The Wander Years a.k.a College

When I left my football career behind at St Cloud State University in St Cloud, Minnesota, I moved back home to good old Fond du Lac, WI and started right back to work. There was a part of me that really enjoyed the working world, enjoyed getting a pay check and I had no desire to take on student loan debt to go back to college. I had for the most part settled into living my blue-collar life, helping out Grandma and Grandpa and then I met your mother.

Your mother was in her last year of high school and had just picked her college, Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. Based on the fact that we had only about 7 months until she would be heading off to school and I was settled into my day-to-day we agreed that we would enjoy spending time together until it was time for her to go to school and then neither of us had interest in a long distance relationship.

I tried a long distance relationship when I headed off to St. Cloud and that did not exactly work out. Simply based on that one experience and the fact that your mother wasn’t really interested in a long distance relationship it all seemed to make sense.

I was inspired though, she didn’t come from money, she didn’t have a sports scholarship and she didn’t care about going into debt to get an education. The combination of that and your mother continually digging at me to think about going back to school got me to enroll at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as a part-time student. I took a couple of night classes, continued to work full-time and was still living with my Grandma and Grandpa Feyen.

I enrolled even through the summer and made the decision that in the fall when your mother headed to Minnesota that I was going to give the life of a full-time student a chance. However, I had also become accustomed to a pay check so I took out loans for school and continued to work 40 plus hours a week.

Your mom was gone for two weeks and I had accepted that our relationship was over, but then the call came. Your mom called to ask me when I was going to come to visit and I picked up and left to visit her that weekend. We decided to try to make it work and we apparently did exactly that.

I spent the next two years at Oshkosh and was to the point that I was going to visit your mother every other weekend. In order to afford it I started to give people rides to Minneapolis to get gas money, continued to work full-time, took out a bit of extra money in loans and discovered the free money called credit cards (IT’S NOT REALLY FREE, DON’T DO IT.)

Your mom came back to Wisconsin for the first two years and then the third summer came and your mom decided to stay in Minnesota to do an internship. I was bummed and between that and the back and forth wearing on me I decided to look into transferring to a school in Minnesota.

I considered Hamline, but it wasn’t cheap so I even talked to the football coach and he offered to get me financial help to make it work. Ultimately though I decided that football was still a bad idea. I then decided to go to the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

That presented a huge problem too. They, unlike Oshkosh, included my time spent at St Cloud as qualifying credits which brought my GPA down to levels that really were not high enough to get in. After my debacle on the football field, I may have not made school my highest priority and may have invested a bit too much in unsanctioned extracurriculars. (We can talk about that some day.)

I had put all my eggs into the University of Minnesota basket and when I got the letter from their admissions office denying me admission due to my GPA, I was crushed. I had decided though that I was done at Oshkosh and decided to move to Minnesota anyway. I had dropped out of college for the second time in my life. I went to work at an auto parts warehouse which was owned by the same company I was working for in Oshkosh. I would be loading trucks on second shift hours and figured I would worry about getting back to school during the day.

When it came down to it though I knew I was good enough for the Carlson School of Management and I was not ready to give up. I put in calls to guidance counselors that went unreturned and eventually I walked into the guidance counselors offices only to be told that I needed to re-apply. I knew though that I would be unlikely to get in if I just did that.

As I was leaving the office on the day I was told to reapply, I was looking at the photograph’s of the counselors up on the wall and picked out a picture of one that I thought looked nice. I feel horrible that I can’t remember her name as I type, but I remember the friendly face. I wrote down her name and went back to my basement apartment near your mothers dorm and wrote a letter to her. A week later she called, the day after that we met, that day I filled out another application and a week later I got an acceptance letter. It was an amazing feeling and I did not let her down.

In my time at the Carlson School, as with my time at Oshkosh, I got near straight A’s. In Oshkosh, my demise was an accounting class and at Carlson School it was both Finance (I got my first C since St Cloud) and International Business (I got a B, and still think I deserved an A to this day).

It was amazing how easy college was once I decided to go to every class and I made sure the professor knew if I had to miss which usually meant they would give you some pointers on where to spend extra time studying. I also actively participated in class and in all my group assignments I never sought out the “cool” kids to be part of their group. I stuck to the front row where I sat myself, even though it annoyed the people who had to be able to see around me.

Ultimately, my degree says that I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelors of Science in Business. It fails to mention that it was via St. Cloud State and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. It also fails to mention that I probably spent more time on the Hamline campus than any of those campuses combined.

I got the degree though and I ultimately got it from a school that I chose because I wanted to be there. It wasn’t a school that gave me a scholarship, or from a school that was convienently located, it was from one of the best business schools in the country and I didn’t give up until they let me in because I wanted to go there.

I learned a lot from school, but when it comes right down to it the Carlson School taught me the most when they didn’t let me in. They taught me that if you want something enough, you should not give up on it because essentially if you do you are giving up on yourself.

You are the one thing in this world you should never give up on.

