Not Cease from Exploration

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ingredients of Being a Functional Dad

I've approached being a Dad much in the same way that I approach cooking:  I do my best, I experiment a lot, and I basically hope for the best.  In the case of both cooking and being a Dad, that last part basically amounts to whether or not someone gets killed in the process.

Now I've never received anywhere near any formal training in how to be a Dad (or cooking).  I simply had no one close to me growing up to provide an example, but as I've probably noted on this blog every year since 2008, I did have a good example of what not to do.  That can be pretty powerful.  

Also, note my use of the word "functional".  I don't want to say "great" or even "good", as those are subjective terms.  I've made many mistakes in the Dad department.  What's more, I do think that sometimes being a "good" or "great" Dad may make you pretty darn unpopular in the process, at least over the short-term (a span of time that I think is measured in years by the way).

Anyway, here are ingredients that I think make for being a functional Dad.
  1. Be Present.  Just showing up is most of the battle.  Showing up at school.  At basketball games.  At plays.  There is no substitute for actually being there.
  2. Have a Moral Compass (and follow it).  Morality is a tough concept these days, but I do think it's essential to actually have some sense of a moral compass to pass along to your children.  The key here is that you have to "walk the talk"; simply spouting off values is meaningless unless you actually live them.
  3. Be Kind.  Teach your children to be kind to others, as far too many parents don't. 
  4. Teach Respect.  This starts with respecting your wife/partner, even when that may be difficult, and even when your wife/partner may not respect you.
  5. Take Responsibility.  Don't pass the buck.  If you make a mistake, own up to it.  Humility is best taught by example.
  6. Model Intellectual Curiosity and the Value of Life-Long Learning.  Buy and read books.  Go the library.  Watch and talk about the news with your children.  Teach them that learning just doesn't happen from September to June.
  7. Have a Sense of Humor.  I think that laughing makes you far more human and situations far easier to handle.
  8. Teach the Value of Money.  It's tough in a society that pushes so much consumption on young people but teach your children to make good spending decisions.  
  9. Always Take the Long View.  Sacrificing important long-term life lessons for short-term calm is a brutal mistake.  I use the word "brutal" because that's what life can be sometimes, and parents (especially Dads) need to help their children learn important survival skills.
  10. Call Bull$hit to Teach Critical Thinking Skills.  What I mean is to tell your children when something (in the world, in the news, in their lives) simply doesn't pass the smell test.  For me, part of that was in traditional gender roles.  Yes, since I have three daughters, I understood that there are "girl" things, but I also wanted them to cast a critical eye on things that some might consider being "boy" things.  I wanted my daughters to be able to change a flat tire, for example.  Conversely, I think all boys should be able to cook, sew a button or two and wash/iron clothes.
  11. Value the Arts.  Encourage your children to be creative, in any way(s) that make them happy.  I think that every child should, for example, be given the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument.  If you're like me, that interest might not last so long, but it's the opportunity that matters most. 
  12. Independence.  Lastly, and maybe most importantly, teach your children that you as a parent have an end-game for them, namely independence.  An important goal of parenting should be to make you, as a parent, no longer needed.  
As a Dad, I can now look back on three daughters who are all out of college (well one is working on an advanced degree) and working.  How great is that?  There are things that, if I had a functional time machine, I would go back in time and do differently, but time machines don't exist and I firmly believe that ruminating on past mistakes is nothing short of an enormous waste of time anyway.  Regardless, a "belated due to graduate research paper" Happy Father's Day to one and all.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday, June 12th

I spent today doing three things: Writing, writing and writing (I have a research paper due next Sunday). In between writing stints, I kept abreast of the terrible events that occurred in Orlando early this morning. The thought of some many people being cut down like grass under a mower is disheartening, at best. There will be a time to unpack all of this over the days, weeks and months to come, but until then I'm just left with one thought: To not allow this to make me fall into anger. I'm reminded of something said by Dr. King...

