6 years, 1 month, and 3 days. Life is about choices; choose wisely.

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Yesterday, I earned the first B of my life. An 89.16 percent, to be exact.

It’s really not a big deal, in the cosmic sense of things, because (a) it was in AP Calculus BC, which is notorious for near-impossibility, (b) I’m a writer, not a mathematician, and (c) it’s my senior year of high school, for crying out loud.

But still, my first reaction was to mentally start packing my bags, retreat to the Himalayas, reject formal schooling and become a female monk. I don’t have tiger parents, in case you’re wondering. That’s just the way I am — a chronic perfectionist, who also happens to be a model minority and also a writer from one of the most underrepresented racial groups in America’s literary scene….

Whenever I write publicly about my experiences, I often delve into issues that are personal — gun violence, racism, femininity — because I know that perspectives like mine are not often shared. The responsibility to speak for my generation is one that requires perfection. Issa Rae’s hit show “Insecure” nails exactly what it’s like to speak as the sole representative for billions of people — frustrating. “You are so articulate!” I’m often told with surprise: a well-meaning compliment from those who have never been underestimated. I’m 18 years old, but mediocrity is not a luxury I can fathom.

Because when you’re a young writer of color, and your success is predicated on your acceptance from the majority, perfection can feel like the only real option. It’s not only that you need to be perfectly articulate, perfectly reasonable —you’ve also got to be twice as likeable. It’s a fine line to tread — you’ve got to be kind of ethnic, like a margarita, but you can’t offend anyone, and you certainly can’t be an angry woman of color. The numbers are stacked against us — only 12 percent of children’s books feature POC, and over 80 percent of publishing staff are white. My path to success is along a percentile-skinny tightrope, so it only follows that I’ve got to be a darn good acrobat….

Last week in my English class, when my best friend and I were discussing a poem by Robert Frost, I felt myself getting irrationally angry. Angry at the fact that Robert Frost could earn a Pulitzer Prize for composing rambling stanzas of sweet nothings about nature, or something basic like that, but as a WOC, I’d have to write about immigration or cultural assimilation or hate crimes in order to be even a blip on the screen.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/perfectionism-woman-of-color_us_5c61a34fe4b0eec79b267aab

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I am sorry for the long absence.  It has been extremely difficult.  Parents are not meant to be apart from their children, especially not a father who, despite being a lawyer with a busy schedule, had attended every single one of his children’s medical appointments (when their mother hadn’t), who had paid out-of-pocket for his children’s weekly appointments with a child therapist for more than a year (when their mother refused to even pay for one hour to debrief with the therapist, claiming she couldn’t afford the payment despite her bank records — obtained during the divorce — showing that she’d spent almost $1,000 in a month on eating out, going to Starbucks, etc.).  People lie in your name and at your expense to advance their causes and cheat you out of a future you deserve.  How is that right?  How is that fair?  How is that just?  But, the world isn’t right.  It isn’t fair.  It isn’t just.  It just is.  We can only endeavor to make our little corner of the world a little more right, a little more fair, and a little more just than when we found it.  My world isn’t right without you; thus, I endeavor to remedy that.  But it is a tough row to hoe.

Enough about me.  Let’s talk about you, Shosh.

Your heart was broken for the first time in preschool, Shosh.  It was your first experienced with rejection.  You’ve always been an extrovert and people have always liked you.  In fact, they liked you so much so that, during preschool, one girl even asked you to marry her. You told us you liked her, but then you came home to tell us you married a different girl during class!

But, this is not that story.  Your first best friend was a boy you met in preschool.  You were buddies.  He was a good boy from a good family and was well-behaved.  (Most of the kids from that program had parents who were doctors or lawyers.)  We liked him as well.

One day, you came home all dejected.  You told us your BFF, without explanation, said he didn’t want to be friends with you any more.  I suspect the pain was caused by both the rejection and the lack of explanation.  You wanted to know why he ended the friendship, but he never told you.  He simply moved on to play with others.  You were crushed.

Not everyone has to like you, Shosh.  I know that’s a hard lesson, but it is one worth absorbing into your bones and the very core of your being.  Not everyone has to like you.

There doesn’t have to be anything sinister about their not liking you.  It may be something as simple as the fact that your tastes are different.  “Birds of a feather flock together,” remember?  Some people may not like the color of your hair — be it red, brown, black, blonde, or green.  They may not like your height — too tall, too short, too average.  Whatever.  The point is they don’t have to like you.

That’s just a fact of life.  Get over it.

Don’t bother wasting energy trying to get everyone to like you.  That’s an impossible task.  You are sure to fail.  So, why bother?

Instead, focus on being you, being the best you.  Celebrate who you are.  Celebrate your accomplishments.  Celebrate those who love you and who share their happiness with you.  Do what is right.  Pursue your passions.  Remember, you are only the boss of you.  Let others be: they are responsible for themselves.  Be it good or evil, they will have to answer for themselves.  Focus on making the right choices for you, and doing the right things.

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Too often, people self-harm by losing sight of what they have while chasing after that which they don’t.  It’s a sad mistake.  Don’t be like them.

Find joy in your lives, my sons.  Be happy.  Celebrate life and all she’s given you.  Strive to be a better person, but never strive to win the affection or admiration of others.

Too often, we Americans treat life as a popularity contest.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others feed on this at our peril.  For example, studies show a strong correlation between social media and depression.  See, e.g., https://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.pn.2017.1b16. 

