Behold! The Only Thing Greater Than Yourself!

 

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Christian is my first born son.  I gave him the nickname Chumley.  That originated from the cartoon series Tennessee Tuxedo. Tennessee Tuxedo is a penguin and Chumley is a walrus who he affectionately calls his ‘little buddy.’  In each of the episodes Tennessee would get them into adventures exploring things inside the zoo where they lived, and Chumley would follow along blissfully.  That was me and Christian.  He was my little buddy. 

I remember when we took him to church for dedication.  My boy Evan “aka Copasetic Soul” was there because he asked to stand with me when Christian was prayed over.  Evan told me, “Man, when the pastor is finished, you have to hold your son to the sky like John Amos did Kunta Kinte on Roots and say, “Behold!  The only thing greater than yourself.”   Think I didn’t?  I sure did!  Evan just lost it caught up in that powerful moment.  I still get choked up thinking about it.  It was serious!

Christian has always been a mild mannered cat.  If you don’t know him, one would think he was kinda quiet and shy.  But when he gets comfortable enough around you he is a barrel of laughs joking up something terrible.  It took a while for me to figure this out because he would always be so quiet around me.  Now he knows he can be himself around his dad and our overall communication is outstanding.

What I really appreciate about Christian is that he is a very observant and sensitive young man.  He is a student of life like his dad.  Rarely does anything slip past him, even if he doesn’t say anything at the time.  Of all of my children, he has always been in tuned with me emotionally.  At the age of 15 he would ask me how I’m doing.  After giving him some generic response he would stop me and say, “No daddy.  I mean it.  How are you doing?  How are you feeling?”

Christian knows when something is on my mind or if I am going through something difficult.  I could see his level of maturity and for the last couple years I have been sharing what I call manhood conversations with him.  Christian allowed me to feel vulnerable around him and he lets me share even my pains and weaknesses with him.  At first I wasn’t sure if he could handle them.  But he always has and has never looked at me as less than his hero regardless of what I tell him.  Because we are so in tuned with one another, I help him by articulating his feelings by language what he could only identify though feeling before.  Its not unusual to hear him say, “I’ve always thought that, but never knew how to say it.” 

Some of my favorite moments with Christian were when we’d play basketball.  Not one on one, but when he would play on my team when my friends and I would get together.  I know he wanted to be down with me and my close circle of teammates.  We had played together in tournaments for years and the other guys watched him grow up.  So to see him come from being a little kid on the sidelines and playing with the other little kids to balling with the big boys, the men, I knew it meant a lot to him and it really meant a lot to me.  I would try to dominate at every phase of the game so he could see the fruits of hard work, even on the basketball court.  And it seemed like I always played well whenever he was around.  He wanted to impress me.  But I wanted to impress upon him that his dad was a true sportsman.  My theory was always, If I can beat them in what they like to do up at least up until a certain age they will always listen to me when it comes to other things in life.  I find this to be especially true with boys.

Christian is a very responsible young man.  He lives with his mom and little brother in Atlanta and is the man of his house even as I write this.  His maturity and thoughtfulness is shaping him up to be an outstanding young man.

Right now he’s really into the guitar and from the links he’s sent me he’s got some real game.  Nothing he accomplishes musically or otherwise would surprise me.  Christian has IT!  He’s got flavor, talent and charisma. 

The thing I know about Christian, is that we will always be close.  Sometimes we relate not merely as father and son, but like we are boys.  I am comfortable with that because he never tries to take advantage of it.  He knows I don’t play and that I am old school.  Equally true however, is that Christian has a lot to offer me.  And quite frankly there are times when I don’t mind asking the 17 year old what his opinion is of a thing.  Most of the time his thoughts are right on point!

 

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* Christian (bending) with his friend JaLil

BB&G Mourns A Great Man

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The first time I met Mr. John Bass was in 1996 when he interviewed me for a position within his department.  Two questions stick out in my memory till this day. 

JohnWhat is your biggest challenge in life whether it’s something within your career or otherwise?

MeManhood.  That may sound strange at the age of 29.  But I didn’t have many manhood images growing up.  So I am learning by O.J.T.  And I struggle to find what it really means to be a man; what it looks like, what it feels like.  How will it look to my children?  It’s an ongoing thing but I embrace the challenge.

JohnThe people working in this departments have degrees and you don’t.  I think you’re an excellent candidate.  But why should I hire you over them?  Don’t they deserve the opportunity more since they earned their degrees?

MeI would not tell you not to hire any of those people.  I can tell you that I’m hungry!  I can tell you that if you hire me, I would make it my goal to make sure nobody could ever point to you and say, “You hired this guy and he blew it.  I will never make you look bad and regret hiring me.” 

This was the start of not only a wonderful working relationship, but an abiding mentor and friendship between John and I.  His presence and demeanor allowed me to be totally honest with him in that interview.  In most interviews I’ve experienced, people are not looking for honest but for suaveness.  They want to be wowed.  But I was just at a point in my life where I didn’t have it to give.  I was naive and sincere.  But I got my chance.

A few months later, I was let go because of corporate restructuring.  I came to work one morning and noticed that my sign on password wasn’t working.  On my third try John patted me on the shoulder.  “Can I talk you for a minute?”

Off to this room away from the area he explained to me that they were cutting back.  And the last 3 of us hired would be let go.  He was sad.  I was cool.  I have always been the type to take bad news well especially during the begining stages.  I was doing a great job and he was proud of my progress.  I did nothing wrong.  So I was satisfied with my efforts.  I explained to John that I was happy and thankful for the opportunity.  And that this was the best job I ever had.  If I were blessed to make it in the door under such circumstances then God would give me something else.  I smiled, he shed a tear.  I hugged him. 

A few months later I got a call from a friend of mine who still worked there and had originally referred me to the position.  She said that they were hiring again and John wanted to know if I were working and if I were interested in coming back.  I was working.  But heck yea I wanted back in!  He brought me back, gave me a 10% increase (for the trouble he said) and restored my original tenure.  We had some great years working together after that. 

But there’s more.  We shared a mutual interest in sports; high school sports in particular so we talked and saw a few local high school basketball games.  He loved going to St. Louis University (SLU) games and soon became a season ticket holder.  On Thanksgiving, he and his family would visit relatives out of town.  Often I got his traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving SLU game seat.  Eventually the company made more changes.  And he was offered a new position that was more suitable for his accounting degree and love for numbers.  I was happy for him yet saddened at the end of an era.  Though working in the same office area, he would no longer be my boss.

Less than a year after that, his position was eliminated with no other options offered.  Our entire department was in shock.  John was such a valuable member of our company.  He was the brain of and developed the policies and procedures of our department.  We all owed our livelihoods to the man.  I mailed John a check and told him I loved him.  He mailed it back assuring me that he was OK financially.  He was in defeat as he was in victory.  Gracious, introspective and strong. 

I remember the department gave him a card and an little trinket calling it the FDR, “Walk Softly and Carry A Big Stick Award,”  because he never lost his cool.  He led with a strong hand but a soft touch.  He knew how to pick battles and damn sure how to win them.  He was humble, and he was mighty.

When word got out that John was sick, I rushed to the hospital to see him.  The cancer had started to eat away as his body.  But he fought like a soldier making his way back to his latest position with his last company.  The same company I work at now.  He was bored sitting at home he said.  Needed something to do.  Sitting in his office recently he talked about being tired all the time, and not too sure about how long he would be able to keep coming, even on the part time basis he maintained.  But otherwise, he was optimistic about his health. 

Imagine the shock I felt as I read the email saying he had gone on peacefully along side family and friends.  As I said earlier, like John, normally I can take things and compartmentalize them into proper perspective, even death.  But this one was different.  I have been in a practical daze all week.  There aren’t many men in my life that I can say are great.  John is definitely one of them though. 

Today we will bury my friend.  And I am thankful most of all for his friendship, his mentor-ship, his sense of humor and his class.  I will remember those smooth hats he wore during winter. That funky moustache he rocked still etched in 70’s fashion.  His favorite music from groups like War and artist like Santana.  I will remember his love for his wife and two adult children.  I will remember the grace and dignity of a gentleman’s gentleman.  And I will smile.

Rest In Peace JB.  And thanks for everything.  We’ll miss you.  Heck man, I’ll miss you.

Good For The Soul, Great For The World ~ Mentorship

Point blank – there is no such thing as a “self-made man or woman.”   The world is comprised of the hook up  in some form or the other.  When I was laid off of my job of 11 years in July of 2007, I participated in a program that helped newly unemployed people with resume’ writing, interviewing skills and other essential items to help a person get back on his/her feet career wise.  One of the most astounding things I heard out of the several days of training, was the statistic that 85% of all jobs are given by reference or word of mouth.  In other words, only 15% of people are hired by way of having an outstanding or attractive resume’.  It only mattered 15% of the time how qualified I was per a job description.  Realistically it’s even lower than that because how silly would I be to assume that of the thousands of applicants that apply to any given position, that I would be the only or the most qualified?  Of the hundreds of jobs that I applied for in the first few months alone, how many recruiters actually saw my resume’?  And job fairs… they are really a joke to be honest about it.  But I digress.

The point is the world goes around via nepotism.  That is something we all should understand.  Everyday someone is playing golf, and one guy says to the other on the back 9, “Hey, so and so is graduating from college in a couple months, or is looking to leave his firm.  What can you do for him?”  Then BAM!  It’s done.  To a lower degree its like being a “made man” in the mafia.  None of that budget stuff matters.  Folks make room where they want, and deal with the how and why later.  This is very natural to human nature.  People like to be around folk they are comfortable with – and they hire on the basis thereof.

This is why we all need to take an active role in mentoring someone.  Those of us who have been around a little bit, have valuable experience to lend to the generation that is behind us.  And if you are blessed to be making a living, or living at least a portion of the life that you desire, no doubt you have received some help and favor along the way.  Somewhere someone liked you, said something good about you, pointed you in the right direction, or simply threw you a bone to get started.  It happens more than you know if you just take a look to count your blessings.

Not too many things are uglier in life than to see someone who received help, only to reach a certain level and act as if he/she made it on their own.  All of a sudden this person is not compassionate and doesn’t have time to give someone a break.  We all have made mistakes.  Every last one of us working any job have at some point done something to deserve getting fired.  Everyone of us who has a business have done something that could have put that business in jeopardy.  Rules and laws only matter in the whole scheme of things at the discretion of those enforcing them.  Sometimes our actions have caused us to suffer the consequences.  And sometimes we have received some grace that allowed us to move past a potentially costly indiscretion. 

So take the time to be a blessing to someone.  Grant an opportunity.  Give an apprenticeshipof some sort.  Take someone under your wing.  There are people who I know will look out for me.  And will dial me up if there are certain opportunities to be had.  In turn there are also others I look out for.  I let them know to ask me any questions or come to me at any time with concerns.  I hold nothing back.  There is enough out here for everyone to survive and even thrive when we are truly wise enough to understand the laws of nepotism and are unselfish enough to give as much as we receive on an ongoing basis.

Mentoring and giving back are good for the soul, and great for the world.