Cub Scouts and Race Cars

I recently had the honor of accepting the Good Scout Award on behalf of my company. What follows are the few words that I said at the awards ceremony.

The Boy Scouts have always held a special place for me. My wife and I were very active when my two sons were in the scouting program in Connecticut; we served on many committees and worked to make the principles of scouting a part of both of their lives.

I went on many campouts with my sons’ troop. I remember them well. And, one of the reasons that I remember them so well is that it always rained. This troop was plagued with rain. One of the most important early lessens that I learned was how to trench the tent. For those of you not familiar with tent trenching, the idea is to use a shovel to dig a trench around the outside of the tent before you go to bed at night. If it rains during the night, the rain runs off the tent into the trench and away from the tent rather than under it. It took a few trips for anyone to explain tent trenching to me. I suspect that my sons thought that it was pretty funny watching dad get up the next morning with a soaked sleeping bag. But I eventually learned tent trenching and survived the campouts.

But, long before that, when I was a boy—long, long ago- I was in the scouting program in Colorado, from Cub Scout to first class scout (In full disclosure, I never made it close to Eagle Scout), but I still remember many of the things that I learned from that program.

Many of the practical things I still use today, for example: how to build a fire, how to use a pocket knife, how to use tools. Many of the lessons that I learned go much deeper than that. I learned how it felt being accepted and accepting others into a group. I learned the importance of allegiance to our great country. But perhaps the most important thing that I learned was helping others.

In that regard, I remember when I was a scout, a boy in my group, Joe, had a father who was serving in Vietnam. Now, it came time in our troop for the annual pinewood derby, and at one meeting the leaders handed out the pinewood derby kits. Now, for those of you who have had no experience with the pinewood derby, these kits consist of a block of wood, four plastic wheels and four nails. The thought of turning that meager set of ingredients into a reasonable facsimile of a car that can very quickly slide down rails on a track can be intimidating for many fathers, but you can imagine what it was like for Joe who had no father at home.

I remember when my father found out about Joe’s predicament, he promptly volunteered to help Joe carve his car. You see, my father recognized that there can be no more integral part of scouting than helping others.  We had Joe over to our house many nights as the two of us took these blocks of wood, and with my father’s help, turned them into to race cars.

I have long since lost track of Joe, and my father recently passed away, but I will never forget the look of pride on that boy’s face when that car was done and raced down that track, and I will never forget how important that lessen of helping others was to me.

Every day, we are faced with media stories of young men, who are troubled, of drug problems of shootings of knifings or maybe just as significantly, of youth who simply sit around on the couch and play video games—who unplug themselves from society.

That is not what life should be about. We owe it to our young men to work with them to teach them principles by which they can reasonably live their lives.

So many times we rely on our schools to raise our young men. Schools serve a significant role, but schools alone cannot raise our youth.  We, as mothers and fathers must play an active role in that process.

And, there is no better way of working with our young men, than through the Boy Scouts of America. Whether carving pinewood derby cars with them or camping in the woods, we need to be right there with them, teaching them and working with them.

For more information on surviving life’s everyday predicaments, please read my book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.


Of Puppies and People


As has been evident from my past posts and book, The Freshly Single Man, my wife of 25 years died six years ago. I was left with two sons and a dog. My existence was a mess. I was thrown into a life altering situation where I had to learn quickly how to manage my son’s lives, a household and a dog while continuing with my professional career. It was not easy, but over time, I learned how to survive, and I prided myself in taking command of my new life.

A year ago, my dog, Cinder, died. That dog and I went through a lot together. After my wife’s death, she wasted away to nothing, depressed that her main care giver was no longer there to care for her. But, she and I formed a new bond, and when my sons’ left for college and law school, that dog and I were there for each other. After Cinder’s death, it took a year for me to reach the point of even considering a new dog. Not only was I morning her death, but I had developed a new life. I could do anything that I wanted to whenever I wanted to. I was foot loose and fancy free. I was not sure that a dog would fit into this new lifestyle of mine.

But, there was something missing in my life, and I was becoming so regimented in my habits that any little intrusion into my daily routine would become a great annoyance to me. I did not want to admit that there was anything that I could not address quickly and get back to the routine that I had developed. My life had fallen into a rut. Perhaps I was not as foot loose and fancy free as I thought.

