For most of his life, dad has put the needs of everyone else above his own. My sharing the list of things I know he’s done would embarrass him, but I’m willing to bet the list of things he has taken care of without anyone’s knowledge would be twice as long. In this way, he taught me the principles of servant leadership—quiet service to others to build a more just and caring world.

I did not know my parents while growing up. I knew what they looked like and where I could find them every day because we lived in the same house. They were my parents, and I never saw them as individuals. I thought their job was to take care of me; to make sure I had food to eat and clothes to wear.  I think most children feel this way about their parents until they’re well into adulthood. As for me, my perspective changed the summer of 1982.

In 1982, my dad was on the board of directors for our community swim club and one summer Saturday decided he was going to fix a malfunctioning sump pump at the pool. He was up and out of the house early that day, as he usually was, with my little brother in tow. Mom was working. My sisters were sleeping. The house was still and quiet, making it the perfect morning for a 19-year-old college student on summer break to sleep a little later, too.

The phone rang about 11:00 a.m., my sister answered and then woke me to take the urgent call. When I picked up the phone, a family friend told me dad had been injured, and I should come right away. I grabbed a shirt, put on my shoes, and drove up to the pool alone, wondering what had happened and what I would need to do when I go there if I could do anything at all.


I pulled into the parking lot to see paramedics, firemen, and a crowd of concerned friends. They told me the sump pump dad had been working on was in a small well a few feet underground. He had his hands and arms down in the well when the powered-off pump released a residual spark, igniting fumes in the well, and sent a ball of fire shooting up and out of the top where dad and brother were looking in. It happened in an instant, they said, but somehow dad was able to get his face out of the way and move my brother aside.

Paramedics were treating dad for third-degree burns on his arms and hands, and second-degree burns on his face when I saw him. I talked to him briefly and he said he was okay, but I knew he was not. The skin on his arms had blistered, peeled, and rolled down around his hands. It looked as if he had been wearing arm-length latex gloves and had rolled them down around his wrists. My brother had a few singed hairs and some first degree burns—similar to a slight sunburn—on his face from the blowback.

The paramedic told me dad’s condition was serious. It was likely he would be airlifted to Pittsburgh to the regional burn center for treatment, he said. He also told me my brother wasn’t hurt, but like dad, he was in shock, and I should ride in the ambulance to the hospital with him.

Later in the day, Dad was flown to the burn center. After helping my sisters and brother settled with my grandparents, mom and I drove to Pittsburgh. We stayed for a little over a week while dad was stabilized, and then came home for a day. Mom returned the next and stayed for several weeks while dad was treated for his burns and had multiple surgeries for skin grafts. I traveled back and forth several times that summer.

On one visit, I was sitting with mom and dad in the room he then shared with a Rabbi, who had third-degree burns on his hands from a Fry-Daddy® explosion. Both dad and the Rabbi were being treated for pain with heavy doses of morphine, and while alert, they were anything but lucid.

“I used to be a Rabbi,” my dad called out to the real Rabbi in the next bed.

“You did? That is wonderful,” said the Rabbi. “Did you know, I used to kidnap little children for a hobby?”

My mother started laughing so hard—uncontrollably really—she had to leave quickly to find the ladies room. Of course, it would be in the moments after she left that dad would need the bedside urinal and I would need to help him because his hands were bandaged. It was at that moment helping my dad, when I realized my parents were people, too. They had hopes and dreams. They even had bodily functions at the most inconvenient times. Their life and their dreams were on indefinite hold now because of a freak accident.

When dad finished, and I took the urinal away, I needed to do something to take the edge of the awkward moment, so I asked him how to build an AC-to-DC converter to put on the starting buzzer I was making for pool swim meets. I wanted to lower the voltage of the power to the switch since the person tripping the switch would be closer to the water. I did not expect him to tell me. I didn’t think he was lucid. He described the circuit and told me how to diagram it. It worked flawlessly. Teaching me how to diagram a circuit while critically injured and under the influence of painkillers was not the first thing dad taught me. His first lesson was dedication and commitment to the task.

After graduating high school, dad did a short stint in the Navy where his leadership skills earned him an offer for recommendation to attend Officer Candidate School. He turned down the offer and was honorably discharged after three years of service. He moved back to Charleston, married my mother, and started a family. When I was three, he decided to get serious about his college education and began night classes, often carrying a full load each semester, while working full time and raising a family. Five years later, he had earned a B.S. in Business Administration and another in Mathematics.

For most of his life, dad has put the needs of everyone else above his own. My sharing the list of things I know he’s done would embarrass him, but I’m willing to bet the list of things he has taken care of without anyone’s knowledge would be at least twice as long. In this way, he taught me the principles of servant leadership—quiet service to others to build a more just and caring world.

Dad and David

Dad also taught me perseverance and the importance of perspective. When he was younger, he fell asleep while driving and was in a bad single-car accident, but walked away without serious injury. He was helping neighbors trim a tree and were knocked off the ladder by a swinging branch, and fell eight feet onto a pile of branches on the driveway and again, walked away unhurt. He was in the explosion at the pool, and he has had two heart bypass surgeries. Recently, he walked away from another auto accident without injury. My siblings and I encourage him to be more careful because he has used most of his “nine lives.”   He believes there is a purpose in his survival considering how frequently he has had brushes with death.

“I think there’s still someone on this earth I’m supposed to meet,” he says.

To the contrary, I believe many people still need to meet him. Maybe, just maybe, he was is a rabbi once.  of sorts.

Happy 74th Birthday, dad. I love you.

Yesterday I was reminded my body has an expiration date. I know I will die someday, but the dreamer who drives my soul doesn’t like to think of such things. The statistician in charge of my brain, on the other hand, does expiration mitigation calculations thousands of times per day. I just don’t like the reminders from the outside world.

While I remain hopeful for at least fifty-one more years of life, I recognize living to be 100 with a sound mind and body is an unlikely possibility, especially since both are already questionable. Despite the fact I aggressively manage my health, there are hundreds of non-health related reasons that could end my life well before my planned expiration date. This is troubling to me because I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and trouble to cause. I don’t want to run out of time before I’ve accomplished it all.

My arrival at middle age a few years ago came with a piece of baggage labeled, “oppressive sense of mortality.” The luggage is scuffed, tattered, and covered with stickers from travels around the world. Its hinges are worn from the constant opening and closing. Bungee cords hook together over latches that no longer have the strength to hold the baggage closed. It’s ugly, this baggage, and still I’m compelled to look inside for whatever answers it might hold.

I’ve learned from my far too frequent peeks inside that my first twenty-four years of life were for learning the basics for living, and my last twenty-five years were for creating a life. The baggage shows my future, too, swirling amongst all of my hopes, dreams, and plans—those I’ve accomplished and those I now wonder if I ever will accomplish— without a clear direction or any certainty of duration.

Perhaps the most important thing the baggage has shown me is while the past is clear, the future is always uncertain. I’m reminded that although I am not now, who I will become, I am also no longer who I once was—the big dreamer with a lifetime of opportunities. The luxury of time is no longer on my side.

I still dream the big dreams and I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and of course, trouble to cause. I’ve just realized the dreams I had then—the dreams of a young man—are no longer the dreams I need, or frankly want. The seconds of life are far more precious now and I don’t want to waste them on aspirations I know are completely unrealistic or unattainable.

I have many unfinished castles in the sky today. The construction stopped some time ago and the workers have gone home for good. What remains of those castles was mortgaged to pay for the daily happiness I get from living more of my life in the moment and much less of it with my head in the clouds.

I once had the privilege of being the marketing director for a large ski resort in the southeast. It was a cool job, with many perks–free skiing and snowmobile access. I even had a furnished condominium on the property as part of my compensation package.

These perks were meant to offset being on call 24/7 to address guest complaints, as well as the thirty-minute-plus drive down the mountain to a grocery store or a decent bar. It never balanced, though. During the ski season, for example, it was nearly impossible to escape the mountaintop, even for a few hours.

These perks were meant to offset being on call 24/7 to address guest complaints, as well as the thirty-minute-plus drive down the mountain to a grocery store or a decent bar. It never balanced, though. During the ski season, for example, it was nearly impossible to escape the mountaintop, even for a few hours.

Occasionally, my boss took pity on me for those long working hours and would grant a weekend furlough. On one such, get-away I spent the weekend in a major city about three hours from the resort. I left on Thursday night and spent a relaxing weekend with friends and family. I wasn’t quite ready to return to the mountain after such a great trip so I stalled my return on Sunday until about 4:00 p.m.

