When I was in elementary school, I lived with my four brothers in a Leave It to Beaver house in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. My brother Pat and I slept upstairs, as did our parents. On Sunday mornings, I could usually count on a theater performance between my Mom and Dad, and that always included only three lines.

My Mom was very particular about how she dressed, and it was important to her that her makeup was perfect to go to church. She loved to wear a pillbox hat like Jackie Kennedy wore, and it had to ride just so on her beautiful hair. Dad waited patiently downstairs while his five sons tended toward increasingly dysfunctional behavior. Inevitably, the performance would begin with my Dad shouting upstairs, “Kay, come on!” My Mom would always answer, “Coming!” And then would come the words that would define my Dad for me: “So is Christmas!”

Well, for Dad, Christmas has come. Over three decades ago we lost Mom to cancer, and there has not been a day since that time that Dad hasn’t longed to have her beside him. In the last two years, while I have had the privilege of Dad living near me, he has often wondered where she is. I never had the heart to tell him. Innumerable times I stared at him and nodded my head when he told me she had been gone for a week, or a month. The pictures in his room reflect that undying love. There is the glamorous photo of Mom in the corner of the room sent to him during World War II asking him, “Am I still in the doghouse?” There is the succession of photos from the 1940’s and 1950’s after getting married, and with one son, then two, then three. There are pictures of Mom, stylish in the middle years in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He has been waiting for her to arrive.

For a little boy who watched two people who loved each other dance the complex Kabuki dance that is marriage and parenthood, it is beyond ironic to consider that the day my Dad finally let go of life after 100 years was Christmas. I had six or seven hours with him that day to say goodbye. My wife says that he was just waiting for me to leave to let go. Perhaps he was. But I didn’t want to go.

These last two years have allowed me a friendship with Dad that was rare. He was one of the few I know who loved me for who I was, not for what I did. Being in the room with him was enough for him to be happy. I grew to treasure those moments sitting across from him, especially after I was allowed to begin visiting him again after a COVID-related hiatus.

But I was reminded on every visit what a lifelong love looks like, and what it is to be a product of that love. Last month would have been Mom and Dad’s 75th anniversary; instead, they had only 43 years together. Coincidentally, Linda and I have had 43 years together as well.

So, to me, every day I have with her now is a gift not given to my Dad, and one that I need to treasure. Perhaps there will be a day when I sit in a room, and my kids come to visit, and I ask them where Mom is. And perhaps they will nod knowingly, and sadly, and wonder what in the world they can say to me.

Here’s what they can say to me. Dad, she’s gone home, and she’s waiting. This room is not all there is, and there is hope beyond life. We know because you taught us it was true, and we believe it for ourselves. And, believe it or not, Dad, that life beyond is even sweeter than Mom.

Dad, Christmas is coming.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics, Family, Texas A&M

Today is the first day of the most unique fall semester of my career as a professor. I will be back in a physical classroom for the first time in months, masked and ready to go. In one of my classes, over 90 percent of students have decided to attend in person. This speaks to me of the longing for human contact, and the fundamentally different experience of even the most humdrum college classroom when compared to a technology link.

Dr. Mike Shaub, in a Baltimore Orioles maskSocial media is atwitter with stories of reckless college students gathering in droves, and the anticipation is that it is only a matter of time before universities go online. Some prominent universities already have. But there is a certain recklessness, at least a modest amount of risk-seeking behavior, in all of us who are not hypochondriacs. Certain needs will prompt us to assume risk because of what we get in return. We may try to tightly control the extent of that risk. But five months into this COVID adventure, we all have a much better read on our propensity to assume risk.

And, to be honest, it is a lot higher across the spectrum than I would have guessed, and not just for college students. My desire for normalcy in the classroom and in my workplace drive me to assume risk. I feel pressure from peers in my church community to regather, even though it still seems like a bad idea to me. Most people who know me would see me as risk averse; I am, after all, an accountant. And yet later on today I will be face-to-face with new MS Accounting students in a professional seminar in a classroom down the hall.

