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

West Palm or Bust

Top-down cruising in West Palm Beach

My wife and I purchased a condo in Palm Beach, FL in 2017. It started as a family vacation home but has quickly turned into our likely place for retirement.

While she hails from Virginia and I was born and raised in Maryland, we have lived and raised our family in the Syracuse, NY area for over 25 years. That equates to 25 mostly brutal winters. We have both had enough.

Yes, Florida is becoming passe as a retirement destination and the state has its fair share of challenges including oppressive summer heat and the occasional hurricane, but in the year and a half that we’ve been traveling there, we have fallen in love with the Palm Beach and West Palm Beach areas. And anytime you actually close on a property 1 day from hurricane landfall when everyone is evacuating and everything still turns out fine, you know that the strength of your dream is forged in fire.

Public art in downtown West Palm Beach, FL

One of the reasons we have fallen in love with the place is the ample public art and murals that bring the town alive and pop with visual stimulation. It forces you to stop in your tracks, gaze, and contemplate.

Angela blends her beauty with the beauty of urban art.

West Palm Beach and adjacent towns like Lake Worth offer a variety of urban art, murals and sculptures. Mix it with great restaurants, mild weather, gorgeous beaches, and a vibrant cultural scene and you have the makings of our version of a dream retirement destination.

Clematis Street – downtown West Palm Beach

Our most recent visit offered an opportunity for us to give the place an “empty nest” spin. With the eldest daughter out on her own and the youngest living on campus, we were able to give our future a dry run. It was an extended weekend of discovery. New places to dine, new beaches to visit and there is always art right around the corner.

Winter in the northeast can be such a life-less time of year, especially for a child of the south, and each subsequent winter drives me deeper into seasonal depression. South Florida’s mild temperatures, blooming vegetation, and swaying palm trees seem to be the perfect remedy for us.

Giving Back Feels Good

WAER Staff serving those in need at the Rescue Mission

My staff and I spent the morning serving those in need at our local Rescue Mission.  It was rewarding and eye-opening.  Sometimes we get so comfortable in our bubbles that we forget the struggles of our fellow man.  Bursting that bubble and touching another’s life can be a rewarding act.  Live your life in high definition by giving back to make a difference in someone’s life this week.

Finding Purpose Through Work

I read a recent article from ABC News that reinforces what we’ve heard for years; that American workers work more than anyone in the industrialized world.  We take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later.

With that in mind and considering how other aspects of daily living keep us grinding, how can we possibly find time for meaningful community engagement?  One way is to be more efficient with our time and resources.  Consider getting involved in community engagement projects through your job.

As an Influencer

If you lead an organization and have access to resources, consider engaging in projects that connect your business to issues, events, or causes that are important to you.  It’s an opportunity to strengthen your brand and raise your profile in the community that you serve.  You’ll inspire your staff by creating team-building opportunities that bring multiple departments or constituencies together for a higher purpose.

I decided to do this in my own shop by introducing a project that met our mission, contributed to work productivity, and created meaningful community engagement.  We decided to use our capacity as a journalistic organization to spend a year reporting on the growing poverty rate in our community.  Having grown up in Section 8 housing most of my childhood, it is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.  The City Limits Poverty Project involves the entire staff from reporters and producers to development staff to marketing and communications to front office.  The team felt a sense of pride and purpose that combined professional and personal interests.  It has also generated positive press and professional recognition for the organization.

Choose a project, identify resources, and build a team for the greater good in your community.  Your customers and constituents will feel good about their support for your organization and your staff will appreciate the opportunity for community engagement without impacting the busy home life.  It’s far bigger impact than making an anonymous donation.

As a Team Member

Rose Garden
A group of volunteers maintains the rose garden at Thornden Park

You can help contribute to a positive company culture, give back to your community, and still make the kids soccer game on the weekend.  If offered the opportunity to participate, take it.  If community engagement is not a part of your company’s culture, introduce it.  While many companies large and small make annual contributions to local charities, there is greater value in organizing your own events.  The team-building, publicity, and goodwill can have a long lasting, positive impact beyond simple recognition for a cut check.  Make this case to your employer and offer to lead the effort.  Much of the work will be done during regular business hours (wink wink) and you’ll be telling your friends about it over cold micro brews after the weekend softball game.  Again, everyone wins.

