Daddy’s Little Girl

Daddy’s Little Girl

I Have Dreamed. It is a song from The King and I and from the movie The American President. It is also the song I have just decided I will dance to with my daughter on her wedding day. I didn’t think I would ever be ready to write about this, but tonight I felt compelled to do so. Its night and I am sitting on the back patio, in the dark, having a cigar and listening to music, mostly jazz–the real kind. I can look into my office from here, and I can see my little girl. She is 12 and is hard at work here in the late summer. She has no school work to do, but she is preparing for 7th grade. She is doing honor’s math and she is making a video to help other kids. She is a wonderful child. I am glad this is the deal I cut on another level.

Her name is Ryan and eight weeks ago she had spinal fusion surgery. Our lives had been severely shocked by the news that she had scoliosis and needed major surgery. We flew her around the country and scoured the medical community for second, third and fourth opinions, and finally for the best surgical team we could find. We found that team right here in Chicago, and they did a magnificent job. Now, my little girl is making a video to let other pre-teens (idiopathic is the medical term we were told) faced with the same frightening prospect, know that the journey is scary, but that it will be okay. She wants to give something back. I’m not sure where she got that heart of hers, but it probably wasn’t from her dad.

When my wife was pregnant with Ryan, I used to talk to her stomach. We even named her Ryan in the first trimester. I talked to her every day and let her know how much she was loved. And when she was born by Cesarean birth, I saw her first, even before my wife, who was asleep under heavy sedation. Ryan looked right at me and, I think, recognized my voice. At least, that’s my story and I am sticking to it. When she was born she had an age to her. Its hard to describe, but she had a calmness that belied her brand new introduction to the world. She didn’t cry much and she started to sleep through the night after just four days. She was always lively and very active. And when it was time for bed at night, she always looked at me as if to say, “get some rest Daddy, because you know I’ll be at this again tomorrow”. And she was.

The first three or four days out of surgery were the toughest. Without belaboring the details, let me just say that Ryan was in tremendous pain and discomfort. My wife and I traded days and nights in the intensive care unit, while shuttling back and forth to our home to give some relief to my parents, who were looking after our two boys. Something happened in her hospital room. Something great and something a little sad.

Ryan was in such pain that the doctors gave her a button to push to regulate the flow of medication. No one could push the button but Ryan and she could do so once every 15 minutes. She also had to be turned on either side every 20 minutes or so around the clock. What happened was my daughter became a general, ordering me, her mother and the nursing staff to fetch ice chips, prop up pillows, turn her torso and shift her legs—all while managing her pain medication only when SHE thought she needed more. She was in charge. She was the boss. And while she slept, I sadly thought about how she had grown up so quickly. She had lost some innocence. She had experienced pain more intense than I ever had. That just wasn’t fair. But she grew up.

Now she is at home, pretty much laying around and recuperating over the summer, so that she will be ready for school in the fall. She is pretty much back to normal. Fun-loving, active,(although we have to hold her back) fighting fiercely with her brothers, and happy. The doctors say she will have some residual effects, but largely, I am happy. Later this week, we have another doctor’s appointment. She wants to show him her video to help other kids. I’m sure he will like it. I do.

And so, tonight I hear I Have Dreamed, and my eyes tear up, because it is worthy of my daughter. I will dance with her—many years from now—at her wedding. Of course, some lucky young man will tap me on the shoulder half way through (WAIT goddammit!) and ask to dance with his wife. And I will let him. But I will be watching him. And I will be watching daddy’s little girl.

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It’s Not That Serious

Its Not That Serious

Its not that serious. Sometimes I forget that, and not just for things that are, well, serious. Its also not that serious when it comes to my view or opinion about myself. Here’s a case in point. Last week, I went to my gym, LifeTime Fitness, for a workout. In fact, it was a show-off workout. I hadn’t been to the gym for quite some time, probably about two or three months. Its not that I haven’t been working out.  To the contrary. Its just that I have been doing the home workout thing. You know, P90X, 15 Minutes of Hell, and that sort of thing. You see, I was tired of showing up to the gym and looking like I really needed to be at the gym. My wife has to make us clean our house before the house cleaner comes so we don’t look like we need a house cleaner, despite the reality. In the same fashion, I felt I had to get in shape before going back to the gym, so I don’t look like I need to be in the gym, despite the reality.

