Category: Laughter

A mom for all seasons

If many of you were to write a blog about your mom and titled it ” A mom for all seasons” I suspect your story might be about one special woman who showered you with unconditional love, who was your rock, your inspiration and a guiding light in your life. Still others of you might write a story of two or maybe three such ladies. In this world of moms, stepmoms, adopted moms and biological moms there is no end to the variety of moms in our lives. All of them have such a profound impact. There may be yet another segment of you out there that will feel like they have no mom or mom figure to write about. If that is you, I am so sorry and I hope this story helps you realize that, out in the world, are so many special people who want to love you like a mom, whether you are their kid or not, no matter what age you are.

The last subset of folks out there reading this may be more like me, perplexed on Mother’s Day about who to thank first? Challenged with so many incredible mom figures in their lives that raising them one above another would be a disservice to the season in which they were there for me in that way that is only describable to those who have known that kind of unconditional “mom love” that might prompt one to write a blog post like the one I described above.

As I have wrestled with this dilemma through the years I have written Facebook posts, built collages, reached out to each one separately, you name the tactic I have tried it! This is the first time I am going to try to write in more depth about a sample of these ladies in the framework of my 50 years of life so far and the many seasons that these ladies have played a part in. I need to start by prefacing that I am probably going to mess some things up, I’m probably going to forget something or someone critical, but my prayer is that this will be read in the spirit it is written in- as a tribute and as a small glimpse into the wonder of moms and how people can be there for each other at the most critical and pivotal moments in their lives.

Catherine-The Birth of Belonging

I am convinced that the woman who was kind enough to give me life and so many other incredible gifts had every intention of my never needing any other mom figure in my life. Circumstances, in hindsight, some of my very own making, proved that was not to be the case. Thanks to my dad’s early adoption of home movie equipment, I am very lucky to have actual footage of this unbridled joy and affection she had for me in the video above.

I think it is easy to see that my mom wanted nothing but joy and happiness for me from my earliest days toddling around this planet. She provided my fledgling brain, heart, and spirit with everything she could to give me the right start in life and I am forever grateful for that. My mom and I were very close from early on and into my childhood. She taught me to love music, she taught me to love art and explore my creative side. My mom and I watched a lot of the same TV shows and talked philosophically about life, even at a young age. My mom, sisters and I relied on each other to navigate the life of a single mom with four kids. It wasn’t always sunshine and roses, but she stood up for me when I was picked on at school, she laughed at my terrible impressions and she encouraged my love of learning. She taught me many lessons about life, survival and finding joy in the midst of struggle.

Josephine-A Firm Foundation in We Need Each Other and a Glimpse at Servant Leadership

Right alongside my mom, I was lavished with the kind of love and attention, that only the first-born grandson of a New York Italian American Italian family can understand, from my grandmother. This next mom figure was the strongest family figure for all of us through the first part of my life until her passing. For me and my triplet sisters, the lines blurred between our Grandma and our mom as they co-parented us through some challenging years. This mom was beautiful in so many ways and she taught me so much about life that I am still uncovering today. She literally risked jail for us as she wrote bad checks to feed us. She made our clothes sometimes when we had no money. She let each of us live with her at various times in our tumultuous lives. She worked to manage the more chaotic elements of our lives as much as she could. She helped me get my first job, my first car, get in contact with my estranged father and family in New York. She was an amazing woman and one day I’ll write a special, proper post about her, but for now, I’ll keep it short and simple: she taught me grit. She taught me how to manage my way through untenable situations to the other side. She taught me how to make family a priority. Mostly she showed me what servant leadership was all about before I ever had words for that. I wish my wife and kids and my younger and newer family and friends could have known her, she was truly one of a kind and will always be in a pinnacle spot in the hall of JJ’s moms.

Margaret-The Loyal Laughter of Childhood

The next mom-like figure I’d like to feature is my Aunt Margaret. This is a bit weird because I could just as easily share that she was more like a big sister to me. We shared a room for part of my childhood. We shared many laughs. She took me with her to her high school football games. She celebrated me and cheered me on through childhood and young adult trials alike. She and I were, at various times, each others’ “person” as they call it nowadays, well before that term was ever coined. So perhaps it is a bit off the mark to include her here, except for the fact that before she had kids of her own and even at certain times thereafter, she watched out for me as if I were her kid and showered me with that level of self-sacrificial love and attention that was more about me and less about her that only moms can exhibit.

