Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina...

These 4 years were an important part of my life and, I think, of my children's life, since they always have expressed good memories of this period. Especially my son. For me, it was a major challenge: to develop a market and a product, and to structure a successful marketing/sales network with a different and new idea to that market, at that time.


Buenos Aires, Argentina… Circa Spring 1989

It was a cold, gray morning. Spring in BsAs is our fall; the city falls deeply into the southern latitudes.  It is a beautiful, sprawling city of some 12 Million inhabitants spreading inland from the borders of the Rio Plata, one of the largest in South America; the long avenue along the river, called “Costanera” traditionally harboring a long succession of restaurants and now also stores, tourist attractions and apartment complexes.

Our family had lived in BsAs now for some two and a half years, after a brief one year stint in Santiago, Chile. The purpose of my being brought to BsAs had been to establish a retirement insurance company for a group of, initially, around 14 banks. There was a major market for this in South America. Most countries were now following the early lead from Chile’s govt. giving the working class an option to invest in a private retirement plan, putting aside the public plan which was, in most countries, bankrupt. This created a knowledge vacuum in some of these countries, since the local executives who, at that time knew of this type of insurance, its structuring, the needed marketing and subsequent sales management was limited, and quickly gobbled up by the existing consortiums. Therefore, for the newcomers, it was imperative to “import” someone who had some of these experiences. This worked to my advantage; my stay in Chile had been far from positive; that may be a post for another opportunity.

One morning in early 1987, an Argentinean friend whom I had met in one of the many seminars I had presented along the way, came to visit my office in Santiago, Chile, where I had been for about one year. He was an independent insurance broker in BsAs and also had his hands into the ownership of a couple of companies. 

-“Hey Rafa… How are you doing my friend?”
-“Want the honest truth?” I answered… then added: -“I need to get out of here before I kill someone”.

He knew me and knew I was not prone to exaggerate matters on topics like these. He got up, went to the door and closed it, returning to his seat.
-“What goes?” he asked.

In an abbreviated version, all that had happened in the short 11 months I had been there was put on the table. At the time of his visit, I was in a catch-22 situation: could not resign, because then all repatriating expenses for a family of 5 would be borne by me… the regional VP would not terminate me, because he would then have to explain to the HO why this had happened, and when all were known, it would not look very good for him.

He said: -“You know… those of us in the business who know you and know your VP, were taking bets on how long he would be able to have someone who had the capacity of overshadowing him, as his second in command …”
-“Well”, I answered… -“Let me know who wins the bet”.

He smiled and said:
-“More importantly, is what we can do about it”…  -“I am the consultant for a group of bankers in the process of putting together a retirement company in BsAs…” then, after a minute or so, he asked: -“Would you consider going in as the GM of the company?”

-“When would we start?” was my answer.

-“Give me 3 days, and you will receive an invitation to meet with the board”.

Good to his word, on Friday morning a big manila envelope was received. My "personal" secretary (chosen personally by the VP, therefore not trustworthy to my interests) wanted to open it, but it was sealed and marked "Personal, only to be opened by addressee"; she was frustrated in her efforts to peek at the contents. In it, there were a round trip ticket to BsAs, leaving Friday late afternoon (it is only a one hour flight) and returning on Sunday late morning, a schedule for the meeting on Saturday morning and dinner that night, a hotel reservation and last, but not least, $400 for personal expenses.

Enough for today...  The original thoughts for this entry were quite different. However, when the time came to sit and write, this came into my head and, of the other topic... nothing at all. So, Buenos Aires it is.

Be Well... Be Back

RJA

Friday, May 20, 2011

Housecleaning and Fathers too...

Actually wrote this about a week ago. Then went away to a training program and this gave me a chance to look at it again, re-read and make some minor changes. My father was a good man; in life, this is often less important than circumstances, and so it was with us and what might have been our childhood relationship. He was somewhat of an agnostic but, at the end, I think he accepted there may actually be a greater beyond. I hope he found the answers to the philosophical and spiritual questions he spent most of his latter life asking...   He is missed.

It struck me that not much, other than what pertained to my brief Puerto Rico chapter, has been written about my father. There can be many valid reasons for this unintentional silence: late relationship in life, perceived childhood abandonment, relatively few years of actually dealing with each other. Yet, as my thoughts went around and around this concept, they began to key in on the fact that he was, by no applicable measure, a bad man. In fact he was a kind, romantic, non confrontational person who enjoyed doing many things and who, by virtue of this multifaceted enjoyment, often failed to meet the more rigorous daily parameters of being a “productive” person, as measured by others.  Responsibilities were met whenever possible, but the failure to do so would not be life threatening. I understand, I think my personality has definitely inherited some of these traits, along with a relatively short attention span and, as my life gets on into its latter years, a short patience span as well. This last, however, cannot be placed at his feet.