There I was, at home, working out. Huffin’ and puffin’, doing push ups, pull ups, sit ups, dips, spider hikes and crunches. All to beat father time, and because I promised my 12 year old that I would not embarrass her at the pool this summer. 90 days straight. No let up, almost. The result? Well, let me tell you, the infomercial is not totally accurate. Yes, I did lose 25 pounds and I put on some muscle, but I did not become the beach body I had hoped for. But, there was some real improvement, and as long as I keep my shirt on, you really could be impressed, maybe.

So I found myself driving to the gym. I was going to show those guys I was in shape. I was tired of that little smarmy lawyer who is in perfect shape. How in the world does he have time to be in the gym all day every day anyway? And when I walked to the water fountain, those people on the stairclimbers were going to see a thinner and more in-shape me. I couldn’t wait.

I pulled into the parking lot and did my breathing exercises as I walked from the car to the front entrance. I tried to pull out my membership card quickly, but the increased size of my biceps somewhat limited my mobility. No problem, the attendant smiled as she took my card. Yeah, its been some time since she has seen me. She noticed. I was sure of it. I quickly stashed my outer wear into my locker, made a quick pit stop at the bathroom (this will become important later) and headed to the weight floor.

I was slamming weights around like I was 20! I even grunted a few times. It really wasn’t necessary because this was all so easy to me. But the effect was terrific. The smarmy lawyer, who has no gray hair, wasn’t there. I would show him next time. I made frequent trips to the water cooler—30, I think. Walking past the treadmills and stairclimbers. People were looking! I knew they would. They were looking and wondering if I was that same pudgy guy who has been coming to this gym for years. Yes I Am! I thought in proud silence. Boy, they keep looking. And now they are whispering. I finished my workout in less than an hour, grabbed a towel, wiped my face and proudly descended the stairs to the locker room. I stopped to look at myself in the mirror.

And that’s when I saw it.

It was long and white. It was partially wet and wrinkled. It was…toilet paper. It was toilet paper that had been hanging out of the back of my pant waist ever since I stopped in the bathroom before working out. It was toilet paper that hung out of the back of my pants as I walked back and forth to the water cooler. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Now that I think about it, I am pretty certain a lot of people smiled at me…a lot. They never saw a muscle or noticed an ounce of lost fat. Just the toilet paper hanging from my posterior. It will probably be a long time before I work out there again.

I could only laugh at myself. I got crazy for a second. I was so concerned about looking good to other people, that I didn’t take care of the basics. I didn’t check myself in the mirror before going to peacock. Just goes to show, there ain’t no fool like an old fool—or a late 40s fool. I laughed some more. Its not that serious. It really isn’t. But…I’m not going back to the gym for awhile.

UPDATES

My Summer Project—I have googled and located two of my old friends on Calaway Circle. Hope to make contact this week and report back.

Book Launch—Boy, technical difficulties are a pain. Here is the scoop. We are using video to launch a give-a-way of a free ebook. Editing the video has proven to be more of a challenge than we anticipated. Launch date has now been pushed to middle of next week. Keep coming back, I really appreciate your support.

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Acres of Diamonds

Acres of Diamonds

A lot of people are familiar with the subject of my blog today, but for some reason I felt compelled to talk about it. It may be my incessant longing for the warm climates of California or Florida, instead of the Chicago winters. Or maybe it was listening to U2 sing I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Whatever it was, it just felt right today to talk about Acres of Diamonds.

That’s the name of a book and a lecture written by Russell Conwell. Conwell was born in first half of the 19th century and lived until 1925. Most people on the east coast know him as the founder of Temple University in Philadelphia. By his own account, Conwell gave the lecture, Acres of Diamonds, more than 6,000 times. That’s a lot of engagements, and its a good thing. I’ve read the lecture at least ten times, and I can’t imagine how many times it must have taken to memorize it.