Jo-The Sparks of Esteem and Possibility

When I was a teenager before I started working, I was poor: food stamp poor, no quarter for the Dig Dug video game poor. There is more about that in other blog posts, but the next mom figure in my journey is my Aunt Jo. Aunt Jo was responsible for teaching me so many things about being both a kid and an adult I can never repay her. During a very pivotal time in my life, when my self-esteem was at an all-time low, my Aunt was a like a mom to me. Under the guise of me coming up to help her and her husband care for their new baby girl, she arranged for me to live in New York City with them for more than one summer. There I learned about life in the city, caring for a young family, going out to eat at restaurants. I had my first restaurant beer, my first true tourist experiences at places like Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center. I was (at first forced) and then allowed to go out and buy vegetables and groceries on my own at the corner market. I had some of my first ever clothing and haircuts that were not from a thrift store or my grandmother’s seamstress scissors. As we drove down the bustling streets of New York she noticed I couldn’t see the signs as crisply as I should be seeing them and helped me get my first pair of glasses. She opened up the world for me, expanding it from black and white to technicolor both literally and figuratively. More than anything, she built me up. She told me I was going to be OK. She refused to let me wallow or be down on myself, she built me up and tried to make me as ready as she could for my next steps in life. She helped me see there could be more for me than the life I was living and that I was capable of achieving it. I had been told that before, but I didn’t believe it until my time with her.

Pat-The Power of Potential and Unconditional Love

I’ll never forget a certain walk that was both just like and not like any other walk around the McDonald’s restaurant where Pat and I were managers. She was not only my boss, but she was also my mom and we had ourselves a little family there at the restaurant. I had come back from my time with Aunt Jo in New York and started working at McDonald’s, a couple of years later I was managing at said McDonald’s with Pat as my boss. Shortly after that she and I “got our own store” where she was THE manager and I was the assistant. It was an amazing time and I learned a great deal about managing people while also serving and loving them from her. An opportunity came up for me to leave and try something different, but it was an opportunity fraught with challenges and potential burning of bridges. I essentially had to leave everything I been building to go try and build something else somewhere else. One of the things I dreaded about this decision was letting down my champion and letting down my latest mom in the hall of JJ moms. So we went for that walk and I told her. She probably held back all her instincts to tell me this was a potentially disastrous move and instead simply told me she loved me, unconditionally and would support me no matter what I did or where I went. Mind you at that time, she and I were critical players in an incredibly busy business and this move meant professional pain and challenge for her on top of worrying about me leaving town, yet she chose to support me over self-preservation. A mom’s love if I’ve ever known it. PS: When I returned with my tail tucked between my legs, some years later, I received a judgment-free welcome as if I were the Prodigal son returning home.

Evelyn-Adoption without the Paperwork

It is weird even typing the word “Evelyn” as Mom Galloway will always and forever be Mom Galloway to me. Mom Galloway is the biological mom of my best friend’s family. A family who practically adopted me in my teenage years I described above while I worked at McDonald’s and forever after. The man in the picture is her husband Duke, who passed away suddenly one Christmas. That Christmas stands out in my mind for many reasons, but for one, the reason I was there as it was the most Christmas like dwelling to be, at the time, for me. Her boys were helping me with work on one of my beater cars that Christmas. She was cooking incredible meals and asking about my day like any mom would, just accepting my presence at her house by day, overnight, just any time I wanted or needed to be there, as a given. There was no drama to the adoption. No papers. I was just always introduced as the adopted child of this family and I still feel like their son, decades after I held her hand on the kitchen table after Duke’s passing. I still receive handwritten notes asking after my family. I still get giddy smiles when I make an all too infrequent phone call to her and an “oohhh John I’m sooo haappy you called.” Her voice and written cards sound and look like home to me and she will forever represent that as well. Mom G will forever be my adopted mom without papers.

