Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Son -- Soon to Be Twelve

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

-- Kahlil Gibran

When I was married to my previous husband, we got pregnant on my birthday August 7. We found out the baby's due date was on his birthday, April 29 or 30 (forgive me for forgetting but he is my ex now, so...) Frankly, I thought that was pretty special. Turns out, he came late and was born on May 2 instead. (I may post later about why the doctors were so very glad he came has to do with my contracting poison sumac while mowing the lawn at 9 months pregnant. But that's a story for another day.) 

This post is in honor of my favorite human -- James Sumner Freeman Futrell (yes, officially).

Today is April 25, and as my beautiful son's birthday approaches, I reflect on the purpose he has brought to my life and the blessing he has been to me -- and to Michael, my current/last/forever husband -- and James REAL father. Although we share our feelings openly in this family and we encourage one another to honor the god-within each of us, I cannot put into appropriate words for my soon-to-be twelve year old to understand the depths to which he has journeyed in his young life. He is quite spiritual for his age and he is gifted with sensitivities that most do not have or cherish if they do. However, as he gets older and better able to process thoughts, words and actions, I share with him stories of his past, stories of our predecessors, stories of great men and women world wide, throughout history. I encourage him to read and when he reads, to read of meaningful events in time, special people in history, unique places in the world. My hope is to continue a tradition of curious exploration of the world around him, and more importantly, the world within him. 

He has read a great deal about the Holocaust and then visited the Holocaust Museum. He has read about Al Capone and visited Alcatraz where his grandfather once treated the prisoners. He has read about Louie Zamperini and actually visited with this most amazing man about which "Unbroken" was written. He has read about Don Quixote and now knows perception is everything. The way we choose to see the world is how it shall be -- even though we may not always be able to control what happens to us, we can control how we perceive it. We create our own reality.

Until James was about nine years old, we read together as a family. Now, he reads on his own. Unfortunately, he has discovered "Minecraft" (ugh) so he doesn't embrace the reading as oft. However, we require a half-hour of reading daily -- no excuses. 

When he was younger, we read this silly little book together where we had to answer specific questions throughout. As James approaches twelve, I delight in re-reading our answers. In honor of my little man for his twelfth birthday, I laugh out loud, cry out loud and still wonder with amazement about the purpose he has brought to our lives. Some are serious, some are funny, all are meaningful and true. Enjoy...

Three words that best describe you: 
Mike: 1. picky eater, 2. loving, and 3. gregarious
Susan: 1. conscientious, 2. loving, and 3. smart

Favorite things to do with you:
Mike: Read as a family; playing sports
Susan: Reading; getting yogurt; visiting one-on-one because you make me laugh; talking about life and God; listening in when you and dad say your prayers together; travelling because James is an awesome travel pal.

Favorite nickname for you:
Mike: Peanut
Susan: Giacomo-mo

If you were a cookie, you'd be:
Mike: Chocolate Chip - my favorite
Susan: Chocolate Chip - everyone's fave

The first time I saw you I felt:
Mike: Jealous of all the hair
Susan: Overwhelmed with love and wonder; fear that I could not possibly love you as you deserve

I'm so proud of you because:
Mike: You are committed to your school work
Susan: You are joy-filled and you bring a smile to everyone you meet

If you were a movie you'd be:
Mike: an action adventure
Susan: a slapstick comedy

A story we will never tire of:
When James went totally unnoticed by the secret service and hung out on the beach with President Obama and his family 

Thank you for teaching me:
Mike: To pray to God with authenticity
Susan: To be patient and have compassion

I love when you help me:
Mike: Cook
Susan: Cook

I love it when you:
Mike: Sing; play sports; laugh; do the chicken dance
Susan: Laugh; do your homework; help others

You always make me laugh when you:
Mike: Fart 
Susan: Quote Calvin and Hobbes

Here are some ways you've changed my life:
Mike: Made me younger; brought verve into my life; I know love
Susan: You are the reason I breathe, my reason for being

