Father’s Day special
I am 8 years old, and I clamber up onto my dad’s shoulders to dive into the water.
We are swimming in Okanagan Lake, and I stand perfectly still, feet planted on either side of his neck. My hands are stretched down to hold his, his are stretched up to hold mine.
There is nothing overtly heroic about the moment. I splash down headfirst, and this dive is simply one of the thousands of everyday acts that can transpire during a warm summer between a father and son.
So why do I still remember it today?
In another moment I am 12, and my dad has taken me fishing at Penask Lake, high in the mountains beyond our house. It is just us. My older brother is elsewhere and busy. Mom has wisely stayed behind.
I do not remember the number of fish we catch, or what we talk about, but it is right before a meal, and Dad is sitting around the cook fire with his hat taken off. It is numbingly cold, the smoke from the charcoal drifts in our eyes, and Dad is saying a blessing for the meal, his head bare.
It strikes me as an odd gesture of respect, something of a conventionality so foreign to the playground culture of a 12-year-old boy. That’s the image that remains strongest in my memory today—
Dad’s removed hat.
How wise of the universe to allow fathers to provide their children with these unplanned moments of security—the moments that flow naturally out of a father’s solid character. These are the ingredients that build a solid platform for a child’s life; they serve as both an anchor and a springboard to all a child may become.
Moments of security don’t need to stop, even after a son has grown. For days this spring, my parents visit our home. My wife has just given birth, and so while my mom cooks and cleans and ferries the kids around town, my dad busies himself with a hundred small tasks. He mows and fertilizes my lawn. He hunts down a new remote control, as mine is broken, and programs it to correspond with every electronic thingamabob in the house. Each day he walks with our two oldest children to the park, guiding them gleefully around swings and slides.
There is nothing remarkable about the visit. Nothing intrepid. Rather, it is the sheer ordinariness of the visit that undergirds what his relationship with me has always been about.
Have you ever wondered what a parent’s most heroic acts are in a child’s mind?
We might point to the salary we bring home, the promotion we get, or the plaque of honor we hang on our wall. Nothing wrong with those. But that which is of great value in the next generation’s eyes tends to exist on a far different plain, even though they might tell you otherwise.
It’s because security has a way of being veiled to a child. The safety provided by my father when I grew up was never advertised to me. But I knew it existed. I could feel it deep in my gut.
Fortunately the veils can come off as an adult. Now I can recognize the same strength that was always there. It catches at my throat when I see it. If I watch closely, it still zips by me in the course of a million unplanned moments with my dad.
I realize not every man was parented well. And, sure, my father made mistakes, same as I make mistakes with my own children.
Yet today, may we pause to consider the many small, secure ways we were parented, as well as the ways we parent now, if we have children. That which we hold most valuable we tend to emulate. For each new generation, greatness is not far out of reach, if we so embrace it.
I can still feel my father’s greatness rustle before a meal. We are outside on the back porch, and the barbecue sizzles though the springtime air is cold.
Out of honor, Dad still removes his hat.
Question: What were some small-yet-great things your father did for you?
|Skip's graduation photo|
As a young man he swam the fast-flowing Niagara River at night as part of a fraternity initiation, fought battles on behalf of his nonathletic older brother Elmer, worked part time jobs to buy clothes for his younger sister Ruth, and assumed the role of man in the family after his father, a traveling jazz musician, virtually abandoned his family for the sake of his career.
People who knew him say everybody simply loved Warren “Skip” Muck. Even today, more than 60 years after his death, people say they miss the man. A few summers ago, the residents of his hometown, Tonawanda, NY, erected a war memorial with a special emphasis on remembering him.
What made Skip Muck a man we can learn from?
Like most people, Skip grew up with a mix of positive opportunities and painful givens. Yet despite his setbacks, he chose to see the world with optimism. It started at an early age. As a kid, Warren Muck never walked anywhere. He was a cheerful boy who found joy in the simplest of activities—like moving from point A to B. Whenever he moved, he skipped. That’s how he got the nickname, which stuck into his adult years.
|Skip and his girlfriend, Faye Tanner. He hoped to marry her after the war. |
When World War II hit, Skip enlisted to become a paratrooper with Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, the men who would later become known as the Band of Brothers. Skip loved being a paratrooper, even though the training proved brutal. After a 120-mile march with full gear from Toccoa to Atlanta, his friend Don Malarkey’s legs were so sore from the weight and constant pounding of carrying a mortar unit on his back he could only crawl. He began to head to the mess tent on all fours. When Skip spotted Don he grabbed both mess kits and said, “No friend of mine crawls anywhere.” Skip went and filled both mess kits with food and came back to the tent to eat with Don.
"He was just a man who dug down deep inside and found the courage, strength, and drive to do what was needed."
PFC Tony Garcia was a replacement in Skip’s mortar squad, and under Skip’s command. Tony said that once he went off base one weekend without a pass while in England to have a little fun, and Skip found out about it. Skip could have turned him in and gotten him tossed out of Easy Company, but instead, he just chewed him out and ended it there. Tony was always grateful to Skip for his flexibility, and never put Skip on the spot again.
