A Path To Great Things – Message To My Sons

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If you do enough of the good things right, you generally cannot go wrong.  If you do enough of the good things great, you can generally go where you dream! – Dad

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What’s Ahead Of Christian – Message To My Youngest

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(I wrote the following about Christian almost exactly four years ago when he was 13 years-old and seemed worth revisiting on his birthday.  Now as he turns 17 and one year away from starting his baseball career at the University of Washington, it almost seems too profetic after I saw what was emerging from him way back when this dream seemed so far down the road!

11/7/14

“Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose … not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.”

Failure doesn’t occur until the moment you stop trying.   Even worse is if you never risk making any attempt or effort at all because it may damage what is only our ego and/or vanity – sadly that only means we’re too timid to test our courage and determination.  Such a mindset is the most tragic because it serves as a better measure of our character and future direction but then again, if there was never an attempt for success, there’s no failure to compare it to and I suppose there’s a false security in that for those who choose such an approach.

I guess for many people, there’s some safety and resulting comfort in never exploring beyond the limited aspirations they’ve set forth because there’s too much uncertainty in the unknown.  That’s probably a blissful and comfortable existence but for me, I just have an overwhelming desire to satisfy my curiosity, especially about things that challenge the fulfillment of what I want.

As I often do, I look back at everything good and bad that’s occurred in my life and the one essential part of the equation leading to the results of all those things has been one ingredient – ME.  Did you know in high school I only applied to one college, USC, and that was for a couple of reasons.  It’s the only place I wanted to go and, my family didn’t have a lot of money for me to fill out too many college applications.  My grades were decent but I’m pretty sure I was accepted because I wrote a “kick-ass” application letter about why they should accept me and as you know, they did.  However countering that, I also thought I’d be in love forever so that among other things canceled out my plans for USC at the time with the hope I would go there at a later time.  Interesting choice on my part at the time and we all know where that thought led me but then again, I would not have found Mom and I have no regrets about the alternative outcome.

I also wanted to go to law school and while there, I honestly wasn’t at the top of my class because I knew the real prize was the bar exam and balancing working full-time, a (very) active social life, and a girlfriend who would be my wife, stretched my resources rather thin during the four years I was there.  However after graduating, that’s when I shifted gears to study for the exam and passed it the first time around when 60-70% of others didn’t with some never passing even after multiple attempts.  To this day I’m not sure how that happened because as I’ve mentioned before, I found out that my father had terminal cancer the night before the exam began and it would have been understandable had I been too distracted to pass.  Maybe divine intervention since he passed a month afterward or I was lucky but then again, I doubt it!

The next major goal occurred after Jason was born.  I was determined to invest in being a decent Dad while choosing a profession that challenges that intention so I looked for a job close to home, even though the best jobs were in LA and OC.  I didn’t know “squat” about South Bay law firms but sent about 20 letters and resumes to the most interesting ones and I guess based on the way it was written, my future boss called me and after what I assume was an impressive enough interview to BS my way into getting hired, got a job at one of the best firms in So Cal, and later became a partner which is supposed to be every lawyers dream.  It was not as big of a deal after a while but at least I did it which few could say.  And I got to be a bigger part of not only Jason’s life but thankfully, yours!  Maybe I was lucky but doubt it!

Christian, we’re alike in so many ways and maybe it’s in large part due to the time we’ve spent together since my injury and there is no precise value that could measure how grateful I am about the moments that has led us to the relationship that we now share.  Some people are afraid to walk beyond what they can see because of fear of the unknown.  Me, I just have to know and then respond accordingly and I see you building your confidence each day that reflects a similar approach.

Some don’t want to run in bare feet on a gravel path towards the places they want to get to because they’re afraid of falling, the cuts and bruises they’ll suffer, the dirt, etc.  That’s just not a justifiable reason for me not to get there.  I carry the bloodstains and scratches like a badge of honor because it means I didn’t give up even though things weren’t as smooth as I hoped for and made me more confident about the next journey ahead.  I guess it’s just not within us to quit or sit still when there’s something that we feel is worth having.

It took a tortuous path that led to my injury but I guess it was just me testing a different kind of curiosity but so began a different journey that I mapped out.  Was everything as smooth as I hoped for – of course not but at least I didn’t just imagine what was out there because I had to find out.  I like obstacles because I enjoy the challenge of overcoming them, especially when I know the rarity of others being able to do it.  Even just falling short doesn’t feel as disappointing if I at least exhausted all I had for things to result the way they did and in the end, I took something from it.

What’s pretty cool is that even though I had varying amounts of support (sometimes not a lot compared to you), all of the above were accomplished because of ME and I needed no greater incentive than what I created and demanded.  Ownership of my life without excuses has made it easier to accept my shortcomings (along with accomplishments) without deflecting responsibility.

