Right on the heels of Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control reported another decline in U.S. life expectancy, driven largely by a soaring suicide rate and opiate overdoses. It's a national trend, but also very local, possibly involving our friends and family.
Year-end melancholy is no surprise, really. It’s normal for people to get depressed as three gigantic downers converge to cancel out the joy that’s supposed to come with family gatherings, shopping sprees and wassail.
It starts with Thanksgiving, which promises to deliver the all-American trifecta: food, family, and football. But Uncle Billy was passed out on the couch before halftime, Dad and Aunt Bev kept arguing about who gets the silverware when Granny dies, and Aunt Sadie wouldn’t stop griping about her daughter’s choices in men. Then there’s Gramps, who started every other sentence with, “I’m not a racist, but…”
Even better, all of them are coming over again for Christmas dinner. Yipeeeeeeeeee! Uncle Billy swears he won’t be bungee jumping into the egg nog, Aunt Bev and Dad have promised to wait until Granny dies before they duel with her shrimp forks, and Aunt Sadie says, fine, she never wanted to have grandchildren, anyway. No promises from Gramps, though.
Fun fact: By the time Christmas rolled around, even Norman Rockwell had given up on painting family dinners. Clearly, he couldn’t figure out how to draw “Freedom from Relatives.”
Then there is the solstice, which brings the shortest stretch of daylight on the calendar. Of course, almost nobody will notice, because the sun is only out during working hours and the cloud cover is non-stop in December. (If Jesus had been born in Chicago, the Magi would still be looking for him.) Lack of sunlight leads to Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects about 10% of the population, and then they pass it on to 100% of their friends. Who says this isn’t the season for sharing?
Finally, the end of the year delivers the coup de grace, as people consider unkept resolutions, unmet goals, and unpaid credit card bills that will be delivered by forklift in January. There’s no better way to say Happy New Year than with a bright, shiny, new debt-consolidation loan.
Meanwhile, we’re inundated all month with happyjoyfunjoyhappy posts from all our friends on social media, and every one of them is simply having a wonderful Christmastime. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we’re alone in our sadness, that we are the singular despair in a world of glee.
People feel isolated when they travel through a dark place, because they can’t see the friends who are alongside them on a parallel journey. Each of us has the opportunity to shine a light, to illuminate the journey, to help them break free of their isolation. It might be as simple as a “how are you” that’s more than a platitude. It might be an assurance that there’s no stigma to seeking help. It might be a coffee break that includes a ton of listening. It can simply be a reminder that they have a friend, that they aren’t really alone.
At this time of year, that perspective can be a lifesaver.
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Spoiler Alert: If you’re under the age of 16 or you somehow made it through high school without reading Young Goodman Brown, you’re about to learn the surprise ending of the story. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
So, you know the scene in Young Goodman Brown, when the young, good man discovers all the elders and leaders and saints of the town are really devil worshipers? Yeah, Facebook is kinda like that.
I have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook and, I am so proud to say, I actually have met at least 28 ¾ of them. (Long story.) They look human, many hold down full-time jobs, pretty much none of them has a criminal record, and I have actually seen a few of them have a civil conversation with someone who is, um, not their kind.
But, late at night, under the cover of darkness and a taped-over webcam, they commune with evil and, like that young, good man of lore, I am caught by surprise, stripped of the innocence that I never thought to be a burden until now.
OMFG, did you just post a photo of our president looking like a simian? (We’re into our third term with this meme and the POTUS has changed, but this joke never gets old enough to die.) WTF, how are you still posting that story about the Jews who created AIDS to distract everyone from their plan to destroy the World Trade Center and get trick-or-treaters hooked on LSD tattoos? OMG, did you just demand the death penalty for (FITB)?
It gets worse, though. As bad as it is to see the oozing, rotting, grotesque, putrefying moldering masses of my friends’ souls online, I actually have to spend time with them IRL. There we are, at a dinner where they have been given knives, and I search frantically for the list of trigger words I must avoid. I know I can never say Obama or Trump, not if I hope to survive, but can I say black or Christmas or cis or fat or homeless?
On my daredevil days, or when life seems to have no meaning and I just don’t care, I am tempted to ask one of those questions that is sure to bring out the horrendously evil soul that lurks below the surface by day.
Nancy Pelosi’s still pretty hot, don’t you think?
Did Hillary erase her server before or after she killed Vince Foster?
I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but isn't it just a bit suspicious that you never see Charles Koch and George Soros in the same photo?
Is Donald Trump already our greatest president ever, or is Reagan still number one?
I think the meeting facilitators call these “ice breakers.”
Discovering the black hole of decency in so many of my friends has an upside for me. Once, when I was much more naïve, I thought I was as racist and sexist and homophobic and xenophobic and cis-centric and privileged as the next guy. But it turns out the next guy is just a little bit satanic and I am not even on the list of dishonorable mentions. I am feeling much better about myself these days, mostly because I am thinking much less of my Facebook friends.
(If you happen to be one of my Facebook friends and you are reading this, I am not referring to you, of course. It's those other people; you know which ones they are.)
