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Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

What If?

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on October 9, 2014 at 8:47 am

What If

“What if?” is a question that my mom tortured herself with since my dad passed away in 2001.  The passage of time never diminished her need to know what would have happened if we had done something different, something more extreme in the hopes of an unlikely miracle.

Wondering “what if?” reached its peak each year during our family’s “hell week,” which happens every July.  It begins with the anniversary of my dad’s accident and ends with the anniversary of his passing.  That is always a difficult week, but there used to be a reprieve that lasted until his birthday in March, when we all can’t help but wonder once again…“what if?”

Today marks the final day in another “hell week” for my family.  Today I find myself asking “what if?” on the first anniversary of my mom’s untimely passing.

What if she had taken the test that she feared taking earlier?  Would she still have had the complications that she had from her surgery, which led to more surgery, which led to her ultimately passing away and leaving us all in shock once again?

What if she was able to reach me earlier on the day of her test?  Would I have been able to travel to the hospital quickly enough to give her a hug and kiss and tell her that I loved her before her surgery?

What if the doctor’s appointment that sent her rushing for emergency tests was after her birthday weekend, instead of the Friday before?  What if we didn’t “celebrate” her birthday praying for her to wake up at her bedside?  What if we had the chance to have one last birthday celebration by going out to dinner together (which was one of her favorite things in life)?

What if she got to read the heartfelt, handmade birthday cards that my kids made for her instead of having me read them to her as I said my last goodbye because I knew that the end was near?

What if my daughter could have given her the card that she made for her for this birthday, even though she knew that there was no place to send it?  What if my son could have called my mom to share his excitement about the home run that he hit on her birthday with the bat that she gave him for his birthday?

What if, instead of having two “hell weeks” each year from now on, our family didn’t have any?  What if my dad got to meet the amazing kids that my mom used to look to the sky and tell him about?  What if my mom got to see the kids that she adored grow up, graduate high school and college, get married and have kids of their own?

What if life was fair?  I guess I’ll never know…

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Living In The Moment Instead Of Capturing It

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on May 28, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Image

Life lessons can be found in unlikely places if you are open to learning them.  As a modern-day parent, armed with the requisite equipment (smartphone, digital camera, camcorder), I am always at the ready to capture every “important” moment, in addition to others that wouldn’t fit into the aforementioned category.  At least I was until recently, when I had an epiphany spurred on by Louis C.K.’s stand-up comedy routine.

We tend to look at any celebrity in a different light, but when it comes down to it, Louis C.K. is my peer.  We both have two kids, are close in age and spend enough time on social media to be able to appreciate the absurdity that often takes place in the medium, Facebook in particular.

If I revealed that I had discovered a way to experience life’s moments in incomparable HD-quality, many of you would immediately start Googling for reviews to see what others thought.  The bad news is that you wouldn’t find the information that you’re looking for, but the good news is that there is no cost and you can start experiencing this incomparable HD-quality immediately.  This sounds too good to be true, so there must be a catch, right?  Yes, there is!

The epiphany that I had, and the life lesson that I learned (courtesy of Louis C.K.), is that the best way to experience this HD-quality life is to put the camera down and live in the moment.  In his routine, he joked about how we all live our lives through a tiny, two-dimensional lens when we could be experiencing these moments in real-life 3D.  To be fair, the funniest part of the routine came afterwards when discussing what to do when posting these videos on Facebook, but it is not “family-friendly,” and cannot be shared in this forum.  However, you do not need the punchline to appreciate the legitimate point that he made with his observation.

Putting down the camera is easier said than done, but I was determined to do so the next time that the chance came to live in the moment instead of capturing it.  Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to wait too long.

With Louis C.K.’s words still ringing in my ear, I sat down in my seat to watch my 7-yr old daughter’s dance recital.  My wife wasn’t ready to join me on my mission, so she was in charge of the camcorder.  I took a few obligatory photos, but for the first time in six recitals, I experienced a “life-sized” moment, and enjoyed it more than ever before.  A malfunction with the camcorder had my wife in a frenzy.  In previous years, I would have also been in a panic, but I simply told her that we never watch them anyway.  I shocked myself with this newfound rationalism!

Memorial Day Weekend brought another major test of my willpower.

We have established a family tradition of kicking off the summer by attending the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach.  It is a spectacular event that must be experienced firsthand to truly appreciate.  In previous years, I took some photos during the early parts of the show, but when the headliner came on (Blue Angels or Thunderbirds), I kicked into full “capture-the-moment” mode.  At times, I would be shooting photos blindly into the sky with one hand while videotaping with the other hand.  I lucked into a few good pictures, but I cannot tell you how the videos came out because I have never watched them.

