the Rainbow Bridge

I didn’t really start believing in an actual higher power until I lost a parent. Many others that I know say the same thing. The notion of a magical place in the clouds that houses our loved ones after they shed their mortal shell, where they look as they did in their prime before sickness or age took them away from their pain is a far fetched notion in this day of science and reason. But it sounds like a hell of an idea and if it gives you comfort, then go for it. It did for me. We all grieve differently.

Grief is a powerful thing. When someone suffers a loss we want to say something, we want to do something. The bitch of it is that there is nothing we can say or do, it’s a personal process that really never ends it only gets less difficult over time. If you are lucky. It is a matter of patching the giant hole that the loss of a loved one leaves in us.

Our human vanity challenges the notion that the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as the loss of a human. They’re only animals after all, right?
Wrong.
I won’t go so far as to say that an animal is on the scale of a human but I will tell you that to many, most(?), our furry friends are not just pets. They occupy our hearts and minds and command a level of love and companionship that comes in a photo finish second.

I lost my first dog when I was in High School. We adopted a Brittany Springer Spaniel from a shelter when I was 4. He was a hunting dog that was trained too early and was gun shy, rendering him useless to hunters. He was my absolute best friend in the world. To call him a loyal companion would be the understatement of the century. He was by my side everywhere I went. He saved my life once. I was crossing our street and a school bus was barreling down the hill. He ran across the street and tackled me. The bus missed us by inches. He wasn’t just a pet. When I drove to NH one summer day over Summer Vacation I was met with the dour faces of my parents, who told me that he was put down. I was crushed and remained that way for a long time. There was a hole in my life. It was at that time that I saw the poem “the Rainbow Bridge.”

We have had a series of dogs since then. I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to my first but I loved them so very much and losing them was never easy. Recently we put down our Laso Apso of 14 years. That was a tough one for my mother and I, he was an amazing companion. Smart, loyal and goofy and a constant presence. His loss crushed my mother. This time she said “no more dogs. It’s too hard to lose them.”

I agreed with her on the “hard to lose” them part. But I didn’t agree with the no more dogs thing. The one thing about animals that differs from humans is that, while you can’t replace them, you can fill the hole left by a pet. The mistake we make is that we don’t want to do them a dishonor by “replacing” them and in the process we forget that we have an opportunity to at least fill the empty place in our lives.

Having said that, six months after putting down our beloved Laso, we got another dog. A beautiful Cocker Spaniel named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel).

My mother’s frown turned upside down from the first day that we got him and I have to say that her life is better with him in it. He is loyal, friendly, funny, goofy and absolutely full of love for her. He has chosen her as his favorite and I’m fine with it, it was her hole to fill more than mine.

If you are a person who doesn’t want a dog because you feel that their lives are too short and the pain is too much, please focus on the wonderful times you are missing out on. Having something that is always happy to see you, missed you like you had been lost at sea, adores you unconditionally and can comfort you without having to know what’s bothering you is a treasure in and of itself.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to get another to fill the hole, remember that it is not about replacing, it is about mending the massive void in your life. Once you’ve known the unconditional friendship and admiration of a pet you really can’t go without it. As you sit on a park bench worrying about everything, your dog is sitting next to you thinking that you are their entire world.

How many people can you say that about?

I’m more likely to believe in heaven if I were to have all of the wonderful dogs I have been blessed to know waiting for me to walk by my side once again as I cross over.

The price of war

I was raised by a Vietnam Veteran and a WW2 Veteran. It didn’t take me long to learn that their experiences impacted them profoundly and that most vets didn’t talk about it. I once worked for a guy that would wake some nights finding himself on top of his wife attempting to strangle her. I asked my Dad about it and he said flatly “he saw and did some shit.”

Just take a moment to let the fact that 22 Veteran’s a DAY commit suicide in this country sink in.

