with these three.

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The Garden of Eden: More Hometown Memories

I remember two welcome signs from the town where I grew up.

The first said, “Welcome to the home town of baseball star Jim Gantner.” Most people say, “Jim who?”

The second said, “Welcome to the Garden of Eden.” A biblical reference to some, but for me the bible is not exactly where my first thought goes when I think of good ole, Eden, WI.

I have already chronicled some of the outstanding moments and my most trafficked post to date, A Kick to the Nuts.

But when I think of Eden as I do every once in a while, the first memory that comes to mind is the canning company on the other side of the tracks from where I lived.

(As a side bar, I still don’t know if I grew up on the right or wrong side of the tracks.)

I think of how during the canning season I would race my friends on our bikes through the canning factory as the machines were running and the workers were working. Some of the workers got a kick out of it and others would be yelling four letter words which I was very familiar with by the age of…….well, since I can remember.

I think of how sometimes I would use those race routes to ride away from bullies and my absolute favorite time when I took to the railroad tracks coming out of the canning company and got going as fast as I could, hopped the rail with my bike and came to a complete stop with a bully in tow.

He tried to stop and hit the rail and went skidding on the tracks between the two rails. The chase ended at that moment and he never bothered me again, I also never told the story to anyone until now.

The other things I think of are:

  • Collecting cans and literally hanging out after the evening softball games so that when the players finished their beers they would throw them to all of us kids that were collecting cans and watch us scramble to get them. It probably was fun for them, but for us it was our weekly allowance they were toying with as almost every Friday Dad took us to the Golden Goat, automated recycling machine, to turn the aluminum cans into quarters.
  • Being an altar boy at the local church and having the responsibility after the last mass on Sunday to get the priest his whiskey and water after he polished off the jug of wine for the day. The priest was a great guy, but boy did he like his alcohol.
  • Having the local Sheriff come to our house after someone reported that I was running around town with a gun pretending to shoot it. I was actually doing it and it was a toy gun.
  • Not having a football team so having to have at first, my Grandpa Feyen pick me up and drive me 10 miles to practice everyday the first year I played.
  • Playing baseball, kickball, tetherball and basketball all in our own driveway and yard.  I especially remember playing basketball and how no one would want to play against me in our driveway because I had the slope and the height of that driveway mastered.
  • Sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling down at Fireman’s park. Where I also started the trash in the bathroom on fire and proceeded to get busted by the fire chief who was one of your Pappa Jim’s friends and a fellow firefighter. .
  • Driving the snowmobile during the winter and getting it stuck once when I wasn’t supposed to have it out. Someone helped me get it unstuck so I thought I had gotten away with it. Unfortunately that person knew Pappa Jim too and I was grounded from the snowmobile for a couple of weeks.

There’s more and I’ll probably come back to them again, but the last couple lead me to a lesson I kind of learned living in Eden.

Everyone knew everyone and there really was not any getting away with anything. You might actually think you got away with something, but it would come back around eventually.

I think that has stuck with me a bit. A little over two years ago I took you to your first football game to watch one of my friend’s sons play. I snapped a picture of you watching, a picture that is mostly of your head, but you can still see him on the field.

I gave him that picture as a graduation present with a note that said something like:

Whether you know it or not someone is always watching you, so you should always act like you care that they do.

In My Humble Opinion

So another thing that my Grandpa B once told me, but not nearly as often as his lesson on learning, is, “Anyone who gives you a humble opinion is full of shit.”

I didn’t quite understand that until one day I got a three page message from an engineer stating that he disagreed with a direction that we were taking a product and ended the message IMHO followed by his name.

IMHO = In My Humble Opinion

At that point I got it.

My opinion is that everyone is entitled to their opinion.

I also have the opinion that everyone should be required to hear everyone else’s opinion out.

Finally, I hold the opinion that every heard opinion does not necessarily get qualified as having value.

In conclusion, I firmly believe (an internally held opinion) anyone who has an opinion by definition is not humble.

At least that was Grandpa’s opinion and I share it with him. No humility involved.

Perception is Reality

The person who I am is not the person you think I am.

That pretty much says it all, but it’s a fact of life that I believe.

Trying to align perception and reality is a tiring task. So, I have chosen to focus my energy as much as I can on being me and not trying to shape who others think that is.

