It’s midnight in Ripon CA. I’m sitting by the fire, smoking a beautiful cigar from Honduras.
We leave tomorrow, headed to Mozambique…to smile, and play baseball.
Everything is done…The fridge is cleaned out, clothes have been dowsed in insect repellent, bags packed, final emails sent to clients and team members, the pool is shocked, floors mopped, rooms cleaned, locks checked, bills paid, House of Cards downloaded onto my iPad and a pile of Kindles sit neatly on top of Mine Craft carry-ons, waiting to be fondled at first dawn.
The physical journey begins tomorrow, but the other one started several months ago. In February, I had coffee with Amanda and her husband Nunu. Amanda is my best friend Josh’s younger sister. She and I both happened to be in Chicagoland and so decided to grab coffee. I was in for my grandfather’s 80th birthday and she was there specifically (in my view) to provide conduit by which God would remind me that Rebecca and I and our boys were supposed to make sure our tan lines come from things other than sitting by the pool. For months leading up to our chat, I’d been sensing a stir inside and almost immediately upon locking eyes with these two, I knew….we were going to Mozambique.
I wish I knew more of the story but I’ll tell you what… I’ll share it with you here, as it unfolds.
If you pray…please pray that God would give us everything we need to leave it all on the field.
PS. We’re bringing basballs, bats and gloves, so that should be cool:)
1 Peter 5:8-9New International Version (NIV)
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Recently, a good friend invited me to speak at a fundraising event. The plan was that Daphne would welcome everyone and give an overview of what she and her team at CASRE are doing in response to the severe connection between human trafficking and foster care…Then Jim Harbaugh, the coach of the Niners would speak to the importance of fatherhood for a few minutes…then…I got to share the stuff I’ve been praying for an opportunity to share for a long time.
Needless to say, I accepted the invitation.
Then I thought about what I should say for three weeks and couldn’t find a single word…
And then I did…
Below is a transcript of my talk from the event as well as a link to the actual news story that was on the ten oclock news that night and Rebecca was interviewed.
PS. It’s very personal to Rebecca and I and our hope is that it would compel you to share it in your world and moreover, that you yourself would consider what your roll might be.
PPS. The event was hosted by my good friend Daphne Phung. Daphne founded and runs the non profit known as CASRE (California Against Slavery Research & Education). Her and her friends are the ones that authored and got proposition 35 on the ballot.
Jim and his Wife Sarah were exceptionally nice. At the end of the event, Sarah walked right up to Rebecca and gave her a big teary eyed hug and told her that we need to be sharing our story with as many people as possible because it absolutely needed to be heard.
At one point Jim came up behind me and jokingly said, “So, you made Sarah cry…thanks a lot.” We chatted a bit and I apologized for Da Bears remark and explained that he was basically my childhood quarterback because I was a kid when he was on the Bears. He said I was forgiven for the remark as long as the Niners were my number two.
Hi everyone, like Daphne mentioned, I’m John Pack and that’s my beautiful wife Rebecca sitting over there as a result of us having great parents that were willing to watch our boys so we could sneak away to be with you tonight.
This is really the 1st time I’ve spoken publicly to what this all means to us so thank you in advance for your grace. The process of finding the words has sort of lent some clarity to the idea that helping to give voice to the foster care crisis is by far the most effective way for Rebecca and I to help these kids that our hearts are broken for. Even still, we’re tempted to just take more kids, heck, to take all the kids and fix this thing for good. We know better though, we know that it really does take a village to rescue and raise these kids into the beautiful people they were created to be…we can’t rescue them all, in fact, it wouldn’t even be best and that’s evidenced by how seemingly ineffective we are at raising three up to be anything other than nose picking fart joking pranksters (insert roaring laughter).
In all seriousness, there are a few ideas I’d like to share with you, in the hope that you walk away from tonight giving thought to foster care in a new, more personal way.
First, to be clear…
Rebecca and I didn’t have an epiphany, or a supernatural experience where it was made clear that we were supposed to go down this road in the beginning. In fact, it happened in an opposite, more normal, less superhero kind of way. We started down the road, taking small practical steps towards it, and it became clear as we stayed on the road.
The 1st step we took was sort of by accident, we like you, found ourselves in an environment one evening, hearing from a guy as he talked from his guts about the foster care crisis and what it might look like for us to get involved. Surprisingly, his story moved Rebecca and I, and it was less scary and more inspiring than we had anticipated, so when the list came around to sign up to attend a 101 where we could hear from other foster families and ask questions, with wet eyes we put our names on the list. We went to the 101, and heard from other folks as they shared from their experience and we asked questions that we had.
One thing that occurred to us right out of the gate was that the people sharing and answering our questions were motivated by things very different than the things we had thought foster families were motivated by. In our minds, foster homes were “ran” by people hoping to subsidize their income in exchange for providing shelter and clothing to kids that had been removed from their birth parents. That image was quickly laid to rest as we listened to people share about how this had become their lifes work, the thing that keeps them living on the edge, the thing that brings purpose to their lives. Again, less scary, and more inspiring than we’d anticipated. At the end of the 101, there was another clip board passed around, this time to sign up for the actual foster family orientation with the county and again, we looked at each other with this kind of “why not” sort of look and put our names on the list.
