Find the Common Ground

Today, in America, it takes just as much courage to applaud our new President as it does to walk in protest against him.

There are just as many Americans who believe it is our responsibility as an American citizen to honor, respect and follow our President as there are Americans who believe it is our responsibility as an American citizen to stand up in opposition to government leaders who we believe jeopardize the principles of democracy that our republic was established on.

And, both sides plead for love over hate; and, both sides plead for unity.

“Unity”, however, should not be a call to dump your convictions and embrace mine. “Unity” should be a call to come together to find a common ground.

Americans definitely have the courage to take a stand; that has become painfully obvious. The courage we seem to lack, however, is the courage to compromise.

Stand by your convictions, one and all, but I also challenge you to find a common ground. You may never agree on the character or qualifications of the POTUS, but perhaps you can agree that the local park could use some cleaning up – reach out to each other and do that. You may forever be on opposite ends of the abortion debate, but maybe you can agree that domestic violence education could benefit your community – reach out to each other and work on that. You may never gain agreement on what, if any, gun control laws should be in place, but maybe you can agree that the public library could use some upgraded technology – reach out to each other and work on that.

Pointing fingers at and blaming the other side for today’s divisiveness will not help bridge it. We want our leaders to lead by example? How about we, as citizens, set the example we wish our leaders to follow.

Find the common ground. Our country is depending on all of us to get us through these tough times. Whether America is currently in a state of carnage or quickly plunging towards one, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what we do next. What you do next. Find the common ground.


My Personal Independence Day (The Silver Lining I Was Looking For)

Today, I have gained my independence.

I am no longer the worshipper of a false idol I have known my entire life as the President of the United States of America. I am no longer enslaved by the shackles of an arrogant patriotism. I am no longer imprisoned by the imaginary walls of ideologically defined country borders and will not allow future, physical walls to block my path towards helping my earthly brothers or their paths to me. Today, I no longer allow citizenship to define my community or my extended family. I no longer limit my values to the subset of values included in the American Way. Today, I have gained the freedom to be a citizen of the world and no longer allow my government or the power brokers within the country of my birth to define who I am. Today, I am free.

Today, I will no longer shed my responsibility of making life better for those around me, complacent in the false belief that the government will do that for me. Today, I will no longer look up to an elected master to tell me who to love or who to hate; who to embrace as an ally or fear as an enemy. Today, I am free to decide those things on my own.

Although I fear the country within I live is not a better place than it was yesterday, I am consoled by the confidence that I am a better man today than I was yesterday, because today is my personal Independence Day.

The News

Every time I turn on the news,
I am saddened by stories of hate;
I am discouraged by death and destruction;
I am disheartened by signs of greed and struggles for power;
I am appalled by the lies and misrepresentations;
I am troubled by the troubles man causes other men.

The answer, however, is not to turn off the news;
The answer is not to look away.

No, the answer is to make our own news,
Make news of peace and news of love;
Make news of life and creation;
Make news of charity and of assistance;
Makes news of truths and acceptance;
Makes news of man unburdening the burdens of other men.

You do not right the wrongs in this world simply by refusing to witness the bad;
You right the wrongs by overpowering them with goodness.

The absence of doing bad is not enough.

We must make the good news impossible to ignore;
We must become the news by helping each other in newsworthy ways;

We must be creative with our love;
Magnanimous with our charity;
Spectacular with our assistance;
And unforgettable in our tolerance.

We must stand up and be recognized as the news people should hear.

Rotary Installation Speech

I have a brother who traveled the path to heaven over 25 years ago.  While he blessed us with his presence in this existence he did so as a very gifted and talented young artist among other great traits that he possessed.

