Keeping the 5th

In my last post (in addition to announcing my pending retirement from Mayo Clinic as of August 3) I paid tribute to my recently deceased father-in-law, Leonard Wacholz.

Today I want to honor my father and my mother, who are still very much with us and have been my most important sources of support and encouragement for more than 58 years (although Lisa has taken the lead in that regard for the last 40.)

Instead of Taking the 5th (Amendment), today I want to Keep the 5th (Commandment).

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are good occasions that cause us to reflect on our parents and their roles in our lives, and hopefully to spur us to gratitude.

I want to honor Lewis and LaVonne Aase today not because of a Hallmark trigger, but more spontaneously.

Eulogies (literally “good words”) should be spoken about the living, not just those who have finished their races.

Some people would say I’m privileged. I think a better word is blessed. In either case the benefits are undeserved and unearned. I didn’t choose my parents. Saying I’m blessed not only honors my father and mother, but also Our Father who gave me to them and them to me.

Here are just a few of the ways they have been a blessing to me, to my brother Mark and to our extended (and extensive) family.

  • They have demonstrated their love not only in words, but in concrete actions. For example, when Lisa and I moved six times in our first six years of marriage, our parents were there to help us move. Every time. That’s love.
  • They have modeled grace to us. Mark and I have both done things we came to regret. While there was never any question in the moment as to whether Dad and Mom approved, the consequences we experienced were better than we deserved. And when we came to our senses they didn’t hold our previous errors against us. They taught us the Law and showed us the Gospel.
  • Mom particularly modeled practical repentance. When her perfectionist tendencies caused her to occasionally overreact to something the men in her life did, she was quick to apologize and ask our forgiveness. Her willingness to admit mistakes made it easier for us to do the same.
  • They have lived out the practical implications of their Christian faith in their vocations. Mom worked as a geriatric nurse, caring for vulnerable aging patients and residents, and Dad was an elementary school principal whose continuing question in running school programs was, “What’s best for the kids?”
  • Dad has been relentless in developing and pushing helpful innovations. Some have been in his work and in areas of his direct responsibility, such as finding ways for younger students who weren’t keeping up academically to participate in the decision to take another year in a grade so they wouldn’t fall further and further behind. He also co-founded a mathematics challenge program called Math Masters in Austin, Minn. in 1989 that has grown throughout the state and continued to this day. You should read about it.
  • They’re faithful members of their church, contributing their time, talents and treasure and actively caring for members of the church body.
  • They’ve been active in other community improvement efforts. Dad’s been a Guardian ad Litem and mentor, and served Meals on Wheels until he broke his hip a couple of years ago. Even now, at 90, he is writing letters to elected officials suggesting that a program to have police officers visit elementary schools would be a constructive solution to the current societal unrest.

I could go on, and in the series on My Career Journey and My Faith Journey their ongoing influences will be a recurring theme.

Dad and Mom have striven to follow Jesus Christ in their life’s calling, in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit, and bearing His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

They remain an inspiration to me and to many others, and a reminder that we are blessed to be a blessing.

I thank God for them.

SIFI: Lewis Aase

My blog’s new name, when I eventually get to changing it, will be Stuff I Find Interesting (SIFI).

Today I’m using the same acronym but this time it means Someone I Find Inspiring.

Today is my dad’s 89th birthday.

Lewis Aase is a big reason for what both my brother Mark and I are today.

Along with our mom, LaVonne, Dad embodies love as described in 1 Corinthians 13: he’s patient, kind, long-suffering and isn’t envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable or resentful.

Probably most importantly, he’s always been a big believer in us and has supported us in exploring and developing our strengths and interests.

And sometimes even when they weren’t really strengths, he still encouraged us to try. For example, I remember Dad telling me maybe I would be good at longer distance running. Looking back, that was probably a nice way of saying I wasn’t a fast sprinter.

Which, of course, was true.

When we were young, Dad regularly took us to different high school sporting events, so we could see what interested us.

He and Mom also gave us plenty of unstructured play time with the neighbor kids, too. I guess it was a different time, but I think that’s something lots of kids miss today, as Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have noted.

Dad has shown us the value of persistence and consistency. He and Mom moved to Austin, Minn. 55 years ago, and they’ve just faithfully lived and served together.

I don’t remember him ever missing one of my junior high or high school basketball games, home or away. I’m sure he and Mom made all of Mark’s football games, too.

Mark and I have each gone through rough patches in our lives, and Dad and Mom were always there to support us. Not in a way that kept us from developing our own strength by working through the issues, but one that helped to look out for those who were depending on us.

Dad has taught us so much.