Food or clothing drives, public park clean-up efforts, job shadowing for at-risk youth, or donating services to needy non-profits are great examples of how some businesses in my community choose to get involved.  An advertising firm in our town chooses a local nonprofit each year for a brand and awareness campaign makeover.  I think that is a cool idea.

Combining your community involvement and work activities creates life efficiencies that can alleviate your over-scheduled life.  Because of all the time that we have to give, “me” time is essential for a healthy, happy life.

 

A Bourbon to Call My Own

The Research

A few months ago, I decided to add to my growing list of vices by delving into the world of whiskey. Those who know me best know that wine is my passion and mixed drinks are my occasional side piece.

Why bourbon? Because I’m a “Zagger” by nature. When others zig, I tend to zag. My good friend David is a Scotch drinker and an enthusiastic one at that. The more expensive the Scotch, the more excitedly his tail wags. I tasted a few glasses of Scotch with him and I think they were pretty good. Think – because I really had no idea what I was tasting, what I should have been looking for, or what the standard flavor profile should be.

So when I decided to “zag” my way to bourbon, I had to know what I was getting into. The research started in earnest right off the bat. The first decision was to concentrate on Kentucky bourbon because of its historic lore and the fact that it is a truly American spirit.

Next I wanted to learn what differentiated bourbon from other whiskies like Scotch, Irish and Canadian whiskey. Here’s where YouTube became one of the greatest developments in the history of man. You can learn about ANYTHING on YouTube. Knowing the differentiators like ingredients, mash bills, aging process and time spent in the barrels helped me gain an understanding of what I should be looking for in flavor profiles like sweet corn, smoke, baking spices, burnt sugar etc.

Armed with a basic understanding of distilling process, technique, and flavors, I conducted some public polling via social media to find out what my friends and acquaintances were drinking. Bourbon heads are all too eager to welcome you down a path of debauchery so the responses came pouring in. Dr Fred G gave a shoutout to Makers Mark as did Kerry O. Two women chimed in; Michelle, suggested Larceny and Leigh proffered Woodford Reserve. Cousin Ian put a plug in for Knobb Creek. But responding to a Facebook post wasn’t personal enough for my buddy Matt H. He needed to chat by phone. The excitement and enthusiasm heard in his voice for my decision to cause further damage to my liver was…disturbing to say the least. It was as if a child were taking his first steps. Matt threw Makers Mark, Blanton’s, Woodford Reserve, Knobb Creek and many others my way.

I pondered all of the recommendations and, after careful consideration, made the most beginner move that I could. A flavored bourbon: Knobb Creek Smoked Maple. LOL! It’s laughable today but enjoyable at the time. I had enjoyed smoked maple Manhattans at a local restaurant so I thought…why not?

Eventually, I ditched the training wheels and watched several more YouTube videos to further my education. A favorite channel emerged in It’s Bourbon Night. I learned a ton from the channel’s two hosts.

I declared a mission: Find YOUR bourbon, Joe Lee. Find your “go-to” “Steady Eddie” everyday sipper. Over a two month period, and to my wife’s dismay, I purchased a bottle of Kentucky Straight Bourbon per week in an effort to find MY bourbon. Because a man without a bourbon to call his own is just a simple man.

The Bourbons

I purchased 10 bourbons: Woodford Reserve, Four Roses Single Barrel, Eagle Rare, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Rowan’s Creek, Willett Pot Still Reserve, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Buffalo Trace, Booker’s Small Batch, and Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. I tasted another 3 in restaurants and bars: Maker’s Mark, Basil Hayden’s, and Old Forrester 1920.

