Sunday, October 08, 2017

Day of days

Today, my son is getting married.

That is a strange sentence to write. He is our oldest, and while he's 24, I still think he's very young to be getting married. To which he reminds me that's two years older than I was when Dawn and I were married.

His bride Ana is a wonderful young lady. Kind, caring, and lovely both inside and out. They are a great match for each other. She is a detailed, orderly person and keeps Steven on track. Steven is rock solid for her and is always there to support her.  They are great together.

It's a strange day for me as I do not have job to do. Out here in our area, I'm usually the one officiating the wedding. Not today. Today I get to take it all in. They have decided to have their pastor Brandon officiate the wedding, and I'm all in favor of that. Ana has guided Steven back to a stronger connection with his faith, along with her family, the entire worship team, and staff at The Rock of Roseville. This is a very good thing.

I see many families dragging their kids to church. It usually doesn't turn out well in the long run. It's great when they are young, but when they approach high school, it can become counter productive. If you are forcing them to church on Sundays, all they are looking for are the flaws in the people there, and all they are listening to is their internal dialogue about hypocrisy and judgement.

Their faith has to be their own. You cannot transplant your faith into their souls, as much as we would like to. They need to connect with God in a way that's meaningful to them. It may be through another church, it may even be a break from church and time of self reflection.

I am so grateful to Ana and the entire Haines family for helping Steven reconnect with Jesus. It's been a tremendous blessing.

I'm still trying to digest the fact that my boy is moving out and moving on. It's going to take some getting used to.

Being my only son, we share a pretty close relationship. We share the same love of music, movies, books and a strange sense of humor. We are both introverts, and need time to think things over.

I may need longer than usual to come to terms with this new chapter in our lives.

Not sure what I will say today when I get the chance this evening. It's hard to put into words how proud I am of the man he has become. About how I am so confident he will be a great husband for Ana. How much I love him.

I'm going to miss our breakfasts together. I'm going to miss seeing him around the house. I'm going to miss him asking me questions. I'm just going to miss him period.

I am such a proud father of the groom today.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Letter to Abbie

(A surprise letter I was supposed to write to my daughter for her senior year class trip to the redwoods)

Dear Abigail,
Is there anything worse for you than to read a personal letter in front of a group of people? Well, just think, only 10 more months and you will not have to see these people again, unless it’s on a voluntary basis.

There were probably quite a few heartwarming letters read tonight, I’m sure this one will not be as good, but I’m going to write it anyway.

In every graduation, commencement, wedding, or even funeral, we often hear how wonderful the person in question is or was. When it comes to family, our biases seem to run deep. Our kid is the cutest, smartest, most wonderful kid in the world. All families say that, and most mean it, but it can’t be true. Where do all the average, and less than average people come from if everyone is so amazing?

I write this letter in all honesty. Without exaggeration, or embellishment. You are truly amazing. You are.

You are intelligent.
Intelligent in a way that may not show up on a test or in an easily measured metric. You have real world experience. You have been exposed to the adult world for some time now. You work in it, you are surrounded by it. You know what is expected of you in this grown up world. You know the value of hard work. Not just the monetary value of work, but the satisfaction of seeing a job through to completion and understanding the consequences if it does not get done right. This will give you a leg up when you get out on your own.

You are kind.
I don’t think I’ve ever had to reprimand you for being mean to someone. I understand that you can be a pain in the butt for some of your teachers, but deep down inside you don’t like mean people and would like everyone to get along. You can hold a grudge, and that is something you will get better with as you get older. You will realize that in the big scheme of your life, the little, petty, crap you will come across can simply be ignored and forgotten.

You are beautiful.
Not just in the way God made you, but as a complete human being. Unless you are being Crabby Abbie, then you’re not so cute. There are people who spend way too much time, money and effort trying to make themselves look a certain way; you don’t have to. You beauty is natural. Your smile and your personality brighten a room when you walk in. You should smile more often.

You are very focused.
That is a good thing, but it can have certain drawbacks. Never let your ‘To Do List’ overwhelm your capacity to stop and enjoy the little things. A sunrise, or a sunset. Quiet time alone with God. A five minute conversation with a friend. The roar of the ocean. Stop and take it in. This life goes by fast, don’t miss the good stuff.