People spend too much time chasing after meaningless “Likes” on social media — a click of a mouse or a tap of the screen that most people perform without much thought.   Why people allow such meaningless gestures to hold significance in, and over, their lives is beyond me.  People today live for “Likes” from unknown faces and strangers who are often not who they appear to be, who may only be a facade of who they are in real life.  Why?  People don’t have to like you!  If you are lucky, they do.  If not, that’s okay too.  Let them be.  Let them live their lives in peace.  Celebrate them for their achievements, but don’t feel bad if they don’t reciprocate.  Instead, focus on being the best you and on leaving your corner of the world a better place.

All my love, always,

Dad

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5 years, 11 months, and 25 days … an eternity. “Suicide Christmas” and three lessons for the new year.

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My Dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

This has been a particularly difficult holiday, and we have taken to calling it our “Suicide Christmas”. No, we will not be “suiciding” ourselves as the Okinawans did during World War II, driven to do so by the Japanese military which spread tales of horrors to be inflicted upon the civilian population by the advancing American army. https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/20/world/asia/okinawa-suicides-and-japans-army-burying-the-truth.html.  (Do you recall our trip to Okinawa and Uncle H taking us to the spot where many Okinawans jumped to their deaths. There, Shosh, you coined the phrase “they suicided themselves.”)

First, although the thought has crossed our minds numerous times after having lost you, our children, we would never commit suicide for one simple reason: children who lose a parent to suicide are more likely to commit suicide themselves (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/children_who_lose_a_parent_to_suicide_more_likely_to_die_the_same_way.) We would NEVER do anything that would endanger you or put you at greater risks.

Second, we are strong and will not allow racists and evil doers to break us.  Our fate rests in our hands, not theirs.  Let them kill us if they wish and let our blood stain their hands and souls for eternity.  (Sometimes, I wish they would as death would be welcome respite from the pains of life without you, our children.)

OK, that said, let’s leave behind the dark thoughts and focus on the path ahead … the three lessons learned from the miseries of “Suicide Christmas”.

1. People are weak-willed and are more inclined to give in to their insecurities than aspire to their better selves. 

Since my days of selling books door-to-door in Texas following my first year in college, I have held firm the belief that people are inherently good.  Everything I witnessed that summer pointed to the goodness of people … from the guy who saved me from the approaching “Ghostbusters” storm clouds and invited me to join his family for dinner to wait out the storm; to the family who sold/gave me the bicycle their child outgrew in order to help ease my life as an itinerant book seller; to the Josephs and the Luppes who took me into their homes and their hearts that summer; to the countless people who shared their lives with me, who offered me cold drinks after being out in the hot and humid Texas summer, who invited me to refresh myself in their restrooms, who offered treats or a few moments’ respite from the oppressive heat outside when they were unable to purchase my books.  Now, I’m not saying the summer was perfect.  It was far from it.  Selling books door-to-door in the oppressive heat of a Texas summer is a foolish endeavor I wouldn’t wish upon most of my enemies, but it was something I had to do to avoid having to return to the even more oppressive household that your grandmother ran back then.  Further, some members of our small band of college students did experience hardship — as did I — but overall, my summer selling books door-to-door in Texas was a life affirming experience.  People were willing to open their homes and their lives to me, a complete stranger in a strange land. (Yes, Texas is indeed a strange land for our band of college students from the West Coast.)

Throughout most of my adult life, I held dear this belief in the goodness of human nature.  It informed my decisions and animated my actions.  This held true even as I engaged in public service and in the practice of law.  While everyone makes mistakes, I found that most people do try to be good, to be compliant. (Here, I should note two things.  First, I was an advise lawyer for most of my career and mostly helped clients comply with legal requirements.  In other words, clients engaged my services to help them do the right thing and comply with the law.  Second, my positive experience was likely the fortunate by-product of my working for good law firms and/or with good companies.  I chose employers with care and refused to work for sketchy organizations or clients that prey on the weak.)

It was not until my years working for the Enron of Healthcare that I experience first hand true evil — where criminal and fraudulent misconducts were passed off by vice presidents, directors, and other individuals as “business decisions”.  The adage that “management gets the culture it wants” was true with respect to the Enron of Healthcare.  Yet, even then, there were a few good people who were willing to stand up for the sick and the dying, who were willing to do right by the policyholders.  Ultimately, though, as in the Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the bad far outnumbered the good, and I had to report their criminal and fraudulent misconducts to government regulators.  (FYI, government regulators validated my allegations and found numerous additional violations.)  Yet, even then, I clung to my tattered belief in the goodness of people — I happened to find myself in a den of vipers, but, outside of that environment, some good people still existed.

(Here, I should also note that after having been fired for blowing the whistle against the Enron of Healthcare — I was there not as its legal counsel — I became a litigator and fought against those within that industry and fought for the legal rights and medical benefits of those harmed by those corporate evil-doers.  However, even then, even as I fought against specific bad actors and corrupt organizations, I found islands of goodness and held on tentatively to my belief in the general goodness of most people.)

I am now fully disabused of that viewpoint.  Suicide Christmas was the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. 

People are weak, and are given to their insecurities.  It is NOT their goodness that most often informs their judgements and animates their actions, but it is their insecurities that do so.

Beware of people’s insecurities.  People will betray you, defame you, cheat you, or otherwise wrong you if required by their insecurities.  (How many times had someone lied about you to avoid looking bad or stupid?  How many times have you done it to others?)  Worse, often, the people will likely feel little to no shame or remorse because their insecurities will help them rationalize their misconducts.  (How many times have you told yourself the person you wronged deserved it?)

