Remembering Terry

Remembering Terry

There are few things in life more comforting than certainty. There is no event more requiring of comfort than death.

Losing a loved one is never easy. Whether their passing was sudden or at the end of a long and arduous battle with illness and declining health, we are never really ready to say goodbye. And it’s with heartfelt sadness that we say goodbye to Uncle Terry. More than just a patriarch for the family. More than just a farmer in the fields of Alabama. More than just a career lineman for the phone company. Coleman Terry Walker was, first and foremost, a man after God’s heart.

Terry was a father figure to me. I met him two years after my dad passed away in 2004, and I soon came to realize he was the stately male influence I needed in my adult life. Through his anecdotal charm and spiritually influenced example, Terry was the compass that helped direct me in my late thirties and through my forties towards a true North. The man I knew was the embodiment of compassion and kindness, ever listening to what you had to say, but forever steadfast in his principles and love of Scripture.

Strong but not overbearing, supportive but not one to coddle, Terry’s demeanor was an even keel in the turbulence of life. Even in the midst of the most unspeakable of tragedies, Terry anchored a family’s grief because he himself was anchored in the Word of God.

In this time of sadness, we all take comfort in the certainty that Terry is in the presence of our Lord and Savior. There is no doubt. We are all filled with the assurance he is face to face with the creator of the universe, Terry’s “aw-shucks” grin bigger than it’s ever been. This certainty is a comfort that ever so briefly expels our pain and our sorrow, and it’s a comfort to which we cling with every ounce of our being as we struggle to say goodbye to such an indelible man.

The cliché is true: God really did break the mold when He made Terry.

And as we struggle to hold back the tears, we smile at the idea of a grandfather, a man taken in the twilight of a life well-lived, reunited with his granddaughter who was called home in the early dawn of hers. May the joy of their reunion overcome the sadness in our own hearts.

No Question About It

No Question About It

Today was the final airing of the ESPN show Highly Questionable with Dan Le Batard. For those who are unaware, HQ is a sports-talk show launched in 2011 featuring former Miami Herald columnist and ESPN personality Dan Le Batard and his father Gonzalez.

The show was rooted in irreverence and was born from a bit Dan would do on his radio show where he would call his father, affectionately known as Papi, surreptitiously record the conversations, and then play them on air. There was never a more honest sports take than the ones that came from Papi, especially when he would talk about the Marlins or the Dolphins.

In the nearly ten years the show was on the air, it was a staple of my daily sports diet. I was sure to set my DVR to record the show, and it always served as comfort food for my soul. Not because of the sports topics. As I said earlier, the show made it a point to never take itself too seriously. What drew me in day after day was the evident joy Dan had in doing that show with his father.

Dan Le Batard and I share similar backgrounds in that we’re both products of parents fleeing communist Cuba and we were both raised in South Florida. I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Dan, but the fact I’ve always been a fan of his writing, I’d listen to his radio show daily, and the geographical kinship of growing up in the 3-0-5 makes it feels like I’ve known him my whole life.

As I started writing in 2004, I found myself trying to model my work after Dan’s. His sentence structures, the way he’d formulate an argument, his professional approach, even when injected with personal vulnerability; they all contributed to my personal writing style. For so many years he’s been my mentor and he doesn’t even know it.

Yet it’s not the technical aspects of his writing I admire most. As his popularity, and subsequently his influence, has increased. Dan has consistently used that leverage to help those around him. With his show, he made room on the marquee for Bomani Jones. He didn’t have to share the spotlight of his television series, but doing so undoubtedly improved the product and kept quality talent at the network (Jones was being courted by Fox at the time). In his contracts with ESPN, Le Batard negotiated creative control over money because not only did he want to do the show his way, he wanted to do it with his people. In fact, part of the reason Le Batard left ESPN is because they included one of his producers in their most recent round of layoffs, a move that caught Dan by surprise.

To paraphrase Dan, it’s not about reaching the mountaintop. It’s about sharing the view with the people you love.

