Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pep Talk: "When A Man Loves A Woman"

It’s a Friday morning in the Mile High City, and the Broncos had looked very impressive the night before in pounding the Chargers at home. The mood of the city? Good. I’m driving to the regular Friday gathering of a bunch of knuckleheads known as Platoon and listening to music. Loud. Singing to it.

A wonderful hit from the mid 1960s, “When A Man Loves A Woman” has this simple dude from Raytown, Missouri fired up. Powerfully sung by Percy Sledge, the song about a man’s heart being captured was America’s most popular long ago. Rolling Stone Magazine calls it the 54th best song ever in its top 500. A Michael Bolton remake in 1991 rose to number one as well. Great song. While bellowing it out, alone in the car, quite easily, this ol’ jock’s cranium wandered to the absolutely fabulous Kathy Gans. I married her recently.

As we prepared for wedding day, our charge to one another had been to share with those attending, through our vows, why we love one another. The Chicago native went first and just blew me away. Then it was my turn.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” is the opening salvo of the famous poem written long ago, back in the 1800s, by a woman named Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Why do I love my amazing bride so dearly? There are many reasons. As daughter Rachel pointed out in her outstanding wedding toast, “Dad usually finds a life lesson in everything.” The high school senior is right. Here’s this week’s: we have a choice in life. Yep. We have a choice to operate from fear or wonderment. Choose wisely. It sure helped me, as one buddy said, “Hit the jackpot.” A bilingual friend taught me, “Me case con mi muneca!” If I didn’t butcher the translation: “I married my sweetie pie!”

It took awhile.

More than a decade ago, the staffing executive and I were sitting in a popular Denver eatery. It’s known for its tasty Mexican food and lively atmosphere. If memory serves me correctly, it was our second date. A twice-divorced sportscaster with a darling child from each union and a never-been-married business leader in the very early stages of getting to know one another.

As we settled into our chairs a waiter zipped by and plopped menus, chips and salsa before us while heading to serve others in the crowded restaurant. I can’t remember exactly what the brown-eyed girl and yours truly were discussing but, as usual, the conversation was lively.

A short while later the waiter returned, ready to take our order. I instantly blurted out that my date had not had a chance to look over the menu. I was quickly corrected. “I know what I want. Tacos al carbon.” Well, that statement made a guy trying to forget the past a little nervous, considering that’s exactly the food item, and manner, the first former spouse and devoted mother to my son would order when we visited the popular establishment long ago.

Things got even more interesting a few minutes later when, as is customary in the early rounds of dating, the topic of conversation turned to birthdays. “Mine is May 10th,” announced the wonderful spirit. At that moment primal instincts were conflicted. Time to flee? Within the first ten minutes of our second date it had been discovered that this attractive and intriguing woman shared the same palate preferences as the first former and the same birthday as the second former and mother to my daughter. Was it a sign? What to do? Was I going to allow fear or wonderment rule the day?

I’m so darn glad to have chosen the latter. What man in his right mind would run from such a beautiful, fun and smart woman? More than a decade later, what has become so apparent about this darling human being is a powerful fourth trait that takes a back seat to none: a gigantic and compassionate heart for others. In practicing vows before the ceremony, many times I would burst into grateful tears that she opened that heart to me. I’m a lucky guy.

Our wedding. What an absolutely magical evening. It ended with being surrounded by an overwhelming outpouring of support. Loved ones who stayed till the end, as the band played its final song, Sinatra’s “Fly Me To The Moon,” would move in unison toward us on the dance floor. The rush of people began gently but eventually, in good-natured fashion, turned into a version of an old folks’ mosh pit. It was incredible.

So too my love for her. This wasn’t in the lyrics of the hit song recorded a half century ago at Norela Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama, but when a man loves a woman he’s smart to allow wonderment, not fear, reign. What about you? Home? Work? Elsewhere? Sitting on the fence pondering your next move? Go for it. Take that leap into the great unknown.