Many who see college students as selfish would characterize professors going into the classroom as heroic. I think that is a bit of a caricature. Of course, there are a number of college students engaging in purely self-interested behavior because they believe the downside risk is minimal. This is nothing new, and it is the reason we have organizations like CARPOOL at Texas A&M to minimize the consequences of this type of behavior by offering rides home from bars to those who need them.

But professors have needs, too. And when I look in the mirror, I have to ask myself—why have I chosen face-to-face instruction rather than teaching online? Part of it is that I taught online in the spring and summer. To be honest, it would be a lot easier than the hybrid version I will start with this fall, where I try to attend to the needs of students in the classroom and those Zooming in. But I give up a lot sitting in front of a screen, physically detached from my students. My career has been about life-on-life investment, and as hard as I try to make the online experience seamless for my students, it is not the same. Am I being selfless, or is it just evident to me that the experience of being a professor without human contact is, for me, a lifeless one, and less worth doing?

I have often told my students, “If you can’t self-regulate, you WILL be regulated.” I certainly know people who will wear a mask only under force of rule, and complaining all the while. But it is pretty clear at this point that the only thing that can make this fall semester happen the way we want it to is for students and faculty to self-regulate at uncomfortable levels. Around here, we call that selfless service.

Can we do it? Who knows? I know that I will be washing my hands every time I walk by a bathroom, and soaking my paper cuts in hand sanitizer constantly. (Again, I’m an accountant.) I have the equivalent of a “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign on my office door. I have an assortment of masks for every occasion, from N-95 on down to casual dinner wear. The last thing I want to do is bring this scourge home to the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, and not just because I will be relegated to a distant room (or a tent outside) for two weeks. Protecting her is all that really matters.

It is hard to know how much I will resemble last year’s Dr. Shaub as I go back in the classroom. I feel like a bit of an imposter. But if it protects her, I am okay with that. Whoever I am, I am hopeful, and strangely happy, about this opportunity. I want to do the things I can to prolong it, and I want my students to have fun learning along the way.

But who am I to criticize them for being risk-seeking? My presence with them says that they are not alone. Here’s hoping we are all able to self-regulate sufficiently to prolong the joy that comes from the beauty that is the university classroom.


Explore my recent post “100” and the news story it prompted on KBTX.com.

 

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Politics, Society, Texas A&M

In the midst of a pandemic that has made me more risk averse than I have ever been, I am witness to a standard of longevity that stands as a monument to tenacity and grace. This week, my Dad, who survived Iwo Jima among a series of Pacific battles that engaged the 4th Marine Division, will turn 100.

When I was growing up, my chain-smoking Dad was the last person I would have thought would live to a ripe old age. I am pretty confident that I never saw my Dad participate in athletic activity when I lived at home, unless you count yelling at Little League umpires. He never worked out between the ages of 30 and 70. He was not careful about what he ate or drank. He was just my Dad, and not anyone you would think of as an icon.

Today, he is one of the most popular people on the third floor of the Isle at Watercrest, still getting around with his walker and, whenever possible, refusing help. But for the last four months, this has been invisible to us, and we have relied on others to provide all of his care and comfort. We are the outsiders, banned from visiting because of the COVID threat to residents.

I would give anything to sit across the room from him in the reading chair that I bought when he moved here a year and a half ago. We would have a meandering conversation about life in Pennsylvania shooting rabbits with his father, or coming of age in Baltimore, or the war. None of the discussion would involve politics or the Astros, as it might have a decade or less ago.

We would look at pictures of Mom on the wall, gone three decades now, but very much alive in his heart still. Next year Linda and I will pass the number of years given to my parents together, but I can guarantee you that the fire still burns bright for my Dad, and it gives me hope that we can continue to kindle something that our kids and grandkids will use in the years ahead to warm their lives.

The pictures in his room also include frozen moments in time of my parents just after the war, and then with one, two, and three children. The last of these is my first birthday, on the porch in Baltimore in my Mom’s arms with me wearing a classic birthday hat, with my two older brothers looking mildly disinterested. I have not seen these pictures for four months because of COVID. But I see them clearly in my mind, and they connect me to my Dad in ways that are hard to describe.