Conwell loved the city of Philadelphia, and read narrowly, his lecture was about finding success and prosperity in his home town. That is, Conwell believed there was an abundance of opportunity in the city of brotherly love, sufficient enough that one should not have to chase dreams of fame and fortune elsewhere. His famous quote was “dig in your own backyard”.

Conwell started his lecture with a story told to him in 1870, while he was traveling in the middle east as a correspondent for the New York Times. Conwell had hired a guide to to explore the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. During a trip down one of the rivers, the guide told the story of Al Haphid, a Persian farmer who was wealthy and happy, apparently possessed of hefty land holdings and a contented family. One day, Al Haphid was told of great wealth to be made in Europe from the discovery and mining of diamonds. He dreamed so vividly of greater and greater wealth, that the very next day he turned over operations of his farm to another and left his family in search of diamonds.

Of course, and by now, you know Al Haphid found no such thing. He toiled and toiled and spent all of his money, wealth and health, until finally he was so utterly beaten, depressed and downtrodden that he flung himself into the Thames river, never to be heard from again. Now I could have said he died, but Conwell elegantly used the words “never to rise in this life again”. So “died” just seemed kind of cheap.

One day, Al Haphid’s successor—the man who purchased his farm in India, was out by a stream and found what he thought was an unimpressive rock. The rock turned out be a diamond, a huge diamond. As it would turn out, this farm would come to be known as the Galconda diamond mines, the greatest in the history of the world. This mine produced the Orlov of Russia and the Koohinor of England—the most magnificent crown jewels in the world. If only Al Haphid had dug in his own yard instead of traipsing around the globe, he would have had acres of diamonds. Conwell always finished this story by pointing out you can find success, riches and satisfaction right where you are.

Now there is nothing wrong with trying to achieve and to lift up your station by exploring new places and ideas. But today, Mr. Conwell made me think. And he made me remember. Sometimes, we all need that.

I guess today I will look a little closer at all the wealth I have right here. I will look closer at my family and my health and I will look closer inside. I will look closer at what I have right here. Wow, I do have acres of diamonds.

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Spit Shine Shoes

Spit Shine Shoes

It was a pretty good weekend this Fourth of July. It was full of barbecue, fireworks, family and friends. I cooked on Saturday and one of my best friends did his best on Sunday. His name is Don and he lives about 10 miles from me. I must take my hat off to him. His barbecue was the best second tier barbecue I have tasted in a long time. I made sure to tell him so. He mumbled something in response, but I couldn’t hear him over the music. I think he was saying thank you a whole big bunch. But, I could be wrong.

As I was dressing to get ready to head over to my friend’s house, I noticed my black shoes were filthy. A couple of days before I had worn them while cleaning my deck for my own top tier barbecue and had gotten them pretty dirty. I searched frantically in the laundry room and utility closet until I found my shoe shine kit. Mind you, it isn’t the kind of shoe shine kit my dad had. My kit wasn’t made of real wood with a place to put your foot and every kind of black and brown wax polish you could imagine. Mine had no well worn rags nor real horse haired brushes. Instead, my kit was a plastic zip up Kiwi bag I bought some years ago at Dominick’s. It had a cloth and a sadly small synthetic brush. But, it was something.

After I brushed the dirt off my shoes, rubbed in the black polish and started to brush them, I realized that my 8 year old son had never polished a pair of shoes. He didn’t know what a spit shine was! For those of you too young to know, a spit shine is the highest form of a shoe shine. Sure, you could pay for a shoe shine and get the spray water treatment, but there was nothing like going to Sunday church with a spit shine—your own spit shine. And it lasted.

My dad taught me to spit shine at an early age. In fact, I can’t remember not knowing how to do so. It always seemed like my dad could do it much better than I could and his shoes always shined like a mirror. I looked up to him for that and I think about him every time I shine my shoes. I don’t do it often, but when I do, I think about my dad. But, I haven’t taught my son how to shine shoes.