There were a couple weeks between signing up and the actual orientation. The time allowed us to talk and read and imagine, and really engage with what was happening. The anticipation was again, less scary, more inspiring, more exciting, more confirming that while we may be on the road less traveled, that we may be on the right road all the same.
At orientation we were able to put to rest all the images we had in our heads about county social workers. I for one, tended to see grumpy little dmv cashier type people with scowls on their faces in my head when I thought about cps workers but the reality we were introduced to that night couldn’t have been further from that. We heard from a county that is desperately hoping to care for the least of these in our community. We got a strong sense that these people cared about foster kids for the same reasons we were beginning to, because they matter.
At the end of the orientation, yep, another clipboard, another “why not” look exchanged between Rebecca and I, and we signed up for foster family training.
The training was held on 4 consecutive Saturdays and during that time we learned lots of stuff that would prove incredibly relevant for us down the road. Also during that time we were asked to consider two things. Why were we doing this and who were we doing it for?
The why question had to do with what type of foster family we wanted to be. We could choose to be a foster only family where we would bring kids into our home temporarily but not be willing to adopt them if ever they became wards of the state. Another route was to become whats called an adoption only family which would mean we would only take kids that were already wards of the state and needed to be adopted. This would be the route for people that were primarily hoping to grow their permanent family through foster care. Also we are presented with the idea of becoming whats called a concurrent planning family. This is a family that decides to take in foster kids and either facilitate reunification with their birth families, or adopt them if ever that child becomes a ward of the state, like if the birth parents parental rights are terminated. After much contemplation, we decided that concurrent planning was the route most in line with our motivations.
The other thing was the who question. Who were we open to caring for? We were essentially asked to fill out a questionnaire that once completed, set the guidelines for the types of placement calls we were open to. In the end we decided we were open to kids of any race and all ages up to six years old. The age cap for us was largely in light of the fact that we had a three year old son and wanted to make sure we were doing right by him from a safety standpoint.
So, from a timing standpoint things happened pretty quickly for us. We went to the 101 in early feb then orientation a couple weeks later then 4 weeks of classes through March while we completed background checks and home study paperwork concurrently. We got our license in early may and the phone rang with a placement just a couple days later.
Rebecca took the call and the worker told her everything she new. She had a 3 year old seemingly mixed race boy named James at the center who had been taken into care because his parents had been arrested on drug charges. We learned that he seemed to the somewhat deaf or at least hard of hearing, and that he had a grandmother in San Diego that was eager to bring him into her care but that it would take some time to do her background check and make sure she was a suitable custodian.
We said yes, and then Rebecca and I and our son Eli got in the car and went and picked him up. James was part of our family for a few weeks as Grandma got checked out and cleared by the county.
In the past three years we’ve taken dozens of these calls and fostered eight different children for various durations of time, depending on their situation.
The parents all have different stories surrounding the why behind the reasons that landed their children in foster care. Drugs, crime, prostitution, neglect, abuse and the list goes on.
The thing about the kids though, is that they are just kids and they didn’t do anything wrong, and they deserve to be fathered and mothered just like every other kid. They deserve to be raised and loved and reminded that they matter.
Often when it comes up that I’m a foster parent, people say a few things pretty consistently.
How does it effect your “real” kids.
For us, the answer to this question is one I love sharing. As it has turned out, Eli our now 6 year old is as much a part of this work as we are, sharing his room, his toys, his parents with whoever walks through the door. He has taught us so much about what it looks like to be generous and graceful and kind in the way he has adopted the brothers and sisters that have crossed his path. Also, the fact that Eli is doing this with us, it gives us a daily practical way to live out rather than just talk about the things we hope define the way he approaches the world around him when he grows up. Through this work we do together as a family, we don’t have to talk about digging in and being part of the solution in this world because it goes without saying, it’s just the way we roll.
“Oh wow, do you really, that’s awesome. Bill and I have talked about fostering or adopting or something. I always thought we would have a couple of our own and then adopt a couple.”
Contemplating foster care or adoption is something many of us do at some point in our lives. We meet an adoptive couple that inspires us, we meet a kid from a tough home that saddens us, we lay in bed thinking about alternatives as the “getting pregnant” thing isn’t going as smoothly as planned. There are a million things that cause the notion to occur to us. The thing about noble notions though, is that without action, they remain forever as only a notion. Here’s what I think… I think if more folks simply took the next practical step towards becoming a foster or adoptive parent, they would be compelled to take the next step, and then the next until one day they found themselves with their sleeves rolled all the way up, helping to change the world, right from their own kitchen table as they listen to little boys talk about mine craft until they are blue in the face. I believe this is true with such conviction because I’m proof. When I contemplated being a foster dad in broad general terms, I was scared and intimidated but when I began taking a series of simple practical steps down the path and found that it was exactly the path I was supposed to be on and it’s been rich, rewarding work, the sort of stuff I’ll be proud to have talked about at my funeral when people talk about the footprints I left on the world.
