Big Brother

On September 6, 2013 you became a big brother. I wish there was a ton of advice that I could offer, but even though I have both a younger brother and younger sister I am still learning what it means to be a big brother.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned so far:

  1. Be Patient
    • At times you will be frustrated with your sister, but that frustration will pass and she will always be your sister.
  2. Let Her Make Mistakes
    • Part of growing up will is learning and we learn the most from our mistakes.  If you try to keep your sister from making mistakes you will be taking away her opportunities to learn.
  3. Protect Her
    • Sometimes you will need to step in and keep her from making mistakes, which is contradictory to #2.  You will make mistakes in picking the right times to protect her and you will need to learn from your mistake
  4. Be a Student
    • Accept the fact that your sister will sometimes know more than you, she will be right and you will be wrong.  This doesn’t mean you have failed it hopefully means that we all have succeeded.
  5. Be a Teacher
    • Nothing like continuing the contradictions, but remember being a teacher does not mean being a preacher.

If You Loose Perspective, Don’t Worry – It Will Find You

Humility has never been one of my stronger traits, but life has a way of making you more humble when you least expect it.

On September 17, 2012 I found myself in the back of an ambulance, my third in my lifetime. The first was when I was freshman in high school where I found myself on the wrong side of a wrestling move by our senior heavyweight. The second was when I had my first panic attack, and with my steady diet of red bull and tobacco at the time everyone had actually figured it was my first heart attack.

The third though is one that I was happiest to be on, especially in retrospect, because things could have gone much worse.

It was a usual drive home from Mayo Clinic, the 66.6 miles door to door that I get to experience every morning and night. I looked down at the clock just before the highway 46 exit and figured I had enough time to pick up my dry cleaning before meeting you at the rink to get you ready for skating practice.

The next thing I recall is being woke up several times, by a guy named Pat. I remember being covered up as they told me they had to cut me out. I remember my hand hurting, my knee hurting, the taste of blood in my mouth and trying to call your mom to tell her I would be late for practice. Then another pause in my memory until I was loaded on to the ambulance.

I remember being cold and warm at the same time and then hearing someone say, “BP 220/100, push another, blah blah blah……” I remember thinking, “What the hell, I thought I had my blood pressure under control.”

Things started getting a bit clearer then, but everything was slowed down. My head started to hurt like hell and my right knee was not far behind on the pain scale for a bit. I remember being rolled off the ambulance into the emergency room at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, MN. I remember a flurry of doctors, nurses and then you and your mom got there and everything seemed alright from that point on. Memories are pretty fluid from there on out.

I would spend a two nights and three days in the hospital as they helped me manage the pain stemming from my head primarily and somewhat from my knee. I was moved from the ER to the trauma ward so I would not get to see you again until I came home, with the exception of FaceTime. Your mom and your Uncle Sonny were essentially taking shifts so I was rarely alone.

Your Uncle Mike and Aunt Lisa also came to spend some time, and whether it was the pain medication or the fact that I had just received a mega dose of perspective, we had some good talks that we probably wouldn’t have had otherwise.

The perspective I got on that day, was on how fragile life could be and how quickly things could change. I like to think that is what prompted me to say some things that needed to be said, and in reality reminded me that I should not wait to say things like that in the future, because you may not get the chance to say them.

Unfortunately, reminders of that come far too often. I have lost my grandparents, the best father-in-law a guy could ever dream of having, seen friends and family struggle with illnesses and seen others close to me loose loved ones as life took its normal course and inexplicable detours.

PERSPECTIVE SUCKS!!!

I wish that I would always be able to keep things in perspective versus having it delivered in such strong messages, but it seemingly happens when you need it most.

My most consistent complaint in life is that there is not enough time to get the things done that I “need” to get done. In reality I should be happy that I have that issue, because it means taken into perspective that I still have time left to do things.

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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My Silent Teacher

When I wanted to start playing football there was one big issue. My home town of Eden, WI; did not have a team and even know a coach had invited me to play on a team in Fond du Lac, WI. I still had the issue of, how to I get there every day for practice.

By this time my mom and dad were divorced, Dad was running his business and mom was working full time too.

However, Grandma Feyen was coming to clean our house once a week and after listening to me complain about not being able to play because I couldn’t get to practice she said, “Ray will take care of it.”

