• Joe

I’ve been on one helicopter.

It was a chilly mid-winter night in 2007 and, as part of a program to get to know my new hometown better, I had the opportunity to accompany the Philadelphia Police Aviation Unit on one of their helicopter patrols. With hundreds of airplane flights under my belt, I was well prepared. I greeted my female classmate and boarded the aircraft for the 90-minute tour.

We took off at dusk and the setting sun complimented the emerging lights of the Philly skyline. Cruising at such a low altitude provided a unique vantage point of the city. Close up fly-bys of the art museum and city hall contrasted perfectly with the up and coming Comcast Center. A beautiful night for such a relaxing trip.

About thirty minutes in, a call came over the radio of a police pursuit in need of air support. As we made the jump to light speed back towards Northeast Philadelphia, I realized that I was not prepared for the relaxing trip embracing its true purpose of a police patrol.

In no time we were over a dark section of the city, far removed from the sparkling lights of downtown. Communicating with the ground the pilot turned on the spotlight, quickly locating the active pursuit. To provide optimal lighting we tightly spun over the streets and back-alleys. And we spun. And we spun.

“Are you ok?”my classmate woke me from my blank stare out the window. She was having a grand old time and my feeling of embarrassment was only surpassed by my feeling of nausea. From the front, the second in command reached back to me with a smile and a plastic bag. I looked away from my classmate and tried not to think of how pitiful I looked with my head buried in the bag.

The pursuit ended and we went back to base where I was directed where to dispose of my self-made souvenir. We laughed at the limits of my masculinity, took some pictures and said goodbye.

It was the only time I’ve been on a helicopter and I may never go on one again. Reflecting on that experience is a great memory for me, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I have one daughter.

It was a warm late-spring night in 1998 when, as part of growing the family in accordance with the plan, I first met Catherine. With three years of fatherhood under my belt, I was well prepared. With two more brothers to follow, my routine of paternal process was well instilled and operating effectively.

We regularly ventured out to the usual family destinations. The mall, the restaurants, and the occasional vacation. Her energetic, confident and talkative personality contrasted perfectly with the more reserved style of her brothers. A mini version of me that was easy for me to relate to.

About fifteen years in, the door to her room closed more regularly. As she made the jump to light speed, I realized that I was not prepared for my daughter embracing her true purpose of becoming a woman.

In no time we were far removed from the fun little trips to the mall. I learned that communicating with someone who was so much like me was not always easy, and we often fought over the rules and responsibilities. And we fought. And we fought.

“Ok”, my daughter responded when I asked if she wanted to share a cheesesteak. I was driving her home from a party and it was the only courageous way I could break the silence. We sat on the hood of my car and she reached to me with a smile and half a cheesesteak. I learned how pitiful I was to bury time with those fights.

The father-daughter date ended and we went back to base where I was less insulted now when she closed the door to her room. We talked and laughed that night for the first time in a long time, shared things about our lives and said goodnight.

Catherine is my only daughter and I will not have one again. She has given me so many great memories and I can only imagine the wonderful memories she will give me in the years ahead.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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  • Joe

I spent this past weekend with someone who, I believe, is arguably the only truly authentic person I know.

You see, this person is not afraid of what others might think of what he does or what he says. Not afraid of showing his vulnerabilities when he needs to ask for help. Not afraid to approach life differently than you or me without fear of judgment.

Complementing this approach to life is an acceptance of the approach of others. Accepting of what they think and say. Accepting of how and what they do. Without judgment.

This person is one of the happiest people I know. Happy with himself. Happy with life.

This person is my youngest son John. John, as you know by now, has autism.

Putting aside for a moment the multitude of challenges and difficulties that autism presents individuals and their families, I’d like to focus on an extremely critical attribute I continue to learn from him. Authenticity.

What does it mean to be authentic? Good old Merriam-Webster defines it as being Real, True, Genuine, Not False, Not Phony. Of course, we know what authenticity means. We are all authentic. Right?

Well then why are there truckloads of books, articles and blogs on the power of authenticity and how to be more authentic? Is there something that we are missing? Is it hard to be truly authentic?

You’re damn right it is. In this world where we celebrate uniqueness but also demand conformity, being truly authentic is a tightrope that all of the “normal” people get to walk on every day.

I personally like another definition.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown defines authenticity as “the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are” and “a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen”.

A daily practice? Daily choices? Damn, no wonder we keep talking about authenticity as if it’s some holy grail of being that so few of us attain.