I’m not sure why I haven’t taught him. Did I get too big for my britches? I hope not. I just forgot. But boy, that’s a skill you can always use, and to learn it from your dad is something you never forget. I felt like a terrible father for not sharing that life lesson with my son before he turned 8. I mean, that’s a right of passage for a young man. Now, he probably won’t put down is iPod or DS long enough to listen to me.

As it turns out, once I got to my friend’s barbecue, I found out that none of the fathers there had taught their sons how to spit shine shoes—even though all of them had learned it from their dads. There’s more. We all discovered that we haven’t taught our sons how to tie a real tie, how to change the oil in a car, how to change a tire, how to mow the grass or how to put a chain back on a bicycle.

Its not that we don’t spend time with our sons, we do. Lots of it. Our entire weekends are taken up with baseball practice, soccer practice, lacrosse practice, basketball practice, birthday parties for people we don’t know, play dates (play dates?), tutoring sessions and at least 3 trips to fast food drive up windows. Now all of that is good. But we all wondered if we were teaching our boys life skills. In particular, man life skills. Heck, I don’t think between the six of us dads, we had one kid who could actually skip a stone. All of us could.

Yeah, I think I’ve been a terrible dad, because I broke the chain. My dad taught me what his dad taught him. I haven’t done the same, yet. There is something to be said for teaching self-reliance. And that’s what spit shining your own damn shoes is all about. When you sit down and polish your own shoes, with your own spit, you are preparing to meet the world and to have the world see you as you prepared yourself. Its about being a man, a self-reliant man. And as Mark Twain should have said, “you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes”.

And so, as the last Fourth of July rocket burst in air, and my 8 year old fell asleep in the car on the way home, I pledged to be a better father, like my dad. I pledged to teach him at least one lesson in self-reliance. I pledged to teach him how to spit shine his shoes.

How to Stop The World And Get Off, Just For A Minute

I know you haven’t heard a lot about my book lately, but please be patient. There is much in the works. People who know much better than me are planning a big roll out and launch. If you submitted you email on my website: http://www.vwspeaker.com, you will be included. Its just a couple of weeks away. Thank you for all the support you have already given me.

Insider Secrets to Beat Stress and Fear

This is a free report that will be available later this week. Watch your e-mail for details, or just check back here. See you next time!

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The Magic of the Airplane Bloody Mary

The Magic of the Airplane Bloody Mary

I promise that very shortly I will research and write about the history of the bloody Mary. I won’t make it the seminal point of a posting, but I will give you the dates, origins and all of that, for those of you who insist on such things. But for today, I feel compelled to speak of the wonderment of this most magnificent creation.

Once again, I am sitting on a United flight, this time, heading to Houston from Chicago, and I find myself writing my blog. I really have to get off of the road so much. It is morning and everyone around me has ordered bottled water, hot tea and coffee. In my younger days, I would have sheepishly joined the herd. But at my age, I thirstily ordered a bloody Mary as soon as I could. “A full bloody Mary?” the attractive flight attendant asked, loudly. It seemed like everyone on the plane was awaiting my answer. Surely, this guy wouldn’t actually order a hard liquored drink at 8:30 in the morning. Surely, they would be wrong.

I had thought about that bloody Mary on the drive to the airport, on that ridiculously long security line and sitting in the boarding area. “Hi-test!”, I blurted out in a somewhat defiant and slightly loud manner– surrendering both any moral equality with my fellow tee-totaling passengers, and any claim to youth by referring to ultra-leaded gasoline. No one else ordered anything stronger than Starbucks.

Debbie, the flight attendant, obliged—twice. She seems to know her way around a bloody Mary. It, er they were strong and good. Service on flight 221 was quite good. But, I digress.