Little is recorded about Skip’s involvement with specific battles, but a clipping from the Buffalo Evening News names Skip as part of a small force of 101st Airborne paratroopers who turned the tables on a larger group of German paratroopers north of Nijmegan. Skip was awarded a Bronze Star for courage during this battle.
|Skip's close friend, Alex Penkala. ||
The battle would be one of his last. On January 9, 1944, Skip and his good friend, Alex Penkala, were huddled in the snowy Bois Jacques woods during an artillery barrage when an enemy shell hit their foxhole and exploded. A friend ran to check on Skip and Alex but found only pieces of their bodies and part of an old sleeping bag.
Today, the men of Easy Company are hesitant to talk about Skip. It still brings up too many painful memories. When they do talk, they describe him as the best-liked man in the company. Don Malarkey said, “He was my best friend from day one at Toccoa.” Johnny Martin described him as “totally real—he protected and took care of all the men in his squad.” Les Hashey said simply, “We all loved him.”
Actor Richard Speight, who portrayed Skip in the HBO miniseries and later spoke at the memorial dedication in Tonawanda, studied people’s recollections of Skip extensively as part of the preparation for the series and has remained a close friend of Skip’s family ever since. When asked what made Skip so admirable, Richard wrote:
I don't think his legacy is a military one. I believe it's more universal and grander in scope. Skip serves as an enduring example of one who thinks not of himself but of the people and the world around him. Those are the ones who truly make a difference.
It would be easy to attribute Skip's heroism to some special power, some unique gift he and others like him possess that we regular folk don't. But the truth is, he was just a man who dug down deep inside and found the courage, strength, and drive to do what was needed.
He has left me and countless others wondering if we would have made the same choices. Would we have found that courage in ourselves? Do I have the strength of character to do what needs to be done?
|Skip Muck, gone but not forgotten. |
Question: Skip Muck is a man we can learn from. When you think of Skip's many qualities--his optimism, his enthusiasm for life, his bravery, his can-do attitude, his protection and care for his family ... what quality sticks out most to you? What is one quality you wished you had more of in your own life?
|Sorry Boss, the answer is no. |
Think of all the times when it would be swell to decline a request that comes your way.
Sure, sometimes you absolutely can’t say no. Like, when your boss dumps a mammoth-sized stack of paper on your desk and says get to work or you’ll be fired. Or when you’re watching football on TV and your wife goes into labor.
But a lot of life revolves around unessential queries that come our way.
· Can you attend a function that you’re not interested in?
· Can you serve on a board where you’re not even sure what the organization does?
· Can you volunteer for an event when you’re already overcommitted and simply want to spend one evening per week sitting on the couch watching reruns of Matlock?
What then, conscientious citizen? How do you gracefully bow out?
People tell you to lie. Sure. Make up some excuse that doesn’t really exist. But there are serious ethical problems with that option, not to mention the problem of getting caught. Like, you tell somebody you’re going to be somewhere else, but then he shows up at the other place for some strange reason and doesn’t find you there. Yeah, it happens.
Another option is always to tell the hard truth. I mean, the hard, hard truth. No, I don’t want to be at your party because you smell like stale cheese. Although the truth is almost always the best option, sometimes the hard truth lands you into more hot water, not less.
So … enter the courteous solution.
It’s truthful, and used the world over by everybody from high-powered executives to highly-harried volunteers. It’s polite yet effective, and its use will successfully excuse you from of a myriad of unsought situations.
Two simple steps are involved.
1) Genuinely thank your requester.
2) Strategically ask permission to decline the offer.
The first step is important. It’s also sincere. The person would not have made a request of you unless he thinks you can add value to a situation. It’s an honor to be asked. Never forget that. The person has probably risked something to pose a request to you. He becomes vulnerable to being turned down. Which you are indeed about to do.
The second step is strategically polite. When it comes to living your life, you’re not actually seeking the other person’s authorization regarding what you can or cannot do. But the phraseology sets up your response as gracious, not harsh. And that’s what you almost always want when declining a request—to preserve the relationship.
So here’s how it looks in action.
REQUESTER: Hey, can you do XYZ?
YOU: Oh, thanks for thinking of me for that. Would it be okay if I said no this time?
Do you see the gratitude phrase? And do you see the permission phrase?
Congratulations, countrymen, you’ve just successfully said no.
Question: What other polite-yet-effective ways have you found to say no?
Every move we make this Memorial Day is a costly move.
|Shifty Powers. Photo courtesy Peter van der Wal||
A hotdog barbecued in the backyard is a lavish expense. The price of watching a parade is exorbitant. Admission to the National Memorial Day Concert on the west lawn of the United States Capitol is incalculable.
On the last Monday of May we honor the men and women who pay for our freedom. The cost of their immeasurable sacrifices is foundational to every move we make.
How difficult it is to grasp that freedom is not free—and more so to live in light of that reality. Most of us experience war by hearing news or debating ideas. We read memoirs or watch war movies or talk to veterans. Still, it’s hard for us to grasp what those who fight for our freedom actually go through.
