The job I didn’t want and the lesson it taught me on how to be a good husband

When I was a young newspaper reporter, my bosses used to give me the grunt-related jobs, everything from fetching the coffee to writing photo captions. One day early in my career, working part time at the Centre Daily Times (I hadn’t even made it yet to a full time job at the Lewistown Sentinel), I found myself with the unenviable task of editing the paper’s Community Section which included the obituaries and anniversaries. Every weekend, the paper ran a short section with photos and text on couples who had been married for a significant number of years – usually 50 years.

When I went into work that day, I groaned internally when the editor-on-call asked me to tackle the anniversaries and edit a couple of obituaries that had come earlier in the day. Yes, both sections were an important part of any newspaper, less now thanks to the Internet, but the job at the time did not fill me with excitement.

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I was filling in, helping out weekends, and in full-time job search mode. I tried immediately to talk my way out of the task. I considered myself on the verge of a hard hitting journalism career, not some local fluff writer. I pointed to the police scanner blaring in the background. “There seems to be a lot of activity on the scanner. Sounds like a big fire,” I said, noting the number of fire companies that had already been called. “Don’t you want someone on the scene?”

The editor shook his head no and said that the paper didn’t usually send reporters out to cover small brush fires. He rolled his eyes like he knew exactly what I had been up to and went back to whatever he had been reading before I interrupted him.

I grudgingly went to work: Give me a fire, give me the cops beat, give me something big. I needed clips, not the kind of clips the Anniversary or Obituary sections were going to give me. God and fate, however, don’t always give us what we want. They tend to give us the challenges that we need.

So instead of chasing after a fire or writing about the controversial zoning issue that was taking up a lot of space in the newspaper, I got sent to a desk in a far-away corner to type in the handwritten details that someone — more than likely the couple’s children or friends — had submitted about the two couples scheduled to be featured in that weekend’s edition. The anniversary format was straightforward. You listed when the couple would celebrate their anniversary and where they got married. You would include some biographical information about the husband and then the wife. You would list any children and grandchildren. If the couple included a thank you or words of advice you’d include those too. All pretty simple.

I can’t say that I had paid much attention to the Community section, in particular the anniversaries, prior to that day. I usually whizzed right past that page onto the sports page or comics. On that day, though, I spent 15 minutes staring at the picture of the two couples. They were simple folks. In particular, I remember that I couldn’t stop focusing on the smiles on their faces and the way they held onto each other. They weren’t just two people thrown together. They were a team. They were couples who had survived wars, deaths, financial pressures and a million other daily challenges and had worked hard on their marriage, carving out 50 years together.

The actual task of writing up the text that ran with each photo took little to no time. I’m not sure why, but I picked up the phone and actually called both couples to verify some piece of information. I remember wanting to get to the secret to their success. If I was going to be forced to take on the grunt work, then I was going to take it seriously and follow through and make sure I got the facts correct.

They seemed surprised when I asked for their prescription to a lasting marriage and simply said they had found their soul mate and worked hard at building a marriage each and every day. They talked about putting the other person first in their lives and finding the humor in life. The one husband joked about getting his wife roses every other month and how it got him out too many jams to count. But when I talked to his wife, she pooh-poohed the flowers, saying she thought the daily walks they took together were infinitely more valuable. Both couples talked too about finding time for each other and never going to bed angry. I thanked them for their time and went back to work. I’m not sure what advice I expected to hear, but I’m pretty sure I expected it to be more detailed than that.

I moved onto the next task, the next thing on my list, and didn’t really think much about the couples again until the note on their anniversary ran in that weekend’s newspaper. I’d like to say that I saved the newspaper clipping, but I’m sure I didn’t.

A short while later, I would end up getting my first full-time newspaper job. I would move onto a regular newspaper beat and one day out of journalism completely and into corporate communications, but I would never forget the anniversaries that I prepared that one weekend. They were very much in the back of my mind when I moved to Washington, D.C. to be closer to my then girlfriend and then later got down on one knee to ask her to marry me.

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I’ve been thinking about those two couples especially in recent weeks as my wife and I get ready to celebrate another anniversary. On Friday,we’ll celebrate our 22nd Anniversary. We still have a long way to go to make 50, but I’ve tried to keep the simple, folksy lessons that the two couples taught me all those years ago.

While I’m sure that I’m wiser for remembering those two couples, I also know that I’m still pretty clueless about what makes a great marriage. I credit hard work, the discipline to fight through the struggles . . . and quite frankly my wife. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have lasted one day — forget about one month or one year — without her love, patience, support and trust.

