Fatherhood at Fifty – Pretzels & Rocks

Sometimes I wonder how much work will go into this being a father thing? There are times when I think that the task will be overwhelming and there are times when I think it will be a like a day at the beach. My guess is a it will be a little bit of both. I’m sure I won’t always be able to take off for three hours like I did this morning for a long bike ride on the lakefront and a nice swim at the beach. I’m okay with that change though. I’ve pretty much been able to do whatever I want whenever I want for most of my life.

unnamed-16So about that swim at the lakefront? This morning I once again returned to my favorite beach on Chicago’s lakefront – the Hollywood beach at the extreme north end of the city. Hollywood beach is not served by any nearby parking lot so the crowds are often much smaller than the other Chicago beaches. That little matter is specially important on a busy weekend like this one with Air and Water Show in town. Hollywood beach also has an unusually gradual slope for a lakefront beach. Whereas most Lake Michigan beaches drop off drastically a short distance out from the shore, Hollywood beach is no more than knee deep for 25 yards, waist deep out to 50 yards and it only gets over my head deep when I’m about 100 yards out. The sand is quite soft for non-oceanfront sand and the water is especially clear because there are almost no rip currents. Combine all that with the fact that my mom and dad lived in a high-rise right along the shore of this particular beach when I was born, and Hollywood beach has a very special place in my heart.

This morning there was a special magic to my first plunge. I was at the tail end of a two hour ride. It was hotter than it has been for the last few weeks. The water temperature was a near perfect 74 degrees. The water was still and unusually clear. I splashed around for about ten minutes and then walked back up onto the shore and basked in the sun of a crystal clear Chicago morning. I could even feel a special tingle in the energy of the day. Maybe it was the pre-eclipse energy and maybe it was some nostalgia, but I felt close to a number of spirit beings I like to talk to that are part of my past like my father and my grandparents and a few of my other Angels on the other side of the veil.

I stood in the sunshine with my eyes closed and held my arms out as far as I could to my sides with my palms facing upwards towards the heavens as I took in long, slow, nourishing breaths. I tilted my head back just enough to feel the rays of the sun hitting every part of my face and I lifted my heart center up a little higher by pushing my chest forward. I’m not totally sure if I was in this standing trance for a few seconds or a few minutes, but I am sure that I looked equal parts interesting and equal parts crazy to any of the handful of people that were nearby.

My trance was broken by the sounds of birds screeching and wings flapping and a young girl yelling at the top of her lungs. When I opened my eyes there were a few dozen seagulls swarming around precariously close to my standing body – which must have made the whole scene look closer to the crazy side of the scale than the interesting side to anyone watching from the distance by the way!

If you’ve ever been snapped quickly out of a deep meditation before, you know it sort of feels like waking up in the middle of the night to a smoke detector or a tornado siren going off. The contrast between the reality that you are traveling through in your dreams vs. the illusion that is unfolding in your current human experience is so paramount that it takes a few breaths your brain to start processing information. Yes, I did in fact say the dream was the reality and the waking state was the illusion but that’s a topic for a different blog post.

Anyways, over the next few breaths my brain began to process the scene of seagulls swarming around my body and what looked to be a mom and her three daughters set up on a beach blanket about 20 feet away from me. The youngest girl must have been less than two years old. She had white blonde hair and was playing in the sand without a care in the world while staring up at the birds and laughing. Her middle sister, who I would guess must have been about five,  was running after the birds much like I would suspect my wife Christiana must have done countless times in her own youth because I’ve seen her do it as an adult a number of times as well. The middle sister had long, wavy sand colored hair and she was carrying a bag of pretzels that she was throwing at the seagulls in an effort to get them to come closer to her. Wherever the pretzels landed a group of gulls would dive down and try to be the first to seize the new offering. The middle sister seemed at ease with the energy of the moment and moved much like her wavy hair moved in the wind. The oldest of the three sister must have been about nine or ten and had darker brown hair; the same color as her mother who was sitting on her blanket reading a magazine as the whole story was unfolding. The older sister had a much different body energy than her two, younger, more carefree sisters.

unnamed-17Over the next few breaths as I came more back into my post-meditative state, I noticed that the oldest sister was picking up rocks and throwing them at the seagulls while screaming at the top of her lungs, “Get away from us!” Each time a flock would swarm down to seize one of then newly tossed pretzels, the older sister would flinch and hunch down closer to the sand as if trying to take cover. She would then bounce up and run at the gulls and throw another rock while her sister tossed out more pretzel bait behind her back. I couldn’t help but stand there and smile at the whole scene unfolded with the carefree white haired girl, the totally distracted mom and the two very different sisters. As I stood there with a smile on my face and the sun shining down on my whole self I was reminded of something I’ve thought a number of times in the past:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could live out all of our days with the same pure and organic connection to all that IS that we are born with…” 

I’ve long been a fan of looking up the symbolism of animal spirit guides when a certain animal crosses my path and I take particular notice of the situation. I can think of times in the past when a cardinal, or a hawk, or a coyote, or deer meant so much more than the surface of the situation might have suggested. When I looked up the meaning of a seagull spirit animal crossing your path one of the best explanations I found was this: 

“When a seagull flies across your path, it’s time to take a new perspective on things. Take a step back and look at the scene through a different lens. Soar above the drama of your own emotional boundaries and find creative new ways to move forward…” 

As Christiana and I get ready to begin our journey as parents I’m reminded that the lens we choose to view our lives through is our choice. Where we live or what we do to provide sustenance or which circles of people move in and out of our lives or how we choose to persevere and protect ourselves are all fluid things. Some days may feel like laughing in the sand, some days we will dive for pretzels and some days may even be filled with a few rocks.  If all the days of our lives can be lived with the reminder that to be young at heart is to live as close to the IS as is humanly possible….then I’m pretty sure this Fatherhood thing is going to be like a day at the beach! 

