Happy Father’s Day Man with Heart

Though a pacemaker helps your heart keep its beat, we know it needs no assistance in applying its love to being the generous, patient, empathetic, thoughtful, guiding, tolerant, worn out ol’ heart we call DAD. Even as your once strong stride has slowed somewhat, you continue to be an energetic guide through troubled times.

Generous. Your giving heart helped finance college education and provided emergency loans that were forgotten. You helped pay for trips – trains, planes, and automobiles – and seemed to have an endless supply of those $20 bills you referred to as “gas money.” Each year, you took the money you got back from your savings and reinvested it into your grandchildren’s savings. And then there were the presents. A cowboy hat, Barbie doll, microscope, basketball, bicycle… You derived greater pleasure in satisfying others’ material desires than your own minimal ones.

Your greatest gift, though, was time. Taking the time to make sure children grew up feeling loved; not just your children, but all children whose path stumbled across yours. You pitched whiffle balls to the whole neighborhood, rebounded basketballs for the entire team, providing support and counsel to students and players alike who didn’t always have another source for it. You welcomed friends to our cabin every summer and ignored the obvious logistical inefficiency of having to ferry them back and forth separately throughout the summer. In fact, you shuttled kids around until we were old enough to drive, at which point you simply taught us to do it for ourselves.

Patient. You spent hours perfecting our jump shot and bit your tongue to keep from yelling at noisy, teenage girls’ « slumber-less » parties in your basement.
When a student cried in practice or acted up in class, instead of cajoling or scolding you listened, easing the pain for generations of adolescents who discovered one adult they could trust.
You read the same storybook to a demanding 4-year-old granddaughter and balanced the same checkbook for an even more demanding 94-year-old father.

Empathetic. You captured emotions and moments of natural stillness in your paintings and then gave them away so that family could be surrounded by elegant reminders of your love.
You’d peek in at your daughters’ tearful talks behind closed doors, asking, « everything okay? »
Your tender heart gives bear hugs, knee pats, neck rubs, and handshakes. Every phone conversation ends with those 3 endearing words, « I love you, » so there is never any room for doubt.

Thoughtful. In a time when men never wrote more than their signatures, you drew home made cards, penned letters and mailed hundreds of manila envelopes filled with sports clipping to your daughter overseas.
You bought fun fruits, chocolate kisses, ice cream cones and other favorite treats for grandkids.

Guiding. You walked the talk by setting an example of self-discipline, perseverance and integrity – values you instilled in the young people you taught and coached. You counseled so many students, athletes, and friends of your kids that you became a « Papa Mac » to dozens.
You taught us how to save pennies as children and budget money as adults. You explained how to read maps, make terrariums, catch fish, shoot baskets, and throw curve balls.

Tolerant. You welcomed everyone of every race; nationality and walk of life into your home believing every human being should be treated equally. You showered everyone from janitors, to waitresses, to secretaries with kindness and good cheer. You respected your children’s choices from college and careers to dates and mates.

Loving. You loved unconditionally. You forgave our embarrassing affirmations of self, like when I wore pants to church as a teen and left the country to play a game as an adult.
You accepted without question when one daughter married a foreigner, the other married a Cornhusker, and the last broke off her first engagement. And if one of us decided to marry a divorced, ex con, you would learn to love him too and be there to help with the rehabilitation.

Thirty years ago we almost lost you when you had a heart attack. With exercise and clean living, faith and family, you recovered. Though your heart may be tired, your lungs weak and your legs weary, you keep fighting to get up and put one foot forward. In doing so, you inspire us to keep on a keeping on.

You have a great heart, Dad.

The best.

Special Appreciation for Grandmas on Mother’s Day

Though right now my only granny role comes as a basketball elder, many of my friends are enjoying the privileged status of grandma as they dote on grandbabies. During a time when warmth and support is especially critical, Grandma’s love fills in the empty spaces of childhood.

Both of my grandmothers impacted my life in lasting ways, and shaped who I am today. My “flying” Norwegian grandma came from her home on the east coast for extended visits in the Midwest, at a time when air travel was not yet the norm. She made my siblings and me feel special by making pancakes for breakfasts and chocolate chip cookies for afterschool snack. She taught me to find joy in simple pleasures – sampling a piece of fresh-baked pie, handwriting a letter, seeing the season’s first cardinal.

Grandma Betty, my paternal grandma, inspired me to write by giving me a blank notebook and encouraging me to record my experiences. She made a ten-year-old tomboy believe her life was important. Grandma Betty saved money to take 8 of us in car trips cross-country from Florida to California, from the Grand Canyon to the Everglades, from the Golden Gate to Mt. Rushmore.

