30 Year Love Affair

Us – Baltimore Inner Harbor

Today is the day that we celebrate 30 years of marriage. It all started when I spotted Angela P. Brown on an MTA bus in Baltimore, MD. I had no idea that the young woman seated a few rows away shared my destination (both literally and figuratively). I wrote about that day in a previous post. As the story goes, she wore a tight skirt and paisley boots; a pensive look and shiny lip gloss. I was intrigued, smitten even. She showed zero interest in me but I had to make my move or forever wonder “what if”? The rest is a 30 year love affair full of laughs, tears, celebrations, and curses. Ours is NOT a perfect marriage, but the foundation rest solidly on love, respect, and mutual admiration. Our three decades together have been wonderful but not without challenges.

First 10

Newly married with fresh offspring

Imagine a marriage proposal that goes something like this, “So you wanna just get married?” I would 1,000% do it all over again if I could. But I can’t and I have to live with that failure for the rest of my life. This woman deserved a Hollywood styled surprise proposal and I came up short. And yet, she still said yes.

The wedding was a hot AF October Saturday. We played a passive role in its planning and it probably showed. But we were surrounded by friends and family and that was cool. Some I’m sure thought we would make it while others likely thought it to be a disaster in the making. We knew what we had and that’s all that mattered at the time.

The decade saw the birth of our first child Imani Khadija Lee; a frightening and exhilarating moment in what was, to that date, a two year marriage. Mix an infant baby with a toddler marriage and you have the kind of stress that could break a weak bond. We were lucky to survive but overjoyed to be parents of a beautiful baby girl. I had to be on air at WEAA FM by 5 AM and we only had one car. Finding a daycare situation to accommodate us was difficult and added to the stress. But our commitment to each other and our young family helped us push through.

As if a new marriage and newborn child wasn’t enough of a test, we tossed a relocation in the mix for the hell of it. Moving to a place over 300 miles from family and friends to a place where we knew no one was risky but we embraced the adventure and faced our future head on. Angela and I loaded up the black Nissan Sentra with what wouldn’t fit in the moving truck, strapped 1 year-old Imani in a car seat and headed to Syracuse, NY where the early struggle continued.

Second 10

A growing family. Pictured in front of our first home.

We were finally catching our groove in Syracuse. My Job was going pretty well and during this time Angela began her human resources career at Welch Allyn. The ten years invested in this union had already long outlasted that of my parents. In fact, there were very few examples of healthy relationships to learn from in my family. My brother, Roland, and I were determined to make marriage and commitment to family a central part of our identity. But we were making it up as we went along.

To ensure our success in Syracuse we needed to create extended family where none existed. Enter David and Melanie Littlejohn. Along with David’s sister Linda and her husband Langston, the Littlejohns represented the extended family network that we needed to survive in our new home. This was equally important to Imani’s development.

Make no bones about it, these were tough years on the marriage. We purchased our first home and were taking on more debt, living pay check to pay check. But we never fought over money. Disagreements, yes. Fights? No. In fact, fights are rare with us. We allow space for cooling off after heated disagreements and we never have and never will say things to each other that we can’t take back. And intimacy was a challenge during this time in our lives. Busy jobs, active weekends, and a child with a robust social calendar, we struggled to connect organically. For nearly the entire decade, I slept in the guest bedroom because of sleep apnea. Sex was a “by appointment” activity for sure. Sunday night was the night and is was as consistent as the sunrise. We considered it “marriage maintenance” and made sure to never lose physical touch.

So while we were working to keep our heads above water, the decade would take a turn for the worse. In two consecutive summers, Angela and I would lose two of the most important people in our lives. Angela lost her mother, Geraldine, and I lost my brother Roland. Poor Imani lost a grandmother and her uncle. There were bouts of disbelief and depression. For a while after, summers represented sadness. The music of those summers became the soundtrack of tragedy. But we had each other through it all. Never losing our center…the love we had for each other.