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Fatherhood at Fifty – The Illusion of Control

“You teach best what you most need to learn…” 

Have you ever heard that phrase or a paraphrase with a similar message? Have you experienced a truth in your own life that makes the phrase resonate with you inner teacher and/or inner student? Do you know the source of the above words of wisdom?

The words come from a passage in one of the most profound books I have read in this lifetime; Illusions by Richard Bach. Bach is best known for his groundbreaking best-seller Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, but is has always been Illusions that has intrigued the storyteller and mystic in me the most.

unnamed-15Illusions is the ultimate teacher apprentice story: It is a hero’s journey of epic proportion disguised in a 140-page, easy read that can effortlessly be consumed in one rainy afternoon or an average length plane trip. If you have never had the pleasure of reading the book cover to cover I strongly encourage you to take it on your next adventure. Once read it can be picked up again and again and read piecemeal, somehow making to deliver the exact message you need at any given point in your own life journey.

The larger part of the passage that leads up the the powerful one-liner above reads as follows:

“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know it just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, teachers.

Your only obligation in any lifetime is to be true to yourself. Being true to anyone else or anything else is not only impossible, but the mark of a fake messiah.

The simplest questions are the most profound. Where were you born? Where is your home? Where are you going? What are you doing? Think about these once in a while, and watch your answers change.

You teach best what you most need to learn…” 

Hold those powerful words in mind for a few moments as I share with you my own story and recent opportunity for awakening.

About a week ago I had just finished a virtual gathering with one of the many groups of inspirational people that I am blessed to travel through this lifetime with. This particular group is made up of like minded, positive energy male incarnates who gather once a month to talk about things that men are sometimes not very good at talking about. We talk about things like fear, emotions, vulnerability and the like. While it is a circle that I started, it is not what I would consider to be “my” circle. It is “our” circle in that I am both a student and a teacher in the circle and while I may moderate the call each month, countless others have shared their wisdom and leadership through the years.

This month we had a very casual call with no specific focus topic where we all shared what we are currently working on in our lives. As we made our rounds, I noticed a particular theme developing. I found myself continually noticing and commenting on the concepts of non-attachment, of allowing things to unfold organically and refraining from micro-managing within our daily lives. At the end of the call I felt very much at peace. I felt like we had all done some great group and individual coaching of each other. At the end of the call I asked each circle member to offer me one piece of fatherly advice.  I ended the call with a deep sense of knowing that my journey towards fatherhood would unfold exactly as it was intended to regardless of any external circumstances. As I began to clean up from the call and put away all my video equipment, I felt like I was floating on clouds of peace and contentment. My state of peace and ease lasted a full ten minutes until I made the ill fated decision to open up my email and take one last peek for the night.

Amidst the standard junk email and Facebook updates I came across an email with some rather unexpected and unsettling information. It seemed that the place we have been living for the last four years was about to be put up for sale. In an instant I went from a place of invincibility to a place of irrational fear. What if we had to move out because the building sold and new owners hated us? What if we had our baby in February and had to move out in March because our lease was expiring? What if we wound up homeless with a newborn infant? Let’s just say I felt like I was riding a surfboard of emotion and fear in a sea of tidal waves. Not so invincible now, are you Mr. positive thinker?

“You teach best what you most need to learn…” 

Over the next few hours as the news settled in I gradually began to let go of my inner panic. I put the Xanax bottle back into the bottom of the drawer where I keep it just in case, even though I almost never take it. I started to realize that there were as many possibilities that we could stay in our current home as there were that we would need to move out. Eventually over a period of a few days I even reached the place that I usually try to tell others to try to get to when dealing with change and uncertainty. I reminded myself that if staying in our amazing home that we love so well home didn’t happen organically, that maybe that was a sign the we needed to move on with trust and grace.

My guess is that fatherhood is going to look a lot like that that surfboard riding. The good news is that I have so many bodies of water to explore yet and so many teachers and students to help me continue the learning. I’ve made some progress over the last few years. I’ve gone from needing to be in control of pretty much every aspect of my life, to understanding that control is an illusion. Even when we think we are in control we are merely clinging to a set of ideals and beliefs that we think will lead us to contentment and peace. It is in that clinging that we resist the natural current that the Divine Universe has in mind for us. I may not know exactly what the next few chapters of the story will look like, but I will say that I’m excited to ride the river…

“Once upon a time there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river.

The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. 

Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current what each had learned from birth. 

But one creature said at last, ‘I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust the current knows where it is going. I shall let go and let it take me where it will. Clinging I shall die of boredom…” 

Richard Bach – Illusions Chapter 1: Verses 11-14

Prophet like words from a master writer, an inspiration in verse, and nicereminder that it is always a good day to grab your journal, post your next blog, or write the next chapter of the story of your life…even if you don’t have any idea how it’s going to end!

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Fatherhood at Fifty – The Lonely Soul

Here we are in week 12 of our amazing journey to parenthood. What an amazing ride it has been so far and I’m really enjoying sharing pieces of the journey through my blog. We are still working on creating a new dedicated blog site for these musings within my new dedicated website. For now, what I’m calling these Fatherhood at Fifty posts will continue to nestle in nicely here on Jimswhimz.

For this week’s entry I am going to share a little story I just wrote. As many of you know, I love to write and tell stories. Over the last few years I’ve created dozens if not even a hundred stories for storytelling shows, Moth competitions, Toastmasters speeches and other events and writing projects. This past week I was scheduled to give a speech at my Toastmasters of Lincoln Park club. I had yet to write anything for the speech so I started to think that it would be nice to do something about the impending arrival of our first child.

I thought about doing an Icebreaker 2.0 sort of speech where I just talked a bit about my life and how I’ve gotten to where I’m at now. I also toyed around with the idea of doing something from the humorous speaking manual and writing a parody about the days leading up to us finding out that we were pregnant. Then I picked up my Storytelling manual and realized that my next project in that manual was project #4 – The Touching Story. Boom! I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the speech.

I would write a Dr. Suess-like short story that summarized the 50-ish years of my life and how I’ve gotten to where I’m at now – all in about 1000 words so I could deliver it in seven minutes. Yikes! I’d read it like a story would be read in an episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood – cardigan sweater and all. Holy Moly! If I did it all well my hope was that it would be one part theater, one part humor and one part touching story.

I’m glad to say that I had a ton of fun putting it all together and even more fun delivering the speech. I’d love to hear what you think about my little story. Once upon a time I would have never had the courage to share it, but like every good Hero’s journey, our awakenings inspire us to change and grow…

THE LONELY SOUL 

“One upon a time there was a lonely soul…..

And the lonely soul wandered through time and space through the ENTIRE Universe wondering what it would be like to have soulmates…or tribe members…or anything at all to make the lonely soul less solitary and so alone…

And then one day that lonely soul happened by our planet earth and noticed it for its unique beauty and for all the possibilities….

The lonely soul stopped and wondered and thought about what it might be like to stay for a while and see what life on this planet earth might be like?

And just like all thoughts….the lonely soul’s thought became energy… and that energy put in motion all the possibilities of how this lonely soul might carve out a lifetime in time and space on this fabulous planet earth….

And with that thought in motion all the Angels and Gods and other Souls in the Universe began to act…

An infinite number of possibilities began to present themselves to this lonely soul. Billions of choices of free will and destiny in an single instant in time began to take shape…

And then suddenly the lonely soul had chosen it’s next story…and that story would become a little boy human born to this planet earth on July 11th, 1964….

And that little boy human was me…

And low and behold the lonely soul that became the little boy human was not so lonely any more. He had not only selected the finest possible parents he could have ever hoped for, but they had also selected him. And the little boy human’s parents praised him and raised him and loved him for all the years as he grew stronger and older and more experienced in life….

Until one day it was time for that little boy human to go off on his own and blaze his own trail and see what this planet Earth had to offer. Now little did he know at the time that there would be SO much more to learn and SO much more fear and SO much self-doubt and SO much more loneliness left on the path…but walk the path he did.

The now bigger boy human grew into a young man and left his parents and his dog named Snoopy and went to college at a University in a place on planet earth called Michigan, where he eventually met his first ever new soul partner who would later become his wife and share his life for many years to come. In those years to come the young man human would try many things to quench his desire to live life to the fullest….

He would try kite-flying and running and bonsai cultivation and martial arts and cooking and traveling and yoga and working in a variety of fields….

All the while he never seemed to find the answer to what it was that his heart was truly longing for….

And over time the young man human made and said goodbye to many friends. He said goodbye to the human that was his father when his father went back to the other side. And then eventually he said goodbye to the soul partner he met in college when it became clearer that their time in this life journey had served all the purposes that it was intended to serve.

By now that little boy human had become a middle-aged man….a man who wondered at times why he had ever even bothered to leave his lonely soul status wandering the Universe in time and space, in trade for this VERY human experience that had become even MORE painfully lonely than what he had known on the other side….

And just when he thought he was about to completely break….the middle aged man realized that before you could break…..you needed to crack….and for the first time in his human experience he let the crack happen…..and then suddenly the light came in!

And with that light coming in, the middle aged human man started to re-think all the possibilities. He thought about the many hats he had yet to try to wear in this lifetime like loving listener, and humble helper, and fantastic friend….and father….

And all those things that seemed at one point to be impossible, suddenly seemed possible again. The man opened his mind….and more importantly…..he opened his heart… and sure enough the Universe sent him an opportunity. The Universe sent him an opportunity to re-invent himself and to fulfill a soul contract that had been set in motion hundreds if not thousands of years ago….

His new and true soulmate appeared. His soul tribe began to identify themselves one human….and one spirit at a time. Some of them new souls and some of them souls he had traveled with through time and space before….

And with each passing day the lonely soul/human boy/now becoming an elder man grew more content….more at peace…. less fearful and less lonely than he had ever been before. He tried new things that he had never tried before. He learned from new mentors he had always longed to find before. He began to write more and speak more and have more confidence in sharing his own message and sharing his own story as an inspiration to others to also share theirs….