He died some 6 years ago, at around 81- 83 years of age (he hated to give away his true age, but this is a good approximation). A combination of diabetes coupled with a Cuban diet (not the best for this condition), an incipient emphysema due to many years of smoking (he had quit some years before, but after at least having pushed cigarette smoke into his lungs for some 50 years) and, I believe, a feeling of late life loneliness.  He loved to read; write songs and poetry, play the guitar and, of late, a small electric piano we gave him for Christmas a couple of years before his death. His voice was that of a baritone and, at his age, he could still belt a good song, loud and clear. Do I sound somewhat aloof in this description? Perhaps, but I do not meant to be so.

When we first met in PR, back in the 60’s, we talked at length about what kind of possible relationship we could have; one we could both wear –so to speak- and which would be a comfortable fit. We decided to give ourselves a chance to become friends, which we did. I began to know him better each day and began to actually see myself in many of his character traits, even though we had ever known each other in my growing years. We both loved to dream, to hope, refused to give in or up, we enjoyed music until all hours, and both –each in our own way- were hardheaded in the pursuit of a goal which we really, truly wanted to accomplish. Perhaps I a little more than him. We both also had an issue with receiving orders from anyone, even those who may have had the right to give them. I still have a big issue with this, and probably will ‘till the day I die.

After PR, we did not see each other for many years, in fact, only one or two times in almost 30 years, until I came to Miami after having lived in Chile and Argentina for almost 5 years. He and Laura (his second wife and mother of my brother Fernando)had divorced by then, and he was living alone in a small apartment in Miami’s little Havana area.  We were both older and somewhat wiser, and I better understood that not all in life is as it may seem to be. Having gone though two marriages myself, all possible thoughts of blame for that long ago divorce from my mother, were thrown aside. We also knew that time left was becoming shorter; he had already passed 70 years by this time. Besides his always present love of philosophy, music and poetry, he was also a prolific painter, and some of the canvasses were quite good. Every week there would be a shindig going on at one of his cronies’ homes and there he would be with his guitar and his dancing shoes. The times I could go with him, I went and actually enjoyed these outings; we did get to sing some duos now and then, with him carrying the heavier load.

These were better years for our relationship. We opened the gates and talked about many issues which may have been hanging in our minds and hearts; we discussed some of the things that made him leave Cuba so many years ago; things I was never aware of. He also told me how he always kept up with us (my sister and I) through friends, both in and out of Cuba; this is how he had come to know I was in Richland. We became more like older/younger brother at this stage; I truly looked forward to our visits, our conversations and his counsel, which he was not prone to give freely. Eventually, the illness stopped him from being able to go out and he became, more and more, tied to a great reclining stuffed chair which my brother Fernando had bought for him. He could not lie down, for he might not be able to physically get up; this chair became his world.  As time went on, a wistful look would come over him whenever we would talk about those things he liked; many of which were beyond his grasp at this time. But he never complained; all that came his way was accepted and he would make the most out of it; whatever it might be.

As I had learned much from my grandfather, the man whom I consider my childhood father, I came to learn from this other man, my true father. A deep bond was established between us, a trusting bond. We came to love each other in a very special manner, although that lifelong father/son relationship could never really be established. But in reality, we did not miss this.

One afternoon I received a call to let me know that he had been taken to the hospital; some complications had set in. His blood had been compromised and his kidneys were not responding. My brother came from PR, where he lives and we, along with our aunt, took turns to be with him. He seemed to be doing better; in fact, he seemed improved at times. But in reality, these moments were like the calm at the center of the storm, before the other wall slams you down.

One night, at about 10:30pm I was there and watching a Cowboys football game. He was in and out due to the heavy sedating meds for his pain. Dallas, as it had too often done, was losing; my father was a long term fan of this team and my brother, by early education, a life long fan. I was beginning to doze off and suddenly a booming voice behind me, catching me totally by surprise, said
–“QUIEN ESTA GANANDO CHICO?” - ”WHO IS WINNING BOY?”

I damn near fell off my chair and turned around to see a guy almost sitting up, looking at the TV and completely awake. I was surprised. When I told him about the status of the game, he just “harrumphed” and lied back on the bed. I took advantage of this, went over to his side and we started talking a bit, about nothing in particular. He suddenly said:
-“I don’t know if I am ready, but I think I’m near to finding out”
-“Ready for what?” I asked him, despite knowing what he meant.
- “the last step” he said to me.
-“Anything I can do to help you?” I asked him. Having dealt with life insurance for most of my adult life death is to me, a fact of life.
-“Not really” he said… then added: “you already have”.
We were silent for a while and then he said:
-“It is truly ironic that it is you who is with me at this time” he said… -“If someone would have said this to me years ago, that this would be so... I would have not believed it”… Then he added: -“I am glad it is so”.

Then, it was time to go; I lingered for a while, not wanting to really leave. Eventually I had to; he was not in an intensive care room so visiting hours, though stretched, were finite. I got up and went to his bedside, by his headrest. We held hands and said our goodnights and hugged each other, assuring we would see each other in the morning. Yet, when we looked at one another’ eyes, we both knew that this was “Good-Bye”, we parted with not much else being said.

He died peacefully in his sleep, at 3:00am that morning. Often I have thought about his comments, those regarding it being ironic that it would be me with him during those last few moments. I don’t think it ironic. In fact, I think it was what was meant to be.

I miss you Chacho; wherever you may be, know that you earned my love and respect.

Be Well... Be Back.

Selfishness... revisited.

Selfishness is an attitude... as with love, there is good and not good. This blog is about the good kind, strange as this concept may seem. It took me a lifetime to find this out and major changes in my life to accept and embrace the concept.


The life cycle is, unquestionably, fascinating. As we begin the process of growing up, we are sure that we know all there is… As we get older and grow into middle and then latter years we come to realize that the more experience we gather in our journey, the more we learn how little it is what we truly know. Interestingly, by simply accepting this basic fact, a person can grow in knowledge and understanding of life’s quirky ways.

These last four years have been watershed years for me. Funny, at age 64 (just received my Medicare card, to remind me that it will be 65 soon!!) one, I think, should be looking at a continuum, not at a new beginning. On the other hand, continuums tend to be boring; beginnings are fun… 

If I have to identify a start point to this period of time, it has to be the day I was informed that my prostate was hosting a number of unwelcome guests, in the form of rapidly multiplying cancer cells. When I was first told, my mind did a crude interpretation of that movie character who kept repeating the question: “Are you talking to me?” (was it DeNiro?) In other words, my mind sort of refused to accept this unwanted fact, even though a “friendly” prostate exam, followed by a not so “friendly” biopsy, confirmed this reality. I will not go into the subsequent mental dive I took (due in large part to these news and in other parts to personal issues going on at the time) during the next 4-6 months; that has been explored somewhere else in these blogs (I think; if not, maybe it will be fodder for a future blog). Suffice it to say that the time spent “in-between”, the several eventual procedures done to my body including the needed radiation treatments, and the different rehab times for each one of the areas treated, culminated on my having a new understanding and a new lease on life. For this, and many other blessings, I will always be extremely grateful.

My journey has not been unique. Millions have traveled the same or much worse roads; many have not been as lucky to make it through. What is about to be expressed here, only reflects my personal views; I cannot even attempt to talk on behalf of others. I am sure that each person who has gone through this road and survived to go on to more pleasant meanderings, has his/her own views.

Life moments (especially when they last 4 years) will change one in many ways. Some changes are direct and immediate; some are more subtle and will take longer to surface. For me, a very definite change of attitude is that I have come to understand that it is my duty to take care of my own needs before taking care of the needs of others, including those who may depend on me. This is a simple statement; its profound meaning and ramifications have taken me a lifetime to grasp and accept. To be able to express it out loud is only the result of these last four years. To some, this is a very selfish attitude. Sometime ago, it would have that connotation for me as well. Yet, this is the most unselfish manner in which to live and to be able to freely share my life and enjoy doing so. Why?

In order to share, I must first have. And we do not necessarily talk about material things here; those come and go with the tides. If my heart and life are empty, there is nothing for me to give, to share with someone else. On the other hand, if I have taken care to fulfill my own personal needs and have a life that is full and a heart which has plenty of joy and love, then I can truly share and make someone else feel loved,  happy and joyful. This is such a simple matter, and so difficult to accept. It goes against all that is drilled into us from the very beginning: think about others before thinking about your own needs. This is a living mantra which becomes, for many, a huge anchor that is dragged on through life.

If one is unhappy, one can only share unhappiness; if one is bitter, one can only share bitterness; if one is full of sacrifices, one can only share sacrifices and resentments; if one is an empty vessel, one can only share that terrible emptiness… or nothing at all.    

Go ahead. Without forgetting those things which are yours to do, take some time every day and think of yourself; fill your heart and your life with joy, with love and with blessings… then you will truly be able to unselfishly share these wonders with others around you.

Be Well!!   Be Back!!.

RJA

Saturday, May 7, 2011

NARNIA REVISITED; A CHILD'S IMAGINATION

All that can happen when a movie is watched.  A life scrolls by the mind's window and many questions are asked. I am not sure about the answers; these can only come from within each one of us.  

The Chronicles 0f Narnia” is a series which, much like “The Lord of The Rings”, “Dune” and a number of other such groupings, deals with the ever constant battle of evil vs. good. I have to confess, I am a sucker for these type of stories and books. In fact, I am a sucker for books. Period. The Baggins clan of Hobbiton is by far my favorite. Over the last 30 years, it has entertained me at least 18 times and has become a perennial read. This includes the “prequel” (in today's terms) of “The Hobbit” which is a must if the complete story is to be truly understood. J.R.R. Tolkien, along with other favorites, has become for me a symbol for imagination, creativity and, simply, tremendous writing. But most of these stories have been written for adults who enjoy the fantasy genre. What sets apart “Narnia”, is that C. S. Lewis wrote it for children; it develops in a much lighter overall mood but, always managing to keep the subject matter in a very direct and just as deep a level as the other renderings.

What am I now, a book Maven?? No, my credentials for that position are not credible. Besides, I would always end up writing a good review. My respect for someone who actually is able to put together 300++ pages of a created world in a coherent manner is just too great. This particular blog is about one's own reaction to a story which is meant to reach you at different levels.

Just finished watching “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”, the second movie made from the Narnia collection. Actually, this morning's viewing was the second one; last night was the first. If you are not aware of this collection, it centers around four children of a “normal” British family, around WWII, who get drawn into an “imaginary” world of adventure, mythical talking “beasts”, and people; a kingdom where they earn the position of “high” kings and queens and where their presence is needed only at times when that world is threatened by major evil and needs saving. After the deed is completed, they are returned by the sacred Lion Aslan to their normal lives (quite drab by comparison) where no time has passed at all, even though they may have “lived and battled” in the fantasy world for several months, or even years. There is one catch, and this is what sets these stories apart: as the children get older (in their own world) and their interests become more of the adult kind, they can no longer return to Narnia. It then becomes a longed for “child's fantasy” in their minds and memories,while the drudgery of every day life takes over.

People I know, who live with both feet firmly planted in the ground (and the preposition “in” is intentionally used here) often accuse me of being a dreamer. There was a time when this bothered me; yet, as my age advances into the “I-just-don't-care-what-anyone-thinks-of-me” stage, accepting that indeed I am a dreamer, has actually become an enjoyable position in which to be. All my life there has been a nagging argument within my own mind: why, as we get older (as in early adulthood), must we become serious minded, almost pathologically centered on the concept of daily chores and duties, responsibilities ad nauseatum, and all this coupled with the ever increasing need to show to everyone else that we are grown ups, even when we do not want to "act" the part.

There has always been in my mind a separate reality where it is accepted that imagination and dreaming is not only needed and wanted, but necessary for survival. Along the way, life throws a lot of surprise curves at us. Some of these are consequences of what we choose to do; others are actually caused by circumstances out of our control, including other people. I have to admit that being a “dreamer” has helped to at times sidestep, bend, sway and react in a manner which has allowed me to overcome, adapt and survive periods of extreme issues in my life, while others with their feet firmly “in” the ground have simply ended up with broken  ankles.

My question is then: “Why must we put aside what is an integral part of our lives as growing up children, just to accommodate what older, uptight people view as the “right” way to act? The wording of the usual warning to those of us who refuse to accept this, begets more questions... “Why don't you act your age?” My usual answer to what I consider a foolish question is: “Why should I act, when I can Be?”

Needless to say, this answer and attitude have earned me many a long and not very friendly stare... It is understandable that a person wants to live in his/her reality. But what cannot be acceptable, is that a “reality” which works for a group by giving them an imagined safety anchor in their lives, must be made into a norm for everyone. At this point it is no longer functional.

There is a song, by an Argentinean favorite folk writer/singer, Alberto Cortez, which is about this subject; although it is called "Castillos en el Aire"(Castles in the Air) it is commonly known as “The Idiot”. It's about a man who knows he can fly with the seabirds and build castles in the air. He is happy; he lives at peace and content. Yet, the “others” are afraid this state of happiness they do not understand, can be contagious... they force him to, as punishment, have common sense and act as everyone else... In the end, the message is that he is not an idiot for thinking he can be happy, but for thinking that others will accept him as he is while they must suffer through their daily drudgery...

So, gladly I accept the mantle of the Idiot... while it is true that day to day issues have to be managed, I also know I can fly, dance and see castles in the clouds; my dreams are reality, some have have come through, some are yet to happen, but they will. I can look forward to what is yet to be accomplished and not just simply look back and consider what was not done. It is my happiness to be able to sit through a child's movie not once, but twice, and enjoy it for what it is: a message which tells us that when you really try, you can do; that creativity, imagination, courage and perseverance are at the core of life. No matter how many years may have passed since you were a child; You can always be one at heart and truly enjoy every day.

Be Back... Be Well!!


Veterans Day

The working title for a space that should’ve been filled some time ago was “The Power of Words”. Although that “some time” seemed to be cont...