I am 6’2″ and weigh close to 300 pounds, I have a loud speaking voice and when I believe in something strongly I will hold that belief until someone convinces me it is wrong.

That gets interpreted by some as me being an arrogant bully. That’s their perception and they have the right to believe that.

I was told by my first professional mentor that if you’re not trying to eliminate the need for your job or the job’s of the people on your team, you’re probably not doing the right thing. The ideal outcome is that if you work that way that you will increase you and your team’s value to the organization through the ability of your team to contribute incrementally to the organization.

The less than ideal outcome is that you end up eliminating your own job or your team’s jobs. Unfortunately that might be what happens, but it doesn’t make it the wrong thing to do.

This gets interpreted by some as me not having respect for the work they do or the value they currently bring. I have spent a ton of hours explaining to people that is not the case and that the intent is to increase their value constantly.

Not everyone sees that and some don’t want that because they are happy doing what they currently do.

I’ll continue to invest the time explaining that to people because I care. Regardless of what I say, some people’s perception of me will never change.

Some people know me for the person who I think I am.

I think I am a physically big individual with a metaphorically big heart who cares a lot about what other people think.

I really want people to be happy.

I like to debate, but hate to argue.

I am driven to make everything I touch better.

I love my family and friends first, my work is a distant second and myself a close third.

So maybe who I think I am is who you think I am, but I never percieve that to be the case in anyone.

That may be my unfortunate reality.

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The Freeze, The Fall, The Reflection

I have two very vivid memories of my grandfathers. They are vivid because of how much they scared me at the time. But over time I have come to treasure them as much as I feared them and I will never forget them.

When I was fourteen years old I got a babysitting gig from my Grandma B. She had just been hospitalized for pneumonia and she called and asked if I could stay with Grandpa.

I really knew my Grandpa B in part for his World War II stories; how he waded through water filled with what he thought was brush but was actually snakes, how he sat on a mountain top and could make out a flash from one of the nuclear bombs that hit Japan, how he traded spots with someone in line when they were being assigned to Europe or the Pacific, how he did a USO show with a group of guys in black socks and tutus (I actually have that picture, because it was given to me after Grandma passed).

I also knew Grandpa B as a guy who loved writing, making art, buying silly stuffed animals, watching the weather channel and watching movies about world war II primarily to point out how inaccurate and falsely full of bravado they were.

But that winter when I watched him I had one of my most vivid memories of him. He told me he was taking the dog for a walk and he left the house. I watched him as he got out the door and went to the end of the driveway and he stopped.

After a minute I was wondering if he was second guessing whether he had the energy, after five the background noise of the TV faded for me and he still had not moved, after ten and still no movement I decided to go fill up my coffee mug (Coffee was like water in Grandma and Grandpa B’s House), after twenty my coffee cup was empty but now I was frozen to the window shade still watching and waiting for him to make a move.

His dog sat there the whole time too, it was amazing show of obedience. Grandpa maybe turned his head a few times, the expression on his face never changed. He seemed in awe of the world around him, and at the same time unaware. After exactly one hour, I opened the door and asked him how his walk was, never admitting that I was watching him the whole time. He simply responded, “Good.”

Over the next few days he would leave for the walk almost at the same time, and about half the time he walked. The other half he stood there the same as he did that day. I would watch him on the days he “froze” from the window and about an hour in each day I would open the door to ask him how his walk was and he would respond, “Good.” On the days he actually walked I worried too and I would wait for him by the window the same as if he were standing at the end of the driveway.

Fast forward five years and after my departure from my football career, I moved in with my Grandma and Grandpa Feyen. When I left for school my mom had become a foster parent and when I dropped out of college there really wasn’t room for me in her house.

I tried a couple of different living arrangments but one day got a call from Grandma Feyen asking if I could come help her out and she would only charge me $150 a month for rent. Really the only thing I did to help for the most part on a consistent basis was mow the lawn and shovel the driveway. In retrospect I got a lot more from her because she taught me immeasureable amounts about responsibility, love and what it meant to be married. She also darned my socks (a lost art).

Grandma was essentially taking care of Grandpa full time. It was amazing the amount of work that she did, cooking three meals a day (not much instant ingredients in her bag of tricks), making sure Grandpa had his medecine, helping him bathe and on and on and on. Her only solice is that for the most part he could be content in front of the television when he was awake and they both enjoyed watching the Wheel of Fortune and she could sit a play solitare forever.

