The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Happy Mondays …
October 2, 2023, 8:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Family, Fatherhood, Holiday, Jill, My Childhood, My Fatherhood, Otis

So I’m back.

And of all the trips I go on, this was one of the best.

In fact it was the best I’ve had since 2016.

Specifically June, 2016.

And why can I be that specific?

Because I wasn’t on a business trip, I was on a family holiday … our first since 2016.

OK … so when we first moved back to England we spent 4 days in a house in another part of England, 2 hours from where we lived … and we visited family in Australia a couple of times … but in terms of a ‘get-away-from-everything and everyone, have nothing to do and just hang out with each other’, this was the first one in 7 years.

There’s many reasons why it has been that long – all basically my fault – but it was magical.

Bizarrely it felt a bit like Covid.

Not the horrible parts of it, I mean the highly privileged version I got to have by being in the wonderful company of my wonderful family 24/7.

I’ve written a lot about how special that was for me. How utterly fortunate that was for me.

And while this family time lasted a fraction of covid time, it had the added benefit of having no expectations or commitments … other than check in with the folks staying in our house so we could see how Rosie and Sky were doing.

A break from everything is incredible.

Now, I admit, the impact of this wasn’t as big as my first ever New Zealand Christmas holiday – a time where most of the nation shuts down to ensure everyone enjoys a time of rest – it was pretty close.

I stepped away from all things work.

I was left alone by all things work.

And I was left with nothing to focus on but my family.

No agendas. No time limits. No interruptions.

Of course they deserve that and it shouldn’t take a holiday to do that.

And it doesn’t … but this was more than just together time, this was building new memories together time. I know, I sound like bloody Paula Abdul, but it was that wonderful to me. I mean … look at this photo I took.

Look at it … it’s bloody awesome. [the view, not the photo]

Of course it’s a privilege to be able to do this.

And I am under no illusion how lucky I was to be able to do this.

I remember as a kid, we didn’t have a holiday for 6 years. To be honest, I never realised it because we would go for day trips to places. But as I got older I realised the lack of a holiday was because they just didn’t have the cash and would rather use any money they saved to ensure I had what I needed.

God, my parents were amazing. I really hope they know how much I recognised that in them.

Now of course, you don’t have to go to another country to have ‘a holiday’, but I do think you have to be in a different place to where you live.

Maybe it’s why I resonated so much with something the writer Nora Ephron once said about things she’d miss once she’d died.

She said, “Few things are as special as dinner with friends in cities none of you live in”.

She’s right. There’s something so special about that.

And while she meant everyone at the table lived somewhere different, it works for families too.

After 7 years, I can say that with utter certainty.

I hope everyone has a chance to do that – but I know they don’t.

I hate how companies treat holidays as a ‘gift’ rather than a right.

Especially those who talk about unlimited holidays when we all know it’s a total scam.

If there’s unlimited holiday, then why do you ever have to come into the office?

Exactly … it’s a PR headline, not a reality.

Which is why I’m so grateful I got to embrace and enjoy it.

And I’m so sorry I’ve been the barrier to having more of it.

So thank you to my wonderful family for creating new memories for us all to enjoy.

As use of time goes, it’s one of the most productive of them all … which is far more than I can say about the next few days. Because I am back on a plane, but this time for work rather than family adventure. But on the bright side, at least everyone gets another holiday from me.

You’re welcome.

See you next week.

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It’s Not Your Fault Your Perspective Is Small. It Is Your Fault You Do Nothing About It …

OK … so yesterday I said the posts this week were all superficial shite, but that was until I read an article that has pissed me off.

Have a look at this headline:

On one side, it’s from the Daily Mail – so this sort of divisive headline is to be expected – but what made me especially angry is the daughter in question is not ‘rebellious’, she has dysgraphia and dyscalculia … so she finds writing, reading and maths incredibly difficult.

NOT because she isn’t smart or capable, but because she has a neurological condition so she learns in a different way to the one the education system is set up to teach.