What I like

I like a somewhat balanced bourbon with stronger notes of sweet corn, coffee, caramel, butterscotch, and hints of tobacco leaf, cinnamon, dark fruit, wood, and floral notes. I’m not big on the more peppery profile that bourbons with higher rye content in the mash bill offer. Slightly higher rye is ok. And bourbons that are too well balanced where flavors that I enjoy don’t shine are a little too boring for me (like Woodford Reserve). The alcohol content sweet spot for me is between 90-100 proof.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Before I get to the ranking of my top 4, I should say that a key criteria for determining MY bourbon is accessibility. That is, when I want it…when I need it…can I get it. For that reason alone, Buffalo Trace, an affordable, damn fine bourbon did not make the list. Damn it! It took more than a month of searching until I was able to get my hands on a bottle. They fly off of the shelf so quickly and Buffalo Trace is very discerning when it comes to distribution. So fresh off a tasting today, here are the 5 bourbons that occupy my top 4 and they are pictured with the music that I am most likely to listen to while drinking them.

#4 Tie Bookers Small Batch and Willett Pot Still Reserve

I enjoy these bottles equally but for very different reasons. Each is a very different experience. The Booker’s is small batch, cask strength and, therefore by bourbon making standard, high in alcohol content. At 129.7 proof, this is rocket fuel in a bourbon bottle. Kentucky hugs for days. It’s a viscous experience with caramel, oak, vanilla & baking spice notes. I have to drink this with a block of ice and something gritty like The Black Keys on the turntable. And honestly, I can only have one glass. On the other side, the Willett is smooth with brown sugar, molasses, and coffee notes. At 94 proof, I enjoy it neat with classic jazz, mellow Aretha Franklin. This is more of an everyday sipper for me while the Booker’s requires a special mood.

#3 Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

Double Oaked means that the bourbon was aged twice in charred oak barrels for a darker appearance and smokier flavor. It’s full-bodied with hazelnut, caramel, and fruit notes. It has a sweet and woody finish. Its 90.4 proof allows me to enjoy neat with something smokey and bluesy like Nina Simone. I could drink this every day.

#2 Four Roses Single Barrel

While I don’t typically like bourbons with high rye mash bills, I do enjoy the slight peppery experience that Four Roses SB offers. At 60% corn and 35% rye, the rye doesn’t overpower the sweet notes that I enjoy. This was probably the 2nd or 3rd bourbon that I purchased so it’s been King of the Hill for quite some time. Single barrel production means that each bottling comes from a single barrel and, therefore, will offer slightly different experiences with each bottle. I like little surprises. Tasting notes include sweet corn, cherry, brown sugar, and vanilla. It’s spicy like Solange, unpredictable like Solange, and sweet like Solange. At 100 proof, I can enjoy neat or with an ice ball depending on how rough my work day was.

#1 Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr Small Batch

One taste of the Colonel and I was hooked on the vanilla, sweet corn, cherry tobacco, and chocolate notes with a long enjoyable finish. Bottled in Bond means that the bourbon was distilled in 1 season and aged at least 4 years. The “small batch” production adds some unique characteristics in that the flavors are concentrated from a small selection of warehouse barrels. This bourbon is 100 proof and I always drink it neat. You can find me drinking this to something groovy that puts me in my feels like Al Green. The pepper isn’t out front and it has less burn than the Four Roses which is why the Colonel enjoys my top spot for now.

I’m looking forward to tasting more to see if E.H. Taylor will remain my go-to bourbon. I’ll give my liver a break for a while, though.

If you have a favorite bourbon that you think I should try, I’m all ears. I’ll also entertain your arguments if you think Scotch is the more desirable whiskey to imbibe.

Cheers!

A Star Child Suffers Winter Blues

I am trapped inside a fishbowl which, in turn, is trapped inside a snow globe. Before moving to the Syracuse, NY area some 25 years ago, I never considered myself a son of “the south”. Having been born and raised in Baltimore, MD, we considered ourselves as a north-southern city if there is such a thing. But southern is now how I see myself. The further north I go, the more southern I become.

Winter is traditionally a tough time for me. I was a child of the outdoors, an explorer, experimenter, and a menace. During the calendar’s coldest month of January, the average high temperature in Baltimore is 41 degrees Fahrenheit. In Syracuse the average high is 32 degrees. When you add windchill and lake effect snow on top of that, the affects of winter are a harsher assault on my genetic code. And these winters are long. Much longer than my soul can bear.