Needing to lift our spirits, we chose to counter the loss with an addition to the family and, on a June afternoon in the year 2000, introduced Hadiya Asha Lee to the world. The LA Lakers were on the verge of beating the Pacers for the NBA championship and we were watching in the hospital room. Angie’s water broke early and labor was induced. I nearly fainted when she arrived. I dropped my wife’s leg and tripped over the surgical light cord on my way to the rocking chair. I made the grave mistake of looking down there as Hadiya’s head crowned. Hit simultaneously with the urge to hurl and shit my pants, I once again failed my wife. Left her to fend for herself during the birth of our second child. Hadiya was the joy that we needed. Another beautiful baby girl with an amazing spirit. Our little unit had grown to four and we were determined to be good parents. Through it all, though, we were equally determined not to let parenthood totally consume US. Research has shown that adding children to a marriage can decrease marital satisfaction. We made sure that parental duties were equally divided so no one partner absorbed more than their fair share of stress.

Third 10

Empty nesters living our best life.

These were/are the good years. This what my wife refers to as “shit is gettin good” years. Debt was declining and income was rising. We purchased and moved into our second home and the girls flourished. But stressful careers and the demands of raising two kids put a strain on the relationship. We hit a rough patch and began to drift away from who we were as a couple. Losing our identity. Our center. Patience, communication, and love for one another is what helped us survive this tricky phase of marriage. A phase where things become almost business like as we divide responsibilities and work to manage those responsibilities. We were merely coexisting and that just wasn’t good enough for us. Increasing communication and being mindful of physical touch is how we began to change the narrative. And we began to clarify and put focus on our shared vision of the future.

Launching one child into the world and settling the other on campus translated into more alone time for Boogie and Bleezie. The much talked about empty nest. A period of stress and angst for many couples faced with detachment from their mom and dad identities. This was not our issue. The early investment in the relationship and our “us against the world” posture served us well. You see, Angela and I learned early on in our marriage that we were all we really had. There was no one investing in us but US. Best friends, lovers, partners cohesive and neatly packaged. So with a nest now empty, discovering life and growing together is how we forge our path. We enjoy and prefer each other’s company. Never losing what attracted us to each other during the early dating stages. We haven’t changed so significantly that we don’t know each other. Intimacy has never been better. We share both dreams and a vision of how to make those dreams come true. Truly living our best lives.

Harmonic Rhythm

I asked Angela why she thought things worked so well between us and she responded with “marital norms”; and respecting each others space – both physical and metaphorical. Ever the business professional, Angela equates marital norms with workplace norms. That is having a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities and how you relate to and operate within your physical space. I call it having harmonic rhythm. We flow together like a river curving around rocks and banks, moving in the same direction and never diverging. And we have never tried to change each other because we believe that our differences balance us out.

Never Losing Touch

On mornings when I am the last to get out of bed, I walk downstairs to find Angela peddling around in the kitchen. I’ll hug her from behind when she doesn’t expect it or she will immediately walk into my arms for a warm embrace. This can happen all day long if we are not working. Touches, kisses, hugs…it’s hard to imagine being in the same room with her and not having physical contact. My hand resting on her thigh when I am driving. Holding hands for the 15 seconds that either of us can stand PDA as we walk down a city street. It is behavior that we want our children to see. We want them to know what a healthy, loving relationship is supposed to look like. “Couples who don’t maintain an intimate connection through both sexual and non-sexual actions are destined to become virtual strangers.”

The Next 10 & Beyond

Who knows what the future will bring. We plan to retire early and enjoy as much of what life has to offer us as we can. See the world a bit and develop new passions. We are just beginning to write the script and this love story is…TO BE CONTINUED

Overcoming Trauma

“P1088270.00_01_28_15.Still002” by SIM East Africa is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

When we think of trauma, we tend to contextualize it with major traumatic events like the death of a loved one or a violent event. But traumatic events can happen to us on a daily basis and we often fail to recognize when it is impacting us.

