Thursday, December 17, 2015

Remembering Phil Smart, Jr: The Leader as Good King

Well before he succumbed to cancer on December 3, 2015, my long-time client and friend, Phil Smart, Jr, asked me to speak at his memorial service when his time finally came.  I was deeply touched and honored by his request, and, of course, agreed to do so.  Phil was a very organized fellow.  He gave his wife, Sally, and those of us who were asked to participate in the service, clear instructions.  There were three of us who were asked to give “friend appreciations” and we were to keep our remarks to five or six minutes—no small challenge.  I was asked to speak specifically about the process on which Phil and I collaborated to develop his business culture and strategy.  What follows is an expanded version of the remarks I shared at the memorial service that was held on December 14th, 2015 at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle.

Here is what Phil asked me to speak about:

I met him at a seminar I gave on leadership for Mercedes-Benz in March of 1995.  He was the first to approach me during the mid-morning break.  I was immediately struck by his bright eyes and open-heartedness.  As we chatted briefly, he seemed to me less a business man and more someone already on the path to becoming The Good King, a concept from the book King, Warrior, Magician Lover, I was about to introduce in the seminar. The Good King is a model of a kind of leadership substantially different from what I had generally seen in business.  The Good King creates right order for his kingdom, so that blessings and creativity occur at every level.  He creates this order by first developing it in himself, through knowledge of his own inner emotional, spiritual and mental dynamics.  In other words, The Good King is a person of self-reflection, committed to discovering the deep truths about himself so that he can continuously grow and bring wise rule to his realm.   

This may sound like a fairy tale, but it’s quite doable in the real world and is a far better choice than the various degrees of autocratic leadership I’ve witnessed in more than forty years in the business world.  It can apply not only to leadership of a business, but also a family, a sports team, a religious group, a non-profit, any organization.  Over lunch that day, Phil told me that while financial success mattered to him, he was more passionate about his own personal growth and the growth of his people. 

A rich capacity for self-reflection and deep self-correction is not, in my experience, the norm among business people.  But Phil had it in abundance and he was “all in” for the long-term process I proposed.

In the following years, he sent more than half his people to my four and a-half day group leadership retreat in California and attended himself.  He demonstrated an extraordinary degree of openness and honesty, which made it safer for the rest of the group to do the same.

Over many months, he put the entire store through a two day education in teamwork, and another two days in vision.  All of our workshops gave people an opportunity to share personal as well as professional aspects of their lives, if they chose.  Most did and Phil, who attended both as a full participant,  subsequently told me that he had come to know many of his people better in a few days than he had in twenty years.  He relished this kind of deep connection.

All managers and a few other key people were offered 3-day one-on-one retreats with me in California.  Almost all accepted.  Phil actually came for this three times over the years.

In 2000, I conducted a two-week leadership experience in Peru for my clients.  We were fifteen in all from a half-dozen different organizations. Phil wasn’t able to make it at the time but he was generous in giving time off to the two from the organization who did come, and helped me with a scholarship for one of them who couldn’t quite pull together the whole fare by himself.

Back at the store, year after year, we conducted regular Employee Satisfaction Surveys, Town Hall Meetings, Vision Team meetings and company dinners. 

He had me there at 600 East Pike monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly for close coaching to help him keep the whole process going.  He continued to actively participate every step of the way, remaining open and emotionally available.  

How many business people have you met in your life who would be likely to make and sustain such a commitment?  But Phil was not typical  He was a man of many faiths, not just his religious faith.  He had faith in his people.  He had faith in me.  He had faith in himself. He understood, as few do, that every organization, no matter what its purpose, is first and foremost a community of human beings, each needing and deserving respect.

Across more than fifteen years and two painful recessions, he was steady in his commitment…and his faith in nurturing his culture was borne out with financial success and exceptional employee loyalty.  It was common at Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz to find folks who had worked there ten, fifteen, twenty or more years.