“I could never do that, I just wouldn’t be able to handle saying goodbye to a child after they had become part of our family.”
To which I’d like to respond saying… “ yea, I understand what you mean, if my heart was anywhere near as large as yours I wouldn’t be able to do it either.”
Seriously though, among the hardest things about this work is the goodbye. The great news about grief, is that it strengthens us and readies us for the next round. Through it we’re able to stay brokenhearted for these kids that desperately need our hearts to break for them.
So, I’ve tried to paint a picture of the road that lead Rebecca and I to become foster parents and a little bit about what it means to us, and I know this part of the story isn’t very exciting, but that’s kind of why I took the time to share it and some of the details…because it’s normal everyday human stuff. It doesn’t take superhero’s to change the world in this way, it just takes a couple ready to take a series of practical next steps, trusting that in the end the destination will be made clear.
Decker our ten year old came with Eli and I to sign up for little league last year as he insisted he wasn’t interested in playing…he was just coming along for the ride. When we got to the fields there were kids and coaches everywhere, the grass was freshly cut and the sound of baseballs smacking the inside of gloves was echoing as kids were warming up for the season. Decker instantly got quiet and curious as he’s never seen the game being played in real life before. Never owned a glove, never had a catch, never hit a ball. He saw several kids he knew from school and a few coaches approached him to say hello and welcome him to Marshall field. I took Eli out on the field to meet the tee ball coaches and get him squared away then I walked over to Decker and said, you should just do it bud, I think you’d be a natural.” He didn’t have any words but I could tell that pride was the only thing holding him back. He and I walked up to the snack shack to sign Eli up and pay and then I said, “how about you give it a shot bud?” He said ok. In the end, word got out that I had coached some high school ball and I was asked to manage Deckers team. I said yes and the rest is history. We’ve had a great time doing baseball together for the past couple seasons and Deck made the all star team this year, confirming for him that he was on the road to getting paid to play.
A few weeks ago, I was laying with our 3 year old that’s been with us since he was ten months old just chatting and goofing around and somehow we got to a place where I said something like “yep, I’d love you even if you made bad choices.”
And then he said, “what if I hit Eli?”
And I said, “well you’d be in big trouble but I’d love you even if you hit Eli.”
I could tell he was enjoying the idea of my unconditional love so I rattled off a bunch of stuff like…”even if you broke something fragile, or wrote on the walls or even if you pooped in your pants right now, I will love you, because you are my son, and I’ll always love you.”
He was coming out of his skin with giddiness as he considered this. Now, this is no joke…Yesterday Rebecca sends me a text around 5:00 in the afternoon that says “YOUR son just pooped his pants on purpose to see if we would still love him.”
I came home about six thirty and was greeted at the door by a crazy little person wearing nothing but a pull up and he jumped in my arms and said, “I pooped in my pants, but you still love me!”
I don’t foster kids, I father them. The same way you father you’re kids, by going to work every day and coming home for dinner, by always saying “who’s there?” when they say knock knock, by coaching them, by singing songs to them, by talking to them like they are miniature versions of the men I hope they become, by praising generosity, by referring to Rebecca as my beauty so they know who I love the most, by making muscles so they can dream about having there own like mine one day, by showing up every time, by showing them that worms don’t bite and warning that some dogs do, by giving lots of hugs, by talking about the birds and bees and reading them books about birds…and bees and trucks, and space ships and snakes and whatever else thier curious minds hunger for, by seeing something great in them and letting them know how proud it makes me, by asking them how they’d like it if someone did that to them, by listening closely when they tell stories of their life before joining us, by reciting my favorites until they aren’t my favorites anymore like my favorite car, my favorite color, favorite food, favorite lego movie, favorite baseball player, favorite football team “BEARS” (insert scowl on the face of Jim Harbaugh), favorite favorite favorite until the cows come home favorites. Actually when I put it all on paper, what a father does, it’s actually really interesting how this father /child relationship is so profound. On paper it looks like, well, a series of really simple human moves made on behalf of kids that just want to be loved and fathered. It’s not super hero stuff, but to them it is because I’m saving them from the alternative.
These days, CAS does most of it’s work in light of a single horrific statistic. One half on one percent of kids in CA are foster kids….and that little group of people makes up over 60% of human trafficking victims.
So when I’m in the back yard, tellin him to keep his butt down on the grounders so they don’t get by, I really am changing the world.
I dropped Dylan off at Gina’s house at 8:35. From there I had to stop by “tin town” and pick up a check from our newest client. We embroidered fitted hats, screen printed tshirts and polos , printed full color business cards, produced and installed custom cut vinyl lettering on their truck and office doors, and made a killer exterior sign for the front of the building…I don’t think we’ve ever had a client utilize so much of our capabilities at once, it was an awesome experience, and it was time to collect payment. I thought I’d be five minutes but as it turns out, the owner and I both have Ford 6.0 Diesel trucks and that discovery demanded nearly 30 minutes of war story swapping related to our wretched motors.
Anyhow, I was back on the road by 9:35 and had to get to south San Jose to pick up hats from the embroidery shop and then into Willow Glen to deliver the hats as well as a few dozen screen printed hoodies I had picked up yesterday from the screen-print shop. The great news about this delivery was that the client also wanted to meet with me about a really high profile print job that they were in the process of designing for one of their clients. That meeting was set for 11:00 so I was doing pretty good. I ended up getting the hats by 10:35 and pulling into the clients office at 10:55…perfect.
Everybody in the office loved the shwag, trying the garments on and posting to facebook for the world to see. For the print job, it looks like they will go with a 12 page self cover and the back cover will have a custom glued pocket to hold collateral materials. The cool part about the job is that we are going to print on a dull coated stock and then apply what’s called “soft touch” coating that leaves a super soft , almost suede feel when you touch it. Absolutely stunning stuff when done right. So yeah, everyone was thankful for the consultation and I had everything I needed to get specifications into the estimating department at the offset print shop. I wished everyone a wonderful weekend as I packed up my computer bag and then proudly announced that my beauty and I and our little guys were going campin in just a few hours. It’s funny how warmly people respond to the news of family camping vacations.
Anyhow…still doing pretty good on time, it’s 11:40 when I get back to my car so I go ahead and pound out the specs for the soft touch job into my phone and send it off to estimating so I can put a proposal together on Monday morning.
At 11:55 I start the journey back to Fremont, with the hope of quickly stopping for some mutton curry with enough time to beat Rebecca home from work so it appears I’ve been slaving in preparation for our trip all morning.
At 12:05 I’m on Lincoln Ave coming out of Willow Glen, surprised by how heavy the traffic is as I crawl towards the freeway.
I come to the light at the corner of Lincoln Ave and some side street and I’m in the left lane sitting 2 cars back from the white line. I look over and I see this little kid jumping up and down smiling from ear to ear as he scurries away from a 7eleven, ahead of his mom and brothers. He’s carrying a bag of cool ranch Doritos in one hand and a bag of regular nacho cheese Doritos in the other. To me it’s pretty clear that this is SUPER exciting for little man, the thought of owning not one bag of chips, but TWO bags of chips! I think he caught my eye in the first place because he sort of came across like my 6 year old does…buzz hair cut, plain white tshirt, whatever he ate last all over his face and the shirt…and bouncy goofy happy to be alive sort of pep in his step. He ended up getting to the traffic light and hitting the button about 40 times until he finally came back to earth, hearing his mom as she was bringin up the rear of the happy train. She was pushing a stroller with a 2 yr old blond headed boy carrying a 370 oz Slurpee, and holding the hand of what looked like a 3 year old boy with a Ring Pop and a double chin.
As the happy crew began making their way across the street and I was able to take the whole picture in, the very 1st thought I had contained a dose of pity mixed with superiority as I watched them all happily sucking down junk food for lunch with what appeared to be money that wasn’t easily obtained. Mom was skinny and fat all at the same time, the sort of physique that comes from eating plenty of food, but none of it good. Her hair was wet like she’d showered to make the trip to 7eleven and her jeans were tight in a way that did nothing other than push her body into an unnatural shape. It’s amazing how the brain takes in details, all of these smug observations were made before they were ten feet into the intersection. At ten feet, the 3 year old managed to slip away from mom and she quickly snatched him by the bicep and barked for the goofy 5 yr old to take his hand so she could manage the umbrella stroller. Faces were tightening, goofy didn’t like having to hold both bags of chips in one hand so at 20ft he decided to let Ring Pop go at it alone so the chips didn’t drop to the ground. Ring Pop races ahead in order to be 1st to get to the other side of the street, and mom is pissed as she looks back to see goofy spinning around in circles right in the middle of the intersection. Walk sign starts blinking…. Mom grabs Goofy with her left hand and at the same time the stroller takes a sharp left because the umbrella stroller has those two… well…umbrella type handles and when she went to push forward with just her right hand, it sent the stroller to the left. She let Goofy go and corrected the stroller but not before the front left tire hit the curb…the stroller came to dead stop…and the slurpee hit the ground and splattered everywhere.
Goofy and Ring Pop just stood there like stones, smiles gone. Mom hands went up to cover her face and I hear the 2yr old let out a deafening scream as the light turned green and I hit the gas.
In 30 seconds I was merging onto the freeway. 30 seconds later I was driving 70 miles an hour towards Fremont, right on time, and I was crying…hard.