I remember, as a boy, Jimmy would set up his canvas and the tools of his talent in the basement of our home.  I would often watch the canvas transform from a blank slate, to lightly sketched shapes, to a smattering of paints and colors, to a masterful Monet-like scenery, Van Goh-like landscape or Rembrandt-like portrait and just marvel at its spectacle.  When finally it reached what I was sure was the point of completion, with envious pride, I would tell Jimmy just how wonderful I thought his creation was.  Jimmy would just stare at his art and, with annoyance at his stupid, younger brother, simply state, “It isn’t done.  This isn’t nearly finished.”  And he would mix some more colors, dip some more brushes and continue to paint.

Meanwhile, I would go back outside and play tackle the man with the ball with my friends, blow up the heads off my sister’s dolls with M-80s, do belly-flops in mud puddles and, inevitably, end up being chased by an angry, pancake-turner yielding mother determined not to spare the rod.  I would eventually, once again, seek the sanctity of our basement, which somehow seemed to serve as a miraculous safety zone from the wrath of angry parents.

I would peer over the shoulder of my brother and be amazed to discover that the painting I thought, just hours before, was as good of a painting as a painting could be, was, indeed, somehow, better.  I could not always tell exactly what he did, but the shapes would appear sharper, or the sky would have somehow come alive, or the flowers would have miraculously bloomed, or a sparkle would shine in the subject’s eye.  What I thought was perfection in the morning, was improved by the time the sun had set.  And, I would, once again, beam with pride for my brother and praise him with as much glory as a muddy, bloody, dirty, stinking, trouble maker of a young boy could.  And, Jimmy, once again, would look unsatisfied and announce, “It’s not done.”

Six years ago, Ralph Flick invited me to my first Midday Rotary meeting.  I was greeted at the front door by a sharply dressed and smiling Lorraine Green, my $14 was graciously accepted by a helpful Jean Smith and I immediately recognized the face of Scott Bush as a fellow Adventure Guides father in the group with our sons.  Laura stood behind the President’s podium dancing a Happy Dance and I marveled at the beauty of this picture and I thought what a wonderfully complete masterpiece this Rotary Club was.  But, I soon found out, it was not done.

Ralph Flick then improved upon the art by organizing the objects in the painting and explaining the intricacies of Rotary in a way that even I could understand; Scott Bush added a splash of spontaneity, humor and fun that brightened the images upon the canvas while losing a lot of weight in the process; Joe Urvina transitioned from a reluctant, nervous speaker to a confident and accomplished leader while teaching us more about ourselves through two truths and a lie, and the painting got better.  Mary Gorman added highlights of gratitude mixed with tears of happiness and empathy and the masterpiece continued to be improved.  And, Howard, throughout this past year, added all that stuff and things like that to whip us into shape and help us appreciate why it is good to do business with a Rotarian and the art got better, yet.

Now, it is my turn, and all I can do is marvel at the beauty of what I see.  Deep down inside I am proud of the masterpiece my brothers and sisters crafted right in front of my eyes and stand in awe of their talent, envious of their creativity.  I, however, am not an artist – but, I can certainly appreciate art and celebrate in its beauty.

So, I invite you to join me this year, in what I wish to make a Year of Celebration.  I think we, as a club, have earned the right to sit back a little bit, celebrate all that we have accomplished and marvel in this masterpiece we call Midday Rotary.  We should bask in the joy of the friendships we have forged; celebrate the good we have achieved; and be proud of the journey we have traveled together as a family of Rotarians; albeit, we may be a dysfunctional family, but we are family nonetheless.

Join me this year as we splash through mud puddles, somersault down hills of soft grass, and create mischief along the way, only to return each week to Anthony’s basement and marvel at the beauty of this masterpiece, celebrating the ever-improving art on what not so long ago was a blank canvas.

I will leave it up to those Presidents who follow behind me to once again improve upon the artistry of our club, but, for my year, I want to take the time to just … Celebrate, Celebrate, dance to the music.

A Letter to My Sons

A Letter to My Sons

First of all, to my real sons, I wish to thank you for never having put me into the situation to have the following conversation with you that I will now have with my hypothetical son:

Dear Son,

If you ever willingly, unwillingly or while under the influence of alcohol or any other substance, inflict harm, injury or any kind of injustice upon another individual or individuals I would first expect you to apologize for your actions and offer to do whatever is necessary to right your wrong and/or assist the person you injured in their recovery.

Secondly, I would expect you to own up to the responsibilities for your actions and accept the consequences resulting from such.

Under no circumstance would I expect you to lie about the events that took place.

Under no circumstance would I expect you to make up excuses for your actions.

Under no circumstance would I expect you to attempt to transfer blame for your actions, especially not to the victims themselves.

Under no circumstance would I expect you to try to defend yourself through the re-victimization of the individual you harmed in the first place in an attempt to avoid the consequences that typically follow the actions you are responsible for committing.  And, under no circumstance would I expect you to blame your lawyer for making the decision to do so.

Under no circumstance would I expect you to beg for leniency after ignoring the advice above and suffering a verdict unfavorable to you following inflicting even more injury upon your victim in the process of attempting to defend yourself through lies, excuses, transfer of blame and re-victimization of the individual you harmed in the original action.

And, I expect you to expect the same of me in your support;

I will not lie for you.

I will not make excuses for your actions.

I will not attempt to transfer blame, especially not to the victim(s).

I will not support a strategy of re-victimizing the victim.

I will not blame the lawyer for that strategy if you decide to do so.

And, I will not beg for leniency if you do not follow the advice above.

I do understand that, sometimes, people are accused of crimes they do not commit.  But, if your defense is not based on a foundation of truth, then you have no defense.

I do understand that, sometimes, people make mistakes.  But, we are responsible for the mistakes we make and what defines us as decent human beings is how we handle this responsibility.  There is a difference between explaining why something happened and making excuses for why something happened.  That difference is in accepting responsibility for what happened.  I expect you to always bridge that difference.

I expect this behavior from you under all circumstances; no matter how minor or how significant the injury; no matter how trivial or how severe the potential punishment.

No matter what, I will always love you – that is unconditional.  But, the degree to which I support you along the way will be influenced by the degree to which you live up to my expectations in how you handle the situation and respond to unfortunate outcomes.

We can, of course, make things a whole lot easier on ourselves by not performing acts that result in such severe penalties in the first place.  (And, once again, I would like to thank my real sons for taking this course in their magnificent and accomplished lives.)

Your loving father,


AUTHOR’S NOTE:  Because I wrote this in response to a recent, high profile news story and the social networking response, I addressed this as a “Letter to My Sons”, but the same message applies to my daughter, as well.

My Hero

I was in the fourth grade when I fell, face first, on the blacktop playground surface in the back of Saint Anthony’s Elementary School in Charleston, WV. As my teacher, Mrs. Moore, and a few nuns helped me to my feet, I think they fully expected that I would be distraught and crying as a result of the scrapes on my face and the bits and pieces of my front tooth that I was spitting out. Instead, they just stared at me like I was crazy because I was smiling and beaming with pride as I felt the sharp edges of my fractured tooth with my tongue.

I had always been into hero worshipping. One of my first heroes was Mighty Mouse. My real, first hero, my mother, always came to my rescue when my older brothers and sister tried to prevent me from watching the Mighty Mouse Show at the same time each day on our black and white TV set.

My grandfather tapped into my hero worshipping behavior as he would have me stand up on the kitchen table and tell everyone about his and my adventures fighting the Indians in the Wild West just like the cowboy heroes I knew from TV: Tom Mix; Wyatt Earp; Marshall Dylan, Will Rogers and others.

But, the smile on my face that particular day in the fourth grade was because I had just repeated a feat of my greatest hero of all. The one hero I did then, and for years to come, hold above all others also had broken half of one of his front teeth years before. Although I didn’t lose half the tooth, the chipped portion that was now gone was certainly obvious and I couldn’t wait to display this badge of honor to my hero, all of five years my senior, a freshman in high school at the time, my oldest brother, Johnny.

