Posts Tagged ‘mentor’

Mentor Magic

July 29, 2014

Friday July 25th, 2014 – Milwaukee, WI

I love being a mentor. It’s got a lot of the same rewards of fatherhood without having to change any diapers. I have had some tremendous mentees along the way of all ages, and it’s funny when they have been physically older than me. It doesn’t matter, as they are still in the role of student.

I am a student myself of many things, but in comedy I am the mentor. It’s one of the few topics I’m able to speak on with relative authority, even though the entire time I am teaching I remain a dedicated learner. I just happen to be farther along than most, so I can reach back and nurture.

The challenge of figuring out how to bring out the best in each individual is something I never get tired of. Everybody is different, and mentoring is not something that is started and finished in one session. It’s long term, and requires dedication and input from both parties. I really enjoy it.

One of my current favorites is twelve year old Trevor Burke along with his father Joe. Joe took one of my classes at Zanies in Chicago many years ago, and now Trevor is doing comedy. He’s a super kid and I have grown to really like him – even though I would highly recommend that kids don’t do standup comedy for more than fun. There are several reasons for that, and all are legit.

First off, kids don’t have the life experience to be able to draw upon for material. They are in a tough spot, and I don’t think it’s fair to the average kid to put them in a position to be on stage in front of total strangers – especially adults. Too many things can go wrong, and it’s intimidating.

Second, bombing on stage can be an absolutely horrific experience. I wouldn’t want to throw a kid – especially one I like – into such a precarious position with any sort of regularity. If the kid is doing a talent show at school or something for other kids, fine. But as a career path? No way.

Of course there are exceptions to almost every rule, and Trevor is it. Joe has a background with entertainment, as his brother had a band. Joe is fully aware of the pitfalls, and is very good in the way he keeps Trevor grounded. He and his wife Pam are excellent parents, and it all just works.

People frequently ask me, “Is the kid funny?” He’s a KID. He’s still developing as a person, so it’s unfair to put adult expectations on him or any other child. He’s funny enough, and should he decide to stay with standup as he matures, I think he’s got an extremely bright future. What he is loaded with is likeability and experience. He’s been acting for years, and is at home on the stage.

He enjoys performing, and that’s a huge part of it. He’s a novelty right now, and everyone gets that. He’s getting a lot of attention because Joe knows how to play the entertainment game. He is Trevor’s manager, and it’s a chance for them to bond as father and son but still develop a career.

Tonight I rode to Milwaukee with them both and watched Trevor compete in a talent contest at a street fair. It wasn’t the greatest of circumstances, but he went up and did his set anyway. There was a girl about his age that was a singer, and she had a bunch of her family come out so she was the winner because it was based on audience response. Trevor wasn’t disappointed, and we went to dinner at The Safe House afterward. It was fun to hang out, and no matter what happens I will still be his mentor and friend. Comedy is a nasty racket. I want to see him enjoy his childhood.

Trevor Burke has done more in show business at age 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Plus, he's a really nice kid too. I'm a big fan. www.trevorburke.com

Trevor Burke has done more in show business at age 12 than most people do in a lifetime. Plus, he’s a really nice kid too. I’m a big fan. http://www.trevorburke.com

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My Magnificent Mentor

April 22, 2014

Monday April 21st, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I can’t let this time of year pass without paying true heartfelt tribute to my number one comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis. I’ve had influences and partial mentors along the way, but Cardell was “the man” right from day one. He was a father figure on stage and off, and I’ll love him forever.

For whatever reason, he used to celebrate his birthday on August 3rd. For years, I thought that’s when it was. I’m usually pretty good at remembering people’s birthdays – at least getting it close enough to be respectable. If I don’t hit it the exact day, I’ll usually get it at least within a couple.

This has been a lifetime thing, WAY before Facebook made it so easy for us all. It has always been important to me to acknowledge someone’s birthday whenever I can and at least give them the respect of letting them know I remembered. Birthdays are one’s personal holiday, and I find nothing at all wrong with celebrating one’s existence despite what the Jehovah’s Witnesses say.