Last week I was watching Forrest Gump with my mother’s BF. We were hanging out, drinking a beer and chatting back and forth. All of a sudden we came to the scene where Gump and his platoon came under heavy fire in the Vietnam sequence. Dave suddenly raised his voice and said loudly “turn it off, turn it off! I hate this shit!.” I quickly changed the station and I asked no questions. I knew that the scene had touched a nerve with him. We never spoke of it.

In the current news there is a lot of talk about Syria. There is controversy about pulling out. Many think we should stay, many think like our President, that enough is enough with foreign wars.

I agree. To be honest, we’re not over Vietnam yet. If you don’t believe me, please watch Ken Burns’ documentary.

Then you see kids, good kids from good families, kids that back home would help little old ladies across the street and go to Bible study, do these horrible things. They’re in country for a little bit and it’s like the veneer of civilization peels right off of them

The above quote was from a Vietnam Veteran as interviewed for the 10 part documentary The Vietnam War by Ken Burns. He was talking about “acts of war”. In particular, the acts of savagery committed by some American soldiers while serving in Vietnam.

At an average of 90 minutes per episode, completing the series was challenging. But I did and I have a lot of takeaways. Hours of battle footage, commentary, and interviews with all the players; politicians, soldiers from South and North (the enemy) Vietnam and all of the geopolitics involved in Cold War Southeast Asia. Per usual Burns provides an honest, balanced and unflinching look at one of the darkest chapters in recent history.

The veterans interviewed did the unusual. They talked openly about their experience. They ranged from the reluctant draftee; to the wide-eyed eager recruit seeking the honor and glory his father achieved; to the everyday guy from Anytown, USA that felt the call of Patriotism. They all went to the same place but all came back very different. It wasn’t like the last war, their Dad’s war. And glory was not in the cards.

A lot of men did and saw things that would haunt them. When villages were razed, livestock slaughtered, suspected enemies gunned down and food supplies destroyed were part of “following orders” a lot of soldiers found their moral compass in danger. Some made “deals with the devil” to rationalize their acts. One soldier said “I will never kill another human, but there’s no limit to how many Vietcong I will waste.” His compromise was to not see the VIetcong as people. If they are no longer people then it becomes easier. They are the enemy they do not matter.

Then there were those who stretched the thin red line even further. Rapes, mass killings of civilians and excess brutality sometimes occurred. As it says above, it was if the veneer of civilization had worn off of them.”

At home, the war had changed people as well. The escalating campaign was enormously controversial. Young people broke rank with their parents’ beliefs. Students took to the street and challenged authority figures. Peaceful protest morphed into violence as frustration with a growing conflict grew. Pictures of bombing campaigns and burned children were finding their way into American living rooms and people were outraged. Some activists decided that violence was justified and riots and bombings occurred. It culminated when the National Guard opened fire on a crowd at Kent State and killed four. One veteran lamented “It has gotten so bad we are killing our own at home”. By the time of the Saigon airlift of ’73 this country was divided and forever damaged.

When the soldiers returned, there was no ticker tape parade. The hostility towards the war had been directed towards those who had been charged with fighting it. The brave men and women who fought the unpopular war emerged from planes and boats to be called “baby killers” and were spit upon. These people are still owed the Welcome Home they deserved. But as I have said. Everyone changed.

What are the rules of civilization? Are they inherent? Are we born to act rational and be decent to each other? Is it the job of parents to instill the concept of society in us? Is the veneer of civilization so thin that it can be easily worn down to the point that we are easily capable of barbarism and savagery?

If you don’t know what it was like to see the political climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s it isn’t too late to see it. Just turn on your TV. Riots, Nazi flags, death threats, mass shootings, people just being ugly to each other.

So I have to ask…how thin is your veneer?

Be a man…conclusion

I will conclude this series, let’s be honest it could go on forever it’s such a big topic, with 3 traits of the good man. Traits that men should strive to embody if they want to earn the moniker of “good man”.

