The Path

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Without purpose, you’ll never focus.

Without focus, you’ll never achieve.

Without achieving, you’ll never be content.

Without being content, you’ll never be happy.

It all starts with purpose.

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My Father’s Day

I was twelve. It was Hanukkah and I was hiding in the men’s room of a dingy reform Synagogue near Mechanicsburg, PA.

My father had just informed me of the two prayers I’d need to learn to be Bar Mitzvahed and I was now doubled over on the toilet, stressing hard enough to shit blood diamonds. I was near tears, terrified of confronting my father. He had always scared me.

I exited the bathroom slowly, looked my father in the eye and told him I wasn’t going to be Bar Mitzvahed. “Why?” he asked. “Because it wouldn’t mean anything to me,” I said. He cracked a bad joke, said okay and never mentioned it again.

I’m pretty sure that was the moment my father started respecting me.

Eight years later my father sobered up and entered AA. Suddenly he was emotionally engaged and interested in my life. I found it highly annoying. I tried my best to dissuade him from flying west to accompany me on a road trip back east, but he insisted.

We were in the middle of Kansas when the lights went out. I was staring through the windshield, it was noon and yet it was dusk. The sky was the color of frozen coal and hail began pounding so heavy on the roof that we needed to yell to communicate.

Air raid sirens blared and windows shook as we entered the dimly lit lobby of a nearby motel. The second we got our room key I began insisting that I was going out to see a movie.

That’s how much I wanted to get the fuck away from my fucking father.

I lost the argument when the desk manager told us that there were three tornadoes in the area and the movie theater had been damaged. The next morning I awoke to my father doing yoga at the foot of my bed – sweaty and breathless wearing nothing but crusty, old-man, Fruit of the Loom, Tighty-Whities.

I hated him so much.

Hours later…

it’s sunny, I’m driving and I’m doing everything possible to make my father pay for twenty years of lost friendship. He asks me a simple question. I give a terse response. He shakes his head and says, “You’re a fucking asshole.”

I turn away, smirk and think, That’s awesome. I can definitely be friends with this guy.

That was the moment I started respecting my father – which was followed by ten wonderful years of friendship, love, trust and laughs.

Eleven years after his funeral my father’s actions continue to remind me that it’s never too late to script a new beginning – even if it means battling your asshole son to make it happen.

Two nearly identical assholes...

Two nearly identical assholes.

Universal Truth

There’s a perfectly manicured lawn in Southeastern Ohio. It runs flat and green toward the rolling hills of Appalachia.

There are no flowers or bushes on this lawn. No trees or toys. Nothing to distract you from the lone sign planted at its middle. The sign stands three feet tall, is white with black letters and reads:

Center Of The Universe

I burst out laughing and look around for someone, anyone to share this magnificent joke with.

The next day I’m sitting at my desk in the back of a small classroom. It’s the start of my second year of graduate school. One of my classmates, who I consider a best friend, sits down next to me. I ask her for help on my latest project, as I always do. She helps, as she always does. When we’re done I tell her my story about the sign and… silence.

She doesn’t laugh.

Instead she stares at me stone faced with the contempt of a righteous executioner and says, “That’s funny. I thought you considered yourself the center of the universe. You know the world doesn’t revolve around you Morris.”

I tried to argue, but the facts were in her favor. She was right. I was a self absorbed prick, readily taking from others rather than giving of myself.

I look back on that moment and think how unbelievably lucky I was to have a friend willing to speak her truth and set me straight. That one poignant observation forced me to reevaluate how I related to the world.

When I got home later that night I took out a blank flash card and wrote a single question on it:

Who Do You Want To Be?

I tacked that card up on my wall next to my bed and stared at it morning and night. When I moved, it moved with me. It became my principal guiding question, one which I continue to build my life around.

One essential lesson I took from that exchange is this: Just because you have lots of friends, doesn’t mean they respect you.

While being witty, talented, athletic, cool or entertaining will win you a popularity contest, it won’t win you any best friends.

To be considered a best friend you need to demonstrate a willingness to put the interests of others before your own. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has a best friend they consider selfish.

Just because a best friend of yours bails you out of jail, is there for you through your worst tragedy, speaks at your wedding or babysits your children, doesn’t mean they consider you a best friend of theirs.

I was wrong all those years ago to arrogantly assume Laura Jo DeCapua considered me a best friend – and today I thank her for teaching me that the only way to become someone’s best friend is to place them ahead of yourself and at the center of your universe.

Who knows, without her I might still be living obliviously, wondering why my best friends are always so slow to return my calls.

ljd sm 3

Laura Jo DeCapua, center, beams proudly knowing that her work is done here.