My mother apparently joined them shortly after she abandoned our family when I was a baby, and that was the excuse she used the few times I’ve seen her for not sending any birthday cards to any of her three children or even acknowledging our existence. I can’t begin to put into words how painful it is to be ignored by one’s own mother in life, so birthdays are a soft spot with me.

Cardell is far ahead of both my natural parents on my memory list. He did much more good for me than both of them ever did, so I felt a need to honor him out of respect. It wasn’t until the end of his life I found out his real birthday was April 20th. That’s also Hitler’s birthday, so maybe he was embarrassed or something. It doesn’t matter to me what the day is, as long as I pay respect.

In the entertainment business, it’s a common mistake to assume that if someone is famous they are the best at what they do and a good person, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some famous people are all that, but others are flat out scoundrels. Fame and measure of character are not and never have been intermingled. Some total pukes make it through for reasons unknown.

Cardell was never famous – and unbelievably few ever are – but he was absolutely loaded with character. Not only did he make time to mentor a city full of wayward comedians, he also helped inner city kids as a scoutmaster for Boy Scouts for years. I’m sure there are adults now that recall him with the same deep fondness and respect for the kindness he showed them years ago as I do.

What is often the saddest turn of events is that we never get to pay back those that did the most good for us. He always told us to “pay it forward” – and that’s what I have tried to do for as long as I’ve been a full time comedian. There have been literally hundreds of meals bought for young comedians through the years that were a direct result of Cardell’s mentoring. He lives on in me.

Mentorship is a skill by itself, and too often those that are best at it don’t get recognized for the effort it takes. It’s not just a one day thing and that’s it. It’s a constant process over a time period that can range from years to decades to a lifetime. Cardell was with me for decades at a time that I really needed his help. Not only is he still with me, through me his wisdom has been passed on.

It rarely takes much at the time, and there frequently isn’t much fanfare. It’s often just a matter of knowing what to say and when to say it. My grandfather was a terrific mentor also, and he and Cardell shared similar traits. Both knew precisely when and how to say what needed to be said.

The first big deal I can remember as a comedian – which sounds so laughable now – was when I was going to host a show for the first time. I had only been around a short time and was greener than a bag of $20 bills. Why any idiot would trust me to host a comedy show then is beyond me.

Some idiot did, and I was both thrilled and scared to death at the same time. I had no idea what to do, but Cardell sat me down and give me several much needed pointers. He told me what I had to know, and walked me through it in a few minutes. He said he knew I could handle it, and even if that was a fib it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. His kind words were medicine.

Time and time again he’d cheer me as I climbed steps up the comedy ladder. They seem so tiny now, but back then it felt like I was climbing Mt. Everest each time. Having a friendly face in my corner through those intimidating steps was SO inspiring, and the face I saw continually was his.

What felt even better was hearing second and third hand from others how he thought out of the local comics in Milwaukee at the time I was the one he thought would go the farthest. “That boy is GOING someplace, you watch!” he’d say. “I hope he takes me with him. I might need a job.”

I heard this back from numerous sources through the years – and he eventually told me himself. He said I had the natural gift and the drive it took to get out and take my swings on a bigger field than Milwaukee. Comedy clubs were just starting to explode then, and he was adamant about me getting out and taking my shot. “You’ll never get anywhere staying here. Move on.” And I did.

Milwaukee was my home town and I wanted to prove to some people – mainly my father – that I wasn’t the loser he always told me I would be. Cardell could see that was the raw source of my pain, and tried to get me to focus on building a career. I was an angry kid, and needed guidance.

It’s the classic tale of the old bull and young bull, and looking back he said all the right stuff at all the right times and I love him dearly for it. It didn’t always hit me at the time, but I needed to hear exactly what he said. Youth always thinks it knows better, but wisdom only comes with age.