It sure worked for this blessed knucklehead and might work for you, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pep Talk: "The Wonder That Is Them"

“The kids were absolutely awesome.”

Never has there been a more truthful statement muttered. They came from a beloved, and now official, brother-in-law describing wedding toasts delivered by two amazing human beings. They happen to be the son and daughter of this simple dude from Missouri.

An almost 25-year-old young man and an almost 18-year-old young woman held court in captivating fashion. The scene was the wedding to the woman of your scribe’s dreams that unfolded in a beautifully decorated ballroom in downtown Denver. It was a magical moment from start to finish. But Kyle and Rachel just flat knocked it out of the park.

Parenting is an interesting journey, ain’t it? That was one of many emotions being  absorbed while standing among the gathered throng and listening to the warm, honest and incredibly entertaining words flow from the lips and hearts of children who have weathered plenty.

Their father’s marriages to each of their mothers had ended in disappointment and divorce. Painful. But those setbacks create space for an equally awesome woman to walk into their old man’s life - the beautiful, fun, smart and big-hearted Kathy Gans. Over a period of more than a decade, a dynamo who advanced from sexy girl friend, to darling fiancee to, what a lucky guy am I, sexy darling wife.

When it came to the toasts, Kyle was the leadoff hitter. Given his background and talents - on the comedic writing team for NBC’s Late Night With Seth Myers - it was not too surprising to observe his oration comfort and skill. It can be a blessing and a curse, but the handsome dude, like his old man, never met a microphone he didn’t like.

His younger sister? Holy cow. I never knew.

Anybody else out there have a teenage daughter? One on the cusp of taking flight and heading off to college in the near future? Communicating with parents, especially their dads, is far down the list of priorities. Perhaps just above, maybe, making their beds.

Words are limited. Scarce. Responses to inquisitive statements like, “How’s life?” met with a shrug of shoulders and, if lucky, a softly-spoken, “Fine.”

Admittedly, it’s been a struggle for me. Curious by nature, I like to know the news in my daughter’s life. Son’s life too. But each is at an age where inquiries about “What’s going on?” are most times unwelcome. At least, from my perspective. The men who gather each Friday morning in an office building and challenge one another to grow stronger spiritually know too well. So often, in response to my bemoaning, these knuckleheads cajole and challenge me to keep showing up in a loving fashion and get over myself and believe, “This too shall pass.”

Holding notes but rarely looking at them the volleyball setter extraordinaire captivated the audience. Remarks about the role new stepmother has played in mentoring drew roars of approval from the crowd. So did many other comments too. On a night designed to officially stamp the love mutually shared and cherished between two middle-aged people, it was the next generation that shined so brightly.

Quite a  proud moment for their pop. A moment that will forever be cherished.

Just this simple dude from Missouri’s opinion, but, first and foremost, wishes are for our children to be healthy. Right behind that constant prayer is one that they will embrace a passion to, as Thoreau wisely stated long ago, “Advance confidently in the direction of their dreams and live the life they imagine.”

Like all of us, life will throw curveballs at them. My two kids didn’t deserve to have their worlds rocked by parents divorcing in their early years. The hassle of living under two roofs. The uncertainty of their futures as parents moved on to new relationships with others.

Those of us who created them have not made it easy. However, as Rachel joked toward the end of her remarks, “Dad has a way of turning everything into a life lesson.”

Guilty as charged.

Kids grow up so fast. Before you know it, poof, they’re moving on to new frontiers. This much I know, from what was observed in listening to son and daughter share intimate thoughts with confidence and pizzaz, their future is limitless.

When the sun sets on each and every day, about the only thing we control, when it comes to the creatures we create, is our willingness to get the heck out of their way and allow the wonder that is them to blossom.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pep Talk: "Gallop With Gusto!"

“There was a much different perception to this visit.”

That thought came crashing into cranium while visiting with a buddy on a cool and overcast Centennial State Friday morning. Another way to look at what follows in this Pep Talk might be, “throw off what hinders and entangles, cast fear aside, allow wonderment to win and run, with perseverance, the race before us.”