You have everything you need to succeed.
There are many ways to measure success. If you watch too much TV or stay glued to your phone, it's easy to have society define success for you. Nice house, cool car, a loving family with 2.3 kids. If that's what you want, great. If not, great. Define your own success. What is important to you? Do that. You know how to work hard, you are honest, and you are kind. Those three things will bring you success in any endeavor. If you want to get a Master's degree in business or if you want to live on the road as horse trainer, or any number of things you have never even thought of yet, you can do it.

Don't worry about what you want to do with your life; you're young. Do lots of things. If you want to try something, try it. Go full tilt at it for two years with all your heart. If it doesn't work out the way you wanted, you will still be smart, kind, beautiful, focused and in your early twenties. Then try something else for two years. If you don't like where that road is taking you, find another road. If it doesn't work out, well, you know the rest....

You are a remarkable young woman. Know that.  Know it down to your toes. I am incredibly proud of you and I hope you have the best senior year you can imagine.

I love you, Dad.

Friday, July 07, 2017

How to become the right amount of dick

Yes, I am going to use the word dick in the piece. Sorry if it upsets your delicate sensibilities. If it really bothers you, substitute the word poohead, or very assertive person, or whatever you come up with. However, very assertive person is a pretty subjective, but everyone knows when someone's being a dick.

This concept has been rolling around in my head for a decade or so, but I never heard it spoken in a way that connected with me. This complex concept need a catchphrase. Something short and relatable; something people could easily understands.

I heard this catchphrase two months ago while watching a PBS show at 4:00 in the morning. I won't bore you with the details of sleep deprivation due to fracturing your patella, but let's just say four hours of sleep was about average back then.

The show is called Roadtrip Nation. It's about three young, college aged people traveling through the country, talking to people who are successful in the fields the travelers are studying. In the episode I watched, they meet Ben Kaufman, a guy who started his first million dollar company at age 19. He's a funny, driven, all or nothing kind of guy. The kind of guy I'd enjoy spending a day with. He's also the kind of guy I would probably strangle if I had to spend four days on a road trip, stuck in a car with this guy.

When asked by the three college students what's the best general advice he could give them, he paused and said, "I'm probably going to get in trouble for this, but.... find the right amount of dick."

You could see the strange smirks on the student's faces, as they tried to figure out what he meant.
He went on to say there are three kinds of people; some who are not enough dick, some that too much dick, and those who are the right amount of dick.

He explained those who are not enough dick go with the flow, they let the world bully them around and tell them what direction their life is going to go. Then there are those who are too much dick. They might be successful, but no one wants to work with them because they're abrasive and arrogant. In the middle, you have people who are the right amount of dick. These people fight for the things they believe in, care about the people around them, and pick their battles, knowing when to let the small stuff slide.

That is such great advice.

When I was younger, I was not enough dick. I went with the flow, I let people plan and run my life. After being out on my own and succeeding on my own terms, through my own efforts, I became more confident in myself. That self-confidence is crucial in finding that right amount of dick. I knew who I was, and that knowledge gave me permission to be a little more of a dick.

If your self-confidence is low, it's hard to stand up for yourself in business, in relationships, or in any aspect of your life. It also works the other way. If your self-confidence is low you can try to make up for it by being too much dick.

So do you have to be an old guy like me to find that right combination of assertiveness and diplomacy? No, I don't think so. I believe you can find this self-confidence by knowing yourself. I mean, really knowing yourself.

Self-awareness is the key to self-confidence. You have to strip away the layers of BS you tell yourself. About your past, about the way you think the should work, and get down to the real you.

Are you a good person? Do you constantly hurt other people's feelings? Do you do the same wrong things again and again? Are you trust worthy? Do you do what you say you are going to do? Do you think about other people's situations before you act or speak?

This is a no excuse zone. It's not a "What I'd like to think of myself as" assessment, it's a "What do I do in real life" assessment.

If you've never done this kind of real self-assessment, this kind of looking at yourself from the outside like a stranger would see you, then you should do this immediately. You might have some very interesting, very honest conversations with some close friends and family.

If you come up with a good, honest self assessment, you can then look at how much of a dick you are.

