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Happy 14th birthday to my sweet and smart son, Jacob! He has overcome many challenges in his short number of years, but he has always been happy and kind to everyone, confronting his issues with grace, determination, and humor. A natural musician he plays piano and saxophone, making the world more melodic and meaningful in the process. It’s challenging for us both with my living so far away, but he is always close by in my heart (along with my younger son, Max). I am so inspired by the person Jacob is and the man he is becoming!

Some lessons last a lifetime.

Today would have been the 100th birthday of my grandfather Alan “Papa” Gilbert. Although he passed away in 2006, he was my most meaningful mentor and his influence on my life remains a constant source of inspiration. To celebrate his life I have shared the short story below; I first wrote it for his 80th birthday in 1995 and have revised and reflected on it many times since.

While I was aware of the impact of his insight when he first shared it, I more fully understand its importance and relevance to my life as an adult. I hope my sharing this story inspires you to positively influence others and appreciate individuals who have helped shape you into the person you have — and still can — become.


The morning sun yawned above the foothills, revealing the reservoir below, as Papa and I descended the wooden staircase towards the water’s edge. Stubborn fog, which had tightly held the surface of the water, melted away into daybreak.

“What a beautiful day,” Papa said as he bounded down the stairs like a child on Christmas Day.

We then walked along a narrow dirt pathway and, after a few short paces,  discovered our canoe: 15 feet of green fiberglass and aluminum. But for Papa, it was perfection. I watched as he gleefully approached the vessel and attempted to release it from the chains restraining it.

“How did I manage to do this?” Papa said, frustrated with the intricate web of chain links in which he had wrapped the boat a month earlier.

“Do you need a hand, Mr. Houdini?” I inquired. “Or shall I call you a nurse?”

“I stage one breakout and suddenly I’m a criminal,” Papa joked.

A few years earlier Papa had an allergic reaction to medication while in the hospital. It was so severe that seconds after receiving the dosage, he became the Incredible Hulk. Highly agitated, he attempted to forcibly extricate himself from his bed to the great surprise of his nurse who quickly summoned backup.

Within minutes, four additional nurses were trying to sedate him.  With all other options exhausted, they confined him within a restraining jacket, which was then anchored to the bed.

When Papa awoke later that day – in a much calmer state – he took issue with his restraints. So, he successfully liberated himself using brains over brawn. When the floor nurse returned to check on him, she discovered the discarded restraints and deserted bed. By the time she returned to the room with a search party, Papa had returned and was resting comfortably in the bed.

With the defeated device dangling from his fingers and a grin that would put the Cheshire cat to shame, Papa calmly inquired, “Were you looking for me?” Even with clipped wings, Papa found ways to fly.

“Let’s go!” Papa exclaimed after unfurling the lock and chain.

Me and Papa in 1976

We squatted next to the canoe and grabbed onto the edges. Papa positioned himself towards the front of the canoe, while I awaited his instruction at the stern. I stretched briefly and inhaled the rejuvenating air that surrounded me.

“One, two, three!” Papa said. “Up she goes.”

With the craft elevated over our heads we began walking towards the dock. Small pieces of gravel crackled beneath our feet as the weight of the canoe traveled through our bodies and into the ground on which we walked.

Beads of sweat amassed on my forehead like troops awaiting the signal to advance into battle. The pace of my breathing increased dramatically.  My arms quivered as they strained to balance the weight.

Looking ahead, I saw that, despite his advanced age, Papa was in great condition. Biceps the size of grapefruits rippled underneath his shirt while he easily supported his end of the canoe – and a portion of mine I suspected.

Maintaining Papa’s quick saunter was challenging. His vigor and vitality often masked his years just as his mature wisdom serves as an odd counterpart to his progressive ideas. Wiping the sweat from my forehead with an elevated shoulder, I persisted.

“Are things all right back there? You’re awfully quiet.”

“I’m just trying to keep up with you!”

“I disagree. You’ve been pushing me this whole time!”

