The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The Worst Days Don’t Have To Stay The Worst Days …
March 9, 2018, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment, Death, Mum

So 3 years ago today was one of the worst days of my life because it’s the day I lost Mum.

I’ve written a lot about what happened and how it affected me, but 3 years down the line, I am more focused on the joyful memories we had together rather than the tragic last days.

Infact the shift in mindset is so great, that I was only reminded this day was approaching by friends writing to me to send their love and support for this most horrible of anniversaries.

Now don’t get me wrong, Mum is always on my mind.

Just last week I saw an elderly lady who – for a number of reasons – reminded me of Mum.

She looked kind and gentle. Her grey hair gently framing her face. And as she sat alone, waiting quietly for her takeaway order to arrive from the restaurant kitchen. I couldn’t stop stealing glances at her. Of course I knew it wasn’t Mum and yet there was something about her that made me feel like her energy was very similar.

Then I started crying.

Not loudly, not even obviously … but tears were running down my face and when she walked out the restaurant, I had to tell myself not to chase her out to the parking lot and tell her she reminded me of my wonderful Mum and could I have a hug.

Thank god for my brains objectivity or I could be writing this from jail.

But as I sit here, on the 3rd anniversary of her passing, I feel a different person.

Of course I miss her and would give anything to see her hold the precious grandson she never got to meet in person, but I’m in a much better place than I was and that is something I know Mum would be very happy about.

Of course part of this is because of time. Part of this is because Otis keeps us focused on the future and the joy of life. And part of this is because I now have a very different lifestyle to the one I had when all this happened, but that doesn’t take away the fact I now feel able to enjoy the life I had with my Mum rather than the last days.

And that is why, if she was here today, I would want to say this to her …

Mum, I love you.

I love you so much and I am so grateful for all you did for me and – in a weird way – continue to do for me.

I remember the days before your operation, we were talking about things that highlighted there may not be the outcome we all hoped would happen.

I tried to brush it off as I wanted us to stay positive but the fact I discovered how much organisation you had done in the weeks prior to your operation – in case the worst happened – showed this was something you had thought about a lot.

It breaks my heart you went through that.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to sort through your papers incase something happened.

To put things aside for me to find.

To label things for me to be aware of.

To say a potential goodbye to the things you cared about.

And while I wish you didn’t feel you had to do it, I know it’s another demonstration of how much you loved me and it made a difference to how I dealt with those first few weeks of you passing.

But if you were around, there would be something else I’d want you to know.

One of the conversations we had was you saying how sorry you were for not having much to leave me.

I told you, you were wrong but now I can articulate that more clearly.

First of all, you left me a house.

Our house.

Our paid-for house.

That in itself is amazing and I’m so happy the family we chose to help in your name are enjoying it as much as we did.

But there’s more.

An incredible amount more.

You left me with a lifetime of wonderful memories.

Of love and support and values I live by.

You gave me recipes I feed my family with.

You gave me paintings [& some of your owls] that lets me always feel a connection between the life I had and the life I have.

You gave me the gift of playing a musical instrument by encouraging me to learn after thinking I showed ‘talent’ on the 2-string acoustic that was lying around the house.

You gave me the gift of growing up in a loving, caring, compassionate and supportive family that has become an amazing guide for how we want to bring Otis up.

[He’s an amazing little boy and calls you Nonna whenever he sees a photo of you or looks at the owl tattoo I had for you]

The reality is you gave me so much, but most of all, you gave me the best Mum I could ever wish for and for that I will be eternally grateful.

I’m so sorry you’re gone Mum but I’m so happy you were mine.

And always will be.

Hugs to you and Dad.

Love you.


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The Future Has Different Rules …

As I’ve written before, I didn’t go to University. I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want to continue my formal education.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t/don’t like to learn, it just means I find it far more powerful when it’s not in an academic environment.

I still remember telling my parents my decision and being slightly scared.

They desperately wanted me to go so I was worried they would see this as a slight on them – which is absolutely not what it was meant to be.

They asked for my reasons and when I told them, they said that they would support my decision as long as I applied in case I changed my mind.

So I did.

And I got accepted.

But I was still sure not going was the right thing for me, so my parents – while obviously disappointed – supported my decision and never brought it up again.

Looking back now, I feel that must have been very hard for them.

At that point, going to university was the fast track to a career and yet – as another act of their love and confidence in me – they pushed me to follow the things that genuinely interested and excited me and hoped it would all work out.

I’d say it did.

But now I’m a dad and while Otis is only 3, the thought of education looms large.

Would I do the same thing as him?

Of course I want to help equip my son in the best way possible for the life he wants to lead and one of those ways is to provide him with a good education. But the fact is I’m vehemently opposed to private education and while general access schools can be very good, the reality is private tends to offer better opportunities simply because of the funding and the facilities … which leads to an interesting conflict.

What’s best for my son versus what’s true to me?

Given Otis is so young right now, the decision will ultimately be mine and his Mum’s, but once he’s older, what do I do if he chooses a path I feel is not in his best interests.