Probably the sweetest of so many sweet memories was Cardell and his manager Shirley Schaak taking me out for dinner before I went on my first road trip. They were proud of me, and both of them beamed through our meal. Cardell gave me time tested tips on road survival, and at the end of the night they gave me a card with $25 in it “for a flat tire”. I’m weeping in thanks even now.

Kindness like that endures forever – especially for a dented can like me that wasn’t used to that from anybody. Cardell and Shirley were my comedy parents, and I love and appreciate them now more than ever. I never took them for granted, but in hindsight all those good things they did not only for me but for all the comedians in Milwaukee shine even brighter. I try to pass on the love they passed to me, but I always fall so far short. Thank you Cardell! Shirley too! I love you both.

My magnificent mentor in comedy C. Cardell Willis. A kinder soul and more competent mentor has never lived.

My magnificent mentor in comedy C. Cardell Willis. A kinder soul and more competent mentor has never lived. I owe the man SO much.

Just because someone isn't famous doesn't mean they aren't talented. Cardell's reach went WAY past entertainment. He was a life changer for many. What a fantastic human being. It's up to me to help keep his memory alive.

Just because someone isn’t famous doesn’t mean they aren’t talented. Cardell’s reach went WAY past entertainment. He was a life changer for many. What a fantastic human being. I want to keep his memory alive.

New Mentor Needed

April 15, 2014

Sunday April 13th, 2014 – Island Lake, IL

I speak often of what a tremendous mentor my grandfather was to me – and he was – but there are a few things he never got to that I had to painfully learn on my own. He died when I was only 18, so maybe he just didn’t have enough time to get to them yet. Or maybe he didn’t know at all.

As great of an influence as Gramps was and still is, nobody knows everything. He struggled in his own life in many ways, and when it was all over he was just a small time hustler. He tried his hand at a few things, but admittedly never was willing to go all in and risk it to get the big prize.

He played it safe for reasons I guess I can understand, but in retrospect it sure didn’t bring him any lasting happiness. My grandmother never supported his dreams, even though he’d sacrificed his most productive years working at jobs he despised in order to support her and their two sons.

He tried to be a good father – at least by his account – and that didn’t work out either. Both my father and uncle had their conflicts with him, and neither had even half as close of a relationship as Gramps and I enjoyed. Maybe that was a grandfather’s “second chance” thing, I don’t know.

The reason I’m having these thoughts is that I’m at a place in my life where I don’t know who I can turn to as a mentor figure. Everyone needs a mentor, and I don’t think it ever ends. I’m in a place that few ever get to in life – especially this late in the game. I don’t know who I can talk to.

I’m still out here wallowing in the mud WAY longer than most are willing to go all in. I wasn’t able to settle for the safe route like Gramps did – and 99% of everyone else. I was committed to it 100% off the bat, and even though I made some horrific mistakes and caught some rotten breaks, here I am still around with a chance to succeed. I don’t know exactly how, so I’d like a mentor.

Most of my circle of friends have no idea what to tell me. They’re having their own issues with week to week survival, and I get that. They couldn’t help me if they wanted to, and unfortunately that doesn’t do either one of us any good. It’s everyone for themselves, and I find that very scary. I have to move forward with the knowledge and experience I have, and make my best decisions.

One thing I’m really having a struggle with is short term vs. long term goals. I see where I aim to be in the long run, but I’m constantly distracted by detours I have to take in the short run. I am so discombobulated from all the lumps I’ve taken that I’m having a tough time sorting out which way is up. Then I let the short term distractions eat up all my time, and I have no big plan at all.

Add to that the fact that I have always been fiercely independent in my business dealings to the point of not letting anyone else in on my plans, that I have nobody to blame but myself when I’m stuck in the position I’m in and haven’t a clue as to what to do next. I need to amend my method.

