Remembering My Brother

I am one of those people who is blessed to have an incredible relationship with my brother (Bill). I’ve had a few firsts in my life because of my brother. Like the first time I became an uncle, or the first time I took an actual week long multi state motorcycle trip. I’ve now had my last ‘first’ with Bill which is because he passed away on April 6th 2019 and for the first time in my life I was asked to write and deliver a eulogy. It’s not a job I wanted but it’s also a job I would never turn down because it meant a lot to me to somehow let others know the awesome man he was and how much he meant to those around him.

I am thankful for everyone in my life that has been so supportive. I thought that some of you who didn’t know my brother but knew how much he meant to me might enjoy some insight to the life of my brother.

Eulogy: Bill Yetman February 27, 1948 – April 6, 2019

William Peter James Yetman.  A loving husband, a dedicated father, the coolest brother, the best Papa to his grandchildren, a caring friend, a proud veteran, a rabid Boston sports fan, a witty comedian, a great storyteller, a wise mentor, a gifted healer, a loyal friend, and arguably; the most interesting man in the world. 

  • If he were to visit the dark side of the moon, it wouldn’t be dark
  • He lived vicariously through himself
  • He was allowed to talk about fight club
  • He was the life of parties, some that he never even attended

Billy was born in 1948 and from an early age the first things he developed were a smile and a wicked sense of humor.  Both of those things stayed with him through his entire life.  He kept everyone around him laughing and as a result we all enjoyed life a lot more, simply because he was in it.  Some of my earliest and laughable moments were when he would grab my sister or me and hang us by our feet over the staircase balcony while swinging us back and forth all the time telling us that if we ever told Ma that he did it, he’d drop us!  We never told until we were a lot older and realized that if he had dropped us, she’d have killed him. 

I can remember one time coming to the dinner table with a scratch on my leg.  While it didn’t seem like a big deal, our mom decided it was.  So, she told Billy to take me up stairs to the bathroom and bandage it.  Apparently, Billy didn’t think the scratch was a big deal either.  But Mom won the argument and off we went to the bathroom to fix my leg.  Within seconds Billy is ripping through all the cabinets for every piece of gauze and all the ace bandages, even the toilet paper.  A few minutes later my entire leg from my toes to my upper thigh is wrapped tight and I can’t even bend my leg.  He has to help me down the stairs and I hobble into the kitchen to watch my mom freak out and Billy laughing explaining that he took care of my leg.

Growing up, we had a parakeet.  How did we get it?  Well as many of you know my brother joined the Navy.  He served proudly and it was as much a part of who he was as anything else.  So, what does that have to do with a parakeet?  Well silly that’s because he couldn’t find a parrot.  You see, while he was in the Navy, he got leave unexpectedly.  When he realized he could surprise us, he came home late one night unannounced.  It was dark and rainy, and he decided that if he was a Navy man, he should be a pirate.  So, we opened the door to find him standing on the porch in his peacoat with an eyepatch and a parakeet on his shoulder.  And that’s how we ended up with a parakeet in the house.

In high school Billy joined the Braintree Drum and Bugle Corps.  It was there he became a stalker.  You see when he was 18 one of Marcia’s friends Bee was also part of Drum and Bugle.  She invited Marcia to come along one night.  Billy saw her and was smitten and asked her out.  She accepted and they started to date.  But then as things got serious Billy started to get cold feet.  He told his friend Jay that he would not be dating Marcia any longer.  Jay, who was no slacker, proceeded to ask Marcia on a date.  While Billy said he was OK with it clearly, he was anything but.  So, he followed them around from a distance the entire evening stalking them as they went out.  A nd when Jay dropped her off at home and gave her a kiss goodnight Billy pulled in right as he left and asked Marcia to go steady with him.  She said yes and the two of them have been inseparable since. 

If you’re here, it’s likely because you love Billy.  Or maybe, just maybe, because you heard they were pouring Jack Daniels after the service.  But nobody loved Billy more than Marcia and he felt the same way about her.  Both served as a model couple for Erica and Bryan and you could not count all the ways that they would show it.  It was a million small things always happening around them where they each would do things to make the other one comfortable or happy.  Marcia has always been the more conservative of the two, yet when needed, Billy could count on her to be a partner in crime. 

Once, when Erica was around 13 or so she had a large sleepover with a bunch of friends both boys and girls (they were being watched).  They took over the living room and had sleeping bags, blankets and settled in on the furniture.  They decided to watch a scary movie.  The lights are low, and they are all glued to the screen.  What they didn’t realize is that Billy had a private office behind the living room with a door that led outside.  He recruited Marcia and she helped dress him up with an outfit that included a fake blood-stained shirt, the Jason hockey mask, basically the works.  Then he gets his chainsaw (with the chain removed but the bar still attached) and sets himself up in the office.  Just when the movie gets scary Bill rip starts the chainsaw, busts through the door throttling up and screaming.  It was total pandemonium as kids ran over each other to get out of the room.  One kid went out the front door so fast he ran right through the screen door.  After things settled down and they wiped the pee off the floor they had a good laugh, and this became another one of the hundreds of EPIC stories of Bill the practical joker.  I asked Marcia why she helped.  She simply said because he told me I had to. 

You might wonder with a sense of humor like that how people could fall in love with him.  To appreciate that, you had to know the rest of Bill.  Other than being funny and filling our lives with laughter and joy he was also one of the most caring persons you would ever meet.  But before we go there, I want to mention that he did get more graceful with age and kept his humor while giving fewer heart attacks.  When I asked Erica’s husband Tom what he remembers most, he talked about him having so much fun with the grand kids in the pool tossing them around and laughing.  Or running around the house with a small pony on a stick singing I’m a little pony and having the kids follow him around in a chorus of I’m a little pony.  This differs from when Bryan was just an infant and Bill decided to play peekaboo.  So, he crouches down behind Brian’s crib and rises and says peekaboo.  He repeats this time and time again.  Bryan laughs and is enthralled.  Then like the 10th time he goes down and comes back up with a mask on.  I think Bryan may have passed out.  This could explain a lot about his behavior. 

