So This Is Christmas…

So this is Christmas,  and what have you done, another year over, a new one just begun. And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun, the near and the dear ones, the old and the young.

A very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fears.

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon/ Yoko Ono 1971

Christmas music starts on the radio in November, and pretty much continues to the end of the year. It can be enough to drive you insane.

But, along with any Christmas tune by Frank and Dino, the Lennon/Ono collaboration that became Happy Xmas is one of those Christmas songs that I could listen to repeatedly without getting sick of it.

It’s just a shame that its message is as relevant today as it was in 1971. A world without war to celebrate Christmas during our lifetimes? Not likely.

Photo by Gabrielle DeGiorgio

Post-Christmas, some other thoughts running around in my head:

I’m torn about gifts – While I think that my kids (and my wife and I) got far too many gifts again this year, fighting it may not be fair, and is probably a lost cause anyway. It’s a perfect right of their grandparents to spoil them as they see fit. So they get multitudes of gifts.

I’ll probably do the same thing when I’m a grandfather. I can’t bitch about the gift giving methods of anyone else when I know future Joe could be just as guilty.

As much as I like to complain about the lack of spirituality around the Christmas holiday, there wasn’t a seat to be had at the church where I attended Mass. In fact, there wasn’t much standing room, either. Elbow to elbow.

The fact that the church was packed reminded me of Christmas celebrations in past years, when I attended Mass with my grandparents and other family members. In the days when going to church was an essential activity in late December. That’s old school stuff that has a place here in 2011.

Next week, there will be plenty of available space. Next week, I’ll be able to sit if I want to.

Avoiding advertising is nearly impossible – The ramping up of ads proclaiming the latest and greatest discounts for Christmas sales is more intense than ever. To avoid it altogether is a tall order that’s hard to achieve. Materialism is front and center and it all reeks of receive, receive, receive. If you can get through the entire season without being tempted to spend more money than you actually have, congratulations.

And on that note…

The American economy is far too dependent on holiday shopping – A large part of our economy is based on consumer spending. What a house of cards. I can understand the fortunes of a retail chain bouncing up and down with the sales numbers, but…

Consumer confidence?

The stock market?

Crazy stuff. Thankfully, the average consumer was more than willing to put themselves into hock this holiday season to help out the economy. It was said that Americans were suffering from “frugal fatigue”, and their inclination was to spend their way out of it, to make themselves feel better.

Ho ho ho…

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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?

The Fire And The Freedom: A Guest Post

I’m 48 years old. Suddenly my life is flying by at hyper speed.

When I was a boy, then a teenager, the days, the weeks, the months were long. Summers spent playing ball and hanging out with friends seemed like they lasted forever. Time stood still after the school year was done, and we did the things that set us free.

Remember Ferris Bueller, and that movie’s most famous quote?

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

After my wife and I were married, and my daughter was born, time stood still there as well. I could not imagine her as anything but an infant.

Pretty fast. Yeah, like lightning fast.

Now, the power of youth for me has taken a rest stop, and I’m the father of a teenager. I’m staring her college years square in the face, and I want to run the other way. Sinatra once crooned about the autumn of his years, but no one ever informed me about how rapidly the season’s colors change when you have kids.

I’m in denial because I still feel like a kid myself.

But there’s an upside to me (and my kids) getting older.

My daughter is smart, witty, and quick on (and with) her feet. She is learning to play guitar, is an aspiring photographer, and already is a talented artist. And she writes. She writes from her gut and plays with her words like they’re her toys. I planned on posting her writing here someday, when I thought she may be as good as Dad.

Who am I kidding. Someday is here.

This is your work, Gabrielle. About the freedom, fire, and the passion that you already see at your young age. I’m proud to share…

______________________________________________________________

fire is simple. it creates warmth and comfort. but also massive destruction. fire breathes and sighs as its handler effortlessly turns its energy into entertainment. i dont know why this dawned on me last night. while i was surrounded by joyful pyros playing with death by eating and spinning the flames, but it did remind me of the very first time i had ever seen this with my own eyes.

it was last fall, the night air was freezing everywhere else, but as soon as i stepped into the circle of fire it was warm, hot almost. i couldnt tell whether it was the fire or the extraordinary people. my first thought these people are insane! or suicidal! and i couldnt figure out why, i, someone who burned myself multiple time in earth science class, was here. i shouldve been home studying or watching tv. I began to watch the spinners, my eyes focused on the fire, trying to distract myself from the lingering ache i had deep in my gut, it wasnt until i began to get up close and video tape my friend jake while he twisted and turned the fire around himself and then me as i closed in with my mother’s cell phone that took videos.

At first i just wanted a video of this fire, coiling around us like a snake, when i caught the face of my friend. free. happy.and emitting some sort of magical energy that seems childish. When i sat back down i studied the other pyros faces. all wearing the same happy free childish face. I realized that was the magic of this place, what drew all these extraordinary people here. it wasnt the fire. it was the freedom. and that was the last time i ever saw the fire spinners. until last night.

as i stepped into the square last night, i hid behind my own freedom. my camera. this time i wasnt looking for the eye catching fire and multiple colored balls that would fly through the air all night, i was looking to somehow capture the mood here, in these people, in my photos somehow. it was hotter then i remember it to be, and louder. everybody was laughing or playing the bongos or playing with fire. i took pictures from every angle i could, yet i couldnt grasp with my camera what i saw with my eyes. maybe i wasnt doing it right. i soon caved in  and sat next to my friends whom i hadnt seen in quite some time, and gabbed on with the three of them for most of the night. in one of those awkward moments of silence, i knew the reason why my camera couldnt capture the energy around this place. my camera (although its my baby) couldnt see like humans do.

and what was here is that these people found their weekly escape. their passion. their freedom to be themselves. which is seen very little now a days, since everyone just cares about the money or how many things they have to make them ‘happy’. but this was happy. so please reader, if you are the average joe, stop it. wheres the freedom and your passion? hell, i dont know, go out and find it. while you do that, i will hide behind my camera, and try to capture what i see.

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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!