To My Friend Paul…

My friend Paul recently passed away.  He fought and fought, but sadly, like the millions of others before him, he could not fight the cancer anymore.

Growing up, I remember listening to my Mom talk about friends and family members who were passing away.  I didn’t think much of it because I thought that’s what happens when you get older, right?  You grow old and pass away.  There are no do-overs or extensions.  Time catches up with everyone.

But Paul was only in his thirties.  He just got married.  Just had a son.  Through our periodic dinners-out and UFC fight nights, my friends and I watched as the cancer and chemo treatments began to take their toll on Paul.  The memorable night where we emptied our wallets of cash and dared him to eat and finish a Claim Jumper eclair seemed like a distant memory. (After some dry-heaving, he did finish the eclair.  And if you’ve never seen a Claim Jumper eclair, imagine a Duraflame log smothered in whipped cream.)

Scan 3

I love this picture. It was taken at our friend Dan’s wedding (Paul is second from the right). I love it because it’s pure. To me it captures the essence of friendship. Connection. Laughter. Trust. Joy. Memories.

Paul was a guy’s guy.  Intelligent, highly opinionated, blunt, and a big eater.  I’ll miss his playful verbal assaults on me of: 1) eating like a woman (or small child), 2) weighing as much as a woman (or small child), 3) my lack of handyman skills, and 4) indecisive nature.  I’ll also miss hearing his opinions and explanations on everything from education to cars to UFC Ring Girl Arianny Celeste.

The past few weeks have been a blur.  With work, Easter, and the family on Easter break, I don’t think I’ve had a chance to process the whole thing…or maybe I’ve been avoiding it.  Emotions are an unpredictable and funny thing.  I didn’t break down and cry until, out of all places, I was running on a treadmill at 24-Hour Fitness.  For some reason, the Gym Class Heroes’ “The Fighter” got to me.  I had to play it off and pretend I was having a severe allergy attack.

If you fall pick yourself up off the floor (get up)
And when your bones can’t take no more (c’mon)
Just remember what you’re here for
Cuz I know Imma damn sure

Give em hell, turn their heads
Gonna live life ’til we’re dead.
Give me scars, give me pain
Then they’ll say to me, say to me, say to me
There goes the fighter, there goes the fighter
Here comes the fighter
That’s what they’ll say to me, say to me, say to me,
This one’s a fighter

‘Til the referee rings the bell
‘Til both ya eyes start to swell
‘Til the crowd goes home,
What we gonna do kid?



Even as a child, I understood the importance of finding and appreciating true friendships. They are rare, beautiful, and extremely hard to come by.  Paul’s unexpected passing is a reminder to not only be grateful for these relationships, but to take time out once in a while to reminisce about those memorable and special times together.
Like the picture taken at Dan’s wedding, I’ll have a lot of great memories to carry with me. Until we see each other again Paul…we love you and will miss you.

My Inner Introvert Is In Beast Mode

I was having dinner with my wife and asked the waitress for a glass of water with lemon.  The waitress looked at me quizzically and returned a few minutes later with a huge glass of sliced lemons.  My wife turned to me and said, “See, you’re too quiet.”

I recently read Susan Cain’s bestselling book, “Quiet, which intertwines her life as an introvert with the history, psychology, and cultural implications of being an introvert.  I was thinking about “Quiet” the past few weeks.  In several recent conversations (actually, most of my life) people have said to me, “You’re so quiet.” and “I didn’t even know you were here.”  I recently volunteered for a big work initiative and was reminded (again) of how little I speak.

No doubt, I am a full-on introvert and have always exhibited introvert qualities: conservative, self-aware, observant, quiet.  But like Susan Cain, my introvert self gets a little frustrated and irritated when these qualities are looked upon as negative.  In other words, you should speak more, be louder, and overall be more visible.  When I hear these things, my inner introvert wants to go into beast mode.


