4) Provider by G Diesel

Your life changes dramatically the day another human being depends on you to eat. The selfish inclinations are drowned out by the siren song duet of duty and expectation. And that which once seemed important, quickly becomes trivial.

In a recent conversation with a trusted ally he relayed to me the sort of self-confidence that told him no matter what obstacles were placed in front of him, he’d find a way to not only get by, but flip the situation to his advantage. I understood. I knew that feeling well, walking the tight rope between a cushy gig with a good salary and great benefits at 38 years young, and a bold, vivid, audacious dream. One with no guarantees and no safety net below. You’ve gotta believe in yourself with an almost irrational defiance to take each step forward, the first being the most daunting and death-defying.

They define faith in two ways—as complete belief in someone or something. Or as a belief in God or religious dogma independent of evidence. Both apply to my personal perspective, not only of myself as an individual, but of my destiny and purpose on this planet. To close your eyes and bet your life and that of those you love, on yourself and your abilities, takes a certain amount of “hold your breath and jump” faith. Not only that a higher power as you define it won’t let you down, but that you won’t let yourself, or those depending on you—or even the world, down. You may believe in a creator. But you also must believe in yourself and your capacity to create your own destiny.

The responsibility of being a hunter-gatherer always appealed to me. Somebody has to bring home the proverbial bacon for it to be cooked in the skillet. I watched my folks as a kid, make miracles happen for me on a daily basis, coming through every time. And it made an impression on me. First, it motivated me to pay them back for all they did for me and the sacrifices they made. A regret I will carry forever, is that I ran out of time to take the weight off my Pops’ shoulders. Now my mission is carried out in his honor. Watching my folks in my formative years also set the bar for me, for what I would need to do for my own family and my friends. At best, I would illuminate a reality for them beyond the confines of their collective imagination. At worst, I’d expend all of my life force to make sure they never do without. Plan B has always been the same and without equivocation… Die Trying.

That pressure is real. And unrelenting. If you don’t know that desperation, and haven’t had that inner dialogue, I pity you. We all need those moments of sober introspection, when you must dig deep and find a way. It is the same power that under the highest heat, and immense pressure for eons, converts common carbon to priceless diamond. It is that alchemy that turns regular men of meager means and humble roots immortal. By force. By will. By force of their will.

In the midst of our current quarantine conditions and the tenuous nature of life in 2020, you feel that “do what you gotta do” impulse and it hits a little harder. Businesses shuttered; shelves bare. People sick. People dying. People living in fear. Prolific propaganda. Misinformation becoming the new knowledge. No one left to lead, but us. What a time to be alive. It doesn’t take much to realize, the stakes are high. So that is the mindset in which I enter each day. That’s my default approach and how I play “the game”. For keeps.

Every word I write, every new design, every product. Every sale we make, every meeting, every idea. Every early morning workout. Every masked trip to the grocery store. Every afternoon home-schooling our girls. Every effort. Every hour spent. Every penny earned. Every late night burning the candle at both ends, creating fire. Every productive day piled up on top of seemingly identical productive day, is an investment. Not just in a dream decades deep. But in making sure my people eat tomorrow. My motivation is that simple. I’m a provider, baby.

INSPIRATION

3) Dear Mama by G Diesel

Among the most important factors in my development as a person, and my evolution as a man, is the consistent presence of women in my world. The truth is, that my entire life, I have been surrounded by strong female figures. From the matriarchs of my respective clans, to my selfless aunts, to Tara and my own daughters. That common thread has always been there. And it began with Christine.

There’s no shame in a simple admission. I’m a Mama’s boy. Always have been. My mother has been a rock in the foundation of my life for more than four decades. From nurturing to instilling values, education to encouragement, influence and support… She has always been there. To this day, she is a guiding and steadying force every day. She literally and figuratively gave me life and was surrounded by a support system of amazing women who helped her raise me along the way.

As a child, my maternal grandmother and paternal aunt Ann Marie—my Pops’ big sister, were omnipresent. My grandmother Mary taught me humility and kindness and was the actual real world embodiment of the Christian virtues that so many espouse but are so rare and scarce in practice. She was the real deal, she lived it. My aunt Ann Marie, or AMS as I called her, was brilliant and bold, but so caring and giving. She was the keeper of family lore, and the teller of stories. She helped me grow in my appreciation of history and the accumulation of priceless knowledge and always encouraged my artistic pursuits. And to watch her put her own life on hold with no hesitation, to care for my grandfather when I was a kid, through observation, taught me priceless lessons about love and sacrifice.