One day, I suppose, similar pictures will hang above my recliner in a similar place, telling a story of days already long ago in which my life was formed and shaped. And my children and grandchildren will, I hope, visit long enough to have that unique mixture of sadness and sweetness that goes with encountering life at the stage where the battery is flashing.

But amidst the long, slow decline, we have this amazing moment. 100. How could it be that he could have gotten to this point, and that he still acts as if the road goes on forever? This man who has witnessed over 40 percent of the history of our nation, who was born just after World War I and the flu pandemic and while Woodrow Wilson was still president, soldiers on in the summer of COVID. And he does it without a single visitor, though we are chomping at the bit to be with him.

All the cultural battles being fought today are the culmination of history he has witnessed. When I was young, it felt like I could never make him happy. Now, he never complains, unless you try to help him. When I talk to him, one of his most common phrases is, “So be it.” It is a mix of resignation and contentment. After Mom died, he spent almost thirty years alone in the home I grew up in. I suppose he is as prepared as anyone I know to be alone in this pandemic, and I am pretty certain that he is content with the periodic visits throughout the day from his caregivers.

But, if I am being honest, I am not. I want to see my Dad, and hug his neck, and let him know face-to-face how much I love him. I almost never talk to him without him telling me how proud he is of me. How many men my age are hearing that? How many men of any age are hearing that?

I have the voice of my father telling me I am worthwhile for one more day. I do not take this day for granted.

I love you, Dad. Here’s to you. 100.

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Religion, Society, Texas A&M

Updated 12/4/2019 11:24 AM with scholarship information at end.

There are times along the road of life that we are given to cynicism. In my world, that cynicism can come from following closely the stories of people in the business world, and in the accounting profession, who live on the edge ethically. They deflect criticism and offer a litany of excuses when they wrong others or take their money. They largely avoid punishments they deserve, and they move on to hurt others in similar ways. There are days when I wonder if there is any hope of changing the environment my students will go into in the business world.

And then you meet someone like Maegan Sanders. Raised in a family deeply rooted in its faith, in a close-knit community, the kind of small town that sends its best to Texas A&M. A gentle, effervescent soul who could dominate you intellectually, but refuses to make you feel small. Maegan is the kind of person you design exams around; the goal is not to challenge her, but to see if you can create an exam on which she will not make 100.

She has been a presence in these halls even before she was in these halls, the precious daughter of a colleague who shapes some of the very best of our Accounting students with the information technology skills that put them in high demand on the market. Her mom is one of the most influential members of our faculty, and I have spent the entirety of my 13+ years here officed in the same hallway, watching her children go in and out of her door as they became formative Aggies.

Maegan hit the ground running here, accelerating through Business Honors into our Professional Program in Accounting (PPA), and she was headed out the door next May to work for Ernst & Young in San Antonio, and to begin her new life with her beloved fiancé. Last Sunday her life was cut short in a moment on a too busy holiday highway.

The tragic accident that took Maegan and her brother, Wesley, from us is the type of event that could make us cynical as well. The unexplainable is often the root of doubt and despair. A decade ago we lost one of our very best in the Professional Program in a similar sudden and unexplainable way, and I am affected by that seeming injustice to this day.

But I also see in these tragedies the hope that springs from faith and from community, and from a life well-lived, whether for 22 or 92 years. I received word of the accident barely 48 hours ago, and yet I have seen an outpouring of love and commitment from the Aggie family and from the students in our program that humbles me. Within hours a 24/7 prayer vigil for the family was launched by PPA students that is continuing at this moment. Money for an urgent need was raised through a Venmo outreach—in 20 minutes. A scholarship is being established to remember Maegan and Wesley, and Aggies from all over are asking how they can be a part.

I try with everything in me to teach and to model a life worth living in the business world. And then someone like Maegan Sanders enters my classroom, already living the joint life of technical excellence, even brilliance, and unquestioned integrity. I wonder exactly how God puts together a person like that.

