For My Boys

First and foremost, you need to know that I love you. Everything else pales in comparison to the joy of having you in my life. Second, you need to know that Gladiator is the best movie ever created. Followed closely by Brave Heart and the Godfather Trilogy.

Now, with the important things out of the way, you should spend your life in pursuit of one goal: To exemplify manliness in all it’s forms. Not just to be a good man, but to be good at being a man. In pursuit of this goal, I have gathered mentors and teachers, devoured literature in every form, and spent my life refining my character through a battlefield of internal conflict and insecurities.

“Vincit qui se vincit” is a Latin phrase which means, “He conquers who conquers himself.” You are what you are, right now. The past is vanity and the future is yet unwritten. A life is not defined by one mistake, but by what one does in light of his mistakes. Be men of action. Mindlessly drifting through complex thought has its place in philosophy and self-discovery, but action rules the day in the battle for self-mastery. You are the sum of your actions, not your intentions. Be mindful, however, of your thoughts, for they will surely become the fodder for the canon of your actions.

I have waded through the thoughts and actions of great men, both known and unknown by the fickle mistress that is fame. My life has been a refinement of these thoughts and the development of my own, and I have put together this text which, for me, has proven to be true to life. Much of the following text will be famous quotes interlaced with my own, far less famous thoughts. Read these, but decide what is true for you. You are your own men.

Lastly, there are three traits I despise in a man. None of which are deserving of respect: Dishonesty, Complacency, and Laziness. All three make for useless men; all three will destroy your chances of moving through life without victimizing others or becoming victims yourselves.

And you are not being raised to be victims.

Personal responsibility

An act of kindness is better than a thousand heads bowed in prayer. I believe in God but not in the notion that God is walking you through this life on a plus/minus system, waiting to reward or punish you based upon how good or bad you’ve been. I believe there are natural consequences, both good and bad, for the decisions you make and the actions you take or do not take. I believe there is a devil, and that devil should know your name and fear you. Never debase yourself to the place where organized religion lives. The place where God is responsible for everything good in your life, and the devil for everything bad. This idiocy is devoid of personal responsibility. If you can not take responsibility for your own decisions when the result of those decisions are negative, then you will never be able to take joy in your own successes, both large and small. Believe that everything is your fault. Bad things happen and it is your job to overcome them. Above all else, avoid entitlements. The world owes you nothing, boys. If you want something, take it. Use every legal means at your disposal, but go after everything the world tells you you can’t have. Remember to always play the hand you were dealt like it is the hand you wanted.

Trust

Be weary of the religious man, who cloaks his intentions with the veil of “God’s Will”. Often times, these are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They disarm you, and take no responsibility for the wake of devastation they leave behind. Guard your thoughts and tell no one what you are thinking. When you pray, pray silently. The devil can hear your prayers too, and he doesn’t always appear wearing horns and a pitchfork. Often times, he presents himself as everything you have ever wanted. Be cautious of generosity and the free lunch. People are not against you, but they are for themselves. To this end, choose your friends wisely. Better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies. Know that sometimes the person you would take a bullet for can end up being the one holding the gun.

There are five things that are difficult to get back: A stone after it’s thrown, a word after it’s spoken, an occasion after it’s missed, time after it’s gone, but the most difficult of all is trust after it’s lost. A man’s trust is a valuable thing. If a person cannot be trusted, they have no use. Be men of your word. Your word is truly the only thing that is all yours alone.

Self-reliance

Never change yourself to make someone else happy and never engage in conflict that is not your own. A lion does not concern himself with the opinions of sheep.

Never help anyone who does not want it. It will be used against you. Trust me on this. Pay little attention to the opinions of others. Remember, you will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every barking dog. When you care about what others think, you become their prisoner.

Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all. Train your mind to be calm in every situation and never raise your voice. Instead, improve your argument. Become a master at setting healthy boundaries and learn how to say “no” without feeling the need to explain yourself.

Stop being distracted by the things that do not bring you closer to your goal, whatever that goal may be. Some people will choose to hate you. Make sure it’s because hating you is easier than beating you.

Get off social media. It serves as a soapbox for the ignorant. Successful people do not waste time worrying about what other people are doing. Stop explaining yourself. People only understand from their level of perception. Do not compare yourselves to others. Things are seldom as they seem. To live for the approval of others is the lowest form of human existence. Said another way, if you live for the praises of men, you will die by their criticisms.