Happy Anniversary!

When I grow up, I want to be . . .

When I was 10-years-old, I roamed the middle of the pee wee football field with force and passion. You stepped foot into the middle of the field with the ball in your hands at your own peril. I was small for my age, but when I got going, I hit the other bigger players with the force of three players. (Okay, okay, maybe my memory is getting in the way of reality, but I was still pretty good for my size.)

My coach originally played me at receiver. When he caught me goofing off one practice early in the year, he placed me on a whim in the linebacker role. After getting over the shock of the coach calling me out, the position became my home away from home.

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When the coach made that move, everything started clicking. I threw myself into the role. I stopped worrying about getting hurt or run over by the other players. As a middle linebacker, it didn’t matter that I was one of the smallest kids on the field. Instead, I could roam from side to side, clogging up the middle of the field, hitting everyone who came into my path.

I loved the linebacker position and once established I didn’t let go of it. I made it my own. I couldn’t wait for practice and our games. We won and kept winning, earning a spot in the league championship game. We would end up losing that game, but my play throughout the year won me a spot on the League All-Star Team

Whenever anyone asked me what my goals were at that age, I used tell them that I wanted to earn a scholarship to Penn State University and to play in the National Football League. Natural for a kid, right?

A crazy thing happened though: The rest of that year and into the next, everyone else seemed to get bigger and bigger. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t and over time my size became a bigger and bigger issue.

I couldn’t count anymore on my speed to make up for my lack of size and I lacked the force that I once had in bringing down the other players. I kept playing for another year or two when I ended up giving up football for good.

Oh I’m sure I could have kept up with it, but I lost the desire to keep playing football. I would still play pick-up games, but I never enjoyed it quite like I did when I was a 10-year-old kid.

I thought about that story recently when my 11-year-old came home and asked me how he should respond to a homework question asking him what he wanted to do when he grew up. I told him that he should write: be a kid forever.

Unfortunately, he didn’t like my answer, but I still think it’s the best answer to the question. I’m 47-years-old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I find that my answer to the “grown-up question” has changed with the sands of time. My responses have varied from veterinarian to forest ranger; priest to photographer; novelist to psychiatrist; journalist to political science wonk; IT project manager to business consultant; school teacher to lifeguard; bookstore owner to corporate attorney, Disney crew member (monorail driver) to fund manager and a few others I’ve forgotten along the way.

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The search for a dream career has been ongoing since those early days as a kid, searching for something that brings as much fulfilment as playing middle linebacker. And yes, I find that I’m still adding to the list. I stopped by a coffee shop the other day and was convinced that the people-friendly barista behind the counter had the right idea. He talked about making his customers happy and what a joy it was to see their smiles. Of course, later in the day, I spoke with a friend who works as the CEO of his own business and that sounded pretty good too.

No, no, I don’t see a career change coming — as much as I complain, I love the corporate communications and change management fields — but I also enjoy adding to the career list. Maybe one day I’ll even figure it out.

When that day comes, I suspect my ultimate job will be one that lets me sleep in late, write a little, play a few games and be a kid again.

Until then, I’ll keep searching.

Finally believing in me

On two different weekends recently, my 16-year-old and 11-year old sons both went to their school dances. I got a kick out of seeing them get ready for their big nights out. They put a lot of thought into what they were going to wear and dressed-up nicer than I had expected.

They looked like two sharp dressed men.

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As my boys got ready for their night out, I thought they might be apprehensive or even nervous, but when I asked, they both said they were fine. They could have been playing it low key for Dad — the less information to pass along the better — but they seemed pretty confident to me. Heck, they seemed downright laid back.

When we dropped them off, they got out of the car and didn’t look back. I had to laugh at the scene because I certainly didn’t have that kind of confidence when I was growing up. When I went to school-related events, I obsessed over a million different things, if I would fit in, who I would talk with, whether or not I would embarrass myself in some way, and on and on and on.

My boys didn’t seem to have the same concerns. I’d like to think that we’ve raised them to believe in themselves and to be men of character, but I think it speaks more to my crazy state of mind as a kid. I was a bundle of nerves.

As I’ve gotten older and considered the question, I think a big part of my struggle growing-up was fitting-in and finding my place. I wore large, geeky glasses that seemed to set me apart even more than I already was. Many times when I tried to make a point, my mind would race faster than my mouth, with whatever I was I trying to say coming out in a confusing stammer. My family didn’t have a lot of money and just barely got by some months, making me obsess even more about fitting in with everyone else. And to top it off, I liked the typical guy stuff, cars and football, but I also liked to read and write. I could just as easily spend a Sunday afternoon reading Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels to playing outside or riding bike with my friends.

