June 2016 Archives

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This blog was inspired by, of all things, a post I read on Facebook the other morning.  The post was about a young lady's revelations about what she truly wants out of life: 

"Big revelation for today brought out by stress-laden solstice Kafka dreams. I want out from under my own admonishment that I have to strive to accomplish something exceptional or remarkable in my life in order to somehow justify my right to exist.  I'm tired of even trying to identify the eternal carrot.  I'm not going to write a great book, go back for my master's degree, become famous, or solve any of the world's big problems.  I might not make more than a small ripple of difference ever again.  And that's okay because enough is enough is more than enough.

I'm ready to step off the carousel, take a breath, and have a look around.  Life is beautiful, just as it is."


Knowing the young lady who posted these words her momentous declaration came as a shock.  It was a stunning revelation from a person so young, so gifted, and seemly so motivated.  She already is a shaker and a mover in her community and I expect her to become even more important in the years ahead.  However, at the youthful age of 32, she just made a declaration that she; wants out from under her own admonishment that she has to strive to accomplish something exceptional or remarkable in her life in order to somehow justify her right to exist. 

Do I believe her?  Absolutely.  In the short time I have known her I have come to recognize she means exactly what she says.  Do I believe this will this be the end of her growth as a human being, both personally and professionally?  Absolutely not! I still predict many significant achievements for her.  At a young age, she somehow discovered how not to stress about how, or when, these achievements are going to happen, which I think is amazing.  

Her epiphany reminded me of my own journey through life.  Unlike her, I wasn't striving to accomplish any lofty goal(s) in my life, I just wanted to survive:  Thirty-two years ago I returned home from the Veterans Hospital in Fargo, ND.  I had just completed an alcohol treatment program.  It was my second time in Fargo VA's alcohol treatment program, and my third time overall in a treatment program.  Sioux Manufacturing Corporation (SMC) quickly hired me.  I selected the graveyard shift (midnight - seven) to keep me busy at night, and I'm a nightwalker anyway.  For the first time in my life, I had a steady income.  I had a job, a good car, a wife, two sons, dogs, a cat, and I had started bootlegging on Sundays.  Bootlegging brought in lots of extra cash so I had plenty of jingle to walk around with.  Life was finally looking up after so many years living an alcoholic lifestyle. So when the Dean of Students at our tribal college approached me and asked if I was interested in enrolling in a teacher training program I flat out told him, no, I wasn't interested.  The Dean was also my tanhan (brother-in-law) so he persisted.  I finally asked him, "Why me, Al?"  He replied, "Because only two students at the college have a GPA over 3.0 and you're one of them."  I was surprised when he told me that, because while going to college the last two years I was drunk most of the time and barely remembered the courses I enrolled in.  I had broken my back a couple of years earlier and was partially paralyzed on my left side so I returned to school simply to receive my veterans' benefits.  Now that I was sober and had a job, going back to college was the furthest thing from my mind.  Then he said, "You will get a full scholarship with a stipend of $163.00 every two weeks."  Long story short, I went on to UND after completing another year at the tribal college and 20 years later I graduated with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership.

I probably was the least motivated person from Spirit Lake to receive a college degree.  When I complete one level of education, I had no desire to move to the next level. As I indicated in the previous paragraph I went to college only because I broke my back. And, I returned to college simply to receive a stipend.  After I obtained my teacher's degree I had no plans to further my education. But, circumstances conspired against me and I found myself going back for my Master's. Getting a Master's was way more than this old ndn had ever planned on doing so it took several of my friends to convince me to go on to get my doctorate.  Even with my friends encouraging me to go I would not have gone had not UND's Educational Leadership Department begun recruiting students for a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership around the same time.  I applied, was accepted, and seven years later this reluctant ndn graduated with a doctorate in Educational Leadership. Similarly, I was content working at SMC when I got out of alcohol treatment. Once I became a teacher I had no plans to do anything else, I loved teaching.  I became Academic Dean simply because I was in the right place at the right time, as was the case when I became College President.

My point being, unlike the young lady whose post prompted this blog I had no plans whatsoever to go to college. Also, unlike her, I felt no pressure to go out and become rich and famous. I met the young lady through Facebook. She sent me a friend request which I ignored and promptly forgot about. We have a mutual friend who interceded on her behalf and we became friends. Once we became friends I found out she sold duck eggs so I purchased some from her as an excuse to meet her.

Although there is a 30-year age difference between us we quickly became friends. Our personalities are very similar; she strongly values her own opinion over others' as I do, but I call it arrogance; she often ignores societal rules and I do too, but I call it, "My don't give shit attitude"; we both don't suffer fools easily; and she's drawn to helping, sticking up for, and supporting the outcasts and underdogs in society as I am; and gossip about us does not bother us.  She could have been a white, female, Hobo Joe (my don't-give-a-sh_t, alter ego), but she wasn't raised on a Rez in the 1960s and 70's like I was.  We both overcame tragic accidents; she suffered 3rd degree burns to the chest, arms, and face, when she was twenty years old and still suffers from the effects, and I broke my back and remain partially paralyzed on my left side; she too lost both parents while they were young, and I lost a son.

She performed the first gay couple marriage in the county, she raises ducks, horses, cats, and chinchillas, she is the director of economic development for the city, is a professional fitness trainer, president of a museum, so when she shocked everyone with her post, "I might not make more than a small ripple of difference ever again.  And that's okay, because enough is enough is more than enough.  I'm ready to step off the carousel, take a breath, and have a look around.  Life is beautiful, just as it is."  I decided to write a blog about it:

Maybe I am not that all surprised with her post as I see a lot of similarity in her outlook on life and mine.  Although she grew up in all-white rural small-town North Dakota in the 80s and 90s and I grew up in the isolated, poverty-stricken, rez in the 60's we are more alike than we're different. What struck me most when I met her was I recognized certain Dakota values in her upbringing. She is generous, she respects all people regardless of religion, race, or creed, and she has the courage to do what she believes in, not what society thinks she should do. Although not a spiritual person per se her beliefs parallel our Dakota spirituality  

What did surprise me is this. It takes many people a lifetime to learn what she has learned, to stop the merry-go-round, and get off it before you lose your soul.  Most people never do.  While I have been contemplating retiring I just can't pull the trigger.  I'm too scared to get off the merry-go-round.  Heck if a 32-year-old young lady can do it, there is no reason why I can't also when the right time comes for me to retire.

Thirty-two years ago, after 15 years of hardcore, alcoholic lifestyle, I started work at SMC without any plans other than to survive.  However, The Creator had other plans for me. Likewise, I'm sure the young lady's destiny will include many great and awesome deeds.


Dad, I Hardly Knew You

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I never knew my dad, he and mom split when I was a toddler. I did see him over the years and once when I was about 12 years old I actually spent several days with him. I would see him fleetingly over the years but never spoke very much with him. During my Hobo Joe years, I ran into him several times at different locations. We both were inebriated during those times. The last time I saw him was at Tribe's powwow in 1988. I had heard he had quit drinking for some time. We talked for a while and then he made an unusual request; he asked if he could stay with me. I had been sober and divorced for several years and living by myself when he made that strange request. I declined, as I was not quite convinced that he would stay sober. He died a couple of months later. Although he did not raise me he influenced my life in several ways; 

I was shooting pool in Devils Lake's infamous Colonial Bar when an old guy who was watching came over and remarked how good I was. He added, "Your dad was a damn good pool player too".  My girlfriend at the time and who stayed with me for quite sometime after that told me later, that from that time on I became fixated with pool. 

My dad and his brothers were known for their hunting and shooting skills. Although not much of a hunter myself, I bought my son's rifles at an early age and encourage them to hunt because I wanted them to be like my dad. I taught them to offer tobacco when they make a kill. Marshall and Ryan are now good shots and good hunters. 

Mom and other old-timers have told me, "Your dad was a handsome man. Women were always after him." This could be why I enjoy the company of beautiful women so much. 

Lastly, and most importantly, my dad was a gentle soul. He was not a fighter and he lived in times where fighting was common. The times I was with him I never heard him speak in anger about another person. He was always in a good mood, laughing and telling jokes and/or humorous stories. And, he truly loved me, my sister Becky and my brother Mark. 

Unfortunately, he grew up in an era when alcohol was common as meth is today. Once infected with alcoholism it hounded him until his premature death at age 65. A few years short of age 65 myself, I find myself wishing I had made more of an attempt to get to know my dad. And, I now I realized I loved him also...sorry it took so long to admit that, dad.    

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