Happy Father’s Day

Those were some serious glasses! He eventually had tri-focals. I don’t know how old my dad was when this picture was taken, but he died of lung cancer in his late 50s. He also had multiple (I don’t remember how many – maybe quadruple) bypass surgery at roughly my current age.

I remember him as an unapproachable, distant, and angry man. If you played baseball or acted in school plays, you hoped Mom would come, but you never entertained the idea that Dad would be there. You wouldn’t even ask. He was an alcoholic who went into rehab when I was 12 years old. He never drank another drop after that, but he lived inside himself and never let anyone else in there with him. Not even our mother. As the cancer progressed, he finally opened up and started talking to me. I remember a picnic at the park in Wilmington where he wanted to talk and talk and talk. I listened, but I kept thinking, “Why now? Why didn’t you talk to me when I was a kid? Why did you make me so afraid of you? Who are you?”

I made it a point to do my best to be a better father than he was. Granted, there were times when I’d rather take a nap than be with my kids when they were younger. But last night, at my son Alex’s bachelor party, with all of his friends and his two brothers with him, I knew without a doubt that the cycle of parenting by fear and intimidation has ended. My dad was not a great father – he was a flawed man and I accept that. I too am extremely flawed but I know that. I just want each generation of Whittenburg men to improve upon the last generation. I don’t know who my dad was. I know who I want my future grandchildren’s dads to be. They will exceed my expectations.

That’s the men they have become. They will parent the next generation of Whittenburgs with pride and with a hint of history of the name. When it’s my time to go, and they post on whatever site becomes the new facebook, I hope they can say honestly that they wouldn’t be who they are without me as their father. Because flaws and all, I am not the person I am today without this man who is my father.



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Music Makes No Sense

My lovely bride, Alana, bought me a high quality turntable as a gift recently. She knew I was collecting vinyl records just for the nostalgia. I was buying records I used to own before I sold them all to the local record store back in the early 80s. I thought at that time that CDs were the way to go. I amassed a collection of several hundred CDs over the next few decades. Eventually, I took the plunge and started consuming my music by downloading from iTunes. It was convenient and I could listen on my iPhone, iPad and desktop. I also subscribed to Rhapsody and streamed hundreds of songs and discovered untold numbers of new artists I wouldn’t have otherwise listened to. It’s nice to be able to sit there with the headphones on and spend an hour discovering new music. All this convenience came at a price. I wasn’t fully investing in the music.

As a teenager during the 70s, I became intimately familiar with the records I bought. I knew every song on every album I bought. I knew which song was coming next before the last song ended. I knew all the lyrics to all the songs on the album. Maybe it was because I listened to them over and over. Maybe it was because I read the liner notes and lyrics printed on the album sleeves. You don’t get lyrics printed on album sleeves when you buy your music from the internet. Trying to read the liner notes from a CD requires very strong reading glasses! Reading along to the lyrics from the album sleeve while the music was playing is one of life’s great pleasures. Sometimes you just can’t quite understand what the singer is saying and you need the cheat sheet! This truth became clear to me when I listened to a re-issue of Elephant by The White Stripes on vinyl.

It starts with the back of the album listing the songs. At the top it says, “Complete Recordings in Chronological Order*” The asterisk says, “*Not necessarily complete or in chronological order.” That’s a detail I would have missed if I bought this online. In the liner notes, Jack White said he deliberately refrained from using computers during Elephant’s writing, recording, or production. It got stranger from there.

I’ve always been a fan of The White Stripes. When I listen to music as background noise rather than delving into the details of the song, the singing becomes just another instrument of the song. I don’t really hear the lyrics separately from the music. The singing becomes one with the other instruments. Today, I sat and pulled out the LP sleeve and read the lyrics while listening to Elephant. I’m now convinced that Jack White is either insane or crazy intelligent!

The album won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album and for Best Rock Song for “Seven Nation Army.” Let’s look deeper into the lyrics of that song:

“I’m gonna fight ’em off. A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.” – So far so good.

“They’re gonna rip it off
Taking their time right behind my back” – Okay, I’m slightly confused now.

“And I’m talking to myself at night
Because I can’t forget
Back and forth through my mind
Behind a cigarette
And the message coming from my eyes
Says leave it alone” – I’m totally lost now!

It’s almost like,”I need to find a word that rhymes with forget – I know! Cigarette!”

I won’t repeat the entire song here, but you get the idea. Reading the lyrics can confuse the shit out of you if you try to isolate them from the song. Sometimes, the lyrics make no sense at all until you add them to the song where they make total sense. It just works. That’s the genius of the song.

The song was number six on Rolling Stone’s 2009 list of the 50 Best Songs of the Decade. In March 2005, Q Magazine placed “Seven Nation Army” at number 8 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. In September 2005, NME placed “Seven Nation Army” at number 5 in its list of the 50 Greatest Tracks Of The Decade. It was also called the 75th greatest hard rock song by VH1. In May 2008, Rolling Stone placed this song at number 21 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. It was also ranked #1 on Rhapsody’s list of the Top 100 Tracks of the Decade.

There’s an endless list of songs where the lyrics make no sense taken out of context. Sure, there are just as many songs where the lyrics take center stage. The Beatles wrote many meaningful songs that live on today as classics. They also wrote:

“Sitting on a cornflake waiting for the van to come
Corporation teeshirt, stupid bloody Tuesday
Man you been a naughty boy. You let your face grow long
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob”

It makes no sense, but it works.

I guess I could go on reading the lyrics and trying to interpret the song. Or, I could just enjoy the music as a whole. I may not be able to sing along, but I can play a mean air guitar!

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Boston – A Runner’s Perspective

It’s almost 24 hours after the bombs went off during the Boston Marathon. I’ve spent this time reading about the heroes who emerged immediately. I’ve spent very little time reading about or watching videos of the explosion. I’ve spent this time reading online newspapers and blogs written by runners. They understand the runner’s perspective on this event. So much of what I read is similar to my thoughts that I wondered if I could come up with anything unique to say. While the running community has many things in common, I hope to be able to share my perspective with you.

I was in New York City when they announced the marathon was cancelled. I spent some time being angry and frustrated, but I got over that quickly and became a typical Midwestern tourist for the rest of my trip. What got to me, though, was how non-runners were so angry at us for being disappointed, or for not going to Staten Island and helping with the relief efforts. There were many people who were pissed that thousands of runners showed up in Central Park on Sunday and ran anyway. How could the runners be so heartless when so many people were without power or shelter or food? What they didn’t know was, we were told to stay away from Staten Island because they had too many “helpers” there already.  What they didn’t know, or couldn’t understand was, runners of the world unite unlike any other sport. I went to Central Park and witnessed runners from across the world joining together to organize their own marathon. While tragedy stopped the official marathon, it did not stop the runners. The running community came together as one. This community made my disappointment dissolve the moment I saw them there.

Yes, but New York was an “Act of God,” right? Boston is different, right? In many ways, yes, but the response from the running community is the same. Instead of a major weather event, it was a major lunatic who stopped the race. Whoever did this stopped the race, but not the runners. There are stories of runners helping the injured. There are stories of runners going past the finish line and continuing to run until they got to the hospital so they could donate blood. If you’ve ever run a marathon, you know how physically difficult that was for them. They had to use their heart to keep running after the finish line. That’s the only way.

What happened to the people who were stopped on the course? I can identify with them because their dream marathon was cut short. I train for marathons all the time. I run even when it’s an “off-season” because I can’t stop running! I run at least two marathons a year and usually around five half-marathons a year. It’s the same training cycle with each marathon. I spend 12 weeks ramping up the miles by running at 7:00 AM on Saturdays, as well as every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’m not complaining – I love it! As race day approaches, I’m forced to cut back on my miles so I can recover. The lack of running, and the growing anticipation of race day, drives me (and Alana) crazy!

