Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Why can't local government outsource?

A few years ago, I suggested that it would be cheaper for state governments to outsource backoffice operations to other countries.  It seems like Montgomery County outsources to Pennsylvania. 

The money isn't kept local anyway, so what's the difference?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

On being the father of the Bar Mitzvah Boy

We're coming to the close of one of the most meaningful weekends of my life.

Yesterday was my only son's Bar Mitzvah and I doubt that I can ever put into words how I felt at the moment where I knew he was coming through like a champ.

My friend Ari Goldberg made eye contact with me during the service, when I stood next to Paco who was reading the Torah, as I was just trying to take it all in. Afterwards, he made a perfect comment.

"The best part for me," he said, "was seeing the pride on your face."

He was right. I felt so much pride FOR Paco.

I  knew he was prepared going in.  In my house, I have the LeBron James of Bar Mitzvah tutors (the NFO) so I was pretty confident in our game plan. But, as we all know, game plan is one thing. Execution is another.

Well, and I don't think I'm just saying this because I'm the proud papa, the boy (sorry, man) delivered big time.

Over the course of the day, Paco and I used a number of sports metaphors to get ourselves ready.

Before heading over to synagogue that morning, I said, "pal, I know you are ready, but remember this... 'big time players show up in big time games.'

The pressure didn't faze him.

As he was about to "go on," he turned to me and said "Ok, Abba, One Shining Moment."

Then, he began to chant his portion of the Torah to perfection. At about the halfway mark, I said to him, "man, I knew you were ready, but you are killing it. It's like one of those SportsCenter home runs that they track for 450 feet to the upper deck."

I heard comments such as "Grand Slam" and my favorite one, from my brother, who after listening to the 2nd aliya (section) which was ridiculously long, said:

"you know, I wasn't really dialed in, but then I kept saying to myself, 'whoa, is this one still going on?

By the time it finished, I had that feeling of when you're at a baseball game and you look up in the 6th inning and you realize you are watching a no-hitter in progress."

Yep, that was pretty much it.

I realize that this may seem boastful and if it is excessive, I apologize, but I think all parents want to know that their kids are going to "be ok" and while there are no guarantees, one of the things you look for, and which is valued most of all in life, is "can the person get the job done?"

What I saw yesterday is that Paco, when he puts his mind to it, got it done.

In fact, right before his speech, the NFO pulled him aside and said, "ok, now remember, you need to go slow, be loud, and be clear."

Paco looked at her and said simply, "Ima, I've got this."

And he did.

I'm not the most emotional person in the world, but I couldn't help but tear up on multiple occasions over the course of the day as I thought about the passage of time and what I saw him do.

I was particularly emotional because I was thinking about my grandfather, Stanley Robinson who, 13 years earlier, in the exact same place in the same building had served as the "sandak" (godfather) during Paco's bris (ritual circumcision).

Now, 13 years later, my grandfather wasn't there, but I knew he would have been exceedingly proud of what his great-grandson had done, how hard he had worked and how he did it with style and grace.

It was a magical feeling that I didn't want to end, even though I knew it would.

As my friend Dave said, "today was his day and he seized it.   He'll graduate from high school, but share that with friends. He'll get married and share that with someone else, but today was about him and he made the most of it."

Of course, there are no guarantees of the future and hopes don't always become reality, so it makes it even more special that the hope we had 13 years ago when he had his bris that he would make it to his Bar Mitzvah and do us proud was realized.

I feel so blessed and grateful and thankful, particularly for my wife, the NFO, who has been the best mother possible for all 3 of my kids and did, no joke, 99.4% of the work in making the day possible. 

She is the one who taught him how to read Torah, Haftarah, how to lead the Musaf service, and wrote his speech with him (on top of pretty much everything else).

When my kids look back at their lives, I hope they will think of the things that I did for them, but what they really need to realize is how much of their identity is shaped by the woman who has spent every minute of every day for their entire lives thinking only about their welfare and growth.

I am fairly confident they will.

It's late and I'm pretty wiped out and tomorrow, sort of sadly, we start to get back to our normal routine. I'm going to do what I can to hold onto this feeling for the rest of my life because it is one of the best.

When Tonka had her Bat Mitzvah, I was incredibly proud of her as well, for all the same reasons. She crushed it, too, but I think I was less present because, it being our first event, I was probably too focused on the mechanics and not enough on the meaning. That's my fault.  (Sorry, Tonka. I owe you one!)

My kids keep me grounded and help me grow as well. That may be one of the best parts of the job.

With that, I'll sign off and leave you (if you're still reading) with the speech I gave yesterday to Paco.

Paco Bar Mitzvah Speech

I am told that, at my bris, my dad said something along the lines of “now I have my kaddish.” 

With a son, at least according to Jewish tradition, there would be someone who could commemorate him with the traditional memorial prayer during the year of mourning following someone’s passing.

Fortunately, I haven’t had to do that yet and G-d willing, it will be a long time before I have to.

But I have never looked at Erez, aka Paco, aka Jokinen, aka Maximus, aka Spencer in that way.

Instead, I have looked at him as a ‘mini me’ at times and a sports playmate as others.

I will admit that there were times when I have enjoyed watching him and just knowing that he said something for the sole reason to get under his sisters’ skin or to poke fun at his mother (not that I approve of this behavior, of course).

But what I have really discovered is that my son is actually, in many ways, already a better version of me than I could ever hope to be.

Probably because he has [name redacted] NFO as a mother, right?

It’s always been there, I suppose, but within the past year I have really come to appreciate how special my boy, sorry young man, is.

I want to share two anecdotes that I think represent two of his sides. One quite sensitive and one quite pragmatic.

A few months ago, I think it was in January, we were all watching the afternoon news on a Friday before Shabbat. We typically end up doing this after the family viewing of the crowd favorite, the Ellen DeGeneres show.

The lead story was about a fire somewhere in Prince George’s County or something like that.  I said something like, ‘ok guys, let’s turn the channel, this isn’t so interesting.”

Paco turned to me and said, “Abba! What is wrong with you? These people just lost their homes and they are outside in the freezing cold. Where is your compassion and empathy?”

Yep. That’s my boy.

Not afraid of confrontation, regardless of the challenge and with a huge heart to boot. 

It was at that moment that I realized that Paco is far more sensitive than I am now and maybe ever will be. 

And it was in that moment that I realized how much I have to learn about life by listening to him.

Soon thereafter, we were walking to shul together. It was around February since we were talking about Nitzahn’s birthday. Actually, that’s not really a good indicator since we talk about Nitzahn’s birthday in our house for 11.95 months out of the year, but I’m pretty sure it was early February.

We had just discussed her birthday party and Paco said something to me like “hey, how come you don’t make birthday parties for me anymore?”

To which I said, “I’m making a huge birthday party for you, man, it’s called your Bar Mitzvah…and then I’m done.”

Paco then said, “yeah, I guess that makes sense. Becoming a man means you pay for your own birthday parties.”

That’s one of the things I really admire about Paco. He’s pragmatic and logical as well. When you explain something to him, he’s of sound enough mind to say, “yep, I see that. Ok, I’ll change my mind.” 

I think that is a great aspect to him.

Another wonderful aspect to him is his immense sense of curiosity.

For as long as I live, one of the phrases of his that I will most cherish is this….

“Abba, I have a question.”

He says that to me, at least a few times a week, and they are never simple, surface level questions.  He likes to probe issues deeply and does not accept them at face value.

(Admittedly, there are times at school where not every teacher has loved this attribute, but that’s ok).

Paco has internalized the saying from Pirkei Avot, “eizehu Chacham, Ha Lomed mi kol adam.” 

“Who is wise? He who learns from everyone.”

As a result, he’s learned some critical maxims about sports, politics, and much of life… “follow the money.”

He’s learned that heart, passion, and grit can do more for you on the basketball court and in life than pure talent alone.

He’s learned that it’s not about making mistakes, but how you respond to adversity.

He understands that “game awareness” and sensitivity to context is critical for success.

He respects time. He respects organization. He respects pragmatism.

And he respects relationships.

A few months ago, a friend of mine was visiting from Switzerland and the two of us had made a deal where he purchased some of my airline miles for cash.  But, as is my style (and my friend’s as well), we began an entire analysis of the transaction that sought to account for as many variables as possible such as opportunity cost and asset liquidity.

We went on, Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm-like for about 8 minutes when Paco interjected and said,

“Abba, what about the fact that you guys are just friends?”

That’s my boy.

In the past year, he’s demonstrated an incredible willingness to look at himself deeply and be self-critical, but not just for the purpose of beating himself down, but rather for the purpose of raising himself up.

He realizes that versatility, flexibility, and agility are traits that will help a person throughout life which is why, I think, he has so many friends.

He also has perspective that belies his years.

There are occasions when I will, admittedly with a bit of fanfare, bemoan something like how much time the kids spend on devices or watching TV and I’ll say something like “I’m a failure as a father.”

Back in May, he said to me, “Abba, you know how you say sometimes that you are a failure as a father? Well, I just want you to know that I have already learned so much from you that I can tell you for certain that you are not a failure.”

He just says stuff like that out of the blue.

And he is grateful for what he has, something that is atypical for teenagers certainly and people, in general.

After we took a 14-mile roundtrip bikeride to my parents’ house one time, he told me, “Abba, this one of the best days of my life. Thank you for making it possible.”

What I am trying to say is that, although I may have my kaddish in Erez, what I now have is a young man to whom I can look up. I have a role model as well and I am very, very grateful for that.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

When did America's divisiveness start?

I've been thinking a lot about the recent state of affairs in the US.

This came to a head the other day when I felt like I was unfairly attacked for an opinion I shared on Facebook, though the topic doesn't matter so much.

I was thinking about Trump who, in some respects, I view as a reaction to Obama....who was a reaction to Bush and so on.

I went all the way back to 1991.

End of the Cold War.

I have a friend in Israel, Anat, who said to me once "the big joke here for the Arabs is that they don't realize that if they just left us all alone, we would kill each other."

There is something about having an external enemy that unites people. 

With the end of the Soviet Union, the USA became the "sole superpower" as we here so often.

But, I wonder if that lack of an external enemy led the country down a path where people started turning against each other?

First, gradually, then, accelerated by the Internet and Social Media, in greater swings.

Just a thought.

Probably a lot more here, but that's all for now.