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.

Do the kind thing and don’t worry about gratitude

There is a meme running around Facebook that goes like this: “Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone and then find out how ungrateful they really are?”

I suppose it is a harmless expression of frustration, but it really bugs me. That’s really a self-destructive attitude and it’s mighty selfish. You did a nice thing and now you expect a parade? Good luck.

My late dad actually taught me that years ago. He would tell my mom and the kids, “do the nice thing but don’t sit around waiting for thank yous.” My dad wasn’t a great philosopher but every now and then he absolutely nailed it. When we get upset because somebody wasn’t grateful enough we give them control over our happiness and our goodness. And, your motive for being nice gets thrown into question too.

For me there is a tangible joy I get from doing the nice thing. Oh sure, I enjoy a hearty thank you and occasionally some recognition for the nice things I do, but I am working hard on not needing that. More and more I try to do silent acts of kindness.

Four or five times a week I have been buying coffee for the car behind me at the drive-thru Starbucks. Just because. It’s only a few bucks and I often jokingly tell the barista, “I need the good karma!” I make it a point not to linger or look back, to be sure I don’t do it for the acknowledgement.

It is nice when it comes. The other day I bought a $2.27 coffee for a guy. He apparently violated a speed limit or two because he caught up with me and hoisted his cup in a happy, appreciative, toast.

I thought little of it until I got to my office. I was a good 20 feet from the door when an exiting student stopped and held the door for me for several seconds. He went way out of his way to do the kind thing. Karma?

I didn’t know the young man. He had no duty to do the right thing. He didn’t hold that door for the thank you. He held the door because it was a nice thing.

As I walked away from that encounter with a little glow, I could not help but think about all the anger we see in the world and wonder if  being nice could help.

Perhaps we all need more good karma. Maybe we can find it by doing the nice thing and not getting pissed when people don’t bow down before us in gratitude.

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

 

 

We can learn important life lessons from how companies treat their clients

I have had several encounters with businesses trying to serve my needs recently. I think I came away from those encounters with new insights about how we ought to treat people.

Over the weekend at my wedding, Pittsburgh Blue, a wonderful Minnesota restaurant, and a catering company called Fabulous Catering, dramatically exceeded my expectations and delivered a tremendous customer experience. The rehearsal dinner at Pittsburgh Blue and the reception catered by Fabulous, were wonderfully executed by committed staff and people who genuinely cared for clients.

Last week, in Phoenix, my new wife and I were ignored and made to feel as if we were the business’s last priority. It was pretty clear that the Phoenix business had internal problems and challenges that were more important to them than the customer’s needs.

As I have reflected in the last few days, it is clear to me that the Minnesota businesses made us number 1 and they were totally invested in creating a positive experience. They understood that a marriage is a very big deal and that their companies were not just catering events, they were building lasting memories. They behaved accordingly. They were outwardly focused.

The Phoenix company was dealing with a very sensitive issue for us. In our minds, our case was the most important in the world. The Phoenix company did not act as if they recognized that. The company representative acted as if her needs trumped ours.

My close friend, Pat Dawson, actually consults on customer experience. This is a major line of inquiry for companies attempting to raise profits through better relationships with customers.

My interest in this subject is different and more personal. I wonder how many of us really attempt to appreciate that the person we are dealing with is totally focused on their own predicament and they want our help to escape. Many of us complain that “she is totally focused on herself,” or “he only thinks about me,me,me!” What part of that surprises us?

We do the same thing, yet we often expect others to put aside their own self-interests. Many of us have been taught the golden rule, to treat others as we would want to be treated. But there’s a serious problem there in that many people do not share our expectations and standards. A more appropriate approach is to treat people the way they want to be treated.

That sort of thinking allows us to meet the other person where they are. It recognizes that their fears, and uncertainties are real to them even if you find those fears silly. If we treat people the way they want to be treated we validate them in ways we cannot if we cling to our own rules and expectations.