This year, I decided that it was time to live fully in the moment, and I did.  I didn’t take one photo.  I didn’t shoot any video.  I didn’t even turn my “battery-challenged” smartphone on to share the moment on Facebook.  Undistracted, I used all of my senses to take in this awe-inspiring show.  I found myself gasping at times as I watched the FA-18 Hornets pass within feet of each other at incredibly high speeds.  This is a staple of their demonstration, but I never appreciated the intense danger of the moment when viewing it through a tiny camcorder screen.

My brother-in-law joined us for the first time this year.  Photography being one of his favorite hobbies, he was intent on capturing every moment.  By the end of the day, he had taken 281 photos, a number that certainly would have been higher if he wasn’t budgeting his battery time for the main event.  My son took over 100 pictures, even though he was largely uninterested for much of the day.  My wife took some shots on her phone to send to friends, and my sister-in-law took some too.

As we sat around the table when we got home, I shared Louis C.K.’s insight with everyone.  In spite of the fact that they all took pictures, they agreed that his point was a valid one.  I asked my brother-in-law how many pictures he would have taken if he was using film instead of digital memory.  His answer (24) spoke volumes about how the convenience of digital media has made it too easy for us all to live life through a lens, capturing every moment instead of living in them.

Most people left the beach that day with numerous photos of the Air Show.  I left with a handful of photos, all of which were shots of me with my wife and kids.  Out of the thousands of photos that I’ve accumulated through the years of attending the show, one sits squarely on my mantle as a reminder of the experience.  It is a simple close-up of the four of us at Jones Beach, and one of my favorites because it brings me back to a moment in time.  The Blue Angels are awe-inspiring, but I wouldn’t trade a perfect shot of their performance for the family photo that means so much to me.

The majority of my life’s most memorable moments were not captured in photos or videos, but I remember them just the same because they have left an indelible, vivid imprint on my mind.  I don’t need to flip through photo albums or scan my computer to access them, so the argument can be made that the best way to capture a moment is to live in it fully.  It took Louis C.K.’s words of wisdom to bring me to this realization.  Hopefully, it will do the same for those who read this story.

Empty Crate, Empty Bed, Broken Hearts

In Family, Life Lessons on March 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Empty Crate Empty Bed Broken Hearts

The following is a story about a morally bankrupt dog breeder named Jonas Stoltzfus, who is an “approved breeder” for a broker website called Greenfield Puppies.  According to the broker’s website, they do everything possible to prevent mistreatment of animals, and inhumane breeding practices.  They make no such promises for how their breeders treat humans.  Perhaps if they policed their breeders’ business practices, a very bad situation could have been avoided.

This story is not a plea for sympathy.  Having been through some very tragic times, what Stoltzfus did to my family and me pales by comparison.  By sharing this story, my hope is that anyone looking to do business with this unscrupulous man will think twice before taking a trip out to Amish country in Pennsylvania and look elsewhere for a family dog.

Here is my story…

This month will mark five years since the painful passing of the only family dog that we’ve had since my children were born.  For a long time, my kids didn’t want to get another dog because of their love for our dog that passed, and to avoid the pain of ever having to go through something like that again.  But as the saying goes, time heals all wounds.

Not long before my mother’s sudden passing in October, she told me that she wanted to get my kids a puppy.  Throughout her entire life, she had a paralyzing fear of big dogs.  Her perception of “big” is likely different than most people.  The only dogs that she felt comfortable around were those of the toy variety, so naturally, she wanted to get the kids a puppy that would never grow up into a big dog that she would fear.  Though not as extreme, my daughter also has a fear of big dogs, and has been longing for a little dog for quite some time.

I still hadn’t made up my mind about whether or not I was ready to take on the responsibility of a dog when my mom passed away suddenly.  In the difficult months since her passing, the thought of getting a dog never really crossed my mind.  However, after a trip to visit a family member with a toy breed, I decided that the time was right to give the gift that my mom wanted to give to the kids.  Seeing the joy on their faces as they played with this dog made it a fairly easy decision.

I started doing research on my own to find the dog that would be ideally suited to our family, while honoring my mom’s intentions.  I discovered an adorable mixed breed puppy on Petfinders.com.  When my wife got home, I took her upstairs to discuss the idea of getting this dog.  She didn’t know that I had been in discussions with my mom about getting a dog for the kids.

