Retirement, a time to pause, enjoy, reflect and plan the future

The first three days of my retirement from teaching at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism I slept until 9 am and lollygagged around the house until about 11.

I felt guilty and pained. It felt like I was reneging on my commitments. Except I didn’t have any commitments!

My wife says I have done a better job “learning to be retired” in the last several days. I am completely unsure what that actually means so it is obvious I have a long way to go.

I retired once before, in 2002 and that one didn’t take.

It is apparent to me that like everything else retirement means different things to different people. I have a busy six months of national and world travel planned with lots of time reserved for grandkids, kids and brand new adventures with my wife. Yet, when that subsides I do not plan on climbing into a hammock with lemonade and bon bons. There is simply no way I can shut my mind off and withdraw.

I am going to be open to any and all possibilities, but I especially want to explore where my writing might take me. I have some specific book-length projects in mind, but by the time I sit down to a keyboard those concepts may morph several times. I think I have some important things to say. Finding the vehicles and style to say them are still a bit mysterious to me.

Where this blog fits is one of the key questions I need to reflect on for the next several months. It is obvious to anyone who has been following that my output has diminished. I could blame that on a hectic final semester with two new courses and one new mode of presentation. I could blame it on a reluctance to weigh in on certain topics because they struck me as too political. That all obfuscates the real reason which is that my mission became foggy.

When I started this blog in August of 2014 I had just lost my wife of 39 years and I was on the precipice of launching a book, “Some People Even Take Them Home,” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey to Acceptance.

My passion was great and my mission was clear and simple: Offer insight into grief and the experience of disability. I pray I provided wisdom. You never get past either of those experiences, but the role of these posts became murkier as I found new love and married.

I am certain I will never run out of opinions, but over the next several months I want to think carefully about the mission of this blog and about who might care about my thoughts. The direction of my major writing projects will definitely have a major influence on whether and how I continue this blog.

I would love to hear your thoughts about what has worked over the last two years and what hasn’t. And, if you have thoughts about where I should take this blog from here I’d like to hear that too.

Until I weigh in again, be kind to each other.

Tim McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance.

Text of Tim McGuire’s Convocation speech to Cronkite School class of 2016

Here, for the sake of posterity and easy reference is the actual text of my Convocation Speech to the Cronkite School’s class of 2016. The video of the speech can be found  here.

 

Thank you for that delightful introduction Dean Callahan.

Students, parents, spouses, relatives, friends and faculty.

I am incredibly grateful for being invited to the podium tonight.

The class of 2016 is among my all-time favorites at the Cronkite School. There is a boatload of talent in this class. 

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.  “Which road do I take,” she asked.

His response was a question, “Where do you want to go?”

I don’t know,” Alice said.

The cat responded, “Then it doesn’t matter.”  

I had written a convocation speech about a bunch of life lessons, but then a number of personal encounters began speaking to me, until one day I came across Lewis Carroll’s profound insight about the fork in the road.

A few weeks ago an undergrad sat in my office and asked me if I thought an MBA was a good idea for him. Without hesitation I asked, “Do you want to be a businessman?”

The young man got the old “deer in the headlights” look and said he was unsure. He hadn’t really thought of that. People had told him an MBA could lead to a very secure and stable life.

I feared the young man was ready to ignore his own personal hopes and dreams, and pursue a path he thought would make others happy.

Suddenly I felt like the Cheshire cat and it didn’t matter to Alice what she did. I desperately wanted the young man to focus on what he WANTS  to do, not on what somebody THINKS he should do.

Understand that our life on this blue marble is short, too damned short to spend it doing stuff we are not passionate about.

You are on the precipice of a new life. If you wish, you may focus on the prudent and the stable. You may make the secure and safe route your refuge.

But please, please don’t.

What do you want to do more than anything in the world? What do you dream of doing that would make you incredibly happy?

Tonight, I want to exhort you to pursue your dream.  Dream big! Aim for the impossible. Start that company. Do something incredibly noble for mankind. Change the world. Develop that zany wild idea. Move to that fascinating place. Go big. Go really BIG.

