Category Archives: Beard Talk

Saying Goodbye to a Best Friend, Reconnecting with an Old One, and Doing the Right Thing

Saying Goodbye

I said goodbye to a friend this week. He was one of the greatest beings I have had the privilege to know—canine or human. Most people love their dogs, so these feelings are not unique, but that in no way diminishes what he meant to me.

He was the first to make my friends feel welcome, and the first to make those that may threaten my family feel quite unwelcome. He slept outside my kids’ bedroom door at night and by their beds when they were sick. He had endless patience with them as they have grown. They have never known life without him.

The first few years of his life were not good ones. He came into my life starving and abandoned on the side of a dirt road. I was told he would not recover from the condition he was left in; that I should not become attached, because he would not live more than another week. Instead he lived almost ten more years, and good ones. Almost all of my adult life up to this point.

I found out last Monday that he had a giant tumor in his abdomen, well hidden by his deep chest (he was half grey hound). The tumor was pressing against his internal organs, halting digestion, and causing kidney and liver failure. His quality of life was already rapidly declining, and there was little to be done.

Oliver-mans-best-friend

Oliver the Great

So, the tough decision had to be made to put him down. It was tough not because it was difficult to decide—I did not want him to suffer—but because of how much it hurt knowing he would be gone. That night we ate roast beef, shared a brew, and went outside as often and for as long as he wanted. I stayed by his side after his many years of faithfully staying by mine.

Returning to the veterinarian’s office in the morning was the longest short drive of my life, yet still seemed to pass too quickly. Thankfully the process didn’t take long, and he did not seem to experience any discomfort.

His body has been donated to the veterinary medicine program at the university, which seems appropriate. Oliver’s last act of service.

Sometimes Doing the Right Thing Goes Wrong

My sister recently broke up with her boyfriend and due to some shitty circumstances has been without wheels, making the whole process quite a bit more difficult. Wanting to help, my dad finds a cheap vehicle that will suit her needs, fixes a couple of little issues it had, and has it in mind to bring it to her.

The only problem? She lives down in the Anchorage area— roughly 360 miles south of the town where he and I currently reside. My assistance is requested, and we make plans to caravan down and carpool back. No big deal; just 12-14 hours of driving to and from.

My dad and I met up at a predetermined location, fueled up, grabbed the necessary sundries, and set out into the night.

And directly into a torrent of freezing rain.

Initially we pressed forward, but every turn on that dark road brought worse conditions. Visibility and traction were diminishing by the minute.

Finally I hear, “I’m losing control back here,” over the radio, and I know our noble quest has been cut short.

“Alright, let’s turn it around,” I reply.

Attempting to come to a full stop revealed just how dangerous the road had become as we were failing to find a safe location to begin our retreat. Eventually we find a straight stretch of road long enough to see traffic coming from either direction, turn around, and slowly make our way back.

Doing the right thing did not go as planned, but over-confidence or under-awareness might have exacted a high price.

Not wanting to let the night be a total waste, we head over to a bar to shoot some pool. The lively atmosphere was cathartic, and we parted ways in agreement that we made the right call. Earlier in the week I made the decision to end a life, and tonight our decision possibly saved one.

An Uncanny Coincidence

A couple hours after making it home I realize that I left my card at the bar.

Rookie mistake.

After briefly weighing the risk of additional drive time in the rain, I decide to return to the bar for my card. The roads are bad, but there would be fewer vehicles to contend with than in the daytime.

In those couple hours the world had transformed into an enormous ice skating rink. Driving was a little dicey, but walking was flat-out treacherous.

As I carefully shuffle toward the bar entrance I notice a couple ladies standing outside the door, and I make an offhand joke about the danger of my predicament. I did not take a good look at them due to the task at hand of not busting my ass on the ice, but when I made my way past them the one nearest to me asks, “Hey, what’s your name?”

I reply and finally look over at this point to see it is an old friend from my days in long-term care!

Yeah, yeah, small world, small town and all, but I have not seen her in years. More than that I recently learned she had been diagnosed with cancer, so this friend from an old life has been in my thoughts.

She wastes no time in telling me that she’s going under the knife soon, and will be cancer free post surgery. What fantastic news I would not yet know of if anything had happened differently tonight.

And so I am thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to do the right thing, thankful that it went wrong, and thankful that I made a rookie mistake.

In the grand scheme of things, getting the good news a little earlier does not change much, but I cannot shake the feeling of significance. It causes me to ponder the nature of coincidence. I know some people say there are no coincidences, and others say chaos reigns. Most probably think little of it at all.

I am not sure which direction I lean toward, but my mind is open.

