Joe Thomas: Unsung Legend

Joe Thomas, NFL offensive lineman, recently completed his tenth professional season–all have been with the Cleveland Browns. In those ten seasons, Thomas has been named to the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s version of an all-star game, all ten seasons. With that type of consistency at a position that serves as a jumpstart for any offensive attack, one might imagine great success for the franchise. However, only one of those seasons has yielded a winning record for the Browns, and for the duration of the past decade, they have produced a feeble record of 48-112.

Let that sink in for a moment. 48-112 equates to a winning percentage of exactly .300, a career batting average that would land any major league baseball player in the Cooperstown Hall of Fame–but for the Brown’s, the only hall-worthy hope has been sustained by the play of Thomas. And yet if you asked most people what they know of Cleveland and its sporting prowess, they are likely to rattle off names like Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Tris Speaker, Bob Feller, and LeBron James. But what about arguably the most loyal and undeniably highly productive Thomas? After all, he has stayed with the franchise through six different coaches, and of the Browns’ 26 starting quarterbacks since 1999, Thomas has seen a bulk of them rise and crumble under the seemingly cursed role. Still, Thomas, a rare breed of talent with a superstar resume, has elected time and time again to remain a Cleveland Brown.

48-112. I would have left early in my NFL tenure if I were Thomas, but as he said with great conviction in a October 2016 interview with Dan Labbe, “…my mission is not yet complete here” (Cleveland.com). He is referencing the movement to help create a winning team and culture in Cleveland, and he desperately wants to be a part of that–however long it may take. I guess what resonates with me is his loyalty through relatively tough times. He has seen multiple former teammates move on to other teams and achieve great success, but he has stayed true to the team that placed enough confidence in his abilities to make him the overall number three draft pick in his class–an honor reserved for few. In a way, he is the franchise, and in a way, he exists outside of its recent disrepair and turmoil.

Among the myriad of ways that the Cleveland Browns and Joe Thomas’ role within the franchise can be interpreted, I do know one thing: I want to look back on my life and be able to say that I stayed true to my values and loyal to my family, especially amid troublesome times that challenged our resolve. He may not have the legacy or fame of Jim Brown or LeBron James, but Joe Thomas is unequivocally one of Cleveland’s greatest unsung legends.

Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.

-Euripides 

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Fantasy Sports: Fun and Ridiculous

My recent posts have been of a more serious nature–placing politics, human emotion, parenthood, and important life experiences at the center of my work. Today; however, I wish to lighten the tone. As you may tire from reading earnest and intense accounts of great moral conviction and hope, I too tire from writing them (for now). Sometimes, I just need to write about the most trivial of things. Today, that thing is fantasy sports.

After only a few weeks of partaking in my first fantasy sports league, I was hooked. Like many of my friends, I salivated at the idea of constructing a team of superhero athletes able to perform feats that leave the rest of us astonished and begging for more. After all, watching an out-of-market NFL game is far more interesting when you need that team’s number two receiver to score a touchdown and accrue 30 plus yards to win that week’s matchup. Or sometimes you just need a defensive stop, turnover, or field goal. However you look at it, fantasy sports have changed the landscape of how many view, internalize, and value the entertainment. Frankly, it’s ridiculous–and that’s exactly why I love it.

My wife thinks I am crazy–and that truth spans far beyond the mere reach of fantasy football or other sports, but my desire to trash talk my buddies while watching something that none of us have control over has a child like quality that is indescribable and fun in nature. Take last year for example. I needed David Johnson to score 30 points or more to win a matchup, and while it was not impossible, it was highly improbable. Even though Johnson was emerging as an elite back, it was still unlikely. Would he turn in a 100 plus yard performance and 1-2 touchdowns? Maybe. But if you know anything about the point scales of fantasy football, and this league is not PPR, then you recognize the challenge this presented. Needless to say, my opponent unleashed loads of trash talk prior to the game, and I would have done the exact same. But the reason that fantasy sports is so fun, among many, is the unpredictable nature–at least in the eyes of the common man who knows not the algorithms that seem to make a few regulars highly profitable on sites like FanDuels. I had to listen to my opponent say things like, “Hey, great job. You’ll only lose by 20 or so.” Or, “Too bad you didn’t start half your bench.” And again, I reiterate, I would have done the same thing. But that night, Johnson went off for 187 yards rushing, 42 yards receiving, and 3 rushing touchdowns. In my league, where 100 plus yard efforts yield two extra points, this night turned out 42 points for Johnson and a victory for my fantasy squad. But what came next is what really made the evening fun for me.

