Thursday, December 24, 2015

Striving and a Real Man


How was the year for you? Did you get to where you wanted to be in your fitness goals? Did you get stronger? Did you get massive like you wanted or ripped like you wanted or as strong as you wanted? And if you did reach the goals that you had set for yourself, they came and went and then you probably asked yourself, is that all there is?

Because yes, that is all there is, and the reason for that feeling is because it's the striving that is the crux of the whole damn thing. No matter what you accomplish, you have to keep going, correct? Because that's what it's all about, waking up with new goals or new thoughts that push you to achieve again and again. That's an important part of succeeding in life, methinks. Because hell, if Peyton Manning just decided that winning MVP was enough and winning the Super Bowl was enough, he could have just quit right then and there years ago. But he keeps going and setting goals, conscious or not, to be better or to come back from injury, and then when he does that, he goes on and strives to better himself in another way.  I remember thinking that when I started weight training in 7th grade that if I only could get so strong or only get so big, that I would stop training. That's funny looking back on it, but when you are young, you have a tendency to think in those ways. Little did I know that it doesn't work that way, that you have to keep going, pushing to get to other levels. And that's really what makes it all worthwhile, anyway.

 A Real Man

With all of the websites out there and books out there bemoaning the loss of masculinity and the loss of manliness and all, I started thinking about men that I have known who were real men. My Uncle George was a real man for sure.

He grew up working in his father's gas station, helping in the garage. He made his way to the University of Maryland in the 1950's and becomes friends with my father, working as teacher's together. Uncle George ended up getting his PHD from LSU like my father and then teaching at Maryland for years, and even becomes the acting dean at one point.

So, what made Uncle George a real man? In my mind, it was because he was well rounded as hell. He could set his mind to doing something and he would just , by sheer force of will and stubbornness, get it done. 

He was the most amazing guy when it came to fixing every thing, building anything, and taking care of everything. If he was around, you had confidence that everything would turn out alright.

It was the early 1960's. Those were the days when men didn't take lessons in anything. That was laughable. You need someone to teach you how to lay bricks? You need someone to teach you to scuba dive? To drive a 40 foot sailboat? To run a whole department and have everyone from the janitors to the professors respect you? You just do it yourself, with the confidence that if you don't get it right the first time, you will on the next try because you will figure it out. He turned our garage into a living room with a bedroom and a brick fireplace that you had to see to believe. It is still standing 40 years later with not one brick out of place and no repairs ever needed. He never took one dime from my father for anything that he worked on.  And he did a lot. He'd say to my dad, "I will be there at daybreak, have the cement ready." And my dad would be up at 4 am stirring the cement and then Uncle George would arrive shortly thereafter, ready to work. And work all day, who needs to eat, just work and work .. 

Oh! I almost forgot the beginning of the whole story when the building of the addition to the house.   My parents and Uncle George were sitting at the breakfast table . My mother was always saying to Uncle George, "When are  you gonna start the addition?" "When are you gonna start the building?" So Uncle George stands up, grabs a sledgehammer from the work room and puts a huge hole in the wall. "Now we have to get started," he said. 

He was funny and he loved to bust your chops. One day he pulled up to my dad's and I was in this girl's car and she was in the driver's seat and I was sitting close to her and he just looked at me and I was so embarrassed that Uncle George saw me sitting all close to her.  Later, he said something like, "Sitting with your girlfriend?" and I was mortified that I even had a girlfriend, let alone sitting in the middle seat while she was in the driver's seat. Even now, I am mortified. I shoulda been helping my dad do something in the yard or playing sports. 

Uncle George never talked about women much. My dad said that he had a fiance one time and it didn't work out. And that's about as far as my dad went with it, he probably felt like it was none of my business anyway. Maybe she broke his heart, I don't know. But I do know that he was not the type of guy to chase after anyone or go on dates. Too busy with important stuff to do those things. In fact, I just pictured him holding hands and I just laughed out loud.

He was strong, too. Never lifted one weight. No way that he would ever go to a gym.  He did gymnastics training. I have no idea how he got into that, but he did, and he used to pick up people over his head while on a balance beam and do the rings and stuff. Of course, he never took a lesson or had a coach. I was real little but I can still see him doing it.  I used to hang from his biceps when I was a kid, they were so big. 

He bought a sailboat without ever having sailed before and goes out on the Chesapeake and just started sailing. He needed to get under the boat so that he could clean it or fix  it while it was in the water, so he put on scuba gear having never scuba dived before and just did it. No big deal. He bought a shack on the water and made it into a beautiful house. He bought an old broken down fishing boat and made it into an award winning yacht and won all kind of awards and was featured in Chesapeake Magazine. 

He played tennis and basketball everyday. Not a great athlete but tenacious as hell and tough, too. He dislocated his shoulder one time, so he taped his one arm tight to his body and played with one hand. 

When he was the acting Dean of Kinesiology, he got me a job working in the equipment room. In those days, everyone exercised at noon. This was when those in Physical Education actually did things that were physical. The Greek ideal was still going strong. So the teachers would come down to the equipment room and get a shirt, shorts, socks and jock. The equipment guys only let two people behind the counter. Uncle George and my father, the only two guys that they respected. Anyway, I get a job working there one summer, folding towels, doing odd jobs in the building. Uncle George says to me one day, "Jimmy, I have a job for you, an easy one." I am thinking, uh oh.

We walk up to a locker room, hundreds of lockers in there. "Take apart all of these lockers," he says, and hands me one wrench. One. Now I am not mechanically inclined in any sense of the word. I can dig a hell of a hole and move dirt and I can chop wood with the best of them, but even turning a screw can get challenging at times. So he hands me the wrench and walks out. It's July in Maryland, which means extra humid and there was no air-conditioning and I am sweating my butt off and I spent at least a half hour trying to take apart one freaking locker. I'm thinking , oh man, what do I tell Uncle George?  He is gonna be so disappointed but I knew that this was just not gonna happen , me taking apart those lockers. I tried and tried and finally I thought, screw it, and took a nap. I knew that if I went out there after only a half hour  he would say that I didn't try hard enough. So I took a little nap. Laid my butt down on a bench and closed my eyes. I woke up a little while later, drenched in sweat and went to find him, wrench in hand. "I tried Uncle George, I tried", I said.  "How many did you get done?" he asked. "Uh, none." I answered. He just put his hand out for the wrench. I handed it to him and walked away. Later, I asked him if the lockers ever got then taken apart, He said, "Yeah, I gave the job to some kid. He did it in about ten minutes."

Years later, he got bone cancer. It was strange seeing him wasting away a little. But he fought it into remission, of course he fought it into remission. It came back and then he was gone one day. Tough to take, tough for my dad to take also.  But looking back, it is what he left us that is important: A legacy of independence and work ethic and toughness,  and a shining example of what being a real man is all about.

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a's for life. Whether its training or your family or your doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.