I always appreciate when you:
Mike: Hug me
Susan: Use your manners

The thing I admire most about you is:
Mike: Wisdom; compassion for others
Susan: Value of God, self, others -- in that order; zest for life

If you were an animal, you'd be:
Mike: A squirrel trying to get a nut
Susan: A genius breed of dog

The quirky things I love about you:
Mike: That you read Calvin and Hobbes while on the pot
Susan: That you are bold and brave -- even in the face of bullies hurting others

I predict when you grow up, you'll be:
Mike: Older! Ha ha ha (oh, and hairy); successful
Susan: Happy, healthy, and strong

I will never forget the first time you:
Mike: Called me "Dad"
Mom: Got sick, threw up -- and I convinced you it was because Auntie Michelle Forte gave you McDonald's french fries

I love the little everyday things we do like:
Mike: Brush our teeth together every night
Susan: I eavesdrop on you and your dad when you say your prayers at night

As you grow up, James (Peanut, Giacomo-mo), my advice to you is:
Mike: Live life to the fullest -- no regrets!
Susan: Always be honest; respect yourself and others; and laugh -- a lot! 

We LOVE you wholly, with no reservation, with no condition. We respect you. We honor you. 


Friday, April 19, 2013

My Grandmother: A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

"Mama Rosa knew a lot of medicine. She probably never heard of the word 'genetics,' and if she did she probably didn't understand it's importance. But before her son got married, Mama Rosa wanted not only to meet the woman he was marrying, but her mother, her father, her sister, aunts, uncles, and any other kin. As Mama Rosa was fond of saying, 'The acorn don't fall far from the tree!'"

--James A. Freeman, MD

Those words are quite ironic considering Grandma Rosa's past. 

I remember that I had my own room at my grandma Rose’s home. It was cozy and quaint --and best of all, all mine. I stayed there a lot as my father and mother were very, very busy adults who had me "later in life." (I suppose “Susan” was a much nicer name than “Oh shit!”) I loved my grandma’s house. She cooked and cleaned, taught me to bake lemon meringue pies, watched spaghetti westerns, and had a baby Jesus atop her TV. I remember her yelling out to the good guy, "Watch it! Watch that snake in the grass!" And then she would go about change baby Jesus' vestments in accordance with whatever Catholic holy day it was. Yes, she was Catholic – Sicilian Catholic, not Catholic light, as I am.

She went to church every morning, dropped her quarter in the offerings box, lit a candle, and said a prayer -- all before mass. Then she would genuflect at the pew, slide down the bench to her same spot, get down on her knees and begin to pray the rosary. She prayed that rosary over and over, again and again throughout the entire mass. I always wondered if she ever heard one word of the sermon.

She was quite an interesting person. She too was a rebel. Apparently, I come from a long line of rebellious women. Anyway, she was one of many and I think the oldest of the girls. Let’s see, there were six for certain, perhaps seven (I cannot be sure): Guyatano (they called him Guy), Rosa, Angelo, Mary, Lawrence (they called him Bootsie; I don’t know why), and Tina.

Their mother, “Great Grandma Louise” was still alive when I was a little girl – and man was she alive. She was the meanest woman I had ever known in my five years of life. We’d go to visit her and she would yell and scream about my new shoes and how people are starving and here I am in new shoes. Wow. I was five so of course, she scared the hell out of me. She’d make me take my new shoes off – she wouldn’t have them in her house. She spoke Italian and barely any English, as I recall. However, like most of us, she knew how to curse you in many a language. My mom would send me out of the house and into the garden to see the strawberries and such while my dad and she visited with Great Grandma Louise. I always thought it odd that we would go visit this cranky old lady without my Grandma Rosa – after all, wasn’t it HER job? Great Grandma Louise was a hard core Sicilan, a very black or white, “my way or the highway”...well, no -- more like “my way or you’re dead to me” kind of woman. She was EXTREMELY Catholic -- I mean nervy enough to call out the Pope when he was being “stupido!” She’d say, “Che cosa che problema?!” Actually she would yell it. Now that I’m older I realize it may have been poor hearing that caused her to yell. However, poor hearing had nothing to do with her being angry all the time.