Memes. Memes are Internet gold. At this point, Johnson had sealed the victory for me and I had stopped receiving text messages from my opponent. The group thread that all of the league members had been frequenting seemed to cease–the week of football was over and we needed to consider bigger picture items before next week’s antics began. But I couldn’t wait that long. It was now my turn to talk trash, so I turned to a meme generator app and found a nice picture of David Johnson smiling at the camera. I added the text, “That feeling when you think David Johnson can’t possibly beat you…and then he hangs 42 on you.” The group chat had a nice time with this message.

So while I will never grace the mound of a major league stadium or throw a game-winning touchdown, I will always be able to build teams, make trades, and create unsupported, convoluted, immature, and childish arguments before, during, and sometimes after a friendly matchup. Fantasy sports has given me a ridiculous outlet that I so enjoy–one that makes every game meaningful in the most meaningless of ways. Go team.

All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?

-Carl Jung

Millennials, Dreams, and the Bigger Picture

Last Friday, January 20, Harlan Hill, described in an Editor’s Note as a startup founder and political consultant, published an opinion articled entitled “What Millennials Want from Donald Trump” for CNN’s web based media: (What millennials want…). Before offering direction for this piece, I am inclined to suggest that I frequently visit the opinion section of most online or print medium because I find the writing to be more authentic, raw, and personal than other areas of focus, and Hill’s work was no exception. I find it impressive for one to draft a piece that explores personal opinion while also maintaining journalistic integrity and teetering appropriately the line of bias that any work worth its salt strives to do. In a way, this post is a response to his work–in a way, this is also a reflection of my own.

As a man of 31, I fall on the edge of millennial status–and even that is controversial depending on which definition you might find when perusing the Internet. Nevertheless, I graduated college in 2009, experienced the challenges of attempting to establish a career that utilizes my degree amid economic angst, and worked diligently with my wife and we found some luck along the way that allowed us to buy a home and consider having children. Still, as Hill points out in his article with regularity and in various ways, “…many American millennials have delayed major life milestones simply because we can’t afford them.” For greater context, he says “we” due to his own age–26. He defines some of these milestones as purchasing a home, getting married, and having children–and having the economic means to afford these achievements if desired. Still, despite recognizing some of the realities presented within his argument, I was drawn to one of his closing statements that I am inclined to disagree with. In way of offering advice to Trump, Hill stated:

…don’t get bogged down in the distraction of social issues. Millennials don’t care who wants to get married. Millennials don’t want government telling women what to do with their bodies. Millennials just want an economy that works for us again. If Trump can pull it off, millennials — and the parents of millennials still living at home — will support Trump in record numbers come 2020.

I was on board or at least understanding of Hill’s thoughts until he penned the aforementioned advice–and maybe that was his intent. Any writer willing to incite controversy and debate is alright in my book. And in this case, I have to debate his notion that millennials don’t care about who wants to get married, what government attempts to tell women to do with their bodies, or anything of the sort that calls into play social issues that demand us to call on and develop our courage and compassion as human beings. Yet it has taken me time to get to this point of affirmative thought and consequent action. For a long time, I felt that if I said that I had no objections to lifestyles different than mine, then I was to be seen as taking a moral high ground or stance. My tolerance was a way of remaining neutral and even admirable in some circles–right? But in fact, I was taking no stance, and this was a truth difficult to understand and reconcile when for the entirety of my life I had benefitted from leading a somewhat common and unimpeded life. But today–today I think differently. Today I cannot agree with Hill’s sentiment–one which only a few years ago I might well have. And despite the fact that I think he meant to be relatable and benign in his commentary, I believe that tossing around social issues that affect individuals and communities like paper airplanes still leave some of us with paper cuts–an analogy that I know does not do justice to the magnitude of this topic. We have to stand firm and address the inequities of our time, for while benign commentary may not seek to hurt, it also does nothing to address the malignancy of a world in need of repair. Still, I appreciate Hill’s stance despite disagreeing, for he has opened a dialogue and left room for my thought to develop and expand.

