A Trip to our Nation’s Capitol – DC through the eyes of a 13 year old.

I originally wanted to write a wonderful recount of my recent trip to DC with my oldest daughter and her 8th grade class through HER eyes.  I was curious to know what she would think of a city with so much history behind it.  What would the experience of travelling with her father on a momentous journey look like for a 13 year old girl?  In my poetic mind, or perhaps narcissistically thinking, our six day voyage would be one of wonderful amazement and discovery combined with a renowned sense of patriotism and honor for this amazing country we live in. This would be a father-daughter bonding experience like no other.  In all honesty, I thought that by the time the trip was over the child would look into my proud & teary eyes and say “Dad, I want to be the first woman President of the United States.”   I could already imagine spending nights in the Lincoln bedroom, and sitting in the balcony VIP section of Capitol Hill when my daughter, The President of The United States, would give her State of The Union Address.  Yeah, I don’t dream often, but when I do……I do it BIG!!!

I should have immediately known that the enlightening and inspirational trip I imagined with my daughter would not necessarily go as I had planned as soon as we got on the airplane to DC.  Mind you, I had already received specific   instructions during the weeks leading up to our trip of what to do, what not to do, who I could talk to, who I couldn’t, what I could wear (my bowling shirt was out). 

My seat assignment was 22E, the middle seat which I hate, while my daughter would ride comfortably in 22F the more spacious window seat.  We hadn’t even sat down, let alone thought about our complimentary in-flight beverage, when I was requested by my daughter to switch seats with her BFF so THEY could sit together.  What happened to the bonding I was supposed to experience?  What happened to those magical moments that had been played out in my dreams?  Maybe this was just a temporary setback.

Our travelling party consisted of roughly 50 eighth graders, 46 Moms and 4 Dads of which I knew no one other than my daughter.  Good thing we were going to be “sticking together” the whole time…or so I thought.  Upon our arrival to DC and a brief stop at Union Station for lunch, we boarded our tour buses and headed to Arlington National Cemetery.  The last time I had visited this National Shrine was during my 8th grade school trip to DC, and while I didn’t expect there to be many changes, I did look forward to sharing this experience with my daughter this time around.  It was just like I remembered.  The sobering and impressive rows of headstones perfectly aligned, the quiet, respectful and serene atmosphere, the overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism combined with the realization of the magnitude of people who sacrificed it all for our freedoms; truly overwhelming.  We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the kids from our group got the opportunity to lay a wreath in honor of the soldiers buried there.  Jacqueline Kennedy had now been laid to rest next to her husband, something that hadn’t happened when I visited back in 1985.  Of course the eternal flame burned ever present at the burial site.  I learned some new things, saw some familiar ones, but mostly was moved like I don’t recall having been moved 25 years ago. 

Upon boarding the bus, and eagerly looking for material to write this story, I asked my daughter on her thoughts of what she had just witnessed.  “It was sad” was all I got as she quickly went back to the preoccupation of the day which was who would be sitting next to who on the bus and what snacks were available from her friends who had come on this journey way more prepared than I had done.  Sitting back in my seat, at the front of the bus as that was an unspoken rule established by the students (parents in the front, kids in the back) I felt dejected, disappointed and frankly bewildered.  After the National Monument we had just seen, the ultimate patriotism we had just witnessed, the immense sacrifice, all my daughter could think of to say was “It was Sad”.  I didn’t understand.

Back on the bus it was lots of singing and almost a party like atmosphere.  Thankfully “99 bottles of beer on the Wall” never surfaced but a painful and screeching medley of Justin Bieber and Rihanna songs seemed to play-on endlessly.  Clearly the school choir members were NOT on our bus.   I could certainly understand the kids’ excitement and somehow managed to tune out all the noise as I gazed out the window and admired the sites as we drove around DC.  Our next stop was the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.  I clearly remember a visit to this monument as one of my favorites during my trip so many years earlier and I was looking forward to seeing it again.  There it was, exactly as it was the last time I visited.   With the exception of the flag being raised at ground zero in the days following 9-11, I can think of no other such powerful demonstration of patriotism and American pride.   The kids posed for the obligatory photo in front of the monument and then quickly proceeded to run around, look for a bathroom and something cold to drink, (it was unseasonably warm in DC for this time of year).  Again, not the reaction I was anticipating.

 I quickly realized that this whole experience was not going to turn out as I had planned and that I better make an acquaintance with some of the other parents if I was to not spend the entire trip alone.  The rest of day one consisted of visiting the Lincoln Memorial, a great and up close view of the Washington Monument, and a trip to the FDR Memorial.  While our day had begun at 5:45am at Miami International Airport, the sights and sounds of DC as we discovered this city kept most of us energized to keep going, yet by 7pm we were ready to head to the hotel for a much needed rest. 

