Giving All For God And Country

It would be hard not to feel a lump in your throat hearing the grim details of the soldiers that included members of Navy Seal Team 6 killed over the weekend when the helicopter they were being transported in was shot down over a terrorist stronghold in Afghanistan.

(There were also soldiers on that helicopter who were not Navy Seals. Here’s a riveting post about one of them.)

IMG_3904Notable was the story of Aaron Vaughn, husband, father of two, and staunch defender of our country’s freedom as a SEAL.

As I watched the interview with his widow and parents, I learned he epitomized “old school” principles that you hardly ever hear much about in the media, unless an event like this occurs.

Love of God

His father related that Aaron was a person of deep faith, who let that faith guide him to the convictions that he believed in. His father said “He believed…. that he was obliged as a Christian believer to fight fundamental Islamic terrorists around this world because he believed it was a threat to his children and to his wife and to all of our western civilization way of life.”

In an age where some individuals try to take the word “God” out of everything, hearing about this man’s beliefs was a refreshing change.

Love of Country

September 11 was a turning point for Aaron in his desire to become a Navy SEAL, according to his dad. He put his country first simply by making the decision to become a elite member of American special forces, and put his life on the line every day to protect our way of life.

At a time when patriotism is void from our minds, or at best a part time pursuit, men like Aaron prove to be the ultimate patriots.

Love of Family

Vaughn loved his duties as a Navy SEAL. I’m sure the job of being a dad was something he gave his all to as well. Those of us that are with our families on a very regular basis no doubt take that time for granted.

Vaughn was away from his family for hundreds of days at a time. Being a father of two very young children, he had little opportunity to see them grow and took full advantage of the limited time he had with them. He was with his newborn daughter only briefly before returning to combat.

These details make concrete the fact not only are these members of our American military the ultimate fighters, but also ultimate believers: God, country, family. Truly old school stuff we need more of.

Did you like this article? If so, don’t keep it from your friends! Share it, tweet it, and tell me what you think in the comments section.

A Father and Son, A Perfect Swing

As father – son baseball moments go, we have one that may stand the test of time, ranking right up there with Kevin Costner as the fictional Ray Kinsella, playing catch with his ghostly father with a backdrop of an Iowa cornfield  in the final scene of Field of Dreams.

For me, a Dad who has played ball with both of my kids, son and daughter, it was one of those “goose pimple” events.  Yankee star second baseman Robinson Cano, winning the All Star Home Run Derby, with his father and mentor Jose as his pitcher.

It was compelling television. Jose was stoic and unsmiling as he threw the batting practice tosses to his son, and didn’t even crack a smile until he knew that Cano would grab the title of “home run king” for the night.

The outcome never seemed to be in doubt. In the final round, Cano hit a home run with most of the pitches his Dad threw to him. In retrospect, it looked like they had been doing it forever. And they probably have.

Once victory was secure, the only thing left was a bear hug between a father and his boy.

In a night full of baseballs launched out of the park, majestic moonshots landing in second and third decks, Robinson had the most majestic of all, a couple of balls measured beyond 470 feet.

In an interview after the competition, the younger Cano did not reference his upper body strength, sense of balance, or his perfectly Ruthian swing as the factors for his stratospheric display. Instead, he gave credit where he thought it was due.

It was my dad.”

Cano said he wished the trophy could be cut in half — half for him, half for his dad.

“These are the things you share with your family, when you retire you can look back and say, ‘Wow, I was good in the day’,” Cano said. “This is something I’m always going to have in my mind and my heart.”

A committed father rarely understands the importance of his role. The statistics bear out that having a father at home shuts down that greater risk of having major challenges in life while growing up.

On the flip side, I think having a Dad like Jose Cano can not only keep a kid out of trouble,  but also accelerate any success that child might experience. And once you get momentum…

Jose was a professional athlete himself, who took the time to teach his son the finer points of the game, and obviously, the skills required to live a life of success within the sport he loves.

An old school guy, who puts family first and his needs and wants on the back burner if necessary.

Thanks to Jose and Robinson for showing us real must see TV for families. In a time where most television is reality garbage, this baseball event was one for the ages.

Black Belt Strong: How Kids Benefit from Martial Arts Training

Another candidate for post title: “How My Kids Can Now Kick Their Father’s Ass.”

Yeah, that’s funny. But the truth is, a martial arts black belt (in this case, tae kwon do) is less about “kicking ass” and more about self defense, discipline, focus, and the ability to have confidence and respect. Respect for yourself, and your peers.

Both my daughter and son are involved in the classes. Joey started practicing martial arts in 2007, and while advancing through some of the lower belts seemed easy for him, real challenges have come within the last year and a half.  It took an absolutely insane amount of effort on his part to finally finish and qualify for his first degree black belt.

My son is 11 years old. As part of his requirements, within a couple of months, he had to complete 1000 push ups, 2000 sit ups, 30 miles of running, and numerous sessions of jumping rope, forms practice, and self defense practice.

Black-Belt
Board breaking en route to the Black Belt!

What my son did in a 90 day period most sedentary Americans don’t do in a lifetime. The kid worked his butt off.

He also had to write an essay on why becoming a black belt was important to him. This is an excerpt:

“I became a Bodan black belt candidate in December of 2010. When I got my binder in January, I realized how much work and discipline it would take to be a black belt. My instructors have taught me many things besides tae kwon do. I have learned to be respectful of everyone, and made friends with many people.

My body has become stronger and my mind has too. I am a better listener, and can study better as well. Tae kwon do has made me a leader in my classroom and given me more confidence.”

Before he started tae kwon do, he was a quiet guy who was a little shy and had trouble focusing in the classroom. This training did boost his confidence as well as his focusing skills. I still don’t know how he remembers all the forms he’s had to learn over the years.

My daughter takes the classes as well, and she is even more naturally skilled at the sport with her length, height, and flexibility. Since tae kwon do emphasizes kicks from a mobile stance more than punching, she has an advantage here with her powerful legs. Just ask Dad…she packs a wallop!

There were adults as well as many kids going for a black belt at some level the last testing period. Some common themes ran through the essays of everyone;

  • The ability to do anything you set your mind to
  • Enhanced self esteem and confidence
  • Not giving up, no matter what
  • Going beyond your comfort level and pushing yourself
  • Smarter, stronger, more self confident
  • Becoming stronger not only in body, but in your mind
  • The thing you need most is effort

“A black belt is a white belt who never quits”

I’ll admit, tae kwon do classes are an expensive option for a kid’s (or adult) activity. But, if you have children who need lessons in discipline, persistence, and fending for themselves in a world that’s going to try to slap them down, I’ll say it’s well worth the coin.

What do you think? What tools do you use to instill a little discipline into your kids? Or better yet…yourself? Share this with your friends, tweet it…use the buttons below, thanks!

An Opportunity To Become “Full Time” Patriotic

Back in late March, I discussed posting an article to this site at least once a week. Well, as you can judge from the April archives, that ambition went down in flames. I’m not one to use excuses liberally, but a couple of important events happened in our family, as well as a very intense schedule for my son, coming down to the last phases of a first degree black belt test in tae kwon do (you will read a little bit about both in the coming weeks). Well, he’s finally got the black belt, and Mom and Dad can breathe a little easier. And, to boot, we have more time.

With this, I still hope to post articles more frequently, if not every week, beginning with today’s little rant about patriotism. I appreciate the readers who are here and continue to read despite the erratic publication schedule. Enjoy today’s post, and start looking for more to come!

Besides the obvious benefits of Osama Bin Laden being taken out by a Navy Seal (the obvious: one unholy terrorist taker of American lives eliminated), there are some not so subtle side effects of the events of the first of May.

Many beautiful images proliferated throughout the web after the fact. Stars and stripes, shimmering red, white, and blue colors in abundance. We were introduced again to photos of the World Trade Center before the 9/11 attacks, standing tall in the majestic New York skyline.

I saw many photos of the symbol of American freedom, the bald eagle, in flight, perched and steadfast, or draped in the shades of our flag. These images reflect American pride and patriotism.

While it’s a wonderful thing to see these images, whether as icons on the social media accounts of your friends or in a newspaper publication, the truth is we never see it enough. It seems only a tragedy like 9/11, or the event of the death of a terrorist leader brings out the best of American patriotism.