Within a few minutes we arrived at the end of the dock and our two-man army came to a halt. I felt the wooden platform rock slowly beneath me as I tried to maintain my balance.

Firmly grasping the metal rails of the canoe I awaited the next command like a soldier at inspection. The aluminum lip burrowed into my shoulder and my arms slackened. I ignored the pain and glanced at Papa for inspiration.

“Up and over!” he instructed.

Following his lead, I slowly lifted the craft over my head and – in unison with Papa – gently placed the green fiberglass hull into the murky water. I seated myself in front, allowing Papa the helm, an honor he earned long ago during a family canoeing trip on  the Russian River.

After recovering our spinning canoe from a whirlpool with the calm and command of Odysseus, Papa heroically rescued several other craft from the same fate.  Papa was my personal hero: strong, gentle, humorous, sensitive, reliable, generous. Adjectives cannot adequately define who this man was and what he meant to me.

“Off we go,” Papa explained as we pushed away from the dock.

“Into the wild blue yonder,” I added.

“Right-o,” he said.

Silence engulfed us, save the soft splash of the paddles stroking the water. We didn’t speak, words were unnecessary. Though void of sound, our time was full of meaning. Papa was always more of a friend and colleague to me than a grandfather. As a child, he was my favorite playmate. During adolescence, he was my ping-pong partner. When I became an adult, he was my confidant.

When I became a parent, he reprised his earlier role and became a playmate to my son, Jacob, who embodies Papa’s kindness. My younger son, Max, was born six months before Papa passed away. While he never met Papa personally he possesses his joie de vivre; adventure is his middle name!

Forever my protector, Papa always appeared when I needed a shoulder to cry on or an arm to lift me up. He was always very giving of himself, his abilities, and often, his well-being. Papa had an innate ability to understand people and bring them joy.

When World War II involved America, Papa was 26 years old. Although newly married with a promising life ahead of him, Papa volunteered to fight. Sacrificing his own future for the survival of his nation, Papa answered the call of a country in need.

Fortunately, his military service well suited his personality: he was captain of “The Biscuit Bomber,” an Army Air-Corps C-47 Skytrain as part of the Troop Carrier Command. Based in New Guinea, Papa logged nearly 4,000 hours flying missions throughout the South Pacific. During three years of service in this unarmed aircraft, Papa continually risked his life to ensure the survival of others.

Alan

One particularly poignant situation occurred when he was transporting Japanese prisoners of war who were under guard by Australian soldiers. Midway through the flight he heard a commotion in the cargo area. Upon investigating the situation he found the Australian soldiers trying to extract the gold teeth from the Japanese soldiers’ mouths.

Incensed, he pulled out his sidearm and aimed it at the Australian soldiers, instructing them that the POW’s were his responsibility and he would not tolerate them being harmed or harassed in any way. The Australian soldiers acquiesced. In the bleak circumstance of war, Papa shed some humanity. Had he been a fighter pilot his stories may have been more exciting, but they would have been less meaningful.

Anyone can kill. It takes someone special to sustain life.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from him was to always help someone in need, even if doing so was inconvenient or promises no recognition. Considering all he did for me, I can attest to the power of this philosophy.

If only everyone were as kind and generous as Papa, perhaps the world would be a more positive place. Sadly, I have found that, more often than not, people are less like Papa than they are like him.

Nevertheless, I strive to live in the same sincere and sensible way as he did, although he was often too agreeable to the demands of other people. Despite his incredible generosity to others, he often gave away too much of himself to make others happy.

The one unintentional lesson I learned from him is that if you give too much of yourself to others you can lose yourself in the process. As a result, I often felt he was a bit unfulfilled, yet, admirably, he never said as much. I appreciate his fortitude in this regard, but often wonder what might have been for him, had he embraced his promising potential.

After World War II he could have enjoyed a lucrative career as an airline pilot. The plane he flew during the war, the C-47, was the military version of the very popular DC-3, which was widely used in commercial aviation after the war (many are still flying and being used commercially).