Part of it was the guilt of not turning around and getting the kid another Slurpee and telling mom she was awesome for trying. Part of it was because I’d just seen a 20 second 3 act play, telling a story of hope and struggle, and tragedy. Part of it was because I had this emmense sense of empathy come over me like never before as I watched moms hands come to her face. Part of it was in response to my initial reaction to them as they started their journey across the street. Part of it was how beautiful it is to see the way simple things make people forget how hard everything is. Part of it was seeing them all being told by that damn curb that they don’t deserve good things…and part of it was just love for my beautiful wife and my own Goofy, Ring Pop and Stroller Baby.
I did in fact stop for some goat curry on the way home, then finished packing with Rebecca before hitting the road, right on time…and then I told her this story as we drove, and we both cried a little more.
It’s late at night and I’m sitting outside the camper, listening to the sounds of people enjoying their own Doritos, and Ring Pops and Slurpees as my precious family sleeps. Perhaps the curb will decide not to camp this weekend, that would be really nice.
Well, I know it wasn’t Mabeth, but it sure felt like it.
Things are whirling around in the noggin a bit tonight…
Truman is having a baby.
My Kids are great.
My wife is my favorite person on earth.
I’m feeling anxious today.
Eli thinks superlatives are the “best”.
We have a ceiling fan in our bathroom.
Facebook is intense on Fathers Day.
My Dad taught me a lot.
I think about…and eat Indian food a lot.
Truman is having a baby.
Truman is having a baby.
My brother Adam “Truman” and his bride Maggie are about to have a baby. I’m a fairly convincing man so I suspect my advise to go with the name Caillou will be honored when the rubber hits the road.
It being Fathers Day and also the eve of new life in our family has me feeling a bit goo-ey.
As it turns out, fatherhood has proven to be, well, a much higher calling than I had anticipated. This isn’t true because I decided it was so. It’s true because these three little men that I’m helping Rebecca raise simply demand it. Each of them, all day long, every hour, every minute…they wait and they watch and they search for identity.
What baseball team is best?
Am I strong?
Is sleep really necessary?
Are farts funny?
Is what he says about Jesus true?
Are farts funny?
What’s better, giving…or getting?
Am I smart?
What do I do when I’m feeling this way?
What’s the best color?
What animal is fastest?
Am I strong?
It’s endless and profound and super funny, the way my boys articulate their curiosity as they hunt for themselves….in my answers to their questions.
So my dear brother, my best-est friend, I submit the following…
Choose carefully how you answer the questions or you may well end up with a kid that thinks farts are not funny.
The good news is, most of this answering is done without words, but rather with action… Rock solid, uncompromising, love driven, God honoring action.
The great news is…You and Maggie have what it takes to deliver. I can’t wait to see you both in action. Show this guy (or gal) what it looks like to to be a husband, a friend, a leader, a learner,a lover, a follower, a warrior, a listener, an advocate, a son, a believer. As you demonstrate these things, the gaps will fill in nicely.
“Little Kabul” is what it’s known as, the area in Fremont CA between Mowry Avenue and Thornton Avenue, mostly along Fremont Blvd. The area is officially called Centerville although Little Kabul is widely used and appropriately so.
Anyhow, I was driving South on Fremont Blvd, approaching Thornton Avenue and my phone rang inside my pocket. At this point I launch into a ridiculous routine where I dig for the phone with my right hand while straightening my right leg so the pocket is accessible. At the same time, I lift my left knee onto the wheel to keep it steady while I finish retrieving the phone and begin the task of unraveling the rubbery white iPhone cord from all around it. The phone has rang 4 times by now and I realize I’ve only got one more ring till voice-mail so I go ahead and “slide to answer” and then wedge it between my ear and shoulder while getting my arms and legs back to driving.
“Hey this is John!” I say perkily as if I were standing behind a customer service desk at Geico insurance waiting for the call.
“Hi John, this is Joyce and I’ll be your project manager for the big lunch bag job you have in house.”
Joyce and I exchanged how ya doins for a moment and were about to get into project details when I saw something up ahead, just passed the old Centerville movie theater on the right.
“Joyce, I’ll have to call you back!”
I pulled the car over and put one tire up onto the curb like a vice cop would in the same situation…cuz that’s how I roll.
“Hey! Get off of him!…I said get off of him!” I screamed, as I threw the teenaged skater kid with a tattoo of a rabid looking
squirrel on his neck off of the 70 something year old man and onto the sidewalk.
“This little bitch took a chunk out of my stomach!” The kid whaled as he held his bleeding belly just to the left of his naval.
“Why” I said, as I helped the man with the kids stomach flesh running down his mouth.
“I don’t know man, we was just skatin by and he jumped on me and freakin bit me man!”
“BULL SHIT” seethed the old man, as he wiped the blood from his mouth and onto the sleeve of his jacket. “This little shit told me to get out of the freakin way as he nearly knocked me down on that damn skateboard! I’m sick and tired of this shit, I’m not gonna put up with this anymore!”
