Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pep Talk: "If We Look Close Enough"

“That was a horrible night,” joked the handsome dude who works and lives in New York City. He’s my son, Kyle. He works on the writing team for NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Myers.”  Please tolerate an old man exalting the hardworking 26-year-old. It was recently announced the network renewed the show till 2021. Bravo!

He and his beautiful girlfriend were recently visiting the Mile High City.  I brought up the source of consternation. About a decade ago, my late father, older brother, featured teenage son and yours truly were crammed into a hotel room in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Cornhusker Inn was packed with fans on Thanksgiving night in preparation for the next day’s battle between the visiting Buffs and the hometown Huskers. At the time, I was a sportscaster at Denver’s CBS4 and assigned to follow the Colorado Buffaloes wherever they roamed. I loved every minute of it.

It had become a family tradition for the Kansas City-based McIntosh sports’ nuts to make the modest drive to Nebraska’s state capitol city the day after Thanksgiving. There to unite with Kyle and yours truly. It was a family foursome’s job to cheer on the Buffs in the sea of red that is Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. On football days, with almost 90,000 in attendance, it’s the third-largest city in our nation’s 37th state, admitted in 1867.

Memory begins to fade with age, but I’ll never forget waking up on game day and having Kyle complain of a restless night. “Dad, I didn’t sleep worth a darn,” he groaned. “It sounded and smelled like a bunch of farm animals in here!”

I guess that’s what happens when hunkering down with a Grandpa past 70, an Uncle pushing 55 and an old man nearing the half-century mark. We make noises while sleeping. Few are melodious and some singe nostrils. Oh well. It’s the price paid for an all-expense paid trip - lodging, meals and ticket - to the big game. This was back in the early 2000‘s when CU head coach Gary Barnett’s Buffs were winning often. At the time, the program’s spirit oozed, “The games to remember are played in November.”

I’ll quit taking a pleasant trip down memory lane and get back to the story. Fast forward to 2016. Son is visiting from New York City. Family has gathered for dinner, having fun and his old man brought up the story of his sleepless night. Most important, the lesson Kyle’s father took from it.

I had no clue of the adverse noise or aroma permeating Kyle’s domain. I’m deaf in one ear and prone - must negate audible distractions - to sleep on the good one. Like a baby, I had completely snorted and snoozed through the tortuous overnight.

What a blessing!

It reminds me of something heard recently: “Beware of going back to what you once were, when life wants you to be something you’ve never been.” Is it just me, or do we sometimes focus too much on the negative aspects of this roller coaster we call life? I’m lucky. Deaf in one ear from a freak head injury? I’ll keep it. I can sleep anywhere. Anytime.

This week, try like heck to find some magic from life’s misfortune! Often, it’s there if we look close enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Pep Talk: "Pinpoint Control"

“When I have something to say,” whispered a beloved man, “People have to be quiet to hear it.”

Those powerful words came from a man with a fresh scar running from below his left ear downward across his neck and ending below his Adam’s apple, the aftermath of recent surgery to remove a large tumor in a valiant battle against thyroid cancer. Gone is a jugular vein - we have more than one - and his voice for now, but not his sense of humor.

“The kids are joking that it looks like a shark attack bite.”

The prognosis is less than optimistic. A Friday morning Bible study buddy, who I have grown to love like a brother, has Stage 4 cancer. It has spread beyond his thyroid and moved into the vascular system. An upcoming PET scan will determine strategies for moving forward. I so admire the husband and father of six for the spirit and courage he brings to this battle.

It was only fitting that the focus of our gathering of knuckleheads this particular morning was on what we can control in life. There was much banter around the table from 11 dudes in attendance. Finally, we boiled it down to pretty much this: All we really control is our attitude and actions.

Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux was used as an example. He’s the first pitcher in major league history to win four consecutive Cy Young Awards (1992-95) in recognition as the best pitcher in the game. Maddux was known as the “Professor” for his skinny build and scholarly attitude.

Often after a game, when asked about his performance, Maddux would say something like, “It was good for 73 of the 78.” Now 49, the San Angelo, Texas native was referring to the fact that 73 of the 78 pitches came off his hand the way he had planned.

The 18-time Gold Glove winning pitcher realized that once the ball left his fingertips, fate was in charge. All he could control was how the pitch was delivered. After that action, weather conditions, alertness of the hitter, skills of the catcher, judgment of the umpire and abilities of teammates in the field were going to dictate the outcome.