After some hesitation, and staring at this adorable little puppy on the computer screen, she agreed that we could look into it.  I made a call early the next morning and listened to a voicemail message that said the fastest response would come by e-mail or text, so I e-mailed and waited.  I texted and waited.  I texted again and waited some more.  I called again, and got the same message.  When it became abundantly clear that this shelter wasn’t going to respond to my inquiry, I started to look elsewhere.

My search took me to the website for Greenfield Puppies.  I scrolled down and found a breed that I had never heard of before.  It was a “designer” breed called a Cavachon (King Charles Cavalier and Bischon Frise). It was exactly the type of dog that my mom envisioned and that my kids would adore.  The litter of 8 puppies belonged to a breeder named Jonas Stoltzfus.  It seemed like fate had stepped in when it turned out that my favorite one shared my mother’s name.  I immediately called and left a message about which puppy I was interested in, and asked the breeder to call me back.

Several hours later, the phone rang just as we were sitting down for dinner.  I rushed upstairs to take the call in a place where the kids couldn’t hear me because we were going to surprise them with the puppy.  He told me that the puppy that I was interested in was still available, but that he would need a deposit to hold it past the weekend.  This conversation took place this past Wednesday.  When I called back to arrange the deposit after speaking to my wife, I got his voicemail and left a message.

On Thursday morning, I left another message trying to arrange for a deposit on the puppy.  Around noon, I received a call back from Jonas’s brother, Henry.  He told me that Jonas was at work, but assured me that the puppy was still available.  He also said that a deposit wouldn’t be necessary because he didn’t anticipate it being a problem to hold the puppy until this Saturday.  Later that day, Jonas called me back and confirmed what Henry had said to me earlier.  He told me that he would mark down that the puppy was being held for us.

My wife and I decided that it was going to be a logistical nightmare to keep this a secret from the kids because we needed supplies before bringing the puppy home.  When my kids got home from school on Friday, we told them about the puppy.  They nearly burst into tears of joy when they saw the puppy that bared their beloved grandmother’s name.  When I told them that it was a gift from my mom, my daughter looked up to the ceiling with arms open wide and said…“Thank you, Mimi.  I love you!”

With no time to spare, I took the kids to Petco (an hour away) to buy the necessary supplies for the puppy that would be ours by the weekend.  My wife stayed home feverishly organizing and puppy-proofing the kitchen for our new arrival.      

While I was out with the kids, Jonas called my house and left his address on the answering machine, because it is not listed on the Greenfield Puppies website.  Jonas asked for a return phone call to confirm the time of our arrival.

I put his address into my GPS, and found that it would take us just over 3.5 hours to get from our house to 197 South Groffdale Rd in Leola, PA.  I called him back from my cell phone and told him that we would arrive around noon on Saturday.

Exhausted from our day, I arrived back home with the kids at 8:15pm armed with everything that we would need to bring our new puppy home.

Customarily, our family has a hard time getting out of the house on time for one reason or another.  However, we were out the door by 7:40am, excited to bring our new addition home.  We gassed up the car, grabbed a quick breakfast for the road and were on our way with time to spare.  This would give us the chance to grab a quick lunch before picking up the puppy for the 3.5-hour ride back home.

At 10:41am, my cell phone rang in the car.  My wife answered it, and a look of despair washed over her face as she handed me the phone to speak to Jonas.  He asked me if I got the message that he left at the house at 8am.  I told him that we left before 8am to make sure that we arrived on time.  He said that he called to tell me that the puppy was sold to people who got there before me.  When I got infuriated with him, he told me that I should have still been home at 8am to get the call.

I was rightfully enraged and let him know it.  Not only was it not his place to tell me what time to leave my house for a long trip, but he was the one at fault for making an agreement over the phone and then going back on his word.  His empty apology was followed by him telling me about his “first come, first serve” policy.  The fact that we had an agreement meant absolutely nothing to him.

He told me that there were other Cavachon breeders in the area and that I should contact Greenfield Puppies to see which ones had available puppies.  The number that he gave to me did not work.  Truth be told, I was only going to call it to complain about him, not give this broker another chance to disappoint my family with another bogus breeder.

My kids were understandably crying hysterically in the back seat of the car when we got the news that our puppy was gone.  They couldn’t understand why someone would go back on their word like that.  To make matters worse, we were 2.5 hours from home.  Jonas offered no explanation as to why he didn’t call my cell phone earlier.  He simply placed the blame on me for leaving too early.

Knowing what I know now, I am glad that we didn’t end up getting our puppy from this morally bankrupt “businessman.”