I turned to the little shits and yelled, “GET OUT OF HERE…NOW! The cops will be here in 2 minutes and they aren’t going to believe you guys are innocent…GO!”
They grabbed their boards and and took off North up Fremont Blvd and then ducked in behind the movie theater to get to side streets.
“I’m John, you ok bud?”
“No I’m not fine! Those little shits nearly killed me with those damn skateboards and they have the freakin nerve to TELL ME TO MOVE!”
My new friend was clearly inviting the same rage that had just literally taken a bite out of crime back into his head as he retold the story so I needed to change things up…
“Get in, let’s get out of here. The cops will be here in a sec and they aren’t gonna go away if they see you like this. C’mon get in, I’ll take you home.”
I had just wolfed down 2 chili cheese dogs from Wiener Schnitzel earlier so I reached in the bag and handed him a few napkins to clean his mouth and face off a bit more.
“What’s your name?”
“Stanly, it’s Stanly…I tell ya, I’m sick and tired of these damn kids thinking they are big shots or something. NO RESPECT! Who raises these people, monsters? You see him swearing at me and kicking me while I was on the ground? I’m an old man and this kid thinks he can take me! Shit, he had another thing coming… guess he didn’t know he was messing with a green beret! I tell ya, he’s lucky you pulled up cuz I was just gettin started, I was gonna tear him to pieces!”
At this point it finally occurs to me that this wasn’t a case of a punk kid picking on an old man and it back firing. This was a case of a possibly disrespectful, maybe punk kid getting jumped and nearly eaten by Stanly the crazy ex green beret!
“Well Stanly, you did a pretty good job of tearing him to pieces. How about we get you home and cleaned up?” I said, trying to stay calm as he wiped his face over and over and over again, turning the napkins I had given him into dirty bloody shreds.
“What was your name again?”
“Ok John, yeah, just pull into the hub shopping center up ahead and I’ll get out. I was on my way to get a battery for my car so I’ll just get out up there at the hub and go from there. Hey thanks a lot for the ride..crazy these freakin kids right!?” He says.
“Stan, you’re pretty worked up, how about I just take you home so you can relax for a few hours and then go at it with the battery again later ok?”
“No no no no, I said please just drop me off at the hub Mr. John, that will be just fine thank you sir.”
For some reason he started calling me Mr. John and Sir…
It was clear by now that Stanly didn’t have a home, or at least not one he was willing to share the whereabouts of with me. I put on my signal and turned into the hub and found a parking space outside Radio Shack. I didn’t know what to do and my heart was pounding out of my chest.
“Ok Stanly, I gotta tell ya this doesn’t feel quite right just having you get out and on with the day after what just happened. Are you sure you don’t want to take it easy for a little while?”
“Thanks for the lift Mr. John, I’m gonna get going”
“Hey Stanly, I know this may sound weird, but would you mind if I said a quick prayer for ya before you go?”
At that, he looked me right in the eyeballs for the first time and I saw him.
“That would be nice Mr. John” he said, then he clutched his hands together and lowered his head, more than normal, so much so that his chin was pressed against his own chest so firm that it contorted his face, and there he waited for his prayer.
“Lord, Stanly and I come before you right now and we ask that you would calm our nerves and bring peace upon us. As you well know, that situation could have gone much worse, and we thank you that nobody was seriously hurt. Lord I pray you would bless Stanly as he goes from here, and remind him that above all else, you love him deeply. Amen.”
“Wow, thank you John that was really great, and thanks again for the help”
“It was good to meet you Stanly, try to take it easy today, and keep in mind hurting these kids is never the answer, no matter how disrespectful they are, they don’t deserve to be hurt.”
“Well, thanks again..”
And that was it.
He got out and walked away…and I was left there with my pounding heart and a mind going at a million miles a minute trying to make a bit of sense out of the last 15 minutes.
I turned the air up to full blast, not to get cool but because I felt like I couldn’t get a lung full of air. I stuck my face in front of the vent and just took the air into my nose for a good long while. I regained some composure and eventually starting piecing back together the fact that it was Tuesday afternoon and I was on my way back to the office to make a few calls and….”Joyce!”
I reached in my pocket to grab my phone so I could call Joyce so we could finish the conversation about the lunch bag job that never quite got started.
I looked at the phone and according to it, I was currently on a call and had been for the last 27 minutes!!
Clearing my throat..”Joyce?”
“OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO IM HERE IN CHICAGO AND YOUR WHO KNOWS WHERE IN CALIFORNIA AND SOMEBODY WAS KILLING SOMEBODY AND THAT CRAZY GUY WAS IN YOUR CAR AND…OH MY GOD ARE YOU OK!!!!???” Said Joyce.
I proceeded to fill in the details for Joyce and her coworkers as by now they were all gathered around her speaker phone, listening to the drama unfold. Eventually we did end up talking about the lunch bag project and finally we had a good chuckle as we both confessed it was a most unique way to get acquainted for the first time.
