Monday, December 21, 2009

Where is Baby Jesus, maybe Tucker ate him?

My wife was determined to teach our children the true meaning of Christmas this holiday season. She was going to do so by using the nativity scene we were given as a gift by her parents a few years ago. My children watched in anxious anticipation, as she carefully unpacked each piece of the ceramic nativity scene. First the stables, then the manger, followed by the animals and the wise men. Finally, she started getting to the bottom of the box, Joseph and Mary made their appearance and my son patiently waited, finally asking, “Where is Baby Jesus?”
“I don’t know,” answered my wife.
“I don’t see him anywhere! Maybe Tucker ate him,” my son replied.
Tucker, as many of you know, is the trouble-ridden family dog. Just like many families, he is also a key member of our family. However, this one statement from my son gives you an idea of some of the trouble he has caused in our household. I bought Tucker for my wife as an engagement gift six years ago. He was an adorably cute, five pound Cocker Spaniel from South Georgia. He was as sweet as could be. Over the years, we have served as “foster” owners for many dogs – a revolving door of big dogs and small dogs, cute dogs and not-so-cute dogs; but throughout, Tucker has remained steady. I would have preferred loyal and obedient, but I guess steady will have to do.
Once the entire Nativity scene was laid out and on display, my son decided to make a slide out of the roof of the stable for the characters, because you know what would have really livened up that first Christmas . . . a slide for Baby Jesus! I can see it now, the wise men arrive after traveling great distances with gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, and a slide for our Lord and Savior!
In the meantime, my daughter is now at the age where she is walking, climbing, and essentially getting into everything within her reach. This regularly results in pictures, ornaments, and often drinks and food scattered around the living room floor (Tucker seems to enjoy the food and drink on the floor and ultimately makes quite a good vacuum in just such occasions). All in all, this ultimately leaves our home looking as if a small tornado (or the Tasmanian Devil) just wiped through our living room.
The point is that every family has its quirks (my family is no exception – in fact, it’s probably the model), but rather than allowing those quirks to become a point of frustration, it is a wonderful opportunity to embrace the uniqueness that is your family. This holiday season; celebrate the quirks with your family. That’s what makes them yours!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Things I am thankful for . . .

My family - at the risk of "overkill", I absolutely LOVE my family (I know, I know, I say that in nearly every blog and column, but when you know you've got something great, you want to scream it from the mountaintops). When I say family, I mean my wife, Heather, who is the most incredible person I have ever met. My children, Jackson and Chloe, who never let a day go by without an adventure or a memorable moment. My mom and dad. My extended family, my in-laws - who defy all stereotypes about in-laws, and my brother - Sam - who has provided with a never ending list of stories from our childhood - and his family Loren (who I notoriously spell her name), and their children - Owen, and Aili (probably killed the spelling of her name as well - which leads me to being thankful for a FORGIVING family).

My Dog - Tucker. I've always owned and loved dogs, but Tucker is special to our family and despite all of his attempts to shed his doglike nature and applying a petition to be recognized as a human, we love him as the family dog nonetheless.

Diet Coke - I know it probably keeps weight on that I would be better of losing, but I LOVE Diet Coke - we all have to have our vices, right?

Pizza . . . scrambled eggs, hamburgers, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, french fries, french toast (who said the french never did anything right), biscuits, mexican food in general, but burritoes have a special spot in my belly (especially from Moe's), and on this special Thanksgiving - Pumpkin Pie. The comment attached to Diet Coke (about weight loss) probably applies here as well, but I LOVE food!

Bikes - how can a simple two wheeled mode of transportation take the weight of the world off of my shoulders? I don't know, but I love to ride.

Superman - he stands for all that is right, how can you argue against that?

The Penguins of Madagascar - I have never been a big cartoon fan, but with a three year old son you don't have a choice and these guys crack me up - wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

Teaching - I have been priveleged to teach at two local higher education institutions as adjunct faculty and I just LOVE it! Not sure I could ever do it full time, but I really enjoy being in front of a class of bright, energetic young adults that are interested in learning and sharing what limited knowledge I may have on a particular subject, in this case it is the law and nonprofits.

Friends - I could spend the next 10 pages listing the people I am thankful for in my life and still forget somebody, so rather than risk that, I'll just say I feel like Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life (at the end of the movie, not the part where he is considering suicide)!