Don’t ever let the same person waste your time twice. And never stay committed to a mistake, just because you spent a lot of time making it. Don’t waste time hating people. Either choose to love them, or choose not to care at all. Hate is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Do not waste energy on revenge. To be good at revenge takes sacrificing your conscience, morality, and integrity. Instead, move on. Indifference is often far more effective at twisting the knife than retaliation.

Outside events have no power over you unless you give them power by allowing them to occupy your mind. Rather, we create our own reality through our own perception. The choice for how you respond is always up to you. Will logic or emotion prevail? When you cannot control what’s happening, control how you respond to what’s happening. That is where your power lies.

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake. Remember this: A mistake that is made more than once is a decision. When somebody shows you their true colors, believe them the first time.

Live life as though it were rigged in your favor.

Read every day, but at some point it will be time to stop reading other people’s books and start writing your own. Today is always the day. Don’t put off starting your life for some later time or event. The world is changed by your example, not by your opinions. At any moment you have the power to say, “This is not how this story is going to end.”

Cancel out negative thoughts; not with positive ones, which serve only to draw attention to what you lack, but with productive ones. Focusing on positive thought is, in itself, a negative experience and embracing negative experiences is, in itself, a positive experience.

Relationships

The most important thing I can tell you on the subject of relationships is this: You teach people how to treat you, based upon the things you are willing to tolerate. Disrespect should never be one of them. Consequently, your happiness should never depend upon someone else. Very little is needed to be happy, everything you need is already within you. Within the quality of your thoughts. If someone treats you like an option, help them narrow their choices by removing yourselves from the equation.

Remember that apologizing doesn’t always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. Sometimes a relationship has more value than your ego. It’s okay to choose to disagree. People are entitled to their own opinions, and you don’t want to surround yourself with drones. Men sharpen men through conflict. Value this truth and never be afraid as a reasonable, thinking person to re-evaluate your own opinions when presented with new information. Avoid taking too strong a position. Instead, listen to everything, evaluate the information, and make a decision, giving yourself enough room in your decision to adjust accordingly to unforeseen circumstances.

When you announce your position, you become a target. Better to stay silent and let your enemies take shots in the darkness of their own ignorance.

Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you into trouble. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room. Be careful of men whose words don’t match their actions.

Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already. Never judge another because their sin is different from yours. Remember to be fair. A fish is a brilliant swimmer, but if a fish is judged on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Talk to girls you believe to be out of your league. You might surprise yourselves.

Finally, stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

Work

Find your passion and figure out how to get paid for it, but remember: You can’t have a million dollar dream on a minimum wage work ethic. You can either experience the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The choice is yours.

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. Take calculated risks. Be prepared to work and achieve on your own merits; The world doesn’t owe you anything. If you want to be successful, stop asking people for permission and do what you know needs to be done. Success isn’t owned. It is leased, and rent is due every day.

Continuous improvement is always better than delayed perfection. Champions don’t show up to take what they want; they show up to give everything they’ve got. Trophies are won at practice; they are just picked up at competitions.

Always keep your relationships, bank account, and next move private. Your success is a product of your habits. A thousand productive habits done over time is the only way to build lasting success in all aspects of your life.

Learn the art of delayed gratification. Debt is slavery when not used to leverage assets but, instead, used to purchase liabilities. Read The Richest Man In Babylon and start paying yourself first. Then give every dollar you earn a job. Your money works for you, not the other way around.

Be a boss. If you cannot climb to the top of your chosen corporate ladder, design and build a better ladder. Then own the view.

Character

Consistency, loyalty, and respect. Pursue these things. Be strong; not rude. Be Confident; not arrogant. Be kind; not weak. Be humble; not timid. Be patient. It takes six months to build a Rolls Royce and thirteen hours to build a Toyota.

Never speak out of a place of anger, jealousy, hate, insecurity, or ignorance. It is far better to remain silent at these times. How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes? Show people respect, even if they don’t deserve it. Not as a reflection of their character but as a reflection of yours. Take care of others, but remember that sometimes you have to walk away from people. Not because you don’t care, but because they don’t. Never gossip. Ever. Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.

Never let the influences of the modern world dictate your morals and who you are. Protect that which is weaker than you. The measure of a man is not in how he responds to those above him, but in how he treats those who have no power over him or ability to further his interests. Adversity is not the truest test of character; power is. On the subject of power, know this. Obsession with power has been the downfall of many a once moral man. If allowed, its pursuit will poison your mind and destroy your soul. Power should be wielded by those who use it to raise up those around them, not hold them down. If power is used in that way, you should despise it and undermine it at every turn. Unchecked, it becomes tyrannical, building its empire upon the backs of slaves. And in those times, it is your job to fight.