My wife and I took the opportunity to teach the kids a life lesson about how to treat people, but it did little to take away their feelings of betrayal and heartbreak.

As I said earlier, my goal in sharing this story is to enlighten others, not garner sympathy for my plight.  If you believe that the public should be warned about people like Jonas Stoltzfus, please share this story on social media and ask your friends to do the same.

Thank you!

Finding Solace on the Diamond

In Family, Life, Life Lessons, Sports on October 21, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Z 1st HR

Some of my fondest childhood memories occurred between the chalk lines of the baseball diamond.  For many years I have shared these memories with my son.  Deep down, I always hoped that he would feel the same way about the game that defined my childhood.  To this day, no matter what the situation, I still seem to find solace on the diamond.

For the first time ever, my son played fall baseball this year.  It was the first football season that he has missed since he was five years old (see “Saying Goodbye to Pee Wee Football”).  The transition out of football had its challenging moments, but ultimately, he embraced the change and made the best of things.

The last game of his season was supposed to be played on the day that my mom passed away (see “Dear Mom…”).  Needless to say, my son never made it to the game as we spent that day shopping for clothes for my mom’s funeral.  It was a heartbreaking moment as we drove past the field on the way home from the mall, and we saw all of his teammates warming up for the game.  Thankfully, the league added another game as a bonus, so my son got one more chance to take the field on the day that he returned to school.

My expectations for the last game were virtually non-existent.  Under the circumstances, I just wanted him to get through the game the best that he could.  After sharing what my son had been through with the league director, he was slotted as the leadoff hitter for the home team.  He stepped up to the plate in the first inning with the baseball bat that my mom gave for his last birthday, wearing the batting helmet and batting gloves that were also part of the gift.  Always fearful of what could happen on the football field, my mom was overjoyed to buy him everything that he needed for baseball (her favorite sport).

He swung hard, but missed the first pitch.  The second pitch was a ball.  At that moment, I just hoped that he would be able to focus enough to put the ball into play.  The last thing that he needed in his fragile state of mind was a strikeout.  He drove the next pitch into the gap between the left and center fielders.  From the bleachers, I yelled to go for two.  When I saw how far out the ball was in the outfield, I yelled again for him to go all the way.  The look on his face as he touched home plate for his first homerun ever is something that I will never forget.  I ran to the dugout to give him a hug, congratulate him and tell him that he made Mimi very proud.  He followed up his homerun with two hard-hit singles, the best day of hitting that he has experienced thus far.

For those few hours, my mind was focused on how proud I was of my son, and it temporarily eased the pain and sense of loss that I was feeling about my mom.

Over the weekend, the two of us spent a few hours together on the baseball field.  He took his usual batting practice, and then pitched to me from behind a protective screen.  As much as he enjoyed hitting, he seemed to take more pleasure in watching me drive the ball deep into the outfield.  It was fun to relive my glory days, but more importantly, my son and I got a much needed respite from the overwhelming sadness that we’ve been feeling.

He has been trying to put on a brave face since my mom’s passing, but this morning, he finally confided in me that he was hurting badly.  He can’t understand why his life has changed so drastically in such a short amount of time, how we went from a planned birthday celebration for my mom to a funeral in a matter of days.  He so badly wants to tell Mimi about the homerun that he finally hit.  I do too.  We can only hope that she was watching with my dad.

The cold winter weather will arrive sooner than we would like, but until then, I plan on spending as much time as possible playing baseball with my son, and finding solace on the diamond.

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Pee Wee Football

In Family, Life Lessons, Sports on September 9, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Pee Wee Football

Our son was only five years old when he strapped on a football helmet for the first time.  He was raised to love the game long before he ever stepped onto a football field.  The picture of him dressed as a football player for Halloween when he was two years old is one of the most memorable of the thousands that we have taken of him over the years.  He wasn’t gifted with the natural ability that some other kids had, but he practiced as hard as any kid that I’ve ever coached through the years.  As a result, he developed into a very good football player, a lunch pail kid with average size and speed, but more heart and determination than most.

He had his challenges through the years – most notably trying to live up to the impossible expectations that go hand-in-hand with being a coach’s son – but he never lost his passion for the game.  Pee wee football helped shape him into the kid that he is today, which is why it was incredibly difficult to take it away from him.

Kids stop playing pee wee football for various reasons.  Some don’t have what it takes to withstand the physicality of the game.  Others lack the mental discipline that it takes to function as a part of a team.  Politics surrounding parent-run pee wee football leagues has caused numerous kids to leave the game.  None of the aforementioned reasons caused us to make the decision to pull our son out of pee wee football.  Although we were exhausted by the politics, our decision was based strictly on protecting him from harm, now and in the future.

