The Magic of Fathers…..

I was up early today, fumbling around the coffee maker and trying to make as little noise as possible to keep from waking Sharon, Tazzy and our weekend house guest, a border collie who answers to Colt. One of our favorite eateries, First Watch, is celebrating Father’s Day by offering all the bacon a dad can eat and we will need to be early. I am guessing that free bacon will draw more than a few dads to the table! We all have fathers, evidenced by our very existence, and dads, for the most part, are influential in ways we don’t often give conscious thought to. I lost my father at a relatively young age yet still am influenced by his presence and wisdom, albeit from the grave these days. What is this magic that surrounds fathers? Let’s have a look.

Dads bring a unique perspective to their children, shaped by their presence from birth to today in their world. They watch us grow up, smiling at our successes and sorrowing at our failures. How they respond to their children is shaped by a special understanding of what makes their children what they are. Dads tend to want greater success for us than they, themselves, enjoyed in life. As dads age, we tend to measure our success by the success of our kids, smiling broadly when they push through a challenge and standing by to help manage failure.

Dads bring worldly experience to the table. An old Zone Sergeant, Bob Plymell, was fond of saying that “Bought’n learning is the best learning of all”. He, of course, was speaking of experience. Dad’s have been there before us and can bring much wisdom to the situation at hand. To be sure, our dad’s may not bring the technical know how to the table, but they can be counted on to understand the impact of our decisions on our future and as they relate to those around us.

Fathers can be counted upon to bring candor into our lives. They are not influenced by the delicate dance of pretentiousness that permeates our lives these days. Political correctness is refreshingly absent when we seek their advice and perspective. Their motivations, again, are centered around their children’s success and the avoidance of failure. When the inevitable failure occurs, they will be the first to strip the sugar coating from the matter at hand, and yet see the silver lining in the failure. They do this with not so much as a hint of Pollyanna in their counsel. How good is that?

Fathers are professional mentors. It is interesting that most mentoring failures are the result of the child’s rejection of the advice and direction provided by dad. Equally interesting is that when these failures occur, dads will be there to pick up the pieces. (We recognize the maddening, stubborn nature of our children is the result of heredity!). Dads have a very deep appreciation for the motivations of people, as mentoring often involves the dispensing of advice and counsel relative to the people in their children’s lives. Some of us are especially fortunate to assume the mentoring role to children that have followed us professionally in their chosen career. Mentors have a way of selling the unvarnished truth to our charges. A primary obligation of a father is to insure the phrase “I wish that I would not have done that” is a seldom used concept in our children’s lives. Dads are professional managers of regret!

If you are still able to enjoy the presence of your father in your life, do yourself a favor and take advantage of what he can bring to the table. All he will ask in return is a simple thank you now and again. Dads love the occasional phone call asking about some aspect of life and are willing to immediately make your problem their problem. My heart goes out to those who have lost their father or, perhaps, have never known their father from the beginning. To those dads that are perusing my thoughts, thanks for pursuing the awesome responsibility that fathering brings. Unlike many things in life, being a dad is not a temporary gig!

Happy Father’s Day! I hear rashers of bacon calling………….

The Amazing Hotdog…….

Today, Sharon and I were discussing lunch at one of the plethora of good eateries located in and around Springfield when Sharon had an epiphany. We hopped in the car and drove a few blocks to the nearest Kum & Go for one of America’s great, all time meals; a hotdog, chips and cold drink. It was the perfect, quick delicacy on a sweltering afternoon. It is time we give the lowly hotdog the recognition it so richly deserves.

Haters will be incensed with my reasoning. There have been any number of effective, and if the truth be known, totally ineffective diets published in the last ten years. Most of these “healthy” regimens involve a form of the Mediterranean diet, namely green, leafy vegetables, olive oil, nuts and fruit. It is blasphemous to devour red meat and absolutely suicidal to consider any processed meat such as bacon, lunch meat or…..gasp…hot dogs. Is it fair to give such short shrift to the great culinary equalizer? Have we forgotten that President Roosevelt served hotdogs to King George VI at a picnic in 1939? History has recorded the fact that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin enjoyed hotdogs while they were en route to the moon. Rumor has it that even Haile Pomroy, the author of the best selling “Metabolic Diet” was seen at a baseball game with a handful of popcorn and a fat, juicy Ball Park hotdog, lavishly smothered in mustard. I am not sure where I heard this, or even if I actually did hear it…..but it seems entirely plausible!

Hotdogs are a foodies delight. There is no fuss or extra effort required to spear one of these delicacies with a green stick and hold it over a hastily gathered pile of burning driftwood on the banks of a float stream. A little ash and grit easily transports us back to those childhood days when clans gathered to enjoy the shade and discuss the latest family shenanigans. Hotdogs are the blank canvasses of the culinary world. Like ’em blackened, no problem. Who hasn’t stared incredulously at a so called “Chicago” style dog, smothered in kraut, jalapeños, mustard, dill seed and catsup? It is a rare person, indeed, who hasn’t made a meal out of hotdogs carefully split longways, delicately sautéed, served along side a heaping helping of Mac and Cheese. A couple of hotdogs, quartered and tossed into a pot of baked beans has been a staple menu item in any number of households dating back to the Great Depression. Only gastronomical purists can resist the aroma and taste of a fat Herbrew National hotdog, lightly sautéed and smothered in a favorite chili recipe. Adventurous? Toss a handfull of Vidalia onions on this masterpiece and a teaspoon of spicy mustard. Now you’re talking!

Hotdogs and baseball are synonymous. In America we consume approximately 10,651 hotdogs per game. A big number, to be sure, but it pales in comparison to the 20 billion or so hotdogs we consume annually, which works out to just about 70 hotdogs per person! A baseball game without a hotdog….unimaginable! A hotdog only serves to amplify the complexity of a favorite beer, another match made in heaven. While I am tossing numbers out there, Costco sells over 100 million hotdogs annually, easily 4 times the total for Major League Baseball, and has not raised the price of their premium dogs since 1985. Even more amazing is the fact that Costco, renowned for processing their meat products from hoof to display case, makes their own dogs.

Purists will turn away when you scarf your next hotdog. They will worry about the ingredients in your savory delicacy, and show no reaction to your preference of a Nathan’s over a Ballpark, or a Ballpark over a Hebrew National or the granddaddy of dogs, Oscar Meyer.

So, the next time you clutch an all beef wiener in a soft bun, anticipating that first bite of this salty delicacy, your smirk will tell the world that you just don’t give a damn what they think.

How good is that!

About Memorial Day….

Memorial Day is a day we set aside in remembrance of those men and women who have died in the service of our country while members of the Armed Forces. This seems simple enough, on it’s face, but have you ever really considered the implications associated with dying in combat? Probably not, so I thought I would offer an observation or two about this business.

Since this country’s founding in 1776, America has been at war an astounding 90 or so percent of the time! A careful look at our history reveals that we have never gone a decade without a war, declared or not. The socio-economic reasoning that goes into the decision to fight is complex and scholars are sharply divided on the causes and benefits of war. Suffice to say, there appears to be little reason to expect this history to change direction in the foreseeable future. Armed conflict is a part of our culture, and as such, results in the deaths of combatants on both sides of the fight. It is these combatants that we recognize on this special day of remembrance.

General S.L.A Marshall, one of America’s preeminent military leaders, observed during WWII, that during hard combat, only 15 to 20 percent of our troops fired directly at an exposed enemy soldier. Instead, our soldiers preferred the use of key weapons that could kill indiscriminately such as flame throwers, machine guns and the like. The percentage of troops firing directly on an exposed enemy combatant rose dramatically when a superior, close at hand, ordered the firing. Human behaviorists attribute this phenomenon to the incredible fear that human beings in combat feel when first engaging the enemy. This fear is courtesy of the fore-brain that distinguishes us as humans. This fear is then replaced with reasoning from the mid-brain, that causes us to reflexively resist the concept of killing another human being. General Marshall’s observations, first viewed with skepticism, have been confirmed by virtually every study since being revealed. Coincidently, early FBI studies of police combat shooting engagements seemed to confirm these findings. It was clear that behavioral modification would be necessary to overcome this tendency to not kill directly. Our military adapted quickly and the numbers began an evolution of significant proportions.

