Brothers . . .

Family relationships are weird.  I have observed before that sometimes we treat complete strangers better than we do people we are related to and, presumably, have some level of affection for.  My younger sons Charlie and Elijah push the limits of fraternal relationships.  They will fight like demons over ownership of a months-old Happy Meal toy found between the car seat cushions and have epic shouting matches over who gets to look out of what window.  Lately I have seen examples of two kids just being mean to each other for no particular reason.  I have been worried about them and their relationship and their bond.  Turns out I shouldn’t have been worried.

Yesterday Charlie and Elijah came home from school.  Charlie came through the back door yelling for his mother.  That is unusual because normally they come through the door begging for food and explaining how hard the walk from the bus stop was without proper supplies.   Elijah was quiet as he came in the house.  Quiet Elijah is unusual just because.

I indicated that I was downstairs and Charlie came stomping.  His face was tear-streaked.  Between sobs he explained how he and his best friend (we will call him Bob) had a huge fight that culminated in words that would be very, very hard to take back.  He was crushed.  All five-feet five inches and 175 pounds of Charlie climbed into my lap.  He sobbed uncontrollably as he recounted how his friend had angrily grabbed and stomped on his backpack.  Eli sat in a lounge chair in our man-cave and looked sadly at his brother.

I held Charlie close.  I wasn’t sure what to say or do so I just held him . . . as best I can hold somebody who is basically my size and sitting in my lap.  I tried to listen and calm him down.  I wanted to tell him that it would be ok and that it wasn’t as bad as he thought but I know how much I appreciate my emotions being mitigated when I am really upset.  So I just held him.

I looked up and Elijah was standing next to us.  “Charlie?,” he asked softly.  “Is it ok if I hug you?”  At 11 years old, hugs from his little brother aren’t Charlie’s favorite.  I waited to see what he would do.  Between sobs Charlie reached out and embraced Elijah.  “I’m sorry he was so mean to you, Charlie,” he said.  “I am sorry you are so sad.”  From somewhere in the pile of Charlie came a mumbled ‘thank you’.   After several minutes of hugs the sobs quieted.  I asked Charlie if he wanted to take a snack up to his room.  His recovery became more advanced at the thought of a sugar cookie or two.  We went to the kitchen.

Sad Charlie took his snack and iPad up to his room.  I looked around for Elijah.  I found him sitting next to the door putting on his shoes and jacket.  “Are you going to play outside, buddy?” I asked.  “It’s kind of cold.”

“No,” he answered.  “I am going to Bob’s house.”

I immediately assumed the side-eye position.  This couldn’t be good.  “Why?” I asked.

“I’m gonna beat him up,” he said with a straight face.

I tried not to smile as I looked down at my little sack of hair and sincerity.  “Do you think that is a good idea?”

He nodded gravely.  “He made Charlie sad,” Eli told me.  “And I’m gonna whoop his ass.”

Ever have that moment when you fully realize that what your child says and intends is inappropriate, but you still want to laugh out loud anyway.  Yeah . . . like this moment.  I fought for control.  He was serious and sincere and as committed as a 6-year-old can be.  But the way his voice dropped an octave or two on the word ‘whoop’ was adorable.

NOTE:  I would like my readers to understand that ‘whoop his ass’ is not now nor has it ever been a phrase that is uttered in our house.  I blame the media.

I picked him up and sat him on my lap.  He hugged me tightly as I explained he couldn’t go to Bob’s house and whoop anything.  Charlie would have to handle this his way.  Even though it isn’t appropriate to ‘whoop’ a person’s ass . . . or anything else . . . I was proud of him for wanting to help his brother.

“I love my Charlie,” he explained.  “I don’t like to see him sad.”

I worked hard to keep my melting heart in my chest.  In his way, Eli looks out for Charlie.  Charlie works hard to develop his cognitive processing functions and executive functions.  Social relationships can be tough for him.  Simple tasks like following instructions or even remembering to pick up clothes on the floor or toys in the living room can be hard. That is not a problem that Charlie owns alone to be sure, but those type of things tend to be tough for him.  Eli will frequently help Charlie out when he thinks nobody is looking.  Don’t get me wrong, he will still happily fling his brother under any convenient bus, but sometimes Elijah helps him out as well.

I held Elijah and remembered a very similar situation that happened when I was about 10. It was during recess at Morton Elementary School in Hastings, Nebraska.  I was on the play ground being harassed by another kid.  I remember his name, but that’s not important.  This kid was much smaller than I was, but he had several brothers who were all older and bigger.  This group of kids were not  . . . shall we say . . . great scholars . . . so they were all bigger and older than typical elementary students.  My antagonist would not have dared pick on me under normal circumstances, but with the protection of his older siblings he was simply tolerated.

At some point this kid physically pushed me.  Suddenly his world erupted into a blur of sandy hair, flashing Converse sneakers and brown and blue Bobby-Brady-striped shirt.  The kid was lying in a pile of gravel under the Jungle Gym with another smaller kid going all spider monkey on him.  My antagonist was shrieking as a tornado in patched jeans lit him up.

It took me a split second to realize that my little brother Randal had come running from the little kid play ground and dealt some justice to the kid he saw giving me a hard time.  I pulled Randal off and made sure he wasn’t hurt.