Although I loved my parents and certainly wanted to make them proud, the real driving force in my life, the one person that had the greatest influence on my behavior, that one individual that I most wanted to please was my brother.

I was the fourth child and third son of my parents, with two more siblings shortly to follow, before the baby of the family surprised us a few years after we thought the family was complete. By the time I came along, my father had gone through a lot of his father son bonding with my older brothers and was certainly busy with six and then seven children, so I didn’t, and couldn’t expect to, have that individual attention that some sons get from their father, but it didn’t matter. Everything my father had to teach me was taught to me second-handedly by my oldest brother. And, I was good with that; I wanted to be just like him.

Johnny was not only small for his age, but usually the smallest in his class and smallest of his peers. But, size notwithstanding, Johnny was a tenacious and fearless participant on the athletic fields and gymnasiums. I was small-ish, but not the smallest and was always disappointed when I had classmates that measured in shorter than me. I lacked the confidence and athletic skills of my brother but I tried my hardest to duplicate his spunk and effort in all sports.

Many times, during neighborhood and sandlot games of football, stickball or basketball, Johnny would allow me to play with him and his friends – all five years older than me – when the sides needed to be evened up. Johnny always used me as his secret weapon just waiting for the older, bigger kids to get tired of having to cover the little kid, before throwing a long touchdown pass to me or setting up a pick and roll giving me a layup to the basket. Nothing was ever more special to me, than to be on his team, playing with his friends.

When it came to discipline, my parents couldn’t possibly correct my behavior or change my wayward course with near the same effectiveness as Johnny. My mother’s disciplinary weapon of choice was the pancake turner, but, as harsh as that may sound, her maternal instincts never quite allowed her to strike with enough force to achieve her intended punishment. In fact, my mother’s attempts to strike fear in me with the pancake turner usually resulted in my laughter. She would, yell, “You think that’s funny, I’ll show you funny!” And I would receive the next spanking, biting my lip trying to prevent more laughter. I remember one time when my mother got so angry that her aim was impacted and, missing the seat of my shorts, hit the top of my bare leg leaving a deep, red welt. I could sense that this did, indeed, hurt her more than it hurt me and I was saddened by how bad I made her feel as my leg wore the red mark for quite some time. I only remember once being on the angry side of my father’s belt, but the reasons why or the impacts it had on me are lost in the haze of a long ago memory. But, none of this physical, corporal punishment could possibly come close to impacting me the way my brother could by simply uttering three words at me. To make me remorseful and determined to change my ways, all Johnny had to do was say, “Act your age.” Those three words had a devastating impact on me. I’d much rather have been hit by the pancake turner or beaten with a belt.

I guarded and polished that pedestal I put my brother on throughout my entire childhood and well into my adult life. Nothing ever made me prouder than to have someone tell me I looked like or acted like or reminded them of my older brother.

When I talked my parents into letting me join the Catholic School 8th grade football team when I was then in the Centerville, Ohio public middle school, I told the coaches I was a running back, even though I had never been a running back, because Johnny told me it would help get me noticed. When Johnny took up wrestling in college, I joined the wrestling team in High School. Johnny spent hours teaching me how to drive in his red mustang in preparation for my drivers license. I don’t ever remember spending one minute in the car practicing with one of my parents. When Johnny took up the guitar, I took up the guitar. I inherited his albums when he came home from college and became a fan of his favorite bands. Even as a growing, high school boy, varsity wrestler, every time Johnny came home from college for a visit and every time he left to return to college again, I had to secretly find a private place I could go to hide my tears of happiness or grief.

I learned about life as a young man and continued to try to emulate my brother by spending week-ends with him in the “Farm House” he lived in near the Salem Mall, caring for the property owned by a number of young Catholic priests who used this as their little retreat getaway. And, Johnny was there for me at three o’clock in the morning sitting in the hospital maternity waiting room after the birth of my first child, when I was still just a twenty-one year old boy.

Johnny was and is, in other words, my hero. And, the reason why I was elated to have fractured my tooth in the fourth grade.