Selflessness.
I worked with a man of Greek descent. He always spoke fondly of his father. One day he told me of the days when his father would take him and his brother to the market on a Sunday morning. His father would stock up on fresh vegetables and bread and before they left for home he would take the boys to a restaurant, buy them both a seafood dinner and then go for a walk as they ate. He told me that it took him years to realize that his father left because he didn’t have enough money to buy himself a meal. This was a powerful memory for him.

I’ve been there in my dealings with my own children and those around me. If I feel that something will mean more to someone else than to me I will buy or donate it in a heartbeat. Selflessness is the antithesis of selfish and what we do for others is our legacy. A good man will always help others even if sacrificing something for himself.

Reliable.
In short, be reliable. Be consistent. Be dependable. If you say you will do something or will be somewhere then make sure you do it. To a real man, nothing is more important than your word and a man knows that there is never a second chance to make a first impression.

Finally, let’s get down to the origin of this series. The term “toxic masculinity” has its origins in women being fed up with how men treat them on the streets, in the workplace, in the marriage and in general. I stated earlier that in the process of eradicating bad male behavior all masculine traits fell under fire and I addressed it. Let’s discuss those that needed to go and why.

Respect for women.
I will say it flatly and firmly. A good man respects women. A good man does not have separate standards for a woman in wages, responsibilities and accomplishment in the work place. He does not objectify women as sexual objects to be leered and grabbed at. He does not expect “the little woman” to stay home with the kids barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen while he goes out every night. A good man recognizes equality in every way without Gloria Steinem and Whoopi Goldberg telling him so. With the exception of urinating while standing, women have amply shown that they are capable of almost everything that men are.

So what are some old traits that men do that they should continue despite the societal onslaught?
Protect your lady. Not because she can’t but because it is a primal instinct to use the only advantage men have (in most cases), our physical size and strength to protect a woman in need.
Opening doors. Yes ladies, we know you can open your own doors. Please don’t be offended if a man does it for you. Some of us were raised that way and we like to do it. It is the mark of a Gentleman.
Be complimentary. Some of us know how hard it is to be a working mom. Let’s face it, being a mom is hard work. Never mind having a job in addition. So if we tell you that you look nice, it’s not objectifying. It’s respect and admiration for your ability to have enough energy to do the hair and makeup. Men have it infinitely easier in that department. “You look nice today” is a compliment fellas, “Nice rack” is not. Know the difference.

I believe that most women fancy a old-fashioned Gentleman. I believe that a smart woman knows the difference between a player and a Gentleman. I believe that a woman likes having the door opened, likes the man picking up the check, complimenting their appearance. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t?

Some things are timeless and some need to change. I hope we are able to make the distinction before all of the good is erased in the attempt to eradicate the bad. Not everything is misogynistic and toxic. Again, know the difference.

It’s quite simple guys. Treat women like you would your mother. Treat your neighbor and the stranger on the street as you would like to be treated. Do for your children what your father did for you or what you wish your father had done. Be kind, be humble, be proud and respectful. Be an example to your children that they will emulate later in life.

Be a good man.




more on being a man

This is the third installment in my series on being a man. If you have been following this series, you will know that it is a reaction to the attack on masculinity. Being a man has become taboo and traits formerly known as “masculine” are under attack as toxic. I have detailed and acknowledged a few that are indeed toxic and have tried to outline “good” masculinity and the traits that define a good man. So far I have listed Honest, Accountability, Integrity and Humility.

Let me continue.

Work Ethic.
There is an old saying. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life.”
Why is this significant today? Hard work is under fire in this country. Young people are told that they have to go to college and consequently the trades are suffering. They are told that the dirty hands of the working man is somehow crude and beneath societal standards. Consequently, the unemployed guy with the Philosophy major and 100k in student loan debt is having his power shut off by the guy who went to work for the power company right out of High School, did an apprenticeship, has no debt and is earning 80k a year. Hard work is not a bad thing. Would you rather wear a suit and earn 50k or overalls and make 100k?

