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.

On The Surface

On The Surface

“It’s all good.”

All too often that phrase is espoused as a posture to deflect or avoid conflict. Rather than confront conflict and manage it, the passive route is taken because it is the easiest one to take.


I was raised a cradle Catholic. Born into a Catholic family, I was baptized at the age of one and I attended Catholic school from K-12. In the span of that time, I did it all with regards to Catholic traditions. Alter boy, lector, eucharistic minister; I was so involved in my faith my aunt was convinced I was on my way to seminary.

Then I went away to college, making the leap from living in a Cuban-American bubble in Miami to the jazzy streets of New Orleans. To say my time at Tulane University was a culture shock is an understatement. To say I made the most of my first experience living away from home would be even more so.

Part of the freedom that came with living on campus and being on my own was deciding for myself if I was going to make an effort to attend Mass on Sunday mornings. When your Saturday nights consist of Bourbon Street, beignets, and beer chasers, there’s not much other than sleep that makes the priority list for Sundays. You could say my first year in New Orleans was like a Will Hoge song. Although I did celebrate my faith on occasion, the consistency and intentionality was nothing compared to what I exercised in high school.

Fast-forward fifteen years. I was recently separated from my wife and trying to do the best I could in a co-parenting situation. My daughter had completed her first communion and now I was sitting through the Parish-mandated parent meeting – again – in preparation for my son’s sacramental experience. The person conducting the training/meeting told a story about how she recently had an argument with her husband, she realized she was in the wrong, and when she went to bed that night, she kept her back to her husband in order to, “save face.”

Save face.

It was as if a switch had been flipped in my head. All of a sudden I found myself looking around the room and coming to the realization I didn’t know anyone there. Sure, I had said hello to them in the pews and perhaps greeted them out of obligation at the local Publix, but I didn’t know anyone in that room. I had never invited anyone over for dinner. There was no sense of fellowship with any of the other parents. From my perspective, I was not in community with any of the people at my church.

Wait. What did she say? ‘Save face’?” I replayed that phrase over and over in my head. I tuned out everything else she said and focused on the egregious and theologically flawed idea that the best way to handle conflict with your spouse, especially when you’re at fault, is to not seek reconciliation and basically lie through omission. There we were sitting in the house of God, a God who grants us mercy and forgiveness when we don’t deserve either, and the message being conveyed was, “just pretend it’s all good.”

I left that day and never returned. For me, that was the day I stopped being Catholic.

Three years later I found myself re-married and walking through the doors of a non-denominational Christian church for the first time. It was a first step in finding a way for my wife, who was raised Southern Baptist, and me to celebrate our love of God together. I maintain in all that time I never had a crisis of faith but rather a crisis of church. And it was at that church that I learned it’s not about what I do (salvation through works), but rather what’s been done for me (we are saved by grace through faith).

It was there that my eyes were opened to what being a part of a church community meant. It was there that I learned the importance of participating in my faith and getting involved with the other members of my church. It was there that I truly learned the more we serve, the more we grow in Christ. It was there that I first experienced real, authentic, ugly, gritty, tear-jerking, uncomfortable, thought-provoking, heart-expanding relationships, all of them bookmarked by the love and grace of Christ.

Gone were the facades. Gone were the pretenses. Gone were the ideas that having it all together and ‘saving face’ were things to be celebrated. It wasn’t “all good,” but at the same time, the experiences and new relationships were all so very, very good.


We serve a real God who loves us and wants us to be joy-filled in all we do. Despite our pasts, in light of our flaws, and because of our imperfections, He loves us. And it’s been my experience the more honest we are with ourselves, the more we can really plug into a relationship with Him.

You see, once you accept that God cherishes you just the way you are, there’s no need to make others think you’re something you’re not. Once we pivot from doing things for our benefit to doing things for His glory, then can we say with confidence, “It’s all good.”

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.Galatians 1:10 NLT

 

In The Beginning

In The Beginning

Sunday, March 1, 1987. A fourteen-year-old kid arrives at the Orange Bowl in Miami with his older brother and cousin to see the rock band Genesis. It was his first concert ever. That boy was me.

Music is such an integral part of my life and my love of music was born from the influence of my older cousins. It was they who introduced me to the magic of Billy Joel, Elton John, and Genesis. It was my curious study of their respective album collections that opened my eyes – and ears – to the likes of Peter Frampton, The Who, and David Bowie. And it was on a cool Sunday evening that I stood in the stands of the legendary Orange Bowl with sixty-seven thousand other fans to take in musical talents of Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, and the incomparable Phil Collins.

Phil Collins would become one of my favorite musical performers. His work, both as a solo artist and as the frontman for Genesis, would create a musical baseline for my life that can only be described as comfort food for my ears. The relationship with Collins’ music would only be enhanced given its integration with the show Miami Vice. As a wide-eyed teen enamored with the glamorous portrayal of my hometown on the small screen, it was so cool to hear Phil’s music featured on the show (he had a single from each of his first three albums included in the series).

The impact of music in my life would explode in 2006 when I was introduced to the group of people I affectionately refer to as my music family, and I am always seeking a connection with a song that transcends just melodies and harmonies. Every once in a while, there is a song that resonates lyrically and speaks to my soul. It may be my mood at that moment, it may be the situation I am experiencing, it may be something I am longing or dreaming to do; music has a way of hooking into those emotions and making an indelible mark.

That’s what happened recently when I found myself sorting through old 45 records from my childhood. I’d brought them home with me from Miami following my mother’s passing, and I randomly decided to put on on the record player and give it a listen. I had been praying and pondering about a decision, one that would mean the opening and closing of doors in my life.

And then God spoke to me.

We said goodbye to a dear old friend
And we packed our bags and left feeling sad
It’s the only way
We said hello as we turned the key
A new roof over our heads
Gave a smile
It’s the only way
Only way

Turn your head
And don’t look back
Set your sails for a new horizon
Don’t turn around don’t look down
Oh there’s life across the tracks
And you know it’s really not surprising
It gets better when you get there

I’ve said it before, coincidence is just God showing off. And at this moment, with the nostalgic crackling and hiss of the phonograph in the background, God made His answer to me loud and clear.

When we’re faced with a tough and uncomfortable choice, sometimes all there is to do is listen.

 

Demolition Man

Demolition Man

The house in which I grew up in Miami was built in 1934. Cinder block construction with a flat roof. It’s the foundation of all my childhood memories, and so much “life” was experienced within its four walls.

This house is now old and decrepit, unfit to function as anyone’s abode, and should most likely be condemned and torn down. It’s cross beams under the floor have sunk and patches of the roof have caved in.

Perhaps I should not have tugged on that drywall.

Yet despite its condition, there was still a good amount of stuff in several of the rooms. Most were old, wooden dressers and night tables, all mostly hollowed out by termites. But some boxes and containers had items – mostly from my dad who passed away in 2004 – that can be donated, repurposed, or kept for their sentimental value. So I spent my day clearing out a bunch of sh crap and loading it onto a pickup to take to the dump.

The primary purpose of clearing out that house is to – hopefully – get my mom in the mindset to begin clearing out her house. My mother lives on the same lot as where my childhood home is, but it’s in the back in what used to be (at a time) a guest house. To say her house is cluttered is an understatement. To say she has a borderline hoarding problem is not an exaggeration.

I’ve watched my fair share of Hoarders and on more than one occasion (like every show) I’ve had the impulse to say, “that could be my mom.” And I don’t mean it in a bad or evil way. I simply recognize the tendency to keep useless stuff. It’s a behavior I see in myself as well, and one that is at the forefront of my personal life given that I will be moving soon.

My goal is to get rid of the junk (e.g. encyclopedias from 1979), make her living space more open and safe, and prevent her from being in a situation where she trips over a collection of TV Guides from the 80’s and ends up breaking a hip.

I hate to see my mom living the way she is, but it’s her life and it’s her choice to do so. There is also a world of truth to the fact you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The fact we had only one shouting match today is a victory in my eyes. I don’t think I will be so lucky on Tuesday as I invade her space.

Overall, however, this experience further strengthens the lessons of these past several weeks: don’t let yourself get caught up in stuff.  Life is not measured by the number of porcelain dolls or VHS tapes you may have (yes, my mom still has a ridiculous amount of VHS tapes). Rather, life in the memories we make and the experiences we share. Having stuff is nice, but at the end of the day, it’ll just be stuff someone else will have to throw or give away.

A Taste of My Childhood

Senses can be like a time machine. A picture can transport you back to that wonderful vacation from so many years ago. The feel of a warm blanket can make you long for those crisp evening’s at the mountain retreat. A song can tele-port you back to middle-school, and make you relive your first heartbreak. And the smell and taste of certain foods can make you a kid once again.

This past weekend was Lee’s and my first travel experience since transforming our lifestyle to one of clean eating and more healthful foods. We kicked off the Fast Metabolism Diet on January 6, and we’ve seen great results so far. Our 4-week program ended on February 2, and we’ve been in ‘maintenance’ mode since. Maintenance mode is where we gradually introduce food items back into our diet. For the most part this past week, we’ve stuck to FMD compliant and phase specific foods. However, wrapping up a weekend in South Florida and having breakfast with my mom as we prepared to drive back home, we kinda’ fell off the wagon.

You see, Cuban food and Fast Metabolism Diet don’t go well together. Versailles Restaurant and Fast Metabolism Diet REALLY don’t go well together. How can you possibly stay on plan with a breakfast buffet that includes a plethora of items that are not plan compliant? Bacon, fried eggs and scrambled eggs (both of which I am sure are prepared in butter or grease), sausage, picadillo, cod fish fritters (yes, for breakfast), and so much more.  I think if nutritionist and FMD author Haylie Pomroy stepped into that restaurant, her heart would seize. Furthermore, the restaurant has it’s own bakery. I am proud to say that both Lee and I avoided all the baked goods …. with one little exception.

I believe in Heaven, and I believe that in Heaven, there’s an unlimited supply of Cuban toast. I have no idea how Cuban bread is made, but I am convinced it involved magic. Take that magical baked good, slice it in half, lather it with butter, and press it and you get one of the most divine breakfast foods ever. Couple it with traditional Cuban cafe con leche, and I’m instantly a kid again sitting at my grandmother’s house, watching the men of the family play dominoes while their wives talked about whatever it was they talked about. Having the Cuban toast with my breakfast this morning was a visceral experience, and although I knew full and well the food was not good for me physically, it was also a heartwarming and joyful experience. The fact I got to share it with my kids made it that much more special.

Cuban Toast with Cafe con Leche

I guess the moral of the story is twofold. For starters, it’s okay to indulge a little every now and then. Being disciplined means knowing how to do things in moderation, and although I am proud of the changes I’ve made in my eating habits, having a moment of extravagance can be somewhat liberating. Secondly, there is something healthy and endearing about reminiscing on good times. It uplifts the soul and strengthens the heart. We learn from our mistakes and we build upon our experiences. Looking back on those happy building blocks reassures us of the strength we possess. So if you ever want to go back in time for a bit, find that special something that will set your senses on fire, and subsequently warm your heart.

Much Ado About Guillen

There’s been a big hullabaloo surrounding the comments made by Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen in a recent Time Magazine piece . The article begins with a direct quote from Guillen. “I love Fidel.” The maelstrom of reaction that followed was to be expected.

In a market where political passion and hatred of Castro rages greater than a category 5 hurricane, Ozzie’s comments were incredibly careless and irresponsible. Add to that the fact Ozzie is a public sports figure who works in an environment of 24-hour news cycles and public relations management, his quote was downright stupid. Never mind the fact the Time Magazine article went on to explain how Guillen pondered his comment and amended it to, “I respect Fidel” (in the context of him still being alive after all these years), it was, in the end, the mother of all brain farts.

There is one aspect of me that applauds Ozzie for being – as he always has been – brutally honest. There was no malice intended with his comment. There was no hidden agenda or point to prove. He was asked a question about a topic and he answered it. That being said, Ozzie’s honesty pales in comparison to the sheer stupidity he displayed. Whereas most people in Miami want to file this under “Ozzie is a communist sympathizer” and want him gone as Marlins Manager, I think it more properly belongs in the category of “Ozzie is a moron who knows better.”

Of all the things to say and of all the markets in which to say it, that you love – or respect or admire or ANY other positive comment – Castro is categorically and undeniably the wrong thing to say. And given Ozzie’s contrite and public apology, one that was visibly different from other sports apologies we’ve become accustomed to seeing, it’s clear he understands how stupid he was, too.

In 2009, Bob Griese, of ABC Sports and Miami Dolphins fame, got into trouble for making a tongue-in-cheek comment about NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya. I said then as I say now; it was not a racist comment but rather a stupid comment. Ozzie Guillen’s faux pas falls under the same category. The difference, however, is that his verbal diarrhea has been amplified by a million because of his current role as Miami Marlins manager. The fan base of the Marlins is mostly Hispanic, and of those Hispanic fans, the largest percentage is Cuban or of Cuban decent. The stadium in which the Marlins play is situated in a part of Miami known as Little Havana, so the fact Ozzie didn’t catch himself as he was shedding praise to Fidel Castro is what I find truly shocking. To me, what makes me shake my head at all this is not the words he said, but the lack of filter he applied when saying them.

And that is what separates me from others, including family members of mine, who’ve been vocal during this fiasco. I respect their strong position against Ozzie and his comments. I don’t agree with some of their subsequent views as a result of this incident (Ozzie supports communist leaders, Ozzie’s apology was cowardly, Ozzie should be fired), but I understand why they feel that way. My uncle was incarcerated for non-violently protesting the Castro regime. My grandparents did not join the rest of their children in fleeing Cuba in the early 60’s so as to stay behind and wait for the release of my uncle. That pain and anger is still very real and very current to my family, and anything that even remotely smacks of support for the murderer that is Fidel Castro is unacceptable. I get that.

Yet at the end of the day, what made Ozzie Guillen qualified to be manager of the Marlins when he was hired last winter still makes him qualified to be their manager today. And at the end of the day, Ozzie Guillen being an employee of the Marlins – or not – will do nothing to change the fact Fidel and Rafael Castro are still in power in Cuba.

I am not of the mindset that public figures should lose their jobs for brain fart comments. People make mistakes and I think the punishment of public shame and ridicule should suffice when the idiot in all of us decides to make an appearance.

I like Ozzie. I think he’s a dynamic character that brings attention to both the Marlins and Major League Baseball in much the same way Earl Weaver did with the Orioles, Tommy Lasorda did with the Dodgers, and Lou Pinella did with the Yankees/Cubs/Devil Rays. He deserves the suspension he received from the Marlins as well as the pounding he’s taken (and will continue to take) from the media and fans. Still, I look forward to watching him manage this season, and as a fan, I am excited about having him as skipper of the new-look Marlins.

What he said was stupid, but when looked at through a prism of non-Miami cultural bias, what he said is really not that big of a deal.