Erica saw her dad as always strong.  He taught her to be strong and she gets her loyalty traits straight from her Dad because Bill was loyal to a fault.  Bryan saw his dad as his hero.  Seriously, he was Super Man for Bryan.  Bryan is also one of the most caring persons I know.  Like Erica with her loyalty I am quite sure that Bryan learned to care about people as a direct result of watching his dad do the same time and time again.  Not all heroes wear capes.  Unless your Bill.  Then, you wait till the kids are around and then put on a cape, put some underwear on your head and then teach them all to run around the house being Captain Underwear!

As an uncle he was a tease, as well as the first person to make sure all the nieces and nephews were OK.  My oldest daughter remembers him running around chasing them screaming needles as he’d threaten to poke them.  They would scream and run but eventually it ended in laughter.  But if anything was wrong, he’d be the first to find a way to help from being understanding when my oldest Jennifer came out as queer to helping Cindy come out of her shell as a young teen.  He found ways to include Samantha in the love by making sure she was OK when she was upset and gently chiding her by working the term Duckless into countless conversations which is another story.  Ask any of the nieces and nephews who their favorite uncle was, it was always Uncle Billy.

I remain mostly at a loss for words when I think about how much Billy meant to me as a brother.  Ginny and I are adopted.  And I promise you, you could not find a brother who loved us more fiercely than Bill.  I’ve since met some of my other actual siblings and while they are wonderful people, I love Bill more than all of them combined.  I learned from him that family is so much more than blood.  He gave me some of the best life advice that I was sometimes too young or stupid to take.  Like teaching me you can never un-call someone an A-hole.  It was a valuable lesson that took too long to sink in, but it eventually did.  Or not to take my career advice from a 12-year-old when we were trying to decide if we should move or not.  If I was ever in turmoil, there are only two people I could turn to, my wife or my brother.  And I probably called Billy as much or more than her when it came to talking out challenges because he knew what it meant to be a good husband or a good father. 

I started this eulogy with a joking reference to the most interesting man in the world.  But Billy really was that kind of guy.  One night he got a call from the hospital because a young person needed immediate surgery and they needed an anesthetist NOW.  Billy jumped in his Mustang and peels out and heads to the hospital.  Along the way he’s speeding and runs a red light.  He picks up a cop on his tail with the blue lights flashing and the wig wags.  Does Billy stop?  You already can guess that answer.  No freaking way.  He continues to speed with the cop on his tail, fishtails into the hospital and stops at the entrance and runs in.  He’s greeted by the attending OR nurse who gowns him up fast and he runs into the OR right as the cop is tearing into the room.  The nurse informs the cop that Bill is helping save the life of a kid in the OR.  So, the cop goes back to Billy’s car, parks it nicely and comes in and drops off the keys.   These are the kind of stories Bill generated throughout his life.

It was not uncommon for me to be out with Bill and be stopped by someone who remembered his kindness and help at the hospital when they were nervous about a big operation and he comforted and helped them.  Or how he was the only one who could put them to sleep without making them sick.  He learned hypnosis in order to help calm people down and make them comfortable.  Of course, being Billy, this led to more stories of how he convinced his favorite cousin Linda that her feet were glued to the floor or how he got me to not be able to use my own name. 

When people in the neighborhood were sick, they would reach out to Bill for help and advice.  Almost any time day or night.  And he would always answer the call.  He always helped and people always trusted him.  That does not mean he didn’t sprinkle humor into those situations, but you knew that even when you were laughing that he was looking out for you.  One time a dad in the neighborhood took a fishing trip and left his young son with his mother (the boy’s grandmother).  They were out back, and he was helping his grandma hang clothes.  She asked him to reach into the clothespin bag and get another pin.  Turns out there was a bat in the bag, and it bit the boy!  Of course, they called Bill.  He shows up and then calls the hospital for some fast advice.  When he hangs up the grandmother says, “what did the hospital say Bill”?  To which he deadpan replies that the hospital said that ‘we’ll need to drive a stake through his heart’.  Anyway, Bill took him to the hospital after grandma stopped screaming at him for the joke and then came home with the boy later.  After everything was fine and folks were relaxed Bill got help from some of the neighbors and they put out crosses and strings of garlic on the lawn.  That was Billy.  You were either laughing hysterically with him or you were pissed.  And if you were pissed, it never lasted long because in no time at all he had you laughing again, and you knew with all your heart that he was looking out for you and would do anything to help.

Billy went on three different mission trips that were medical missions.  Haiti after the earthquake, and Honduras twice.  Before he would go, he’d stock up on extras like clothing and watches or candy for the kids.  He’d give it all away and work 12- and 15-hour days for days on end with the medical team helping others.  Somewhere in Honduras there’s a Monk with a red sox hat.  Why?  Because he told Billy he was from Boston.  Billy asked if he could give him his red sox hat.  The monk explained he was not allowed to accept gifts.  So, when he left, Billy turns to the Monk and drops his hat on the table and says I seem to have lost my hat.  I hope someone finds it and can make good use of it and then walks out.

Billy had a more nuanced view of God and heaven.  Once when we were talking about giving to others, I asked him what drove him to engage like that.  He said that other than liking people and wanting to help, he always wondered about heaven and how it worked.  So, he had hoped that if he was a good person that when he died God would judge him and see him as worthy because of the good things he did.  Being a person of faith, I tried my best to explain to my brother that this is not how we would be judged, and it was by God’s grace and that alone which would determine if we made it to heaven.  To which he replied, no sir.  I do good things and I get Jesus points!  I figure if I collect enough Jesus points, I’ll be OK.  We laughed and every now and then the topic comes up and he looks at me and starts chanting Jesus points, Jesus points, Jesus points.  The hilarious thing is I am comfortable it worked for him.  And right now, as I am down here with the rest of you being sad at his passing, he’s up in heaven sitting at a table next to a lake on a calm sunny day with Jesus.  They are having a glass of Jack Daniels and smoking a swisher sweets cigar.  He’s looking down at me and laughing.  See Chris!  I told you, Jesus points!