My 8th Grade Trip to Washington DC - 1985

I will not turn this into a play-by-play of what we did and saw on days 2-6 of our trip as that is not the intent of this post.  However, something wonderful did happen and that my friends is worth sharing.  Thankfully, I was given enough insight or perhaps wisdom to go back 25 years and silently reminisce about my 8th grade trip to DC.  When I went with my class we had a handful of chaperones that included teachers and parents.  For the most part our parents weren’t there and we spent the majority of the time with our friends and classmates.  We bunked 4 kids to a room and stayed up until all hours of the night laughing, joking, and watching TV.  Yeah, admittedly we saw some cool stuff, but we had a GREAT time together!  Our trip, back then, wasn’t about a cultural experience or American history.  It was about having fun; the exact thing my daughter and her friends were trying to do.  With this new found insight, I was able to understand where my daughter was coming from and realized that just like her Dad so many years before, she was a typical teenager.  Ahhh, the joys of youth.

As the days passed I began to feel an incredible closeness to my daughter and an incredible sense of pride.  One of the greatest highlights of our trip was an early evening spent shopping in Georgetown followed by a simple dinner at a local crepe restaurant.  If you know me, you understand that I absolutely hate shopping.  However, my daughter who is what they call a shopaholic truly believes that to shop is to live; to live is to shop.  While this whole philosophy bothers me greatly, seeing my 13 year old working her way through the store looking for bargains and outfits that fit just right made me realize that my little princess was turning into a young lady.  The coolest part was when she tried on an outfit, came out of the dressing room, looked for me and asked “What do you think of this dad?”   Through watery eyes I simply and honestly said “you look beautiful my love”.

From that moment my whole outlook changed and the experience I would share with my daughter for the remainder of the trip was spectacular.  I no longer focused on her experience at the sights, monuments, or museums.  I enjoyed these on my own, this time around as an adult with a new perspective and hopefully a little more maturity.  I spent just the same amount of time observing my daughter, watching her interactions with her friends, her behaviors and mannerisms.  I became fascinated by the dynamics and interactions between my daughter and her peers.  Quietly observing, I saw a young lady that although going through that awkward stage in life, was self confident, respectful, kind and considerate.  I noticed my daughter on several occasions looking out for me to make sure I boarded the right bus.  I was with someone who wasn’t embarrassed to let people know I was her dad, as I had been at that age, through no fault of my parents.  My daughter simply made me proud and I wanted her to enjoy this trip to fullest – in HER own way.

So while I originally intended this to be about a trip to DC through the eyes of my daughter, it has fortunately turned out to be more about the evolving relationship between a father and his child. My daughter taught me an important lesson during our week together and that is to look for a different perspective in things.  She taught me that while things may not turn out the way I hoped, they can certainly be rewarding and special.  She showed me that being a Dad is truly the best job in the world.

 How lucky I am that in 2 years I will be able to experience this again with my youngest daughter when her class travels to DC.  I can’t wait.

Have you told your kids you’re proud of them today?

Rick-

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Thank You For Being A Friend

Dictionary.com defines the word “Friend” as  “a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.”   Interesting.  Very interesting.  Can such a simplistic definition accurately define what a “friend” really means in our lives?  I am of the opinion that this brief definition barely scratches the surface on the significance and importance of what a true friend really means to us or perhaps what it has evolved to be in our modern society. 

I must first admit that I am truly a very lucky man.  I have friendships today that have lasted, are currently active, and have survived the past 25 years. (more than half my life)   These friendships have surpassed distances of states, countries, even continents and surprisingly flourished when email was merely but a techies wet-dream.  At times, due to lack of fundage and the relative high costs of long distance calling around 1985, the only means of communication between my friends and I was old-fashioned snail mail, when a first class stamp would set you back a whopping 22 cents.  A gallon of gas set you back $1.12 but that is subject for another post.  If we wanted to “listen” to each others voices we would record a cassette tape with jokes, updates and the occasional farting noise.  With great anticipation we would send that off to our friends who resided in other parts of the country.  Admittedly, sending international mail was something way beyond our means at the time.  Often long distance friendships would be put on temporary hold until the next summer vacation rolled around and our intimate group would be reunited.