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

 

Meeting random new people is one of the joys of my life

I might have previously mentioned a particular friend who gives me a difficult time about the way I randomly begin conversations with unfamiliar people in coffee shops, airports and all kinds of public places. He often says with only a modicum of jocularity “that stuff is going to get you killed some day.”

He is clearly a man who deeply values his own privacy and does not want to take on anybody else’s burdens. I, on the other hand, revel in the fascinating people I meet and the amazing stuff I learn. But I hit an absolute home run this summer when I met an incredibly engaging man with a background that made me smile.

During my two moths in Minnesota this summer I lived at The Residence Inn in Plymouth, Minn. My stay was delightful and the interesting stories abound about the reasons people spend time in that sort of living situation. About 30 percent of the residents stay for a month or more and that community tends to bond with each other.

One morning I reached out my hand in introduction to a man with a permanent smile on his face. And a whole new world opened to me.

I met Tony Andreason, a man who enjoyed considerable success in the Financial Service industry for more than 40 years. But he might ring a bell for you if I tell you that Tony was the lead singer and guitarist for The Trashmen, a fairly famous 60’s band in Minneapolis. And I have a great chance to jog your memory if I tell you the group did the song “Surfin Bird” which is  now a pop culture sensation on the Fox network animated show Family Guy.

Tony is a bit sheepish about his fame but he has toured Europe and the U.S. in recent years with a revitalized Trashmen. He is an accomplished musician to the core and for the last 17 years has played with a Bluegrass band called Platte Valley Boys.

Tony intrigued me almost every morning at breakfast with tales of the big stars with whom he rubbed shoulders and with great tales of growing up blue-collar in North Minneapolis. His profound love for music fuels him in a way that I found inspirational. And, he loved to hear tales of the newspaper business and his favorite columnist, Sid Hartman. Tony’s delightful wife, Barbie, owned an incredible story herself and the two delighted me most mornings.

I now consider Tony Andreason a friend–a friend cultivated when both of us were willing to extend our hand to a stranger. There is a fantastic world out there if you are willing to engage it. Ain’t life grand?

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

A love letter to my Mom

There were lots of dramatic and soul-searching moments as I wroteSome People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance. Some memories touched awfully close to the bone. More than a few provoked tears and upsetting disclosures about emotions and feelings.

Without question though, the most disturbing thing occurred when a New York book agent was editing the first draft. One day as we discussed the chapter about my early childhood he confided in a soft, almost secretive voice, “Frankly Tim, I found your parents quite cruel.” I exploded in anger and defensiveness. After giving him hell I immediately made some mild rewrites on the chapter. As time passed, I became more sad than angry that the agent was so clueless about raising a special needs child like me.

My parents were not cruel. They were just middle-class folks trying to do the right thing. They were advised by a very smart doctor to set standards, expectations and to treat me like you would treat every other child. That meant allowing me to walk eight blocks to school in metal braces and watching through gritted teeth as I fell off my bike100 times in one day. That took a moral and mental courage that inspires awe in me to this day.

On this Mother’s Day I can’t help but be profoundly grateful for my 90-year-old mother, Anita McGuire, who along with my late father, pushed back the tears so I could have as normal a childhood as possible. That push for normalcy gave me the fortitude and pluck I needed to succeed. The natural inclination of any parent is to pamper, protect and coddle their child. That’s the easy path. The hard road is to watch your child struggle with all the bumps, suffering and tears required to thrive and find independence. And that independence thing is really hard.

About 15 years ago my mother told a magazine interviewer, “We raised Tim to be independent but not this independent!” That’s the painful part. Every parent and every mother wants their children to forge their own path, but they would really like it to be the path they would choose. It seldom works out that way and yet, mothers still love, mothers are still proud and Mothers still stand by their children.

My mother exudes good health, smarts and a sharp mind at 90. Yet, I am well aware that my chances to tell her how grateful I  am for all her strength, courage and love, are dwindling.  So Mom, I am sorry for all the bad choices I made on my journey. They weren’t your fault (probably Dad’s). But if I have the gifts of determination, kindness, loyalty and grit, they are because of you. And, I am grateful I get another chance to tell you that in person. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

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