There is a push in this country towards Socialism under the guise of Democratic Socialism. I get it, our system is not perfect. There is inequality in all areas of society; income, gender, the list goes on. In many ways it is unfair. Our system is based on free markets and industry which are driven by the workers. At the heart of any booming economy is the drive of the workers to succeed. Because men inherently want to earn, to succeed, to achieve, to accomplish and to win. Not to win against each other, but to collectively win over complacency and the need for a handout. A real man will always choose to work for his paycheck over having one handed to him. The best beer is the one that is placed on a sweaty forehead and then twisted open with dirty hands.

Do more than the bare minimum. Someone will almost always appreciate the extra effort. Don’t just show up, make your mark while you are there. Be a great worker and a greater co-worker. At my Dad’s funeral, several of his co-workers showed up to pay their respects. I asked them one question,
“Was my Dad a good co-worker?” The unanimous response was that he was the best.

The thing about work ethic is that it tends to be learned early on, usually from the father. Myself, I was raised by a man with a tremendous work ethic and I would like to think that I grew up with a similar one. I always wanted to be the best, to be valuable. My dad always said “be the guy that when he calls in sick, people notice”. But you don’t need to learn it from your dad, some people are born with it and others develop it out of necessity. But it is definitely generational. If you come from a long line of dependency, it is much more difficult to develop a killer work ethic. But it is possible.Which brings me to my next, related topic.

Grounded.
A good man is grounded, feet firmly planted on the ground. The best way to get somewhere in life is to know where you come from.

It is said that the best father can come from two things. A great father or a terrible father. Either way, the tools are there to do a great job. You just have to know your roots. Humility, work ethic, the entire way you carry yourself comes from having a healthy knowledge of who your family are and where they came from. Heredity motivates us to either maintain the good or change the bad and a good man is capable of both.

My father had a terrible upbringing. His family was very poor. Welfare and alcoholism were prevalent. Instead of falling into the same trap, his upbringing motivated him to do better. Consequently, I was raised with a better life and I was motivated to do the same for my children.

A man with a healthy goal for the future must have a solid appreciation and understanding of his past.

more to come…


What is a man? cont’d

Welcome to the next installment of my impromptu series on what constitutes a “real” or “good” man.

Several weeks ago my son called me to talk about his girlfriend. He was upset and needed an ear and possible some advice. He has been involved in a long-distance relationship for 18 months (she lives 60 miles from him and goes to school 100 miles from him). He loves her and for the longest time felt that the feeling was mutual. Lately, he feels that she isn’t investing as much in their relationship as he is. It is not lost on him that he is doing a lot of driving for very little actual time with her. He described her behavior to me as cold, distant, unaffectionate. His “I love you’s” were met with a nod or a “um hmmm.”
“Dad,” he said, “I need more than that. I’m an affectionate guy. I need to know she’s as invested as I am.”
“So what do you want to do?” I asked him.
“I’m going to break up with her. But I have to wait 6 long days to see her again.”
Fishing for the right answer I asked,
“You can do it over the phone.” (To be clear I wasn’t advocating this, I was testing him).
“No.” He paused. I need to do this face to face.”
The kid has it. The third, not necessarily third in importance but in my blog, trait of a good man. Integrity. He made his ol’ Dad pretty proud right then.

Integrity.
Integrity is a word thrown around a lot, mostly by people who don’t have it. In short layman’s terms, Integrity is doing the right thing. The right thing is often the hardest thing to do. In the case of my son, he knew that a text or a phone call would do the job but it wouldn’t be the right way to do it. Even though he was hurt, upset and annoyed at his girlfriend, consideration for her feelings was paramount. Doing what is right, not expedient or easy is the very definition of integrity.

As a society we have come to rely on what is quick. On what is easy. And sadly, what we can get away with. Only when it is convenient do some ask what the right course of action is. I suspect that deep down inside we all know what the right thing to do is in any situation. It may not be the easiest, cheapest or most convenient but it is right there in the forefront of the mind of any morally virtuous person. A good man always strives to do the right thing…even when no one is looking. A man of integrity makes sure that what he says and does are in alignment. I’m proud to say that my son is a man of integrity.

