A toast…to a real man’s man – my Father

This post is a dedication to my father – the greatest man I will ever know.

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I was initially sitting down to write a blog post about mentorship (which will still come soon) and I started thinking about the different mentors in my life. Now, I have been blessed to have some incredible mentors through the years that have challenged me, taught me, and guided me through different phases of my life – so I am sure you can imagine I have plenty to say about them. There is one mentor however who has been there the whole time, 27 years, through the challenges, the bliss, and everything in between – my dad. Add that to the fact that it’s his 62nd trip around the sun and it’s only logical that give a little thanks and share what I’ve learned from the man, the myth, the legend… Frank Brigante.

 

From here on out I am speaking directly to you, Dad.

 

Even as I sit to write this its hard to express in so little text all that you’ve done for me. You have taught me so much – directly through your words and indirectly through your actions so I’ll just have to try my best to cover what I feel are the most important things that any father can teach his son… what it really means to be a man. Here are the skills and qualities that I’ve learned from you that feel the need to share with the world.

 

  • Strength: Men are strong. Yeah that’s something all guys grow up hearing – but you redefined what strength means to me. You taught me that the strength of a man isn’t measured by the circumference of his biceps or his bench press – it is measured by the strength of his heart and his character. You’ve shown me how to find the strength to be vulnerable and sensitive when every stereotype and instinct urged me to harden my heart because “men don’t show their emotions.” You taught me to always do the right thing, even when the outcome doesn’t favor me, and most importantly you showed me how to build up my legs and shoulders (metaphorically speaking), not to carry heavy objects, but to be able to withstand the weight of sacrifice. I grew up watching you always putting others before yourself and doing it with love, joy, and a smile on your face.
  • Toughness: You grew up without ever knowing your real father, you grew up getting your Christmas gifts from the Church donation basket. You could have let your past be a predicator of your future but instead you decided that you wanted something different for your life and your family – so you put your head down and you grinded. Year in and year out you worked your tail off to put food on the table, to put money away so we could get the college education that you couldn’t, so that we could travel the world as a family and enjoy incredible experiences. Even when we went through our ungrateful shithead phases where we threw it all back in your face, you kept up and set a standard for toughness that I will never forget and that I will always strive to live up to.
  • Bravery: You taught me to be fearless when I step into any situation, no matter how uncertain it may seem. Not because of some foolish overestimation of my own abilities but because you taught me to have faith in the face of anything that comes my way. Growing up, and still to this day, you always took the time to point out God’s hand in every situation when I couldn’t see it myself. You showed me that that nothing is a coincidence and everything is as it should be at all times because God is always in control. I can’t tell you how much peace this has brought me throughout my life and how much confidence its given me to continue to push myself beyond my known limits.
  • Work Ethic: “Commit to the Lord all that you do…” man, if I had a dollar for all of the times you’ve said that…LOL but in all seriousness, you are the physical manifestation of that expression. From cleaning the house, waking up extra early so you can make breakfast for each member of the family, to gathering us around the table to read the Bible and speak wisdom into our lives during times when we needed it most, you never half assed it – you always go full ass. But in all seriousness, no matter how big or small the task, you do it with the same level of love, care, and dedication – and that’s something I can’t say the same thing about anyone else that I know. A tip of the hat to you on that one.
  • How to treat a woman: Like every father should, you showed me how to treat and talk to women. But your lessons are different – they’re never the “hey, you come here often” or “grab them by the p***”  bullshit. No – in my 27 years of life I have never seen you speak to or treat mom in a disrespectful or undermining way. You taught me that a wife should be your true partner in life and if/when that partnership gets out of balance, you fix it… even if that means swallowing your ego and saying sorry. You’ve shown me how to have confidence with women – confidence that doing things like cooking, cleaning, and gardening for your wife doesn’t make you any less of a man. Confidence to go against all of the gender norms you grew up with simply because you love mom and it makes you happy to do these things for her. Because of you I now know that trust and communication are some of the most important elements of any relationship and I’ve had the utter joy of watching your relationship with mom become deeper and more enriched each year with no signs of slowing down. What more could a kid ask for?