As I watched his show daily, I’d watch with admiration a man who never made it about “look at me,” but rather always made it about “look at us.” I’d watch a man who made it a point to use his talents and opportunities as a means to constantly thank his parents for the sacrifices they made. I’d watch with vicarious envy as he got to share those special moments on-air with his dad, me having lost my father in 2004. As he gave his tear-filled goodbye on his final show, I watched, misty-eyed myself, with heartfelt appreciation at the impact Dan has made in my life.

I look forward to what the future has in store for him, and I know the next decade of his career will be equally entertaining, informative, and inspiring.

Thank you, Dan.

Oh Lordy

Oh Lordy

When I first started using social media back in 2008, I am pretty sure my online bio read, “Connecting people and affecting change.” It was more an ideal than a reality, but it spoke to what I hoped I could do using the platforms available to me.

Over a decade removed from those noob beginnings, I look back and like to think I’ve done well with the ‘connecting people’ part. Among my circle of friends, I find myself as the one they go to with questions or issues in hopes I can point them in the right direction. I think we all, for the most part, do that for those with whom we share a relationship, but I feel blessed to have a penchant for the “I know a guy” scenario that comes up in conversation.

As for affecting change, that’s a whole different story.

I guess the first question to ask is, “positive or negative change?” It doesn’t take a special skill to leave a wake of destruction, and depending on who you ask – or when you asked them – I have a C.V. full of ‘negative change’ experiences.

But in all seriousness, there is something extraordinarily special about being able to come into a situation, a moment, or even a person’s life and make a positive impact. Being an agent of change for the better is what we should all strive to do, and I was reminded of that as I watched Netflix.

Lee and I are into Season 2 of The Crown, and in episode 5 we’re introduced to Lord Altrincham, a writer who publishes his opinions of the Queen with regards to her presence as the sovereign of Britain. Here is an excerpt from an article in Town & Country Magazine outlining the plot of this episode:

Lord Altrincham (who was later known as John Grigg after he disclaimed his title in 1963) shook Britain when he suggested that the Queen and the courtiers who supported her were out of touch with her subjects.

I know nothing of British Royalty and the levels of sophistication required to run in those circles and keep those traditions that date back centuries. Still, I understand how important they are to the British people, and I can only imagine the gumption it took for Lord Altrincham to publicly air his grievances. Yet he did, and although he initially took a beating for it – both figuratively and literally – in the end, he was proven right.

What stood out to me in the episode is when Altrincham sought counsel from his peers and one of them told him (with regards to appearing on a television interview show to defend his position), “…keep your cool under his scrutiny, make your case politely, respectfully, intelligently. It could turn people around.” He did just that, both on live air and in the audience of the Queen. He never made it about himself. It was always about the country he loved.

In the end, he affected change. He did so with his steadfastness and humility.

I’ve failed, rather spectacularly at times, in the department of humility when it comes to situations like this. In my passion and zeal to argue a point, the whole, “make your case politely (and) respectfully” has gone out the window. It’s a work in progress for me, but that shouldn’t prevent me, or any of us, from standing up and saying what we feel is the right and the just thing in the moment.

Affecting change takes guts and risks unpopularity. More importantly, however, is that affecting change is never realized when we keep our mouths shut.

John Grigg – Image via Wikipedia

Scan Dull

Scan Dull

I feel very blessed my mother took and kept so many photographs when I was a kid. I remember vividly how she wouldn’t go anywhere without her Kodak 110 camera, and the excitement of picking up the prints once the film was developed. (If you were born after the year 2000, Google ‘film’ so you’ll know what I am talking about.)

When my mom passed away in August, my wife and I took some time to clean out her house. Included among her possessions were mounds and mounds of photographs. Pictures from when I was months old to endless pictures of her five grandchildren. With mournful excitement (if there is such a thing), I brought them home with the idea of scanning them all and making them available online for my family to enjoy.

Well … you know what they say about good intentions.

