Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tribute to Elizabeth Edwards: A Lasting Legacy

Today I was thinking what to write about. I sat down to type and just happened to turn on the television. I saw live coverage of the funeral service of Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former presidential candidate, John Edwards. She passed away at age 61 earlier this week after a 6 year battle with breast cancer, leaving behind her husband and 3 children.

I thought I’d dedicate today’s post to her memory. I realize that The Upbeat Dad is about fatherhood. But I believe that each of us - dads, moms, kids - can learn lessons from the lives of others and that’s why I’ve chosen to honor her with this post.

I only knew of Elizabeth Edwards from a distance. But even from a distance I admired the way she handled the challenges life threw her way. She lost a teenage son about 15 years ago after a tragic car accident. She experienced the betrayal of her husband after he had an affair that resulted in him fathering a child outside of their marriage. They tried to rebuild their marriage but eventually separated.Throughout all this, she remained resilient. With the many challenges that she faced, she was always optimistic – upbeat if you will.

She authored two books in which she shared with others the lessons learned from her life - her victories and also her hurts and disappointments. I’d like to dedicate my poem, A Lasting Legacy, to her memory. It’s found in my book, Poems of Inspiration: A Daily Dose of Self Motivation. It’s been read at birthday parties, retirement parties and funerals.

A Lasting Legacy
May I seek to serve my fellow man,
and give of myself and do all that I can.
May I love and give a helping hand—
that's the foundation on which I stand.
For what is my life if not to live?
And what is my purpose if not to give?
When my life has ended I cannot relive
the moments I now have to love and forgive.
Each day as I awaken and watch the sunrise
and offer my life as a sacrifice,
may I teach all I know, and give good advice—
displaying integrity with no compromise.
Whenever I come to the end of my days
and I go to my final resting place—
when the sun goes down and I finish this race,
may I leave this world a better place.
This is my vow to humanity—
a vow that will last all eternity.
For my children and all who will come after me,
may I leave a lasting legacy.
The life of Elizabeth Edwards is one that we can all learn from. Hers was a story filled with great accomplishments but also personal tragedy. Still she handled each of these with grace and class. And for this we honor her today. She lived an exceptional life and left this world a better place as a result of her being here.

May she rest in peace.  And as we live our lives, like her, may we create our own lasting legacy.
The Upbeat Dad

Welcome New Countries!! December 11, 2010

We'd like to welcome the following countries who have recently joined our growing list of readers of The Upbeat Dad blog: Singapore, The Phillipines, Indonesia.
Check out The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad to find out what we're all about! Also, check out our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. You'll enjoy and share our excitement about fatherhood. Dads, moms and children are always welcome!

Come back often. And get engaged in our conversation! There's always something new!

Have an excellent day!

The Upbeat Dad

Friday, December 10, 2010

Person of the Week Special Edition: Myra McRoy Constable

Myra McRoy Constable
On Fridays, we normally recognize an individual whom we have chosen to highlight as the Upbeat Dad of the Week. As the term suggests, the recipient is generally a man who displays exceptional qualities as a dad and as a citizen. Today’s feature is also about an exceptional person who portrays superb qualities. But this person is a woman. After reading the following article, I think you will agree with me that she is quite deserving of being recognized in this manner.
In an effort not to confuse the matter, rather than using the term “Upbeat Dad of the Week,” let’s just use the term “Person of the Week” this time. So let me say, it gives me great honor to recognize our Person of the Week, Myra McRoy Constable.
Before I go further, let me pause and say that I know Myra personally; however, someone does not need to be known personally to me to be featured and recognized on this blog. Individuals who portray the qualities that we hold dear are who we like to feature. It so happens that her story is so compelling that, if I had my way, there would be a movie about her journey and the way she has become triumphant in the midst of her worst crisis.
I met Myra in July 1995 at her wedding in Austin, Texas to my good friend from our days at the University of Texas at Austin, Carie Constable. As is often the case at weddings when someone meets the bride or groom for the first time, there wasn’t much time to interact, other than to say congratulations. It was a wonderful occasion as we witnessed the union of the happy couple. Little did I know that that was the last time I would see Myra and Carie together. The next time I saw her, the circumstances were radically different.  
In the heart of the Christmas season in 1999, I received a very disturbing phone call from a mutual friend of Carie and me. He said that Carie had died in a car accident on the 4th of December. This really jolted me. You see, the previous year, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1998, I lost my best friend and closest family member due to a car collision. So it’s as if a wound that had healed was being reopened. I quickly contacted Myra to find out about the situation and she confirmed that he had passed.
Constable Family Christmas Photo 1999
I had relocated to Miami, Florida a few years before. Fortunately, I was scheduled to travel to Austin on business that same month so I got to go to the home and speak with Myra one on one. I met hers and Carie’s son who was about to turn 2 at the end of December. When she shared with me the circumstance that led to Carie’s death, I was almost numb. Even as I write this, the emotions of that moment come back to mind.
You see, Carie had just struck a great business deal that was sure to help him and his family to reach some of their goals. He went out alone that evening to drink and celebrate the accomplishment with some business associates. He really had a great time. He had previously been involved in drunk driving incidents but, unfortunately, he did not learn of how dire the consequences could be.
He made the decision after that night of fun, to get behind the wheel to drive home. That decision literally cost him his life. Carie lost control of his vehicle and his car ran off the road in a single vehicle collision and he died on the scene. His body was found in the car the following afternoon by the authorities. At age 31, he left behind a beautiful wife and a 1 year old son who had a birthday coming up at the end of that month.
For many people, this is their reality. A loved one makes a decision that costs the family so much more than it would have cost had the decision not been made. Myra’s world came to a screeching halt. I recall when we spoke then in 1999 that she said, “In one moment I went from a happily married wife and mother to a young widow and a single parent.” That’s exactly what happened.
You’ve probably heard the expression “When life throws you lemons, add sugar and water and make lemonade.” Well that’s exactly what Myra did. You will now see why we have decided to honor her in this way.
About 3-4 months after Carie's death, Myra wondered how Carie would have suggested she handle the situation. Myra felt that Carie would have her stand up and do something to help ensure that other families don’t find themselves in the same tragic situation. Her story was too valuable to keep to herself so she had to share it with other families – fathers, mothers and children.
Three weeks before her husband’s death, she had just started a new job as Program Manager for Communities In Schools at the Pearce Middle School in Austin - the middle school that she attended as a child. In this capacity, she started a grief and loss group at the school for children who had lost a parent.
The summer of 2000, Myra began volunteering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). As a MADD volunteer, she was part of the Victim Impact Panel. In this capacity, she would go to court once monthly and speak to groups of approximately 80-100 persons accused of driving under the influence of alcohol about the dangers of drinking and driving. By nature, Myra is a quiet person. However, she saw the opportunity to speak to others about these matters as something far too valuable. It’s a responsibility that she embraced and still embraces. She says, “I don’t talk just to hear myself talk. When I speak, it is with purpose, passion and with specific intention to share an important message.”
In late 2006, she joined the organization YouthLaunch where she served as the Program Coordinator for Youth Partnership for Change, a program to empower youth. This program encourages young people between 16-21 to speak to their peers about the dangers of underage alcohol use.
In late 2010, she joined MADD fulltime as the Court Monitoring Project Specialist for MADD's Take the Wheel project funded by Texas Department of Transportation. The goals of that program are to: Enhance the relationship between the court and law enforcement and to initiate dialogue to develop best practices to improve the handling of alcohol-related court cases.
In essence, Myra has become a crusader against the very issue that cost her husband his life. She’s quite open about her personal story. Even as I wrote this post and interviewed her, she emphasized to me the importance of telling the story and not holding back on the details of it. Her mission is to decrease the number of families that have to deal with the tragic news that their loved one was in a fatal crash caused by drunk driving. She says, “When you hear about drunk driving, you generally hear about how another family has been ruined by a drunk driver. In my case, my husband’s decision to drive under the influence cost him his family and his life.”
She has done quite well in raising her son, who’s now 12. He is a gifted, well-adjusted student who is on his middle school basketball team and is a percussionist in the band. Sadly, he has no recollection of his father since he passed 4 weeks before his 2nd birthday. He only knows of the thoughts that others share with him about his dad.
Ironically, this week is the 11th anniversary of Carrie’s death. So I’m certain it comes with mixed emotions for Myra. Yet, she continues in what she sees as her life’s work – and she does so with great diligence, knowing that hers is a higher purpose. Her message to others – particularly fathers – who may consider drinking and driving is, “Think about your choices carefully, because they don't only affect you. The choices that you make today, may affect your children for a lifetime.”
I hope after reading this powerful story, you would agree with me that Myra McRoy Constable is very deserving of this recognition. What a message for a great woman to share with the readers of The Upbeat Dad! The purpose of our organization is to recognize the pivotal role that fathers can have in their children’s lives. But her son did not get that privilege. Instead he has had to learn of his father’s goodness through others.
Myra was put into a very difficult situation but she has responded like a champion. I believe that her life now has greater meaning and that the lives of others will forever be enriched as a result of her decision to turn her tragedy into triumph. For this, on behalf of the readers, I applaud her.
Please join me in recognizing her as the Person of the Week. And I trust that each of us – especially fathers and mothers – would think about the life lesson that’s embedded in her moving personal testimony. I also hope that we would always exercise good judgment, particularly as we celebrate in this, the most wonderful time of the year.


Have a safe and happy holiday season!
The Upbeat Dad

   

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Put Down That Drink! Aren’t You Driving Home?

The holiday season is in full swing! The malls are getting more crowded, Santa’s greeting little boys and girls all over the world and holiday parties are on just about everyone’s agenda. It is, afterall, the most wonderful time of the year.
In the midst of this wonderful season, quite often there are some families whose holiday is ruined by tragedy. Because of family gatherings, office parties and other social events, alcohol consumption increases during the season. And accordingly, alcohol related deaths also increase.
This post is really a 2-day post because I think that the entire story is so powerful that I couldn’t cram it all into one day. So today, I will write about the dangers of alcohol in general and then how it can affect families. Then tomorrow, when we usually do our Upbeat Dad of the Week feature, I implore you to read our post. We’re taking time out to honor a remarkable woman.
It’s a powerful, moving story about someone personally known to me. Her husband and I went to college together. I only met her at their wedding. But several years ago, in the heart of “the most wonderful time of the year” her life changed forever – alcohol consumption cost her husband, my friend, his life. She was devastated, losing her husband so suddenly at such an otherwise happy time. But she has since become an avid crusader against drunk driving. Whatever you do, please read the post tomorrow – it will be life changing and I hope, also life saving.
At The Upbeat Dad, we take social responsibility quite seriously. Yesterday’s post was about being charitable in the season of giving. Today’s post is about the dangers of alcohol-related driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), "A motor vehicle crash is considered to be alcohol-related if at least one driver or non-occupant (such as a pedestrian or pedalcyclist) involved in the crash is determined to have had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .01 gram per deciliter (g/dL) or higher.”
Here are some statistics about the dangers of alcohol-related driving in the United States:

  • In the USA, 3 out of 10 people are involved in accidents related to drunk driving, at least once in their lives.
  • The number of people who continue driving even after their licenses being suspended ranges between 50-75%.
  • Accidents related to drunk driving take place every 45 minutes in the US.
  • In the year 2002, 159 million drunk driving trips were undertaken by Americans. Out of these 159 million trips, 10% were taken by people from the age group of 18-20 years.
  • Around 275,000 people got injured in accidents related to drunk driving in 2003.
  • In the year 2006, 1.46 million people were arrested for driving under the influence of either drugs or alcohol. It means that among every 139 licensed drivers in USA, one was arrested.
  • The fatalities associated with drunk driving in youths under 21 years of age saw a gradual decline (71%) from the year 1982 (5,215) till 2008 (1,510). The setting up of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was responsible for this positive change.
There are many more statistics that we can look at to prove the dangers of drinking and driving. But they all lead to one conclusion: families are torn apart by this phenomenon. Quite often we think of the lives of other families being ruined by drunk driving. We don’t often think of the impact it could have on our own families if we were involved in such fatalities. In tomorrow’s post, you will read firsthand of the effects on a family when a loving husband and father made the decision to drive under the influence of alcohol.

I don’t particularly enjoy doing posts like this. It’s difficult to see how lives are torn apart by alcohol related driving. But I also know that in doing such a post to a worldwide audience, our readers might think twice about having that extra drink before getting behind the wheel. Or perhaps they might appoint a designated driver when they go partying in this festive season.
Another statistic that I didn’t use earlier is that, although alcohol related driving has increased among women, men are more often than not the culprits in such cases. Men tend to drink and drive more. Many of these men are fathers. When their drinking causes a collision, their families’ lives can be affected – sometimes in irreversible, catastrophic ways.
In this beautiful “most wonderful time of the year,” let’s exercise good judgment when we go out for a drink. The Jackson 5 sang a song entitled, “Stop! The love you save may be your own.” When it comes to this area, I say, “Stop! The life you save may be your own.” I also say, “Stop! The family you ruin may be your own.” Just a bit of food for thought.
Again, please read tomorrow’s post. It’s a moving story that begins as a tragedy but ends as a triumph as a widow is making a difference after her husband lost his life.
I know this post is a bit numbing but I also believe it’s quite necessary. Think on these things. We will “see” you tomorrow. Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

US Postal Service Operation Santa!


Last week I went to the post office in my community to send some items. I ran into the manager of that facility and recalled that we met about 3 years ago at the book and CD launch of my project Poems of Inspiration: A Daily Dose of Self Motivation.

We spoke a bit about how things are going in our respective lives and vocations. I told her about The Upbeat Dad and the vision I have for it and the overall success of it thus far. And I'm so glad we started that conversation. This blog post is based on the very exciting subject we discussed that day.

The US Postal Service has recently launched Operation Santa. The purpose of this "operation" is to allow individuals to fulfill the wishes of needy children during the Christmas season. How does is work? It's really simple:

1. Children write letters to Santa telling him what they would like as a Christmas present. These letters are delivered to the post office.

2. Customers complete an application to select a child's Santa letter.

3. Individuals who submit the application receive a copy of the child's letter. (NOTE: To protect children and their privacy, all personal information, including name and address are blackened out.)

4. Individuals purchase the gifts and bring them to the post office where they pay for the postage to ship the items to the child.

5. The post office delivers the package from "Santa."

And that's about it!

When I learned of this operation I promised the manager that I would deliver the message to my readers. As you know, the economy has been through some rough patches. And some loving parents - particularly single parents - are having a tough time making ends meet.

In this, the most wonderful time of the year, it's not so wonderful for them. Their kids might not get a Christmas present this year. For many families, that's their reality.

Just this past weekend at my church, in our Christmas drama, I played the role of a Salvation Army collector who publicly had to put a smile on his face as he collected funds for the less fortunate. Meanwhile, he was an unemployed single dad who could not fulfill his teenage daughter's Christmas wish.

As I got into the character, I really began to experience the emotions of one in his situation. In real life, there are thousands of people with this plight. Whether it's through Operation Santa or another organization, I encourage you to brighten a child's life this Christmas season.

At The Upbeat Dad, we care about dads and moms. But especially, we care about children. You don't have to have much to give much. One of my lines this weekend was "a small amount goes a long way for those who suffer greatly during the holiday."

Please speak with your local post office about Operation Santa. Please also consider the various charities in your local community.

Thanks for considering others during this season of giving. I'll close with another of my lines from the drama this weekend, "It is better to give than to receive."

Have an awesome day.


The Upbeat Dad

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Tribute to Stepfathers!

I hope your day is going great thus far. If you've been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I like to look at fatherhood from different dimensions. It's such a diverse topic that sometimes I see it as the gift that keeps on giving. When you think you're done looking at the topic, there's always a new angle.

Today I'd like to address some very special fathers - stepfathers. Dictionary.com defines the term "stepfather" as "the husband of one's mother by a later marriage." That means these fathers choose to marry a woman with child(ren). I know many of you reading this are stepfathers and before I go any further with this post, I want to thank you. On behalf of stepchildren all around the world, thank you for being fathers to children that may not be biologically yours but still you've chosen to love them and be their fathers nonetheless.

I'm not ignorant to the fact that some have become stepfathers as a result of unpleasant circumstances. But I'm looking at the bigger picture - where men choose to be in relationships knowing that the woman is already a mother.

Here's why I have decided to honor these men today. Quite often, a man meets a woman and everything seems great and wonderful. They seem to be compatible and like each other's company. They go to movies and to restaurants and really do enjoy themselves. But in the midst of it all, the woman is hesitant to share what she's chosen to make a secret - at least up to that point.

Perhaps she has dated previously and was quite open about the fact that she's a mother. And for some reason, when those men heard that news, they darted away so fast that you could see the skid marks. So deep within she knows that she wants a meaningful relationship. And she wants someone to know her and love her for who she is - not pre-judge her as a mother who needs help in taking care of the children.

The fact is that many men don't want that responsibility. They'd rather be in a relationship where there are no children. And in many ways, I can understand this. Sometimes the biological father of the woman's children might be difficult to deal with. So rather than dealing with those tensions that arise at times, some men would rather not begin such relationships in the first place.

I believe that stepfathers, as a whole, ought to be commended. Quite often, they have opted to become fathers to children who have never had a positive male role model. Statistics prove in so many ways that children with two parents develop better socially and are more likely to become successful, well-adjusted persons.

I know that some kids have a hard time accepting their stepfathers. Particularly when an only child to a single mom has to deal with someone new in the home, it may be quite difficult to adjust to. I also know that some stepfathers have a hard time learning how to become fathers for the first time to children who already have their own personalities – especially teenagers. There are so many dimensions to consider in this area.

As you may know, I was a single father after my divorce in the early 2000s. So my wife now is my daughter’s stepmother. Today, we are a happy family but from my standpoint, it took work to make it a reality. My wife and daughter get along very well. But because my daughter was my only child and she hadn’t known of me to be in a relationship before, I had to assure her that she is loved just the same and that my then fiancĂ©e (now my wife) would also love her. The transition has been quite smooth and I really commend my wife for choosing to be a mother to a child who already has her own loving mother.
 
Stepmothers, stepfathers and stepchildren have experiences and emotions that are quite unique. And sometimes it’s difficult for others to understand. So I honor all stepfathers and stepmothers for choosing to become parents in this way. For those of you who make the choice, I commend you for accepting the role of nurturing and mentoring kids who are not biologically yours. But you’ve accepted the role, knowing that the kids’ lives will be enhanced as a result. For this, on the kids’ behalf, I thank you.

As I close this post, let me share with you a special song. It’s written and sung by country music superstar Brad Paisley. I happen to be a big fan of country music. I think the reason is that this genre of music deals with so many real life issues and for the most part, the songs tend to tell uplifting stories. 

The song is entitled, “He Didn’t Have to Be.” It tells of a man who married a single mother and in the process chose to become a stepfather. I don’t know if the lyrics are based on Paisley’s own life but I do know that they are based on the lives of millions of fathers worldwide. I have included the lyrics here. Please read them and reflect on how this man’s choice made an impression on his stepson.

He Didn’t Have to Be
By Brad Paisley

When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new
It always winds up feeling more like a job interview
My momma used to wonder if she'd ever meet someone
Who wouldn't find out about me and then turn around and run

I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old
He took my mom out to a movie and for once I got to go
A few months later I remember lying there in bed
I overheard him pop the question and prayed that she'd say yes

And then all of a sudden
Oh, it seemed so strange to me
How we went from something's missing
To a family
Lookin' back all I can say
About all the things he did for me
Is I hope I'm at least half the dad
That he didn't have to be

I met the girl that's now my wife about three years ago
We had the perfect marriage but we wanted somethin' more
Now here I stand surrounded by our family and friends
Crowded 'round the nursery window as they bring the baby in

And now all of a sudden
It seemed so strange to me
How we've gone from something's missing
To a family
Lookin' through the glass I think about the man
That's standin' next to me
And I hope I'm at least half the dad
That he didn't have to be

Lookin' back all I can say
About all the things he did for me
Is I hope I'm at least half the dad
That he didn't have to be

Yeah, I hope I'm at least half the dad
That he didn't have to be
Because he didn't have to be
You know he didn't have to be

(Here are the links to the MP3 and the YouTube video)

I trust that these words have been an encouragement to you.  And for each of you stepfathers, thank you for becoming “the dad that you didn’t have to be.”

Have a great day!
The Upbeat Dad

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We Measure Success By Lives Touched, Not Dollars Made!

Here we go into another week in the life of The Upbeat Dad blog! Thanks for tuning in and making it a success.

We officially launched on Monday, October 4, 2010. And as I write this, we've had approximately 3,000 hits worldwide. You might notice that I often make reference to our statistics. I do check them frequently. I see which posts are being read and certain other pertinent information.

You might then ask the question: "How do you measure success?" Well I'm glad you asked! Here's my answer: The true measure of our success will never be captured in dollars and cents. But instead our success will always be measured by the lives we touch along the way. Otherwise our efforts are futile.

So when I look at the statistics, I'm encouraged. More readers from more countries are joining what I call "The Upbeat Dad Revolution." And based on feedback we've received - by readers' comments here on the blog, on Facebook and Twitter - I know we're on the right track.

You see, when I write, sometimes I close my eyes. And when I do, I see the entire planet that we share - not a specific country or region. I see children from varying backgrounds. But they all have a common thread: they need the loving guidance of a mother and a father. Unfortunately, for different reasons, millions don't have the privilege of receiving this guidance.

As a father, it pains me to see dads neglect their children. It also pains me to see systematic forces that discourage loving fathers from being involved in their kids' lives when marriages and other relationships become broken. So with every fiber of my being, I'm determined to make a worldwide impact for the good of our kids. We're indeed off to a great start - greater than I might have expected at this point! But as I see it, we've barely scratched the surface these past 2 months.

Since 2003 when I first had the idea to start such an organization (see The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad for more on this) our vision has been global. That's why when I see that we have readers in places like England, Australia, the Philippines, Germany, the Caribbean, the Czech Republic and Russia, I'm excited.

I live in the USA but the many issues I write about regarding fatherhood are not an American problem. So I have a vision and plan to effect change on the entire planet. I encourage you to join our "revolution". Become engaged with us on the blog, on Facebook and Twitter. With dialogue, we can solve many of these problems together. And who benefits? Our children do. They need and deserve our best effort to ensure their success in life.

To quote the Carpenters' famous song, "We've Only Just Begun." Hang on for the ride! And much thanks to you for tuning in!


The Upbeat Dad