Gail- My Momma @ Work

When you are new to your career and you start leading people you don’t expect that you’ll end up calling one Mom, but that is what happened to me. I was also new to my marriage and a young father at the time and there I found myself at work with this woman who wanted nothing more than to reassure me and build me up every day. Gail is not super mushy or gushy despite my depiction, in fact, she is quite matter of fact in her declarations. The kind of momma I needed at that season was exactly what God brought me, a no-nonsense, unconditionally loving, straight-talk wielding lady who wouldn’t put up with my crap but wouldn’t let me beat myself up either. You make a lot of mistakes as a young career person and a young dad and I was blessed to have this kind of support both at home with the next lady you’ll hear about and at work with Momma Gail. She will forever be the Lovey Howell on the Gilligan’s Island of my mom’s.

Diane-A Refuge of Calm Counsel

A lot of folks get confused when I call my mother in law Mom instead of Diane. The same is true for my father in law, and I hope part of their confusion is the affection they hear in my voice for each of them. I hope another part of the confusion is because I hit some sort of strange jackpot when I married into my family that included this woman who provides me a place to go that so many of the best mothers do- a grace-filled refuge and place of confidence to share both my triumphs and tribulations. This has been the case since the earliest days of my marriage and it is simply who this woman is to so many of us. A world-class listener and wise counselor, she has a way of providing thoughtful feedback and setting me back on track without damaging my all too fragile ego. Like so many of these ladies that came before her, she builds me up when I need it and now that I need the opposite, more often than I did in my younger years, she brings me down to earth just as effortlessly. My life is imminently blessed because I get her counsel nearly full time as we live under the same roof.

Thank You

If I haven’t made it clear by now, this blog post is simply a thank you to all these women I have called mom over the years. The collage was just not enough, and who knows I may yet write a true long-form post on each and every one of them. The truth is I could write a book about each and it would be a wholly inadequate tribute to these women and their impact on me. At my work we have a saying #womenmakeusbetter . Each year we are prompted to write our affirmations and pledge what we will do to help women in our workplace. This is not something I need to be convinced of doing. This is not something I can fail to do. You see, women have made me better, each and every day of my life and these women are just the moms! I also have sisters, co-workers, friends, family and of course my amazing wife. I can’t help but want to see them all soar! If you are one of them and you are reading this I want to see YOU Soar!

If you are a dude, I want to see you soar too, but I encourage you to lean on the mom or moms in your life for guidance and inspiration as I have. I also encourage you to do everything you can to support, encourage and advocate for those ladies.

Because : #momsmakeusbetter and #womenmakeusbetter .


Surviving change without going ape

How many times have we left for work, fully intending to play the part of the ever-composed, quietly observant, always benevolent Jane Goodhall, only to find ourselves at the end of the day, flinging feces at our teammates in a primitive display of dominance and one-upmanship?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall

Continue reading “Surviving change without going ape”

The power of repetition : a satirical shark tale

…And now this from a white paper I found on medieval repetitive rituals – here is my take on its implications on the Baby Shark YouTube viral phenomenon Baby shark doo doo doo doo do do …… (repeat x infinity)

“Appearances can be deceptive; and medieval ritual practices are in this respect no exception. (Is this why watching baby shark for the billionth time feels like medieval torture?) They perform stability through the codification of repetitive modes of behaviour and simultaneously admit flexibility in their integration of newer forms of representation. ( is this why there are no less than one trillion versions of baby shark?) They mask the historical contingencies of their own creation and construct alternative narratives of authority and continuity. ( is this why our small children pay way more attention to baby shark than any of our commands or wishes?) They do not simply appear; their appearance reflects the mutual interplay of construction and modification.” (Is this why we can’t find the originator to track him down and subject him to aforementioned medieval torture – is it possible that it did not simply appear but rather organically evolved from our shared desire to pacify our small children?)


Flocking around the Christmas Tree

So we bought this thing called a “flocked tree” and I was thinking…someday I would love to Meet the Flockers. Who are these people that put flock – some sort of glue like substance that mimics snow- on the trees? I decided to build a set of questions to ask about these mysterious creatures and the practice of flocking, should I ever get the opportunity:

  • Do you call a group of them a flock?

  • Do they toil, tirelessly, working day and night, i.e. do they flock around the clock?

  • If stores are sold out of these trees, does that mean people were flocking to buy them?