“LET ME GO! LET ME GO!” he yelled.

“It’s over . . . It’s over,” I told my brother.  “It’s okay.”

I looked down at my little berserker.  He and I fought like wildcats and sometimes we hated that we were breathing each other’s air . . . but he ran across a school lot for me.  He seemed a little less dorky.

My antagonist announced loudly that he would tell his brothers and we would be sorry.  I couldn’t have cared less at the moment.  His brothers weren’t that hard to deal with.  I smiled.  “When you tell them,” I called after him.  “Make sure you tell them a 7-year-old kicked your butt.”

He stopped and pondered for a minute.  Then he went to the monkey bars.

I told Eli the story about his uncle and the playground.  He laughed.  He explained again that Bob was mean to Charlie.  I asked some questions about the role that Charlie played in the situation.  He didn’t know specifics because he didn’t see everything.  I wasn’t surprised.  Eli was only interested in Charlie’s feelings.  Nothing else mattered.

As the day went on, more information came to light.  My wife talked to the other boy’s mother and more information was shared.  After awhile it was pretty clear it was a bid misunderstanding wrapped in 11-year-old perspectives.  Things will be alright.

This morning there was the typical yelling and arguing that is typical on a school day at our house.  Somebody looked at somebody else’s breakfast or something.  Things are back to normal.  But I understand my sons better than I did before.  Last night before Elijah went upstairs to bed I saw Charlie hug him.  I wasn’t supposed to see because . . . well that wouldn’t be very cool.  But I saw.  They will fine, I just need to trust them a little more.  They will take care of each other.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll see you again soon on This Side of the Diaper.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hair today . . .

Curt Hair

I got a haircut today.  Haircuts are not nearly the big deal they used to be back in the day . . . they don’t take nearly as long either.  Today the discussion about what to do with my remaining hair and the reminiscing about the hair of yesterday takes longer than the actual haircut.

Today I was in and out in about 25 minutes . . . that’s with a wash and blow dry.  Ah but back in the day it took 25 minutes just for the stylists to get their minds around the magnificence pictured here.  Hair like that, my friends, didn’t happen by accident . . . it took work and skill to bring that ‘do’ together.  The look you see in the this picture is from late 1981 or early 1982 . . . I can’t recall because hair quantity isn’t the only thing that diminishes with age . . . it’s not the first either.  Regardless, I stepped away from a 90 minute session and went straight to the photographer so it could be captured for posterity. Take a minute to just take it all in if you need to . . . we can wait.

After high school my hair magnificence was briefly stymied by pesky Air Force grooming standards.  The blow dry ‘Bee-Gees’ look was most decidedly not appropriate for the next 25 years or so . . . but that didn’t mean that a brother couldn’t work a little hair magic.  For the first several years I stayed low key . . . I kept it well-trimmed with a conservative side-part.  But I couldn’t keep it corralled for long.  Air Force Regulation 35-10 placed clear rules on hair grooming.  At least it was AFR 35-10 when I enlisted.  Then they changed it to Air Force Instruction something or other because the AFR system worked way too efficiently to survive the bureaucracy.  The regulation set limits, but there was some wiggle room available. I wiggled right in.

I embraced the 90’s completely and went sideburn-less.  Then I started letting it grow a bit and started combing it back more than to the side.  At this point my hairline started a gradual retreat.  We were holding our own, but our lines kept moving back a little at a time.  By the turn of the century . . . I love using that term . . . I had a pretty decent look going.  It was a bit ‘TV Evangelist’ but it worked for me.  The picture here is from our engagement picture.  That is why there is hair near my face.  That belongs to my wife.  She has awesome hair, but that is another blog post.

Curt Hair 4

It kind went down hill from here.  Haircuts aren’t so much fun any more.  Before I new just what I wanted . . . now it is a bit of a crap shoot.  I refuse to do a combover so I am embracing that thin spot in the back.  In the meantime I seem to be growing forehead at an alarming rate.

I have discovered a new truth.  When you have good hair, stylists . . . or barbers as I call them now . . . will listen to you when you tell them how to cut your hair.  Now . . . they just look at me with sympathy.  The result is I end up with different methods of ‘helping’ me with my hair issue.  One barber simply shaved off the bottom inch of my widow’s peak . . . seriously.  It was fun watching people try not to look at the razor stubble growing on my forehead  . . . or my fivehead as my oldest son calls it now.  Fivehead . . . get it?  Like five is more than four because my forehead is big.  Get it?

For the last few years barbers have insisted on leaving the hair on top disproportionately longer than the hair on the sides.  I know it is supposed to be a bit longer, but they leave it much longer.  I know why.  Even though I tell them I am anti-combover, they are  . . . you know . . . just leaving the combover material there . . . just in case . . . you know . . . I want to look like a tool.  That’s fine except after a week or two the hair on top gets really long and I wake up with a sleep fringe down the middle of my head.  It sticks straight up with little curls on the end.  The best part of that is when my six year old wakes me up by pulling on it and giggling.  He then calls me ‘rooster’ and runs around crowing at me.  That is splendid.