I say this not as an indictment of people in general, but as a recognition of reality.  We ARE weak-willed creatures.  Too often, we give in to our insecurities when we could aspire to better.  Remember, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone:” who among us has NEVER lied to save face?

I say this to help you develop better strategies to inform your decision-making process.  People do try to be good, but more often than not, their insecurities will win out; their insecurities will animate their actions despite their better selves.

So, what are your best strategies to deal with this fact?  Whatever they may be, they should include taking time to get to know the stakeholders (i.e., the relevant people) in order to discover what animates each party.  Take time to find out what motivates each person.  You’ll be more successful in your personal and professional endeavors by doing so.  Don’t rush in.

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2.  Trust yourself and few others.

We all have insecurities, and most of us are very good at hiding them.  What are we do to then if most people are driven by motives and insecurities hidden from others?  The answer is self-evident: trust few.  Self-reliance is best.

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Note: I’m not saying trust NO ONE.  No man is an island, and we cannot succeed without the help of others.  In fact, as numerous studies have found, our happiness and sense of well-being is linked to being socially connected.  https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/happiness_is_being_socially_connected.

The point here, again, is to not rush in and to carefully vet others before you open yourselves fully to them.  Treat each according to your assessment of his/her degree of trustworthiness.  Only admit into your inner most sanctum those you deem most trustworthy.  Admit others into your lives only to the degree to which they are deemed trustworthy.  For example, an acquaintance may be worthy of being a tennis partner, but no more, while another may eventually become a business partner or confidant.

The take away here is that when it comes to matters of great import, trust only yourself or your most trusted confidants.  Blood may be thicker than water, but even there, beware.  Not all relatives are trustworthy.  In fact, part of the reasons for the “Suicide Christmas” is that the liars and thieves who stole more than $1,700 from me and who happen to be related to us had the audacity to lie to falsely claim another $1,000, and some people dear to me were stupid enough to believe them.

(This is a good case study of how to assess the validity of another’s statements.  These liars and thieves cousins have repeatedly claimed to be impoverished.  However, their lifestyle belies their words.  A cursory look is all it takes to ascertain their lies.  For example, when we briefly tried to help them five years ago at the behest of your grandmother, a Sony 65-inch 3D LED television sat prominently in their living room.  Next to it was a Sony PlayStation 3 and four two-foot high stacks of Blu-ray discs of games and videos.  These items are worth thousands of dollars, especially back then when the technology was fairly new.  Poor or impoverished people do not have the financial means to waste precious resources on large 3D LED televisions, the latest Sony PlayStation video console, and stacks of Blu-ray discs.  Only idiots would tell, and only idiots would believe, such outrageous lies.

Oh, I should also note that the home of these lying and thieving cousins is filled with crucifixes and other religious symbols, and they regularly attend church service.  They make a show of being good Catholics, but their lifestyle is devoid of Catholic values.  They are such good Catholics, for example, that they even stole from an elderly relative who tried to help them.

Apparently, these facts failed to enter into the calculus of my dear friends who deemed the lying and thieving cousins trustworthy and credible.  Actually, I should state more clearly that it is the insecurities and machinations of these dear ones that animated their actions which ultimately resulted in my betrayal. One friend, because of her nasty disposition and disingenuous lifestyle, is so fearful of dying alone that she purchased the lies of these lying and thieving cousins in hope that they would take her in when she can no longer care for herself.  The other friend harbors of lifetime of fear that no one listens to her and that she is invisible to all; thus, she often inserts herself in matters in which she knows nothing in order to validate her “village elder” persona.

I, on the other hand, trust the lying thieves only as far as I can throw them.  I leave it to karmic justice to give them their just deserts.)

3.  Do your best, and don’t give up.  Forge on: live to fight another day.

As upset as I am that my friends are stupid enough to believe the lies espoused by these thieving cousins and to even attempt to pull me into their evil schemes, it is best to let karma determine their fate.  Their fate is out of my hands.  As Teacher Mary used to say, “You are only the boss of you.”  Do you remember that Shosh?

I can only control what I do — no others.  Thus, it behooves me to make the best of myself and not worry about the actions or characters of others.  Let God judge them.  My place is only to stay away from them and prevent them from hurting me and/or those I love.

In closing, I want you to know that I miss you terribly.  Life sucks without you.  The holidays suck without you.  It has been a miserable Christmas, this “Suicide Christmas”, but we forge on.  This year, I resolve to adhere more closely to these three lessons and hope for a better year.

May 2019 bring you peace.  Study hard. Exercise.  Limit your screen time.  Spend time with loved one, and choose carefully who you spend time with.

Shosh, apply early to colleges.  More kids are applying early, but you still have a better shot at getting into top colleges through the early admission process than through the regular process.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/early-applications-surge-at-prestigious-colleges-so-does-early-heartache/2018/12/28/12479e66-078c-11e9-a3f0-71c95106d96a_story.html.  (Most kids are lazy and/or are so fearful of being rejected that they put off applying.)  You are one of the smartest kids I know.  My staff, in fact, were thankful that they didn’t have to parent such an intelligent child: you scared them.  You pair that intelligence well with your good and kind heart.  Those are your gifts.  Nurture them.  Don’t waste those talents.  I expect great things from you.