If you’ve experienced an extremely stressful or disturbing event that has left you feeling helpless and emotionally out of control, you may have been traumatized. Today’s show will offer ways to identify when we are experiencing trauma and how to effectively combat it. My guest, Franchesca Clemente, is a psychotherapist that shares how to identify when your body is reacting to trauma, and she offers some practical advice on how to work your way through it.

Some of the advice for dealing with stress and trauma discussed in this episode include:

  1. Breathing – breathing excercises can help calm yourself down by changing your focus and reducing your body’s physical reaction to stress.
  2. Exercise – avoid obsessively reliving the traumatic event. Partake in activities that keep your mind occupied like exercise. Take a walk or a run, read a book, or play with your kids.
  3. Practice self-care. Learn to self-sooth.

Music in this episode is “Sullen Faced” by Ketsa under creative commons non-commercial license.

Do These Things to Advance Your Career

Professional development, regardless of your position, should be the driving force behind your career aspirations. But in order to advance your career, you need to have a plan. Or you can leave it up to chance. But having a plan is more the more likely path to success.

This episode of the podcast provides some concrete tips on what you should focus on in a good career development plan. I am joined by veteran, award-winning human resource professional, Angela Lee. She is Vice President of Talent Development for a publicly traded mid-cap global manufacturing company. If the last name sounds familiar, she also happens to be my wife. She is one of the brightest people that I know.

In the show, Angela shares the following tips:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Define what success looks like to you
  3. Hoard skills and capabilities
  4. Seek mentors and sponsors
  5. Seek feedback
  6. Create networks and build social capital
  7. Focus on results
  8. Accept lateral moves if they help build skills and capabilities
  9. Know when it’s time to move on

It’s a great conversation and I hope you’ll get something out of it. If you’ve built a successful career and would like to share some tips with others, feel free to leave some comments. I thank you in advance.

Our theme music is Pumpkin Spice by Audiobinger under Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial license.

Be sure to follow the show on Spotify or subscribe for free with Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.

The Search for Enlightenment

In 1968, after several platinum and gold albums, members of the iconic rock group the Beatles found themselves spiritually exhausted. They enjoyed the fame and the riches that came with it but often wondered…”what’s it all for?”

The group sought answers through the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement. They visited the Maharishi’s ashram in India in 1968. The experience had a profound impact on their music. I was super curious about what the search for enlightenment was like, not only for the Beatles, but for tens of thousands of people around the world.

To help me understand the experience, I turn to Susan Shumsky, author of Maharishi and Me: Seeking Enlightenment with the Beatles Guru. Susan was under the tutelage of the Maharishi for 22 years and served on his personal staff for 6. She talks to us about the enlightenment movement and how Transcendentalism is manifested in the Beatles music.

Childfree By Choice

Dr Amy Blackstone – photo by Jeff Kirlin

You’d think, in 2019, that the choice to not  have children would be acceptable in our society, but American culture can’t accept the reality of a woman who does not want to be a mother.  Motherhood is sacred and revered.  Not wanting children goes against everything we’ve been taught to think about the concept of family.  Women and girls are portrayed in media and pop culture as individuals driven to get married and have children.  Yet in reality, there are plenty of women who would rather not have the stresses of parenting or the loss of individual identity.  And the pushback against the stigma of not wanting to be a parent has given birth to the childfree movement in America.  

Our conversation today centers on the childfree movement and our guest is Dr Amy Blackstone, author of Childfree by Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating a New Age of Independence.  Dr Blackstone is a professor in Sociology  and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine where she studies childlessness and the childfree choice.  And she is no stranger to a wide range of negative responses when she informs people she doesn’t have – nor does she want – kids.

Music in this episode is Pumpkin Spice by Audiobinger under Creative Commons License and Ride Out by Audiobinger under Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License.