Lastly and most importantly - GOD. His grace has saved me despite my absolutely treacherous record of missing his guidance. When people ask me, "how are you doing?", I usually answer, "better than I deserve!" and that is absolutely 100% true. I don't deserve salvation, I don't deserve my blessings, I haven't earned any of it, but I am more thankful than I could ever possibly express!

And if you are one of the two or three people that actually read this blog - I am thankful for you as well. Stay tuned, 2010 is already a big year with a few BIG announcements, adventures, and major changes already in play.

As they say in the peloton, keep the rubber side down!

Thank you all!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just say NO!

If you've been following my column in the Cleveland Daily Banner, you know that I spend a majority of my time talking about my family. But I have other interests too and I want to use today's blog to highlight those interests, they are . . . let me think . . . there has to be something . . . I don't know, I guess family is pretty much it. Seriously though, if you're like me (which for your sake, I hope you are not), you are so busy with "family obligations" (doesn't it sound horrible to call them "obligations"?). We have very little time for other hobbies like politics, biking, fantasy football, or curling (I occasionally participate in all of these things, except curling, but I if I had the time and place I might - it looks fun sliding down the ice throwing big rocks at each other, but I digress). So how do we make time? The reality is, most of us overextend our families. We take on too much. We participate in too many activities. We schedule our day too full. Ultimately, we don't give any of them a quality effort, we just do what we can do to get by. So, I am starting a revolution, a revolution centered on the word "NO". Say it with me, NO! Louder! Yes, we are saying No! No to more soccer games. No to more birthday parties. No to more church committees (forgive me Lord). No to anything that adds strain and stress to our life. So from this point forward, when someone asks me to update my blog or write another column I will firmly say . . . I'll get right on it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The AtomicMan

The day I was defeated by AtomicMan. To start, the 1.2 mile swim went terrific, probably my best swim of the year with a personal best of about 39 minutes (10 minutes better than I anticipated), I left the water feeling fresh and excited. The bike leg started very well, but at mile #2 I became careless which resulted in me catching the side of the road with my front tire and driving me into the pavement. As far as road bike crashes, this ranks up there. After a few minutes of taking a toll of the damages, I decided to try and continue on. My legs still felt fresh and I could tell that my conditioning was good, but I had a lot of open wounds and my back and ribs were really hurting. After completing the 28 mile loop (I am proud I rode 26 miles on a damaged bike and body), I conceded. I am VERY disappointed at the results - a lot of training hours went into this event and I can't feel anything but frustration at a DNF result. However, it has developed a motivation to conquer the 70.3 mile event next year. I will be back! Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The greatest practical joke of ALL TIME!

When I was a boy (and DEEP into my adulthood), I was quite the prankster. I was actually good at it, no, I would say I EXCELLED at it. I spent many hours thinking about and planning the perfect prank on the perfect person. I could have held weekend seminars on how to pull a great prank. I could have done a late night infomercial selling a 20 minute DVD outlining the key components of laying solid ground work and building a foundation for a strong prank. But I didn't and that ship has sailed. I have long since retired from that field and have lost the critical edge so necessary for good pranks.
There was the time we tricked my HS Spanish teacher into believing a buddy of mine fell out a second story window (I am thankful she did not have an ACTUAL stroke, although momentarily I thought she might), or when as teenagers we would take the universal television remote control, the one the cable company gave everyone when they installed cable in your home, at night around the neighborhood and point the remote in people's windows and turn the channel or turn the TV off and on while they were watching it (the efforts people went through to "fix" their broken cable box was hilarious), or the time we filled a 55 gallon trash can and leaned against the door of one of the guys in my dorm (after a late night knock, he opened his door only to be met my 55 gallons of water flooding the floor of his dorm room). These are all classics (although somewhat mean-spirited at time, thus my early retirement from the industry all together), but my question is - what is your greatest prank of all time? What is something you did (or had done to you) that will remain in your mind for many years and always gives you a chuckle when you think about it?
I want to hear what you got! I am searching for the greatest practical joke of ALL TIME! Do you qualify?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two types of people on the bike