Jaialai, you are brilliant in your own way — in an unconventional way.  For example, at two, you knew to say, “It’s not a fish” when I asked you what an aardvark was.  I also expect great things from you.  Know also that you are loved … greatly, significantly, and hopelessly.  Your child therapist said you feared that no one will take care of you, but know that many would happily do so.  Because your brother was a demanding child (as encouraged by your mom who gave into his every whim), your mom paid him more attention while leaving you, the quiet and self-sufficient child, alone.  That was a function of poor parenting on our part: it was not a function of our loving you less.  So, be happy.  Eat.  Play.  Make believe.  Feed your imagination.  Study.  Aspire for better.

All my love, always,

Dad

5 years, 9 months, and 28 days. Don’t embrace the suck. Fear not failure.

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

There are more than 7.7 billion people on Earth today.  Yet, many live wasted lives.  They spend their days complaining about this and that, playing armchair quarterback, and filling up the peanut galleries.  They boast of their abilities to do better, achieve greater results, etc., but they nary lift a finger to actually do anything.  Sometimes they actually do have the necessary talents to achieve what they spoke of, but more often than not, they live tepid lives and pass into obscurity.

Why would they waste their talents, and their lives, like that?  Often, they won’t act because they fear failure.  For example, many speak of their desires to write better books or make better music than those out today, but their thoughts and songs and the pages on which those thoughts and songs should be captured are doomed to exist only in their minds.  Others complain about the state of affairs of their lives and their communities, but their complaints remain on their lips and are never to be translated into actions that would actually benefit themselves and their neighbors.

Most people embrace the suck.  Why?  They do so for the simple reason that embracing the suck is less demanding of them than actually doing something and less scary than failing in their endeavors.  Don’t be like them.

Fear not failure.  Embrace it, and learn from it.  Failure is a loss only if you learn nothing from it.  Failure lines the path to success.  If you don’t test to find out what won’t work, how will you ever discover what will?

https://www.brainyquote.com/photos_tr/en/a/alberteinstein/109012/alberteinstein1-2x.jpg

Be bold, my sons.  Be men of thoughts and men of actions.  As President Teddy Roosevelt once said, be the man in the arena to whom credit belongs.

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All my love, always,

Dad

 

 

 

5 years, 9 months, and 21 days. Don’t give in to fear and hatred!

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https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/28/us/72-hours-of-hate-in-america/index.html

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2018/10/30/im-dr-cohen-powerful-humanity-jewish-hospital-staff-that-treated-robert-bowers/?utm_term=.0de955f61b55/

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My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

It’s been a difficult week for America.  Our country — our home — is being torn apart by hate and fear.  Hate is animated by fear, which, in turn, is animated by ignorance.  Hate mongers are often ignorant of the changing world around them, and are fearful for their future, for themselves.  Don’t be like them.

Change is the ONLY constant!  Things change.  What worked once has no assurance it would work again given the quickly changing circumstances.

To survive — no, to THRIVE — we must adapt.  In order to understand the ever-changing world so that we may best adapt to changing circumstances, we must first arm ourselves with knowledge about current scientific, social, political, cultural, and spiritual/moral developments.

In 1983, A Nation At Risk, a report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, found that many 17-year-olds did not possess the “‘higher-order’ intellectual skills” this country needed. It claimed that nearly 40 percent could not draw inferences from written material and only one-fifth could write a persuasive essay.

Following the release of A Nation At Risk, programs designed to teach students to think critically across the curriculum became extremely popular. By 1990, most states had initiatives designed to encourage educators to teach critical thinking, and one of the most widely used programs, Tactics for Thinking, sold 70,000 teacher guides.3 But, for reasons I’ll explain, the programs were not very effective — and today we still lament students’ lack of critical thinking.

After more than 20 years of lamentation, exhortation, and little improvement, maybe it’s time to ask a fundamental question: Can critical thinking actually be taught? Decades of cognitive research point to a disappointing answer: not really. People who have sought to teach critical thinking have assumed that it is a skill, like riding a bicycle, and that, like other skills, once you learn it, you can apply it in any situation. Research from cognitive science shows that thinking is not that sort of skill. The processes of thinking are intertwined with the content of thought (that is, domain knowledge). Thus, if you remind a student to “look at an issue from multiple perspectives” often enough, he will learn that he ought to do so, but if he doesn’t know much about an issue, he can’t think about it from multiple perspectives. You can teach students maxims about how they ought to think, but without background knowledge and practice, they probably will not be able to implement the advice they memorize. Just as it makes no sense to try to teach factual content without giving students opportunities to practice using it, it also makes no sense to try to teach critical thinking devoid of factual content.

http://www.adlit.org/article/21409/

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Dale Carnegie has it right.  Go forth and get busy.  Learn about the world.  Get to know your neighbors, the barista who makes your coffee and the janitor who cleans  your building, your boss and coworkers, etc. — get to know the challenges each faces daily.  These are the stuff life is made of … the real stuff through which we connect with each other — other human beings — on a fundamental and humanistic level.

Reserve judgement unless and until necessary.  You can ALWAYS judge.  But, until necessary, seek first to understand. Read voraciously.  TALK TO PEOPLE…not about silly and empty stuff, such as their clothes or the weather, but about things that matter TO THEM!

Be safe.

All my love, always

Dad

P.S., I leave you with the following thoughts:

 

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5 years, 8 months, and 25 days — an eternity. Regardless, remember: character matters

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https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/opinion/brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court-vote.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/us/politics/john-paul-stevens-brett-kavanaugh.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/03/opinion/kavanaugh-law-professors-letter.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

I fear we’ve failed you.  America is an uglier and less civil place today than it was when we were your age.  That is our collective failing.