So today I had a frank heart-to-heart with a new stylist.  We talked about the past and I told her about the hair of old.  She nodded sympathetically and looked at what time and genetics has left me.  My new haircut doesn’t have the magnificence of the blow dried, feathered, sprayed and brushed Bee-Gees cut, but it looks pretty good for a guy just trying not to look like a rooster in the morning.  The upside is that I can recreate this look in just a few moments in the morning . . . not so much with the old look.   That took a lot of time and fluorocarbons to bring to life.  That look fit me back then . . . this one fits now.

I don’t fight the hair battle as much as I just manage it.  I briefly mourn the losses each morning in the bottom the shower as more hair gets a burial at sea.  Then I rejoice with the survivors.  We take it day to day, along with the waistline battle and the creaky joints battle.  My boys like to give me a hard time about my thinning hair.  I just have to smile . . . one day they will wake up and wonder what happened to all their hair . . . and why their children are making rooster noises.

Thanks for reading and reminiscing with me.  We’ll talk again on This Side of the Diaper.  Please share TSOTD as Facebook doesn’t always send it to all of my friends and followers.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

They’re Just Kids

I coached my first youth football game in over 30 years this past weekend.  It was great until we had to call an ambulance.

I semi-reluctantly volunteered to be a coach on Charlie’s youth football team this past year.  I have coached quite a bit in my life, but not much football.  That is ironic seeing as football played an important role in my early life.

My reluctance melted away quickly as the practices progressed.  It was rejuvenating to be around kids and football.  It was even better to spend time with Charlie close and Eli across the field with his team.

Our first game started auspiciously with our offense working smoothly and efficiently and our defense smothering the other team.  I watched with pride and satisfaction as our boys executed their plays and responsibilities smoothly.  As a youth coach I have never been overly concerned with wins and losses.  They are meaningful, of course, but I measure progress on how much our teams learns and how well it is applied.

Our first challenge came when our quarterback came off the field holding his shoulder.  He was in tears.  A quick look told us that it wasn’t serious, but he was going to be out for awhile.  As coaches, we try to get players to understand the difference between ‘hurt’ and ‘injured’.  ‘Hurt’ is something that will stop hurting soon.  Football is full of hurts.  ‘Injured’ is something that won’t stop hurting without medical attention.  The problem with this idea of ‘hurt’ and ‘injured’ is that even full grown men sometimes don’t know the difference or will lie to you.  Eleven-year-olds can’t tell the difference most of the time and it simply isn’t their job to decide.  Our quarterback sat until he could demonstrate to the coaches, and more importantly his mother, that he was not injured.  I told her that I didn’t think it was serious, but it was her call as to whether he reentered the game.

I coach the defense specifically and as the half wore on I moved kids around and changed schemes like a chess master.  I moved pieces around the board and we were wildly successful.  Then one of our players didn’t get up.

I knew it was bad when I saw it.  We were on offense.  We had struggled a little after our quarterback went out, but our backup got settled and things were going our way.  He handed it off to our running back and he burst through the line.  This particular young man runs hard.  He does everything hard.  You can’t ‘kind of’ tackle this kid.  He has to be completely tackled.  He broke tackles in the secondary and had tacklers hanging on him as he went down.  He was fighting for yards and made a last step with his left foot on his way down.  His leg folded under him awkwardly.

I was on my way out to him before the pile got up.  His father, who is also a coach, got there first.  Remember earlier what I was saying about ‘hurt’ and ‘injured’?  There was no question that something was very wrong.  He was laying kind of on his back and kind of on his right side.  His left hip bulged unnaturally and he was telling his Dad that “it popped.” He screamed when any effort at all was made to move him or examine the injury.  My wife said they could clearly hear him in the stands.

In an instant he stopped being a football player and became a terrified kid.  I looked up. The field was full of them.  I looked around and they were all scared kids. They were used to players getting hurt.  This was different and they knew it.

All of our coaches and many parents have some level of first aid training . . . but this was way out of our league.  In the military I learned to treat a sucking chest wound with my ID card, but that wasn’t going to help.  I also learned in first aid training to immediately call for help when necessary.  I looked at the kid’s Dad.  “We’re going to need help on this ,” I said as low as I could.  I didn’t want to scare the boy anymore than was necessary.  “Let me call an ambulance.”  He looked at me for a few moments.  He was holding his son’s hand.  “Absolutely,” he said.  “Call an ambulance.”

Another coach grabbed his phone and dialed.  I stood up and looked around.  The kids on our bench were wide eyed.  Some were in tears, though now they would never admit it.  Charlie took a few steps away from the team toward the huddle on the field.  “Hang in there man!” he yelled.  “We got you buddy!”  He is a team captain and he acted like one.   “Everybody on the sideline,” he ordered.  “Take a knee.”  Just one more reason to be proud of Charlie.

The field isn’t far from our hospital and soon sirens sounded in the distance.  The effect of the sirens on a youth sports field is sobering.  The sound confirms that something that started very, very good took a bad turn.  It’s sad any time, but it is especially sad when kids are involved.

I walked back and knelt beside the young man.  “Hey, I need to talk to you,” I said with seriousness.  He looked up and me through his tears and nodded.  “What kind of music do you like?” I asked.  He looked at me like I had two heads.