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He would have easily been hired by any of the airlines and enjoyed a rewarding and meaningful career. Instead he chose — though I often feel he was pressured — to stay close to home. Whereas he could have been flying the friendly skies, he commuted every day from New Jersey to New York and managed a dry cleaning store. He did this for many years until my Dad hired him to work for his company.

While I admire his fortitude as a father and grandfather,  I often wonder if he was truly content as a man? After he died my family discovered that he had been taking rides with a local private pilot in a small twin engine plane. Some dreams never die, I suppose, and I am glad he never fully deserted his dream to keep flying.

I can also say that while he never made $400 an hour to turn a phrase, $1,000 a day trading stocks, or $10,000 a week as a professional musician, he was richer in character and wealthier in spirit than any one of those people could ever hope to be. Money and material possessions can never replace integrity, humanity, and authenticity.

Although he never accumulated a huge fortune, Papa contributed more to the world than most people I have known in my life and, presumably, will come to know in the future. He also never felt the need to elevate his ego by trying to make others feel inferior.

Ultimately, he made the most of his life and, in doing so, helped others make the most of theirs. Papa’s unique approach to life provided me with many priceless lessons. One of those lessons took place that day at the reservoir: spending time with someone special is worth more than anything that person could purchase for you. Although, that doesn’t mean letting that same someone cook for you had no allure!

“How would you like it if we head home and I make you some Belgian waffles?” Papa asked, breaking the silence and inviting me out of my introspection and into the present.

“You just said the magic words!” I exclaimed as we made our way back towards the dock. Like the canoe, Belgian waffles had been one of Papa’s trademarks. Whenever I stayed over with him, he would whip up a batch of waffles covered in whipped cream and strawberries.

As we approached the dock, just before we reached out to pull ourselves in, Papa said something that surprised me:

“I think next month you should take the helm.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. But only if you feel ready.”

I briefly considered his offer.

“I certainly do,” I asserted. “After all, I had you for a teacher!”

Since yesterday was Father’s Day in the United States, today’s Music Monday celebrates the special bond between dads and their kids.

There are many songs that capture this unique relationship, but a song that was always powerful and poignant to me was one of Paul McCartney’s lesser known pieces: Put it There. Released in 1990 as a single to McCartney’s 1989 album, Flowers in the Dirt (affiliate link), the song reached number 32 on the UK singles chart.

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McCartney’s eighth solo studio album, Flowers in the Dirt was considered a major return as its release inaugurated his first world tour since his Wings Over the World tour in 1975/1976. The album’s musical quality was widely celebrated, earning McCartney his best reviews in years.

I share the same thoughts as those reviews, having always found the album beautifully written and masterfully performed. Notably, the album has added meaning because I attended the April 1, 1990 show of the Paul McCartney World Tour at UC Berkeley‘s California Memorial Stadium. I even found a setlist from the concert (complete with links to YouTube clips of each song performed)!

Having always found “Put it There” a touching tribute to a unique father/son relationship, the track took on added meaning when I became a dad to my two sons. If you listen to the lyrics (and/or read them — they are included below), you will understand the sweet, yet understated emotion of what the song is communicating: unconditional love.

Sometimes, as the song explains, simply having someone to hold your hand can fix any problem — or at least make you feel better while you confront it. Shamefully, the importance of fathers is often overlooked, but at least in my experience, my father (and, in fairness, my stepmother too) has made all the difference in my life recently.

In my own experience, knowing someone is unconditionally in my corner has made all the difference. My grandfather filled that role for me and I plan to do the same for my sons. Surely as they grow older their problems won’t be as easily resolved as they were as they are as children, but knowing they are loved and supported without question will always be essential to their well being.

Although my connection with my Dad was, unfortunately, interrupted for several years, I am grateful to have a renewed relationship with him. I am also thankful my sons can “put it there” — not just with me, but with my Dad as well.  Likewise, I look forward to continuing this tradition with my son’s children in the future.