We failed because many of us have forgotten (or have chosen to ignore the fact that) character matters.  We failed because we have cast aside our humanity and are now too busy praying at the altar of Money, Power, Greed, Entertainment, Adrenaline, Likes and other false gods.

Character matters, my sons.   Don’t forget.  It always has, and it always will.

History will not be kind to those of poor character.  I pray that those who rush to seats of power give pause and think of the legacy they’ll leave behind long after they’ve vacated those seats.  Power is fleeting, whereas our legacies endure.

I’ve often said that intelligence and hard work are the stilts of success.  Many a genius slave away in obscurity, bitterness, and resentment, blaming others for their own failure to work hard to reach their true potentials.  On the flip side, many more work long hours for pittance because nature had denied them the intellectual gift it had bestowed on others or had handed them the misfortune of being born into a poor family, an uneducated family, a family stuck in a war-torn or otherwise impoverished nation, etc.  (There but for the grace of God, go us.)

Character is the third leg that forms a stool upon which your success rests.  The first two traits are all about you.  The third is about how you interact with others, or they you.  No matter your brilliance or industry, if you are nasty, false, or otherwise of low moral character, no one would want to interact with you, support you, or befriend you.  That, ultimately, is why character matters: we are not islands.  We are social creatures and need the support of others.

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Be you, but be the best you, my sons.  We have but one life to live.  There is no dress rehearsal.

We are humans, and we make mistakes.  It’s okay.  But, when you err, own up to it.  Admit it.  Apologize for it.  Learn from it.  Promise to redouble your efforts to avoid repeating it in the future.  Then, move on.

Remember also Fr. Dave’s prescription: before you speak, ask

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it helpful?
  3. Is it inspiring?
  4. Is it necessary?
  5. Is it kind?

Of these, I think the first and last most important.  Don’t bear false witness and treat others with kindness.  Embrace your humanity.  If you and others remember to do that, I promise our world will be a better place.

All my love, always,

Dad

P.S., I leave you with this last thought.

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Are you proud of the person you see in the mirror?  Live so that you are.

5 years, 8 months, and 14 days. Believe in something greater than yourself.

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Despite its provocative title, Crazy Rich Asians willfully relegates money to the corner while crowds in tuxedos, Marchesa gowns, and million-dollar earrings look away to instead focus on abstract debates of “Chineseness.” Aphorisms are declared throughout with the purpose of introducing rudimentary Chinese and American cultural differences. Unlike Americans, who follow their “passions” and selfishly pursue their “own happiness”, Eleanor—with cold, weary eyes—states that “we” put “family” first, and “understand how to build things that last.” Regardless of its basis in reality, this age-old positioning of an individualistic American dream as opposite to a Chinese nightmare of constant sacrifice—the phrase “filial piety” is uttered derisively at least once—for the greater good is an American projection that frames the United States as innately free. By presenting this as an irreconcilable division, Crazy Rich Asians erases the fact that U.S. institutions likewise demand sacrifice with the promise of future success, a structure that echoes the Christian notion of an afterlife rewarded to those who suffer.

https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/review-living-in-a-material-world-jon-m-chu-s-crazy-rich-asians

 

My dearest Shosh and Jaialai:

As with everyone else, Ms. L. and I loved Crazy Rich Asians.  Although not without flaws, CRA is a smart movie, filled with interesting characters who struggled about the meaning of life and that age-old question of whether our first duty is to ourselves or others (namely our families).

Consider, for example, the directive on airplanes to take care of ourselves before taking care of our loved ones.  As you know, pre-take-off procedures require air attendants to inform passengers that should cabin pressure drops, gas masks will drop and passengers are to don masks on themselves first before helping their children and loved ones.  This directive is totally logical (how could we help others if we were to become incapacitated ourselves), but I suspect the reality is that most mindful and doting parents would willingly inconvenience themselves while they help put the masks on their children and loved ones first.  I know I would put the masks on you guys before putting it on myself.

But, the reality, at its core, is there is no conflict here.  Parents live for their children, to ensure their children have a bright future, etc.  That is our primary and overarching duty.  We are supposed to put your needs before ours, to go without while giving you the last morsel of food, to endure the cold while wrapping you in the only blanket available, to tread water while securing you safely to the life ring, etc.  Being in an airplane doesn’t change our overriding duty to care for you first and foremost.

Sometimes we, as a society, create false dichotomies where none exists.  With respect to the quoted language above from CRA, we should be cognizant that at its core, our families ultimately want what is best for us: happiness, health, and financial and personal security.  Whether they agree or disagree with our choices about what makes us happy or about whether something would afford us the financial and personal security we deserve does not present an adverse interest: they want the same thing for us as we do, only they disagree with our choices and methods.  Sometimes, their, or our, personal insecurities and fears may animate poor choices, but those poor choices do not negate the underlying love we have for one another.  Despite their weaknesses and frailties, they want what’s best for us as we do.  To borrow a phrase from Twilight, “There is no conflict here.”

The preceding statement is true if, and only if, that the parents believe there is more to his or her life than his or her survival.  In other words, the statement that “there is no conflict” is true only if the parents in question believe in something greater than him- or herself, e.g., the safety of his children, the importance of carrying on the family line, the need for the perpetuation of the human species, etc.