Ray Feyen, was my Grandpa Feyen and for my whole first year of football he drove the 10 miles from Fond du Lac to pick me up and drive me the 10 miles back to Fond du Lac and some days when dad could not make it from work to pick me up he would make the round trip again.

We spent about 3 months doing that trip together and honestly, I don’t remember a single conversation. I just remember how he listened to talk radio every day and how annoying I thought it was. I’m guessing that is what you will think some day about my talk radio habit.

And even though I lived with Grandma and Grandpa Feyen for a few years later in life, I can honestly only remember two things that came out of Grandpa Feyen’s mouth. One, the fact that he used to call us grandkids, snicklefritzes and the infamous, “Can I get my drink yet?,” when he knew family was coming to visit. Grandma only let him drink when people were visiting in the later years.

I think that it is kind of strange that I remember how much Grandpa B told me, possibly because of the number of times he repeated the same story, but almost nothing about what Grandpa Feyen said.

Even though I don’t remember what he said, I remember several things that he taught me.

I remember being at the farm in the morning and watching him walk to to the barn to start the day.  I remember his striped overalls and hankerchief.  I remember not remembering him ever complaining or looking like he didn’t want to do it.  My memory may be different from others on that last statement but I really think it had an effect on my work ethic.

Although I may complain more than I remember Grandpa complaining, I know that I am responsible to get my work done.

I also remember how Grandpa realized that our regular trips to the Golden Goat to recylce cans were loosing us money and that we should be taking our cans to the recycling center where they paid more per pound of cans.  The only difference is that the cans taken to the recycling center had to be crushed.

He would take our full bags of uncrushed cans from our house in Eden to the farm house and he would crush the cans one by one with a sledge hammer on his work bench.  I swear that each can was crushed to the exact same measurement.

I learned two things from this.  The first is the value of money, your mother may argue that that value alludes me at times, but the fact that Grandpa was willing to invest the time to help us make a few extra dollars meant a lot.  The second is no matter what you are doing that you should take pride in it, even if it means a perfect crush on a can that is bound for a recycling center.

That wasn’t the last lesson I learned from Grandpa around the cans. When we got to the recycling center I realized the bags were put on a scale, weighed and then we threw them into a bin.  The more the bag weighed the more money we made and no one really inspected the bags so why not add some weight to the bags and bingo, more money.

I decided that I was going to add sand to the bags, and then the first bag I added the sand to was gone from Grandpa’s garage with all the other bags the next morning because Grandpa decided to take the cans in for us.

When he got back all I remember is him carrying one bag out of the back of the car, dropping it in the garage, telling us to clean out the sand and that was it. He didn’t get mad at us and never asked why or how it got there.

Then at lunch that day he pointed out the milkhose hanging in the mudroom like the one that he used to smack the cows with to get them to do what he wanted them to do. I don’t remember what he said as much as I knew that from that point forward I would never put sand in our aluminum cans ever again and that I never wanted to find out how a cow felt when it gets hit by that hose.

The lesson; if you make a mistake you are going to fix it yourself and there are consequences for big mistakes.  Not always a milkhose to the backside, but consequences just the same.

The final lesson I learned from Grandpa was the hardest lesson.  Grandma and Grandpa left their farm to move into the city when they were in relatively good health, but what I percieved once they moved was that Grandpa had lost a big part of who he was.  I saw him try to find things to keep himself busy, but he never was quite the same or quite as happy as I remembered him being on the farm.

Grandpa seemed to loose a little bit more of himself every day and I remember watching him struggle to get the bread he always dunked into his coffee into his mouth before it fell apart.  I saw him fail more times than I would like to remember.

I don’t know if Grandpa would have lived longer or had more quality of life if they never left the farm, but I do think he would have been happier.  He never said that to me, at least that I can remember, but that is what I think.

What I do know is that I will always seek to ensure my life is full and I will hold on tight to those things that keep me happy.

I will also endeavor to lead as much by example as well as my Grandpa Feyen did.

 

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.

A Top Ten List: Leadership Direction

One of the things I love about the life I have lived, the jobs I have had, the career path that I have followed and the sports that I have played is that I have been exposed to some great leaders. I have also been exposed to some not so great leaders.