Sure, it worked out for me, but the World was different back then and then I saw the ‘god’ instagram above – a sentiment that was absolutely reinforced by our recent America In The Raw research – and realised that by the time he has to make some choices, he will be far more aware of what he needs to do to increase his odds of success than his Mum or me.

But then I realised something else …

It’s not just about acknowledging their view of their World will be better than yours, it’s also backing your parenting.

When my Mum and Dad supported my decision, they were ultimately supporting how they raised me.

They believed the values and smarts they’d instilled in me were the right ones to enable me to make the right choices … and while I know they would have been there if it all fell down, that sense of confidence and belief probably enabled me to go to places I might otherwise not have done. Places I might not otherwise have felt I deserved to be.

And that’s why backing your team is everything.

Of course you have to instill values and standards into them, but once that’s done, you have to back them including what they think is right – even if you don’t – because if that doesn’t happen, you’re literally stopping their potential rather than liberating it.

Thank you Mum and Dad. Again.

Lessons From The Past For The Future …

It’s the last day of the first week of blog posts for the new year.Congratulations, you’ve survived.

So I thought I’d end the week on a positive.

No, a real one.

You see there was recently read a Linkedin article asking people what piece of advice they would give to their children.

Obviously this is a big, big question because ultimately, there’s so many things you could say and want to say.

But then I realized the advice I got from my parents is still probably the best advice I could give.

Advice that not only prepares you for the life ahead, but prepares you to get the most out of what is there and who you are – which, when you come to think of it, is probably the best advice of all.

So with that, I pass onto Otis what my beloved parents passed on to me.

+ A life of fulfillment is more enjoyable than a life of contentment.

+ Be interested in what others are interested in.

+ Make your own mistakes not someone else’s.

I might not have managed to do them all, all the time, but those pieces of advice have helped me enjoy a life that – let’s face it – I don’t deserve to have, which might be the one thing I’ve done that my parents would be the happiest about.

So to Mum and Dad – thank you – you might not realize it, but you’ve given your grandson one of the most valuable bits of advice he’ll ever have.

Have a great weekend.


What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]


Happy Birthday My Wonderful One …
December 11, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Anniversary, Attitude & Aptitude, Birthday, Comment, Daddyhood, Jill, Mum, My Fatherhood, Otis, Parents

So this is the last week of posts for 2017 so prepare for a bunch of sentimental claptrap as the week continues. Sorry, I mean ‘even more’ sentimental claptrap.But today I am talking about something else.

Something that continues to be one of the best and most amazing parts of my life.

I’m talking about my son Otis, who today hits his 3rd birthday today.


How is that possible?

And yet it is and I’m both thrilled and petrified about it.

Thrilled because he is the most wonderful little boy I could ever hope to know and petrified because – as the cliche goes – he is growing up so, so, so fast.

I can remember everything about the day he decided to come out and say hello.

From the moment Jill woke up at 2am feeling ‘funny’ to seeing his face at 6:27pm.

Up until his birth, he was about 7 days past the due date and a part of me that was very happy about that fact.Not because I didn’t want to meet him, but if he was born on the 12th December, our medical insurance would have clicked over for another year and all the costs associated with his delivery would be covered.

Of course he came out 5 hours 33 minutes too early for that to happen … proving that even before he was a minute old, he had the same annoying, cheeky-bastard traits of his father.

And yet, despite having just cost his Mum and Dad thousands of dollars by being born on the 11th, he has only filled our lives with happiness, excitement, joy and love.

And I mean filled.

To the point of overflowing.

This little boy is a delight.

He’s funny, kind, compassionate, curious, mischievous and loving.

He is everything I could ever have hoped to have in a child and a ton more besides.

I am incredibly proud to be his Father and hope he will feel the same way for all his life.

So with that, I want to say something to him that he can look back on whenever he faces trials and tribulations in his life.

My Dearest Otis.

You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and your Mum.

You make everything worth while.

The late nights, the early mornings, the decisions we made focused around your needs.


So much has happened in the last 12 months and yet you have taken it all in your stride.

Your Mum and Dad are under no illusion how challenging this must have felt and yet you remained happy and open to all that is around you and we are in awe of the way you have coped with it all.

We will continue to do all we can to equip you with the skills and knowledge to handle whatever life throws at you and all we ask in return is you stay as cheeky, curious and happy as you are. Be safe knowing there are lots of people around the world looking out for you and we will always support you in the things that excite you and move you and will love you, regardless of what trouble you cause us ahead.

But don’t push it too far …

Happy birthday my dearest little boy.

Oh what a treasure you are.

Mummy and Daddy [and Rosie]



Perfect Days In My Mind …
November 3, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Dad, Daddyhood, Family, Fatherhood, Jill, Mum, Mum & Dad, Otis, Parents

Today would have been my Mum’s 85th birthday.

Eighty Five.

I would have flown in to see her. Probably, surprise her.

I did that a couple of times.

Once when I was living in Australia and once when I was in Singapore.

And on both occasions – when she went outside supposedly to help my best friend Paul bring something into her house, and when I hid behind a huge bouquet of birthday flowers – the surprise on her face was utterly adorable.

And because of those occasions, I know what would have happened if I surprised her today.

First she would have stopped dead in her tracks … trying to work out how I was in front of her when she thought I was on the other side of the planet.

Then she would have had a huge smile on her face as she walked towards me to give me a huge hug and a big kiss on the cheeks.

Finally she would tell me how happy and surprised she was, before saying she had to go and make up my bed immediately.

And even though it would be her special day, she would want the focus to be on me and we would have a little back-and-forth as I would insist I was there to celebrate her, not the other way round.

And I would win – not because she liked having a fuss being made of her, in fact she hated it – but because she knew I was happy when she let me make a fuss over her and me being happy made her happy too.

Just to be clear, her version of what ‘a fuss’ was, wasn’t a fuss at all.

I’m talking about having dinner together and talking and just enjoying each others company.

And while Mum would love it, I know she’d be thinking she was taking me away from other things I could be doing so I’d have to remind her I was there for her and we would laugh and hold hands and say how lovely it was to be together.

I would give anything to have that happen today.

Especially as this time, I would have Jill and Otis with me.

And that would make her think it was her best birthday ever.

Because she would get to watch Otis run and laugh around her little garden.

And get to hold his little hand while she went around telling him what all the flowers were.

And get to hear him say “thank you” after he’d wolfed down the pasta she would have lovingly made for him.

And while this all happened, I’d see her radiate with energy and love.

Filled with a spirit that only meeting your grandson for the first time can give.

And while she would desperately try to stop herself kissing Otis’ cheeks over and over again for fear of making him uncomfortable, every interaction would provide her with a joy she would not have felt for a very long time.

I wish this was how today played out.

I wish this was not just happening in my mind.

But it is and while I’d prefer the real thing, I am happy I can picture this in such detail.

It makes me still feel close to my beloved Mum.

The kindest, most generous and considerate person I’ve ever met.

And while I know she can not read this, a little part of me wishes she could.

Because I want her to know the love I have for her is as strong as it ever was.

And this is a small way of showing her that.

As will be the little thing I’ll be doing at work today in her honour.

Happy birthday my dearest Mum.

I miss you, love you and hope Dad is giving you an extra hug today.

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We Are All The Same. We Are All Different.

So for the past 2 days I’ve been writing a lot about equality.

It’s a subject very close to my heart.

To be honest, it always has been but being a Father has raised it’s importance.

In some ways, having Otis grow up in China made things easier as it meant he was exposed to different cultures from day 1 but I didn’t want to take that for granted, so when we knew we were going to move to the US, I spoke to a friend of mine – a Brit, who is black and lives in the US – about the [thankfully small] issues his kids faced being in the US and what he thought parents should teach their kids to stop that happening.

His response was phenomenal.

In essence there were 2 parts.

The first was the obvious one – treat every person from every culture the same way – with respect, appreciation and consideration.

So far so good … but it was the next bit that really made an impact.

Don’t tell Otis different cultures are all the same.

Don’t ‘whitewash’ our differences, acknowledge them … enrich Otis with understanding about different cultures history, struggles and values.

Or said another way … celebrate the differences but treat everyone the same.


Absolutely brilliant.

In a World where so much hate is built simply on ‘being different’, helping break down those walls through knowledge and understanding is even more powerful than just saying ‘don’t see the colour, see the person’.

Of course it’s vital to treat people the same, but understanding the background isn’t just a mark of respect – it’s a way to celebrate strengths and understand behaviours that you may otherwise judge for no other reason than your own in-built prejudices.

So among Otis’ books on animals and dinosaurs and Peppa fucking Pig, he has books that explore the cultures associated with Africa [‘Africa Is Not A Country’ & ‘Sundiata’], Mexico [‘Tequila Worm’] and the Middle East [‘My Fathers Shop’].

Now I appreciate some people may think we are going a bit over-the-top with this.

After all, Otis is only 2 and a half.

But, as I have written before, I’ve learnt not to care what others think.

I’ve learnt people often mistake being a parent with being an ‘expert’ on kids.

I’ve also learnt kids develop so many of their behaviours by being masters of mimicking how their parents behave.

[Jill hopes she can stop him fall victim to ironic t-shirts and Birkenstocks]

At the end of the day, we believe we have a responsibility to him – and society as a whole – to encourage the values and beliefs that can enable him to be a good human being … someone who doesn’t just contribute to society in terms of what he achieves, but in terms of what he helps others achieve.

Of course we know he will face challenges.

Peer pressure. Unexpected circumstances. The allure of mischief.

And while we can’t dictate how he handles those things, we hope we can prepare him to deal with them in a way where he can hold his head high … which is why on top of being loving, supporting parents, we will buy him books on understanding different cultures, give him dolls to play with and encourage him to play with his beloved pink kitchen.

Being a Father is one of the most amazing things that has happened in my life.

I feel embarrassed to admit I had no idea how good it would be … and while being a good parent is basically a matter of trying things with good intent, I want to say a big thank you to Karrelle Dixon … because he may not realise it, but he made a big difference to how my little boy will grow up. Not in terms of respect, but in terms of understanding … and when you think about it, that’s one of the most wonderful gifts you can give anyone.

I hope my parents would think we’re doing good with their grandson.

I think they would.