There is risk in everything that kids do, sports in particular, but the risk that football poses is unique, and one that we were no longer willing to take.  The fact of the matter is that we are armed with information in 2013 that simply wasn’t available in 2007 when our son started playing tackle football.  No longer is the term “getting your bell rung” an acceptable description of concussion symptoms caused by a blow to the head; at least it isn’t to those who have evolved and taken heed to the warnings about head injuries.

Armed with the knowledge of the potential lingering effects of repeated blows to the head, we chose not to allow our son to continue playing the sport that has meant so much to all of us.  Understandably, our son was not happy with our decision.  And though we have shared numerous stories with him about the potential long-term effects that playing football could have on the rest of his life, he would strap on the helmet today if we told him that we changed our minds about letting him play.

Our son is angry, frustrated and sad about not being able to play the game that he loves, and I don’t blame him.  I was only allowed to play one season of football in junior high school before my parents refused to sign the permission slip to let me play again.  I felt all of the emotions that our son is feeling, and I had only played football for one season.  He played eight seasons of football, so I can only imagine how much more intense his feelings are right now.

Pee wee football parents are incredibly passionate about the game.  Most who read this story will probably disagree with the decision that we’ve made.  Not too long ago, I would have disagreed as well.  However, parents who find themselves questioning whether or not they want to allow their sons to continue playing football out of concern for the potential lingering health effects down the road, may find solace in the fact that a football coach (who loves the game) chose to make the same difficult parenting decision.

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Jason Collins: The First Openly Gay, Active Professional Athlete in Major Sports

In Life, Life Lessons, Sports on April 29, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Jason Collins - Sports Illustrated

The featured NBA story in the headlines this morning was about Dwight Howard being ejected from what may have been his last game in a Los Angeles Laker uniform.  The Lakers were dominated by the San Antonio Spurs and unceremoniously eliminated in a four-game sweep.  This morning, the conversation was all about Howard’s lack of leadership and where he will play next year.  This afternoon, no one was talking about Howard anymore because something of actual significance happened in the NBA.  Jason Collins came out as the first openly gay, active professional athlete in the major sports.

I wish that Collins’ revelation wasn’t a major story, but it is because he is the first active professional athlete to stop living a lie, something that should have happened a long time ago.

I hope that more professional athletes will come forward now that one of their peers has been the first one to jump into the frigid waters of the proverbial pool.  It’s 2013, and the time has come to let people be who they are regardless of their profession.

Although Collins readily admits that he wishes that someone else had already blazed this trail, the world of professional sports couldn’t have found a more eloquent spokesman to open the door for others.  Pulling snippets from the “coming out” article that he wrote for Sports Illustrated would not do Collins justice.  It should be read in its entirety to understand where he is coming from (click here for full article).

I wish that I wasn’t pleasantly surprised to see so many NBA stars coming out to show their support and admiration for Collins, but I am.  I guess seeing so much intolerance in the world has made me something of a cynic when it comes to people accepting others for who they are.

I wish that I was surprised to see a fellow professional athlete question the life that Collins lives, but unfortunately, I am not, given the anti-gay statements that some NFL players have made recently.

It is ignorant to think that being gay is a choice that Collins has made.  If it was a choice, then why would he spend his entire life trying to fool the world into thinking that he was straight, his twin brother in particular who has played with him all the way through college and into the NBA?

No amount of logical reasoning will persuade those who are steadfast in their anti-gay beliefs, and that is a shame.  And even if most teammates, players and fans accept gay professional athletes with open arms, the unaccepting ones will undoubtedly shout their point of view from the rooftops and perpetuate unnecessary controversy for the foreseeable future.

Like Jackie Robinson, Collins will likely deal with his fair share of intolerance going forward, assuming that he signs another NBA contract.  As a deep bench player who is a 34-year old free agent, his opportunities may be limited for legitimate basketball reasons.  Hopefully, at least one team will give Collins a chance to show the world that an openly gay athlete can thrive in professional sports.

There have been rumors recently that some high profile, gay NFL players will be coming out this season.  In various interviews on ESPN today, former Dallas Cowboy, Darren Woodson, has stated that he is absolutely certain that he played with gay players during the Cowboys dynasty days of the 90’s.  Woodson, like many other professional athletes, was solely focused on winning games and competing for championships.  The sexual preference of his teammates never entered his mind.  And while he admits that there will always be some intolerant “knuckleheads” in any given locker room, he believes that any player who is dedicated to doing what is necessary to help his team win, will ultimately be embraced by his teammates.