My Mom and Dad’s sisters were always there for me as well. So smart and capable. Independent individuals who at the same time, always found a way to put family first. From babysitting me to showing up at my games and important personal events, to greeting me with pizza and snacks when I’d visit, to finding me that special present at Christmas or my birthday, they always went out of their way to make me feel special, and in doing so, gave me the greatest gift of all–their love.

But when it came to faith and unconditional love, my mom was in her own league. She kept the battery in my back throughout my youth. She encouraged my passions and nurtured my talents and in one way shape or form was instrumental in everything that I loved, that influenced me the most. She was the first one to make me take my vitamins every day. She bought me my first pair of Jordans—the Chicago Jordan Ones on clearance at a sneaker store in Scranton in 1986. She bought me Run-DMC “Raising Hell” on cassette from the bookstore where she worked when I was in third grade. She’d play catch with me when my Dad was away for work. She would get me new kicks to ball in, when I’d wear holes the soles in three weeks. She’d drive me to the camps. She’d console me when disappointed, frustrated or devastated. For years. She taught me that for all of my physical talents and goals, one day it would be my mind that would pay the bills, recognizing in me what I couldn’t see in myself. She bought me my first cement-filled plastic weight set, from a department store at the Shore Mall. She got me the six week student discount gym membership to the Brigantine Fitness Center for my sixteenth birthday, the Summer before my junior year of high school. She played a role in everything I ever loved, but it was the least of the gifts she bestowed. She taught me empathy. Equality. To treat others as I wanted to be treated. She instilled in me decency and the regard for my fellow person that is sorely lacking in modern times. At some of my lowest times as a young man, she was all I had. At every critical juncture, and in every way that matters, she was there, a guiding hand helping set the wheel in motion. I thank God that I was born with a fire in my belly, one that my dear father fanned for years. But Christine shielded that flame from the elements, and helped it endure. I’m not who I am, were it not for her. Not a chance.

My reverence for women was already deeply entrenched in my being when I met Tara, working as a bouncer, the Summer before my senior year in college. As a waitress working in the busiest and craziest nightclub on the East Coast, I was stunned by her poise and priorities at such a young age. Never before had I met someone so stunningly beautiful and glamorous, also so selfless and determined and level-headed. I was enchanted. She made me want to be a better man… Want to be a father. And taught me, a selfish and self-absorbed kid, about responsibility. Helping me to turn a penchant for self-actualization into a path to self-sufficiency. She helped to stop dragging my feet in the relentless pursuit of my destiny, and has been there with me every often-agonizing step of the way ever since. We went from one baby girl, to two. To four. Seemingly in the blink of an eye. And though it has always been a challenge, I wouldn’t change a thing about this journey. Never losing sight of the rare blessing that my muse could also be the mother of my four daughters.

Which brings this story full circle. I have never taken it as random coincidence that I was raised by a coalition of strong women and ended up being the father of four daughters. It was destiny. It was a dream. It was duty. And with the state of our world being what it is, I see how high the stakes actually are. For everything man has built, he has destroyed nearly as much. For all of my triumphs and virtues, I am well aware of my flaws, illustrating a simple fact. It will be the women who will save us. Giving us hope for the future, just as they first gave us life. And it is my charge to prepare them for that life’s work. It is a, obligation I do not take lightly. As regardless of what else I achieve in this realm, that will be my most important legacy.

Dear Christine. Dear Tara. Dear Mary. Dear Marta. Dear Devon. Dear Marlene. Dear Debbie. Dear Erin. Dear Linda. Dear Carole. Dear Sue. Dear Donna. Dear Dina. Dear Kim. Dear Abuela. Dear Terry. Dear Lucy. Dear Rita. Dear Lisa. Dear Brandy. Dear Judy. Dear all of the moms who built us into the men we eventually became. Dear all the moms-to-be. And all the moms who came before. Were it not for you, there is no us. Not unlike Mother Nature wills our planet into existence, minding the tides and the sunrise, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea, you breathe life into our souls, sustaining us as we grow. And for that, we owe you. We honor you. And we humbly and gratefully say, Happy Mother’s Day.

INSPIRATION

2) I Walk Alone by G Diesel

As an only child, you spend much of your formative years developing your internal dialogue. Creating universes within, working through your issues in self-therapy, becoming familiar with your true identity and who you want to be. I didn’t fight with my siblings. I fought with myself. I didn’t bond with my brothers and sisters. I bonded with myself.

Even as I grew, I found strength in solitude. The ability to work on myself in isolation. To push myself when no one is watching. As with so many moments of my self-discovery, it began with basketball. And late-night conversations with my father. Learning about the often lonely and thankless path to greatness. And why so few folks choose to walk that road. Because it is long, treacherous and desolate. Because success is not guaranteed. Because the journey is more rewarding than the destination. The old axiom teaches to go the extra mile because there’s no traffic on that highway. At a certain point, your whole life becomes an extra mile.

A conversation with a trusted friend, recently revealed a philosophical “glitch” we had in common. That we couldn’t bear the thought of someone outworking us, knowing more could be done each day to make our dreams real. Having to live with those shortcomings, and that laziness and apathy. Not paying all dues required. Abiding it as “good enough”, is impossible. It would eat at our soul, tormenting us. It is an unreasonable and uncomfortable way to live, because if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we could always do more. And once you know that, you’re constantly aware that you can never do enough.

One of the words that grown folks use so casually, that truly irritates me, is “boredom”. I haven’t been bored since I was eleven years old. Not because I’ve lived a life of glamour and excitement or an epic series of excursions and events. I’ve never been a galivanting social butterfly. But because I’ve always had a dream, one that some might consider an obsession. Since middle school I have been driven by purpose. So for the three decades since, every time I ever had a few moments of downtime to myself, there was always a voice in the back of my head, reminding me of all the work I had to do. Leisure and relaxation have always been privileges to be earned, not rights. You earn such luxuries by doing the work your dreams demand.

Free time is a misnomer. Nothing about it is “free”. Nothing in life is free–most especially time. It is the most valuable currency you can spend. The most precious resource—that is why it can be saved, spent or wasted. I’ve always said that spent money I will figure out how to make back… But time that’s lost is gone forever. So the finite time with which I’m blessed, I’d prefer to invest in myself, in my dreams, in enhancing the lives of those that I love and in leaving a meaningful legacy behind . It is difficult to be “bored” when you understand that the meter is running–whether the taxi drives around the world or sits in idle forever.

The gym is a daily reminder of the awesome power of solitary process. I think back to being 15 years old, seeking the seclusion of my Brigantine apartment bedroom. Having just been bitten by the iron bug, training to become a better ballplayer. Each day I’d be alone with the weights, with limitless potential in front of me. I could feel the power and possibility as I held the dumbbells in my hand. With “Illmatic” or “Enter the 36 Chambers” playing, I’d become better every day. I relive that experience every morning in my basement. By myself. The effort, the intensity, the focus and efficacy, entirely up to me. Like so many things, you get out what you put in. And I want it all.

The destination remains the same as always. Though the path to get there has evolved, as has the person traveling the road. Some days can be frustrating and test your patience. Some days the progress is so incremental it seems non-existent. Just like in the gym, some days everything is heavy. And everything hurts. Some days, I’m not even walking at all, I’m limping. Some days I’m crawling, an inch at a time, dragging my belly against the gravel and glass, my face in the gutter with a mouthful of dirt. But I keep pushing forward, and eventually, I stagger to my feet again. And get my stride back. And sometimes I run. And it feels good. And I reach for that next gear. I dig deep. And I’m sprinting again, my arms pumping, my knees high, my hands chopping the air. The crushing weight of destiny becomes the wind at my sail. The tables have been turned, and momentum is mine.

I’ve said it before. One way or another, we will get there. Maybe we all have an oar in the water. Maybe we all pull the wagon, and the yoke is not mine to wear alone. But if it must be, I will throw it around my neck like a Slick Rick chain. You see, I prayed for years for the chance to carry this weight. So I refuse to let down all of those who have expected so much of me for so long, all of the spirits still living through me, who laid the foundation. So if I have to drag everyone by their necks across the finish line, I will. Because not getting there isn’t an option.

In the midst of this quarantine, I’ve done what I can to frame my thinking. To see the whole months-long process in the same light as those trips upstairs to my high school bedroom to train in seclusion, to work on myself. With all of its inherent challenges and struggles, it isn’t lost on me, that I have it better than so many out there during these trying times. And though the day to day situation is far from ideal, in it I am finding comfortable themes. Of isolation. Of introspection. Of routine and regimentation. Of self-accountability. Of building myself up in the shadows, off the radar and beyond the public gaze. It is spring training. It is training camp. It is the thankless dirty work and endless drills that eventually win the championship. In every aspect of my life, I’m making those efforts right now, trying to progress while the world is on pause. And while I have the support of so many on this journey, that work is mine to own. I walk alone.

INSPIRATION

1) Man In Black by G Diesel

Months back, I remember sharing the thought with a close confidante, that I had considered not smiling anymore in pictures. Symbolic of how “serious” I was about our collective aspirations. That I wasn’t joking around. That sounds like the joke now, as in the weeks since, shit got real.

Not “self-important vainglorious exercise of symbolic and somber sobriety about my business goals” kind of real. Life or death real. People dying alone in hospital beds real. Heroes sacrificing their health on the frontlines to care for the sick real. Economic calamity real. Businesses shuttered real. Supply chain food shortage real. Miles-long lines at the foodbank real. Home-schooling our children real. Wearing a bandana over my face to the supermarket real. So real, it is surreal. And all-of-a-sudden, I find our priorities are completely re-ordered.

As we fight for our business and to pay our bills, collectively as a nation, that which is most important takes precedent. The health of our loved ones, and that of our neighbor and our broader community. The food on our plates and in our pantry. The roof we are so lucky to have over our heads. No longer do material goods have such a lure. Symbols of status mean less. Celebrity gossip becomes irrelevant. Sports no longer pass the time. We are forced to look within. Inside ourselves and under the hood of our society. If nothing else, these hard times, through self-examination, should awaken our empathy and humanity.

Understanding that there are people who cannot leave their homes for health reasons–many old folks who are shut-in, forgotten and alone. That there are people locked away, imprisoned often inhumanely and disproportionately. Knowing that people in corners of this world face pestilence and illness every day as a matter of fact and existence and cannot isolate themselves and have no medicine. Aware that there are people in your community who do not have adequate food to eat, students relying on school meals to survive, kids going to bed hungry tonight. Cognizant that human beings everywhere lack access to information and education and are lied to daily, manipulated with fear. Acknowledging our unavoidable inter-connectedness, even cloistered away under quarantine. Recognizing that people are sad, people are angry, people are anxious.

If we were not previously willing to modify ourselves, our circumstances will transform us. To know struggle, to know pain, to know endurance and resilience. To feel the unstable soil beneath your feet, sliding in the gravel, but digging in regardless, fighting for your footing. It changes a person. And to be honest, I don’t want to go back. Normal wasn’t working. We were asleep at the wheel. The emphasis on family. The gratitude for the small things. The compassion for our fellow man. The understanding of the inequities and injustice and imbalance in this world. And knowing how lucky we are, even on our worst day. These are the unintended blessings of this crisis.

There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, I do believe. But instead of standing on the tracks, hoping not to get run over, I will transform myself into the train and charge toward the daylight. Well aware of the hopes and expectations and futures of all of those I carry with me always.

I would like nothing more that to weave a tale of love and light. You know, “don’t worry be happy”. But my responsibilities are too great. I owe you more. Instead I will tell you to be thankful for what you do have. Stand up for it and fight for it. Take each day one at a time and cherish it. Because yesterday is rapidly shrinking in the rearview mirror and tomorrow teeters on a razor’s edge.

What I know we do have, for now, is today. Today I can be a better father. Today I can be a more generous friend. Today I can be a kinder neighbor. Today I can create a stronger business. Today I can build my body up. Today I can learn and teach and use these words to connect with you. Today I can be the change I wish to see in the world and lead by example, so that one day, we can sit in the sun together and smile for a picture. Until that beautiful time arrives, I will be here, fighting the good fight. Holding onto my ideals. Believing we can do better, believing in you. Working in the shadows, on a dream only I can see. Until our enemies retreat into the darkness, and we get our lives back, I will be the man in black.

INSPIRATION