Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Family

Silver Screen Conversations With My Dad

From ScrollDroll.com - Michael Corleone

On April 15th, my dad would have been 68. I would have called to wish him a happy birthday. We would have discussed work, the family, COVID-19, the lack of sports, and a bunch of other topics. Eventually, we’d end talking about a movie he caught on TNT, HBO, or AMC. I’ve lost count on the number of times we’ve discussed The Godfather, Shawshank, or The Prestige. The man loved music and talking about movies.

So of late, I started thinking about the movies he and I discussed the most. And then, I started watching them. The guy had some great taste and I miss those conversations. Even though they always covered the same ground and we always covered the same points, our chats never felt stale.

After thinking through those discussions and rewatching a bunch of them, I’ve compiled a top 10 list of the movies that seemed to come up the most. To be clear, these aren’t the best movies or even his favorite movies, although many of them would probably make his all-time Mount Rushmore of movies.

  1. Frequency: My dad was always a bit of a science-fiction nerd and had a soft spot for Dennis Quaid. This movie about a ham radio leading to some form of time travel meets people coming back from the dead was right up his alley.
  2. Needful Things: Most Stephen King books that become movies are bad. They really are. There’s a few that stick out. The Shining, Pet Cemetary, and Fire Starter are a few examples. I think he loved this adaptation, not because it’s a great movie, but because he found Max von Sydow’s performance to be brilliant. This line in particular always came up, “The young carpenter from Nazareth? I know him well. Promising young man. He died badly.”
  3. Godfather II: If there was one movie that we disagreed about often, but in the best way, it was Godfather II. He thought it was a better movie than the first Godfather movie. I thought he was crazy. But, if you want a great discussion, have two opposing viewpoints. He loved the line from the scene where Michael explains, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” While a great line, I always preferred the lesson that comes from this line, “Now listen, whoever comes to you with this Barzini meeting, he’s the traitor.” Both, are invaluable.
  4. The Shawshank Redemption: Great movie. Great story. Great adaptation of a short story. Great cast. It was always on tv, which made for frequent conversations. But, what tickled him the most was the reality that Zihuatanejo was not this beautiful paradise, but actually one of the most dangerous places in Mexico.
  5. The Prestige: The only movie on this list that I haven’t seen. I bought it last week and I’m going to watch it on his birthday. He loved the performances of Jackman and Bale. In particular, what he often waxed about was the drive they both had to be the best. The guy loved a great Christian Bale movie, which brings me to #6.
  6. American Psycho: Christian Bale at his very best. I don’t know if this a good thing, so to speak, but he would generally open the conversation by saying, “Caught American Psycho last night. That scene where Bale talks about the business cards. You really remind me of him and his appreciation for details.”
  7. The Natural: If there’s one thing my dad loved, it was a movie with a great line, designed to teach a lesson. As we discussed the success of Cora and John in basketball and soccer, he would often quote from The Natural, “You’ve got a gift Roy… but it’s not enough – you’ve got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift… then… you’ll fail.”
  8. Rocky IV: Not a great movie. No one is winning an Oscar. But, it remains one of the most vivid memories for me – as a child, my dad took me to the theater to watch Rocky take on Drago and I can still hear the crowd yelling at the screen. Our discussions would frequently cover who was more devastating, Mr. T’s character from Rocky III or Ivan Drago?
  9. Back to School: My dad loved Rodney Dangerfield and while this was not a great movie, there was always something about his performance that made my dad chuckle. We’d start out talking about the movie and end up discussing the standup routines of Dangerfield, Carlin, and Pryor.
  10. Coming to America: Eddie Murphy. That’s it. That’s all you have to say. The genius of Eddie, the wide range of characters he played, the absurd story-line, and the memorable quotes kept us talking for hours.
  11. Unforgiven: My dad was never a big westerns guy. But, something about this gritty western appealed to him. We’d always end up discussing this quote from Eastwood’s character, “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he’s got and everything he’s ever gonna have.”

I could go on and on. Movies have a way of bringing people together, even when they disagree about the movie. I miss those conversations. But, I look forward to having them with my own kids.