I can give you a clue. In my Accounting Ethics class, my students are required to develop principles to guide their professional lives. Maegan’s first and last principles came from the same source—her mom. “Always listen to your little voice.” That little voice was “built and sculpted by the way I was raised,” Maegan wrote. And the second principle that was her guiding force in the voice of her mother was this: “Just be nice. It’s as simple as that.”

Tonight I will attend the visitation, and tomorrow the funeral, for two precious lives taken too soon. I will wear something green for Wesley, and yellow for Maegan, as the family has requested. And as I sit there, I will listen to my little voice. It is the same little voice that told me to write this.

And then tomorrow, in the challenges that go with directing a program and caring for aging parents, I will try to remember to just be nice. Because, in the end, it’s as simple as that.

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The Accounting department has created a scholarship endowment in memory of Maegan and Wesley Sanders. Income from the endowment will be used to provide an annual scholarship for an outstanding accounting major and to help create a lasting legacy for Maegan and Wesley. If you would like to contribute to this fund, please visit the Texas A&M Foundation page and choose The General Memorial Fund.  Under gift details, check the box in honor of someone special, select “In Memory” of “Maegan and Wesley Sanders” for the “Memorial Scholarship” and notify “The Sanders Family”. For information on where to send checks, please email ppa@tamu.edu. Thank you.

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Religion, Texas A&M

On this August day, the University of Nebraska at Omaha flags fly at half-mast for a man whose heart was as beautiful as his mind. David Swanson could have done any number of things with that extraordinary intellect. What he chose to do was to quietly make life better for thousands of Nebraskans by investing himself in a critical role that impacted its university system. It is not the kind of thing that engenders a hero’s respect in most people’s eyes. But then Dave is not most people.

David SwansonI met David when I was a young professor at Nebraska, about the time he married Ronda. He was a bike-riding graduate student who thought on a different plane. As they grew into their marriage and encountered parenthood, our friendship blossomed. Linda and I were hopelessly overwhelmed with three, and then four, children, so we welcomed their curiosity and their practical help.

He loved the Twins. The first two times I typed that, it came out “loves” as if my fingers couldn’t type the past tense. He loved them stupidly, like a child, against all evidence, the way I love the Orioles. I still remember a camping trip our families took together, our boys tossing the baseball back and forth as proxies for us. My last memory of Lincoln before leaving for good is a whiffle ball game at his son’s first birthday party.

He loved the Huskers, too, even through a long period of gradual decline after three national championships. But even in frustrating times, he could always laugh at the irony of decisions that were being made. He had a lightness to his heart that did not, with rare exception, allow the blows of life to drive him to despair.

And so he served as a sort of flotation device for many, including me, a combination of humor and relentless rationality that kept us from sinking too deep. He was not just rational about science and math, but he understood the rational implications of the faith in Christ he so boldly proclaimed for all the years I knew him.

Right now I am emotional and dazed at this tragic and seemingly pointless loss. And then I start thinking of him talking to me in that uniquely nasal tone I could immediately identify if I heard it in a crowded room. He is finishing every other sentence with a rat-a-tat laugh that says, “What did you expect?” It is not a cynical question.

So much of our lives as believers is ironic. What would make Dave and me friends? How would we both marry above ourselves to women who, though born a decade apart, cannot seem to get enough of being together? Dave and I would have been stuck with each other even if we had not found so much to like in each other. But I cannot remember spending five minutes in David Swanson’s presence without laughing, even in the bad times.

You don’t lower a flag to half-mast for Ph.D. types who are computer gurus, but on the day I write this, they are lowering it for Dave. He would be laughing and saying, “Are you kidding me?” No, dear friend, we’re not. You have lived a life worthy of that. You have made a meaningful impact on so many, one life at a time, not just one professional accomplishment at a time. What you could do with your mind gave you access to our hearts. And your unselfish devotion to each of us, to your family, and to your Lord is the reason we feel not just regret, but pain, in losing you.

I know you are hearing even better commendations now. But I wanted you to hear it from me, too. Well done, beloved friend.

Related: Two funds set up to support Swanson family

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Religion, Society, Texas A&M

My wife and I were walking up from the beach together, past a house that had a pickup truck whose bass speakers were sufficient to physically rattle the windows of our house across the street. I looked over at the truck, and an older man (and, by that, I mean younger than me) shouted at his daughter to turn the music down out of consideration for us. Her immediate reply to him before complying was, “They were young once!”