Western culture celebrates being outgoing, loud, and assertive.  So when it comes to the quieter individual, questions like “What’s wrong?” or “Is something bothering you?” usually comes up.  Cain also points out that being neither loud nor outgoing sometimes gets confused for lack of leadership and productivity (inferring that quieter individuals don’t add as much or can’t be leaders).  This makes sense.  If you’re an introvert and have ever sat in a meeting where team leaders or decision-makers are chosen, the more boisterous individuals take over and are usually selected.

So for introverts reading this, I completely understand your frustration. And for you extroverts, keep these things in mind before you jump to your extrovert conclusions:

I like to eat lunch alone.  I’m not antisocial and I’m not some kind of social outcast.  In fact, I enjoy eating with co-workers – sometimes.  This alone time allows me to sit in silence and recharge from all of the social interaction I had earlier.  For introverts, think of this as interval training.  We operate best when some down time follows our social interactions.  For extroverts, this would be the complete opposite, where they would require some kind of social interaction after a long period of silence or being alone.

I don’t need to be speak all the time.  I talk when I need to say something.  Big misconception – being an introvert does not mean someone is shy (timid, hesitant, or afraid).  It simply means they pick and choose their spots to speak – after some introspection.  In other words, you won’t find introverts spouting off or “shooting from the hip.”  In fact, when introverts speak, people usually stop and take notice because they do speak less often.

I prefer to kick it with a few people…not work a whole room.  Social butterflies we are definitely not.  Icebreaker activities are like kryptonite for introverts.  Introverts excel in small group interactions.  In large parties or big gatherings, forget it.  In these situations, you’ll find me with a few friends and a beer.  Of course we’re happy to meet new people but you will never see us working the room.

You’re stressing me out with your 100-miles-an-hour stream-of-consciousness speaking.  Introverts are patient and need time to reflect on and assess ideas.  When working in a group setting, this can be seen as anti-social or not being engaged, when in fact we’re completely engaged.  It’s just that I’m still trying to process the first idea the group came up with…and now we’re on idea number ten.


My inner introvert feels better now.  He’s had a chance to sit down in a nice quiet place, think about what he wants to say, and put it down via a favorite introvert activity – writing.

So before you jump to conclusions at work, in the gym, or while serving sliced lemons in a huge glass, remember the innate tendencies of your introvert friends.  More than likely, there’s nothing wrong with us (and if there was, it might be a while before we speak up to tell you).  In fact, we’re probably enjoying your company while taking everything in.  That’s just how we’re made.

What challenges have you faced as an introvert and how do you deal with them?

Post your comments below…

How To Have A Difficult Conversation In Five Steps

I used to sit next to this lady (I’ll call her Janice) at work.  Janice had a subordinate (I’ll call him Rob).  I used to cringe every time Rob would come to her desk.  For some reason, Janice was just flat-out mean to this guy.  You could hear it in her voice and see it in her body language.  It got to a point where Rob would look like an abused dog when he came around; head hung low, shoulders drooping, posture hunched forward.  I think this clear sign of domination only made matters worse.  When I would see Rob in the hall, I wanted to stop him and say, “Dude, why don’t you say something?”

Having difficult conversations is something very few of us look forward to.  I know I don’t.  In fact, I’m pretty much downright non-confrontational.  I have a long fuse and am pretty patient.  This can be a blessing and a curse.  Where people might explode with impatient rage, I’m usually pretty calm.  The problem is, if we don’t have that conversation to tell someone STOP!, will we end up like Rob?  For example, despite your sweaty palms, pounding heart, and shortness of breath, could you:

Tell one of your friends that his jokes are inappropriate and unacceptable?

Confront your manager and tell him (or her) that their management decisions are killing your department’s morale?

Sit down with one of your in-laws and tell them that their frequent visits are a little too frequent?

Wild Goats Fighting

Not as easy as it sounds.  In fact, I’d venture to say that, like Rob, we are more likely to brush it off and saying something like, “I’m used to it” or “That’s just the way it is.”  But does it have to be?