One of the greatest hazards when riding your bike on the back roads of Bradley County (or any other community for that matter), is the unfenced, unleashed, and otherwise unconfined dogs. I have seen all too often my friends and riding partners go down in a heap after a dog runs under their tires. I have been fortunate, while I have had many close calls, I have yet to be taken down by a canine friend. In fact, on my "old faithful" ride to and from Red Clay State Park, I have essentially mapped the ride by the dogs I'll encounter. There is the crazy German Shepard I have called the Yard Nazi - that family must have a invisible fence because he will run to the edge of the road and run tight circles until I am out of sight (somewhat humorous). There is Duke II, because he is very friendly and likes to run alongside of me, and looks just like my old dog Duke. There is Rocco II, a little Terrier Terror that makes every effort to run between my tires and the culprit of my closest calls (I now ride quiet on the approach and make a sprint attack past the house, much like the group finishes at the Tour de France - except it is only one fat guy on a bike and a little 20 lb. dog chasing him through the back roads of SE Tennessee). There is Gramps, an old lab mix that only raises his head to bark, but never gets off the porch, and Doggy Bolt, an incredible sprinter for short distances who otherwise has no endurance. There have been many other dogs on this route come and go over the years (I am fearful that the "go" was a sad ending created by a vehicle larger than a bike).
Now I have ridden with many people in this community and there are generally two ways to deal with the dogs - love and contempt. I am not judging either, but it seems to be a common theme. Those that deal with love, either try and sneak by in an effort not to disturb the dog, bring doggy bones to toss to the dog during the chase (hoping it will be a distraction), or actually enjoying talking and playing chase with the dogs. I tend to fall into this category. The other approach is contempt. I have seen this play out with yelling, threatening, and most recently, many riders are carrying a form of pepper spray to hit the dogs with during the chase. While the spray usually works, I have also seen the rider in the draft become a "collateral damage" victim of the spray.
I am not judging or suggesting either is right or wrong, just pointing out an interesting pattern I've noticed, much like the preferences people have of which way their toilet paper rolls open (many like the toilet paper to roll over the top, others prefer it coming out the bottom). What does all this say? What does it mean? Probably nothing, but I am not smart enough to be the judge, I simply write it down for you to ponder. Ride safe and don't let Rocco II get the jump on you!

Friday, September 4, 2009

My first (almost) fight

It was fifth grade. I was playing quarterback at recess and my best friend, Chris, was running a deep pass pattern. He was wide open, but I overthrew him on the play and ended up hitting the school bully named Butch in the back with the football. As you might guess, Butch was not happy. Butch was in fifth grade, but had been held back at least twice. He smoked and was rumored to have stolen a car (probably not true, but it certainly added to his reputation).
Butch cornered me and my friend Chris and told us that he was going to fight us Friday after school at the local park (ironically named Pleasant Street Park). The strange thing about this challenge was that it was only Tuesday. I assumed Butch planned it that way so that he could enjoy the next several days watching Chris and I sweat like two men facing their final days on death row. However, it may have been that his fighting schedule was full for the week and the first opportunity he had to squeeze us into his busy schedule fell on Friday afternoon.
Nonetheless, the week crawled along as news of the big fight spread through our small school. Finally Friday arrived and I trudged through the day dreading the impending doom that faced me at 3:00. It was at recess that day that I realized Chris was absent. Rumor had it that he had come down with some mysterious form of the 24 hour flu and would probably be back on his feet the next day. My prognosis was much gloomier.
The bell rang and about half the school ran down to the park ahead of me. I wanted to believe they’d be there to scream their support for me, but more likely they were scrambling to get the “first come, first serve” front row seats to school yard slaughter. I tried to convince myself that if I was brave that I had a chance of winning. But the truth was, Butch was twice my size and if I was brave, I had a chance of surviving.
I arrived at the park to see a circle of children, forming a Roman Gladiator-like arena. I had two strategies; the first was to fight with the heart of Rocky Balboa, earning Butch's respect through my endurance until he called it a draw. The second strategy was to take a dive early to limit the damage. I was leaning toward the latter when I stepped inside the circle. Seeing Chris was absent, Butch asked, “Where’s your friend?” I explained the mysterious illness and Butch seemed to become suddenly sympathetic and said, “Since you had the courage to show up, I’ll let you off, but tell your friend I’ll find him.” I walked away as if I was never scared and tried to cover up the fact that my knees were visibly shaking.
My son is now at the age where pushing and shoving is a part of childhood play. As parents, it is important that we all teach our children the difference between boyhood rough-housing and threats of physical violence that can create an unhealthy and unsafe school culture. The feeling of safety is paramount to a successful learning environment and the trauma that often goes with violence can last a lifetime (just don’t tell Butch).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Serving the Underserved

I am off to teach a course at Lee University titled, "Serving the Underserved". In preparing for this class, it has got me thinking (always a bad sign, usually it can be identified by a contorted look on my face and steam coming out of my ears), why, in the richest country of the world, are there still people who are "underserved"? Why, when I walk out of my office door, do I walk by people who are homeless, jobless, and without any support service? Why do we feel the need to look at the government to solve these problems? What happened to the second of the two most important commandments - "Thou shall love thy neighbor as you love yourself"? Even if you are not a Christian, at some level you must agree with that philosophy, right? What are your thoughts? How do we solve homelessness, drug addiction, domestic violence, child abuse, and all the other issues that plague our communities?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . with the bike.

It was an interesting week, on and off the bike. My weekly column for the Cleveland Daily Banner hit a new high, as it was picked up by the AP and ultimately posted on the USA Cycling Website ( in their "Cycling in the news" section, (scroll down to find, "Pushing Pedals can be a Passion . . ."). As a lifelong cycling enthusiast, it was a great honor to get an email from USA Cycling supporting the column AND notifying me that they published a link to my column.
That was the exciting news ON the bike, now the total gaff I made on the bike. I am a little more than 6 weeks away from my AtomicMan event and I need to increase my training for the bike leg. Wednesday night (coincidentally the same night my column ran in the Banner) I rode a monster 42 mile ride through the rolling hills of Bradley County. I did over 5 miles of serious climbing. The ride was awesome, except for one little mistake - I ran out of water. Yes, the oldest rule in the book, drink enough water, and I violated it!
Actually it was a fair mistake, I had a park that I normally fill my bottles at, but because of the length of the ride, the building was closed and I did not have access to the water. I thought I might be alright since I only had about 11 miles to go at that point . . . I was wrong. I didn't "bonk" on the bike, I actually finished the ride strong (averaging 17 mph over the full 42 miles), but when I got home I felt it. I started getting tunnel vision, dizzy, and a little nauseous. My beautiful and UNDERSTANDING wife allowed me to climb into bed at about 8:30 and feed me fluids until I went to sleep. Lesson learned, don't tempt fate on dehydration. Probably one of my most embarrassing moment in the saddle (next to the time that 60 year old woman passed me on the century ride).
As Dickens would say, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . ." for me and the bike. I can't wait and see what next week brings!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Spank or Not to Spank, Part II

I was hesitant to write this column, but my wife challenged me, so here we are. I have an admission - I spanked my son for the first time this past week. Now I know what is going to happen, I am going to be inundated by throng of “I told you so” letters accusing me of being a hypocrite. As my readers may recall (all 6 or 7 of you), about 2 months ago I wrote a column that seemed to suggest that I believed spanking was wrong. Let me clarify my original point, I was not and am not opposed to spanking, I simply believe that every parent should determine what type of discipline is most effective for their own child and if lesser means are available and effective, than that is the path that should be chosen.

This week, my son chose not to travel the path of lesser means. He ended up getting himself a good ol’fashioned spanking – at church nonetheless (to paraphrase Proverbs, “spare the rod, spoil the child,” right?) My son is the light of my life, but this Sunday morning at church he must have experienced an eclipse. He was rude, defiant, and aggressive and the firm look, raised voice, and time out (my wife later suggested a time out in a crowded church lobby was probably not the best location – thanks honey) had no effect on my son’s strong will. I was left with nothing but the legendary trip to the bathroom. You all remember this trip from your childhood. The trip your parents had given you 10 warnings about and you dreaded the entire walk there, pleading with apologies and promises to not do whatever deed started this chain of events. My son had his first taste of this trip.

Once in the bathroom, my mind rushed to the research I had done and the number of articles, for and against spanking, that I had read. A couple points made a strong impression on me and guided me through this difficult process (the first time you spank your child is always the most traumatic – for both you and the child); 1. Never spank out of anger. I had to take a couple deep breathes and remind myself that I was doing this as a form of discipline – to help my son become a better child who understands limits, appropriate behavior, and consequences, 2. The goal is not to physically hurt your child, but to get their attention, or put an exclamation point on the lesson being taught. This one was easy; it was so hard for me that he probably barely felt the one whack I was able to muster. However, the emotional impact was clear – his feelings were hurt and he understood what had just happened, 3. Follow up with a clear explanation and an “I love you” so that the child understands you are not mad and your feelings for them have not changed.

