Growin’ Up – Giving A Stiff Arm To The Face of Life

When you become a new, fresh faced father pacing around the floor in a hospital room, holding your newborn baby in your arms, you have no idea what will happen next.

You have no idea how fast time will pass you by. It feels as if the years have the span of months. It all just happens way too fast.

This has happened to me twice. Twice holding newborns. Twice the feeling of time speeding by, like that rocket ship we all daydreamed about when we were kids.

I watched my daughter run around in our back yard, a little girl. Swinging on her swing set. Now I watch her get behind the wheel of a car, to take a driving lesson, another step into that now brief journey into adult life.

Although sometimes I can feel like a kid, the hard truth is I’m not anymore. Soon my children won’t be kids anymore.

This discovery was made again on the afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday. My son and I decided to celebrate the grand tradition of American football that day with a game of “two hand touch” out in the back yard.

Joey had just turned 12, but he’s still my “little guy”, slight of stature. In a wrestling match or a light sabre fight, because of my size, I’m usually the victor of any match physically.

Our game started innocently enough, with some kicks and passes, catches and dropped balls. Just like the real thing. Then he decided he wanted to run for touchdowns. He tried his best on the first few attempts, but with his short strides, I caught him pretty quickly from behind.

On one particular run, I set myself in front of him to stop him once again. No problem, especially since he was running and giggling at the same time.

Then it happened. He stopped giggling (did he put on his mean face?), tucked the ball under his arm, ran full throttle towards me and stiff armed me…his right hand straight into my chin. In a state of shock, I fell flat on my ass as he ran past, scoring a touchdown in our makeshift “end zone”.

I thought I tasted blood, and sure enough, I touched my hand to my mouth and it came away with a small, red streak. After he dumped me to the ground with a text book stiff arm, I came up bleeding!

My son’s a well mannered boy. He apologized to me for making me bleed, and we kept playing a while longer, continuing to have fun. But the results of our playtime speak for themselves.

Growing up cannot be denied, and kids can’t be contained in the backyards of their childhood forever. They break free. Breaking the tackles, stiff arming the obstacles of life, and running for glory.

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Your Life Is A Great Story. Are You Telling It?

If there is one thing that the march of time does for you, it has an ability to enhance  your observational skills. When I was younger, I saw ordinary people for what I thought they were: very ordinary.

Now that I’m…ahem…older, I see individuals around me as anything but ordinary. I wrote about it in a post about my grandparents, about how extraordinary they were. But there’s so much more to see.

As I see it, everyone has a story.

For the bulk of my life, I didn’t think I was anything special. A regular guy (average Joe, if you will) that grew up, went to school, got a job, met a girl, got married, blah blah blah. Just like everyone else.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

However, that opinion is untrue. Mine looks like an ordinary life, but there’s a story behind everything. You have them too. How are you telling them? As The Who’s Roger Daltrey once famously shrieked, “Can you see the real me, can you?”

When I was growing up, I lived in a neighborhood that was all about community, culture, and traditions. The kind of world that barely exists anymore. There’s a story behind that.

I was a fat kid that didn’t want to be fat anymore, and I made a decision,  after being inspired by a movie, to take control of my life and lose that weight and never gain it back. There’s a story behind that.

I went to middle and high school at a military academy, and struggled to fit in. There was conflict and rebellion, and it ended when I made it out and graduated. Another story.

Instead of getting a college degree, I decided to go to work in the family business. At the time, I thought it the only way to build on a relationship with my Dad. I was a bartender in his restaurant for nearly twenty years. There’s many stories behind that. 🙂

The working hours there were long, and at times went into the wee hours. If they didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have met my future wife one of those nights, while she was out having fun with friends. There’s a great story there.

If we didn’t get married and have our two wonderful kids, I probably wouldn’t have made the move to change careers, which was another struggle. I left my comfort zone behind to make sure I had enough time to spend with my family…and have no regrets.

The two loves of our lives, looking over the Queen of American Lakes.

Notice a pattern?? There’s a story behind that.