  • If they run out of material does that mean the flock was out of stock?

  • When the flockers leave work, do they have to flock out?

  • What about the security of their factory, do they have to lock the flock?

  • If I got a chance I’d like to ask them all kinds of other things about flock that I can’t post on here because of… well let’s just say I take no responsibility for other people’s flocking related imaginations.

Pepop: A Decorated Veteran of the Game of Life

Some months ago I wrote a story about my grandfather and how he taught me how to be full of CHIT: Curious | Humble | Intentional | Teachable. Today, I want to talk about this World War II veteran and how he has lived a life as a gritty hero, not just of World War II, but of the game of life.

I have seen the documents typed on an old-school typewriter by some nameless clerk, doubtless doing their duty for our country, the paper was worn, brittle,  once durable, once able to withstand being struck so hard by each off-kilter element of typeface, each record is an aging survivor of the decades stuffed in a drawer or filing cabinet God knows where:

Army of the United States: Honorable Discharge 552nd Bomb Squadron

Battles and Campaigns:  Air Offensive Europe, Central Europe, Normandy Northern France Rhineland

Decorations and Citations: European African Middle Eastern Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal

Wilmerton (12)

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I recall looking at the bottom of the discharge papers and seeing the mark of this man I had seen on hundreds of other documents from checks to rental agreements, Dominick Demonaco, a signature etched by a much younger man who must have felt a huge relief that he would get to go home.  He must have been grateful as he signed that none of the bombs he attached went off when he was handling them, that none of the missiles intended for him and his buddies hit and that none of the planes that came in full of holes and live explosives, that forgot to drop when they were supposed to, put an end to both his military career and young life before victory was achieved and his good conduct medal was issued.

To add to our family’s honors, I also had an uncle, Rocco Margagliotti, that received both the purple heart and the bronze star for saving his captain at The Battle of the Bulge. He and my grandfather were best friends but they served in different parts of the war. They grew apart later in life due to family squabbles and drama and that is a shame as my uncle Rocky left us many decades ago.  I take solace in the fact that one day soon, Dom and Rocco will share a Miller High Life in Heaven together, and there shaking her head at them will be Rocky’s sister, my grandmother, Josephine or Jay Margagliotti Demonaco.

Thankfully, unlike the family of my Uncle Rocky, that day is not today and I still get to celebrate my full of CHIT Pepop on Veteran’s Day weekend and not Memorial Day.  I get to think back on his service to our country with pride and thank him for it.

I sure hope I don’t offend anyone, but that service is not the service I am MOST thankful for.

The service I am most thankful to Pepop for is the service to his family.  The way he got up every morning, put shoes that were often too tight and too worn on his broken and aching feet and went to work every day to help support his impoverished family.  I was lucky enough to live with this man, both when I was very little, as a teenager and again as a young adult.  I watched him hobble on those feet and go to physical jobs.  His work was so unlike mine, it involved driving, moving, hauling, standing for hours on end.  Every time he got up from his chair or bed, I heard him suck in a breath and utter a slight curse as his feet sought to betray him.  I also watched him as he walked to work later in life after his eyes gave out and he could no longer drive a beer truck or a garbage truck.  It was then that he embraced his true love (after my grandmother) to make a living, cooking.

Yet even that was a sacrifice, beyond the walking to work, when he arrived he worked for people who did not give him a raise in the decades he slaved in their kitchen.  He was made to pay for the pizza he brought home to us- the mere cost of ingredients to the owners – even on holidays.  Sometimes his employers would give him a free bottle of wine at Christmas as a bonus, but the rest of the time, it was pay as you go.  I saw him sacrifice another way too.  He had to save his creativity for home.  He can make a gravy or as you non-New York-Italians call it – spaghetti sauce- that was second to none, yet he had to make the sauce their way.  He had to make the sausage and peppers their way, and then hobble home and cook for us.

Years prior to his Italian restaurant job, his dreams for doing it “his way” were dashed when a failed attempt to relocate and reconcile with Rocky and start his own restaurant ended in further family separation, Soprano’s level Italian family infighting and the collapse of the former buddies’ business shortly after it started.  I think he tried to make a go of it alone and we basically ate all the profits even as he tried to serve New York Heros to Titusville, Florida’s former “what’s a hero?” sub with extra mayo eating public.