“Take up skiing,” they say. “Try ice skating or snowshoeing,” recommend others. For a Star Child born in May who believes the Universe’s greatest gift to mankind is the summer sun, you might as well suggest I swim with alligators. I remain obdurate in my refusal to embrace wonderland.

The deep cold of winter here has a profound affect on my psyche. It’s pretty enough; the snow that is. Postcard pretty even. But a 1 degree morning like this very morning in January is as equally disabling as it is beautiful. The near back-breaking snow shoveling and frozen limbs limit my exposure to 20 minuets of outdoor time. Enough time to shovel a path for my short-legged dogs to handle their business and enough time to create a trail leading to the bird feeders to care for my winged, wild pets.

Crestfallen with each snowflake settling on the ground, I’ve come to accept that I suffer from more than just “cabin fever”. That it is, more clinically speaking, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I didn’t need to spend money on a shrink to come up with that one either. The associated symptoms of depression, social withdrawal, hopelessness, and fatigue align closely with my personal experience. The noticeable mood swings, the desire to opt out of holidays, the crawling out of bed when I’d rather stay hidden beneath the blanket all point to SAD. And the only thing guaranteed to bring me true joy is a sunny day with temps above 70. The kind of day that I can wander about, soaking in views, receiving all that my environment has to offer. A seat on a park bench. A songbird composing notes. Wind rustling leaves. A walk around the lake. These are spirit lifting experiences for me.

Treatment options for SAD include exercise (it helps a bit); medications (which I refuse); and therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy chronotherapy, and light therapy (none of which soothes my inner skeptic). Instead I chose a far more expensive treatment option. My wife Angela and I purchased a ocean-side condo in Florida. And while the holiday spent there this year was nothing short of magical, here I sit in Syracuse in January on a 1 degree day lamenting winter.

I plan to hit the gym at some point today for a pick-me-up, watch a soccer match later for mid-day entertainment, and begin planning for my next 2 therapy sessions in Florida this coming March and April. All in an effort to devise a plan to survive my 25th winter in the Winterfell of North America.

There is no real purpose to this post other than for me to finally, after 25 years, give voice to my sadness and acknowledge my difficulties.

My wife is inviting me now to get a manicure and pedicure and, at this point, I’m willing to try something new. If you also suffer from SAD and have words of wisdom to share, I’m all ears.

Thanks for listening.

Socially Awkward AF

Surveying the room with dread. Identifying traps and looking for opportunities. Safe zones in the corners. Land mines around the bar. I walk smiling and nodding. Looking for a hack. Crtl + Alt + Del. I need a reboot. Intercepted by man. I recognize him from the elevator ride up. “Wamp Wamp Waa”. He sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I nod, feigning amusement. I chuckle with a sound I’ve been perfecting for years for these very moments. Another man touches his shoulder. Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc. Just the hack I need to exit. Dipping in and out of uncomfortable spaces. Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc. Made it to the bar. I sip bad wine and pretend it’s good. “Wamp Wamp Waa”. He found me using the same network pathway. We are joined by a woman. Small talk ensues. The man remarks on the extraordinary beauty of a young woman entangle in conversation among a pod of people next to us. He gives a foreboding glance and I wonder if he is conscious of #MeToo. “Wamp Wamp Waa”, they say to me. Reciprocity is expected. Crtl + Alt + Del. I need to hack this conversation. Esc Esc. A familiar face peers in my direction from a different pod of people and I make my way. Crtl + Alt + Del Dipping in and out of uncomfortable spaces. In familiar face, I’ve found a safe zone. Small talk ensues and again I am trapped.

Circuiting the room like a signal with no receiver. Page loading indicator just churning. That’s me in most social situations. Socially awkward as fuck. Conferences, fundraisers, meetings, it doesn’t matter. I tend to view the world through economic lenses. Inputs vs outputs. Risk vs reward. Investments vs returns. Gains vs losses. Over time, I have determined that the amount of energy expended during “small talk” is not worth the return on investment. For me…small talk is exhausting. I now know what the weather is like outside. The amount of traffic you traversed to get here. Your child’s school district. What’s my gain?

