#10 – Earn My Master’s Degree

Although this one clocked in at #10, it was actually the impetus for this entire list.  Some time ago, I decided that I wanted to earn my Master’s degree before I turned 50.  Don’t ask me the significance of that, because it was arbitrary.  50 just sounded like a nice, round number and, at the time, it was easily achievable.  After all, I managed to get my Bachelor’s degree by 30, so I figured it shouldn’t take 20 years to get a Master’s.  Needless to say, as is usually the case in life, things moved a lot more rapidly than I anticipated.

After settling in to my job at NetApp, I decided to get started.  First of all, my company is awesome.  They have an excellent reimbursement program, so it was hard to not take advantage of it.  My Bachelor’s degree is in Information Systems, so after looking around, I settled on Colorado State University and decided to pursue my Information Technology Management degree through the Global Campus.  Once again, all of the work would be done online, but that is tailor-made for my job, family and other commitments.  I started in the fall of 2014 with the goal of completing by the end of 2018.  Well, life happened, and having teenage daughters certainly didn’t help, and it ended up taking just a bit longer than expected, but I still came in under the “50” window.

Felicia asked me if I was going to pursue a Doctorate.  After a healthy laugh, and realizing that it would take about a decade, I told her I had firmly decided against that.  This would be the pinnacle of my educational career.  For a kid who wanted absolutely nothing to do with college when I was 18, I’m pretty proud that I was able to get through graduate school.  I’m well aware that I took the long route to get there, but I can honestly say that I learned far more than I ever would have when I was young.  I hope I never stop learning, no matter what my station in life, but I can confidently say this will be the last time I walk across that stage to gather a diploma.

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#9 – Introduce Matt to Old Movies

This was one I was really looking forward to.  Matt and I definitely share a love of movies, and while our interests don’t always align, we generally find common ground (think Star Wars, Marvel movies, Lord of the Rings, etc.).  I decided this year I would introduce him to some of my favorite “old” movies.  These were movies I grew up on and can still quote to this day.  To be honest, this will probably go on the entire year and for many years to come, but I figured I’d done enough already to check this off the list.

We did not have an auspicious start, to say the least.  I figured Chuck Norris had to be at the top of the list, so when I saw Lone Wolf McQuade pop up on my Amazon list, I told him it was time for a martial arts education.  About 20 minutes into the movie, he gave me a look that spoke volumes.  He was bored and completely uninterested.  He told me it was one of the stupidest movies he’d ever seen.  It didn’t help that his Mother was egging him on.  Anyway, I cut him loose and had to quietly admit to myself that it really wasn’t as good as I remember.  It’s funny how often times, those childhood memories  just don’t line up with reality.  Ok, so that was a flop.

A few weeks later, it was on to The Last Dragon.  Another favorite martial arts movie of mine.  Man, they were GREAT in the 80s!  Everybody was kung-fu fighting!  But I digress….  This time, we found a winner.  This had just enough action, comedy and fantasy to be keep him entertained.  He really enjoyed it and if you want proof, next time you see him, just ask him “Who’s the Master?” and wait for his response!

Next up was a western.  I learned earlier this year that TCM was releasing True Grit to the big screen for the 50th anniversary.  I grabbed Dad and Matt and we went last Sunday to see it in the theater.  I was a little worried about this one, because it was “old” even when I was a kid!  And honestly, I had to almost drag the kid into the theater by his ear.  To say he was less than excited was an understatement.  I couldn’t really get a read on him, but after the movie was over, he looked at me and said “Dad, that was a really, really good movie.  I liked it a lot!  It wasn’t Avengers good, but it was really good.”  I’ll take that any day of the week.  He liked it so much, he said he wanted to see some other movies with The Duke.  Being able to share that time with him and my Dad reminds me why I’m doing this.

As he gets older, I intend on furthering his movie education.  There are so many that I want to watch again with him, and I fairly confident he’ll love some and probably hate others, but I guess that’s what makes it great.  Next up…The Goonies!

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#8 – Daddy/Daughter Date Nights

Once upon a time, every month I would take one of my daughters on a date, just to spend a little extra time with them individually, and let them have a chance to decide where to go and what to do.  Somewhere along the way, they all grew up and we just stopped doing it.  When I was putting together this list…(to be honest, before I even started this list)…I decided that this should start again.  I don’t get to see them as often now since they are all grown up and out on their own, and I wanted to make sure they still knew how important that time alone with them is to me.  So, right before Christmas, the girls drew straws and we started up the tradition again in January!

Sydney got to go first and elected to go to Top Golf, which made me happy (and Savannah a little pissed!).  It is ridiculously fun and we had a blast.  Allie opted for a special dinner at The Melting Pot.  Let’s be honest, if you know me well, you know how much I like food, so this wasn’t a hard sell!  Finally, Savannah wanted to learn how to shoot, so I took her to Centennial Gun Club and we got to throw some rounds down range.  She shot Felicia’s 9mm and my AR-15 and we had a lot of fun doing it.

I truly hope this is one tradition that will continue, and I will do my level best to make sure it does.  I always made it a point to spend a lot of time with them when they were little and as we all enter the next phases or our lives, I don’t want that to change.  It’s not always the quantity of the time spent together, rather the quality.  And I have a memory bank full of good times with plenty of room for more!

 

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#7 – Para-sailing

This one was a biggie for me.  Most people that really know me, know that I’m not a big fan of heights.  I know that’s a rather strange statement from someone who is a pilot, but for me, it’s always been about “open” heights.  I don’t like looking over cliffs, tall buildings, or things of that nature, which I would argue para-sailing fits into.  That being said, it is something that I’ve always wanted to try.  A few years ago, Felicia and I went to Catalina island to celebrate our 15th anniversary, and we had the opportunity to para-sail.  I made a few excuses and managed to talk her out of it.  Even the thought of para-sailing sent me into a mild anxiety attack.

Fast forward to the cruise, and our Key West excursion.  I booked it knowing full well that I probably wouldn’t do it.  I told myself I could always make up an excuse.  Once we finished our turn on the jet-skis, we had to wait for some time while the other groups rotated.  So we just did some swimming and enjoyed the sun.  When our turn finally came to para-sail, we boarded the boat and sat down.  As is my luck, I chose the seat which would be the last one to para-sail, so I got to watch everyone go first.  Great, I thought, this would give me plenty of time to come up with some kind of excuse not to do it.  We were on the boat with a Canadian family.  There was a girl about Matt’s age that ended up going first with her Dad.  She had a look of abject terror on her face, and all I could think was that was exactly how I felt.  As they lifted off and soared over 100 feet into the air, I thought there was no way I was doing that.  When they got back down, she was smiling, albeit with a hint of terror still visible.  Everyone else cycled through until it was time for Felicia and Matt.  Of course those two aren’t scared of anything, so they had a blast.  As we had an odd number, Matt got to ride twice, so they strapped me in next to him.  They didn’t even give me enough time to object!

Once I was strapped in, we were told to sit down.  The captain quickly accelerated the boat and we gently lifted off.  They let us out about 100 yards and then slowed, so we could dip our feet in the waves.  Once again, he accelerated and we began our climb.  We got higher and higher until you really couldn’t hear anything.  It was very peaceful and the view was spectacular.  Matt knew how nervous I was and he asked me how I was doing.  I told him that it was one of the coolest things I had ever done and I couldn’t believe it took me this long to do it.  I also told him that I didn’t think this meant I was ready to jump out of an airplane, but I passed on to him what I hoped was a bit of fatherly wisdom.  I told him to make sure that he doesn’t let his fears get in the way trying new things, like I’ve done so many times in the past.  As we floated around for a few minutes, we spotted a giant sea turtle gently swimming near our boat.  It was the perfect end to the flight and they lowered us back to the boat.  I can’t wait to do it again.

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#6 – Jet-skiing

I’ve been wanting to try this for as long as I can remember.  It has always looked like a ridiculous amount of fun, but I’ve never taken the opportunity to try it out.  Once again, it just so happened that our cruise was the perfect place to try it out.  I found an excursion in Key West that offered a jet-skiing/para-sailing (item #7) adventure that would allow me to knock out two of the items on my list!

We boarded a boat with about 35 other people that took us to a barge where we could swim, drink and eat.  We each took turns in groups to jet-ski and para-sail.  Our group got to go first on the jet-skis.  Felicia rode alone and I had Matt on the back with me.  After a brief overview of how they operated, we tore out on a “tour” of the waters.  This was a double-edged sword for me.  Riding the Sea-Doo was an absolute blast.  Matt and I were hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole time.  Unfortunately, the ride only lasted about 5 minutes when we stopped, were told a couple of bad jokes, given some historical information about the area and then turned around and headed back to the barge.  We spent a grand total of about 10 minutes actually riding the Sea-Doos and more time talking about them.  However, we had so much fun we agreed that this is definitely something we will be doing again in the future!

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#5 – Get my Passport Stamped

I’ve had my passport for almost 8 years now and it has done little more than collect dust.  I’ve been to foreign countries before, but that was on Uncle Sam’s dime, and no passport was required, just my military ID.  When I first learned that we would be taking a cruise, I used that as an opportunity to knock a few of the items off my list.  At the very top was getting my passport stamped.

Then I learned that they don’t really ever stamp your passports on cruises; they simply use them for identification when you get back on the ship after visiting a port.  I was bummed that this one was going to be the first item that didn’t get checked as I had no other plans to leave the country in the immediate future.  However, I’ve learned that God will often grant us small favors, and such was the case in Nassau.  As we returned from our day at the beach, we joined 2,000 of our closest friends in line to go through customs to get back on the ship.  I heard the guy in line behind me ask one of the local defense members if the office on the other side of the fence was where he needed to go to get his passport stamped.  So, I grabbed Felicia and Matt and hauled them into the immigration office, and sure enough, they were more than happy to stamp our passports!  So, item #5 is officially checked!

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And just for fun, I included a picture of the line of cruise ships that were all in port that day just because it is really cool.  Our ship, the Carnival Dream, is in the middle.  The two to the left are other Carnival ships.  The big daddy on the right is a Royal Caribbean, and the one next to it is a Norwegian.  

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#4 – Bench Press 225

I’ve always thought that if the measure of a man is how much weight he can lift, then you are probably using the wrong tool to measure him.  Still, I think most guys would admit that at some point in their lives, they’ve looked at weightlifters and thought it would be pretty cool to move a bunch of weight.  In my younger years, often times you were ranked against your friends by how much you could bench press.  The old adage was that you should be able to bench your weight.  When I was young and in better shape, 225 would have actually exceeded my weight by 10-20 pounds…depending on the month.  Regardless, I could never reach that goal.  Hell, I could barely get 200 pounds off my chest once, and that usually required the help of a spotter.  So, as stupid as it sounds, I’ve always had the desire to prove to myself that I could bench 4 plates on the bar without any help.

To that end, I’ve been working pretty hard the last year to improve my bench.  Not only have I been cognizant of the weight, but more importantly, I’ve spent time learning to bench press properly.  Thank God for YouTube!  In years past, you just learned from either a trainer at the gym, or more than likely, your buddies, and most of them didn’t know what they were doing any more than I.  So I’ve watched some videos, I’ve practiced at the gym and I worked on my mental game.  That last part is the toughest.  I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I was scared to even try 225.  In January of 2018, I was able to hit a 3 rep max of 205.  So I was only 20 pounds away.  But my fear of failure kept me from even trying.  All I could picture was the bar coming off the rack, down to my chest and staying there, with me begging for help from a spotter to get it back up.

Fast forward to last night, we had a strength test at my gym.  They asked us to pick 2 of 5 exercises and shoot for a 3 rep max.  After warming up, I felt pretty good, so I decided to try for 215 on the bench.  I did about 10 reps of 135, then 5 of 185 and I was getting ready to load up 215 when I thought to myself that it was time to go for it.  I was convinced that even if I failed, I would at least know how much more I would have to work.  So, I slapped a couple of 45 pound plates on each end, psyched myself up, said a little prayer and called over a spotter.  I checked my position, lifted the bar off the rack, took a deep breath and lowered it to my chest.  I exhaled, exploded against the bar and to my surprise, it popped right up.  Holy Crap, I did it!  But I wasn’t done.  Two more reps to go.  The second one went much like the first, and on the final rep, I got a little hung up about halfway, but nothing was going to stop me, so I think I let out a primeval grunt and willed that sucker back to the top.  I racked the bar, high-fived a couple gym mates and smiled.

I’m not going to win any awards, grace the cover of any body building magazines, or impress anyone with that little feat.  But I felt pretty damn good about myself and it’s nice to know that, even if you are knocking on 50’s door, you can still be a better version of yourself.

Oh, and no pictures or videos of this one.  I wouldn’t be caught dead with a camera on me in the gym, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

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