But how? It will mean letting others into my inner circle, and I’ve never been comfortable with that. I have always had trust issues, and that’s a big part of being a dented can. Too bad, because if I don’t change it up I am never going to hit pay dirt. It’s humbling to admit, but I was wrong.

My grandfather was my father figure and mentor as a child. I couldn't imagine a better one.

My grandfather was my father figure and mentor as a child. I couldn’t imagine a better one, and I think about him every day – even now.

He was with me from five months old until age 18. I owe him a debt I can never repay.

He was with me from five months old until age 18. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude I can never repay. Instead, I will pass it on to others.

C. Cardell Willis was my main mentor in standup comedy. He was terrific as well.

C. Cardell Willis was my main mentor in standup comedy. He was terrific just like Gramps. I have helped pass his timeless wisdom down to many.

Now that I'm transitioning into my next phase of life, I need a new mentor to help me get going. Who will it be?

Now that I’m transitioning into my next phase of life, I need a new mentor to help me get it going. Who will it be?

Hail To The Mentors

May 16, 2013

Tuesday May 14th, 2013 – Milwaukee, WI

   Hooray for the mentors of the world. They provide insight and wisdom to those climbing up an invisible and often difficult ladder, and all too often their unselfish efforts go underappreciated or worse yet not appreciated at all. I for one have always been grateful to my mentors, and still am.

   In the radio business, my main mentor when I started was Pat Martin. Pat is a radio lifer who is just as passionate about the business today as he was when I met him in the late ‘80s. He’s spent his life learning his craft like I’ve spent mine in comedy, and he knows what he’s talking about.

   I can’t thank Pat enough for all he’s done for me through the years. He was the first to suggest I give morning radio a shot, as he thought I had the natural ability to do it well. He lent me a tape program he recorded about getting into the radio business, and it was very nice of him to do that.

   We kept in contact, and eventually Pat turned me on to my first job in Lansing, MI at WMMQ in 1990. Another contact of his was Dan Balla. He was the Program Director there who needed a morning show in a hurry after his last guy had some personal problems and needed some rehab.

   Pat was doing us both a favor, and I ended up getting the job. It was shaky to say the least, and then Dan ended up moving on to another gig in Oklahoma City and left me in Lansing in a rotten situation. That station was as dysfunctional as radio gets – and that says a lot. It was an education of the highest order, but after six tumultuous months I’d had enough. I quit to return to comedy.

   I don’t blame Pat for the situation in Lansing, even though I still tease him about it. He wanted to see me get a morning gig, and I did. I didn’t get fired, and in fact they wanted to sign me for a new contract. I didn’t do it, and Pat was my main source for advice at that time. He really helped.

   Through all my roller coaster radio adventures, Pat was the one person I could count on to give me an honest assessment of what was going on. He was always proud of me for landing jobs, and told many people that I was a ‘comedic genius’. Hearing that from a third party is very flattering.

   One year when I was really down and out and between jobs, Pat and his wife Jennifer made it a point to invite me over for Thanksgiving and I’ll never forget it. Pat insisted we watch the movie ‘The Party’ starring Peter Sellers, which remains one of my favorite comedy moves to this day.

   I also have to admit that it was Pat that suggested I use ‘Mr. Lucky’ as my comedy persona. He was always making suggestions, and even though I didn’t always agree I appreciated him taking the time to do it. I knew he was always in my corner, and he was only trying to help me advance.

   Today is Pat’s birthday, and it was this day years ago when the Mr. Lucky incident happened. I took him out for a birthday lunch, and the waitress got my order completely wrong while getting Pat’s order – which was a lot more complicated – absolutely perfect. The more that went wrong, the more Pat laughed. He said “There’s your persona. You’re Mr. Lucky.” I knew he was right.

   I had a ton of other things to do today, but I couldn’t let Pat’s birthday pass without taking him out for another lunch. I drove to Milwaukee to hang out with him, and I was disappointed that he didn’t have a line of his disciples waiting to do the same. I’m by far not the only one he’s helped, but that’s par for the course with great mentors. They’re rarely appreciated enough, even though they’re constantly of a giving nature. If nobody else is grateful for Pat’s kindness, I certainly am.

Ross Bennett’s Revenge

April 5, 2013

Thursday April 4th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’ve been keeping a happy secret to myself for the last couple of weeks, and I’m delighted to be able to finally let it out. My long time friend and comedy mentor Ross Bennett got a chance to be on the David Letterman show tonight, and he knocked it out of the park. I am SO happy for him!

Ross is just the best on so many levels, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this killer opportunity. It gives me tangible hope that at least a little fairness exists in this insane world, and a little goes a long way. I was on pins and needles all day waiting to hear from him, and when he texted me saying he killed it I felt like my Packers won another Super Bowl. It was pure ecstasy.

I first met Ross in the ‘80s when he worked at the Funny Bone in Milwaukee. We hit it off then and have stayed friends through a lot of ups and downs in both of our lives. Ross has not lived an easy life either, but like me he still keeps slugging and tries to play the hand he was dealt in life.

We’re kindred spirits and I’ve always gotten along with him from day one. He’s been like a big brother in many ways, and I’ll never forget his kindness. When I was living in Los Angeles, he’d lived there before I did and helped me get settled in. He didn’t have to do that, but I so appreciate the time he took to show me the ropes. L.A. can be very intimidating to a newbie, at least at first.

Then Ross moved to New York where he lives now, and he helped show me around that scene when I visited a couple of times. He helped me get sets at some of the clubs there, and again was like a big brother at a time when I really needed it. We went to a Yankees game, and saw a lot of amazing places all over Manhattan that I will never forget. Ross has always been a stellar friend.

I’ve tried to be one in return, and many years ago I was able to help Ross get involved in sports cards of all things. He set up at card shows for a few years as he was out on the road doing shows as a comedian, and at the time it gave him focus and structure he needed in his life. He’s thanked me for it numerous times, but it was my pleasure to help a friend who has always had my back.

Ross has really been through some rough stretches in his life. His first wife passed away and he was left to raise his son Nash with the help of his mother. That’s no easy task in a ‘normal’ world but trying to be an entertainer and raise a child is damn near impossible. Still, Ross pulled it off.

He has also had his share of run ins with certain people just as I have. He was kicked off of the Bob and Tom radio show for years, and then managed to get back in their good graces – the very same day I was kicked off of the show. We sat there together for a few minutes, then I was gone.

We laugh about it now, but I was really bummed out when it happened. I still don’t know what I did to make them that upset, and Ross talked me off the cliff that day – again when I needed his help the most. He’s always been there for me, and I can’t say that about most of my own family.

To hear he got a shot on Letterman made me leap with joy. He’s been slugging it out all over in the New York area for years, and has worked like a mule to get this chance. I’m glad he nailed it, but I’m surely not surprised. He’s a world class comic talent, and always was. This is his destiny.

The show will air on Friday April 5th, but I’ll be on my way back from a gig in Indiana. I don’t know how I’ll get to see it, but I’ll make sure I do at some point. This is a special occasion of the highest order, and I hope it launches him into other amazing opportunities. Ross got his revenge!

Comedian Ross Bennett will be on David Letterman Friday April 5th, 2013

Comedian Ross Bennett will be on David Letterman Friday April 5th, 2013! Check him out, he’s very funny and deserves to be there.

Thank You Rick Uchwat

March 20, 2013

Tuesday March 19th, 2013 – Chicago, IL

     I’ve got a jam packed performing schedule coming up in the next couple of weeks, and I plan on loving every last minute of it. I’ll be all over the place, and in a good way. The money will be appreciated of course, but it’s never been about that. It’s the fun and thrill of being on the stage.

After a lifetime of chasing this elusive dream, I still haven’t gotten tired of the live performing part of the process. I’ve become extremely sick of most of everything else, but that time on stage is still golden – especially when it goes well. There are still times when it doesn’t, but that’s rare.