If nothing else, I am self-aware. I recognize this character deficiency. And I recognize the benefits of social capital. Yet still, social gatherings without my “wingwoman” are soul-crushing events without measurable personal benefit. This will come as a bit of a surprise for those who know me through my social media persona. The gregarious, opinionated person from Facebook is simply a personality construct for social media. A bit of personal branding if you will. The truth of the matter is that I am most comfortable sitting in a recliner with a glass of red wine reading a book or watching Netflix. Or getting caught up on the days events with my wife.

But I’m trying, friends. I’ve committed to getting out more in hopes of developing a set of skills that will help me survive social events. But the struggle is real.

The weather “Wamp Wamp Waa”. “How are things”? “What do you do”? Crtl + Alt + Del. Esc Esc….

An Open Letter to My Daughters

ClintonObama
President Barack Obama and Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wave together during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

My two loves. I come to you in this forum because, as you well know, my fingers are often far more eloquent than my tongue. I want you to realize that you are living in extraordinary times.

You have witnessed the election and presidency of our nation’s first African-American president and the selection of the first woman to receive the presidential nomination of a major political party and potentially the first woman President of the United States. These are extraordinary accomplishments that should not be taken for granted.

I am very happy that you two watched Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech as well as the speech given by the nation’s first African-American First Lady of the United States. These are not ordinary women.

If you follow this presidential election, you will undoubtedly hear a range of opinions on Hillary Clinton. You will hear that she is just another politician. You will hear that she cannot be trusted. You will hear that she is self-serving. These are not your father’s beliefs.

The truth of the matter is that Hillary Clinton (just like our First Lady) is a phenomenal woman. A woman who devoted her life to public service because of early childhood experiences and the political climate of her youth. Both of these women have achieved greatness and I want you to know that you do not rise to this level without waking your inner phenomenal woman.

As a girl, Hillary Rodham was profoundly affected by the stories of her mother being abandoned as a child. A child often left to fend for herself. Who was there to protect this child? Who was there to shield her from harm? Or coach her potential? And if this could happen to her mother, how many other children in our society must suffer from similar circumstances and neglect? A phenomenal woman takes that kind of experience and internal dialogue and turns it into a calling. Ask yourself, why was Hillary Rodham selected to be the first student in Wellesley College history to deliver a commencement address? She was not of privileged stock. It is because she was identified as an extraordinary, passionate individual… a phenomenal woman.

I am here to tell you that there is nothing particularly special about Hillary Clinton. The phenomenal woman exists in every girl. You just have to wake her up. And I see her in you two already. Imani, you have been identified by your employer as a woman worth investing in. It is because you show promise and rise above expectations. You are awakening the phenomenal woman. Hadiya, you are driven by your desire to exceed as a student. Your being singled out in your summer program as the student who showed the most promise in your major is an awakening of your phenomenal woman. The two of you must recognize her, nurture her and bring her to life.

Being extraordinary is not inherent to special people. It is an individual choice. It requires effort and discipline. It is conscious action. Most of all, it requires belief in yourself and the belief that you can transcend the obstacles that would consign you to mediocrity. It is summoning your phenomenal woman.

I mention our First Lady and Hillary Clinton as examples of extraordinary women and there are hundreds of others. But you need not look any further than your own home for the greatest example of all. Your mother is exemplary. A black girl from a small Virginia town and a non-traditional educational path does not become a Vice President of major company without awakening her inner phenomenal woman. At home, we jokingly say that we know when mom has taken her BB pill. It is just a different way of saying that her phenomenal woman is in action. Just know that when she pushes you, she pokes your dormant phenomenal woman. When she challenges you, she challenges the phenomenal woman in you. She knows, as do I, that you have the ability to be extraordinary in whatever you do. You need only breathe life into your phenomenal woman.

You both have asked me at different times in your life if I was ever disappointed that I did not have a son. I understand the question because I understand the value that our society places on male children.  But my response has always been the same. I have who I am supposed to have. The lives that I helped bring into this world are the lives that I have been entrusted to shape and mold. You are my destiny and my purpose in life. You are beautiful, talented young women who can be and do anything that you want to do. You need only exercise your imagination, remove your limitations, and awaken your phenomenal woman. And always remember that our love for you knows no boundaries.