Thus, the underlying message here — the meaning of life — is that we must believe is something greater than ourselves and our momentary pleasures.  This is true whether we are talking about Asian traditions or Christian beliefs.  With rare exceptions (as in psychopaths), American parents, for example, ache no less than Asian parents at the loss of their child, at the sight of their children suffering immense pain, etc.  Self-sacrifice is part of what it means to be human.  (Apparently, lesser creatures on God’s Earth also exhibit the trait of self-sacrifice.  https://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/05/science/some-thoughts-on-self-sacrifice.html.)

Assuming we are willing to consider the needs of others before ours, conflicts may still arise because we humans are susceptible to having lapses in judgements.  Passion and lust often have a way of overcoming our senses and our better judgements.  Thus, in the throws of passion, it is often best to step back and think objectively about things.  However, that is easier said than done under those circumstances; thus, it is best at this point to seek the wise counsel of those who love us most and know us best … our family members.  Here, their dispassionate eyes serve as useful tools for us to more clearly see things as they are instead of how we wish them to be under rose-colored lenses of love/passion/lust.

It is also best under these circumstances … under most circumstances, for that matter … to be mindful of the long-term consequences of our decisions and the ripple effects of those decisions.  As mentioned previously in other posts, your cousin A, on your mother’s side, closed himself off to the familial advice to avoid running with the bad crowd.  Regardless of whether he hung out with them because they were fun and exciting or because he had no one else to hang out with, the reality is one or more or all of them was/were engaged in drug trafficking, and they were all arrested and burdened with felony convictions.   His life is now ruined and the trajectory of his life is forever and irrevocably altered.  Their family is also shamed for having a felon within their rank.  (But, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

When I was growing up, we were given many strictures — stay away from bad elements, be self-disciplined, be loyal to those who have helped you, and PROTECT THE FAMILY NAME.  Being mindful of the last directive helped me avoid numerous problems.  I’d give thought to how it would affect the family if it were discovered that I got caught doing so and so — untoward and unseemly things, not necessarily arising to the level of illegality.  (The equivalent Christian approach would be to ask, “What would Jesus do?”)

In other words, I believed in something greater than myself, and that made all the difference.  It wasn’t all about me.

Today, I still live by that code.  It’s not about me.  It’s about you.  It’s about leaving a legacy for you.  It’s about those around me and how to help make their lives better, our community better, etc.

As I’ve stated previously, we, as human animals, are insatiable black holes. There can never be enough to please us.  We always more, better, and different.

Remember the story of the fisherman and the magic fish.  (See below.)  Be wise. Use your head.  Let your heart guide you, but know that she may lead you astray as she can be tunnel-visioned at times.  Use your head always.  Be wise.

All my love, always,

Dad

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The Fisherman and His Wife

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there were a fisherman and his wife who lived together in a filthy shack near the sea. Every day the fisherman went out fishing, and he fished, and he fished. Once he was sitting there fishing and looking into the clear water, and he sat, and he sat. Then his hook went to the bottom, deep down, and when he pulled it out, he had caught a large flounder.

Then the flounder said to him, “Listen, fisherman, I beg you to let me live. I am not an ordinary flounder, but an enchanted prince. How will it help you to kill me? I would not taste good to you. Put me back into the water, and let me swim.”

“Well,” said the man, “there’s no need to say more. I can certainly let a fish swim away who knows how to talk.”

With that he put it back into the clear water, and the flounder disappeared to the bottom, leaving a long trail of blood behind him.

Then the fisherman got up and went home to his wife in the filthy shack.

“Husband,” said the woman, “didn’t you catch anything today?”

“No,” said the man. “I caught a flounder, but he told me that he was an enchanted prince, so I let him swim away.”

“Didn’t you ask for anything first?” said the woman.

“No,” said the man. “What should I have asked for?”

“Oh,” said the woman. “It is terrible living in this shack. It stinks and is filthy. You should have asked for a little cottage for us. Go back and call him. Tell him that we want to have a little cottage. He will surely give it to us.”

“Oh,” said the man. “Why should I go back there?”

“Look,” said the woman, “you did catch him, and then you let him swim away. He will surely do this for us. Go right now.”

The man did not want to go, but neither did he want to oppose his wife, so he went back to the sea.

When he arrived there it was no longer clear, but yellow and green. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

The flounder swam up and said, “What does she want then?”

“Oh,” said the man, “I did catch you, and now my wife says that I really should have asked for something. She doesn’t want to live in a filthy shack any longer. She would like to have a cottage.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She already has it.”

The man went home, and his wife was standing in the door of a cottage, and she said to him, “Come in. See, now isn’t this much better?”

There was a little front yard, and a beautiful little parlor, and a bedroom where their bed was standing, and a kitchen, and a dining room. Everything was beautifully furnished and supplied with tin and brass utensils, just as it should be. And outside there was a little yard with chickens and ducks and a garden with vegetables and fruit.

“Look,” said the woman. “Isn’t this nice?”

“Yes,” said the man. “This is quite enough. We can live here very well.”

“We will think about that,” said the woman.

Then they ate something and went to bed.

Everything went well for a week or two, and then the woman said, “Listen, husband. This cottage is too small. The yard and the garden are too little. The flounder could have given us a larger house. I would like to live in a large stone palace. Go back to the flounder and tell him to give us a palace.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “the cottage is good enough. Why would we want to live in a palace?”

“I know why,” said the woman. “Now you just go. The flounder can do that.”

“Now, wife, the flounder has just given us the cottage. I don’t want to go back so soon. It may make the flounder angry.”