“You’re Benched” – Tough, But Fair Coaching

I played Little League Baseball up until college. I’d go so far as to say, without lacking hubris, I was really good. How good? Good enough to have multiple college scholarship offers. Good enough to play some independent minor league baseball post-high school.

The Summer between my Sophmore and Junior year, I was selected to our town’s all-star team. That team is selected by the coaches and is the team that theoretically would compete to represent the state in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Normally, the coach of the best team in the league becomes the head coach of the all-star team. That would have been my coach, Frank McNulty. He deferred due to conflicts and my dad decided to step up and coach the team.

Some background on my dad:

  • Never played baseball growing up…or any sport, in a non-recreational capacity
  • Diehard Red Sox fan
  • Lover of math and science
  • Always made time to practice with me and offer coaching feedback
  • Never coached a team

Despite never playing sports growing up, he was definitely a student of the game (s). I remember spending an entire summer reading books and looking at formulas to understand the physics of how to throw a curveball. My curveball was scientifically, very good. He was also a big believer that I would succeed or fail on my own merit, and it wouldn’t be because of equipment. Cleats, balls, bats, gloves – I had them all. And, they were all top-shelf.

So let’s get back to the all-star team. The first game was away at and against Hopatcong. I remember it vividly. I lead off the game with a single. In between the next 3 pitches, I was picked off of 1st base by a left-handed pitcher named Daly. In the 3rd inning with 1 out, I crushed a double. We had some momentum. I got picked off of second base by Daly, again. The next person at-bat hit a single. The next one struck out. I would have scored if I wasn’t picked off. In the 5th inning, I bunt singled and was subsequently thrown out trying to steal second to end the inning.

As I was walking off the field, my dad met me at the 1st base line. I was expecting an arm around the shoulder. Instead, calmly and cooly, he said, you’re head isn’t in the game, you’ve killed three scoring rallies – you’re benched.

We didn’t speak for a week. I was pissed. How do you bench your best player? Not an exaggeration. How does your dad treat you like a stranger? During the week, my uncle had a lengthy discussion with me and offered the following advice:

  1. You played like crap. You let the team down. You let your dad down.
  2. You shouldn’t be mad at him, you should be mad at yourself.
  3. You owe your dad an apology. He only wants the best for you. His job isn’t to treat you differently than everyone else. His job is to do what’s best for the team.

The next game I pitched a complete game shutout. We didn’t get much further in the tournament. After exiting the competition my dad made it clear he would never formally coach me again. It was simply too hard.

Years later, I apologized for being a jerk, a sulky player, and a son who didn’t realize the position he placed his father in. The story above eventually became a joke that would show up on occasion and we’d all laugh about it.

With kids of my own now, it really hits home how hard it must have been for my dad to be my dad, be my coach, and have me, in essence, flip him the bird across both.

The poet, Coolio, once wrote,

They say I gotta learn, but nobody’s here to teach me
If they can’t understand it, how can they reach me

I wonder if he had it 180 degrees wrong. What happens when you gotta learn, there is someone there to teach, they do understand it, but you refuse to listen and be coached? From player to parent/coach, covering the past 20+ years, I think that’s the biggest change I’ve observed with youth sports. When every kid has a phone and youTube to tell them what’s “right”, why should they listen to their parents and coaches?

That my dad didn’t ring me by the neck for being so dismissive and getting into a verbal confrontation before heading to the dugout, still astonishes me. With my own kids I’ve adopted much of his philosophy. John and Cora will never want for top-shelf equipment. I look to invest my time and money into coaching them to be better. But, when they don’t want to listen, much like my dad, I don’t get angry, I simply stop coaching and go back to being a parent. While I know, much like my dad, I would have the conviction to bench them, I know I don’t want to be in a position to do so.

So Maybe I’ll Climb Everest

Young Adam

“First of all Rat, you never let on how much you like a girl. “Oh, Debbie. Hi.” Two, you always call the shots. “Kiss me. You won’t regret it.” Now three, act like wherever you are, that’s the place to be. “Isn’t this great?” Four, when ordering food, you find out what she wants, then order for the both of you. It’s a classy move. “Now, the lady will have the linguini and white clam sauce, and a Coke with no ice.” And five, now this is the most important, Rat. When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV.

I remember when my dad turned 40. I thought he was so old. The grey started to appear. It was barely noticeable but noticeable enough to know things were changing. He carried a few more pounds. But, when I think about it, what really made him seem old was the fact he talked more about my future than his own.

40 seemed like a lifetime away. As I celebrate 40 trips around the sun, my first thought is, wow, that went by fast. Too fast, to be honest. Is half my life actually over? Wow, but there’s still so much more to do and so much I haven’t even started to explore.

I’m not sure I have it all figured out and I’m definitely not sure what the right thing is to say. But, I get the feeling that when you turn 40, you’re supposed to say something of meaning.

Kids can be cruel. As a kid, I was called camel jockey, sand nigger, spic, and yes, much worse. I don’t believe children are born mean. I really do believe that they become what we teach them and show them. At 40, I don’t look back and think negatively about those kids who bullied me. I instead think this is what happens when our children don’t have positive role models to look up to. Our responsibility as parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends should be to set a positive example for the children in our lives.

If you can count your great friends, on one hand, you’re fortunate. My mom would drill this message into my head repeatedly. Earlier this year when I created my last will and testament, I felt fortunate to have 5 great friends who resemble family and whom I’d trust to take care of Cora and John, should something unfortunate happen.

Show the world your character and you will have no regrets. Show up early. Do what you say. Open the door for others. Ask, “how can I help?” Share your talents with others. Have principles and don’t compromise on them. I’ve known Karen and MJ for nearly 18 years. I’ve always marveled at their warmth, honesty, and compassion. I think of them as family. For 18 years, they’ve shown me that if you show the world who you really are, some may shun you, some may be bothered by the real you, but some will embrace you. Treasure those people.

When in doubt, always buy the shoes, take the trip, drink the top-shelf liquor, and say “yes” to that which gives you the butterflies. The best stories and most vibrant memories come from when we stop thinking about life and simply start living it. “You’ll never believe what happened, right after you left” is a sentence to avoid. Your life will be more fulfilled if you’re the one stating it, instead of being on the receiving end.

Life isn’t short, it’s long. People will tell you differently I disagree. There’s time. It’s never too late to make amends, forgive, admit you were wrong, ask for forgiveness, love, start over, or change who you are. As more and more time lapses it gets harder to right wrongs or summon the courage needed, but there’s time.

At 40, I’m satisfied, I’m happy, I’m fulfilled. I’m all of those things at 40 more than I was at 30, 21, 18, 13, and any age in between. I have 2 kids that I love beyond words and who offer me joy that hearts weren’t built to accept. I have friends who bring me smiles as I watch them navigate life. I have family that frustrates me, inspires me, and reminds me that we are all connected to something bigger.

To quote Anthony Hopkins in “Meet Joe Black”, “…I’m going to break precedent and tell you my one candle wish: that you would have a life as lucky as mine, where you can wake up one morning and say, “I don’t want anything more.”

Throw In The Floor Mats

Image Credit: elektrek

Over the years my dad imparted an incredible amount of wisdom on me. But, none was more sticky than “throw in the floor mats”.

He found a tremendous amount of pride in always negotiating a “free” set of winter/rubber mats…in addition to the fabric mats they give you with a new car. The cost of the mats are cheap. I think on average they’re about $95. But, my dad took such pride in spending $35K on a new car and somehow saving $95 on a second set of mats.

For years, I thought he was crazy. Every car I ever purchased, there he was reminding me in reality and in spirit, “make sure you ask them to throw in the floor mats!”

Well – crazy, until at the end of 2018 when purchased my Tesla Model 3. Try as I might, I could not inspire Tesla to throw in the floor mats. I tried every which way I could, but no dice.

I think the point of what my dad was trying to teach me, was that no one would ever want to lose a sizable sale over $95. For years I always believed it only applied to the seller. But, after my Tesla experience, it’s clear that his advice was for both parties.