I didn’t crack a smile.  “The ambulance driver called back and they wanted to know what music you like so they can play it on the ride to the hospital . . . I don’t know . . . I think it’s some kind of customer service thing . . . but whatever . . . . what music do you like?”

He blinked at me.

“Well, I didn’t know so I guessed,” I told him while still staying serious.  “I figured since you and I are so tight . . . you know . . . you’re my boy and all . . . that you probably liked the same music as me.”

He blinked again.

“So I told him to go with Classic Country  . . . George Strait . . . George Jones . . .”


“Country singers”

Finally a small smile worked its way through the pain and tears.  “Country? . . . I don’t like country music.”

“Impossible . . . everybody loves country music.”  I smiled down at him.  “You get better, buddy . . . hang in there.”

He smiled again and I left him to his Dad and the small group that was comforting him.  We had more kids who needed help.

The paramedics arrived and took charge.  They assessed the situation and asked permission to give the child something for the pain.  The pain killer required that an intravenous line be started.  Our boy screamed louder when they started the IV than when he got hurt.  I shook my head . . . I’ve seen this before.  Work through a serious injure like a champ and lose it when the IV is started.  This phenomenon is not restricted to children by the way.  There was lots of applause and yelled support as he was loaded in the ambulance.

I watched the ambulance pull away and I thought about the time my son was inside.  Parker collapsed after taking a blow to the chest during a game when he was a Junior in high school.  The immediate feeling is helplessness.  The next feeling it so forbid the child to even say the word football for the rest of his life.  But that logic doesn’t really work.  If I forbid any mention of activities that have caused my kids harm then the words ‘bicycle’, ‘soccer’, ‘hockey’,’running’, ‘golf’,’slides’, ‘swings’, ‘Nerf’, ‘laundry baskets and stairs’ and ‘jumping rope’ would not be in our vocabulary.  I would probably not allow my kids to mention any kitchen utensils just out of the fear of potential injury.  For me personally the list of forbidden words would include ‘matches’ (or any mention of fire, actually) and an all inclusive list of alcoholic beverages.

My point is that being a kid is hazardous and results in emergency room visits.  It is easy to just blame a game or certain activity, but I am not sure it is always logical. Charlie has broken two bones in his body . . . once in a bicycle wreck and once in a soccer game.  Eli has had stitches in his head from getting hit with a golf club.  We still let Charlie ride his bike and soccer is held up by many parents as a ‘safer’ alternative to football as a team sport.  We don’t let Charlie randomly swing golf clubs  . . . not usually anyway  . . . but I wouldn’t tell Eli he can’t play golf.

As parents we are in a quandary.  Do we protect our children by keeping them away from activities that we deem ‘unsafe’ even if they want to participate?   I don’t think it is that easy.  I choose to let my sons choose their sport and then help promote safe participation.  When I played we tackled with our faces on the ball and  concussion protocol was ‘How Many Fingers am I Holding Up With an Allowable Error of Two Fingers”. Today we teach shoulder tackling and I can sit a kid if I even suspect he has a concussion.  Honestly, many parents have a problem with the overly-masculine, adrenaline filled, profanity-laced  coaching stereotypes.  Common sense and parental oversight have combined to slowly phase that style out.

I am a team sports guy . . . it just so happens that I connect culturally and emotionally with football.  I see the qualities that team sports like football promote.  I see them in my own sons. One mom on our team told my wife that she has seen a marked improvement in her son’s behavior since he started playing football.  She credits the discipline and guidance involved in the game.

The prognosis is good for our player.  No permanent damage and his activity level is governed only by the pain he feels. Right now that pain is probably considerable, but he is already itching to get back to his friends and his game.  I have always believed that life is a series of learning experiences.  We are obligated to look at what happens around us and learn.  Our boys learned that a game you love can turn on you.  Every player on the field grew up a little.

Coaches can learn as well.  I have never been ‘that’ coach.  I have never been a ‘win first’ or ‘my way’ coach.  My favorite part of coaching kids is relating to them and building relationships.  I love seeing kids smile and have fun with other kids.  Sometimes however, in the heat of the game I forget about individuals and think strategy.  I won’t ever again lose sight, even for a moment, that they are just kids.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is The Customer Always Right?

Nobody ever wants to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  It’s just one of those necessary evils in life like taxes and colonoscopies (that’s an entirely different blog post). Even though it’s not my idea of a party I recently had to go spend some time at our local DMV office.

As I sat there waiting my turn, I looked around at my fellow customers.  Most had that vacant half-stare that people waiting in a dentist’s office have.  Kind of being uncomfortable while you are waiting to be more uncomfortable.  As if waiting in the DMV isn’t bad enough, this local office is located in a cell phone Death Valley.  No bars or dots or whatever your phone uses to display it’s ability to make you not bored.  Nothing.   So I people watched.  What I saw was interesting in that it sucked a great deal less than I thought.  The operation ran pretty smoothly.  Most customers waited patiently and the staff moved as quickly and efficiently as they could.  In fact, I noticed that most of the issues caused, at least while I watched, came from the customers . . . not the staff.  Many people didn’t have a form that they needed or weren’t prepared for the visit.  Unpreparedness isn’t surprising, seeing as most people only go to the DMV annually.  Every time you go it’s like the first time . . . and not really in a good way.  The staff dealt with their customers with mostly smiles and helped out the best they could.

