Things I Want My Son To Know #24 ~ One Foot In Front Of The Other

You have certainly learned the hard way, this year, that procrastination is a killer. The bad news is that you have paid quite a price for it. The good news is that you have had a chance to learn this lesson way sooner than most people do. Whether you actually learn from your missteps was the subject of another blog!

When you have procrastinated, dug yourself a hole, things can seem pretty bleak. At times it may not seem worth climbing out of the hole, even though you know it is. Just getting out of bed can seem a chore; that’s what depression feels like. When you feel like that, fight it. Get out of bed anyway, suit up, show up.

In life there are really only a very few choices when it comes to the times you make mistakes. You can dwell in the past, wallow in self pity and be generally non-productive thereby compounding the problem. Or you can feel bad, take stock, take your lumps, learn something and go forward; figure out how to do better. There is an alternative some see a choice; I don’t. I don’t believe any mistake is worth taking your own life, speaking as someone who has made some doozies.

Life doesn’t stand still. The life you were given is precious and all too short; you are too young to really understand that yet. Life goes forward even when you wish it wouldn’t. And so all there is to do is to wallow, or to go forward with it a wiser person. At those times when you have made a misstep, you get up, you find the path and you put one foot in front of the other; you get through the day. There will be a better one coming.

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Things Grandma Joan Wants You To Know #2 ~ Don’t Stop Creating

Darling Jacob, I expect your ma has already pointed out to you that there are many ways in which to be creative (see the “express yourself” post) and that you have learned that for yourself. But do you know that being creative is possibly the closest way in your life that you will come to the divine?

You already know the satisfactions that occur when you finish a drawing; I am sure you are at least a little pleased now and again by something you have written. Making it new. Whether it’s a card or a baby, momentous or merely satisfying, useful or decorative. You have a grandpa, Alfred, who used to create delightful, funny monologues using words. Who knows what sorts of tools you may use, who knows what sorts of satisfactions you may find in your life ahead, but I am sure that if you continue to make things, your life will be blessed. What I wish for you is that you feel this and that you don’t stop. That you don’t settle into an ordinary, everyday, pedestrian existence, the same existence of most of the people in the world.

You’re already shown your talent and your pleasure in your talent. Please keep it up, no matter what else you do and use it if you can in your life’s work or as your life’s work.

Your grandmother has spent her life making things, art, sculpture, books, her house (especially her house). She lives this advice and she has lived a most interesting life; so don’t stop creating.

Things Your Father Wants You To Know #4~ Show It All The Time

You may have noticed that I am not good about days our culture calls “special”. I really believe that many of them were created by Hallmark and the flower companies to get people to spend more money on things they could get cheaper every other day of the year. The restaurants are packed, the card racks are empty, the florists are sold out. These “special” days, like Mother’s day and Valentine’s day; not Grandparents day, etc., are a marketer’s dream.

But I have learned, over time, that because our culture makes a big deal of them, they matter to people. It is, therefore, important to honor those days. Perhaps you don’t need to do it with the fervor of many Americans, which can be a little over the top, but I promise you your girlfriend will care if you don’t recognize Valentine’s day!

You should ask yourself, though, why the restaurants aren’t full of mother’s and sons or daughters all the time? Why aren’t men buying flowers to memorialize other special days, more personal to those they love. I bought your mother flowers on the 3d of every month for the first year of our relationship, because that day meant something to us; much more than Valentine’s day. Why aren’t we sending our mother’s flowers whenever we think of it? Or making the call to a grandmother just to talk? Or bringing our father’s breakfast in bed? These are the things relationships are built on; showing love for no special reason other than the love itself.

When my father was alive I learned to tell him I loved him every time I spoke to him, and to hug him every time I saw him. He never understood my need to hug him and he never hugged back. He never really understood my telling him I loved him, but at least he knew. And when he was dying he waited for me to sit with him, because he knew I loved him. When he was gone I had no regrets because I had showed my love, not held it captive for Father’s day.

It is important to make the effort to honor the “special” days that society has created for us. It is much more important to show people you love them on a regular basis. When you think of someone, pick up the phone, you never know when they will be gone. This is hard when we are all so busy, but a five minute phone call can mean the world to someone. A single rose on a Wednesday night can brighten up a whole week. So remember, love is not something you trot out and show off for special occasions; show it all the time.

What Your Uncle Dan Wants You To Know #1 ~ Make Your Own Sauce

Dear Jake,

I’m proud of you for surviving high school as a thoughtful and caring kid. You are perceptive, probably more than you realize, and that, my friend, makes you really interesting. At this jumping-off stage of your life, the most important things I can tell you are 1) character counts and 2) make your own barbecue sauce.

Character — You’ll always have ups and downs. You’ll make a lot of money or a little money or a lot and then a little … whatever. What matters through all of that stuff is who you are. Are you the guy people turn to for counsel? The one whose honesty and good sense folks have faith in? It’s what I admire about your mom and dad, by the way. When Bill and I played golf, he always had to interrupt the game to take a call from someone who needed to check in. What an incredible compliment. Being of service — what can be better than that? And you see it with your mom and the people she helps, takes in, listens to. My mom and dad had that same streak. My dad was a tough customer in some ways. He had a big old stubborn streak and got himself worked up into high moral fever. But that’s a good thing. He cared. He didn’t let things slide. After he died, one of his former college students — the guy was now in his 40s and a professor himself — talked to me about how, long after school, he would call up my father to ask him “big picture” questions. Do I cross a picket line? Do I do the political thing or the moral thing? So there’s Bill getting calls … and there was my dad getting calls. Hmm. The only time I saw my straight-laced father a wee bit tipsy was when his university gave in to demands of student protesters over something. He was outraged at this abandonment of principle. And my mom was the most straight-forward person you could ever meet. She saw the good in people and she believed in helping out.

