We gathered at Los Lagos Golf Course in east San Jose on a sunny and crisp Saturday November morning last week for what my cousin Tavo dubbed the 1st Annual East Side Eddie Golf Classic. Despite the fancy name, it was really just 15 guys, family and old friends, getting together to play a round of golf for my 50th birthday. After drawing names to make up the teams, our competitive juices kicked in as we headed to the first tee.
Just as I expected, the rowdy “golfers” heckled the first group that teed off. So much for golf etiquette, it was the beginning of a typical day for this group of mostly hackers. The next four hours flew by as we re-told the same old stories, all seemingly with new and exciting details to make them sound more adventurous to the nephews in the group. We reminisced, laughed, and reflected on the tough times each of us had faced.
The day gave me a chance to look back and think about what I’ve discovered about living. I came up with five “rules,” one for each decade. They represent the roller coaster that is my life. It’s been quite a wild ride, so take these rules as recommendations only at your own risk.
Rule #1: When You’re a Kid, Play and Dream BIG
There were lots of kids in the neighborhood where I grew up. We played basketball on my driveway, touch football on the street, and walked to the end of the block to play baseball at the neighborhood school. I did fine by myself too. When none of the neighborhood kids could play, my backyard and driveway would become a jungle, baseball diamond, and college basketball arena. By the time I was 10, I had done it all: I had been a great explorer, all-American basketball player, and a hall of fame baseball star.
Rule #2: No one is THAT Special
When I was 12 years old, I was captain of my little league team and the winning pitcher in the championship game. I always did well in school and was captain of the varsity basketball and baseball team senior year in high school. Up to this point, everything was easy for me. I entered San Jose State University full of life and full of myself. Unfortunately, college wasn’t that easy. By the time I was 20, I had flunked out of SJSU and began a downward spiral fueled by the self-doubt and self-loathing that comes with failure.
Rule #3: It’s Never Too Late
Through the dark times, my parents continued to believe in me, my dad in his “tough love” kind of way and my mom with unconditional love. Sandra came into my life and became the third leg in the stool that would stand me up. I went back to school in my late-20s as a reluctant student, feeling awkward in classes with teenage freshmen and thinking it was too late for me. A wise professor, Dr. Randall Jimenez, told me that I would be 30 years old one day with or without a college degree, it was up to me. I studied hard and worked tirelessly. By the time I was 30, I was a college graduate.
Rule #4: Play Like a Champion
Playing like a champion doesn’t mean winning every game. Champions work hard, capitalize on the talents God gave them, take risks, and get right back up after being knocked down. During my 30s, I had two beautiful daughters with Sandra, bought a home, lost a job, started a new career, and lost three campaigns for public office. I celebrated the successes and dusted myself off after each defeat. By the time I was 40, I had a great family and a career on the rise.
Rule #5: “Here for a Good Time Not a Long Time” (title of hit song by county star George Strait)
Sandra and I had many plans for our life together and they were all falling into place. Sandra was an elementary school principal, I was in executive management and president of the school board, the girls were doing well in school, and our retirement plans were right on course. Woody Allen once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” He got that right. My heart attack brought our plans to a jolting stop. George Strait has it right too. My plans and ambitions have taken a backseat, and cherishing every moment of life is now in the driver’s seat.
Back at the 1st Annual East Side Eddie Golf Classic, two teams tied for first place at the end of 18 holes. There was confusion about the scorecards, and the outcome was fraught with controversy. What’s a tournament director to do in this situation? I went to the obvious answer: a beer chug-off for the championship trophy. With the mugs filled to the brim and the crowd gathering around the chuggers, all eyes were on the tiebreaker. This is 50 and you know what I’ve learned? We’re here for a good time not a long time.