So many leaders lose pieces of their humanity as they gain power and financial success.  Phil’s humanity increased.  No wonder people loved him.  He was a very rare man

It stirs my heart to see so many people here today who were part of this voyage.  It was a saga, really, a saga of challenge, learning and joy and Phil was the indispensable force that made it happen.  It was ours and ours alone and because it was so unique, I encourage all of you to share it generously with others. 

For Phil was a truly gifted leader.  When he was at his best, his joy in himself was tangible but quiet.  When he was less than the person he wanted to be, he hurt deeply.  And in both joy and sorrow, he was willing to feel deeply, even when that meant tears. He knew and lived the truth that real men do cry.  I have many memories of his tearful joy and sadness…over his fierce love for Sally, Samantha, Savannah and Shafer and his grandchildren, Cruz and Lulu, his mom and sister, over the agonizing ups and downs of business, over his struggle to stay connected to a father who gave a lot of his energy to philanthropy and  public speaking, over his battle with the demon taking over his cells, and the harsh fact of mortality.  It was a privilege to be a person to whom he revealed himself courageously and without pretense.

Now, here is what Phil could not have asked me to speak about, because all of what follows came into exquisite clarity for me once he had left us:

While I have many beautiful memories of our work together, the most luminous for me at this moment are not work-related.  They occurred during the trip Phil and Sally, my wife, Andrea and I, made to Peru together this past May.  Phil had reached out to me in October after getting some troubling news about his cancer treatment.  He knew I’d been to Peru a number of times and asked if I would design a trip for them…and if Andrea and I would go, too.  Machu Picchu was on Sally’s bucket list and he wanted to give her that gift before the possibility of being overwhelmed by his illness might become inevitable.  I told Phil I’d be delighted to design a trip and the two of us would accompany the two of them, but the best time to go wouldn’t be until May.  He said that was fine because he was going to need another surgery in early December.  Really?  Surgery in December and you want to go hiking in the Andes in May?  He told me not to worry, he had a whole regimen in mind for his recovery and he wasn’t going to hold Sally back.  She was a runner and would want to do some hikes and he was determined to be with her every step of the way.  He insisted I design the trip as if he were completely healthy.  I had seen up close his dedication to fitness as we hiked the trails of California’s Central Coast together over many years, so I knew what he was capable of and I knew the level of determination he was able to bring to any challenge.  I decided to take him at his word. 

By the time we all met in Los Angeles on the evening of May 2nd, Phil looked lean and fit.  No one would have guessed he had just stopped chemo a week before.  We did three major hikes during the next 13 days, each more challenging than what preceded.  The last one was more than seven hours on a section of the Inca Trail that came into Machu Picchu from above.  He and Sally were right out front throughout all 7 miles of it, which started at about 6500 feet and ended at 9000.  The many pictures I have of them going up and down Inca stairways, standing in front of a waterfall together, Phil with his arms spread wide in front of a massive rock, the two of them cheek to cheek at the Gate of the Sun with Machu Picchu in the background—all testify to his extraordinary vitality, love of the outdoors, adventure and, above all, Sally. 

Here are the two particular images that have stayed with me the most.
After hiking into Machu Picchu, exploring the ruins and hanging out in the town below for three days, we took the train from Machu Picchu back to Cuzco.  Two musicians in the club car were playing a raucous rendition of Guantanamera and got all of us up banging a tambourine and dancing, one at a time (it was a small car on a narrow gauge railway).  When it was Phil’s turn, he jumped right in…and the man had moves.  He was shakin’, rattlin’ and rollin’ through the Andes.  After all his health challenges, not to mention the three long hikes, every gyration was an exclamation point celebrating life. 

But the image I cherish the most actually happened a few hours before, in the train station at Machu Picchu.  Andrea and I sat facing Phil and Sally on wooden benches.  As we waited for the train, Sally lay her head on Phil’s shoulder and closed her eyes. Phil looked at me with the bright eyes and open-heartedness I had first seen more than twenty years before.  But this time, there was something else.  It had been Sally’s dream to get to Machu Picchu.  He had been the servant of that dream.  He had made it happen and had been there with her for every single exciting moment.  It was a triumph of life over a daunting foe that sends many cowering through their last months and days.  But not Phil.  Now, resting in the station, the dream safely delivered, he held my gaze so gently, so sweetly for several long seconds. His eyes were deep, warm and full of love.  With Sally’s head against his cheek, he was a man utterly at peace.  He was The Good King.

C 2015 Bob Kamm 

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Steve Jobs and the Leadership Question, Part II: The Reality Distortion Field

                                Note:  Part I of this post is below.

            Steve Jobs was famous among his own company and colleagues for what came to be called his “reality distortion field.”  This was meant to refer to a conviction so passionate in Jobs on any given particular point or belief that he could sweep others up in it, in spite of their own doubts.  Another way to describe this is with the simpler term often used in psychology:  grandiosity.  Jobs believed in his own superior vision and creativity above all others.  He had a grand sense that he was destined to create the future.  This belief in itself was sufficient to make him unable to deeply consider a lot of the very valid ideas and objections of those around him.  A very clear example of this is the way the original MacIntosh computer was brought out.  It was introduced by a 60 Second ad debuting at the Superbowl XVIII in 1984, and it was titled, simply, 1984.  It was revolutionary, indeed, as an ad and has won that recognition—widely considered the greatest TV ad of all time in its depiction of a “Big Brother” kind of world shattered by a young female athlete hurling a hammer to shatter the image of the mind-controlling leader.  Heady stuff, for sure.  But in reality (a term with dubious value around Jobs) there were serious flaws in the Mac.  It had no hard drive.  It had only 128 K RAM of memory (whereas the previously introduced Lisa had 1000 K RAM).  It also had only one slot for a floppy disk.  It also had no fan because of Jobs’ objection to the sound, and consequently became known as “the beige toaster” because of its tendency to overheat.   The fact that these features became “baked in” to the final product is attributed solely to what Isaacson refers to as “Jobs’ dogmatic stubbornness”, since plenty of objections were raised by his own engineers in the developmental process.  Consequently, though the Mac had a successful initial run, its sales fell off dramatically. 
                Every great visionary challenges the limits of the current “reality” as it is generally accepted by the culture.  But a visionary characterized by a persistent sense of grandiosity and an accompanying entrenched defensive stubbornness is likely to have a very difficult learning curve as he travels from the heights of his own grandiose ideas down to the gritty reality of how things actually play out in the market place.  He is more likely to experience temporary success, followed by deep disappointment and then blame others for the failure.  This resonates with what psychologist Alice Miller describes as the cycle from grandiosity to depression in her book, The Drama of the Gifted Child.  It is probably a waste of time to consider a lot of the “ifs” in life.  However, in this case, it is hard not to imagine the MacIntosh would have been a much greater success if Jobs had listened to those who told him it needed more RAM, a fan, a hard drive and two disk slots instead of one.  Surely, it would have been far more successful than it actually was.  It is even possible that demonstrating an ability to listen to his people and work more collaboratively, as opposed to dictatorially, he would have grown into his position to the point that John Sculley and the Board of Directors might never have made him uncomfortable enough to resign.
                After Jobs returned to Apple from his “exile” to NeXt and Pixar, he had undoubtedly gone through some maturing, given the unprecedented string of successes that followed, beginning with the iPod and running all the way up to the various versions of the iPad, iPhone and iMac desktops and laptops, the introduction of iTunes and the Apple Stores. Of course, his genius was never in question and should not be today.  And we may allow that with age and experience, with marrying and having children, and especially facing his mortality as he had to deal with cancer, some of the sharp edges may have come off his way of leading.  But I can find no evidence that his overall style made a transformation to the kind of brilliant, visionary and humanistic leadership that should be the model for all of us. 
                Steve Jobs, at present and for the forseeable future, occupies a large space in the firmament of leadership.  The “if” of who he might have been and how different the arc of his personal and professional lives might have been had he ever found a way to heal some of the dark chaos within him is compelling.  We should engage it fully and encourage students and young leaders alike to do the same. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Steve Jobs and the Leadership Question

                Steve Jobs died in October of 2011.  Since then, there have been two major movies made about him and the publication of Walter Issacson’s authorized biography.  It is hard to dispute that in the entire history of humans, there has never been an entrepreneur so worthy of examination and praise.  As Walter Isaacson and others have pointed out, the companies he created revolutionized personal computers, digital publishing, music, telephones, tablets and animated movies.  To those astonishing achievements, we could add that he revolutionized digital space itself, making it delightful and responsive to the average consumer and then went on to do the same with retail space and even the physical packaging in which our newest technology arrives in our hands.  Now we have the Apple Watch which, while developed immediately after his death, has the fingerprints of his creativity all over it, extending his legacy even further. The influence of his product designs on cultural taste in general is immeasurable.  In doing all this, he built two great companies—Pixar and Apple, the latter becoming the most valuable company on earth in dollar terms alone.  Clearly, there is much to be admired in the man, his vision and his accomplishments.  
Because Steve Jobs’ legacy looms so large, there is also a danger that new entrepreneurs will find it convenient to refer to him to justify a bullying, badgering, bombastic, brutal, cold, calculating and manipulative leadership style. Steve Jobs was a screaming genius—figuratively and, unfortunately, literally.  Precisely for that reason, it is important for wiser people with deep leadership experience to weigh in and state emphatically that this side of his brand of leadership was not even close to optimal.  We may seek to understand and even empathize with one possessed of so much talent and intelligence and yet so deficient in psychological balance that he was driven to treat others as he did. But it is critical that we identify it as unacceptable, inexcusable, unjustifiable, not to be laughed off or dismissed and certainly not to be emulated.  Abuse always has a cause and a result.  That doesn’t mitigate it.  It is an “ends justifies the means” approach, a self-justifying pathology   It is certainly not to be confused with any form of well-considered strategic leadership.  The corollary argument that the end products could not have been created any other way stands on a foundation of toothpicks.  We do not here similar tales of temperament coming out of Google or Facebook or any number of other companies that are mountains in the new digital landscape.  Personally, I have worked for a few people who had styles similar to that of Jobs, and coached numerous people who worked under such confusing blends of affection and aggression.   I know them all too well.  A psychologist would have a field day diagnosing them and I have no doubt that in the not too distant future, someone will write a thesis or a book doing just that with Jobs as their subject, going way beyond the general idea that he carried a deep wound from being adopted. As Alice Miller pointed out in her book, The Untouched Key, in most biographies (and I would apply this to Isaacson’s of Jobs), “individual childhood events usually are not given any prominence.”  With the explosive expansion of knowledge in the field of epigenetics, those “events” will now have to include an inquiry into the state of a mother during her pregnancy, the nature of the birth itself and the critical first few months of life—all of which increasingly look, in combination, like the true foundation of personality, as opposed to the traditional view that it is the first three to seven years in which this foundation is established. To shine light into these earliest moments of life will be daunting but not impossible to the determined investigative biographer.
                It’s important to state that I am a fan and owner of Apple products, as are many of you reading this, in all likelihood.  But delighting in the results doesn’t mean we can’t imagine getting there differently.  How can we know, beyond our own intuitive sense and life experience and a few good current contrasting examples that there was and is a better way?  We can’t conduct a classic double-blind study in which we have Steve Jobs as he was leading Apple and a transformed Steve Jobs leading the exact same Apple in parallel universes.  But we don’t have to.  Jim Collins and his merry band of researchers at Stanford have done the work for us.  They closely examined some of the greatest companies of the last hundred or more years in comparison to other companies in the same business slots to see what distinguished the best.  They have published their results in three of the most important books for anyone interested in leadership, particularly entrepreneurial leadership:  Built to Last, Good to Great and Great by Choice.  What they found was that generally, the most successful leaders are possessed of a paradoxical blend of fierce determination to succeed with, of all things, humility.  Yes, humility. These are generally people who are driven, but not unrelentingly.  They are possessed of strong egos but are not egomaniacs. They are demanding but not histrionic and brutal.  They make a lot of tough decisions, but they also share responsibility for a lot of decisions with their people.  They include and empower.  Perhaps most significantly, they are not arrogant. That directly contradicts the popular image promulgated not only by Jobs but by someone as different from him as Donald Trump.  In fact, when asked about their success, over and over again these leaders avoid taking credit, instead giving it to their people, recognizing that it truly takes not just one team but many teams working in a coordinated dance to attain and sustain success on a large scale.  That is the norm.  Jobs’ charisma was incredibly appealing to many, including, some who were willing to suffer at his hand.  But stylistically, the abusive side of his brand of leadership is an outlier when considered in the context of a large population of Fortune 500 company leaders as well as leaders in smaller entrepreneurships.  We should discourage anyone from emulating it and, instead, show a better way.
                In my own experience of more than forty years in business, the best leaders I have personally experienced did indeed possess the paradoxical combination of intense ambition and humility.  They were also cool in the face of enormous challenges, holding to their basic business principles and practices to pull their people into a creative problem solving process that would get them through and position them to take advantage of the opportunities that inevitably arise as markets contract and expand.  I have had the privilege of witnessing and working with men and women who have the flexibility, self-confidence and wisdom to lead from the front, the middle and the back, depending on what was called for…sometimes all three within a given day.
                By leading from the front I mean defining the vision, setting the overall strategic direction, setting the agenda in a particular moment, making the command decisions that cannot be optimally made by consensus or majority vote and, in one of their most important roles, being the Educator in Chief to continuously advance his teams’ knowledge and understanding of both the short-term and long-term context.  In these activities, he or she occupies the king’s or queen’s throne and embodies the kind of parental energy that can set boundaries, embrace specific values, create positive, respectful conditions, identify necessary daily practices that create consistency and a common language of achievement concepts.   These leaders inspire people to stretch themselves into their very best work to serve a greater cause.  This leader avoids creating false urgency and instead lays out timetables for achievement that his teams can make sense of, even if they are demanding.  The language from this position can be direct or poetic but above all, it is clear and without psychological games.
                By leading from the middle I mean stepping away from the king or queen energy into the brother and sister energy.  In these situations, the leader conducts him/herself as equal in power to the rest of the team, engaging in inquiry collaboratively and assuming that he/she doesn’t necessarily have all the best ideas and cannot understand what people downstream from him/her are dealing with without deep inquiry and deeper listening and meditation on the input.  This communicates respect to the individual teammates that goes down like honey.  In such highly collaborative settings, a vision and the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve it can become the authentic property of everyone, not just the leader.  Smart “leaders from the middle” will often enlist outsider professionals to facilitate meetings so that they can step into an egalitarian position with their team members.  Doing so humanizes them and fosters their emotional and mental availability to ideas other than their own or their top advisors. 