Until today, gay athletes in professional sports had remained closeted due to a fear of the unknown.  Thanks to Jason Collins’ courageous decision to be the first openly gay, active professional athlete, others will be able to stop living a lie.

Hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, the NBA will honor Collins in the same manner that Major League Baseball honors Robinson, and have all NBA players wear the number 98 for one game during the regular season.  It would be a fitting tribute to honor the man who broke down the barrier that has lasted for far too long in professional sports.

While You See a Chance – Take it

In Life, Life Lessons on February 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Take a Chance

“When some cold tomorrow finds you…When some sad old dream reminds you…How the endless road unwinds you…While you see a chance – take it…Because it’s all…on you!” 

It is said that success begins at the end of your comfort zone.  Most people don’t find out whether this statement is true or not because they don’t want to venture outside of their comfort zone.  After all, it is called a “comfort” zone for a reason.  For some people, like top athletes, fear of failure is a greater motivator than achieving success.  On the other hand, fear of failure can also be a paralyzing factor that causes you to remain inside of your comfort zone and promise yourself that you’ll do something when the timing is right.  The problem with this mindset is that life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and the timing is never right!

Life just happens, and time slips away faster than any of us care to admit.  When we lie to ourselves about “someday,” we are simply setting the stage for future regrets.

I recently came across a video entitled “What if Money Didn’t Matter?” (see below).  It is only three minutes long, but that is all the time that it took to make me take action and start making changes to live the life that I want to live.

 
If you took the time to watch the video, you may have also had an “a-ha moment” that made you think twice about your future.  The day that I watched the video, I decided that I would replace “someday” with today, and immediately sprang into action.

It has been a few weeks since I watched the video, and a lot of progress has been made in a short amount of time.  I reached out to people from my past that I thought could help me achieve my goals.  Each of them agreed to help me in whatever way that they could, just as I would for any friend that needed my help with something.  One former colleague in particular has been instrumental in helping me come up with a unique idea that will lay the foundation for the future.

The action that I have taken over the past couple of weeks has been on my mind for a while, but I was guilty of putting it off until the timing was right.  Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of motivation to put plans into action.  And though there have already been bumps in the road, and more will certainly follow, there is a lot of satisfaction derived from putting the wheels into motion and enjoying the ride, no matter where your journey takes you.

As “The Great One” – Wayne Gretzky – famously said…“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!”   Steve Winwood’s lyrics  go hand-in-hand with Gretzky’s message…“While you see a chance – take it!” 

Lance Armstrong: Interview with Oprah Winfrey – Part 2

In Life Lessons, Sports on January 19, 2013 at 3:24 am

armstrong part 2

The national reaction to part 1 of Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was largely negative.  At no time during the interview did he exhibit any true contrition for the damage that he inflicted with his bullying ways to those who threatened to expose his lying and cheating.  Though he said some of the right words, the tone and arrogance with which they were delivered left viewers wondering if he agreed to the interview just so he could someday compete again in sanctioned events.

Armstrong’s stoic, tough exterior was still present during part 2 of his interview with Oprah, but he did show some signs of true emotion while discussing his son’s protection of him and his disassociation from the Livestrong cancer foundation that he created shortly after he was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer.

Since its inception, Livestrong has raised nearly $500 million for cancer research and support, due in large part to Armstrong sharing his personal story about defying the odds and beating the disease that gave him only a 50% chance of survival.  Not only did he win his battle with cancer, but he did so in an international spotlight while rising to the top of the cycling world with his seven Tour de France titles.

When the doping and cheating accusations against Armstrong started coming to light, he knew that his professional career would be in jeopardy and that he would eventually be stripped of all of his sponsorships.

For a man who was seemingly on top of the world, it was a humbling experience to receive one call after another from his sponsors as they informed him that he was being dropped.  It started on a Wednesday with Nike, and within a few days, Armstrong had lost $75 million worth of sponsorships.

While the loss of all of his sponsorships was humbling, Armstrong – with tears in his eyes – said that his most humbling moment came when he was encouraged to step down as Chairman from Livestrong.  At the time, his plan was to stay involved in a lesser capacity, but within a matter of weeks, he was asked to sever ties completely from the charity that he founded.  He said that stepping aside was the best thing for the foundation, but that it “hurt like hell” because it was like his “sixth child.”

Armstrong’s two youngest children are too young to understand what is going on with their father, but his other three children are fully aware of what he is going through, none more than his oldest son – Luke.  At 13, Luke took it upon himself to defend his father to the masses on social media sites.