Indeed they were. Once they held hands and talked of a future together. He whispered in her ear and she giggled and pulled away, only to have him gently grab her arm and pull her back to him. He looked in those clear blue eyes and felt his heart fly away to places he never knew existed. He wooed her as a college student and married her right after. They spent restless nights sleeping in an unairconditioned house with a box fan whirring in a window and a baby in the next room. They spent a dozen years living in more than that many homes, stopping and starting a career in fits and spurts until a Ph.D. program spat out a professor equipped with an inquisitive mind, two more kids and that same blue-eyed girl. Those three kids grew to five, and the seasons flew by, hardly noticed. Life for them was a continuum, pulsing from one stage to another until all those kids were gone and the grandkids had long since begun arriving.

Only then did it begin to occur to them that they might be growing old. That they—that he—might be on the backside of his usefulness. He noticed that more of his questions were “why” and fewer of them were “how.” It was not that he just didn’t remember as much; he didn’t understand as much. Because as you get older, while still in the continuing desperate pursuit of those things you never comprehended, you realize that you are quickly being caught from behind by those things that you never knew to ask about, as well as those things you no longer understand. Those deep consternations reflect themselves not just in your specific discipline or expertise, but in music and art and culture and religion. They are accelerated by changes in technology, but they are not a result of it. All generations have faced this inevitable passage in their own ways.

I sit on the cusp of freedom and despair. My life today is the opportunity to finish strong, to fulfill many of my hopes and to see so many good things happen in the lives of those I love. It is the chance to pass the baton on to the next generation, which has already begun accelerating in the exchange lane. In fact, they are quite quickly matching my speed, which is necessary for a successful handoff.

But it is also a recognition that my contribution, my leg of the race, is reaching its end. I am still running hard, and I have to in order to keep up with them. But not for long.

There is a reason I am not running the anchor leg, and that is because I am not the fastest runner. But I have done my best on my leg. I am free to enjoy, in the not too distant future, the rest of the race from the infield. The despair comes in knowing that soon, all that will be left for me to do is cheer.

My Dad turns 99 this month. In his room hangs the picture of a confident 26-year-old, with his civilian arms wrapped around my Mom’s waist after having survived both the worst of the Pacific War and two years apart from her. The whole world lies before them—like us, a return to school, five kids, and a career of the mind. They were young once. Today, he wonders where she has gone.

The pickup truck just pulled back into the neighbor’s driveway, the speakers booming life, the future, possibilities. The guy on the porch across the street from that pickup truck watches, reflecting on what it is to have meaning and confidence without youth. He knows deep in his heart that he is one of the lucky ones, still stimulated by a meaningful job that includes the opportunity to teach, and to be influenced by, a remarkable group of college students who continue to make him feel young. And to still be carried away by those gorgeous blue eyes not just to unseen places, but to memories built together, full of whimsy and wonder.

They were young once. And, to be honest, perhaps more often than you think, they still are. The immeasurable gift of a lifetime together is hard to top, even by the highest highs of youth.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to go back and try.

Categories: Blogs, Bottom Line Ethics, Business, Family, Friends, Society, Texas A&M

I often write about establishing and maintaining values, but I rarely speak about passing on values. Last weekend afforded me a remarkable opportunity to observe what values have been passed on to my children, and made me reconsider who I need to be today. My wife and I gathered with our five children to attend a University of Nebraska home football game, something we had not done since I was an assistant professor there 20 years ago.

The trip allowed me to wrestle with what it is to be content, to look regret in the eye and stare it down. But mostly, it made me thankful for what I had then, and for what I have now. And it helped me to focus on three things I hope will guide me in the last third of my life.

photo

Remember the Past

Our trip to Lincoln included a tour of old sights, including homes, schools and restaurants that were important to us. We were able to renew faithful friendships that have endured through the years and have significant conversations with people important to us. We laughed at old memories as a family, some that were triggered just by driving by a location. We searched in the half-light of dusk to find a brick on campus dedicated to my mother shortly after she died. I wrestled far less with regrets and mistakes than I might have expected, perhaps because there was such joy in what we were doing together as a family, and in part because I am so happy doing what I do today.

Embrace the Present

I soaked up every moment of 36 hours I spent with people, drinking long and deeply of relationships. Everywhere we went, from our first night’s dinner with old friends to the last gathering of 25 of us for pizza after the football game, was rich with laughter and remembrances. We were even witnesses to a Hail Mary miracle touchdown on the game’s last play that secured victory for the home team and set off bedlam in the stadium. The word serendipity came to mind.

Anticipate the Future

My wife and I became empty nesters less than three months ago after 35 years of children at home, and we are still navigating what it means for it to be just the two of us. Recent health challenges in our family have reminded us of the brevity of life and of how important it is to live each day fully. But while we cannot insure a life free of pain, we can live with anticipation that the ways that we have invested our lives over the last three-and-a-half decades will bear fruit in beautiful ways. I couldn’t help but think that was true as I stared at my precious 3-year-old granddaughter who was on the trip, and thought of her brother and two cousins. I have lived to see – and enjoy – my children’s children.

But I said this column was about passing on values, and these are the values I observed in my children. First, people are more important than things. The kids sacrificed financially in significant ways to be there, and there was not a note of regret that this might have been as expensive a trip as they had taken on a per-hour basis. Second, listening is more important than telling. I looked around the room at Valentino’s Pizza’s party room and saw all my children engaged in deep conversation, just as their mom was. (Obviously I wasn’t, since I was looking around the room.) I think they realized that some of these conversations were ones they might not have the opportunity to enjoy again.

And, importantly, remembering where you come from matters. My children have attended five different universities, and they have each developed their own allegiances, just as I have. But there was a time when we all wore the same color on Saturdays, when we were together in every sense. Our two youngest, one of whom was born in Lincoln and one just after we left, were able to experience for a few hours something of what that unity felt like. Nebraska didn’t give us our faith or our core values, but our older children will say it is where we became, fully, a family. And this trip was a tip of our cap to that place, to that time and to those people.

There is no place I would rather be today than Aggieland, but last weekend I was reminded that there was a different place that helped shape my children into who they are today. In remembering, I found myself overflowing with gratitude.

Categories: Bottom Line Ethics, Family, Friends, Texas A&M

One of the most frequently encountered questions for an ethics professor is the basic one: “Can you teach ethics?” This, of course, is mildly threatening if you are a self-interested prof whose very role depends on the answer to that question being “yes.” How can anyone teaching ethics answer that question objectively? I think that there are good reasons to believe that you can teach ethics. First, if you cannot, it is virtually the only realm of education that is held to be unteachable. Second, if you examine the argument, what people are really saying is that you cannot teach ethics “up”; everyone knows that you can teach ethics “down,” as evidenced by the extensive cheating reported in colleges and the failures in business ethics that insure that I always have a job doing what I do.

I find myself in the awkward position of saying that ethics are not fully formed when students get to college, so they can be taught. That makes me uneasy, because I would prefer that they would be fully formed. But if they are not fully formed, it is quite possible that they are well formed when they get to college. By that I mean that a student is sensitive to what is right and wrong, and that student reaches informed judgments based on a defensible structure for ethical decision-making. I also mean that person has the moral motivation to do the right thing when it would be easy to choose otherwise, and then has the strength of character to follow through and actually do the right thing.

The best evidence of that to me is the picture above, which includes the three men in my life who are most important to me, my father and my sons. My dad, Ken, is an Iwo Jima veteran, and at 92 is still my hero. He taught me many things, but two of the most valuable were that hard work and commitment to my calling was my daily responsibility, and that there was no substitute for honesty. I wish that I could say that I saw those two things reflected in my life. But somehow, for all my shortcomings, I see them reflected clearly in my sons.

Kenny, my father’s namesake, is six years out of college and on the fast track with his multinational corporation. In fact, he is about to launch out on a significant career opportunity overseas that will take him far from us. Of course, I am happy for his successes. But I admire his quiet determination to work with uncompromising excellence, and to lead in the same way. I know that, day after day, he rises early in the morning to meet his commitments, and I have never heard him make excuses in the midst of trying circumstances. In fact, he has spent a good piece of his young career supervising people my age and trying to help them adopt the same commitment to excellence that he pursues. In all of this, he adds energy to any group of friends with his happy spirit and sense of humor. When he comes home, he demonstrates tremendous compassion and kindness to his younger siblings and his parents, and he takes a genuine interest in our lives.

Nathan, ten years younger, works just as hard. But I admire his focused search for truth, and his willingness to confront hard questions and to be uncomfortable in that search. He does not accept things at face value, and he has a habit of examining his own motives for why he does things. I think that will serve him well in the long run as he tries to maintain his character when he leaves home. He looks up to Kenny for many things, including his work ethic and his energy. No foosball table is safe when those two are on opposite handles, and Thanksgiving has been a stream of shouts and laughter as they have played together.

We will send Nathan off to the college classroom of someone like me. Nathan’s values, if not fully formed, are very well formed. And he is teachable. My hope is that his ethics professor will activate that search for truth and not undermine it.

But as I look at the picture above, I see the imprint of my father in my sons. My Dad was not a perfect guy; neither am I, and neither are my sons. But he is a man of integrity who has demonstrated lifelong commitment—to his family, to his work, to my mother. He has given my sons a great gift of which they are only partly aware.

Can you teach ethics? Yes. My father is living proof. It may not come with an assigned catalog number or classroom. But, life on life, we change those who are important to us. And I am grateful that one more time, last night, my sons were able to hear his voice and see his face.

I only hope he has a sense of how his life will reverberate in the generations to come.

Categories: Family

In the biorhythm of the academic year, this time of year ties together all the loose ends, providing a sense of finality. Next week I will attend graduation again. This must be how my daughter, who is a pediatrician, feels when she attends a child’s birth. It is incredibly unique to the participants, but the doctor has seen this before. Actually, Linda and I have already attended nine graduations of our own children, and we likely have at least three more to attend, the Lord willing.

This does not count all the graduations I have attended in my 22 years as a professor. They have varied in size and approach, but I am taken by how the people involved always embrace the event. In my first academic stop, I was not a fan of attending what seemed an impersonal exercise. In my second job, all faculty members were required to attend graduation and, since there were only about 100 of us, you would be noticed if you didn’t. Faculty would wait at the end of the stage for students from their discipline to walk off, and the students would go through a receiving line of handshakes and hugs. It was a very personal experience, usually held on the college lawn in May. It is one of the reasons that parents spend inordinate amounts of money to send their kids to small liberal arts schools.

As everyone knows, the ceremonies themselves are inordinately boring, almost without fail. Because of the size of the graduation, Texas A&M hosts the keynote speaker at a commencement convocation on Thursday prior to the five graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. This shortens the graduation ceremony considerably, but it also removes virtually all hope that anything memorable will be said. But this does not mean that the ceremony is unimportant.

If Muster is what brings us back and holds us together, graduation is what propels us forward. For students, it is the uncertain embracing of responsibility, a little like cliff diving when you are not exactly sure how deep the water is. For those of us who invest in these students, it is a bittersweet goodbye to conversations in the hallway and the classroom, and a recognition that we are largely unnecessary to our students’ future successes. This is healthy, because there are others who need our investment. To linger too long regretting our losses is to miss the opportunity to invest our lives again.

This morning at Starbucks I saw Jessica, who is two years removed from this place that she loves, early in her marriage and motoring forward with her accounting firm. It brightened my day to see her face. But it heartened me even more to hear that she is investing her life in ministering to the homeless in Dallas through her church, even while she assumes substantial responsibility running jobs at the firm. She is not simply pursuing wealth and building business skills; she is investing in people and leading, inside and outside the work environment.

Last weekend Linda, Nathan and I drove to central Oklahoma to meet our older son, Kenny, at a state park. We spent our time together hiking and playing games but, more than anything, we laughed. It was a celebration of life, both life as we knew it and life as it is. Our boys are ten years apart in age. One still needs us, to some extent, and the other one doesn’t. One has gone on to greater things, the other aspires to greatness.

Still, it is clear to me how important it is to plug back in, to recharge, and to remember. It would be sad for Kenny if he did not have a place to return to where he is loved unconditionally, not based on his performance as a line manager in a Cessna plant. It would also be sad if he had not moved forward into his life apart from us. We pray the same will be true for his younger brother, and we are grateful for how Kenny reaches out to mentor Nathan in making the transition, while affirming him in who he is as a high school sophomore.

We have seen this happen before with our children, but we are reaching the end of watching these transitions. On the other hand, as long as I have the privilege of entering the university classroom, I will watch this process repeat itself with my students. I will cheer from the bleachers for them, and I will pose for a few pictures afterwards. I will rejoice in the celebration of their accomplishments.

I will watch them walk across that stage, and down the steps, and into a world that desperately needs people of character who will invest themselves in others. I will watch them walk forward confidently, but not without a glance over the shoulder to remember what this place has provided them.

Because, on a May Saturday in a place like this, walking forward into the waiting world is exactly what you ought to do.

Categories: Family

​Today I sat across the picnic table from a gorgeous, blue-eyed girl who had fixed me a fancy sandwich and snicker doodles. She proceeded to recite the second chapter of I Peter from memory, pausing only for one conjunction. Impressive. All that, and good-looking, too.

​She memorized that because it is important to her, the way she knows the birthday of every living human being who has come into contact with us in the last 33 years. She knows what gift she gave you, and she rightly expects that I ought to remember what gifts others gave me.

​I, on the other hand, remember Jim Gentile’s important batting statistics from 1961. No one else remembers Jim Gentile. I remember where I was sitting, and who I was sitting with, and how cold I was at the 1974 A&M-Texas game. I remember K.C. and the Sunshine Band. But I also remember the anniversary of my first date with the World’s Most Beautiful Woman. And I remember being 22 and staring through the glass at the most glorious sight I had ever seen, my baby girl, as I left the hospital at 2 a.m. with my last two dollars in my pocket.

​My office is gradually transitioning from a place of pictures and gifts from my children into a shrine to grandkids. But there are still important memories in this place. Behind my desk is a small plaque from one of my first students that says, “A Loving Teacher Makes Learning a Joy.” There is a picture taken by a photographer of me on another campus walking across the street with my two youngest children when they were small. I have an aquarium hanging up made out of two paper plates, and a picture of all five kids in the backyard in Michigan. The class of 1998 at Hillsdale College, one of whom just made partner at a major accounting firm, is on my file cabinet. I even have the radio I listened to in high school.

​There is a significant need within each of us to remember the things that matter. It seems that this longing only grows as our capacity for it diminishes. I find that my wife is generally a superior judge of what ought to be remembered, because she has a better sense of what are truly the permanent things. But we both have to work harder than we used to at remembering.

​I have also found that it is very important to people to be remembered. I think I underestimated early in my career how important it was to my students that I know who they were. When you teach 250-300 students a year, and when those students love to come back to campus to remember, and to recruit people to their firms, it is a challenge to always have names on the tip of your tongue. But it would be naïve of me to think that it doesn’t matter whether or not I try.

​The traditions at Texas A&M are centered around remembering. We remember E. King Gill as the 12th Man stands ready to take the field, if necessary, on fall Saturdays. Every month we remember the current students we have lost at Silver Taps. Elephant Walk, Final Review, and, in former days, Bonfire, have evoked emotions in Aggies as accumulated history washes over each person’s personal experience with this place. And its graduates wear a ring like no other, proudly earned and warmly extended to others, as the ultimate sign of a common bond of memories.

​I say all this because tonight I will attend what is perhaps the finest of Aggie traditions, Muster. It seems ironic that it falls on Holy Thursday: “Do this in remembrance of me.” I will go to remember, and to celebrate the lives of those who have gone on before us. I may not feel the need to call out “Here!” as I have in another year. But I will be there. And I will remember.

Categories: Family, Texas A&M

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