Monday, January 26, 2015

I Wish!

Do you wish a lot? I wish my boss was different. I wish my job was different. The list could go on. The wishes aren't reality. They are only thoughts of a different reality.

If you are not careful, you can wish your life away. The reality is that you are IN your life EVERYDAY! It's hard to be focused, if your mind is somewhere else. Your concentration suffers because you aren't engaged in the here and now.

You will be pleasantly surprised when you stop wishing and focus on YOUR "here and now." You'll learn to enjoy the moment! Your FUN-FACTOR will increase, you'll also be more creative and productive.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you don't dream or plan for the future. Dreams and plans carry more spiritual weight than a wish. A wish doesn't carry a committed spiritual purpose. Dreams and plans DO!

Your dreams and plans establish a path. That path has wisdom and direction.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Still Voice

God has given ALL of us a still, small, voice. Some of us can get distracted and not hear it. If it persists, and you resist; well, you just have to bear the consequences.

Sometimes, we can think that this voice is a nuisance or just plain wrong. Sooner or later, we'll have to pay attention in that it's telling us something important.

Whether you're being told to "stay home" or "turn right at the corner," your conscience/still small voice knows what's right. Follow it and see if you don't experience more peace of mind.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Leadership And You (Part 24)

Nothing hurts more than a wound from a friend. There may be times when friends will confront you in order to help you. Real friends stick by you in times of trouble and bring healing, love, acceptance and understanding. What kind of friend are you? Don't betray those you love.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Billy Elliot Incarnate

(For those of you not familiar with the film, Billy Elliot; it’s the story of an 11 year old boy and  his love of dance and his hope to become a professional ballet dancer. Billy lives with his widowed father, and older brother. Billy's father sends him to the gym to learn boxing, but Billy dislikes the sport. He happens upon a ballet class that is using the gym. Unknown to Billy’s dad, Billy joins the ballet class. When his father discovers this, he forbids Billy to take any more ballet. But, passionate about dancing, Billy secretly continues lessons with the help of his dance teacher.)

I have a very unusual family history. In addition, I have a very unusual personal and professional life. My life has been surrounded by women. Now, some of you might think this is really cool. On one level, it is. On another level, it’s not.

I am the only male on both sides of my family. All of my immediate cousins on both my mom and dad’s side are girls. My dad had three brothers who wanted an heir (like my dad). In an effort to have a “boy,” they were showered with girls (sometimes twins). My uncles were jealous of my dad. They wanted what he had (an heir to carry on the family name). 

With me being the first (and only) boy, I took attention away from my father. He got jealous; didn’t know how to cope, and the rift started. When I  was about 6, I sensed something odd. My father checked out of my life. As I look back, he was broken -- emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Coming into a marriage (with a broken self) doesn’t instill a healthy model for your kids. In my case, my father didn’t spend “rough and tough” time with me. As I got older, we spent some summers fishing, but that was about it. While other boys might spend dad-time, rough housing or engaging in sports; I had an “absent dad” that didn’t know how to model masculinity. To say that we disliked each other is putting it mildly. Now, I don’t write this to BASH my dad. I write this because it’s my history. Our history is like our fingerprints. They are individualistic. There are no 2 fingerprints alike amidst all the people in the world. Without a male model; I was catapulted into a constant barrage of feminine energy -- Barbies, Easy Bake Ovens,etc. When that’s your life; that’s ALL that you know.

Going from an all female home environment to a Catholic all male seminary wasn’t an easy transition. Being in an all male environment (and not being blessed with the sports gene) was a challenge. For many, being familiar in sports, was one of the ways people typically  defined masculinity. Sports and “rough and tough” characterized MASCULINE. Anything outside of sports was considered FEMININE. Not having a connection to dad, being amidst all women, not having any familiarity with anything connected to “rough and tough” screamed GAY, GAY, GAY! (As a result of this situation. I was constantly bullied in high school.) Now, we have men who have claimed their metrosexuality. We have “stay at home dads.”  Society is so different than in the 60’s and 70’s. We are more open to societal fluidity. Back then, we weren’t.

I entered a small coed college in 1975. Prior to 1969, the college was all girls. In 1969, boys trickled in. In 1975, the school population was maybe 1200, TOTAL. Not only was I a minority in the college; but I was the “token male” in both the Education and Speech Therapy Departments. I never realized how familiar my “all-women” terrain was. I also never saw how my “Billy-Elliot-ness” was such a part of me. Many men would not have entered this terrain. I, on the other hand, entered it willingly. I wanted to be a teacher and a speech therapist. I never  gave my “Billy-Elliot-ness” a thought. Early on, the college nuns addressed us ALL as “girls.” It would take them some time to understand that testosterone was now a part of their world. In addition, I had girls coming on to me (strongly). But since, I was a good Catholic boy who went to the seminary (and was raised to treat and respect women as individuals), I couldn’t transition to the “friend with benefits.” When that whole “sexuality” theme has been absent from your life, and you’re raised that sex is reserved for marriage; you have no idea why girls see you as a sexual object. I survived college, but never transitioned to the “friend with benefits.”