Man Fast

Natasha Scripture – credit Maggie Marguerite Studio

Overcome by emotions at the loss of her father, pressures from a demanding job, and conflicted emotions over failed relationships, author and humanitarian worker Natasha Scripture embarked on a journey to answer the question at the center of her anxiety…What is my purpose? The answer is detailed in her new memoir, Man Fast.

Books, movies, and TV shows often sell the fantasy of finding “Mr Right”. That can be in direct conflict with finding yourself and discovering your purpose in life. Man Fast is a book about a personal journey to self-discovery and self-love. In a culture that prizes finding the right man, Natasha Scripture shares her personal story that demonstrates a better understanding of self and the world around us. It’s a story of her awakening…the art of paying attention…and recognizing the true source of love. And it all started with a fast from the dating game.

“I needed to design a life that was empowering and inspiring and authentic for me and not settle for a partner that didn’t feel right.”

Push play and enjoy the conversation.

Music in this episode is Lonely Satellite by Bio Unit under Creative Commons license.

Can Money Buy Happiness?

It is a heavily researched question and the consensus is…yes, it can.  One of the key benefits that money provides is safety and security.  Having enough money eliminates anxiety when shopping or making large purchases.  Money also affords you memorable life experiences that bring joy and happiness, allows you to help loved ones, and give back to your community.

But just how much money do you need to be happy?  To answer that question, we narrowed the focus of this conversation down to how much money and what kind of experiences do the happiest people in retirement have in common.

Helping me explore this question is Wes Moss, author of the book You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think: The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees.  Wes is also Chief Investment Strategist at Capital Investment Advisors and host of Money Matters, an investment and personal finance radio show.  The research conducted for his book quantifies the financial habits of happy people versus unhappy people.

Whether you call it happiness or peace of mind, money CAN provide a freedom that allows you to truly enjoy your life in retirement and, according to Wes’ research, you might not need as much as everyone is telling you that you need.  Remember, the happiest retirees

  • Have a median of $500,000 in liquid net assets (up to $850,000)
  • Once you get above that amount, you’ll experience “diminishing marginal happiness”
  • The happiest retirees average 3.5 core pursuits and have an average of 2.5 children. (Listen to find out exactly what that means)
  • And the happiest retirees live in the middle when it comes to shopping and dining out.  Not too cheap and not too expensive.

You’ll find the common traits among the happiest retirees to be very enlightening. I hope you’ll listen to discover more.

There Are No Happy Endings

Nora McInerny has become a reluctant expert in difficult conversations by bringing empathy and wit to difficult subjects.  She is host of the American Public Media podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking and founder of the on-line support group the Hot Young Widows Club.  I recently spoke with her about her new memoir No Happy Endings where she describes her exploration of the reality of being changed by loss without being completely defined by it.

Within the span of a few months, Nora lost her husband to brain cancer, miscarried her second child, and saw the passing of her father.  Not long after those tragic events, she found love again in Matthew, her new husband. Through it all, she describes the awkwardness of being a widow, the difficulties of becoming a single mom, and the guilt of finding love again.

With great humor and sensitivity, Nora reminds us that there will be no happy endings in life, but there will be new beginnings.

For more information on Nora, visit her site here.

Music in this episode is Love Me Forever by Audiobinger under Creative Commons Non-Commercial Attribution License.

National Sibling Day

It’s National Sibling Day and instead of thinking about the short life I spent with my brother Roland, I’ve given thought all day to his funeral. Perhaps is was because I was preparing for an interview with author Nora McInerny. Her book, No Happy Endings, is a memoir that chronicles the personal tragedy of losing her husband to brain cancer not long after they married. She writes, often with great humor, about the awkwardness of being a widow and how being around people became increasingly difficult. Which brings me back to my dead brother and the awkward day of his funeral.

My brother Roland died in 1999 at the promising age of 36 from complications resulting from the treatment he received as a kidney patient. After his body rejected the first kidney transplant, he had a 2nd operation that we thought was successful after living for 4 years with it. I’m not sure I was ever told what the official cause of death was.