Her daughter, my grandmother, could not have been more different. She was the perfect grandma. She clearly chose me as her favorite grand child and all my cousins knew it. Though I don’t believe they hated me for it. I think because I was so much younger than they and my mom simply wasn’t as engaged in the mothering thing, as my grandma was. I was forbidden to drink Coca-Cola or eat donuts or cookies so what was it grandma let me do every time I was there? Yep. She’d say, “Now don’t tell your mama” and she’d send my grandpa out to get freshly made donuts at Sims’ Bakery on Railroad Avenue. When I’d awaken before school, hot donuts were on the table...along with a cold Coke. I scarf down this breakfast of champions before I would walk by myself across this huge field that separated my grandma’s house on Bubba Street from my elementary school.

I remember thinking how lucky I was to get to stay at her house for days on end. I never thought to ask her where my parents where and why I was staying at her house. However, as I grew older I began to ask about my grandma and why she never went to see Great Grandma Louise. As it turns out -- Great Grandma Louise banished Rosa from the family.

Rosa ran away from home at age 16 and got a job with the railroad. It is beyond belief that she survived at such a young age -- and in that era. With that, she saved enough money to get through nursing school in New Orleans and ultimately became a Registered Nurse.

Somewhere along the line she met a professional gambler. Wow -- how exciting that must have been. He was older than she but they got along well and had fallen in love. He asked her to marry and she said yes. She told her mother of her happiness and in Great Grandma Louise-style, she was exiled from the family. Why? Because he was Jewish. Alvin (Al) Freeman was a brilliant professional gambler who decided to take my grandmother as his bride. Yes, they travelled and gambled and swindled and saved. Perhaps history has it that she used some of that money for nursing school. As I am not exactly certain of the chronology, I cannot be sure. Nevertheless, they had some fun. When Rosa got pregnant, they settled down. She practiced nursing and they had three children, James, Robert, and Joan Lee. (Yes, all the women in my family went by two names not just one – Joan Lee on my father’s side and Joan Lou on my mother’s side, and then there is my mother, Janet Sue, of course).

My grandfather was accustomed to being treated poorly because he was Jewish. The sick-and-twisteds of the world were alive and well then as much or more than they are now. His own father had changed their name from Friedman to Freeman so they would not be known as Jews. It was a measure he took to protect his family. He went to great lengths to do so. Oddly, the poor fellow was struck by lightening and killed in the doorway of his home – or so the story goes.

Anyway, Rosa and Al settled down and raised their three children. Unfortunately, when James (may father) was only ten, Al died, leaving Rosa to raise three children on her own – and that she did. She became a hard-nosed, no holds barred, git ‘er done kinda gal and was going to “make it” at all costs. She REALLY did walk four miles to work and four miles back each day to keep food on the table. It sounds cliché but in this case – it is not. It was easy in a small town, raising three kids who were Jewish (they decided on Judaism as their faith at the time) as a single Catholic woman. She really did not know what to do with the children as far as their faith went, as she was raised by such a strict Catholic, she felt they may suffer for being not enough of either. With Al dead, who would teach the children? She decided to raise the children Catholic after all. However, by then, my father had known and loved the Jewish faith. It spoke to him. He made the switch, however and they were all raised Catholic in small-town Louisiana. It made things a bit easier for my Rosa, I am sure.

I remember stories of a chilling night when the kids had run out of firewood and they were home alone as Rosa was at the hospital working. They were so very cold, they made the decision to chop down every door in the house, save for the one to the outside and the one to the bathroom. They burned the doors as firewood and tried to collaborate on what to tell their mother when she came home. As the story goes, they lived in a shotgun shack on the wrong side of the tracks. People used to tease them and say, “You’re so poor, even the blacks won’t talk to you.”

For those who knew my father, they know he grew up to help many, many, people of every race, religion, and age – he even helped those who made fun of him and called him “monkey” as a child.

