So we dusted off the passports this summer for a trip to Iceland, where tourists outnumber locals by about eight to one and they just held a funeral for the first glacier that melted away in the ongoing heat wave. Thoughts from the journey…
Speaking of broader horizons, we’d love to hear your pearls of wisdom about this whole travel thing. Share your comments with us and we’ll all be more sophisticated and worldly as a result.
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Writing a blog called Dad Writes, it’s natural for me to think about my own dad quite a bit. His approach to life shaped my journey and I learned a ton from his stories. Among them was a very old joke that he told me several times over the years, a joke whose meaning became much clearer as I matured.
Sign on a light pole:
One leg missing.
Right ear torn.
Blind in left eye.
Tail doesn’t wag.
Answers to the name of Lucky.
Okay, not the best joke in the world, but I’ve come to think of it as very meaningful.
Like other dogs, Lucky doesn’t mope around with resentments for the damage life inflicted on him. He doesn’t plot revenge for the torn ear and the broken tail. He doesn’t look at us with soulful eyes that seem to plead, “Why me?” Instead, he takes each day as a new opportunity to have fun and sniff out whatever life has to offer.
"Eat the same food every day? Sure."
"Poop in the snow? No problem."
"Sleep in a crate? Sounds swell."
"Stand still while other dogs smell your butt? Doesn’t everyone?"
After reconsidering my dad’s old joke, I’ve decided to live like a dog. I have a few scars and I’ve had parts removed and my psyche has suffered a few hundred slings and arrows, and every so often the weight of it all can wear on me. In spite of that, I want to wake up every day with a real gratitude for the life I have and the opportunity to have fun with whatever comes my way.
That doesn’t translate into treacly commentaries on the super-duper glee of mindless delight. Rather, it informs a philosophy of gratitude for what I have and confidence in my ability to deal with whatever comes next.
Lucky is undoubtedly dead by now, but a big chunk of my life is committed to following his example, his worldview, and his willingness to sniff absolutely anything. As he could teach us, everything in life is interesting and fun, in its own way.
By the way, Lucky would have loved the opportunity to subscribe to dadwrites and experience the joy of sniffing, or peeing on, our weekly updates. You, too, can live like a dog by clicking here to become a subscriber.
I spent a good portion of my life on the commuter train, juggling a cup of coffee and a donut and a broadsheet newspaper or two. When boredom set in, I’d play a game I almost always lost: Seat Selection Psychic.
Anyone can play a round of on the train, the bus, a fast-food restaurant…pretty much anywhere that seats aren’t assigned in advance. Somebody walks in and you try to anticipate where they will plant themselves for the duration of their visit. Aisle or window? Booth or table? Alone or next to someone? Same sex or opposite?
Per usual, this game said nothing about the people I was watching, because it was really a test of the assumptions I make when I first see someone. What’s their gender, race, age? How are they dressed? Are they carrying coffee or a briefcase or a grocery bag or a protest sign? We use all of these visual cues to get a sense of who the person is, whether they are friendly or cold or professional or unemployed or fugitives from another galaxy.
I know a few people who would be wizards at this game, but I am clearly a Muggle. Over a period of years, I don’t think I ever predicted the new rider’s destination accurately. Still, the exercise reminded me about the limited insights provided by first impressions.
People, like ogres, are like onions. It takes a while to peel back all the layers. Some people grow on you as you get to know them better, while others prove to be less human than they appeared at first. We like to pride ourselves on our ability to size people up quickly, but we’re off base much more often than we’d want to admit.
It might be true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, but we have many chances to make a good impression or, at least, a real one. Fairly often, I’ve found my first impressions to be just a trifle shallow and arrogant, only to be softened and better informed by subsequent encounters. That experience has made me better at withholding judgment, which just might enable me to get better at life.
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Tip jars in the doctor’s office, heroic Millennials, and an uncomfortable response to my humor, just in case you were wondering…
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Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within his own company. He is the boss, the owner, the big cheese, but his biggest job is that of a professional shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the company he founded.
He was once the chief salesman, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, and the chief everything else. Now, though, he needs to figure out new roles for himself at each step of the company’s development and with each new hire.
Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within her own family. She is the mom, the aunt, the grandmother, but her biggest job is that of a shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the family she founded.
She was once the mom of children, then college kids, then the mother-in-law and, now, a grandmother. And there’s no stability in sight, because she knows her relationships with her grandchildren will shift again as they grow.
Life, it turns out, is a continuous process of adaptation, a series of transformations into new roles, new responsibilities, new identities. We’re the...
...big-dog eighth grader
...new hire again
...old hand again
The crazy part is that we seem to be surprised when it happens. We change our roles and our positions in each organization continually, whether it’s our family, school, workplace or homestead. Each time, though, we wonder at the experience of needing, once again, to find our place, to make the adjustments, to fit into our new situation. Some people say they avoid change in their lives, but those people aren’t really paying attention, are they?
This could be a great life hack, a terrific lesson we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Your life will be a continual process of adapting to new roles and new situations, with so many transformations that you probably won’t even notice when some of them are happening. Stay alert, though, because the lessons are largely the same and you’ll be applying them again and again and again.
Just as we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our transitions share 99% of the same factors, as well. New job, new school, new marriage, new friends…all bring the same mix of excitement and trepidation, insecurity and identity. The jargon changes, but the fundamentals are the same.
Unfortunately, our mistakes are often the same, as well. We all have a friend who keeps falling into mismatched relationships or jobs or investments. Sometimes that “friend” is the person who looks back at us in the bathroom mirror each morning. Once we learn to recognize the patterns, though, we can figure out what we’ve done well and poorly in the past, so we can ace the next test and the one after that.
The specifics will change, but the process is eternal. New situation? No sweat. I’ve done this before.
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Dad would have been 95 today, and so...
My dad owned a small business, which meant he worked 12 days a week. Every so often, he’d take me downtown with him on a Saturday morning and I’d get to play with the T-squares and the copy machine and, best of all, the electric erasers.
One such morning, we’re walking past the library (now the Cultural Center) on the way to breakfast when a beggar comes up and asks for money for food. My dad declines to give him any cash, but he says we’re going for breakfast and the beggar is welcome to join us. And so, our party of three parks at the counter of a diner near the IC station under Michigan and Randolph.
The waitress takes a look at our guest and declines the opportunity to serve him, but my dad insists and notes that he is going to pay the bill for our new friend. Then, dad sits between me and the beggar and talks with the guy during breakfast. I have no recollection of the conversation, but the amazing part to me was that they had a conversation at all.
Dad was a patron of the art of panhandling, adjusting his largesse for the originality and personality of the donee. It was a good bet that the people who asked for money had made some big mistakes along the way, but it was an equally good bet that my dad, like almost all of us, could have made a comparably bad move that landed him on the street.
After we parted from our new friend, dad said he preferred to buy food instead of handing over cash, because the recipients might just buy booze if left to their own devices. Once, he said, the guy asking for money simply admitted he was a drunk and would spend it on hooch. Dad gave him extra points for honesty and financed his next round.
(Modern note: Doesn’t it seem very patronizing and patriarchal for him to have forced his judgment on the beggars regarding how they spent their money? Wasn’t that a blatant assertion of colonial power, cultural appropriation and severely infantilizing? In hindsight, now that I am superduperly woke, I am mortified that he bought them food. What a privileged bastard he was.)
Fast forward to a family vacation in New York, when we’re walking with our daughters on 42nd Street near Grand Central Station and a man comes up to ask for some change and I decide to buy him a meal. It costs more than spare change, of course, but it does more good, even if I am paternalistically imposing my choices of nutrition on an otherwise sentient soul. After I make sure my new friend is served, I relate my childhood story to my daughters, and they remember.
Fast further forward, my girls are grown now, with children of their own, and I received a note from one of them about buying lunch for a beggar. Maybe, one day, their children will do the same.
Some heirlooms are well worth passing down.
What story do you tell from your childhood, and what story do you want your kids to tell about you? Please share your memories in the comments section and subscribe if you haven’t done so already.
Who writes this stuff?
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.