After about 10 minutes of waiting, I watched two elderly women walk in.  Our DMV, has two video touch monitors set up with instructions displayed prominently next to them and on them.  You touch a screen and select categories that get slightly more specific.  The screen tells you what forms or information you need for your transaction. Then hit a large screen icon to print a numbered ticket.  If your ticket is numbered between 700 and 900, says the prominent sign, you take it to an information desk for prescreening.  All other numbers require the bearer to have a seat and wait.  At some point in the future a voice tells the ticket holder which station to go to.  While I was there this system worked perfectly for maybe 40 people.  It was a bit too much for these two ladies.

Their issues started as soon as they walked in.  The first lady, who was apparently just accompanying her friend, looked at the set up and immediately claimed it was “too complicated”.  The second lady studied the screen and tentatively tried to engage.  The first lady announce loudly that she would “go get them some help”.  She walked straight to the information desk, past about a dozen people holding tickets numbered between 700 and 900 and engaged the single clerk working at the desk. “We need some help,” she said, ignoring the fact the young man was helping another customer.  He glanced over and signaled that he would be right with her.  She wasn’t buying it.  “Excuse me,” she said, slapping the counter top to emphasize her point because . . . you know . . . if she slaps something hard enough he won’t be occupied with another customer.  The clerk stopped what he was doing and listened to the woman explain how she couldn’t get the computer to work, conveniently leaving out the part that she didn’t try to make it work.

“Ma’am, I’m helping somebody else right now,” he said patiently.  “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“But we need help now,” she said.  There was a discernible quality of disbelief in her voice.  She stood there for a second before she gathered her things.  “Well!,” she huffed and turned around.  “I guess you just don’t get any help here anymore!” she said loudly.  I have done some public speaking.  One of the first things I learned is to know your audience.  In this case her audience consisted of people who conquered the computer mind-bender.  The people closest to her  . . . the ones in the line for prescreening  . . . solved the screen riddle and got in line before she pulled into the parking lot.  These particular people were probably not all about her pulling the clerk away so he could read her the directions.

She walked back over to her friend who was taking a strong stab at the computer again.  “Print Ticket?” she asked her friend who was making the walk of shame from the information desk.  “How do I print a ticket?”  I could see the large ‘Print Ticket’ icon from my seat.

“I have no idea how to print a ticket,” her friend said loudly.  “Nobody will help us.”  She actually turned her head to direct her voice toward the clerk.  “Last time I was here there was somebody very helpful working here.  But not today.”  She turned her attention back to the computer and the ticket printing machine.  There were some mutterings and frustrated mumbles.  I could still see the “Print Ticket’ icon.  The first lady actually started hitting the machine.  I was amazed.  Physically hitting computers or related hardware has been ineffective since like early this century.  Today’s machines are way too sophisticated for that.

Finally the first lady read a sign.  She read the one that instructed holders of tickets numbered between 700 and 900 to get in the information line.  “The sign says we should get in line,” she told her friend.

“We don’t have a ticket between 700 and 900.”

“I’m sure that doesn’t matter,” said the first lady.  Made sense to me because, personally, if something doesn’t matter to a specific situation I write it down and display it prominently.

“But the sign . . .” the second lady started to say.  She stopped when she realized she was talking to herself.  Her friend was already standing in the information line.

The second lady moved closer to the computer.  It was like she was certain the answer was in there somewhere.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I stood and walked over.  “There is an icon on the screen that lets you print your ticket,” I said low enough to not draw attention.

“Where?” she asked, squinting at the computer.

“Use the screen to pick what you want to do.”

She touched the screen a few times.  After the last touch the icon came up.  I pointed at it.

“Oh, I see,” she said.  “That’s clever!”  She smiled and thanked me.  I took my seat and resumed my DMV stare.  She took her ticket to her friend.

“Look,” she said, hold up her ticket.  “That man showed me how to print the ticket.  Let’s go sit down.”

“No,” her friend said.

The lady looked at the ticket.  “We don’t need to be in line.  Our number isn’t between 700 and 900.”

The first lady was having none of it.  “I am sure they need to help us,” she said.  “Plus I need to tell this young man how he wasn’t helpful at all to us.”

The vaguely feminine electronic voice announced loudly that my wait was over.  I took my ticket over to the appropriate station and did my business.  Later in my truck I thought about the encounter.

What is good customer service?  Is the customer always right?  I am a black and white guy.  If service isn’t bad, then it is good.  I am not hard to please when it come to customer service.  As long as I can do the business I came to do within a reasonable amount of time, I am happy.  I recognize outstanding service when somebody does something that they don’t necessarily have to do to help me.  Consistency in service level is a big deal with me as well.

The thing is that we all expect good customer service, but is it necessary to be a good customer?  Think about that one.  Do we, as customers, have any responsibility for our experience?  Is the customer always right?  The lady at DMV expected her needs to be handled immediately even before the needs of people that got there first . . . people, it should be pointed out, that all negotiated the process that she found undoable.