Far more often than not, I am able to go up there in front of a room full (or not that full) of total strangers and win them over with laughter. I clearly see their defiant stares of “you’d better make me laugh, mister” whether they know it or not. Then when I do, they line up to tell me how much they enjoyed it and I see an entirely different look in their eye. It’s one of admiration and respect.

Once in a while it’s a look of horror or disgust, and occasionally they won’t even look at me at all. Tonight was one of the good nights when they looked at me like a superstar. I’m at Zanies in Chicago yet again, and that’s the place I feel as comfortable as anywhere I’ve ever worked. I am officially one of their boys, and that’s not a bad place to be. Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld are too.

Leno and Seinfeld and Richard Lewis and Larry Reeb and Tim Walkoe have all been staples of Zanies for decades. Obviously Leno and Seinfeld have gone on to much greener pastures, but both are looked at with reverence as having been people to put Zanies on the map. They’re legends.

The one everyone attributes a huge part of their success to – including me – is Rick Uchwat. He was the owner and founder of Zanies in 1978, and was an unbelievably charismatic personality at a time when comedy was just getting hot. He had a way about him that made everyone develop a fierce loyalty, but it wasn’t fear based like a lot of club owners tend to be. Rick earned a respect.

Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld still have a fondness for Rick to this day, as do a lot of others in an insane business built on self worship. Not everyone cared for Rick, as he could tend to polarize a percentage of the people he dealt with but that’s what I loved most about him. He was straight up and didn’t mince words. You knew where you stood with him, and I was always in good stead.

Rick passed away in 2011, and I miss him terribly. He was a great friend, even though we were not in constant contact. He made sure I always had bookings at Zanies, and he told me no matter how many people I pissed off I’d always have a comedy home on his stages. I never forgot that.

When I had my near fatal car accident in 1993, Rick had a check in my hospital room the very next day for $1500 to cover my immediate needs. I had to pay it back, but I worked it off on his stages at the various Zanies clubs and I’m forever grateful to him and Zanies for that kindness.

Today would have been Rick’s 66th birthday. I had a rock solid show at his club tonight, and I dedicated it to him from the stage. If not for Zanies, I wouldn’t be a comedian. Thank you Rick!

Rick and Jerry

Jerry Seinfeld and Rick Uchwat

Zanies in Chicago - my home club

Zanies in Chicago – my home club

Paying It Forward

January 12, 2013

Friday January 11th, 2013 – Shakopee, MN

   I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude, but it’s not easy. That speeding ticket yesterday was a kick in the lug nuts, not to mention the wallet. I don’t know why money has to be such an issue in life but it absolutely is. Some find a way to master it, while others inherit more than they need.

The latter are usually the first to say “Don’t worry – it’ll all work out.” It’s easy not to have to worry when there’s a trust fund in place or a rich relative available to help bail one out of a cash pickle. I’d love to be able to count on someone when times get bleak, but I’m a one man band.

All I want is enough to not have to worry about stupid stuff like speeding tickets. Whatever the reason, it was my turn and I will have to pay up. I would guess I drive about five times more than the average driver, so it’s inevitable I’ll get more speeding tickets over the course of my lifetime.

Still, yesterday was not when I needed it. I’m trying to come out swinging this year and get my financial ship righted to get out of debt. I don’t expect any free rides and I’m willing to pay what I owe, but that one materialized out of nowhere and urinated my flickering candle of hope out.

Plus, it happened at the beginning of the trip to put a damper on the whole weekend. I tried not to think about it last night in Eau Claire and tonight in Shakopee, MN, but I couldn’t help it. I did this run for the money, and now not only won’t I be making any I have to pay out of my pocket.

It is what it is, and I’ll shut my mouth and keep slugging. I’m working with a young kid named Dan Ronan this weekend and he’s got big time written all over him. He’s 23, and has spectacular upside potential. I was able to bring him along on this run and if nothing else at least I can enjoy a chance to mentor someone who appreciates it. I’m unbelievably impressed with his raw ability.

