A Letter To The TLH’s

Yesterday was a rainy Memorial Day in Dallas, Texas.  As I watched a TV marathon of “Drunk History” on Comedy Central, several events happened:

1.  My sister-in-law posted a beautiful pic of my brother holding their oldest daughter, Kenedi, honoring him and showing that he is missed (Thank you for doing that, Michelle).

2.  I spoke to my sister as she and her family celebrates 14 years of marriage

3.  My mom is with all of her siblings in Austin/San Antonio and I called to check on her…

After these things, I realized we are moving on with life; not saying we have forgotten about the two eldest men in our family, we actually live for them.  There are literally different stages of morning, and we as a family, though you both are thought of and missed daily, are attempting to have productive lives.

I reflected on how I need to give both my dad and brother an update on how we are doing here on Earth.  A lot has happened since 2007; emotions, events…. life has transformed how we (really I) interact with others, how I view myself, and my decisions that affects my future.  Below are my letters to both TLH Sr. and TLH Jr.

HoustonMemorial1

Hey Tommy,

I know we didn’t get to interact much as we are 15 years apart, and it seemed like we couldn’t really form a close relationship, but I genuinely miss you.   It’s apparent you received a lot of our gifts:  You were intellectually smarter than us, had more physical attributes, yet was still a humble, personable person.  The more I see people who know you, the more I admire who you were to family and friends.

Your daughters, Kenedi and Trinit, are beautiful, smart young ladies.  Michelle is doing a great job making sure they are loved and know about you.  I really appreciate her for that.

I’ve really received clarity on your “entrepreneurial” spirit the last several years.  I remember growing up hearing everything you were trying to sell; whether it was Prepaid Legal, Kirby vacuum Cleaners, ACN, Telephones… you name it, you sold it, lol.  I also remember seeing the frustration of dad as you pitched yet another great idea to get rich.  Initially, I didn’t like this; which lead me to avoid sales in my professional life; a mindset that’s been holding me back.  I also had an immature view of dad’s rationale; how you were using his contacts to “make money”.  As I grow older, I realize that wasn’t the source of dad’s frustration; dad saw how smart you were, sees how you can sell anything that you can put your hands on, and how persistent you are in a debate/conversation when you believe in something.  The dissonance occurred because of lack of knowledge transfer between you two (which is rampant across Black America-and is another blog entry) and his vision for you to pick up his businesses to make successful (which he understood was the true way of accumulating wealth, but situations prevented him from having that for you, which caused him to be more frustrated).

What I’m saying Tommy is that I misunderstood you; I didn’t take time to get to know you and I regret that.  If I can turn back the hands of time I’d be more receptive to our conversations and try to relate to you so we can both benefit from our strengths…  I love you bro.

Pops,

Yo Yo Homie…  I missed saying that to you; Nat and I are continuing the salutations (and mom is still frustrated that we don’t speak English to each other) but it’s not the same as you created/perfected the saying.  You are missed, both within our family and in the business community.

On the family front, Natalie and Irby are celebrating 14 years of marriage and your twin, Trey Hunter, is becoming more like you every day.  They also have another boy, Thomas Logan Hunter, who they named and have the same initials to honor both you and Tommy.  He’s a great musician who definitely likes to “eat cheese” with everyone he interacts with.  No, I’m not married yet, nor am I close, lol, but I’m not worried, in due time.  I’ve received my MBA and had a big graduation party- the time when you would probably approve of one since this academic achievement puts me at the same level with the rest of my siblings, lol (just kidding).  In all honesty, graduate school helped me grow as a man.

Mom says I’m starting to do/say some of the same things you did and fears it’s because I’m trying to emulate you.  That’s not it at all; I’m actually starting to understand what you went through as an entrepreneur (the good and the bad), at the Black Chamber, and with the city in general.  You taught me to care about other people, but you also said be successful first; I didn’t realize trying to achieve both can be SO hard; you reactions/decisions you made were a direct result of your training in business, your care for an oppressed community, the “cards” you were dealt with, and your vision for a better tomorrow.  As I take that journey, your decisions start to make sense to me and I see how you became frustrated, as society was not on the same page as you in terms of logical approaches to help ALL have the ability to succeed in business/life.  I really need your guidance now…

In closing, I love you both… and miss you dearly.  When you both died, I was in a very selfish stage in my life and regretted not being at the right place at the right time.  As I live, however, I’m starting to realize past experiences and emotions (both positive and negative) can enhance your decision making for tomorrow.  I’m no longer living in regret, but want to use my energy to make my world (and those who are in it) a better place.

