Never Doubt a Tiger

If you’re a golfer or love the game, I suspect the moment you knew Tiger Woods could win ‘The Masters’ was similar to mine.

Before the momentum shifted, a friend sent me these words:

“Amen Corner probably decides this”.

Leading by 2 strokes, Francesco Molanari, cool and confident all day, hit his ball into the water at the 12th tee; a shot that wasn’t even close to seeing dry land. Tiger (in 2nd place) was next and crushed his attempt to the middle part of green. Not surprisingly, Tony Finau followed Molanari’s lead and took a bath in Rae’s Creek as well.

I said to myself "It's over".

Before the Tiger threesome arrived on hole 12, rivals Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter had both dropped off the leader board after drowning their balls in that same water – which Tiger was aware of.  1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th place had melted in their moment of truth. From his two decades of Masters experience, Woods knew he had to play it safe.

To be fair, it was far from an ideal atmosphere for the leaders on Sunday, as the crowd was clearly on Tiger’s side, where the deafening cheers could be heard a hole away.

The treacherous holes of Amen Corner (11-13) have been the downfall of many capable men, but one would have thought Molanari wouldn’t have been rattled so easily, considering how well he had played (1 bogey through 3 rounds) before Sunday’s start. He was one of the hottest golfers in the past year, winning the 2018 ‘Open Championship’ and the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month.

The pressure of Amen corner, along with knowing Tiger was lurking only 2 shots behind, may have been too grand of a stage for Molanari. 2 bogeys and 2 double bogeys speak volumes about his day. Amongst the leaders, Tiger’s playing partners (Molanari and Finau) were the only ones not to shoot below par. Coincidence or the effect of playing alongside Tiger?

The final holes (13 -18) gave us flashes of the old Tiger, methodic, steely, patient, confident and full of solid to perfect shots, including the beautiful one on the 16th (Par 3) hole, where his tee shot was close enough for an easy tap in birdie. It was his Masters to lose at that point and he calmly closed the deal.

Tiger was back, back again.

After watching what I consider to be the greatest comeback story in the history of American sports, I know why I doubted Tiger, but surely won’t make that mistake again.

I never thought Tiger would win another Major, unlike several friends who had the utmost faith in him. My certainty was due primarily to his injury history below, most notably those 3 back surgeries, along with the ‘fear factor’ that seemed to be missing.

Tiger’s Injury History:

2008 – Torn ACL
2010 – Neck Injury
2011 – Sprained MCL, Achilles
2012 – Achilles Injury
2014 – Back Surgery
2015 – Back Surgery
2017 – Spinal Fusion (Back Surgery) Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion

With the old Tiger (1996 -2009), he would show up on Sunday with the familiar red NIKE shirt and golfers would often wilt or play a game they weren’t familiar with.  It happened time and time again and the fear was glaring. They knew if Tiger was in the lead on Sunday, they had little to no chance to win.  In Majors, he is 14-0 when having at least a share of the lead.

In addition, the young golfers today are much better, stronger and less fearful compared to his competition from his dominant 13 year run with 14 Majors. To give you an idea of how incredible Woods was back then, the top players (Mickelson, Els and Singh) during that time had 9 Majors combined. They only have 11 Majors now.

I don’t know of any professional golfer who has played with a fused back.  The fact that Tiger was competitive in two Majors last year (and won the Tour Championship) with that back, blew my mind, considering by his own admission that he wasn't able to play with his kids two short years ago.

I attributed his strong showing in the Majors last season (2018) more to his vast experience, supreme talent and knowing how to win. I didn’t think his back would hold up and never thought he wouldn’t have at least a few back issues. I expected 2 or 3 strong rounds in a Major, although couldn't imagine that he could string together 4 of them.

He must have had superb doctors and/or surgeons or maybe it’s just that golf is a sport where one’s mind can overcome the constraints of the body.  I also should have remembered that Tom Watson almost won the 2009 Open Championship at age 59!

I’ve followed and been a fan of Tiger’s since his teenage days, where he won 3 consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur titles – that event’s only three-time winner.

The 1997 Masters win at age 21 was as thrilling as any event I witnessed on TV. To see him annihilate (by 12 strokes) the older and more experienced competition was surreal.

At the 2000 PGA Championship, Tiger had to make a difficult 10 foot putt on the last hole to force a playoff with Bob May. If he misses that shot, Bob May would have been a first time winner. He nailed it of course and went on to defeat May in a 3 hole playoff.  It was Tiger’s fifth Major and gave us a glimpse of his toughness and steely nerves.

Another brilliant scene was during the 2000 RBC Canadian Open, where he hit an impossible 6 iron from the bunker (213 yards over water) and landed it softly on the green. I don’t know if any professional would even attempt that shot.

Beating Rocco Mediate on an injured left knee at the 2008 US Open is another phenomenal memory. I was in a sports restaurant at the time and the entire place was glued to the TV.

A few other notable points as it relates to Tiger:

·   Arnold Palmer is an icon and a big reason why golf is so popular. He won 7 Majors to Tiger's 15. Think about that.