In order to reconcile the man with the image, one must be able to take a hard and unflinching look at himself and make changes if needed. Therefore the next, and I think related virtue of a good man is that of humility.

Humility.
Humility is the antithesis of hubris and arrogance. A humble man does not take himself too seriously because to be full of oneself you are not allowing room for others. A humble man knows the world around him and exactly where he fits into it. When charitable, he is not concerned about accolades and recognition. He values accomplishment and achievement and satisfying a need, all the while motivated by integrity, his inner desire to do the right thing for the right reasons.

I have known many great and humble men and I strive to be like them. Men who are genuinely more concerned with you then they are with themselves. Men who accept criticism as a means to self improvement yet are slow to criticize others. Men who are involved but want to blend into a crowd, not stand on a mount waving a flag that says “look at me!”

A real, humble man wants everyone to achieve and be happy, not seek an advantage of perceived superiority over others. We need more men of integrity and humility in this age of relative morality and rampant egoism.

to be continued…

What is a man?

One of the hardest things to be in today’s society is a man. As we have strived for equality of the sexes, the thin black line between the sexes is now a thick grey one. In many, if not most, ways it has been refreshing and long overdue. Good riddance to the notion that men belong in the workplace and the “little woman” belongs barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Good riddance to gender pay gaps (yes I know we’re not there yet but we’re making progress). And good riddance to the notion that women are objects to be leered at and objectified. We’ve made tremendous progress in righting the scales in so many areas, but unfortunately in the process we’ve made it somewhat difficult for men to be men. It goes beyond eliminating bad behavior, society is pushing for the de-masculinization of men, and that will not end well. In the process of rehabilitating bad men we are destroying the good ones.

So what is a good man? This may be just my opinion but a good man has old-fashioned values, values that the men who built this great country possessed. Men with resolve, vision and a strong work ethic. Good men still exist today, despite the active marginalization, but they don’t thunder across the tundra in the numbers they once did. The ones that still exist possess the following qualities.

Honesty
Let’s face it, at the core of everything is honesty because the antithesis is dishonesty which is the root of all bad behavior. A good man is almost entirely defined by the trait of honesty. Without the reputation of being an honest man, one will not be trusted and his services and company will not be sought. Honesty is displayed through our words and our actions. If a promise is made verbally, the honest man considers it a binding contract that is iron clad. Consequently, failure to live up to the promise makes you a liar. Once you’ve earned that moniker, there is no turning back.

I was raised by two honest men, my father and my grandfather. Both showed me at an early age the value and virtue of honesty. My grandfather started me off at a young age with telling me,
“Nobody likes a liar”, and “In order to be a good liar you had better have a great memory.”
I watched my dad and grandfather in their professional and personal dealings and it became evident early on that they placed a lot of emphasis on a handshake, eye contact and keeping their word. A handshake was the measure of a man and dads spent great time and effort teaching their boys both the technique and the importance. Combined with a promise, the handshake solidified a verbal contract, one that was meant to be kept and honored.

Both my father and grandfather did side work to supplement their incomes and my grandfather once under-quoted a roofing job. He completed the job, on time, and stuck to his original quote even though he made almost no money. My father told me about it, as an example of what an honest man does.

Today the handshake means almost nothing. Eye contact has been replaced by staring at screens and the verbal contract thing? That is also a thing of the past. Entire professions are dedicated to finding ways to get out of written, signed and notarized documents. Is it any surprise that in our dealings with others we find ourselves at the least cautious and at the least fearful of being lied to? The good men among us still value the handshake and the word of an honest man.

Accountability
I have chosen Accountability as the second virtue due to its close affiliation with that of honesty. While honesty speaks of our dealings with others, accountability is about being honest with ourselves.