We are all frequently defined by the things we love.  For Bill it was clear he loved Marcia, he loved family, he loved people, he loved laughter, he loved sharing, he loved being a veteran, he loved his country, he loved sports especially Boston sports, he loved coaching, or said differently he loved life. 

It’s OK to cry.  Lord knows I’m not done crying yet either.  But as we gather here to remember Bill, I want you to try and celebrate his life with me tonight.  As hard as it is to laugh right now, it would be the thing he would want most.  So, when this memorial service is over and we’re all sitting and talking, please share all your stories about Bill with each other.  Take turns.  Listen to each other.  Laugh with each other.  Cry with each other.  But most of all, let’s remind each other how funny, caring and beautiful he was as a human being.  And let’s cement his memory in our hearts forever. 

All that is missing is the Jack
A happy Bill

Losing my religion

I was born in Boston and grew up just south of the city in the suburbs.  When I was younger, New England was easily 50% Catholic and as recently as 2010 45% of the population in Massachusetts still identified as Catholic.  Basically, if you grew up in the north east you were surrounded by the Catholic church.  For me it was more than a casual relationship.  My mother played the organ and sang at many of the Catholic churches in the area as well as some of the Lutheran churches.  As a result, I spent close to 10 years going to more than one mass on the weekends and being an altar server.  And while as a young adult I drifted a little from the church, I was back and reconnected strongly after being married.

The Catholic faith is genuinely beautiful.  It has so much history and the celebrations are deep with meaning, tradition, and a beautiful love and reverence for Christ.  All three of our daughters were baptized Catholic and brought up in the faith.  In the last 30 years we have belonged to three different parishes (we moved a couple of times) and in all three I have been a lector, a eucharistic minister, served on the finance councils (and chaired at all three parishes), and even taught religious education for a time.  I have also sponsored someone through RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation of Adults) and it was one of the more beautiful faith filled experiences I have had.  I have also been part of the Knights of Columbus for the last 15 years.

We still go to church nearly every weekend and my wife and I have even found churches to attend sometimes when we are on vacation.  I am saying all this up front because I have spent most of my life being Catholic and loving it.  While I think there’s always room for improvement in anything we do, I don’t feel I was leaving a whole lot of room to become even more Catholic unless I had decided to become a deacon.

When the first priest scandals were published in the Boston Globe in 2002, I was more than a little upset.  As someone who was close to the church and grew up in the area I was shocked at the revelations about the sexual abuse and subsequent coverups by the church leadership.  What made it more difficult was because I knew some of these people personally.  But let’s face it, as a species we’re pretty darn imperfect and people screw things up all the time.  What made this particularly difficult was that the same church that was trying to teach us how to live our lives and be closer to Christ, was putting in a lot of overtime in the background to lie, obfuscate, avoid, and otherwise mislead all those around them in order to avoid the horrible truth which was that some number of priest were sexually abusing the young persons in their parishes.

We were living in southern New Hampshire at the time and there was a separate report published by the District Attorney’s office in NH that I managed to get a copy of and read.  I was angry and hurt because I knew some more of these people and had broken bread with some of them. I was torn and admittedly selfish because I did not want to lose my faith over this.  What I did do was disconnect from the church at a diocesan level and remained active in my local parishes.  I also paid attention to the additional stories and revelations that came about further reinforcing that the crisis was not limited to just New England.  I also know that changes were made and new polices were set attempting to add transparency to avoid future problems.  What I didn’t do was look critically as to how much was actually being done.  I simply disconnected from the diocese and the only interactions I had were when I helped represent our parish to the diocese in Denver and again in Seattle as the chair of the finance council in parishes where we were building new churches.

I make my living through learning and leadership.  I learn by research.  It can be reading, listening, doing, or combinations of all these things.  I lead by using what I have learned and sharing that with others.  I lead by example as much as I possibly can.  I am not perfect, and I do not expect perfection from others.  I do however, expect others to behave ethically, take ownership, and hold themselves accountable for results.  Mistakes that were made in good conscience attempting to do the right thing would not be something I would expect to punish.  However, the inability to learn after repeated attempts indicates that something must be done, or we fail.  Even if what must be done is gut wrenchingly hard.  I coach leaders all the time about why it is so important to deal with poor performance head on.  Otherwise by carrying those people for extended periods not only does the company’s performance suffer, but the teams resent you as a leader for making them carry the weight of those who cannot or chose not to perform.

While the Catholic church is a religion, it also has a hierarchy like most large businesses do.  In fact, it is a strict hierarchy and perhaps that is what is needed when your faith consists of more than a billion people who are part of it.  But the lay people who identify as Catholic did not make that hierarchy.  They did not choose it, and they cannot control it.  That hierarchy and leadership is chosen and created by the church itself.  It is not divine, it is built and maintained by the church and the church is responsible for the results that are created by it.

While some members of the church with higher level positions have attempted to pass off the recent reporting from the grand jury in Pennsylvania as ‘old news’, it is not.  Yes, there are a lot of older cases that make up most examples.  But there are also newer cases and more recent attempts at burying these cases to preserve the church.   I have read the main body of the report and it’s clear that as cases were brought forth, the church leadership frequently attempted to avoid being held truly accountable for these abuses.  This behavior continued long after the exposure to the crisis by the Boston Globe and others.  They gave much more forgiveness to the priests than they gave support and healing to those they hurt.  They would use bullying tactics, payoffs with non-disclosure agreements, and even guilt about harming the church to the very families that were hurt by the church and then continue to support the priests even with active ministries.

In the Pennsylvania diocese alone, there were over three hundred priests who abused more than one thousand identified victims.  This is not an aberration in an otherwise healthy church hierarchy. Versions of this story continue to play out across the country and across the world.  The situations are slightly different, but one thing remains the same.  The church has largely escaped true accountability for breaking the law and for its sins.  It has also avoided true reform. Nobody should be above the law.  If I were the CFO of a company and I knew that people were embezzling and did nothing, you can be sure I would end up in jail when it came to light because to know and do nothing makes you part of the problem.  It’s against the law to not report child abuse when you know it.  The church didn’t just not report it, they actively engaged in hiding it.  This enabled countless thousands of additional abuses over the years.  And yet, we don’t see a whole lot of priests and more importantly bishops and cardinals in jail.

At this point I have no faith the Catholic church is capable of managing itself in a way that gives the laity the same care and respect and love that it gives its deviant priests let alone putting them above them.  If Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, how do you think he’d react when faced with this?  Jesus didn’t just get a little sick for our sins, he died for them.  He didn’t get assigned to another parish, he was hung on a cross.  This church that purports to represent Christ to us to the point where the priests can transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ has actively engaged in lie after lie, coverup after coverup, coercion after coercion to protect itself rather than deal with the abusers and support the victims.

If you are Catholic, THIS is your church leadership and therefore this is your church.  And this church, like Christ before them, needs to die for those sins.  I have loved the churches I have been a part of.  I love my pastor today as much as ever which simply adds to the pain when I come to the realization that I can no longer in good conscience be a part of this church as it stands today.  I can no longer compartmentalize the diocese away from my parish.  The Catholic church is universal.  The hierarchy and diocese are just as much a part of it, if not more so, than any individual parish.  While there may well be good and blameless diocesan leadership out there somewhere, you too are choosing to be a part of all this when you know what you are surrounded by.  I want to support my parish, but by doing so I am also supporting the diocesan leadership and I simply can’t be a part of that.

I can no longer remain complicit.  I can no longer help keep it alive with my time, my talent, or my treasure.  Some day we’re all going to die.  When I die, all I can think about is trying to explain to Christ why I continued to be a part of a church that willingly and purposefully allowed so many children to be hurt by it.  I could be a part of a church that makes mistakes.  Even when those mistakes occasionally hurt people.  I can’t be part of one that hurts so many and instead of trying to fix it, simply allows it to fester and continue by purposely hiding, avoiding the truth, and manipulating those that were hurt into silence.  I resent this church leadership for asking me to carry this weight and avoiding the consequences themselves.  Until the church holds itself accountable, it is no longer my church.

Tear down this temple since at this point only Christ can rebuild it.

Memorial Day 2014

I’ve  posted before both in my blog and on Facebook about how much I appreciate the men and women who serve and have served in our armed forces.  If you’re not willing to defend your freedom, then someone will take it from you.  This is a common theme throughout history and appears to be both part of the human condition and something that won’t change (certainly not any time soon).  This is why I support the military  since without them, we’d live in a very different world here in the United States.  Perhaps we’d all be speaking German, or maybe Russian or Japanese or some other language and the freedoms we take for granted would have been long since stripped away.  This country was paid for by the blood of those who stood up for it.  From the original patriots who gained our freedom from the British to the hundreds of thousands that were killed in WWII to the tens of thousands who have since given their lives in places like Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq.

I have very low tolerance for those who claim our engagements are all about protecting business interests like big oil.  South Korea is a very different place today because we drew a line and stood firm.  And while our engagements in the Middle East may in fact protect our interests in oil, it’s not about wasting people’s lives so Shell Oil or BP can keep producing.  If we had not remained deployed with bases throughout Europe, it would be a VERY different place than it is today and not likely one most people would enjoy.  So while lots of mistakes have been made in our foreign policies over the years, and there have been plenty of times the military leadership of our country as well as the  politicians have ‘blown it’, I’d prefer what we have warts and all, to what I believe the alternatives would be had America not stood up so many times and defended freedom for itself and countless others which in turn has slowed as well as eliminated other forms of government that were significantly oppressive to people.

Our military is awesome because the people who volunteer to serve do so largely by choice.  We are blessed to live in a world (and even more blessed to live in this country) where other fellow Americans love our freedoms so much that they are willing to lay down their lives to protect them.  I know that when they are in the battle they fight for each other, but they still are also fighting for us and to protect the freedoms we enjoy as well as to advance those freedoms to elsewhere in the world by helping democracies form and take root.

Memorial day is a time when we honor those who died while serving in the military.  This is not to be confused with Veterans day which honors our military veterans who may be alive today or at least came home from their war alive and have since passed.  This is a time to honor those who never made it home or when they came home it was in a coffin.  How blessed and fortunate the rest of us are that we are surrounded by men and women who value our freedom so much that they would sacrifice  their lives to ensure the freedom and safety of their generation and for future generations to come.

One of those people who died while serving their country is Medal Of Honor recipient Jared Monti.  I grew up with Jared’s mom Janet and dad Paul in my life as they were great friends of my older brother Bill and his then girlfriend and now wife Marcia.  I remember being in my early teens and becoming an uncle as Bill and Marcia had their children and around the same time frame Paul and Janet’s family was growing and before long they had a daughter Nicole and sons Jared and Tim.  While I never got to know them very well and my own young life took me off in other directions, I’d still bump into them at my brother’s place sometimes.  I always enjoyed hearing from one of my high school friends Jim Monti, another member of the Monti family, who would talk about Jared and how fast he was growing up.

So while I never got to know Jared well, I felt connected to him and his family.  Jared grew up to be a wonderful man who knew early that he wanted to serve.  He joined the delayed entry program as a junior in high school and pretty much went straight into active duty right after he graduated.  His original plan was perhaps to use his service as a way to get college educated, but he quickly grew to embrace and embody all the characteristics the military hold so dear.  Duty, honor, sacrifice, strength, service are just a few of the core beliefs that Jared lived and demonstrated most every day.  He served in Kosovo, Korea and Afghanistan and reenlisted without hesitation as he became the consummate NCO who watched out for his troops.  He had an infectious smile and a warmth about him and his troops wanted to serve him because he measured his success not by how his superiors felt about him but by how his soldiers felt about him.  He was a true leader that did not tell others what to do.  He showed them, taught them, and he would do those same things that he asked of others and because they knew that, they would follow him anywhere.