If something can’t be done, make sure that you are the one to determine what it is, with every avenue explored to make that determination.  Remember that those who say you can’t do something generally never had the courage or confidence to try themselves, or just stopped pushing themselves without realizing how close they were had they kept trying a few more times.  When you do it, they’ll probably say you were lucky but I doubt it since you’re already showing that you understand that there is little reason for doubt when it comes to YOU!

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The Journey Slowed With What Was Lost, Yet It Never Stopped…

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“In reflecting on the times of my life, it occurs to me that the difficult, arduous experiences always pass, or at least wane to a tolerable level. On the other hand, thankfully, the positive, uplifting aspects of my life journey seem to hold strong and steady throughout, as long as I appreciate and nurture them.” – David L. Weatherford

So here’s what I’ve learned and better understand about all that has happened in my life.  All those times that I once thought were one of the worst times in my life eventually just became parts of it and nowhere near the calamities and catastrophes I though they were.  It just seems that the natural evolution of time provides a resolution for the past and better context for the future.

The difficulties in our lives certainly have an impact on it and the quality in how we will continue to live it afterwards.  Part of that is dependent on how we continue to perceive those difficulties and how long we allow them to exercise control over every day that occurs after them. To me it seems we have to forge a relationship between the acceptance of what has occurred and that in time, the eventuality they will fade in the background and reside in the past where they belong.  I’m not saying they should be forgotten because that’s not realistic but as I’ve said before, “don’t give light to the past”, when we should remain resolute to working with the hope and promise of better days ahead of us because they are truly out their.  Their visibility is entirely dependent on whether our eyes and mind process what is in front of us and not hampered by that which cannot be changed.

Here is a personal example. Both my parents died 20 years ago within the span of 10 months.  I’m still not sure which was more painful; witnessing their battles with cancer during the 4 years leading to their deaths, or dealing with the actual loss following their passing.  The former still allowed me additional time with them but with the trade off of having them suffer through indescribable pain as they fought for those extra days.  The latter gave them freedom from that pain when they decided they’d had enough and in a sense it gave me peace as well, until the realization set in that they were forever lost, at least in my earthly existence.  I still don’t know which one was more severe but by any measure it was the worst time of my life no matter what internal and external coping mechanisms I exercised to minimize it.

In undertaking various philosophies and advice on how to grieve, I found in due course that all I needed was time for personal reflection, perspective, and the realization that I was fortunate for the time I had with them.  If broken down on simple and natural levels, I accepted that this was the normal and inevitable sequence of generational events.  Although distinguishable from others in the details, it was inevitable that they would pass before me and I was fortunate for how I remember them and how they live within almost everything I do, see, and feel.

In time I realized that it was not so much healing from their loss but getting on with the investment in myself, people, and things, that deserved and required my attention. I had so much at the time but the void left behind was eventually filled by Jason, Christian, and so many other changes in my world that grew to be just as meaningful because they became part of my “NOW” and “TOMORROWS”.  Given their importance in how I continue to define and find significance in the life I still lead, it became critical to keep pace with them rather than wallow unnecessarily over losses and moments that are better left where they should remain.  Otherwise whatever influence and contributions that my family and others may benefit from would be rendered obsolete with the passage of time.

A lot of people refer to life as a journey and by all means it is, or at least it should be.  But for anything to qualify as a “journey”, there needs to be some progression and movement towards a destination; otherwise we remain ships adrift without sails or dry docked in the ports of call that we restrict ourselves too for convenience and safety.  That is of course until the next hurricane, typhoon, or other natural calamity strikes and the only hope is to weather them and repair the damage that results.  For me, I’m more interested in getting to where I want and need to be and would rather sail through and around them as opposed to remaining stationary and risk being beaten into submission.

I understand that God is behind some of the potentially disruptive forces we will undoubtedly encounter.  However I honestly believe He still gives us the choice to step around many of those that can and should be avoided, and move beyond the others once the dust has settled and we are given greater clarity to continue on with our journey.

So we have to be aware that there will be times when we will be temporarily slowed or even stopped dead in our tracks depending on the severity of what was hurled our way or tragically taken from us.  Still we have to remember that while we repair, reassemble, and regroup from those things that challenge us, other parts of our life move on without the same hesitation and at times, demanding and screaming for our attention and care.

If I ever need the motivation and inspiration to escape any sorrow I feel for myself, all I do is think of my friend Dee Dee. To lose her husband to cancer with infant and toddler sons who were too young to understand the loss she carried each day forward and still raise them remarkably, I have neither the words or insight to describe the tribulations she must have worked through.  People liberally exercise the adjective “heroes” and “heroines” to mundane achievements but Dee Dee is on any scale absolutely and unequivocally one of mine and her sons, Cole and Brice,  I hope she is one of yours!  Maybe like my parents, our children along with what was discovered and added along the way became our salvation.  Oh have I mentioned before that I “f’ing hate cancer”!

So when life changes through addition or subtraction and it seems like the challenges to recover from them are insurmountable, they’re not!  The seeds have been or will be planted to grow from those moments.  And with hope, effort, and time, the pain will eventually fade and our lives will soon bask in the happiness of the quality, quantity, and beauty that replaces those moments if we exercise our capacity to appreciate and enjoy them.  There are only two things that can be taken that matter.  The first is when our last heartbeat is extinguished on this earth and that is decided by God.  The second is when all hope, faith, and joy in living is surrendered and that is extinguished by ourselves.

Last quote and I hope you got through the lengthy dialogue above because this is the message I’m trying to convey.  “In our lives, change is unavoidable, loss is unavoidable.  In the adaptability and ease with which we experience change, lies our happiness and freedom.” – Buddha

It’s an unpredictable life but oh, what a rich one it always can be!

“Overachievement” or “Underdiscovery” – Thoughts To My Sons

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(Since I wrote the original version in 2015, Jason has become a sophomore starting infielder at U of Santa Clara and Christian has committed to play at U of Washington once he graduates high school in 2019 – I think they took the message to heart and continue to prove my point.)

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“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Know that no matter how hard we try and what is gained or left unachieved in our efforts each day, appreciate this.  We learn so much about ourselves and that we can achieve exponentially more during the days ahead by applying that discovery towards our future endeavors.

I came up with this thought while at the beach the other day and it kind of encapsulated a great deal of my transformation.  Walk through this with me if you can see my logic.  I don’t like using the term “failure” because by making the initial effort, you have only been “unsuccessful” so far in your initial attempt(s) and only by learning through those attempts can you see how close you are to success.  Hopefully you wisely use that experience and knowledge to recalculate the next attempts to quicken our approach to our objectives or expansion beyond them.

I do understand the concept of “underachievement” to the extent that one chooses, for whatever reason, not to apply their known ability to a situation that demands it.  More disappointing than the outcome is the knowledge that the preparation was so insufficient that the ability could not be called upon because the resources for its application were unavailable.  Either way, responsibility boils down to personal ownership of all related causes.

With respect to the over applied term “overachievement”, I’ll put it out there that it does not exist and is primarily used for dramatic effect.  It’s certainly debatable but in my opinion, “overachievement” is really a matter of “under-discovery”.  We learn almost every new day that we are capable of more than we expected of ourselves by embracing our existing and newly encountered challenges.  Prime example: the 2014 Redondo High baseball team.  Casual observers would dismiss the success of the team reaching the CIF semi-finals as just a result of “overachievement”.  Maybe there was just a lack of appreciation by the coaches and team of the hurdles that needed to be conquered a month before the Bay League season started and ended (remember the no-hitter against you guys in Irvine).

But then as in life, there was a new discovery of what was always there that introduced itself through the timing, sequence, the circumstances, and opportunities that revealed themselves and were taken advantage of leading to a growing faith and belief in not only that outcome, but doing what had never been done in 100 years by taking the CIF title a year later, and the following year ending in the top 10 national rankings while doing more of what’s never been done in the quest and final culmination of another championship!  “Overachievement”?  Hardly since in my mind, it’s just the expansion of what has either revealed itself or you have unlocked in your hidden vault and is now part of the magical routine of your existence.

I’ll finally leave you with this challenge.  I know it’s fairly impossible to bring your “A” game to every encounter.  However when presented with the greatest obstacles in the path of your most sought after goals, apply and exhaust the best part of you to overcome it.  Do not allow the term “underachievement” to be used to explain the outcome.  You’ll see what you thought was the best you could achieve, regardless of the result, is only a precursor to what is available to you in the future given the proper outer effort and inner discovery.  Then history of YOUR world can be rewritten everyday as a consequence!

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Happy Memorial Day In Honor Of My Dad – Reflections To Jason

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(Marine Sergeant Joe Dicochea, Korean War veteran, and my dad – Original Posted Memorial Day, 2015)

5/25/15

“Just give me tomorrow.” – unidentified Korean War Marine soldier

Jason, I think you’ll like this given your admiration of the Marine Corp.

I was watching a Military Channel documentary “Against the Odds” about a company of Marines who fought in one of more iconic battles in the history of the Corp at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War or “police action” as it was officially referred to.  I guess this was to avoid the stigma of the conflict that ended just years before called “WWII”.  I’m not sure that the soldiers in the field during the later action felt any different than the ones who were part of the earlier one.  However if that description made it more palatable to the politicians and public at the time, so be it but again, I’m sure the consequences and emotions associated with the battles faced by both “boots on the ground” were vastly similar regardless of it’s presentation to the masses.

Now back to the “Frozen Chosin” and the company that eventually was known as “Bloody George” because of it’s casualty rate.  Their role became famous within the grander story that makes every Marine proud to be part of that tradition.  Just a quick breakdown of the story, the George Company of the 1st Division after landing on Inchon (another iconic battle) and fighting in Seoul drew, more by circumstances than choice, the responsibility of having to hold their ground serving as “Spartans” to fend off what seemed to be the inevitable annihilation of the entire division by an unexpected attack by a Chinese forces.  The Chinese army vastly outnumbered them while the division battled unforgiving terrain and the most severe elements of the winter that struck during this engagement.

I was riveted in fascination by the story and interviews with the surviving members of that company.  Since my father (your grandfather) was a Marine veteran of Korea who continually referred to ideals of his beloved Corp as I grew up, I look upon just about every Marine combat veteran with an abundance of respect and personal pride by just having that connection with my father as well as other family members who wore that uniform.  J I know you carry that pride and still hold my father’s Marine emblem in your hand during each pre-game prayers and rituals.  Interestingly, I was informed after my father’s death by a Marine Corp vet who knew my Dad that he was involved in that epic battle while he was still still only a teenager.  I’ve never bothered to verify its accuracy nor do I question its veracity since it wouldn’t affect the “hero” I’ve always viewed him as during my whole life.  Moreover given his character, it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t share that information because as I’ve learned, it was an awful engagement to be a part of and it was a memory reserved for a different audience than someone who could never understand the basic and personal ferocity of war.

So back to the point (thank goodness).  George Company, who continuously battled for months of fighting culminating in surviving and escaping from a relentless onslaught of attacks by the Chinese (who outnumbered them 10-1) and the environment at Chosin, were nearing the end of their organized march to the deliverance of their home base from this personal “hell”.  At this juncture, a correspondent approached one of the beleaguered company and asked what probably sounded like a ridiculous question at the time considering all the Marine had been through.  However his response gave a profound meaning to not just his or his comrade’s existence but served as a reminder to mine.

Paraphrasing the question to that soldier, he was asked “if I were God and I could give you anything for Christmas, what would you want?”  A picture was taken of his face with the vacant stare often seen on those in combat, fatigued and almost indifferent to the death he’d witnessed, answering with this simple response: “just “give me tomorrow!”

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It would take way too long to share my own history to fully capture how important those words came across to me when I first heard them and all the times I’ve repeated them in my head since then.  I think of all those times when I probably exaggerated the despair over the pseudo and “faux” ordeals that I unnecessarily burdened myself with at the expense of valuable time lost and the damage it caused.  As I sit where I’m at now in my life, I can only say that I’m so ashamed of myself and I apologize to my Creator for all those days I despised and destroyed, along with all those “tomorrows” whose future occurrence I dreaded – how’s that for honesty?

I understand now, and thankfully not too late given my close calls with mortality, that each day was my own personal gift with resources to invest as I saw fit and that the “tomorrows” were only a privilege with no assurance that they would ever begin.  I was such an f’ing fool and I also apologize to those who continually attempted to point out the overwhelmingly numerical reasons why my life was better than the few I chose to focus on and torture myself with – again, how’s that for honesty?

So my point, especially to you Son.  Never under-appreciate the simple, basic elegance of the days afforded to us since they pass out of our vision too quickly and thinking what’s ahead of us to replace it just may never be there.  It shouldn’t take that particular Marine or some old guy who fell on his head leading to a massive brain bleed, with the odds numerically against them more than most others for getting another “tomorrow”, lead you to understand what is right here in front of us is the only time that we are guaranteed to make the best difference for ourselves and everything around us.

J remember what I told you: until the last sun sets on the days we are given, every tomorrow has the potential to be the best day of our lives with the odds dramatically in our favor based on what we do, how we live, and the hope we carry towards the next day and it matters not how it ultimately turns out.

So I dedicate this message to my father, the Marines, and all military veterans given that this is Memorial Day and it’s important to me that I do something even if it’s sharing this particular story and associated message.  Referring to the Marine Corp credo of “semper fidelis”, I think it’s pertinent to the ideal of being “always faithful” to acting for the betterment of ourselves and those especially close to us.

In my case in thinking about the story above, if we try to practice with that faith and tragically are not “given tomorrow”, at least what is left behind for others is a memory and it should reflect the following:  We did the best we could, despite any adversity we had to endure, and capitalized on every internal and external resource available to us to make a joyful difference in the only life that we’ve been given, regardless of whether our own expectations of perfection are met.

I’ll end with this quote because I’ve been waiting so long for the right opportunity and I think it relays such a strong message regardless of the particular religious beliefs that are individually adhered to.

“Live a good life.  If there are gods and they are just, they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.  If there are gods but unjust, then you should not want to worship them.  If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” – Marcus Aurelius