                By leading from the back I mean fully empowering people to do the jobs they are qualified to do, cheering them as they go forward and resisting the temptation to tweak or fine-tune every decision they make.  Leaders who do the latter often do not realize that they are betraying a deep insecurity of their own that manifests in being unable to trust others and release them to do a job that is more than good enough, even excellent, but simply different from how the leader might have gotten there.  The ability to lead from the back is, along with leading from the middle, critical in developing the increasing interdependence of strong players based on ever-growing competencies and trust, and ultimately engendering an organization that is truly self-sustaining as it feeds on its own joy in co-creating vitality, innovation and success in all measures.  Leading from the back embodies the kind of parental energy that sees accurately what others are ready to try and encourages them to be adventurous and self-correct when things fall short of expectations.  There is no “I told ya so” in this leader.  His or her energy is strong in compassion, encouragement, understanding and patience.   
                The best leaders genuinely are the kind of people about whom staff will say, “I love him/her.  I would do anything for him/her within my power.”  The beauty is, such leaders do not ask people to go to extremes, the way Steve Jobs did.  They are more interested in nurturing talented people who are devoted to the best available practices for their respective positions on a consistent basis across days, weeks, months and years.
                Steve Jobs has proven that a company can succeed with tyrannical and bullying leadership.  That doesn’t mean it should.
Jobs was right when he said of himself, as reported by Walter Isaacson, “I am not well made.”  He knew, for all his brilliance and all his rationalizations about making the future, there were things within him dark, chaotic and incomplete.  He was a seeker from a fairly young age—living on a commune, experimenting with recreational drugs, including LSD, traveling to India to study with a Buddhist guru, and developing a series of relationships with mentor/father figures.  On some level he sensed that there was a deep pain living in him that had something to do with being adopted.  In my experience, that kind of early hurt calls for psychotherapy, but not any psychotherapy from any average therapist.  It requires brilliance and a profound process that can ultimately reach the earliest hurts, hurts that the mind cannot identify but the body remembers.  The ferocity of his reactivity points toward insults to the system in the first moments of life, including during gestation in the womb, the birth experience and the period immediately following when he and all children are utterly defenseless. Unfortunately, he never found his way to such a person and process.
Interestingly, he did have a brief dalliance with mock Primal Therapy when he was 19.  Primal Therapy had grabbed headlines and become highly controversial after the publication of the The Primal Scream, by Arthur Janov, in 1970.  A number of celebrities were open about attending Janov’s institute in Los Angeles, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, actor, James Earl Jones and popular pianist, Roger Williams.  It may seem curious, then, that Jobs chose to go to Oregon in late 1974 for his therapy at a center that was not run or endorsed by Janov.  According to Isaccson, he paid $1000 for a twelve week experience—a commitment far less than what Janov required at The Primal Institute, knowing that the process through which he and his therapists led people was painful and challenging and necessitated an “all in” mentality to see it through to its full benefits.  Since I did receive therapy from Janov and his staff in my late twenties for a total of two years in the early Seventies, I can say from personal knowledge that if Jobs had applied at The Primal Institute, he would not have been accepted.  It was the policy of the Institute at that time to only take people who were twenty-five or older, and for very good reason.  Younger people were not sufficiently developed to handle the peeling away of defenses and processing of tumultuous early childhood hurt while still getting up and going to work to take care of themselves every day.  It took a certain level of experience, emotional resources and some maturity to be able to do that. Though it was not known at the time that the left side of the brain doesn’t fully boot up until around twenty-five, clinical experience had made the point to Janov and his team. 
I offer these details because Isaacson was apparently unaware of them when writing his biography of Jobs and offers no explanation as to why Jobs went to Oregon to have an experience with “adherents” of the therapy (which might mean anything), when it was well-known that Janov himself was practicing on Almont Street in West Hollywood.  Janov was insistent that a person could not practice Primal Therapy until they had completed rigorous training that took a number of years at his Institute.  It included their having a sustained and thorough experience of their own with the primal process, as well as a requirement that they get their PhD in psychology if they didn’t already have it.  If they completed this regimen of therapy, training and academic achievement, they were then Certified Primal Therapists and free to practice as such.  There were a couple of so called “Feeling Centers” that appeared, in Los Angeles and Oregon, run by people many of whom might have been in therapy with Janov for a period of time but did not complete the training and were not endorsed by him.  The mere fact that the Oregon center accepted a nineteen year old Jobs is alarming to anyone, such as myself, with first-hand experience at Janov’s Institute.
As Isaacson reports, Jobs was quickly disillusioned with his experience in Oregon.  Since my own experience at the institute was stunning and deeply healing, as was that of the overwhelming majority of the people I knew there at the time, I can only wonder how he might have changed had he applied directly to The Primal Institute in his mid to late twenties…or had he stumbled upon some other equally potent transformational process, fully committed to it and made it part of his daily practice for the rest of his life. I have been privileged to know and work with a few such rare leaders.  Jobs would likely still have been a visionary and ambitious but a more consistently humanistic and respectful leader who knew clearly where the line was between being demanding and being abusive.  Unfortunately, whatever he did try was either insufficient in itself to address the power of his pain, or his practice of that modality was insufficient.  Instead, he continued to visit rage and tears upon those around him.
In all likelihood, the overwhelming majority of the leaders detailed in Jim Collins’ books were neither devotees of Buddhism or Western psychotherapy.  They were gifted by childhood experience with more balanced temperaments to lead through a kind of humble ambition.  Still, we do see pathological behavior emerge in many of these people in terms of how they manipulate the public, promulgate misinformation, spin or withhold information, and spend absurdly large sums of money lobbying state and federal lawmakers to influence policy in their direction, often specifically to lower or remove regulation and oversight of their behavior to the detriment of the public. 
A serious discussion of leadership has to address such behavior.  It should not be walled up by economic or business concepts, or glibly dismissed with platitudes about different personalities.  Leaders are people and as such, just as likely to suffer “the slings and arrows” as the rest of us.  A psychological perspective is necessary to come to a full understanding of who they are, why they do what they do, and what, if anything they might be able to personally do about it themselves if and when they at least have sufficient pre-cognition to realize they are not “well-made.”
Plain and simple, bullying is the action of a deeply afflicted soul blasting its pain outward.  It may be done “hot” the way Jobs did it or “cold” the way others do it, manipulating markets and bringing the largest economy in the world to its knees.  We should never accept it as a valid leadership style.  It should be dissected in MBA programs designed to catch the tendencies early and direct people towards therapeutic practices.  We should also be aware that people suffering from such internal strife, be it hot or cold, are worthy of empathy, hard as it may be to give at times.  The bully is not a happy camper.  He or she is an abused person who has taken on the behavior of the powerful aggressor.  Being on either the giving or receiving end is a devastatingly limited and tortured place to live. 
The last thing we need is for such leaders to be made icons by the press and for people to be willing to follow them unflinchingly, leaving a trail of their own blood in the street in the name of fortune or “creating the future.”  In fact, the opposite is called for.  Such leaders need people who realize they are suffering from serious psychic pain, people who are courageous and strong enough to stand up to them and say, “No, we will not follow you as long as you treat us like this, no matter how smart and talented you are.  Get help!”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Remembering Frank Gifford