You have stories too. Just about everyone I know has a great story. Whether they believe it or not. They can be amazing, they can be tragic. Most of them fall in between. But “in between” is still worth telling. You live a bigger life than you know.

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was under the impression that all of the family that surrounded me were ordinary. That’s just plain crazy thinking. They had some of the best stories of them all. They had memories of living through the Great Depression, of the family farm, of surviving Allied bombing raids in Italy, and relatives that fought in the World War.

Many of those life reflections were shared with me around a kitchen table, told in the simplest of terms. I am grateful to have heard them when the opportunity was there.

Don’t miss your opportunity to share yours. Remember, there’s a story behind that.

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Not Your Average Heroes

As I wrote in this post, we have the bad habit of heaping praise and admiration on celebrity and athletic figures that are far from deserving of it.

But in reality, true heroes don’t have roles in movies, throw footballs, or star in television shows. They are all around you, doing everyday things, having their small but important impact.

When I think of true heroes, my mind always comes back to my grandparents. My grandfather, and my grandmother, the woman everyone called “Nonna”.  One of the inspirations for this blog, the very definition of what I perceive to be “old school” values.

They left their homes in Italy, coming to America for opportunity, for a better life. The trip to this country was far from easy. I imagine when they were arriving at Ellis Island, they weren’t treated very well. Beginning a life in America was just as hard.

They were here to experience the Great Depression, a time in the USA that made our current economic recession pale by comparison. Hard times looking at a bleak future. They made it through.

They worked physically demanding jobs in blue collar factories that were once the backbone of American industry. Proud of the work that made their living and fed their children.

They built businesses in the restaurant industry, putting in thousands of hours to make them successful, while supporting a family. The care that was put into the food and service for the restaurants was my grandmother’s stamp of excellence. No one roasted a better turkey or made a better bowl of pasta e fagioli.

They survived the worst family tragedy, having to bury a son, my uncle Anthony, when he was just a boy. I can’t even imagine the level of pain and emptiness they felt. Somehow, they made it through. Years later, Nonna would shed tears talking about him, then be smiling again just a few minutes later. Courageous.

They made a vow in 1936 and stayed together for over six decades. Through the good times and the bad, they never wavered in their commitment to each other. They had a better shot at being married for 72 years than 72 days. Take note, modern reality show wackos.

Later in their lives, they both had a variety of health issues, but very little stopped them. They never really “retired”. Just kept working until their bodies would no longer allow them to.

They rarely complained, if at all, and didn’t think they were entitled to anything they didn’t work for. They thought that people who would rely on the government for support were “misinformed”, and the only place that they would ever “occupy” would be their house, after coming home from another hard day’s work.

Heroes. How do you define them? Are they movie actors? Sport stars? Or do they have a little more…substance? I know my definition. There are no trophies or ceremonies, and the best of them may look like nothing special in day to day existence.

But they have more influence than they know. The world is a better place because they were here.

What Do You Believe In?

My eleven year old son lost a tooth the other night in what has been a succession of lost teeth over the last few weeks. The only difference with this one is the tooth fairy forgot to  slip some money under his pillow in exchange for the tooth (damn short term memory).

This led to a discussion with Mom about, well, how Mom and Dad actually are the tooth fairy. Over the initial shock, he seemed to take it pretty well. Since his reaction was less than explosive, my wife took it a step further… to include Santa and the Easter Bunny.

At first, I couldn’t believe she was doing it. I think both my son and daughter are growing up too fast as it is, and I wasn’t sure if telling him that Santa and his reindeer are fiction was the greatest idea.

I thought, in the past,  maybe my writing partner Gabrielle would spill the beans to her brother about Santa and his holiday crew (she has an affinity for the Great Pumpkin). Impressively, she kept it tightly under wrap.

Turns out he suspected it, anyway. Although Suzie and I have always made a big fuss about leaving cookies and milk for Santa and seeing hoof prints from the reindeer in the snow, the little boy spied gifts from Santa he unwrapped on Christmas Day in the back of a mini van in a department store bag.

