Somebody’s Angel

I just returned from a week-long vacation with my wife, three of my children, their spouses, and 11 grandchildren.  My daughter lives in Southern California, so we all descended on her house and used it as a base to visit some of the attractions in the area.  My daughter has a large home, and every inch of it was filled with children and harried adults.  The only casualties of the week were my four-year-old grandson’s collarbone that was broken on the trampoline and a couple of cases of the flu that my wife and I brought home.

This was not a comfortable vacation where the participants could relax and meditate or soak up the sun.  Much of our time was spent on the freeways traveling to and from places like Disneyland and Sea World, where we stood in lines, wrestled strollers and their contents, went on rides, and watched shows.  I felt about the same at the end of one of these days as I did after hiking 22 miles in one day on the Pacific Crest Trail a few weeks ago.

Sometime during the course of the vacation, possibly when I was wondering why I was doing this to myself, it occurred to me that my role for the remainder of the visit was to be the best husband, father, and grandfather I could be under the circumstances.  I am sometimes frustrated by my inability to change things for the better, but I realized during the vacation that this was a perfect opportunity to be somebody’s angel.  In my case, the somebodies were my grandchildren, who are still young enough to be excited by the prospect of a grandfather who will go with them into the Tower of Terror or sit in the Splash Zone during the whale show.  I also had the privilege of baptizing one of my granddaughters (not in the Splash Zone) and receiving a giant hug for my efforts that more than compensated for missing the second half of the inconveniently scheduled Duck game.

I did nothing to resolve the federal financial showdown during my vacation, and I limited myself to a few phone calls and e-mails related to city business.  I did help make some children happy, and I found that by doing so, I improved my attitude and outlook.  I also learned how tough my little four-year-old grandson is by watching him take part in all the outings without complaint despite his broken collarbone.

I think we all have the chance to do something positive for someone else every day, and I believe most of us take advantage of that chance most of the time.  My vacation was a good reminder of how important and therapeutic it can be to let go of personal interests for the sake of someone else.

Extraordinary Service

Employees who have had to listen to my orientation talk over the past eight years are familiar with some of the stories I’ve used to illustrate the City’s mission statement.  I know everyone has memorized the mission statement, so I won’t bother to repeat it here.  The reason I know everyone is familiar with our mission is that I see so many examples of employees routinely practicing it.

Most of the stories I hear or things I see relate to small acts of service like providing some needed information or helping people find something.  Frequently, however, an employee does something that reminds me how lucky I am to work here.  The most recent example was a praise coupon I received from a grandparent regarding his/her grandson’s bicycle.  I should admit my bias about grandchildren at the beginning because I learned a few weeks ago that we are expecting our 14th in May.  I know how I feel about my grandchildren, and the story I heard really touched me.

According to the praise coupon, one of our police officers recently assisted in the recovery of a stolen bike that was disassembled and damaged by the thief who took it.  Rather than just returning broken pieces of a bike to the victim, our officer took the bike home and repaired and reassembled it before returning it to its owner.  The story didn’t make the newspaper; and, to the best of my knowledge, our officer didn’t tell anyone what he had done.  I’m not including his name here because I haven’t had the chance to talk with him about it, but I hope he will allow me to publicly thank him before long.

I did share the story with our police chief, whose reaction seemed to be the same as mine.  There are many reasons why this act was so admirable, not the least of which is the example set by our officer.  The young bike owner learned, if he didn’t know already, that police are almost always friends who sincerely want to help others.  The grandparent learned that he or she can trust the Albany Police Department to go beyond what is required.  I learned again that we have some really caring people who work for this City.

The most difficult aspect of my job is dealing with the worst of human nature.  I see too many self-centered, negative, unkind people; and, on my worst days, I sometimes remind myself that I could retire and be more selective about my interactions with others.  It is the selfless acts of service that I see nearly every day that reminds me of what is best in people and why our work is important.