August 9th, 2015.
Frank Gifford died today.
I go online and gather a lot of information
                about him
--things I didn’t know
even though I was a huge fan
as a kid, as was my father
as were my brothers
--our devotion to the New York Giants
football team
          rivaled in its religiosity
only by our devotion to the New York Giants
baseball team.
Back then
I didn’t know Frank Gifford was from Bakersfield, California.
I didn’t know his grades were so bad in high school
he couldn’t get an athletic scholarship to his dream school
I didn’t know he played for Bakersfield Junior College
and made the Junior College All-American Team.
In fact, I didn’t know there was a Junior College All-American Team.
I vaguely remember my dad telling me he was
an All-American once he did make it to USC.
My dad probably knew all the stats of Frank Gifford’s career
as it unfolded
playing three different positions and each
He loved sport stats, my father,
      and today
the day of Frank Gifford’s death
I discover he had enough achievements
 in a 12 year career
to fill a pocket sized record book
                all on his own.

But today, even as I marvel
                at how much I did not know
about him,
I am the captive of what I did know
--the hours
spent stretched out beside my father in his bedroom
                on Sunday afternoons
as the Giants’ fortunes rose and fell
and their names crackled in our mouths
                like hard candies
--Charlie Conerly, Joe Morrison,
Rosey Brown and Rosey Grier, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff,
Pat Summerall (the kicker with the golden leg) and
Frank Gifford;
Dad’s voice
my brothers’
and mine
whispering and shouting
 in a harmony of hope
Yet, as sweet and bitter as it is
       to recall those Sundays
(my father and brothers are all gone;
my oldest brother, Larry, was a director for ABC
and actually worked with Frank),
                        at this instant
                I am gripped by a memory
of the day Frank Gifford, All-American, All-Pro,
visited our high school in Summit, New Jersey.
I was in junior high at the time.
Our classes were in a wing of the same building as the high school.
If memory serves, our All-American high school coach, Howie Anderson,
made it happen.
The event was held in the gym.
Frank Gifford did not come alone that day.
He brought one or two teammates with him,
but I really only remember him.
He was that big a presence.