Until we meet again,

Matthew Louis Houston (The caboose)

News clip: WFAA Daybreak: 4-20-12

My Little, Da’Lon Reynolds, and I were on WFAA TV (Channel 8 in Dallas) for a news segment promoting Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).  BBBS is a great organization to join!

WFAA Ch. 8 Daybreak

How My Family Made An Impact On My Life: Dad’s Domino Games…

“Families are the compass that guide us.  They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.”
-Brad Henry
I want to continue on my conversation on how my family impacted my life.  Please understand, my family is not exclusive to people I am related to by blood.  They are childhood friends, teachers, and mentors who accept me for who I am and teach me a great deal about life (directly and indirectly).
In the next few blogs I will talk about people my family exposed me to who influenced me.  I will not specify names because there are SO many people who I admire, and if I forget some names I will regret it.  I do want to speak generally and provide thematic messages on the importance of surrounding yourself with high quality people.
One thing I forgot to mention when discussing my immediate family was their talent for exposing me to great people.  My father, mother, brother, and sister had a network of people around me to teach me mostly good, exposed me occasionally to bad, but definitely entertained me to the fullest.
Walk with Kings, but don’t lose the common touch
One of my father’s favorite pastime was playing dominoes.  I remember him playing at least twice a week for hours each meeting with the same 3 men.  These men were diplomats, nor politicians, they were people he trust.  Initially, it didn’t make sense for my dad to “associate” with these blue collar workers.  My father was a banker, entrepreneur, and leader of the largest black chamber in the country.  Why would he spend most of his recreational time with people “below him”.  Watching them play dominoes and occasionally running an errand for them, I was able to socialize and learn from everyone at the table.  I started getting tips on how I maintain my car, and the best method in keeping a great lawn.  Most importantly, witnessed how 4 different types of black men can interact and work as a team.  Even though they had different education levels, different professions, even different socioeconomic statuses, they had one thing in common:  They are black men that was surviving a world I had not experienced yet.  As I grow older, I began to realize a very important lesson he was teaching me: give all people the same respect.  Every person can teach you a lesson, the question is will you learn and apply it.
It takes a group of diverse people to make a society thrive, and it takes a functioning community to prosper.  In order to fulfill many of my goals, it requires me to talk, relate, and understand different types of people.  It would be total suicide if I believed I was better than someone because of what little resources I have.
People are people are people.  No person is better or worse than the other:  we are just different.  Let’s appreciate our diversity and learn from one another so we can be the best we can be.

How My Family Impacts My Life, Part 1

After days of thinking, I’ve decided to write about a group of people that have made the most impact of my life:  mi familia (Thanks Cedric Lyons).  In later blogs, I will write in more detail about my family,  and will discuss my friends, mentors, and people I’ve encountered in life that have influenced my philosophy, my ideology, and have stretched my mind to levels I’ve never thought can imagine.  I am a fortunate man, but I must give you a snap-shot about 4 people who I lived with most of my life:  Thomas Lee Houston Sr. (Dad), Dorothy Faye McDowell Houston (Mom), Thomas Houston Jr. (Brother), and Natalie Lynn Houston Hunter (Sister).

Dad (My example)

Outside the Russell Glen Residence, Tom Houston was a very influential banker, businessman, and entrepreneur in the Dallas community.  He was one of the first black corporate bankers in the city, developed businesses, and led the oldest and largest black chamber in the country.  But inside the house, Dad was a relaxed, domino-playing, v-neck and boxer wearing patriarch who enjoyed family trips to Elgin for hot sausage and time with his friends.   Honestly, I didn’t know the depth of the “legend” of Thomas L. Houston until after college when I was being acclimated to the “real world”.  Initially, I didn’t understand why he hid that from me.  I appreciate it now…  He wanted me to be my own man.  He wanted to make sure I wasn’t pressured in going into his shadow (whether it’s basking in his glory or making the same mistakes he made).  He wanted to make sure I understand that your home life needs to be your safe haven from what you experience in the outside world.  I respect that, and will use that as an example now in my professional life and when I start my own family.  Thanks Pops.

Mom (The Nurturer)

Everywhere I go, I always hear good things about my mother; in fact, I don’t think she has ever made genuine enemies.  She’s neither a gentle woman, nor one that’s quiet… just authentic.  She has an honest, nurturing aura to her that, regardless what she says and how she says it (the good, bad, or ugly), you can’t despise or hate her.  Mom has your best intentions at heart.  It was evident when she helped me sell candy at her own rival high school to pay for my band uniform or when she’s tired but still helps my sister by taking care of her grandsons.  She is smart, clever, witty, and beautiful.  She’s diverse:  one of the best cooks I’ve EVER met, loves to joke around, but at the same time would love to dress up and go to a formal function.  She’s the total package, and I’m fortunate to have her as a guide on my quest for my wife.

Tommy (Mr. Persistent)

Tommy was fifteen years older than I (yes, I was my parent’s “blessing”).  Honestly, I didn’t know him much, but the things I remember left lasting impressions.  In my mind my father and brother had the same intensity (stubbornness), so when there was conflict, there was no resolution.  My brother had a lot of my mom’s qualities: easy to talk to, compassionate, gentle (despite his 6’4’’ 350+pound frame).  He loved people:  he had a warm smile and cared for the welfare of people he was close to and even strangers.  He was also VERY PERSISTENT…  He sold everything.  Pre-paid Legal, Kirby, ACN, Olive Leaf Oil Extract, property, baseball cards, Noni Juice.  Every Multi-level marketing plan that was in existence, Tommy sold (or tried to sell).  Lastly, I feel that Tommy was misunderstood in our family.  He was the emotional being in the house.  He was very relational, wanted to be appreciated, and wanted to always impart his wisdom (or his ideology) on us.  We as Houstons typically don’t operate like that.  In hindsight, I (we) could have done more to show we cared.  I regret I didn’t spend the time I could have with him before he died.   I love and miss him very much….

Nat (My Swag lifesaver)

My older sister is the reason why you see the Matt Houston brand today.  After graduating college, she moved back home and changed my life.  I was in middle school (an awkward time for me) and she taught me the importance having my belt match my shoes (outside of a suit).  This changed my life.  She ignited a fire in me that made me question what I used to wear, what I want to wear, and how I carry myself.  She didn’t just give me fashion conscience, but she gave me confidence.  I changed from a zero to a hero in the matter of months! (a little exaggeration).  Seriously, Natalie showed me the importance of appearance and how people always observe how you carry yourself.  Most importantly, Natalie taught me the importance of discipline.  She is the most regimented person I know.  Before there was surgery or lap band, she lost tons of pounds through hard work, healthy eating, and exercising.  She’s amazing.  She is also a phenomenal model as I’m on my search for my life mate.  She is a professional, yet takes care of her husband and two very active sons.  She’s a great package and I’m lucky to have her as my big sister.

These four people molded me into the man I am today.  There is not a day when I don’t appreciate them.  Thank you and I love you very much.  I’m blessed to be your son and your brother.

Nurturing Kids: Adult’s most important job…

This weekend, I paid a visit to my mom.  She was keeping her grandsons, my nephews; for the night and I thought it would be a good time to catch up with her and to see these two vibrant, VERY ACTIVE, intelligent young men.  As we were all watching Scooby-Do the Movie, I realized the importance of me being in their lives.  After the movie, my mom and I bathed them and got them ready for bed.  Before we turned the lights off, however, we showed them a picture collage of our family and friends.  They ate it up!  They love to see their mom and dad, photos of themselves, of my father and brother, and people they do and don’t recognize.  When we stopped, they were sad.  Trey and Logan wanted more, wanted to learn more about their family, wanted to see themselves one more time on the electric picture frame.

It was then I realized something.  It was a strange feeling.  They don’t need me to be their father as I thought initially… they have one in my brother-in-law.  They don’t need me to support them financially, either.  They just need me to be there; a black man who is driven, intelligent, who wants to succeed professionally, and love his family unconditionally.  What’s funny is that my sister Natalie has been asking me (bugging) to be in their lives more.  Why?  I’m not a father…  I don’t even know how to change a diaper.  I see them enough…  Whenever I’m on the phone with Nat I make sure you tell them I love them and I try to see them at every possible function, but I never fully understood why she thought I wasn’t spending enough time with them.

The fact is kids are not like adults.  They need nurturing.  They are very observant, and absorb everything in their environment.  They don’t fully understand when their mom or dad is away because they need to work to pay the bills and support their lifestyle; they just know they don’t see them, and they are sad.  They want a sense of order and community; two qualities that will help them excel as adults.  Just as Marian Wright Edelman said in her book, “The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small”, that children are our future.  We need to make sure they are fed physically, socially, spiritually, and academically.