The dream for millennials is no different than it was and is for members of other generations. The world around us has shifted, but that is not exclusive to a group or subgroup. In fact, it is inclusive to any person that desires anything–albeit a first home, a new car, funds for an engagement ring, or any other measure of personally or societally defined success that one deems important. Yes, the country’s economy shifts–this is an inevitability that most people have little control over, and that is simultaneously exactly why we should pay attention to it and worry less about it. This conclusion is not to suggest a call for financial or social irresponsibility–far from it. It is a call to pay attention to and work diligently toward the betterment of what is within our control. For some of us, that is the state of the economy. For many others, we, millennials and members of all generations, can have strong opinions and actions regarding social issues that concern our very being and way of living together. We can promote fairness and humane treatment of all people, regardless of differences. Yet if we fail to establish and develop these less tangible traits, it might be hard to smile amid any type of economy if its people have become increasingly apathetic toward social concerns.

We need more kindness, more compassion, more joy, more laughter. I definitely want to contribute to that.

-Ellen DeGeneres

The Greatest Song in the World

via Discover Challenge: The Greatest Song in the World

My soul has always been deeply affected and moved passionately by the rhythm and lyrics of poets, songwriters, and performers. As a young child, I vividly recall sitting next to my father while he sipped on mysterious cocktails that sustained my curiosity as much as his stories. And in the background? Billy Joel, Elton John, Harry Chapin, Don McLean, and others of sort. Pangs of “Piano Man” resonated in my being as I memorized the words that my father hummed as we spoke about baseball, school, and everything in between. Little did I know that this very song, with its harmonic and melodious tempo, would find its way of inserting itself back into my life in the most ambiguous ways.

Jumping forward some years, when only sixteen, I found my dad’s presence as noticeable as it had ever been during our late night discussions at the bar in our two-story, suburban home. Only this time, we weren’t discussing baseball, school, or anything of the sort. This time, we were having a mid-day meeting, and this time, I was no longer granted the invincibility that children so often cling to–that day, we met over sobering news. On that day, he held me close as oncologists at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children informed our family that I had somehow developed cancer and would require immediate surgery to remove a fast-growing tumor. In the moment, “Piano Man” and its mystical presence seemed all but forgotten.

Fast forward a few days, a few surgeries, and few buckets of tears. Now, daunted by a challenge unforeseen and equally unwelcome, I turned to music. I consumed inspiration and hope through my Sony handheld compact disc player, and I hid emotions within the walls of the headphones that protected me from the reality of uncertain times. I grew stronger and more courageous by the words of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” gave me enough to contemplate that I could find distraction before depression found me. But nothing compared to “Piano Man.” Nothing reminded me of my innocence and the wealth of support that stood by me, ready to pounce on command like a pack of wolves. Nothing screamed loyalty, love, and hope like Billy Joel’s classic hit. For all intents and purposes, I learned that my dad was, and is, my piano man. He was and is in my life to cheer proudly of my victories, to question my decisions at times, to guide but not steer me, and to help hold down the door when the wolf comes hungry.

You see, the “Piano Man” is someone that we all know–they are that person that undeniably, even at times unreasonably, has impenetrable determination to protect you and help you grow in ways that you did not know were possible. For as much as I turned to celebrity songwriters, authors, sports figures, and friends for support, it was my dad and my family that held me during seizures, dialed 911, stood helpless outside ICU doors as I coded, brought pizza to my bedside only to watch me grimace at the smell of tomato due to the impact of chemotherapy, and held true to their own responsibilities without once letting me know. They gave me everything I would ever need to survive in those four months of treatment. They taught me more of character than any workshop every could, and they did it because they loved me then as they love me now.

As I recovered and grew into my young adult life, I heard the sweet sounds of “Piano Man” at the most interesting of times: on the radio after leaving the Christening of my godson, while driving to my final knee rehabilitation appointment, hours after turning 21 at a local bar, and on countless other occasions. I am not a conspiracy theorist–far from it. Instead, I am a meaning seeker. I try with extraordinary will to process everything a moment has to offer, and while some seem more inconsequential than others, one stands alone.