I didn’t see it then but being the “token male” in both speech and education would be a perk! People remembered me because I WAS the minority. If an educational institution needed a male speech therapist/teacher, I usually got the job! It was because I had stellar skills. (OK, part of it was because I was a male!)

Decades later, I would see the hand of God. I picked my major  because I was carrying the shame of being picked last in gym (true story). I entered the college with the hope that I could shed the shame. I was partially successful since I later learned that ALL students needed to fulfill a 2 course gym requirement. It’s just that they didn’t get course credit for it. I learned recently that I was the first male to graduate from the Speech Therapy and Elementary Education Departments (respectively). Going to St. Xavier University, (and being the first male to successfully graduate from  both departments, would be my legacy). Thank you God!

I entered Marquette University in the winter of 1979. I pursued graduate school since I couldn’t practice without my M.S. Once again, I dove into the curriculum and yes, I was the token male in the department. You would think that I would’ve learned how to use my innate “Billy-Elliot-ness” to transition to the “friend with benefits.” Alas, NO. While women came on to me; I couldn’t recognize the clues because I had blinders on -- “Master’s Degree or BUST!” I put my  nose to the grindstone and saw nothing else. Was grad school anything I would have thought? Yes, it was a lot of learning; nothing more. I had no social life. My life was OUT-OF-BALANCE.

In 1981, I graduated and got my first job. I worked with special needs kids. While both facilities were in the private sector; I was still in the minority -- heavily populated with women; only 2-3 men on staff. I continued to get hit on, but probably left many women confused. Many of these women longed to have boy friends, but were raised to be “passive” or “less than.” Let the men make the decisions. Don’t be proactive or aggressive. Let the men make the first move. I enter the picture by NOT buying into any of that shit. I encouraged the women I dated to be more pro-active with me. A BIG FAIL -- they couldn’t transition to be pro-active in dating. I lost out in getting what I needed, because I didn’t fit the model of what a man was. They lost out by buying into, “I never did this before and being proactive with men, is not something I can do.”

After my first job with special needs kids, I transitioned to a public school district. I needed a change. Regular education kids gave me the professional satisfaction that the special needs kids could not. I was able to see progress with my regular education kids. The special needs kids were academically and psychologically lower. 

Though the transition to regular education was something I longed for; something that came with it (that I didn’t foresee) was male bashing.  I am real happy that I’m a dude with my man parts. I’m so glad I’m not a girl who looks for a man to complete her. Many of the women I worked with, were starving for emotional/sexual closeness with their partners. You could sense it in their spirit and their body language. Their negative comments came slowly: “Men suck.” Then they grew to  comments like, “ALL MEN should die!” and “Men should fucking die!” and finally, “God should eliminate men from the planet.”

While I looked forward to my new responsibilities in this position, I didn’t know how to navigate the poison arrows that these women “slung out” on a daily basis. You’d think that being the lone dude in this situation would be heaven, and sexual bliss. It was not. In an effort to change this negative female energy, I bonded slowly with all my colleagues. I would walk into their rooms and just say “hello.” I volunteered to be on academic/social teams with them. Very gradually, the bashing stopped. These women no longer looked at me as a threat. They saw me as an ally and embraced me. It was a sad day when I had to leave the school. Weeks before my last day, they came to me in private, and spoke about how much they valued me, and how much I helped them change personally and professionally.

After I left my school district, I  transitioned to home care - hospital - nursing home respectfully. Although, this was new territory (speech therapy of a different kind), the territory was all too familiar -- presenters assuming that their audience was all women (“Good morning ladies, welcome to ______.”) When I heard these kind of introductions, I would boldly cough and announce myself by saying, “Balls in the room!” This would get the presenters attention and with that, would come a sheepish apology. Nonetheless, I was reminded about my first weeks  in my speech classes, when one nun repeatedly, called all of us “girls” and forgot that the field now had men in it.

Although I tried for a balance of friends (men and women), it was always out of balance with women. My (married) work colleagues had husbands who couldn’t handle my “emotional core.” Some were threatened in how I could so easily relate to their  wives. This was something they couldn’t do. Many of them were threatened, “I don’t like how this guy navigates with women. What is he all about? What does he really want?” Actually, I was just looking to bond and connect in the only way I knew -- to treat women with respect and dignity. Nothing more, nothing less. No sexual strings or agendas. BTW -- There are some men who can be friends with women without any sexual  ties. It’s not that they’re gay (although many assumed that); it’s due to unusual circumstances. If they took the time to ask questions, they would probably understand something that they feared.