A day or so before he passed, I received a call from my uncle Mike who said, “your brother isn’t doing well and I think you should come home.” I was dead asleep in the guest room of our house (because I snored like a growling bear) when the call came from my mother. My wife walked in the room and handed me the phone. My brother had passed before I could get there. I howled for quite some time as my childhood flashed before my eyes. Cried until there were no more tears to cry. Death had never come so close to me.

I learned a lot about my brother during his funeral. He was well respected by the faculty of the theology school he attended and by leaders from his church. Great moments of pride swelled my chest. The church was full of family, friends, church members and school mates. So many people that I could find a quiet place to think. I couldn’t breathe.

As grand a send off as it was, I hated the entire affair. I have always found funerals to be a morbid and unnecessary ritual. Looking at dead bodies is a creepy exercise and I was in no mood to socialize. My brother was a devout Christian and his funeral was as about as Christian as a funeral could be. Christians view funerals as a “home going” event, a reason to celebrate. Yet I was in no celebratory mood.

I had what could only be described as an out-of-body experience that day. Aside from my wife, who understood what I was going through, and my sister-in-law who was devastated upon losing her soulmate, everyone seemed to me to be attending a different event. The laughs and smiles, jokes and hugs all seemed foreign to me. There I was in my grief having just lost my only brother and people were engaging me as if we were attending a church picnic.

The thoughts that ran from the depths of my mind to the tip of my tongue were held back only out of respect for my mother. “What the fuck are you smiling at?” “You find this to be a fun event?” “Yes, I haven’t seen you in quite some time. Now get out of my damn face.” “Yes, upstate New York is beautiful country…now piss off.” I wanted to grieve. I needed to grieve. But these people did not understand the needs of the heathen black sheep of the family. The non-church attending son. The one yet to have his body snatched by space invaders. They didn’t understand the immense guilt that I carried knowing that the last conversation that I had with Roland was an argument about my not being saved.

I helped the other men carry my brother’s body to the dead person’s car. Weak in the knees, he nearly slipped from my grip. What a total dick I would have been if I dropped my dead brother to the ground. But I held on tight.

I still carry the guilt of not saying goodbye and the guilt of not donating a kidney and likely always will. It’s difficult separating that guilt from the memories. It’s a burden I’ll happily bear if it means that I can still remember the sound of his voice, his laugh, and his trying to save my lost soul.

Finding Happiness From Rock Bottom

David J Mauro climbs Mt Everest

Researchers find that achieving happiness typically involves times of considerable discomfort, and that much of happiness is under our personal control.  Indulging in small pleasures, getting absorbed in challenging activities, achieving goals and maintaining close social bonds can all increase life satisfaction.

But what if your life has spun out of control?  When all seems lost, can you find your way to happiness from rock bottom?  Our next guest says, “yes”.  After a failed marriage was closely followed by the death of his only brother, David Mauro, who suffered from depression, found himself at rock bottom.  That is until he decided to climb a mountain.  David is the author of The Altitude Journals: A Seven-Year Journey From the Lowest Point in My Life to the Highest Point on Earth.  He tells us how he found his way back to happiness after his journey to rock bottom took him to the top of Mt Everest.

We can all relate to having low points. Some lower than others. What separates us is how we climb our way back to normal. Back to happier times.

In this conversation, David Mauro describes how his passion for mountain climbing forced discipline and focus in his life when he lacked it most. He explains how “rock bottom” can be the ultimate “gift.” And he tells us how conquering the challenges of mountain climbing allowed him to finally deal with his problems.

It’s a great conversation and there are good lessons to be learned. I hope you’ll give it a listen.

Do you have a “rock bottom” to happiness story? Feel free to share it here if you’re comfortable doing so.

For more information on David and his adventures, visit his website here.

Music in this episode is Maree’ by Kai Engel under creative commons attribution license.