As a result of training modifications, the numbers of soldiers who fired directly at an enemy combatant increased to better than 50% during the Korean War and an incredible 95% of troops involved in ground fighting in Vietnam. Once again, coincidently, the rates of engagement among our police officers also saw a dramatic increase, presumably as a result of modifications in training designed to set aside the mental exercises that tended to preclude lethal force against another human being. (As a side note, the increase in numbers of soldiers directly and lethally engaging an enemy soldier in Vietnam is marked by a correspondingly significant increase in the numbers of PTSD afflicted soldiers coming out of that war. This is presumably the result of over-riding the human tendency to avoid killing our own species.). Those who seek to destroy us have also evolved in the mechanics of killing, make no mistake.

How does this impact our day of remembrance? While there are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from this overview, the following observations are all but guaranteed. America is quite likely to be perpetually involved in a war of sorts somewhere. Wars always produce casualties thus providing generation upon generation of Americans who will die in the name of our great country, and be honored on Memorial Day. Although the mechanics of warfare have evolved tremendously with the introduction of unmanned drones and lethality from great distances, boots on the ground will always be necessary to protect the gains made in combat. Shooting directly at another human being is a very big deal, unless you are a sociopath, and will impact your psyche for the rest of your life. It takes excellent training and unbelievable courage to engage another human being in a competition that is sure to result in the death of one of you. We are the greatest nation in the history of this earth, because men and women have risen to the occasion and risked their very existence to guarantee our continued success.

As cruel, cold and seemingly calculated that it may seem, there is a very high probability that many more Americans will die protecting our life and culture in a world where our influence, wealth and military might is the envy of virtually every other country in existence. Were it not for the grace of the Almighty, every one of us who has served on a battlefield might today simply be a name on a stone or plaque someplace in our land.

May God richly bless those who have died in the interest of America, and may we never forget them.

“A Mans Got To Know His Limitations……..”

Detective Harry Callahan, AKA Clint Eastwood uttered these iconic words in the movie “Magnum Force” upon discovering a bomb in a mailbox. Certainly, in the real world, it is an excellent philosophy, a violation of which often results in an unnecessary failure ranging from simply embarrassing to catastrophic. In an effort to avoid violating this simple premise, I am forced to acknowledge that in an activity that I love, I have reached a practical limitation.

I love to fish. For the past 50 or so years, I rarely passed on an opportunity to slather on sunscreen and hop in a boat for an hour, day or week of fishing. I have enjoyed the urgency of bass and crappie tournaments as well as the relaxed atmosphere of laughing and lying while simply catching a limit of freezer fare to get us through a winter. I have found that acquaintances share strengths while true friends share weaknesses and there is something cathartic about a day on the water with a trusted friend. In addition to the art of fishing, I also enjoy blasting across one of Missouri’s beautiful, often tree choked reservoirs in search of that perfect little niche or pocket far up a creek that may hold the fish of the day. Arguably, I am obsessed with a need for speed, and the marvel of today’s high performance bass boats is one way to assuage this passion. This passion, however, requires two functioning hands and feet. This is where the wheels are coming off. Let me explain.