Meanwhile, I have to go back and reread Young Goodman Brown to see how he coped with his new insights into his Good Book friends. As I recall, he returned home disillusioned, feeling betrayed, and he aged very fast.
I know how he feels.
BTW, you could check in on how I feel every week, simply by subscribing to our weird and occasionally intelligent rants. Just click here to subscribe.
Okay, so maybe I missed the boat just a little bit on this one.
When the girls were young, they loved the weeks after Thanksgiving when the Sunday papers were filled with “toy mazagines.”
They scoured the circulars like they were researchers at the Library of Congress, and the item they circled most often was Nintendo. Neither girl was big on Barbie or all that girly stuff like Little Miss Make-up and Junior Nail Salon, which saved me from joining in the fun for all ages and the blackmail-worthy photos that would follow.
What they did want, though, was a Nintendo console. Wanted, wanted, wanted, needed, needed, hadtohaveitbecauseitwasthemostimportantandbestestgameever. And I knew they would play it, because they loved to play Super Mario—or maybe they were just Mario Brothers then—at other kids' homes. You could take Stephanie to her cousins’ house, plop her down in front of the Nintendo and watch her get to level 847 within minutes. She wouldn’t get around to learning to read for another year or two, but learning Nintendo was worth the effort.
Dad, on the other hand, viewed video games as a waste of time and a missed opportunity for learning. Educational games, smart games, games like chess and that thing where you flipped the cards and had to remember where the matches were—those were the games for my girls.
So I decided to let the other kids rot out their minds while I gave my children the gift of a refined intellect, superior analytical skills and only a remote risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
I bought them (imagine a drum rolllllllllllll….) Socrates, the “educational video system” that “stimulates children’s minds” and “helps them become better students.” And all of it was true! Through Socrates, the girls learned some incredible lessons that have stayed with them and influenced their thinking to this day. Lessons like:
Ah, the lessons that last a lifetime.
Also, Socrates provided a lifetime of opportunities for the girls to remind their father that they were, um, disappointed by his choice. They capitalized on that opportunity relentlessly, telling strangers everywhere that they were cheated out of a normal childhood, condemned to solitary confinement with a Socrates console.
"Look, Lin-Manuel Miranda just won his 9,000th Tony Award. He must have had Socrates when he was a kid. Isn’t that right, dad?"
"Yes, Mr. cabdriver, I'm 27 years old and I can sing the entire ABC song because my dad got me Socrates. Aren't you so proud of me, dad?"
"I’m glad your surgery was a success, but getting new kidneys isn’t nearly as great a gift as when my dad bought me Socrates. Hey, dad, remember that year?"
I get it, kids. You’re being just a bit sarcastic, aren’t you?
I can’t say I regret the choice, though, because Socrates has been a running gag and a family story for a long time. Many years of therapy have relieved the girls of some of the post-traumatic disorders they developed without Nintendo. And my daughters are now so much more sensitive to the needs of others, mostly because I destroyed their dreams and hopes when they were tots.
A couple of years ago, the girls bought me a Socrates console they found on e-Bay or Craig’s List or somewhere. We couldn't play with it, of course, because it doesn't have a USB port or an HDMI cable any other connector that would work with a video screen today.
But connectivity isn't the real reason I haven't played with Socrates yet. Truth be told, I’m waiting for them to get me a Nintendo.
(While the kids are out shopping for my Nintendo console, you can give me another great gift by sharing this post with a friend or two and, by all means, subscribing to our occasional rants. Just click here to subscribe, and thanks much for reading.)
After last week’s post about how to carve a turkey, I’ve received thousands of messages from people who all worry about the same thing: “How can I up my Thanksgiving game if I’m just a guest and not the carver?”
Fear not, innumerable inquirers. I have been freeloading off friends and family for decades, so I know all the insider tips you can follow to be a rock star guest at Thanksgiving dinner.
These tips are guaranteed to make you the most talked-about guest at Thanksgiving this year, and possibly for all time. Even better, you’ll be meeting great people in 2019 and beyond as your hosts find new places for you to be the best guest ever.
And, really, isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?
Of course, I would be really thankful if you share this post on social media or email, and especially if you honor me by subscribing to our weekly musings at dadwrites.com. Just click here.
Thanksgiving’s coming up this month and a lot of guys are starting to stress out about their big moment in the spotlight.
Hah, only kidding. Guys don’t think about stuff in advance, unless it has brackets, a tee time, or a swimsuit issue. We like to think we thrive under pressure, so the last minute is plenty o' time. Most guys reading this will stop right here and make a mental note to revisit this post at 3:30 p.m. on the 22nd, except for Canadians, who are already too late. Moving on...
For manly men across America, the biggest moment to shine each year involves the super-macho expertise that everyone assumes we have and nobody ever teaches: carving the turkey. Yeah, I know, there are a million videos on YouTube, but real men don’t read instruction manuals and we certainly don’t need to watch some dude in a toque telling us how to use a knife. The last person to cut up our meat for us (Insert Lorena Bobbitt joke here.) was mommy, and we were two at the time.