When I married my beautiful wife, I had the privilege of being in the same room as all of the people that had shared life with us, and few were as important to me that day as my father. Like I said, he’s my piano man. And as the evening unfolded, and as we now shared that mysterious drink that I once saw him consume in the comfort of my childhood home, “Piano Man” came over the room. I was quickly filled with raw emotion as many of our friends lifted me over their shoulders, turning me quickly to face the opposing side of the room. Across from me and on the shoulders of more friends stood my wife, and around us a circle formed. It was nothing short of symbolic. Hours later, as festivities dwindled, I recounted the event with my childhood best friend, and we laughed in amazement at the seemingly choreographed moment that transcended any differences present that night.

It is only now, nearly six years later, that I feel the power of that moment in indescribable ways. It is only now, years removed from childhood, that I stand on the verge of parenthood. In weeks, maybe even days, I will become a father. I only hope that I might one day be that child’s piano man.

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.

-Sigmund Freud

 

My “Politics”

politics2x

I have never drafted anything that decisively addresses the topic of politics, and depending on how you choose to look at and think of the state of our world, my timing couldn’t be more interesting. I am admittedly and until now somewhat purposefully inexperienced when it comes to discussing or debating politics, and so as I take more time to educate myself, I will stick first to establishing my concerns and beliefs–ironically both products of my education. So this post will not serve as a sounding board to offer opinion on current political figures and policy; instead, this entry will examine and outline the emergence of my own politics. In some way, I view this as the premise for my understanding of others and politics at large. Now, if I sound a bit Romantic, philosophical, or ambiguous in my words, let it be known that much of my sociopolitical development has long been influenced by ancient philosophers, Transcendentalist thinkers, and Civil Rights Movement leaders of the mid-twentieth century.

Perhaps I am more interested now than ever in our world’s political well-being because I now find myself more invested in life than ever before. If you read my blog entry from yesterday, then this comment may come with little surprise. Yet despite the immense undertaking of thought that I am intentionally undergoing, I am inclined to believe that a process of maturation that shifts a man’s concern beyond his own being to that of his family, community, country, and therefore world is an inevitable force that captures any and all that actively seek growth. Sometimes we know not our intentions until they present themselves with undeniable and inescapable fervor. This phenomenon has proven to show itself in the form of understanding myself, how I wish to live, and how that may impact my community and those beyond my immediate reach. And therein possibly lies the premise for any political understanding, as politics itself is defined in most dictionaries along these lines: The activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. Take a moment to digest that. As a language educator, I am immediately drawn to the words “governance,” “debate,” “conflict,” and “power” (among others). Moreover, I am compelled to recognize their most obvious common denominator: people.

And what is at the heart of people? Among many possible answers, I find the individual. And at the heart of the individual exists the fundamental truth that most young adults have likely heard in various forms: It’s hard to affect change beyond yourself if you are unwilling to affect change amid your own life. In considering this thought, the teacher in me quickly races to themes of credibility and personal responsibility. Would Romantics far and wide have followed Emerson and Thoreau had they not challenged the Age of Reason and industrialization? Would oppressed minorities and even some oppressors and white moderates have followed or been swayed by the words and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr. had he not literally stood on the front lines of protests with great courage and demands? So will my family, community, and places far reaching look upon me with favor and admiration should I not embody what I know to be right and just? This is what I think of when I think of the aforementioned terms that help define “politics,” for my politics consider my ability to govern my life, engage in healthy debate, invite, embrace, and resolve conflict, and do everything in my power to empower myself and those around me. While all of my ramblings may defy what you expected to read when politics made today’s headline, I cannot help but recognize the inherent nature whereby man must know and grow his own soul should he wish to help others do the same. This brings me to family.

How is it that my wife and I will govern our home? How will we demonstrate and promote growth and fairness? These, among so many others, are questions that I believe any person must wrestle with. These ideas are not new in nature, but I believe they reveal themselves at various and different points in life for all people, and perhaps more importantly, they likely mean vastly different things to every single person–and that is fine.

I cannot yet–or maybe ever–define my politics as they may relate to those mainstream. I have long hesitated to do so, but as I grow, I find myself less hesitant to confront that which bears confrontation. And that which needs confronting, as much as anything else, is how we build ourselves so that we may help build others. Maybe the greatest thoughts we have endure, evolve, and find no better way of existing than to challenge everything we think we know.

I hope that this reflection made some sense and resembled cohesive thought in some way, shape, or form. Like so many other things, examining my thoughts has left me with more questions than assertions. And maybe, as any writer hopes for, I’ve left you with room to challenge mine and consider your own.

A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

-Mark Twain

On Becoming a Father

fatherhood-brain-ft

A few weeks ago I held my youngest nephew, Connor, and I experienced a feeling of fierce and loyal love–a feeling that I am convinced we experience in times of great transformation and trial. As I held him, I looked at my 34-week pregnant wife, and for the first time, I felt and sensed a glimpse of what our future would soon hold. I remember then passing Connor back to his father and feeling completely blown away and ready to step into parenthood. Yet the truth is likely more harrowing than sheer excitement and giddy anticipation. The truth is sure to be harder than the joy of holding a newborn. The truth is sure to test our patience and resolve.

Our child is about to arrive in a fragile, seven or eight pound frame that we will want to protect, shower with love, and help in every way possible. And for a while, life will probably exist of many days that call on our abilities and perseverance to do just that. Life will likely feel like and mimic the building of a foundation–a great push to provide necessary circumstances and environments to foster growth and withstand pain. And with each passing day, we will teach our child and prepare them for the greater world–one where our patience, protection, love, and loyalty will still be needed, but they will also be capable of demonstrating and living into such qualities–that is the hope. It will be an experience like no other, and as I can try my best to visualize what life will look like in the coming decades, the events of ages past have often proven to challenge many of man’s preconceived notions or plans –and with that, I am forced to consider Mike Tyson’s famous line, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.” Somehow, these words force me to contemplate my responsibilities as an educator.

In the classroom, I am forced to constantly adapt to the punches that attempt to derail even my greatest strategies and intentions. And while I am wise to plan, I am wiser to consider how such plans might unravel and what I may be left with to resolve, rebuild, or altogether scrap in order to start over. That is one way that I view parenthood as I sit on its cusp and express inquiry, joy, and admittedly a healthy dose of “What the hell is this going to be like and how will I ever prepare?!?” As these thoughts pace through my mind with little caution and great rapidity, I revisit the notion of hope, though not as it pertains to what our child may become. Instead, I think of hope as the great equalizer.

Despite socioeconomic circumstances and life challenges, one can only rob their own being of hope. And yes, amid a landscape of social injustice and sociopolitical upheaval that our country finds itself coping with today as a result of our flawed nature and dissonance, I recognize that opportunity is viewed and experienced as relative. Yet still, I have seen men and women of great advantage plummet to unforeseeable depths just as quickly as I have witnessed others from adverse conditions rise and capitalize–and with the myriad of details inherent to these admittedly broad sweeping examples that for the sake of focus I wish not to expand upon at this time, I pray that themes central to our child’s development are not lost in a shuffle that may cloud judgement or overshadow the constant need for love, loyalty, and patience.

Now, as I reflect on the challenges and opportunities that have allowed my wife and I to build our own foundation that has best readied us for the joys and tribulations of parenthood, I find myself listening to “Cat’s in the Cradle” time and time again, and like reading a book at various stages in life can offer new discovery, so can the rhythm and language of Chapin’s fabled song that tells the story of a father proud to have provided for his son and family but later regretful that he did not give his son enough of the greatest commodity of all: time. It almost serves as a precautionary tale that challenges the fabric of our complex culture: provide all that you can and simultaneously devote all of the time that you can to your family–a task that I know only from a distance at this stage in my life.

Considering my ramblings and the past nine months of contemplation, I hope more than anything to demonstrate the strength, courage, wisdom, love, loyalty, humility, and perseverance necessary to teach my child, listen to my child, and raise my child in a way that makes them proud to call me their father. After all, a great truth that I have learned from teaching over the past eight years is as simple as it is hard: being extraordinary begins with being present. Fears of inadequacy that man lets creep into his mind and way of life can quickly be erased when he simply steps into the light and allows it to display all of his wonderful being–cracks included.  So let the juggling act begin–I am as ready to fail as I am to learn and grow.