I know they’re growing up. I know the concept of “being realistic” is setting in.

I knew they weren’t going to believe forever.

Tooth fairy or not…there’s some things Dad thinks they have to believe:

I want them to believe in themselves. Without self confidence, the world can be a hard place. Even if they don’t feel confident, I’d like to see them fake it. Until they are. With a good dose of confidence, their opportunities will open right up.

I want them to believe that they will always have something to offer the world. Because they do. I’ve already posted of my daughter’s budding talents in art, writing, and photography. My son already has a martial arts black belt, and is honing his skill in baseball. They have the ability now to help and inspire others if they want to.

I want them to believe that no matter how many times they get knocked down, they can always get back up. Dad can tell them a little about rejection. I work with it every day. The sting of rejection goes away the more you deal with it.  If you’re not meeting some resistance, you’re not doing anything of consequence.

I want them to believe there are no shortcuts. The very best way to win, do a task, fulfill a dream, achieve a goal is desire: to want it just a little bit more than the next guy (or girl) and give maximum effort to do it.

It’s a very simple solution that their great grandparents could have taught them. Just outwork everybody else.

I want them to believe, no matter what, Mom and Dad will always have their back. Enough said here. My wife and I could not imagine loving anyone more. We’ve got your back.

I want them to believe that no matter how old they get, living the dream is always possible. Even if they get caught up in the cycle of education, getting a job, paying the bills, wrestling with the mortgage, and wondering if a retirement is even possible… they can always believe in something more, no matter what “it” is.

Even if you’re in your forties and you still wonder what you may be when you finally grow up…you’ve still got time.

That’s my case. What do you believe in?

You Are Like A Hurricane: No “Over Hype” Here

“Can’t happen here, can’t happen here. All that fear they’re telling you, it can’t happen here” – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Once again, nature proves that, no matter what, she’s the boss. As I sat in my house Sunday morning looking out my window at the wind gusts and flooding rains that were Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irene, I considered my family fortunate to still have electricity, and no tree damage like so many in more southern regions.

As a weather event, there is no finesse to a hurricane. She is pure power.

As an armchair witness to Irene making rain fall history, I’m having a surge of respect for people in the states of Florida and the Carolinas who deal with big time storms on a regular basis.

The only reason I left my house on Sunday was to plug in a lead cord for my next door neighbor to run his sump pump. He had lost power, and wanted to get the two inches of water out of his flooded basement.

Why do people venture outside during a hurricane? A tree can fall and crush you. Such events occurred on more than one occasion in Virginia over the weekend.

Why would you drive your car during a hurricane? If you’re not driving an emergency vehicle, chances are you would not know how to avoid a flooded road that could sweep you away to your end.

Why taunt the power of a lady named Irene? You put yourself in harm’s way without reason. The highways are shutting down, and the malls are closed. You have no reason to go out, really. Reacquaint yourself with the definition of the word

Mess with a hurricane and what she can bring – it’s an act that borders on sheer foolishness.

My dog is a great indicator of bad weather. Not the biggest fan of thunderstorms to begin with, you know if he doesn’t want to go on his “bathroom run” that something sinister is in the air. Dogs are good for this.

New York City was practically shut down by Irene. While residents of this state can be prone to hyperbole and the “worst case” scenario, they had it right by regarding Irene as the monster she had the potential to be.

As a resident of upstate New York, I have only seen the remnants of tropical storms in the past. This storm was an entirely different animal.

There are many that think that the coverage of Irene was overblown, and too excessive in the monies spent to protect.

For those that think this event was “over hyped,” feel free to witness the aftermath of Irene here in upstate New York: devastating flooding, with waters rising and rivers cresting. Roads and entire towns wiped from the map.

In my neck of the woods, they are many, many people suffering from loss of property.

In the right circumstance, fear and over preparation is a very positive thing.

Good riddance, Irene, and let all your sisters and cousins know that they are not welcome  in this part of the world anymore.