Me, I was never the most gifted person. Not the smartest, not the best athlete, not the most good looking guy in the room, although I know that’s hard for you to believe. So I knew early on that whatever I got I was going to have to earn. I can’t say I killed myself working in high school — sorry, I know your mom would like me to tell you something more inspiring! But in my working life I did bust my butt and I also had same that sense my mom and dad did, and that your parents do, that it mattered who you were and how you acted. I’m not saying I did everything right. Nobody does and I sure didn’t. But most nights I slept just fine knowing that I’d been honest with people, hadn’t taken advantage. It’s good stuff. You do that too, OK?

Barbecue — Now this is really important. Make your own sauce. Sure, buy a bottle of something if you have to for emergencies. But BBQ sauce is a place where you can stake your claim on a taste and show people who you are. You need:
— White Vinegar
— Honey
— dijon mustard
— minced green onions
— lemon juice
— garlic
— ginger
— really finely diced celery
— beer can be good
— whatever other spices interest you, depending on what you’re cooking and what mood you’re in. Do buy Jamaican jerk flavor in case the mood strikes.

Not telling you how much to put in. You mix things up, taste, and add. OK, I will say go easy on the ginger and be liberal with the honey. But that’s all, not another word out of me.

Jake, it’s a great big fascinating world out there. Go get it with enthusiasm and integrity. Make your own sauce.

Love,

Uncle Dan

Things I Want My Son To Know #23 ~ Value Every Life

The whole country is rejoicing that our armed forces finally got Osama Bin Laden; and well they should. But there is something troubing about the over the top, hysterical parties celebrating death; it is somehow unseemly. The interviews with the first responders who survived 9/11 have a very different tone, and we should learn something from that. They are glad but subdued, they know its right but know it won’t bring anyone back. In general, a death for a death is not a good policy if you really think it through. But, as usual, I digress.

What all this is really about is that we should not celebrate death, we should celebrate life. When you pass a homeless person on the street, don’t laugh or make fun of them; try not to look away. Each of those people is or was the loved one of someone, a son, a daughter, a father, a brother. They are not homeless and dirty because they chose it as a way of life consciously or rationally.

When you meet someone you dislike, try to listen to their point of view; try to understand how they came to it. You may never agree but you may learn something. How people got where they are is extremely instructive about how they think and feel and why.

When you think about crime and criminals remember that nobody is just the one worst thing they have ever done. You don’t want to be judged by the one worst thing you have ever done. They are also sons and daughters of parents who loved them in many cases; in other cases they were the children of terrible abusers. Either way, it is not just about the crime.

When you meet a farmer in overalls, don’t assume you are better then he because you wear a shirt and tie to work. Farmers feed us and, hopefully, take care of the earth. It is terrible hard work, often with little reward. Listen to what he has to say; you will definitely learn something about work ethic and committment.

When you meet the President, whether you agree or disagree, you should respect the office and the terrible obligations it presents. You should be able to hold a conversation ~ be well read enough and know enough about your world to speak with intelligence.

In every case, value what is good in people and don’t dwell on the bad. In every case, be a good listener and you will be a good learner, you will understand people just a little better. In every case, be able to talk to people. When you can talk to a homeless woman on the street and to the President with equal interest, and everyone in between, then you will be a well-rounded person.

Things Your Rabbi & Rebbetzin Want You To Know #1 ~ Tikkun Olam

Dear Jake,
Congratulations on your graduation from High School. The following is our advice to you!

We would say to you to be realistic about your expectations. Do not be disappointed if you do not become an astronaut, social workers do valuable work. Do not worry if you do not invent a lifesaving medication, perhaps you will, one day instead, give life to a baby.

All of us start with great expectations and high ideals. If you keep your ideals, the expectations will fall into place. It does not matter how high you rise in the world’s estimation as long as you do not get above yourself. All of us have entered into this world the same way, and all of us will leave it in the same way too. It is what we do with the time allocated to us that matters.

Remember that education is a privilege and privileges bring responsibilities. We do not expect you to do away with the draught in Africa, or poverty in the world, but it would good if you could help one starving family, or do your little part in preserving the world’s natural resources.

In Judaism, we say that when it is time for a person to depart this world, the best thing that can be said about that person is not the amount of money he had, or how successful his business was, or the number of cars he had, or houses, but that he had a “Shem Tov”, a good name. We ask you now to live your life counting not all of the great things you have, but, instead counting all of the great things you did to make this world a better place. Then you too shall have a “Shem Tov”.

Things Ruben Wants You To Know #2 ~ Give Something Back

I have done volunteer work all my life, and found it most rewarding. It seems worth it to pass this along; it is something you should know.

There are myriads of opportunities for volunteering: food pantries, The Salvation Army, visiting and perhaps playing games with lonesome residents of nursing homes – to name but a few. The Temple serves meals to the homeless; the shelter always needs help (the day is Wednesday by the way). You could just volunteer to serve at table when any charitable organization puts out meals for the hungry. If you learn some basic carpentry, you could volunteer with “Habitat For Humanity”. Once you obtain a degree, you could volunteer for the Peace Corps or Americorps. There’s Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Little League; there is reading is fundamental, there is tutoring kids who are behind and can’t afford help; there are victims of natural disasters and there are victims of poverty. You could continue your project of colleccting blankets for the homeless every year; you could collect shoes, or backpacks, or school supplies for children who don’t have enough.

Volunteering is very rewarding in the satisfaction you derive from helping others less fortunate than you are. You know that no matter how much you may wish to have, you have been very fortunate and should be very grateful. volunteering gives you tremendous opportunities for gratitude.

The opportunities are endless – the satisfaction is boundless.