It’s what I would call “part time” patriotism. And as Americans, you and I can be better than that. This site will never have a strongly political bent, but this isn’t about politics. It’s about recognizing the right from wrong and the things we can improve upon.

I fly my flag outside of my home three seasons a year. Only three, because the upstate New York winter’s cold and winds will tatter and shred the most well made flag. But I would still consider that part time patriotism, as I know I can do more to honor this country and those who serve it.

There was an uproar from some after Bin Laden’s death that “everyone celebrated it” in the streets of DC and New York. While it’s an exaggeration that “everyone” did this, it’s important to remember this one individual was responsible for destroying thousands of lives. In this particular case, you shouldn’t feel bad about feeling good.

As usual, I will invoke the old school view on this one: Bin Laden got what he had coming to him, and the method of his removal could not have happened to a better guy. Peace and diplomacy are the preferred route for most anything, but not this time.

This blog is useful for a variety of reasons, not the least of which it helps me remember things. I am part time patriotic. This post should serve to remind me to strive to become more patriotic on a regular basis. To remember to thank those men and women at every opportunity for serving our country, especially in the Middle East. And keep them in my prayers.

Did you like this article? If so, don’t keep it from your friends! Share it, tweet it, and tell me what you think in the comments section.

500 Words On the Power of Music

I used to have coffee with my Nonna and my father on a regular basis, but now that my grandmother is gone, I still go to my Dad’s house to have coffee with him. Driving over there the other night, I was surprised to see a Cars CD in the player that my wife was listening to.guitar_neck2-922x883

I’ve gotta tell you, listening to certain bands just gets me all fired up.

The Cars were one of my favorite bands when I was a teenager, and now that I’m in my forties, I’m still impressed with their sound. I’m even more impressed with the way the music makes me feel. That night, when I heard songs like Magic or Heartbeat City, I felt a surge of adrenaline and energy that made me feel like a teenager all over again.

Music has never been just music to me. I consider certain songs and artists to be the soundtrack of my life. Bruce Springsteen has been my background music for nearly thirty five years.  To me, there has not been another rock musician that plays with the passion and intensity that Bruce does. And I’ve loved every minute of listening to it.

Whenever I hear a song by Rush, I think of hanging with my childhood friend Mike. Any song by the Clash reminds me of my buddy Chris from military school, who turned me on to the punk and new wave scenes when they were starting to gain musical ground.

Say the name “Tom Petty” to me, and I think of outdoor concerts in scenic Saratoga Springs, with torrential rain always greeting the concert goers.

I could never listen to Bob Marley without thinking of my wife Suzanne, who opened my eyes to the sweet sounds of reggae.

At the other end of the spectrum, whenever I hear Jerry Vale or Al Martino or Frank Sinatra, I will always think of my grandmother, who loved music and used to turn the volume up on the little transistor radio in her kitchen as far as it would go whenever she heard a favorite song. More times than not those sounds were accompanied by the fragrant smells of freshly fried meatballs or soup cooking on the stove.

And she would sing too. Giving in to the power of her favorite sounds.

I’m just like her. Few things inspire or motivate me more than music. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing during the course of the day, it has to be accompanied by m-u-s-i-c. My teenage daughter is the same way. And thankfully she likes a lot of the stuff that Mom and Dad are fond of, like Coldplay and the Beatles. So we can listen too…

Only she listens on her iPod now, not stereos or tape decks like her parents used to. Music in an instant. Just like the instant it takes for all my great music to take me back in time, to when life was a little different, but no less sweet.

“Music takes you back. There are some songs I avoid, since they depress me or make me feel the unwanted tug of lifestyle choices I gratefully abandoned nearly 40 years ago. They want to take me back to places I never want to see again. But most of the playlist of my youth recreates all the positive feelings and joy I felt the first time I hear it.

A culture, an era, a whole world. It’s all reflected in the music.” – Bill Davis

OK, the post is a little longer than 500 words. So, what’s your story? Do you love a certain artist or style of music? Does it get you pumped? Or do you take it or leave it? When it comes to music, who do you love?