Lessons from My Father Part I: Generosity & Kindness

dadGrowing up I would often get the question, “Are you Bill Russell’s son?” I would say yes and then they would get a huge smile and begin saying incredible things about him. One man simply said, “You’re Bill Russell’s son? You must be very proud. Your father is a great man.” It was obvious to me at a young age that there was something very different about my father. He truly loved people and showed it through kindness and generosity. And fortunately, he was the same man at home as he was publicly.

I witnessed my fathers kindness and generosity to others many times while working for him in the real estate business. I actually criticized him at one point because every time I turned around he was dropping his commission for someone. When I let him know that I thought he was being taken advantage of he simply replied, “Son, sometimes people just need a little help in life…a little help getting on their feet.” Being young I assumed that everyone he was dealing with was wealthy or at least had plenty of money. However, I learned differently when I watched a grown man cry after my father sold his $500,000 piece of property for a zero commission (that was a huge deal in West Virginia in the 1980s)! Dad later told me the man had gone through a heartbreaking divorce, lost his business, and was headed toward bankruptcy. So, one of the big lessons I learned from my father at that moment (and many others) is that your love for money should never outweigh your love for others. And when I say “others” I mean all others.

My favorite story, which I believe demonstrates my father’s love for others, comes from my time in college. When I attended West Virginia State University I often got the question, “Are you Bill Russell’s son” and once I said yes I was treated differently. Differently as in I graduated without ever taking college algebra! As in, I was nominated and listed on Who’s Who Among American College Students with a 2.5 grade point average! And I wasn’t naïve enough to think this was because of my brains or good looks. So, one day while in the elevator with a professor (who had once again “bent over backwards” to help me) I said, “I don’t understand why you and the rest of the staff have been so kind to me, but I really appreciate it.” She looked me in the eye and said, “Tony, if it wasn’t for your father most of us wouldn’t have been able to buy our first home. Your dad was the only banker in the area who would loan money to black folks.” You see, West Virginia State University was at one time an “all black college.” My father often told me of his deep respect for the professors there whom he knew worked twice as hard as “whites” to get a good education and pursue the American dream.

Before owning a real estate company my father was the vice-president and president of a local bank, and used his position to help others. When I told him what my professor had said about him you could see the confusion in his eyes. He said, “Well, I knew they were good for it.” The color of their skin never weighed in on his decision to loan them money. He then said, “When I was growing up I really didn’t think there was a big difference between me and black folks. I just knew we were both poor.”

My hope is that my short blog about my father reminds us that regardless of our religious preference, sexual preference, or the color of our skin we aren’t really that different. We need to focus on caring for one another, and offering a helping hand when we are able. Find someone this holiday season who could use a little help in life…a little help getting back on their feet.  Life is easier when we all do it together.

Bill Russell’s Son,

Tony

 

Posted in Caring for Elderly Parents, family, Grief, Midlife | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Number One Action Step for All of Life & Love

imagesI have recently had a revelation that I believe is life changing, but before we get to that let me start with asking you a question, have you ever been talking to someone you love dearly and they inform you that they don’t feel loved by you? I’m talking about a child, significant other, or even a friend who you love with every fibre of your heart and yet they say, “I don’t feel like I’m important to you” or “I don’t feel loved by you.”

If you have had one of those conversations with a significant other or child then you understand how frustrating and confusing one feels at that moment. You are frustrated and confused because you feel the love in your heart, and wonder how they are missing it. You may even think they are being unreasonable and so you become defensive. Well let me free you from the claws of frustration and the darkness of confusion! And let me stop you from the vicious cycle of arguing that being defensive leads to in all relationships. It is now time for my revelation.

We have to realize that while our hearts may be full of love it is our actions which must deliver the message. Yes, saying I love you is important, but we could train a parrot to say those three words. The power of love is felt by others in our actions. The heart is where all of life and love begins and ends, but unfortunately it can’t speak for us. It is our actions that others believe delivers the true message of the heart. And let me stop you before you start making a list of your actions.

Before you make the list which includes: working 50 hours a week, giving them a nice home, buying nice gifts, cleaning the house, taking them to soccer practice, and/or cleaning their dirty laundry I want you to stop for a moment. I agree that those can be actions motivated by love, but take a deep breath. What I’m about to say is not easy to hear, due to it involving two things you may not have much of at the moment. No one of them isn’t money. The two things that I believe deliver the message of the heart more than anything else are free. They are time and focus, and like you…they must be present in the moment. You need to make the time to focus on those you love, and cut out anything that distracts you from being in the moment.