When I was a child, I never believed the old saying, “this is going to hurt me more than it’ll hurt you,” but in this case it was true. A few minutes later, my son was well-behaved and looking forward to lunch, his Daddy was still upset. While this form of discipline certainly did work this time, it will always serve as my last option.

Matt Ryerson is the Vice President of Community Investment Strategies at the United Way of Bradley County. Matt’s column appears in the Cleveland Daily Banner every Wednesday. If you have questions or comments, please contact Matt at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lessons from my Grandpa

When I was young, probably about eight or nine years old, I was spending the weekend with my grandparents on the farm. This particular weekend was filled with the classic summer storms - lots of thunder, lightning and rain all weekend long. One afternoon, the phone rang as my grandfather received a call from the neighbor woman. I remember her well; she was a sweet, elderly woman with a lot of cats. I remember this because my grandfather did not particularly like those cats and complained about them often.

Nonetheless, the call was an urgent request from this woman to ask my grandfathers help. One of her cats had gone up a tree as the storm neared and now she couldn’t get it back down. She wanted my grandfather to go out in the middle of the thunder, lightning, and rain to rescue a cat that I knew he didn’t like. Without hesitation he said, “I’ll be right over.” As he started to throw on a rain parka and his hat I asked why he was going to bother rescuing that cat. My grandfather sat down and said, “I gave that woman’s son my word that I would look out for her.” “So,” I replied, with very little sympathy. My grandfather was patient with us grandkids, but he was very firm in his message on this day, he said, “Son, your word is everything. If people can’t trust your word, they can’t trust you. If they can’t trust you, then you ain’t much of a neighbor.” He stood up and walked out into that storm. This was a “teaching moment”, a moment that my grandfather could teach me about a man’s character, your word as your bond, and what a true neighbor looked like – all in only a few sentences and one humble act.

I remember watching from the window as my grandfather climbed that ladder to the branch where the cat was perched and rescued him from the blowing storm. It was clear the neighbor woman was thankful as the wrapped the cat in a towel and hugged my grandfather. My grandfather came back into the house soaked from head to toe. I remember my grandmother giving him a big kiss on the cheek as a “thank you.” I don’t remember ever talking about that situation with my grandfather again. In fact, I don’t remember talking to anyone in my family about what my grandfather had done. But the vision of my grandfather on that ladder in the middle of that storm is etched into my memory and the lesson he taught is there as well. My grandfather did not often teach with words, he taught with actions. He taught by the way he lived his life. He was honest, loving, humble, hard-working, honorable, and a man of his word. I got that message loud and clear on that rainy day and I have wanted to be just like him ever since.

The messages we send our children are often not with the words we say, but with the actions we take. Be conscious of this fact and you will be able to take advantage of the “teaching moments” we so often experience in life and have a lasting effect on our children.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I think I've lost my mind, have you seen it?

Recently, in my efforts to lose weight, live longer, and be healthy, I started a moderate exercise program. I wanted to increase the intensity, so I signed up for and participated in the Nashville Music City Half Marathon. This was a 2 hour 24 minute slog through the streets of Nashville in 80 degree temperatures. I was proud to have completed this major challenge, but I think the heat of that day or the over exertion of the effort made me lose my sanity. This week, despite my better judgment, I signed up to participate in an Atomicman Triathlon. The event is annually held in Lenoir City at the end of September (the 27th). The Atomicman is recognized as a half Ironman. I will be required to swim 1.2 miles, ride my bike 56 miles, and run (I use that word loosely) 13.1 miles. I will move my body 70.3 miles in the course of about 7 hours. 7 straight hours of exercise. The more I think about it, the more I believe I have lost my mind!

There are a couple of positive points to this effort. 1.) I have convinced my brother-in-law to participate in the event with me (it always helps to have a training partner). I should have qualified that first sentence, when I say "positive", I mean positive for ME. He may not enjoy this commitment by the time it's completed! However, for me, it helps to have a training partner. So far so good, 5 days into training, and he has been there by my side every day (even the mornings we train at 5:00 a.m.), GO JOE! 2.) I decided that if I am going to go through all the pain of training and participating in this self-inflicted torture fest, I should make it for a good cause. So, I am looking for sponsors - 100% of your donated support will go to local non-profit organizations in an effort to help them do the good work this community so desperately needs (for a list of these organizations, visit This donation will be tax deductible as I will ask all those interested in supporting my effort to make the check out to the United Way of Bradley County.