If you are a not enough dick, you must become more assertive. Start by saying no to things that are not a priority. Don't give an explanation, just say no. It's hard, but you can do it. Stand up for the people and things you believe in. You are the person in charge of your life. No one else is going to care about your happiness the way you will. Being even a little bit of a dick may be something you never thought was acceptable. But it's okay to be the right amount of dick. Not all the time, and not with malice, but embrace it and move on. You'll be a lot happier.

If you are too much of a dick, take a look at how you see the world, and how you see yourself.  Ask yourself; do I have to be right every time? Do I have to have things my way all the time? Do I have to live in a world where everyone and everything is my way or it's automatically wrong? If so, you are going to be awful lonely at the end of your life. You might even be very successful, but you are going to burn through jobs, coworkers and/or employees at a blistering rate. You will consistently run through friends, alienate family, fight with your neighbors, and have an ever growing list of people I used to like, but now I can't stand. But it will be okay, because you'll be right!

So, here is the question I want you to ask yourself. Am I the right amount of dick? At home? At work? In all aspects of my life?

If you asked your family or coworkers/boss/employees this question and they answered honestly, what do you think they would say?

That balance is out there folks, you can find it. But you have to know where you are on that dick scale to start. 




Saturday, June 17, 2017

My three fathers - How a little spit can change everything.

I sat there looking at my phone in disbelief.

No way. Wow... No way.....
This cannot be happening.......

I guess I should start with a little background. I have had three fathers in my life, let me start with the one I am named after, Walter Joseph Lucas.

My father was 50 when I was born, so you could say he was late to the game when it came to having children. My sister Lisa is two years older that I am. I knew he had been married twice before, but the few times he did talk about it were very brief, just saying his previous wife did not want to have children and he did. It seemed reasonable enough.

Even into adulthood, I never pushed him to tell me more. He had a very complicated relationship with his own family. He was born in 1915 on a ranch near Lockeford Ca. His father died when he was 18 or 19 and he had to take over the responsibilities of running the family ranch. I'm sure he did all he could for his mom, but there was definitely some bad blood between he and his siblings. I only know the little he told me about his family, and I don't know their side of the story, so I cannot judge what really happened.

My father was two generations older than me. He rode a horse to school, and milked thirty cows by hand before and after school. His life was work, money and family, but mostly work. He could not get into the Army during WWII because he was deaf in one ear. He worked in the shipyards at Mare Island, building PT boats during the war years.

By the time I came into the world my father was a successful rancher, real estate broker and owned a land leveling business. He had an extraordinary work ethic and drive. I can best describe him as a combination between John Wayne and Donald Trump. Just imagine that for a moment.

Starting off on our ranch in Clements, our family seemed to be on the move most of my early years. We moved to a ranch on the John Day River near Mitchell Oregon when I was a toddler.

He tied me onto my first horse when I was two years old, and sent me off down the dirt road to the bunkhouse where the cowboys lived. My mom said the snowfall that winter was the biggest in decades and you could ride a snowmobile over the corrals without touching a post. That was enough for her. Somehow, we ended up back in California in Orland. That's the first house I can remember, but we were soon on the move again to the tiny town of Oak Run, north east of Redding.

I loved Oak Run. My father had wheeled and dealed his way into a big ranch there. It was several thousand acres of red dirt, lava rock and oak trees, but it also had a few hundred acres of good bottom-land where we could raise hay.

The ranch at Oak Run was a giant playground for me. There was a lot of work, but my father never seemed to drive me like I'm sure his father drove him in his youth. Those were different times. That drive came out of sheer necessity.

I learned to drive the ranch trucks and tractors when I was old enough to reach the pedals. I fed cows, cut hay, and helped irrigate the fields, but only when I was asked or I wanted to. It was not forced labor to be sure, but there wasn't a lot of laying around the house either.

I was turned loose much of the time. In the summers, I would leave the house after breakfast and sometimes not come back until evening. We always had dogs on the ranch. They were my constant companions since I didn't have any bothers. Lisa didn't see the enjoyment in damming up streams, throwing rocks, or chasing frogs down at the creek all day.

As I grew older, I was given more responsibility, and expected to do more. By twelve I was gathering cattle in the summer heat, driving Caterpillars clearing brush or driving logging skidders. Most of these things were semi-dangerous for a twelve-year-old kid but I survived.