If anything, the events in Orlando point to the fact that we need less violence and hate in the world. Whatever comes of this, it's my hope that we're better...not a result.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Our Parents Lied to Us: Monsters are Real (Rape Culture Edition)

There's been a lot spoken and written over the past week or so about the results of a certain rape trail in California.  I'm not going to even try to get into the details of the case, as for my purposes they don't really matter.  One thing though that has come up, especially in virtual circles, is the notion of a "rape culture".

Now I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, at least when it comes to certain things.  However, none of those smarts seem to help me when it comes to the whole "rape culture" thing.  I do don't understand it, and in all honesty I don't want to even make the effort at understanding it.  Why?  I think it comes down to this:  I find violence against anyone for the mere purpose of personal gratification to be incredibly repugnant.  If you do that, you forfeit your claim to being a human f&^king being in my book.  Now I could study the concept, but that would make me no more learned, no more informed, no more a better person.  I would simply be left intellectually soiled, with even less hope for our species.

I'll take it even one step further:  I don't know if there is a culture of rape.  I do know that there is a culture in this country of lofting athletes and athletics up in ways that beguile their actual purpose in society, namely just entertainment.  Now if someone wants to grow their physical abilities as a matter of personal development, well then I think that's great.  But getting paid a million dollars to do that...or...getting a pass on rightful jail time for a horrid criminal act just because you do that...well I'm sorry, but no.  No entertainer, be he/she a reality television star or star quarterback or a Stanford University swimmer, deserves those kinds of outcomes.  They simply don't, and as I see it, part of the problem in our society today is that far too many are blind to how ridiculous our priorities have become.  When we loft these people up to supra-human heights, is there any wonder that some may actually act like the rest of us are, well, below them (at best)?

Now before anyone gets their dander up, I'm not claiming that all athletes are horrible human beings.  What I am claiming though is that we, as a society, place too much emphasis on sports in this country.  Sometimes that's benign, other times it produces wretched results.

By the way, we also see the above horrid skewing at work in our own area, when school academic programs are cut in local districts, but football programs are left intact.  That's another posting for another day.

Come to think of it, maybe the idea of a "rape culture" is really just another example, in a long line of examples, where we've allowed ourselves to be blinded by shiny objects (such as people who entertain us with their ability to run/swim/throw a ball really well) while our souls are cut out in the process.  Maybe this is less about high concepts such as culture and more about basic human dignity, the kind thrown out a window and set on fire the moment an alcoholic binge turns into the intimate and forceful violation of another.

As I said at the beginning of this posting, I don't get the idea of "rape culture", maybe because I don't need a fancy label to describe the horror of your mother or wife or daughter or sister or friend being victimized in a manner that's going to have a shelf-life long past 6 months of incarceration.  I don't need some kind of societal explanation to help me understand that which drives senseless violence of the worst sort.  The only understanding I need is that some people are just monsters, and sadly, our society all too often puts them on pedestals.  We helped make this.  Maybe, just maybe, that's "rape culture".

Sunday, June 5, 2016

27 Things I Could Be Doing (instead of completing my gradate degree)

This is all because I am getting so close to completion.  Come graduation next year I very well may, in fact, be insane.

1.  Take a class on Philosophy.

2.  Clean my upstairs office porch.

3.  Learning how to play the guitar.

4.  Learning to speak Italian.

5.  Assembling a Space 1999 Eagle Transporter scale model.

6.  Digging a new electrical line to our garage.

7.  Writing more.

8.  Learning how to edit video files.

9.  Going on a few photography mini-vacations.

10. Organizing all of my physical photographs.

11. Cleaning out and organizing all of my audio files.

12. Digitizing most of my CDs.

13. Cleaning my home office on something of a regular basis.

14. Ripping out all of the old railroad ties the former owners used for landscaping (aka Termite hotels).

15. Going for more walks with my lovely wife.

16. Reading.  For pleasure.  

17. Cleaning my truck.  More often than just once.

18. Going to the gym every freak'n day.

19. Going through what seems like 87 empty boxes in the attic.

20. Stripping wallpaper (because I really do want to ruin my sense of smell).

21. Replacing the lattice under the front porch.

22. Putting up lattice under the back deck.

23. Installing an electrical outlet on the front porch.

24. Going on a long bike ride.

25. Upgrading the downstairs desktop PC.

26. Going to church more often.

27. Actually consider interacting with other humans on a social basis.*

(*) Just kidding.  I'm not actually planning on doing that.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Rest in Peace Champ of the World

Among the things I remember most from my childhood, I count the Apollo Moon landings and seeing clips of Muhammad Ali fighting as being among the most vivid.

For the uninitiated, you have to understand that Ali was incredibly remarkable for two reasons:

1) He was a man of exceptional principles.
2) He was the very, very best at what he did.

Ali was like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, but with 1000% more personality.  Ali was a very smart man who just happened to beat people up for a living.  Ali was a walking contradiction that made it look like there was never any contradiction at all.

I actually once got within about 20 feet of Ali.  It was back in Louisville (KY), around 1992-1994 and I was waiting to board a plane when the Champ of the World arrived on an incoming flight.  He was a big man...bigger than I ever imagined.  He was also impeccably dressed.

In a world that lacks sincerity and real conviction (witness countless former "enemies" now endorsing Donald Trump), Ali stood out as someone who said what he meant, even when it wasn't popular.

Rest in Peace Champ.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Road Apples, #168

Led Zeppelin...It occurred to me that the band's movie, "The Song Remains the Same", is aptly titled, given their propensity for borrowing material from other artists.

The Donald...It's pretty clear that those who support "The Donald" for president are simply running on some kind of emotional autopilot.  Sadly though, being the leader of the free world probably isn't something that should be decided purely on the basis of emotion.  Saying that you're going to vote for "The Donald" because you're angry at Washington DC is a bit like saying you're going to stop eating entirely because McDonald's served you warm french fries.

The Real Pickle...It occurred to me that I'd have a heck of a tough time if the general election for President came down to Bernie Sanders and "The Donald".  That's a bit like having to decide between cancer or diabetes.  Not that Hillary Clinton is anywhere near a great choice either, but she does have the advantage of not making endless promises for everything and as well as simply not being an incompetent walking ego with hair.  Interestingly enough, I'll be in Florida on vacation when the election happens; we've already decided that we'll file a write-in ballot as every single vote will count in order to prevent the thrice married, four times bankruptcy declaring reality television star from becoming President.

Graduate Degree...I'm soon going to be 70% of the way done with my graduate degree.  I can't find the words to describe just how happy I will be when this is over.  It's tedious.  And time time-consuming.  At times frustrating.  In other words, it's probably worth it.

Speaking of Graduates...My youngest daughter "officially" graduated from Marywood University recently.  In addition to being, well, officially old, I am also extremely proud of her, as I am of all my children.  All will make the world a far better place.  Love You Stinky!

Back to Politics...Both parties are, to one degree or another, are built upon a fundamental lie.

Democrats - Want us to believe that government is the answer. To everything.  And that we should all be in labor unions, whether we want to or not (because big powerful institutions are always inherently good, right?).  Government is the answer when it comes to essential services and protecting us (from foreign powers and, sadly, from each other), and that's pretty much it.  Otherwise, it simply becomes this giant, impersonal, all-consuming thing that grows continuously larger without rhyme or reason.

Republicans - Want us to believe that somehow taking care of the wealthy and business interests will, almost by magic, make everything better for everyone else.  Sorry Cletus, but you and your relatives in rural Pennsyltucky have been sold a massive bill of goods.  We've had decades worth of practice when it comes to favoring the wealthy and business interests and nothing really to show for it, other than stagnant wages, spiraling executive pay and a tax code that favors those that make the most.

The real solution, in my estimations, is to scrap the two party system in this country.  We are, after all, one party away from a one party state.  Having multiple political parties will force greater compromise and alliances, something that's nearly impossible in the polarized region of the planet known as Washington DC.

Bathroom Bills...Speaking of ridiculous issues, there is far too much talk about manufactured bathroom issues.  For Pete's sake, if you look like a woman, than use the woman's rest room.  Ditto for males.  In fact, I'll take it one step further...

Enough...of the politics and other such stuff.  I started this posting on a musical note, so I'll end on one as well.  Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Vince Gill.

I love that song.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What I wanted to be (when I grew up)

My earliest recollection was that I wanted to be an Aerospace Engineer when I grew up.  Now I did have some idea as to what that meant, although the enormity of the mathematics that would entail was, at the time, beyond me.  More on math in a second.

As I grew older, I thought I'd like to be an Architect.  In fact, I used to create my own floor plans for imaginary schools and similar buildings using big sheets of paper.  Some if it, I think, was probably quite good.  Then I started Algebra in high school, and early into the class the teacher asked each of us what we wanted to be "when we grew up".  I said "Architect".  She said, in front of the whole class, that I probably wasn't good enough in math to make that happen.  Before then my math grades weren't bad, but they weren't spectacular either.  Thereafter I got good in math.  Real good, in fact.

As I approached college, I still wanted to be an Architect, but the realities of college financing (we had no money), the competitiveness of Architectural school programs, and their relative scarcity made that not all too realistic.  I settled on an Associate's Degree in Architectural Engineering.  That lead to acceptance into a Bachelor's degree program in Civil Engineering.  Then I changed my major to business administration.

Why the change?  I just didn't want to be an Engineer.  I almost got into the Architecture program at the University of Cincinnati, but then those realities of finance reared their ugly head again.  That and a general lack of encouragement for that kind of change spelled doom for my Ohio dreams.  Anyway, a major in business administration seemed like a safe bet.  I ended up having some difficulty with study-based courses, as I had been pretty much wired for math during my first two years of college, but all told I made a good run of it, finishing my BBA degree within four years and having a boat-load of math credits to boot.  Then I got a job in retail, mainly because it was 1986, and jobs were somewhat hard to come by.  My starting salary was the princely sum of $13,500 per year.  Needless to say, I ate a lot of Corn King hot dogs.  And I still didn't know what I wanted to do "when I grew up".

My retail career lasted about three years, and along with a new family came a need to earn more money, so I ended up getting hired by a large insurance company (the one without the cartoon beagle).  It had nothing to do with anything I actually wanted to do, but it was challenging and it paid reasonably well, so I stayed.

Fast forward to now, and I've had a long and varied career to date.  These days I do "HR stuff", and it continues to be challenging.  Heck, I'm nearly 70% of the way towards a Master's degree in the field, so I must be at least competent.  But is it what I wanted to do when I "grow up"?

Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with the vice president I report to, and she asked a very reasonable two questions:  What do you want to do?  What are you interested in?  I actually couldn't answer either all that well, truth be told.  What did I end up saying?  Well, here you go:  "The things I'm interested in are well above what I do for a living."

I know, that last statement sounds cryptic or brilliant, but it has the benefit of being true.  After all these years, I really don't know what I want to do "when I grow up".  I have, however, learned that a few things about myself:

- I like learning, continuously
- Despite not really liking people, I actually do like to help them
- I enjoy a good challenge
- I (now) like math
- I enjoy writing

I may in fact never know what I want to do "when I grow up", mainly because, perhaps, I've never grown up.  And I think this is probably okay.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Internet Graphic of the Week - Shania Law

(from the Kissing Fish Facebook page)

Allow me to quote from Shania Law:
And the Lord spoketh and said "Thou best understandith that the best part about being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun".

As is the case for many of these things, the comments are almost as entertaining as the posting itself.  My personal favorite?  That would be "Forgot to mention that Shania is a foreign country singer from Canuckistan".

On a more serious note, we have to stop treating plain old stupidity as somehow being cute and/or okay.  It's not, and it's that stupidity that I think is the root cause of many of the ills that plague modern American society.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

NEPA Groupthink

The more I see, read, hear and experience in NEPA the more I am absolutely convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, that our single biggest problem is NOT:
  • Being in the technology dark ages (although we are...)
  • Poor primary and secondary educational systems (I think they are functionally okay...)
  • A lack of a safety net for the poorest (even though there are plenty of poor...)
...or even...
  • A lack of economic opportunities for young people (more on this in a second...)
It's not any of the above, and I'll debate this item with anyone, any time.

No, our single biggest problem lies in an inability to critically question authority in NEPA.  We basically exist in some kind of bizarre herd mentality in NEPA whereby many willingly follow anyone in "authority".  Now reading the anonymous comments to various newspaper articles may make you think differently, but it's very telling that, in order to be critical, many have to hide their identity.  Where is the revolt at the ballot box?  We elect and re-elect the same failed politicians in NEPA without so much as batting an eye.

Anyway, it's an inability to question authority...heck, there is a cottage industry in NEPA surrounding how some enable authority...that I think leads to many of the ills we face as an area.

Just what do we believe?

We BELIEVE that school boards exist not to oversee the education of children, but rather to hand out good jobs and business contract to deserving family members and political supporters.  
See the lack of real nepotism policies in Scranton, Wyoming Area, Wilkes-Barre, etc.  And let's not forget Scranton's no-bid, multi-million dollar bus contract.

We BELIEVE that political corruption is somehow bizarrely okay, as long as money is brought in to construct a building, add lights to a Little League field, renovate a theater, or any other kind of pork.  If it makes us feel good, it must be okay, right?
See Bob Mellow.  And Dan Flood.  And Joe McDade.  And Ray Musto.

We BELIEVE that big institutions are always right, no matter how often they prove it to the contrary.
See the Catholic Church*, public employee labor unions, utilities, Penn State and others.

We BELIEVE that athletes are heroes and are deserving of just about anything they want, no matter how incompetent they actually are off the playing field.
See "Skrep-Daddy".  And Joe Paterno.  And others.

We BELIEVE that local economic develop officials are doing a GREAT JOB, no matter how unsuccessful they are in getting the Scranton Wilkes-Barre MSA's unemployment rate out of last (or nearly last) place in Pennsylvania.  Note that I've been to most parts of Pennsylvania, and having the highest unemployment rate in a state that boasts such garden spots as Altoona, Easton and Erie is quite a trick.  The cynic in me thinks that some must actually work at keeping the area economically depressed.
See the local Chambers of Commerce, state economic development folks, county commissioners, etc.

We BELIEVE that entertainment is more important than attainment.  This is why local newspaper sports sections are multiple pages longer than the business section.  We wouldn't want people to be educated about our economy and how it actually works outside of the public sector.
See the Scranton Times, Citizen's Voice, the Times-Leader and others.

All isn't lost though, as the good work being done by Friends of Lackawanna is showing promise that perhaps some are willing to truly challenge the status quo.  This is a good thing.

(*) I am drawing a distinction here between what one may chose to believe about the Catholic Faith vs. human-run institution of the Catholic Church.  I admire the Faith, while I am dismayed at the institution.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My lessons in humility

I think about humility, probably more than most.  I'm not always sure that's healthy, by the way, in that it would be one thing if I were this raging ego monster that always needed to keep my head from blowing up into extra large proportions, but I don't think that's me.  At least I hope it's not me.  More on ego in a moment.

When I was a kid, I was in a perpetual state of humility.  Growing up in a fairly staunch Catholic family, I was raised to believe that I was in this constate state of sin, some of which (the "original" variety) wasn't even technically related to anything I've actually done myself.  No bother, as I was probably guilty of so many sins via thought that one more for the perpetual road wasn't going to make much difference.  This made, by the way, the confession of sins all the dicier;  I knew I was swimming in sin, so much so that I couldn't remember them all, let alone be able to actually act in accordance with a reasonable accounting of misdeeds (real or otherwise).

The above, by the way, contributed to my last formal religious confession of sins being in 1986.

It's not that I don't believe in the idea of confession; heck, it seems to be a good idea if you ponder it for a bit.  Who wouldn't want to express that which is gnawing at your conscience like a New York City pizza rat?  It seems both reasonable and logical.  So why did I stop and what does this have to do with humility anyway?

To answer that I think it's important to take a side trip down the road called "ego".  The president of my company has talked about his desire for an organization that is exemplified by " drama, low ego...", which I completely understand.  In fact, I remember the first time I heard that quote.  Quite frankly, I was thrilled.  I've always believed that I had a "low ego".  In fact, I can think of many times when my ego has been practically roto-stripped out of existence.  To be fair, I can also think of times, 98% of them being in my professional life when I wasn't acting in the best interests of "low ego".  I try in my life to not dwell on the past, but when I do and these thoughts come up, I am regretful.

Fast forward to now, and I've spent some time studying the works of Eckart Tolle, specifically his thoughts on the nature of ego.  Now I wouldn't consider myself to be a devotee of Herr Tolle, and I wouldn't recommend any of his videos right before bedtime (because you'll fall asleep well before any of them end), but I agree with his basic concept, namely that ego is a corrosive force in our lives and it really does lead to suffering. Mostly our own, but in some very grand ways the lives of others as well.  For me, this becomes a practical matter in that I've learned to detach the concepts of "ego" and "humility".  Humility isn't the absence of ego.  In fact, I can think of many people who are humble but yet likely have enormous egos.  It's not quite the contradiction that it would seem to be when you ponder it (and someone like, for example, U2's Bono) for a moment.

As a matter of personal practice, I don't try to remove ego from my life, mainly because that's almost an egotistical thing to think and do.  I simply recognize it for what it is and try to live accordingly.  This hasn't made me more humble; my humbleness quotient (if there was such a thing) is at about the same level it has always been.  The key difference, at least for me, is that it's become okay to aspire to humility, not because I'm down-trodden and unworthy of doing anything of importance, but because it's simply good for the soul.  The narrative for me now is one of conscience acceptance of who and what I am.  Note the word "conscious", mainly because I do have to work at it.

Another thing I have to work on?  Awareness and management of my feelings when I am around those who may prize their ego and for whom humility is something that is maybe equivalent to a personal weakness or even a show piece that is displayed mostly for effect.  I am admittedly unnerved by such folks.  However, I've learned that my reaction says more about me and my ego than it ever could about anyone else.  Ego isn't just a looking down kind of thing, as it works in the other direction equally well.  That's an easy lesson to understand for me, but far more difficult to apply.

So why haven't I been "back to confession" in 30 odd years?  I respect and admire the tradition of a religious confession of sins, but I've realized that I don't need to feel sorry for my misdeeds in retrospect, as I can (and should) fully do that in almost real time.  An act of religious confession for me only served to distort the real meaning and value of humility.  Being humble isn't something that I need to drag out for an event; rather, it's a conscious decision I need to make about how I live and view the world around me.  I'm not "so good" as to be above the act of confession, but nor am I "so bad" as to be beyond its hope.  Mostly I try to be a good human being; humility simply helps me approach that goal in an intellectually honest manner.        

* * * * * *

What I was listening to on the way back from the gym:

"By the blue tiled walls near the market stalls
There's a hidden door she leads you to
These days, she says, "I feel my life
Just like a river running through"
(Al Stewart, "Year of the Cat")

Unrelated to humility or ego, mainly just a great song.  And that's good enough.