Grandma would also be happy when I would share late night ice cream sundaes with her, late night because I could only go get them once Grandpa was in bed because he couldn’t have them. Banana Splits with no nuts was her sundae of choice.

On the day I got my Grandpa Feyen scare, I won’t forget the tone Grandma used when she yelled down to me in the basement to come and help and I came as quickly as I could. I had no idea what she was calling for and when I got up there I was not prepared to see Grandpa laying on his bedroom floor unable to help himself up in any way. He hadn’t lost his voice though and was pretty adamant that someone needed to get him back to bed. I reached down to lift him up and followed Grandma’s instructions explicitly, he felt so weak and fragile. We got him back into bed and he laid there breathing hard, staring at the cieling and he didn’t say a word once he got into bed.

Both of these moments scared me so much because they were so contrary to what I knew my Grandfathers to be. Grandpa B was full of energy, stories and always on the go. Seeing him frozen in time was scary.

Grandpa Feyen on the other hand was always someone that I saw as a strong farmer who killed chickens with a hatchet, swatted cows with rubber tubing and didn’t hesitate to do the same to a kid that got out of line. As I helped him into bed it was like all that strength was gone.

In retrospect though, I like to think that both of them were doing the same thing. Thanking their lucky stars for the full lives they lived in those exact moments, Grandpa B standing at the end of the driveway and Grandpa Feyen lying comfortably back in bed.

I picture them thinking about all the fun times they had, all the kids and grandkids they played with, the fantastic women in their lives, the contributions they made to the world and maybe what they meant to me.

So what, if in reality Grandpa B actually thought he was on a walk, like Grandma B later told me, and he had idea that he was actually just standing there.

So what, if Grandpa Feyen was going through a diatribe of four letter words and probably pissed that Grandma couldn’t get him up without my help or get himself up.

Hopefully they have the same memory up in heaven that I have of those events today, the fear mostly melted away.

With that said, this is my last post of 2011. Bring on the New Year I have contributions to make!!!!

A Non-Career in Review

While I sucked at basketball and baseball, I was not a terrible football player.

Before my seventh grade year I attended the summer football camp at St Mary’s Springs. It was the first time i did anything remotely related to organized football. I was 6′ 2″ tall and weighed 300lbs. (I am the exact same height and weight today.)

I was also relatively fast and agile given my size, but growing up in Eden there wasn’t a football team for me to play on.

One of the coaches from the camp just happened to be the coach for Saint Mary’s grade school in Fond du Lac and my mom’s next door neighbor. Somehow I ended up on his team even though I didn’t go to school there.

The team went undefeated both years I played there. In fact I never started a game one of my teams lost ever.

Now there were losses I was part of, but my team my junior and senior year of high school team went undefeated as well.

I dreamed from the first time I put on a helmet that I would play pro ball and even when I knew the NFL was out of the question I still felt I could find a professional level I could succeed in.

That all changed though in one game in Two Rivers Wisconsin in my junior year.

Right before that season I was in the best shape of my life. I broke the 4.8 second 40 yard dash mark, benched a max 520 pounds and squatted a max of just under 1200 pounds. I also could do a seven mile run once a week just for the hell of it, but the coolest thing I could do was slam dunk a basketball.

At the game in Two Rivers I tore my ACL, MCL, LCL and a bit of meniscus to boot in my left knee. I was never able to dunk a basketball again and spent the next two years in and out of surgeries and on a mix of painkillers of various strengths and types.

I eventually did get a football scholarship to St Cloud State in Minnesota and even got a visit in my home from the Wisconsin Badgers head coach, Barry Alvarez, during the recruiting process.

It was cool to be recruited and cool to get the scholarship, but three days into practice before we even had pads on someone rolled my knee and I never wore pads as a college player with the exception of picture day.

It wasn’t easy for me to decide to quit playing football. In the letter giving up my scholarship; I summed it up as I didn’t feel I was quitting football, but accepting a new path and challenge in life.

I had no idea what I was going to do in reality, but it sounded good on paper.

I eventually ended up where I’m at today, but I definitely did not take the shortest distance between two points. I actually ended up taking several paths and accepting numerous challenges.

Life does not come with a roadmap, so you do need to be willing to navigate a bit in the dark when detours come up. It gets easier though because every experience you have and person you meet will help light the paths a bit more.

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