“Just go,” said the woman. “He can do it, and he won’t mind doing it. Just go.”

The man’s heart was heavy, and he did not want to go. He said to himself, “This is not right,” but he went anyway.

When he arrived at the sea the water was purple and dark blue and gray and dense, and no longer green and yellow. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh,” said the man sadly, “my wife wants to live in a stone palace.”

“Go home. She’s already standing before the door,” said the flounder.

Then the man went his way, thinking he was going home, but when he arrived, standing there was a large stone palace. His wife was standing on the stairway, about to enter.

Taking him by the hand, she said, “Come inside.”

He went inside with her. Inside the palace there was a large front hallway with a marble floor. Numerous servants opened up the large doors for them. The walls were all white and covered with beautiful tapestry. In the rooms there were chairs and tables of pure gold. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceilings. The rooms and chambers all had carpets. Food and the very best wine overloaded the tables until they almost collapsed. Outside the house there was a large courtyard with the very best carriages and stalls for horses and cows. Furthermore there was a magnificent garden with the most beautiful flowers and fine fruit trees and a pleasure forest a good half mile long, with elk and deer and hares and everything that anyone could possibly want.

“Now,” said the woman, “isn’t this nice?”

“Oh, yes” said the man. “This is quite enough. We can live in this beautiful palace and be satisfied.”

“We’ll think about it,” said the woman. “Let’s sleep on it.” And with that they went to bed.

The next morning the woman woke up first. It was just daylight, and from her bed she could see the magnificent landscape before her. Her husband was just starting to stir when she poked him in the side with her elbow and said, “Husband, get up and look out the window. Look, couldn’t we be king over all this land?”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “why would we want to be king? I don’t want to be king.”

“Well,” said the woman, “even if you don’t want to be king, I want to be king.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “why do you want to be king? I don’t want to tell him that.”

“Why not?” said the woman, “Go there immediately. I must be king.”

So the man, saddened because his wife wanted to be king, went back.

“This is not right, not right at all,” thought the man. He did not want to go, but he went anyway.

When he arrived at the sea it was dark gray, and the water heaved up from below and had a foul smell. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then,” said the flounder.

“Oh,” said the man, “she wants to be king.”

“Go home. She is already king,” said the flounder.

Then the man went home, and when he arrived there, the palace had become much larger, with a tall tower and magnificent decorations. Sentries stood outside the door, and there were so many soldiers, and drums, and trumpets. When he went inside everything was of pure marble and gold with velvet covers and large golden tassels. Then the doors to the great hall opened up, and there was the entire court. His wife was sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds. She was wearing a large golden crown, and in her hand was a scepter of pure gold and precious stones. On either side of her there stood a line of maids-in-waiting, each one a head shorter than the other.

“Oh, wife, are you now king?”

“Yes,” she said, “now I am king.”

He stood and looked at her, and after thus looking at her for a while he said, “Wife, it is very nice that you are king. Now we don’t have to wish for anything else.”

“No, husband,” she said, becoming restless. “Time is on my hands. I cannot stand it any longer. Go to the flounder. I am king, but now I must become emperor.”

“Oh, wife” said the man, “Why do you want to become emperor?”

“Husband,” she said, “go to the flounder. I want to be emperor.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, “he cannot make you emperor. I cannot tell the flounder to do that. There is only one emperor in the realm. The flounder cannot make you emperor. He cannot do that.”

“What!” said the woman. “I am king, and you are my husband. Are you going? Go there immediately. If he can make me king then he can make me emperor. I want to be and have to be emperor. Go there immediately.”

So he had to go. As he went on his way the frightened man thought to himself, “This is not going to end well. To ask to be emperor is shameful. The flounder is going to get tired of this.”

With that he arrived at the sea. The water was all black and dense and boiling up from within. A strong wind blew over him that curdled the water. He stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh, flounder,” he said, “my wife wants to become emperor.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She is already emperor.”

Then the man went home, and when he arrived there, the entire palace was made of polished marble with alabaster statues and golden decoration. Soldiers were marching outside the gate, blowing trumpets and beating tympani and drums. Inside the house, barons and counts and dukes were walking around like servants. They opened the doors for him, which were made of pure gold. He went inside where his wife was sitting on a throne made of one piece of gold a good two miles high, and she was wearing a large golden crown that was three yards high, all set with diamonds and carbuncles. In the one hand she had a scepter, and in the other the imperial orb. Bodyguards were standing in two rows at her sides: each one smaller than the other, beginning with the largest giant and ending with the littlest dwarf, who was no larger than my little finger. Many princes and dukes were standing in front of her.

The man went and stood among them and said, “Wife, are you emperor now?”

“Yes,” she said, “I am emperor.”

He stood and looked at her, and after thus looking at her for a while, he said, “Wife, it is very nice that you are emperor.”

“Husband,” she said. “Why are you standing there? Now that I am emperor, and I want to become pope.”

“Oh, wife!” said the man. “What do you not want? There is only one pope in all Christendom. He cannot make you pope.”

“Husband,” she said, “I want to become pope. Go there immediately. I must become pope this very day.”

“No, wife,” he said, “I cannot tell him that. It will come to no good. That is too much. The flounder cannot make you pope.”

“Husband, what nonsense!” said the woman. “If he can make me emperor, then he can make me pope as well. Go there immediately. I am emperor, and you are my husband. Are you going?”