But why is it so hard to let our true selves be seen?

If you haven’t yet watched The Power of Vulnerability, I highly recommend it. Sticking with my preferred expert on authenticity, Brené Brown discusses how vulnerability is the core of shame and the fear of being disconnected or not accepted. The authentic person acknowledges and embraces their vulnerabilities.

Ah ha! That’s why! Who wants to embrace vulnerabilities?

This is where John continues to teach me. He is open and at peace with his vulnerabilities. If he has trouble with reading a word, he asks for help. If he needs to put on his noise-reducing headphones because the mall is too loud, he will. He doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not just because of what others might think or say. He is not constricted by perceptions. He is free from the negative power of the judgment of others. He is free from negative judgments of himself. Every day, he is simply his authentic self.

Now, being authentic doesn’t mean you need to bare every little detail about your private life. It’s more about finding a balance between what you share and what you don’t. And let’s face it, there is probably a little room for all of us to share a bit more of who we are, and what makes us tick, so as to develop a deeper connection with others.

Here’s a challenge for all of you. The next time you are with your significant other, your boss, your colleague, whoever, see if you can weave in a sharing of vulnerabilities as a way to get to know each other better. Yes, I know that there will be nothing but resistance and avoidance, so make it a fun one. An inconsequential part of your life that you have felt a bit weird sharing with others but at the end of the day it’s a fun part of who you are, and it really doesn’t matter.

Consider it a baby step towards that deeper connection. A baby step towards greater authenticity.

A baby step towards freedom.

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  • Joe

It’s been a long time since I’ve cried. But I did yesterday.

Someone passed away. It wasn’t family. It wasn’t a friend. It wasn’t an acquaintance. Yet I found myself wiping tears away as I read the stories of his death.

Sure, he was a great musician (one of the greatest), an amazing lyricist, an accomplished author. And I was all choked up. And I was embarrassed. You cry when you lose your family and friends. This was just a member of a rock and roll band. Get a grip, Joe.

I thought of the first time hearing him play. In my cousin’s bedroom on Staten Island when I was twelve years old. Introducing me to this band before joining him for a game of whiffle ball in the street in front of his home. Mastering air drums with me before we rode our bikes to the schoolyard to hustle unsuspecting kids in a game of two-on-two. Allowing me to listen to the album one more time before heading downstairs for pancakes after a sleep-over.

I thought of standing in line to buy tickets to my first show. Fortieth row on the floor and my new girlfriend was coming. She stood on the chair so she could see as I held her legs with one arm and drummed with the other. She encouraged me that my banging on the dashboard every time we would go out was just like the drumming in the songs. She surprised me with tickets for the next tour. She watched patiently as I banged the rail in front of the seats we had.

I thought about convincing myself that a college visit with my oldest son just happened to be in the vicinity of a concert. What a joke. He knew why we were there. And he laughed as I air drummed to perfection in the sixth row. And he ran with me in the rain to try to find the phone he lost. And he has joined me at every concert since.

I thought of introducing my daughter to my guilty pleasure. She had a feeling I was on the edge of groupieness but of course, her college visit was really why we were going to Denver. She laughed as I stood in the aisle, flailing my arms and hands with every song. She danced to songs she didn’t know. She doesn’t know that I’ll never forget the smile when she turned and said, “I know that one!”

I thought of members of my team at work surprising me with a signed poster as a thank you for the years we worked together. They reinforced that those years working with them were the best of my career. They reinforced that work can really be fun. They reinforced that fulfilling work and fulfilling relationships are just that……fulfilling.

I thought of reading his book on rebounding from personal tragedy. He was so depressed, lost…. dead. And he faced it, didn’t hide it, and came back from it. I read that book soon after my son was diagnosed with autism. I was depressed, lost.... dead. I’m facing it, I’m not hiding it, and it has helped me come back.

I thought of all of that and then I knew. This wasn’t just a member of a rock and roll band, a drummer, a guy who didn’t even know I existed. This was someone who unknowingly came along with me during significant points in my life. And I unknowingly was bringing him along. A secret inspiration to connect with others. A secret inspiration to celebrate great times. A secret inspiration to face and rebound from bad times.

Someone passed away. It wasn’t family. It wasn’t a friend. It wasn’t an acquaintance.

It was an inspiration

It’s been a long time since I’ve cried. But I did yesterday.

And I’m not embarrassed about it.

Rest in Peace Professor

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