Over time, Rosa raised some fine children. She did remarry -- the Fire Marshal -- oddly enough. She continued to practice nursing at the local hospital, long after her son ended up owning it. She continued to praise her baby Jesus, in the house my father built her. Together, they all went on to value God, family and education, in that order. She was quite a tough cookie and proved to be an amazing woman. A woman I am proud to emulate and blessed to have known.

She had gone in for exploratory surgery, as they feared she had a tumor in her stomach. After finding her insides riddled, they removed most of her stomach. She did not do so well after that. I remember that I was going on my senior trip during her surgery. Knowing how close she and I had been, they did not want her to die while I was gone so they kept her on life-support until I returned. Upon return I went to the hospital. I was immediately regretful for seeing her so white, weak, lifeless.

Grandma Rose died the night of my first cousin Lisa’s wedding. She was a lawyer marrying another big-time lawyer and it was quite the extravaganza at the Pentagon Barracks along the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. Her father was a high-ranking elected state official at the time so everyone who was anyone was there – except my Grandma Rose. I miss her – and to this day, when I look to find a strong, smart, driven, never-give-up role model in my life, I see only her. She still moves me.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Mother and Her Sister -- Mostly, Her Sister

The older population--persons 65 years or older--numbered 39.6 million in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available). They represented 12.9% of the U.S. population, about one in every eight Americans. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million older persons, more than twice their number in 2000. People 65+ represented 12.4% of the population in the year 2000 but are expected to grow to be 19% of the population by 2030. 

-- Department of Health and Hospitals Administration on Aging

We all understand that there are changes in the hormone system. There is decreased sex hormone secretion and, for those married for many years, decreased sex. Perhaps not for the same reason. The atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that occurs as an aging change in the brain, produces decreased circulation, thus low oxygenation. Such people have temporary loss of memory, some hallucinations, and still their memory for events many years prior becomes lessened. Some of our older national politicians may give speeches that substitute fact with "recollections" from their younger lives -- which we call confabulations. This is true for all of us, but we don't get press coverage. As we age, our mental alertness is not quite as bouncy. 

I am sure you know of a loved one who has experienced or is experiencing such a life event. I do.

My mother is going to be 77 years old this May (or is it 78, see my memory is shot already). She has had an interesting life -- much of which I cannot write about yet. However, as I grew more spiritually mature and aware of my own humanness, I learned to accept her for who she is, not how I had hoped she would be. 

Let's start with her mother...Dorothy Kleinhans Harper. She was a fascinating woman. She was strong, independent, and brilliant. She was considered quite attractive although not beautiful. She was a woman of great privilege, as she and her Thaddeus owned a chain of hardware stores in Kansas. They were a very formal couple. My mother used to tell me stories of how she and her sister had to eat in the kitchen with the help at 5:00 PM and the adults would dine and entertain other guests in the formal dining room at 7:00 PM. They would dress in their finest for dinner when they had guests. 

The children were to be seen and not heard and once paraded about, they were escorted out -- and put to bed. Dorothy was never known for exuding motherly love. I believe children simply impeded her progress. I am not sure what her goals in life were but she was quite successful -- in her career. She had been a true-blue flapper in the 20s and had worked for Chevron long before it was the lady-like thing to do. (I'm not sure it is even lady-like today to be a woman in a powerful company, much less a powerful woman in any company.) I do know the pictures I have seen paint a life of controlled chaos. Her breasts were bound to make her flat-chested and she had sparkly bands about her head and yes, even the long cigarette holder, opera-length pearls -- and gloves. 

She was always very open, honest, and direct -- with an attitude. She never liked children much, as they encumbered her fast living. She took risks and lived a high life. It was the 1920s when she divorced Thaddeus Harper. Divorce was not very popular back then, especially when young children were involved. However, divorce they did. 