Joyce and I ended up on the phone each day, sometimes several times a day for the next three months or so while the project was in production. I think our action packed 1st inning, made for fast friendship. We had a lot to accomplish related to this particular project and we were able to move through it like we’d been doing it together for years.
Funny how walking a mile (or 27 minutes) in someones shoes can change everything.
I’ve never seen Stanly again, I always look for him when I’m in Little Kabul.
Tidbit on the “Lunch Bag” project…
I earn a living by helping companies with all things print. In this particular case, my client (ad agency specializing in non-profit mail) wanted to mail 780,000 direct mail pieces. The unique thing was that they wanted the mail piece to be a brown paper bag chalked full of information about how to financially support local homeless shelters. It’s what’s known as an “acquisition” mailing. The brown bag was clever because the information inside talked about how many meals could be provided if the recipient found it in their heart to give $10 or $20 or $100 per month to the shelter. I happened to represent an amazing direct mail company (Joyce’s company) that could print and automatically insert all the info into brown paper bags and then mail them, so I was able to partner my client with this awesome company and then move the project through to completion.
These days, I own a print firm of my own called Calinoi [kal-uh-noi] and also represent several other firms throughout the country. We literally help our clients with all things print. For example, currently we are doing 100 printed poker chips for a Harley Davidson club, 150,000 Direct Mail Postcards for a marketing firm, 80 Tshirts for a general contractor, 100,000 direct mail invites for a church and a 47′ tall exterior sign for a world class auto manufacturer.
I have the coolest job of anyone I know, and I’m really thankful.
I’m ready to talk about it…at least, I’m ready to talk about talking about it.
I woke up one morning, literally one morning I woke up and it occurred to me that I wanted to start blogging because I had a lot to share. I hadn’t contemplated it before that day. That evening I sat down and figured out how to set this site up. Late that night I wrote and published the first post. It was exciting, way more so than I had anticipated. I felt like I was on a coarse that may actually give voice to things inside me that needed to to be shared and heard. I shared it on my fb wall a couple times and also attached the link in an email to about a dozen friends. It ended up getting read by so many people!
Over the next year or so, I posted about 30 times and then a few times the next year and then I completely stopped.
I didn’t have a watershed moment, or an epiphany or an incident or anything of the sort, I just stopped. I didn’t have language to surround my reason for stopping…I think I do now.
I’m sort of a story teller and I tend to think that if a thing is worth sharing, then I should try to share it in a way that enables people to actually hear, otherwise it’s just a waste of breath (or key strokes). When I started blogging, I quickly learned that in order to share my insides with people in a way that would actually leave my insides out there, I would have to actually reach into my insides and pull things out. At first it came easy, and it actually stayed easy for a while. I was beginning to figure out how to add voice to things that were happening in my life…normal everyday things that had good stuff inside.
One day I sat down to write and realized that the story I needed to share was dark and too honest. I wrote it but didn’t have the courage to post it…It got much less easy from this day forward.
A couple weeks later, a remarkable thing happened with a lady that lost her ring at the pizza place I hang out at. I told the story from my guts that very night (June 10th 2012) and posted and it felt really good.
I sat down the next night to write, and again didn’t have the courage to dig deep…so I didn’t.
It’s been about 700 days.
From the time of the lost ring post, I spent about 450 ish days, husbanding and parenting and coaching and leading and mentoring…and hiding in the dark from the elephant in the room.
239 days ago (October 1st 2013) I began a sober…and sobering journey towards the elephant named duplicity.
Two men named John were living inside me and I didn’t want to talk about it. One John wanted good things and believed good things and had good things. The other John longed for dark things and believed dark things about himself and did dark things. I’m not so naive as to think this isn’t in some ways, simply the human condition at work because I know quite well that it is. That said, my Johns were too different.
This journey, of melding these opposing “John’s” into a singular, broken, beautiful, courageous, scared, excited, foolish, faithful man…is the journey I’m on.
Finally, I can confidently say I’m actively rooting the elephant out of the room, I can also share with you that I’m ready to share again.
My hope is to pick up where I left off, sharing my thoughts on life, lessons I’m learning and food I’m cooking and eating. I don’t anticipate launching into a play by play of the time that has passed, but I do expect some of it to leak out as I reach inside and pull up the things that are meant to come up.
The other night My good friend Derald and I decided to sneak out for a beer and a couple rib tips at Mission Pizza. Saturday is the best evening to go because the place is filled with warm music being enjoyed by warm people. I like the way Phil (owner) keeps the volume of the bluegrass bands low enough that people can actually hear each other talk as they enjoy the sweet sounds moving off the strings on stage. When we arrived, I immediately saw my friend Mr. Durbin who happened to grow up in Sunfish Kentucky, just an hour or so from the “holler” that my family is from. Several months ago, I approached Mr. Durbin to thank him for sharing his musical gift with us and we got to talking. The rest is history, I’m 34 and he’s like 80, but we’re friends. Seeing him this particular night was fortunate because I had a vhs tape he lent me so I could watch it with Rebecca. As it turns out, we don’t have a vhs player anymore so I needed to get it back to him. It was a documentary done by Diane Sawyer about the people of Eastern Kentucky. I watched it with him at his house one day and he insisted I share it with Rebecca…he really is a beautiful man.