Pray for me, wish me well, and be thinking about Joe and I as we take the next 17 weeks to prepare for this cycle of pain. Feel free to call or email me at, but if I don't immediately respond, don't be offended, I am probably visiting with my psychiatrist evaluating my sanity.

I am my brother's keeper

I have a little brother, his name is Sam. Actually, I have a younger brother. I just like to call him “little”; he is actually about 6’5” and almost 300 pounds. He is a BIG boy. He is four years my junior and came for a visit over Memorial Day weekend. I seem to have subscribed to the old George Burns saying, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close knit family in another city.” Sam lives in Columbus, Ohio. He is quite the success. He is a college grad (Ohio State – don’t worry I send him Tennessee clothes every Christmas), a high level administrator at Nationwide Insurance headquarters, and has a beautiful wife, two adorable children, and two dogs (one of them is sweet, the other . . . well, let’s just say one of them is sweet). He is good to his family, friends and community. Overall, he is just an outstanding individual.

One characteristic that my brother has is charisma. You see, everyone that meets Sam, likes Sam. He is always the life of the party and the person that everyone wants to be around. He always has had this affect on people. However, I must have been the exception to the rule, because he seemed to have the exact opposite impact on me growing up. It was probably because we were born 4 years apart. He was simply the pesky little brother that I had to take places and allow to play in games with my friends. We spent most of our childhood fighting. Although, I will give him credit, he could take a beating. No matter how rough my friends and I were on him, he always came back for more.

But Sam was not stupid. He knew how to make my life difficult if I didn’t comply with my mother’s instructions. I remember on many occasions when we decided he wasn’t going to play with us that he would run into the house, tears flowing to tell on me. He became so proficient, that he could make the tears flow without being upset and would threaten us with, “If you don’t let me play I’ll tell mom you hit me.” I tried to call his bluff only to realize he was telling the truth. Because he was the baby of the family, my mother always took his word on it. I remember one such occasion when we went through this exact scenario and I told my mom how he was faking it. Her response was, “Oh Matt, he can’t fake cry.” I immediately glared at my little brother on the other side of the room only to see him giggling at me as the tears streamed down his face.

Why do I share these memories? Only to say that despite this tumultuous childhood relationship, I love my brother. I only see him and his family once or twice a year now and I miss him in between those visits. He is a good man and I hope that I had some small part to do with that. We must all appreciate our time with our family. It doesn’t matter if you had a rough relationship in the past, if you live different lives now, they are family. We should make a point of sharing family time, listening more, and lifting one another up rather than tearing each other down. I have done a good job of beating up my brother over the years. I need to commit to building him up for the future. As Mignon McLaughlin once said, “Family quarrels have a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that it is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back.” For more information on how to rebuild a relationship in your family, contact us at or 472-9876.

I'm no superman, but my son believes I am!

Yesterday, my son wanted to wear his Superman pajamas all day long. He has taken to calling himself, “Super Jackson”. He has been known to run into our living room, in full superhero gear yelling, “SuperJackson to the rescue!” He has not yet tried to jump off the roof and fly, but we are worried. My three year old son has become a full fledged superhero, or at the very least, a super fan of superheroes.

Superman was also my favorite superhero. I collected his comic book for many years as a child. He is widely considered to be an American cultural icon. Superman was originally created in 1938 and appeared first in Action Comics #1 in June of that year. He was known the Man of Tomorrow, or more recently the Man of Steel. I am such a fan that even as an adult, I still have a growing collection of Superman paraphernalia. But why is it that we love Superman? Is it that he represents what we want to be or is it that we see some of ourselves in the Man of Steel? The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

Superman represents the best this world has to offer. He is a righteous role model who seeks justice and fights for those that cannot defend themselves. He can fix any problem, right any wrong, and protect us from the “bad guys”. And yet despite so many strengths, we find in our hero many weaknesses. He is an outsider, an orphan from the planet Krypton with no family to be found. He has difficulty expressing his feelings (especially when it comes to the lovely Lois Lane). Despite his super powers, he hides behind the mild-mannered, dual-identity of Clark Kent. Then there is the ever dangerous kryptonite that steals the powers of our caped crusader. Can’t we all relate to this guy, a man with a pure heart to do good, yet suffering from so many weaknesses?

Our children need to believe in a Superman. They need that safety; they need that security in their little worlds. It was the highlight of my day recently when my son jumped into my arms and said, “You my Superman, Daddy!” The truth is, we ARE Superman. Despite our many flaws and weaknesses (by the way, for those of you looking for my weakness - pizza is my kryptonite), we are our children’s heroes. We don’t have to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But we do need to be there. We need to be present and we need to love them, unconditionally. Allow yourself to be inspired by the vision your child has of you. Be a hero, better yet, be a SUPER hero! For more information on how your can be your child’s Superman, contact me at or 472-9876.

Matt Ryerson is the Vice President of Community Investment Strategies at the United Way of Bradley County. He has a beautiful wife and two wonderful children (one of which often wears a cape to bed). He is the human to Tucker the dog. His column appears in the Cleveland Daily Banner every Wednesday. He recently found out that his mother threw out all of his old comics long ago. Tears were shed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Boy with No Fear and his Cowardly Father

For some reason the operator of the Ferris wheel at the local carnival had stopped our car at the very highest point of its rotation. At the same time, the power to this rickety ride went out. We were stuck at the top. All I could think was, “Are you kidding me?!?!” I do not enjoy heights and I don’t particularly trust the rides at most traveling carnivals (let me pause for a moment and say, if you are a carnival owner or employee, please accept my apology, but seriously, could you clean and oil those rides once in a while? They really don’t inspire confidence!) Nonetheless, here I am, about three stories off the ground, slowly swinging back and forth on an old, run-down Ferris wheel with my son at my side.

Now don’t start questioning my wisdom, instead blame my wife, my son, and my pride. My son saw that Ferris wheel from the road and started begging for us to get on the ride before we ever got out of the car. I was very hesitant (see my concerns listed above), but my wife said, “Yeah, daddy, why don’t you take your son for a ride?” Now what is a REAL man supposed to say to that challenge? “No honey, I am frightened of heights and feel that I might plummet to my death, or worse yet, pee my pants!” So, like any real man, I bought our tickets and got in line for the ride. The operator seemed like a nice enough guy, but his young age didn’t build my confidence. We loaded into our car. I questioned the maximum load the car could carry and the operator just gave me an evil laugh. As the ride started to spin, my fingers grasped the railing so tight that my knuckles were turning white. I was sweating and shivering at the same time. I felt queasy and a little dizzy. That is about the time the power went out and I looked over at my son sitting next to me as he was enjoying a good belly laugh. You see, my three year son has no fear. I, on the other hand, have a healthy dose.

The difference is, I have had a life full of experience and know the risks associated with certain activities. I have had more stitches than I can count and many broken bones and casts. I lived a boy’s life to the fullest and now I am older and wiser. My son, on the other hand, can crash on his bike, cry for a few minutes and get back on it like it never happened. The truth is, as much as I want to keep him safe at all times, there is a balance between our two philosophies. What is a life without risk and sometimes pain? How do we learn if we never push ourselves and find out where our limits are? How do you experience the highs that come with adventure, if you don’t run the risk of the lows that can accompany those adventures?

At the same time, there is a difference between a measured risk and complete insanity! My life experience can protect my children from unnecessary risks (like when he tried to jump off the back of the couch, over the dog, and onto our hardwood floors), but sometimes they need to experience them firsthand. My wife and I may argue about exactly where a traveling carnival Ferris wheel with no power rates on this scale . . . I vote for complete insanity. But we both agree that part of a child’s growth is in adventure. So next year, you’ll probably see me getting on that old, broken down Ferris wheel again - just pray that we don’t lose the power again. For more information about how you and your children can keep a balance between risk and safety, contact us at or 472-9876.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Fat Guy Finishes the Race - with the Right Supports

As many of you know, I committed to running the Country Music Half Marathon last weekend in Nashville. Last December I weighed almost 300 pounds and the idea of me completing a 13.1 mile run seemed unlikely (at best). But I committed to the idea for one reason – my family. You see, if left on my own, I would much prefer pizza, barbecue, and biscuits smothered in butter and NOT working out, but I knew that if I kept that good ol’southern lifestyle that I wouldn’t be around very long to enjoy my children growing up.

However, even having the Grim Reaper as a motivator, it just wasn’t always enough. Because of my weaknesses (which consists of most fried foods), I needed an external motivation. The best external motivator can be the people you love. You see, if my wife regularly made the food that I was so tempted by (everything fatty, tasty, and not good for you) and ignored my efforts to live a healthier lifestyle, it would have been impossible. When my son would yell things like, “I want to run the race with Daddy!”, it just pushed me that much harder. External motivation, combined with an internal desire to make change is the key to success.

I recently read a book that highlighted this challenge, “They popped my hood and found gravy on the dipstick”, by a gentlemen who used to live locally, Todd Starnes. Todd’s external motivation was a doctor telling him that as a young man he needed a heart valve replacement because of his weight and unhealthy lifestyle. I recently had the opportunity to meet this man at a book signing here in Cleveland. He has lost over 150 pounds and has been running regularly ever since his heart surgery. But in the book he shares his struggles with the temptations of our favorite foods. He points to his faith in God and the support of his family and freinds in overcoming these obstacles. We all need support.

Many of you have asked, so I will give you the results. I did complete the Half-Marathon, running all 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 24 minutes (six minutes better than my goal). But it was hot, it was hard, and it did hurt. But none of it compared to the sense of accomplishment I felt when I came across that finish line knowing that I had met my goal and that my family was there every step of the way to help me. Life changing goals must have supports. The best supports are the people you love. If you are considering making a life-changing commitment (quiting smoking, losing weight, stopping drinking alcohol), pull together a support system. Approach your family, your co-workers, your church, and your friends and ask them to help you accomplish your goals. This will offer accountability and support and make it more likely you will succeed in meeting your objectives.

I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face as they met me at Mile 12, only 1 mile from the finish line. The look of pride and excitement in his face brought tears to my eyes (however, he didn’t seem to enjoy the sweaty hug I gave him). That final mile was the easiest of the race for me as I was flying on the wings of support my family gave me. You can have that same feeling of accomplishing what seems like an impossible goal if you have the right supports. With those supports, nothing is impossible. For more information about how you can set and meet your personal goals, contact us at 472-9876 or email at

To Spank or Not to Spank, Is that the Question?

My mom was a fan of using the wooden spoon (she especially preferred the spaghetti stirrer with the hole in the end of it – she must have believed it gained velocity that way), my dad preferred the belt (it was always handy to him no matter where we were). My grandma was a “softie” and would only use a flimsy fly swatter, but my grandpa was the king of the spanking. He would have me pick a switch from the big weeping willow tree alongside the house. If I happened to pick the wrong switch, he’d send me to pick another, only this time the end result would be worse.

Let me qualify this first paragraph. My family was not abusive. This was simply the way a parent disciplined their children in that time. My principal in elementary school used a paddle and I knew many friends that received their punishment with an assortment of tools ranging from the rolled up newspaper (you thought it was only for puppies) to the traditional open hand. However, I only received a spanking when I earned it. Apparently I was a slow learner, because I earned it a lot.

I have shared my stories at speaking engagements and I have heard many of you respond with your own stories. However, as time has passed, spanking has become a controversial topic. To spank or not to spank, is that the question? Many groups advocate that spanking is abuse, while others believe it is the only way our children learn. The truth is, I don’t know. As you have already heard, I was spanked nearly on a daily basis, but I also believe many times my behavior warranted it. However, my wife and I chose not to spank and have found that other means of discipline have been effective for us. It is certainly a personal and a family decision. This morning we asked my 3 year old his feelings on the topic and he said, “Spanking is mean!” I suppose if I was potentially on the receiving end, I would argue that point as well.

I am guessing many of you experienced discipline the way I did, through good ol’fashioned spankings. While some of us support spanking as a “right” for parents to discipline their child, the real question should be, does it work? Would it surprise you that a recent study at the University of Michigan of over 100 years of research shows that in the short term, spanking can correct bad behavior, but in the long term, it can make kids more defiant and aggressive? It’s true. Imagine the confusing message that is being delivered, “Don’t hit your sister and as a punishment, I am going to hit you!”

Many pediatricians advise against spanking children as a method of discipline. But whatever method of discipline we may choose, there are a few simple suggestions to make it more effective; Keep the rules simple. After you set the rules, be consistent and enforce them. Be a good role model because children learn by your example. Show that you can deal with frustration and anger without resorting to violence. Use time-outs so a child can learn the consequences of misbehavior. Emphasize rewards for good behavior instead of always punishing a child for bad behavior. Punish in private to avoid embarrassing the child, be firm and don’t punish in anger. Provide a positive, supportive and loving relationship. Use positive reinforcement. When punishment is necessary, use time-outs and other alternatives to spanking or physical punishment.

For more information about disciplining your child, contact us at 472-9876 or email at