I first discovered the magic of the bloody Mary during my first year of law school. I studied law in California and had decided to visit some friends over a long holiday weekend back in Chicago. We had a great time, but I somehow forgot to study. After the fun was over, I found myself on a very late Sunday night flight heading back to San Francisco, with 40 pages of real property law to read, and Professor Hovenkamp to face in the morning.

I’m not sure how I first came to order a bloody Mary. I think I saw someone else do it. Nonetheless, it would become nothing less than an epiphany. The tartness of the Mrs. T bloody Mary mix, combined with a squeeze of lime and a good vodka just seemed to sharpen my senses. I was aware of everything and everyone—even people who weren’t there. Spiderman had nothing on me.

But seriously, I was able to focus like crazy. I can’t explain it. I couldn’t then and I can’t now. What happened was semi-miraculous. I read every case, holding and dicta for 40 pages. The clarity was unbelievable. As chance happens sometimes, the next morning Professor Hovenkamp called on me to expound about trover, detinue, replevin, and the dreaded rule against perpetuities. He stood me up for the entire 50 minute class. For those of you who know, the socratic method is not always fun, especially when you are in the hot seat.

It was fun that day though. I was on a roll like I don’t think I have ever experienced since, unfortunately. I answered every question with the wit of Oliver Wendell Holmes. (Before you ask, the effects of the bloody Mary(s) had worn off by the next morning.) I don’t really know where the answers came from, but they came. At the end of my interrogation, the class gave me an ovation. That had never happened before. And so, I made bloody Marys a frequent part of my routine.

A quick note. This does not work at home or in a restaurant. It only works on board an airplane. I cannot explain the physics. That is just the way it is.

Over the years I have found that my comprehension of books, articles and complicated documents was significantly increased after drinking a couple of bloody Marys. Of course, a big part of that is being relaxed, but neither wine, beer nor other hard alcohol has had the same effect on me. I have found this to be the case with my writing as well.

And so, I salute the airplane blood Mary. It is never too spicy, too weak or too strong. The Mrs. T mix is always the same and that little bottle of vodka they give you is always just the right amount. So the next time you see a fellow passenger drinking a bloody Mary, don’t judge too quickly. He may just be trying to understand things a little better.

Next time: An update on my summer project.

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Still Water Is Where Its At

Still Water Is Where Its At

“Back to the interstate, Ben Stone, back to the interstate”. That was a line in the movie Doc Hollywood. It was the last movie Michael J. Fox shot before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and his neurological problems bloomed full force. The line was spoken by the mayor of a small southern town called Grady, and it was (at the time) an acknowledgement that the town couldn’t entice the big city Dr. Stone to practice medicine there. The streets were just too slow. Ben Stone thought he needed the fast life, the interstate. Now, there is nothing wrong with the interstate, and by and large, it’s a good thing. But there is something to be said for the slower more deliberate route. By now, if you have been following my blog and other writings, you know I that I am not going to profess to give you answers, that’s for experts. I can only share some simple ideas and observations…for your consideration, or not.
It just seems to me there is a lot of noise out there. A lot of it is good and useful. I probably get 40 emails by 9 in the morning giving me advice on everything from dog training to child rearing to making a million dollars by noon. Some of it is good, but there is an awful lot of noise. Sometimes, there is so much noise, I can’t hear myself think. Its hard to focus like that. Sometimes, I can’t even tell if I AM actually thinking. Now, that’s noise. But that kind of noise can be easily eliminated or at least reduced so you can hear yourself. But that’s not the only kind of noise that needs to be silenced sometimes.
Running water in a brook or stream is beautiful to see. I have heard that, but I don’t think I have ever actually seen a brook. I have read about them, but never actually recognized one. Running water can be even more magnificent in a waterfall. The confluence of sound and motion produces a power that is breathtaking and a release of energy we can never fully harness. If you were to throw a pebble, or a rock, or a stone even, it will make no noticeable impact. There are too many other things happening. The stream is whishing and whirling and roaring and moving someplace downstream, and fast. You can’t see the ripple. But, it is there. The ripple is unnoticed and absorbed immediately. But, it is there.
And then there is still water. It looks like glass. It is motionless and awaits even the tiniest agitation of another object. When the introduction of anything other than the water itself occurs, be it a leaf, a stone or even the wind, it notices. It reacts. It sends forth ripples upon ripples upon ripples.
When the mind is unclogged, unburdened and, well, still, that’s how ideas work too.
The mind is like a river. It is always at motion, always at work, and always awake. The mind is always conjuring, pondering and considering. And this…is the other noise that needs to silenced sometimes. This is the internal noise, the dialogue that goes on all the time. Every now and again the mind needs to be silent and still. The decks need to be cleared, just for moment. And when the decks are cleared and the mind is still, new and wonderful ideas can get the attention they deserve. When the mind is still, even a tiny idea has a ripple effect that is noticed. It counts. It counts because no other ideas are crowding it out, because nothing else is going on. Even if it is just for a moment.
One day when you are feeling just a bit anxious or overwhelmed, sit quietly alone and release all of your thoughts. Be selfish for a minute and forget about your wife, your husband, your child, job, your bills, and everything else. Then, listen to yourself think. Hear yourself breathe. Listen for that voice that is inside of you, that has always been there, and really listen.
The voice isn’t forceful, its just constant. It has been telling you the right thing ever since you came here. The beauty is in its patience. It will always be there, waiting for you to listen. And when you hear it, you will recognize it as your own. You just couldn’t hear it before because the water was running. Shut off the flow for a minute. Believe me, the world will keep spinning in that moment you get off of it.
Prepare room to talk to yourself and to hear. Make your mind still, like water, just for a minute. Still water is where its at.
COMING SOON: What is that voice?