Summary and Final Thoughts

Never hit anyone unless they are an immediate threat. And then hit them to the ground, with enough force to neutralize the threat. No more; no less.

Learn to wet shave. It’s a manly tradition. Shave with the grain on the first pass.

Nothing looks better than a well-tailored suit. A well-tailored suit to a woman is like lingerie to a man.

When you talk to someone, always look them in the eye and greet them with a firm handshake.

Play, lift, run. Use your body every chance you get.

Brush your teeth before you put on your tie. Never wear a clip-on tie.

Pay yourself first. A small amount of your paycheck should always go immediately into your savings account.

If you aren’t confident, fake it. It will come.

You can tell the measure of a man by the things that bother him.

Be conscious of your body language.

Always stand to shake someone’s hand.

Never lend anything you can’t afford to lose.

Ask more than you answer. Everybody likes to talk about themselves.

Keep a change of clothes at the office.

Buy high quality. Buy right; buy once.

Manliness isn’t only the ability to take care of yourselves, but the people around you also.

Go with the decision that will make for a good story.

When you walk, don’t look at your feet. Look straight ahead.

Find your passion and figure out how to get paid for it.

No matter their job or status in life, everyone deserves your respect. Never tolerate disrespect from others. Remember, you teach people how to treat you.

Everything is your fault. Always take personal responsibility. Bad things happen. It’s your job to overcome them.

The first one to get angry loses.

If it needs to be done, do it. Complaining never solved anything.

Never stop learning.

Always go out in public dressed like you’re about to meet the love of your life.

Never change yourself just to make someone else happy, unless that someone is you.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

Luck favors the prepared.

Women find confidence sexy as hell.

Do whatever you want in life, but be the best at it.

No one dies wishing they spent more time at work. Enjoy your life.

Talk too much and they’ll think you are a fool. Remain silent and they become curious.

Care about what others think and you will become their prisoner.

You will never reach your destination if you stop to throw stones at every dog that barks.

Train your mind to be calm in every situation.

Go after everything you’ve been told you couldn’t have.

A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

Don’t waste words on people who deserve your silence. Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all.

A clever person solves problems; a wise one avoids them.

Never take anything for granted.

You earn your trophies at practice. You just pick them up at the competitions.

When you build in silence, people don’t know what to attach.

Never tell people what you’re thinking. Stay low-key. Not everyone needs to know everything about you. Stop telling people more than they need to know.

Dressing well is a form of good manners.

Be careful who you trust. Sometimes the person you’d take a bullet for ends up being the one behind the gun.

You can’t win in life if you are losing in your mind.

No matter what the situation, never let your emotions overpower your intelligence.

Learn to say “No” without explaining yourself.

Live life as though everything was rigged in your favor.

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

A mistake repeated more than once is a decision.

No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.

Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.

The key to success is playing the hand you were dealt like it’s the hand you wanted.

Ask yourself this question: What would I do today if I knew that I could not fail.

Truth is like surgery. It hurts but it cures. A lie is like a pain killer. It gives temporary relief but has lasting side-effects. The truth is rarely pure and seldom simple.

In order for someone to insult you, you first must value their opinion.

Be selective of who you allow in your world. It is better to have four quarters than a hundred pennies.

Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.

Never beg anyone to be in your life. If you have to, walk away with your self-respect intact.

When someone shows their true colors, believe them the first time.

Trust the journey, even when you don’t understand it.

Don’t judge people because their sin is different from yours.

You are a product of your thoughts. What you think, you become. It all begins and ends in your mind. What you give power to has power over you, if you allow it.

Shape your world or someone else will.

Things always seem impossible until they’re done.

Move on. Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself.

Keep control. Don’t give away your power.

Embrace change. Welcome challenges.

Stay happy. Don’t waste energy on things you can’t control.

Be kind. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone.

Take risks. Take action.

Live in the present. Don’t dwell in the past.

Accept responsibility. Learn from your mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a stepping stone to success.

Enjoy alone time. You spend the most time with yourself. Like the person you are or make changes until you do.

Be prepared to work and achieve on your own merits. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

Have staying power. Don’t expect immediate results.

Evaluate your core beliefs. Modify them as necessary.

Spend your mental energy wisely. Don’t waste time on idle thoughts.

Cancel out negative thoughts. Not with positive ones, but with productive ones.

Learn to tolerate discomfort. Accept your feeling without being controlled by them.

Reflect on your progress. Always be setting new goals.

The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.

Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

You are responsible for your own happiness.

You set the tone for every relationship by showing people what you will and will not tolerate. Don’t let people take you for granted.