Then the frightened man went. He felt sick all over, and his knees and legs were shaking, and the wind was blowing over the land, and clouds flew by as the darkness of evening fell. Leaves blew from the trees, and the water roared and boiled as it crashed onto the shore. In the distance he could see ships, shooting distress signals as they tossed and turned on the waves. There was a little blue in the middle of the sky, but on all sides it had turned red, as in a terrible lightning storm. Full of despair he stood there and said:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh,” said the man, “she wants to become pope.”

“Go home,” said the flounder. “She is already pope.”

Then he went home, and when he arrived there, there was a large church surrounded by nothing but palaces. He forced his way through the crowd. Inside everything was illuminated with thousands and thousands of lights, and his wife was clothed in pure gold and sitting on a much higher throne. She was wearing three large golden crowns. She was surrounded with church-like splendor, and at her sides there were two banks of candles. The largest was as thick and as tall as the largest tower, down to the smallest kitchen candle. And all the emperors and kings were kneeling before her kissing her slipper.

“Wife,” said the man, giving her a good look, “are you pope now?”

“Yes,” she said, “I am pope.”

Then he stood there looking at her, and it was as if he were looking into the bright sun. After he had looked at her for a while he said, “Wife, It is good that you are pope!”

She stood there as stiff as a tree, neither stirring nor moving.

Then he said, “Wife, be satisfied now that you are pope. There is nothing else that you can become.”

“I have to think about that,” said the woman.

Then they both went to bed, but she was not satisfied. Her desires would not let her sleep. She kept thinking what she wanted to become next.

The man slept well and soundly, for he had run about a lot during the day, but the woman could not sleep at all, but tossed and turned from one side to the other all night long, always thinking about what she could become, but she could not think of anything.

Then the sun was about to rise, and when she saw the early light of dawn she sat up in bed and watched through the window as the sun came up.

“Aha,” she thought. “Could not I cause the sun and the moon to rise?”

“Husband,” she said, poking him in the ribs with her elbow, “wake up and go back to the flounder. I want to become like God.”

The man, who was still mostly asleep, was so startled that he fell out of bed. He thought that he had misunderstood her, so, rubbing his eyes, he said, “Wife, what did you say?”

“Husband,” she said, “I cannot stand it when I see the sun and the moon rising, and I cannot cause them to do so. I will not have a single hour of peace until I myself can cause them to rise.”

She looked at him so gruesomely that he shuddered.

“Go there immediately. I want to become like God.”

“Oh, wife,” said the man, falling on his knees before her, “the flounder cannot do that. He can make you emperor and pope, but I beg you, be satisfied and remain pope.”

Anger fell over her. Her hair flew wildly about her head. Tearing open her bodice she kicked him with her foot and shouted, “I cannot stand it! I cannot stand it any longer! Go there immediately!”

He put on his trousers and ran off like a madman.

Outside such a storm was raging that he could hardly stand on his feet. Houses and trees were blowing over. The mountains were shaking, and boulders were rolling from the cliffs into the sea. The sky was as black as pitch. There was thunder and lightning. In the sea there were great black waves as high as church towers and mountains, all capped with crowns of white foam.

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

“What does she want then?” said the flounder.

“Oh,” he said, “she wants to become like God.”

“Go home. She is sitting in her filthy shack again.”

And they are sitting there even today.

https://www.pitt.edu/%7Edash/grimm019.html

 

5 years, 8 months, and 10 days. Success requires you to extend yourself beyond your comfort zone.

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My most precious Shosh and Jaialai:

5 years, 8 months, and 10 days.  That is 5 years, 8 months, and 10 days which I will never be able to recapture and those are lost moments I could never spend with you, my most precious sons.  How have you grown?  What are your dreams?  What are your fears?  What stands in the way of you achieving your dreams?  Oh how I wish I could be there to guide you in person!  Until that happens, this must do.

Okay, today I want to talk to you about comfort zones.  They are overrated.  Most of us are most comfortable in our pajamas, hanging out in our living room.  However, greatness rarely results from us hanging out in our living rooms in our PJs.

Greatness and success require you to be uncomfortable … to stretch beyond your comfort zone.  Being comfortable usually means doing the same things you’ve done before and that you are used to doing.  In other words, being comfortable often means running in place.  What do you achieve by that?  More of the same!  Not much else.

To get better, do as Jaialai had once said to me when he was about four years old, “Let’s go somewhere where we’ve never been, Dad!”  Break out of your comfort zone!  Try new things!  Get used to trying new things, and embrace the discomfort of ideas and things new and foreign to yourselves.  Success lies there.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have witnessed clients repeatedly executing the same failed strategies, then wondering why they were not successful.  As our dear friend Albert once said,

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Dare to do different!  Be bold!  Reject mediocrity!  Reject that which is staid!

Where would be we be today if Steve Job hadn’t bucked convention (computers were accessible only to engineers and geeks then) and pushed to make computers operable by all?  Where would we be today if Bill Gates hadn’t envisioned a world where there is “a computer on every desk and in every home[?]”  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/3357701/Bill-Gatess-dream-A-computer-in-every-home.html.

Don’t let WHAT IS prevent you from pursuing WHAT MAY BE!  This is critical!  For example, this “boys will be boys” bullshit that is playing out in the news is simply that … bullshit!  Be better!  We are men, not animals.  We can grow and change.  We must aspire to be better than our forebears!  We owe it to them for having made the sacrifices that enabled us to be better and more successful than they.

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Be better, my sons.  Be better.

All my love, always,

Dad

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