And then one day, one day very recently he got the message that he had been waiting his entire lifetime to hear. The one that his heart was longing for…..even long before he knew about the longing…

The lonely soul/human boy/growing young man/middle aged wanderer/becoming an elder man got the message that another soul had put in a request to the Universe….

The request to come in to this planet called Earth….and call him Dad!

And so it continued….And once and for all….after many climbs and many falls….the idea of ever being alone completely disappeared for the lonely soul….never to re-appear again…”

greg-rakozy-53292

 

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Daddy Cravings

Welcome to week two of the writing project I’m calling “Fatherhood at Fifty.” As I said last week, I have a strong vibration that I need to write and share my feelings and experiences as this amazing life gift unfolds for my wife Christiana and I. My goal is to post once a week. If the energy shifts my frequency may increase or decrease. I’ll try to let the ideas and emotions flow organically and see what we create.

It’s week 11 of our pregnancy. So far we’ve had no unusual cravings in the early stages. “I have a taste for chicken” or “I’m not in the mood for meat tonight” are the closest thing my wife Christiana has shown to needing any particular type of food. There have been no midnight runs for pickles and ice cream. I’ve prepared no bowls of pasta with maple syrup and mini- marshmallows. There has of course been plenty of what we now affectionately call Emergency pizza….Emergency pizza is that single slice that is always available to her to fill in the gap between meals.

Christiana and I both try to eat a diet that is limited in gluten and dairy, which makes traditional pizza public enemy number one: she is very appropriately living by a different set of rules for the next 30 weeks. I on the other hand do not have an organic reason for my bump to increase in size, so I usually still try to refrain from too many starchy carbs. Note that the word usually is stated with emphasis!

Last Monday night after my chiropractor appointment I had one mission in mind. I wanted to treat myself to my favorite pizza for my birthday, which happened to be the following day. On the very special occasion of announcing our pregnancy to the world over the weekend and my birthday in combination, I figured it was the perfect day to bend the rules.

My plan was perfectly crafted. I had a rare night off with nothing on the agenda. No Toastmasters meeting. No coaching sessions. No social plans with friends or family. No task list to attend to. Just me and myself and the perfect 16″ pie after my massage and chiropractor appointment. The best part of the whole plan was that my favorite pizza joint – ORD Pizza – is on Montrose Avenue just blocks from my chiropractor. I could order and pick up my perfect pie on the way home and be nestled into my happy place by 7:00 pm with a glass of wine and some chill music.

I got off the brown line train at Montrose and walked anxiously to the East, getting ready to stop at ORD and place my order for pickup after my appointment. I could already feel the perfectly crisp crust in my mouth. I could already taste the sweet, salty and spicy NY style sauce on my tongue. I imaginarily savored the Italian herb chicken and spinach and special cheese blend as if I was already eating it in the moment. As I got closer to the entryway, I noticed it was unusually dark inside. When I arrived at the door I saw a sign taped to the window. The horror started to set in…

I stood in front of the dark ORD pizza and read the saddest words I ever could have read:

“ORD will be closed today for special circumstances. We look forward to serving you in the future. Sorry for any inconvenience.” 

Sorry for any inconvenience!!! I had planned my entire life of 53 years around eating this particular pizza on this very special day. I was dismayed. I was confused. I was broken in the worst possible pizza needing way. I went to my appointment and pondered all the lesser possibilities for dinner.

As I benefitted from the talented hands of my healing practitioners, I slowly began to realize that the world was not likely to end if I didn’t have ORD pizza tonight. I considered the option of ordering from Jimmy’s in Lincoln square, my second favorite pizzeria. The only problem was that they did not offer Italian herb chicken as an ingredient. I considered eating the leftover fajitas I had in the fridge. Not a bad choice, but certainly not the choice I was longing for on this night. Then I suddenly remembered how I used to make pizza at home so often in the past.

I started to wonder how long it had been since  made a homemade pizza? The Kitchenaid  mixer was still in the storage locker since we had moved to our new place over three years ago. I hadn’t bought a packet of yeast in I don’t know how long. I concluded that it must have been at least three years since I had made a pizza from scratch. Never afraid of a culinary challenge, I decided I would make Baby Herbert their first homemade pizza!

I didn’t just want this chicken and spinach and sausage pizza that I was about to undertake. I NEEDED this pizza. It was official. I was having my very first insatiable Daddy craving! Without any further hesitation I was off to Tony’s Fresh Market!

Interestingly, Jimmy’s Pizza Cafe is directly across the street from the Tony’s Fresh Market in our neighborhood. When I got off the #11 Lincoln Avenue bus and started to head to Tony’s I had that classic second thought moment….

“I probably will spend just as much on ingredients as I will on a large pizza and it will take me a lot longer until I’m eating if I do it from scratch instead of just….”

NO! I stopped myself mid-thought and remembered this was going to be the first ever homemade pizza for Baby Herbert AND that I wanted herb chicken on my pizza AND that it would be worth the expense and the effort. I walked into Tony’s and began to fill my basket.

Organic free range chicken breasts; sweet Italian turkey sausage; crushed San Marzano tomatoes; good quality part skim mozzarella; aged asiago; fresh organic spinach; King Arthur brand specialty bread flour; a bottle of decent red wine; sliced at the deli pepperoni; mozzarella di bufala; fresh basil; onions and garlic and many other odds and ends later I arrived at the checkout to purchase the ingredients to make the most amazing homemade pizza.

“$67.43. Oh my…This better turn out good!”

