My Birthday - (Gifts Have Never Been a Focus)

I celebrated my birthday in late June.

I am grateful for many things including but not limited to my health, the health of my family, my mother's health, my wonderful friends, my work colleagues, my job, my volunteer work, my blog, my youth basketball program and my mentors.

As a child, birthday's were always acknowledged and filled with love yet gifts were never a focal point of the celebration. My mother and father were brilliant in that regard as it has made gifts less important throughout my life.  The value of embracing love and family over material things is one of the best lessons my parents taught me.

Did I receive toys, etc when I was a child? Of course but never more than one or two and often they were educational.  I've seen children in my own family receive over 20 gifts at a birthday party -something that still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to this day. Does a kid ever need that many gifts? What lessons are we teaching our children when we shower them with an abundance of material things?

My wife does a wonderful job of continuing the tradition that my parents started by giving me small and meaningful gifts on my birthday. The presents from her and my two children were perfect with books and magazines being strongly represented.  Her aunt also gave me a great gift and is something I can use promptly with the upcoming changes in our life.  I appreciate presents especially when there is thought behind them.

On my birthday, I woke up much too early (6:00am) as my daughter has never been known to sleep late. My family sang to me (in Swedish and English) and I opened up my gifts around 8:00am.  By 9:00am, my family (including my wife's aunt) was on the beach enjoying a perfect morning of sandcastles and splashes in the cool water of southern Sweden.

What a magnificent way to begin a birthday!

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede's birthday morning began on the beach at 9am.

An Article about Sweden, Men and Our Parental Leave

I was surprised at the number of people who sent me the NY Times article (In Sweden, the Men Can Have it All) regarding the generous parental leave for men in Sweden. I usually don't miss relevant articles from this site but this one would have escaped my eyeballs if not for my caring friends.

It's a good article although it speaks in general terms and doesn't give a true picture of statistics or what it's actually like to take parental leave. For instance, read the following paragraph:

From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.

While the statistic of 85 percent is true, what they don't tell you is that the majority of that high percentage comes from the law that gives men the right to take the first two weeks off after the baby's birth. For many men, that is the only parental leave they take. Two weeks off with a new baby and the family is a wonderful opportunity but unless a man takes 3 months to 1 year (or more) for parental leave, he has no idea about the challenges of caring for a child or what a beautiful experience it is. The number that constitutes "real" parental leave (3 months or more in my opinion) is probably around 15-20%.

I understand that some men can't take parental leave for financial reasons although I know several men who could take at least 3 months off but choose not to, primarily because they don't want to deal with the difficulties and challenges. It's a shame as they would gain so much from the experience and the bond with their child would be much stronger.

The article does touch on some of the experiences of men in Sweden but nothing in great detail. I like to read about people's stories and have done so on many occasions regarding men and parental leave. In addition, I was so inspired by my lovely experiences (5-6 months off from my job twice - first with my son, then with my daughter), that I put pen to paper and crafted an article I am proud of. I believe it was interesting to a wide range of people as it was one of my most popular articles.

A paragraph from, "A Father's Parental Leave, Swedish Style" is below followed by the link to my entire article.

I have always loved kids and especially seeing the joy in their faces for the simplest of things. Having a chance to witness that with my own son and now daughter sometimes brings me to tears. Never one to cry much, the tears flow much easier now (which is a good thing). The picture isn't always rosy. When I was home with Lennart, there were days when it was hard, with crappy (rain and clouds it seemed daily) Swedish winter weather and the sometimes endless changing of clothes and diapers! That feeling never lasts long as having the time to not work and focus solely on a child and his/her development is a wonderful thing.

I am grateful for the many blessings in my life including the time spent with my children when they were so young. I am reminded every day of how important it was as I know the bond we share wouldn't be as strong if I didn't take those 5-6 months off from my job.

For men in Sweden who may be undecided about what to do regarding parental leave, I implore you to embrace this unique privilege. Remember, your children are only young once and if you have the chance to spend quality time with them, reach out and grab it!  While it may be tough or even draining on a daily basis, the heartfelt and precious moments will also shine through daily.

At the end of your parental leave and for the rest of your life, that quality time you put in will come back to you in more ways than you can imagine.

Not only am I a better father because of the precious time with my children but it has also helped me to appreciate what mothers go through -  therefore I am also a better man, son and husband.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

A unique statue in the city of Boras, Sweden

Every Day is a Good Day!

When friends or strangers ask me "how was your day", I often answer by saying........."Every Day is a Good Day!".

Sometimes, the positive nature of my comment elicits weird looks which puzzles me as my words are exactly how I feel. Do I have days filled with disappointment or challenges? Of course I do but the days are still good. I guess some of the reactions are understandable as positivity seems to be dwindling in our increasingly fast and furious global world.

Each day I wake up with the excitement of a child! I enjoy the fact that the day will be full of opportunities, challenges, ups and downs, as well as the unknown. In addition, those little things (i.e. a chorus of sparrows, kids laughing, the sounds of nature, a bask in the sunlight, a quick nap, etc), that I often took for granted or didn't appreciate as a twenty-something, inspire me daily.

Every night I go to bed happy about the days activities - usually with a very satisfying feeling inside my soul. To have a day end with my health along with the health of my wife, kids, mother, family and friends intact is enough to make my day and bring a smile to my face.

You can learn a lot about a person's happiness or state of mind by asking them about their day. I recently asked someone the question and she said, "Yea Whatever", clearly frustrated with life. And this woman has an amazing life in many aspects although she tends to miss the little moments as she lives in the fast lane. I warmly mentioned that she should consider slowing down a bit so as not to experience life in such a rush rush fashion. I can only hope my words helped to make an impact.

It's no coincidence that most of my inner circle is made up of men and woman who exude positivity on a regular basis. Their relentless optimism is wonderful to be around and gives me a boost of energy.

How do you respond when a person asks about your day? Do you answer with GUSTO or with a plain ho hum word like "OK" or "fine".

If your response is typically uninspired, I implore you to TRY A LITTLE POSITIVITY the next time someone says hello or asks about your day. You will feel better and the person asking will get some positive energy back from you.

Often one has to take baby steps in order to increase the happiness or optimism in their life. One way is to just be more energetic and enthusiastic when dealing with people or even strangers. If you do that, I assure you that your day will at least be a bit brighter and hopefully, you can begin to make positivity a more common theme in your life.

Enjoy your Day and Happy Gswede Sunday!

This feline was enjoying a good day in the south of France

INTEGRITY - Embrace it in 2010 (and beyond)

Integrity: Honesty; Sincerity; Uprightness
(Thorndike-Barnhart Dictionary)

Integrity: Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

Rarely do I hear people discuss or use the word integrity and it’s not popular on TV either. Whether it’s an investment banker on Wall Street, the common man on Main Street or a famous person (i.e. Tiger Woods), talking about integrity seems to be off the radar screen or often on the backburner. This is not a good thing as we’re just beginning a challenging decade that was preceded by ten years of frequent evil, greed, tragedy, foolishness and lack of compassion.

Jeff Immelt (General Electric CEO) said this about the era of greed:

"We are at the end of a difficult generation of business leadership, and maybe leadership in general. Tough-mindedness, a good trait, was replaced by meanness and greed, both terrible traits," the head of the largest U.S. conglomerate said in prepared remarks to be delivered at the U.S. Military Academy.

"Rewards became perverted. The richest people made the most mistakes with the least accountability," Immelt said. "In too many situations, leaders divided us instead of bringing us together."

The financial crisis of the past 18 months, which hammered the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company's results and last March briefly pushed its shares to 18-year lows, has changed Immelt's approach to running the world's biggest maker of jet engines and electricity-producing turbines, he said.

"I decided that I needed to be a better listener coming out of the crisis," Immelt said. "I felt like I should have done more to anticipate the radical changes that occurred."

Unfortunately, some people I know have had their integrity challenged or shown blatant disregard for it or simply didn’t care about it. Below is a portion of what I’ve listened to or experienced in the last decade:

A person who is frequently mean or evil in business – never caring about anyone else. Very nice outside of work but changes dramatically when it comes to business.

An acquaintance that was married and had a baby with another woman.

A spouse who is consistently disrespected by the other half in public and private. Both have integrity issues.

A person in my family who often tries to take advantage of others including many of our family members. One of the most selfish people I know.

A good friend who could never come to grips with his goals or desires in life. This person has needlessly wasted at least a decade of his life and has shown very few signs of wanting to improve.

An acquaintance who values money more than almost anything else.

A good friend who lost the woman of his dreams because he lacked sincerity while they were dating. The woman told me that he had a chance with her.

It’s important to keep in mind that most people who make up my inner circle have displayed a high level of integrity and for that I am grateful. Some have sought my help with their inner battles and my advice has often helped although with others integrity remains a worthy adversary. I will always do my best to help those who struggle with integrity in any way that I can. That’s what friends are for.

In my opinion, the scandals of celebrities like David Letterman receive an inordinate amount of media coverage. It’s understandable due to the celebrity obsessed world in which we live. The superficial coverage bores me especially the “OJ Simpson” type coverage that the Tiger Woods scandal generated. Thankfully, "Tiger Watch" has dwindled considerably and I don’t think many people miss it.

Maybe the media should focus on the integrity of celebrities and how their transgressions may affect the mindset of the general public. That is a much more interesting story for me to read. In addition, I hope the majority of people are smart enough to not think less of the common man because of the actions of a few misguided celebrities although since the year began, some people have tested my faith in that hope.

In the past six months, I’ve been surprised by some of the derogatory comments about men in general because of Tiger Woods as well as talk of never using the products he endorsed. One person who complained to me was highly educated and very serious in her disdain for Tiger. I still wonder why she would waste her mind and time being frustrated by a celebrity who has zero impact on her life.

Keeping one’s integrity at a high level allows one to focus on desires, dreams and goals without the worry of having the world crumble due to irresponsible or ill advised actions. Life is challenging enough with a solid integrity so there is no need to add fuel to life’s inevitable fires.

Also, we may not think much about the word sincerity when it comes to integrity although it can be damaging when a person is not authentic or tries to be someone they are not. As I mentioned earlier, my friend lost an amazing woman due to his insincere nature while dating her. Being sincere is extremely important in order to maximize the opportunities in life.

Many of us will struggle to a degree with integrity at some point in our lives, especially when no one is looking, when we think we can get away with it or when we make decisions based only on emotion. In addition, some still think there is an easy path to fame or fortune by being foolish, short-sighted or just plain greedy.

In those moments of weakness, we should think about our families, mentors and/or the lessons that we learned in childhood. Most of the aforementioned people have good hearts but chose to disregard their values or were vulnerable to the many temptations that swarm around us. Some will endure a lifetime of pain if they don’t muster the courage to change.

A well-connected and extremely successful lawyer from America was asked on TV how he was able to prosper effortlessly in both the white dominated business world and the black civil rights movement. I thought it was an insightful question as I don’t know anyone who has succeeded so brilliantly in two vastly different worlds.

The lawyer answered the question with one word……………..INTEGRITY.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

June 6, 2010 - Sweden's "National Day"