To Kenedi, Triniti, Trey, and Thomas Logan: I love you all and I will try my best to be the Uncle Matt you deserve, for I want you to succeed in life.

I’m Turning Into a Grumpy Old Man…

This Monday, I participated in a career day at a neighborhood middle school.  There I spoke to a number of eight-graders about where I’m from, my education background, what I do now, but most importantly, my words of wisdom on how to be successful in life:  Dream Big, Work Hard, and Give Back.  As each 20-minute presentation progressed, I notice that my body language and tone to the students became increasing more intense:  I’m turning into that old man who every kid makes fun of behind his back.

Initially, I was very energetic and light with my approach.  This wasn’t my first career day and I love doing this and students are normally very receptive.  However, this time was different.  The students were still students; there was nothing different about career day program.  There was a difference in me.  For the first time, I was interacting with kids that directly affect me: these students were in my neighborhood.  These kids directly affect the future of where I live.  Knowing that, I started acting different.

All of a sudden I had a duty, not option, to excel.  I can’t just entertain these students; I need to make sure I equip them with as much information in 15-20 minutes as possible so they can be successful in life!!!  I need, through osmosis, tell them my life’s struggles, my mistakes, my successes, the struggles of Black America, the responsibility of next generation of leaders, what schools they need to go to, what organizations to join, what they need to do in order to be great people.  The students were puzzled.  “Why is Mr. Matt so intense?”

It was then that I understood the plight of the Grumpy Old Man.  GOMs see something in us we don’t:  they see our potential, and how we are not maximizing it.  They see all of their mistakes and don’t want the younger generation to fall into the same traps.  They are crying out to us, in their own intense, senile way.

How can we as a society successfully marriage the relationship between the”Young Bucks” and the GOMs?  I have a theory:  If there are more people advocating positive messages to the community, a small  population won’t feel the need to overwhelm themselves with the burden to tell everyone what to do, minimizing stress and eliminating the “grumpiness” factor.  We, as adults (both young and old), can do that by mentoring a young person, joining organizations (like Big Brothers/Big Sisters), and showing our young people what it means to be a positive contribution to society.

“If you continually give, you will continually have.”

The Importance of Family

On yesterday, I had a spontaneous BBQ at my house where my family and friends ate, fellowshipped, and watched the NBA basketball game.  It was a nice event.  Though it was last minute, and I had work to do, we were able to cook some food, people chipped in and brought sides and we had a great time.  It was very relaxing.  I felt complete.  I’ve been doing a lot with work and organizations I’m a part of, so I haven’t been focusing on my personal life lately.  As I reflect on yesterday, I thought of an important lesson, particularly to the “busy” people:  No matter how successful you are professionally or civically, you have to take time out to spend time and enjoy your family.

“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing.”- unknown

Throughout my adult live, my goal has been to impact every person that I come in contact with and to change the World to make it a better place.  While this aim is lofty, and demands a lot of my time, energy, and resources, I’ve showed some progress.  I’m a part of a company whose mission is to motive and inspire children to achieve excellence academically, I’m affiliated with organizations that, from their missions, focuses on the advancement of people socially, economically, and spiritually; and within those organizations, I’m blessed that the members recognize me as a leader, which allows me to move into leadership positions.  With all of this, I forgot to focus on my family.  I’m missing out on God’s greatest blessing.

I often assume my family will be there.  That they don’t need me.  That they understand what I’m doing and will support me, even if I don’t support them and their efforts.  That’s not the right thing to do.  I have two nieces and nephews, and my goal is to illustrate a strong, caring, successful man in their lives.  It can be gone in numerous ways:  giving them money, gifts, tickets, but the most impactful way is to show them I care by being in their lives.  I want my nephews to see me at their soccer/football games.  I want my nieces to see me at their recitals.  Kids don’t care about money… they care about love and support.

How can I do this?  What can I (we) do in order to improve our families?  I admit I am a hypocrite.  I realize I need to spend more time my family (particularly with my nieces and nephews) so they can understand their Uncle Matt.  When this happens, the Houston and Hunter family will grow even stronger because positive adults are impacting America’s future.  The same applies to our society.  We need spend more positive time with our young people.  Our youth, though rebellious, wants direction and boundaries (boundaries is the only way we tell someone is defiant…).  Let’s be that positive role model for them.  Sure the road is not easy, but it’s well worth it.