Running for Your Life: My Dad on Canada Day

Later this month our family will be marking the 85th birthday of my father, the man who for decades was an integral part of public events on Canada Day in Owen Sound, Ontario. My dad, Bill O’Connor, supervised the setting off of the fireworks, a highlight in the city’s calendar year.

One year the daily newspaper, The Sun Times (where I’d get my start as a summer intern in this crazy business that I work in) did a feature on Dad, with a great picture showing the fireworks mortars that he’d had welded to his specifications. Given other circumstances, I firmly believe my pops would have plowed similar terrain as Elon Musk at Tesla, my dad had such an instinct for construction and science. His destiny, though, was different. His dad and my grandfather died in a farm accident when Dad was small and to help with the family income in those pre-World War II years, he quit his studies before high school.

Until just a little while ago, he’d put in more than a regular workweek, a lifelong dedication – 70-plus years – of providing for family, which he did, and how. But it wasn’t all about duty. Dad loves to work with his hands.

It’s not over, that’s for sure. Because that was my dad in the viewing area of my dad and mom’s new condo home, the tallest building in Owen Sound, on Wednesday night, where he had a bird’s-eye view of the fireworks out by the grain elevator at the mouth of the harbor. You can bet he had a fine time thinking back over all the hard work – and joy – he provided for thousands during those special years.

Next: Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby Bern

Running for Your Life: Reward Yourself

You gotta love that early moment in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” when our hero scoots off in her sparkly sneakers and runs up to an urban jogger and greets him with a smile and remarks, her arms pumping with glee, how much she loves to run.

Kimmy, for the uninitiated, has been out of cultural circulation for a medieval generation, fifteen years, so missed the Great Running Craze, the movement away from running that children do in play to what adults do in a workout.

The active word here is “work.” A big part of what has kept me running for my life all these years – I’ll be sixty in October – is that I’ve kept work and running (writing and reading, too) separate. For me, like Kimmy, running is pleasure … I “work” for a living, in my salaryman life. But that’s where my work ends.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t set a reward for the running that I do. (And not by running with music, because, by my lights, the music lives in the reward category. I know this is old school, but how about turning on your favorite tunes AFTER a run as you celebrate by singing in the shower ? … Just a thought.)

Make your reward something simple. Maybe after the shower, unwrap an energy bar with your “juice” of choice and watch a little “Kimmy.” We can all learn from that girl.

Next: Running for Your Life: Bern, Baby, Bern!

Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday

If only Oscar Wilde were alive. He’d have a few things to say. As even a cursory inventory of what he did say makes eminently clear:

  • A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. 
  • Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. 
  • I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying. 
  • A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally. 
  • True friends stab you in the front.

  • We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Next: Running for Your Life: Reward Yourself

Running for Your Life: Core Principles

At some point, I don’t know precisely when, I started to care about my bad posture. When you have an oversized head as a child that will do it. As a boy I was mocked for my walk. I hung my heavy head, arched my back and took long strides. Father John was the inside family joke. You look like a farmer striding over rows of half-grown corn.

It wasn’t as though I was proud of my walk. But what to do. It was my walk. I may as try to change the way I talked. Or laughed; wasn’t a walk what you were born with?

But running changed my walk. If I were going to go far (and stay well with blood circulating to the busted valves of my damaged left leg), I’d convinced myself I had not only to run but to run long and fast. That meant I had to pay attention to where my head was as I moved. Too far forward and I’d labor too much, lose speed. I took up tai chi for awhile in my late twenties and learned about core strength, about the idea of a spine being lifted up from above as if you were a puppet held up on a string by a gentle power who seeks only the right thing for you, a power that you can trust.

Good posture is core. Hips drop down and feet move apart, shoulders go square, and even though I’m close to forty years from my bad posture days, my head still disproportionately large compared to the rest of my body, strength in my other muscles, my core, compensates. That twelve pounds of brain, bone and flesh sits squarely on my shoulders, and to date I’m still running for my life without any pain in my neck, back, hips, knees or ankles.

Believe me, core principles are worth heeding.

Next: Running for Your Life: Reward Yourself

Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday

Another pro hockey season has come and gone, and with it, as always, memories of the year that was. The Blackhawks win again, their third in six years and fourth in 54 years, when one of my favorite hockey players of the day, Bobby Hull, led them over Jean Béliveau and the Montreal Canadiens.

In those days, I was no fan of Big Jean, Le Gros Bill, as he was known. When it comes to sports and our teams, we cherish the triumphs but still feel the bitter defeats in our hearts, as if we are still the excited child allowed to stay up late to watch the game that had gone into overtime between my beloved Bruins and the hated Habs, only to be devastated by the deadly shot of the big centerman over the glove of goalie Gerry Cheevers and into the gaping net behind. It was April 1969.

Now he is gone. The best of the best. The original team man. Jean Béliveau passed away in December 2014 during the hockey year that was. I'm still not a fan of Les Canadiens, but it’s a harder man than I am capable of being not to miss the grandeur that Béliveau brought to the game – and to life.  
It has been almost seven months, but it bears repeating: This from an article by Dave Stubbs in the Montreal Gazette, Dec. 3, 2014:

Rarely has the career of an athlete been so exemplary,” Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau said on the occasion of Jean Béliveau Night at the Forum on March 24, 1971, the Canadiens paying on-ice pregame tribute to their captain a few months before his retirement.
“By his courage, his sense of discipline and honour, his lively intelligence and finesse, his magnificent team spirit, Béliveau has given new prestige to hockey.”
Béliveau accepted an oversized cheque that night for $155,855, giving birth to his foundation that in the decades ahead would distribute nearly $2 million to organizations helping sick, underprivileged and physically challenged children.
“Everything I achieved throughout my career, and all the rewards that followed, came as the results of team effort. If they say anything about me when I’m gone, let them say that I was a team man. To me, there is no higher compliment,” he wrote in his autobiography, “My Life in Hockey,” published in 1994.

Next: Running for Your Life: Core Principles