It was the weekly Platoon meeting. A group of knuckleheads gathered to blast away at one another in the belief that iron sharpens iron. Collectively, in a nondescript conference room in Aurora, Colorado, we challenge one another to grow stronger spiritually. Your scribe was responding to a question from a companion about a recent visit to the University of Missouri-Columbia, my alma mater.

Along with darling fiancĂ©e, we made the trek into the rolling hills of central Missouri to visit a young lady who is studying journalism at Mizzou. She’s the cherished daughter of dear friends and calls me “Uncle Mac.” It was the first trip back to campus in quite some time. Bravo to all who have turned what used to be a concrete jungle-type campus into a botanic garden. Mizzou’s looking good these days.

In an earlier life as a sportscaster, I had made many trips back to Columbia to cover battles between the Colorado Buffaloes and Missouri Tigers. However, those trips were quick and focused on the football stadium, not the campus. Each visit was bittersweet. I enjoyed duties as the “Buff Guy” for Denver’s CBS-owned television station KCNC-TV. But admittedly, each return was also a reminder of an athletic career that ended in disappointing fashion.

Covering football games inside Memorial Stadium between the Buffs and Tigers always reminded me that I was supposed to play on Faurot Field. It was impossible for my mind not to wander to “What might have been.”

But this visit was different. It was focused on campus, not sports. On visiting a dynamic and adventurous girl loved like a child of my own. With the love of my life who will soon be my bride. With a perception of self as a long-time journalist, small business owner and servant to Victory’s “A Stronger Cord” project and its mission to call men out, starting with the workout.

Only because of a different mindset did strolling the grounds of Mizzou bring a sense of wonder and excitement, not a tinge of sorrow for unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. I was sharing those thoughts with a buddy before the dudes of Platoon dug into the message of the day. Talking about it made me think of another: the woman who gave me life, Patsy Sue Perry.

Almost 80 but still as feisty as ever, she’s on the move again. The town of St. Joseph, Missouri is calling Patsy Sue home. We’ve had a lot of discussions about what this move means for the mother of four and grandma to eight: returning to a senior living facility where friends greet her like a rock star; having important resources - senior citizen’s center, medical care, churches, library, schools, bars - all within one block of home.

Also, the two residences where she grew up are within a few blocks. Lively chats about the pending move focus on it being the “Alpha and the Omega” for a news junkie who, cognitively, is still sharp as a tack. What a blessing. It’s the fourth quarter of life for Patsy Sue. Heading home to where it all began. We’ve talked a lot about “finishing strong.”

But that will require a change in perception of self for her, too. It will require a woman to somehow, someway, muster the courage to let go of the past. To be gentle and forgiving and not hold grudges, especially against herself. Yep. Forgiving self. Ever been there? Sure you have. Simple but not easy, right? How to focus on the future, not the past, with a sense of wonder, not sorrow, for what might, or should, have been?

It’s a constant theme in working with homeless men and encouraging them to become fitness-minded, dependable and productive members of families, workforces and communities. The past? WE GOTTA LET IT GO!

It’s my prayer for Patsy Sue. For you, too. We must drop that bag of dung that is the past. We have to lighten our load. It will help us run, with perseverance and success, the race before us.

Within the shadow of mom’s new high-rise home sits an impressive statue of a Pony Express rider. The late 1800’s mail service started in this town nestled against the mighty Missouri River just north of Kansas City. The dude depicted in the statue is in full gallop, pointed westward, toward California.

This week, let’s do the same. Drop the sack of regret about the past, jump on our horses and gallop with gusto toward the future with wonder, not sorrow, as our guide!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pep Talk: "Winslow Wanted Lousy Passes"

“Throw ‘em everywhere but at my chest” was the directive.

It was a statement uttered almost 40 years ago. However, for whatever reason, it vividly returned while savoring tasty cheeseburgers at Booches, the legendary burger joint in Columbia, Missouri, home to the University of MIssouri.