Knowing that his son was lying to protect his name, Armstrong’s fatherly instincts finally kicked in, and he said to his son…“I want you to know that it’s true.  Don’t defend me anymore.”

It doesn’t matter how tough you are, or how tough your persona is, when it comes to disappointing your children, everyone is equally vulnerable.  And though Armstrong had become a villain to so many, his son – upon hearing his father’s admission – responded by saying “I love you…you’re my dad…this won’t change that.”

Armstrong’s teary eyes while talking about his son and his removal from Livestrong don’t change the fact that he hurt a lot of people, but it does show that there is a compassionate side buried deep within his gruff exterior.  He was also visibly shaken when discussing the impact that this whole situation has had on his mother.

Armstrong admitted that he has been in therapy over the years, but that he has never done it as consistently as he should because he has had a “messy life.”  He knows that he has wronged a lot of people, and reiterated his pledge to spend as much time as it takes to make amends with the people that he betrayed, lied to and bullied.  He knows full well that many of the people will never forgive him.  He also admits that his arrogance has not gone away, and that becoming less arrogant is not an overnight process.

After watching both parts of Armstrong’s interview with Oprah in its entirety, it is abundantly clear that Armstrong chose to do this interview because he has an agenda, which should come as no surprise.

Does he truly feel remorse for hurting so many people with his heavy-handed tactics to perpetuate his lie and protect his reputation and his career?  Perhaps, but making amends doesn’t seem to be as important as having the chance to compete once again in sanctioned events.

The tearful Armstrong was only present for a portion of part 2 of the interview.  The agenda-driven Armstrong was a bit subdued, but still made his case that he deserves to compete again because others who cheated only received a 6-month suspension.  As it stands today, Armstrong has been given the “death penalty,” which prohibits him from competing in any sanctioned events, cycling or otherwise.

Is Armstrong’s punishment much more severe than his fellow cheating cyclists?  Undoubtedly, yes.  However, Armstrong has only himself to blame for his severe punishment.  He did whatever it took to elevate himself into a stratosphere that no other cyclist ever came close to approaching.  He used his position of power to ruin the lives of many innocent people, and for that, he is paying a steeper price than those who merely participated in the cheating that was rampant in cycling at the time.

Many of the people that Armstrong hurt will never forgive him, which is something that he understands.  It remains to be seen whether he will truly spend the rest of his life trying to make amends with the people that he wronged.

The most important act of forgiveness has already been granted to Armstrong by his eldest son.  And though he is no longer a part of Livestrong for strategic reasons, it appears that he is in good standing with the people who have taken over the reins to continue doing the good work that Armstrong started.

When asked by Oprah if Livestrong could survive without his story, Armstrong simply replied…“I hope so.”

For the sake of all of those who are relying upon Livestrong to help them through their darkest hour, we should all hope that the foundation thrives without Armstrong, whether we like him as a person or not.

Lance Armstrong: Interview with Oprah Winfrey – Part 1

In Life Lessons, Sports on January 18, 2013 at 12:20 am

Lance Armstrong - Oprah Winfrey Interview - Part 1

After several years of living a lie and doing whatever it took to perpetuate the lie, Lance Armstrong finally admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he is guilty of doping and using performance-enhancing drugs throughout the peak years of his career.

Quite frankly, the details of the admission were not at all surprising.  The only surprising element was that Armstrong finally came clean after all these years.  If part 1 of the 2-part interview is any indication, this confession seems to be self-serving, and not the mea culpa that many had hoped to witness.

The truth of the matter is that most people don’t care too much about the doping and performance-enhancing drugs that Armstrong used to help propel him to the top of the cycling world.  Until Armstrong started dominating the Tour de France with regularity, most Americans didn’t pay any attention to the sport.  His cycling dominance combined with his testicular cancer battle made him a compelling media story.  If there is one thing that Americans love, it is a story about someone beating the odds, especially when it comes to sports.  Is there a sports fan out there who wasn’t totally inspired by the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team winning the gold medal?  Who among us can watch the movie Rudy and not get choked up, and perhaps even shed a tear?

Lance Armstrong made America stand up and take notice of a sport that very few Americans cared about.  If not for the fact that he destroyed innocent peoples’ lives while trying to perpetuate his lie, most people would have already forgiven him for cheating.  After all, the sport of cycling is rife with competitors doing the exact same thing.  If we as a society can appreciate Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire shattering Major League Baseball’s long-standing home run record, we can certainly accept someone cheating to win a bike race that most people ignore anyway.