My father had a way of teaching that could be summed up by the old Nike slogan: Just do it. He never took the time to patiently teach me how to do anything, he just put me in the seat and told me to do it. Drive this D-8 Caterpillar, clear this brush off these hills, I'll be back when you're finished. For a kid, it was equal parts excitement and terror, but that is just the way he was.

He would also let me skip school to go to the Shasta Livestock Auction in Cottonwood on Fridays. I would spend the day running around the sorting pens, while he was in Ellington Peek's office doing business. He would also let me go on business trips with him. I would sit quietly at a table full of businessmen and listen to million dollar deals be made. It was a unique experience for a young man. However, some of favorite days I would just take off with my father in his old blue Jeep Cherokee and we would go 'check the cows'.

I loved my father, like most sons do, even though mine was very flawed, like all fathers are.

My father was an alcoholic. Ever since I can remember, my father drank; a lot. He was a maintenance drinker. He was never falling-down drunk, and he was never hung-over. He would always get up at 6:00 the next day ready to work. Back before computers and cell phones, business was done by telephone. After dinner, my father would start making his business calls. Every night, as he sat at the kitchen table, he would have several large 'hi-balls'.

We went through stretches where things would be fine for a time. Then, if the cattle prices or real estate market would go down, the stresses and pressures he put on himself would start to boil over. It was very volatile around our house, but then again, my father seemed to live in a constant state of chaos.

In the late 70's my father's ranching business started to take off. I remember the bankers from Bank of California sitting at our dinner table asking my father how large of a credit line did he want? They were just giving money away, and taking my father's word he had the cattle to cover that amount of credit. All with a wink and nod.

He bought a new ranch in Lakeview Oregon, new pickups and trailers, semi-trucks, hired more cowboys and a mechanic and we built a pool and a new addition to the house. It was a good time for our family. Well, until it all came crashing down a few years later.

My father made and lost several fortunes in his life. There never seemed to be a balance he could reach. He always wanted more, he always wanted to move forward, never content with where he was.

He was always in conflict with the neighboring ranches, including one actual range war complete with sheriff's deputies, a helicopter and me standing in front of a gate with a lever action rifle to make sure the neighbors didn't push their cattle out of that gate onto the road.

My father was a complicated man.

He loved us kids, but he couldn't stop drinking. He had my life planned out and expected me to take over his 'empire' when the time came. But he spent almost no time teaching me how to do it. He was hard working, but had a soft heart. He could also bend a rule, or outright break it if stood between him and his business success. He never talked about his own feelings, and rarely how he felt about you, unless he has been drinking. Even then it was 50-50 proposition. You were either the best kid in world, or a huge disappointment.

Much like I described him as a combination of John Wayne and Donald Trump, many people loved my father and thought he was a great guy. Others thought he was a son of bitch. I think, in the end, they were both right.

After another lost fortune, our family ended up here in Yolo County. He bought a house with 20 acres after the bank took back the ranch in Oak Run, and he went to work leasing ranches and running steers and heifers for other ranchers.

He stayed in the real estate business, and never letting well enough alone, he took my mom and my sister's interest in cutting hair and turned that into a business. He opened a beauty salon in Vacaville for my mom and sister to run while he had his real estate office next door.

I was in college and was discovering the world outside of ranching and cattle. In other words, I was have a great time.

It wasn't until I met my future wife that my interest turned back to the ranch. She loved it there. Being a city girl, she couldn't understand why I didn't want to ride horses if I had the opportunity. To me horses meant work, and 14 hour days gathering cattle in the brush from sun up till sundown. Why would you want to ride them for fun?

Once married, she was switched her major to animal science and transferred to UC Davis after graduating from American River College.  We both were going to school, but I was still a year from getting my associates degree in business so I went to work for my father. We lived on a ranch my father leased in Dunningan. I think I made $600 a month plus the nine hundred square foot house we lived in. Those were good times.

However, like all things cyclical, the good times are always followed by tough times, and that came in 1991. My father was again overextending, and planning as if the good times would always be good. He hated paying taxes, so for every dollar he made in the cattle business or real estate business, he leased a new ranch, or built new corrals or helped my wife and I buy a place of our own. Our house was just about complete, and with my father's help, we had just made our first annual balloon payment on the new place.

One day he was in Sacramento at a deposition, not surprisingly, he was being sued by one of our neighbors for some semi-shady way he sold their ranch, when he felt sick. He came home and stayed there for a while before my mother convinced him he had to go to the hospital.