Dorothy and Thaddeus had two girls, one was five-years older than the other. They couldn't have been more different. Joan Lou (Joanie) was a sassy, skinny, precocious beauty with a wit and wisdom far beyond her years. She was absolutely brilliant. So brilliant, she really struggled with her boredom of the regular Joes -- and grown-ups alike. The younger was Janet Sue (just Janet), and she was the sweet, shy, compliant, obedient, good girl whose self-esteem was as low as Joanie's was high. Joanie was confident, cocky, assertive, even aggressive -- and she loved boys. She loved boys mostly because she could experiment with them. They were just so easy, so simple. When she saw one she liked, she had to have him, and have him she did -- until she got bored, that is. I am certain she broke quite a few hearts. She was a "lot to handle," as they say. I believe her brilliant mind was her greatest gift but biggest enemy. Her younger sister, Janet adored her and wanted to be with her always, if only to embarrass Joanie in the company of boys.

Dorothy had moved with the girls to New Orleans after the divorce yet she was still at a loss as to what to do with them; how to care for them and still get her head above water, and herself on her feet -- alone. She decided to put both the girls in Holy Angels Academy, an all-girls Catholic boarding school in New Orleans, Louisiana. The girls were none to pleased by this. Especially Joanie. As a ten year old, she struggled to understand why her mother would do such a thing. She had difficulty relating with "normal" people; how was she to relate with nuns?! This just wasn't going to do. Nope, Joanie would have none of it. Just as Janet was such a good girl and followed every sometimes mundane, often senseless, and always arduous rules to the tee, Joanie rebelled. She was even caught sneaking out of the convent many a night -- some nights with a boy on a motocycle awaiting her. The Marianite nuns were sure they could break Joanie of her wild streak. Joanie was healthy and vibrant, full of vim and vigor. Joanie: 1; nuns: 0. 

Janet, however, was a sickly child. I recall her talk of the wine akin to grape juice the nuns would give her to stave of her anemia. She would tell me it was worse than the Mogen David, they serve at communion. But being the obedient little school girl she was, she drank up. She's been drinking since she was five years old -- literally. My mother embraced the way of the nuns and at a very young age she experienced the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and her heart. She attributed this to her knowing how to pray; because of this, the nuns trusted her her knowing what to do with God's call. Yep, God called and my mom answered. She felt blessed to be in the care of the nuns and she felt, safe, loved, secure, wanted, needed, and special -- a TRUE child of God. 

While Joanie kicked, scratched and screamed on the inside, she was supremely charming, entrancingly beautiful, unbelievably brilliant, and delightfully funny on the outside. She had embraced her dark side; she learned how to manage it, just like she managed boys and later, men. She had what they call a "wild hair" and being restrained, contained, controlled, and told were simply not her cup of tea. When she was younger and could tell her stories of fact, though many might have thought them confabulations

Needless to say, Joanie sought refuge in the escape of men and married at a very, very young age. She went on to divorce and re-marry again -- and again, many, many times. In the end, she reunited with her very first husband, until his dying day. She then lived alone, whilst her sister (by then a widow herself) and she delighted in reliving their pasts through stories, and pictures, wine "slightly" better than Mogen David, and a deep and resounding respect for their mother, Dorothy. I'll never forget the day I heard my mother proclaim that she wants nothing more than to be just like her mother. It was a beautiful moment. (Although, I guarantee those words will never come from betwixt these lips -- sorry, mom).

Joanie died just two weeks ago, April 2, 2013. The irony is such that in her life, she detested being in the confined care of others yet in her end of days, she passed away in a small town nursing home, having outlived all the men in her life.  

May God keep her in the palms of his mighty hands, and may she be as happy -- or happier -- in her next life as she was in this one. God bless you, Auntie Joanie. Thank you for being a strong, yet soft fiber in the fabric of my life. 

(For more on the Academy:
For more on my mother, and how she, a nun had me...tune in later. Maybe much, much, later.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is the World Your Oyster or Your Turnip?

The Oyster or the Turnip...

Using what they call a locus-of-control scale, psychologists measure whether people believe that the controlling force in their lives is internal (they’re in control) or external (outside forces determine their fate). Men for the most part believe that the locus of control in their lives is internal, that they “make life happen.” Women are far more likely to believe that “life happens to them”—that they don’t have much control.