My friendships have made it through a business partnership, unsuccessfully dating one of my best-friends’ sister, and even losing complete touch for several years.  The true test of my friendships was ultimately my selfishness and self-centerdness, combined with my chaotic and turmoil filled life which ordinarily should have driven everyone away.  Yet, through it all, my friends didn’t give up on me and stuck beside me through thick and thin; through good and bad, through havoc and eventually peace.  My friends were more loyal and devoted than either one of my ex-wives.  Like I said, I am truly a very lucky man.

Friends come in all shapes, colors and sizes.  We meet our friends through a myriad of situations.  One of my best friends I met on a beach; turns out we lived in the same condo in South Florida.  I was 12 years old and this soon to be friend ripped me off by selling me a used skim board  for an astronomical price at the time, with the promise of free lessons.  Not the way you would typically imagine a life long friendship to begin.  Years later I would enact my vengeance by dating his sister for 5 1/2 years!  Truly the woman I thought I would marry, life had other plans for me, and while the relationship with the sister didn’t last, the friendship prevailed and exists today stronger than ever.  More than a friendship, I now consider it a brotherhood.

With one BFF in my life, I was blessed to meet what would become BFF #2 during Junior High School.  A new transfer to our school, as far as I can remember, I approached “Fred” because I saw him eating lunch by himself and frankly looking really sad.  I believe his version of the events are totally different and in his account it is ME looking sad and eating my PB&J alone during lunch hour.  The beauty of it is, that how we met is actually rather insignificant but the fact that 25 years later I can still call Fred one of my best friends is a blessing beyond words.  My friendship with Fred actually blossomed during our High School years when we became writing partners for our Senior yearbook, gave the play-by-play for the powder puff football game and even planned and executed the birthday kidnapping of our Dean of Students to a local Friday’s restaurant.  During High School Fred and I were inseparable, and our greatest accomplishment was serenading our Principal, Ms. Butts, with the Top Gun version of “You Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” while standing on the roof of an orange-colored Bronco.  Fred and I created many memories that I will cherish forever and have the pleasure of recounting these adventures anytime we get together.

While my friendship with Fred is unique and extremely special, I have somehow been blessed to have another friendship with someone whom I truly believe must have been separated at birth from me.  While there is a 5 year difference between the two of us, this age factor has never been an issue for us.  Sharing the same first name, my friend RICH has the age advantage over me or perhaps more experience shall we say.  The term a “Brother from another Mother” is so appropriate in our case that it is almost eerie and scary.  Rich is Mr. Skim Board.  Remember, the guy who swindled me out of my hard-earned money back on that beach when I was 12?  Yeah well, 25 years later, through the fiasco of dating his sister, we are still friends and grow closer every year.  We crossed the line of friendship years ago and became family….unofficially as there are no legal ties making us such, but we are family.  He is my brother and I would do anything for him.  That bond and feeling of loyalty, trust, and yes even love, while never discussed between us, I know is mutual.  Once again, I am a very lucky man.

So the question beckons.  What is a friend?  Over the last three years I have been fortunate enough to meet many people, through a fellowship I belong to, that have taught me what friendship is all about. They have offered of themselves to me, asking nothing in return.  They have supported me, loved me, confided in me, trusted me, and most importantly believed in me when I found it impossible to believe in myself.  They loved me until I was able to love myself.  They saw me through my darkest days and offered me a priceless gift…..HOPE.  These new-found friends of mine, some of which have come and gone, helped me realize how important my other friendships, such as the ones with Fred and Rich, truly are.  They made me realize how blessed I am to have these gentlemen in my life.  They showed me that friendships are a two-way street and that over the past 25 years, my actions have sometimes been ridiculously selfish.  I have learned the error of my ways, and can admit that at times, in the past, I have been a terrible friend.  I am a very lucky man because in spite of myself and my actions my friends have stuck by me; they have loved me in spite of myself.  They haven’t given up on me and have waited patiently for me to become the kind of friend they have always been to me.  Ironically, it took other great friends of mine to teach me this and allow me to make the necessary changes.

So to end this longer than expected tribute to friendship, a friend is someone who sticks beside you no matter what; through thick and thin.  A friend will not only help you grow, mature and change but give you the space and time to do so.  A true friendship isn’t jeopardized by space, distance or time and if a solid relationship exists it can survive almost any challenge posed before it.  Real friends do not judge yet are readily available to tell you the truth, about anything, as painful as it may be.  Requirements for friendship do not include lending you money, providing you a place to live, securing employment for you, giving you rides, or even feeding you.  To expect this from others cancels your own qualifications as a friend.  However, in my definition, a friend offers their shoulder without hesitation, or more poetically, stretches out their hand and pulls you from whatever crevice you may be in at the time.  A friend has the knowledge and restraint to listen and offer advice when appropriate.  A friend will end a conversation with a hug or an “I Love You.”  A real friend may not necessarily bail you out of jail, but will visit you on a weekly basis and get you some commissary.  A real friend will never shy away from the truth but will support you unconditionally.  A real friend simply understands and loves you in spite of….