The amazing thing about my grandfather is that he took all this in stride. In times of distress, my grandfather is famous for his colorful phrases belted out in a half chuckle like :

ya’ sista’s a$$ !

ain’t dat som’ $hit? or

you gotta’ be kiddin’ me!?

Yes, that’s my Pepop, utter a curse and move on.  Thank God for what you DO have and move on. Dom is a study in both CHIT and grit. He even takes the same attitude when he talks about his time in the war.  No somber serious recollection of planes flying in with a live bomb hanging off a tattered wing, no urge to come in closer and listen to what he did to save the day.  Not my Pepop. When asked what he did in those situations he said, “we shit in our pants and prayed to God the damn thing wouldn’t blow us all to hell!” and he laughs as he says it.

If you want to hear Pepop’s voice and more stories about his growing up in the depression and WW2 here is a StoryCorp interview Dominick Demonaco my niece did with him.

Pepop got one of the first injuries to his feet as a teenager driving a milk truck in New York City.  When he was a teenager, they used giant blocks of ice to keep the milk cool and he dropped one of those mothers on his young foot! That is probably where all the cursing started and it never stopped! LOL! (oh…did I mention that he still lives on the second floor of his apartment building and walks to the store sometimes?) Dom went from delivering milk to delivering beer, attached and detached bombs somewhere in there, came back delivered more beer, drove a garbage truck as a teamster on Long Island.

He built a house on Long Island and moved his family out there when it was still considered “the country.” I have pictures of he and the family picnicking. My mom and triplet sisters and I moved into that house with my grandfather, my aunts and my uncle when I was a toddler and we lived there, with houses popping up all around us, but still adjacent to some woods, until I was nine and we attempted the failed reconciliation I mentioned above.

On the Space Coast of Florida, years before the first space shuttle launched, the reconciliation failed and the restaurant sank in the swamp but our lives as Floridians began.  Pepop left the Teamsters and never drove again.  Never went to test for his Florida license.  At that point, when he was close to my age as I write this, he said: “I’ve been driving all my life, I’m done.” From that moment forward he cooked and he walked. I’m 50 now. He worked well into 70s, well after he should have. He worked at several restaurants and he was beloved by his coworkers and known as a hard and dependable worker who made people laugh at each and every eatery, including the one that couldn’t spare the free pizza.  They love him too and he loves them, he celebrates occasions there sometimes to this day! Dom bears no grudge, he only holds only the memories of laughter and crazy times with them, that is who he is.

No matter his age, he never stopped taking care of those around him.  What is his is yours. Whether that is a roof over your head, food, money, time- he gives it. He is still doing it today, still helping the family when they need it in some of those same, often non-monetary ways. For a while it has been my turn to pay him back monetarily a little, I have sent him a small supplemental allowance twice a month, for many years now.  When I get a raise he gets a raise.  Every time I talk to him, we have the same ending to our short and sweet conversation- He says: “John thanks for all your doin’ I really appreciate it man” and I say “Peep-it is just my turn I could never do for you what you did for us.” I say “I Love You Peep” and he says “Take Care Kid” (which roughly translated means “I love you kid” in Brooklyn Teamsterize).

So forgive me if I am selfish and his being a veteran in service to this great country of ours is not what I am most thankful for this weekend nor any other weekend. I prefer to forgo celebrating only the good conduct medal and rather like to think of Peep also getting the Golden Spatula for Meritorious Service to his Family.

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Unsunk and unstuck: Open the door to more!

Have you ever heard of the sunk cost fallacy? If you click the link there is a neat infographic that explains it, but it is essentially this:

Time, money, energy, emotion or resources already spent and permanently lost. Sunk costs are past expenditures that are partially or totally irretrievable and, therefore, should be considered irrelevant to future decision making.

I am certainly no stranger to sunk costs.  I am the dude who spent 20 years of his career-defining himself as one kind of HR specialist, avoiding being a generalist at all costs, only to find himself more fully realized and innumerably happier teaching an army of generalists how to tackle projects.  I am also a guy who spent most of his life running away from faith and practicing how to be a cold, purely scientifically-driven agnostic only to find himself embracing faith and leading in a church in the second half of his life. I am the shy introvert who spent decades avoiding meeting new people who is now on a quest to bring people closer together and more in touch with who they were meant to be at work, in a church, and through this blog.