Not to sound like Dr. Phil (the real Dr. Phil), but people treat us in accordance with the way we allow ourselves to be treated.  It’s why bullies continue to walk over their victims, why people take advantage of you, and why Rob always looks like an animal in one of those sad ASPCA commercials.  So how do we put a stop to this behavior?  By having a difficult conversation.

Identify the why: What’s the purpose of this conversation?  Get to the point and don’t beat around the bush.  This can be done professionally and tactfully.  Just don’t string it out and lose your target’s attention by starting off with, “Uhh, uh, umm.”  Maybe something more like, “Janice, I’d like to talk to you about our working relationship and how you’ve been treating me lately.”

Illustrate your feelings: I don’t mean break down and cry or scream at the top of your lungs.  Letting the other person know about how you feel places context around the situation: “When you joke around like that, it makes me feel uncomfortable.  I think the things you’re saying are disrespectful and hurtful.  I know I wouldn’t want someone talking about me in that way.”

Remain open-minded: Remember, conversation is a two-way street.  Open-mindedness actually means understanding what’s driving the other person’s behavior.  Could it be problems at home, pressure from the corporate higher-ups, or simply being oblivious?  The answer might surprise you.  I always keep this in mind by remembering Wayne Dyer’s story about a father and his kids on the subway.  The kids were running around, being unruly.  The passengers were growing irritated and angry with the father, thinking he was being extremely inconsiderate for not checking his kids.  When confronted, the out-of-it father apologized by saying that they were coming from the hospital…where his wife just passed away.  OK, so maybe your conversation may not be that extreme.  But always keep in mind, there’s another side of the story.

Listen: This goes without saying.  Whatever emotions you may have (anger, sadness, disappointment, etc.) they may cloud your ability to focus and listen to what the other person is saying.  Without listening, you’re already losing half the battle.  In order for this conversation to work, you’re going to have to temporarily suppress your emotions and just listen.

Resolve, Agree, and Move Forward: Finally, find the resolution and move forward.  In Rob’s case, he gets to the root cause of the problem (maybe Janice doesn’t like the way he just pops in unannounced at her desk).  He agrees to schedule meetings or IM her to see if she’s free and she agrees to watch her tone of voice, attitude, and body language.  With a common understanding and working agreement, they can both move forward and course-correct when needed.

Where in your life do you need to have a difficult conversation?

Thanks For Your (not so) Great Advice

The one thing people are the most liberal with, is their advice. 

– Francois de Rochefoucauld


You’ve probably seen Wisconsin news anchor Jennifer Livingston’s on-air response to a letter she received from viewer Kenneth Krause.  In case you missed it, Krause told Livingston that, as a role model for young girls, she should lose some weight.

People rushed to defend Livingston, including on-air personalities at competing stations.  The anger towards Krause was compounded by a Facebook photo released by the media showing him in a cool guy, “I’m so fit” mountain bike photo – complete with tank top and bulging biceps (as described in several media outlets).  Krause was even kind enough to offer his time to work with Livingston if she needed/wanted his support.

Giving unsolicited advice is one of the worst things you can do.  When someone “offers” his/her advice without asking, it conjures up three things:

You’re Arrogant: Even if you have a  PhD or are a subject matter expert on the problem, or your second cousin had the same problem, don’t open your mouth.  In offering your advice without being asked, you’re assuming the person wants or needs to hear from you and your “expertise.”

You’re A Know-It-All: No two problems, situations, or perspectives are usually the same.  Just because it sounds like the same issue does not mean it is.  The fact that we’re thinking of filing for bankruptcy does not mean you can give me secondhand information that your co-worker gave you about his bankruptcy.  If I was given a certain medical diagnosis, you don’t have to share with me about how your wife’s cousin’s best friend had the same thing.