The only way to go really big is by taking risks. No, don’t take risks by texting while walking across First Street, and not by drinking every beer for sale on Mill Avenue. I am talking about life risks that bounce you out of the comfortable. I am talking about taking risks where there are no guarantees of success and even huge possibilities that you won’t meet your goal.

A few weeks ago in my office, I delivered this same message to one of tonight’s graduates. He looked at me with lots of skepticism and said, “What if I fail?”

Then you fail. And you pick yourself up and you take some more swings. That’s the way life works.

Life is trial and error. What we call failure is the father of scores of inventions and countless success stories. Either Cinderella or Babe Ruth, really, both are credited, said  “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”

If you do strike out simply pick yourself up, be smarter, and go again!

In February I had a conversation with a wonderful student in this class. He has a REALLY big dream. Only a very few Americans will achieve his dream. He will need genuine skill, some damn good luck and a ton of determination.

With all the passion I could muster, I said, “go for it, Ace.” I told him to take a 10 year shot at achieving his goal. I told him to believe in himself and don’t accept those people who try to beat him down and diminish him. If he doesn’t achieve his goal in 10 years he will be richer for trying and his next steps will be much clearer.

A few weeks later I talked to another wonderful student in this class who has decided she wants to get a job overseas. She is determined to live out her adventure and is networking like crazy to find a job worthy of her considerable Cronkite skills.

I burst with pride over her courage, her inventiveness and her commitment. She will do great things because she thinks big and smart. She is not being foolish about any of this. Cleverness underlies her risk-taking.

But then I asked the killer question: “What do your folks think about this?” She smiled a smile as big as all outdoors, and said ‘my dad is incredibly excited and my mom wishes I’d stay home.”

But then she quickly added, “but Mom knows it’s my decision and she is coaching herself to be okay with it.”

God bless both Mom and Dad. They are both standing very tall in my estimation.

A few weeks ago I talked with a well-educated, successful man who told me about his son who plays football at a small college. The son’s dream is to be a football coach. My friend knows about the concussion studies and the dangers of football and he dearly wishes his son was not playing football. He would have loved to have just said no!

Then the man looked at me and shrugged and said “but it’s the boy’s dream.” That is parental courage!

Parents, embrace your student’s dream. Push them to dare to be bold. Encourage those ideas you might think are really crazy. Be proud that you raised students who are independent, bold and adventurous. Don’t look down your nose at their dream, lock onto their dream enthusiastically.

Students, tonight you become adults, your life is yours to lead. Your success, your failure is on you and only you. It’s not mommy or daddy’s fault if you don’t soar. It is yours. The richness and joy you find in life is about you and your commitment to transcend all the challenges.

Let me share with you a few lines from a wonderful poem by Pablo Neruda

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice

Don’t worry about being sensible.  Don’t worry about what others think you ought to do. Don’t be modest in your goals. Don’t hide your passion. Change the world. Take risks and go really big.

I am convinced that if you dream big and push to meet those dreams and if you understand that you and only you are responsible and accountable for making a good life, then one day you will be able to stand back and declare, TOUCHDOWN!

I think I figured out a new definition of love

I was driving down the highway when I think I realized my own personal definition of love. I will be 67 years old in a week or so, but I don’t think my discovery has come too late.

As I drove, I thought of my bride of six months, Candace. And, I smiled. It was the kind of smile that started at my mouth, occupied my entire mind and then made my insides all gooey. It was a smile of gratitude, a smile of comfort. I was consumed by that smile of love. I suddenly wanted to write a love letter to her. I guess this is it.

Passion is great, affection with a great big hug rewards the heart, and concern and care are certainly essential elements of love. But in that flash, I realized that real love brings with it that satisfied, contented and all-absorbing smile. And, I happily realized that smile of love has been a constant in my life.