As you read through this don’t make the mistake of believing this advice is based on my years of education, counselling, or ministering to others. It is not. It is based on making the mistake of believing my good heart, which is full of love and kindness for others speaks. It is based on my mistaken belief that saying I love you, being in the same room, paying a compliment, or being polite is enough. It is based on years of focusing on the “next big thing” and ignoring the big picture. The biggest thing in my life and yours are our family and friends. They should never feel ignored, and most of mine felt just that because I thought my heart was speaking for me. When I officiate weddings I always make the statement, “Love is not always something you feel, but it is something you do.” And ironically I realized I wasn’t doing a very good job in that area. I believe that would be called a hypocrite. And like me, I know you no longer want to carry that title, so let’s get to the good news.

Actually, let’s end with some great news! For those of you who also have a heart that is full of love and kindness. Your heart has the correct message, and now you just need to let your actions deliver it! You are 90 to 95% of the way home! You and I need to begin spending quality time with those we love. And when you are spending time with them…be present in the moment. Remove the distractions that keep you from making eye contact and listening to what is being said by others. For me, the cell phone is a killer, and any TV that is on…turns me off. So get rid of technology. As you truly focus and listen to those you love it will become clear what other actions can be taken to deliver the message of your heart. For help on what some of those actions may be I would suggest buying the book, “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Don’t wait, start today! You won’t believe me, but this can even lead to a better connection with your teenage child! And it will obviously lead to a better connection with your significant other. Who knows, by turning off the distractions you may just turn them on! And now I finally got your attention!

I love you,

Uncle Tony

 

 

Posted in family, Health, Healthy Living, marriage, Midlife | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

When The Child Becomes God

careFacebook tends to remind me of things I don’t want to remember! Sure, their heart is in the right place when they drop you a “Memories from Facebook” first thing in the morning. It is usually a picture of my children that makes me start singing “Don’t Blink” by Kenny Chesney. Today’s reminder was of a day I’d rather completely forget.

It has been over a year since my father had what we now know must have been a massive stroke. During that time the family was all brought together at the hospital and asked what we wanted to do about the ventilator. It takes a moment, but you quickly realize you are being asked to make a decision you once thought God only handled. Trust me, there are times when human beings (with the assistance of modern medicine) can make the decision.

Looking back on that moment I can see the room and the faces of my family clearly. It is one of those moments where sadness seems to move your breathing into your stomach, darkens the room, and feels like a heavy blanket. I’m not sure what was going on in my mind at the time, but I’m guessing my southern roots said, “You now have to be the man of the house.” I felt as though the decision should rest on my shoulders, and honestly that was a mistake. A mistake I share so that you can learn from it.

The life-support decision isn’t one a person should make on their own. Yes, looking back my heart was in the right place, but I should have asked the doctor to step out and we as a family could have processed everything, cried, and maybe even argued about it for a moment. As I’m writing this I realize that I did sort of find a loop hole, and put the decision on the shoulders of the doctor. I asked him one question, “If that was your father in there what would you do…would you give him a chance to recover?” He said, “I think I would give him a chance.” So we gave my father a chance. And while my dad did show early signs of progress…he quickly declined in health and is now completely bed ridden and needs assistance with every aspect of life. As you watch a parent you love with all of your heart struggle it is then you ask yourself if you did the right thing for them. Unfortunately, the answer to that question may never be answered. Only they know the answer, and they may not be able to tell you.

So why am I writing this blog post? Please don’t think it’s because I want attention or sympathy. This is a post about the struggles we all face as we open and close the chapters of our life. And caring for elderly parents is a chapter with more questions than answers.

I would like to leave you with a couple pieces of advice. As I alluded to earlier, when faced with major decisions about your parents take a deep breath and bring all family members into the conversation. Second and most importantly, have the conversation about being on life support when your parents are healthy! Then the decision is made by the one person who should be making it.

Love you,

Uncle Tony

Posted in Caring for Elderly Parents, Healthy Living, Midlife | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t be like Uncle Rico…Just let it go: Dealing with Regret

I would agree with those who say that regret is a waste of time and energy, but I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t experienced moments of regret. And that is especially true for those of us in midlife and beyond. 

When you turn 40 you begin evaluating the decisions you’ve made in life and you may have a few regrets, but you still believe there is time to turn things around. In other words, you still believe you can make up for lost time. Then as you move into your mid-forties and early fifties you realize that some of the opportunities you missed are just that…they are missed. You will never get that opportunity again, and if you did you couldn’t do anything with it anyway.

I realize that sounds very depressing, and do you know why? Because it is depressing! It is depressing because it’s a loss. When we lose something it hurts, and we then have a choice to make. We can either allow that loss to ruin our life and keep us from moving forward or we can mourn the loss and find new opportunities to pursue.

We all know the great high school athlete like Uncle Rico (below)! You know, the athlete who lost out on a great opportunity either due to an injury or the coach who had something against them. They could have gone pro! They go through life with the woulda, coulda, and shoulda attitude. So for the next 30 to 40 years they go to every high school sporting event, and sit in the stands talking about the past and never accomplish anything in the present. However, those of us who missed out on an investment opportunity, ruined a relationship, didn’t make the most of our youth, or simply chose not to stay in college can also turn into an Uncle Rico. We get consumed with the regret, and don’t stop long enough to truly mourn the loss and move on.

So how do we mourn the loss?

Stop, Drop, & Roll:  This is a very important step to take! You need to stop and seriously confront all of your regrets. For some of us that may mean finding a friend or therapist and opening up and being free to roll around in the pain. For others it may mean stopping, dropping to their knees in prayer, and rolling around in self pity. Regardless, I suggest getting it out of your heart, soul, and mind by talking about it and also writing it down (if it is highly personal you may want to destroy the evidence). I know this step is tough for my male readers, but you need to let it out my brother!

Stop the blame game: Once you get it out it is time to stop blaming yourself and others for the loss. Even if there is someone to blame…quit it! Accept the fact that you made a mistake or someone screwed you over, and let it go, and that leads to the final and most important step.

Stop holding a grudge: The most important step in this process is forgiveness. Forgive yourself and forgive others. When we forgive…we don’t forget, but we are able to reduce the impact of the past on the present.

Take a moment to set new and realistic goals for yourself. You and I may no longer be able to throw a spiral for one mile, but we can still enjoy the game!

Posted in christianity, Grief, Midlife, Psychology, spirituality, Wellness | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Three P’s of Living Free!

mirrorIn my last blog post I talked about cleaning the emotional and spiritual clutter out of your life. Let me quickly give you three things to think about as you begin cleaning. I want you to focus on people, pictures, and philosophies.

As we move through this wonderful journey we call life we are constantly picking up people, pictures, and philosophies and storing them in our heart and mind. We build relationships with people, we establish a picture of self, and we develop our philosophies about life, love, and the big one…death. So today, begin taking inventory in those three area and determine what can stay and what or who must go. Let me give you a little help to get you started.

People: 

This can be a difficult area of your life to clean, because it will mean breaking off relationships with those who are hurting you. I know, that sentence doesn’t make sense to some of you, but for others they know exactly what I mean. There are people in your life that need to be pushed out! Life is too short and precious to spend it around people that are hurting you, taking advantage of you, or to be blunt….SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF YOU! Yes, we all hurt one another from time to time, but if someone is constantly crushing your spirit then kick their ass to the curb.

Pictures:

When I was a therapist I would often ask people, “Who and what do you see when you look in the mirror?” So stop reading for a moment and do that for me. Go look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Who and what do I see?”

The words you used to describe what you saw in the mirror makes up the picture you have of yourself. I know, we all have parts of our body we would like to firm up and push up, but this goes deeper than your physical appearance. This is about some of the adjectives used like: loser, fat ass, ugly, slow, stupid, and/or failure. I chose those words because at different points in my own life I have used them. I know what it means to have a distorted picture of self. And many of you do as well, if you have a negative pictures of yourself get rid of it! Begin seeing the marvelous and miraculous that stands before you!

Philosophies:

I’m going to make you wait for this one because it is going to take an entire blog post to cover it. So go stand in front of the mirror again and start developing new pictures!

Love ya,

Uncle Tony

 

Posted in Health, Healthy Living, marriage, Midlife, Psychology, relationships, religion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment