The Dung Beetle

I've always liked people who are interesting, people who are different. I like it even better if I get to become their friend. For the past 8-9 months I've been able to strengthen the friendship of one of the most interesting and different...Gerald Alan Boyd. We've known each other for several years, but only hung out a couple of times. Back in January that all changed when we started working together. And over these last months a bond formed between two Texas boys that'll last a lifetime.

Our best times have been hashing things out during an hour and forty minute drive to an out of town remodel job that lasted about 7 months. We talked about the twists and turns of life. We wondered out loud if our best days were behind us. But sometimes along that familiar commute we would dare to believe that Father Time hadn't got the best of us. We talked about what it would look like if we decided to persevere and work our dreams.

And Gerald's dreams have always revolved around music. There are lots of talented musicians out there, but not all of them have soul. I'm here to tell ya, my man, Boyd, has got him some soul. It's not just in his playing, it's in his style and his attitude. Whether he's producing, mentoring, or writing; he's putting his heart and soul into it.

I can't remember when it happened, exactly. It must have been 4-5 months ago. Gerald told me that something had shifted inside of him and change was coming. I don't think he could have articulated much beyond that, and I didn't ask him to. Somehow, I knew it was true. Sure enough, a month ago his prophecy came true. After coming back from a week's vacation in Nashville, he announced he and his family were moving back there.

Gerald has a long and storied past with Music City that I won't get into it right now (I'll leave that for the book he'll probably write one day). Even though I partially knew that news was coming, it only slightly lessened the sting. I felt like we were just getting started in our friendship. That's the way life is sometimes...seasons can abruptly change. As bittersweet as this change is, it needed to happen. I've never been so proud of a friend. At 50 years old, with a wife and two kids in tow, refusing to give up. This isn't about trying to 'make it big', this is about offering a God-given gift and keeping a heart alive. Yep, The Dung Beetle has unfinished business up there in Tennessee.

I call him The Dung Beetle because he once showed me a video he took by his house of a dung beetle. He was all proud of capturing that little poop roller in HD. Told me how dung beetles fascinated him, how he could watch them for hours. Then it kinda came to me...that's Gerald. Someone you just don't forget after you get to know him. Someone so unique in his approach and personality that you're just so grateful you got to be part of it. One of the things I'll miss the most is the way that ol' so-and-so made me laugh. Pokin' fun of his redneck past was his specialty. Puts a smile on my face, now, just thinking about it.

I took this impromptu picture the other day just minutes before he left. Not the greatest photography (stupid sunshine), but I hope it visually captured a little of what I've wrote about him. So, hear's the deal, if you've got a dung beetle in your life, don't forget to let them know how much you appreciate them. You might want to do it today because you never know when they might be rollin' on to a different destination. I'll sure (shore) miss ya', Boyd!

What's Your Mule?

I have always loved a good story. Ever since I was a lil' tyke there have been words that stood out in those stories, but I couldn't tell you why. It's only since I've gotten older and gained some understanding that I've been able to piece together some of the mystery.

When I was young I remember hearing stories about the hills of Wayne County, Tennessee. Some of them were from my Pawpaw (my dad's dad), and some of them were from others about my Pawpaw. Too much time has passed and they aren't really full-fledged stories in my mind anymore, but more like expanded glimpses into the past. Those words, though. It's those magical words contained in the glimpses I will never forget. Hickory. Hollows (hollers). Squirrels. Lye. Moonshine. Catfish. Hillbilly. And Mules.

Those words have stayed in me like dormant seeds waiting to be watered. I believe that's true for everyone. Whether you have a rich family history or you're an orphan on the street. The seeds are inside of you. Seeds of identity. Sometimes the water comes from something we read or a picture we see. Maybe a particular geographical area we're drawn to. Even God himself drops people in our lives that stir up something we've yet to understand. And lately, as crazy as it sounds, mules have been that draw for me.

The family and I were in Colorado on vacation this past week and I went on my first mule ride. I wasn't interested in a horse, I was dead set on riding a longear. It's not just a novelty interest for me. It's a connection to my heritage...my past, but also my future. A yearning to discover more of who I really am.

And, lo and behold, the put me on a molly mule called Houdini. She was named for her ability to open gates. Evidently, her best work was on a visit to a cattle ranch in Texas. Overnight, she opened three different gates and when morning came, they discovered the cattle enjoying their newfound freedom. And on our ride, she didn't disappoint.

She was smooth as can be, but also a little sneaky. Her favorite maneuver was to wait until I was checking out the beautiful scenery and then stop for a snack on the trail. She got me good the first couple of times...me doing the ol' greenhorn rein pull to no avail. Who would have ever thought a mules neck is much stronger than my massive arms? My heels eventually got her attention, though! Most of the time she was on auto-pilot, even for the stream jumps. It was my favorite part. Come to a complete stop...ka-boink...and right on over.

The more the ride went on, the more we came to an understanding, Houdini and I. She would tolerate me and I would appreciate her for being my first mule. She helped me delve deeper into this unexplored part of my soul, and I allowed her to swipe food along the trail as long as she didn't stop while doing it. Pretty good deal I thought.