How many of us have taken a deep, hard look at events and realized that we made a mistake. How many of us have taken a hard look at our entire lives and realized that who we are and who we think we are to be two different entities? They’re both bitter pills to swallow regardless of age. From being in a leadership position, to analyzing a particular incident or realizing you’ve been living a lie for decades, to reach the point where blame can be put on yourself is extremely difficult. It is also cathartic and the beginning of the road to self-improvement. If only we were all capable of it and spent more energy rectifying and improving the behavior than we do denying our involvement and shifting blame.

3 months ago I took a motorcycle safety course. I failed the skills test and I was furious at myself. My first reaction was to blame the instructors, the course itself, the bike I was riding. But I quickly realized that the course was about low-speed handling and I, despite having ridden a motorcycle before, never learned those maneuvers. It was my fault, no one else’s. My next step was to set up cones in my driveway and to spend hours learning them. I then took my road test and passed. I needed to be accountable and when I did, things worked out.

From learning from a single incident to re-evaluating ones entire life, you cannot be a good man without being accountable. Your light shines from within and, as Harry Truman famously said…”the buck stops here.”

to be continued…

Let’s talk about Ellen

Let’s talk about Ellen. Let’s talk about respect.

Ellen DeGeneres, a self-described homebody, ventured out to the Cowboys/Packers game in Dallas on Sunday. She and her wife Portia Del Rossi sat next to George and Laura Bush. She is now embroiled in turmoil. Not because she cheered for Green Bay while sitting in Jerry Jones’ luxury box, but because she has the nerve to sit with and admit she is friends with George and Laura Bush.

One angry tweeter stated, “Sitting with George and Laura Bush. What a great way to get cancelled.” Ignoring this remarkably tolerant tweet and others like it, Ellen dug in. She is not to be intimidated or told who she should or shouldn’t be friends with.

Monday night she addressed the faux controversy with her fans. To be clear, she did not defend it but instead took an opportunity to provide the intolerant left a teachable moment with a long overdue message; “I can be friends with people who I don’t necessarily share beliefs with.”

“People were upset,” she said. “Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican President?” With the opportunity to share some of the nasty, negative tweets about the event, she chose instead to share one that went the other way. The one fan that tweeted “Seeing Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in humanity again.”

Boom! There it is! Humanity is about love, acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness but we’ve forgotten that and instead we are swimming in a filthy pool of hate, division, judgment and vitriol. It needs to stop. Now.

I know so many people that regurgitate the tired, and incorrect, mantra “Never discuss politics and religion.” I reject that wholeheartedly. We need to do it more. With open mind and open ears, not the other way around. We were once taught to disagree based on facts and to always tolerate opposing viewpoints. Somehow we have evolved to think with our emotions and listen only while waiting to respond. Then, if faced with a opinion that threatens our paradigm we try to win by volume. We need to learn, or relearn that if we don’t listen, we may never learn anything. Do you want to live in a world in which we only listen to our own voices and refuse to learn anything!

We need to accept each other, embracing the good and the bad alike. We need to learn from each other and appreciate what makes us different while recognizing and celebrating what makes us the same. We are not supposed to be the same, isn’t that an obvious point to make?

Life, unlike the football game Ellen went to, is not all about winning and overpowering your opponent. Life is about the individual functioning and achieving within the parameters of society. In order to do so we need to lift each other up, support each other all the while recognizing that our differences are not meant to be a threat to each other. Life is not a competition and blowing out another’s candle does not make yours shine brighter.

“Be kind to everyone…” was her response. Exactly.

Good for Ellen. Shame on those who chose to attack one of the few celebrities that has a “you be you and I’ll be me” mentality. She never asked for your acceptance and she doesn’t need it. I respect her and anyone with the ability to rise above the toxic identity politics that plague our nation. That’s what it’s about after all…respect.

She provided the teachable moment, let’s see who actually learns something from it…It’s really not that hard to do if you try.