And so, if you are thankful for your father, put it there!

Put it There Lyrics

Give Me Your Hand I’d Like To Shake It
I Want To Show You I’m Your Friend.
You’ll Understand If I Can Make It Clear
Its All That Matters In The End.
Put It There If It Weighs A Ton,
That’s What The Father Said To His Younger Son.
I Don’t Care If It Weighs A Ton,
As Long As You And I Are Here, Put It There.
Long As You And I Are Here, Put It There.

If There’s A Fight I’d Like To Fix It,
I Hate To See Things Go So Wrong.
The Darkest Night And All It’s Mixed Emotions,
Is Getting Lighter Sing A Song.

“I have to work on my birthday?”

For most people, the idea of working on their birthday is anathema. For me, it was an advantage. More specifically, the “presence” of my students during part of my recent birthday was a priceless “present.” Teaching is my passion, but I would not be a teacher without students. I am therefore thankful for my students, my priceless “birthday gifts” with whom I am privileged to learn.

Case in point: I celebrated my birthday yesterday, February 22, and was fortunate to end the day teaching a “Marketing Research and Strategic Applications” class for UCSB Extension (where I have taught marketing classes since January 2008).

February 22, 2012: Celebrating My Birthday at UC Santa BarbaraTo my surprise, and sincere gratitude, my students — many of whom I  taught previously in a “Buying Behavior” and/or “Principles of Marketing” class — had baked and brought a cake, brownies and other treats.

They also sang “Happy Birthday” which I recorded and threatened to upload to YouTube, but out of gratitude for their kindness, I spared them!

It has been a long time since I experienced such kindness from people I primarily know professionally. I was never this thrilled to have “worked” on my birthday (although I enjoy teaching so much, I hesitate to call it “work”).

I spent the earlier part of the day (and President’s Day two days earlier) with my family and volunteered with my younger son’s class the day after my birthday, and planned to do the same the day after that with my older son. Definitely an exceptional birthday week!

Nevertheless, birthdays offer me a moment of self assessment: a time when I look at where I’ve been and where I see myself going. I am hopeful for the future, despite some recent challenges. I am also thankful to feel fortunate about my career.

Unfortunately, as Henry David Thoreau once mused, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I interpret this to mean that most people live without ever realizing their dreams or getting a chance to “follow their bliss” (as Joseph Campbell would say).

For many years I was in that predicament. Pressured to support someone else’s dreams while my own were relegated to irrelevance, I knew my situation needed to change. Fortunately, I persevered and, when opportunities arose, I took control of my destiny and finally found my bliss.

This inspires me to surround my sons with unconditional love, impenetrable support, and rational guidance. I will do what it takes, regardless of the sacrifice, to help them achieve their dreams. I will help them see challenges as opportunities and problems as purpose.

Similarly, I discovered a September 19, 2011 convocation speech by John S.W. Park — Chair and Professor of Asian American Studies and affiliated Sociology faculty member at UCSB.

In his speech, Park encourages students “instead of just picking a major, pick a problem;” with the goal of solving that problem during their time at UCSB. Quite an inspirational approach to figuring out your life’s purpose!

Looking back to my years of “quiet desperation” I am grateful for the opportunities I had to pursue my professional dreams while growing personally.

So, will you celebrate having to work on your next birthday?

Sometimes dates make a difference.

August 2, 2006 is one of them: it was on this date that my older son, Jacob, received his official Autism diagnosis from Robert J. Rome, PhD of the North Los Angeles County Regional Center. At the time, Jacob was slightly more than a month away from his third birthday.

Receiving the diagnosis was an emotional experience, though it was not entirely a surprise. Actually, in many respects it was a relief because having the diagnosis allowed Jacob to receive an array of helpful services for which he did not previously qualify.

Jacob and MeAt the time of his diagnosis Jacob had very limited speech (3 to 6 word sentences were the extent of his verbal communication). He also lined up items, heavily stimmed and exhibited many obsessive compulsive behaviors. In addition he had many fears and also lacked basic social skills. Despite these challenges, he emanated a beautiful and loving spark that just needed some help to shine more brightly.

Since then Jacob has made remarkable progress, most notably due to early intervention services such as Applied Behavior Analysis services provided by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD).  Founded in 1990 by Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh CARD is a leading provider of autism services.

Due in large part to CARD, Jacob’s inner light now shines brightly. He has truly emerged into the wonderful, thoughtful and intelligent little boy he always was. Grateful is a word that barely communicates how I feel.

He is fascinated with numbers and can calculate large sums. His favorite number is “infinity!” Not surprisingly he also loves Buzz Lightyear (“to infinity and beyond!”). For a while he could even tell you the day of the week on which your next birthday would fall! Actually, I suspect he still can, but his therapists have discouraged the behavior.

Jacob and MeHe also loves to tell bad jokes — specifically those in the classic “knock, knock” variety. He is also a wonderful artist who loves to draw and paint. Although I am his Dad, I can honestly say he has an impressive talent.

It makes me smile that he can now not only communicate verbally but artistically as well. Occasionally he enjoys playing music with his brother, Max.

He is also an “old soul” and has engaged me several times about topics seven-year old boys don’t often ponder.  Once he asked me “Dad, do you have to be dead to be in heaven?” I replied, “I suppose you do.” His response: “But God is in heaven and he isn’t dead!” Nietzsche retorts about God possibly being dead aside, I was stunned that this little boy was thinking about such big concepts. More recently he asked me what is on top of heaven!

Impressively, Jacob’s success story is more common than it is rare, as evidenced by the inspiring 20th anniversary video from CARD, below:

Looking to the future,  one of my goals is to eventually create an organization called the “Ourtism Association.” The mission of the organization — named to recognize how autism affects everyone in a family and that it is “our” responsibility as a society to help — is to provide supplemental income to families and adult individuals with a diagnosis.

Right now it is only a dream, but I am working to make it a reality someday. My “big harry audacious goal” (nod to Jim Collins) is to raise enough money to provide $50,000 to 50 families each year.

I suppose that isn’t outrageously audacious (it is “only” $2.5 million!), and 50 families is the tip of the iceberg, but my own experiences have inspired me to make a difference. This would be my contribution to that noble mission.

Jacob and MeOn a personal level, I will continue to encourage Jacob as the unique individual he is.

I enjoy experiencing educational activities with Jacob, but also recognize his need to be silly. Despite his uncommon maturity, the last thing I want to do is rush him into adulthood.

It is my hope that Jacob can always exist in his ebullient essence.

I remain committed to Jacob’s enduring progress and will forever be his most ardent ally. I continue to make the most of my moments with him and my younger son, Max, and celebrate his achievements every day.

Speaking of Max, the other night when I called to say goodnight to him, Jacob told me a “knock, knock” joke:

“Knock, knock!”

“Whose there?”

“Max.”

“Max who?”

“Max no difference!”

Just a few hours after I took this picture on April 14, 2009 events transpired that would forever change my life.Two years ago yesterday I posted my last blog post.  A week later, I found myself (to paraphrase Buddy Holly) “learning the game.” A month later, an unexpected discovery revealed I was the one who had been gamed.

Without revealing too many details, this discovery delivered an exceptionally financially and emotionally expensive education on all sorts of dichotomies:

  • conditional love vs. unconditional love
  • co-parenting vs. parental alienation
  • espoused ethics vs. ethics-in-use
  • fact vs. fiction
  • faithful friendships vs. false friendships
  • honesty vs. dishonesty
  • legal ethics vs. legal procedures
  • moral certainty vs. moral relativism

I had previously assumed the events and behaviors I witnessed only happened in Desperate Housewives, LA LawLifetime Movie Network films, soap operas and The Twilight Zone. While you’re at it throw in some Benny Hill Show and Beverly Hills, 90210.

