Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Category Archives: Family

“What’s The Toughest Part About Being A Dad?”

Recently, we had some our best friends in town. As we were out touring Minneapolis, one of them asked me, “What’s the toughest part about being a dad?” I had to think on it. Talk about a meaty question. After a few seconds, I said, “well, I guess it’s the wondering that you haven’t done enough, or you could have done more. What keeps me up at night is the tension that comes from not knowing if I should have given one more hug, said one more thing, spent one more minute or read one more book and if it would have made a difference.”

Those thoughts keep me up and make for the toughest part of the “job”, because we want the best for our children. I got a bit introspective on the subject, the other night. Then, by happenstance, as I was researching videos for an internal presentation, I came across this great speach by Robin Williams, in the movie, ‘Jack.’

I’m a huge Robin Williams fan and I can’t believe I’ve never seen the movie. The full text is as follows:

You know, as we come to the end of this phase of our life, we find ourselves trying to remember the good times and trying to forget the bad times, and we find ourselves thinking about the future. We start to worry, thinking, “What am I gonna do? Where am I gonna be in ten years?” But I say to you, “Hey, look at me!” Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day…make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.

Parents, god bless you. Your “job” is so hard. I applaud all of you.

The Open Road

We did something a little bit different for Memorial Day weekend this year. We didn’t stay home. Although on Monday, we were back in Chicago and we smoked some 7 lbs of meat. We didn’t hit the beach. Although many of our friends did. We didn’t fly out of town. Although we looked into and it’s something we’ve done before. No, this year, we hopped on the Harley and followed the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, going from Chicago to Milwaukee. I won’t bury the lead; if you get the chance to do this drive, do it. It’s stunning.

Last year, we bought our first motorcycle: a 2014 Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883. Unfortunately, we purchased it pretty late in the year and due to 2013 snowpocalypse and 2014 snowmageddon, we really didn’t get an opportunity to take it out very often. But, with the weather finally turning around, we’ve had it out pretty much every week. It’s  a perfect bike for a beginner. With 5 gears and the iconic Harley engine, you can get going pretty fast, but you’ll never go fast enough to put yourself in harm’s way. The 3 gallon tank will get you anywhere between 120 and 150 miles; just long enough to get away.

As we looked at the forecast for the weekend, taking the bike out for our first ride over 20 miles, was a no-brainer. This of course didn’t mean we weren’t nervous. To mitigate some of the risks that were causing the nervousness we made 3 decisions:

  1. We would leave at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Not only would the roads be emptier, but we’d also catch a spectacular sunrise coming over Lake Michigan.
  2. We planned to stop every 40 miles. The first time would be stretch out. The second would be for gas.
  3. We stuck to the Circle Tour route, which eliminated highways.

What a trip. I can see why people, once bitten by the motorcycle bug, are lifelong riders.

Our Harley Davidson Sportster Iron 883 Along Kenosha Beach

The photo above was taken at Kenosha beach, just after sunrise. As we were driving up, the shear beauty of the sand combined with the different hues of blue from the lake and the sky, made for unexpected stop. That’s the thing about riding a bike:

There’s always something waiting at the end of the road. If you’re not willing to see what it is, you probably shouldn’t be out there in the first place.

There was no GPS to listen to. We had no phones to distract us; they were tucked neatly away in our pockets. We even lacked music to sing along with. All we had were each other, the road and the hum of the engine. It was all we needed.

 

I Want To Believe

By every definition of the word, I’m a mutt. In the classic representation of what it means to be part of the melting pot, that is America. My maternal grandmother is Puerto Rican and Spanish (from Spain). My maternal grandfather is Arabic and Yemen. They brought together a household that balanced traditional Roman Catholic ideals and Muslim beliefs. Yes, you read that right. Then you have my dad’s parents. For as long as I can remember, they argued over whether they were Austrian or Polish. If you know anything about Poland’s complex history, you can understand why that was an argument for 20+ years. The birth certificates of my grandparents said Austrian, but they and I, for a period of time, spoke Polish. My dad and his family were quite Catholic, though my dad had a much more liberal and worldly view of religion.

Don't Stop Believing

Think about that. A farm boy from New Hampshire somehow found love with a Puerto Rican, Spanish, Middle Eastern girl from Brooklyn. If that’s not America, I don’t know what is. I will tell you this, family get togethers were always amazing. Only with a diverse family like mine could you have kielbasa, rice and beans, paella, hummus with pita bread and baklava at the same dinner table.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I had friends who were Jewish, Arabic, Spanish, German, Asian and more. My kindergarden seemingly mirrored a United Nations meeting. There was diversity like nothing else I’ve ever seen in my 34 years walking and traveling this Earth.

In 1986 we moved from NYC, the great cultural mecca of the world, to the suburbs of NJ. Now NJ itself isn’t small, but the town I grew up in was Vernon, NJ – population 20,000…diversity, virtually nonexistent (95.1% white).  To say I experienced a culture shock, would be an understatement. I’d also be downplaying it, if I said, I faced some racial prejudice. I was called a SPIC, camel jockey, sand nigger, dot head, porch monkey and a host of other names. I fought when ignoring the barbs became too much. I went to therapy to discuss my anger and resentment. I resented my parents for moving me to the middle of nowhere and for not being able to make the hate from others go away.

There was a period of time when I simply tried to hide my cultural heritage. I embraced KMIEC (said Kim-yeche), a clearly white-European name and I shunned all the other parts of my family that made me, me. It’s fair to say, I had some awkward adolescent years.

In high school, things changed a bit. I was an athlete who had brains. I was never part of the popular crowd, but I also wasn’t shunned by them. For what it’s worth, I think that’s the perfect sweet spot to be in during high school. You can be you, without the pressures of being who the popular crowd expects you to be. I finished in the top 25 of my class and had scholarship offers from MIT, Columbia and Clemson. All great schools. I chose Minnesota. I chose it for 3 reasons:

  1. It was the furthest away from where everyone else I grew up with was going to be attending. Most of my peers were staying on the East Coast, with the majority attending schools in the Boston area.
  2. It had a great Business program.
  3. They gave me nearly a 100% full scholarship.

Let me focus on the scholarship. Come college admission season, I exploited every ethnic loophole that existed. While the majority of public scholarships are distributed to “white” individuals, it’s no surprise that the majority of “need based” scholarships are given to minorities.  I knew how the system worked and I maximized the system to my financial advantage. I graduated in 3 years and with zero college debt, despite attending The University of Minnesota as an out of state resident. A big part of graduating debt free was a benefit afforded to me by University for being an “outstanding minority” who wanted to attend The Carlson School of Management. That’s right, my minority status netted me a nearly 40% reduction in total tuition fees. Add in the scholarships I earned, that were only possible, because of my minority status, and my tuition, room and board was essentially 100% funded.

This was the first and the only time I would ever characterize myself, on a formal piece of paper, as a minority. Upon graduating, I felt ashamed. I questioned whether I’d earned the right to attend the university, on my own merits, or if I was merely someone who fit a quota. This shame and self doubt propelled me to always work my ass off. I believed and still believe, that while I may not be smarter than you, I will outwork you. I try to instill the same work ethic to my kids.

While working at a large agency in Chicago, during the dot com boom and bust, I was advised by a Sr. leader that I should make sure my file indicated I was Hispanic, African American (Egypt is in Africa ayer all) and/or some other minority status. I asked why? She remarked, it would protect me during layoffs. The company would never eliminate a person of color like me. I’m dead serious. This was a real conversation. When I explained to her that I had checked the Caucasian box, she shook her head and was aghast that I would eliminate the potential opportunities, advancement and protection that my minority status would have afforded me.

I’ve been working full time since 1997. I’ve never checked a box other than Caucasian. I want to believe that the world is fair. I want to believe that race, color, gender or creed don’t play a role in hiring. I want to believe that companies only hire the best candidates. I want to believe companies only fire or let go the worst candidates. I want to believe.

Fast forward several years and apparently as a person of color, I was supposed to vote for Obama. I didn’t. My mom basically called me a traitor to my race. I tried to reason with her; explaining that I voted for a candidate based on their beliefs and policies, not their gender (I voted Hillary in the primaries) or race. She would have none of that. Obama’s win was supposed to demonstrate to me and my children that a presidency was not of reach for a mixed race family like mine. I quipped, well, seeing as we’ve never had a female president, I guess my daughter can never dream of being one. This was clearly not something we were going to see eye to eye on.

Yesterday, when it was announced that the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on racial preferences in university admissions, I was supposed to be irate. I wasn’t. The color of my skin (a golden brown) should not afford me a benefit, an extra consideration, a better chance or higher likelihood of something happening. My skills, my work ethic, my desire and my contributions, however, should.

When I got engaged (the first time), my mom explained to my fiancé (a blonde hair, blue eyed, Norwegian, from Minnesota), that she would never understand the sting of racial prejudice that may one day be placed upon her future children. She based that point of view on the inability of my father, the 6 ft 1 in Polish Chemist from New Hampshire to understand the pain I suffered growing up in Vernon, NJ.

She might be right. She might not.

What I do know is that my children are taught that nothing is given to them, there are no handouts and every day they need to work harder than the last. As I look forward 10 years, when my daughter is 17 and ready to apply to colleges, I may be faced with an interesting conundrum – apply as a minority (gender, race, etc.) and open up a world of financial aid options or file as a non-minority and potential pay more long term. Dollars and cents vs. stubbornness.

I want to believe that in 10 years, it won’t be a conundrum, because we will have evolved as a people, culture and society. I want to believe that in 10 years, we will neither be granted nor suppressed opportunities because of our ethnic makeup. I want to believe that instead, we will be afforded opportunities based on the content of our character, the effort we have put in and the value we bring to society.

I want to believe.

Advice For New Dads

A really good friend of mine just found out he’s going to be a dad. He’s a hell of a guy. One of the best. He sent me an email, asking for advice on being a great dad. I have a ways to go, before I can claim to be great, but I did offer him 3 pieces of advice. As I read the email I sent him, it dawned on me, other new dads might enjoy those rumblings.

  1. You’ll screw up often. Or at least you’ll feel like you’re screwing up often. It’s ok, we’ve all screwed up. I’m serious. You can’t beat yourself up for the stupid mistakes. There will be plenty of them. I remember not realizing the reason Cora was so “sick” was that she wasn’t. She was just teething. But, all the signs said, no she’s deathly ill. You and your wife will make mistakes and that’s fine. No book, no web site, no person has all the answers. There’s no playbook. Remember that. Remember it often. It’ll help you stop beating yourself up for making mistakes.
  2. Cherish the middle of the night feeding. Totally serious. I’d always volunteer for the 1am/2am feeding, so my wife could sleep. Man, it was awesome. I told my daughter stories, we listened to Abbey Road over and over, we watched reruns of WWF wrestling. We did all the things she’ll never remember, but I will. For a solid hour, it was me and her. Remember to love this special time you get.
  3. Keep a journal. Could be a blog. Could be paper. The format doesn’t matter. Use it to write down everything from the serious to the mundane stuff that happens. I kept one for John’s first year. It was a combination of Post-It notes with dates, emails to myself, blog posts and other random ways for me to remember things. It had everything from the first time he watched Jordan highlights with me, to the time I changed his diaper 8 times in an hour and a half…then just gave up. You’ll laugh about these things. It’ll also make for a great reference manual when you have your 2nd.

Being a dad is the best job, even when it’s a shitty day on the job. Remember that when you get a call from an irate client. The work stuff is important. You’ll feel a burning need to “provide” for your child. It’s natural. But, at 1am, when you’ve got a bottle in one hand and the other cradled under your baby’s head, that bad meeting will seem so irrelevant and inconsequential. There will be other jobs. There won’t be another Cora or John.

I’ve edited the contents of the email slightly and added a few more notes. I’m glad I get to call myself a dad. It beats any fancy title out there and the ROI is tied directly to the effort you put in.

Some Thoughts On Being A Parent

Perhaps one of the great truths of being a parent is that you’ll get to offer your children advice…that they won’t take. I’m guilty of this truth. At 33, when I look back on the great advice offered by parents, more so my dad, that I didn’t listen to..well…it’s staggering. But, that’s life, right? As kids we think we know better and that our parents are out of touch. When we transition from advice takers to advice givers it’s a moment you remember.

John, Cora and Adam

My kids, Cora and John are nearly 6 and 4 respectively. They’re young. They’re still growing. Right now, I try to keep things simple. There’s really only 3 things I try to reinforce with them.

  1. Love each other, be nice to one another; you only have one brother and one sister.
  2. Speak the truth and be clear.
  3. Mind your manners and your studies.

Sometimes, I even think it sticks.

Looking forward though, to when they’re old enough to really ignore me, I hope the following sticks.

  • Life isn’t short. It’s long. People tell you it’s short. It’s not. You have more time thank you think. Don’t be in a rush. Choose carefully. Many of your decisions, you’ll live with forever.
  • Love fast. Love hard. You’re heart will be broken often. You’ll break the hearts of others. Don’t let the fear of a broken heart stop you from loving. But, never tolerate someone who doesn’t value the love you have in your heart. Remember, life is long.
  • Work an honest day. Earn your keep. Don’t compromise your values for a dollar. Don’t be ashamed to earn what you’re worth, even if it means your valued more than others. Money shouldn’t define you. It doesn’t make you a better person. But, it can be the fuel you need to experience the world.
  • Quality over quantity. Always.
  • Don’t lie to your father. I’m your biggest ally, your best friend and the one person you can always trust.

I’m still learning from my dad. He’s my best friend. He’s the 1st person I turn to for advice. He’s the first person to keep me humble. No dad’s perfect. I think I lucked out, though. I hope my kids feel the same way.

The Joy Of Christmas

John and Cora at the Christmas Tree

Having kids is a guaranteed recipe for incredible moments that you’ll remember for many years to come. This was intentionally shot out of focus and as a silhouette. John’s on the left. Cora’s on the right. Both are reaching at ornaments on the tree.

A wonderful Christmas to remember, full of food, fun, friends and family. You can’t ask for anything more, can you?

Shot with a Nikon D700 and a Nikon 50mm 1.4 D. Love the bokeh from the lens.

Like Father…Like Daughter

When people look at Cora it’s no wonder they think she’s just like her mother. They look like twins. Long blonde hair? Check. Blue eyes? Check. Short, button nose? Check. From head to toe Cora is a carbon copy of Cheryl. Or so it may seem.

See, Cora may be a carbon copy of her mother, in the looks department, but when it comes to personality, she’s 100% me.

This September, Cora started kindergarten. After, some minor deliberation, we chose a STEM school program for Cora. When you look at where the world is headed, it’s hard to argue with a program that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math. The school we chose, Poplar Bridge is supposed to have a challenging curriculum and teachers who’ve seen it all and are thus capable of “managing” all types of personalities.

When I was in kindergarten, my parent sent me to a “special” school that was designed to unlock the potential in “gifted” minds. Seriously. Much like Cora’s school environment, my kindergarten pushed science and technology, while providing battle tested teachers.

Well, we had Cora’s first check-in last week. It’s not a formal parent-teacher conference, but it is an opportunity to understand how your child is performing, what they excel at and where there’s improvement. The feedback we received seemed like it was copied word for word from my kindergarten and primary school report cards:

1. Cora is exceptionally bright and articulate. It’s clear that the investment in time (we read to her all the time), experiences (the zoo, museums, etc.) and technology (she had an iPad at 3) have paid off.

2. Her handle on words and math are above the class average. Much in the same way, I was quizzed as a child, we quiz Cora. Sometimes she doesn’t even realize she’s being quizzed.

3. She likes to be the center of attention. I’d say, she’s a natural leader.

4. She can be bossy at times to the other students and a bit condescending. The condescension comes from the fact, she doesn’t understand why the other kids don’t understand the things she does. Personally, I think she needs better competition.

5. She has a problem sitting still and is always on the go. She’ll need that when she’s a future CEO.

6. She has a tendency to finish her assignments before anyone else and is dissatisfied in finding out there is no next assignment or reward for being first to finish. This one made me smile a Kool-Aid sized grin. She wants to be first, clear her list and wants the next challenge.

I didn’t attend the session with the teacher, Cheryl did. As Cheryl was sharing the feedback with me, I kept smirking, smiling and laughing. The apple, definitely, does not fall far from the tree. You might say, just as I’ve been decried, Cora is young, confident and restless. There’s a certain warmth that fills your heart when you realize your kids are just like you…even when they don’t look like you.

After receiving the stink eye from Cheryl, I stopped smiling, smirking and laughing. I said I would talk with Cora and help reinforce the feedback…especially the areas for improvement. Later on, with a serious face and a giant smile on the inside, I explained to my daughter, that:

1. She needs to respect and listen to the teacher.

2. She must understand that all kids are different and they all move at a different pace; she shouldn’t rub it in that she finished 1st.

3. While speed matters, so does quality and it’s better to be 2nd and have no mistakes than 1st with an imperfect score.

She nodded her head. She said she understood. She said she would listen and be better. I kissed her on her forehead, hugged her and thought, she’s only 5. What will the school say when she’s 10 or 13 or 17.

In the movies Road To Perdition, Paul Newman states to Tom Hanks, “natural law – sons are put on this earth to trouble their fathers.” Apparently, Cora didn’t get that memo. It’s not just the sons, it’s the daughters too. I’ll take it. There’s nothing I’d change about her, even when you realize she’s young, confident and restless.

Cora Turns 5

Cora 1 Thru 5

Time flies. It really does. The above are photos taken on each birthday. It’s amazing how grown up she has gotten. It always blows my mind to think that I helped create her. Not to get overly sentimental, but you can really appreciate the concept of kids being a miracle…after you have your own.

At 5 she already has her own personality. We tend to think she takes after me…even though she looks like Cheryl. I’m just peachy with that. She has that great mix of confidence and cockiness that you’ll need to succeed in this world. Add in the fact, she’s a master on her iPad, growing up technologically savvy and is opinionated…and well…you can see why I’m busting at the seams just talking about her.  5 years; they go by in a blink.

I regret the days I don’t get to see her and I so very much enjoy the moments I do get to spend with her.  The distance and time challenges are made every easier, knowing she’s in the ever capable hands of Cheryl. These 5 years went by too fast. Let’s hope the next 5 years are as great to us as the first 5, but that they go by just a bit slower. There’s no rush!

Rules For Dating My Daughter

Courtesy of my dad…via his iPad…you gotta love technology!

RULE ONE: If you pull into my driveway and honk, you better be delivering a package because you’re sure not picking anything up.

RULE TWO: Do not touch my daughter in my presence. You may glare at her adoringly, so long as you do not peer at anything below the neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off my daughter I will remove them.

RULE THREE: I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off of your hips. Please don’t take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are idiots. If you show up at my home with your pants falling down I will be forced to ensure that they do not come off during the course of your date with my daughter by taking my electric staple gun and fastening the pants directly to your waist.

RULE FOUR: I’m sure you’ve been told that sex in today’s world without a “barrier device” can kill you. Let me elaborate: I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

RULE FIVE: Current thinking is that in order for you and me to get to know each other, we should talk politics, sports, and other issues. Do not do this. Your ignorance and stupidity will only serve to anger me. The only information I require of you is when you will have my daughter home. To this end, you only need two words: “early” and “sir”.

RULE SIX: I have no doubt that you are a popular fellow, with opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it’s okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you’ve gone out with my little girl you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry harder.

RULE SEVEN: As you stand in my hallway waiting for my daughter to appear, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time you should not be dating my daughter. She is doing her hair, putting on make-up, or whatever; a process that can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standing there, do something useful, like change the oil in my car.

RULE EIGHT: The following places are not appropriate places to take my daughter: places with beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool – places where there are no parents, policemen, or nuns within eyesight – places that are dark or poorly lit – places where there is dancing, holding hands, or excessive happiness – places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka zipped up to her throat – movies with a strong romantic or sexual theme. Hockey games are okay, old folks homes are better, a convent is best.

RULE NINE: Do not ever lie to me. I may appear to be a middle-aged, dim-witted has-been, but on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing god of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and five acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.

RULE TEN: Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming over a rice paddy. When my PTSD starts kicking in, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home. As soon as you pull into driveway, you should exit your car with both hands in plain sight. Note the camouflaged face in the window is mine. Speak the perimeter password, announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early, then return to your car

What’s In The Box Doesn’t Matter

One of the truly wonderful things about having kids and becoming a parent is the authenticity you get to experience when engaging with your kids.  Yes, kids lie, that’s true.  But, ask a child if she likes the dinner you’ve plated, that’s based on some new recipe, and you’ll know the truth.  Ask an adult the same question and you’ll be met with a very politically correct answer.  Well, unless of course, you ask me 🙂

Christmas is one of those occasions where we seem to always try and out do one another, keep up with the Jones’ and impress with labels. Labels, you ask? Yes, labels. We’re all guilty of it, even I am. Under the Kmiec tree this year, there was no Louis, Jimmy or Tory.  Nada on the Prada, MK and Hermes.  Sorry, not a single item from Armani, Versace or Gucci – yes, we avoided the holy trinity. No Christian, Coach or Coco. Also, I must confess, there was no Lexus under the tree either.

Now, mind you, this is no assault on the wealthy, chic or stylish.  Without the label segment, we wouldn’t have people to gawk at, velvet ropes to envy and of course nothing to lust for.  And this isn’t me being above such items or brands.  I’m the first person to encourage purchasing 1 quality purse over 50 cheap ones.  Ditto on shoes, watches and umbrellas (trust me on this one).

No, this is more about the observation that kids don’t care what’s in the box, what the label is on the gift or the logo they’ll be displaying. And with good reason…they couldn’t tell you the difference between Coach and and Couch.  If anything they care more about the wrapping paper…or rather the joy of unwrapping their present. They’re equally as satisfied with 1 gift as they are with 100.  Seriously. I’ve watched this up close for 4+ years now.  It’s a really amazing thing to witness.  Honestly, it leaves me wanting to be as genuinely label disinterested as they are.  But, alas, though I’ve witnessed this authenticity and I’m a marketer, even I fall prey to label love…but I’m getting better!

There wasn’t a single present under the tree for me.  That’s what happens when you become a dad!  The likelihood your 4 year old is going to hop in the car, visit the mall and pick you a present that she paid for with her credit card…is…well…unlikely.  But, what I did get this Christmas was something much better than any company could provide:

John, Cora and Dad

I got to see those smiles and feel the real Christmas magic that we yearn for after watching a movie like Love Actually. Besides, if they were wearing a label it would say my name anyhow 🙂