The entire student body
               was crammed onto the wooden bleachers.
Frank enlisted our two top players
in a demonstration—Mike Papio, our quarterback
and Darnell Mallory, our halfback
                 —both exceptional athletes,
                champs of our division
                       and adored and idolized by all.
As I do the math today
I reckon Frank must have been about 29 or 30 years old.
But he had no age that day.
He was young, tall, tapered and beautiful.
My father and his friends called him “the golden boy”
but he was more like Mercury than gold.
I thought Mike and Darnell were geniuses of the gridiron
but as they all ran plays together
                     Frank Gifford showed us a whole new level of mastery
          that couldn’t be achieved in high school
and couldn’t be appreciated through a TV screen,
a mastery that said, “This is what you get if you keep at it,
keep practicing, keep honing your gifts for another ten years.”
He moved like music
                in a way that was his and his alone.
He was animal, wind and god.
His ready and open face
               shone with a light
                                that was his and his alone
yet shared generously with all of us in the gym that day
the way a king shares his beneficence.                                  
Because my father was a journalist
       I had already met a lot of stars
--Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans, 
             Gene Autry,
           Fess Parker, to name a few.               
But in these years of my own athletic dreams
                I had never seen the likes of him.
He was a true action hero before the term was created.
I see him there, still...
                Frank Gifford
           beautiful in his youth
                                and beautiful in mine
in a way that only youth bestows
      when moments themselves
                          and wide
           as a roaring
            and feel like they'll never end.