Despite my natural inclination to find the humor in my recent adventures, there is a very serious tone to it all. Given my profession as a teacher and trainer, these past two years have revealed to me an important nugget of knowledge that I express as follows:

‎”The toughest, but truest lessons we learn don’t come from a book; they come from the people, places, and predicaments in our lives.”

Sometimes those lessons involve heartache and sleepless nights, but hopefully we emerge as more complete individuals. Trying times can reveal the worst of people, yet they can also reveal the benevolence of others. It quickly becomes clear who you can trust and who really cares about you when you are in your time of greatest need.

I am endeavoring to move forward from my experience and leave behind me the distractions and drama that filled the past two years of my life.

With storm clouds clearing, I am looking ahead to a positive new future on a wide open ride of life! While I won’t use the word grateful, I do feel that these past two years helped me to grow and mature in ways that would not have happened otherwise. My recent experience  is a tool with which I will build an exceptional new life.

I will also remain deeply involved with the two most important parts of my past life who are also the center of my present and future life: my sons Jacob and Max.

On a practical level, my “enrollment” in this endeavor has prevented me from updating this blog as frequently as I would have liked while also impacting my plans to pursue a PhD as I had originally planned.

I am reminded of the following words by Langston Hughes:

“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?”

I refuse to let my PhD dream “dry up, fester, stink, get crusty, sag or explode.” Quite the opposite: once the dust settles I will focus forward on a doctoral program that will provide me with the skills to produce research while ensuring my success as college professor

Likewise, I will begin posting to this blog again.  It might take a few posts to get the rust out but I look forward to once again actively engaging in an educational and informational dialog.

Onward and upward!

On Saturday, June 14, 2008 my family and I decided to visit the incredible Travel Town Museumin Los Angeles’ Griffith Park. We headed out at approximately 10:00 a.m., but once we left the house realized we needed to get gas. So, we stopped at a Shell station on The Old Road, near Rye Canyon and a stone’s throw away from the Southbound 5 Freeway.

When I got out of the car to gas it up, I nearly fell over when I saw that the cost per gallon of 87 octane fuel (the “cheap stuff”) was an astonishing $4.65! I could barely believe my eyes and had to check again to make sure I had read the numbers correctly. Yep, $4.65 a gallon!

 I was in shock and quickly cycled through the five stages of grief:

  • Denial: There is no way gas costs this much!
  • Anger: This is outrageous, I am being robbed!
  • Bargaining: Well, maybe if I just get $10 worth the prices will drop and I can fill up the rest of the tank later at a lower price?
  • Depression: I can’t believe this, I will never be able to afford to drive anywhere again….the world is conspiring against me!
  • Acceptance:It will be ok, gas prices will eventually even out – I have no control over the prices so why get riled up by them?

I filled up the tank with 9.123 gallons, resulting in a grand total of $42.50!

A few days earlier, on May 31 through June 3 (the last two days I filled up) the per gallon cost of 87 octane fuel was $4.23 at a Mobile and 7-11 down the street from my house — which was bad enough, but crossing $4.50 a gallon seemed like an entirely different level of extortion.

I’ve often heard the argument made that in some European countries gas can cost $8 to $10 a gallon, so we should be grateful that our prices are so much less. However, this argument is a fallacy, because these same European countries that have gas prices double our currently ridiculous rates are socialist — meaning that the additional cost of the fuel is intended to cover any number of social programs designed to benefit citizens of that country.

Therefore, in those cases, it makes sense that gas would cost so much more. But America, being a capitalist economy, the additional cost we are now paying for fuel does not result in any equivalent increase in services made available to the citizens of the country.

So, until I get free healthcare — that I would likely not want anyway, given the propencity of anything run by a government agency to foul things up — I will fail to feel “grateful” that we don’t have it any worse.

Although, there is a chance I qualify for dual Italian/American citizenship — so I might just ride out this “oil storm” living with my family in a Tuscan villa zipping around on a Vespa and exclaiming “Ciao!” to everyone (props to Eddie Izzard!)! I think I am liking the sound of this!