She had the foresight to save a piece of land in Wisconsin and build a cabin where her grandchildren could grow up; developing an appreciation for nature untainted by industry while hiking in the woods, swimming in a lake and singing around a campfire. Like a fortuneteller she envisioned a magical place for future generations to forge memories over lazy Summit Lake summers and remain connected forever through shared experience.

Grandmothers remember anniversaries and birthdays. They never miss ball games, band performances and school graduations. Today, they also play catch, rebound basketballs and run marathons. Grandmas are the first to take the sting out of life’s hurts and the last to criticize mistakes.

With the advent of women’s rights and the obligations of both career and motherhood, the expectations of mothers are endless. With the impossible demands of being a mom, Grandmas’ role has never been greater.

When her first grandchild, our daughter, was born, my mom slipped into her grandmother shoes with ease. During summer holidays and school breaks she planned outings to plays and parades, parks and pools, movies and museums for all six of her grandchildren.

At times when I was exhausted with a mother’s mandate to give, give, give, my mom picked up the slack. She played cards, read stories, baked cookies. She offered that same selfless support to my son and daughter that she once gave me. She mastered the art of grand mothering long distance. She remained a steadfast part of my children’s lives, nurturing them in cheerful phone calls, newsy letters and inspirational trans-Atlantic trips. Her kindness and compassion are a foundation of their being. She has shaped them in countless ways, big and small.

Grandmothers will never truly grow old because their impact is timeless.

 

 

 

 

Sterling Salutes Illinois’ First Girls’ State Basketball Champs

Forty years ago, my little sisters made history and on April 4, 1977 newspaper headlines read “Sterling High Girls win first ever-state title over 7,000 greet Illinois number one basketball team.” Five years after Title IX passed into legislation mandating equal opportunities for girls in all publicly funded schools, a new generation was born. While our country was struggling with civil rights and gender equity issues a small town team united blacks, whites and Hispanics in one dream – a state championship.

If I close my eyes, I can still see Marche Harris pumping her fist in air after a break away lay up, Fran Smith with her wicked ‘fro soaring at the jump circle, Dawn Smith grabbing weak side boards, Jojo Leseman, running the court like a platoon captain in fast forward, freshman, Amy Eshelman gliding the baseline. And my sister, Karen McKinzie, standing at the line swishing another free throw. Harris, Smith, Leseman, Eshelman and McKinzie names that have marked SHS record books for years.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-7JPSXcr2s[/embedyt]

An odd trio of coaches, Jim McKinzie a retired boys coach, Sue Strong a GAA coordinator and Phil Smith the first African American teacher in the conference fought behind the front line to make sure female athletes were granted equal rights at SHS in those crucial years after Title IX. Before anyone dared to utter words like racism or sexism in public, they shaped a team far ahead of its time indifferent to gender or race. That group of unassuming girls enchanted an entire community. Part of the magic was their cohesiveness. No divas, no superstars, no drama queens, just selfless teammates who knew that they were stronger together than they could ever be alone.

It was too late for me. A 1975 SHS graduate, I became a Redbird and moved to Illinois State University where the first girls state tournament was held on my new home court. I watched with pride from the bleachers of Horton Field house as my little sisters made history under my father’s tutelage.

“What stands out most was how this team brought the community together,” he said reminiscing, “Nothing like it before or since. The Golden Girls were goodwill ambassadors for Sterling, a place no one heard of before was thrown in the limelight. When we returned as state champions, we were wined and dined like celebrities.”

Forty years ago, we had no clue that the old Golden “Girls” would bear daughters who would one day be recognized as Golden Warriors. All we cared about was finally being allowed to play the game we loved. Do the girls that play today know how lucky they are to compete on center court wearing fashion’s latest apparel? To prepare before games in weight rooms and repair afterwards in training rooms? To be immortalized in a state of the art Hall of Fame room?

Stop by the open house at Woodlawn Arts Academy on Friday April 7 from 4:00-7:00 to salute that first state championship team and their coaches. Tip your hat to those pioneers who grew up in flimsy, canvas shoes and one piece gym suits, who played ball when no one was looking or worse yet when people looked and laughed. Pay tribute to those women who gave their heart and soul to dreams that no one understood, dreams that became our daughters’ reality.

When you sink a jumper and drive the baseline young blood, hear our stories whispered from the rafters. Walk tall, be strong, be brave. Be proud of your past, Golden “Girl”. After years of battle, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Warrior.