Leadership Scarcity: A Modern Epidemic

I read an article today about why good employees quit their jobs. It was a shitty hack job of something originally posted on LinkedIn, but it did spark a thought about leadership. Well, that and the following bit of vitriol from a Facebook comment:

“Side note: ALL bosses are assholes/bitches/dumbasses in any shape or form. Only difference is if they like you or not”

Hardly true. Then this:

“Well we live in a world where the intelligent and common sense thinking individuals are outmatch by the dumb and thick headed fence post and those post fence become bosses and they make other post fence become boss”

More true.

Now I don’t know the guy, so this is hardly a personal indictment, but that’s directly from the script read by righteously terrible and entitled employees. Maybe he has a legitimate ax to grind, I don’t know, but it did get my wheels turning. So in response I posted this:

“I would never paint an entire group of people with the same brush, but there is an epidemic of bad management. Some of that stems from the individual; everyone is accountable for themselves and their actions.

However it is too widespread to simply base it on that.

Leadership attributes are not what is most valued when choosing leaders. The cold hard fact of the matter is there are a disproportionate number of leaders needed and people capable of leading. Some have innate leadership traits and we call them natural leaders, but even then those traits are not nurtured, because they are not as valued as they should be. Some amount of skill can be developed in most people, but once again, this is not a priority.

The biggest problem is society’s collective mindset. Just look at the language. We don’t need managers, we need leaders.”

Naturally I did not stop pondering the issue just because I tossed my initial thoughts into the Facebook ether. Specifically I keep coming back to the concept of managers versus leaders, because language matters. Subtle differences in how someone is described can create a profound difference in how that person is perceived—to include how that person perceives himself.

A man who describes himself as a manager and a man who describes himself as a leader are two very different men.

A manager sounds like someone who simply keeps people doing their job just well enough to meet the lowest acceptable standard. Only just managing to keep everyone from fucking up too badly. Best case scenario: the employees and managers get along well enough to function. More commonly there is an antagonistic relationship between the two, and worst of all this has become an accepted and expected part of the workplace.

“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader is interested in the group.”

– Russell H. Ewing

The thoughts and mental images associated with the word ‘leader’ are very different. A leader is someone who is taking you somewhere. Someone who isn’t managing a group of quarreling individuals, but leading a team that is committed to a goal and to each other.

General George S. Patton, leadership embodied.

“We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.”

Unfortunately society currently values subservience over initiative. Obedience over audacity. Conformity over leadership.

Parents do not lead their children; they incubate them.

Teachers do not lead young minds to knowledge and critical thought. Less teaching than indoctrination.

This issue goes deeper than workplace satisfaction. Everyone is concerned with managing their lives rather than leading them. What happens when the average person has to be told what to do, how and when to do it—but never asks why it’s being done? When this person needs to be directed and supervised like a child? It is okay to be a follower; the world needs good followers, but no one should follow blindly.

So what am I going to do?

I am going to lead. Regardless of who is above, below, behind, or in front of me.

Tonight I’m Sleeping With Spider-Man

“All right kiddos, time to head upstairs.”

“And Daddy? I’ll brush my teeth?”

“Yes.”

“And get my pa-JAM-as on?”

“Yes.”

“And then I will go to bed!”

“Yeah!”

This night’s variation of the usual bedtime conversation plays out with my oldest, Ruthie, while my son begins gathering all the things he wants to bring with him upstairs to bed. He puts his toy laptop under his left arm, picks up his toy tool bag he has filled with blocks, hot wheels, a Ninja Turtle, and of course his complement of tools, (the necessities in other words), then squats down (with perfect form), and manages to wedge a big green ball between his free right arm and everything collected in his left.

Perfectly planned so he can still grab the balloon floating near the stairs.

I watch on with the small wonder that is exclusive to proud parents.

“Ready Daddy!” my son exclaims as he begins up the stairs.

“Daddy, I’m going to wake you up in the morning, okay?” asks Ruthie.

“Okay.”

“And we’re going to eat breakfast!”

“Yes, sweetie.”

We reach the top of the stairs and my daughter runs to the bathroom, excited to brush her teeth; my son’s priority is setting up his spread of toys just right. While helping them get into their pajamas I ask them about their day. I already know every minute of it, but I encourage their contemplation.

“Uncle Ethan came to visit us. He loves video games, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, he does.”

“Well…” Ruthie’s brow furrows in thought, “I love Uncle Ethan!” she finishes with all of her five year old zeal.

Our bedtime ritual continues with more discussion. Often It seems she saves up her biggest questions of the day until she is tucked into bed. We discuss the meaning of life, the universe, and everything before we say our “Goodnight’s” and “I love you’s” and I am almost out of the room when Ruthie asks one more question.

“Daddy? You want to sleep with my Spider-Man? He will help keep you safe, like… Like how you keep us safe.”

My bodyguard.

My bodyguard.