Exist on your own terms.

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An Unexpected Gift

Since I began this journey, I have written posts born out of emotions such as frustration, anger, regret, sadness, etc. But the other night I got to experience something I hadn’t before, and it broke me in a way I haven’t been in years. It was at the Christmas party, put on by Social Services, and contributed towards by members and organizations within our community. Admittedly,  I had reservations about attending. I’m embarrassed to say that I believed these kids were probably run through a line where they received a cheap toy and a cookie; A charade of sorts so that people could throw money at a problem and ease their consciences, without ever needing to dirty their hands with the day-to-day grind of actually helping a child in need. I believed this long before the thought of becoming a foster parent ever crossed my mind. I honestly don’t know where I acquired such an ignorant mindset, and what I found there was anything but what I described above.

For starters, one organization alone had donated $10,000 in gifts. Additionally, others had donated hundreds, and the community contributions through the adopt-a-family program were anything but what my imagination had fabricated. They donated wonderful gifts. Children with nothing were given bikes, action figures, dolls, jackets and shoes, just to name a few. My twins were met with warm faces from different people who had in one way or time been involved in their lives, all excited to see them and watch them open and enjoy their gifts. All of which, by the way, were high quality and purchased by people who wanted nothing more than to light up the eyes on a child’s face. The donor’s names, no where to be found on the packaging. Given anonymously, from a place a true kindness.

As I sat there, grateful I hadn’t shared my cynicism with anyone else and could just choke on my ignorance privately as I watched my own children light up with each gift their names had been hand written on by some caring stranger, a little boy sitting across the table from us said something that broke me on a deeply emotional level.

This boy, no older than five or six years of age, anxiously clamored for my attention. I looked up and met his bright blue eyes, beaming with excitement as he held a batman action-figure and matching bat-mobile. What he said to me next changed my life. He said, “Look at what someone got for me. I didn’t get forgotten.” He grinned from ear-to-ear and added, “This is exactly what I hoped for.”

(I didn’t get forgotten.)

I gotta tell you, if you’ve never seen a grown man cry, that little boy would probably tell you it’s not a good look. As I choked back an audible outburst of emotion, the face of that little boy beginning to blur, I rubbed my eyes and showed more interested in that boy’s gift than I had ever shown for anything in my life. And still, I could not match his excitement. Somebody changed that boys life that day. They made a child feel remembered and loved and that experience changed my life forever. If I could have brought that boy home that night and raised him with my twins, I would have leaped at the opportunity. I wish I had been the person who had taken the time to buy and wrap that gift. I really wish the person who did had gotten to experience the joy on that kids face alongside me.

Before we left, I asked a social worker a few questions and learned about the three full days it took to wrap all those gifts, and prepare this event. I have never felt prouder to be a small part of something so big in my life. Both of my boys received a blanket on the way out that had been handmade by someone who had taken the time to hand-make dozens of them, and I looked once more across a sea of faces. Foster children from infants to early teens, social workers and community members, foster parents and biological parents, all in the same room with one, singular goal in mind: To put a smile on the face of a child. A goal they met with each and every child in attendance.

At the beginning of this text, I began by describing the various emotions that have birthed these posts. This post was birthed purely from the joy on the face of a little blue-eyed boy holding a batman figurine amazed that someone had taken the time to remember him and give him the one toy he’d set his heart on. It was birthed from the shame of my own cynicism. It was birthed from a broken sort of humility, grateful to a community who stepped up for children they may never meet, to put a smile on a face they may never see.

May God bless each and every one of you this Holiday Season.

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Toddler Facts!

While it is widely believed that toddlers are best equipped to survive when in captivity, conventional wisdom suggests that they rarely remain subservient to their captors. When scientists observed a focus group known as parents, over 99.9% reported that at some point in the rearing of toddlers, there had been a drastic shift in the dynamic of power, wherein, the toddler demanded and the parent responded. These responses ranged from preparing meals to the toddler’s liking to wiping fecal matter from the toddler’s behind in an attempt to remove the presence of an offensive odor the toddler neither notices nor minds.

As a result, various books have been produced over the decades written by experts ranging from clergy, wherein shaming said toddlers became the mainstay for parents to guilt their child back into submission, to philosophers. A rare breed of narcissistic navel-gazers who express their feelings in terms of colors. Engaging in full-fledged negotiations with the toddler at his eye level, later to discover they’d been robbed of their inner peace and dignity, left only with the fresh scent of patchouli oil.

