Mocking a cliche

Like many things, they started out interesting. They were fun and fresh and seemed to offer some bold insights. And then they were everywhere and quickly tiresome and boring.

What? Finger spinners, Snapchat filters, or the Vineyard Vines whale? No, I’m talking about the internet feature “Letter to My Younger Self,” of course.

I’ve counted at least five of them, or various versions of the theme, in magazines and online on social media over the past week. Celebrities and self-help gurus seem to love them. They talk of key accomplishments, trials overcome, steps not taken, and a million other things in between.

They tend to be favorites this time of year because of graduation and the passing of the torch from one generation to another. They remind me a lot of graduation speeches and, while sometimes interesting, many have lost their touch or power.

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Like other fads that have come and gone, “the letter to myself” now come across as clichéd and trite. As a writer, I still love them, but I wish the person writing them would just once be honest. I mean, really honest, brutally honest.

The truth shall set you free

What do I mean? I’d love for the writer to say “that [fill in the blank] tattoo you want on your shoulder, save your money” or “the trip to the beach with 20 of your closest high school friends, skip it to go backpacking with your brother across the Appalachian Trail.”

You know what I mean, right? I want the writers to give the unvarnished truth. I want them to spill the beans so-to-speak. I want to know about the crazy party they would’ve skipped or the embarrassing act that got them into trouble. I want to know where they went wrong and what they would change so that I and others can learn for ourselves and avoid the same mistakes.

Dreams with a splash of realism

Instead, writers often talk about wishing they had taken more chances and followed their dreams. My radar goes off. Dreams, really? I’m a big believer in the power of goals and dreams. However, I dream of a life of leisure. Does that mean I should quit my job, run away to New York, and demand that I be penciled in as the starting centerfielder for the New York Yankees? Or run away to Caribbean to spend my days relaxing in sun and surf and partaking in fruity drinks on a soft white sand filled island?

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No, I may wish it, but that’s not going to work.

I want the truth, because we all make mistakes, they’re a fact of life. You can’t change reality. You can’t go back in time. You can’t always get the proverbial cat back into the bag. Instead, we often have to face the music. We have be present in the moment and to move-on and overcome. We have one life and we need to make the best of it.

At least that’s what I would write if I were to sit down and write a letter to my younger self.

 

Remembering a graduation embarrassment

The countdown for my son is down to a few hours. He’s down to his final hours of high school. He took his last final exam on Tuesday and he’s got just a few hours of graduation practice left with the rest of his class before “walking” to pick up his diploma on Friday.

From the sounds of it, graduation practice hasn’t changed much in the decades since I had my own. I get the sense that herding cats would probably be more enjoyable, but it’s still a necessary evil.

In any event, he’s excited for graduation to get here. I advised him  to try to soak it all in, to enjoy the pomp and circumstance and to enjoy the moment. In particular, I told him that his graduation ceremony had to be better than my college graduation.

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The guest speaker that day went on-and-one. Now he was a titan in the business world, an early pioneer in the public relations field and he had a ton of great stories, some of which I would’ve loved to have heard in class, but by this point I was done. I was ready to say sayonara to college. I feared that his speech might be my college’s last, albeit lame, attempt to ransom a few extra dollars from us students.

During the speaker’s extended commentary, my graduation gown got stuck on a sharp piece of the auditorium seat. When the school president told us to stand up to switch our graduation tassel from right to left to signify that we were now graduates, the guy behind me stepped on my gown and I heard a rip in the flimsy material, loud enough for people five and six rows back to hear. I feared that the rip went up the entire backside of my gown and that it would fall off my shoulders in shreds.

Of course, everything was fine, but it still made for an eventful walk to the stage to pick up my diploma, as I tried to crane and rotate my neck in a 360 degree owl-like swivel, to see how big of a bite had been taken out of the gown. 

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Fortunately, I soon gave up and threw away any cares. I would’ve walked up on stage naked if necessary. Hell or high way, I was going to come away with my diploma in my hands. I had worked too hard to not come away with the piece of paper testifying that I had successfully completed the required courses for my bachelor of arts. I wasn’t going to walk away empty-handed.  

I’m not sure my son feels the same way, but give him some time. He just might feel that way by the time graduation practice is over.

Proving the experts wrong: Celebrating graduation

I like to go back and read the 25-page report.

It’s written in a medical, matter of fact tone. Large sections of the report are highlighted and my wife has written comments in pencil on several of the report pages. I read it over-and-over again and I remember the intense fear and worry we shared.

The report gives a full medical history, lists the tests the doctors gave and how my son fared, who was present, and finally a summary and recommendations. I’m barely a page or two into the report and my head starts pounding.

“(My son’s name) is still fairly young and so, needs intensive work in reading. He needs to be taught the basics, phonetics, and decoding skills.”

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When I get to this next part, my reading slows. I pause after every couple of words to take them in and ponder their meaning in my mind. They pack a powerful punch.

“However, we are not very optimistic about his ever acquiring these skills. The time will quickly come when we need to focus on circumventing the lack of decoding skills. He most likely will do better at sight word recognition and working to expand this skill. Also, he will need to begin using technology to essentially read and write for him.”

My breathing is deeper now. If I close my eyes, I can remember the doctor’s face when she handed us her preliminary report at the end of our visit.

“He will have trouble reading stop signs. He seems to be a strong listener, but he’ll never be able to enjoy a book, other than maybe a picture book, or function as a normal adult.”

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Never give up, great things take time

I like to play Chess with my son. I’m a novice and he’s a much better player than me, but I still like to play him. I like the ebb and flow of the game and how you need to be thinking two or three moves in advance. I find too that it’s a great metaphor for life.

My son will inevitably take the early lead. He’ll take a couple of my pawns and then he’ll get my Bishop or Knight. He’ll get a big devious smile on his face and he’ll start to rub his hands together. He can’t wait to throw his arms in the air and scream out to anyone who’ll listen that he “owns me” or some other boastful claim.

Fortunately for me, I’ve been around the block a time or two. He’s the better player than me no question, but I know a thing or two that he doesn’t. For example, I know that a few early losses doesn’t mean the game is over. I know too to be patient and to see the game through to completion. I’ve won more than my rightful share of games by simply following this strategy.

In short, I’m resilient.

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Happy Birthday: Hello teenager

When I became a teenager in the early 80s, we listened to Rick Springfield sing about Jessie’s Girl and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sing of their Endless Love; played Pac-Man and Centipede in a downtown arcade, read George Orwell’s 1984, went in droves to see The Empire Strikes Back and spent our free time trying to figure out a 3-D combination puzzle called the Rubik’s Cube.

We worried that the Soviet Union — including Russia — would one day nuke us, cheered when the Iranian hostages came home and the U.S. launched the first space shuttle, and watched amusingly as a rich, young billionaire named Donald Trump made headlines in his bid to take over Manhattan.

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Memorial Day: Honoring the fallen

When the military releases their names, it’s just ink on a page.

Two Army Rangers, Sgt. Joshua Rodgers, of Bloomington, Illinois, and Sgt. Cameron Thomas, of Kettering, Ohio, were killed while conducting a night raid against an ISIS-led group in eastern Afghanistan in late April.

You continue reading and the names start to have more meaning. You look at their ages and see that Rodgers was 22, Thomas 23. You find out that the two Rangers, who had each served three deployments overseas were struck possibly by friendly fire in the opening minutes of a three-hour firefight in the Achin district of the Nangahar province. The district is a primary base of operations for ISIS in Afghanistan and has been the site of multiple joint counterterrorism missions.

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You pick up another story and you learn that both men joined the Army shortly after graduating high school in 2013. Rodgers’ former track and assistant football coach said he talked often in high school of his dream of becoming a Ranger. They both quickly progressed up the ranks, earning numerous decorations, and were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based in Fort Benning, Georgia.

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How did I come to rely on my smartphone so much?

We don’t just cross the line. We race past it traveling 80 mph.

My family has a mobile plan with a national carrier that limits us to 10 GB of data. You would think that 10 GB would be plenty for us and it was for a long period, but over the past several months, we’ve obliterated our allocation. In the process, we’ve cost ourselves a few extra dollars. We could switch plans, but we’ll more than likely have to pay more for our coverage, so for the time being, I’m trying to keep a lid on our usage.

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When we got the bill last month, I couldn’t wait to dive into the bill. I was ready to pounce on the guilty party. I was sure that one of my sons, or even my daughter, had wasted the majority of the minutes on some new game or app. I couldn’t wait to threaten to take away their phone or put in any number of restrictions. My glee turned to a frown, though, when I found out that the biggest user of data the past month had been me. My children were right there with me, but there I was in black-and-white Arial font the biggest user of data in my family.

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Babies are such a nice way to start people & other stories

My three kids have “big people” problems.

–Dad, I’m going to need a car to get around for my summer internship, what should I do?

–Dad, which meal plan should I choose for college?  I’m thinking about Meal Plan #3, but it costs $800 more than the other two. What do you think?

–Dad, I’m thinking of joining the marching band in the Fall, can you give me $150 to cover the middle school activity fee.

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Making dreams come true

Parenting has its challenges. Whether you stay home with your kids or work all day and have to pick them up and race somewhere, your job is never complete. There’s always something to do (um, what are we having for dinner?) and you’re often left feeling like you’re working without a net.

But once in a while, you have a day that’s just perfect. You get to see your children in a new light or achieve something they’ve been working on. It can be a big or small event.

For me, one of the fun things recently has been helping my kids make their dreams become a reality. I’ve been blessed that I’ve had a few of those days lately where everything comes together. I’m convinced that there’s not a better feeling in the world.

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In a New York state of mind

A few people on the train car chat back-and-forth, but it’s mostly quiet. People alone in their thoughts and their phones and the noisy click-clack of the train wheels. My daughter and I chat about her upcoming internship. My son usually has his phone out playing some game or app, but this time he’s watching everything: the other riders walking up and down the aisle, the train crew collecting tickets, the passing New Jersey wasteland, etc.

The three of us sway with the tossing and turning of the train, but soon we come to a stop. We’re at the end of the line, our destination; the self-proclaimed center of the universe; the Big Apple; Manhattan, New York City

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Our car may have been quiet, but the minute we step off the train, we’re in the middle of a mad rush up the stairs. Every time I come to New York, I get the same feeling, the same image of the multitudes rushing out of the train like it’s the  last day of school, the anticipation, the rush to be free.

We’re jammed together one on top of the other, but finally we get the top of the stairs and soon make our way out of the station and out onto the street, where we run into even more people. If we were traveling at a leisurely 50 mph in the station, we’re now pushing the speed up to 70 or 80. There’s no dawdling, there’s no stopping to check our GPS. People are coming at us from every direction. You move or you get swallowed.

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