To be fair to the school in this article, it sounds they tried to help … but it also sounds they were so stretched that the way they approached it was more about giving them time off school rather than adapting their approach to schooling.

I’ve written about this in the past given Otis has dysgraphia and his school has been active in trying to adapt to help. Even then it’s not been easy – or perfect – but at least Otis knows he’s seen, heard and valued … which is more than the woman in this article probably feels.

Imagine being neurodivergent and having a national newspaper refer to you as rebellious and having your own Mum be OK with that.

Worse, the Mum makes it all about her and ‘her struggles’.

Yes, it can be hard … and yes, it can be stressful … but it’s a fuck-of-a-lot worse for kids going through this sort of thing. They feel stupid. They feel left behind. They feel discarded and useless. So the last thing they need is a parent – and an education system – labelling them rebellious or lazy when what they’re dealing with is neurological. To make matters worse, this neurological challenge doesn’t impact their capacity to learn, just the way they do learn … so they have huge amounts of potential but with too few people wanting to see it, recognise it and liberate it.

This article could have been about the need to relook at how we educate. It could have been about the importance of needs rather than standardisation. It could have been about progress rather than judgement. Instead this ‘newspaper’ decided to write a piece that shows they view compassion and encouragement as weakness and unfairness.

Shame on them.

Shame on the mother for allowing this headline.

Shame on the people who commented negatively without understanding.

You have to be pretty fucking vile to be jealous some kids need special attention from their schools.

It’s not elitism you pricks, it’s dealing with an issue not of their making and helping them stand a chance of having a life that is bigger than the one people like you want for them.

Fuck you. All of you.

You’re welcome.

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Why Words Unlock The Secrets We Hold Deep Inside …

I’m back.

Kinda.

Hang in there, because this is going to be a longish post.

I should say the length is not just because I want to make up for the fact you had a whole week without being subjected to my rubbish … but because you’re getting another week.

No really.

You see by the time you read this, I’ll be in LA.

I know … I know … but it’s for work, honest.

OK, I admit I am looking forward to it because I not only get to see a bunch of mates, I get to do something with Mr Weigel as well. Which means it will be fun, regardless what happens. Certainly fun enough to miss my 16th Wedding anniversary on Friday, which – let’s be honest – is possibly the best present I could ever give Jill.

[Sorry my love, but we both know you will have forgotten, ha]

So as you get another week of peace, I thought I’d leave you with a big post.

But unlike my usual rubbish … this isn’t about strategy, Birkenstocks or Queen.

But it is about sentimentality and love. But not mine – for once.

You see a few weeks ago, I read an article in The Guardian by the author Katherine Heiny.

I don’t know why I read it.

I didn’t know Katherine or any of her work and the article was about her hard-of-hearing Dad … but despite all that, I did.

And I’m so glad.

It was wonderful.

A longish train ride that made stops at laughter, smiles and – at the very end – tears.

Because what Katherine had done so perfectly was capture the increasingly complex relationship we all have with our parents while also realising – hopefully before it’s too late – that for all their sometimes stubborn, stuck-in-their-way views and ways, we love them, admire them and respect them.

Maybe it was because I was reading it at 2 in the morning, but at the end, the tears flowed.

Great big dollops of them.

Not just because she’d captured the love she had for him in such a beautifully raw – yet gentle – way, but because it triggered how I hope Otis will one day think of me. Preferably without the frustrating bits in-between.

Anyway, the impact of the story compelled me to write to her.

I knew there was the risk I’d sound like a stalker … not to mention the high chance my email would be consigned to the junkmail bin either inadvertently or deliberately … but I wanted to let her know how much her writing meant to me.

Yes, I know she’s an author – an accomplished one as it turned out – but how she writes just connected with me more than many other authors I’ve read.

Which is why I was thrilled when, a few days later, I received this from Katherine:

Dear Rob,

Your email made my day (as did the fact that you think I have staff, or at least an assistant). It was the exact opposite of pointless and silly. It really touched me. I miss my parents too. My mother told me once that even after her mother died, my mother thought of things daily that she wanted to tell her. Now I do the same and it seems to me like a way to say “I hold you always in my thoughts.” Please friend me on FB if FB is something you do and thank you (x a million!) for writing.