I try to be a good customer.  I try to be prepared and follow any procedures or guidelines that are part of the customer experience.  I have to admit, however, that I am famous for asking questions that could be answered for me by the large signs or the well-illuminated mechanisms that I am invariably standing near.  I am great at asking where something is while I am standing within arms reach of the specific item.  Done that a lot.

If nothing else perhaps just remembering that your not the only horse in the pasture would help when it comes to being a good customer.  The ladies could have simply gotten in line if they were confused.  Admittedly, that would have cost them more time, but going to the head of the line to talk to the only person that can help is kind of making it all about you.  That’s not always appropriate.

So, is the customer always right?  Maybe . . . maybe not . . . you are welcome to have that discussion around the water cooler or the beer keg or where ever.  Many businesses still have that philosophy and even in agencies that aren’t dealing with profit margins many times the customer drives the boat.  It makes sense, however, that we, as customers, can help by being good customers.

Thanks for reading and we’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.








Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Looking for my whistle

I couldn’t find it anywhere.  I haven’t seen it for years, but I was sure it was in my nightstand drawer.  There is lots of stuff in there . . . but no whistle.  I finally just gave up and bought a new one.  I need a whistle because I volunteered to be an assistant coach on Charlie’s junior-level football team.

Coach Curt is back.  It wasn’t really a big deal . . . no fanfare or music.  Nobody really noticed as I, with great reservation, slowly raised my hand at a parent meeting when the head coach asked for volunteers to go through the certification process and help out on the field.  My wife gently urged me to raise my hand.  Then she looked at me.   You know . . . that look that actually makes an audible sound.  Yeah, that one.  I had talked about helping out earlier in the year . . . and I wanted to . . . so I raised my hand.  Then I started looking for my whistle.

I haven’t coached anything in almost 10 years and I haven’t coached football in 30 years.  I coached a Pop Warner football team in Delaware in 1985.  I moved to Alaska in 1986 and didn’t have the time or inclination at that point to get back into it immediately.  Between then and 2006 I coached baseball, soccer and hockey.  Since then I have been an involved sports parent.  I always had lots of excuses for not coaching anymore . . . no time . . . bad knees . . . outdated knowledge of the game.  I had lots of them.   Then I realized that this might be my last chance to be involved with Eli and Charlie on a level that has proven so important to my relationship with Parker.  It was time.

All coaches have a philosophy, even if they don’t think they do.  Sometimes it is hard to put into words. Sometimes you can get a good idea of a coaches philosophy by just watching . . . sometimes you can’t.  You have to watch and take other factors into consideration.

At a hockey practice many years ago a player’s mom approached me and told me that I yell at the kids way too much.  I blinked at her.  I wasn’t sure what she meant.  I never had harsh words for any player.  I got into the heat of the moment sometimes, but I certainly never felt I was abusive.  She explained that I always yelled, even during practices.  I smiled at her.  I got it.  I knew that she wasn’t going to buy my explanation no matter how eloquently I put it.  I had to show her.

I asked her to step out onto the ice with me.  As players were going through drills down by the goal, I took her near center ice and asked her to stand there.  I went to the bench.  With sounds of hockey ringing through the building I stood in the bench area and began to explain in a conversational tone why I yelled so much.  She frowned at me and strained to hear.  I continued to speak.  She raised her hands in the international “I don’t understand” gesture.  Finally she yelled, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”.  I smiled.  “EXACTLY!,” I answered.  “I RAISE MY VOICE SO THE BOYS CAN HEAR ME ON THE ICE.”  I could have just explained it to her, but I knew this woman and she was telling me she had a problem with me.  She already had the issue decided and settled.  No answer other than “I will stop yelling” was going to work.  The point is she watched me coach and came to a conclusion about my philosophy without taking certain important factors into consideration.

I was never able to really put my coaching philosophy into words until I saw the movie “Friday Night Lights”.  It is about the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas.  Ok, stop rolling your eyes . . . yes a movie about football in Texas helped me put my coaching philosophy into words, but it isn’t all macho and Go Team!  The story is about how this team worked through athletic, personal and political issues to play for the Texas High School 5A Championship.  At half time of the Championship game Coach Gary Gaines makes a speech that helped me define my philosophy.  He told his players they had to be ‘Perfect’.  Really? More eye rolling?  Take a look and then wipe your eyes, blow your nose and I will talk to you in a minute.

Coach Gaines ‘Perfection’ Speech

I was inspired by Coach Gaines’ definition of perfection.  Essentially he tells his boys that perfection is the state of having done your absolute best . . . being at the end and being able to tell your teammates that there isn’t anything else you could have done.  Making this effort allows a player to move on through sports and through life with “love in their hearts”.  Before you think that Coach Gaines went all soft there, I am pretty sure that he meant that players can move on with no regrets . . . I think that was just a movie thing.

I especially like Coach Gaines’ definition because it doesn’t include winning or scores.  From the first time I picked up a whistle I emphasized effort over results.  I look at it this way because effort can be controlled while winning and success can’t.  My favorite example of effort versus results involves Charlie when he was six.

Charlie is and was big for his age.  We allowed him to play in the 7-9 year old tackle league when he was six because of his size and athletic ability.  His older brother Parker was coaching on the Rams Rook Division team that Charlie was assigned to, so that helped as well.