While my youngest son was home from college for the summer, we began talking about getting a puppy. I told him that I did not think that I was ready but that I would look into it. As any good college student would do, he got on the internet and found a dog breeder with a litter about to go home. With more than a little trepidation, my son and I drove to New Hampshire and I got a puppy.

My life was turned upside down! The routine that I had developed was gone. The puppy, Rory, was not housebroken and really had little desire to make inroads in that direction. Every waking hour was spent feeding, walking, cleaning up after or watching the newest member of my family. It was like having a baby again. I became very depressed. I began to think that I had made a huge mistake in acquiring this “8 pounds of hell”.

As a few weeks have gone by, I am beginning to learn how to deal with this puppy business. It has not been easy, but we are making headway. She at least seems to understand outside from inside and that what I expect her to do outside, I do not expect her to do inside. It is a start. More importantly, she clearly wants to please me. There is nothing more gratifying than looking down into the face of a puppy and realizing that they will do anything just for a little attention. We are bonding.

Now, in looking at the bigger picture of my life, I needed a puppy. I needed something in my life that I could not fully control, something that would shake up my life, something that would cause me to reassess what is important to me. It has not been an easy thing, for change brings insecurity and insecurity brings discomfort and sadness. But, it also brings a new beginning, a new way of looking at things, a reordering of life. Now and then, a puppy is not a bad thing.

For more information on how to address life’s issues as a suddenly single man, read my book, The Freshly Single Man.

Band-Aids and Christmas Trees


The other day, I was taking down the Christmas tree and a tremendous sadness overcame me. I knew why I was sad, and I knew before I started the task that I would be sad. You see, six years ago my wife and I were taking down the Christmas tree and she had a seizure. We both knew the cause. Six months prior to that Christmas, she had had surgery to remove a brain tumor. After the surgery and extensive radiation therapy, we were foolishly convinced that the tumor would not return. The seizure was the first indication that we were wrong. Nine months later she died.

When I was a young boy, I always had a fairly extensive amount of hair on my legs and arms. Whenever I would cut or scrape myself– which occurred frequently with two older brothers–I would place a band-aid over the wound to stop the blood. Band-aids are extremely effective for this purpose. But, the band aid must eventually be removed. I learned early on that there are two ways to accomplish this removal: by lifting up one edge and slowly pulling it off as it sticks to each individual piece of hair, or by rapidly yanking it off all at once. While there might be room for reasonable debate as to the best removal method, let me just say that I prefer the latter. I have no stomach for delaying the process. In the end, rapid removal is no more painful, but the process is over much more quickly.

Which brings me back to the Christmas tree. Christmas came and went this year, as did New Years. The day after New Years I knew that I had two choices when it came to the dried up tree: I could find things to occupy my day and stall the process, or I could just get it done and move on. I did the latter.

So often we avoid direct confrontation with our inner demons. We delay and convince ourselves that there is no hurry, no reason to disturb the emotional band-aid. But, what I have found is that emotional scars, like band-aids must eventually be dealt with. The question then becomes, should I do it slowly, or should I rip it off all at once? Only you can make that decision, but moving on is impossible until the whole band-aid comes off.

Happy New Year.

For more information about surviving life’s tragedies, read my book The Freshly Single Man.

Holidays and Ponies

IMG_0019Ahh, the holidays are here again. While joyous in many ways, holidays present intense emotional challenges, particularly when a loved one is no longer with us. The worst time is the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We have survived Thanksgiving dinner, but now we face a build up–the endless preparations, anticipation and reminders of Holidays past–to a crescendo at Christmas. We think of whom we were with in years gone by and how happy we were then. How could we ever be that happy again? But, this can also be a time of great optimism. A new year is just around the corner and with the beginning of a new year, the possibility of greater things to come.

I recently ran across the following story:

A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. Just to see what would happen, on Christmas day their father loaded the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist’s room he loaded with horse manure. That night the father passed by the pessimist’s room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. “Why are you crying?” the father asked. “Because my friends will be jealous, I’ll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I’ll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken.” answered the pessimist twin. Passing the optimist twin’s room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. “What are you so happy about?” he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

This time of year, it is easy to become the pessimistic twin, to cry over things that we cannot control, over situations in which we find ourselves through no fault of our own, and to worry about what others will think of us. But does it help? Of course not!