While both views have merit in some parallel dimensions, where panda-tear latte’s are served with every meal, there are really no 100% effective methods of re-calibrating the balance of power. Instead, there are a list of truisms that seem to reverberate across the board in this particular focus group. Understanding the facts surrounding toddlers is the first step to gaining insight into their tactics. They are as follows:

  1. Your toddler likely has a close connection with his more primitive animal kingdom counter-part, the monkey. Never is this more evident than at nap time, when placed inside his enclosure, which resembles a prison in every aspect minus a secure ceiling. That singular omission will cost you much of your sleep. The walls of this enclosure are generally polished to a slick sheen; this will slow your toddler, not one bit. The power to weight ratio of a toddler is 6:1. This finite math suggests that, even at full extension, a toddler can lift himself, using his heel as a lever-point, up and over a wall, taller than he, in just under seven seconds. Times vary based upon the weight of the diaper he is wearing at the time of escape. For this reason, it is not advised that you change your toddlers diaper upon request, as it is likely a tactic to lighten his load for a faster escape time and would, otherwise, remain perfectly content to sit in its contents.
  2. If your toddler throws his food, this means he has had enough of your sub-par cooking for one meal. This does not mean he is full, nor does it excuse you from your kitchen duties, as you will now be expected to clean up after him in preparation for his next meal. In addition, never should you think for one second that whatever you were planning on eating that day is suddenly yours. Even if the amount proportioned for your toddler, which was the exact same thing, was just swept from the floor, indistinguishable from what used to be a remote control (or clicker for anyone with a grandtoddler at home). On the contrary, any bite you consume will likely cost you dearly during the negotiation tactic known as The Tantrum. You may choose to ignore this tactic, but this will likely only prolong this tactic indefinitely and annoy you without recourse. More often than not, you will cave like the Minnesota Viking’s stadium lid, sacrificing the majority of your own meal into topping-off your little bottomless pit. For this reason, toddlers are often referred to as America’s #1 diet and exercise program, turning P90X into T24/7X, now available at beachbody.com.
  3. If there is a single dirty spot or item in the house, it will be found and spread across all surfaces, starting with his cleanest shirt and freshly washed hair. From there it will be distributed in the following manner: Dry-clean only fabrics, electronics priced highest to lowest; finally, anything with sentimental value will get what remains. If they can’t find a dirty substance, they will manufacture one. For this reason, many parents have found that keeping a basin of rancid water in a small room at toddler level for easy access is the safest way to control the distribution of toxic waste. In this scenario, the above items will merely be collected and thrown haphazardly inside, making them easy to find and fun to retrieve for the whole family.
  4. Nothing shows off your personal class and sophistication like foam bumpers on the corners of your handmade cherry furniture. Where carefully placed items of value were once displayed, remote controls, cell phones, keys, wallets, open-top beverages, tissue boxes, and various electronic devices now lay. This not only keeps everything of meaning to you in one convenient space, it also motivates your toddler to monkey-climb your shelving to obtain these items. In fact, the simple act of placing an innocuous item, such as a half-drunk, cold cup of coffee on a high shelf, will immediately invalidate whatever distraction you previously gained with the $500 in colored plastic noisemakers, currently strewn across your living room floor. Those are garbage now, and your coffee is suddenly your toddlers sole purpose in life. Put it in a tippie-cup, you say? Go ahead. He won’t want it anymore, and will, instead, occupy his every waking minute focusing on removing the lid.
  5. Disposable income with toddlers will, most definitely, be converted into disposable diapers and wipes. An investment without a return, despite the fact that deposits are made routinely, usually upon the fastening of the final snap of a onesie or the securing of the final strap on a car seat.

The above is not an exhaustive list, by any means. Nor does it offer you a single solution to these problems. If I had the answers to these problems, I would not be writing this blog to you. I would be in robes on a mountain in Tibet. But, solutions aside, the toddler, with his messes and constant need for every ounce of your time and energy, is still, far and away, the most wonderful thing you could ever have your life turned up-side-down for. I have been blessed with two. A CTRL-C, CTRL-V of one another; yet, somehow, completely unique to themselves. Two identical individuals with two sets of needs, wants, and desires.

It makes life fun and sleep scarce. If I were to leave you with one piece of advice it would be this: Your stuff is unimportant and replaceable. The time you spend (jokingly) in servitude to your toddler(s) will quickly be your favorite thing in the world to return from work for. Otherwise, you would just point the nose of your vehicle North and drive until the engine consumes the final drops of fuel in the tank. From there, you would walk further in the same direction until you collapsed in exhaustion.

Then you would crawl.

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