Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Domestic Warrior: A Son Finds The Volume Switch

By Ronald N. Guy Jr....For Dads

Music is in my blood. It prompts all sorts of involuntary actions: toe tapping, dancing, awful singing and mind expansion. Music has pulled me through rough patches and accentuated many good times. It is my antidepressant, my happy pill. When a good tune tickles my ear, my mood improves, damn near regardless of circumstance. I can’t imagine life without music. It is this domestic warrior’s soul food, man.

I’ll listen to damn near anything – classic rock, soul, blues, old-school country and hip hop, 80’s hair metal, folk and pop. My music collection – housed on cassettes, CDs and records – has morphed into one of my life’s works. It includes Dylan, James Brown, John Fahey, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Johnny Cash, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Robert Johnson, Eminem, Woody Guthrie Outkast, Chuck Berry, Kid Rock, Sam Cooke, Pearl Jam, Ani DiFranco and Public Enemy. I think that’s enough. You get the idea…I have a (good) problem.

When I was a kid, my mother used to fuss at me all the time for playing music too loud. My stereo shook the china in a wall adjacent to my bedroom and, in my teenage years, my car stereo disturbed the peace (according to her). Now in my forties, not much has changed. I still like it loud…and I’ve apparently passed on the gene (hold that thought).

The stereo my parents bought me in high school still lives and currently resides in my man-loft. It’s priceless. The original CD player has been replaced and, not surprisingly, a blown woofer was swapped out years ago. But other than that, it continues to pump out tunes at the ripe old age of 27. My dusty old girl has provided so many memories: it was with me in college, through marriage, divorce and marriage again, and soldiers on a decade into fatherhood. It has moved with me countless times and has been the heartbeat of parties for over two decades. Apparently, it isn’t done creating memories (still holding that thought?).

I was spinning some records the other night and my son, at the ripe old age of 7, came upstairs and requested that I play Kiss’ Destroyer album. A tear of pride swelled in my eye as I responded in the affirmative, jumped to my feet, riffled through my vinyl stack and pulled the young lads desired piece of rock ‘n roll history. As Detroit Rock City began to pump through the speakers, my son walked up to the stereo and asked how to turn it up. I gestured toward the large round knob with the illuminated green dash. Looking back at me, he pointed to it with a wry smile. I nodded in confirmation. He carefully turned it up a little…then a little more…then a little more until the room was shaking with the thump of the base drum, Ace Frehley’s shredding axe and the growl of Gene Simmons’ voice.

My son, eyes beaming with excitement, began dancing and wailing on his air guitar. His mom barked at him to turn the music down a bit. His dad couldn’t have been more proud.

Death Of The Role Model

As published in The County Times ( in April 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

First, an admission: I’m a D.C. sports fan. That is relevant for the following list.  It includes players I couldn’t or won’t “boo”…regardless of on-field performance.  No amount of botched plays, dropped balls or strikeouts would warrant me hurling negativity in their directions or impolite pleasantries at my television.  Their accomplishments are too great, they have brought me too much joy and they have consistently conducted themselves with admirable amounts of class, dignity and integrity (remember those nouns).  They are bigger than the game; they are pillars of the community and role models - to a man.  Who are they?  Here’s my short-list: Cal Ripken Jr., Ryan Zimmerman, Art Monk and Darrell Green.  I’ll stop there. More names would increase risk (of being proven wrong).  Unquestioned character is in short supply these days. 

Despite my prudence and the spotless personnel records of the fabulous four, risk remains.  Humans are quite capable of spectacular mistakes.  Would it shock me to wake up tomorrow morning to news that one of the faces on my Mount Character committed a disturbing transgression?  I’ve been a sports fan too long for poor behavior or bad choices by athletes to shock me.  And if one of these fine gentlemen proved not to be the man I think they are – regardless of their otherwise impeccable track record – I’d let them hear about it.  If one, say, pulled a Ryan Braun, I’d have no problem offering a hearty boo (among other thoughts) in reply.

Braun, star outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers, has been busy soiling his reputation.  The Brewers drafted Braun in 2005 and by 2011 the homegrown product had become Milwaukee’s favorite son, a perennial All-Star and the 2011 National League MVP.  Chances are he occupied some star-struck Milwaukee-based sportswriter’s “all-time good dude” list.  Then MLB and their pesky doping tests upset the love affair.  Braun tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone in the fall of 2011.  He defiantly denied the allegations, tenaciously fought the results and, in a controversial decision, had his record cleared in early 2012. 

During a passionate monologue in February 2012, Braun filleted MLB’s testing protocol and showered himself with superlatives.  Braun proclaimed he was a man that owned his mistakes and would “bet my life” the questionable substances never entered his body.  He praised his conduct during the appeal process, describing himself as a man of class, honor, dignity and integrity (remember those?).  It was all rather moving.  It was also a lie.  Eighteen months later, after having had Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a close friend, and the Brewers, a team who had signed him to a 9-figure contract extension, take him at his word and contribute to his defense, Braun admitted to PED usage.  A cheap, disingenuous and obligatory apology followed.

MLB suspended Braun for the remainder of the 2013 season (65 games).  Having betrayed the trust of his team, friends and the love of Brewers fans, Braun’s return to the field this spring promised to be as warm as cheating spouse’s return home.  However, as Braun strode to the plate at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, he received…a standing ovation. 

The scene was analogous to an embattled hero returning after an unjust exile.  I understand forgiving Braun, but how could any self-respecting Brewers fan embrace this unethical dunce?  I interpreted the cheers lavished on Braun as evidence of the death of the athletic role model.  Perhaps that’s a wise, sign-of-the-times angle.  Maybe fans are perfectly fine with winning at all cost and judge players as loosely as professional wrestlers. 

Tell me I’m wrong.  The fundamental premise of this now six-year-old column is that sports provide brutally honest commentary on society as a whole.  Our games are a conscience of sorts.  So if we have arrived at a place where sports are just cheap entertainment – like all other reality T.V. - and the conduct of athletes has no broader application, then we deserve “heroes” like Ryan Braun. He’s worthy of our adoration.  Should I stand and cheer him too…for exposing this disturbing truth?  If you don’t mind, I’ll remain seated…and hopeful that I’m wrong.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Young, Unknown & Fearless

As published in The County Times ( in April 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The dance began with 68 participants. Four are left. 

My bracket is perfect.  Warren Buffet, courtesy his billion-dollar challenge, is sweating.  I’m starting to count my 10-figure payoff.  Early retirement.  New car.  New home.  Vacation home.  Or two.  Maybe three.  I will shamelessly indulge my hobbies.  My mom will never work again.  My dad…well…he’s a professional retiree.  He hasn’t worked in years.  But I’ll float him a new set of golf clubs and personalized balls branded with my adorable likeness.  My palate will only know the world’s finest beer; my music collection will be epic.  I’ll move my cousin into a guesthouse.  He has no fixed address anyway, and I’ll need a wingman for my life of leisure – and he masters in leisure.  And of course there would be much philanthropy (food for the soul). 

That paragraph contains more madness than the tournament itself.  My bracket is trashed.  The billion dollars remain in Mr. Buffet’s massive account.  I remain employed and the holder of a single mortgage. My mother still works; my dad is playing generic, off-the-shelf balls. My cousin continues to wander and my philanthropy remains meager.  My bracket dream is over.  I’m the same guy today that I was before the tournament – not that there’s anything wrong with that.  My wife would agree…I think.

The reason I didn’t find my wonderland, get bequeathed a chocolate factory, or end up with a enough of Mr. Buffet’s money to buy a private island isn’t the result of lack of knowledge or overall ability.  Oh no, I have skills.  The problem, one that thwarts so many brackets that coulda been contenders, was this: the occurrence of the unforeseen, the illogical and maybe even the impossible.  Stephen F. Austin beat VCU – stone cold.  Harvard whipped Cincinnati - not in a math-a-thon – on the basketball court.  Dayton defeated perennial powers Ohio State and Syracuse.  Stanford sent Kansas home early – no ruby slippers required.  And of course, Mercer, the pride of Macon, Georgia, bounced Duke in the first round. 

Upsets are part of single-elimination tournament basketball.  Always have been.  But David’s beating Goliath so often now, it’s fair to question if they’ve been cast correctly.  Upstarts – small schools from non-descript conferences - are winning regularly and are even making runs to the Final Four (see George Mason in 2006, Butler in 2010 and 2011, VCU in 2011 and Wichita State last year). 

So what has changed?  Well, a lot.  Early entrants to the NBA are robbing major programs of elite talent while smaller schools with less decorated recruits build teams – real teams – over several seasons.  But it’s more than that.  The kids from Butler, Dayton and Mercer, and nearly every school like them, act like they belong now.  A national T.V. audience, cavernous arenas and blue blood opponents engender not a trace of intimidation, cowardice or inferiority.  The tournament’s grand stage, the opportunity to win and to chase the sports’ greatest prize is as much theirs as it is their more ballyhooed opponent.  Mercer isn’t less than Duke; Mercer equals Duke.

I watched a re-run of Rocky III recently.  In Rocky’s first fight with Clubber Lang (Mr. T), defeat was in his eyes.  He wanted no part of the hungry challenger.  Of course, as Rocky so often did, he came back with vengeance and defeated Lang in the rematch.  In the climatic fight Rocky defiantly implored Lang to hit him while proclaiming, “you ain’t so bad…you ain’t nothing.”  Rocky had absorbed the champ’s best punch and found him to be no greater, no stronger than he was.  The kids from Mercer, Dayton and insert-any-instant-Cinderella-here, routinely compete with the same fearlessness as Philadelphia’s beloved boxing hero.  Goliath is mighty and strong, but David is a highly skilled with his slingshot. 

Bill Cosby once said, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”  To see that quote in action, watch the NCAA tournament every spring.  For it to show up throughout the year, it is up to us to apply the fearlessness of these young men to everything we do.

Living…On Life’s Terms

As published in The County Times ( in March 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The Atlantic Coast Conference started with a seven-school gang - Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland – in 1953.  There have been a few membership tweaks in the 60-plus years since, but with the exception of South Carolina (who departed in 1971), all original members remain today.  They feel as familiar as old sneakers and, with rivalries six decades long, possess the hostility of ultra-competitive brothers.

The old, tightly woven family is about to change.  With Friday’s loss to Florida State in the conference’s basketball tournament, Maryland’s run in the ACC is essentially over.  Starting with the 2014-15 athletic year, Maryland will take up residence in the Big 10 Conference. 

This is not new news, of course, but the reality is now undeniably real.  The end of the football season stung a little.  But with basketball being the ACC’s primary identity, the curtains falling on Maryland’s ACC basketball association is a lot more uncomfortable.  Maryland’s Big 10 move is a money-grab, an irresistible chance to patch the athletic department’s financial hemorrhage and reside in a more lucrative neighborhood.  Such is life in college sports today. 

So it is what it is.  I don’t like it, but I understand it.  Will I come to hate Michigan or Ohio State – Big 10 crown jewels – like I hate Duke and North Carolina?  I doubt it - but maybe that’s good for my overall health and mood.  My wife is nodding her head.

Still, despite the known reality, this hurts.  I suppose you harbor disdain for your brother…until life parts your paths.  The freshly sounded final buzzer on Maryland’s ACC basketball membership left me awash in nostalgia.  Racing through the significant memories (some good, some bad), I realized this spring marks the 40th anniversary of Maryland’s 103-100 overtime loss to N.C. State in the 1974 ACC title game, perhaps the conference’s greatest game. 

That ’73-’74 Maryland squad, with players like Len Elmore, Tom McMillen and John Lucas, was Maryland’s most talented if not its all-time best.  The loss was particularly painful because, in 1974, at-large NCAA tournament bids didn’t exist (unreal…and unjust).  N.C. State, by the narrowest of margins, went on to the big dance and, eventually, the national championship; the Terrapins swallowed hard and went to…College Park (home).  

The memory of that team reminded me of Comcast’s fabulous “My Life” piece on John Lucas.  Lucas, an All-American and the first overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, is a fascinating subject.  Racked with drug and alcohol addictions, his vagabond NBA career is a tale of unfulfilled promise, the standard-bearer for a drug culture that infected sports in the 1980s. 

In the “My Life” feature, Lucas identified several causal factors for his disease.  Having always dreamed of being an NBA player, he struggled with the “now what?” after being drafted by the Houston Rockets.  Lucas also feared failure, life without sports and getting older.  Sounds familiar, huh?  For Lucas, cocaine made all those worries and all that internal conflict subside – temporarily.

Lucas summarized his one-time mental state with this profound statement: “An addiction wasn’t my problem, life was my problem…I couldn’t live life on life’s terms.”  Individuals exert tremendous influence on their personal odysseys, but a vast component of contentment and happiness is dealing effectively with inevitable unknowns or the random cards that life deals.  To a person, we all struggle with this challenge to some extent; John Lucas succumbed to it – but only temporarily.

This spring wasn’t just the 40th anniversary of that epic Maryland-N.C. State game; March 14th marked the 28th anniversary of John Lucas’ sobriety and a second, “clean” act that has included tremendous work with athletes afflicted with addiction.  When asked what saved him, Lucas noted the love of others and that, “I’m very honest with myself; I’m always under self-examination as to what my motives are.” 

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote, “…with every sunset we get a little older and a little less honest.” John Lucas is getting older, but he remains brutally honest with himself.  It’s a trait that has sustained his wellness.  It is also darn good advice.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

An Afternoon With The Muppets

Every now and then life - real life…you know, the shit that matters - begs your participation. 

On a rare half-day of school recently, my wife called me at work and asked if I wanted to meet her and the kids for a matinee showing of The Muppets Most Wanted.  My schedule was clear, but the tug of work responsibilities and the hassle of interrupting my day nudged me toward taking a pass.

But that would have rendered this day just like every other nondescript day during the grind.  It also would have left a memory unmade - a terrible mistake in the finite word of fatherhood.  So I offered my 9 to 5 a hearty middle finger (mentally, of course), turned in a leave slip and bolted to the theater to hang with my demon seeds, a famous frog and a swine diva. 

Two hours later I emerged with a couple of smiling kids, a reconnection with my youth and the exclamation point for a successful day in dad-ville.  Good luck finding your exclamation point.  Admittedly they can be elusive.