Being at the starting line is the second happiest part of a marathon. It’s pure joy being out there with old friends, new friends, and running friends I’ll meet on the course. The next 26 miles are a blur of gels, hydration, electrolyte depletion, strangers cheering, kids wanting high-fives, runners passing me going uphill and me passing them going downhill. The last two-tenths of the marathon is the best part of any marathon I’ve run. Everyone is cheering you on. People  are on the sidelines waiting for a loved one to come down that finish line chute, but they cheer you on anyway. Or at least it feels that way to me. I cross the finish line and, despite the cramping and other pain, I celebrate my accomplishment while limping to find Alana. I limp to find my running team friends, take pictures, and re-hydrate with a beer later in the day. I need this post-marathon routine almost as much as I need to run! The people on the sidelines need to cheer and share in the joy of the finish line almost as much as we need to run.

So what does this have to do with Boston? The bomber attacked the marathon by attacking the friends and family on the sidelines. When they attack our friends and family, they attack us! I shared my marathon running perspective with you so you could understand how important it is to me. I’m not alone in this feeling. I don’t just run with a community of runners, I run in a family of runners. My family just happens to live all over the world and I see them twice a year (or more). The reason I know it’s my family is because we are all thinking the same thing about this tragedy. The lunatic wanted to stop a marathon and kill as many people as possible in the process. He, or they, succeeded in the short run. But, within 24 hours, the marathon family came together to decide that this senseless act of god will not stop us. We will keep running. We will run today to honor the memory of those who lost their lives or were injured yesterday. We will run tomorrow and the next day, and we will show up for the next major marathon (Flying Pig for me) without fear and with a renewed purpose. Our purpose will be to show the people responsible for Boston, and anyone else who thinks violence can control us, that we cannot be controlled or stopped. All you did when you set your bomb was to run away. We run for ourselves. We run for our loved ones. We run for our team. We run for our running family. We run toward hope. We run.

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What is Your Sense of Humor?

I’ve been doing stand-up comedy once a month for the past 5 months. It’s something I always wanted to try, and now I’m doing it! I don’t want to do it for any reason other than as a creative outlet. Now that I’ve done it a few times, the challenge isn’t getting up there in front of a crowd and forgetting my routine. The challenge is finding enough material to keep it fresh and new every time I go up there! I get only five minutes, so I don’t need a lot of material. Still, it takes discipline and a deadline to keep me writing and revising my routine. That might explain why I don’t update this blog on a regular basis – no deadline!

A friend asked me recently which comics influenced me or were my favorites. I told him I grew up listening to Bill Cosby and George Carlin when I was a kid. I also listened to Steve Martin, and Richard Pryor as a teen. I watched every episode of the early days of Saturday Night Live and as many episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus as I could find. Later, my taste for comedy added Mitch Hedberg, Stephen Wright, Jim Gaffigan, and lately, Louis C.K. My taste in TV shows gravitates to the weird/abnormal comedies, like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Archer, Frisky Dingo, and Robot Chicken. Apparently, I like cartoon humor. When I was a kid, I sat in front of the TV every Saturday morning watching Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, Tom & Jerry, Hong Kong Phooey, and Fat Albert.

The first thing I do every morning, after I grab a cup of coffee, is to go online looking for something that makes me laugh. I share most of it on Facebook, but not everyone likes it. I think there are things that are funny in general, and things that are funny to small groups who have something in common, and things that are funny to just me. My only rule before posting something is that it has to make me really laugh!

Which brings me to my central question – What is your sense of humor? Do you have a sense of humor? Of course you do! Everyone has a sense of what is funny to them. Knowing that not everything will be funny to everyone makes it easier to try being funny. When I didn’t have enough material to have a fresh five minutes, I repeated a portion of my previous routine. The first time I did it, I got some hearty laughter. The second time was just mild chuckling. The only difference was the audience. As long as the humor can’t be mistaken for bullying (mean spirited comedy), then someone somewhere will find it funny. You might be a horrible joke teller, but you can tell a true story that will make people laugh. I’m sure something funny has happened to you recently!