Because I was running later than planned, I decided to take a short cut. About halfway into the drive between the city and the resort I could drive over a scenic parkway and shave twenty minutes from my trip. However, when winter was in full swing, the parkway had a barricade at each entrance to prevent motorists from being stranded at the higher elevations.

On this particular Sunday, I arrived at the parkway entrance to find the barricade in place, even though there was no snow on the ground and the temperature was well above freezing. I decided to go around the barricade and over the parkway to cut down on my travel time.

I was twenty-five uneventful miles into the thirty-mile trip when I saw patches of ice on the road. I was near the highest elevation on the parkway, so I became concerned about those patches turning into a solid sheet of ice further down the road. I slowed down to 15 mph, but it wasn’t long before my fears came true–a solid sheet of ice covering both lanes of the parkway. I pumped my brakes lightly to slow the car down. Big mistake.

The light tap on the brakes caused the car to go into a spin. I was on a slight decline, so the spin quickly became a sliding spin. With each 360-degree rotation, I could see the side of the road and the near 4,000 ft. drop over the side. The only thing between me, and what might have been the world’s fastest shortcut off the mountain, was a small, rusty guardrail.

On the fourth spin, I hit that guardrail. Fortunately, I didn’t slide into it with enough force to break the barrier. Instead, there was just enough force to bounce the car back from the edge and across the road toward the rock wall just off the road shoulder. As luck would have it, the bumper of the car came to a rest on a small rock ledge in the wall, leaving the wheels hanging above the ditch.

I was relieved to have stopped, but I now had another problem. I had no rear-wheel traction, which is a big problem for a car with rear-wheel drive. I got out of the car to survey the damage. It tried to rock the car, it wouldn’t budge from the ledge. After about thirty minutes, I gave up on that plan. At that elevation, it was cold and the temperature was dropping fast as the sun set. I got back in the car to warm up and to think about whether to wall the next five miles to the main road or wait to see if some other foolish soul would brave the parkway.

Just as I was about to start walking, a couple of hunters happened by in a four-wheel-drive truck, graciously pulled the car off the rocks, and helped me on my way.

That uncontrolled spin on top of the mountain was literally the scariest event of my life. But, it has helped me to keep my perspective when life becomes difficult.

There are times in life when I’m moving along nicely when I see trouble ahead. I’ll try to prevent that trouble by tapping the brakes to slow life down, only to find the path I’m on is slipperier than I thought, and I find myself spinning out of control. When I stop the spinning, I often find myself at the mercy of others–strangers, even–who help me get unstuck and to set me on my way again.

Sometimes we choose to travel the closed roads in life and find ourselves spinning out of control. While an uncontrollable spin is a horrifying experience, I’ve learned the Universe has a way of bringing people into our lives who have just the right equipment to stop our spin, send us on our way, or when needed, go with us to our next destination.

The Universe works in its own time, we must learn to be patient. Waiting for those who the Universe chooses to send is much better than a long, cold walk on an isolated road, any day.

Trust me.

Photo Credit::Spinning top by David Boyle

She was four at the time, full of energy and excitement about the world around her. She was at my side constantly, often asking questions well beyond her years. At times, her insights made me forget how young she was and often caused me to have unreasonable expectations of her abilities.

Of all my children, she is the one who has inherited the more complete package of my traits. Her inquisitive nature, quick wit, vivid imagination, and impulsive leanings are a near match for mine, and something I began to notice when she was four. I knew then these were also the traits that would cause conflict between us later in life.

We were living in northern Florida at the time, and the summer heat had finally retreated for another year, giving way to pleasant fall evenings perfect for leisurely strolls through the neighborhood. Our house was in an older part of the city, and our street wound its way by the St. Johns River. There were places along the circle where friendly neighbors living on the river opened their docks for fishing or quiet evenings of watching the Manatee at play.

She loved to walk with me around the neighborhood. It gave us a chance to talk about things that were on her mind, but mostly I think it was so that she could have some private time with me. She didn’t like the idea of her older sister or baby brother joining us on these walks. She saw this as our time and practically broke down in tears when others wanted to tag along.

With dinner out of the way and dusk coming one evening, I called to her from the kitchen to ask if she wanted to join me on a quick trip around the circle. She came running from the family room, sliding across the kitchen floor in socks and stopping just before me.

“Yes! Let me go put on my super-fast shoes,” she said.

Super-fast shoes? What are super-fast shoes, I thought as she raced to her bedroom. In less than a minute she was back at my side wearing a new pair of Nike® sneakers my mom had given her and that ever-present Barney® cap, worn backward. She looked up at me and smiled.

“See this thing on the side of my shoes, dad? That means these shoes are super fast,” she explained.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me to through kitchen door. She raced down the driveway, and when I caught up, we began our walk. In her super-fast shoes, she would run ahead for a while to explore, then run back to grab my hand and ask me questions, or to bring me things she had discovered a few feet away, or to tell me where she would like to go next as we moved around the circle.

Super-fast shoes have taken her many places as she has grown up. I know there are times when those shoes took her faster than she was ready to go, but she still managed to figure out how to make the speed of travel work to her advantage in the long run. She still does. She makes great memories, and she doesn’t seem to live too much of her life in the blur that I thought those shoes would create.

Since she put on that first pair of super-fast shoes, she’s been moving much faster than I would like to see her go through life. Even so, with each new adventure and no matter how far she runs out in front of me, she always comes back to share her world and brings with it the same wide-eyed excitement she had at four.

It never occurred to me when I was younger that I might so easily remember the many details of my life experiences once I reached middle age.

I remember things I didn’t consciously commit to memory, but somehow I’ve retained them nonetheless. For example, my first day of elementary school; the time I insisted on tasting Crisco® because I was sure it was whipped cream, or; the first time I held a girl’s hand.

I certainly didn’t think I would remember my first telephone number and almost every number since; the theme of my 9th grade dance, or; the beautiful owner of the bright smile and infectious giggle who surprised me with a welcome, yet unexpected, midnight kiss as we rang in 1982.

For most people, it’s easy to remember a high school or college graduation, the first job, the first car, marriage, children, or retirement because these life events or “Memory Moments,” as I call them, are really known as episodic memory and are a key aspect of our personal identities. Memory Moments are similar to those “Kodak® Moments” we see inside theme parks, except we use our brain instead of a camera to capture snapshots of our lives.

For me, every day of my life is like a series of these Memory Moments. A single day is not just twenty-four hours of time; it’s a collection of little stories that I unconsciously make note of and file away for future reference. I love stories and I’m such a visual person that my brain seems to hold onto memories as short movies of my life that it allows me to play-back at will inside my head. All I need do is recall the correct reel to locate a memory.

While I know there’s no guarantee my memories won’t fade, or simply be lost to time, my hope is I’ll always be able to recall those many cherished memories and continue to create new ones as I get older. I’d like to believe that my brain is hedging its bets against future losses based on the sheer volume of memories it allows me to recall now. There’s memory safety in these numbers. At least, this is what I tell myself.

Most of us live our lives in the blur of time that occurs between the memories of our life events. For better or worse, nearly every day of my life becomes a life event that’s captured in living Technicolor® and stored for future showings.

My life has very little of the blur.

I prefer it this way.


Photo Credit::Technicolor kiss by pbump

I immediately noticed the biker when I walked into McDonald’s with the production crew. He sported a full, unkempt gray beard, stood just shy of 6-feet tall, and had a barrel chest. The red felt hillbilly hat he wore seemed out of place with the patch-covered black leather biker’s jacket, camo-print shirt, combat boots, and the cut off green fatigues that stopped just below the top of his boots.

I watched him add something—cream, sugar, or both—to his coffee, and then settle in alone at the table near the window.

While the rest of the crew waited for their food, my friend Marc and I walked back to the table across from the biker. Marc stopped at the biker’s table, turned to me and said, “Let me introduce you to this gentlemen. He’s the guy who is loaning us his bike for the shoot.”

The biker stood up, flashed a big smile, stretched out his hand, and said, “Pleased to meet you.” He had a firm handshake and looked me in the eye as we shook. We talked briefly, and I thanked him for loaning us the bike.

“I’d do anything for you guys. That’s a fine organization you work for,” the biker said.

He sat down again and was joined by the actor who would ride his bike briefly in the video. They talked about motorcycles while we all ate and rested briefly.

After lunch, the biker rode to the set location on an older model Harley Davidson Fatboy, personally customized with hiking sticks, tent poles, and a leather rifle holster—complete with a what I think was a fake rifle—attached to the handlebars. A real Tomahawk hung on the left side of the bike, attached to the saddlebag. With his large goggles, the skull helmet, and his decked out bike he looked menacing when he pulled onto the set. His license plate read, “AT WAR.”

He got off the bike, took off his helmet and said, “If you need me to take anything off the bike, I don’t have a problem with it. Just let me know what you don’t want.”

Before I could answer, Marc said, “Let’s take off anything that looks like a weapon.”

The biker stripped the bike of all weapons and weapon-like things, and then he reached into the right saddlebag and pulled out a cantaloupe. He took out the large, fixed blade knife that was hanging from his belt, sliced off the top of the melon, and cut out the seeds. He wiped the blade on his pant leg and returned it to the sheath on his belt, reached into the saddlebag again, and took out a serving spoon.

“I’ve got some bananas in there, too,” he said with a grin while motioning to the saddlebags with his shaking spoon before digging into the cantaloupe.

He stayed with the production crew for about four hours as we shot the video. Sometime during the shoot, the heat got better of him, and he took off his vest and shirt. I saw a large American flag tattoo covering most of the right side of his chest and noted that he was in pretty good shape to be a man who I guessed to be about 60 years old.

“I graduated from high school in 1966,” he told me. “I served in the military; did over 200 jumps. The National Guard has been good to me and my family.”

“I tried to get them to let me do a little cameo part in your video, you know. But, they just weren’t interested,” he said smiling.

“Where are all the pretty girls?” he asked. “I don’t want to touch them or anything. I’m happily married. I just like being around them.” He laughed, and his eyes seem to twinkle at the thought.

He asked what I did again and why we were making the video. We made some more small talk, and as we were wrapping-up the shoot, I went to my car and picked out an extra branded t-shirt and a couple of patches to give to him as a small token of thanks.

“I don’t suppose you’re much of a t-shirt wearer are you?” I asked as I handed him the shirt and patches.

“No, but I’m not going to turn down your generosity. Thank you. You know, I put all my t-shirts in a box, and my kids take them out and wear them. They’ll get good use. These patches I’ll put with my collection.”

I pulled a Good Turn coin out of my right pocket. I explained how and why it’s used and I gave it to him as I thanked him for his good deeds that day and his service.

“Oh, it’s your coin, huh? What’s your name again?” he asked.

“David Harkins,” I said. I remembered his name.

“David Harkins,” he repeated slowly.

He put his hand in his front pocket and started fishing for something.

“I have a pocket full of condoms,” he said. “I’ve already called my wife and told her to expect a party when I get home.” He let go of a belly laugh so full and loud the crew recording sound 200 feet away shushed us and reminded us we were on a live set.

He pulled something from his pocket, took my hand and pulled it forward from my side.

He said, “I want you to have this David Harkins,” and with respect, he placed an object in my palm. When he took away his hand, I saw his challenge coin.

The front read, “The Green Berets – To Fight So Others May Remain Free” and the back carried the Special Forces Airborne logo and 2b Bn 19th SFG (A).

It’s said that challenge coins were originated by the Army Air Corp and were used as a means of identification and allegiance when Airmen were caught behind enemy lines without identification. I understand these coins are mostly ceremonial now, used to recognize achievement and support or to enhance morale. Still, it’s considered an honor by those in the military to receive one, especially when presented by a high-ranking officer.

I never asked his rank or where he served. It didn’t matter. In that moment, a military veteran—a Green Beret—with over 200 jumps to his credit and one who had likely faced things in his life I will never dream about, thought enough of me and my service to America’s youth that he wanted to thank me using a tradition that held significant meaning to him.

I was so moved I could barely thank him. I’ve never received a greater honor from anyone.

I’m not sure I ever will.

The Boy, the Niece, and I spent the day milling around Savannah after a college visit with Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The city buzzes with creativity; young artists and musicians freely share their talents and ideas without fear of judgment. The city and its people nurture creativity and encourage freedom of expression.

To me, the city feels like a wonderful place for budding talent to fully bloom. Time will tell if the Boy and the Niece will feel the same. Regardless, it’s their choice.

I am certain, though, that they will achieve artistic success regardless of the college or life path they choose. Today, I learned that they already understood something that took me nearly twenty years to learn: creativity thrives only when given complete freedom for individual expression.

Two teenagers got in the car with me yesterday. Two adults got out of the same car this evening. The funny thing is I don’t think they changed at all during the last twenty-four hours.


I’ve even come to grips with the fact that super human speed exceeds my physical ability. Though it has taken me a long time to understand and accept it, I also know this: I can be a “hero” to someone...

The summer between my fourth and fifth grade was unbearably hot, but it did not prevent my friends and me from playing together outside. We welcomed the freedom summer brought to our lives and were out from morning to night, often taking a break from our activities to sit under the tree we had just climbed, or to chase the ever-present lightning bugs at dusk in the in hopes of capturing enough in a jar to light the way home. We were prone to occasional role-playing, engaging in a game of “Army” or “Cowboys and Indians.” This particular summer brought on a new game, though. It was the summer of the superheroes.

Superfriends, a Saturday morning cartoon about a team of superheroes, had launched the fall before, and my friends and I were hooked on the idea of having some special power and secret identity behind which we could hide. While we had read the comic books, the cartoon brought the characters to life for us. It also didn’t hurt that the Superfriends had a couple of kids and a dog as sidekicks. It gave us hope, I suppose, that we could do something extraordinary in our lives.

We didn’t confine ourselves just to the superheroes that appeared in the cartoon. That summer we became any superhero we chose. Sometimes I was Thor, other times I was the Flash. Once in a while, I became Captain America or Aquaman. Everyone had his favorite superhero, but no one ever really wanted to be the Batman.

“He’s useless as a superhero,” my friends would say. “He doesn’t have any superpowers at all! Sure, he has gadgets, but he can still die from being shot or from falling off a building. Who wants to be a superhero that can die? Who wants to be a superhero that’s SO normal?! He’s not even a superhero, you know? He’s just a man!”

Occasionally a new kid would join us and be such a Batman fanatic that he would suffer the barbs and crazy talk to assume the role. Unfortunately, the Batman was always the first one “killed” by whichever arch nemesis we were fighting that day. He was first to die because he was human and the most vulnerable of us all, but mostly, we just needed to make that point. I always felt a little sorry for the Batman and that new kid whose faith in the character couldn’t be swayed by the thought of early death.

Although I secretly wanted to be the Batman, I didn’t have the conviction of character, or frankly, the desire to endure the taunts of choosing to be him that summer. The Batman died at least 100 times that summer. He kept coming back. Not once did I take on the role.

As an adult, I know that we each selected characters to be that summer to provide a needed distraction from our own shortcomings and fears. We were on the verge of our teenage years but still wanted to hold on to our childhood belief that we could be someone—anyone–powerful and important, but not who we really were that summer. I know now that I wanted to be Thor because he was strong and in control, neither of which I could quite manage as one of the smallest of my friends. The Flash appealed to me because he was very fast and I was not fast at all. Aquaman controlled the water, and then the water controlled me. Captain America was my favorite because Steve Rogers, his alter ego, was a sickly young man who became a perfect human specimen with the help of an experimental serum. I longed for an experimental serum of my own.

Of all the characters we played that summer,  I think I learned the most from Batman; the superhero that no one aspired to be. You see, the Batman was just a regular guy trying to make a difference. There’s nothing easy about being a superhero.  But, the man who was most vulnerable even with all of his wits and gadgets working for him, and the occasional kid who took on the role, taught me this. Superheroes can come from all walks of life, and we should never be afraid to do the right thing even when some early death, speaking metaphorically, is sure to result from our actions.

Today, I am no longer sickly or afraid of water. At 6′ 3″, I’m bigger than most of my friends, but I know now that I will never really be in control of things.  I’ve even come to grips with the fact that superhuman speed exceeds my physical ability. Though it has taken me a long time to understand and accept it, I also know this: I can be a “hero” to someone just by being a regular guy who tries to make a difference. This is what I strive to do every day.

So, yeah, I can finally admit it. I’m the Batman.

I hope you are, too.


Inspired in part by Five for Fighting’s “Superman.