After the rawhide sphere left his highly trained right hand, all control was gone. Maddux won 355 games (8th all time) in his long and storied career. He’s the only pitcher in major league history to win more than 300 games, have more than 3,000 strikeouts and less than 1,000 walks.

What do we control? Our attitudes and our actions, that’s about it. Most thought Maddux was too slight of build to make it to the majors. Doug Wittenberg has cancer and an uncertain future. We have our challenges, too.

This week, let’s learn from Maddux and Wittenberg. Whether demonstrating it with our hand, whisper or hearts, when it comes to our attitude and actions, let’s display pinpoint control.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pep Talk: "Mahula, Thanks For The Reminder"

“I was standing here in 1990 in disbelief,” said the woman. “I never thought I’d live to see the day we were free.”

An attractive tour guide’s heartfelt words warmed my marrow on a brisk, wind-swept morning as we stood outside the Presidential Palace in Prague, Czech Republic. Along with darling wife and good friends Kim and Jim Gottschalk, we were wrapping up a tour of the beautiful European capitol city in a country that knows a thing or two about adversity.

“The 20th century was not the best for us,” laughed Mahula, our guide and native Prague daughter. “World War II bombed much of the city and then the Communists took control. It was a bad 50 years.”

As we stood in a grand plaza separating Czech government buildings from Saint Vitus Cathedral, a marvelous and grand structure almost 1,000 years old, I tried to imagine the moment. It was 1990, communism had failed and the Czech Republic’s first post-revolutionary president, Vaclav Havel, stood on a second-floor balcony and addressed hundreds of thousands of liberated souls. Our excellent tour guide was one of them.

We stood in silence, gusty winds chilling our bodies, but no match for the warmth felt for a woman and nation that had persevered. For whatever reason, that brief moment in time, with no words said, sent a powerful reminder to the feeble brain of your knucklehead scribe: Don’t ever give up on our future.

Throughout the three-hour tour of Prague the mother of three and I had talked about life under the close eye and restrictive hand of Soviet Union politics. “My family lost everything when the Communists took over after the war.” Everything became property of the state, including businesses, schools, churches and Mahula’s family grocery store. “My grandfather was given a salary to run the store but lost title to the property.”

Prague now bustles with tourists. It wasn’t that way before the 1989 revolt. I highly recommend a visit. The city and country’s history and the Baroque, Gothic and Classical architecture is amazing. The Vitava River runs through the middle of a city of about a million folks. The nighttime lighting is spectacular, especially the illuminated Prague Castle. Construction started in the 9th century. It sits high on the same hill where we were standing while reflecting upon that historical moment in Czech and world history.

Life not going exactly as planned right now? Does it feel as if someone else is dictating matters? That you’ve lost the ability to control your destiny? Unfortunately, it happens too often, right? Relationships crumble, loved ones perish, jobs are lost or a plethora of other calamities crash into our comfortable world and disrupt order.

A simple but truthful phrase comes to mind: “This too shall pass.”

If the going gets tough this week and it seems like someone or something is threatening  your future and your vision of a better tomorrow, remember the Czech people. Communism controlled their lives for almost half a century but nothing could quench their spirit.

We would be wise to emulate them. Never surrender dreams. Mahula, thanks for the wonderful reminder. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pep Talk: "Dad, Happy Birthday"

“The Chiefs win their 11th straight in blowout fashion and earn their first playoff victory since 1985!” bellowed a pumped up ESPN sports dude. Coverage was shifting to college football and the national championship tussle between Alabama and Clemson.

Steve Levy, who I really enjoy on his “Levy Lounge” stuff with Barry Melrose was wrapping things up from Houston and talking about all the Chiefs fans who ventured south to cheer on their heroes. “There were more Chiefs fans in attendance than Texans!” was another comment. You could sure hear the KC faithful in the background having a good time. I grew up there. KC folks like to have a good time. They’re also riding real high right now with the Chiefs, World Series Champion Royals and a talented KU basketball team to boast about. The town is rocking with good vibes.

It makes me think of my father. I’m writing this on January 9, 2016. It would have been my old man’s 85th birthday. I miss him. Marvin Walter McIntosh passed about eight years ago. My folks, dad and mom, were big Chiefs’ fans and took us kids to the games all the time back in KC’s greatest times, the late 60‘s and early 70‘s that included a win in Super Bowl IV over Minnesota. It would have been great to be sitting in the stands with him for this one. I miss playing golf with him.

I’ll never forget those memories. There are many. One of our final times together forever changed my life. 