Anyhow, Derald and I were doing our usual thing, discussing business and talking about life when all of the sudden, a hand reaches in between us and picks up a diamond ring that was sitting next to our rib tips. I looked up puzzled and found a very stressed looking woman sliding the ring back on her finger but continuing to stare a hole in our left overs. I asked her what happened and she calmly explained that she was massaging her hand and her rings popped off and flew in our direction. It was her wedding band that she found quickly but the engagement band was nowhere in sight. Turns out her husband was one of the guitar players in the band and they’ve been married for over 50 years. Derald and I joined her the search, moving our chairs out and crouching down to get a better look at the ground in the dim lighting. Before long the four or five other people at our long table were up and searching all the while encouraging the woman to stay calm and assuring her everything would be ok. The good will began taking flight and within a minute or two, the tables around us were up and on mission with us to find this precious ring. It was at this point I began noticing what was happening. The tables started getting moved out of the area and some woman started running a fork through our rib tips. Every person (about 50) in the place was now determined to find the ring. Suddenly, the house lights come on and the music stops and the staff as well as the band join the hunt. Although the scene was chaotic and stressful, in a much more important way, it was romantic and American, in a Mark Twain sort of way. People began chatting with each other and anonymity was nowhere to be found. “This one time I lost my…” stories were breaking out among clusters of strangers as they shuffled around their areas, hoping beyond hope that they would spot the lost ring.
“I FOUND IT!!!” cried a woman just behind us as she lifted the shiny ring in the air. It had flown into her purse.
Within seconds, the lights were turned down low and the band resumed playing an old Doc Watson tune as if they’d never stopped.
I approached the woman who was just reunited with her ring and gave her a big squeeze, while quietly telling her what a remarkable job she did of maintaining composure, confessing that I surely would have been freaking out. She breathed deep looked up at me and wiped her watery eyes as she explained that she just doesn’t know what she would have done had the ring not turned up.
What a remarkable testament to the fact that people have an intrinsic desire to help, love and know one another. It teaches me that we are all really just waiting for a reason to love the people around us, and it doesn’t even need to be life or death but simply human and authentic. We’ve all lost something, so adopting this sweet ladies burden proved to be natural to everyone in the room.
Derald and I were fortunate to have met a couple about our age during the hunt and we all hit it off immediately. Something about the situation enabled us to loosen up and actually share with and hear from and learn about one another. The four of us closed the place down and our conversation continued out into the parking lot. It was pleasure to have met them and we look forward to breaking bread with them again soon.
NOTE ABOUT THE PIZZA: Growing up in Chicagoland demands that I react dramatically to any pie not loaded with pure deliciousness and then cut up into squares. Good bad or indifferent, I love this heavy, doughy, expensive pizza as much as I love a Rosati’s special well done with extra sauce. It really is remarkable food. The sauce is so acidic it hurts your tongue, yet it’s still sweet enough to keep you eating till your belly hurts and sweat starts to bead on the temples. The mozzarella is mixed with about 20% Monterrey Jack, creating an actual cheese flavor rather than purely the smooth texture delivered by straight Mozzarella.
NOTE ABOUT THE BEER: Phil (owner) is a true beer aficionado. His 32 taps pour nothing but fine craft beer. There are no domestic lagers, no ciders, no Miller, Bud, Coors, PBR, no absolutely NO NON DELICIOUS BEER. Half of the taps are dedicated to California brewed IPA’s and the rest is a tasteful compilation of imports and other beers of various styles from CA and also neighboring states. Most pubs have handles all over the place and the temperature of the beer in your hand depends on which refrigeration unit it came from. Phil has all 32 handles in a single line on a wall, and on the other side of the wall is a walk in cooler that brings each brew to near freezing at all times. All beer is in frosted pint glasses.
BTW: Doc Watson passed away on Tuesday…RIP
Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician whose music was embraced by generations and whose lightning-fast style of flatpicking influenced guitarists around the world, died Tuesday at a North Carolina hospital, according to a hospital spokeswoman and his manager.
He was 89.
Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he was hospitalized recently after falling at his home in Deep Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
He underwent abdominal surgery while in the hospital and had been in critical condition for several days.
Gone: Doc Watson, the blind Grammy-award winning folk musician, died Tuesday at a North Carolina hospital
Arthel ‘Doc’ Watson’s mastery of flatpicking helped make the case for the guitar as a lead instrument in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was often considered a backup for the mandolin, fiddle or banjo.
His fast playing could intimidate other musicians, even his own grandson, who performed with him.
Richard Watson said in a 2000 interview with The Associated Press that his grandfather’s playing had a humbling effect on other musicians. The ever-humble Doc Watson found it hard to believe.