A chapter of my memoir is about the 1977 state championship team.

March Madness My Way

Though I miss the basketball frenzy in America especially at this time of year, I learned to celebrate March Madness my way. As an expat in Europe for the past 35 years, the only March Madness I experienced was in 2014 when I traveled to the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point to be the keynote speaker at the DIII Final Four banquet in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Title IX.

Fortunately after my international playing career ended, I joined a collect of coaches – many former players – who brought a taste of March Madness to the international schools in international and national competitions.

I have had my fair share of championship teams and though I am every bit as competitive as my cohorts across the Atlantic, over here the stakes are not as high. My players don’t perform in front of sell out crowds and my job is not dependent on the number of wins.

So though I retired from teaching in June, no one who knows me will be surprised that after medical treatments in the States, I came back to coaching in Switzerland to finish the season with my high school team.

At our international tournament in Basel, my team felt like they let me down when they lost their defending title to Zurich in the SCIS.

“I didn’t come back to watch you play basketball,” I said in the locker-room after the game. “I came to be with you. To help you get your international baccalaureate degree and to remind you that I believe in you. Always. Even in defeat. Especially in defeat.”

No one goes through life beating every opponent. It is what you do when the chips are down that builds character. Second effort is the difference between, well, going on and giving up. So after that disappointing defeat, we went back to gym and practiced. A month later we beat that same Zurich team to win the Swiss championship SGIS.

We can beat ourselves up reliving our errors. Forget the mistakes. The game goes so fast no one else will remember that you dribbled off your toe, threw the ball out of bounds or shot an air ball, what they will remember is that you hustled back down court on defense and played tough until the final buzzer.

The emphasis in international schools is less about winning and more about learning, so academics always play the biggest role.

No doubt I have book smart players. But playing basketball teaches self-discipline and perseverance and other valuable lessons that can’t be learned in a classroom.

This year one of my star basketball players is heading to Stanford and another one is off to Oxford; they won’t be going on athletic scholarships. They play hard, but study harder. And maybe that is how it should be.

Basketball basics 101 – a valuable part of any curriculum. It’s a throw back to the good old days in the early infancy of Title IX when we played for love of the game and to get a good education.

March Madness my way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Rights Are Human Rights

The inauguration day of our 45th President was a day of despair that I spent wrapped up in a blanket shivering from illness and shuddering from the political tsunami. The stark contrast between Obama’s gracious farewell speech to the campaign of the new president-elect whose words offended everyone with his disparaging comments about women, minorities and immigrants made me cringe.

But a day later on January 21st, my spirits lifted when millions of women (and men) took to the streets in America’s largest protest ever. Wearing pink hats and carrying signs, protesters peacefully chanted slogans and mocked Trump’s sexist demeanor and discriminatory rhetoric.

I did not have the strength to join the peaceful demonstrators marching across the Mont Blanc Bridge in Geneva; I was on the phone crying with my sisters as I battled pneumonia again. Like so many other women and minorities, I am worn out. Weary from this nonsense. Why must we continue to fight the same battles we won decades ago?

My only consolation was in knowing that we are not alone. The movement spread to 670 places nationwide and overseas ranging from Berlin, London, Stockholm, Sydney and others. Spurred by Facebook event messages, thousands paraded down the Parisian boulevards protesting the sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and racist ideology Trump defended during his campaign.

Around the globe, demonstrators objected against all aspects of intolerance. In South American countries, gender violence topped the list. In Tokyo, the right to education was a major issue and in other parts of the world health care reform was the priority.

The demonstrations stemmed from Trump’s campaign fueled by audacious claims and divisive rhetoric. He dismissed allegations of sexual assault and his lewd comments, like “grab them by the pussy” as “locker room talk.”

I grew up on the sideline listening to demeaning locker room talk. The ultimate affront to emasculate a male was to call him, “a pussy” insinuating that he was a pansy, a sissy, a girl.

In the past women were insulted daily, treated as second class citizens and obliged to fight for the right to vote, to participate in sports, to earn higher education, to hold office, and to lead companies.

Today I did not have the strength to join my sisters and take to the streets, but tomorrow I will rise. I will return to the gym, encouraging my international athletes to keep fighting in face of defeat. To take that energy, that strength, that power back to their homelands and to use their gifts to make a better world.

From our streets to our offices to our playing fields discrimination remains insidious and girls are still reminded in so many subtle and not so subtle ways that they don’t count.

I cannot change public policy, but I can make a difference. Everyday. I can use my voice, my example, my courage to inspire other girls and minorities to reach for the stars, to believe that they count just as much as their white brothers and that their contribution is equally valuable.

We must all continue to make our voices heard.

American Election An Expat Perspective

12665885-silhouette-of-a-sad-politician-on-american-flag-background-with-vintage-look-stock-photoTo me it’s not about politics. It’s not about liberal or conservative or agreeing to disagree on what we each think is the best way to ensure that the US is a great place to live.

It’s about the values  I thought we held regardless of our political leanings.

After hearing the election results on November 9, I cried. I felt a gut wrenching fear and despair that knowing there was no turning back. I walked out the door and wanted to keep walking right off the planet. My disappointment was magnified thousand-fold with the heartbreaking knowledge that half of the nation believes in a leader whose platform was filled with empty slogans and derogatory rhetoric based on repression, intolerance, bigotry, misogyny and ignorance.

I know that realistically not all those who voted support those views and that they have very legitimate reasons for wanting change, I know that for many it was an act of anger, frustration and hopelessness, not racism or misogyny. But it’s hard for me to feel that in so-voting, those views, which I find so abhorrent and antithetical to the very rights we fought so hard for in the past, weren’t being endorsed. Regardless of what happens at a policy-level, I’m fearful of the message that has been sent, of the noxious sentiment that has been aroused, and of the no-longer unrealistic possibility that the rights we have fought for could be taken away, or at the very least not truly be guaranteed for all.

I understood why thousands of Americans took to the streets in protest chanting, « Not my President. »

Not my country either. Not the country I loved so dearly for defending the unalienable rights we hold so true … liberty, justice and freedom for all, not just those who shout the loudest or have the biggest bank accounts or have ancestors born in Western Europe and have less melanin in their skin.

Having lived in Europe for the past 37 years, perhaps I have no right to judge. I do not know what it feels like to be stopped in the street for the color of my skin. Or to be a working class man facing unemployment when my job was outsourced overseas. Or to be homeless waiting in line for a food pantry hand-out. Nor the despair of watching my child grow sicker and weaker due to an inability to afford health care.

But I do know the fear of standing in line in a French immigration office fearing that I will be deported. I do know the humility of depending on German teammates for a roof over my head. And I do know the gratitude of people – international friends and colleagues – who ignored where I came from and accepted me for who I was.

And I know what it feels like to be left out. In the early Title IX days, I left the USA to pursue a dream denied in my homeland. In 1979, I moved to Europe on the heels of the Vietnam War at the height of the Cold War, during the Reagan era.

While living abroad, I tried to mitigate the stereotype of the loud, arrogant, ethnocentric American by speaking softly and keeping a low profile. I demonstrated the ideals of tolerance on which my country was founded by showing respect for others who worshiped different deities, spoke different languages and practiced different customs. As a guest in others homelands, I discovered firsthand through friendship the beauty in our diversity.

I came back to a nation where people were more connected than ever on social media, yet profoundly divided in real life and unable to communicate in civil terms.

Recently retired from teaching abroad, I stayed in the states longer and followed the election with mounting alarm, stunned not just by how vitriolic it turned, but how easily we condoned it. When did the election in one of the greatest democracies become more about digging up dirt on one’s opponent than discussing critical policy issues?

I felt as if I’d been flung back in time to an era when women were objectified, Jim Crow Laws kept blacks in their place, and gays hid in the closet for safety. Trump gave free licence to discrimination. His dismissal of anyone who is not a white American male echoes an Aryan supremacist ideology that nearly destroyed us.

« Make American great again ! » Trump proclaims. What was great about America was that everyone had an opportunity to pursue the Dream.

« Build walls to keep out immigrants ! » America was built on the backbone of immigrants who came here for a better life.

On the heels of Brexit, Trump’s victory, following a campaign filled with disdain for women, minorities, immigrants, gays and the disabled only fuels the extreme right of the world. Marie Le Pen is kicking up her heels in France; Geert Wilders is dancing in Holland.               .

The nightmare I woke up to November 9 reverberates around the globe. We may only worry about what is happening in our neighbourhood, and I get that, but what we don’t realize is that, like it or not, any decision made in America affects the rest of world, environmentally, socially, and economically.

We need to remember that regardless of our political party, religious affiliation, national identity, race or gender, we don’t own this planet.

We cannot go back and change the outcome of the election, but that does not mean we should give up on those ideals. We can speak up for those who are victimized or do not have a voice. We can continue to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness and respect. We can encourage the many politicians in both parties who have condemned Trump’s racist and misogynistic rhetoric to continue to do so.

We can do better.

We must.