·    Two of the best golfers of all time, Gary Player and Ben Hogan each won 9 Majors.

·    Tiger has held the outright 54-hole lead 46 times in his PGA Tour career. He went on to win 44 of them.

·     He is the only golfer to win 4 consecutive Majors - called the Tiger Slam.

His 14 Majors and vast regular PGA Tour victories were electrifying, including an era where Ernie Els finished 2nd to Tiger on 5 occasions - the most of any golfer. If not for Woods, Els may have 6 Majors instead of 4, as he was second in two of Tiger’s 14 Major victories. 

For this 15th win at Augusta, it was the first time he has come from behind on Sunday to win a Major.

When the 2009 sex scandal with his wife Elin occurred, I’ll never forget the anger and jokes that were thrown Tiger’s way, especially here in Sweden since his now ex-wife is a Swede. I heard several say that they would boycott the products that Tiger endorsed. 

Others found pleasure in his demise, although I saw an equal amount of sadness. It didn’t help that the old Tiger was never warm to the public or open to the media. His arrogance didn’t sit well with lots of folks, so it’s no surprise that people piled on after his reputation took such a potent hit. 

The fall from grace was profound for someone many thought had it all. 

Not only did multiple sponsors drop Tiger (not NIKE), but much of the public was no longer in his corner. The downfall was swift and he wouldn’t win another Major until this year – an 11 year gap.

The divorce, personal issues, injuries and worldwide attention on his scandal might have ruined the condition and psyche of another, but not Tiger. In 2013, he was ‘Player of the Year’ and won 5 tournaments; history many forget when his golf years after the scandal are mentioned.

I’m most impressed with the work ethic and ambition needed to climb back into competition. It’s amazing how quickly Tiger was able to get his body and mind back in shape to contend. We may revel in the glory now, but the grinding and work and patience and pain it took to get to this Masters victory, may be the biggest lesson from his 2019 Major championship.

Despite the plentiful doubts, Tiger never gave up or stopped believing in himself, even when it seemed like it would have been easy to do so.  It's inspiring.

It was a thing of beauty to watch this spectacular finish. I was communicating with friends in Europe and the States during the tournament.  I’ve never used social media this extensively with such a variety of cultures during a live sports event.

Our problems were put to the side and the often daily deluge of politics was nowhere to be found. It was just golf, The Masters and Tiger. I warned my wife beforehand that I had to watch the final round and that was my sole afternoon and evening focus.

In 1997 (his first Masters win), he embraced his late dad Earl on the 18th hole. This time, it was his 10 year old son Charlie jumping in his arms. 

The new Tiger is more open, humble and warm according to several reports. To see the genuine emotion after this win was refreshing as he was never one to wear his emotion on his sleeve. What a day and comeback story; the likes of which we may never see again. It is redemption at the highest level.

I’d like to see him break Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors. If he stays healthy, that record could be within reach before his 50th birthday. Until he officially retires, I will give him the benefit of any doubts I have.

I wrote this in 2007:

“Jack Nicklaus always speaks fondly of Tiger and I admire that about him. He should know greatness in golf better than anyone. Tiger will easily break Jack's Major championship record of 18 as long as he stays healthy. Keep in mind, that Jack's most impressive record may be that he came in 2nd place in Majors a record 19 times!

My prediction is that Tiger will have won 26 Majors when he hangs up the clubs. Over 30 would not surprise me but life and kids could mellow his desire.”

Winning one Major a year until his 55th birthday would give him 26 Majors. Who am I to say he can’t do it? 

Whatever happens, let’s enjoy this magical ride while it lasts.

Never doubt a Tiger.


My Dad, George Michael and Me

I was a 20 year old summer intern at IBM when I received the phone call.

My dad had suffered a heart attack.

Never one to stress, I was as anxious and worried as I’ve ever been, although thankful that he was alive. I’m glad someone recognized my hurried state, took the keys from me and drove me to the hospital.

He would later admit that his massive heart attack was the most painful experience of his life. And this comes from a man who never complained and took no novocaine with his root canal. “If not for the grace of God” he said, his life would have ended in his early fifties.

Fortunately, he was getting into his car when it happened and colleagues drove him immediately to the hospital. Often, timing is everything. My father was lucky not to be driving.

I never forgot that day or his age – 53.

Throughout my life, that day would be a constant and gentle reminder to take care of my health. My dad was a smoker and moderate drinker, although his eating habits weren’t ideal. He was incredibly stressed at work and also at home (to a lesser degree though), due to the years of marital struggle with my mother - which made him ripe for a health disaster.

He wisely stopped smoking after his triple bypass surgery, yet never adopted quality eating or exercise habits. Cooking most of his food at home was a good thing, yet he enjoyed those evening snacks far too frequently and wasn’t nearly as active as he should have been. My dad would go on to live another 20 years – the majority of them quality ones; most likely due to his positive spirit.

He succumbed to a stroke at age 73. That may seem young but I’m surprised he made it that long as he had significant artery blockage the last ten years of his life.

Over two decades later, ‘53’ came roaring back into my mind.

I was sitting poolside in Honolulu, Hawaii when I got the news.  One of my favorite singers, George Michael had passed away. His voice and music played an invaluable part for me during two years in the early 90’s, when I was primarily focused on figuring out my career and life direction.

The shock of him dying on Christmas day in 2016 (at age 53) was a big blow to many of his fans around the world. I knew he had battled addiction and drinking for a long time, but never thought he would see such an early death.

I instantly thought of my dad and the scary day back in 1984.

Being 52 at the time of Michael’s death, I couldn’t help but wonder what it all meant….as I was creeping up quickly on 53. Was it a sign to be even more diligent about my health? Maybe, although I was in the midst of numerous years of living well, so I knew I was on the right path.

What it did make me do was appreciate the blessings of my past years even more, along with savouring the moment of my blissful current state. In 52 years, there had been very few times when I didn’t feel good and only a few days when I experienced slight sickness (stomach virus). That gave me great comfort.

I’m 54 now and the moment that gave me pause back in 2016 is a distant memory. My almost flawless health for over half a century is something I’m grateful for and keeping that streak alive is my top priority.

I make sure nothing comes between my health and general well-being on a daily basis. There are many distractions and temptations that attempt to throw me off course, yet my goal continues to be keeping my stress low, attitude positive and healthy living habits high.

Nothing is (nor should be) more important than our health.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

My dad at my 2003 wedding in Sweden. He died less than 2 years later.

Bret’s ‘Songs From The Last Century’ Flow (Tribeca to Brooklyn)

I received an early afternoon phone call from an excited Bret Mollison in the spring of 2000. He had met some international tourists in Tribeca and suggested I join him. I knew if I didn’t oblige, he would use his persuasive ways to convince me - so I immediately said yes.

Bret was a master at engaging strangers and opening up potential friendship doors.

When I walked into the restaurant, Bret was smiling from ear to ear and began introducing me to his new friends from Switzerland and France; both men and women. He was in his element, being only a few years removed from his 7 sizzling years living abroad in Madrid, Spain. They were a fun group and we mingled over cocktails for a couple of hours.

As I was preparing to leave to meet other friends, one of the women from Switzerland mentioned an event in Brooklyn later than evening. Bret knew about the gathering, although I wasn’t sure I had time or even wanted to go. What Bret told me next surprised me.

He said, "She really wants you to come", referring to the Swiss woman. I was hesitant, as Bret didn’t make a compelling case with his words. The lady and I had chatted briefly that afternoon.

Bret was not giving up. When he wanted to get a point across, he could be relentless. “She likes you George, how many more ways do I need to say it.” He was able to see what I couldn’t and literally gave me a gentle push and said, “Just go talk to her” which I calmly did.

As soon as we began conversing again, I saw the gleam in her eyes and knew that I would be joining Bret and his friends in Brooklyn that night.

Walking into the gathering was one of those times where description fails to give any sort of clarity.  It’s what made living in New York City (NYC) so breath-taking at times.

The lighting was superb and there were a smorgasbord of nationalities scattered all over one big stylish room – some standing and others lounging on the floor or chairs. People were relaxing in a way that was both soothing to the eye and comfortable to our welcome. The hosts warmly acknowledged us but didn’t do any formal introductions, as it was clearly a night to flow at your own pace.

I just stood there for a few moments and soaked it all in.

The music took the scene to another level with George Michael’s ‘Songs From the Last Century’ playing when we entered; specifically the beautiful ‘I Remember You’. I’d never heard this album of classic songs, despite being a huge fan of his. The atmosphere, music volume and mood couldn’t have been more pleasing.

I was also glad that a friend from Pennsylvania was in town, and came with us, as he got his first taste of the NYC I had previously described to him. If I, a seven year veteran at the time, was moved by the moment, I knew he was blown away by the magic of what he saw and would soon be experiencing. 

I spent the majority of my time with my new found Swiss friend. I couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t see it or feel the chemistry when we were talking earlier in the day. The chaos of the Big Apple can often cloud the mind or judgement with new people and endless possibilities for fun – which may have been why I missed the signs that Bret thankfully didn’t.

Without Bret’s invitation, I would have missed this wonderful night with so many dynamic and interesting people; some of whom are still in touch all these years later. I am grateful for Bret’s friendship and care that night and told him so on numerous occasions.

Four of his strengths were on display that evening:

  • Thinking of Others - Inviting me to come meet him at the restaurant.
  • Boldness - Opening up dialogue with people (tourists in this case) he didn’t know.
  • Being Relentless - Making sure I joined him at the gathering.
  • Having fun - Few did it better!

RIP my friend.

Sheldon (left), Bret (Middle) and George in Brooklyn - early 90's





Bret: A Zest For Life (and dreams unfulfilled)

As we were both hungry, Bret said he would happily make us some spaghetti. Less than a year into our friendship in the late 1980’s, I assumed it would be a typical tasting meal. Was I ever wrong!

That first mouthful was as hot and spicy as any food I’ve eaten, including a summer day in London, with a terrifyingly hot Indian dish. I was lived as I couldn’t even eat it and wondered aloud why he would make a simple meal so incredibly hot.

As I would later learn, that was a big part of Bret’s personality; passionate about cooking and creative about his style and presentation. My early scowl turned into a smile we would laugh about many times after.



The friendship blossomed from that moment and we spent memorable times in the Boston area and on Martha’s Vineyard. Our mutual friend Sheldon (who introduced me to Bret) was the great connector of people and Bret would later follow in his footsteps – having a group of friends that was as diverse as it was deep.

Bret’s likability and fun nature was infectious, although sometimes his confidence was a bit over the top – which made me chuckle often. Back then, his smile and passion for enjoying the moment was second to none. Despite some early differences, he was one of my most appreciated friends. His zest for life was exactly what I needed, as it was a particularly challenging time for me in deciding my life direction. He, along with friends Reggie and Sheldon inspired me with their love of life; something I’m forever grateful for.

One autumn day, his step had more pep than usual and it took me some time to pry the reason out of him. He finally told me about a new friend (a woman) he met and was clearly excited; mentioning a few things about her, although only on a superficial level. There was no doubt he enjoyed her company, but I found it strange that there wasn’t much detail, as he was usually a man of eloquent description. Bret was strangely elusive and I couldn’t figure out whether they were only friends or something more.

I was happy for him though as their friendship appeared to be solid. Since Bret and I were spending lots of time together, I kept asking and asking when I would meet her, yet he always had some convenient excuse and never gave me an adequate answer on why I never came close to an introduction until 7+ years later.

When I met this mystery woman in 1994, our eyes locked and we had an immediate connection. I now understood why Bret kept her away from me for so long. Making that phone call to him about our blossoming romance wasn’t something I looked forward to. He was living in Madrid, Spain at the time and seemed to take the news in stride. I don’t know if he was comfortable about it, but as I told him later, “the forces of nature are hard to control.” He had only delayed the inevitable.

This woman is still one of my dearest friends and remained Bret’s friend until his untimely death last month. Bret adored her as much as any friend he had. I’m glad she stood by his side throughout the years, as she added a level of stability, love and joy that was more powerful than she knows.

The boldness of Bret was admirable and that was never as evident as when he suddenly decided to move abroad; the first in our inner circle to do so. His 7 years in Madrid in the 90’s – working in finance, was easily the most exciting time of his life.

Bret had numerous visitors in Spain and I couldn’t resist the invite and flew there in March of 1995. It was a week of pure pleasure. We ate late (11pm or after for dinner), went to dinner parties, restaurants and bars/clubs. The flow was magnificent and the food was fantastic. His diverse group of friends were exciting and displayed a gusto I’d rarely experienced during my previous European trips abroad. On several occasions, our night lasted until the early morning. I was never so tired after any vacation.

My Madrid experience made me think that I too may move outside of the USA at some point. Without that time with him abroad, I doubt I would have been so open-minded about moving to Sweden in 2004. My eyes opened in more ways than I had ever imagined.

Not only was Bret a superb host to me, but I heard heart-warming stories about the wonderful times others had on their visits. Bret was in his element and the pure joy he displayed was a beautiful thing to witness. I thought he might never leave Europe.

Moving to New York City (NYC) in 1998 was a thrill for Bret. He expected to conquer Manhattan finance like he did in Madrid, but the two cities are two different birds. Not everyone needs a plan for the world’s best city and throwing caution to the wind can be a viable and flourishing option. My journey however, showed me that it is better to have structure, a good network and a strong focus. Bret never quite found his footing in NYC, yet never stopped believing he would.

In 2003, white spots started appearing on his hands, and he knew fairly quickly that he had the beginnings of vitiligo (skin disorder). Bret was 38. With his life not where he wanted it to be, coupled with this new obstacle, it was a very rough time for him.

As the disease progressed, he wasn't shy about sharing the mind games that go on in one’s head when everyone is looking at you, and it was extremely difficult for him to handle during the first year (as I suspect it would be for most), however, he did come to peace with it, as he knew there was very little he could do to change it.

After years of encouragement from friends, he made that move out of NYC and settled near his mother and brother in Maryland. The adjustment wasn’t easy. Bret seemed content, yet never that comfortable in small town America.

In 2010, I was home visiting my mother in Pennsylvania when he came to see me. I invited him to two events (a 50th and 80th birthday) and we had a terrific time. He was back in his element…..charming and being the life of the party. 

 Our mutual friend Kevin Dowdell wrote this about Bret:

“We had lots of common friends and we enjoyed a lot of life together. He had a wild and crazy personality but also took many aspects of life quite seriously. He was sort of a renaissance man as he was a food and wine/spirits connoisseur, he loved to sail, play golf and tennis, and he had a sophisticated sense of what was right (and wrong!) in all social situations. He also loved to talk sh!t!”

The ‘renaissance man’ Kevin spoke of, also included a love of art galleries – something Bret insisted I attend when asked. At least 6 Manhattan ‘art event’ invitations came my way over the years, and I didn’t always feel like going. With his persistence, he was able to sell me on why I should go each and every time – and it worked. That salesmanship quality was something he should have used more often.

During his last 5 years, we would keep in touch over the phone, and at times, he seemed to be in a really good place. Sometimes, we would have those spirited and trash-talking moments like in the early years, yet they were few and far between.

Bret and I didn’t speak much in the last year, only emailing sporadically. When I heard his mother was sick, I knew that might be his toughest test, as they were as close as a mother and son could be. When she died last December, I sent him and his brother Paul a note of condolence and Bret wrote back via email to thank me. That was our last dialogue.

His older brother Paul and I have enjoyed a good relationship despite rarely seeing each other; corresponding over the years about Bret and our common interests. When he informed me about Bret’s passing, it was difficult to swallow the news. I couldn’t stop thinking of what could have been. Bret was only 53.
                        
Bret did have big dreams and that is a good thing, although sometimes dreams are simply too large, unrealistic and almost impossible to fulfil. He never stopped trying though.
                                                                
I’m grateful for my life and Bret Mollison has been a significant part of it. At the beginning of our friendship, nobody made me laugh harder and our conversations were as stimulating as any I’ve had. His boldness in style was something to witness, especially when he showed up to a NYC event one evening in an ascot; one of the first (and only) people I know to sport that look. He wore it well.

We spent meaningful time together and with friends in New York, Boston, Spain, Maryland, Virginia and Canada. There was rarely a dull moment when he was around and once you met Bret, you would not easily forget him. I’m thankful for his friendship.

RIP my friend.


July 4, 1993 on Martha's Vineyard with Chuck, Sheldon, Victor & Me
(Bret is on far right)


The ‘Unexpected Guest’ at My Final High School Basketball Game

In what would turn out to be my last basketball game in a fun and stellar high school career (1000+ points in two seasons) in Central Pennsylvania, I was equally anxious and excited.

Anxious because I knew that our school (Central Dauphin East High) was facing a better team; one that would need me to perform beyond spectacular in order to win. The excitement came from envisioning a win, which would mean advancing to the State Playoffs – where the spotlight would shine the brightest.

Even playing one game in the playoffs meant that I (and my teammates) would receive significant exposure to colleges in that relentless chase for a college scholarship. Fortunately, I already knew that I could have my choice of many Division 2 & 3 schools, but my goal was to play at the top level – Division 1.

Unbeknownst to me, a man was in attendance that evening who would have a major impact on my life, both negatively and positively.

The game was hard fought and one of those battles where the obstacles to success never ceased. Our opponents were in control throughout the game and compared to our team, their skill and talent was superior. Being particularly focused, I went beyond my typical pace by being more aggressive and taking shots outside of my usual shooting range. I remember making one shot from beyond 25 feet!

I was on fire and played one of my best games of the year, but as I mentioned earlier, I needed to go beyond spectacular for victory. I never reached the higher level. As a team, we gave it everything we had, although the game was never in doubt for our opponent. We lost. It was a supremely disappointing defeat, but I had little time to sulk as my mission to obtain a free college education (via scholarship) was the top issue in my young life.

My collegiate choices were narrowed down to a handful of Division 1 schools, which I was thankful for. Despite scoring almost 25 points a game my senior year (before there was a 3 point line), I didn’t get the exposure that kind of scoring average would receive today in our social media world. In addition, not being able to compete in the aforementioned state playoffs was a critical missed opportunity to showcase my talent to colleges.

During my decision making process, I was surprised to find out that the Head Basketball Coach at the University of Vermont (UVM) was the person at my final game. When I heard the news, I could only smile as I knew my performance that night had to impress him. The fact that Vermont was my top choice made the moment even sweeter.

I signed my letter of intent (scholarship) to UVM, at my home, in the spring of 1982. My parents and the Head Coach were in attendance and our picture appeared in the local newspaper. As a 17 year old, I couldn’t have been more satisfied. Since I was 11 years old, my dream was to go to college for free and play basketball. All the hard work, sacrifice and discipline had paid off beautifully.

The decision to go to Vermont was one of the best choices I ever made. I wrote about it a few years ago in the below passage and article.

“College should be one of the best times of your life and provide moments which are hard to equal in the real world. It was for me and many of my 1986 classmates. I still find myself randomly reminiscing about the abundance of great (and often glorious) moments at UVM.

Outside of my time on the basketball court as a student-athlete, there was rarely a dull moment, whether it was a private event, hanging out in downtown Burlington, a fraternity party, a random dorm gathering, the energy of a hockey game, the often bitter cold temperatures or simply vibing with someone before or after a class. Being an athlete gave me a unique and privileged view of a variety of experiences, which I appreciated and soaked in as much I could.”

Unfortunately, my 4 years of basketball was ‘okay, during the best times and ‘miserable’ at the worst. It was primarily due to the same Head Coach who gave me the scholarship. He should have never been hired in that role as he was ill-prepared for such a challenging job, although that is a story (or book) for another day. He resigned (but had no choice) my senior year with the strong support of several key college faculty, instrumental supporters and 10 of our 12 team players.

Despite the basketball chaos, I couldn’t have asked for a better college journey. I’m thankful for being able to attend our wonderful university. And if my coach wasn’t at my final game, I may never have had the sizzle and thrill of UVM; years that helped me grow wiser, endure and learn from immense struggle (basketball) and experience joy beyond my wildest dreams.

Those Burlington, Vermont years were the catalyst for my early life success and they continue to pay dividends to this day. Without that scholarship, I doubt the road would have been paved so smoothly for me to live in New York City, Sweden, Belgrade and Tokyo, along with travelling to many places throughout the world.

UVM encouraged me to dream big. And I’m still dreaming. 

Happy Gswede Sunday!       




A Friend’s Weight, Mom’s Smoking – What They Needed To Hear


A decade ago, one of my childhood friends and I weighed approximately the same – less than 200 lbs (91kg), although he was probably a few pounds lighter than me.  Since that time, he has slowly crept up to the 215 lbs (98 kg) level. He never had a weight issue previously, so I’m sure he was a bit surprised when he saw 215 on the scale that I recently bought for his family.

While he still looks good at 6’3 inches (189cm), he realizes that he needs to lose weight; even admitting in subtle ways that he could use an improvement in his hectic lifestyle.  While some men can carry his current weight effortlessly, it doesn’t suit him well.

This past summer, I spontaneously gave him a goal of 205 lbs (93kg)….to be achieved by July 15, 2018. I’ve never understood why friends and family members dance around the weight issue of people they care about. Why are we so afraid to tell those people who are important in our lives that they need to lose weight, improve their eating habits or get in shape?

I’ve rarely had problems with my weight, yet it has happened on several occasions (a 20lbs/9.1kgs gain) due to lack of proper eating and/or exercise. Those close to me never failed to express how bad I looked…and they were right. With my athletic background, I shouldn’t have been that careless. They would joke with me sometimes about my weight, but were never preachy or malicious about it.  I’m grateful for their concern as it made an impact and helped me in my journey back to health.

The aforementioned friend is one of the most well-rounded, liked and giving individuals I know. He has a good life and loving family, yet not making health and/or weight maintenance a priority can not only make life more stressful for him, but could severely hamper that positive life in the future. In addition, his kids are watching closely and as we all should know as parents, our actions tend to have a bigger impact than our words.

I want him to have the best life possible and he seems to want it as well now, writing this to me recently.

“As for my weight…I lose it overnight. That is not hard for me. I will be under 200 soon.”

He’s clearly optimistic which I love. The ball is in his court. 

I encourage all of you to reach out to those who need an extra push. Don’t shy away from telling people close to you what they need to hear. You don’t want to wait until they are in the hospital or have irreversible health problems before you have the courage to speak up. They may not like to hear what you say, but do it anyway. We should always be upfront and honest with those we love or care about. If it is done in a loving way, they might not appreciate it right away, but will one day.

My mother smoked cigarettes for most of her life; something I didn’t like or approve of. There weren’t 6 months that went by when I didn’t remind her about the ills of smoking. I would send her articles, talk to her and find other avenues to get my message across. Year after year I stayed on message. I knew that my concern wouldn’t be the catalyst for her quitting (only she could do that), but as her only son, I knew it would have an impact. 

My mother never admitted this, but I felt that it was a good friend of hers dying from lung cancer that made her quit. This woman (a smoker) was a healthy and beautiful 50 year old, and after being diagnosed, died within 3 months. My mom quit smoking not long after her death. 

Mom was 55 when she gave up smoking and never looked back. I was thrilled. Because of that decision, along with embracing better eating habits, she was able to live another 22 healthy years. She told me that she appreciated the way I never gave up on warning her about the dangers of smoking.

Some years after she stopped the nicotine, I advised her to adopt a healthier eating style as that time after smoking can be rough with the appetite desires. She fell victim to those desires and her body showed it. I knew she wasn’t happy. 

This time, it didn’t take long for her to change, as she could see herself going down the wrong road. Again, it was her courage to pivot away from poor food choices, although I sensed that I had a big impact on her from the questions she would ask me about food. I was surprised and proud when she wholeheartedly embraced healthier eating habits.

I have no doubt that my friends (and wife) will speak up if they see me becoming unhealthy again. I will let those close to me know if I see their health is going in the wrong direction. Will you do the same for your sister, friend, wife, husband, child or father?

If you do, be gentle and loving in your approach, yet don’t be afraid. Stay firm, committed and keep reminding them that there is nothing more important than their health.

"Happiness lies, first of all in health."
(George Williams Curtis)

Happy Gswede Sunday!



Sweden – All Our Passports Are The Same Color


With similar terrorist attacks happening in Germany, France and England in the last few years, it was only a matter of time before another major city fell victim to this form of terrorism (using a truck/car); this month it was Stockholm, Sweden – a city I lived in for 6 years. Five people are dead from a man (an immigrant) who drove a truck into pedestrians on one of Stockholm’s busiest streets. Maybe this was our wake-up call to be more open-minded, along with embracing awareness and preparation in the future. Additionally, we (Swedish citizens) need to be more demanding of our government.

Even though we’ve had two high profile assassinations in Stockholm, along with ample warning signs, this tragedy was a shock to many of the city’s residents. Some Swedes are outraged, angry and find it hard to swallow that our capitol city has lost its purity. The CEO of Stockholm’s Chamber of Commerce, Maria Rankka wrote this:

It’s another reminder that Sweden, with its many positive sides and — from a mainstream international perspective — also some cultural peculiarities, is a European country among others. For better and worse.

We are not immune to terror and violence even though we haven’t been at war since 1814. On the other hand, Sweden has experienced the murders of one prime minister and a foreign minister within my life time. So we shouldn’t be totally naive.

Life is definitely getting back to normal, but it will never be the same.
(https://english.chamber.se/page1-eng/stockholm-will-never-be-the-same.htm)

When I heard a Swede (those born in Sweden) living in Stockholm say “I don’t want to hear about this ‘just be accepting’ crap” (referring to refugees) in response to this attack, that gave me cause for concern. Yes, his feelings are understandable with our myriad of immigration issues, although I wonder if he was as outraged when a Swede with a sword targeted an immigrant school in 2015, killing 2 teachers and a student – this also was a terrorist act.

We know we need to act now in forging more togetherness, which is evidenced by the outpouring of love and solidarity, including a touching gathering of thousands in central Stockholm in the days after the tragedy. The big question is whether we will continue to act with love. This is our chance to look in the mirror and be more accepting of one another.

I wish there was a stronger reaction 10 years ago when tensions were beginning to scratch the surface between those born here and those who came for a better life. I wrote this in 2010:

A few weeks back, I was talking to an intelligent immigrant taxi driver (9 years here) who was fighting the tears as he spoke of his journey. He informed me of his insane monthly hours and the meager pay he received for his driving efforts – shocking to say the least. According to him, it was the only job he was able to get.

Other malicious things flowed out of his mouth as well – words that were frighteningly harsh. He’s a bitter man and displayed a rage I had never seen before; a rage that should worry Sweden.

After our 15 minute conversation, he said to me, “all of the immigrants in Sweden are strangers. Some are treated better as I am sure you are coming from the USA or those from the UK. People like me (Middle East) or Muslims have a much tougher road to navigate. But, remember, we are all strangers.

It was clear to me that tensions would start to bubble high, which I tried to get across with my words. I’ve rarely seen that aforementioned rage from an immigrant. The comments below my article made me feel that I didn’t succeed with my intended purpose. “Learn the language” was a common theme in those comments, yet the vast majority of immigrants I’ve talked to are fluent in Swedish.

It seemed as if my readers didn’t want to address the elephant in the room ( to act on or at least talk about immigration and how to improve it), although the anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats were more than willing to speak about it - and people listened, thus the significant rise in their party since that time. 

Sweden’s fidelity to humanitarian values resulted in its accepting more than 80,000 asylum seekers in 2014 and more than 160,000 in 2015, before tightened procedures led the number to fall to fewer than 30,000 last year. It has not been easy for a nation of 10 million to accommodate such a large number of refugees — many with little education and hailing from vastly different societies — in such a short time. Well before Friday’s attack, a vigorous debate was underway on the best way forward, and not all Swedes are happy: Support for the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats grew from just under 3 percent of the vote in 2006 parliamentary elections to just under 13 percent in the 2014 elections.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/12/opinion/swedens-wisdom-on-terrorism.html?_r=0

Our collective inaction let the party who wants to do away with all integration win and gain support…at least in the short term. If we don’t act now, their influence will continue to ascend. 

What does give me hope is the way Swedes and Immigrants of all colors and cultures opened up their hearts and homes to those in need, as many people were stuck in Stockholm in the aftermath of that chaotic Friday. That was a beautiful gesture to read and hear about. We can’t forget about those important acts of giving.

We need that kind of support if we hope to see a bright and thriving Sweden in the future. I’ve heard from numerous people who believe that Sweden will be a shell of itself in 15-20 years. Below is a message from one of them:

“G.. I can tell you all that Swedish way stuff has lost its appeal... I've heard more than a few Swedes ask what the hell is the Government thinking with such lax terrorist laws.. people are fed up now!  These acts of terrorism, open boarders, riots in the suburbs, friendly social welfare system and increase drug use has people feeling they've lost their country...  it will be felt at the voters ballet box. I can almost guarantee you. Major shift is on the way...”
(Citizen who has lived in Stockholm almost 20 years)

I’m more optimistic than the words above, but I’m not na├»ve. In order to flourish in the future, we need to see an abundance of unifying energy and comradery in our local communities weekly, not just during the aftermath of a tragedy. There are Swedes and Immigrants who have shown that spirit of togetherness in their daily lives and I’ve heard heartwarming stories about the way both groups have worked to help one another adjust to the heavy influx of 300,000+ refugees into Sweden in the last 5 years, yet most of us need to do more or simply begin the process of doing something.

If you are a Swede, when was the last time you had an immigrant in your home? Have you ever had an immigrant (family not included) in your home?

I would ask the same two questions to an immigrant who has lived in Sweden for a significant period of time? Do you spend quality time with any Swedish born person?

One Swede told me recently that his son plays sports with immigrants, yet all his friends are Swedish born. In addition, I’ve heard from plenty of immigrants who have no desire to get to know Swedes on a personal level.  We have to improve upon this, particularly with our youth.

I’ve been accepted fairly well as an American, although I’ve been to a surprisingly high number of events throughout my 11 years in Sweden where I was the only immigrant.

If we are going to help mend our Swedish society, both Swedes and Immigrants have to learn to embrace each other in a more productive way and get to know one another more deeply, which will require spending quality time together. 

We need folks of all backgrounds to open your minds and hearts and change the way you interact.

How about making it a point to have lunch or coffee with someone who doesn’t look like you and/or comes from a different culture? That person could be the one in your office who you like, yet never considered having a private conversation with.

Instead of hiring the Swede that makes you comfortable, how about considering an immigrant who is just as qualified, and will add diversity and a different voice to the business? I never thought I would have the following 2004 interview anywhere in my life, but it was one of my first impressions of Sweden and occurred before my wife and I moved to Scandinavia. I hope we are in a better place today.
  
I was excited even though I had those ex-pat voices spinning in my head. I had the interview when my wife and I visited one month before our move. It was pleasant, enjoyable and obvious that I was the most qualified candidate. The VD (CEO) of this very well known organization said after, “You have more experience than all of the other six candidates combined”, which was nice to hear. He later said, “I can’t hire you because the employees wouldn’t be comfortable with a non-Swedish speaker”.  Keep in mind that everyone spoke English. That was a bitter pill to swallow as I could have helped them immensely despite the language discomfort but they were more concerned with what I call “Comfort over Improvement” in hiring; something that occurs far too often here in regards to employing foreigners.

On the positive flip side of that disappointing day, a Swede hired me in Stockholm in 2007 for what I have done (merit) and could do at Pearson, and not once did I feel that she evaluated me for things I was lacking. I’m thankful for her courage. I went on to have 9 wonderful years, which I wrote about after I left the company.
  
I’m full of gratitude for my almost 9 years at Pearson. Our Nordic team had a boatload of success, but I realize that it wouldn’t have been as good (or fun) without the support and care of numerous EMA colleagues that I was fortunate to work with since 2007.
http://gswede-sunday.blogspot.jp/2015/09/thank-you-pearson-education-family.html

Imagine what would have been lost for me and Pearson had she not hired me because I wasn’t Swedish and/or didn’t speak fluent Swedish. 

Sweden has been good to me and I’m a happy citizen. My family is moving back this summer after two years in Tokyo. Even though I’ve done my fair share of integration (with both Swedes and Immigrants), I need to do more and I will.

My basketball program (13th year) has flourished and we’ve had the privilege of working with, teaching and learning from a wide variety of youth and coaches at several Swedish (and Japanese) basketball clubs. We can’t settle for things we might have done in the past though, as our efforts of outreach and interaction need to be consistent from week to week or month to month.

Finally, awareness and preparation is something we can all improve upon. As citizens, we must keep our eyes open and antennas up, especially if something doesn’t look right or feel right or seem right.  Awareness is vital for our own safety. When you find yourself in popular tourist areas, big crowds or ones where cars have easy access to a large group of people, you should be on the lookout for anything or anyone out of the ordinary. 

That doesn’t mean we need to be paranoid or fearful to go out, although avoiding awareness leaves one vulnerable…like a sitting duck. We need to live our lives to the fullest, but we also have to keep a constant check on our surroundings. We can’t be happy go lucky anymore as we go through life in Sweden or elsewhere. With awareness, at least there is a chance of reacting to help someone or for one’s own survival.

Preparation is a key element as well. It’s not enough for citizens to be aware and prepared if our politicians are not. To have and maintain our best safety efforts, we need to be more demanding of our Government. We have to insist that they step up their counter-terrorism efforts in the area of research, surveillance, education, and cooperation with other countries or whatever else is needed in the fight against those who want to do us harm. Laws may also need to be re-evaluated or made tougher, along with ensuring our generous social welfare system is utilized effectively.

By the way, the truck that was used in the Stockholm tragedy was stolen. With similar attacks in other countries, that theft should have forced a high alert in Stockholm and other towns in Sweden. Maybe that did occur, although I doubt it.

I implore all citizens and residents of Sweden to not slip back into the comfortable flow of thinking that our lives can be ‘business as usual’. There is nothing usual or typical or easy about the state of our country or the world. If we keep doing the same things we did before this tragedy, we can’t blame anyone but ourselves if we are an incohesive, unaware and unprepared society when terrorism rears its ugly head again.

We are all in this together. 

Our country was once the envy of the world. We have a chance to rise back to that occasion. Let’s not allow Sweden to slip into the darkness of anti-integration, fear, segregation, apathy or terrorism as the norm. This is our moment to shine, but it will take a majority of individuals vowing to act, in ways big or small, and making a meaningful difference in their communities, jobs and spare time.

Be Open-Minded. Be Compassionate. Be Loving. Be Accepting. Be Giving.

Be Open to a Conversation on Immigration.

Be Aware. Be Prepared. Be Demanding.

The choice is yours. What will you do?

Happy Gswede Sunday!