Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Valary and Me

Valary and Me

I spent a wonderful few hours yesterday with a dear friend from high school, Valary.  Except for a recent class reunion, I don’t recall that we’ve crossed paths geographically since our graduation in 1975.  We’re connected online via Facebook, but with her living in California and me in Kentucky, opportunities to catch up in person just don’t happen.  So when we realized that we would both be visiting our hometown of Winchester, Kentucky at the same time, we carved out time to commandeer a booth at a local Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.  Over 2.5 hours later, we thrilled the servers by finally leaving.

We talked about all kinds of things in our time of catching up yesterday, interrupted at least once every 10 minutes by the very… um… persistent servers wanting to check on us.  I could write several posts here from the insights shared in our conversation, but one in particular stands out to me.  In a nutshell, it is this:

We don’t know all the struggles and detailed personal history others experience in their lives – factors that are critical in understanding how people arrive at their current place in life – why they think, feel and act as they do.  Consequently, we often make wrong assumptions about others based on very limited information and understanding.  We see gaps in their story and fill in those gaps with our own wild imagination.  We have fill-in-the-blank relationships, and we fill in those blanks incorrectly way too often.

Instead of creating and acting on our wrong assumptions about others, wouldn’t it be better for us to take the time to hear directly from them so that we can better understand their story?  Don’t just make up something to fill in the blanks of other people’s lives.  Then them fill in those gaps of our understanding.

As Valary and I talked, I learned so much about her and others that shows how little I really knew going into yesterday’s conversation.  I can now appreciate her and those others even more than before because she has filled in some glaring blanks in my awareness.

There is too much misunderstanding and conflict around most us every day, both interpersonally and on a larger scale between groups and nations.  It is a shame that much of the conflict may stem not from the facts of a situation, but from wrong assumptions, suppositions and prejudices that negatively impact our response to others before we even know their true, whole story.

After talking for 2.5 hours to Valary at that restaurant booth, it’s safe to say I know her better than ever, and I appreciate her far more than ever, even though she’s been a friend for decades.  That’s what talking one-on-one with someone can do for us.  We need more of that.

Fill-in-the-blank relationships are dangerous.  We need others – especially the people themselves – to help us fill in those gaps in understanding.

Thank you, Valary, for that important reminder.  Godspeed.

image from bookboon.com

image from bookboon.com

I’m tired of so much of daily life and experience revolving around conflict.  It dominates a disproportionate share of the news and far too much of our personal and professional lives and experiences.

I’m tired of watching national newscasts only to see the latest iteration of countries fighting with one another, rogue administrations fighting against their own people, terrorists terrorizing, and political parties blindly towing the party line while casting blame for all the nation’s ills on another party.  I’m tired of so-called leaders who instigate more conflict and division rather than diplomatically lead a nation through troubled times.

I’m tired of local newscasts filled with the murder of the week, groups fighting for or against their pet causes and projects, and people unable to live in the same community and get along with one another.

I’m tired of people unable to have civil conversations about hugely important social matters impacting society.  I’m tired of seeing and hearing people yell their verbal missives at those with whom they disagree instead of attempting to understand the perspectives of others and have reasonable conversations with them.  I’m tired of the marches and protests regardless of whose side is putting on the show.

I’m tired of a worthless news media that selectively “reports” the news and slants the amount and details of coverage to reflect a bias instead of serving the public by thoroughly reporting the news in an unbiased manner.  I’m tired of their behavior contributing to the division that exists among the public.  I’m tired of so many news talk shows with everyone barking at the same time, trying to shout each other down instead of having a worthwhile conversation.

I’m tired of fighting the same old battles at work.  I’m tired of cumbersome processes that take years and an act of God to change because some silo cares more about protecting its little fiefdom than it does about what makes sense for efficiency, effectiveness and the good of the enterprise and its customers.  I’m tired of butting my head into the brick wall of roadblocks thrown up constantly by those who fancy themselves as more important than anyone but themselves believes them to be.  I’m tired of the conflict generated by people with no training or experience in some matters telling others who are trained and experienced how to do their jobs.  I’m tired of the interpersonal conflict that comes with people not following through on commitments, not taking initiative, and not doing their best when there are so many others working their back sides off to do things well.  I’m tired of grown adults acting like children in the workplace, all too eager to spawn conflict among their colleagues about matters completely unrelated to work.

I’m tired of the ongoing schedule conflicts due to far too many commitments, personal and professional.  I’m tired of the competing priorities and the constant need to choose between what is important and what is urgent.  I’m tired of the guilt that comes for what doesn’t get done regardless of what I choose to do.

I’m tired of how constant conflict makes me tired.  Were it not for the sanctuaries of my faith and family, I cannot imagine how pointless it would all seem.

Surely we can do better if we really want to, and if we try.