I am plagued with inflammatory osteoarthritis. This malady is especially aggravating in both of my feet and hands, particularly my thumbs. To complicate things, I have a disc that is all but gone in my lower back. Launching and loading a bass boat requires some degree of dexterity, unless you enjoy ramp diving! Launching is not too bad, as your friend simply backs you down and you float off the trailer. Retrieving the boat requires not just driving onto the trailer, but hitching to the winch strap and cranking the boat onto the bow roller. After a day of teasing my thumbs with a rod and the intricate dance with one foot on the trolling motor pedestal, I am down for the count. These simple acts are further complicated by dropping and retrieving the trolling motor, dozens of times each trip. One thumb has been surgically corrected and the other is scheduled for late this year. Did I mention the pounding you take as you scoot across a choppy lake? Pain takes the fun out of just about anything…..

I am not complaining. Thankfully, I also love to stand in a trout stream and float a river or creek in a canoe! An occasional trip to a farm pond and a day of bank fishing is also rewarding. I am not giving up altogether, but it is time to sell my beloved bass boat, and at least some of the thousands of dollars in rods, tackle and equipment that are a part of the bass boat experience. (Amazingly, as I was bent over the live-well, retrieving fish, on the last day we were on Truman Lake, a very nice couple approached the boat to see our fish. They were in the market to buy a boat, and it appears they will soon have the opportunity to enjoy this boat as I have the last 8 years. They will not be disappointed.)

Limitations abound as we age. While I hope to catch a boat ride with a friend someday in the future, it won’t be at the helm, rather in the back of the boat, content to let someone else handle the piloting chores. When my hands and feet begin their chorus of “enough” I will be content to sit back and enjoy the sights and sound of the lake. Actually, I am okay with this limitation, as I have had many good years and great experiences in a boat. My task, at this point, is to keep old “Arthur” from placing yet another limitation on me…..such as the Harley. A good friend of mine also struggles with Arthur and his thumbs. We have discussed this affliction on a number of occasions. Try a day without your thumbs… will soon get the point here.

A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. (I have no earthly idea who coined this saying.) I am steeling myself for the day, soon to come, when I watch my bass boat disappear from sight behind someone else’s tow vehicle…another chapter closed. A limitation realized. It won’t be easy…….

A Gift for God……..

Many of my readers know that my friend and fishing partner, Ralph Biele, can spin a yarn. He has that rare ability to capture the emotion and beauty in the telling of a story about some adventure or happening in a lifetime of observing human behavior. So it was when Ralph related the following story to me as we searched for crappie on Truman Lake.

Ralph and a good friend, Bill Plassmeyer, had served together as ushers at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Jefferson City, Mo. It should come as no surprise that Ralph and Bill had developed a friendship strengthened by the tenants of the Catholic Church as they shared many experiences over the years. Ralph smiled as he described Bill’s flashy and colorful fashion sense as well as his warmth and regard for people in general. One of their common interests, a passion for both of them, was Special Olympics, which really needs little in terms of introduction. Bill’s son was a Special Olympics coach and his grandson was a Special Olympics athlete. Each of these individuals harbored a deep respect and love for this program, a premier organization dedicated to the provision of athletic opportunities to athletes who likely would not be able to participate in competitive sports should it not exist.

On March 23d of this year, Mr. Bill Plassmeyer passed away at the age of 87. Mr. Plassmeyer had enjoyed a long and successful career in traveling sales, having worked for Uniroyal and the Hershey Corporation before retiring. His warmth and affability were put to good use in this competitive business environment. So that you might get the full measure of this man, he was also an avid golfer and coin collector. Those that knew him came to appreciate his keen wit and refined sense of humor. The picture below is of Mr. Bill Plassmeyer.

Ralph made his way to the funeral home for the visitation and noted what appeared to be Rosary Beads clasped in Bill’s hands as he approached him for his final respects. It was then that Ralph noticed that instead of Rosary beads, Bill was clasping a special Olympics medal that his grandson had won in one of the events he had participated in. Subsequently, Bill and his grandson competed in a unified golf match, in which a Special Olympics athlete was paired with a non-special Olympics partner for a match they then won. Ralph’s thoughts were immediately taken back to a conversation with Bill after the golf match during which Bill expressed his pride in partnering with his grandson in this golf competition. Bill was effusive in his praise for special Olympics and for the terrific efforts of his grandson during the golf match. So much so, that he told Ralph that when he died he was going to take one of his grandson’s medals with him to present to God with the intention of telling the Master how important this program was and what it meant to everyone that it touched. Ralph said he smiled broadly as he recalled the conversation and noted that Bill Plassmeyer was a man of his word. The medal was on it’s way to the home of the Master.