In truth, I actually don’t know if that was point. I really wish he were still on this Earth, so I could ask him. But, I’d like to believe it was his aim.

It’s a valuable lesson in life and business. Don’t let the small things stand in front of the big things.

Also…if you don’t ask, you don’t get…but just because you ask, doesn’t mean you get.


“Nothing Left To Do But Smile”

My dad loved Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead. Jerry sang it best, when he said, “Nothing left to do, but smile.” I think my dad, would have agreed. He passed away at 12:13 AM on September 11, 2018, after suffering a brain stem stroke, following open heart surgery. My brother and I were there with him, in the room, when he finally left us. It’s a surreal experience to watch your dad slip away. But, I’m glad he’s no longer on machines that were artificially giving us the false representation of life. There were only 3 things, my dad habitually reminded me, when it came to his passing:

  1. Don’t let me become a vegetable, connected to machines.
  2. Make sure you cremate me. When I go, I want to just fade away. Spread my ashes at Washington Square Park.
  3. At the end, that’s when you can finally have all my f!$%ing vinyl.

We agree on #1 and #2. Except, when I go, sprinkle me off the BROOKLYN Bridge. As for #3, the man had an amazing vinyl collection. We’re talking first pressings of the White Album, The Wall and Born in the USA. He refused to give me a single record and would playfully remind me, only when he’s not there to play them, will I get my hands on them. I loved him for his simplicity, consistency, and facetiousness.

My Dad, Robert Kmiec.

My dad was never much of a religious man. As a scientist, I think it always bothered him that you couldn’t prove the existence of a higher power. And yet, the dreamer in him, always acknowledged it was possible that there was an afterlife.

I started writing this in 2013. I knew it would be incredibly difficult to put into words what I wanted to say about my dad. Having spent the past few days finishing this, I’m glad I started it 5 years ago.

I want to tell you about my dad. He was my best friend. My dad once remarked fathers should not have to bury their children. He was right. But, just because the natural order is that a son should bury his father, doesn’t mean this is easy.

I wish I knew my dad before life got in the way. Before a car loan. Before a mortgage. Before life wore him down and turned him into a semi-recluse. I wish I knew him as the confident young man who walked into the small shop where my mom worked and sweet talked her into a first date…using Peanut M&Ms as a conversation piece.

I wish my kids knew my dad, the way I knew my dad growing up. I wish my son could have thrown a baseball with him, while he explained the physics of a curve ball. I wish my daughter could have posed tough questions, requiring lengthy, rich explanations that were bound to spark further curiosity. I just wish there was more time.

My dad was many things.

A Teacher
He taught me how to ride a bike. He taught me to catch a ball. He taught me to be a father.

A Contrarian
He so enjoyed taking an opposing position, if only to inspire better discussion and dialogue. He knew exactly what to say to make my mom’s blood boil. And he’d do it with a smirk.

A Romantic
For all of his sarcasm and wit, the man loved a good love story. When love would make you do something stupid, he was the first person to look the other way. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants.

A Movie Enthusiast
He loved a good movie, especially those full of symbolism. His ability to quote a movie and tie it into a life lesson was uncanny. And it stuck with you. I can’t begin to count the number of times he quoted ‘The Natural’. He’d tell me, “You’ve got a gift Roy… but it’s not enough – you’ve got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift… then… you’ll fail.” I remind my own son of that wisdom, on a routine basis.

Above all, he taught me how to live. When life would punch me in the gut, he knew what to say. If work was complicated, he found a way to make it simple. When my kids would make me crazy, he made me appreciate that madness. I would not be me, without him.

Some of the best moments in my life were spent on my drives home, talking with my dad on the phone. For years it was a nearly every day occurrence. Then we stopped. I really wish we hadn’t.

As we celebrate his all too short and complicated life, think back to a moment; I’m sure we all have one, where my dad said something so profound, it made you pause. It made you hesitate. It made you think just a little bit longer and a little bit deeper. He had such a knack for that.

Our lives are all a bit emptier because he’s no longer with us. But, even in death, he’s still teaching us. We get one body, take care of it. We get one life, fill it with memories.

