Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Losing my Dad

My dad. Gone at age 73. It hits me when I use a phrase of his, see a picture of him or remember the things he loved.

He loved cats and tennis. He loved junk food and bad jokes. He loved winning at almost anything. He was pretty in love with himself too. And yet, I know he loved me and Stephen deeply.

While my dad could never have been accused of being overly sentimental, he did care underneath a sarcastic wit and otherwise seeminly Vulcan exterior.

When we went through his room, a disaster of a mess if there ever was one, we found carefully preserved newspaper clippings from his own PR and photos of his many dates with women from around the world preserved in albums.

We found classical music CDs next to videotapes of The Sound of Music and Guys and Dolls. We found vitamins next to bags of Cheetos. Our own recent photos were carelessly slung beneath piles of papers, looked at once and ignored after that.

Still, I noticed that the wooden donkey that I carved in high school, during the year I lived with him, was at his bedside.

Four miniature horses were out back, little creatures he acquired earlier this year. All stallions, they were friendly enough, with the largest one named "Elvis" and the rest with no names. We needed to find these little guys good homes, so I called some veterinarians and found out we needed a Coggins test on all of them to transport them.

A traveling vet made a "farm visit" and admired the little guys for their manners, saying they looked healthy, with three of them being a "bachelor" tribe of youngsters, only about three years old, and Elvis being the leader by being larger, older, and wiser (about 10 years old).

Camden, South Carolina is horse country, so it wasn't long before we connected with owners of singleton horses who needed a friend. After getting the word out, we had three visitors in one afternoon, all of whom wanted one or two of the horses, but not the skinny blond (sorrel-colored) horse my sister-in-law dubbed "Bon Jovi."

At 8 pm the night we were leaving town, I got a call from Crystal, a vet tech, whose father-in-law was willing to take all four horses. Crystal had come out to see the horses and was impressed with them, considering taking one for her lonely filly. Her father-in-law used to be involved with racehorses, so he knew horses well. He was willing to take all four of the horses in the morning and geld them the following week. Wanting to take no chances that Bon Jovi would end up an orphan (he was also the one most bonded to other horses), I said "yes, you can have all four of them." And that was that. The horses had a good home, as pets for this man's grandchildren to visit.

The heat was oppressive in Camden, with nary a stir in the air that was damp with humidity. The fire ants were downright militants when you came too close to their hills. My brother, Kelly, Steve, and I worked for two days to get the basics covered. We stayed at a bed and breakfast on Broad Street, with a charming practice of delivering oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and ice to the rooms each afternoon.

Camden was never our home, so we felt somewhat estranged from this place we found ourselves in and even our father's home itself. We grew up far away and spent little time with our father when we were growing up.

I was probably the most like my dad out of four kids although I spent a lot of time in denial about that -- because I disagreed with him so often and valued such different things in life.

I value relationships and he had little time for relationships, even for those of us whom he liked. I can be a bit perfectionistic, while he often quipped "there's a reason that pencils come with erasers." We argued about politics, only always. I got mad at him for making stuff up and passing it off as truth. I worried about his health when he worried about getting a deal at Taco Bell. I could go on.

But I also recognize that a lot of my dad lives on in me and in my brother, noticeably at times in the phrases that we picked up from him (calling some of our favorite people "trolls" or sharing that you can "trust everybody but always cut the cards").

I could go on and on, but this is a blog posting and is already quite long. My dad was a mystery in many ways, a funny, brilliant, impatient, impossible, tacky, cartoon-like character of a man.

I miss him, his weird sense of humor, his endless optimism, but also just because he was my dad.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Upside in Being "Outsiders"

I attended the Natural Products Association's big show in Las Vegas (if you've read my prior posts, you'll know, it's not my favorite destination, especially in July). It's the last one I will ever attend.

I sat in on the "town meeting" with the president of the association and the regional leadership. The Q&A was rather pedestrian, with people worried about GMPs (good manufacturing practices) and AERs (adverse event reporting) and general oversight of the industry. The time was dragging and only a few people asked questions at the microphone.