Charlie has always been very literal.  He doesn’t overthink things much.  He does what he is told . . . in this respect anyway.  Somewhere in the second quarter of his first game Charlie, wearing number 12, got into the game as a defensive back on the left side.  He was put on the left because that side was closer to our sideline and Parker could communicate with him.  He did well in his first few plays and got to go back in on the next series.  The ball was on the other teams side of the field about the 20 or 25 yard line.  Their running back took the ball around their left end, away from Charlie.  He broke a tackle and had nobody in front of him.  He accelerated and had nothing between him and the goal line but fresh air.  The Rams gave brief chase and then fell back.  It was over.  Nobody could catch him.

Nobody told Charlie that.

As soon as the ball carrier went around the end Charlie took off.  At first nobody really paid any attention as he ran past teammates and opponents.  The other teams spectators were hooting and hollering as their boy ran downfield.  The young man put it in cruise control as he neared the 50 yard line.  Then the crowd got quiet.  A little kid in blue and gold wearing number 12 was giving chase . . . and he was closing the gap.

As the ball carrier neared the 40 yard line, the crowd and his coaches started yelling at him to hurry.  Have you ever run really fast, then slowed down then tried to run fast again?  The ball carrier’s legs weren’t responding the way he wanted them to and Charlie was gaining.  At the 25 yard line Charlie was less than 10 yards away and he had momentum.  At the 5 yard line Charlie reached out.

The ball carrier crossed the goal line with Charlie on his shirt tail.

For a split second there was silence.  Then both crowds erupted.  Think hard.  Have you ever seen both sides of a football field go crazy over a 75 yard touchdown run?  One side celebrated a touchdown while the other celebrated an effort . . . a perfect effort.  At the Rook level here, each team is allowed to have one coach on the field during the game.  As Charlie picked himself up in the end zone the other teams offensive coach approached him.  He put his hands on Charlie’s shoulder pads and talked to him for a few seconds.  Then he patted on the helmet and sent him on the way.  It was the kind of effort any coach could appreciate.

I have told that story and been told that the story is about failure.  I have been told that the effort would have been perfect if Charlie had made the tackle.  My idea of perfection is about the players, both as a team and as individuals . . . not the result.  On that particular play, there was nothing left for Charlie to do.  He couldn’t have done anything else.  He couldn’t be faster . . . in that moment his effort was complete.  My thought is that if you emphasize effort and provide players with the proper tools, then the results with take care of themselves.  At the end you will have players ready to move on in playing level and in life.

Right now, nobody is really interested my philosophy.  You don’t need philosophy to hold a tackling dummy and run warm up drills.  I am an assistant so I get to teach skills, explain techniques, snap helmets and adjust shoulder pads.  I get to interact with kids and help teach them a game while, hopefully, giving them tools to deal with life.

Both boys are playing in the Wolfpack group within Fairbanks Youth Football.  All of the Wolfpack teams practice at the same time on the same field, so I am close to where Eli is working with his group.  It’s a great to be involved in a sport I love with the ones I love.

In fact . . . it’s perfect.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  We’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.




Posted in Coaching, Family, Football, Kids, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Changing Sides

I looked down at the message indicator on my phone.  This text didn’t have words, it was actually a short video.  I knew what was coming, but I was still nervous.  Things would be different after I pushed play.

After a few moments I played the video.  My oldest son Parker and his wife were in a doctor’s office.  I could hear happy chatter as Parker placed his phone near a small speaker.  There was static then a gentle, rhythmic whooshing sound.  I listened.  Then listened again.  I felt old, excited, helpless and joyful all at the same time.  That quick, soft whooshing sound was my grandchild’s heartbeat.

I am going to be a grandfather.

In and of itself that isn’t remarkable.  It happens to men my age every day.  The frequency, however, doesn’t dilute the experience when it happens to you.  Waves of emotion washed over me.  My son is going to be a father.

We actually knew about this for a little while before we got the video from Parker.  He told me when we were both at a wedding in Louisiana.  That same weekend he and his wife sent my wife and his mother-in-law packages that contained little outfits that had “Will You Be My Grandma?” printed on them.  I was happy but I was waiting until the little person gave us a sign.  That tiny heartbeat was the sign I needed.

So our family is going through some changes.  I am not sure how many of you were tuned in when I started this blog, but in the first entry Let’s Get This Thing Started I explained how I came up with the name ‘This Side of the Diaper’.  Briefly, Parker and I were changing one of Charlie’s more stinky diapers several years ago.  I was expounding on how gross it was when Parker said he was very happy to be on “this side of the diaper.”  I got to thinking about that and it seems to me that we spend our lives on one side of the diaper or the other.  For our childhood and early adulthood, we are on the smiling happy side.  Then we have kids and we move to the other side.  It is only right and proper that the young man who inspired the title of this blog is now moving to the other side.

It’s hard not to go all nostalgic.  Of course I have replayed the “Parker Story” over and over in my head.  I thought about the first time I saw him.  I hit all the highlights over the years.  I am lucky.  There have been few, if any real low points.  We were having a discussion when he was about 17 and we were discussing various topics.  He looked at me and said, “I can’t wait to be a father.”  I, of course, immediately went all dramatic and assumed that he meant within the next seven or eight months.  He looked at me with an half amused, half irritated smile. “Jeeeeez Dad,” he said.  “Nobody that I know is pregnant.  I’m just saying that I see how you are with Charlie and how you are with me and someday I want to be in that position.”  I got up off the floor and stopped groping for my nitroglycerin and accepted the compliment.

