I must apologize. It was all my fault.
Wasn’t that great? I feel so much better now.
When I was a child and spoke as a child, I worried that someone might discover I had made a mistake, that they would think less of me because I had gotten something wrong. Boy, was I a dope. It turns out that admitting my mistakes is both liberating and empowering. “I was wrong,” is right at the top of my liberation mantra, along with, “My fault,” and the all-powerful, “I’m sorry.”
Some people think I apologize so much that it’s insincere, which it isn’t, but I must admit that it gets addictive after a while. Owning up to my mistakes is as close as I’ll get to absolution and it makes me almost invulnerable to follow-up chastisement.
“You screwed up.”
“Yes, I admitted that. What else do you want to add?”
“You shouldn’t do it again.”
I used to think it was dangerous to drop my defenses, but the opposite is true. Keeping up defenses is hard work and it requires all kinds of mental gymnastics, especially when you know you are wrong. Now that I’m old and weak, who has the energy??
I know a few, um, friends who seem incapable of admitting to any mistakes. They’ll cop to being human in the abstract, but they’re pretty much flawless when it comes to specifics. Once in a while, one of them will admit to making the “mistake” of thinking a political enemy did something right, hah hah, but that’s about it. After a while, they get to be a bit tiresome and, now that I’m old and weak, I don’t have the energy to deal with it.
Even when I haven’t made a mistake, I still enjoy admitting my limitations. After, “I’m sorry,” one of my absolute favorites is “I don’t know.” Not only is my ignorance remarkably blissful, but admitting to it puts me on the path to wisdom. Also, it takes way too much jumping through hoops to fake it and, did I mention, I’m too old and weak for this stuff?
Incredibly, admitting to mistakes and limitations has made me feel much stronger, more independent, and more secure. Things have been going so well, in fact, that I’m actually screwing up intentionally to give myself more apology opportunities. Friends think I am sinking into my dotage, but really I am building my self esteem.
Which reminds me, did I ever tell you about the time I changed my name to D.B. Cooper and kidnapped Jimmy Hoffa? Those were youthful indiscretions and I am very, very sorry.
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I might be off by a few years, but I think my generation has seen more substantial change than any generation that preceded it. People who lived through the Industrial Revolution might quibble with that assertion, but they’re all dead now, so hah hah on them.
Certainly, my grandchildren will be amazed at the stories I can tell them about the ancient and shrouded past when I…
Of course, I’ll also have to tell my grandkids about all the ways the world has let me down since I was a lad. I still don’t travel by jetpack, my phone calls aren’t holograms, and I am still waiting for a response to my job application at U.N.C.L.E. (I keep calling about it, but they won’t let me open Channel D.)
I’d add the Coronavirus to the list, but that’s an experience that my grandkids will share. How will that change them, change me, change our relationships? The ink isn’t dry yet, so we’ll have to wait on that one.
In the meantime, I think I’ll focus on the strange-but-true stories from the past. The present isn’t nearly as much fun.
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After couple of months of tipping people 50% to deliver my pizza and toilet paper, I’m reconsidering the entire concept of tipping. Why am I tipping some service providers but not others, and when did a lagniappe become a requirement? For example:
Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that nobody in a position of authority chooses to work for tips. Maybe there’s a lesson here, if only I could figure out the hidden meaning.
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Silence is golden in home movies, and how many spatulas do you need to make a PB&J? We tackle the explosive issues no other blog dares to touch…
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I’m not going to achieve immortality, certainly not in the corporeal sense and just as unlikely by any historical measure. Maybe I’ll come up with something so incredibly smart and pithy that my quote will be in the 2138 edition of Bartlett’s, but that’s a long shot, and my back gets too sore for me to ride across Asia like Attila the Hun. Likewise, it’s too late for me to invent something earth-shaking like penicillin, the internet or Chia Pets.
Like most guys who think about their legacy and their contribution to the future, I need to scale it down. What’s the most achievable goal for being known and valued by people who have never met you—and never will? What is the equivalent of immortality for someone who will neither save the world nor blow it up?
Ultimately, for me, it is to have my grandchildren tell their grandchildren about me, or at least to pass on lessons that I shared during my hour of strutting and fretting upon the stage.
This is no small feat. I have repeated lessons from my dad to my children, who knew him for less time than any of us would have liked. So my father’s grandchildren are familiar with his insights and they can pass those on to their grandchildren, probably three or four decades from now.
Meanwhile, I have stories to tell my grandchildren about my mother’s dad, who picked us up from school sometimes to take us to lunch at Pekin House or Kow Kow. He told me the wooden bowl story, which was definitely self-serving but one that I will repeat to the grandkids when I am in a self-preservation mood. And when I take them to lunch, I can tell them about my lunches with my grandfather. Thereby, Ben Caplan will be immortal, even though he shuffled off half a century ago.
For me, having grandchildren born when I am past sixty, the challenge is daunting. With kids getting married and having children later in life, fewer of us will see grandchildren in our lifetimes, and for those who do, the connection is likely to be very brief. Great-grandchildren? Almost unheard of, and that ship has absolutely sailed for me.
Thinking about children who are likely to be born around 2075, when I am closing in on 122 years old, might seem nonsensical, but it gives me purpose. If I want to have a positive impact on descendants I will never meet, I need to have a very positive impact on their grandparents, who are my grandchildren. And that is a venture that I can control, at least partially and, of course, temporarily.
When they hold the last party where you are the guest of honor, you don’t get to hear what people say about you. The same holds for the life lessons learned by your great-great grandchildren. Count these among the millions of things we don’t control in this life or beyond.
Still, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be working on it today.
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Every time Independence Day rolls around, I think about the contradictions between the soaring ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the baser actions of the author. There’s a lesson in there for all of us, if we care to give it any thought.
Thomas Jefferson worked to undermine George Washington while serving as Secretary of State within his administration. He spoke of equality while owning slaves. Like many southern gentlemen, he held a rank in the militia, but never dirtied his hands in combat. He racked up enormous debts he couldn’t repay in his lifetime, leaving his heirs to deal with the fallout. He placed the autonomy of states, specifically his own state, above the security of the nation. As founding fathers go, he was the worst.
And yet…he penned what remains one of the most revolutionary and inspirational documents in human history: The Declaration of Independence. An open letter to the rest of the world, the declaration argued that governments are subservient to the rights of the governed and that all men are created equal. In a world of kings and commoners, the idea that royal subjects could simply say, “You’re not the boss of me anymore,” was about as radical as you can get.
Every year around this time, I re-read the Declaration of Independence and every time I get misty as it ends with, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Signing the document was pretty much the same as signing a death warrant for John Hancock and all the delegates who followed, and all of these were prominent men with both lives and fortunes in the balance.
When I read the Declaration, I’m always challenged by two major topics. The first is the airing of grievances against George III and his government. Run through the list and you’ll find a half dozen, or more, complaints that many people levy against our own government today. This isn’t a political blog, so we’re not going to dive into all the similarities and differences between then and now, but it’s a telling reminder of the tensions that always exist between individual citizens and their governments.
Second, and more challenging to me, is the stark difference between the ideals of the author and his lifelong practices. Jefferson was both a radical in theory and a conservative in practice, which made him a hypocrite.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We pen open letters to the world, proclaiming our ideals and our morality, but we might be just a trifle looser about that vision when it comes to our institutions, our state, our leaders…and ourselves. We might insist on holding others to high standards while writing ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. We just might be more like Thomas Jefferson than we ever recognized, although not in a good way.
BTW, if you haven’t read the DOI lately, here’s a link to the text at the National Archives. Have a great holiday.
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Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.