Laughter really is the best medicine. Research has shown that regular laughter can help improve your immune system and help you live longer. I never get sick. Next time you have a sick day, break out the funny! Better yet, look for the funny in your everyday life and don’t get sick in the first place. Humor is everywhere – you just have to know how to see it when it’s happening. If all else fails, you can laugh about it later.

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

I’ve been away from my blog for over a month now, going on two months. I kept waiting for an idea to pop into my head and inspire me to sit down and write. I thought of lots of ideas, but I never started writing. I decided that I would just sit down here tonight and write whatever garbage comes out of my brain. It could be awesome, but it could be awful. You be the judge!

Have you ever had a moment when you’re in a great group of people and you’re having a blast and you think, “there will come a day that I’ll never see these people again.” I guess I’ve lived long enough to have experienced this phenomenon often enough to question it. I should be enjoying the moment, and I am, but the other side of me is thinking that this is a situational friendship. We’re friends because we work together, or because we have kids the same age and we live on the same street, or we share something else in common. Being friendly is not the same thing as being friends.

Then, the job changes, the neighborhood changes, you stop doing your normal routine and start new friendships. You try fooling yourself and your old friends that you’ll stay in touch and get together again, but the best you can do is follow them on Facebook.

If you were my friend only because it was convenient for me, I apologize. We were really just acquaintances who enjoyed some of the same things. The last friend I had who always called me to hang out or go out and do something is a person I haven’t spoken to in over 6 months. That’s totally my fault, even though the phone rings on both ends. A really deep, lasting friendship is almost impossible to find as an adult. I found one when I met the woman who is now my wife. She is my cheerleader, my voice of reason, my audience, and the person I most want to impress with everything I do. She’ll probably stick around for a while.

Do you have someone in your life who you know will be there for you at all times, no matter what? Do you have a friend who knows everything bad about you and still loves you? You might want to keep that person in your life forever.

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2012 Blog in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Everybody’s a Comedian!

It’s impossible to do something out of the ordinary when you’re 51 years old without someone saying “is that on your bucket list?” It’s like they believe that I’m going to kick the bucket just because I’m older than they are! Certainly I drink too much, I eat too much, I drive too fast, but I still expect to live forever! But why does running a marathon, jumping out of an airplane, buying a sports car, and doing a pro-am night at a comedy club become a bucket list item? Maybe I just want to challenge myself!

For years, I have come up with ideas for comedy. I do my best work riffing with a friend or one of my brothers in a very spontaneous way. When I’m with a small group, I come up with some hilarious stuff! But my audience is clearly biased towards laughing at me. They know me, they know my twisted mind, and the still like me. So how do you transfer that spontaneity to a structured, easily translated comedy bit at a local comedy club? You can’t! You can’t take a “had to be there” moment and turn it into a comedy bit that strangers will find funny. That’s the challenge of doing stand-up. Making strangers laugh.

I finally decided that I was going to enter a pro-am night at a local comedy club. There were about 15 people who were just like me. Some of them had experience while others of us were rookies. Some were really, genuinely funny while others struggled to get laughs. While I was in the audience waiting for my turn, I would laugh for the comics out of courtesy because that’s what I would want for me. I have no fear of performing in front of a group of strangers, I have a fear of failing in front of a group of strangers! Now that I’ve written that, I see how ludicrous that statement is! If the audience is a “stranger,” why do I care what they think? Failing in front of people you will never see again is not a problem! It’s actually a strength. You can free yourself to be yourself when you know you’re trying to impress strangers! Fuck them if they don’t think you’re funny!

The video of my first attempt at standup is at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=3930959439355 I’m pretty sure it’s public, so you should be able to see it.I was really nervous before it was my time to go up there. I had a lot of friends come to see me and I didn’t want to let them down. But once I got up there, I relaxed and had a great time! Since then, there are lots of people who are offering me jokes by saying “you can use that the next time you’re up there.” Everyone, without fail, has said “I’d like to do that but I don’t have the balls to do it. You must have some big balls!” I don’t know how the size of my balls became a topic of conversation, but, thanks?

I guess the moral of the story is, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you will always get the same results. If you stretch yourself, you may be surprised by how much you’ll grow.

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