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They Ate My Hamburgers, Pt 2

They Ate My Hamburgers, pt. 2

It would be years later that their eating my hamburgers would start to eat away at me.  At the time, I really didn’t dwell on it.  It’s not that it didn’t bother me that my burgers were eaten right away and that I didn’t have anything to show for my work. It’s just that I was preoccupied with girls, sports, college applications and girls to really pay much attention. But after those years passed, it indeed, ate away at me.  I wanted something that lasted.  I wanted to do something that had a purpose. I didn’t want to die without having done something that was recognized. I thought that was important.  What I didn’t know was it was part of an ancient longing and desire to be an individual, to be separate from everyone else.  I wanted to count, I wanted to be important. I wanted to be special.

That is the thinking of this world.  Everybody is special and everyone should make his or her own mark on the world.  Everyone should find their own niche and special place in the world.  Now, I am not here to refute our innate desire to be special at all.  What I am here to do is point out there is a different way of looking at this whole thing.

The reason we all want to be special and why I was upset over the eating of my hamburgers is because we want our individuality to last.  We want it to survive and endure for all time.  We believe we are self contained self important individuals, separate from each other and from everything else in the universe. Now, I am not asking you to deceive yourself and not see yourself as a separate human being.  I’m only asking you to consider for a second, your true nature, which is spirit.  Spirit is all connected, with every other living thing.  It is not separate and neither are its interests.  There is no conflict with spirit, because it is all the same. That is our true nature, though for the moment, we are having a local experience.

The unending, unyielding and unrelenting desire to accent our individuality has to result in conflict.  There is just so much of the pie.  But if we look at the pie from a different perspective–just for a second–we can see that it is unlimited, and some for some is some for all.  And so, it wasn’t so important to me that they ate my hamburgers.  I was glad they were enjoyed. It’s not that way every day, but when I see myself getting too carried away with angst and anxiety and disappointment that I’m not making my mark, I try to think, just for a second, about my true nature. And it doesn’t bother me that they ate my hamburgers. At least, not so much.

My Summer Project

I haven’t started, but I will, tomorrow.  I will start by googling some contact information of lost friends and making phone calls.  Check back later in the week for progress

Website

It is a work in progress, but it is up and running.  The address is http://www.vwspeaker.com.  Please check it out and give me your comments. You can contact me directly at info@vwspeaker.com.

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