So if I am lucky enough to call YOU a friend, I simply say “Thank You”. 

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”
– Helen Keller

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

For the last three years, my life has consisted of what at times has seemed like an impossible quest.  The Pursuit of  Happiness.  I think I have been on this adventure for a lot longer than three years but a real concerted effort has been made on my part within this timeframe.  Think about it….what is it that we all want?  Happiness.  We disguise happiness in many forms usually consisting of money, power, and prestige but in the final analysis it’s basic happiness we all want.  Pure and simple, unadulterated happiness.  My friend Will Smith (OK, I don’t really know the guy) made a movie in 2006 effectively titled “The Pursuit of Happyness”.  The film is largely based on a true story about a father desperately trying to build a better life for his family and the immense challenges, struggles and disappointments he must face along the way.  The story also explores the incredible bond between a father and his son and the belief that with hard work, dedication, and the right opportunity, ANYTHING is possible.

In my past, I tried finding happiness through many different avenues, forms, and substances.  My pursuit included work, women, cars, booze, not working, marriages, living life above my means, and countless trips to the “adult” bar where I thought the “entertainers” really understood me.  What I inevitably ended up with was extreme loneliness and more problems than I had begun with.  I can honestly say I never found happiness at The Doll House, at the bottom of a bottle, or at my job.   In retrospect, I cannot blame these outside sources for my disappointments, but instead have come to the conclusion that it was my outlook and inner turmoil that prevented me from finding that most elusive element…..”Happiness”.  So what’s a guy to do?

Through the many ups and downs my life encountered, my main state of mind was that of the exact opposite of my quest…..un-happiness.  It didn’t matter what positive things were in my life, what blessings had come my way, how fortunate or successful I was, it was never enough.  Nothing was ever good enough, big enough, fast enough, pretty enough or expensive enough.  I remember marrying the “love of my life” and within weeks I was finding faults; accumulating reasons or better yet excuses as to why I should not be with this person.  Working at an excellent company, my day was spent devising ways to quit my job and do something else.  Finally living in a place I had dreamed of, on the water with a view of the ocean, the walls suddenly began to close in on me and my dream home was now too small and inadequate.  Is this not usually the case?  We want what we can’t or don’t have.  Women were not exempt from my desperate attempts at happiness as I often found myself as the religious folk say, “Coveting my Neighbors Wife” often revealing my lustful feelings in a drunken stupor.  While I lose focus on the subject matter, as I tend to do, it is representative of the loss I repeatedly experienced in dealing with or trying to find happiness.  Let me explain.

I always looked at external things to find my happiness.  I counted on people to make me happy.  I always had to keep up with “The Joneses” and I needed the biggest and the baddest….once I got it, it didn’t fill the huge void in my life.  Material property, my climb on the corporate ladder, my place of residence or my companion/wife at the time did absolutely nothing to quiet the insecurities, fears and frustrations that resonated inside my head…..there was a key ingredient missing in my life.  I was missing something you can’t buy, you can’t ingest, you can’t own…..I had to find GRATITUDE, if I was to truly make a valiant attempt at finding happiness.  Why is gratitude so important?

Gratitude makes us not just content, but more importantly thankful with what we currently have.  It makes us feel comfortable with where we currently are in our journey.  The saying, “I have everything I need, therefore I have everything I want, for I want nothing that I don’t need” really holds a lot of truths.  I’m not trying to knock ambition.  I believe ambition to be a good thing, as long as our happiness does not depend on those things we WANT.  I am very happy at my job, in my current position, making the measly salary I make.  I am blessed to have my job.  I would love to move up in the company and I am working towards that, yet I appreciate where I am today.  I am happy with where I am today.  I am blessed and grateful with where I am today.  I am working towards a better tomorrow, but if tomorrow never comes, I’m OK with that.  Does any of this incessant rambling make any sense to you?  I hope so.

So to summarize, if you are on that “Pursuit of Happiness” look where you are right now.  Realize that happiness is a state of mind and enjoy and be grateful for the blessings you have received TODAY.   Work towards a better tomorrow, but enjoy TODAY.  Help another, the rewards are immeasurable, and live your life with passion! 

Blessings Always,

Rick-