Father’s Day

My thoughts on Father’s Day seldom drift toward me and my kids. They always tend toward my Dad. He died November 30, 2001, the cherry on the sundae of the worst year in my life.

My dad and brother, Jerry and Jeff.

My Dad was a unique character. Jerome Mathis Schuett was born in Bellingham, WA in 1937, Grandson of a German immigrant; and son of a logger. While he frequently spoke lovingly of his father’s industry he was the only one of the three son’s of Shelby and Delores Schuett to never work in the timber industry.

My Dad left Bellingham for Washington State College in Pullman in 1956. Like all WSU grads he was a Cougar through and through. And he infected all the rest of his family with his love of all things crimson and grey.

My Dad’s temper, alleged philandering, and complete and total disregard for anything my Mom cared for led to their divorce when I was in the 4th grade. By the time I was in the 5th grade he had successfully sued for legal custody of my brother and I. He was one of only 17% of divorced men in the 1970’s to win custody in a court of law over mothers.

And thank God he did. He raised my brother and I to be very independent. By the time I was 13 years old I was cooking or preparing all my breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I was doing my own laundry. And if my Dad ever asked to see my report card….I can’t remember it.

My Dad was flawed in so many ways. In fact there were long stretches of my adulthood, months and on one occasion years, where I didn’t speak with him. He was often crude. He was almost always devoid of any knowledge or care of hurting another human beings feelings. He was the macho man, only NOT.

Jerry Schuett made a lot of friends. But not a lot of close friends.

He left an impression on me that has been so deep and so lasting because he was there. Twenty-five percent of all Dad’s aren’t even present for the raising of their children. In the black community statistics are abhorrent. More Dad’s aren’t there than are. So knowing my Dad attended all my soccer, basketball, baseball and football games through high school puts him above a lot of Dad’s. Knowing he wanted us to be raised by him rather than our mother means a lot too.

Knowing his many flaws and that he and I clashed a lot, some have questioned why I miss him so much. My only logical answer is that he was always there. And now he is not.

At bare minimum, I know I have provided my kids at least that.

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Our Leaders Ought to Sell Christmas Trees

A Christmas Tree at Home

When I was young I learned the basics of economics and selling from dealing Christmas trees. My Dad was a cheap son-of-a-gun and had no desire to give my older brother and I money for buying his Christmas present, or anything else for that matter. He wanted us to earn it. So in addition to the work we did for his business of renting motor homes, during two holiday seasons when my brother and I were both in High School my dad set us up with our own Christmas tree lot.

At the corner of Main Street and 148th, next to the now defunct Shell gas station I learned about the basics of supply and demand and how cash availability would drive up the prices the buyer paid for the trees. The same principles apply to all forms of capitalistic enterprise, in particular health care and a college education. I often wish our nations leaders had run their own Christmas tree lots in their youth so that they could learn what 16-year-old me found very basic.

Winnebago Adventurer photographed in USA.

Winnebago Adventurer photographed in USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Dad rented Winnebago Motor Homes for a living. At any one time in my youth he owned anywhere from six to eleven RV’s. Skier’s in the Winter and campers in the Summer paid for my modest upbringing. My Dad kept the vehicles parked next to the gas station near our home. Since the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas was kinda slow for his business and since he already had the lot in which to display the trees he came up with the brilliant idea of selling Christmas trees to earn himself a few bucks and help his teen-aged sons pocket some easy money, while staying busy and out of trouble.

Anyone who has run a retail business knows the process. My Dad would pay wholesale prices for the trees from a grower, and pay to have them delivered to the Bellevue location. Using 2-by-4’s, nails, and a hammer my brother and I set up easy to construct stands in which to lean the trees. One of the larger Winnebago’s was parked beside the designated space in the Kmart parking lot beside the aforementioned gas station. There my brother and I would report after school, eat our snacks, do our homework, and watch whatever tv we could pick up with rabbit ears on a small black-and-white tv we had. We were set up for business.

We were cozy and warm inside the motor home until a family pulled up outside and got out of their cars to peruse our selection of trees. Each tree had a colored ribbon tied to it so, though our customers didn’t know, we would know how much we paid for it. My memory is foggy from over thirty years passing but my best guess is that the smaller yellow ribbons meant my Dad paid $5 for the tree, Red- $10, Blue- $15. My Dad told us he would take $10 for every tree we sold. But anything above the whole price-plus-$10 was ours to keep. Strictly cash transactions. There were no debit cards back then, or mobile electronic credit card processing. Put simply, my brother and I could charge customers any price we felt we could get away with.

Needless to say the same tree could go for $40 to one family or $100 to another. We learned to pay attention to what size and kind of vehicle a family drove as they climbed out to see the trees. A nicer car or a truck meant these people would pay more. My brother and I practically fought our way to be first out the door when a family with young kids walked onto the lot. It was those little tikes who happily screeched at their Daddy , “Oooo Daddy that’s the perfect tree can we get that one. Can we PUHLEEEEZZZ get THAT one?”, who unknowingly drove up the price of the tree. My brother was ruthless. He had no problem telling the haggard Dad that one of the $15 trees was $125. I could seldom muster the nerve to ask for $80. And if anyone hesitated on paying what we were asking, we simply offered to give them a “special” deal, and lowered the price $20 “because you look like such a nice family”. Once again, big brother remained much more rigid in his pricing than did I. He would only lower his price when the family had left the lot and was packing into their car. Selling the trees was easy. In fact, there was no “selling” involved. The only question was how much they’d pay. And if they had the money, and we could see that, they always paid extra.

An article in today’s Seattle Times Newspaper reported the fact that 1-in-2 college graduates faced unemployment when getting out of school this year. It raised in my mind the question, just how worth it is a college education anymore. The average cost of a four-year degree at a public university is now about $35-thousand; for a private university it’s almost $120-thousand. And NOBODY gets a bachelor’s degree in four years anymore. The cost of a college education has climbed 600-percent since 1980. To determine the reason for the massive increase in college costs one need look no further than our Federal Governments constantly supplying universities with an unending, unquestioning source of revenue. Our spend-happy Washington DCers have increased funding for  higher education assistance 141% since 1991. It’s like all the colleges are Christmas tree lots and our Government Representatives are parents with screaming kids who don’t know how to say, “NO”.

Health care has been similarly effected. Who truly pays health care bills? Most are paid by our Federal Government piggy bank. The rest is picked up by large, rich insurance companies or equally large and powerful corporations. Doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical firms and other health care providers are standing in the lot holding up the big tree with the blue ribbon on it smiling broadly. This tree will sell, and their will be a large profit. The only question is, “how large?”.

The hardest sale my brother and I ever had to make was the guy who tromped into our tree lot with no wife and no kids and interested in nothing more than getting the tree and going on with his day. Usually this guy had a station wagon, that was probably missing a hub-cap. When confronting us he’d ask “How much?” and no matter what we said, it was too much. He’d offer less and we’d happily accept.

Were the giant feeding troughs of government funds removed from the college revenue and health care equation these behemoths would be forced to deal with that one guy (or gal) who ultimately will pay the bill for the services provided. The one guy buying the Christmas tree isn’t swayed by emotional pleas that “we’ve got to have it”. And the tree seller can see the guy doesn’t have much money to begin with. So he’ll offer it for less and accept far less. He would have to, or he wouldn’t sell the tree and he’d eat the $15.

Obamacare, promising health care coverage for all Americans, was  passed two years ago. It’s laws not completely going into effect until 2114. And still, we’ve seen the cost of health care continuing to climb. The President has made a lot of news this Spring berating colleges about increased tuition costs. But colleges continue to raise fees. THIS Christmas tree salesman knows why. It’s basic.

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My Ideal Birthday!

Part of this year's twenty. Geez, I'm getting old.

Being this author’s birthday…I thought I’d let my mind wander just a bit. What would be happening on my dream birthday? Where would I be? Who would I be with? What would I be drinking?

Let me start by saying having a Valentine Birthday is really cool. I get blessed with the ability to get gifts for my loved ones while receiving cards, gifts and well wishes too. So in fulfilling my dream birthday I’ll start by keeping it right where it is currently. My oldest daughter has a really great birthday too, Halloween. I mean…someone is having a party on YOUR birthday every single year no matter where you are or what you’re doing. That would be cool. And my youngest has a Christmas birthday. That’s pretty top scale too. It basically means you get to see your closest loved ones on your birthday in a celebratory mood every birthday. I like that. But as good as those birthday’s are, I think I’ll stick with what I already have and what I already know. Like I said, its pretty cool.

Waking up on my dream birthday my beautiful wife would surprise me with word that she didn’t have to work today and neither did I. And while I grudgingly insist that I have things to do, she would firmly remind me that I’m my own boss and if I want to take the day off it’s OK. So I think about it, briefly, and decide she’s right. I don’t take off too many days. So…why not. Done. No work today.

As I quietly enjoy my morning Sports page with a large (I won’t say “Venti“) mocha latte, I read about my beloved Mariners and their upcoming season. Good news! We’re going to be much improved this year. Good thing, I think to myself, since the past couple years have sucked.

Checking my email is an exercise in controlling my healthy ego as it is swamped with kindly birthday wishes from ALL the people I care most about. Someone sends me a funny video. I LOL.  The Facebook profile pics are all smiling at me giving me a warmth everyone should feel as often as possible. It really is a great feeling and a wonderful blessing. Facebook can be bad in so many ways, but in this way it’s very good. Because I know I’m not the only one to have his heart swell because lots of folks clicked on the FB birthday reminders.

My birthday would have to include my kids. A day without my kids has its benefits, but in the best of circumstances I’m still left with a hole in my day if my kids aren’t there to say, “Love you Daddy“.

Ideally my day would include three delicious homemade meals. Restaurant food is fine. But the best tasting food comes from home…at least in my house it always has. I didn’t get to my current size by accident. HA!

Most importantly my best of birthday’s would include laughter. A single day without a hearty laugh is like a day without food or drink or warmth. It can’t happen. That’s why it’s an absolute must on my birthday. Laugh with me as someone jokingly calls me old. Enjoy the literal truth when someone calls me “Big guy” and probably has my girth in mind more than my height. My phone calls during the day would be wrapped in smiles, like plastic wrap on a piece of chocolate cake. Humor would be abundant.

I suppose a few more things might color my birthday with brightness. But if I close my day enjoying the sun setting out my family room windows, a cold cocktail in hand, and the aroma of a favorite meal wafting in the air…that would be a great birthday. With all that I just mentioned THAT would be an ideal birthday. I don’t need much.

So…what do you know. I’ve had the ideal birthday. My life is so great.

I believe life’s shame comes from a never-ending desire for more. Can we all find happiness in that which surrounds us everyday, for if we can, isn’t that enough? Isn’t it us who have drawn each and every aspect of our lives to us? Aren’t the people there because we wanted them to be? I needn’t be satisfied. Because I will continue to strive for the brass ring, for more relaxing, for more security for my family, and more time standing in a river with a fishing pole in my hands. But in the mean time that which surrounds me is so much more than I ever felt worthy of having I can’t help but be happy, and thankful to the ever-loving God who grants me the opportunities to bring these things and these people into my sphere.   

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