Friday, November 14, 2014

An Old Man and Ice Cream

Everyone wants to change the world, right? Or am I the only one? The older I get the more I'm resigned to the fact that I'm not going to be in the NBA, (that ship has sailed) I won't be the next Warren Buffett, and I'm not going to invent some cool gadget like Steve Jobs.

The realization of all this, combined with an experience I had with an old man and ice cream, has changed my perspective of success.

My wife's grandfather lost his wife about twenty years ago, after fifty years of marriage. He's still kickin', having just had his 97th birthday in August. One of the things I like to do with my kids is visit him. My kids are so fun and cute and we all have a blast. We laugh, the kids sing for him, we clean his dishes, take out his trash, and even walk over to the store and buy him groceries.

Just as we were about to leave he would ask, "Who wants ice cream?" Of course, my kids would all cheer and follow their hobbling grandpa into the kitchen so he could scoop them out some. He would fumble in the sink to find a spoon and would always gripe about how hard it was to get the ice cream out.

After a few visits like this, a few things happened. One, my kids started to expect ice cream and would ask for it the minute we walked in the door, and two, I realized that the poor old spoon great grandpa used to scoop out the ice cream was not cutting it.

I had an idea! I was going to buy him a nice and sturdy ice cream scoop. The amazing part was I actually followed through! The next time we stopped to visit, we unveiled his brand new ice cream spatula. We're not talking some low quality scoop here - it was pretty much the Harley Davidson of ice cream spatulas!. And he was EXCITED.

How would you like to scoop out some ice cream with one of these puppies? That's right!

It was one of the times in life when you do something you feel like you should, and it makes you feel wonderful. But I never imagined the impact it would have on that old man. Every time after that, whenever we'd go over to his home and line up for ice cream, he'd pull out his sturdy ice cream spatula, look at me and say with a smirk, "You got this for me, huh."

This small event in my life helped me realize that I don't need to change the world. That's a pretty lofty goal and not within my reach. My new goal? Change the world for someone. As small and insignificant as my efforts were, it meant the world to great grandpa. The cool thing is, I'll never truly understand the full impact of what I did, but every time I think of him and this ice cream spatula, I'm reminded of Mother Theresa, who captured the essence of this story when she said:

"We can do no great things - only small things with great love."

What small act of kindness can you offer that will change someone's world? Believe me, someone's waiting! 

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I Promised to Never Be Like My Dad

We all have our struggles in this life. Sometimes it's easy to recognize the weaknesses of others and not see the good. That's how I was. Especially when I was young. Especially when it came to my dad. More than once I promised never to be like him.

I grew up with great friends who all had great dads. It seemed to me that the relationships they had with their fathers were a step above the one I had with mine. There were some things my dad did that made me upset - add to that the fact that he was always too tired to shoot hoops, and it made for a bad combination when trying to build a solid relationship with a teenage son.

My father, Howard Arkell, second from left.

I remember being very hard on my dad. I can still hear the words from my father ringing in my ears: "I know I'm a horrible father." He said it on more than one occasion, and it usually stemmed from me complaining about something he did.

Now that I'm a father I look back on his weaknesses a lot differently. In fact, it's a lot easier to be more understanding. What's hard to swallow is that the great things he did I'm just starting to notice, and now that he's gone, I can't properly give him the credit he's due.

One night my boys were asking me for a story. So I told them of the day my dad bought me a BRAND NEW pair of basketball sneakers. They were white high tops with black stripes on them and I swear they made me jump two feet higher. They cost $80, which in today's world would equate to $120. The first night I wore them I took great care to only have them on when I was in the gym. Once the pickup game ended, I changed into some other shoes and walked to the car, placed my new sneaks on the roof of the car, and fiddled with the keys to open the car door. I was basking in the joy of another great performance on the court, with these amazing new sneakers.

As I drove home, imagining the lucrative NBA deal that was sure to be part of my future, I realized I had never taken my sneakers off the roof of the car. I quickly pulled over, jumped out of the car, and my heart sunk as I realize that my new prized possession, the key to NBA glory, my beautiful, expensive sneakers - were GONE. I drove back to the gym, trying to find them, but in the darkness of the late hour there was no hope. I had lost my sneakers on the very day they were given to me.

As I was telling my boys this story, I realized something amazing. When I had gone home to tell my dad what happened, I don't remember his reaction. That's the fascinating part to me. I know that if he had flown off the handle and gotten angry, I would have remembered. But my only memory is this - the next day after searching for the sneakers on his way to work without any luck, he came home with a newly purchased pair of the same eighty dollar sneakers.

After I finished telling my boys this story, I thought of a moment earlier in the day when I lost my temper and raised my voice at my boy for spilling his milk. I remembered the way I overreacted earlier that week when one of their bikes scraped up against the side of our new van. I thought of all the small and insignificant things that my kids do and how I never seem to be able to let it go without belittling them. It was then I realized that my promise from years earlier was coming true in a much different fashion than I had expected - I realized that I never would be like my dad. The greatest attributes of my father were the ones that, as a child, I could not see.

Dad, wherever you are, and as shallow as this apology and statement is, please know that one day I hope to be the man you were. I'm sure you are looking down with empathy and a smile. Your wings are well deserved. I'm sorry it took me so long to realize it.

Labels: , , ,