But narrow the focus. Perhaps then the cost becomes easier to appreciate. What has one person paid so we can live in freedom today?
Meet Shifty Powers. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was a soft-spoken 18-year-old from Virginia. After nearly two years of hard training, he parachuted into France on D-day and fought for a month in Normandy, eighty days in Holland, thirty-nine days in the harshly cold winter of Bastogne, and nearly thirty more in Haguenau, France, and Germany.
Total price of Shifty’s time in military service: three years of his youth.
One of Shifty’s good friends was a muscular Washingtonian named Bill Kiehn. One morning while holding the line in Haguenau, Bill came off duty. Exhausted, he went to take a nap in the basement of an empty house. A stray artillery shell flew in, struck the house, and exploded. By the time they dug Bill out, he was dead.
Bill Kiehn is a specific example of someone we remember on Memorial Day, and not the only friend of Shifty’s killed in action. The names ring out like a laundry list of lost potential—Skip Muck, Bill Dukeman, Thomas Meehan.
Total number of friends from Shifty’s company who died in the war: thirty-nine young men.
Shifty was stationed in Austria near war’s end. His name was picked out of a hat to go home early. He had never been wounded during the fighting, but on his way back to headquarters, the truck he rode in collided head-on with another army vehicle. Shifty broke one arm and his pelvis, and suffered other injuries. He came home from war in casts.
Total time Shifty spent in recovery: twelve months in hospital.
Even with victory, the young man who had gone to war was not the same man who came home. Shifty was plagued by nightmares, unseen fears. He got into fights. For a while, he drank too much. He was an ordinary man, but he had seen horrific extraordinary things. For decades he quietly processed the battles fought. Work, family, faith, and community helped.
Total time Shifty spent processing the war: the rest of his life.
When I examine Shifty Powers’ story, I see a man who paid greatly for freedom. He fought for his country when it immediately came under attack, and he also fought for the futures of all free peoples.
Decades beyond World War II, surely I am one who benefited. That I can vote in presidential elections and not bend my knee to Hirohito’s grandson is testament to the enduring work of the veterans of World War II. That I can write books for a living instead of sweating in a Third Reich factory is a product of Allied triumph.
Still, others paid more than Shifty, as he would be the first to tell you. Those who paid the ultimate price are those we specifically remember on Memorial Day.
What is my hope for this holiday? I hold one picture closely in mind. It’s a photograph of Shifty as an old man, returned to Europe to place flowers on the grave of his friend, Skip Muck, killed at Bastogne. The grief and honor are still fresh on Shifty’s face. This example is what I glean from a man like Shifty Powers, and hope to remember.
He understood the price.
Read more about the life of Darrell 'Shifty' Powers in SHIFTY'S WAR
Question: Why is Memorial Day significant for you? What do you hope that people know about this holiday?
What’s the best way to ask somebody for something—a way that guarantees results?
It seldom works well to order, threaten, cajole, wheedle, or beg. Studies have shown that the best way to request things of people, inspire them, or motivate them to action is to ask honestly, directly, and clearly.
Could you please pass the salt?
But … here’s where the art form of requesting surfaces.
Linguistics note that couldis a highly loaded word, similar to can. It’s so loaded that people actually bristle when it’s used. The word sets up defensiveness and entrenches people in their own opinions. It sounds like such a simple word, but it actually backfires. It establishes antagonistic relationships.
It’s because the word couldconnotes a subtle inquiry into a person’s abilities or talents, which is not what you’re saying at all. It faintly implies that a person is unable or lacks talent. And that’s why it silently sets people off.
Here’s what happens when you use the word could.
BOSS: Hey, could you do these reports by Monday?
EMPLOYEE: (thinks to himself). CouldI? Of course I could, you big lout. But I’m going to take the weekend off, like my contract says I can.
HUSBAND: Honey, could you pick up my dry cleaning?
WIFE: Could I? Well, sure I could, you lazy sack of cheese. But I’ve been working all day wiping the kids’ noses and cleaning the house and writing the thank you notes for our Christmas gifts while you’ve been sitting on your keister eating donuts behind your desk. Why don’t you try and help out once in a while?!
Ever been there?
Enter a simple solution … instead of using the word could,
…switch to using the word would.
Linguistics note that the word would establishes an entirely different dynamic in a relationship. Instead of a person feeling put upon by a request, a person feels honored. The use of would subtly implies that the other person has options. By complying with your request he feels like he’s actually doing you a favor, which makes him feel empowered and even altruistic.
Try the technique with the same examples.
BOSS: Would you be able to do these reports by Monday?
EMPLOYEE: Would I? Of course, Boss. I’m you’re top man. You just watch me in action.
HUSBAND: Honey, would you be able pick up my dry cleaning on your way home from work please?
WIFE: Would I? Of course, dear. Thanks for asking so politely, you sensitive hunk, you. Mmm mmm, kiss, kiss.
Try it for awhile. Switch one simple word in your requests, from could to would, and see what kind of results are achieved.
Question: What’s one request someone made of you recently? How did the person ask it of you, and what was your response?
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