Be the optimistic twin. There is a pony in the manure pile. Survive the end of this year and look ahead, not back. Reinvent yourself for the New Year and many new years to come.

To learn more about surviving difficult conditions that we face in life, please read my recently published book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.

Of Heroes and Pink Flamingos

I recently had the opportunity to run a 5K road race to honor and raise funds for charities started by the friends and family of a young woman named Vickie Soto. Vickie Soto was a young first grade teacher at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Vickie Soto loved children and loved teaching them. She also had a penchant for pink flamingos. For those of you who still do not recognize the name, Vickie Soto was killed when a deranged individual shot his way into her school with an assault rifle. He killed 26 people that day, including 20 first grade children in two classrooms. Vickie Soto was the teacher in one of those classrooms. While we will never know exactly what happened during that shooting rampage, all indications are the Vickie Soto died attempting to hide and protect the young children in her class.

They called her a hero. But what is a hero? Mark Twin wrote, “Unconsciously we all have a standard by which we measure other men [and women], and if we examine closely we find that this standard is a very simple one, and is this: we admire them, we envy them, for great qualities we ourselves lack. Hero worship consists in just that. Our heroes are men [and woman] who do things which we recognize, with regret, and sometimes with a secret shame, that we cannot do. We find not much in ourselves to admire, we are always privately wanting to be like somebody else. If everybody was satisfied with himself /herself], there would be no heroes.”

The day of the 5K run was rainy, windy and cold. Nearly 3,000 people, many dressed like pink flamingos, sodden and shaking with cold, waited at the start line. And then we ran. And as I slogged through the puddles, my toes numb with cold, I wondered to myself why I had not just rolled back over in bed that morning. What was the point of running on that dreadful day? I knew that I could run 5 kilometers. The question was, why do it on that cold and miserable occasion?

As I ran past the plastic pink flamingos used to mark the course, it occurred to me that the reason that I was running that day was that I was not satisfied with myself. That as I shivered from the cold and the wind, I could not possibly be what she was. That I could never demonstrate the courage that she demonstrated that fateful day, that day of her death. I was running because I wanted to be more like Vickie Soto.

Thank God for heroes and pink flamingos for without them we would have no reason to strive to be greater than ourselves. We would have no reason to get up from our warm and comfortable beds. We could not survive that which appears to be beyond our ability to withstand.

To learn more about surviving difficult conditions that we face in life, please read my recently published book, The Freshly Single Man’s Guide to Household Survival.

What heroes have inspired you?


imageSurvival guides describe a horrifying scenario in which a car you are driving runs off the road and lands in a body of water. The electric windows have shorted out and no longer function. As the car sinks further into the water, the pressure of the water outside makes it impossible to push the doors open. You are trapped with a limited supply of oxygen as you watch the water rise higher and higher outside the car. Claustrophobia sets in and you begin to panic. You have to do something quickly to survive!

What you learn from these survival guides is that you have one technique available to you; you have to wait until the car fills fully with water so that the pressure of the water inside the doors equals the pressure of the water outside the doors. They will then open. Can you imagine the patience that this would require? To wait there quietly as death approaches. To prepare yourself. To take a deep breath. To wait there for just the right moment to act.

Fulton Sheen once said that “Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is ‘timing’ it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.” How seldom we recognize this principle. We expect immediate results. We demand, not only of ourselves, but of others, immediate action. When something is broken, fix it now!

But, not everything can be fixed so quickly. Why is that? As in the case of the sinking car, some things are beyond our control. We cannot control the laws of physics; it is only when sufficient time has passed that the pressure on both sides of the car door stabilizes and permits it to open. An easy enough principle, yet one so often forgotten in our daily lives.

My last post, “Freedom”, highlighted the importance of redefining our lives, of determining anew “what we have to lose”. At the top of my list of things important in my life is having a supportive relationship with my sons. God knows the issues that I have encountered in raising them on my own since my wife’s death! Sometimes I wonder if such a relationship is possible. As hard as I have tried quickly to fix the offending issues, the fix seems simply beyond my control. But, I believe that the end game is worth the effort. So, I will not admit defeat; I will “wait on the right time to act, for the right principles, and in the right way.” I will have patience, for patience is power!

When was the last time that patience provided power in your life?

To learn other important tips on household survival, see my book, The Freshly Single Man.