The Favorite: A Final Salute to a Graduating Nephew

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Jon Brooks was always everyone’s favorite.

Ask my dad. Ask my grandmother. Ask either of his brothers.

Or just ask Jon. I’m sure he will tell you. He’s never lacked confidence, and truth is truth.

img_5705I should be perfectly clear I’m not joking about Granny. One day, sitting at a table at one family gathering or another, without prompting, she announced that Jon was her favorite. I’m pretty sure it was my birthday.

Jon truly was everyone’s favorite.

Until now.

It brings me no joy in saying this, but I think you have to admit the timing is delicious, as we are gathered here today to celebrate Jon, but for many of you, if not most of you, this is your first experience seeing Jon’s cousin, who also happens to be my newborn baby. As great as Jon is, babies are squishy and sweet and holdable, and while I guess you could cradle Jon, I’m not sure anyone outside of his mother would want to entertain such a thought (although I’m fairly certain I’ve given Matt and Nate photo ideas).

To Jon’s credit, he is pretty OK with this. Truthfully, it’s beyond OK. He has loved sharing the spotlight. He was a tremendous help in moving things at our house, and he has been joyous around Harrison.

img_5703Jon has always been at home in the spotlight. One of my favorite stories was from his first-grade year, when he had the teacher gather up some of her colleagues for a late-afternoon dance performance he had planned. This was most certainly not part of the curriculum, nor was it scheduled. No, Jon just wanted to dance … so Jon danced. Of course he would want as many people as possible to watch.

From officially sanctioned school events to “grab the camera and capture this” moments of spontaneity, Jon has entertained us and charmed us, wrapping us around his fingers but never flexing that power over us. I’m always somewhat awed and amazed to see how grounded he his, despite being proclaimed the greatest from his first moments on this planet.

img_5700He is gracious and kind, aware of his own gifts in life and how others aren’t as blessed. Beyond all the dancing, the athletics, the antics, there is the true Jon Brooks. I saw this 10 years ago this month. It is my favorite Jon story. His family was in Haiti for mission work, and in the days leading up to his eighth birthday, Jon couldn’t stop talking about his big day. There were times when his brothers and I would seek out extra work just to escape him and his talking. When the day arrived, his parents invited people from the village to celebrate, too, in part because one beloved Haitian girl, Gerline, had recently turned 4. Soon, the attention moved from our boy and onto this girl, as she plunged face-first into a cupcake.

img_5699Jon never complained. He not only never complained, he actively celebrated Gerline, sharing the spotlight before giving up the spotlight, letting her have this moment, one she’ll likely never remember and I will never forget.

Jon, this is why everyone loves you. In a lifetime of everyone putting you first, you have put others first. I hope you never change.

I started these graduation talks five years ago. So much has changed since then, including the aforementioned son. As new chapters start for everyone, I think back to Matt and Nate, as I stood in this spot, offering words of advice. Today, as much as anything, I offer words of hope to Matt, to Nate, to Jon, to Harrison, to me.

I hope Harrison gets Matt’s unflappable nature.

I hope Harrison gets Nate’s sense of adventure.

I hope Harrison gets Jon’s love of others (and, if I’m being honest, his dancing skills).

I hope you bond with him the way I’ve bonded with you. I hope the five of us carry that with us the rest of our lives.

And, as I often do, I will let Springsteen sum it up:

“Now there’s so much that time, time and memory fade away

We got our own roads to ride and chances we gotta take

We stood side by side, each one fighting for the other

We said until we died, we’d always be blood brothers.”

Nephews. Cousins. Brothers. Family.

Always.

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Josh Nolan’s Kind Heart to Follow is a must-play album

Josh Nolan looked like he was in his mid-20s and acted like he was in his early teens. For this particular summer weekend trip to Chicago in 2006 to see dozens of bands at Lollapalooza, both would see prominence. Thanks to the older side (plus the long, curly hair and the general overall demeanor of a rock and roll star), Josh would get stopped by would-be adoring fans, convinced he was in a band playing the festival. Thanks to the younger side, Josh would freeze at the attention, then tell them he was meeting friends at Taco Bell (TACO BELL!) before scurrying off down Michigan Avenue.

Oh, Josh. Continue reading

Not an Exit

I’m thrilled to announce the online debut of my first published collection of drawings and doodles I dare call “art.”

I’m pleased to be part of The Sketchbook Project 2018, giving me an outlet for the drawings I started creating in 2017 to deal with the presidential administration and the turmoil in its wake.

So, please enjoy Not an Exit (and share with friends)!

Tougher than the Rest: A Song, a Story, a Wedding

I do not want to get married again.

Yes, that sounds harsh, but before everyone cancels their RSVPs and returns their gift cards, perhaps I should clarify. The statement “I do not want to get married again” is a true statement, with the key word being “again.” That word, those two little syllables, imply Marriage the Reboot, which, simply isn’t the case.

I had accepted, even encouraged, the thinking that I would be alone the rest of my life. I’d become a hollowed out person, unable to allow anyone to come close enough to hurt me, let alone love me. Sure, I’d date, perhaps even attach a label to it, but I wanted that distance, needed it to survive, even though it was killing me.

In almost exactly one week from this moment, I will be huddled in a hallway with the woman who changed all that, and our small gathering of guests will be listening to a song that captures us. It is not a shock to anyone that it will be a Bruce Springsteen song, but what might escape everyone is just how on the dot the lyrics to “Tougher than the Rest” are.
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A touch of magic: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”

Many of you, particularly my social media friends, have already seen this story, but I’m sharing it here to reach a wider audience to celebrate the love that has been showered on my friends. To those who are familiar with my friend Kellee, her battle with cancer and her journey to Disney, I ask you to continue spreading this type of joy. To those who are just now discovering this tale, I realize what follows is lengthy, but the payoff is worth it as, at least for me, it has helped reaffirm my faith in humanity.


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For Gabbard: A Briefcase History of Time

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Anthony Gabbard never won our fantasy football league. Never came close, really, despite often being armed with more picks in the first seven rounds than the rest of us had in the full draft. He would methodically fill slots based on need, meaning he always – ALWAYS – ended up taking a kicker not just too early but entirely too early. Like ridiculously early. Like seventh or eighth round early, having already rounded out a roster and ready to go worry about other things, usually poker.

Unlike others in the league, Gabbard didn’t study charts or meticulously pore over fantasy gurus in the days leading up to the draft. He preferred to print out a couple of sheets, then let the numbers be the guide while the team fell into place.

This is not to say, however, that he didn’t come prepared. Continue reading

This is Important (but I Know You’re Not Listening): 2016 PCHS Commencement Speech

IMG_1627The following is the commencement speech I  gave this afternoon at Powell County High School in my hometown of Stanton, Ky. I was a member of the Class of 1993.

The first words my mother said upon being told I’d been asked to speak today were “Please don’t embarrass me.”

Not “I’m proud” or “good luck” or even “they should’ve asked your sister instead.” Nope. Just “don’t embarrass me.”

So, to honor my mom’s wishes, I’ve made a list of topics to avoid: meth, Donald Trump, asking where the after-parties are, stories about my mom, stories about my dad and more meth.

To the person who invited me here today, I’m afraid you’ve made a huge mistake. To Superintendent Michael Tate and Principal Kendall Kearns it’s an honor to be here, but you should know Martina Skidmore is responsible for what’s to follow. To be fair, she’s been a friend since kindergarten, and I thank her for having faith in me. I hope to make my mother proud. I cannot, however, promise I won’t embarrass her. Continue reading