I was irrigating the alfalfa at my place when I got the word he was headed to the hospital. He sat in the ER at Woodland Hospital for three or four hours while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. By the time a new doctor came on and decided he was bleeding internally, it was too late. He had an aneurysm of his aorta and they air lifted him to UC Davis. They performed surgery to repair the tear in the aorta, but he had lost too much blood and died the next day.

Not that there is ever a good time to loose a parent, but it could not have come at a worse time for our family. The cattle market was heading into a decline along with the real estate market. Loosing not only my father, but also my employer and the person who had engineered my life, was a huge hit. Even though I had my real estate salesman's license and was working on my father's ranch, I had let him make almost all my decisions for me. He was running the show, and now he was gone.

I was very immature for someone in my position. At twenty-five I should have been ready for this day, but I wasn't. Not by a long shot. I went through the motions of gathering the cattle, and trying to help my mom figure out if we should keep the leases on the ranches. In the end, with all my father's bills and past due taxes, we had to sell everything, my house included, and start over.

At the time, all you see are the problems, all you feel is the pain, all you want is to have things put back the way they were. That isn't going to happen. You have to move, you have to go forward, you have to grow.

15 years later, I was working in the technology field, something I really liked, we had two children, and I was making a good living. My mom and sister were living in North Idaho and my mom had a met a man.

This is where I met my second father, Paul.

Paul is a so much different from Walt Sr.

He is soft spoken and kind. He's a patient, caring man, and he is very happy with the life he has. He is content, or at least at peace with his place in the world. Paul is a contractor, although he's retired now. He's a hard worker, but doesn't chase the almighty dollar at all costs. He likes to read, and loves working on his classic cars. He is interested in the world around him. He is self-aware in a way my father never was.

I could not have picked a better person for my mother to marry. He loves her dearly, and she has found someone to love without having to deal with the whirlwind of chaos and volatility.

Living sixteen hours away, I don't get to see them as often as I would like, but I have never worried a moment about my mother since he entered her life. He is wonderful, and I owe him more than I can say. He is the perfect second father.

So wait, I thought you said this was a story about three fathers? Yes, I'm getting to that.

Shortly after my father passed away, my mother told Lisa and I that dad had two sons with his first wife, long ago. He had told her not to tell us kids, but now that he was gone, she thought the time was right. She didn't have any names, just the little my father had told her.

This was fascinating to me and it started me on a long journey to find my lost relatives. Ancestry was a new service, and I signed up looking see if I could find my lost half brothers. I had no luck. I tried to find his first wife, but without her maiden name, you cannot find birth records and such with the counties involved.

I think I solved the mystery a few years back when I found a census record of my father living in Stockton with his first wife Zelda, her mother, and two small children with different last names. So, I think those kids were my father's step sons, and would be no relation to me. A bit anticlimactic, but the mystery was solved.

Enter the new DNA registry 23andMe.

I had always heard from my father that he was mostly Irish with some French from my grandmother. My mom is full Portuguese, half from the Azores and the other half from Portugal by way of Brazil.

I wanted to see how true that was and signed up. A week or so later a package arrived. I followed the instructions and spit into the little tube, sealed it up and mailed it back. They said it would take about 6 weeks to get the results.

I didn't think I would find too many surprises, but being a huge history buff, I thought it would be cool to be able trace my heritage. I received an email saying my results were in and I logged on and looked at my DNA make up. Nothing too startling. I was 28% British/Irish, 25% Broadly Northwest European, and 35% Iberian, (Spain/Portugal) with the rest a mashup of mostly European make up.

This tracked almost exactly the way I though it would. Oh well. I had traced my father's family back to Prince Charles County Maryland in 1731 through Ancestry, and I thought there may have been an American melting pot, genetic wildcard thrown in there somewhere. But it turned out I'm just a plain old American white guy.

I had told my mom about the 23andMe findings and she wanted to know why I was so interested in it? I said I found it fascinating to know for sure where you come from. Knowing what part of the world you came from, tracing your history and such.

I thought that was the end of the story.

A few days later I received an email from 23andMe asking if I wanted to search for my DNA relatives. Sure, why not. I clicked the link.....Oh boy....

I looked at the page for a minute and reread it a few times just to make sure.

I have two half sisters.

No way. No. Way.

I clicked on their names and looked at their profiles.

No way.

How could this be? They must belong to dad, but when were they born? I found a link to send them a message. What do you say? Hi, I'm your long lost half brother, where did you come from?

I sent each one a message and asked if this was true and did they know my father, or did they know about my sister and I?

Pam was the first to respond:
 "....Tracy and I now know how we are half sisters through information told to us by our mothers when we were young adults. I'd be happy to connect if you want to solve this mystery for yourself. It is just because our parents really wanted us to be born, and all they did to arrange for our arrivals. I was born in 1961. Tracy in 1967. It will benefit us all to know the health and genetic data. So glad to find you. :)"

Wait? What?

I was a little slow on the uptake here just because it seemed so strange. With Pam being born in 61, that was before my mom and dad were married, so no foul there, but Tracy was born in 67, two years after me. Why would our all our parents really want us to be born? I could see my dad having a bit of fun, but I'm pretty sure my mom would not have been okay with my father out populating the planet.

Like I said, it was staring me in the face, but I had not put it together.

I sent both a message saying it looked like my father was a bit of a scoundrel. I think Pam and Tracy had a correspondence between each other and decided to have Pam spill the beans:

"Well, not a scoundrel actually. I don't want to shock you, but since you are over 50, I think you can handle it. When I was 14, I found out that my father (my legal father) was not my biological father. Before my parents married, he had a vasectomy. It couldn't be reversed. My parents really wanted me, so they went to a specialist in San Francisco who arranged for a sperm donor. All they knew was he was a medical student who was healthy and had a great health history and already had a family and children. I was never to have known. Back then, the secrecy was thought best for the child being conceived. At 14 when I chose to sever my ties to my father, my mother told me the truth of my paternal creation. I didn't know about any of you, but always thought that this medical student may have made several donations. Lol. I met Tracy last year through her daughter making a connection to me. We were both stunned. Tracy found out from her mom about the medical student on her 22nd birthday. She is still very close to her legal father, so she is cautious about making it known because she doesn't want him to feel bad. So was your legal father a medical student? Tracy and I don't know if you were from donation like us or if our parents donor was both your legal and genetic dad. Sorry for the shock if you didn't know." 

Wow..... No way.

I was shocked.

So the only man I ever knew as my father was not my biological father.

No flippin' way.

As I sat there staring at my phone, I felt a rush of different feelings.

This changes everything. Then again, it changes nothing.

My father will always be my father. He raised me, for better or worse. It was surreal to me that a man from my father's generation would use a donor to have children. He was nothing if not a man's man. With all his success, all that money, there must have been something missing. A huge hole in his life that he needed to fill with children. It made me wonder about those two step sons he had with his first wife, and how it must have hurt to lose them when they were divorced.

My head was swimming, but it was late and I went to bed with lots of different thoughts rattling around. What was I going to say to my mom? Should I even bring this up? I had to. It was just too much to let go. Besides, my mom did nothing wrong. She did something extraordinary to bring me into this world. The doctors had instructed her not to tell us about our biological father. She kept the secret for over 50 years. She did it out of love, and that is a great reason.

The next day I called my mom in the morning. We spoke for a while and then I told her the story that Pam told me. The story of Children's Hospital in San Francisco and the donor and the instruction not to tell us kids. When I finished, I asked, "So, do you have anything you want to tell me?" There was a bit of a pause, "Well, I would say that my story is the same story you just told me."

We talked about dad and her not being able to have children, and the special clinic at Children's hospital was the cutting edge for the 1960s. It was very expensive, but it was their only hope of having children. My sister was conceived the same way. Mom said she never really thought about it about it after a few years, and didn’t think it was important to tell us after dad died. We were going through enough turmoil at the time.

The fact that I signed up for the DNA tests out of pure curiosity was something they couldn't have even imagined back in the 1960s. If I had not spit in that little tube, I would have never known about my biological father.

So, the real question is: Now what?

What does it change? Like I said before; it changes everything and it changes nothing.

Walt Sr. will always be my father. He raised me, he showed what it was to work hard, and he showed me you can do more than you think is possible. I will always love that man.

So what about my biological father? Do I want to know more about him? Yeah, I guess so. I would like to see a picture of him, and see if I look anything like him. I would like to know something about his personality, his temperament. Those kinds of things.

I'm sure he never imagined DNA testing, and that three strangers would someday find each other through an ounce of saliva. I wonder if he would want to know how we turned out?

So many questions.

In the end, I am glad I know. I am also glad my mother and father went to that specialist in San Francisco. I am here.

I have a wonderful family, a wonderful life, and memories to last me a few lifetimes. I am hoping to get together one day with my half sisters; that would be cool. Hey, 23andMe is a new company, not many people have signed up, there maybe more of us half siblings out there. I always wanted a brother. (Sorry Lisa, love ya)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The sorting alley.

For all you city dwellers out there, please bear with me.

If you have been around a cattle ranch for any amount of time, you have sorted cattle. By sort, I mean taking a large group of critters and dividing them into smaller sub-groups. Mother cows and calves in one pen, bulls in another, weened steers and heifers in their own separate places, etc. To do this you need one of two things; A well built sorting alley that has been logically designed with that purpose in mind, or a set of pens, and a few really good horses, and cowboys who know what they are doing.

Both will work, and while I do love to watch a good hand on a finished horse work cattle in an alleyway. To be honest, I would rather have a welded pipe sorting alley, with heavy duty Powder River gates that swing both ways, hang straight and shut tight with one hand.  (I just read that line back and it sounds a bit dirty; oh well)

With a sturdy, well designed sorting alley, I can grab anyone with a pulse, an above room temperature IQ, and go sort cattle. If they can understand two words: In and By.

I'm not sure if In and By are universal terms in feedlots, auction yards and corrals across America, but they seem to be. I like using them because you can't mistake the two words, even with a Texas, Australian, or any other accent.

If you sort off a cow and send it down the alley, you yell "IN!" the person swings the gate into the alley, blocking the alley and opening the first pen. The cow will see the opening and 95% of the time will just trot into the correct pen. If you yell "BY" the person keeps that gate closed, moves to one side of the alley, to leave plenty of room for the cow to go by, and it trots by the gate and down the alley to an open pen.

You may ask yourself, what happens the other 5% of the time? Bad things. Bad things happen.

These bad things happen when cows decide against the path of least resistance and chose their own path. Their path usually involves pain, bent pipes, broken boards, broken bones, scars, black eyes and funny/horrific stories you tell you buddies at the bar. I have a few stories that involve the line, "so after he flipped me over his head, there I was, upside down in the crowding alley hoping the bull wouldn't come back to finish the job."

We sort cattle for a specific purpose. To separate calves from their mothers when It's time to ween them. To give a certain group a specific vaccine or treatment. Sometimes we sort them into groups because we want all the same kinds going to one place, to the sale yard for example.

The worst thing that happens in the sorting pens is after you worked all day to sort a few hundred head of cattle into the groups you want them, and someone forgets to latch a gate. Or the cattle break down a fence and they get mixed back together. (it just gives me a shiver to think about it)

So why are we talking about cows? Sorting cows is easy to understand. What about people? Well, we sort people in everyday life too. I don't know why we do it, I just know we do. Everyone does. Yes, even you and yes, even me.

I think it might be a product of our evolution. When we see someone, walking down the street, next to us in line at the store, in the elevator as the doors close, our brain asks the question; Friend or foe? Am I going to be safe with this person or is there a danger here? From the beginning of time, if you were bad at picking out dangerous people, your bloodline was killed off.

You were smashed in the head with a rock, or stabbed with a sharp stick, all the while thinking, hmmm, they seemed friendly enough.

That kind of friend or foe mindset is foreign to most of us these days. Unless you are police officer, a soldier, a night shift guy at the convenience store, or just live on the street in a bad part of town, the chances of you bumping into real life-threatening danger is remote at best. But we still sort people all the time.

One of the easiest ways to sort people is simple; do they look like me? If they do, there's a better than average chance they are kind of like me, or at least share the same set of basic values I do. If they don't look me, or dress like me, or speak the same language, the easiest thing to do is to assume they are not like me. If they are different from me, they go into the "not quite sure about this guy" pen before I add them to the 'people like me' list.

Now I can already hear you now saying, "No, that's just you racist hillbillies, I don't judge anyone by how they look." That my friend, is pure manure. I guarantee I can put you in a situation, no matter your race, creed or color, where that 'friend or foe' mechanism will be working overtime as you try to navigate your way back to familiar surroundings.