This project has been more time consuming than I had originally anticipated. To date, I’ve scanned about 140 images, and I probably have a thousand to go. As I sat down at my laptop this afternoon thinking I’ll knock out all these pics while I watch NFL Redzone, I had no idea this effort would be so slow and mundane.  Granted, part of it is my choice to make sure each photo is properly tagged, but I guess I was kidding myself I would be able to knock out in a day or two.

Still, it’s great to go through these little pieces of paper, so many of them over forty years old, and re-living those moments that were so innocent, fun-filled, and foundational to who I am today. There have been so many times that I’ve caught myself saying, “Wow. I had forgotten about this!”

The OG Rid’n Dirty

In a way it makes me miss and long for my parents, but this project also makes me better appreciate the blessing that was my childhood and the love I received from my parents. And the best part of the photos I scanned today is they are all pics of me with my brother. Going through all these pictures and feeling all the feels was really … revealing.

One Kay

One Kay

This marks my 1000th blog post on my personal blog. Some have been short, throw-away posts. Others have been “pour my heart out, here’s an intimate look into my soul” posts. All have, in some way, reflected who I am at the time they were written.

It’s hard to believe that what started out as self-prescribed therapy back in 2004 has lasted this long and come this far. Call it a hobby or pastime or passion; my writing has not only opened doors for new opportunities and experiences, it has also helped me get through so much crap in my life.

In reality, one thousand posts in sixteen years is not impressive at all. That amounts to about sixty-two posts per year. By contrast, I’ve posted every day this month, so the numbers are most definitely skewed to hide the large spans of time when I ignored my blogging. Nevertheless, a milestone is a milestone, and I want to celebrate this one by saying thank you to the person who made it possible.

When I first started writing, there were various people and reasons as to why I persevered. Depression, love, ego are just some of the driving factors that pushed me to move my thoughts from my head onto the screen of my laptop. But pretty consistently since January 2006, the main engine behind my writing has been my now wife Lee.

When we met, she was intrigued by and then supportive of my writing. I know she made it into several posts early in our relationship in 2005. But since the moment our relationship became serious and through the time when we married and in the eleven years since, I’ve had no bigger fan and no greater reason to write than my wife.

Lee knows me and understands me and continues to love me nonetheless. She also appreciates what writing does for me in terms of being an outlet for emotions that might otherwise manifest themselves in negative ways if left alone. Lee pushes me to write better and challenges me to think it through before pressing the Publish button.

I would most likely not be writing this blog right now if not for her, and this milestone of 1000 posts would seem like an eternity away. So in this year where we’ve focused on so much negative and bad, I want to take a moment to celebrate the most positive and wonderful thing in my life: the love and support of my wife.


Lee,

All those old posts seem like a lifetime ago. It’s my prayer that you lend me your wisdom and non-stop encouragement as I write about this adventure we get to share in the lifetime that’s still ahead of us.

I love you.

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

I had a long phone call with a friend this afternoon. My former boss, actually.

For about five years while I was with Verizon, I had the privilege of working for Nita Awatramani, a woman whom I consider to be one of the three most intelligent people I’ve ever met. Although it took some time to find the rhythm of being on her team, it was an excellent working experience once I figured out the often frenetic pace of the job.

The two things I admire most about Nita is that she’s both fair and uncompromising. On the surface that may seem like a contradiction, but I think it’s commonplace for anyone who has a mastery of seeing beyond the surface and understanding the nuance of a situation. It’s what made her an effective manager and what, I am sure, makes her excel in her role as a thought leader in the area of Information Security.

Fair in that she would always set the expectations of the goal or deliverable, provide the resources needed to achieve the expectations, and then give me the bandwidth to go do my job. Sometimes that bandwidth would stretch outside the typical nine-to-five, Monday through Friday, but working additional hours was part of the job and was folded into the expectations.