When I arrived at home I fired up the charcoal grill and poured myself that glass of wine that I was going to enjoy when I sat down to eat the pizza I would have otherwise bought. As it turned out, I would have time for a few glasses of wine over the next several hours.

I made the dough and kneaded it to smooth before letting it it double in size over the next hour. I slow roasted the Italian sausage in the oven, just the way the old Italian ladies from the market in Little Italy taught me dozens of years ago. I made the sauce and let it simmer with the whole onion cut in half so it flavored the sauce without becoming a part of it. I seasoned the chicken breast with oregano, basil, olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper before grilling it to juicy perfection. I grated the cheeses and blended them together. When all the components were ready I rolled out the dough and started assembling the pies.

Now you may note that I just said pies, as in plural. If you know anything about making pizza dough, then you know that in order to get a good dough consistency you have to make a large enough batch. In the past I would often save half the dough for a later day, but this time around I was going all in. I was going to make my favorite pizza AND Christiana’s favorite pizza on the same night. The only question that now remained was whether or not I would finish these pies before Christiana got home from work around midnight.

Picture a scene from the Food TV network show called Iron Chef where individuals compete to complete a meal with a time limit . By the time I was done assembling the pizzas, I had flour on every flat surface of the kitchen and many parts of my body. Various cooking utensils and other random items had hit the floor. Dishes and pans were strewn from end to end of our various counters. I even dropped and entire box of 1000 toothpicks into the sausage roasting pan and all over the range. Some would argue that I would have been better off to make that stop at Jimmy’s on the way home instead of going to all this trouble. More than a few times I pondered that same question myself!

In the end I wound up having the most amazing night. Yes, both I and the kitchen got a bit messy. Yes, By the time I finally ate at 11:00 pm I was light headed from hunger, and perhaps a few too many glasses of wine? Yes, it may have cost twice as much as if I bought the pizzas. Yes, my crust was a little too thick for my preference. None of those things mattered.

Over the years people have always asked me why I love cooking so much. I have many answers. I find cooking relaxing. I love the art of cooking and being able to create something special from a collection of ingredients. I love to eat well and I love pairing food and wine. Mostly I enjoy cooking because it provides a platform for me to nurture the ones I love by giving them a piece of myself in the form of home prepared food. In short, Food is one of my Love Languages….

I’ve had so much fun and spread so much love in cooking for family members and friends over the years. Until last week’s homemade pizza night, I had never even considered how much love one might have to give in cooking for their own child. I may have thought that my first ever Daddy craving was driven by the idea of eating pizza with chicken and spinach. In reality it was created by my insatiable desire to share my love through food.

By midnight Christiana had made it home from work. I had cleaned up pretty well, but some of the evidence of the chaos still remained. I reheated a few pieces of her pepperoni, green pepper and mushroom pizza, put them on a plate and then put myself to bed with the knowing that a new generation of Herberts was about to get their first taste of Daddy’s love via food. Tomorrow I would wake up and it would be my birthday. I had already received the greatest gift I have ever known…

 

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Fatherhood at Fifty – Let the Ride Begin!

Yesterday morning I took a long bike ride on a magical summer morning. In many ways it felt more like a fall morning with temperatures in the low 60s and big waves crashing in on the shore of Lake Michigan. Towards the end of my ride I stopped at the northernmost end of the Chicago lakefront bike trail to spend a few minutes walking about on my favorite Chicago beach – Hollywood beach.

Technically the beach is called Kathy Osterman beach, but to me it will always be Hollywood beach because that’s what my Mom and I used to call it when we lived in Hollywood towers for the beginning of my wonderful little life. Back then things looked a bit different on the beach than they do today. Back then there were no fancy concession stands or $15 a day umbrella and cabana rentals. If you look up and down Sheridan Road across from the beach though, things look pretty much the same.

unnamed-1I was born on a normal July morning to my mother Charlene and my father James. Everything in my life was as delightful and as ordinary as it could possibly be. If I had to try to point out anything in particular that was unique about my situation, I guess it would have to be that my father was a bit older than what was typical for first time fathers. Back then the majority of men were married and already raising families not later than age thirty or else they were very likely to stay bachelors for life. My Dad was 37 the day I was born. He used to tell me that he might have had to wait longer for me, but that I was worth the wait. He’ll be gone from his body 20 years this October, but as I often say “I have no regrets.” I got more love and support from my Dad in our 33 years together than most children get in twice that amount of time. His spirit is still so close to me and his love still guides me in so many ways that I seldom feel like I miss him: I do sometimes wish we could go out to lunch together though.

Like most young kids, when I was growing up I always longed for the “day when I would beat Dad at….” I wanted to beat him at Yahtzee, at ping-pong, at bowling, at running races, and at so many other things. Eventually I did win, but more importantly I learned about the fact that winning is less important than giving your best effort and being kind to others. I’d like to think that I’ve given most things my best effort throughout my life. More recently I’ve studied the art of kindness in earnest. As I sit here today, it looks like I just beat Dad in one more thing. I just beat him by being 16 years older than he was as a first time father. I can only hope to be as good at actually being a father as he was.

Yesterday when my wife Christiana and I announced our pregnancy to the world we did so with tremendous excitement and the expectation that we wanted to fully share the experience with the many who have followed our lives along the way. I’ve waited five decades to go through this journey to parenthood. I’ve been waiting weeks now to share my thoughts and feelings. Over the duration of our pregnancy my plan is to post once a week on this topic of becoming a first time father at fifty. I have no idea what direction this journey may take us and I have no idea what I may wind up saying or not saying, but I do know that I have a deep sense of knowing that I need to write about this experience and I need to share what I am writing.

If the last few years of my life have taught me anything, what they have taught me the most is that we feel most alive when we allow ourselves to open our hearts and feel EVERYTHING! Joy, pain, love, fear, bliss, vulnerability, uncertainty and so many other feelings are beautiful colors that we splash onto the canvas of our life when we open our hearts. I tried in college with acrylics and watercolors, but I sucked at painting. With a few more years, stories, and miles on the path of life, I’ve realized that words are my medium.

I’ve tried my hand at many writing projects over the years. I’ve started more than a few novels. I’ve written hundreds of blogs. I’ve got a major project in the works for which I’m about to hire an agent in NYC. I’ve written and told dozens of stories, hosted nearly fifty webinars and cranked out numerous speeches both for myself and for clients who have hired me to help them. I’ve never been more excited about any writing project than this one.

Each week since we confirmed our pregnancy, Christiana has shown me a video about what’s going on in her body and with the little one. So far we’ve progressed from the size of a gummy bear, to a raspberry, to a green grape, to an olive. Maybe next week we’ll be a medium sized strawberry. Whatever it is I look forward to sharing the stories along the way, both what has happened so far and what is yet to unfold on the path. I promise you my best effort. Let the ride begin!

(Look for the “Fatherhood at Fifty” blog to move to a new dedicated site associated with Jim’s new website in the weeks ahead)

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90 Minutes of Insignificant Intensity and Illusion

I always marvel at the priceless value of hindsight. How many times in your life have you said, “If I only knew then what know now I would…”

In the midst of our everyday travels we run across countless opportunities to either accelerate the pace of intensity or slow it down. Let’s just say, as a general rule I’ve done a much better job of accelerating than I have of slowing down. What can I say? It’s my default tendency, but the good thing about tendencies is that they can change with a little work and intention. The other day I got a chance to test both the speeding up and the slowing down skills. Of course it comes with a little story and here it is…

Last Wednesday I was traveling through what appeared to be a routine day. I woke up. I made a cup of tea. I did some writing around the house. I took the train to work. I went about my activities as the ringleader of a circus that brings joy and food to many travelers from near and from far. At the end of the day I was trying to make my usual quick exit so I could get to my “next” thing. Last Wednesday my next thing was a 4:30 pm yoga class. In order to make it to the north side for that 4:30 pm class I need to be walking out the door EXACTLY at 4:00 pm. Queue the timer please and let’s start my 90 minutes of insignificant intensity and illusion. Here we go! 

4:00 pm – 90 minutes on the clock

I’m fully changed and ready to leave. I’ve done the work in advance to prepare for the transition to the team who takes over the reins at night. As I’m about to walk out the door a glitch appears. It’s not a big glitch and the facts are insignificant, but it’s going to cost me three or four minutes. In the span of a lifetime, three or four minutes is nothing. In the commute across the city of Chicago in rush hour three or four minutes are everything!

4:06 pm –  86 minutes on the clock

I consider taking an Uber instead of the train. An Uber might be able to get me to the studio by 4:30 pm. There is one small variable. It’s raining. If you live in the city of Chicago and you commute, you would rather have to deal with a swarm of locusts than to have to drive anywhere in the rain. Uber obviously knows this because what would have normally been a $10 ride is surge priced up to $29.

4:08 pm – 82 minutes on the clock

I give up on the idea of making it to the 4:30 pm yoga class and spend a minute pondering the absurdity of “rushing to get to yoga.” My wife Christiana is on the way downtown to work and if I had left in a dash to get to class I would not have seen her. I decide to take the opportunity to surprise her and visit her in the garage where we park the car. I walk up to the car, open the door and say “hi, sweetie.” She responds by bursting into tears.

4:15 pm – 75 minutes on the clock

I sit down in the car and we begin to chat. I have now devised a plan B in my mind which is to get to a different studio for a 5:30 pm class and I have just about enough time based on the rain and the traffic….IF I leave in the next few minutes…..I say nothing about this to Christiana. It turns out she’s not feeling well and she’s a bit concerned about being able to get through her shift. When you work in one of the most dynamic restaurants in the country you are a cog in a machine with many parts. If you can’t go last minute, the machine doesn’t have a replacement part readily available. That comes with a LOT of pressure. Fortunately she feels better after we chat for a few minutes and she lets one our managers know that she will be a few minutes late and heads to work. The extra few minutes were exactly what she needed to be able to get ready to get through the night. The extra few minutes for me? Well…

4:35 pm – 55 minutes on the clock

After we ride down the elevator together and kiss goodbye for the night I dash off to the train. Getting on the train traveling north at 4:35 pm instead of 4:00 pm is similar to the difference between being a single potato chip in a giant oversized bag vs. being an anchovy packed into a jar. I would have used the sardine cliché instead, but like I said it’s a cliché so I tried to get creative. I look to see when the next train is coming on the display board and the sign says 2 minutes. “Perfect!” I say to myself under my breath. Just enough time to add some money to my reuseable Ventra card and catch the train. I load $20 onto my card and run down the stairs to the platform to catch the red line. As I reach the bottom step of the stairway my eyes realize with horror what is happening and my mind forms the three words that Chicago rush hour commuters hate the most:

Cubs Night Game! 

Whatever happened to the good old days when the Cubs were terrible and played all their games during the day in a half empty stadium in front of a bunch of drunken, unemployed losers!?! Okay maybe my spite is a little strong because I realize there is no way I’m getting on this train that is about to arrive

4:38 pm – 52 minutes on the clock

Over 500 people are vying for space on a train that is already overfull by at least 100 people. This is one of the particular joys of needing to board the train after it has already made all of the downtown stops. I quickly realize that I only have one option: Bail!

The next few trains are going to be equally overfull. There is no way I can get an Uber in the rain. I am left with only one option. Walk to the nearest brown line stop. It’s a sturdy walk of just less than a mile, but if I really hoof it and the train arrives quickly I can still get to the studio by 5:30 pm for class and find my serenity immediately. On the way out of the subway station I consider stopping at the CTA desk and asking for a refund for the ride I didn’t take, but I realized two very important things!

1) My energy was likely NOT in the place where I could have politely and kindly plead my case…

2) My time is more valuable than my money right now if I’m going to make class.

4:51 pm – 39 minutes on the clock

I am walking briskly in a light rain. I’m wearing jeans that I wish were a little less tight and a shirt that I wish wasn’t long sleeve and quite so warm. My shoelaces keep coming untied. I stop to lace up my boots tighter but once again they become untied. I finally decide that I’m not even going to bother to stop and tie them because they are just going to untie themselves yet again. I make it to the brown line stop and it is considerably less crowded than the red line. I knew this would happen because I’ve seen this movie play out before. The first train to arrive is actually a purple line. I see the conductor leaning out the window. I pull out my earbuds and I ask him if this train stops at Diversey. He replies, “Yes sir, it most certainly does!” I board the train and check my watch.

4:58 – 32 minutes on the clock

I have 32 whole minutes left to get to the near north side and then walk the half-mile from the train stop to the yoga studio. I put my earbuds back in and hope for the best. It’s looks like it will be a close call at best.

At the next stop after I board the train I hear a bit of a ruckus on the platform. I didn’t hear what was said on the platform by the patron, but I did hear the same conductor who was so kind to me say, “I got trained by a bunch of people who care a lot about making sure that people get places safely and quickly and I don’t need to be trained by you!”

More than a few of us looked around at each other and noted that it was an awkward moment. One man mouthed, “Was that intended for us?” Despite the melee none of us bother to take off our headphones.

5:01 – 29 minutes on the clock

The same conductor comes over the intercom. I can hear him well enough over the chill music that is humming in my ears and trying to keep me calmer. He says, “I’d like to apologize if you heard any of that outburst on my part. I realize that it’s a tough day for commuting and that our trains are running behind. We were due to arrive at Fullerton already and we haven’t even reached Armitage, but I can assure you we are doing our best to get you where you need to go safely and as quickly as we can….”

I started to connect the dots in my brain. Someone must have chided the conductor for the train being late and probably said something very unkind about his need for further training. I admired the conductor’s humility and kindness in taking ownership of his reaction and shifting the energy in the moment. I enjoy taking notice of how confrontational energy can easily shift back to peaceful energy with a bit of humility and contrition.

5:13 pm – 17 minutes on the clock

My train arrives at Diversey. I exit the train and get ready to dash to the right to the stairway to run to class. When I see the conductor leaning out the window two cars to the left, I stop in my tracks. I walk up to the conductor and hold out my hand and say, “Thank you for caring as much as you do. You are a gift…” He smiles and says, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me…”

I felt a great sense of pride in not rushing off without saying something. So many other times in my life I would have placed my own time ahead of that extra few seconds it took to change the course of somebody’s day.

5:24 pm – 6 minutes on the clock

Once again I’m walking briskly. It’s no longer raining but due to the earlier downpour, my jeans are wet from halfway down the calf all the way to my shoes, which are still untied. My shirt is wringing wet with sweat and a bit of rain, which I find uncomfortable, but since my intended destination is hot yoga in a 105 degree room, I note the irony of my discomfort. As I hit the home stretch of my 90-minute journey to the peace and serenity of hot yoga, I see a young man wearing a blue shirt waving his arms in the air wildly trying to get my attention. He is standing in front of Trader Joe’s holding a clipboard. Finally I notice that his blue shirt says, “American Civil Liberties Union.” I have less than 5 minutes to get into the studio, change and get my mat into a good place on the floor, but there is no way I can blow past this young man with my headphones on and pretend I don’t see him.

5:27 pm – 3 minutes on the clock

I pull out my headphones, I stop and I hold out my hand to the young man in the blue shirt. I say, “I have a class that starts in three minutes around the corner so I can’t stay and talk to you, but I want to thank you for what you are doing. It’s very important and I’m grateful to you. Please keep doing it…”

The blue-shirted man smiles and replies, “Man that’s the best thing that’s happened to me all day and it’s way better than any amount of money you could have ever given me…”

Once again I’m pleased that I made the time.

5:30 pm – Time Expires

I’m standing on my mat with my fingers interlaced under my chin ready to tilt my head back for the first pranayama breathing exercise…. just the same as I always am when I start hot a yoga class. I’m not in my favorite spot in the room. I didn’t stop to get a carton of ice-cold coconut water to take in with me because I was in a hurry. I forgot to grab a few Kleenex in case I need to blow my nose during class. None of that mattered though…

Instead I took the time to recognize the path of others and just as importantly to notice that time is really an illusion. There will always be another train. There will always be another class. There will always be another ice-cold coconut water. I’m finally starting to learn that the false deadlines that I place on myself are negotiable. When I make the time see others on the path with me and to see myself….I’ve got all the time in the world!

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Jack and the Jelly Cat

Of the many things I love about what I “do” in my life by working in a very busy public environment, one of the top things is that I get to observe the lives of so many other humans in the course of my daily routine. Last week I got yet another reminder of just how much beauty exists right in front of us, when we are open to the seeing.

Minutes before we were about to open the restaurant I noticed a woman pulling on the handicap access door. The door was still locked at the time. I dashed over to discover that she had a stroller with a sleeping child and I helped her come in as I unlocked the door. The woman was medium build and had shoulder length, sandy blonde hair. She spoke with a very slight accent that could have been either British or Australian…I’m not sure which?

“We dined here last night and I wonder if perhaps you found my son’s little toy. I think he may have dropped it somewhere along the way?”

I asked her to describe the toy. I remember specifically what she said,

“It’s a small thing….stuffed with sand or pebbles…it’s a sort of jelly cat?”

I let the words float out there for a few seconds as images ran through my mind. I had never heard the term “jelly cat” before in my entire life. The first image that came to mind was one of those teething toys they give children when they are cutting new teeth. You know the ones that are filled with jelly and they can be frozen. I pictured one of those in the shape of a cat.

I asked a few more probing questions before beginning the search for the mysterious jelly cat. My search started in the official lost and found area, which seldom produces things like jelly cats. Lost and found areas are for things like binders, scarves, random shoes and packages that are left behind. If you have ever worked in retail or a restaurant you know that things like eyeglasses, earrings and children’s toys have a way of winding up in odd places.

After no success in the traditional lost and found area I started to forge my steps through all the other possibilities; the coatroom, the maître d’ stand, the folding changing table in the washrooms. No luck. All the while the little child in the stroller slept under the hood of the sun shield oblivious to the all points bulletin that had been issued for his beloved jelly cat. Just when I was about to call off the search and declare the jelly cat officially missing, one of my co-workers said, “Is it a little stuffed giraffe? I thought I saw something on top of the counter in the accounting office…”

My first instinct was to say,

“No, it’s a cat not a giraffe!”

I’ve learned over the years that things that are left behind are often not described as they actually appear. It sort of reminds me of that Meatloaf song titled “Objects in the rearview mirror, they appear closer than they are,” which will now be running through unnamed-24my head all day! I ran up to the office on the mezzanine level and discovered that there was indeed a tiny stuffed giraffe on the counter. I grabbed the giraffe, turned and proceeded back to the stairway. As I got halfway down the stairway the young child stirred his stroller as if he could sense the energy of the little giraffe heading his way before he even saw it. When his mother realized that he had stirred she pulled back the sun shield to unveil a beautiful blond little boy who I would soon learn was named Jack. I would guess Jack to have been about 15-months old: Old enough to use words and clearly show emotion, but not old enough to form sentences.

As soon as young Jack made eye contact with me carrying the little giraffe, his eyes lit up, a huge smile came across his face and I could literally see the love in his little heart radiating out of his tiny little chest. My own heart melted, as I knew I was seeing unconditional love in its purest form. Who among us hasn’t had that “lost favorite toy” moment in our own life or in the lives of one of our children?

After I handed the toy back to Jack, I turned to his mother and said, “I was picturing a cat in my mind not a giraffe?” In her soft little accent, she said,

“See look here…”

She then uncurled the tag on the tiny little giraffe’s foot to reveal the logo of a South African company named Jellycat. All the while Jack was smiling and cuddling his lost and found best friend as if all the problems in the world had suddenly disappeared, and then in that magnificent moment I was reminded of something very important…

In that moment in time there were no problems in the world. In a moment of pure unconditional love, nothing else in the entire Universe could alter the state of joy that Jack or his mother or I was experiencing. Isn’t love always the answer?

Jack and his mother said goodbye and rolled out the same handicap access door that they pulled on before we even opened. The rest of the day I was a bit lighter on my feet. I was a bit quicker to let things roll of my back. I was more open to sending love to everyone, even those who might otherwise have rubbed me the wrong way. At the hands of a 15-month old boy and a stuffed Jellycat brand giraffe, I was given a lesson in unconditional love that will last me a lifetime.

The beauty and the power of Love is everywhere! In times when there are so many things are shifting and changing, it can be easy to get swept into the whirlpool of fear and doubt. If you SEE not only with your eyes, but also with your mind and with your heart, you will always have Faith to persevere. Just like little Jack had the intuition to know that the state of joy was returning even before he could see how it would return, you too can have a sense of knowing that your own Jellycat is coming home soon. We were all born with this deep sense of knowing and trust….that is before we unlearned it!

How do we get that faith and intuition back you ask? It’s really pretty simple. Open your eyes. Open your mind. Open your heart. Humanity has issued the call and the power of Love is answering. People are joining together and sharing their resources. Angels and Divine beings are anxiously waiting for the masses to reach out and open themselves to the help that has always been there. Even the Jellycats are returning home!

What an amazing Universe we all live in! How can there possibly be any need or reason to have fear?

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