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We're going to have a baby...

They say that when you cross the finish line in Hawaii, your life will never be the same again. After the race in 2002, Michelle and I spent another week in Hawaii recovering from the previous months of training. Often times when people ask questions about the race in Kona….they will end up saying something like ….”wow, I can’t believe you did all of that in one day”….but…I think most people who have completed any kind of long distance race would say….”that one day was easy…..I can’t believe all of the training I did in the year(s) leading up to it.”


It’s all in the preparation


The day Michelle and I returned from Hawaii, I dropped her off at her apartment and returned to my place. I threw a bunch of clothes in the wash, hung my bike up in the basement and was catching up with my roommate Brian.


Brian and I had been friends for a long time. We grew up in the same neighborhood…road the same bus to the same schools, spent our summers at the same pool and spent high school trying to kiss the same girls….usually not at the same time.


Brian and I had both stopped drinking for a few years at this point and we were desperately trying to find things to do outside of the bar / drinking scene. We jumped out of planes, ran races…we went to a Falcons game with our faces and chests painted…unfortunately for the crowd, by the end of the 1st quarter the paint dried and chipped off ….and now we were just two out of shape dudes with no shirts on. It was a tough ride home on MARTA. We had a lot of fun checking off boxes…..and being proud of our new accomplishments, we began to lump our friends in buckets of ….jumpers vs no-jumpers, racers vs non-racers, face painters vs non- face painters.


Well….I was just getting up off the couch to throw my clothes in the dryer when I heard something at the door… my surprise it was Michelle. I say surprise because we had just spent the past 2 weeks together and figured she probably needed some space……nope….she needed to talk.

I can’t remember the exact words she said….but it was something to the effect of “you’re going to be a father”….wow….another box checked….father vs non-father.

My father is one of the most understanding people I know. He is smart, funny….a good son…a good brother…a good family man. He was a throw-back to the days when a person worked for one company all of their life. He’s broken 70 a few times in golf and threw knuckle balls to pitch a no-hitter in high school. I had the pleasure of spending almost every day of my early sobriety with my father….as his kind gesture of getting me a job in the mailroom had somehow paid off. We ate lunch together most days and I would often follow him back to his office after lunch to eat a handful of gumdrops from the bowl his assistant kept filled. We’d talk about life, work and what we’d do if we ran the company. When my father retired…. I’ll have to admit ….it stung a little bit. No more lunches, no more lessons… and no more gumdrops. My comfort came in what was almost a daily occurrence of his former employees asking about him….asking me to tell him hello for them….and telling me stories of how much he did for them, how many opportunities he gave them….and the unimaginable depths of his kindness towards others.

After my father retired…. I adopted two new fathers.

The first… a gentleman named Gary Turner. He was a friend of my father’s and they had spent many years at the company together. Like my father, Mr. Turner was an ops guy…..they both spent their entire careers managing large operational groups of different product lines….maybe that’s what drew me to him….or maybe it was just that Gary was a great guy. Gary was tall and had the build of a runner….he was quiet…but confident…..and had a strong faith. Gary also broke 70 in golf a few times….at least on the front nine maybe. Like my father, I would stop by Mr. Turner’s office almost daily and ask him lots of questions…although…. most of the time I would also give him the answers….I would draw crazy process flows all over his whiteboard…and he would always sit politely and nod his head….and then when I had worked out whatever problem I was trying to solve ….he would smile….he has a great smile….and say….have a great day Joel. I was fairly young when I met Gary….and for some reason…. I’ve never called Gary by his first name….only Mr. Turner.

In retrospect, I was given to my third father, John. Unplanned…if you will….and without much direction of what he should do with me….and probably not a lot of talent to work with either. John is a man’s man. He played football in college…..was a night security officer…got married …had kids…and then became the quintessential Insurance guy. He was good with numbers….and people….and he was as fair as they get….and he was busy….and he was my boss’s boss’s boss. Through normal corporate happenings, mergers…stuff….it would have been easy for John to not find time for me…..but he didn’t do that. Instead, he did the opposite. John found time to listen to every crazy idea I had… I barged into his office every morning….he would listen patiently as I frantically tried to change the way we did business, or paid claims….or printed business reviews….or changed how the cafeteria worked…or what color the walls should be painted….He listened to them all….every one of them. He knew I wouldn’t leave until he heard me. Sometimes he would let me run with my ideas….and sometimes they worked….and sometimes they did not. Over nearly 20 years, John let me fail a lot….and I can’t thank him enough for that.

I met Michelle’s father only a handful of times as Michelle and I dated. After finishing his residency in New Orleans…where he grew up….Charlie moved the family to Asheville, NC. I am happy to repeat all of the stories I’ve heard about Dr Keller…as a heart surgeon, an entrepreneur, an athlete, a cook, a father to four…husband to one. When Dr. Keller passed from cancer….the stories of his love, generosity and friendship poured in from everywhere… was standing room only at his funeral. I remember a grown man crying and saying to me…”Charlie was my best friend”…but from what I could tell….everyone at the funeral felt the same way. Here is what I remember most about Dr Keller….is that he stayed alive for days, maybe weeks….maybe months…..enduring great pain…and against pretty tall odds….just so he could hold his daughter’s daughter. He passed within 48 hours of getting to hold Josephine Malia Gould.

On June 19th, 2003, close to 10 years sober….Michelle and I became parents.

What I could not see then, is that for years these men had been training me how to become a husband and father…..

It’s all in the preparation.

To My father – Thank you for teaching me empathy, kindness and humility. I know that in the end, how I treat others is in direct proportion to my own happiness. kindness will always win. I love you.

To Mr. Turner – Thank you for you teaching me how to listen. I’m still working on that….I love you

To John – Thank you for being an example of what patience looks like. It’s a lesson I continue to learn every day. I love you….let’s discuss

To Dr. Keller – Thank you for teaching me that the heart has no limits and is capable of far more than one can ever imagine. I love you. RIP


Stay Tuned....or Don't

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