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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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Next Chapter: Let the Games Begin….

I personally believe that life is very much like a book if done right. I never forget about the previous chapters because they help make the rest of the story easier to understand and I believe strongly that the earlier chapters contribute significantly to character development.

Sports definitely have contributed to my character development over the years, but sports for me officially started in fourth grade with basketball and baseball, because it was the first time I actually felt I had a snowball’s chance in hell of competing.

As I mentioned earlier I had a stint in wrestling when I was five and six, but it was pretty much a lesson in getting my ass kicked in a defined circle.  Also as you may remember I expanded my horizons by getting my ass kicked all around town until my little brother stepped in to go for the groin kick.  If they were handing out medals though I would have got an ass kicking medal when all the girls in the grade ahead of mine bloodied me on the playground.

But I expanded my horizons beyond getting my ass kicked when I started playing basketball and baseball.  The punishment was no longer physical ass kickings because it was a forum that I could use my size to my advantage without getting into trouble, however the mental punishment was just about to begin.  I sucked!!!!!

I could score a lot of points in basketball, but it was only because I was so much taller than everyone else and could rebound my own misses.  Thankfully I had a partner in crime though and there were games where we would sit under the basket one of us on each side and literally pass the ball back and forth over the basket.

I finally gave up basketball for good in eighth grade, but only after creating the memory of our team losing by six in a tournament game where I missed twenty of twenty-one free throws and in our league championship I watched my last second game winning shot spin out of the rim and fall to the ground.

As for baseball, my last year was in sixth grade where I had one hit the whole season but not for lack of chances because I played the whole game every game. I was the only person on the team that could throw from the catchers position to second base.

I would have played when I was in seventh grade too, but on my way to the first full practice of the season I flew over the handlebars of my bike when I hit a curb and broke a finger on my catching hand.  This was after my first batting practice where I literally hit a home run every at bat, I was in the zone that never saw the actual playing field.

So what did I learn besides I was never meant to be a home run king or the next Magic Johnson?  I learned a lot.  I learned everyone has a role on a team.  I learned discipline. I learned perseverance. I learned to never give up. I started to learn what friendship meant.

Above all, I learned at the end of the day that success or failure in sports does not necessarily translate to success or failure in life.   While I sucked at basketball and baseball, life went on and I actually feel pretty good about how the book has continued to develop.

S’mores, Smoke Bombs and Ketchup

My mom and dad finally got divorced when I was ten, but the marriage was over long before that. There are a lot of not so good stories that go with that time of my life, but I have made a conscious choice regarding that time of my life.

That choice has been to accept all the difficulty as a learning experience about things not to do. All the bad personal moments I witnessed or was a part of I embrace as lessons about the person I don’t want to be.

After my Mom and Dad got divorced we were always with one parent or another. While we lived with Dad, my Grandma and Grandpa were around a lot, but for the most part whether we were living with my Mom or Dad the four of us were left to fend for ourselves because Mom and Dad both worked their butts off to give us what we had.

In one big way this was great, because we learned at a very young age how to take care of ourselves. For example, I discovered my love for cooking and would make a lot of the dinners. My specialty was spaghetti with sauce made from scratch. I also made a mean RC Cola float.

In other ways, four kids left to their own devices do some really stupid things. The dumbest yet most memorable involve our kitchen stove that had the coils that got bright red when they heated up.

We did use the stove a lot to actually make food, like for roasting marshmallows for S’mores using forks. Then there was the not so smart things of lighting cigarettes. At the ripe old age of 11 I had my first got seriously addicted in high school when I got taught how to inhale and it took me more than 20 years to quit from that first one. Thank you goes to your Mom for helping me quit and I hope you never start.

Then there was nothing like the adrenaline produced when you light a smoke bomb from the coil and then run across the kitchen to the porch outside and throw it to the driveway before it goes off. In retrospect that was just a bit stupid. Your Uncle Mike was just seven or eight when he lit his first and I’ll never forget him lighting it and it immediately falling to the floor. My Dad asked later that night what smelled funny, all of us acted like we had no idea what he was talking about.

The four of us kids bonded around moments like that, but we had and still have our fair amount if disagreements. One of those disagreements resulted in use of ketchup squirt bottles as weapons. This one didn’t quite get by Dad though because we failed to clean up the ketchup that hit the ceiling.

We did get away with a hell of a lot though and ultimately those experiences are part of what helped make us closer.

It wasn’t smooth sailing to where we are at in our relationships as siblings today. As we grew up at times we grew apart, but we are family and family is an amazing thing.

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A Kick to the Nuts

Well, for all my Minnesota Viking’s fan friends, they are probably thinking this is about them after that Monday night beat down. While I would like to rub it in this blog is not about them.

In a way the game inspired me to finally write about this topic, however I picked the topic almost right after I finished my last entry. Because when it comes to memorable, sequential events of my life a single kick to the nuts is a moment I will never forget and fits in right about here.