Parenthood is a funny thing.  You can think you are ready for it . . .  you can prepare for it . . . you can read books and watch videos or you can just wait for it.  It doesn’t really matter.  Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight boxing world champion once said “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.”  Parenthood is like that.  Go ahead and plan and then wait for the doctor to put the baby in your arms.  We’ll see how long your plan lasts.

When he was about 15 Parker and I were having a  . . . disagreement.  Actually he was disagreeing with something I had laid down.  I wasn’t disagreeing with anything . . . I didn’t have to disagree . . . I just made the decisions.  Actually that might have been what Parker was disagreeing with.  Anyway at one point he looked at me and said “You just have all the answers, don’t you?”

I looked at him.  “You think that I think I have all the answers?” I asked.  “You think I I have a plan?”  I sat down in our family room.  “I don’t have a plan . . . I am making this up as I go.”  I stopped having a plan years before that.  I just did my best within the moment and prayed things would work out.  He looked at me for a long time before he went to his room.  We didn’t have many disagreements after that.

Of course Parker and his wife have a plan and strategies, but mostly they seem pretty relaxed and circumspect.  They are excited obviously, but appropriately confident.  Both have considerable experience with small children.  His wife has three younger brothers and Parker was in his teens when we adopted his brothers.  They know the basics.  Things will get real when they can’t hand off the cranky infant to Mom or Dad, but they are ready.

As for me, I am confused.  I am still trying to get my mind around the fact that Parker isn’t a teenager anymore.  Now he has blown right through teenager and become an independent, strong young man . . . with a family of his own.  It’s up to me to find out where I fit in all of this.  This is not about me . . . it’s about the kids and their new family.  I will do what I have always done . . . I’ll fill the role needed at the moment.  Being a grandfather is going to be a great adventure.  I am lucky enough to get to be a grandfather and a father to young children simultaneously.  I will keep you posted on how the familial multitasking goes.

I looked down at the phone in my hand.  I was right . . .  I pushed play and the world changed for me.  I sat back in my office chair.  The moment was profound and right.   I thought about how we all got to this point.  I am sure I had all the emotions any man has when he finds out that his child is going to be a parent.  For a long time I just sat there and savored the happiness.  Then I called my son.  I was going to say something profoundly witty and wise because . . .  well . .  that’s what I do.  He answered the phone and all I could get out was “I love you”.  I am sure he knows what I meant.

Thanks for reading and sharing.  Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads . . . and Dads to be.  Life is good on This Side of the Diaper.  We’ll talk again soon.

TSOTD on Twitter



Posted in Family, Grandparents, Kids, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Doing the Right Thing . . . Or Not

Ever read something or hear something and the sheer stupidity and total negative nature involved immediately pisses you off?  I mean like from having a great day to instantly wondering what the hell some people are using for brains and a soul?

Last December I wrote a piece about my junior high wrestling teammate Mike Hutchinson.  Returning the Favor Mike was shot in the line of duty  as a Deuel County  Nebraska Sherriff’s Deputy. He received four gunshot wounds and is only alive today because of miraculous timing and God’s Grace. 

He has been in and out of the hospital since then and really isn’t out of the woods yet. Recently however his employer, Deuel County, allowed his health insurance to expire.  At a recent meeting the county commissioners feigned ignorance and tabled the issue while telling Mike and his family that they may not make a decision in the future.  As Mike’s daughter, Sarah Andrews, pointed not making a decision is actually making a decision.  That’s the way cowards make decisions. 

This pisses me off.  

I walked around for years assuming that any officer (actually any public employee) killed or wounded in the line of duty would be fully cared for and insured.  It just made sense.  I also assume officer’s families would be taken care of in the event the officer is killed in the line.  Two years ago Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Scott Johnson and Trooper Gabe Rich were killed in Tanana. Their families are currently fighting to keep their insurance.   Our legislature is apparently suffering from the same lack of soul that the Deuel County Board of Commissioners has going on.  

Simply stated our officers and other public servants deserve to know that they and their families won’t be left without health insurance or other essential benefits if doing their job means that they don’t make it home. I assume that Mike has Workers Compensation but that doesn’t cover his wife. He had insurance for his family when he took four bullets for Deuel County.  He should have that insurance after.  

According to Sarah one commissioner said that he didn’t think insurance was a wise expenditure of county funds because those funds are meant to benefit the county.  I have two answers:

1.  I am pretty sure that Mike and his family were paying taxes when he got shot. 

2.  I don’t care.  I would personally sleep like a baby with the full knowledge that my tax dollars paid for insurance for the families of wounded and fallen public employees.  

I understand that Duelle County has no procedure for this type of situation. Lack of a procedure or precedent should never be an excuse for not doing the right thing.  Deuel County . . . State of Alaska just do the right thing.  

Thanks for reading.  Please share this.  Use Google liberally to get in touch with officials and let them know what you think.  We will talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper. 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments