Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Father's Day reflections - 6-24-09 Editor's Column

Over the weekend I’m sure many of us either made phone calls, sent an e-card or made our way over to our fathers’ homes for a Father’s Day honor.

In the same regard, I’m also sure many of us spent a varying amount of time trying to find that perfect gift or card for dear old dad so that we can try and show him with something he might like that we are still thinking about him and still enjoy his company.

My father, for example, is an avid motorcycle enthusiast. He goes on weekly rides with his friends and fellow bikers, takes day trips with my mother and sometimes tries to make those crazy runs that I always imagine large groups of riders going on (he was a participant in the recent Ironbutt ride that was the subject of an early-May article).

Therefore, my brother felt it would be appropriate to get him a motorcycle lift for when his two-wheeled love needs a check-up.

With the capabilities of using it with an air compressor for effortless lifting and the ability for it to lift at least 1,500 pounds, it seems that for a motorcycle lift, it is everything that he needs.

However, as I think of that last line and how my brother and I gave him something he needs, I can’t help but think about how small a motorcycle lift is for my father in comparison with the things that he has given me over the years - just like many fathers do for their children over the course of a lifetime (or at least until we move out).

When I recall my childhood and what my brother and I had and what my family had, I can’t for a moment say that I went without something that I needed. This was a testament to the hours that my parents both worked to make sure my brother and I were both taken care of.

But what about dad, you ask? Well, I recall many nights that, while my brother and I were inside sleeping or watching television, he was working on someone’s car, many times until midnight or 1 a.m. so that we could afford to go on a trip together.

I remember weeks when more often than not, he could be found working to get one of us kids a birthday gift that we had been wanting or to take care of something that needed to be done to the house that sheltered us.

We didn’t necessarily need to have the trips to places like Disney World or to different places out west to camp. We didn’t need to have a brand new bicycle or a brand new pair of name-brand jeans that were the rage at the time when our other clothes worked just fine, but he would work for those things anyway.

Even into college, my father worked to help me in my education, co-signing with me on my educational loans.

And then there are the things that money can’t buy, like life experiences and an understanding of what respect is.

Though at the time I hated them with a passion, those hours we spent splitting wood or working outside showed me what it’s like to work and earn my keep instead of having it simply handed to me.

Similarly, all the tough love that some might balk at has provided me with insight that I plan to use when I have children of my own some day. It’s easy to give in and to say “yes,” but to say “no” and to stand by those words resonates so much more, especially when you can help your children understand why.

I won’t ever be able to put into words just how grateful I am for the things I have learned from my dad, because words don’t do justice to the lessons of life - they only provide a window’s worth of perspective.

I hope that with all the fathers out there, that those of you who have a good relationship with yours can appreciate the things that your fathers did for you, as well as the things that they didn’t do for you, because they knew when to say “no.”

Though it’s belated, happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there.

Where Poverty Lives - 6-24-09 Mahomet Citizen Editorial

When looking around the town of Mahomet, no one can argue that we have a wonderful town and that many of the residents here can live comfortably. Many of us don’t have to worry about where our food comes from, nor do we have to worry about how we are going to pay our bills for the upcoming month. We are - in terms of financial and therefore socioeconomic standings - stable.

However, it is important to remember that even in an area that is seeing positive growth like Mahomet, we too are a place where poverty lives.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the 2009 poverty line in the United States is $22,050 for a family of four.

In Mahomet, where the median household income for a family in 2000 was around $61,000, as a village, Mahomet’s per capita income was approximately $22,000. Around that time, approximately 3.5% of families and 5.1% of the population were below the poverty line - which in 2000, according to Health and Human services was $17,050 - in Mahomet.

As numbers typically do, the aforementioned numbers have gone up across the nation, especially with the downturn in the economy over the course of the last couple of years.

So what does this mean? It means that we should be conscious of the village in which we live and the people that live within it. Even in the nicest of neighborhoods, there could be someone who is living off of a credit card to pay monthly bills. Even in our schools, which are considered some of the best in the state, we have children who cannot afford to eat, whether they are at school or at home.

In the book “Just Generosity” by Ronald Sider, one portion talks about the face of poverty and one of the more interesting things that I read said possessions are a poor way of determining that someone lives in poverty.

The fact that nearly every family owns a television doesn’t mean that those families each went out and bought a new television. The fact that there are people with cars doesn’t mean that cars are necessarily expensive and that each of the drivers has all of the necessary paperwork (license, insurance, registration) to actually be driving.

This topic runs much deeper than any newspaper column could ever try and show. The real problem doesn’t just sit with those who cannot afford to sustain themselves, but also with those who can do something to help out - even in a small way - and choose to ignore what is right in front of them. The truth is, if we are to ever end poverty and make a better society, we must act upon inaction.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Getting Lost in Life - 6-17-09 Editor's Column

Every now and then we find ourselves sitting at work or at home and we have one of those (what I like to call) “mini epiphanies.”

It may be the result of high amounts of stress or a prolonged stagnancy within our daily lives, or it may simply be sparked by seeing something on the street or the television. Whatever the case, we often find ourselves saying “you know, I’d like to get out of here for a while.”

But then something else happens. We start to reason with ourselves to determine what the best place to go would be or how much it is going to cost, or when we should do it and how much time we will have to take off work. We, in essence, try as hard as we can to talk ourselves out of doing it.

However, what if we stopped for a moment and simply put our ideas of perfect reasoning aside and put our feet to the pavement?

Though strange as it might feel at first, exercising our spontaneity muscles has the potential to lead to great things in life.

After all, what fun is life without those instances when we don’t know what the immediate future holds, but we’re hanging on for the ride anyway?

Every day we work our jobs, often times knowing what to expect, even if the situation is likely to be different. Many of us have our routines at home where we come home from work and, depending on the day, make a certain meal, watch a certain television show or read a certain book/magazine. We then go to bed, get up again and repeat.

Now picture yourself waking up one morning and deciding to take a three-day weekend trip to destination unknown, or deciding to try an activity that you never thought you would.

Nothing breaks the monotony of a simple routine like an unexpected surprise. In fact, many people who engage in regular irregularity in their schedules seem to find themselves enjoying life more.

By not allowing ourselves to become swallowed by our usual routines, we may find ourselves smiling more often, running into more opportunities than we would have otherwise and even enjoying our relationships with others more than we have before.

As working professionals, we owe it to ourselves to get out of the typical and start enjoying the atypical in our schedule, hopefully for the betterment of our lives.

Now, the only question becomes, what are you doing tomorrow, and how can you change that?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Disconnecting - 06-10-09 Editor's Column

By taking a simple glance around, there is no way that any of us can deny how connected we are to the rest of the world, whether by our phones, the Internet or television.

We literally have libraries of information readily available to us at all times; we have the power to call other countries with just a few button pushes; we can even complete tasks on our mobile phones that once required the use of a high-end desktop computer.

And we are content. Or are we?

It interests me to see so much connectedness in my everyday life. I have access to my email - both work and personal accounts-, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet nearly 24/7 - just on my BlackBerry alone.

However, as I look towards an impending vacation during the month of July, I have already reasoned that I will be setting aside my digital window to the outside world to experience something that I haven't in a very long while: a disconnect.

The interesting part about this to me is that I am very much looking forward to it and find myself curious about what it will be like at the same time. In a time when many smartphone users - including the President - are addicted to their "CrackBerries," and we can't walk down the street without seeing at least one person with a Bluetooth headset in either ear, I feel like I'm going to be embarking on a strange journey.

Still, I believe wholeheartedly that everyone should pursue a disconnect of some kind at some point, if only to (ironically) reestablish that connection with the real world that is often lost when we find ourselves consumed by the time we spend in the digital one.

A great example of this is a friend of mine by the name of Chris Moody. Chris decided that following his graduation from college in 2007, he would spend some time as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. However, while he did this, he would have no access to a cell phone or computer for the entire duration of his trip, which was approximately three months.

While he was away, he received mail in one to two week increments and hardly had any time to catch up on what was happening in the news unless he was sent a magazine or a newspaper.

When he came back, he said the work he had done was some of the hardest he had ever experienced. He talked of going weeks without showering and going for hours and hours with no sleep. He shared the experiences he shared with the friends he had made.

But, never once did he mention that he missed connectedness that we so often feel is necessary for everyday life.

So here I find myself wondering, will it really be that big of a deal when I leave my phone and computer more than 4,000 miles away? Or will I find myself caught up in the wonder of the world that has been right under my nose for so long?

One person who is very excited to see my BlackBerry and computer usage to take a hiatus is my wife, who often tells me I spend too much time on both on a regular basis. To that end, it is a bit disappointing to think that there are people who there who spend more time on their phones and computers than I do and to just think of the loved ones that they might be pushing away for the sake of being "in the know."

I'm sure I will have those instances where I will reach for my phone out of habit, probably with the intention of seeing who has e-mailed me or to see what's going on with my friends on Facebook, but something tells me, breaking myself of that habit for a few days may be worth more than the cost of the trip itself.

In the same regard, perhaps one of the best things we can do for ourselves, as well as the ones that we love, is take a break for a day, or a week, or a weekend, and just enjoy the here and now.

That being said, I issue this as a challenge to anyone out there that finds himself or herself spending large amounts of time on a phone or a computer to take that leap and turn the power off. If you fear you won't be able to do it (and there are people out there who won't), take the battery out and give to a friend for a while. Put it somewhere that you know you won't go looking for it for a day or two, or take a trip and leave it behind altogether.

Whatever the case, take some time away from the digital world for a while, and take the opportunity to get back to reality.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The 'Never' Children - 6-3-09 Editor's Column

Every now and then a conversation comes along that takes you back to your childhood.

For better or worse, you find yourself reminiscing about made you laugh, what made you cry, what made you nervous and what made you feel determined.

I was reminded the other day of some of those things when I spoke with a friend of mine about what it was like to be one of the “never children,” - the kids that people say will “never” do this or that, will “never” achieve this or “never” amount to that.

She and I came to two conclusions during this conversation: 1. That Mahomet has too many “never” kids and 2. That it is our duty to encourage those children who hear and often believe the “nevers” that swirl around their ears.

First of all, any town that has even one child that is looked upon as one that will “never” do anything has too many “never” kids. Yet, we let things like the socioeconomic climate of our town affect the way that we see potential.

For example, when I was in school, Candlewood Estates was considered a poor area, and by way of association, kids that grew up there - some of them my friends - were designated “never” kids.
However, as a bit of news to those who don’t know it, the poor don’t just live in Candlewood - they live everywhere in Mahomet. On the same token, poor doesn’t mean stupid, nor does privileged mean smart.

All that matters is that our youth - no matter where they live - are encouraged to be great. That’s it. Just be encouraging.

That brings me to the second point: We, as responsible adults, hold an important key to the future of our youth in the simple affirmations, accolades and encouragement that we provide them.

Think of the kids that find themselves getting into trouble at young ages. It’s easy to say that those kids are just bad eggs, but what about taking a step back and considering their home lives?
I know that a huge part of who I am today is because of the encouragement that I had from my family and friends.

Having dealt with depression while I was in school, I know what it’s like to be one of those “never” kids, but my parents and my friends were there for me and helped me see that I could do great things, just like you can help someone else see that he or she can do great things.

Getting back to the conversation I had with my friend, she said that we always remember two people in life, “you remember the people who were bad to you and you remember the people who encouraged you.” Which one do you want to be remembered as?