This is what they call the oyster-versus-turnip view of the world. Men see the world as their oyster (they’re surrounded by opportunities, and they just need to choose which ones they want), while women are more likely to think “you can’t get blood from a turnip” (what they see is what they get and they need to make the best of it).

Although you may know some turnip men and oyster women, the underlying truth of the distinction has been conclusively demonstrated, and not just in the United States but also in countries with cultures as diverse as those in Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the former U.S.S.R., India, China, Mexico, and Brazil. These studies also showed that even senior female managers, women whose jobs involve high levels of responsibility and authority, still—far more than men in the same jobs—believe that their lives are subject to the control of external forces.
-- Babcock, L and Laschever, S. 

Here I am living in Hawaii. It sounds like a dream -- and on some days, it feels like a dream. Hawaii is by far one of the most beautiful places in the world, and were I older and independently wealthy, I might better enjoy the sugary sandy beach, the sky-high waterfalls, the deeply entrancing sunsets, the tree covered mountains, the lush green foliage, the brightly colored flora, and the hypnotic scent of plumeria.

However, I am 46 and dire need of intellectual stimulation and career pursuits. Without resentment or disdain,  gave up my career choice to move here in support of my husband's military career. It was a bittersweet move and I recall my mixed emotions from the day we discussed the move. This excerpt is  from the email I sent to friends: "James and I will have to move with Mike to Hawaii. It is exciting but we are anxious about leaving our home, our friends, our family, and St. Aloysius." No mention of worry about a job or a career.

I believe at the time, I thought gainful employ would be easy for me in Hawaii. After all, I am assertive, confident, smart, driven, passionate, did I say smart? A real go-getter. Turns out these are the very traits frowned upon, especially if you're a women. Although I have been in graduate school during the three-year hiatus, I am now gearing up for a full-out search for new opportunities for a middle-aged woman -- living in the most remote place on the planet. My prospects look dim. I don't just want a job. I want to spend the 1/3 of my life at work doing that which I enjoy and am expert at doing -- business development/sales and sales training. What makes this even trickier is I want to do it within the technology sector -- not much of that here in Hawaii. I have a strong skill set and a rich and full background of meaningful accomplishments. It looks more and more like I am seeking the holy grail when I search for appropriate positions that allow for my working remotely from Hawaii and traveling to see clients on the mainland -- or even overseas to Australia or Asia. Yes, I am willing to do that! My greatest hope is to work for a large enough company that they might allow me to live in Hawaii and commute to the west coast. I might even consider a move to California and commuting home to Hawaii to see my husband and son on weekends -- if my pay grade would allow. Unbelievable, eh?

Would a man have to weigh these same considerations?  If so, would he struggle with the "ask," as I do? Additionally, there is the age factor. Yes, it is a serious issue and more and more companies at looking at younger and younger candidates to train, mold and shape and create the perfect fit for a post I would already fill to a tee. Why? Money. Why else? Shelf life. I recall being that "young girl" who was smart enough to succeed among the big boys and cute enough to beat out the older women for the job -- all for less money. I did not have the wisdom of age or richness of experience, the moxie or the chutzpah to make the ask. I took what I was given and I was delighted to have been considered.

Nowadays I find myself reading articles written to aid the older generation in finding employ. Humph. Not much great advice out there. Yes, the predictable, lose weight, dye your hair, dress for success, and other such trite advice are commonplace. One article stated that I should mention the marathon I'd been training for! What?! Ridiculous. And lastly, there is the gender factor.

As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook writes: Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional -- or worse, a negative -- for women. "She is very ambitious" is not a compliment in our culture. Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct. Men are continually applauded for being ambitious, powerful, and successful but women who display these same traits pay a hefty social penalty. Look at all the FB friends I lost during the THINK campaign -- sadly, most were women. Many were uncomfortable with my expose of the tougher truths -- it's just not "lady-like." Female accomplishments come at a hefty price. Did you know that for women, taking credit comes at a real social and professional cost? A woman who explains why she is qualified or mentions her successes in a job interview is less likely to get hired than a man who does the same.