Carving the turkey is a guy thing, as it has been since we were Neanderthals (Insert ‘You still are Neanderthals’ joke here.) living in caves. No matter how much time mom spends tying and basting and seasoning and schlepping the bird around the kitchen, dad gets the final shot at doing a Rambo on the finished product.
For some reason, people think it’s natural that men will carve the turkey. We’re the hunters in a world of hunters and gatherers. All the great knife people were men, like Jim Bowie and old MacHeath, babe, and Mr. Swiss Army…so women assume there must be something in our DNA that makes us great turkey carvers.
Except, of course, that we don’t really have a clue, and by “we,” I mean “I.” I never learned to whittle and I don’t even watch Top Chef for gawdsakes. If someone told me to go pack my knives, I’d need to stop at Williams Sonoma to buy some first.
Still, if you’re the oldest guy at Thanksgiving dinner and your parole allows you to handle sharp objects, someone is going to urge you to carve the turkey. When that happens, it’s important to approach the ritual with the aura of expertise and confidence that dads have been faking since the dawn of time.
So, guys, get yourselves some Botox injections to keep a straight face and follow these simple steps:
After everyone tells you that it’s certain to be fine and you really know how to carve a turkey, mumble some thanks and start passing the platter. And never, ever, ever bring up the subject again.
Having perfected the process of pretending to know what I’m doing—a true dadskill—I’ve succeeded in carving turkeys without any deaths* for over forty years. More recently, being a really generous guy, I’ve graciously allowed a son-in-law or nephew to do the honors. They’ve never really attained my level of expertise yet, but that’s probably because I haven’t sent them this post.
*By "deaths," I am referring to instances in which I was actually charged and convicted, so I am not counting the grease slide of 1997 or the 2003 wishbone impalement in my official record.
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One of the highlights of my mentoring work with entrepreneurs is the day they decide they don’t want to be entrepreneurs anymore. That might seem counterproductive, of course, but it’s a decision that can enrich the rest of their lives.
Social media sites, especially sites like LinkedIn, are filled with odes to entrepreneurs who tirelessly battle the naysayers and emerge victorious in their crusade for success. Start-up founders are exhorted repeatedly: Never give up, never lose your drive, never accept that it can’t be done, never surrender your dream. Never never never. Ever.
You can, um, pivot, 500 times, but pivoting is for pioneers and exiting is for losers. If you take a different path, you’re a quitter, doomed to be a drone in a corporate world, a follower, a lackey. You’ll be thinking inside the box, wrapped in a corporate cocoon, a drone, a minion, tortured by un-shifted paradigms and un-pushed envelopes. Simply stated, you’re a failure.
Entrepreneurship has become a religion in the business world, with all the zealotry that drives true believers. The entrepreneur is Erik the Red, Chuck Yeager, Davy Crockett (before that Alamo unpleasantness), Thomas Edison and Louis Pasteur…the superhero who will lead us into the future. Or maybe entrepreneurship isn't a real religion; perhaps it's more of a cult.
Entrepreneurship, like bungee jumping and fourth marriages, is an irrational act. The hours are intolerable, the odds for success are abysmal, financial strains are constant, and social/family ties atrophy. Most people who take this path are unbalanced. That doesn’t mean they’re mentally ill, although I do have my suspicions about several, but they often live outside the norms for factors like risk tolerance and ego.
Frequently, I’ll meet a younger person who is swept up in the mania surrounding entrepreneurship. She wants to be a part of the creative process, the disruption, the new frontier for business. She has an idea, usually an app, and she’s ready to change the world.
When it’s a person I’m mentoring, we examine the full range of issues connected to the adventure—and to the adventurer. What will it take to make this a viable business? How can the process be systematized or accelerated? How can cash be charred instead of burned? What are the options for timing and structure of an exit?
The most critical conversation in all of this is about the trade-offs inherent in starting a business. The owner will be foregoing the opportunity to advance in a traditional career in order to roll the dice at an all-or-nothing table. Often, the owner will be taking on loans to finance the first steps of the venture, delaying by years or decades their opportunities for financial security. Almost always, their bucket lists grow dramatically with everyday goals like travel, family, home ownership or binge watching.
Sometimes, the owners make a rational assessment of the situation and decide to move forward. Sometimes, they make a rational assessment of the situation and decide to end the venture.
Maybe they determine that the business won’t be profitable enough to justify the investment or that they will have too low an equity stake by the time they get to the finish line. Maybe they look at their own parents’ relationships, or availability to them as children, and decide that’s where they will make their biggest investment of blood and toil.
Whatever path they choose, they’ll have a solid foundation for their decision and an improved likelihood of success. They won’t quit. They’ll make a decision about the value to be received for the value invested, and then they’ll choose their next steps.
Meanwhile, online, there’s a bro culture surrounding entrepreneurship. Guys post about how hard they work or how little sleep they get or the trails they are blazing, and I can’t help but wonder if they are trying to convince themselves that they deserve a seat with the cool kids. It’s reminiscent of high school, at times, and I hope they grow out of it.
There are many paths to success, many ways to change the world, and many ways to have a fulfilling life. When someone I am mentoring makes an informed choice about the right path, it’s a glorious day.
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