I decided to get up and ask about the association's strategy for supporting Internet business better in the future. The president, David Seckman, stepped up to the mike and glanced my way only once, going on to declare that "those businesses are 'outside' the industry" and are the "bad guys." Say what?!

You'd think that I had asked whether they would condone flashy x-rated advertisements to gin up business. Seckman went on to talk about health issues that get press coverage and "suddenly 8,000 Internet sites are out there promising cures."

I could have taken Seckman on in public, but that would have been silly. It was clear he saw his constituency as being retail store owners, who fretted audibly about Whole Foods and "discounters" who cut into their businesses and didn't seem much interested in understanding their customers better.

I never heard a lot of talk about consumers and nothing about helping more people afford nutritional products. I talked to vendors who could not tell me about their testing programs. And, yet, they're the "insiders" and we're the "outsider."

I patiently waited for Seckman at the end of the town hall meeting. He would not meet my eyes for many, many minutes as he listened to a pitch about a product from one of his "real" constituents.

I shared that I felt he had treated me dismissively and that we work our asses off (no, I'm not going to bleep that one out) to ensure quality for our consumers and at prices that our fixed income folks can afford. I told him we work hard to be productive members of the industry and I was disappointed that he would dismiss us and categorize us as one of the "bad guys."

I also noted that I was only asking about a strategy for the future, one which would help people discern the good from the bad online, similar to what the Better Business Bureau Online (BBBOnline) does for general business. I also asked him to consider that many consumers prefer to buy online and not to pretend Internet sales are outside the industry.

He apologized and said something about the health food stores feeling threatened by Internet stores and seemed genuinely at a loss for what to do with my concern. He took my card and I walked away feeling like he had listened, but wasn't very interested.

While most of the sessions I attended were a bit of a bust, the show itself was not. Stephen attended a very good session on labeling regulations. I met an interesting probiotics researcher and author and attended a good session on metabolic syndrome.

In the end, however, the very real upside in being an outsider is that I need never darken the Sands Convention Center in mid-July again, and that I can content myself to attend integrative medicine conferences, where the conversations have more depth, the people have more open minds, and the venues are far more appealing!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Saving Billions with Supplements and...

It's Monday. I've been flipping through some publications in my reading pile.

The Lewin Group recently released a research study, commissioned by the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance, which described how dietary supplements could not only improve health but also save Americans over $24 billion in healthcare-related costs.

The study only reviewed four supplements -- calcium with vitamin D, folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and lutein with zeaxanthin -- and researchers studied the supplements' effects on certain biological markers and also the cost effects from reduced helath care usage.

Calcium with vitamin D alone was the leader, with estimated savings of $16.1 billion in healthcare costs. Lutein with zeaxanthin was a distant follower at $3.6 billion. Omega-3 fatty acids were close behind at $3.2 billion. And, folic acid came in fourth at an estimated at saving $1.4 billion in healthcare costs.

It's easy for us insiders to roll our eyes and say "of course."

However, this kind of research is important in waging the war of influence -- influencing decision-makers in healthcare and policy makers in elected office.

A friend of mine, Chris Harding, posed an interesting question in his blog (how would you change healthcare for the better). The topic is huge (I could have written a tome) but it's also important.

How do we not see the "other side" as the enemy, as the ones who "don't get it," and start contributing to positive change in the system, building influence along the way.

I keep wondering which entity (whether an insurance company or one of the presidential hopefuls), will lead -- in new ways that actually promote health versus treat disease.

Supplements are an important and fine start --especially given modern stress and diets. However, it will take a lot more than nutrition to fix what's so broken in healthcare. And it's not just the "system" that's broken. It's also (our own) consumer behavior that's broken.

Massive changes are required and that's where homeostasis (the anti-change setting in all of us) and emotions (the "but I don't feel like it" syndrome) get involved.

As a certified coach (leadership coach & integral coach), I have been pondering more and more how to apply the discipline of coaching (evoking positive, meaningful change in others) to the field of nutrition.

Whether it's heart health or weight loss or detoxification, it all takes effort.

Write to me if you have proposals you would like me to consider, or you would like to be in on the discussion, as I consider what to offer in this important area of health. Thanks!