Women can negotiate as well or better than men when negotiating on behalf of others because their advocacy does not appear self-serving. However, when a women negotiates on her own behalf, she violates the perceived gender norm. Women more than not, leave too much power in the hands of others. To determine whether you’re leaving too much power in the hands of others, ask yourself the following questions:

• Do you usually wait to see what kind of raise you get or do you try to negotiate in advance for the raise you think you deserve?

• Do you wait to be promoted or to be assigned more responsibilities or do you ask for those things when you think you’re ready?

• Do you think you’re qualified to move up to the next level at work but assume your boss doesn’t agree because he or she hasn’t promoted you yet?

• Have you accepted being given the same sort of work to do over and over again even though you’d like to learn new skills and try different types of assignments?

• Do you think that if you work hard and produce outstanding results your superiors will recognize your contributions and reward you with the salary you deserve?

• Do you typically ask for changes at work that would make your life more convenient or do you tolerate small inconveniences even when you can see a simple fix?

• Have you identified the next step you want to take in your career? Does your supervisor know what you want to do?

• Do most of your colleagues perceive you as someone who’s interested in moving ahead and rising in your organization or are most of your coworkers unaware of your ambitions?

If your answers suggest that you’ve ceded too much control to others, start negotiating to do for the projects you want, don’t wait to see whether they're assigned to you. Tell your boss, “I want to take this training course,” or “I’d like exposure to another side of the business,” or “It's time for me to get some field (or sales, or line) experience.” Don’t expect people to keep you on their radar screens or to let you know whenever a new opportunity arises. Above all, don’t assume that just because your boss likes you he/she’s thinking about your professional development and the next step you need to take. He/she may be simply content you’re doing the job -- period.

As I contemplate my current career dilemma, I can't help but remember the many road blocks that stand between me and the right career fit. Where a man might consider these, he would not be held back by them. I must not let these concerns stand in my way of a fruitful yet focused search. I know what I want. I know what I can do. I know that what I may have never done does not make doing it an impossibility. I may not meet 100% of the job requirements but that does not mean I cannot do the job -- and well. Men will apply for a position if they feel they meet at least 60% of the job requirements. Women, only if they feel they meet 100% of the job requirements.

Personally, I am shifting my thinking from "I may not be able to do that, as I haven't done that before" to "I want to do that, I am smart and capable and can learn to do that -- by doing that"!

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Father

A story of my father...

My father was an absolute genius. As the terrifically accomplished litigator, Charles McCowan used to say, "I never understood a word he said but he made me a rich man." Many, many, many people who walk the earth today have benefitted from my father's able mind and kind heart. 

He was born a very poor Jewish boy whose father died when he was only ten. At ten, my father got his first job as a grocery store stock boy, as hehad become "the man of the house." With that he bagged groceries and stocked shelves. When he worked in the storage room, the owner made him whistle so he'd know my dad was not eating any of the goods. It was an exercise in humility and growth. My dad became the best whistler I have ever heard. He could "whistle an opera," I used to say. It was amazing!

As he got older, he had to help his single mother support their family of four. He was a truly gifted genius. I say gifted genius because he could draw portraits with charcoal like a commissioned artist all the while able to regurgitate facts effortlessly and accurately on the biology of the human. He could play the clarinet like a pro, he was a sommelier, he was a certified gemologist, a pilot who flew his own planes, a professional photographer, and a pathologist. He accomplished a great deal in his life all because he believed, "You should live like will die tomorrow and learn like you will live forever" (Gandhi). He always told me an education is something "they" can never take away from you -- get one.

As teens, he and his younger brother joined the boxing team at their high school. My uncle loved boxing and became a golden glove champion whose photo now resides in the Louisiana State University Hall of Fame. My dad on the other hand, loved steak dinner. Because they were so poor, he and my uncle would box with the intent to win. The prize? A trophy and a steak dinner. The steak was motivator enough to win. Poor kids never ate steak. My dad said he was fed grits all his childhood and I recall as I was growing up, he refused to eat any oatmeal, grits, malt-o-meal or anything of the gruel sort. Sadly, a diet of steak, potatoes and Jack Daniels on the rocks ultimately killed him.

