I still don’t like cats but the journey with Clawd and Clementine teaches me a lot

My Dad hated cats. My early love of boxing and my life-long dislike of cats was clearly learned behavior at my Dad’s knee.

When my daughter married a man with a cat I was horrified. Things failed to improve when I met said cat and his successor cat. My dislike for the species catus is legendary. On my late wife’s deathbed she overheard a hospice worker ask me if we had any pets. When I replied “Hell no, I hate pets,” my sarcastic-to-the-end wife told my daughter, “There is no way he can divorce me now, let’s talk cat.” Actually, Jean had never been that anxious for a cat, but the line was funny and demonstrates how much my dislike of cats is rooted in my family’s culture.

The astute among you have more than an inkling of where this is going. Late last year a woman I had been friends with at the Minneapolis Star Tribune contacted me to offer sympathy upon my wife’s death. We had been good work friends in Minneapolis, but not such good friends that I knew she was a cat person.

As we rekindled our friendship and that friendship showed the potential of something much more, Candace  made it clear she had two cats. She credited the cats with getting her through her own grief when her husband, David, died late in 2011. It was abundantly clear that if the relationship had any future at all, the cats were going to be a part of that future. To this moment, the thing that impresses my daughter Tracy the most about my marriage to Candace Hadley McGuire is that the cats were not a deal breaker.

Now, this is a real-life story and not a fairy tale, so I am not going to come before you to testify I fell madly in love with Clawd and Clementine. I still don’t really like them and I get terribly antsy when they jump up on my bed. In my heart of hearts, I believe they are plotting against me. And yet, I have developed a genuine appreciation for the two felines and for Candace’s love for them.

I swear the cats often seem to talk to Candace and she talks back! A year ago I would have scoffed mightily at the notion that the three of them communicate in any way. Now I am not so sure.

The other day I grabbed for a tie on a tie hanger in our closet and I dropped it. As I reached for the tie on the floor I grabbed some cat. After my record leap in the air I realized I had discovered Clementine’ top-secret hiding place that neither I, nor Candace, knew about. Cut to a day later when Clementine was whining incessantly to Candace. Candace was almost at her wit’s end when she followed the cat into our bedroom and realized that the closet door to Clementine’s secret hiding place was closed. Candace opened it and all was well. That impresses the heck out of someone who has always believed cats were incapable of communication.

Clementine does not seem well and that has made Candace very sad because she believes she is about to lose her long-time companion and savior. And anything that makes my lovely new wife sad, makes me sad. A year ago I would have been sympathetic but not very empathetic. That has changed.

Don’t hold your breath for me to become a cat lover, but by opening my mind and watching the incredible bond between two cats and an extremely intelligent woman I think I finally get it. After a lifetime of closing my mind, I understand that it just might be possible that the creatures really do relate to humans on a deep and important level that demands respect and even a little awe.

My tolerance and respect for cats is growing, but I still wish they’d stay off my bed!

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

For me, a grief counselor was the only smart answer

A fellow expressed surprise the other day that I have been seeing a grief counselor. I was surprised he was surprised.

The death of a spouse or a child is the most horrible event I can imagine. I think trying to survive that grief alone would be akin to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro without a guide. In both cases, you have no idea where you are going, you don’t have a grasp on what tools you will need and you really can’t trust your own instincts because they’ve never been tested in that way before.

Many people believe that in finding a good grief counselor the secret is the initials behind their name. Those folks argue it’s all about credentials. I have nothing against psychiatrists, psycho-therapists or grief therapists. I believe in some credentials but for me there are nine key letters I want behind my grief counselor’s name: b-e-e-n t-h-e-r-e.  I want to know my counselor has experienced the same loss I did. I will candidly admit that since my wife Jean’s death, the world divides into two parts–people who have lost a dear loved one and those that haven’t. If you are giving me advice, you better have walked in my shoes or I am going to seriously discount your comments.

I apologize if that offends, but for me that’s the price of admission. I appreciate everybody else’s empathy but not their advice.

My grief counselor, Jenny, lost her husband several years ago but that did not assure us a smooth road. The first time we met I thought she was crazy and I told her so. In that first meeting we watched a video of Jean in pictures with our family that we had prepared for the wake and funeral. I sobbed throughout the entire video. Jenny listened to me talk for a while and then asked me to watch the video every day. I wailed, I swore, I yelled and after a few days of complaining to sympathetic friends about what a stupid idea it was, I followed Jenny’s advice.

