28 May 2008 Eighth Grade graduation dinner
Thanks for asking me to speak I feel really honoured. To share your completion of the middle year cycle is really great. To me it is a gift and I have prepared my speech to explain how being with you is a gift to me.
Because of my tendency to go on tangents I have typed this out and will read so as to stay on task. It is 13 and three-quarters minutes long.
Free will vs. Society’s will
Are you a conscious creator or a by-product of your environment?
One of the over-riding questions I have been concerned with all my life has been to what extent do we create ourselves. My life has only led me to more questions. I rebelled against my parent’s strict religious views and looked for answers in all the avenues that the 1960s had to offer. I even joined a metaphysical cult studying to be a priest for a decade as well as living in communes and traveling the world. One thing I did constantly for 40 years was study astrology. Not the daily horoscope in the newspapers but from a very in depth perspective doing research on thousands of charts and even speaking at international conferences and writing articles for publications.
I always had one question in my mind and that was regarding free will.
I do not have answers but instead some reflections to offer.
It is the events that happen in our life and how we deal with them that determine our level of free will. We have heard many stories of how someone overcame something to accomplish something. We are flooded with inspirational stories. But no matter what we hear or see we live in our own mind. It is what happens to us not what happens to someone else that affects who we are.
At the end-of-the-day it is our narrative that affects others and ultimately us in our space. Not only the stories we create of who we are but what we and others do within our external environment.
The question is at what level would you be you if you grew up and lived in a different environment? What if I had been your parent?
We can be told we need to wear a tie. At that point we do not have free will if we want to be a part of the society dictating that we must wear a tie. However, we may have the choice of what our tie looks like. I do not like wearing a tie and managed to get away with out wearing one for about fifty years. However, my freewill exercise is to wear ties that I find interesting. At this point I have become somewhat of a conscious creator.
We constantly make choices. They may not be good or bad – they are just choices. Some things we have no choice over. Our nationality, race and background and for most people their gender are fixed. As well many events on a global level are well beyond us.
You may even have the sense that you are so swept up in situations that you are merely a spectator.
We are fortunate in that we have choices that many people in the world do not have. We can move, change our friends, our hair style even our belief system. We cannot change our past but we can re-invent ourselves along the way.
Re-invention is what makes us conscious creators and gives us a certain degree of free will. Re-invention can keep us alive.
Often we have one shot at something. There are some moments we cannot redo. There are some mistakes that cannot be undone.
As a single parent I really enjoyed close to two decades with my boys. We had a bit of a rough life and at one point we moved houses ten times in ten years. My choice seemed to be that it was up to me whether I could be happy or not.
Often we lived in situations that we have no control over. You live in your families and may wish you were living in the Outback in Australia chasing kangaroos instead. Well I did not like living in Australia and my boys and I had a large property in the country with kangaroos in the paddocks and my children and our dog did chase kangaroos. I just complained.
The family court of South Australia gave me custody of my children but said I could not leave the state as their mother lived in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. If I wanted to be with my children I had to stay in South Australia and I wanted to return to the States. I had free will but it was limited. It was either America or my children.
I was telling myself I was a prisoner of Australia. It was up to me to change that narrative.
The other part of my free will was that I had to live in South Australia. We could not move to Melbourne or Sydney, which I preferred. However, I did not have to live in Adelaide – a city of more than a million people. So my children and I moved to the country about an hour away from the mother then to several beach side communities even further away.
We had a rather good life. I made tofu for many years and our house was like my classroom – loud – and very active. Many neighbouring children would stay at our house, especially on weekends because we had a bit of a loose environment – much like our classroom. For various reasons I was not good at keeping track of our home and we were often moving. I even lost my tofu business after eight years of very hard work. For a while we did not have a car – and living in the country made it difficult. For a year we had a homeless adolescent living with us too. We went through a bit of a very poor patch for about fifteen years.
Most of you have an idea of what you want to do later in life in a large sense. With the world changing so quickly NEW SITE = JULY 2014 - http://neuage.us/2014/July/ - Today’s occupations may be very different than what they are now. But at your age you may have a sense of what you want to do.
I wanted to be an artist and writer when I was your age. I still want to be that and sometimes I fancy that I am and the fact that no one pays me for my art or writing has become secondary.
My children knew what they wanted to be from a very young age. My older son wanted to be part of the music scene and he too liked art. He liked spray art – and we had a bit of time when he was your age that I was often in court because he decided to share his aerosol art with the local community; especially on the bus stops and train stations. Now fifteen years later my son makes more money than me and he works for the government in Melbourne working with youth doing spray painting and hip hop stuff. He has a recording studio and works with top acts in Australia and ones that tour there. He also does ‘legal’ murals for the local councils (governments).