If Armstrong didn’t make it his mission to destroy those who could expose him, all of the good that he has done for cancer support with his Livestrong charity would have allowed most people to dismiss his transgressions as nothing more than business as usual for people who participate in a sport filled with corruption.

By the time that part 1 of Armstrong’s interview with Oprah aired, the whole world already knew that he was going to admit to cheating.   What people wanted to see was remorse for trampling over anyone who got in his way or threatened to expose him.  But the remorse that he showed was lukewarm at best.

Armstrong admitted to being a control freak and a bully.  He admitted that he was wrong, and refused to point fingers at others or give names of others who cheated.  He confessed that he has always gone into attack-mode against those who have threatened his way of life, even when he was growing up.

Armstrong said that he was “deeply flawed” and “a jerk” and that he would go back in time and do things differently if he could.  He acknowledged that he had ruthless desire to win at all costs and that he was an “arrogant prick.”  And though his admissions and regret are what people wanted to hear, the bottom line is that Armstrong’s delivery and body language left you with the feeling that he is still an “arrogant prick.”

When Oprah pressed him on the damage that he caused in the lives of Frankie and Betsy Andreu, Armstrong couldn’t bring himself to say that they were telling the truth because there was at least one element of the story that he vehemently denies…calling Betsy “fat.”  However, he didn’t deny calling her a “crazy bitch.”  And though he recently had a 40-minute conversation with the Andreus, Armstrong said that his relationship with the couple has not been mended because they were too badly hurt by him.

Ultimately, part 1 of the interview with Oprah did very little, if anything, to redeem Armstrong in the eyes of those who were looking for a changed man filled with remorse for the way that he treated people close to him.

While he admitted to cheating, he also seemed to justify it as simply being part of a level playing field with other cheaters.  More importantly, Armstrong’s refusal to admit that the Andreus were telling the truth about him because of some minor inconsistencies in their story shows that he is not really willing to do what it takes to earn back the trust of the people that he hurt, unless of course, it is on his terms…just like it has always been.

Lance Armstrong Interview with Oprah Winfrey – Part 2

They Grow Up So Fast…Be Careful What You Wish For

In Family, Life, Life Lessons on January 12, 2013 at 9:42 am

They Grow Up So Fast

The holidays brought in an influx of toys for my little one, leaving her already cluttered room in more disarray than it was previously.  At some point, every kid must let go of some of the toys that they no longer use to make room for new ones.  When my wife had trouble finding a place for everything, we told our little one that she had to move some things out of her room.  In our minds, we imagined our daughter getting rid of all of the things that we considered to be well past their prime…things like old Happy Meal toys would have been a great start.  But our little one surprised us both.

First came the Dora the Explorer doll that she loved not so long ago.  Much to our chagrin, Dora no longer has a place in my daughter’s life.  She never watches the show anymore; she would rather flip through the channels endlessly, telling us that nothing is on, instead of popping in the Dora DVD’s that were once her favorites.

Then came a little stuffed Blue from Blue’s Clues.  While we weren’t surprised that she has outgrown the show, we were surprised that she was ready to part with any stuffed animal, especially a dog, because they are her latest obsession.  Undoubtedly, it won’t be long before the stuffed dogs lose their luster, and she’s on to the next thing.

When I saw the stuffed Berenstain Bears lying on the floor outside of my daughter’s room, I was surprised and saddened.  It seems like it was just yesterday that she was begging for them, and I was frantically searching everywhere to make sure that she got them as gifts just a few Christmases ago.  She used to watch the Berenstain Bears videos over and over again.  Truth be told, it was one of the few kids’ shows that I enjoyed watching.  I couldn’t “bear” to see them go, so I convinced her to find a place for them, even if she didn’t intend to play with them anymore.

Parents have always said that their kids grow up so fast, and that time passes by much faster than any of us would like.  It’s a harsh reality that most parents deal with at some point, but at this point in time, it is even more difficult because my daughter’s growth is happening on the heels of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  It has really hit home for me with my daughter because the victims were all in the same grade as her.

I often wish that I could freeze this moment in time, but I know that isn’t reality.  The reality is that my little one is ready to move on to the next phase of her childhood regardless of whether we are ready for it or not.  It may make us a bit sad and nostalgic, but there is nothing that we can do to stop it from happening.

Even though I convinced my little one to let the Berenstain Bears stay for a little while longer, I know that they are in her room now more for us than they are for her.  And that’s alright with me.  At the very least, when I look at them, I will be reminded to cherish each phase in her life because there is no telling how long each one will last.

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