Jenny told me to watch the video until I was smiling instead of sobbing. I thought that was flat-out impossible. It was not. Jenny was right. Oh sure, I still get tears in my eyes when I watch it, but I also smile a lot. I marvel at Jean’s smile, I love the way she looked at me in tender moments and her rapport with her grandkids makes my heart sing.

Jenny made me stare down my grief and it has helped me immeasurably. You don’t get over grief, but it does become less all-consuming and more a part of your daily life. My grief controlled me for a while. Jenny helped me make it tolerable by teaching me to celebrate the joy I found with Jean.

Think for a minute about what Ed Catmull calls “life’s two inch events”

One of my favorite recent books is Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull. Catmull is the head of Pixar Animation studios and he has been a creative and leadership force in a number of pioneering animation efforts such as Toy Story.

Catmull is fascinated with the role fate plays in shaping our lives. He writes about  life’s “two inch events.” His point is that if I wouldn’t have awakened just as a pal was falling asleep at a very dangerous curve when we were 21, several stories, including that of our children, would be fundamentally different.

On one trip to the badlands and Mt. Rushmore, when my son Jeff was about three, we left an amusement area and encountered heavy traffic. Our Down syndrome son Jason was seven. An oncoming driver obviously lost patience with the traffic and attempted to pass four or five cars only to find the McGuire family directly in his sights and no way to get back into his lane. He was certain to hit us but my defensive actions were limited because there was a steep ravine on our right. With fate on my side, I turned the wheel hard right to avoid the oncoming car. As we precariously skidded on the edge of that ravine I jerked the wheel back hard left to avoid guaranteed tragedy.

I had just saved my family from one of our scariest encounters ever, and possible death, when my two little boys simultaneously and gleefully shouted “Wheeeeeeeeeee.” Not the kind of acclaim I expected for my life-saving maneuver.

It was one of those “two-inch events” and you would not be reading this blog if I had come just a bit closer to that ravine. My daughter, Tracy, and her family probably wouldn’t be around etc, etc.

I don’t tell this story to be macabre but rather to stress the sense of gratitude we all should feel. I am willing to bet every reader of this post has a “two-inch event” for which you should be grateful.

I have a friend who survived dangerous action in Vietnam and who survived alcoholism. He shakes his head in amazement when he considers the “two-inch events” in his life. But I marvel at how this man connects people and boosts people’s self esteem. His retirement job is helping people be better. As I talked to him the other day I couldn’t help but think how much the world would have lost if “two inches” would have ever gone against him

Life is fragile and our job is to make the most of it with joy and enthusiasm. We have to avoid anything that looks like passivity because that two inches could easily go against us the next time.

Jason and his blinding flashes of insight

My deceased wife Jean and I were often at odds about whether Jason operates at a four-year-old level or a five-year-old level. Jean’s eloquent argument was that he acts four was based on her contention that five-year-olds understand the world is rule-based. She argues that while Jason knows there are rules he is far more into instant gratification than he is into considering consequences, so she thinks he’s kind of stuck between four and five.

That works for me to a certain extent but I chose to use five in the upcoming book, “Some People Even Take Them Home” because a four-year-old would not solve problems as quickly or imaginatively as Jason does. He has always distinguished himself with his quickness and cleverness. Jason is savvy beyond his cognitive abilities.

Examine this exchange when he was 14 and his sister, Tracy, was 16. Tracy was trying to teach him honorifics. Remember too, Tracy became a special education teacher as an adult.

Tracy: “What’s your brother Jeffrey?”
Jason: “Mr. McGuire.”
Tracy: “Who am I?”
Jason: “Miss McGuire!”
Tracy: “Very good, what’s Mom?”
Jason: “Mrs. McGuire.”
Tracy: “Great, what’s Daddy?”
Jason said without any hesitation “The King!”

We laughed hard that day and I’ve captivated dinner audiences with that story for years. Consider though, the flash of insight and the deep sense of family perspective communicated by Jason’s rapid-fire response. Despite his serious cognitive difficulties he sometimes has a keen sense of irony and can speak deep truths.