Being in an all female environment (with a heavy focus on children) without any male energy (i.e. friends) takes its toll on you psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. You don’t have an array of topics to pursue. Women relate to each other on an emotional - psychological - spiritual level. Men don’t connect that way. They’re not trained to communicate that way. Many men don’t relate emotionally to other men (quickly). They navigate situations on the surface. Many times, those conversations begin with a sports theme (as an ice breaker). It takes a while for them to get emotionally close to another man, if ever. Many times, that closeness can be scary; especially if feelings or vulnerability is triggered. When that happens, men can either 1) “run” out of fear of “This is way too close for me and it’s happening too fast.” or, 2) stay present with “doe eyes.” That’s code for “Fuck, how did I get myself in this? I’m not familiar with this situation and I can’t run.” I’ve seen it countless times. When I see this reaction; I take steps to explain that I’m not an “oddball,” but someone who works exclusively with women and kids, and relates more on an emotive level. It’s sad to see men in the locker room (who are clearly hurting emotionally-psychologically - spiritually), try to navigate their pain. Many times, they open with a “sports comment” to “break the ice.” You can see their anticipation in “I’m getting closer to what I really want to say. Please don’t bolt!” Eventually, they get “shut out” when the receiver has a “trigger of closeness” that they can’t relate to. Many times, the idea of “I don’t want to relate to you this way. I’m not gay.” hovers around both of them. It’s a difficult dance that some of these men navigate. It would be so much easier to approach one of them and say, “Can I talk to you for a minute? My wife’s just been diagnosed with cancer and I’m overwhelmed.” An open and honest request, cuts to the chase and makes the intention known. None of that fucking bullshit of a “sports comment” to get your foot in the door.

My zumba class brings out my “Billy Elliot-ness.” Not many men would venture into a dance class. They might try it 1-2x but wouldn’t stay the course. Currently, there are 3 men (including myself) who’ve been consistent with zumba. Some men who’ve seen me, have approached me in the locker room and asked me (privately) what it’s all about. When I fill them in and invite them to class, they reply with “That class seems too hard. I don’t think I could do it.” or “I’ll think about it.” Both of those comments are lame. I consider them “code” for “I’m uncomfortable in a dance class. What would people think of me?” To be honest, would it really matter? 

While zumba has provided me with an outlet for stress, it has reminded me of the importance of balance. That’s “code” for, you have to have an equal amount of male and female friends. There are moments when I’m the “lone dude” and I become androgynous. My male parts vanish. I become a “Ken doll.” It’s a very odd feeling. When it occurs, I just go with it. I figure, “I’m not gonna forgo this class because of my history. I feel good and have fun while I’m in this class.” The odd feeling lasts throughout the class. It takes me a couple of hours to have my “maleness” come back. That androgyny has been a part of my life for  decades.

You might be asking yourself, “Why in the hell did he write this piece?” Well, I think when you decide to be truthful, you reveal parts of you that have been hidden for a long time. I FIRMLY believe that we all can relate to being the oddball. For many of us, it’s due to a past that we’ve yet to explore. For others, it just seems better “not to talk about it.” The “secrets” we keep slowly kill our spirit(s) until one day we look in the mirror and say, “Who are you?” For others, it’s cathartic to “let it out.”

My way of approaching this might be very different for how other people might  deal with it. As a teacher, I can use my personal/professional experiences to explain a theoretical point. My class is a natural forum for using every day examples to explain an educational concept. I have to be careful though in not using my class as a way of tooting my own horn. It’s a slippery slope but I’ve learned to navigate it. In addition, I’ve recognized the importance of time and how the “mortal clock” ticks for all of us. For some, it might be the clock of, “I’m a woman who wants to have children. My biological clock is ticking.” Or someone who just has reached a critical crossroads, and needs to turn up the volume of their life.

Some people can be jealous of what they see on the surface. I might be going out on a limb here (since I’ve never asked this  of my close friends); but I wonder how many of my women friends think, “This dude is a stud. He must be having his way with all these chicks!”  This is one example of what appears to be on the surface. The grass is not always greener over the fence. The only way to really know a person, and what they’re going through, is to get to know them by spending QUALITY time with them, and know who they really are!

Question for you: Is there someone (you know) who appears to have it all? Are you jealous of them?

Focus: Communication, Self-worth, Emotional intimacy, Friendship