As I reflected, I realized that smile was always the greatest sign that my late wife Jean and I had something special too. I was able to recall great feelings of satisfaction that were always marked by that smile that grabbed my soul. Even when she is gone I get consumed by that great big smile of love. It happened last weekend when I saw something in our old neighborhood that would have amazed and tickled her. That great big smile of love captivated me.

My kids induce that big, all-encompassing smile. Incredible emotional connections with my daughter, Tracy, warm me with that sort of smile and so do the incredible bouts of repartee I have with my son, Jeff. And the simple thought of my son Jason, who has Down syndrome, grips me with a smile that envelops my entire being. Then there are my two delightful grandchildren, Collin and Kayley. I smile so much when I think of them that I fairly burst. That’s the gooey kind of love.

I sometimes think people look in all the wrong places and for all the wrong emotions for love. I always feel sorry for the young couples who seem to think they are going to hear bells or giant gongs when they fall in love. There are no bells.

Happiness comes when we bask in the comfort, content and satisfaction of loving and being loved. When we find that sweet spot, a great big smile seizes our soul and carries us off to a special place worth celebrating.

Tim McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

 

“Taz” was a most unforgettable character and a mighty good man

When I was a kid, I was often mesmerized by the Reader’s Digest feature, My Most Unforgettable Character. One of mine, Jim Taszarek, died Thursday and I am going to deeply miss “Taz.”

All the clichés about “taking over a room” and “bigger than life” described Jim Taszarek. He was tall, commanding, funny, genuine and he cared about every person in every room he entered. He amassed friends like most of us pick up cheap pens. Just take a look at his Facebook page to see the amazing tributes he has received before and after his death.

I met Taz about 10 years ago when we both auditioned to be lectors at the Casa at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley. Lectors read parts of the Bible  at mass in the Catholic Church. Taz was really good in that audition and I am pretty good myself so it was inevitable that the two big dogs would sniff around each other. We quickly determined we both had done alright in the media business. Taz had been general manager at KMOX and KTAR and I knew I was talking to a real player in the radio business. Only later did I really cotton to what a legend he was.

It also emerged that I was a professor at the Walter Cronkite School.  Taz loved the school and had been active in the school’s endowment board for many years. We soon started having coffee and lunch and he introduced me to another major broadcasting figure John Dille.

We became a trio and lunched three or four times a year. Taz would invariably announce that each lunch had been “an absolute disaster” and declare we could never waste time like this again. Taz could trade barbs with the best, but the loving twinkle in his eye was ever-present. Every lunch we had was a delightful mix of insults, media gossip and sharing of important “life stuff.”

You were a fool if you let Taz’s jokes and insults define him. Taz was a man of significant substance, incredible creative talent and a deep spiritual connection. His intellectual curiosity and his drive to do things better made him a force of nature.

Four encounters reveal much of what you need to know about Taz.

One day in late May of 2014 I stopped at a store next to Chompie’s in Scottsdale. Taz and his kind, calm wife Sharon were walking into the restaurant for a late lunch. They knew my wife was very ill and they invited me to join them “just to talk.” Taz knew I was hurting and both Taz and Sharon encouraged me to spill out my heart. They counseled lightly but they also were learning about what a fatal illness does to a couple. Taz had been sick for a few years and they both knew my path could soon be their path. They listened, they comforted and I think they had a bit of a clue that they were a life preserver for my sinking boat. My wife Jean died three weeks later in Minneapolis.

After I returned to Scottsdale in August, Taz invited me out to dinner for one of the most wonderful meals of my life. We joked some, as we always did, but the conversation focused on grief and spirituality. He wanted to know everything he could find out about hospice and my grief. It was obvious he was making his own preparations and he wanted to make life as easy as possible for his beloved Sharon. We also talked about our spiritual adventures and misadventures. Taz never made a secret of his long-time Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) membership, but that night he slipped into almost a holy reverie of sorts. I distinctly remember him staring off into space and praising the deeply spiritual aspects of AA. He talked with awe of the Power that brought him back from dangerous, self-destructive behavior. He and his God were good.

About a year later I needed to connect a friend with AA. I called Taz and told him what I needed. He said “Stay by your phone. ” Within 20 minutes he called back and simply uttered a name and a number. No questions, no pushing for the friend’s name. He had a favor to do for a friend and he did it.

The final encounter was January 25 a month before he died. Taz had told John and me in December that he was now in palliative care. We laughed some more, gossiped some more but Taz was especially interested in hearing about the Cronkite School and Dean Chris Callahan. Taz wanted to write a letter to the dean applauding the tremendous strides the school has made. Taz was thinking about sending “attaboys'” when he knew the end was near.

Taz had scores of friends because he knew how to be a friend. He made you feel like a special person every time you saw him. Sure he made you laugh, but he also hugged you close with his deep sense of caring and the loving humanity he wore on his sleeve.

When Taz was leaving that day he promised us “one more of these lunches before it’s over.” I wrote him Monday to take him up on his promise, not knowing he was two days from the end.

I cried Thursday night when I heard the news of his death and I will cry for a while. Knowing there will be no more of those fantastic lunches, no more ribald insults and no more caring makes me profoundly sad. One of the greatest characters, one of the most vital and most genuine men I have ever known has passed. Rest in Peace, good friend, and know that you made thousands of lives so much better. That should be all the Big Guy upstairs needs to know.

Taz tim John

Let’s see if the second retirement takes

I retired as Editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis in summer of 2002. It didn’t take.

I wrote a syndicated column, facilitated and spoke to groups about ethics, spirituality and work for about three years. I also did a couple of visiting professor gigs at Davidson College and Washington and Lee University.

I also had plenty of time to play and relax. I found that I didn’t miss the action of editing a daily newspaper and I  didn’t miss the power either. What I found I missed was the sense of belonging to something. In 2005, when Dean Chris Callahan of the just-formed Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University offered me an endowed chair to teach the business of journalism and ethics I accepted it immediately.

And, I have belonged to something very special ever since I accepted the job. Callahan has built a remarkable journalism school and I have had an incredible ride on his bus. Students teach me every day, faculty make me laugh and make me smarter and the thrill of belonging to a journalism school that has emerged as one of the best in the country has been a fantastic adventure.

Last week Dean Callahan, in a much-too-gracious note, acknowledged my May retirement from the school. Steve Buttry had nice things to say too.

A lot of people are asking why now? The clear implication is that University teaching is a pretty cushy gig and why would I give it up. The answer is not a quick soundbite but it starts with the fact that this is not a cushy job.  If you do teaching right, and I think I do, it is hard work. It’s nothing like the pressure of running a newspaper, but it is not easy.

Further, I think retirement is an outdated word. It is defined as “the action of fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.” Yes, I know some people who seem to do pretty well at ceasing to work. I  don’t think I will be one. Certainly my new bride, Candace, and I, already have two major trips planned along with several small ones. Time to just kick back is an important part of my decision.

At the same time I have some things I want to write that have just been too difficult with my teaching responsibilities. Both my wife and I are also investigating ways to give back to society too.

But at root of my retirement decision at 67 years old is my overriding emotion since my wife Jean died in 2014. “Seize the freaking day!”

A good friend of mine observed this in an email when he learned of my decision: “It’s interesting, because when Jean was ill you said you were on a retirement trajectory. After her death you said you’d never retire. Now you’re back to the plan. I guess work’s relevance is dependent on what else we have in our lives and our sense of options, huh?”

My friend is a bright intuitive guy and he nailed it. I had no intention of retiring if I didn’t have someone I loved in my life. Now that I do, I want to make sure we maximize every single day we have together. My wife Candace’s brain aneurysm reminded me, as if I needed a reminder, that nothing is guaranteed health wise. We don’t know how much time we have. I am sorry I didn’t do this for and with Jean and I don’t want to err again.

My delightful Candace and I have a lot of laughing to do. I want to make plenty of time for that.

Tim McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance