Losing our Dads, Gaining a Son

In July 2005, there were familiar and surprising faces that came to my dad’s funeral to pay their respects. One of the most familiar was my childhood friend Don Jr., who when coming down the aisle, gave me that pained yet warm “I am here for you” look. His presence was soothing on that most difficult day. At the time, we couldn’t imagine that his world would need similar comfort in a matter of months.

My father was an intelligent, humble, loving and giving man who tried his hardest to be the best father that he could. As I said at his funeral, “he wasn’t a great father but he was a good father”. While we had our differences (and arguments) when I was younger, when I look back, our confrontations are almost laughable as my father was stubborn and frustrated in not being able to impose his wisdom on me and I was arrogant in thinking I knew what was best for me. We both should have been more open-minded.

Over the years, our respect and quality time together grew and by the time he had his stroke in 2003, our love and care for each other was solid. That was a good thing because after his stroke, he was never the same man again. My father battled for 18 months before he died. He was a very tough man; in fact he was in bad shape for years before the stroke and still managed to live to 73.

During the Christmas holidays in 2005, I was enjoying a relaxing evening in southern Sweden with my in-laws. We had a great dinner and were carefree and content. I hadn’t checked my emails in a few days so I got online. I immediately saw Don Jr.’s email about his father (Don Sr.) getting a sudden illness. My heart sunk as I knew this was serious. His email was frank, to the point and left no doubt that his dad was fighting for his life. The joy of the day evaporated and all I could think about were both Don’s.

When I received the news that Don Sr. had died after getting sick only 8 days before, I was very sad. To add to this tragedy, Don Sr.’s youngest son Rick was to be married a few days later on New Year’s Eve; now suddenly without his dad. The wedding proceeded as planned and I cannot imagine the bittersweet emotions of that day. Being in Sweden, I couldn’t be there for the funeral the way Don Jr. was for me although I really wanted to. We did have a good conversation on the phone and I sent him some loving words.

Don Sr. was a genuine, fun loving, kind and decent family man. He always had a smile on his face and after being in his presence, one immediately felt better. He adored his wife and family and that was evident when talking with him or watching their interactions. Don Sr. and his wife Janet welcomed me with open arms from the moment I met them as a young teenager and the last time I saw Don Sr. was no exception; he was smiling and asking about my life and talking about his grandchildren. Don Jr. and I had some memorable times at his parent’s house growing up; moments I still think about and will cherish forever.

As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens up”.

The door that closed on us was the death of our fathers in 2005.

The door that opened up was the birth of our sons in 2007.

It was my first child and Don Jr.’s third after having 2 girls. The families came together the following Thanksgiving and enjoyed a terrific brunch!

The two people on my mind every December are my dad (his name is Don as well) and Don Sr. This past week is significant because my dad’s birthday is the 27th and Don Sr. died on the 26th. I am grateful to have a father who along with my mother, provided for me and gave me opportunities to soar in life. I am thankful to have met Don Sr., his wife and their family. Both Don’s had a love and respect for each other unlike any father/son relationship I have witnessed. I always admired their tight bond.

Although Don Jr. and I see each other infrequently since we are countries apart, we do communicate via email which we enjoy. He is one of the most interesting, wise, fun and witty men I know. There is never a dull moment when we communicate or are together. In addition, he “chose wisely” in marriage and has a lovely wife named Kim.

He couldn’t attend my wedding in 2003 as his wife was pregnant but he did send this original note which was read at our wedding:

Dear George

Give me a dollar.


I know that no guest listening understood or even laughed at what is our inside joke and something that we say to each other all the time! It made me laugh and kept a smile on my face. At the time I thought, only Don could and would be bold enough to pull off a message like that. His comforting spirit sparkled brightly on my biggest day.

We may have lost our dads but we have two beautiful young sons that have helped to ease the pain of our loss. What a blessing! Don Jr. would consistently tell me how wonderful it would be to have a child. He was right; the joy and love for one’s child is mind boggling. My enduring friendship with him inspires me and gives me strength knowing that I have such a trusting and loving friend to rely on. We needed each other in 2005 and we will need each other again.

Everyone should be fortunate enough to have a friend like Don Jr.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede and Don Jr. with sons, Thanksgiving 2007.

GIVING is More Important than Ever

With 2008 coming to a close, I was recently reflecting on the heartfelt giving that I have witnessed, heard about or participated in this past year. If our world is going to improve and escape this economic crisis, giving (in a variety of forms) will be one of the main reasons why.

The manner in which friends and acquaintances have worked with youth has inspired me. Three of my youth basketball program volunteers and I took 6 young men (ages 16-21) out for dinner in early November. It was wonderful to talk and laugh about our experiences and listen to their dreams.

The way in which thousands of people volunteered with the Barack Obama campaign was refreshing in that they helped to bring about a much needed change in the USA and around the world. They were moved by the spirit of Obama and that energy will be needed again as our President-Elect will likely have a “call to action” for all Americans to take giving to new heights.

Giving of one’s self or time is something we should do on a consistent basis throughout any year. Not only does it feel good; it also stimulates one’s community in a positive way.

The British economist William Beveridge provided these uplifting words:

“Vigour and abundance of voluntary action outside of one’s own home, individually and in association with other citizens, for bettering one’s own life and that of one’s fellows, is one of the hallmarks of a free society”

There is an abundance of quality giving and I get inspired daily by articles I read, moments I see or stories I am told. Unfortunately, there is still a portion of our world (including some I know), who don’t do enough and only live in their tiny “ME” bubble. That must change and those of us who do give must challenge and encourage those less inclined to do more or at least do something on a consistent basis.

And the giving doesn’t have to be once a week or even once a month; it should be something that is done on a consistent basis, if only 5-6 times a year. Time volunteering with or giving money to a charity (see http://www.charities.org/) are two of the most common but there are other ways to give:

Here are a few options but the possibilities are numerous:

a) Your neighborhood - Help youth in your neighborhood by teaching them a sport, about music or taking them to a museum. An acquaintance started a musical program in a NYC school that culminated in the kids being taken to Sweden to perform. They had an unbelievable experience with many being outside of NYC for the first time!

b) Vacation - If on vacation in a city, take a few hours to bring small gift to kids suffering with cancer or pitch in at a homeless shelter or visit an elderly facility. Even when not vacationing, these are positive ways to contribute. One of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen was a young woman singing “Amazing Grace” with a blind woman at a home for seniors. Their voices were magical and the joy in both their spirits gives me chills to this day.

c) Mentor - Be a mentor for a young person or someone in your own family. Everyone should have at least one mentor and often young people find it difficult to ask for or don’t recognize a quality mentor when they meet one. I have several mentors including an uncle, an ex boss, my first basketball coach and several friends. My life wouldn’t be as successful without their guidance and wisdom; some being mentors for over 20 years.

d) Volunteer to teach a class at a local school - This is one of the simplest ways to help young people and one that can elude our thoughts. A school in your area will usually let a person come talk to a class if asked. You can talk to them about your passion, teach them a skill you have mastered or ask what questions they might have. In addition, passing along thoughtful insight about business is always good for our youth to hear! Some of my most memorable moments occured while teaching a class of 10-11 year olds.

e) Hug or a Smile – Giving is not only towards the youth, less fortunate or elderly. Sometimes, we must take the time to give family, friends, or colleagues a heartfelt hug to show them how much we appreciate them. We don’t (myself included) hug enough and it is one of the easier things to do in life. Also, a smile typically goes a long way even to a complete stranger.

f) Help a colleague at work – Some find it difficult to help those they work with for fear of that person doing better or being competitive. Lending a helping hand for a colleague will typically be good for anyone even if the person helped rises to higher levels. One day, that person may lift you up!

g) As Americans, we must reach out to the world – Less than 25% of Americans have passports and that is a shame in my opinion. How can we learn about our brothers and sisters in this exciting world if we don’t visit a foreign country now and then? Get that passport and try a slice of a different culture. There are so many beautiful people and interesting places to see if we only open your eyes.

h) Use your automobile for people in need – There are people who need to visit a doctor, get groceries or receive treatments for an illness but cannot do it themselves so they need someone to drive them. My mother is one of those who give assistance of this kind and she currently drives for those in need. If this interests you, inquire in your community and you may find that your help is sorely needed.

2008 has been brutal in terms of the economic chaos in America and throughout the world. The financial and job losses have been disheartening and the future will be grim for at least a few years BUT I am still hopeful that we can turn these challenges around and return to those exciting years in the 1990’s IF we as Americans and the global world take GIVING to a new level.

One of the ways we can begin this new level is too do something slightly different for the holiday season this year. Take a day and volunteer in your community or invite someone to spend the holidays with you that might otherwise be spending it alone. How about presents to those less fortunate in place of the often far too many gifts we give each other? If you are able, make your kids a part of this effort so they can begin to understand and see the power of a loving and giving spirit.

Use your creative juices to find a task you like and will benefit someone or something and DO IT during the holidays. If you make the effort, you will feel fulfilled and satisfied inside your soul and that will make time with your family much more special. Below is an article about volunteering this holiday season that may inspire you the way it touched me.


I am hopeful and optimistic that we can fight through these tough times and become better than ever in future years. As our individual communities and countries improve, the world will become a happier and more productive place. I plan to step up my giving (in Sweden and America) and encourage others to do the same! I hope you will join me.

Giving is now more important than ever. We must all do our part if this complex global world is going to thrive.

What role are you going to play?

Happy Holidays and Happy Gswede Sunday!

Volunteering in 1996 in "Everybody Wins" program in NYC. The program matched corporations with local schools. I read to and explored language/stories with Luis every week for 1 school year. One of the hightlights of my life!

Lena - A Loving Soul

The Lennér Family in Skåne, 2006 (southern Sweden). We had magnificent weather and it was Lena's last summer.


My mother-in-law was a loving soul and we appreciate the support of many friends during and after her battle with cancer. That support helped to keep us strong as my wife was pregnant with our first child during her illness.

Lena Lennér (64) passed away peacefully on April 18, 2007. She was a gentle, sweet and caring woman that exemplified everything good and decent about human beings. Her strength and poise as she battled cancer was remarkable and inspirational to those who knew her and even to some that only heard about her.

My father-in-law, Hans Christian (HC) cared for Lena for almost a year after her diagnosis. His endurance and love made it possible to battle for so long and helped her reach the goal of meeting her newborn grandson. The outpouring of love for Lena was incredible. (See below with the flowers).

2007 was a particularly tough year for our family as my high school basketball coach, Paul Lavelle, also died of cancer at age 54. Like Lena, he was very kind and decent. I owe much of my success to Paul's teaching and support. My youth basketball program (http://www.gswede.blogspot.com/) is dedicated to both Lena and Paul.

Recently, we were blessed with the birth of a healthy baby girl. We had hoped to receive a little sister for our son and I believe that our wishes came true so that we would always have a piece of Lena shining through our lovely daughter.

Life is precious and can be over in a split second or within a year like my mother-in-law. I was reminded of that last week when a good friend lost his 38 year old sister; she died in her sleep.

You don't know when your number will be called so do your best to live as good as you can. Our journey in this world is too short to endure needless DRAMA, negativity or petty BS; time wasters that prevent many from embracing and fulfilling their desires or dreams. It is imperative to appreciate waking up in the morning, enjoying the little things in life and loving with passion!
I wish you well.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

My wife and her mother in the summer of 2006

Lena (second from right) enjoying New Year's Eve 2006 with her close friends

The outpouring of love for Lena after her funeral

Mamma and the Mobile Phone

Last week, I was travelling alone on the bus to pick up my young son from day-care. As I was entering a relaxed state, a man in his 50’s starting speaking to me in Swedish which startled me slightly.

He said, “Du är duktig med din son bussen” (You are so good with your son on the bus). Bewildered and curious at his words, I felt right away that this would be one of those interesting moments in life. I immediately said “Tack mycket” (thanks so much) and did recognize him from previous rides but wondered why he was giving me such kind praise.

He went on to say, “I see a lot of children who say Mamma, Mamma but the parent keeps talking on the mobile phone. I think it is a shame”. We had a great conversation about this subject and he was genuinely upset as what he obviously witnessed time and time again. I agreed with him as it is quite selfish and bad parenting to a) be on a mobile phone when one is with a child and b) to stay on it when the child wants attention.

Since I am focused on my son during our bus rides, I never experienced the full depth of his displeasure. During the next few days, I made a point to observe parents with children on the bus and it didn’t take long before a mother displayed exactly what the man was complaining about.

The scenario:

A mother entered the bus with her 2 year old son talking on her mobile phone. Not only was she ignoring her child once she got situated; she was also loud and everyone could hear her conversation which is annoying on its own. Her child looked up several times (with a pacifier in his mouth) to get her attention but to no avail as she continued to talk and laugh for 10 minutes with barely a glance at her son.

We got off the bus at the same stop and the mobile phone was still in her ear. She nearly ran into my son and me as she was so engrossed in her conversation. I watched her cross the street (still talking) and walk until she was out of my sight. For 15 minutes, she had the opportunity to talk with her son and have some fun with him before daycare. Instead, she chose what seemed to be a meaningless phone conversation.

I do understand that we live in a mobile world and sometimes one does need to take a call or send a sms/text message as there are urgencies in our busy lives. I have occasionally done it myself but 95% of the time, I never use my mobile phone when I am with my son whether it is in the park, at the mall or on a bus. In my book, this is a great time to bond and teach a child especially on a bus as there are many fun things to observe and people to interact with.

To be fair, I am a serial sms/text person and my wife does get annoyed with me sometimes when I am alone with her but I have improved in that area immensely compared to a few years ago. Sweden is savvy in technology and I caught that bug when we moved here. If one is not careful, mobile phones along with the internet/email can overwhelm a person. I learned my lesson.

After hearing about my bus experience, my wife reminded me that kids learn from WHAT WE DO - NOT FROM WHAT WE SAY. So true. I firmly believe that the impact we make on our children when they are young (especially 2-5 years) goes a long way in determining what kind of people they will grow up to be.

At some point soon, I hope that mother realizes that a mobile phone should never take the place of a child.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Men in Black - Gswede and Brother-in-Law at a 2002 wedding in Provence, France