Sep 292009

This question made me smile, and since I don’t know in what context it was asked, I’m going to make the leap (Isn’t that the creative prerogative of a writer?) to suggest it has more to do with the business article (Leadership in 2009: A Different Way at Looking at Things) you’ll also find on this blog.


 You see, I’ve always felt that if you’re not the same person in your personal life, as you are in your business life, then you’re missing out on a whole lot of what life has to offer.


You notice I didn’t say ‘successful’. I mean, if you’re having heart surgery, do you really care if your physician is a jerk to the nursing team and/or his family?  I think not! I mean its all relative, isn’t it? … Or is it? Where is the self-fulfillment in saving a life and yet crushing the ‘life’ out of everyone else around?


In his book, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’, Viktor E. Frankl, a practising psychiatrist who was incarcerated into the Nazi death camps of WW II and was ‘strip naked of everything – loss of wife, father, mother, brother … every possession lost, every value destroyed, suffering from hunger, cold and brutality, hourly expecting extermination – how could he find life worth preserving’?

His answer: ‘… to live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering … Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes.


You ask me, “How much money has passed thru my hands?” … plenty. More importantly, how much money has passed through the hands of those who I’ve had the pleasure to serve? …  Plenty more! But no man can tell another what his purpose is. In this regard, author Salman Rushdie remarked,’ Sooner or later, we all have to take responsibility for our own fate.  And, although, by monetary standards, I’ve done reasonably well; it was hardly the point of my purpose in life – then or now.


Again, this theme is echoed in the Bible where we find that: ’… things that are considered of great value by man are worth nothing in God’s sight’.


 You ask me, ‘How much money has passed thru my hands?’ but I ask how much more in positive seeds have been planted? … God only knows … but why not plant a few more inspirational seeds of your own? You’ll be in good company!

Aug 262009

“I was born in a small town … guess I’ll die in a small town.” John Mellencamp

What is it about small towns that folks from the big cities find appealing?

Consider ‘Bob’ from New York, a guy I met at the downtown New Hamburg annual Cruise Night. He likes the friendliness of the people and the area charm. He normally comes to attend the big weekend Moparfest of vintage Chrysler-made cars; but this year he also brought some friends to catch the car action a day earlier downtown. (I wonder if he knows about Expressway Ford’s car cruise, a few days later.(?)


In any event, this type of enthusiasm makes you appreciate what many of us take for granted. And nothing says ‘Happy Days’ like an old car or an old song. In fact, the number of people I met that evening – affecting many aspects of my life – was truly amazing. These included:


·         Meredith, of MeMe’s Cafe; discussed a Marketing presentation to my night class.

·         Kristen, of Upper Case Books; graciously offering wisdom regarding literature and research

·         Les, of the licence office; a funny guy who can cut through red tape like nobody else

·         Gary, with wife, (‘be nice’) Bernice: a great car guy and neighbour who will be looking after our property when we’re on vacation.

Some family members showed up: Jessica and Wade, my daughter and her husband, along with our new grandson Kolton. (Somehow when my wife Judi arrived, the men got the assignment of pushing the stroller, while the ladies enjoyed the car show from the dining comfort of the Puddicombe House veranda!)

Of course, all communities, big and small, have also seen their share of trials – adversely affecting the lives of family, friends and neighbours.   However in small towns, the awareness happens much faster and as a result so is the response – helping hands that often times overwhelm the recipients. It’s just our way; and that makes all the difference.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, internationally renowned author and speaker, has said:

“Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world.”     

I guess it’s all the way you look at it. Or again, as Mellencamp sings: ‘Got nothing against a big town … (but) I can breathe in a small town … Oh, and that’s good enough for me.’

Aug 092009

In Memory of Alexander Martinez


John Lennon reminded us in a song that ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans’. This week ‘life’ happened with the news of the death of Alexander Martinez – an adult student attending a college night course that I teach.

Alexander was a real gentleman and a genuine person. Originally from El Salvador, he told us, in a recent class presentation, how he had been a 3rd year law student who was forced to leave school in order to make a living.

His life was a series of stories, each with a rise and fall ending … being forced down, only to succeed later. As he talked (needlessly apologizing for his command of English) I was able to see the picture of a man who was ‘worthy of his suffering’ – choosing not to give in to defeat.   

Listening intently, I wondered how it was that a man like Alexander could find it so difficult to obtain meaningful employment in Canada. Was it his English? It certainly wasn’t his ability to communicate.

Nor, was it for lack of effort, as I had met him in one of my classes some 2 years earlier, working on completing yet another college certificate.

The night I passed on the sad news of his sudden death to his fellow classmates, we were consoled in the memory of the spontaneous group exercise we did for him after his class presentation. Together, we conducted a brainstorming session to develop ideas that would help him gain employment. We listed these on large board sheets which we all signed, along with our best wishes. Later that night, towards the end of our class, I glanced over to see Alexander re-reading those sheets. He seemed moved that we took the time to care.

Maybe that’s what Canada is all about. Maybe, we should demonstrate that more often.

Good bye Alexander. And, on behalf of your classmates, thank you for choosing Canada!

Your life decision has helped re-confirm mine. Or as one of Charles Dickens’ immortal characters said best: “Mankind was my business!”


Mar 212009

When I look back on my favorite people, they all have a different story … with the same message.


My Uncle Jim & Aunt Mamie, Grandpa Coll, Grandpa & Grandma Parry, Uncle Lyle (just to name a few), and Bob the mechanic.


Bob, as my mechanic for over thirty years, has taught me a lot about cars; but a lot more about life.


In all the time that I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him loose his temper; and as a younger family man, I remember how hard that was when you’re trying to balance family responsibilities and job pressures.


One day, I asked him about it. He told me that the secret was to only work half days.


Half days? I didn’t get it. I mean, over the years I have always dropped off my car off to him for repairs before 7AM, took his loaner car and left. I also knew that he worked well into the evenings, as well. He looked at the puzzled expression on my said, “Well, like I said … half days … that’s 12 hours isn’t it Fred?


That Bob… he was the funny one!


Another time, my wife gingerly drove our car into his extremely busy corner garage – with parts of the muffler system dragging on the ground. She said that Bob stopped everything that he was doing, took her car in, fixed it all up and sent her on her way, in no time at all.


A few days later, when I dropped in to thank him; I asked him how he was able to just stopped everything he was doing like that when his shop was already full of cars he and his staff were working on. He simply said that if it had been his wife who was in a similar situation; he’d like to think that some other mechanic would do the same thing.


There are many other examples of Bob’s philosophy on life – like lots of folks – but saying it and living it, are two different things.

Mar 212009

Some of My Favorite People

(Part 2 / Grandpa Parry)


My paternal grandfather was quite a character. And, from a very young age, I could always remember him as a happy-go-lucky guy – always laughing, with seemingly nothing getting him down.


 For Grandpa, it was all about attitude. He was always smiling, whistling while he worked and was always busy ‘doing’ things. He was an entrepreneur … could take any business from nothing and make it into to a thriving enterprise. At one time, he had a restaurant, hotel and grand home at a very popular summer resort. My Grandmother ran the day-to-day operations and was very happy living there.   


 He was also very industrious. He could take a run down house and with a little paint, wall paper and carpentry, turn it into something much better … all on a shoestring budget resulting in frequent trips to the thrift furniture store.


Volunteering his time, he would visit the kids at our local Sick Children’s hospital, and hand paint their room windows with their favorite cartoon characters. The kids just loved him!

A successful salesman, selling ‘pots & pans’(as he like to call it), he sold to commercial kitchens; and in later life, before his untimely death, he started up a Dry Cleaner business  – his idea of today’s Retirement Savings Plan.       

He often used his great sales skills on me too, a typical non-compliant teenager, as when he ask me to help him clean up our house. Initially, I rebelled against this, as I could see no reason why I shouldn’t be doing nothing like my friends. Grandpa saw no future in that; so he used his considerable charm and pulled a ‘Tom Sawyer’ on me. He said,” Freddy, look at how fantastic it’s going to be seeing the whole house with all those windows shiny in the sun!” And, just like Tom Sawyer, who got everyone else to paint the fence for him, I got hooked too.


And you know he was right! Looking back, I can still feel how proud I was when I had finished. Teaching by example, that was my grandpa. 

Grandma didn’t always appreciate his efforts though because Grandpa, who was good at getting things started, also got tired of things just as fast. One example that stands out in family lore is when he had this blinding inspiration and decided to sell their resort business and home for cash, which got stuffed in an envelop and tossed into the car’s glove compartment.


I can’t tell you if it was a lot of money or not; but I do know Grandma had to leave the home she loved and in a very short period of time. All she knew was that Grandpa was tired of it all  … got the itch to move on … just like that.


I was only a toddler at the time; but some years after my Grandfather had passed away, I asked her how she must have felt?  She just smiled and said at times he drove her crazy; but then she sighed and said, “I miss him Freddy”, as we all did. 


His personality and love of life was contagious.


When my Grandmother passed away, and we were settling the estate of her rather humble home, I noticed something written on the old shed door that I hadn’t noticed before. Grandpa had written (he was always writing), ‘Man is closest to God in a garden, than anywhere else on earth’.


That pretty well sums it up. He was the gardener of our lives – pruning here, nurturing there. When he died, it left a hugh hole in our lives, where a great … not perfect … man once lived.