Dad

51 Introspection

 

51 Selfie
51 Selfie

Dear friends, let me first apologize for the blatant blog neglect perpetrated by your’s truly over the last few months.  Work and everyday life has gotten in the way of “me time.”  Now that I have spent the better part of the day reflecting on 51, I’d like to share some thoughts with you.  Again, I offer an apology in advance for the tone of this post. It can best be described as a jaded, self-conscious peek into the psyche of a man struggling with mortality. What can I say, I’ve never been a “glass half full” kind of guy.

If you read my post leading up to my 50th birthday, you’ll know that it was quite a struggle. I thought 50 was a hump to get over and that once over the hump, life would get smoother.  In many ways it has and in some ways it hasn’t.

Here are some observations, discoveries, and realizations that I share for your amusement and pity:

Obsessive Compulsive Behavior Won’t Slow Down – I find that there is an alarming increase in my obsessive behavior.  I spent the better part of the day washing my hands after having touched a dead baby bird while cleaning the pool skimmer.  Dead-baby-bird cooties is not the way that you want to start your 51st birthday. No amount of scented lotion can convince me that I’m not smelling dead baby bird. I now have a laser like focus on creating or acquiring some tool to pull the skimmer basket out without inserting my hand into a soup of dead baby bird and chipmunk.

Things Hurt More – I hurt from sitting. Did you hear me? I said I HURT FROM SITTING. Rising from a chair after sitting for a while should not result in aches and pains. I’m an active guy. I work out 5 days a week. Why is there such rapid deterioration? There are times when sitting still, in the quiet of the night, quiescent in a room devoid of light, that I can literally hear the decay as it’s happening.  Muscle tearing down. Ligaments weakening. Fragility attacking bones. Neurons misfiring like failing spark plugs.

Fashion Relevancy – The realization that I will never succumb to dull fashion has set in. I am destined to sacrifice comfort for style. Yes, there will be times, later in life, that I will undoubtedly look like an old man trying to cling to the glory days, but so be it.  There will be no “dad jeans” in my future. You shouldn’t spend a good portion of your life building your personal brand only to abandon it because you stop caring. If you don’t remember me for anything else, remember this…SWAGGER MATTERS.

I’d rather look like this guy:

Oldmanswag

Than this guy:

OldJeans Music Relevancy – Music discovery will always be a part of my DNA. A recent study suggested that the average person stops listening to and discovering new music around the age of 33. I find that rather depressing. I might be an old man listening to Byonce “Twirl on her haters in albino alligators” or Drake fluttering between being hard-core and a ladies man, but if it has a funky beat, and interesting lyric, a conscious message, I’m going to be on it. I’ll rock a band like Tao and the Get Down Stay Down when I’m 80. “Yes, I love Earth, Wind & Fire and Al Green, and Miles Davis, but I choose to honor the past while celebrating the present. So pass the Depends underpants and my Beats headphones because I’m gonna drop it like it’s hot…old…but hot. The goal is to counter some of the regression with progression.

Fuck It – It’s slipping out of my mouth more and more these days. Indeed, it is liberating. Not giving a shit is like a new right of passage. To my expanding waist line, I say fuck it. To my painful left pinkie toe, I say fuck it. To overpriced restaurant food, I say fuck it. Curling 60 pounds instead of 70 I say fuck it. Letting things go and not sweating the small stuff is finally sinking in at age 51.

New Obsessions – I’ve had passions and interests come and go and I suppose they speak to various life stages. Today’s obsession is retirement and, more specifically, planning for retirement. Not surprising for this stage in my life. I find the whole thing rather fascinating and highly educational. I’m collecting EFTs and mutual funds like I use to collect socks and underwear. Educating myself on asset acquisition, asset allocation and portfolio management with a glass of wine now defines most evenings at home. Recent news stories highlighting how unprepared for retirement most Americans are is disturbing. While It’s never to early to start saving, it can be too late. Assess your portfolio, assess your retirement needs, and seek help from a financial planner. I’ve been very fortunate to spend the majority of my career with an employer that has generous retirement benefits. For that, I am thankful.