Mom Dad JoJo Jeff

My dad Jack Ross, mom Virginia, sister Jo-Jo and me

As Father’s Day draws to a close, I can’t tell you how many times today I have gotten a little teary-eyed when my thoughts wandered where they were inclined to wander on this holiday.  I know I’m getting more emotional the older I get, probably because I understand more about what is important.  I also have a greater sense of how fleeting this life is and all the little moments that comprise it.

As my Facebook news feed filled with photos of dads, granddads, sons and daughters, I couldn’t help but reflect on my family line.  I recall with love and great appreciation my grandfathers – each very different, yet loving toward our family and me.  I appreciate my late father-in-law who knew more about more subjects than I will ever know.  He was a great handyman – something I have never come close to being.

Virgil Dad Me Brian

My grandfather Virgil Ross, my dad Jack, my son Brian and me

And then there is my Dad.  Words cannot express the depth of respect and love I have for Dad.  He is the picture of integrity.  If he tells you he will do something, you can take it to the bank.  I don’t know anyone who works harder or who is willing to give more from a generous heart than him.  He is a rock (and as stubborn as one at times).  It is impossible to explain how important he is to our family.  He has been my hero for longer than I can recall.  I cannot imagine life without him.

When my Father’s Day thoughts turn to my sons, I am thankful for the 33+ years of fatherhood and for all they have taught me along the way.  I think (briefly) about what I wish I had done different in raising them, but I know better than to dwell on the past.  I focus, instead, on the countless blessings that have characterized my life and the promising future ahead.  Each son is very different and unique.  Each lives a very different life.  A father’s love is still somehow magically, evenly distributed between his children, as he appreciates each for his unique qualities.

My grandfather Ecton Green and my sister Jo-Jo

My grandfather Ecton Green and my sister Jo-Jo

A couple of nights ago I watched the television show 20/20 on ABC – an episode called “With Parents Like These.”  One of the mothers interviewed had left her husband and two children to move from Pennsylvania to the west coast to live what I consider to be an incredibly selfish and irresponsible life.  When the interviewer asked her if she loved her children more than herself, the mother asked, “Should a mother love her children more than herself?”  My immediate answer was “Yes!”  Without thinking, parents should should love their children more than themselves.  (That love should begin in the womb, by the way – a love that would have prevented 55 million abortions since Roe v. Wade.)

The random, emotional moments for me throughout this day come as I ponder:

  • a time without all of us still here;
  • eternal, spiritual matters and the job I have or haven’t done to guide us in matters of eternal consequence;
  • what role I can still play, how I can make a difference, what my legacy will be;
  • how and why my heavenly Father loves me with a perfect love and models for me the kind of father I need to be.

I’ve learned more from my father than I have the sense to apply.  I’ve learned more raising my children than I ever expected.  I’ve learned more from my heavenly Father than I have the right to expect.

On this Father’s Day, I am overwhelmed with how blessed I am, and I am thankful.

Sharing a large order of fries with Callie

Sharing a large order of fries with Callie

Yesterday was the final weekday of an extended time at home for 3+ weeks.  I was home to assist my wife as needed following her second knee replacement surgery in two months.  As she gradually was able to do more and more on her own, I decided to take my final vacation day and do something I’d never done before – have a Daddy-Doggie Date Day.

Lots of parents make the very smart move of having special one-on-one outings with their children.  In fact, my son, Jason, wrote about it last year in a two-part series on his blog at OrdinaryParent.com.  As you might suspect, my boys have long since flown the coop, so the closest thing I have to a live-in child is my dog, Callie – a three-year-old Lab/Border Collie mix with whom I am extremely close.

So I thought it might be fun to forego my usual routines for the day, work less than I otherwise would, spend less time online, and devote as many waking moments to Callie as she seemed interested in (which was a lot).  I want to share with you what we did and what some of the lessons learned were for the day, especially since they apply to human relationships and not just pets.

First, how did we spend the day?  I started the night before by sleeping on the couch in my man cave so Callie could sleep with me.  We don’t allow her on our bed and she really likes waking me up by climbing on my chest, putting a paw on either side of my head, and licking my face until I get up.  She even softly strokes my cheek with her paw which cracks me up.  All of that is only allowed if I’m on the couch, so that’s how the day started.

After the obligatory trip outside to do her business, I fed her and then we headed back outside to play with the Frisbee.  She’s fast and excellent at catching it, and it’s a good prelude to taking a walk with her because it wears her out a little bit so that she seems calmer on the walks.  After a 1.3 mile walk, my wife, Linda, needed to do a little shopping, so Callie and I took her to the store.  We came back and played more outside and inside, throwing balls, playing with her tug toys, having her chase other things I’d throw, and generally having fun.

It was necessary for me to be on one conference call for work yesterday, so I took an hour to do that and clear out some emails before resuming the focus on Callie.  She napped while I took my work interlude.

The temperature was going to get hot as the day wore on and Callie does not handle heat well at all, so we only did one more 2.6 mile walk late in the morning.  By the end of that, I already had 10,000 steps in for the day according to my pedometer and it wasn’t even noon.