This isn’t the first time she has offered me a protector for my dreams, but I am never less amazed by her kindness every time. It is unabashed and pure, and desires nothing in return.

Sometimes I am the student, and she is the teacher.

Biography of The Beard

Beginning its life as peach fuzz and stray inexplicably long whiskers growing from the face of the adolescent human known as Zachariah, The Beard was suppressed by bladed grooming implements for many years. Though secretly bitter about the Razor Oppression of the early 2000’s, The Beard’s public position is that time period was its incubation.

Eventually opportunity struck when Zach began work at a lumber yard in his 18th year. With the approach of winter The Razor began to lose power over the human, who began to feel the allure of the warmth provided by a more bewhiskered visage.

The Beard celebrated in untamed glory, believing itself finally freed from a shaven existence. Sadly salvation was not quite at hand—yet.

The Beard and the human grew close over the winter, making the impending massacre all the more difficult to bear. The coming of spring also signaled the coming of The Razor. The Beard was hurt and betrayed, pieces of itself severed and thrown away like refuse. But all was not lost.

The Beard was disfigured; so greatly diminished from the form that provided protection for the human against the harsh winter cold. Peering down into the trash The Beard mourned for its detached appendages. But The Beard lived on, a little further from glory than before the maiming, it survived as a goatee.

Surviving is not thriving, but The Beard did the best it could to make it through those dark times. The small growth it was allowed was more a cruelty than anything else, allowing only a glimpse of what potential dwelt within those hair follicles.

No beard can stay angry forever, and for the next few years The Beard settled into its pedestrian life as a goatee. It was not until the human experienced some strife of his own that The Beard finally found its time to shine. Beginning first as a five o’clock shadow, those rebellious bristles quickly seized the moment—this chance was not going to be taken for granted.

Springing forth glorious, red, and resplendent, The Beard had grown up.

A great partnership was formed.

A great partnership was formed.

It proceeded to make itself indispensable, uplifting the human; subsequently forming the most beneficial of symbiotic relationships. Together the duo was greater than either had imagined possible.

The beard grew and so did the power shared with the human.

Bearded Glory

Bearded glory.

Today The Beard has largely forgiven the human for his transgressions, and is working through its xyrophobia.

Bearded Beginning: the Obligatory First Post

One post must be the first.

The common practice when starting a blog is to create your First Post, in which the the blog is outlined; primarily why it is being written, and what to expect from it in the future. Mostly lies of course; though perhaps not all lies when first told as they are backed by good intentions— as so many of the best lies are!

So then if I do not intend to lie to you, what should I include when carrying out this compulsory tradition? Well, let’s just go down the list. Some bullet points if you will.

  • Many people when writing a blog make the proclamation that there will be no bullshit. I do not make this claim, for bullshit there will be.
  • A strict posting schedule is often promised, usually along the lines of three posts per week, maybe more for the foolishly “ambitious”. I feel no need to make myself accountable in such a way.
  • Commonly the subject matter that will be covered is outlined. I won’t be doing this either. Except to say that beards will be relevant, as will other things that I like.
  • Those that may eventually be offended: conservatives, atheists, democrats, republicans, men, women, liberals, 49er’s fans, christians, tea partiers, occupiers, communists, capitalists, catholics, “men” without beards, gays, straights, homophobes, xenophobes, xenophiles, and of course any pogonophobes.
  • If you do happen to find yourself offended, double check for humor; there may have been an attempt at it.
  • Still offended? Stop taking yourself so seriously.

Well there you have it: actual bullet points. That just came out of nowhere— surprised me even!

Most of the common tropes aside, the truly important part of the First Post is the “why”. Why sit down at a keyboard with the belief that my ideas and opinions are interesting enough to share with others in a format longer than a Facebook post? Well, first of all, Facebook is a time vortex and hardly worth the creative effort. Secondly, my words become Facebook’s, lost in a torrential re-posting of cat pictures and disingenuous relationship advice. Above all I am intrigued by the proposition of taking ownership of my words in a more permanent way.

It is all too easy to select a nom de plume and be a keyboard radical, though in general I believe I have represented myself digitally as I would otherwise. I have never felt the need to pretend to be somebody else behind a computer screen; most who know me also know that I am too fond of my bearded self for that. Indeed, rarely (perhaps only once) have I even taken a screen name other than some configuration of my real name. Regardless, it takes a small measure of courage to bind both personas together into a single entity, publicly exposing myself and my thoughts equally.

Getting a bit serious? I have been accused of having a flair for the dramatic— an accusation I have not denied.

Controversy is not my aim, but If I ruffle a few feathers along the way and spark a debate or two, well— all the better.

Plus I need to give a good home to all of my cat pictures.

Cat in a box in a box.

Cat in a box in a box.