Shark Thank

Shark Thank

It’s been over a year since I post to my blog. To say these last 365+ days have been a whirlwind is quite an understatement. Still, it feels good to shake off the cobwebs and put fingertips to keys. The question is, however, where to begin?

On Sunday, February 28, 2021, Lee and I were sitting in the attic of our rental home in Dothan, Alabama. We were beginning the ever-exciting process of going through all the ‘stuff’ in the attic, diligently placing items in one of three piles: keep, sell, donate. As the mundane became yawn-inducing, my phone rang. I did not recognize the name on the caller ID, but my wife did. It was the name of a former colleague of hers from years ago. This colleague was now a recruiter for a technology company, and she was asking if I’d be interested in an interview for an opportunity in her organization.

Months earlier, I resigned from my previous job. It was a culmination of multiple issues that prompted me to step away from a role I thoroughly enjoyed, but in the end, I honestly felt the best decision for me was to leave. I took the opportunity to try and gain traction with the small business my wife and I started in 2019, but one client later, I realized the entrepreneurial option was not going to get it done for me. Needless to say, I emphatically said yes to the interview.

The following morning, I had a virtual interview via Microsoft Teams. Twenty-fours later, I had an offer sheet from the company. This new employment, one that is for a remote position, opened the door to the idea of house shopping and moving back to Florida. We contacted a realtor, made an impromptu trip to Tampa, had a maniacal weekend attending open houses and meeting with builders, and five days later we were under contract to build a new house.

In less time than you can say, “What the hell just happened?”, I went from unemployed to on the hook for a large amount of money. Insane doesn’t quite explain the whole experience, but in a lot of ways, it kinda does.

Fast forward through planning a move, finding an apartment, actually starting the new job, coming up to speed with the reality of 15-hour days, packing, cleaning, actually moving, unpacking, settling in; the chaos had no end. It was now May 1, the movers finished unloading all our stuff into our new apartment, and I was sitting at a German pub in New Tampa eating lunch with my best friend. Proximity to my children and my peeps was such a huge reason Lee and I decided to return to the Tampa Bay area, and although I was mentally and physically exhausted post-move, I was also insanely happy to be home.

The year zipped by as we tracked the progress of the house build, got to know our new neighbors at the apartment complex, routinely spent time with my daughter and son (so amazing), languished through a two-month delay in the build due to lack of availability of windows, saw our target completion date come and go, and rang in the new year with nervous anticipation as our lease was coming to an end and we still did not have a set closing date on the house.

Philippians 4:6 teaches us to not worry about anything and to pray about everything. There’s an “easier said than done” aspect about that particular verse in Scripture, but it was one to which we strived to adhere as the level of uncertainty only seemed to mount. And in the end, God, in His perfect timing, opened the doors for us to go month-to-month at the apartment and delivered a closing date for the new house. We closed on February 16, 2022, three hundred forty-two days after we signed the contract with our builder. We moved two weeks later, and here I sit, surrounded once again by boxes and chaos.

I sit here recapping the year that was on the one-year anniversary of my start date with my employer. I can’t believe it’s been a year, and at the same time, it feels like five. I’ve learned so much and have had the pleasure of working with so many excellent people, and it’s so fulfilling to play a small part in a program that helps others in their time of hurt and need.

But this blog post is not about the doors that opened for me as much as it is about the big door that opened for my daughter. As I capped off the workday with a mind full of retrospection, my daughter called to tell me the news she’s been accepted to graduate school. Now, all my brain can do is look ahead and start thinking about the days, weeks, and months that are yet to come.

My giddiness and excitement for the next step in my daughter’s dream becoming a reality are tempered by the realization she will no longer be only twenty minutes away. Instead, she will be on her own, three and a half hours away, her wings outstretched as she soars into this new chapter of her adult life. Natalie will pursue a Master of Science in Nutrition at Nova Southeastern University (#GoSharks), and I know she will excel in every aspect of her studies. I’ve watched in awe as she completed coursework to qualify for this graduate program, and now that investment in herself is paying dividends. Her excitement is palpable, and I’m so eager to watch with vicarious eyes the journey she’s about to undertake.

In this past year, God has granted me a new job, a new residence, a new house, and a wonderful and eclectic collection of new friends. Yet the one thing for which I am most thankful is the experience of hearing my daughter’s elated voice as she said, “I got in!” As a parent, that feeling of sharing in the joy of your child never gets old.