I was sitting with an old college friend. It was a reunion of sorts. We hadn’t seen each other in almost four decades, since our college days at Mizzou. While recently visiting campus, we randomly ran into one another. Over burgers and beers, we reflected back on Tiger football of that time. Specifically, the 1976 season under coach Al Onofrio.

The request to “throw ‘em everywhere but at my chest” came from a player who would go on to football stardom collegiately and professionally. It was addressed toward me. At the time, a wounded and confused freshman member of the Tiger team.

Kellen Winslow was a sophomore that season. Despite not playing football until his senior year in high school, the East St. Louis, Illinois native was a rising star. A big man with soft hands, immense athletic ability and great intelligence, the tight end had minor injuries keeping him from practice.

Meanwhile, your scribe was waiting for doctor approval, or disapproval, to continue playing football after suffering a skull fracture, major concussion, breakage of cochlear bones and loss of hearing from a freak injury suffered on a high-school basketball court a few months prior. We were comrades, sidelined and looking for something productive to accomplish.

We would lift weights together. As a quarterback and tight end, the workouts led to throwing the football around. It led to a man, later on, named to the NFL’s All-Century team commanding me to throw passes above his head, at his feet, to the far left and right. The mission was to help the 6’5” athlete become comfortable catching passes, wherever thrown.

One of the most memorable games in NFL history went down in Miami, Florida in the early 1980’s. The visiting San Diego Chargers, led by quarterback Dan Fouts, taking on Dan Marino and the Dolphins. It became known as the “Epic in Miami.” Winslow was spectacular, catching a playoff record 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown, blocking a Miami field-goal attempt and fighting through dehydration, a busted lip requiring three stitches and severe cramps. After the battle, video of teammates helping an exhausted Winslow from the field is one of NFL lore.

Now the athletic director at Florida A & M University, Winslow was a transformational player. Current New England head coach Bill Belichick says he redefined the tight end position. Before the 13th overall selection in the 1979 draft came along most professional tight ends were “block first and catch second.” Winslow changed all that.

A quick check of Wikipedia reveals his NFL accolades: After being drafted in the first round Winslow’s entire career was spent with the Chargers; five times an All Pro; elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, according to the Sporting News, one of the top 100 players in NFL history. A stud.

What still burns bright in my mind about the soft-spoken man is a desire, despite great talent, for more. On a windy, cool but sunny Saturday afternoon in one of Mizzou’s great hangout places, during an accidental encounter with a long-time friend on the first visit back to campus in ages, memories of that time quickly, and surprisingly, surfaced.

Whenever I see highlights of Winslow’s career, or see him interviewed, it always takes me back to our time together. A star and a scrub. Each sidelined. One with big dreams of the future and one with uncertainty ahead. We had our moment. He probably doesn’t remember it. I do. It has served as a wonderful example of something important. At least for me. I hope it’s for you too.

Here it is: There is always room for improvement and we’re best when assisting others. Kellen Winslow showed me that before I even knew what it meant. Here was a man destined for big things who, while sidelined, kept thinking, “What can I do to get better?”

It takes my brain to “There’s nothing noble is being superior to somebody else. True nobility lies in becoming superior to our former selves.” A minor knee injury was keeping a future star from practicing but it didn’t mean the now 56-year-old was not seeking ways to fine-tune his game.

The meaning of what I was witnessing firsthand was lost at the time. 18 years old and wondering about my own future, its message certainly resonates powerfully today. The game plan will, in all likelihood, need revision along the way. We get injured - physically, emotionally and financially - and are challenged to adapt. Don’t let the temporary setbacks derail the dreams, don’t hesitate to ask for help or be ready to respond when assistance is requested. 

Winslow wanted lousy passes. Someone you know may have an equally strange request. Don’t hesitate to deliver. Over burgers and beers with a buddy, a great reminder: We’re best when serving others.

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