I’m Really Not Looking For Advice: I may be talking a lot about my problem but I just want someone to listen – not give me Dr. Phil advice. As a friend, co-worker, neighbor, family member, etc., I feel comfortable enough with you that I can just unload.  I’m feeling better already.  Please don’t ruin it with your personal story or parable with a lesson wrapped up in it.  Sometimes an attentive and empathetic ear is all a person needs.

So what’s a well-intentioned person to do?

Listen: Just be quiet and listen.  Listen to the tone of the person’s voice and pay attention to their body language.  This can be difficult at first. Besides what the person is saying, the non-verbal cues offer a ton of information as to whether they’re looking for advice or not.  Again, maybe the person is just looking to unload or vent.  If so, your job is to empathize and listen.

Just Ask: Simple enough, right?  Not so simple, though.  Asking a person if he/she wants advice can be awkward.  Make sure you approach it with humility, kid gloves, and a genuine empathetic tone.  I usually approach it in the dopey friend manner: “Dang man, that sounds terrible.  Check this out, I went through the same thing and it turned out OK.  Want to know what happened?”

Don’t give advice you wouldn’t follow yourself:  This is called being a hypocrite.  You lose immediate credibility with the person if you tell them to do something you never have done or failed to do yourself.  This is probably like getting work advice from someone who’s been fired from their past six jobs or exercise tips from your smoking, 40-pound overweight neighbor.

It’s not about YOU: Seriously?  If you go off-road and start talking about yourself, go immediately back to number one.  BE QUIET.  It’s bad enough your friend is going through whatever he or she is going through.  Don’t compound the problem by making it about YOU. When you do that, you minimize the other person’s significance and situation.  A year ago, my wife spent a few days in the hospital.  The “chaplain” was making her rounds, checking on patients and seeing if they needed anything.  After a quick “Hello, how are you doing?”  the “spiritual advisor” went on for 20 minutes about her life.  She then went on to other rooms where we could hear her repeating the same things.   It’s not about you.

Lastly…the unsolicited advice letter (Krause-style) is a horrible idea.  Putting things in writing (again, unsolicited) has the same pitfalls as poorly written e-mail.  Because the person is not there to see you, your language and the tone and overall objective of the letter may not come across as you intended.  So unless you’re extremely close or have written in the past to this person, be careful.

What happened the last time you gave (or received) unwanted advice?

Five Easy Ways To Kill A Friendship

“Friends are made by many acts and lost by only one.”
– Proverbs


Homeboys through the Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall

And then there’s some we wish we never knew at all.
– “Friends” Whodini


Every time I read the newspaper (yes, I still love reading the newspaper), I’ll take a look at the “Dear Abby” column.  It’s usually right next to the comics section so I’ll give it the once-over.  A common letter to the column usually has something to do with friendships.


They usually begin like this:

Dear Abby,

My friend is always criticizing me…

My friend is always telling me I can’t do something…

I caught my friend in a lie…

You get the point.  I consider myself very fortunate to have great friends, some going all the way back to kindergarten.  When I mention this to people in conversation, some are genuinely surprised and even look at me like I was exaggerating.  Having close friends is one of life’s blessings.  Having people you know you can count on at any time is something not to be taken for granted.  On the flip side, I know people who have taken for granted and ultimately lost some great friendships.

Real friendships take time and effort.  And once a solid foundation is built, they can last a lifetime.  It’s a shame to destroy something so valuable by being careless.  Want to kill a friendship?  Here are 5 sure-fire ways:

  • Destroy Trust: I like the analogy of trust being a lot like a bank account.  The more you deposit into the account in the form of honest words and actions, the stronger the bond becomes.  As you start withdrawing from the account (by doing things like lying and being undependable), the trust balance ultimately goes to zero.  At that point, either the friendship may already be too far gone or it will take a very long time to build trust again.
  • Constantly Compete: Competition between friends is fun.  Friendly competition, that is – the kind of competition where either both of you win or have fun in the process (like a weight loss contest).  But I’m talking about another type of competition that’s destructive.  The keeping-up kind of competition that breeds jealousy and contempt.  One-Upmanship.  You buy a three-bedroom house, I buy a four-bedroom house.  You buy a new Toyota, I buy a new Lexus.  After all, you’re no better than I am.  Why shouldn’t I have the same (or better) things?  Constant competition goes hand-in-hand with comparison.
  • Compare: Similar to competition, comparisons lead to judgment and jealousy.  I fully appreciate the different personalities and gifts that each of my friends have – but it wasn’t always this way.  There were times where I would wish I could be more like some of my friends.  More cooler.  More giving.  More outgoing.  More athletic.  The problem with comparisons is they sometimes get dark and twisted.  Somehow, the “I appreciate Joe for his unselfish personality.” sentiment becomes “That Joe is such a kiss-ass. No one can be that unselfish.”  Or, “Yeah, Kevin has a good job and makes great money, but he’s fat and out of shape.”
“You want to what? That’s a STUPID idea!” Don’t be a dream killer.


  • Be A Dream Killer: Dan Miller uses the analogy of black crabs to describe people who criticize or try to crush the dreams of others.  Place a bunch of black crabs into a bucket.  One tries to escape and the other crabs inevitably attack him and pull him back down.  Consider yourself a black crab at the bottom of the bucket when a friend tells you his/her dreams, plans, or aspirations, and you say things like, “Why would you do that?” or “That will never work.” or worse, “That’s stupid.” No one likes or wants to be around a dream killer.
  • Take, Take, Take (And Never Give): Can I borrow some money?  Can I crash at your house?  Can I borrow your car?  Can you hook me up?  As occasional requests, this is exactly what friends are for.  But when you constantly treat friends like an ATM machine or 7-11 (a convenient place for cash and goods), this makes you a freeloader, not a friend.

What are some other ways that we hurt or damage our friendships?

“Whose Son Is That?” A Mother’s Day Greeting


The sweetest sounds to mortals given
 are heard in Mother, Home and Heaven.

– William Goldsmith Brown

I appreciate how you raised me, and all the extra love that you gave me.

– 2Pac, “Dear Mama”


My wife teases me because my “Mommy” does stuff for me.  She’ll cook me a favorite dish, sew a missing button, or ask if I need a shirt ironed.  I’m not alone, though.  The friends I grew up with are all “Momma’s boys” to a certain extent.  Although nowhere near to the level of Terrence Jenkins’ character in “Think Like a Man.”  If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it!  Being the baby of the family, I was both spoiled and immature.  Growing up, I embarrassed my mother numerous times.

When I was around third grade, I already learned a bunch of cuss words from the kids at school.  Even though I really didn’t know what they meant, they became part of my vocabulary.  One day I was playing with this kid Mike who lived down the street.  Remember those white colored landscaping rocks that you could draw on the sidewalk with?  Well, instead of drawing kid stuff like superheroes or spaceships, I started writing cuss words.  Don’t ask me why.  I just started writing them.  You see where this story is headed, right?  Mike’s mom came out, saw the cuss words, and before she could say anything, I knew I was in big trouble.  She started yelling at me and told me to go home.  A few hours later, she drove by our house when Mom and I happened to be outside (of course I didn’t tell Mom what happened).  She rolled down the window and screamed at my Mom, telling her I was no longer welcome at their house. (Mike’s mom even asked her what was wrong with me.)  I never saw Mike again.

This is not what my sidewalk drawing looked like.

Another time, when I was around 12, we were at some big Filipino house party.  I don’t remember what the celebration was for but it must have been special because I remember there was lechon (roasted pig) there – and a huge ham.  The ham was dressed with cherries (yes, cherries) and pineapple on toothpicks.  I proceeded to pull the toothpicks out, one-by one, eating all of the cherries and pineapple that decorated the ham.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two older Filipino ladies looking at me with disbelief and disgust.  I heard one of the ladies say in Tagalog – “Kaninong anak iyan?” – which means, “Whose son (child) is that?”  The other lady identified me as “Mary’s son.”

Unless you’re mature for your age (which I definitely was not), it can take years before you fully appreciate what your parents have done for you.  My mother toiled for years as a labeler in a Campbell Soup factory – working graveyard.  I can tell you two things immediately:

1)   I wouldn’t last a week working in any factory; and

2)   I wouldn’t last a week working graveyard.

My mother did both.  We always had the things we needed because of her hard work and sacrifice.  Along the way, I picked up her faith in God, the importance of relationships (especially family and friends), and sense of humor…along with an itch for gambling.

Sorry Mom, for having to put up with all of my embarrassing antics over the years.  Thanks for all that you have done (and still do) for us.  I love you…thanks for taking care of all of us.

To all of the Moms reading this…Happy Mother’s Day!


What’s your favorite memory of your mother?

Grease, Jabbawockeez, Archie Comic Books and Mario Lopez

How do you connect with your kids?

We recently took a family trip to Las Vegas and saw the Jabbawockeez. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, me or my daughter. (If you get a chance, check it out – it’s an awesome show.)  Seeing the Jabbawockeez reminded me of the times I would, to the horror of my daughter, show her my old-school B-boy skills by popping and waving.  You know what I’m talking about! Although it didn’t quite look like this (By the way, after seeing Breakin’ when it was released in the 1980’s, you’re lying if you say you didn’t run home and grab a broom!)…



When my daughter was younger, as cute as the Wiggles, Dora the Explorer, and Teletubbies are, it’s not as if we could sit down and find some common ground to talk about.  How much is there to say about Boots the Monkey or Tinky Winky?  As my daughter got older, we started to find some things of mutual interest:

  • Music
  • Comic Books
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Basketball

Recently, she bought Grease and Saved by the Bell t-shirts.  My wife and I kept telling her to watch Grease because High School Musical reminded us of the 70’s classic.  I mean, I saw Grease when it first came out, and I was eight; although, I completely forgot about the adult themes. (Remember Rizzo’s possible pregnancy and how about the lyrics to “Summer Nights” or “Greased Lightnin’?”)  And our daughter made the Saved by the Bell connection when we mentioned that it was Mario Lopez’s gig long before ABDC (America’s Best Dance Crew – where we discovered the Jabbawockeez).

Common Interests and Opportunities

Lately, I’ve found these connections, no matter how small, to be extremely valuable.  Long gone are the games of “Peek-a-Boo.”  She doesn’t want me to read her a bedtime story.  There are no more pretend conversations using her stuffed animals.  What I look for now are opportunities for dialogue, moments where we can interact and share a story, something funny, or even a life lesson.  It’s hard enough getting a teen to talk.  It’s much easier when the conversation is organic and comes as a result of a topic of common interest.  Here are some random examples:

  • Yes, that’s the same Lindsay Lohan from The Parent Trap.  You tell me – how do you think she went from cute child star to where she is today?
  • No, Chris Brown and Rhianna is not a good example of a loving relationship.
  • Let me tell you about the time your Uncle Anatole and I stood in line for six hours to catch the first showing of The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Yeah, Hunger Games was good but it reminded me a lot of this great movie called The Running Man.
  • One day we’ll go to Comic Con and you’ll understand what the big deal is about.
  • No, Eddie Murphy does more than just animated voices.  I don’t think you understand how big a star he was back in the day.
  • Seriously, I was on the high school football team – all four years, as a matter of fact.  No, I didn’t play all that much.
  • I know the play just started but I’m completely lost.  What is “Les Miz” about again?
  • Why would they ruin this classic song by remaking it?  This is terrible.  Come here and let me play the original for you.
In what ways do you share, teach and learn with your kids?  Here are a few others areas I’ve found helpful:
  • Favorite school subjects
  • Food
  • Volunteering
  • Hobbies
  • Musical instruments
  • Sports teams
  • Martial arts