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Most kids seem to face some type of struggle fitting-in with the crowd. They worry, they fret over the smallest of things. While I understand this now as an adult, I can’t say I recognized it at the time. I felt the spotlight on me no matter the situation. It took me a long time — well into college — to stop worrying about what others might or might not think and to just be myself.

It took me putting my own trusted opinion over others who may or may not have had my best interest at heart. It took having confidence . . . in me.

In the end, it was great to see my boys walk into the house after their events were over with smiles on their faces and positive stories to tell. It told me that the three of us — even me — have come a long way.

Now if my wife could just help the three of us with our dance moves — then the boys and I would really be the talk of the talk of the town!

When a father’s hands are tied

The newborn’s tiny arms flailed out in the air and she let out a loud cry. Her mother quickly picked her up and laid her against her shoulder. The baby let out a whimper, closed her eyes and fell quietly back to sleep.

With that, all was calm, all was right again. Whatever had caused the pain and the momentary bit of fear had passed and was now a distant thought.

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A friend brought her 10-week-old baby recently to visit with us and it was neat seeing the two of them connect and play together. It made me remember what it was like to have children so small and dependent on us for everything. And to think that I too that I once had that touch, the ability to comfort, soothe and calm almost any worry or cry.

Most days I would describe fatherhood as the most rewarding experience of my life. There’s nothing like turning a panicked cry into a calming sleep. I loved days like those. I still love them.

And then there are the days where it’s work, where every step is a challenge and a fight. I’m not talking about surviving the terrible twos or sleepless nights with a six- or seven-year-old or even the moody teenager years.

I’m talking instead about the days when your kids face disappointment and challenges and, despite your best efforts, there’s nothing you can do to stop it: the race that your son gets passed by two other runners in the final 100 meters; the test that your daughter studied nonstop for four days and still misses the mark; the part in the musical that your son fails to get.

Life is full of disappointments. You’re not going to get picked for every plum position. You’re not going to come out a winner in every contest. You’re going to fall off that bike and skin your knee. And yes, you’re going to get picked on occasionally and other kids are going to be mean. It’s a fact of life. Kids need challenged, so that they’re prepared and know how to face tougher challenges later in life. How can they face difficulty if they’ve never been held accountable or been put to the test? They need their feet put to the fire. They need to be battletested, but that doesn’t make fatherhood any easier.

I stop myself from becoming a helicopter parent. I want them to know how to win and lose. I want them in the words of Rudyard Kipling “to talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch.”

So as a father, I know that sunshine is just around the corner. I force myself to stay on the sidelines to let my kids fight their way through their challenges, but I still fret. I pray to God. I ask him to give me the challenge, to give my daughter and sons a reprieve. I know he listens, but sometimes the challenges still come.

teddy-837564_1920 (2)In the end, I know that obstacles are good for them, but it kills me to see their tears, to see their frustrations. But then I remember that little baby and I think to myself maybe that’s what being a parent is all about: supporting them, giving them room to fly on their own, and, finally, a safe place to land.

The debate table: A political fight club

The Republican contenders for President have debated on prime time television twice now. The Democrats go on Tuesday.

I have my favorites and not-so favorite candidates, but I’ll give credit to the field on both sides for one key thing. They may back-track and they may waffle. They may even throw out a bold-faced lie or two or even run away completely from the moderator’s question.

In the end, however, I give them credit for getting involved in the public debate. In an age when Reality Television is the closest it comes to serious dialogue, there’s something refreshing about hearing candidates talk pointedly about what ails our country and how we might overcome those challenges.

I give these candidates credit for putting their ideas out on the table, defending them against attack, and working toward a larger goal.

I wonder how I might respond in the same position. I fear the fight, pride and a million other emotions would come raging out of me.

Go after my tax plan, I might have to ask if you’d care to step outside. Go after my education plan, I might just throw a punch.

My unseemly side would most certainly come out. A fight on the debate dais. I would hope not, but you never know.

Of course, who knows what could happen with Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in a debate? I’m thinking Fight club II. My money is on Hillary in a TKO.

Life’s little test . . . pass or fail

I wrote this piece three years ago and it still holds true today. God have mercy on me or I’m in a world of trouble.


When my time comes and I stand in front of the Gates of Heaven, my hope is that God grades on a curve.