Katherine x

That she wrote back at all was wonderful.

That she wrote such a lovely message and asked me to FB ‘friend’ her is unparalleled.

Don’t worry though. Because in an act I assume was designed to continue to help Mark Zuckerberg win back public sentiment – boosted massively by the stupidity of Elon Musk – Facebook stopped me ‘friending’ Katherine, as they correctly pointed out I did not know her.

My loss was surely her – and Mr Zuckerberg’s – gain.

Or it was, until Katherine persisted and found a way for us to connect.

What a brilliantly generous human with such an alarming lack of judgement.

Which leaves me to say this …

Thank you so much Katherine.

Not for writing back – though I’m grateful for that – but for celebrating the emotion that comes from honesty, even when it can be the most uncomfortable journey of all.

You can read the story that started this journey, by clicking here.

I’m back next Monday. That should be enough time to have stopped laughing, crying and telling your parents you love them …

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Why Leading A Department Is Part-Time Guard Dog, Part Cat Time Litter Tray …

I hope I’m a decent leader.

While I know there will be some people I’ve worked with, who definitely won’t hold that view … I hope the majority do.

Because – believe it or not – I try hard to be.

Sure, I make some mistakes.
And I can definitely be a pain in the ass.
But I am committed and invested in being the best boss I can be.

I consider myself fortunate because over the years, I’ve had incredible ‘teachers’.

From my parents to mentors to some old bosses … and of course, a few who were so shite, they taught me what not to do, haha.

And while there are many things I believe, adopt and hold dear, one of the most important is: always back your team in public and resolve disputes in private.

It sounds obvious … and it is … but it’s not always followed.

I’ve heard some shocking examples on Corporate Gaslighting … stuff that doesn’t just sound vicious, but the act of megalomaniacs.

But in terms of backing the team, there were few better than football manager legends, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Yes, I accept they may have had some usual ways of doing this – and demonstrating this – but players knew that unless something exceptionally terrible had happened, their managers would always back them should they face public or managerial scrutiny.

Of course, there was a cost for this …

A cost that was simple but exhaustive.

And it was that the gift of being backed was reciprocated with dedication, focus and effort.

And that – to me – is key.

It’s OK to make mistakes.
It’s alright to sometimes mess things up.
But it can’t be because you were lazy or distracted.

I’ve said it many times, but I believe my job is to ensure that when someone in my team leaves, as they all will at some point, they go because they have a better job than they ever could have imagined.

Chosen for who they are, not just what they do.
Known for what they’ve created, not how well they’re known.
Chased for what they’ve changed, not what they maintained.

OK, there are some exceptions to that – mainly personal reasons, like love or a chance to chase something they’ve always wanted – but I believe I have a responsibility to them to help develop their natural talent, find and release their distinct strategic voice and move things out the way so they can create the most interesting shit of their lives.

It’s why my absolute worst scenario is someone leaving for a sideways move.

Oh my god, I would honestly feel I’d failed them.

And that’s why I place so much importance in backing them and showing my belief in them.

That doesn’t mean it’s blind faith.

We have very honest conversations a lot.

From gentle chats to bi-annual check-in/reviews … but they’re in private and focused on being through the lens of me wanting them to win.

Whether I achieve this is something only they can say. I hope most would agree with it [even those when we’ve parted ways] but if not, then I can assure them I’m working harder to be better.

The reason I say all this is because I saw something recently that I thought was a perfect example of backing the team.

It’s from the British Police.

Now they are getting a lot of stick at the moment. A lot totally deserved.

But this time it’s not them trying to justify an indefensible act … it’s something that resonated with me, because of Otis’ dysgraphia.

It was this.

The British Police – or maybe it’s all Police these days – have a bad reputation.

It’s manifested in mistrust and a lack of people wanting to sign up.

And while I fully appreciate they have a tough job and want to get better [as we saw with West Midland’s Police hiring my mate, Kay, to be their ‘artist in residence’ to better understand and connect to youth culture] … it’s acts like this that are more likely to help the public see the human side of the force as well as the compassionate side.

Anyone who runs a team knows it can be a painful job.

Some days it can feel more like being a cat-litter tray.

But when they know you’ll back them, they’ll back you with their talent, focus and commitment.

Well done Carlisle Police … we need more backing of people with neuro-diversity. Because the more we back those who are different, the more they will show the difference they can make.

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Play Up To Potential, Not Down To Average …

A few weeks ago I wrote about Otis and his love of the Rubik’s cube.

His ability to solve them blindfolded.

How he’s found the cube community to be nurturing and inclusive.

Well recently Otis reminded me of kids endless capacity to be more than just curious … but committed.

You see over the past few weeks, two new things have entered his world.

Yoyo’s and Table Tennis.

I don’t just mean passing interest, I mean a full commitment to see what he can do with it.

Now I appreciate this is a bit easier for him than it was in my day … because he has YouTube to help educate and inspire him.

But my god, his focus and energy has taken my breath away.

In a matter of weeks, his abilities have gone crazy. I appreciate this is the sort of thing you would expect a Dad to say about their kid, but I promise I’m being as objective as I can be.

I’ll have to write about his Yo-Yo chops another day … but it’s unbelievable what he can do [though the innovation of the product is also mind-blowling] however it’s his love of table tennis that is a sight to see.

Part of this is because he’s not really into sports.

He does like tennis, but has no interest in things like football or – that school nemesis – cross country.

But what is great about loving sport that involves hand/eye co-ordination is that it develops his motor skills, which will be permanently affected because of his diagnosis of dysgraphia.

For a while, he’s been hitting a table tennis ball against a window at home with a bat.

So far so good.

But this weekend we took him to the NZ Table Tennis association so he could see what it is like on a full sized table.

And rather than be intimidated or nervous, he loved it.

More amazing, after a bit of getting used to the new dynamics and environment, he was pretty good at it.

Of course I’m talking about the basics of table tennis, but it is his ability to throw himself into things and desire to get better that is fantastic … not so he can beat others, but so he can see how good he could be at something.

I’ve written about this before, but there’s far too many adults who are focused on speed rather than substance.

A desire to take short-cuts to move up than to build a solid layer of ability and experience.

I don’t blame them for doing this – the system is against them – but it also means the people who will be in-charge of the next generations development will be people who may not fully appreciate what development really is. Or can be.

And that’s why I’m proud of Otis. He wants to do it right.

He gets massively frustrated when his ability doesn’t match his ambition … but he works at it till it surpasses it.

His focus and desire is a joy to witness.

His pride of achievement.

His fast-track of growth through the unrelenting focus and commitment of an 8 year old. An 8 year old with dysgraphia.

And while his neurological situation may mean he has to learn in ways that are different to normal approaches, that does not mean his abilities or potential are less.

Not in the slightest.

And that’s what I wish schools and governments understood.

That some kids learn – or have to learn – in personalised ways.

Sure, a lot of schools find that hard because of a lack of resource … but there’s still too many who see teaching about group standardisation than individual potential.

At a time where there is a lot of talk of kids being lazy or under the spell of social media [which is not necessarily true but convenient for older generations to use to mitigate blame] … maybe it’s worth remembering that by not creating and funding a system that recognises, appreciates and encourages individual needs, it’s not their fault they don’t want to follow a path that works against them, its ours.

Add to that the disappointment and disillusionment they see in the adults who blindly followed this ‘one-size-fits-all’ system and ideology, and I’d argue they’re smarter than us.

So while Otis is just doing what he loves, I hope one day he realises he’s a quiet revolutionary … one who shows his focus, dedication and desire to be better can break down barriers.

For him. And the millions of kids who have so much to offer and give, like him.

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