During one of his tours in Afghanistan,  on June 21st 2006 Staff Sargent Jared Monti and his 16 man patrol were attacked by as many as 50 enemy fighters.  After calling in indirect fire support while being pinned behind a rock formation he engaged the enemy multiple times personally as they tried to flank his troops position.  Then, Monti discovered one of his men Pfc. Bradbury was severely wounded and unable to move and was laying in an open depression about 20 meters away.  Another soldier Staff Sargent Cunningham yelled over to Monti that he would go for Bradley.  Without hesitation Monti insisted that Bradley was his soldier, handed off his radio and moved out from behind cover to retrieve Bradbury.  Under machine gun fire moving low and fast Monti was twice forced back under small rock cover but managed to get within a few meters of Bradbury.  Not willing to give up, Monti attempted a 3rd time where he was mortally wounded by an RPG that exploded in his path.  Unable to move from the severity of his wounds Monti spoke to his unit and said he had made his peace with God, asked them to tell his parents that he loved them and then went silent.

Nothing I write here could do justice to the bravery and heroism of Monti and countless others who have gone before him (and after him) who have made similar sacrifice for their brothers in arms and for our freedoms.  But if you happen to read this and my writing was good enough to keep you interested to get this far, hopefully you now know a bit more about Jared and memorial day 2014 can be a little more personal and real as you connect with someone who embodied all that we value from our troops.

Thanks Jared.  You would not have remembered me but I won’t forget you.

In loving memory of Medal Of Honor recipient Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti.








The Naked Truth

Let’s get naked!

OK, so the title is a shameless way for me to get more hits on the blog now that I’ve decided I have some free time to write again.  While I feel guilty for not having more regular articles here, I also don’t want to become one of those people who use their blogs as therapy or for some reason think that most of the people out there really care what they had for dinner (oh wait, that’s twitter).  So let’s bust into a new topic related to getting naked in more of a business sense.

You’ve probably heard the term “the naked truth” or “the unvarnished truth”.  Basically when someone is using terms like that they are saying that you’re hearing only the truth and it’s not covered by varnish or other things to make it look prettier than it is.  Said another way it can also be called transparency.

Imagine you were out buying a used car and you found one that looked great (clean, nice paint, no dents) but when you asked to pop the hood to look at the engine the seller refused.  Would you buy the car?  I mean why not?  It ‘looks great’ doesn’t it?  Of course you wouldn’t buy it because you can’t know what’s under the hood and there may be some serious mechanical problems they are obviously trying to hide.  The car has a job.  It’s likely to include transporting you reliably to places and not just looking pretty in your driveway.  But how can you trust that the car is going to get the job done and you’re not getting cheated?  Well, by looking under the hood for starters.  Also perhaps putting it on a lift as well and looking underneath.  What about checking the brakes, taking a test drive/etc?  While it’s not likely to be perfect, you can make an informed decision about the risks you are taking if you know the naked truth about the car (its history, maintenance, and issues/etc.).

What it really boils down to is trust.  If you worked with a dealer on purchasing one of their cars and they provided a car fax, let you take it for a drive, opened the hood, put it on a lift and walked through all the good, and not so good about the car and overall it was a nice car, you’d feel great about buying it because you could trust that you knew what you were getting.  People are good with making informed decisions.  It’s when you hide some of the truth (purposeful omission is pretty much like a lie) that you are seeking to fool the buyer into making a bad decision (buying the wrong car for them or paying too much).  This will eventually catch up with you as a seller and you won’t see repeat business.

In your professional/work life you and your team are there, like the car, to do a job.  While we all may want to be perfect, most rational people would realize we are not.  Yet fear of looking less than perfect or fear of exposing your faults and weaknesses (or those of your team) can cause you to be less than truthful or transparent about the performance you are putting forth.  When this occurs, people typically either avoid the naked truth or mask it with other objects.  You can mask shortcomings of a project or team by blocking the view of the poor performing areas with less meaningful stats instead of the ones that matter, or by drawing attention to only the good parts.  While I think it is fine to put your best foot forward when showing the performance of a team or project, if you are trying to avoid telling the whole story then you are not being transparent.  Your customer or your boss (or both) and your peers will likely sense this even if they can’t quite see the problem.  You may get away with it (perhaps the issue you were hoping to avoid was addressed and fixed before you went to market), you may not.  And later when the truth comes out people will wonder how much you knew but didn’t share.  This will erode their trust in you or your team.  Without that trust, people will be less likely to turn to you to help them solve critical business problems because they can’t be sure that they know what they are getting or how well you will deliver.

So how do you earn that trust?  It’s easy!  Get naked!  Start by learning what’s important to the customer of the product or project or service that you provide.  Ask them if they were running it, what would they measure to determine that it was working as intended?  What values should the measurements take or in other words, ‘what does good look like’?  Ask your manager and any other key stakeholders the same types of questions.  Also find out what their concerns are for such a project or service.

Once you understand what good looks like (or great for that matter), here’s where getting naked comes in.  Report on all of it and publish it.  The good, the bad, and the indifferent.  If your job (or the job of your team) is to improve performance on a service or product, then by putting it all out there you are giving all the stakeholders the honest truth.  It won’t be perfect, but they will know what they are getting.  Also, it puts you into a situation where you can’t skate by.  If something isn’t working right, it’s right there in everyone’s face.  It will force you to face it and deal with the challenge of correcting the problem.  You will also get more input from others on ideas for correction as well as what you can let slide in order to focus additional resources on more of the larger/key issues facing the team.

As you continue to manage the product or project or service, report publically at regular intervals showing performance.  As things improve you will earn additional trust.  As you earn more trust, people will turn naturally to you and/or your team to solve problems because they are comfortable that with you or your team they will know exactly where they stand and count on things improving or being fixed.  This is what drives success.  You just have to be willing to put it all out there.  Get over the fear of not looking as good as you like and take the energy you would have put into hiding the blemishes and put it into making a product or service that looks good, even when naked.


Love is action.

It’s not just a word.  I was reminded of this during the homily that was given by my pastor Father Frank Schuster this Sunday.  As with any other good sermon it makes you think about where it applies to our lives.  One can see it in how most parents behave with their children or how people who love each other don’t hesitate to sacrifice something to help please the other.  Their actions speak louder than the word itself.