Number-51I Am Loved – This is not a new revelation but I will take every opportunity to acknowledge how fortunate I am in the love department. I am rich in social capital. While, at 51, my daughters often look at me like I’m eating jello, sitting in a rocking chair with a blanket on my lap, I know that they love and respect me. They get currency from making me proud. And I am…very proud. I look forward to watching them develop and grow into strong, intelligent women.

And no man is more fortunate in the pair bonding department than me. My wife loves me more with each passing year when logic dictates it should be the opposite. She’s a tough coach, uncompromising supporter, and fantastic partner. Every day with her  represents a new day of discovery; new dreams developed; new passions uncovered; and life made new with every awakening. I am loved. And that’s what makes 51 and beyond worth living and enjoying.

 

I Found Love On A MTA Bus…

BusI never saw her get on the bus.  It just rolled on down North Ave on its way to Harford Rd. The fumes irritated my nose and the shoddy suspension made my empty stomach queasy. The bus was packed tight on a Monday morning and I stared out of the window thinking only of how much I hated public transportation; its smells and passengers.

It was 1986; a transition period in my life and I was in the midst of an existential crisis. My mind fluttered back and forth between how and why I was occupying space and time and contemplating my few but significant shortcomings.

The carriage stopped around Greenmount Ave where most of its riders exited.  And as the bus thinned,  its then nearly hollow shell revealed a curious creature. She wore a tight short skirt and off-white boots decorated with paisley – a subtle nod to her favorite artist.

Her hair was tight, lips painted red, makeup neatly, tastefully applied. Her shit was together. The fitted skirt revealed womanly curves though one could easily tell that she was just a girl.  Legs smooth as frog skin.  Her plump, sweet lips clung to a face far too serious for her age and framed by dangling gold hoops.  She looked out-of-place on the MTA bus and nothing about her spoke of Baltimore. I peeped that from the start.

I wish that this was the part of the story where I could offer a tale of love-at-first-sight. One where we looked into each other’s eyes and saw our future. A story of rapid pulses and beating hearts. But I can not. The truth of the matter is that I saw chocolate thighs and she…well, she saw nothing.

I moved closer. Perhaps to get a better look, a whiff of perfume. I didn’t talk to strangers then. Not usually. I had no pick up lines at the ready. Two seats away I sat innocuously; eyes fixed firmly on her paisley ankle boots. My eyes worked their way up from ankle to leg to thigh and hip. And at the risk of sounding crude…noticed that she had a nice ass. A really nice ass.

Now normally, that would be the extent of my mental escapade. I’d admire a pretty girl and entertain a fantasy or two. Shyness was always difficult for me to overcome. But I noticed an “in”…a gateway to introduction. She and I happened to be gripping the same text-book. And I thought, “Surely it can’t get any easier than this.” So I spoke, “Excuse me. Did we have assignments to complete from that book”? Her reply was a cold, “yes.”  There was no look of “oh are we in the same class” or “I’m glad to make a new acquaintance.” “Yes” was all she said and she continued her blank stare out of the aquarium-like window of the MTA bus. I swung, I missed, I felt dejected.

I thought myself a charming fellow but she remained immune to my charms for a while. Yet I remained obdurate in my backdoor approach. Overtime, in class, I earned her trust and friendship. I finally smashed it half-way through the semester.

I still remember the first kiss. The sound of her voice when she first said my name. Walks to the corner store. The first time she used profanity. Me showing her my small slice of Baltimore. Getting off the bus at Lexington Market. Extravagant lunches at Burger King. Late night phone calls when one of us would eventually fall as sleep. Not wanting to be the first to hang up the phone. Painful times.  Fun times. Confusing times. Events and emotions that proved to be the genetic code of love and the foundation of our union.

Me and the girl from the bus played house. We made babies. We were the architects of dreams. But there never was a love-at-first-sight moment. No fantasy tale to tell. No eyes meeting and locking among the throngs of miserable faces on the MTA bus. Love is what you make of it and we chose to make something special.

I tricked MTA girl into loving me. Taught her how to love me, really, as she taught me to love her. 26 Valentine’s Days have come and gone. 26 Valentine’s Days have added 26 strong blocks to our foundation. And now, in retrospect, these 26 Valentine’s Days have given me a newfound appreciation for public transportation.