Dan lives in the Chicago area, and we crossed paths a few years ago at the Zanies Rising Star Showcase. He was only 19 then, but I could see his talent immediately. He’s stayed with it and is starting to come up the ladder and it was my pleasure to help him by including him on this run.

He’s got a great work ethic, and he’s a student of the game just like I was at 23. I see a big part of myself in him, but I think he’ll take it a lot farther than I ever did. He’s got a great look and an unusual delivery and I see him all over TV in the not too distant future. This kid is a big leaguer.

Hopefully, I can plant some of the nurturing seeds in him that comedians like Gary Kern, Kyle Nape, Danny Storts and others planted in me when I was his age. Those guys showed me how to be a comedian both by their words and their actions. Now it’s my turn to pay some of it forward. I don’t need a run like this for anything but money, but Dan needs the stage time to get his chops.

He came through with flying colors last night and tonight. He was nervous beforehand for both shows, and perused his set list like it was the winning lottery numbers. I used to do all that, and it made me smile watching him do exactly what I did all those years ago. Having a chance to act as a mentor to a talented kid like Dan is a treat, and I’ll focus on that. He’s got a very bright future.

Gramps Of The Century

November 20, 2012

Sunday November 18th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows how much my grandfather’s influence has meant to me throughout my life. He was my father figure, mentor and guiding force and I always say if it weren’t for him I’d surely be dead or in prison by now. Even with his input, I almost had both of those outcomes anyway. I’ve met a lot of people in my time, but Gramps is still the king.

Today is the 100th anniversary of his birth, and I couldn’t help thinking about him all day. He’s been out of my life longer than he was in it, but I still feel his mark on my soul every single day I am alive. He was the wisest person I ever met, and the seeds he planted throughout my childhood have taken decades to germinate but are now in full bloom. I owe him a debt I can never repay.

Gramps spent quality time in my formative years, and taught me lesson after lesson that wasn’t always pleasant as I was learning it. He was from the ‘tough love’ school, and never held back if he thought I needed to hear or experience something. When I deserved a kick in the ass – I got it.

But when I deserved praise, he handed that out too. It made me eventually keep striving to gain his approval, and he set high standards for whatever I was going to do with my life. Maybe that’s why I’m so frequently disappointed, but I’d rather be that than the underachiever my father was.

Gramps and my father had a tumultuous relationship, and I don’t think they ever got along very well. Gramps used to tell me it was his biggest regret. He said no matter how hard he might try to reach him, he just never could. My father was a troublemaker, and stayed that way all of his life.

Gramps told me he could see I was the complete opposite, and vowed to do his best to give me the best fighting chance I could have to survive. I was five months old when he and my grandma took me in, as my mother had abandoned the family and left to apparently pursue her drug habit.

I have an older sister and brother, and they stayed with my father. I was originally going to get sent off to an orphanage, but Gramps told me later he thought it was his duty to raise me himself to make sure he knew someone was in my corner. He didn’t have to do that, and I love him for it.

Gramps was never mega rich or famous, but he did alright. He grew up in the Great Depression era, and was very ‘thrifty’ to say the least. He always looked for sales, and scraped by with cheap alternatives whenever he could. That’s just how he was, even when he could afford better things.

We became especially close in his final years as he battled cancer. Cancer always wins, and his body was totally ravaged in the end. Still, he volunteered to take new chemo drugs so as to serve as a guinea pig for future generations. Even in death, he was thinking of how to help humankind.

I sent a request to the Office of The Mayor in Milwaukee and it was accepted, making this day ‘Albert A. Dobrient Day’ in Milwaukee. Gramps was a lifelong proud Milwaukeean, so I wanted to do this in his honor as I know he’d have loved it. Very few are honored this long after passing, but Gramps was special and still is. If I can be half of who he was, I will have been a big success.