On a weekend that has me thinking a bit more about how awesome this country is and how much thanks we owe to the soldiers for their sacrifice I could not help but apply that same thought.  Love is action.  When I apply that thought to our military it really hits home for me.  While I know that there are a lot of reasons that you could chose to join the military aside from the love of your country (education, discipline, getting to play with cool toys that blow things up) I can’t see people signing up knowing that they could be placing themselves in danger and not having a love for their country.

I’ve read the rhetoric that would have people believe that the military is made up of under educated people or those with little choice.  However the statistics on recruitment don’t bear that out.  Median income for families whose children join the military is at par with the nation and education wise 98% of recruits have a high school education or higher.  Basically the makeup of our service men and women are very much along the lines of the makeup of the country and the idea that the military relies on people who are poor, undereducated or minorities for their personnel is a fallacy.

Even when there were drafts our armed forces did not behave like some other conscripted forces where there was little or no commitment to their country’s cause.  I’d like to think that for most of those who were drafted that while they may not have liked being forced to serve, they understood the need and loved their country enough to follow that through.  Which brings me back to love is an action not just a word.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  Our military is largely made up of awesome men and women who by their sacrifices allow us to live in the greatest nation in the world and enjoy so much freedoms that many others do not have.  I know war is stupid and horrible.  But until the rest of the world also “gets it” you have to be willing to fight for your way of life or you’ll be living someone else’s idea of what your way of life should be.

All our rights that we enjoy have been preserved by our military.  If you are ever angry about where we fight, save that for the politians since it’s not the military that chooses where to fight.  They simply serve the nation they love and for that I am eternally grateful.

Please say a prayer for those who served and never came home or came home in a coffin.  And while you are enjoying your Memorial Day, look for a vet and thank them for their service and for loving their country enough to stake their lives on it.

The Optimal Human Experience

I’m sorry for the gap in posting. I’m almost to the point of proving the statistics of most blogs being 6 or more months out of date…

In December 2008 I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Infosys customer forum called Confluence. I enjoyed the time interacting with others and got to meet some neat people who were facing similar challenges in outsourcing and share experiences. As much as I enjoyed it, I hadn’t given it much thought until recently. That’s because recently I started to remember what it’s like to be having a blast and to truly enjoy yourself at what you do. It’s a state many of us would like to be in all the time. However, it seems few of us actually achieve it frequently. As I start to settle into my new role at Amazon I have found that even in a short period of time I’m seeing all the right ingredients of what it is to have a great time and truly enjoy your work. This got me thinking about what makes for an optimal human experience in one’s life which brings me back to my time at the customer forum.

At Confluence, like any decent customer forum, they had speakers brought in to speak on the themes in the conference. One of those speakers was an engaging lady by the name of Jane McGonigal. Jane was there to talk about collaboration. As she reminded people, you need to collaborate or perish. While this in itself is great advice and pertinent to her area of expertise (Game Theory), it was not the gem that I took away from her talk. As she talked about collaboration she covered how gamers collaborate better in order to achieve a common goal. As part of this they frequently are having fun and that’s where she dove in to highlight why they were having a good time.

This is where it gets good. As a manager and someone who has been fortunate enough to experience this (and perhaps arrange for my teams to experience the same thing) it resonated a lot and had me jotting down the 4 key ingredients to the Optimal Human Experience . Jane was able to put into simple terms what makes us generally happy as human beings. As managers of people this is something worth remembering since if you can put these 4 ingredients into your team experience, I believe you will have a team that not only functions better, but is truly having a great time while doing so. If you can put these 4 ingredients into your career, I would probably argue that you’re not working but instead having a great time and getting paid while you are at it. I don’t know about you but these are the kinds of jobs I like (and look for).

So what makes an Optimal Human Experience?

Something to do

Or more specifically, “satisfying work”. Most people enjoy work that is satisfying and engaging. Work that allows you to engage and perhaps lose yourself in it. If the day is dragging on for you at work, I would argue it’s probably not very satisfying. If the day seems to fly by because you felt challenged and energized by the work, then you are experiencing what I would consider satisfying work.

The experience of being good at something

Most people get incredible personal satisfaction and joy at doing something they are good at. This may seem obvious, but I’m not always sure we take it into account when working with others or assigning work. When you know you’ve done well it makes you happy. If you are managing a team and can find a way to play to people’s strengths, you are providing more opportunity for them to experience being good at something. If you’ve done a job and know that you “nailed it” (and you’re not just a carpenter) then you get a great feeling from a job well done.

Time spent with people we like

If you’ve read my prior blog posts I cover a variant of this in “don’t be that guy”. It stands to reason if we don’t like being around negative people, we probably enjoy being around positive ones. We can like folks for more than just being positive, but regardless of why you like someone, if you like them, then you enjoy spending time with them. Are you surrounded by people you like? Are you building teams where people are likable? Or are you willing to put up with unpleasant people in order to get a job done? I would argue that if you want to enjoy yourself then you should be spending time with people you like. As an individual, if you feel surrounded by people you don’t like, then you should consider leaving because you will be miserable otherwise. If you are a manager and you are overlooking unlikable behavior just to get some hard to find expertise I would argue that what you are losing in team dynamics may outweigh the gain you get from keeping an arrogant expert.

The chance to be part of something bigger than yourself.

There’s an old adage of 3 masons who are working on the same site. When asked what they were doing, the first responded “I’m laying bricks”. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it? The second responded “I’m building a wall”. Perhaps it was satisfying but was it a big deal? The third responded “I’m building a Cathedral”. Now THAT is exciting and certainly bigger than he was. That’s the type of opportunity we want to be a part of and that is the kind of opportunity you want to engage your teams in. Get them to see the bigger picture. Show them the hill, then go climb it with them and put a flag on it. When they look down with you at what they accomplished they’ll get incredible satisfaction. So will you. Go build something bigger than yourself.