I guess we are a product of our environment to some degree. If all you see around you are people who look like you, it's easier to think of everyone outside of that environment as "Them".

Them, they, those people; basically people who are not like you.

Sometimes it goes far beyond what we look like. I know plenty of people whose skin, hair and eye color are the same as mine, but we don't share the same world views, political views, religious views, or any number of different views.

It is easy for me to sort these people into their own 'them' groups. Liberals, socialists, conservatives, lunatics, Trump supporters, etc. Once someone puts you into a group, it's hard to make your way out. We keep those pens shut tight. We all do it.

The one and only time we met, you may have said something that put you into one of my groups, and there you will stay until we meet again.

It's kind of a harsh reality, but we all do it to a certain extent. If I see a Hillary sticker on your car, you are immediately sorted into the Liberal group. If I see an Obama 08' and 12' and Sanders 16' sticker on your car, you move to the Socialist group. It works both ways too. If you see my NRA Life Member card when I buy lunch, you will sort me into the Crazy Gun Guy group. (and I'm not saying you would be wrong either)

Now, I know many friends who voted for Hillary, and I even if I do sort them into the Liberal pen, it doesn't mean we can't be good friends. It just means I need to have them screened for other mental illnesses. I kid, I kid.

One of my friends, who I worked with for years, is an African American fellow. We spent many, many a swing shift hour talking about our shared faith, our divergent political views, and race relations in America. We don't agree on everything, in fact, we have spirited disagreements about quite a few things. All that being said: I love that guy. He is a good dude. He is one of 'my kind' of people.

The strange thing is, I've known people for years, people who look like me, talk like me, dress like me, and probably share most of my political views, who are not 'my kind' people.

They are not interested in the world around them, they are not interested in ideas, and they certainly are not interested in looking inward at themselves. They are closed minded. All their problems are caused by someone or something outside their control. They are victims of all sorts of forces aligned against them.

I guess if there are any lessons to be learned, it's that we all sort people. Sometimes it's a necessity, based on the situation. Most of the times it just our brain working in the background yelling IN! and BY!

I know it takes a conscious effort, but we should get to know people a bit more before we sort them into a pen they may not belong in. I know I need to work harder at that.

How many friends have I passed up, or not engaged with because they looked or thought differently than I did? How many poisonous people have I let into my life because we they looked like me and shared similar views on a certain things?

In today's political climate, sorting people seems to be what we do first. I wish we wouldn't. I will try to be better at this, or at least open the pens a lot sooner and let them find their way to where they belong.



Happy Mother's day

This time of year, everyone talks about how they have the best mom. I am here to put and end to this slanderous chatter. You can't have the best mother. That title belongs to my mom, Alice.

She is the best mom because she raised me and my sister, and we are awesome. Actually, I am awesome, and my sister is quite a bit above average, but falls short of awesome because she doesn't have dimples and is a far inferior dancer.

That being said, mom is the best because she had to put up with us, and she didn't kill us. This is an enormous accomplishment in itself. I may have to give just the slightest edge to my sister here because she was rarely in trouble, where as I was constantly into all kinds of mischief and chicanery.

Alice is a great cook. I'm not embellishing here, this woman can flat out cook. Ask any of my friends who spent time at our house over the years and they will say the same. Her chicken cacciatore is wonderful.

She is also a cross between Dr. Phil -only much less creepy- and Mr. Rodgers, with less sweaters. My mom has given me some of the best advice I have ever received. Even when I did not listen to it, she was right. She taught me how to be kind, how to care about others, and how to believe in myself.

She loves music, especially Elvis. She always had those 8-track tapes playing on the seemingly endless road trips we used to take with dad as he was looking for ranches to buy, sell or lease.

Iv'e never seen her throw a fit in all my years, and I gave her plenty of reasons to do that very thing. She did snap a wooden spoon on my backside once, but she only got mildly flustered and went to the kitchen where she kept a braided riding crop on top of the fridge and that gave me the chance to escape.

All kidding aside, my mother is a remarkable woman. I could not, and would not, ask for a better one.

Happy Mother's Day Alice, I love you dearly.

(PS, since you live up in the dinggles, you're getting an Amazon card)