I made her entertain herself while I ate lunch, then we played some more and I gave her a good brushing and bath before taking a nice, long nap together in the afternoon on the couch.  Since we were almost out of dog food, we then took a trip to the pet supply shop, roamed around to see the other critters and let her enjoy the sights and smells, purchasing the food and a couple of new, tough, ball toys.

Before coming home, I thought no Daddy-Doggie Date Day would be complete without a trip to McDonald’s, so we went through the drive-thru, purchased a large order of fries, and then shared them on the drive home (pictured above).  This is a periodic occurrence for us, so she knows what to expect when we hit a drive-thru.  I’d hand one French fry over to her in the back seat and then eat 2-3 myself, repeating until they were gone.  When she starts paying for them, we’ll change the ratio to be in her favor.

Once home, she was obsessed with the new balls and we’ve played a lot with them since then.  Some rain and storms kept us inside the remainder of the day, but no less active, rotating among the many toys and chasing her around the basement in another daily tradition.

Eventually, she gave out in the evening and we called it day.  I still slept on the couch again last night so she had the full 24-hour attention I intended to give her.  She rewarded me again this morning with a wake-up licking long before i would have preferred to arise on a Saturday morning.

As I ponder Daddy-Doggie day, I can think of several lessons learned, most of which apply to other relationships as well:

  • I know when I’m focused on spending time with someone and when I’m not.  Because it was predetermined that the day would be given to Callie, I did not see her constant requests for attention as a nuisance or a hindrance stopping me from getting other things done.  Spending time with her was the whole point of the day.  How many times do we see the expected requests of those under own own roof or with whom we work as a bother rather than a significant reason for why we are there?
  • Unless you carve out time to spend with others, you probably won’t.  Callie and I spend some time with each other every day.  I know we have a good relationship.  Still, never in nearly three years of having her have I devoted a day to her like yesterday.  It was, frankly, the most enjoyable day I’ve had in these recent weeks at home.  I suspect it was for her as well.
  • Most people prefer the gift of your time over material gifts.  Callie would’ve been just as happy to be with me if I didn’t buy the new toys for her because she had me all day.  Beware of those who seem more interested in your presents than your presence.
  • Unless you plan something different, it’s easy to fall into the same old routines.  Even before yesterday, I had thoroughly enjoyed my weeks at home.  I still worked about half-time, but that was my choice.  I like my “staycations” at home as much as I like traveling elsewhere for a more elaborate vacation.  It was important, though, to change up the routine for at least one day – ditching the normal daily goals and task list items – just to have fun.  I need more of that.
  • Relationships with pets can be very special, indeed.  I’ve had pets, especially dogs, all my life.  I can say, though, that I have never had a relationship with a dog like I do with Callie.  We just somehow “get” each other and thoroughly enjoy being together.  I started reading this week the book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home because of the bond I have with Callie.  It’s nice reading about other stories of inexplicable bonds between some pets and their owners.

So that’s the report on my first ever Daddy-Doggie Date Day.  I’m sure it won’t be my last – it was a very good day.  The bonus at the end of it all is the list of lessons learned, some of which serve as good reminders for other key relationships.

Friends Take Care Of YouMy wife came home last Friday after more than two weeks of being in the hospital and rehab following knee-replacement surgery.  It so happened that I had to be heading out of town at the very hour she was checking out of rehab because I was scheduled to officiate at an out-of-town wedding for the weekend and the wedding rehearsal was just a few hours away.

Enter some wonderful friends.

First was our local friend, Darlene, who met Linda at rehab and brought Linda with all her belongings home and then stayed with her until Saturday, running errands, helping around the house, taking care of the dog and assisting Linda with tasks she is not able yet to do herself.  Linda was not (and is not) ready to be without assistance for a long period of time, and with me out of town, Darlene was a god-send those first 24 hours home.  Thank you, Darlene.

Then on Saturday, two of Linda’s lifelong friends from St. Louis drove to Louisville to spend Saturday until Tuesday with her.  Even though I was back from the wedding trip by mid-Sunday afternoon, Patty and Pam stayed until Tuesday cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, helping with physical therapy, dog-sitting, doing laundry, and laughing about past and present things that only friends with a long history can do.  Being able to spend that amount of time together was extremely rare for the three of them and a real help for Linda in every way – physically, emotionally, spiritually.  Thank you, Patty and Pam, even though you didn’t take me up on my offer of paying you $1000 each to make everything in the over-stuffed freezers and refrigerator disappear.  (I fixed the sink you broke, by the way.  The bill is in the mail.)

We live in a busy, busy world with long to-do lists that are a challenge to complete even without interruptions.  How many of us are willing to take a major chunk out of time we could devote to our own to-do lists to be the kind of friend that Darlene, Patty and Pam have been to us in recent days, as well as several others who have brought or are scheduled to bring meals?  It’s a reminder to me that if I want to have friends like that, I need to be a friend like that.

I guess the title of this post is a misnomer because you can’t measure real friendship.  But you sure know it when you see it.