In my new role, I’m finding I’m not very efficient yet. So I don’t yet feel like I’m truly “good at something”. However, I expect that will change with each week as I get more familiar with my surroundings and the resources at my disposal. I can already see that I have engaging and satisfying work. I’m surrounded by a lot of people I like, and I’m definitely part of something much bigger than me. If I could tell you in concrete terms the immensity of the AWS platform and just how cool it is it would blow your mind. Hmmm….  3 of 4 ingredients that make an optimal human experience and I can fix the 4th myself. How cool is that?

So as a manager if you want to build a legendary team be sure to keep those 4 ingredients in your mix. As an individual, if you want to have an awesome time, go find those 4 things and make them part of your life/career.

What optimal human experiences have you had? Did they have the same ingredients that I’ve listed above? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

– Yeti.

The Right Stuff

I’m sorry for the time between posts.  Our family has been very busy over the last few weeks with one daughter graduating high school and another getting married.  It was a lot of fun and we also had a tremendous amount of family and friends that stayed for awhile after the festivities and we had some tremendous fun in and around the Rockies.  Everyone else has gone back to their homes now and the house is a lot more quiet leaving me time to think.  Recently my thoughts have turned to hiring quality talent or people with “the right stuff”.

Some time ago I worked as a manager at a start-up that had been acquired by EDS.  As you might expect with a company like EDS, they had a well defined program for training new managers that I was fortunate to attend.  I had already been managing small teams and had done some hiring.  We were still growing at a good clip and adding new people so part of the training was devoted to hiring the right people for the company.  Up to that point when hiring new people for the team my focus had always been on their technical ability and experience with the systems and networks that we had in use.   Interviews were peppered with questions that helped determine if the candidate understood Cisco’s IOS or could program in C.  Did they have wireless/cellular experience and if so what platforms.  While I am certainly glad we asked a lot of those questions (because we did weed out some folks who claimed to be expert in those areas and did not come close), we were only covering a small portion of what mattered.

At the managers course I was asked a series of questions that helped change the way I view bringing in good talent.  For example I was asked if someone demonstrated a strong knowledge of FORTRAN (OK, this was a while ago) could they learn C?  Or if someone knew how to troubleshoot a T1 could they learn to manage DS3’s?  Basically if someone was demonstrating great proficiency in a technical area that was of similar complexity could they learn what they needed to master the technology we were using?  While I know that this needs a standard disclaimer that past performance is not necessarily a guarantee of future performance, it’s fair to say it’s a good indicator.  My thoughts were that most people who were good at other complex systems could quickly come up to speed on new systems of similar complexity given the right amount of training (investment in their skills).

Then the questions turned to things that were about as far from technical as you could get.  If a candidate was a dishonest person, could they be taught to be honest?  If they were lazy, could you teach them a good work ethic?  If they had a negative attitude, could you teach them to be a more positive person?  The list went on but I think you can get the picture from here.  Basically, while we know people can change and we all do change and grow even in later years, ethically speaking, a lot of what makes you who you are is fairly well set by the time you are in your early 20’s and entering the job market.  If you did not have the benefit of being taught the importance of integrity by your parents how well can a hiring manager fix that?  If you weren’t taught a strong work ethic, how easy is that for the company to train?  Would you prefer to teach an employee who demonstrated proficiency in Ethernet how a switch works or would you prefer to teach an employee who likes to call in sick all the time the value of a good work ethic?  Which one do you think would be more successful?

As I talk with candidates lately about their experiences in the market I’ve noticed what appears to be a fair amount of companies focusing more on very specific skills or market experience and less on figuring out if the candidate is the right kind of person for the culture of the company.  Or at least that is the way it seems.  Over the years while working with candidates applying for jobs I have split my energy between hard skills and the more subjective soft skills and I feel that I have made much better hires when I know someone who would be truly passionate about their new role and quickly adapt to their new surroundings.

In a difficult job market like the current one, I think it’s good for a company to be choosy (actually it’s smart to be choosy in any job market).  Hiring smartly is something that pays dividends for years and years as you stock up on great employees that can help move your company forward.   I would be curious for feedback from the readers of this blog.  Do you think companies are valuing the ethics and attitude of candidates or do you think people are stuck on whether or not you are a god with Java?  Please give it some thought and leave your feedback!

– Yeti


If you are looking for good leaders who also happen to blog, there are two in particular I enjoy that you might want to check out:

Dan Caruso who is the CEO of the Zayo Group and he has a blog at Bear on Business.

Brady Rafuse who is the CEO of euNetworks and he has a blog at

Precious Little

Memorial Day. May 25, 2009.

There’s a song by Eleanor McEvoy that came out about 13 years ago called “Precious Little”. The chorus repeats the phrase:

Precious little in your life
Is yours by right
And won without a fight

I’ve always loved this song because those words spoke right to me in their simplicity and truth. Rights that we have were given to us. We were not born with them. And while we all might agree that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are basic human rights that we think everyone should have, not everyone does. Why? Because there’s always someone out there who is willing to take them from you for their own gain. This is why freedom is not free.

So how did America become so free to the point that we think of our rights as “God given” or somehow irrefutable? Because people who came before us were willing to fight and give their lives in order to gain the rights we have and then again in order to keep them. Had we not been willing to do that as a people and a country, it’s fairly clear that someone would have been happy to come take them from us.

Today is Memorial day. It is a day that was designed for us to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women in our armed services who have won and then maintained our freedom. They believed so strongly in those rights that most of us take for granted that they were willing to fight to keep them. They started the fight here in the United States of America (before it was the United States) and won our rights. So many gave their lives just to create this country. Then, their ancestors as well as countless immigrants who made this country their own, continued that fight. They took the fight to distant shores and many never came home, countless others came home but in a box and others with pieces of their bodies missing or forever scared physically and/or emotionally.

These people understood how precious our rights are as well as how fragile our freedom really is.

Like countless other Americans today I will spend time with family and probably cook on the grill, horse around and enjoy the day. But as the day started I found myself praying for those who fought to keep freedom for us and those who still do. I can’t thank them enough and words fail me to adequately describe how grateful I am.

Freedom is not free. You’ve heard the words enough now that perhaps it’s sounding rather trite. But like the chorus of the song the words may be simple but the meaning is deep and truthful.