Not A Fan

Not A Fan

When we met with our Realtor, we came up with a list of four items that definitely needed to be completed before we can list the house. He referred me to his dry-wall guy, and that handyman and his crew came by today and knocked it all out. The side wall that was covered with vines that had died and took the paint with them now looks like new.

I was very happy with work they did and I decided to use that momentum to finally install the new ceiling fan in the master bedroom. Although Lee and I will only enjoy it for a couple of weeks, I know it won’t hurt to have it installed. Besides, I bought it months ago so the least I could do is put it up.

I now remember why I don’t enjoy working with ceiling fans. Mechanically, they’re quite simple to install. Physically, however, they’re a pain (literally and figuratively). Having to balance yourself on a ladder with arms up and extended while you try to negotiate with tiny screws …. ugh!

My arms feel like Jell-O, my calves are still on fire, and I’m sure my back is going to be very angry with me in the morning. But hey, the fan looks great!

Two Dudes and a Truck

Two Dudes and a Truck

Exhausted.

It’s been such a long day, but in the end so worth it. Danny and I loaded up a 16-foot Penske truck with items for my mother-in-law and nephew. After about 3 hours of loading (we had to disassemble my King-sized canopy bedframe), we made the 5.5-hour drive to Dothan, Alabama.

The drive was not bad (I got lost in an audio book), and when we arrived at Hunter’s place, the joy and excitement he and his fiancé expressed at the new bed made it all worth it.

Kayla and Hunter are getting married in September and kicking off a new chapter in their lives. There will be a lot of new for them going forward. Lee and I, in an effort to move into our next life chapter, have to let go of a lot of old stuff. To be able to gift them the bed and bedroom set is a blessing.

Tall Order

I was in Mass this morning and my eyes caught the likes of this very young and attractive girls sitting near me.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking that I shouldn’t be checking out ladies in church.  First of all, ALL guys check out the Sunday morning talent.  You think we’re there for the singing?  Secondly, if you’re going to have impure thoughts, why not in church?  After all, the redemption is almost immediate. Anyways, I was admiring my fellow parishioner when it was time for us to stand.  If you’re Catholic, you know that’s about every 15 seconds in Mass.  We stood up and she was about 6’2”.  Holy …… umm……. never mind.  Her height took me by surprise.  She was stunning AND tall.  There was a euphemistic analogy to Sir Edmond Hillary that I was going to conjure, but I didn’t want to push my luck with God.

This young woman’s height got me thinking about my daughter, and how her pediatrician is estimating that she will be about 5’7” when she grows up.  As a dad, I am excited at the thought about my daughter being tall.  Yet, I can imagine that height in women can cause problems and anxiety.  After all, this girl in church stood out among the crowd.  It was hard to not notice her, and I wonder if she is self conscious about her height.  Throw in the stereotype of women not wanting to date guys shorter than them and it just compounds the situation.

How does a parent deal with this?  Specifically, how does a dad address this matter with his daughter?  I only see the positives.  Athletically, height can be such an advantage.  Sure there is volleyball and basketball, but even in sports like soccer, swimming, track and field, there are more pros than cons to being taller than the competition.  If Natalie decides to pursue dancing, her height will give her – IMHO – more elegance.  Should she want to model, height is definitely a plus.  My point is that I see her being tall as a good thing.

But as much as I am an admirer of woman, I am not capable of understanding the female perspective.  Trust me.  There is a looooooong list of ladies that will vouch for that statement.  So it concerns me when I think about trying to sell Natalie’s height as a good thing, only to have her not feel the same.  But then again, that applies to all her characteristics and skills, and this concern is equally applicable to both Natalie and Daniel.

I think as parents, we all want to focus and harp on our kids’ gifts.  Be it athletics, academics, or just genuine sincerity, we love to make a big deal about those things that make our kids special.  We love to trump up those characteristics that, in our eyes, are unlike anything else we’ve ever seen.  Sometimes, we do it more for ourselves than for the benefit of our kids.  We allow ourselves to feel special because of something our kid does. We allow ourselves to be redeemed at times because of how loving and kind our kid is.  We play into the vicariousness of being young all over again because of them.

I watched a movie last night called ‘Code 46’.  There was a great line in the movie that kinda’ sparked the idea of for this entry.  “Everyone thinks their kid is special.  Which makes me wonder where all the ordinary grown ups come from.”  In addition to being a great line, it really made me think of the gap between childhood innocence and adult reality.  It made me ponder how what I foresee for my kids will most likely not occur.  It reminded me that as much as I want or desire a particular life for my children, it is after all their lives to lead.

In the end, it all boils down to being supportive of our children.  If Natalie ends up being tall and ends up having issues with her height, it is critical that I be supportive and understanding.  It is imperative that I provide her a safe outlet for her feelings and frustrations.  It is important that I love her no matter what she does, how tall she is, or whom she eventually chooses to marry (so long as he’s not a Jets fan!).  I need to be for her what my parents were for me.  Ever accepting and ever supportive.  Firm, yet fair.  Tough, yet always loving.

I want my kids to be measured not in feet and inches, but rather by the warmness of their hearts.  If I can do that, then I will have done my job right.

Plans

I got a chance to go home last Friday.  I took the day off, flew down to Miami, and spent the day with my mom.  I know.  Not exactly your ordinary ‘day off’, but I am coming to learn that life is less and less about being ordinary.  Instead, it’s about finding the little things that make your experiences extraordinary.

Friday would have been my dad’s seventy-third birthday.  Last year, I happened to be in Miami during his birthday, and my mom and I laid flowers at the beach across which we spread his ashes.  We did that again this year, and so long as I am able to, I plan on doing it every year going forward. (Thank you, Southwest Airlines!). I find myself thinking about how special that day was for me.  Not so much because we got to remember my dad, but because I spent it with my mom.

As I have mentioned before, my mom and I have a very formal relationship.  We’re not ‘buddy, buddy’ like my dad I and were.  I actually went into the day wondering what topic of conversation was going to set us off.  After all, my mom and I always end up fighting about something.  Anything!  She and I are just prone to disagreement. Yet there was nothing disagreeable about this visit.  Sure, the tolerance level was set to high.  But this trip was nothing like I had planned it to be.  It was remarkably better.

And so I segue into the topic of planning.  I smile when I take the time to sit and contemplate how different my upcoming birthday is going to be compared to what I had planned it to be just three months ago.  Three months ago, the idea of my birthday involved a weekend trip out of town, some sort of entertainment event, and a lot of personal time with someone for whom I care deeply.  Don’t get me wrong, my birthday plans still consist of getting out of town, partaking in an entertainment event, and spending time with someone I cherish.  It’s just that these new plans are SO much better!

These plans are better because they involve someone who has been a saving grace in my life.  These plans involve a woman who has been kind and patient and tolerant of my weaknesses and flaws.  These plans involve someone who is eager to share these moments and do nothing but create new memories with me.  These plans are better because they involve Lee.

And I have found that the only thing better than making plans is actually executing them.  Baseball games and concerts.  Road trips and sleeping in.  Grocery shopping and taking the kids to the movies.  It’s amazing how equally exciting big events and day to day activities can be simply because you are sharing those moments with someone special.  And that’s what I got to do last weekend, and will get to do again this upcoming weekend.  I got to share the day with my mom.  I got to go to Gasparilla with Scott (and just so we’re clear, I mean that in the most non-gay way possible).  I get to share my birthday weekend with Lee and about three thousand other Hazelnuts at the House of Blues.

And though things don’t always turn out as planned, it’s so wonderful when they do.  And if they don’t, I have come to accept that God is altering my plan in order to fulfill His.  Three months ago I had my plan in place.  About six weeks ago, that plan was dramatically changed.  And all I can say is that it was definitely for the better!

Perseverance

I recently had the good fortune of getting caught up with a friend of mine.  He is a former co-worker who is now in Baltimore performing a very similar job function as myself.  He called to pick my brain, ask for some managerial material we put together several years ago, and just chit chat.

The fact that he is in Baltimore now is not exactly something he planned.  See, my friend was ‘screwed in the drive thru’ if you will while he worked for me.  If you are familiar with corporate America, then you know that sometimes the higher-ups are allowed to cherry pick from other groups so as to build their organization.  That’s what happened to him.  He was identified as high-value talent, and he was plucked away from my team.

But as you find in most professions, it not always just a matter of talent.  The success my friend found as a member of my team was derived from his talent intertwined with the dynamics of our group.  Furthermore, his ability to succeed was in direct correlation to my ability to understand and manage him.  Think of a great NFL quarterback who works with a great NFL coach.  Separate the two and their success diminishes as individuals.

Why is this relevant?  It’s because within six months of my friend being stolen from my team, he was let go as an employee.  It’s not that he was any less talented, it’s just that his new management team did not know how to best utilize him.  That and the fact that my friend is not shy about speaking his mind and making his opinions heard.  The combination, in this case, lead to his termination with the company.  As a result, he went through a maelstrom of professional and personal stress to find himself where he is today.

“I’m so happy” he told me.  “If life were any better, I’d have to pay to be here.”  I told him sincerely how happy I am for him, and how wonderful it is to know that he is doing well and enjoying his newfound career path.

This got me thinking about how we all go through periods in our lives where we have to weather the storm in order to enjoy the calm.  We have to survive the chaos in order to discover the tranquility.  We have to trudge through the snow, the sleet and the cold of our lives in order to find ourselves in front of the fireplace that keeps our hearts warm.  We all face it in one form or another.  We all have to persevere at some point.  We all have to move through in order to move on.

This topic is very important to me.  Just recently, I was at a place in my life from where I thought I could not move on.  I swore up and down that I could never get passed this point of certainty I created in my head.  “I just can’t imagine life being different.  I can’t imagine a life with without …….” I had made this an absolute fact in my mind.
But it was never a matter of not being able to move on, but rather the decision of not wanting to move on.  Now, I know that for women there is no difference between need and want – as in the case of “I need new shoes” – but I think this sentiment is universally applicable when it comes to matters of the heart.  The idea that we can’t move on is rooted in fear and the result of being blinded by love…….…..or the idea of love.

The truth is we can move on.  We all can.  It’s just a matter of knowing when you’re ready and when you’re willing to survive the struggle in order to get to the other side.  I chuckle because I spent most of 2005 writing about this very issue.  I wrote and wrote and wrote in the hopes that I could convince someone else to be courageous for my benefit.  Now I write so that I can remind myself to be courageous all on my own.

I also write tonight specifically for a friend of mind who needs to find the courage in her heart so that she, too, can persevere and move on.  So that she, too, can find the strength in herself to let go of the past and embrace the future, no matter how cold and lonely it may seem at times.

I know it’s so much easier said than done.  I have the great fortune of being able to find strength in the love of my children and the support of my friends.  One friend in particular has been a Godsend to me.  I know that without her words, wisdom and love I would feel all alone and lost without any direction.  As hard as this has all been, it’s been easier because of her.

Yet I do not claim to be past all of my recent history.  There is still mud on my boots, although each additional step I take shakes loose a little more of the pain and anger.  There is still moisture in my clothes from wading in the water for three and a half years, but every new moment in the sun makes the fabric of my soul more warm and dry.  You can’t get back to normal with out first having experienced the abnormal.  Without first having passed through the tough times.

I’ll wrap up this ramble of an entry with this.  Life is not so much a journey as it is a series of journeys that, when strung together in sequence, make up your life.  Just when you get to your destination, it’s time to embark towards a new one.  Some of these journeys you will find to be easy and rewarding.  Others will challenge the very fiber of your being.  And whether or not we succeed depends not on the things we want to do, but rather on those things we choose to do.

Dan, I wish you nothing but the best at JH.  It was wonderful getting caught up with you, and don’t be a stranger.

Hailey, I know you will get through all of this, and I know it will not be easy.  You just need to remind yourself that even though it’s dark, you are in a tunnel and not a cave, and tunnels always have a way out.

Lee, you have been the rock that has kept me constant all this time.  I love you, and I look forward to being your rock and your source of strength for as long as I live.

Little Blessings

My daughter has a memory problem.  She doesn’t forget anything.  But then again, show me a woman who does, especially if it’s something to her benefit.  So when I suggested taking her and Daniel to MOSI – the Museum of Science and Industry- I might as well have etched the commitment into a stone tablet.

They both have been to MOSI several times, and they just love the open learn/play areas available.  We trekked on over, opened the doors to the lobby, and found ourselves in a sea of humanity.  The line just to buy tickets was about 45 minutes long.  I knew this would be another ‘gotta’ get out of this delicately’ situations.  The lateness of the afternoon and other commitments did not allow for us to invest so much time in line, and I knew we would not be able to spend as much time at MOSI as we had hoped.

So after engraving in stone an obligation to bring them back some other day, we left.  We dilly-dallied for a while in the large, open area just outside the main doors of MOSI.  Then we took turns balance walking the curb on the way to the parking lot.  We got sidetracked by some large rocks they just had to climb, and then decided to follow a trail of brink pavers to see where it lead.  It lead us to a majestic oak tree, its trunk split in diagonal fashion, thus allowing for easy climbing.  I held their hands as I encouraged them to venture out along the horizontal limb that hung about 4 feet off the ground.

After taking time to sit on limbs and have them jump down into my arms, we found ourselves playing in a pool of fallen leaves.  Where we still in Florida?  The wind was sharp, the weather cold, and there we were kicking and rustling and laughing as the brown leaves crunched underneath our feet.  I even convinced Daniel to lie down as Natalie and I buried him under the fallen foliage.

“Has it really been an hour and a half since we walked out of MOSI?”  I couldn’t believe it.  We were having so much fun, time just flew by.  Natalie had forgotten that we didn’t get to go inside. Instead, she was smiling and laughing and doing what I believe all kids should do; playing outdoors and just being a kid.  I could see the sense of wonder in her eyes.  This was in sharp contrast to Daniel who just reeks of determination and adventure in everything he does.  You could feel him thinking, “I can climb that.  I can jump that.”  Daniel is like a walking Adidas ad; Impossible is Nothing.

There is a saying that has really put into perspective the recent trials and tribulations of my life.  “There are only three answers God gives you when you make a request of Him.  Yes, not now, and I have something greater planned for you.”  We were supposed to go to the museum.  Instead, we spent time in our own world of discovery and learning.  One that was not behind closed walls with crowds of people.  One in which we did not have to stand in line or wait our turn.  God had something greater planned for Natalie, Daniel and myself that day, and He gave it to us in such a simple and beautiful manner.

This experience was as spiritual for me as it was rewarding.  Again, I found myself hoping these are the times my kids remember once they grow up and reflect on their childhood.  Again I reminded myself that even though times get tough, I am so very, very blessed.

There is another saying that is relevant to my life – all of our lives, actually.  “Change is constant.”  I believe this to be true.  However, I would like to take creative liberty and offer a variation to this phrase.  “There are two things in life which are constant.  Change and God.  And it is God that guides us through all the changes in our lives.”

Which Road to Take

Kelly Clarkson is a cutie. Plane and simple, she makes my list of celebrity fantasies. And for the record, ALL guys have a list of celebrity fantasies, and Jessica Alba is currently at the top of mine. In addition to being so adorable, Kelly is not half-bad either as a singer. She is, after all, the first American Idol winner, and her second album, Breakaway, has sold over 4.5 million copies in the US.*

Speaking of Breakaway, I will go out on a limb and say she wrote that album after a really bad break up. Sure, I could go out to fan sites or newsgroups and find out the true inspiration behind the album, but all you really have to do is listen to each track. I mean, Jeeeeeez! The album name itself just screams “I am using this to get over you. Oh, and make lots and lots of money!” Don’t get me wrong. I am not knocking using a device to help you get over a tough situation. Music, painting, knitting, running and even, ahem, writing. Many of the world’s most beautiful creations have been spawned as a result of pain and suffering.

So what’s my point you ask? My point is that there is a decision to be made when using a device to cope with negative and painful feelings. Specific to my situation, there is the choice of the high road (tolerance, understanding, learning a lesson, overall acceptance) and a low road (bitterness, anger, mean-spiritedness, actions involving battery acid). Listening to the lyrics in Kelly’s songs has made me further ponder my desire to stick to a high road and resist the temptations of the low road. Trust me; it’s NOT an easy thing to do.

But I need to be strong. I have told myself that I want to look back at the relationship I had with …… with ….. what was her name again? ……. and maintain positive and pleasant thoughts. I don’t want to stoop to immature and childish behavior that accomplish nothing other than further preventing me from moving on with my life. I hate to admit it, but I have in certain ways already dipped my toes into that pool of ugliness.

I keep telling myself – and am consequentially reminded by my friends – that this is all a process. A grieving process. A process of dealing with loss and disappointment and pain. It is not anything I can or should ignore. It needs to be dealt with. It needs to hurt now in order for it to not hurt later. It needs to burn and settle in and resolve itself with time and patience.

And I know this time it has been different. I have been stronger. I have been resolved to move on and let go. I still want to maintain a sense of decency about all of this, yet I need to remind myself that a certain someone’s happiness is no longer my concern. To put it best, I draw from Kelly’s song ‘Gone’:

You know you did it
I’m gone
To find someone to live for in this world
There’s no light at the end of the tunnel tonight
Just a bridge that I gotta’ burn

….oops! There go my toes again.

* Source: Wikipedia