You know what I mean: you’re in class and your teacher hands back the test that you took the previous day. You take a deep breath and you see a horrible grade scrawled across the top of the paper. Your heart sinks. The teacher finishes handing out the exams and when you think all is lost, she says that she has decided to grade on a curve. In this new world, everything gets pushed up; a grade of 80%, previously a low B, now counts as an A, a 70% counts as a B, etc., etc.

My hope is that God grades like that — on a lenient curve.

If not, I could be in serious trouble.

For example, I was watching a movie last week with my eight-year-old son when a storm hit our neighborhood. In a span of 20 minutes, the skies overhead turned black and the trees behind our house began swaying back-and-forth to the point that it didn’t take much to imagine one of the larger limbs snapping like a twig and crashing onto our roof.

After we gathered a flashlight or two just to be safe, I noticed that my son was getting anxious about the storm. When I asked him what was bothering him, he told me that he was worried about the storm hurting one of us.

My first thought was: “I guess I shouldn’t have let you watch Twister two months ago and thanks buddy for ratting me out to mom.”

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Next, I hugged him closely and told him that sometimes I worry about the same thing. I said that we take the necessary precautions and pray for God to watch over us. I added that I also thank God for the time that we’ve shared together and focus on how special those times have been.

I tried to be as calming and articulate as I could — it’s challenging to come up with an inspirational “meaning of life” talk in the spur of the moment — but a big smile spread wide across his face. We went back to watching our movie and everything seemed fine. I shouldn’t have fretted. During a break in the movie, my son said that he wanted to remember my advice, because he wanted to one day pass it onto his own kids.

Yes!!! In my mind, I did an imaginary celebratory dance. I saw me standing at the head of the dais, confetti falling down all around me, people congratulating me and slapping me proudly on the back. Yes, I’m the man. Look at me, so wise, so smart, such a great father.

Lest you think too highly of me, I plunged awkwardly back to Earth a few hours later. Same night, same kid, and unfortunately, same clueless parent (i.e. me)

After our movie was long-over and the storm had passed, I noticed that a light was still on in the boy’s room and that my sons hadn’t gone to bed like I had asked. Frustrated that they hadn’t listened to me, I bullishly swung open their door and yelled at the two boys to turn out their lights. I lectured them that they were older now and shouldn’t have to be told twice to go to bed. I then promptly ran out of the room and into the hallway.

I’m not sure what made me stop, guilty conscience perhaps, but I stopped for a quick breath and turned around. Through a slight gap in the door, I could see that my older son was getting up from lying next to his brother and was climbing up into his own bunk bed.

In my haste, I hadn’t noticed that the two boys had been reading together. My younger son quietly thanked his older brother for helping him with a difficult passage in his book and apologized for getting him in trouble. Yes, I felt like an idiot. A complete and clueless idiot.

I took a deep breath and went back into the room, this time with a much gentler tone. I praised the two for reading together and being such good brothers. I also stressed that they still needed to go to bed, but apologized for yelling at them.

I kissed them goodnight and then turned out the light.

Way to go Dad. Way to ruin a good mood. Way to be a jerk.

So my hope is that when my time comes, God is in a generous mood, a very generous mood. I hope too that he takes another look at my test score of life and grades on a curve.

A very big curve.

A parent’s message for his son’s teacher

I sat down to write this piece thinking that I would jot a few thoughts down. One thought came, then another, and another, and another. It’s a bit long — most of my blogs will not be this long —but hopefully it conveys a deeper message.


He stares stone-faced, straight ahead, head down. You just want to hug him. He’s a man-child, taller than you, but still so young and new to the world. You wanted to protect him from this mess. You never wanted your son to have to suffer through this type of an experience.

The school called its annual meeting to help prepare your son’s Individualized Education Program, which is the legal document that will determine the services the school will provide, the tools that will be used in the classroom this year to help him reach his goals, and the ways his progress will be measured. The IEP is everything to the teacher. It’s the teacher’s bible—so if your son needs anything, you must speak up now.

The meeting should be positive. It should be a celebration of what your son can do, the strides he’s made since first being diagnosed with Dyslexia, but the meeting—like so many others in the past—becomes an exercise in everything that he supposedly lacks as a student and as a person.

You look intently into the face of each teacher present in the room. You want to ask them:

  • How would you like a large room full of teachers and administrators to discuss your every fault, your every flaw?
  • How would you like us to discuss openly, brazenly, without feeling, ways you need to improve in your job?

Would you like it? Heck this is great, let’s bring in a group of your students and have them review your performance! Right now, in front of everyone. What do you think? How do you think that would go over?

You know that this meeting is necessary. And fortunately, you do feel that his teachers have his best interests at heart. You feel lucky. He seems to have a learning support teacher who gets it and will work with him. This hasn’t always been the case. While you hate the idea of this meeting, you also know that your son needs to hear where he’s strong and where he needs help. But you still want to stop the meeting. You want to stop it before it even gets going and show everyone what they’re missing.

You want to shout to them: Do you know how far my son has come? Do you know about all of his accomplishments? Do you know how hard he’s worked? The same boy that struggled to read not so long ago now reads at a college level. The boy is now taking two AP classes: AP History and AP Psychology. Two of them! And he’s taking Physics and he’s in the Advanced Math class. Yes, his writing can fall back on some old habits; at times it lacks the complexity that you’d like to see in a junior, but I dare you to ask him to tell you what he’s learned in your class. You’d be amazed by the detail, by the fine points he’s picked up.

You have kids running through the hall with lifeless looks on their faces; kids who could care less about college or making something of their lives—and this boy is making plans. He’s going places. He wants to go to college. He’s trying for an NROTC scholarship. He wants to serve as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. His goal in life is to serve his country and to lead other men. This boy with so much against him has come so far.

You want to tell the school administrators and teachers present in the room about the outside tutor who gave so freely of her own time and worked with your son week-in and week-out for several years and helped break Dyslexia’s hold on him. You want to thank her again and again, but every time you see her now, the words just don’t come. They lack the power, they lack the fullness that you want them to have. You get emotional just thinking about it. Your words can never go far enough in explaining how thankful you are to her.

As you stare at the stone-faced assistant principal sitting next to you, you want to grab him and shake him until he sees how far your son has come—and how far he still wants to go. You don’t want the teachers present to give your son an easy A. You want them to challenge him. He’s got high goals. He needs high expectations. But you want them to work, too. Is it too much to ask them to print out their notes in advance for your son? He’s putting in so much extra effort; is it so much to ask for extra effort from you, too?

Do they even realize that your son is an auditory learner, that he’ll be able to repeat back verbatim to you later that night everything that they talked about in class? Do they realize how far they as a team, teacher and student, they could go together if they just gave it a chance? If they just believed in your son like you do. You’ve had gold-star teachers who believed in your son in the past—teachers you’ll never forget; teachers you owe everything to. How do you inspire the teachers in this room to become the gold-star teachers your son needs now?

You bring your attention back to the meeting. You chime in where you think one teacher has been too difficult or has not given your son a fighting chance. You sing the praises of another teacher when you see that she gets your son and is already starting to speak his language. You look again at your son suffering in front of you. You try to lighten the mood in the room, noting areas where your son has made improvement and other areas where he’s a leader in the classroom. You know the year is going to be a ton of work for both of you.

But mostly, you can’t help but think about the discipline it must take to be in your son’s seat. It takes a lot to hear others point out your every weakness in detail in front of you. He listens intently to the criticism. He doesn’t bend. He doesn’t act-out; nary a bad word comes from his mouth. Instead, he listens quietly. He takes it all in with a quiet professionalism. He’s got a discipline that you wished you had yourself.

And you think to yourself: He’s had to sit through at least one of these meetings every year for the past ten years. Every one of the meetings has been the same; every one of them has been different. The best ones have been a celebration of who he is and all the hard work he has put into his education; the worst have been a litany of his imperfections and how he doesn’t measure up to the rest of the class.

You’re amazed that your son has been able to take this “beating.” You think more about that phrase, about that word. You admit that it’s not really a beating, but it’s how you feel, like you’ve just gone toe-to-toe with the biggest bully on the block. You shake your head. You know that his teachers mean well. They work long days. They’re trying to reach every kid. At the same time, you just wish that they would see your son the same way that you do.

Finally, the meeting is over; it’s come to close. You stand up to shake hands with everyone in the room. You’re grateful for everyone’s concern and you managed to get some changes put into the plan that will help your son. But you’re also frustrated for a million different reasons. Mostly though, you’re just glad the proceeding is over. You’re exhausted. You’re exhausted and you weren’t even the subject of the meeting.

Your son has had enough, too. He gets up from his seat and rushes to the door. He raises his hand to say goodbye to everyone. He can’t get out of the room quick enough. He says that he has to leave for cross country practice. He doesn’t want to be late. You hope he has a good practice, one where he has the chance to run along the secluded, wooded trail by your home and can scream at the top of his lungs. You know that’s what you would do if you had the chance.

You try to stop your son. You want to catch up to him to check on him, but he’s gone before you have a chance to hug him or tell him how you feel. Instead, you grab your things and say quietly to yourself: I’m proud of you, so very proud of you.