It’s Been A While

Getty

Wow! Is it May already? It’s been nearly 3 months without an update/post. It’s certainly not for lack of things going on and thoughts worth sharing. But, this ‘digital detox‘ has a way of making you think less and less about the internet and more about just enjoying the moment. I’ll have a full update in June about how the digital detox is going, but at a high-level, it’s been easier than I thought it would be. The first few weeks were more challenging. Habits are hard to break. But, by February, I had little interest in social media and I was so much happier without it. Social media had become a dumpster fire of negativity, political views, and social justice warrior-esque reasons to complain. Without all of that in my life, every day, I’m genuinely more energetic, happier and relaxed. I also feel like a bit of a trendsetter. If Facebook is creating this commercial, I’m sure I’m not the only person who decided to get back to a more analog life.

Changing the page, in June, I’ll have my mid-year analysis of my 2018 predictions. But, at first glance, things are looking good. That new crystal ball I purchased on Amazon must be legit.

Some other odds and ends:

  1. I saw Avengers Infinity War, helping to make it a box office success. Although, I’m in the minority when it comes to not being enamored with the film. Too many characters, too many questions, too many plot holes and the ending wasn’t my cup of tea.
  2. Also saw, finally, Blade Runner 2049. While it performed poorly at the box office, by every metric it was critically acclaimed. I second all the people who gave it a high rating. Stellar performances across the board, beautiful (albeit at times, dark) scenery and a plot with so much subtext you need time at the end to really think about what it all meant.
  3. Nichole started a new role at Riley Hayes and also decided she wants to run her first 5K. I’ve been training her since January. That’s always a dicey proposition, but I’m happy to say, the training is paying off and she hasn’t wanted to strangle me (as far as I can tell).
  4. Despite being hit with mountains upon mountains of snow this winter, I resisted the temptation of purchasing a snowblower. I actually find shoveling to be therapeutic. I put in the earbuds, listen to a podcast and get to work.
  5. Had a gift card to the Verizon store. Used it on a pair of Apple AirPods. I’m not a fan. Good sound quality, not great. They fall out to easy for me to consider using while working out, biking, etc. I will say, however, the pairing with Apple devices is as seamless as it gets, the battery life is very good and the packaging is genius. Having the case also be a charge was incredibly wise.
  6. I joined the Instant Pot revolution. No pun intended, but while they’re much better than the old school pressure cookers, they’re not fully baked. That said, when it works well, it makes a world of difference in flavor and meat tenderness. For the record, I ordered the Instant Pot Ultra.
  7. John and Cora wrapped up Winter basketball with mixed results. This was their first year playing in Woodbury. To say that the same small town politics I grew up in the 80s and 90s are still alive, would be an understatement. I actually had a player’s mom come up to me after a game to lecture me about John. He’s a 3rd grader. He had to try out for the 4th-grade team he’s playing on. The mom of a 4th grader on his team was none too happy that John was playing up and taking minutes away from her son. She said, clearly, “He doesn’t belong here. He should be playing with his own kind.” Stunning to say the least.
  8. The kids are headed to the FC Barcelona USA soccer camp this Summer, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’m excited for them to learn from a different class of instructors and to train against talent from all over the country. I’m also incredibly thankful that UnitedHealth Group has such a progressive philosophy for remote working. I’ll be working out of our Atlanta office that week. Without that type of flexibility, it would have been very difficult for John and Cora to attend.
  9. Two years ago I decided to get into soccer and in doing so, I picked Manchester City as my club. Wow, that was a smart choice. After a meh first year where we came away with no trophies, this year we set the world on fire. We broke records left and right while dominating the Premier League. On top of that we won the English League cup. We were a questionable red card away from most likely going on to win the FA Cup. And, we made it to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League tournament. The kids and I had our first early morning pub viewing experience when we watched City best Manchester United at Brit’s Pub. I’ll always remember John yelling at a United supporter, “You spent $100M on that? On that?”, after a total whiff by Romelu Lukaku. What a year/season. Soccer truly is global and it’s helped me connect with team members at work and random strangers. As global as it is, it’s also incredibly local. This celebration campaign by Manchester City shows that well.
  10. Took the family to Vernon, NJ to celebrate my niece’s 1st birthday. Ahead of the party, we took a tour of Vernon and I showed the kids my old school, the fields I played baseball on and the courts where I learned to ball. John being John, found a ball and then proceeded to shoot and shoot and shoot.