Uncompromising in that when I failed, I knew in no uncertain terms I had failed. There were occasions where the directness of the conversation took me aback or caught me off guard, but I learned so much from those moments and it drove me to be better. And as time passed, I did get better and those moments deserving reprimand for my performance became almost non-existent.

Through it all, our relationship only grew stronger. What started as strictly an employee-boss relationship became a friendship, one that allowed us to pick up the phone after not having had direct contact in over three years and have an hour-long chat.

In speaking with Nita, we talked about our time together at Verizon, how some things have changed, and how most, unfortunately, have not. We also discussed our individual perspectives of where the average work environment is, she providing aspects into the familiar IT sector, me providing my experiences with a religious non-profit and a church. Although the operational aspects of these are varied and different, it turns out there are some similarities, those being the dynamics of good and bad management.

In the end, she concluded it’s sad to see what she perceives as the celebration of mediocrity. The good and average is so accepted, it’s rare to see managers push for the great and the excellent. My summary statement was more along the lines of managing to incompetence. Rather than raising the bar and challenging employees to do better, management avoids the uncomfortable conversation and settles for an unspectacular status quo. I think we were both saying the same thing but from two different perspectives.

This takes me back to Nita’s sense of being uncompromising. I know the skill sets I developed and the work ethic I provide would not be what they are today if not for Nita challenging me to not settle for good enough with my work. Nita always drove me to work beyond acceptable and strive for exceptional. It was hard and I didn’t always like it, but it was always worth it. Time and time again our team was the one best positioned to provide the necessary analysis, anticipate the upcoming requirements, and we were never – I mean NEVER – over budget.

I miss working in an environment like that, one where I am constantly challenged to learn and grow, and one where I need to sprint in order to keep up with the intellect and smartness of the other people in the room. We fostered relationship and friendship because we strove for excellence. Put another way, we did not operate at such a high level simply because we focused on our friendship. It was ironing sharpening iron. We made time, on occasion, to talk about family. We shared with each other what was going on in our respective lives. But first and foremost, we were there to work, and work we did.

I know not every organization is the same, and office/corporate culture varies so much across the spectrum of management. Still, it’s my experience that unless you strive for the best AND allow your people to work to do their best, the end result is always going to be second-best. You may have some fun in the process, but fun is no substitute for fantastic.

In speaking with Nita, it was nice to remember what fantastic feels like.

Reflections on Blessings

Reflections on Blessings

I can only imagine how difficult this Thanksgiving Day is for so many people. In a year that brought us the tragedy of a pandemic, the fallout of economic downturn, and the futility of partisan politics, I can see where someone might struggle to feel grateful.

We all have our struggles and we all have our pains. But given a year that has left so many bereft of joy, we find blessing in the little things of our every day. Blessing is the mortar that binds us together in the most difficult of times. Blessing is all around us. We just have to look.

It’s in the friendship that endures time and is always there for you, good or bad.

It’s in the child you never thought you could have, but thanks to science, technology, and Gods’ grace you are holding her in your arms.

It’s in the parent who sacrificed of herself so you can realize a dream.

It’s in the neighbor who tends to your plants when you go away for the weekend.

It’s in the manager at work who understands and empathizes with your situation and allows you to leave a little early so you can be home for your children.

It’s in the pet that loves you unconditionally and can’t wait to slobber you with kisses when you get home.

It’s in the nurse who cared for your father while he was ill as if she were caring for her own family.

It’s in the college roommate who still checks up on you all these decades since you both graduated.

The list is endless. If we all stopped and took a moment, we could come up with an array of people, moments, experiences, and opportunities for which we’re thankful. Even amidst the craptastic-ness of 2020, there is so much thanksgiving to be had.

My prayer for all of us is to take a couple of minutes of the 1,440 minutes God has given us today and to quietly and privately give Him thanks. It could be one thing. It could be all the things. But by focusing on gratitude, we take a step toward healing, growing, and coming together as members of His family, and I think we can all agree feeling good and positive is something every one of us can use this year.


Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May God’s blessing be upon you.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NLT