Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

When my dad passed on 16 years ago, my friends at work took up a collection and bought a park bench in his name, which sits proudly at one of the entrances to the zoo; actually just a few hundred feet from my office.

Know when to say when.

As I pass it each morning walking from the parking lot, I smile and nod as if I am saying hello to him. I’m funny that way, I guess, but lying beneath my greeting is respect.

My dad was a good man. He treated his family and friends well and was always willing to help people.

There were more than a thousand people at his wake. The line wound all the way down the block outside the funeral home. From union line workers to company vice presidents, people pumped my hand that day and attested to their sorrows in the passing of this “good man.”

He was a metallurgist at Ford Motor Company. He had a few patents to his name, and boxes full of bowling and softball trophies, but he led a quiet, unobtrusive life.

As the spectacle of Penn State Coach Joe Paterno continues to swirl, I am reminded of how difficult it is to live a life without some interruption by less than stellar decisions.

Mr. Paterno has not been charged with anything other than extremely poor judgment, and in the wake of the charges that have been brought against others in that group, he is fortunate to get away with so light a comeuppance.

I am not writing this to approach the morality of the alleged child molestation issue. My point is simply that it is a shame that such a long and distinguished career would end so abruptly and so disjointed.

But clearly, Joe Pa had hung around too long. Sure, the case could be made for the “institution” he had become and the value that was to the university, but all those years? The likelihood of something going wrong had to proliferate with each passing year.

So how does one know when it is the right time to go and, further, how does one maintain a life and reputation that will last as the years pile up long after they are out of the picture?

Others have found unique ways to handle this dilemma. Just recently, lifelong CBS commentator Andy Rooney finally retired. He was 92. Three weeks later, he died.

Pretty much everything that could have been said negatively about Andy after he died had already been said while he was alive–and he was usually the one saying it. To that end, his life should be considered distinguished. He never tried to be what he wasn’t and he gladly identified his shortcomings to anyone who asked. There’s respect in that kind of self-actualization.

On the other hand, the on again/off again retirement of former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Farve is, in my opinion, the perfect example of someone who took something wonderful and turned it into garbage.

His career was so respected and his die-hard efforts so endearing that he originally stepped away from the game amid a tearful press conference where he was lauded and honored.

Months later as he “un-retired” and plied his financial strategies to join the Minnesota Vikings, he turned his career into a media circus–and did so over and over in the seasons that followed.

Eventually, there were charges of misconduct regarding a woman connected with the team, and his whole heroic position began to melt like a Green Bay snowball in a Los Angeles July.

Today he is looked upon by many as a self-inflated, narcissistic has-been who may have been overrated from the beginning. The responsibility for that whole demise is completely his.

Recently, a biography about former NFL great Walter Payton has surfaced and, again, a person who had a seemingly indelible set of values and heroic respect was found to be just the opposite.

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