So what's your mule? What's that thing (or things) that keep popping up in your life that you don't allow yourself to explore? Maybe it's about timing, maybe it's about fear. Whatever the reason you haven't, just don't let it die. The more you dig in and become more of the real you, the better place the world will be. Plus, as a bonus, you'll probably inspire others to have the guts to do the same.

P.S. I've already got my next mule ride on the radar!

Grit and Glory

Sent the ol' Red Wings out to be refurbished the other day. There was a lot of miles on those soles...they were around to see some blood, plenty of sweat, and a few tears. Long overdue for an overhaul. But, then again, that's what I do. I avoid the overhaul, that is. I have a 'sacrifice' mentality when it comes to taking care of my needs. I always put my family first. I feel guilty for buying something for myself if I think there is something they need. I give them my gift cards from Christmas. Cash from my birthday? Here ya go. They used to protest, but they've given up. It seems kinda heroic. It ain't. It's a bad habit and it's unhealthy. Just like the tags on these laces, there's supposed to be two sides to the story. I've got the grit part down...get up early, grind out the day, work hard, come home, pound out some leather for the business. Next day, start the record over.  Where's the glory in that? What's the message to my family? Work hard and sacrifice (grit) for your dreams and you get rewarded with...more hard work and exhaustion (glory)? It's been a long road, but I'm learning. There have been some opportunities the last few months I have taken that normally I would turn down for 'honorable reasons'. The funny thing is, I can sense the relief and excitement from the fam...especially the kids. I can almost see their little brains churning, 'You mean there's actually good stuff that comes out of this for you, too?!'. It gives them hope that when they become full fledged adults life doesn't have to shift into 'work and misery' mode...there's glory, as well as, grit. So, what do I want you to get out of this? If you suffer from 'sacrifice syndrome', do something for yourself! (I'm talking to all you moms out there, too) It doesn't have to be extravagant, you don't have to take out a loan to 'refurbish'. In some cases it may stretch the coin purse, though. Either way, just invest in yourself. You're worth it. Your family and/or friends will be better off for it because they'll be around a healthier, better you. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go get my bonbons, Dr. Phil is about to come on.  

Sent the ol' Red Wings out to be refurbished the other day. There was a lot of miles on those soles...they were around to see some blood, plenty of sweat, and a few tears. Long overdue for an overhaul. But, then again, that's what I do.

I avoid the overhaul, that is. I have a 'sacrifice' mentality when it comes to taking care of my needs. I always put my family first. I feel guilty for buying something for myself if I think there is something they need. I give them my gift cards from Christmas. Cash from my birthday? Here ya go. They used to protest, but they've given up.

It seems kinda heroic. It ain't. It's a bad habit and it's unhealthy. Just like the tags on these laces, there's supposed to be two sides to the story. I've got the grit part down...get up early, grind out the day, work hard, come home, pound out some leather for the business. Next day, start the record over. 

Where's the glory in that? What's the message to my family? Work hard and sacrifice (grit) for your dreams and you get rewarded with...more hard work and exhaustion (glory)? It's been a long road, but I'm learning. There have been some opportunities the last few months I have taken that normally I would turn down for 'honorable reasons'. The funny thing is, I can sense the relief and excitement from the fam...especially the kids. I can almost see their little brains churning, 'You mean there's actually good stuff that comes out of this for you, too?!'. It gives them hope that when they become full fledged adults life doesn't have to shift into 'work and misery' mode...there's glory, as well as, grit.

So, what do I want you to get out of this? If you suffer from 'sacrifice syndrome', do something for yourself! (I'm talking to all you moms out there, too) It doesn't have to be extravagant, you don't have to take out a loan to 'refurbish'. In some cases it may stretch the coin purse, though. Either way, just invest in yourself. You're worth it. Your family and/or friends will be better off for it because they'll be around a healthier, better you. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go get my bonbons, Dr. Phil is about to come on.

 

02013952

02013952. He's got it memorized. Like his SS#, his TDL#, his DOB- he'll probably remember it the rest of his life. He doesn't want to, but he has to. Compliance demands it. To get by on a weekly basis, he must know it.

Ronald Keith Dugger...my father...my dad...is currently inmate #02013952 in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System- Wynne Unit Trusty Camp. I hadn't seen him in over a year until I visited him a week ago, Saturday. As we were driving there it still didn't seem real, but the armed guards and razor wire have a way of bringing reality. And it hurts.

I'd rather not write about this, I really wouldn't (there's that ol' hiding thing again). It would be so much easier to file it in the 'too private' folder, close the cabinet drawer, lock it, and forget the location of the key. I choose not to do that. Not because I want to expose and embarrass my dad, but because I love him...dearly.

His poor decisions have overpowered his goodness as a man. This grisly addiction has cast a gloomy shadow over the qualities that I once admired. I can still remember, though. I keep this photo of him, circa summer of 1980, in my shop to help my memory. He was 28 and I was almost 8. Yeah, I can still remember the times.