This top ten list is my perspective on the ten pieces of direction that come to mind first when I think about the direction these leaders have given me.

Fail Fast, Fix Faster

  • I go back and forth on how much I buy into this. Failure is not something I really think one should pride themselves on. On the other hand being able to recognize failure and fixing that failure quickly is something I think is respectable. Then there is the fact that fear of failure holds too many people back from execution and doing nothing is not something I think anyone should be proud of or have the guts to accept a paycheck for.

He Who Hesitates, Get’s Ass Kicked

  • Every aspect of life and business seems to move at a faster pace almost every day. Hesitation is dangerous.

Be Patient

  • With everything in life moving so fast patience is becoming a valuable asset, especially when applied in the correct situations. It’s not one of my personal strengths, but something I do desire to have more of.

Execute

  • The greatest plans, ideas and intentions are worthless without execution.

Learn From Your Mistakes

  • I really do believe that this is something that you can use in all walks of life. I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and expect that you will make your own. As long as you learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them you can go a long way. I also feel that if you embrace learning from your mistakes that you will be less fearful of making mistakes in the first place and you will value your mistakes instead of regretting them.

Don’t F**k Up

  • There are levels of failure and mistakes that you just can’t recover from or fix, that would probably be defined as a f**k up. You really want to avoid those if you can.

Decomplexify

  • This concept was first known to me as and probably most commonly known as the kiss principle, keep it simple stupid. Decomplexifying is an art form that seeks to get maximum results with the least amount of effort or planning. The masters of decomplexification are the most valuable assets to any business and just good people to have around when it comes to making the best out of a less than ideal situation.

Trust Your Instincts

  • If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust.

Never Say You’re Sorry

  • ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE ADVICE!!!!! If you f**k up, make a mistake, fail or just do wrong by someone never be afraid to admit that you were wrong and never hesitate to say I am sorry. If you find yourself apologizing too much you might want to exhibit some patience and figure out why that is the case.

Focus on People

  • ABSOLUTELY THE BEST ADVICE!!!! The most complex, simple statement. Very simply I do believe there is no purpose in life without others. Even in individual sports you need to show respect for your coaches and competitors, in team sports you need to have other people. In business, people are the foundation of all organizations and customers are people.

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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I Have GAD Not an Excuse

I told a friend of mine recently that I was doing a blog for my son to tell him about me, my life and things I learned.  At the time I was pondering how to tell this part of my story and asked him his advice.

He asked me if I intended this to be my catharsis.  I had heard the word before, but it was not a word that was part of my vocabulary so I asked him what it meant and he told me to look it up.  So I did.

The first definition of catharsis on dictionary.com is the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.

I’m still not sure if I would call this a catharsis, but I do know  I want you to know who I am and a part of who I am is a person who has generalized anxiety disorder.

About 8 years ago I was sitting in a friend’s office at work and thought I was having a heart attack.  After an ambulance ride, hours in the hospital and several follow-up appointments it was determined what I had was a panic attack and ultimately a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder.

Since then I have been on medication to control my panic attacks and my anxiety and have an understanding of what some people mean when they say “better living by chemistry.”

Most days I am fine, but at all times I have a heightened sense of paranoia, desire to control my own situation, concern over future events and general fear of the unknown.

When under control I can use these feelings to help me in my job and in life in general.  It’s amazing how being worried and thinking about the future can help you in measuring business risks and anticipating market needs.  It also is sometimes helpful to be thinking about what might happen if you don’t do everything within your control to do.

When my feelings are out of control I am fearful, irritable, somewhat depressed and generally a pain in the ass. In general these things just work against me, and I have little use for them.  Probably about as little use as people around me have for those things.

So yes, I am putting myself out there and letting the world know I’m not perfect.  I know some will be shocked at both the fact that I’m not perfect and the fact that I am admitting to not being perfect alike.

So what does the admission that I have generalized anxiety disorder mean?  It means I have generalized anxiety disorder, that’s it.  You know it’s part of who I am and you know that you may or may not have to deal with it as part of who I am.  Other than that it does not mean a damn thing else.

I am responsible for myself, I am responsible for being a great dad, I am responsible for being your mom’s husband, I am responsible for being a friend and family member and I’m responsible for doing the job I am hired to do.  No excuses.

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!!!!

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