The first 4 months of the year flew by. The list above only scratches the surface. But, I guess when you’re not busy trying to stream your whole life, you have a lot more time to enjoy life.

“What’s The Toughest Part About Being A Dad?”

Recently, we had some our best friends in town. As we were out touring Minneapolis, one of them asked me, “What’s the toughest part about being a dad?” I had to think on it. Talk about a meaty question. After a few seconds, I said, “well, I guess it’s the wondering that you haven’t done enough, or you could have done more. What keeps me up at night is the tension that comes from not knowing if I should have given one more hug, said one more thing, spent one more minute or read one more book and if it would have made a difference.”

Those thoughts keep me up and make for the toughest part of the “job”, because we want the best for our children. I got a bit introspective on the subject, the other night. Then, by happenstance, as I was researching videos for an internal presentation, I came across this great speach by Robin Williams, in the movie, ‘Jack.’

I’m a huge Robin Williams fan and I can’t believe I’ve never seen the movie. The full text is as follows:

You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry, thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day…make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

Parents, god bless you. Your “job” is so hard. I applaud all of you.

The Open Road

We did something a little bit different for Memorial Day weekend this year. We didn’t stay home. Although on Monday, we were back in Chicago and we smoked some 7 lbs of meat. We didn’t hit the beach. Although many of our friends did. We didn’t fly out of town. Although we looked into and it’s something we’ve done before. No, this year, we hopped on the Harley and followed the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, going from Chicago to Milwaukee. I won’t bury the lead; if you get the chance to do this drive, do it. It’s stunning.

Last year, we bought our first motorcycle: a 2014 Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883. Unfortunately, we purchased it pretty late in the year and due to 2013 snowpocalypse and 2014 snowmageddon, we really didn’t get an opportunity to take it out very often. But, with the weather finally turning around, we’ve had it out pretty much every week. It’s  a perfect bike for a beginner. With 5 gears and the iconic Harley engine, you can get going pretty fast, but you’ll never go fast enough to put yourself in harm’s way. The 3 gallon tank will get you anywhere between 120 and 150 miles; just long enough to get away.

As we looked at the forecast for the weekend, taking the bike out for our first ride over 20 miles, was a no-brainer. This of course didn’t mean we weren’t nervous. To mitigate some of the risks that were causing the nervousness we made 3 decisions:

  1. We would leave at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Not only would the roads be emptier, but we’d also catch a spectacular sunrise coming over Lake Michigan.
  2. We planned to stop every 40 miles. The first time would be stretch out. The second would be for gas.
  3. We stuck to the Circle Tour route, which eliminated highways.

What a trip. I can see why people, once bitten by the motorcycle bug, are lifelong riders.

Our Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883 Along Kenosha Beach

The photo above was taken at Kenosha beach, just after sunrise. As we were driving up, the shear beauty of the sand combined with the different hues of blue from the lake and the sky, made for unexpected stop. That’s the thing about riding a bike:

There’s always something waiting at the end of the road. If you’re not willing to see what it is, you probably shouldn’t be out there in the first place.

There was no GPS to listen to. We had no phones to distract us; they were tucked neatly away in our pockets. We even lacked music to sing along with. All we had were each other, the road and the hum of the engine. It was all we needed.

 

I Want To Believe

By every definition of the word, I’m a mutt. In the classic representation of what it means to be part of the melting pot, that is America. My maternal grandmother is Puerto Rican and Spanish (from Spain). My maternal grandfather is Arabic and Yemen. They brought together a household that balanced traditional Roman Catholic ideals and Muslim beliefs. Yes, you read that right. Then you have my dad’s parents. For as long as I can remember, they argued over whether they were Austrian or Polish. If you know anything about Poland’s complex history, you can understand why that was an argument for 20+ years. The birth certificates of my grandparents said Austrian, but they and I, for a period of time, spoke Polish. My dad and his family were quite Catholic, though my dad had a much more liberal and worldly view of religion.

Don't Stop Believing

Think about that. A farm boy from New Hampshire somehow found love with a Puerto Rican, Spanish, Middle Eastern girl from Brooklyn. If that’s not America, I don’t know what is. I will tell you this, family get togethers were always amazing. Only with a diverse family like mine could you have kielbasa, rice and beans, paella, hummus with pita bread and baklava at the same dinner table.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I had friends who were Jewish, Arabic, Spanish, German, Asian and more. My kindergarden seemingly mirrored a United Nations meeting. There was diversity like nothing else I’ve ever seen in my 34 years walking and traveling this Earth.

In 1986 we moved from NYC, the great cultural mecca of the world, to the suburbs of NJ. Now NJ itself isn’t small, but the town I grew up in was Vernon, NJ – population 20,000…diversity, virtually nonexistent (95.1% white).  To say I experienced a culture shock, would be an understatement. I’d also be downplaying it, if I said, I faced some racial prejudice. I was called a SPIC, camel jockey, sand nigger, dot head, porch monkey and a host of other names. I fought when ignoring the barbs became too much. I went to therapy to discuss my anger and resentment. I resented my parents for moving me to the middle of nowhere and for not being able to make the hate from others go away.

There was a period of time when I simply tried to hide my cultural heritage. I embraced KMIEC (said Kim-yeche), a clearly white-European name and I shunned all the other parts of my family that made me, me. It’s fair to say, I had some awkward adolescent years.

In high school, things changed a bit. I was an athlete who had brains. I was never part of the popular crowd, but I also wasn’t shunned by them. For what it’s worth, I think that’s the perfect sweet spot to be in during high school. You can be you, without the pressures of being who the popular crowd expects you to be. I finished in the top 25 of my class and had scholarship offers from MIT, Columbia and Clemson. All great schools. I chose Minnesota. I chose it for 3 reasons:

  1. It was the furthest away from where everyone else I grew up with was going to be attending. Most of my peers were staying on the East Coast, with the majority attending schools in the Boston area.
  2. It had a great Business program.
  3. They gave me nearly a 100% full scholarship.

Let me focus on the scholarship. Come college admission season, I exploited every ethnic loophole that existed. While the majority of public scholarships are distributed to “white” individuals, it’s no surprise that the majority of “need based” scholarships are given to minorities.  I knew how the system worked and I maximized the system to my financial advantage. I graduated in 3 years and with zero college debt, despite attending The University of Minnesota as an out of state resident. A big part of graduating debt free was a benefit afforded to me by University for being an “outstanding minority” who wanted to attend The Carlson School of Management. That’s right, my minority status netted me a nearly 40% reduction in total tuition fees. Add in the scholarships I earned, that were only possible, because of my minority status, and my tuition, room and board was essentially 100% funded.

This was the first and the only time I would ever characterize myself, on a formal piece of paper, as a minority. Upon graduating, I felt ashamed. I questioned whether I’d earned the right to attend the university, on my own merits, or if I was merely someone who fit a quota. This shame and self doubt propelled me to always work my ass off. I believed and still believe, that while I may not be smarter than you, I will outwork you. I try to instill the same work ethic to my kids.

While working at a large agency in Chicago, during the dot com boom and bust, I was advised by a Sr. leader that I should make sure my file indicated I was Hispanic, African American (Egypt is in Africa ayer all) and/or some other minority status. I asked why? She remarked, it would protect me during layoffs. The company would never eliminate a person of color like me. I’m dead serious. This was a real conversation. When I explained to her that I had checked the Caucasian box, she shook her head and was aghast that I would eliminate the potential opportunities, advancement and protection that my minority status would have afforded me.

I’ve been working full time since 1997. I’ve never checked a box other than Caucasian. I want to believe that the world is fair. I want to believe that race, color, gender or creed don’t play a role in hiring. I want to believe that companies only hire the best candidates. I want to believe companies only fire or let go the worst candidates. I want to believe.