Consequently, I am familiar with the all-too-human traps around sunk costs! I once thought I had invested too much time into reading Richard Dawkins books to be a Jesus Follower or feeling like I built too much “company/career street cred” honing my HR expertise in staffing and workforce to become an HR portfolio manager.  I know the despair of waking up every day wanting to go back to my “simpler life” where I didn’t try to find people to connect with and in need of connection, where I didn’t have to write a blog every Saturday, when my investments were all sunk into just me and my immediate family and closest friends.

My friends, what I have now realized is that those sunk costs had me sunk!  I was drowning in them.  I was mired in a morass of my own self-absorption, intent on getting and keeping what was mine, whether that was a firmly held belief that I could think my way through life, intellectualizing my feelings and casting God and Spirit aside or nesting comfortably in repeating the same victory dance, over and over again, after bringing home one complex staffing or employee service project after another until they all started to blend together into one big, blurred and distorted image of myself as the staffing and services hero of the century.  Why shouldn’t I stay in this niche, after all this is what I am known for, this is what my reputation is built on?  I have all this heavy, artistic clear glass with writing on it on my desk-that must mean something right?! Something, yes…EVERYTHING-Wrong!

What I have now realized is that those sunk costs had me sunk!

In much the same way as my faith and career, my limitations in my relationships with others took on a similar, insular feel.  I have an incredible wife, great kids (the best in fact -sorry other husbands and fathers) and a fantastic family.  I have a few friends and mentors that have been with me since I was a messed up kid.  Why wasn’t that enough?  I had already sunk all that time and effort into making those friends and keeping the threads of my family together, so why should I expand my circle to other people?

This is precisely the kind of thinking that limits so many of us today, it is only exacerbated by social media and the ability to lose ourselves in entire weekends of streaming television and movies.  We choose to invest in the “select few” people we feel “most safe” around.  We deceptively fool ourselves into believing we have expanded our network by gathering surface deep friends on social media and we avoid connection by connecting to Netflix and Hulu. Don’t get me wrong I do all these same things and that is why I am so familiar with the temptation to be drawn into that world.  (In fact, I love to believe many of my freinds out there are much more than surface deep.) I am tempted every single waking hour to just lose my introverted self in the rich worlds of Instagram or Pinterest or soak in the endorphins and “feel good about myself| for all of my many connections measured simply by the number of likes I receive(d) on Facebook. My wife and I are known to suck on the sugary sweet lollipop of Hallmark movies too great excess.  It is so easy to disappear in nostalgia watching an 80’s or 90’s gorgeous TV star fall in love with an equally ravishing former star in a ridiculously luxurious setting, while they try to slide Apple product placements in under your mesmerized nose.  So I am not advocating abstinence. In fact, I would love it if you shared this blog with all your friends on all your social media outlets! (There are some Handy dandy links below. :)- )

A starvation diet from all these things is not what I am calling for.  What I am challenging you to do (if you recognize yourself in anything I am saying) is to balance your diet and add in some new things. I’m asking you to look around you at the doors you have left unopened.  Are you staying in the same job role at work way too long, leaving doors to other careers, companies or cultures that would be a better fit closed? Did someone invite you to an event and you refused to go so you could stay home, “Netflix” and eat a pizza? Did you say more than just “hi” to that person behind the deli counter at the grocery store or the DMV? Did you ask them how their day was? Maybe use their name?  Did someone invite you to church or youth group, but you were “washing your car or your hair” that day? Again, I’m not suggesting you turn your whole life upside down in a day or a week or a month. I’m asking you to open a door or two.

I’m inviting you to pay attention to the doors that are put in front of you, the ones that are begging to be opened.  Notice the bids for attention or emotional connection that people around you are making and respond to them! Engage in a conversation,  go to just one group meeting or event, take one step towards a new role in your career.  Let go of the sunk costs, release the anchor of what is holding you back.  You won’t regret it.  I promise you that what is waiting for you on the other side is better than you could ever imagine.  We are built to be connected, we are built to be in circles with other people and we are made to soar!


P.S. (…I am serious about what I said above, someone asked me the other day if it was ok to share this-what? it is more than OK! Please share.  If you know anyone who would benefit from this blog, please share it using the links provided. I am writing this blog to reach you and other people like you so they can be inspired and encouraged to find Light and love, be better leaders and laugh in ways they may not have thought possible- so please share. If there are things about this that make you hesitate to share, let me know, I love feedback!)

What my grandfather taught me about being full of C.H.I.T.

There is a hilarious image I have in mind of a cartoonish, slightly more balding version of me, giving myself a Homer Simpson slap on the forehead and exclaiming “DOH!” as I think back on just how many things I got wrong as I was growing up.  For instance, one of the biggest realizations I’ve had is that my Pepop, my now ninety plus-year-old grandfather, was far wiser than I ever gave him credit for when I was a young man and a teenager.

I used to think when this balding, beer and garbage truck-driving, Brooklyn, NY, through and through, quintessentially Italian “welfare wop” (as some straight out of the Appalachian Trail mountain folks I used to know dubbed us), gave me advice, that he was a bit naive.  If I am being really honest, although I worshipped this man, occasionally, I thought that Pepop, who was a brilliant storyteller, was more full of “$hit” than he was CHIT (I’ll explain this acronym in a minute).  This was most true, one time when he gave me the following advice:

“Be average Johnny, don’t be no better than nobody and don’t be no worse”

I remember thinking, as a brash young person, that this meant he wanted me to be ordinary and not stand out or try to achieve great things.  My developing brain could not grasp what he meant as I helped him create garlic-filled culinary delights from my stove-side perch on the kitchen chair.  While I was always anxious to hear his advice, I didn’t listen as well as I could have.  Even as he would share his working man’s wisdom with me, I always had a good bit of my arrogant-“I’m gonna make it outta this hood” filter on.

That kind of chip develops early when you feel like your life is not as good as the one other people are living around you.  Your shoulder gets heavy at a young age when trapped in comparisons with the kids who have the trademark surfer wear and Levi’s and live in the middle-class neighborhood and you are wearing Salvation army clothes and helping your grandfather cook with salvaged veggies from the Publix dumpster across the street.

I now know that was all an unnecessary narrative I told myself in a vain attempt to be the hero of my own pity party story.  I now know that I had everything that was most important right there, exemplified in a man who worked his butt off to help us have a nice Sunday dinner and then came home and cooked it on Sunday with very few complaints and an abundance of joy and laughter.  I now know what he really was trying to tell me. Some of you may not follow Jesus, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that following Him has helped me figure this out, albeit much later than I would have liked.  Whether you agree that He is the answer or not, I hope you appreciate what I recently learned about how to encapsulate this learning from Northpoint ministries.  Here is my re-write of his advice with that knowledge and without the chip on my shoulder.

“Johnny -the key to life is to be full of CHIT at all times. Johnny be Curious, be Humble, be Intentional and be Teachable.” Don’t compare yourself to others.  Don’t try to outdo them.  Don’t think you are lesser than them.  Just be who you were created to be and love others as you would yourself along the way.

(oh…. and “pass me dat oregano,” this needs much, much, much more oregano, always more, never enough, like covering the top of the dark, rich red sauce in a pasture of green amount of the $hit.)

It is not easy to achieve and I fail at it every single day, but I believe it is inestimably worthwhile to try and assume this posture in life.  Are you full of CHIT? What steps can you take to be more full of this posture today? Tomorrow? All the days going forward?