My younger son wanted to be a baseball player and at age eight announced that he was going to play for the NY Yankees when he grew up.
At your age you may say you want to do something when you are older and adults will tell you to not even try. My two sons accomplished what they wanted to do. I never told them they could not do it.
My baseballer worked hard – and every morning from about the age of nine we would go out and he would throw one hundred pitches and every evening we worked on baseball. Neither of my children did too well in school and the community we lived in chalked it up to being in a single parent home. Actually my son, now 27, who makes more than me didn’t go past tenth grade. My baseball son barely made it through year twelve and that was with me doing almost all his homework.
School is very important – don’t get me wrong. But so is experience. I dropped out at year ten and it took me until my mid-forties to get back to school then I did fourteen years straight at university with the last seven spent on my PhD. I have been teaching for the past ten years.
My baseball son did it well. He was on eight Australian teams from 13 years old when he played on the U-14 World Series in St. Louis and was one of the best pitchers of the series that involved some 16 countries. He pitched in a quarter final against the States and the Aussies were ahead until about the sixth inning and they took my son out then the Yanks came from behind and won. Australia finished fourth in the world that year, their highest ranking ever, with Cuba being number one and the Yanks number two. Australia is a cricket, rugby, Aussie Rules Footy country and baseball is not big.
He played in South Africa with the U-16s in a World Series and in Canada in the U-18 World Series as well as playing for Australia in the World Cup in Taiwan. He was named to the pitching squad for the Olympics in Athens.
Leigh was made an offer by at least five teams. The Atlanta Braves clocked him at 95 mph when he was 16. I had to surround myself with pillows from when Leigh pitched at the age of 13, as I would have too many black and blue marks from my inability to catch him. I never once caught his curve ball that he threw for the first time when he was 12.
The day he signed with the LA Dodgers was a very exciting day. He had just turned 17. The person signing him, Pat Kelly, had been a short stop for the Yankees and was now a scout for LA. So my son came close to the Yankees.
Leigh was the Australian junior sports player of the year in 2001 and world number one tennis player for 2001, Lleyton Hewitt, also from Adelaide, was the senior sports person of the year. Leigh is the only baseball player ever to be nominated for sports person of the year as baseball is a minor sport in Australia.
To achieve in a difficult situation makes it all more rewarding. Our life was always difficult. For most of the time I was doing my university studies, working, keeping up with all the things my children were involved in from baseball success to being in court too many times. My baseball player never did drugs or used alcohol even though all his friends did – he was a bit of an island that was not influenced by his mates or his brother’s shenanigans.
Our classroom situation is difficult too. But some of you focus on the task at hand. We have had a lot of frustrations with slow computers, lost files, being in a classroom where everyone is too close. And there are people constantly passing through for tech support. There are always boxes of computer parts to navigate around. Then there is my teaching style and you not laughing at my jokes – don’t worry my wife sometimes doesn’t think I am funny too.
To be successful is to do the task at hand regardless of the environment. Some of you do this. Others quit and play games or go to Facebook instead of trying to find answers on your own such as using the software’s help file. Think of how you are using your free will to succeed. Are you a conscious creator? My goal in our classes was to use a lot of programs to push us to adapt to new things quickly – it is the way the world is.
Be able to accomplish what you need within a changing environment and you will be successful. Embrace change.
Leigh left for Dodgertown in Florida in February 2001 at age 17. I had just met my current wife weeks before and we all had one day together; Narda, Leigh and his girl friend, a pop singer from Malaysia and me. He had met her on a train a couple of years earlier.
Leigh had just come back from a world series in South Africa in 1999 when he was fifteen and we were on the train into Adelaide. My son was always chatting up females and he left me in mid story about his recent trip to sit next to a girl on the train. They were together for the next couple of years.
We went shopping and had a fantastic day. Then Leigh was off to Dodgertown and Narda and I moved to upstate New York to look after my aging father. For the next couple of years I did not see Leigh much but he progressed well with baseball moving from the rookie league to Single A in his first two years. When he was in the States playing ball during the summer I was in Australia.
Leigh and his girl friend were having a difficult time. Long distant relationships are almost impossible, especially for teenagers. For Leigh it was extra difficult because his girl friend was in the finals of the Australian teenage idol and there were stories, as there often are, about people having affairs and there had been stories about the girl and a guy in the finals in the teen magazines and websites. Of course we know gossip is gossip and it may not have been true. Magazines create stories to have readership. But my son was becoming unhinged because of it. The Dodgers sent him to their psychiatrist - they tried to keep track of him though I do not believe they did a very good job.
In August of 2003 a few weeks after turning twenty Leigh flew from Florida to Sydney. The Dodgers apparently went on a worldwide search when they did not find him in his room.
From the emails on Leigh’s computer the girl wanted to break up with him and Leigh had written a 5000 word incredibly sad email saying he could not live with out her. What stands out in my mind is one of the things he said – that from the age of ten he knew he would one day commit suicide. This so shocks me, as we were very close. I was at every game he played in South Australia and some in Sydney. We had an open dialogue I thought. But I really missed the bigger picture.
I was competing my PhD and I was doing the final touches on my 150,000-word thesis in my office at the University of South Australia when Narda came in to tell me Leigh was dead. It was a Friday morning and we were to leave for the States two days later. The police had contacted my older son in Melbourne and he rang Narda.
Leigh had stayed the night with his girl friend. The next morning the police were at their hotel room to say that he was on the pavement fifteen stories down. The girl friend said that at five in the morning Leigh woke her up to tell her he loved her then she went back to sleep. He was found at 5.30. We flew to Sydney and I identified my son. Sometime in that two and a half seconds the police said it would take to go fifteen stories I think he changed his mind. The look that was frozen on his face was beyond anything you would have ever seen in the most gruesome horror flick. There was unexplainable fear in his face. There are times when we exercise our free will and there is no turning back.
We can break up with a friend or lover and maybe see them again sometime or heal ourselves of the breakup or get a different computer teacher but when we kill ourselves there is never a chance to know what the future will hold.
We looked at nanotechnology last year. One of the promises of nanotechnology is that your generation can live as long as you want. There is even the conversation – that the Singularity is close. The moment when the future is totally ours to control when we can upload our consciousness and lives just like we do with our work on a computer. Then we can download parts of ourselves into virtual machines that can exist anywhere in the universe. Just think, you download your consciousness into a newly created cyberbot whilst traveling between Jupiter and Saturn sometime in the not so distant future. And there next to you is me, still trying to get you to laugh at my jokes and I have hid the delete button.
We have free will. There are times in our life when we think there is nothing ahead of us. My son always got what he wanted. He made the most international teams of any youth in Australian history. He became a professional ballplayer. He was on a baseball card – it still sells on ebay. We were always poor but we got the money for his many baseball trips usually doing fundraisers including going to the media.
The Dodgers said he should be in their starting rotation within two years.
Both my sons were in the media often – one for success the other for some incredible things that I will not get into but they were horrific news stories. The graffiti was tame stuff compared to later stuff. But the one who everyone put on a pedestal could not have the one thing he needed and wanted and that was love. I can blame it on the mother and she blames it on me. At the end of the day my son enacted his free will but his free will has not only totally changed me for life but many others too. I even have a Facebook for him – I won’t write anything on his behalf but there are a lot of his schoolmates who are still his friends and I have kept in touch with his friends who I knew when they were your ages and many of them had visited and even stayed at our house and then there were the too many girlfriends.
Hundreds of his friends came to his wake and between Facebook and a web page I share his life the best I can.
My other son, who most thought would spend most of his life locked up is doing great. He and his girl friend stayed at our flat during the spring break. He has his recording studio – he has a good paying job and he is really happy.
Never judge the rest of your life or someone else’s by what they are doing now. Many people throughout my life have said I would be a total failure. We know that is not true. I am your teacher. How awesome is that?
And that is why I want to thank you for letting me into your life. I had a great time with my kids and my favourite period was when they were in middle school. We even got the family court to let us take a trip around the world for a month paid for by my family when my boys were ten and twelve and that was so much fun. We stayed with friends in Hawaii, California, my family in up state NY, we went to Paris, London and stayed in castles in Germany and got back to South Australia with no money even though we needed a car and furniture and even a home. We had spent the rent money too but we had a great time. Those memories will last me a lot longer than if I had bought a car and paid the rent.
Sometimes we need to take a holiday from ourselves. I carry lot of grief. A large chunk of my life is gone forever – but you all helped me escape me for the times I have been with you. And even though I may have seemed quite grumpy at times and you do run amok at times I really do appreciate the times we had together.
I have really enjoyed getting to know you and thank you for feeling free enough with me to be yourselves.