C 2015 Bob Kamm

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ordinary Blessings

for Annie,
on the 8th Anniversary of our first meeting

We arrive at the sink
                at the same moment
        from the workshop
       from the garden
scrubbing the grit from our fingertips
                smiling in each other’s eyes.                          
We agree on sudden changes
                in our plan for the yard
arriving at the same conclusion
                at the same moment
                         with almost no discussion.
We agree on changes
      in our plan for the yard
arriving at the same conclusion
after fierce disagreement
                and finally                          
We sip coffee and tea on the deck
                feeling the cool morning breeze
We sip wine on the deck
                feeling the cool evening breeze
We laugh at the machinations of the many
                quail families
                as their babies peck at the dirt
                beneath mom and dad’s guardian eyes.
We mourn over a crow’s destruction
                of a wren nest in the pergola.
We begin and end the day with kisses
still lavish them
              alone in elevators
                         or on the street
                             or in a restaurant.
We get out the door together
                 on time
                      or early
We savor food, books, our bodies,
                    yes our bodies
              their capacity for pleasure
              their capacity as instruments of spiritual fire-making
              their capacity to affirm
                              with a mere touch
                                that we are something
                                          real in a world that often isn’t.     
We savor imaginings, memories, wonderings
       …would we have met if this had happened, or that…
and celebrate
                that they didn’t
                                 and we did.
We rub each other’s shoulders and feet
                   hold hands everywhere
admire and cherish
                   each other’s spirit
                                 and intelligence,
engage in outrageous silliness
                     which if revealed to the public
would tank our reputations as serious people.
We actually listen to hear
           and speak to be heard
                   most of the time.
We manage to hold each other
                     at some point
                            every single day
in spite of, and sometimes because of,
                     long-lived childhood despairs.                      
In the movie theater’s darkness
      we clutch each other’s hands
                               and weep
over lost loved ones
                          inexplicable acts of courage
                                  unrecognized genius
               the all too human
                               inhumanity of man.

When we get a splinter
bang an elbow
           stub a toe
                     bump a head
when we feel the ache of muscles,
            the wearing of joints
               --pain in the hands
when we contemplate together
           the long look back
                 and the ever-shortening
when we witness demon diseases
         drawing down the shades
                                in the cells
                              of family and friends
…then we know
               the usual search for miracles
                                 is misguided
because each moment
  no matter how
               freighted with feelings
                     falling far short of joy
is miraculous
          is life
                 living itself
           standing strong and bending before its own wind
                 illuminated and blinded by its own light
                       instructed and frightened by its own darkness
                            mesmerized by its own music                           
                                --the sound of tears joining rain
every nuanced moment
               --even the uncounted
                              certainly uncelebrated ones
               --and every ordinary breath
                                 a blessing.

C Bob Kamm 2015

July 16.