The television was on but not the focus. Nope, not at all. I was between reading a book and caring for a wounded soldier, my old man. The father of four at 76 and battling cancer and heart disease had survived uncertainty and ten hours of surgery. Doctors needed to fix his heart before they could attack the tumor in his lung. It was risky, but this guy’s a Marine.

I’m reading the book when “Mac” squeezes my hand. It’s time for ice in his mouth. It was helping with dryness from anesthesia. It so happens that I was at a point in the book where the author was talking about getting along with a mentor and deciding that what the mentor was asking was reasonable and would really cost him little, but would mean a lot to their sometimes tempestuous relationship. 

A light bulb went off for Barack Obama as he writes in “Audacity of Hope.” Our nation’s 44th president was talking about his often-contentious relationship with his maternal grandfather. Obama had moved to Hawaii to live with the disciplined Marine and his wife, Obama’s grandmother. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye. But one day Obama realizes, “What Grandpa is asking me to do really would cost me little but mean a lot to our relationship.”

I’m reading that “cost little, means a lot” when Dad asked for the ice. Startled, I take care of business. As he’s swooshing the ice cubes around in his mouth and away from the tubes thrusting deep into his body in the early hours after surgery, he musters in barely a whisper, “Aaaah, thank you.”

Sure, it cost me little to get off my butt and help out the old man in his time of need. Look around a bit this week. Find somebody who could use a hand. It might cost you a little but would sure mean a lot.

After the Chiefs thumped the Texans, in post-game interviews KC players and coaches gave credit to loyal fans that flocked south and took over NRG Stadium. Sure, it costs the fans a little, but it sure meant a lot to a team winning in the post season for the first time in more than 20 years.

My old man was alive then. On this day, I sure hope he enjoyed it on a big screen in the sky, surrounded by buddies, inside a favorite golf pub. It would be a fitting present for a guy whose spirit showered life with, “Costs little, means a lot.”

As a birthday gift to the old fart, let’s live our life like that this week!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pep Talk: "Rose Bowl Reminder"

Your knucklehead scribe is often chastised, lovingly I sense, about the frequent “sports” theme running through these weekly musings. Guilty as charged. In defense, sports are great metaphors to life. 

But it was from a pure sports standpoint that I recently watched Stanford tangle with Iowa in the 2016 Rose Bowl. The draw was Cardinal standout, and Colorado native, Christian McCaffrey. The super sophomore is amazing with the football in his hands.

But that’s not what this Pep Talk is about.

While enjoying McCaffrey’s big day in Stanford’s easy win, there were many beautiful shots of the picturesque setting at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Considering the game was a blowout, ESPN was doing what it could to keep viewers entertained. Each time the cameras delivered panoramic views, my mind kept wandering back to a personal experience outside that stadium.

Long ago, as the “Buff Guy” for KCNC-TV in Denver, I was at the historic site covering the CU Buffs against UCLA. Despite it being many miles from campus, the Bruins use the Rose Bowl as their home field. I had extra passes to the game. Before kickoff, outside the stadium, I bumped into a Buff fan looking for a ticket and offered one up. No big deal.

Little did I know the harvest reaped years later from that random act of kindness. It’s a favorite story to share with audiences about never growing weary of doing good for others for the benefits WE receive.

Fast forward about four years. I’m breathless, freezing and bewildered. I’m in Kansas City for a speaking gig and standing inside a Country Club Plaza Starbucks contemplating next steps. I’m trying to figure out how to make the return trip to a nearby hotel where wife and two smart-aleck doormen were expecting early morning coffee and pastries. “Where you going dressed like that?” was the ignored question and warning as I ventured, inadequately dressed, into the arctic-like conditions. I’ve never run a faster three blocks in my life.

But what to do? The return trip involved transporting cargo. Sprinting while carrying a tray of hot coffee is foolish, but walking in 35 below zero wind chill temperatures is even dumber. But luck, or something else, was present that day. Inside Starbucks, a smiling gentleman approached and said hello.

It was the dude, Robert Thompson, who received the free pass into the Rose Bowl many years before. He had just moved to Kansas City from Denver. What are the odds of such a reunion years later in a faraway land? Thompson gave me a ride back to the hotel with this parting shot: “I got to watch the game from the press box. THANKS!”

I get it, the Rose Bowl usually means sports memories. But the beautiful venue will forever be a timeless reminder to the value of good works. We do reap a harvest. It’s the law of circulation warming our hearts despite life’s cold uncertainties!

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