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Happy 7th Birthday, Henry. (The Most Important Thing I’ve Ever Written)

 

You is kind.
You is smart.
You is important.
– The Help

Oct 1, 2006

I remember two things about the day you were born, son. The first is that it was a Sunday and the St Louis Rams were playing on TV. When your mother and I arrived at the hospital the evening before, I realized that our in-room TV had only 3 channels. Wondering if this was 1986 or 2006, I was happy to pass the time that Sunday afternoon watching football. I had one eye on the game and one eye on you as you made your much-anticipated entrance. The second thing I remember is that after you were born, I went out to get your mom some dinner. It was late, and on my way back to the hospital, I stopped at a local gas station and bought a 6 pack of beer. I wish I could say this was a spur-of-the-moment act by an over-joyed new father, looking to make a celebration. The truth is, it was pre-meditated. So much so, in fact, that as your mother prepared for your arrival by filling  her Mother- To-Be suitcase with your first onesie, pacifiers and stuffed animals, I was preparing by being sure I had a cooler in the trunk of the car. I knew, 36 hours before you were born, that I would need a way to sneak booze into your hospital room. As you took your first sips of milk, I was downing Bud Lights.

Oct 1, 2010

I snapped the above video  on October 1st, 2010, your 4th birthday. There is nothing particularly unique about this video, except that I don’t remember taping it. Earlier that day, I participated in a local charity golf tournament. The 11:00am shotgun start was also my signal to crack open the first beer. I drank all day and won that tournament. About the time I should have been celebrating the 4th anniversary of your birth with candles and cake,  I was toasting my victory with a bottle of red wine. The next morning, I awoke to see that I had posted this video on my Facebook page.  As I stared at the screen, watching you and your brother, Charlie, run around the house, I knew something had to change. If I kept this up, I thought, I might not see your 5th, let alone 7th birthday. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that would be the last time I was ever drunk.

The following Monday, I entered a library, found a book titled “The Best Life Diet”, and checked it out. At first, I thought I needed to get in shape, which I did. What the book taught me  was there was a bigger reason why I struggled with my weight.  The diet suggested that I take 30 days off from drinking. I did, and it was the best month of my life. I found energy, time and you. I found your brother and your mother and it  was amazing. Shortly thereafter, I decided I wasn’t going to drink anymore.

Oct 1, 2013

Today marks the 3 year anniversary of that golf tournament, and I’ve been sober ever since. With this confession today, people will treat me differently, they may treat you differently, as well. Unfortunately, we’ll be judged. It would be easy to continue to give half answers to direct questions as to why I no longer drink. After all, why endanger the relationships I’ve worked so hard to build?  Why not keep this our little secret?  A pact between a father and son, never to be told, never to be repeated.

The answer lies in why I’m writing to you today.

Henry, there will come a time when you are asked to stand up for what you believe in, to stand up to a crowd of “nay-sayers” & “cannots”. There will be a time you are made to feel the outcast, like you don’t belong.  The fear will overwhelm you like a boat against the power of the tide, paddling as the waves crash upon you. Exhausted, you will be asked to find the courage to rise above and be yourself. And at that moment, when you feel the urge to turn to me and say, “Dad, I can’t”. I want you to think back to your 7th birthday, when your father sat down in front of a computer and proclaimed to any who would listen, “My name is Greg Younger and I’m an alcoholic.”

On a day we celebrate your birth, I want to thank you for giving me life.

Happy 7th Birthday, Henry. (The most important thing I’ve ever written)

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How Do You Raise a One-Armed Boomerang?

When I was 18, my parents asked me what I wanted for graduation. I thought and pondered, pondered and thought. What I really wanted, above all else, was my freedom. I didn’t want to live at home anymore, my only issue was money, I didn’t have any. I devised a plan and presentation, complete with notes and figures. For graduation, I told my parents, I wanted to move out of the house. I would agree to take a class at the local college, work nights to cover my cost of living, if they would fit the bill for the apartment. Knowing that I’d be attending the University of Kansas in Lawrence after the summer, I figured this would be a great “test-run” of the college life. I even called around and found a local complex allowing for 3 month leases. After reviewing my proposal, my parents agreed, and the lease was signed.

That summer and the “Party Apartment” (as it became known) were on my mind when I heard about the “Rising Share of Young Adults living in Their Parents Home“. Apparently, at the end of 2012, 36% of young adults age 18-31 lived with their parents…36%! They are commonly called Boomerang Kids. Sent out of the house for a short while, only to return, like a boomerang, years later. That’s an amazing statistic. As a parent, it’s scary thought. I have three boys, Henry, Charlie & Max, ages 7, 4 & 1. How do I raise three One-Armed Boomerangs that fly straight through life, never making that u-turn back to my basement?

No child dreams of growing up and living with their parents. And, of course, there are situations when living at home, or needing help from a parent is the only choice. I’ve leaned on my parents plenty. But how do I raise my boys to value responsibility?

I’ve heard it said, from parent to child, “Do as I say, not as I do”. I verbalize how I want my boys to act. “Do your homework,” “Be nice to your friends,” “Clean up your room,” “Eat your vegetables.” Each instruction, outwardly describing a behavior I want to instill in my child. Yet, I often wonder, is it my actions, not my words, that are being heard?

Maybe the secret to breaking the arms of my little Boomerangs is to look inward, not speak outward, and examine how closely aligned my actions are to my words. Do I take my work seriously? Am I nice to the people I meet? How healthy do I live my life? Maybe if I want my boys to be disciplined, healthy, and keep a clean room, I should demonstrate constraint, eat right and take care of my belongings. Want a child to be good with money? Ask yourself, “How good am I with dollars and cents?” Want a child to listen, do less talking. Want a child less dependent on you, become less dependent on others. (See: Parents, Grand) Sure, it’s possible to live a life out of balance, only to see your own child choose a life in contrast to your own, but more often than not, it won’t happen.

The most important attribute I can demonstrate is the desire to become better and grow. I am not a not perfect parent, perfect son, perfect boss, but I can be better. Working on ourselves might be this life’s greatest challenge. Yet, it’s a choice, and it’s a behavior that will be learned by my children, and that’s a great thing. Because if I do nothing else but demonstrate a life-long lust to making myself a better person, and my sons only learn that one teaching, how can I fault myself for who they become?

1996 was a great summer, living in that one-bedroom apartment in West Wichita, working nights at Chili’s, and drinking on a fake ID. I aced that English 101 class and left for college later that summer, never to return. I have my parents to thank for raising this one-armed boomerang. And to my sons Henry, Charlie & Max…I don’t care what your presentation looks like, I’m not renting you an apartment for graduation!

Charlie Goes Skylander Hunting

I didn’t play many video games growing up. I spent my days outside; throwing balls against the house and breaking windows. My next door neighbor, Petey, had all the games. After school, I’d sometimes head over to his house and watch him play his Nintendo. Usually, after a few games, I’d get bored and head back outside. It’s hard to say whether my sons will become “gamers”, like Petey or “outsiders” like me. We own a Wii and the boys have recently become interested in a game called Skylanders. They are hot and cold on the game, it usually depends on the day and whether their friends are outside. But I do know this…my kids LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to watch videos on the Ipad. In particular, they love to watch toy videos.

When I was growing up, we had the JCPenny catalog. Every month or so we’d get this inch-thick book in the mail and I’d go through the toy pages, line by line, soaking up all the new toys and dreaming. I loved imagining that I could only have one toy on each page. I would go back and forth, in my mind, trying to decide which of the Star Wars, Transformers or Thundercat figurines I wanted for Christmas. So I understand my sons infatuation with the YouTube toy videos, it’s like the JCPenny catalog on steroids.

In particular, my boys love a video series called EvanTubeHD. Evan is a 7-year-old boy who does toy reviews of all the latest games. If you’ve got small children, it’s worth a look. You can see it here. The series is very PG and Evan’s father plays a prominate role in the series. My boys can sit down and watch EvanTubeHD for hours. And they are constantly asking me to make a video of them, just like “EvanTubeHD”.

Fast forward to Labor Day, 2013. Charlie, my 4-year-old, has been on a year-long potty training escapade. (Read about how it all started here). Charlie tends to go a few days without accidents, then he’ll “mail it in” for a day and have several potty-in-the-pants moments. In an effort to get Charlie focused, we decided to create a “Potty Challenge”. If Charlie could go seven days without an accident, I’d take him shopping for a new Skylander. As an added bonus, I told him I’d take a video of him and put it on YouTube. It took Charlie some time, but he finally made it seven days without incident. What follows is our first CharlieTubeHD video. Enjoy!

Embrace The Velcro

This post orginally published as part of a writer’s series called “5 Things for New & Expectant Fathers”.  See the orginal here & be sure to check out www.playgrounddad.com for lots of cool Daddy Stuff!

I have three boys under the age of 6. I’m knee deep in action heroes, Thomas the Train, diapers and spit up, so believe me when I say there’s a lot that was never revealed to me as an expecting parent. The level of craziness in your home grows slowly, child by child as they age and get active. It takes reflection to realize how calm and independent your life was pre-kids. With that in mind, here are some things to think about as you embark on this journey known as Fatherhood.

#1 – Consider A Career Change
I’d like you to take stock of whatever career you’ve chosen and begin to think real hard about learning to make baby formula or batteries. Both are obscenely expensive and cannot be found in the “used aisle” or dollar store. I often wonder why Walter White from Breaking Bad decided to cook meth when he could have made infinitely more money, and garnered much less hazards, had he just learned the chemical reactions that yield baby formula. If you’re not 100% satisfied with the life you’ve chosen, or the amount of money you make, trust me, and take a long look at batteries & baby formula.

#2- You Will Lose the Sock Battle
Treat everyone of your child’s socks likes it’s the last time you’ll ever see them again. After the pair of socks enters the wash cycle, they will disappear and you will find it nearly impossible to find an exact pair. Enter any preschool in America, and ask the kids to take off their shoes, you will find that not one single pair matches. You will lose this battle; don’t even spend the energy trying. You will, of course, not believe me and in an attempt to deceive the Sock Gods, buy different colors, styles, try rubber band techniques, search Pintrest for clever solutions…but it won’t work, the Sock Gods will always win. Go teach your kid how to read or ride a bike…it’s a much better use of your parental energy.

#3 – Let’em cry it out
Look guys, your kids will start to control your lives from the second they are born. It’s in their genetic makeup to push the boundaries and try to get away with anything and everything. Nothing personifies this like sleeping habits. Unless you want an hour long nightly routine or a child that walks before they sleep through the night, you better embrace the “cry it out” methodology. A little crying never hurt anyone, and the end result is you sleeping more, so let’em cry.

#4 – It ain’t cheap if it breaks
I hate to sound like your 85 year old grandma, but the truth is the truth. Head to your local “Toys R Us” and you’ll find a Thomas the Train figurine selling for $12.00 or the whole set selling for $99.99. At which point, you might ask yourself “why is this sooo expensive?”…I’ll tell you why…your kids are gonna treat these toys like a rag doll and yet it’ll still usable after 10 years. This is especially true for outdoor toys…nothing ruins a nice afternoon quite like the wheel coming off that piece of crap scooter you bought for lil’ Joey’s birthday. Buy quality. Short term pain is long term gain.

#5 – Zippers & Velcro were created not to be ignored
After your child is born and you’ve experience about 3 months of sleep deprivation and you and The Wife are battling the dreaded “Eye-Twitch”, and its 4:00am, you don’t want to deal with buttons…it’s hard enough to jumble with those tiny diapers, throw in 46 random buttons that NEVER align correctly, and you’ll be wishing for that zipper. As for Velcro, you’ll quickly find that your life as a parent is a constant battle of the dressing and undressing of your children. The knots and double knots, and broken strings and tripping and tripping….there’s no need for it! Embrace The Velcro, fathers, Embrace The Velcro.

Image Credit: Helen Harrop

Use These 5 Parenting Tips To Become a Better Leader

I was a leader before I was a parent.  Starting as a sales manager and continuing as a small business owner, I developed my leadership skills before entering into the daunting world of parenting.  I tend to growth exponentially when challenged.  As I juggle roles and projects, I learn about myself and am forced to become more efficient to succeed.  Now, as a parent, I find myself challenged in whole new way.  Challenged to work smarter, not harder, learn to perform at a high level, while creating balance.  What I’ve really found is that my role as a parent is making me a better leader.  Here’s 5 ways:

1. Eat Dinner as a family

Growing up, my family almost always ate together  around the dinner table. As we got older, it became harder to accomplish, especially on a daily basis, but my mother insisted on us eating as a family as often as we could. As a parent, I want the same thing for my family. Sitting at the dinner table allows us to “check-in”…ask about our days and connect. As a leader, you should be doing the same thing with all of your employees. I have frequent one-to-one’s with my staff in order to lay the ground work for the week, hold us accountable to our goals and ensure that we are on the right path. As leaders and parents, we need to stay connected, because our lives get busy.

2. Parent Every Child Different

Some kids stare off into space, while others can’t stop moving. Some listen to direction, while others fight you tooth and nail. How we parent will always depend on the child. Each one has certain gifts and abilities, as parents, we should identify those abilities and parent accordingly. This applies to our staff as well. As leaders, we must understand the strengths and weakness of our team, so we can put our staff in a position to win. Of course, rules are rules, and you’ll get nowhere if you’re always playing favorites. But understanding how much rope you can give an employee will help you develop their abilities at a faster pace, while creating a more productive team.

3. Make time for Mom & Dad

Parenting is hard, it can feel chaotic and tornadic at times.  It can be easy to lose perspective and take your frustrations out on your partner. In order to be a great parent, you’ve got to have balance.  That balance should include whatever it takes for you and your partner to feel re-energized.  Date nights, golfing with your buddies, or a day at the spa…it doesn’t matter, just as long as the kids are not involved!  As an organizational leader, you must take time away from your role in order to gain perspective and plan your future accordingly. At least once a quarter, I head out to a restaurant or coffee shop and plan my goals for all the organizations I lead.  This allows me to hit the “reset” button and identify exactly where I want to take my groups. This also allows me to gain perspective on which team members are playing the biggest role in our success, and thank them accordingly.

4. Do as I Say, Not as I Do

You don’t have to be a parent very long to figure out this doesn’t work!  The first time your child says a cuss word, or screams “why do I have to go to bed, you and mommy get to stay up!”, you realize that your parental actions will often be listened to more acutely than any direction that may come out of your mouth.  This absolutely applies to the work environment. I recognize that my staff watches what I do just as much as they listen to what I say.  Do you want your team to be organized, efficient, and proactive? Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you posses those traits, the answer could be telling.

5. Have Dance Parties

Come by my house on any random Saturday night and you’ll hear the volume turn up and see my family dancing around the living room.  We laugh, we smile, we dance! My wife and I will always value having fun with our kids. You may not find it appropriate to have dance parties at the office, but you should be looking to have fun, however you see fit. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, maybe buy some pizza’s one day to say Thank You or sponsor a toy drive for the Holidays…anything that allows for a little fun and connection goes along way towards creating a great working environment.  Don’t forget that the office can get very stale, it’s your job as the leader, to ensure that doesn’t happen…so get out there and dance!

Photo Credit

Clifford The Big Red Dog – A Statistical Analysis

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As a father in search of his DaddyBalance, I ask myself many questions. Many can’t be answered and that can become overwhelming. There are medical questions like “What is that bump on his head? Is it serious? Should I call the doctor?” There are social questions like “Does he play well with others at school? Does he misbehave like this when I’m not around?”  Even political questions like “Which of these two candidates give my family the best chance for continued success? Which candidate will implement policies that are best for my boys?”  To be honest, I don’t consider myself qualified to answer many of the questions that pop in my head, so let’s stick with one that I am qualified to answer:

“How much do you think it costs to care for Clifford the Big Red Dog?”

If you are new to parenting small children, or have retired from that game many years ago, you may not be aware of the three-storied Clifford and his child owner Emily Elizabeth.  But if you are aware, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself that question numerous times…right? No, really, please tell me that you’ve asked yourself that question…maybe once? No? Well, let’s move on…

As the story goes, Mary Elizabeth sets out to buy a puppy and chooses the runt of the litter, which happens to be a red Labrador. Once she brings it home, it begins to eat them out of house and home, becoming larger and larger until he’s outgrown the apartment, forcing Mary Elizabeth and her family to leave the city for the spacious island life off the coast. Let’s start here: That takes some real parenting dedication to uproot your family and job for a dog. Also, wouldn’t you think about selling him at this point? I mean you have a red dinosaur-size dog in your possession, at best, Purina wants it for science, at worst a traveling freak show would pay high dollar for this thing…sell then and you probably break even, hold onto him and your about to make a very sizable investment, how large? Let me answer that for you…Read on, my friends, read on:

Food

Can you imagine feeding that animal?  This would be one of your larger line items when assessing the cost of ownership. When you watch the opening credits of Clifford, it’s easy to see that he’s grown to become a 3 story behemoth.  According to http://www.goldenretrieverforum.com, the average lab grows to be about two feet, meaning that Clifford is approximately 15 times the size of the regular dog (30’/2′). According to that same site, labs tend to eat 4 cups of food a day, once again multiplying this by 15, that’s 60 cups a food a day. Considering you can get 208 cups of food out a 52 lb. bag, it would take about 2 bags to feed Clifford for one week, or about 104 bags a year.  At $25/bag, that’s about $2500.  Let’s not forget treats, after all, Clifford spends most of his day saving the people of his island from fires and floods.  Let’s assume 30 boxes of Kibble n Bits for the Big Guy, which will run us another $500.  Grand total for food?  $3,500/year.

Water

Imagine filling up your child’s backyard pool…2-3 times…everyday! That’s a lot of water. I watered my grass a bit this summer and filled up the pool a few times and saw my bill skyrocket by over $100/month. I’m willing to be conservative here and say that Clifford would increase your water bill by $300/month. Who knows, maybe you could move to place that has a well or is close to a lake, but for the sake of this projected budget, let’s assume we don’t.

Housing

Ol’ Cliffdog’s not sleeping at the end of your bed.  If you’re an avid watcher of the show, you’ll know that Clifford lives in a warehouse-like dog house. It looks pretty cool, actually, for a dog-warehouse.   New construction on a place like that, with heating and cooling, could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we’ll assume $100,000. Further, let’s assume you believe Clifford will live for 15 years and you take out a 15 year loan, at a very competitive 4.35%, your mortgage, including estimated tax and insurance would come to $878/month.  Congrats, you now have two mortgages.

Leashes, Collars & Toys

I checked out this site, to get an idea of various dog ownership costs.  It’s been a while since I had a dog…Gracie was her name, lab/chow mix …she was nice…scared of her own shadow, shed all over the place, couldn’t sit down in a car, but nice none-the-less.  She bit my oldest son, twice, so now she’s in doggy heaven.  Look, I pretty much took the numbers from that site and multiplied it by 15…we don’t have all day here people, it’s a cartoon.

Grooming

A shampoo & rinse at my local Petsmart runs $25-$50.  If we multiplied that by 15, it puts us at $375-$750.  How many times does Clifford need washed?  Every six weeks?  Every few months?  Who knows, but I assumed $3,500 for the year.

Medical  

Type of Expense Approximately Amount/Yearly
Food and Treats $3,000
Water $2,500
Mortgage on Dog House w/ 1% Tax $10,300
Toys $1,000
Leashes and Collars $375
Grooming $3,500
Routine Veterinary Care $3,500
Preventive Medications and Supplements $500
Yearly Total $24,675
Average Monthly Cost of Owning a Dog $2,014
15 Year Cost $370,125

The costs to medically care for a dog the size of Clifford could be off the charts.  According to the site referenced above, you should budget $200-$300 year, which would put us in the $2,000 range, but quite frankly, that seems low, so I made up a number and we’ll go with $3,500.  Throw in another $500 for preventive care and supplements and I’m beginning to wonder if Obamacare covers Big Red Dogs.

So, how much does it cost to care for Clifford The Big Red Dog?  About 2 G’s a month, $24,000 a year, or $370,000 for a 15 year life span…for that kind of money, he should be able to talk…oh, he does?  Maybe we should call that freak show!  The lesson here?  Don’t let your child buy a red dog…ever.

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As a father in search of his DaddyBalance, I ask myself many questions.  There are, of course, real questions that need my attention.  Questions like, “which school should Henry attend?” “Is Charlie’s speech OK for a three-year old?”…”Is that O.J. or pee on the floor?”

Other questions enter my mind, or better yet, are sent there from others.  But part of finding balance is understanding which ones stay and which one’s go.  A father, a mother, a parent of any kind, could, if they weren’t careful, spend a lot of negative time and energy debating questions of perceived importance.  They could double down on that mistake by debating those questions with information based on assumptions.  Assumptions of fiscal cliffs and balanced budgets…assumptions of future job growth and unemployment…assumptions of tax rates and “One-Percents”, but debating at the top of my lungs those items based on assumptions & assumptions only, seems to be silly to me…as a silly as a statistical analysis of a cartoon dog.

Photo Credit

Parenting in the Facebook Era

Bullies & Cliques: Two interpersonal dynamics that, unfortunately, don’t out-grow adolescence. You know Noah who makes fun of everyone on the playground? Well, he grows up to be Noah in accounting, the guy that constantly tears you down during staff meetings.  How about the cool girls in school, the one’s with latest fashions & trends, standing in a crowd, pointing at you…giggling.  Well, that’s the same crew that gathers in the office lobby and continues to giggle at you as they pile into the elevator for lunch.  Unfortunately, maturity is not a rite of passage experienced by all…nor is self-esteem a requisite for adulthood.

Nothing personifies this today quite like Facebook. As fathers & mothers of young children, we are sandwiched between our parents, who often find the technology to be overwhelming, yet are engaged by their 36 friends and pictures of the grandchildren. On the other side rests those young kids who’ve grown up in a Facebook world. Let’s just say I’m happy FB wasn’t around for my college road trips, European travels, and previously unknown high school parties at my parents’ house.

“Wow, there was a Jim Beam bottle in the mailbox…really? Uh, not sure where that came from Mom, got go to school, see ya!”

(Note to the future Me: Don’t leave my youngest alone on Prom Weekend)

No, our Facebook challenges are more difficult, more cerebral. Today, our generation tends to do 1 of 4 things on Facebook:

1. Play Games. Speaking of which, do you need something to do? I’ve got 3 things that come to mind if you’re looking for some productive use of your time…there names are Henry, Charlie & Max.
2. Re-post somewhat humorous/inspirational pictures that have you feeling like you’ve entered an online version of an Oprah show.
3. Expound on their political views. Freedom of speech has it downsides.
4. Post picture/stories about their kids.

I’ve been, to varying degrees, guilty of all of them…But it’s the fourth that creates issues for parents today. As we scroll through our timeline, it can be difficult to understand that we are seeing the parenting peaks of our friends, not the collection of one super-human, all-encompassing parent.  And because we tend not  to post our parenting valleys, we can get the sense that everyone you know has got this parenting thing figured out while your three kids are running around like a band of vigilantes.

“Henry, stop swinging your brother, he’s 7 weeks old and you’re gonna make him throw up…Charlie get away from the door, and put some pants on…Ohhh, see, he threw up all over his new shirt…GET IN TIMEOUT, NOW!…”

We don’t see FB updates like “Spanked the hell out of my kid in public today” or “went ahead and mailed it in and put my 3-year-old in front of the TV for 3 hours while I ate like dog shit”.

No, instead, we post items that highlight our children’s world, mostly so that people in our circle can be kept abreast of the comings and goings of our lives…yet our posts can seem arrogant, superficial,  cliquish…

The result can be devastating. So much so that a few people I know and respect have gotten off FB altogether. I can respect that. Often times the best way to overcome negative energy is to move away from it.

I tend to think the upside of connecting and sharing out-weighs the negative thought processes that enters my head. Besides, if we remember that these postings represent parenting peaks, then we should be truly happy for our loved ones & friends.  We shouldn’t take it as an indication of our inability to parent. Here’s my “Am I Good Parent?” test:

1. Do I love my kids? Check
2. Do I wake up every morning, and try to do my best in balancing the needs of my kids, with the needs of my wife and myself? Check

Everything else is secondary.

So, next time you jump on Facebook, after sifting through the Obama/Romney discourse that enlightens everyone…and you see that your neighbor went to school to have lunch with their kids, or took the day off to take’em to the zoo, or whatever it is that we do to make a difference in our children’s lives, don’t take it personal, don’t feel inadequate.  Ask yourself the two test questions above.  If you can answer yes to both, you’re all right in my book…

….now, I think I’ll go post this on Facebook.

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