 

The truth is that these points don’t even scratch the surface of all that you’ve done for me and all that you’ve taught me. But talk is cheap anyway – just like you did for me, I want to show you what I’ve learned from you. You have been such a driving force in my life, you make me want to be the best man, brother, and leader I can be – because I can only hope to carry on your legacy and make you proud. Thank you so much dad, I am so blessed to have a best friend, mentor, and father, all wrapped up into one person.

 

BIG LOVE TO YOU BROTHA

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Love,

Matt

Step outside of your “bubble” to change your perspective…especially when traveling

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Some readers may see this as a rant but I hope it’s not interpreted as such – I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to live their lives, I am just sharing what has made a big difference in mine.

 

Yesterday was Sunday in Quito, Ecuador. As a pretty religious country, all of the mom n’ pop cafe’s were closed, so I headed to a more commercial spot in the center of town for breakfast. This place was full of travelers and expats which I could easily pick up on from the looks and language of the patrons. As I was eating and FaceTiming my sister, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. When I turned around I saw an adorable little girl but as my concentration focused in on her, my heart started to break – this girl could not have been more than 4 years old but her clothes were tattered, her face was splotched with dirt, and I could easily see the white crust that comes after tears have been streaming down a face. She put out her hand for some money which I gladly gave her. We chatted for a moment, I introduced her to my little sister (via FaceTime) and she went on her way.  What really struck me though, was what happened after she left… as I watched her walk away, I noticed almost 90% of the other patrons turn their backs or plug in their headphones in anticipation of this girl walking up to them so that they wouldn’t have to acknowledge her or face the reality of the situation.

 

In a similar vein, I’m currently taking a break from the hostel life of shared dorms and bathrooms and booked a couple of nights at the JW Marriott (I’ll discuss the irony of that in a bit…) where I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. This hotel seems to be isolated from the reality that exists just outside of its doors where the employees guard against locals coming onto the property to solicit patrons with gum/water or window-washing/shoe-shining services. Now, I understand that Marriott is branded on customer experience and as a business, I get why they feel the need to “protect” guests from this type of encounter but my personal opinion is that experiences like this, while at times can be jarring, shouldn’t anger us as guests, they should open our eyes to show how good we have it… after all, this is the first place I’ve been able to actually flush my shitty toilet paper rather than throw it in the garbage…

 

One thing I’ve become tuned into over the last few years is that many people within or above our tax bracket, when traveling to under-resourced countries, do it purely for themselves. They want to see the sights and want to eat and drink like kings and queens for a fraction of the price. While they may venture far from their home country, they tend to keep themselves insulated by going to the western spots (hotels, bars, restaurants) and put a layer between themselves and the locals of the countries that they visit. The result is that they come back with some fun stories and cool experiences but no shift in perspective and no understanding of what life is truly like in that country. When I’ve asked how the trips were, the conversations seem to revolve around all of the cool things they did “WE ATE LIKE KINGS!” “WE DID THE COOLEST SHIT” etc. It’s been much less common for me to hear “the trip was amazing, it turned my world upside down and made me so grateful for what I have” or “The people were so incredible and taught me so much about love, life, and joy”

 

Why is this important?

 

Like I said – this isn’t meant to be a rant or me calling people out because they aren’t “traveling the right way.” No, I’m not here to critique travel plans – in fact… this line of thought spans far beyond traveling (I’m just using travel as a way to highlight my point).

 

The main point is that when you are only focused on yourself, and never venture out of your “bubble” it’s easy to lose perspective. You begin to think that your problems are the biggest and most important problems in the world and you miss the crucial lessons that you can learn from others living in different situations.

 

  • “I’m so pissed. School only just started and I already have so much homework I had to miss Sunday Funday”
  • “I can’t believe my ex is already dating someone else…”
  • “I get that we don’t really talk anymore but why would they have to go and unfollow me on Instagram?”
  • “My job literally sucks, I hate my boss so much”

 

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, these situations are less than optimal but to get hung up on them, let them fester, and waste energy thinking about them is such a shame.

 

When you find opportunities to “burst your bubble” and truly experience other environments – those problems that once seemed so huge start to dissolve. If you really open your heart and mind to what’s out there, everything begin to change: your perspective, your motives, everything…

 

For me personally, traveling has been one of the most effective ways to venture out of my bubble and continues to transform me every day.

 

Through my job I’ve had the opportunity to work in countries like Bosnia, Jordan, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Nicaragua, and Ecuador – countries with people clearly living in a different reality than what I am used to back in the United States. In these countries I’ve worked with organizations who serve groups that are severely under resourced and/or oppressed. Working with these organizations and interacting directly with the people they serve, I’ve heard stories and had encounters that I will never forget. Stories of female genital mutilation, extreme poverty, lack of medical care, and strict oppression from both family members and governments. I’ve also seen the flip side, of people who don’t seem to have much but were so happy and grateful and willing to share what they do have. I’ve been blessed to share meals with and stay in the homes of these people and connect with them – and what I learned is that we are no different – we’re all made up of the same material, we all want love, and we all end up in the same place… the only difference are the environments that we happened to be born into. Each interaction has changed me for the better, they made me more empathetic, more curious, more grateful for what I have, more focused on others rather than myself – and I feel fortunate to have the people and opportunities in my life to expose me to the world outside of my bubble.

What’s your point?

 

With the recent news of Mac Miller’s death, which came way too soon, I’ve been thinking about other news of stars such as Avicii, Heath Ledger, and in some cases personal friends – passing at such young ages from drug overdoses and/or suicides when they seemed to have a golden road in front of them.

 

NOW DON’T GET IT TWISTED. I wouldn’t dare try to undermine what they may have been going through – I didn’t know them and I would never be so pompous to speak as if I knew the depths of their pain.

 

What I can speak on however, is my own personal experience. There was a time for me where I was so wrapped up in my bubble. I’d be concerned with how I came across to others, or if a certain girl was into me, or if I acted as cool as possible in a social situation – I just wanted to be accepted and be what I felt other people expected me to be. I’d compare myself to others in via channels like social media and would get down on myself. I was working hard but would see these people who already had the things that I wanted (both tangible and intangible things) and it would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough to earn them. My inputs weren’t immediately leading to the outcomes that I expected and so I began to question myself and my value. I would party hard and drink / do drugs to experience that peace and happiness for just a moment, while feeling like absolute shit (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) the next day because I knew it wasn’t real. My mind even went as far as fantasizing about what would happen if I died and if people would finally start to appreciate what I had to offer once I was gone. It was a dark place that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone and in fact this is the first time that I’ve ever put this out there to the public.

 

But, I was blessed with opportunities to burst that bubble that I was living in which was slowly destroying my spirit and once I started to break down those walls, those concerns stopped looking so ominous and took a back seat. I started to realize what I had and became grateful and joyful.  The questions I asked myself changed from “why don’t I have this yet?” to questions like, “how can I better serve others?” or “how can I make good use of my gifts to show my gratitude?”

 

Once my perspective shifted, so did everything else in my life. The crazy thing is that at first, my perspective was the only thing that changed. I wasn’t doing anything different, I just saw my life through a new pair of eyes until overtime it started to manifest into the physical indicators and now I don’t think you have to look too far to see how grateful I am for all that I have and how full of love and happiness my life has become.

 

This is certainly not just the case for me. At the beginning of my sabbatical I met an awesome dude in Peru who was from the states. He shared with me his story of transformation. He had hated his life – he felt empty and depressed like he couldn’t escape his situation – Peru was his last option, he had heard that it was a place for spiritual healing and decided that it was either going to change him or he was going to take his own life. I was floored by his story because the man I met was happy, in love, and radiated positive energy – in our conversations I learned so much from him about life, gratitude, and what truly matters. I would have never expected that he came from a place of so much pain and hopelessness and his transformation was all sparked from a simple shift in perspective.

 

These stories make me wonder how experiences like this may impact others who are in dark places and are turning to negative outlets as a way to escape them.

 

I’m not suggesting that everyone should give up everything they have and travel the world or become Mother Teresa. I certainly haven’t. In fact, as I mentioned, I am writing this post from the JW Marriott after doing my fair share of epic shit. I believe that we should all be able to eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the fruits of our labor – guilt free :).

 

That said, I also believe that if we are not growing, we are dying, and if we really want to grow and evolve our perspective, we must find ways to pepper in experiences that take us out of our bubble and help us see the bigger picture – after all, we are all connected. Change your perspective and you will change your life.

 

Bless Up !

 

Matt

 

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