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoys its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”
‭‭James‬ ‭3:13-18‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Recipe for a Hallmark movie

1 part 80’s or 90’s TV star – preferably B or C list (sometimes they double this)

1 part lovely single woman who has experienced tragedy, loss and/or heartbreak (or is just profoundly misunderstood by her current boyfriend who is either completely milk toast (or just mean to waiters)

1 part dreamy or dashing single dude who works as a carpenter, farm hand or country doctor (often he is a widower or has had his heart broken)

Mix briskly with sugary sweet dialog and a healthy dash of shameless product placement (Apple I’m talking to you)

Let it rise with a chance meeting, initially they never like each other much (but you can feel the romantic tension in the air)

After it rises, swirl in some extremely minor conflict, not so thrilling story twist and/or an old curmudgeon or sweet Aunt or Uncle character from a rival 80″s or 90s TV show meddling in the couple’s affairs

Bake it into a formulaic, completely predictably plot

After cooling, ice it with some flashbacks or clips of the torn and / or perplexed would be lovers anguishing over the temporary breakup/fight/contrived conflict

Serve with a happy and equally syrupy ending where they kiss/get married/ride off into the sunset while the uncle / aunt character cheers them on

This dish is best served with a compliment of Hallmark commercials that make you ball your eyes out even though you are a grown man and are only watching because you got sucked in by committing the crime of walking by the TV/laying in bed trying to go to sleep and/or wanting to spend time with your wife
Bon Apetit!!!

Better Together (ish) ??


Embrace the Contrarians in Your Midst

Contrarian: Urban dictionary definition

Someone who automatically tends to take the opposite point of view from the person to whom they’re speaking, or to disagree with society at large out of a sort of knee-jerk reflex.

I love these examples the Urban Dictionary gives for one of their definitions of a contrarian.  This definition, and these examples, fittingly, the first one that came up in my search, fit the myriad of contrarians in my life to a tee.

Here are the examples the Urban Dictionary folks give:

Friend: I’ve got some ice cream, you want vanilla or chocolate?
Contrarian: Um, do you have strawberry?
Friend: I love indie rock, you heard of these guys?
Contrarian: Yeah, but they’re not really that indie, though.
Friend: I guess you’re too contrary to vote Democrat or Republican, right? So, what, Libertarian? Green Party? …Socialist Party?
Contrarian: Of course not, I don’t think that any formal political party is a suitable representation of an individual’s views.
Friend: *sigh*

Having contrarians in your daily life, at your dinner table, in your workplace, and in your community organization can be maddening at times.  If you recognize this definition or these examples and you can start rattling off names, you are in good company my friend.  However, have you ever taken a step back from the hair pulling, head shaking and frustration to really appreciate these creatures?  Have you thought what life would be like without them?  I have.

Embrace the contrarians

In a world devoid of contrarians, society would lose a great deal of its color and its contrast.  We would all be so damn agreeable and self-effacing or just plain ambivalent that we might just fade away into the gray nothingness of our own ceaseless accommodation to each other and to society (ever seen the movie Wall-e?).  In a world devoid of contrarians, where we don’t have people who take the opposing viewpoint, seemingly just for the sake of taking it, who would force us to challenge our assumptions and biases?  In this deceptively blissful world, where we all strive to make our children comply, which kid would show our kids what it is like to joyfully and blissfully flout all the playground norms and try daring and brave things?  How exactly, would we be forced to understand and reflect upon how we are being taken advantage of by institutions or people around us? Would everyone simply order only what was described on the menu with no variations? Who would tell us we are being cheated out of our God-given rights and freedoms or our 39.5278 cents? Who would remind us we are living in a bubble of “passionate” agreeability?

I could give you endless examples of the ways that a world without these folks would be less vibrant, less meaningful and just plain boring, but if I’ve done my job, you are already thinking of the ways the contrarians in your life have pushed you out of your comfort zone.  If I’ve made you reflect on what life would be like without the contrarians you know and love, you already see a world where you don’t want to live. A world where you would likely fail to thrive and grow.

My advice to you is the same thing I’ve been coaching myself to do.  Especially when I am ready to lose my mind over something they say or do or I feel somehow injured by these people (this is typically only due to my own frailties, i.e. I can’t always handle the truth, ala A Few Good Men.) I advise you to learn to appreciate these people.  Learn from them.  You are not going to agree with them (much of the time).  I do not think that is the point of their existence anyway.  I think they are there to make us stretch.  They are there to make us see life from another point of view.  They are there, simply, to make us better.

Thank you, contrarians, in my life.  I am sure you will disagree with the way I wrote this article, some or all of my thoughts and opinions, or maybe even say it makes absolutely no sense to you, but that is not the takeaway.  The takeaway is: thank you for being you, keep doing that (as if anyone could stop you) and I love you.


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