Fast forward several years and apparently as a person of color, I was supposed to vote for Obama. I didn’t. My mom basically called me a traitor to my race. I tried to reason with her; explaining that I voted for a candidate based on their beliefs and policies, not their gender (I voted Hillary in the primaries) or race. She would have none of that. Obama’s win was supposed to demonstrate to me and my children that a presidency was not of reach for a mixed race family like mine. I quipped, well, seeing as we’ve never had a female president, I guess my daughter can never dream of being one. This was clearly not something we were going to see eye to eye on.

Yesterday, when it was announced that the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on racial preferences in university admissions, I was supposed to be irate. I wasn’t. The color of my skin (a golden brown) should not afford me a benefit, an extra consideration, a better chance or higher likelihood of something happening. My skills, my work ethic, my desire and my contributions, however, should.

When I got engaged (the first time), my mom explained to my fiancé (a blonde hair, blue eyed, Norwegian, from Minnesota), that she would never understand the sting of racial prejudice that may one day be placed upon her future children. She based that point of view on the inability of my father, the 6 ft 1 in Polish Chemist from New Hampshire to understand the pain I suffered growing up in Vernon, NJ.

She might be right. She might not.

What I do know is that my children are taught that nothing is given to them, there are no handouts and every day they need to work harder than the last. As I look forward 10 years, when my daughter is 17 and ready to apply to colleges, I may be faced with an interesting conundrum – apply as a minority (gender, race, etc.) and open up a world of financial aid options or file as a non-minority and potential pay more long term. Dollars and cents vs. stubbornness.

I want to believe that in 10 years, it won’t be a conundrum, because we will have evolved as a people, culture and society. I want to believe that in 10 years, we will neither be granted nor suppressed opportunities because of our ethnic makeup. I want to believe that instead, we will be afforded opportunities based on the content of our character, the effort we have put in and the value we bring to society.

I want to believe.

Advice For New Dads

A really good friend of mine just found out he’s going to be a dad. He’s a hell of a guy. One of the best. He sent me an email, asking for advice on being a great dad. I have a ways to go, before I can claim to be great, but I did offer him 3 pieces of advice. As I read the email I sent him, it dawned on me, other new dads might enjoy those rumblings.

  1. You’ll screw up often. Or at least you’ll feel like you’re screwing up often. It’s ok, we’ve all screwed up. I’m serious. You can’t beat yourself up for the stupid mistakes. There will be plenty of them. I remember not realizing the reason Cora was so “sick” was that she wasn’t. She was just teething. But, all the signs said, no she’s deathly ill. You and your wife will make mistakes and that’s fine. No book, no web site, no person has all the answers. There’s no playbook. Remember that. Remember it often. It’ll help you stop beating yourself up for making mistakes.
  2. Cherish the middle of the night feeding. Totally serious. I’d always volunteer for the 1am/2am feeding, so my wife could sleep. Man, it was awesome. I told my daughter stories, we listened to Abbey Road over and over, we watched reruns of WWF wrestling. We did all the things she’ll never remember, but I will. For a solid hour, it was me and her. Remember to love this special time you get.
  3. Keep a journal. Could be a blog. Could be paper. The format doesn’t matter. Use it to write down everything from the serious to the mundane stuff that happens. I kept one for John’s first year. It was a combination of Post-It notes with dates, emails to myself, blog posts and other random ways for me to remember things. It had everything from the first time he watched Jordan highlights with me, to the time I changed his diaper 8 times in an hour and a half…then just gave up. You’ll laugh about these things. It’ll also make for a great reference manual when you have your 2nd.

Being a dad is the best job, even when it’s a shitty day on the job. Remember that when you get a call from an irate client. The work stuff is important. You’ll feel a burning need to “provide” for your child. It’s natural. But, at 1am, when you’ve got a bottle in one hand and the other cradled under your baby’s head, that bad meeting will seem so irrelevant and inconsequential. There will be other jobs. There won’t be another Cora or John.

I’ve edited the contents of the email slightly and added a few more notes. I’m glad I get to call myself a dad. It beats any fancy title out there and the ROI is tied directly to the effort you put in.