When I was eight years old I was at least as big as the eighth graders in the booming Village of Eden, WI. I was wearing your Pappa Jim’s clothes already too. This all meant I had no possible way of being high fashion and I was a clear target for the Village Bully to stake his claim.

Whenever the Village Bully would get his chance, I would get a pink belly, a wedgie, a charlie horse, pushed, shoved or embarrassed in some other fashion. One fantastic winter afternoon the Village Bully would get his due.

It all started with a game of king of the hill on the snow hill across the street from our house, and with your uncle Mike watching from the front porch I ventured out to knock the king off the hill and with one trip up the hill I caught the king not looking and watched him roll to the bottom.

The king was the Village Bully who was in his first year of high school. I was so proud of myself, I had my moment of glory. I was eight, he was a ninth grader and I was king of the hill. Only one problem, he was pissed!!!!

He came up the hill determined to get his spot back, so I relinquished it before he even got there and started to run down the other side of the hill. However, his spot had nothing to do with the top of the hill. He was going to get his spot back by kicking my ass.

I remember getting tackled, hit, getting up, trying to run away, getting tackled, getting hit, crying and trying to get away. It seemed to go on for hours, but was probably only minutes.

Then I remember hearing through my own crying. “Get away from my brother.” Your Uncle Mike had come to my defense and was immediately ignored. Big mistake.

He knew from all our own fighting the quickest way to end the fight. Literally seconds after being ignored, that’s how he ended my fall from being the king of the hill. He was four, no where near the bully’s size and that bully got his nuts kicked. The bully’s status as a bully was never quite the same.

This ultimately is one of those stories I will never forget and there is actually a lot that I learned from it. The simplest is stand up to bullies and they eventually will stop, I think mine lived in fear that my little brother might be around.

One of the other lessons is about the power of family. The power of family and the fearlessness it provides in protecting those you love is something that has been demonstrated in many acts throughout history. My most vivid experience in this was that single kick to the nuts.

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Be You

For a long time I felt my life was hard when I was growing up. I have over time come to realize that my story is not all that unique and my life, no matter how difficult or unfair, was and is not bad at all. In fact I’m one lucky son of a mechanic and foster parent.

When I was growing up I was always freakishly bigger than my classmates and in kindergarten I could look my teacher eye to eye. I was horribly out of shape though, as big round as I was tall. My parents built into me a significant awareness of my comparative size and I knew not to be aggressive towards kids my age.

The most traumatic lesson in this was going to wrestling camp when I was five and having to wrestle 8th graders simply because they were the youngest kids in my weight group. I got my butt kicked.

I was especially taught when I was very young, never to hit a girl. This also resulted in a traumatic experience where I made fun of a girl on the playground, who recruited friends, ganged up on me and a nose bleed and hurt pride later I hardly ever picked on a girl again.

Traumatic experiences at the time, but in retrospect some good learning experiences.

So what did I learn, and am letting you know on a night where people go from house to house dressed up for the most part as someone they are not.

Be you.

Be five when you’re five, be a gentleman at all times, but at all times be you.

I may have went to a private school and tried to hang with the kids that had the money, but I didn’t have the money and trying to fit in was more work than it was worth. My true friends never cared how much money I had, or if I could show it by the car I drove or the clothes I wore.

I would have been much happier and my parents would have been too, if I was just me. A kid that wasn’t the richest kid on the block, but was fortunate enough to get one heck of an education.

I really wish I would have been me.

I have over time come to embrace being me and be comfortable that not everyone will embrace who I am, but that’s okay. I ultimately hope you will understand and embrace me and I know if you do it will be for who I am and what I believe.

So what is that today:

1. I’m your dad
2. I’m your mom’s husband
3. I am a family member and friend
4. I am a person who wants to give more than I take
5. I’m me

There’s more, but that’s enough for now.

Thank you for being my treat!!!!

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In the Beginning

The first memory I have is waking up on Christmas morning when I was four years old. I have no idea why, but it is.

I woke up in our home on Elizabeth St in Eden, WI. I got out of bed and peered down the stairs through the bright green painted wood railings and I could see our Christmas Tree. That’s all I remember of that day, I don’t even know what presents I got.

My next true memory is walking to school across the street for my first day of kindergarten. I always loved learning and I’m glad for that because according to my Grandpa B if I didn’t I’d be dead.

Toward the end of his life he would tell me the same stories over and over. He’d tell me about an article he wrote called “Smoke I’m a Gopher Hole” for a local paper (I still don’t know what it was about), he’d tell me about wading through snakes to an island in the Pacific during World War II, about how he danced in a tutu with his unit on stage and showed me the picture of them in black tank tops, black socks and tutus and finally he’d tell me the one and most important lesson……

The lesson is simple,”If you don’t learn something new everyday you might as well be dead.”

I honestly try to share that with everyone I can and I truly believe it. I hope you will too, share it and believe it.

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The picture is of Grandpa B’s house that he made using Popsicle sticks, he called it his “Pop Art.”

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