The times, as a little crumb snatcher, he would take me along on a Saturday to run errands. The inevitable convenience store stop where I would load up on the crème de la crème of junk food. Big League Chew transformed me into the baddest hombre in the hood. I remember playing catch in the back yard. Him chasing down my Nuke LaLoosh pitching offerings. He hated it, but he did it. I remember the fun we had street racing the family Malibu that he turned into a hot rod. That was a nasty lil' 400 small block. 

As I got older and worked with him, he taught me how to persevere. There will always be obstacles, but if you're willing, there are solutions. I learned to treat all people with respect because I watched him do it. And I could go on.

No need to list the bad, we could all look in the mirror and list the bad. It's better to remember well than to become bitter, pissed, and angry. People don't become who they were born to be because you resent them. They change through love and forgiveness.

It was one of the most bizarre and heartbreaking moments of my life. Seeing the look of embarrassment and shame on my dad's face as he approached the table to visit. In his mind, battling the accusations that he is reduced to nothing. The forced abandonment of his family leaving him surrounded with doubts, questions, and fear. An animal in a cage identified by a number. Not in my mind...not in my heart. 

My dad does air conditioning and heating by trade, and that's what he does as a trusty for the prison. And he more knowledgeable than the private staff who work there. They actually interrupted our visit to see when he would be available to help them repair an a/c unit. It's more than his mechanical skills and ability, though. They respect and like him for who he is as a person. I've seen the same reaction from others my whole life. Well, from most everyone...except my dad.

I hope and pray he's changing. That whatever is broken inside of him is being made whole. The pain that drove him, ending up a vanquished foe. I want to see him free inside. To live the last part of his life with lungs full of fresh air. His head held high, surrounded by his grandkids, new dreams fueling his tomorrow.

It was a good to see him. We laughed, fought back tears, and studied each other's faces the best we could. I wanted so badly to just get up and head down to the corner store one more time. Mello Yello, BBQ chips, and Big League Chew...hop in the Malibu and drive off looking for a race without a worry in the world. Instead, I have to let the memories be a solace.

Even though an ache nipped at my back as we drove away, I'm glad I went. And because there are endless possibilities to those who believe...I believe he's coming out of that place changed for the better. As a matter of fact, me and the ol' man already have a plan. When he comes to visit for the first time we're going to take a trip over to Main Street to the cigar shop. We're going to walk up in that humidor like we own the joint and take as long as we want to pick out our overpriced stogies. Then we'll drive back to my place nice and slow. Take a stroll to the back of the property by the dry creek, sit down in some laid back lawn chairs, light 'em up...and start over.

The Initiation

My son. My first born son. He recently turned 13 and his initiation journey has begun. He is no longer that little boy with whom I'm so familiar. He is now a fine young man in his most critical stage of life. He is on his way to discovering an identity-the magnitude of which he doesn't fully understand, yet.

The coming year will bring about a dramatic change. Most things that he is so familiar with will come crashing down all around him and be reconstructed to reflect this new season. He is in the cocoon right now, but he was born to fly.

There is no cookie cutter method for this rite of passage from boyhood into manhood. Every person different, every story unique. And I believe with all my heart that every man needs this. The proof is in the epidemic mess that is all around us. Adult boys masquerading as men, leaving destruction in their path. I should know, I was one for a good portion of my life.

Here's the secret part of the story...on most days I'm terrified as hell to lead him into this. Inadequacy tries to overwhelm me. It's so tempting to go the easy route. Sit him down, hem-haw around about 'the talk', pat him on the shoulder, and tell him he's gonna be alright. Then, 'whew, glad that's over!'.

Can't do it. I won't do it. Because I know the searing pain of going it alone. Of wondering what it takes to be a man...and being convinced I don't have whatever that is. Of learning my many false narratives from the broken sources all around. And of constructing a 'survivor persona' to satisfy the needs of the beasts (the largest and meanest being the local school yard).

Don't feel sorry for me, though. I'm no longer alone in this. There is a Greater Father who extended an invitation to me. He pursues me with a relentlessness that I do not pretend to fully comprehend. He patiently instructs me in the darkness of the early morning hours. He accepts me as I am and not as I should be. He has placed a community of men around me, a loyal brotherhood. And because of that, I have hope. Though the resistance rages and the path sometimes steep, surely this story ends well.

At times it will be messy. Things won't turn out the way we expect. The broken pieces will rear their ugly heads and breathe their fiery lies. But the other times will more than make up for it. The magical times of bonding and breakthrough...laughing through tears...exposing lies...being in awe of the possibilities. Yep, the beauty is in doing this together- father and son linked arm in arm, eyes firmly fixed, committed to the end.

I love you deeply, Kole Allen Dugger. It is an honor to guide you on this path. I don't know all the twists and turns, but I am confident of the destination. I am confident because I know what was begun in you will come to pass. You are an amazing, courageous young man and I admire you so, so much. And if there's one thing I know...you have what it takes, my beloved son!