While still a young man, his genius was noted by a great man named Dr. Frank Low. Dr. Low hired my father as an apprentice of sorts and that was when my father's life turned around. His love for pathology and the lab was ignited. He became so passionate about his discoveries that he and Dr. Low discovered a new method of surgical treatment for Bell's Palsy -- still used today. Together, they authored several books. My father was asked to teach at Louisiana State University Medical and Tulane Medical School while he was still a medical student. Many of my friends' fathers were taught by mine. He penned the Louisiana State University Medical School governing laws. He authored teaching texts, as well. In fact, when I was seeing a young fighter pilot who attended the Air Force Academy I met his roommate's brother. This guy was in medical school and studying from a book my father co-wrote. As my father grew older his passion for the lab grew -- with him. He truly loved lab work and solving the mystery of cause of death. He was a true forensic scientist whose years as a medical examiner proved quite exciting in an area of this country that is riddled with mysterious causes of death. He was a coroner for 30 years. He was the head of many labs in Louisiana, including the Leprosy hospital that was once in Carville, Louisiana -- now closed. The only other Leprosy hospital was on Molokai, here in Hawaii as so many of my Hawaii friends know.

My dad's genius brought him a fortune in life experience and wealth -- which he shared most generously with so very many. He built his mother's first home, ***he put his brother through law school (a man who went on to become a fine lawyer, a state representative, the speaker of the house, Lt. Governor, and later a judge). He hired his sister -- without whom he could not have successfully run his medical practices. Yes, he practiced medicine –- not because he preferred people to the lab because he did not. He practiced medicine because people loved him and needed him and he was born to live in service to others – so that, he did. His favorite Saint was Saint Francis of Assisi and he lived by the words that Saint Francis penned and prayed.

He worked tirelessly and he gave back -- and he paid it forward before paying it forward was popular. He donated a great deal of money and time to Louisiana State University medical school, created a scholarship in his mother's name at Louisiana State University School of Nursing (she was an R.N. -- and her story is quite fascinating). He was a rich man in the ways that "rich" has real meaning -- by that I mean he was compassionate, kind, brilliant, and charming. He looked quite "rabbinical” and wise. He was handsome but not considered a looker, like his brother may have been. He had huge ears but because they were so poor his mother could not afford to have them "pinned" as so many said she should. I remember meeting the father of a friend from Episcopal High School and he was a plastic surgeon who knew -- and respected -- my dad. However, rather than honor his genius, he said, “Your dad should have let me fix those ears of his.” I said, “My father is far too secure to worry with such things.” Despite being teased and bullied, called "monkey" and other such terms, he had a strong spirit (god-within), amazing drive, and limitless vision. He was a true genius. He was compassion personified. He was kindness in the flesh. Sometimes, however he was prideful -- would never let others help him in his times of need, and there were a few.

Late in his life, he faced many challenges that were outside his control and he had to learn to let go, as so many of us must. It was probably very difficult for him, as he had been so triumphant against the odds all his life. He was happy for the greater part of his life, but he died an unhappy man, greatly disappointed man. (A story for another day). 

He died at the young age of 62 but his legacy lives on through other people, places, and things. I live my life looking to him for guidance in making my bigger decisions, and he is there for me to give it. I would say I miss him but I truly feel him with me and see him in my 11-year-old son, James (his namesake). I do wish I could hold his hands -- they were strong and soft but not unscathed. Poor boys who grow to be rich men have battered hands that although healed, those hands tell their stories. My father's hands...I will never forget them. 

I miss my father. More than that however, I count my blessings for his having been mine.

***according to the oral tradition that was shared with me. My uncle Bobby states that "nothing could be further from the truth." He states that his wife Marianne and he worked to put him through school.