If you truly appreciate your freedom, then thank all the members of the armed forces for their sacrifice and don’t let memorial day just be another excuse for a BBQ. Have the BBQ. Enjoy the freedom. Thank a vet.

– Yeti.


My dad was one of the ones who landed on Omaha beach. He lived to talk about it. Funny thing is, he never really talked about it. Thanks Dad, I miss you.

Don’t be “that guy”.

Did you ever work with “that guy”?  You know the one I’m talking about.  The guy (or gal) who’s always got a reason to be unhappy.  Every now and then we run into people who seem to like bemoaning the various situations that they find themselves in.  Have you ever actually enjoyed being around someone when all they seem to do is bitch about how bad a situation is or how tough things are for them/etc?  I’m guessing the answer to that is no.  Face it, spending time with folks like that can be downright depressing.  We’ve all been there and most of us have taken a turn or two at being that guy.

I know that we can all have an “off day” where not only do you feel you can’t catch a break but that you want to talk about it as well.  And it’s OK to vent now and then or bemoan how something seems unfair or not right.  But if you are networking, then this kind of behavior can kill you.  Save the venting for your close friends, your spouse, or a counselor.  They either care enough to listen (and know you would do the same for them) or get paid to.  Everyone else, simply put, doesn’t want to hear it.

Moods, just like viruses, can be infectious.  If you are around people who tend to be in a good mood then they can put you in a good mood.  Depressing folks can do a pretty good job at depressing others.  So what if you find yourself suddenly unemployed and now you are networking with other professionals and they hear you complain about how you were mistreated at your last job.  How is that furthering your cause?  Basically, it’s not.  So even if you feel righteous about the fact that you were handled unfairly, before you go and share that with others in your network, ask yourself if it will help you get a job?

Also, for anyone lamenting that they gave so many years and so much dedication only to be let go, allow me to remind you of something.  If you suddenly found yourself in a situation where you could do reasonably better than you had been by getting paid more and still enjoying work/etc, most of you would change jobs “in a heartbeat”.  It’s not personal and you figure hey, the company will survive (and it typically will).  Well the same thing applies in reverse.  If the company can’t economically sustain itself at a certain headcount and needs to trim positions, it’s also not personal and they sometimes have to make hard decisions (sometimes there is no easy choice but a choice has to be made none the less).

So if you are suddenly unemployed due to a layoff, as hard as it may sound try to remember:

  • It’s not personal.
  • You’d have left the company if it suited you.
  • Complaining to people about the company or its management does nothing to help you get a job or get over your loss.

I’ve often said to teams that found themselves doing a hard task that I’d rather “a fake smile from someone than a genuine frown”.  So even if you don’t feel like smiling, fake it.  The results will still be better than if you were a genuine sour puss.  Nobody wants to refer or hire a negative person.  But when people meet you, if they see an upbeat and energetic person, then they will be a lot more likely to want to help.

– Yeti

On the Internet, everyone knows if you’re a dog.

OK, I know what you are thinking.   He’s got it all messed up.  The original cartoon from the New Yorker  reads “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”.  Well that was in 1993 and now it’s 16 years later, we have Web 2.0 and social networking sites that were not even imaginable back then in full swing.  Facebook has more than 200M users, LinkedIn more than 40M, Twitter more than 9M, and the list goes on.  A month from now many of the numbers will have grown again dramatically. 

So where am I going with this?  Well if you are intending to network then you will find yourself using sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook or Myspace (which has been eclipsed globally by Facebook but still has more US subscribers).  Also, even if you are not intending to purposefully network, you may find yourself using sites like Flickr to share pictures with close friends.  Sites like Flickr are incorporating social networking tools that allow groups of users to congregate and share.

So unless you are purposely avoiding a lot of these sites then you are likely putting out a lot more information than you may realize onto the net.  Or perhaps you even realize that but haven’t given it a lot of thought?  I would like to take a moment to encourage you to give it a lot more thought.   A long time ago a good friend and colleague, Ed, told me that he thinks of every email he ever sends as being “public”.  That is, it could be published for the world to see, even if that was not his intent.  It’s a good way to view things since we have already seen countless examples of emails that were forwarded for enjoyment or even ridicule that were never meant to be shared with millions of folks on the net.

I have been having a lot of fun with the openness of this information simply because it has allowed me to do some great research on people I intend to meet.  I might find that they love photography and perhaps are enamored by pictures of nature, or even urban decay.  I can then use that information I learned to help strike up a conversation and relate to them on a more personal level.  I’ve even met people for the first time and had it be on or very near their birthday and been able to wish them happy birthday.  How do I find this all out?  Well it’s all part of what we willingly put out there as part of the social or professional networking that we do intentionally or unintentionally. 

Why should you be thinking of this?  Well the person that has the biggest control of your reputation is you.  These days, you can expect future employers will do some simple yet powerful searches on your background.  What will they uncover?  If you want to work on an on-line “brand” or “persona” then you may want to purposely leave your networks very open so that people can find it easy to discover you.  That’s fine but then give it some thought as to what they will find and keep thinking that way whenever you post.  Because once you put it out there, you can’t take it back. 

If you love Facebook and leave yourself searchable, will your future employer be amused or even impressed when they see what groups you have joined or read some of your rants and posts.  Or, will they be aghast and think this person is not the kind I’d want on my team, they look like a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen!  I don’t want to make everyone uptight.  I like to have fun on-line too.  But I try and be sure that generally if my mother suddenly joined Facebook, I would not be embarrassed by having her read all my posts/etc. 

So take the time to learn about the policies and privacy settings on the various sites you use.  If you are intending to be incredibly frank and perhaps a bit risque, then you should probably put some serious restrictions on how public your profiles and posts are (just remember, that even if you tighten down who can see your profile, sometimes your friends will share things you have done without your permission anyway).    Or, just give it the Mom test.  If your Mom read the post or saw your profile would you be embarrassed by it?  If not, then you’re probably doing OK.

Social networking on-line is a powerful tool that lets you have fun and expand your network.   Just remember that like a lot of other powerful tools, you can get hurt if you don’t use them carefully.

– Yeti.