When our time comes, and it will soon enough for each of us, what gift will we take to the Master? Thank you Bill, for reminding us that a gift of appreciation just might be the best gift of all……..

Why I Admired R. Lee Ermey…..

R. Lee Ermey is gone at the age of 74, having been felled by complications related to pneumonia. It is sad that a man’s man is felled by a disease rather than in a blaze of glory, leading a charge or in a firefight in some third world country, as so many have before him. The truth be known, R. Lee or Gunny to the world, likely would have preferred it that way, but surely died knowing he would be welcomed in Valhalla, that final resting place for uniformed patriots and centurions.

I deeply admire a man who checks pretentiousness at the door, and strides purposefully into a room, offering only himself as a measure of his character. This was the case with my own father, who shared many of R. Lee’s traits. Gunny was the real thing, a man who parlayed a humble upbringing into a fortune in Hollywood. What is unique about his success is that he didn’t let the sniveling, liberal, Hollywood elite change him. He remained true to himself. How many of us can say that with conviction.

Gunny left the Marine Corps after an 11 year stint. He was a drill instructor, or to those of us who have experienced the character building, humbling experience of boot camp, a DI. Drill instructors are not to be trifled with. When they are in your face, you have no where to go, but if you could, would gladly crawl back into your mother’s womb and start over again, anywhere besides where you are standing. Such is the business of preparing young men and now women for the savages of combat. It was this background that earned him a role in Full Metal Jacket, where he improvised at least 50% of the script handed to him by Stanley Kubrick. It came naturally. Kubrick cast R. Lee after watching a home made tape of Gunny berating an individual for a protracted period of time while tennis balls were thrown at him, never once deviating from the dialogue that was imprinted upon his brain. Kubrick described the Gunny’s repertoire of insults as being in the neighborhood of 150 pages. Age has reduced my memory, but the name of my DI along with the Senior Drill Instructor will be among the last things to leave my mind when the day comes to depart this world.

The Gunny had some 60 Hollywood credits, usually playing a hard nosed individual who was principled and possessed a flint rock edge. It wasn’t hard for him to “get in character”. Lately, he hosted the popular “Lock N’ Load” television series as well as “Mail Call”, another popular series. He was a spokesman for Glock firearms, lending urgency and purpose to the individual right to carry a firearm. The Gunny also served on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, where, I am sure, his pragmatic approach to firearms coupled with his considerable presence was most welcome.

With R. Lee Ermey, what you saw was what you got. He did not let the black-balling nature of Hollywood change him. He was well aware of the distaste that most of Hollywood had for him, but did not give an inch. He was a conservative who made no apologies, finding the political correctness of today to be an abstract term for folks whose character swayed with the tide. Mathew Bodine, an actor, offered the genius of poet Dylan Thomas in his thoughts upon learning of the Gunny’s death:

“Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light”

What is not to admire in a man who was exactly as he appeared, an epithet that few have earned. Rest In Peace Gunny, we’ll miss you.

The Rack…..

In the dark ages, for the most part, the rack was a torture device where upon a hapless sole was literally pulled apart, screaming until the sweet kindness of death prevailed. This torture is no longer in vogue and the racks of those horrible times have been replaced with new racks that torture us in an entirely different way. I am talking about the racks that populate the stores that purvey clothing. Racks filled with shirts and slacks designed to fit the models that appear in Cosmopolitan, Playboy or Men’s Journal. These racks of clothes are usually found in the front of a retailers floor space, and for me, represent an entirely new kind of “flyover” country. Let me explain.

A law enforcement officer, for the most part, is insulated from the fashion world. He or she relies on a uniform to protect themselves from the impossible task of coordinating outfits to wear to work. These officers generally own jeans, a few pairs of shoes and boots and enough civilian clothing to slip out to a movie now and then or maybe church on Sundays. I can practically guarantee they own more clothes devoted to their pastime, such as fishing, hunting or motorcycle riding than anything else. When I retired and accepted a position as the deputy director of the Gaming Commission, I was thrust into the world of Hart, Schaffer and Marx suits and the business attire world. It was a fun, expensive trip through a sort of clothing fantasy land. At one time, I owned 30 ties, just enough to coordinate with the variety of colorful dress shirts in vogue during that era. Today I can martial up enough dress attire to not embarrass Sharon at a funeral. Back to the rack.

Who wears this stuff? Pants with a stride so short that either plumbers crack or an octave or two rise in voice pitch is inevitable. Dress shirts that require pre-approval from your bank to purchase, often cut in a fit that guarantees that horrible gap in front when you sit down, accompanied with the ever present reality that if a button should give up, it could blind the person sitting across from you. While I like a little color in my clothing, I refuse to wear shirts that would make Cyndi Lauper green with envy. I have the legs of a line backer, not a good fit for any but the “generous” or “full cut” slacks and pants. It is no wonder that after wrestling with a pair of these pants in a dressing room, you leave them for the clerks to rehang and trot out to the rack for the next normal person’s error in judgement. Normal guys either spend a lot of time in the “Big and Tall” section or go where we are both welcome and comfortable. By that I mean my current tailors of choice, Duluth Trading, Cabela’s or Bass Pro shop.

Duluth Trading get’s it. They are purveyors of everything that a normal guy could possible want to wear. They sell a pant named “middle management chino”, so named because managing our middle is a struggle. They make a shirt aptly named a “free swinging chambray” cut with an armpit gusset to keep you from tearing out when you bend over or reach for something. They offer “spillfighter” shirts that will shed coffee or today’s lunch leavings with gusto. They produce a plethora of men’s underwear that eliminates a host of underwear related problems, such as “bullpen”, “buck naked”, “breezeshooter” and “free range”. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure which annoying underwear issue these different shorts address. Duluth sells a long tailed t-shirt which they say will cover your “asteroid”, surely a hit with men who must bend over to work! You have likely seen Duluth’s adds, featuring fire hose tough pants, on the TV.

Is it any wonder that retired guys find comfort in cargo pants, jeans and durable clothing that will fit with out working up a sweat in the dressing room or washing in ice water to keep them from losing that 1′ margin of room we need to get them on? Much of the inventory in my kind of stores is laying on shelves, with an occasional welcoming rack here and there, mostly shirts. This clothing is durable, comfortable and far more presentable than the current trends in upscale clothing sold in many places. We enjoy shirts with logos, such as Harley-Davidson, G. Loomis, and Under-Armor worn over a pair of “ballroom” jeans, aptly named, again, by Duluth Trading. It takes awhile, but you soon get used to forgoing the colorful tie, uncomfortable but stylish dress shoes and coordinated office ensembles.

So it is that we are ready for anything, fashion wise. We can climb into a bass boat or on a motorcycle, hitch up an RV, cut the grass, fly an airplane, walk the dog, or make a run to Hi-Vee on a moments notice without struggling with what to wear. These days, the same pair of cargos under a decent shirt is entirely appropriate for church. The aforementioned purveyors of our style of clothing make this possible.

We can smile when we “fly over” the racks of quirky, fashionable clothes that still capture the imagination of younger, more obligated folks than us. By now, most folks understand what they are getting with us. Clothing isn’t going to make much difference. If I you see me at Bass Pro or Cabela’s give me a shout…..the coffee is on me…and if the coffee really is on me, it won’t matter, as I will likely be wearing a spillfighter shirt!