He’s great at just figuring out how to fix things around the house. Mark got all of that practical home repair interest and ability; it’s just not my gift. My expression of Dad’s inventiveness was directed more to creative use of computers and digital tools.

In his working years, Dad was an elementary school principal, and he never let “the way things are” keep him from exploring what could be, especially if it would make life better for kids.

  • He invented creative ways to help those who were struggling to have longer to catch up without the social stigma of being “held back.”
  • He led, with some like-minded conspirators, creation of the Math Masters program, a team-based math competition for 5th and 6th grade students in Minnesota, which has spread throughout the state and been sustained for more than 25 years.
  • After he retired, he continued his service as a member of the Austin school board.

I have fond memories of going with him to his school on Saturday mornings, where he would work in the office catching up on paperwork, while I got to shoot baskets in the gym.

In addition to serving through his work, Dad also has been active in the church and community. He’s been on the advisory board of the Salvation Army and served Meals on Wheels until a broken hip last year caused his retirement.

When I got the crazy idea to run for state representative at age 21, Dad and Mom were totally supportive. He led the lawn sign campaign. They’ve stayed active as political volunteers for 35 years.

Mark and I have been blessed that we could raise our kids in our hometown, and that they could grow up near our parents. As they did when we were in school, Mom and Dad made almost every one of their grandchildren’s sporting events, concerts or plays.

Now they’re attending activities of their great-grandchildren.

As he is turning 89 today, Dad isn’t quite as physically agile as he once was, but he’s mentally sharp and engaged as ever.

And that’s why I still find him inspiring.

He’s a big part of the reason why, at age 56, I’m going back to school to get an MBA. Realizing how much he has contributed in even just the last 32 years, I feel I should be hitting the accelerator, not the clutch.

None of us knows how long we have to live, but we should make the most of the time we’re given.

That’s also why I’m intensely interested in learning what I can do to make my remaining years as healthy and vital as Dad’s have been.

I’ll return to that story tomorrow.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Dad and MacGyver

Millions of people know the character Richard Dean Anderson (a Minnesota boy, by the way) played on TV: MacGyver. So when I did a presentation in Chicago called, “The $4-a-week online newsroom (and other MacGyver tips)” people immediate “got” what it was about.

Although he is highly regarded in our community, relatively fewer people know my dad, Lewis Aase. That’s a pity, and it’s a situation I hope to rectify in some small measure through this post.



I wasn’t a huge MacGyver fan, in part because it began its run a year after Lisa and I were married, when we had four kids in six years. I didn’t have a lot of time for TV.

But another reason why I think it wasn’t “must-see TV” for me was that I didn’t think what he was doing was all that unusual. I grew up seeing my dad do things like that all the time. Dad never (to my knowledge, at least) used his problem-solving skills in death-defying situations, but he was (and still is) an amateur expert.

By “amateur expert” I mean someone who doesn’t have formal training, and perhaps doesn’t do things exactly like the professionals. But whether it was putting in a new shower by laying cement blocks in our basement (and eventually finishing it with ceramic tile) or fixing plumbing, installing light fixtures, laying carpet or linoleum (this was the 70s, remember!) or innumerable other projects, Dad just always seemed to figure it out.

Dad has had a strong influence on both of his sons, giving us a common-sense, no-nonsense approach to problem solving, as well as a can-do spirit. My brother Mark (of whom I’m really proud), got Dad’s home remodeling skills. In fact, they flipped a house together last year; maybe not as quickly as they would have liked, but they worked through everything.

I got more of Mom’s academic inclinations, so I’m pretty limited in use of Tim Allen-style power tools. The power tools I use instead are those designed for communication, such as Twitter, blogs, YouTube and everything else we cover in the SMUG curriculum.

Dad being a professional educator (he was an elementary school principal) gave me an interest in teaching. He also was an innovator who developed many new approaches and programs to better serve kids and help them learn. He didn’t just think about how things should change: he made change happen.

Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, Outliers, highlights two reasons why I’m thankful to God for my dad and mom. First, Gladwell shows that so-called accidents of birth play a huge role in individuals’ success. For example, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were born at just the right time and place to become software tycoons. But Gladwell’s other point is that this favorable environment needs to be accompanied by 10,000 hours of skill development to become world-class in anything. No one becomes successful without hard work…and lots of it.

That’s why I have been triply blessed. My dad and mom not only provided me the advantages of education and a spirit of inquisitiveness, but also the example of what Dad called “stick-to-it-iveness.” I have many memories of Dad just continuing to methodically work through problems until they were solved, or tasks (like cleaning the garage) until they were finished. And most importantly, they raised and instructed Mark and me in the Christian faith.

The life lessons continue to this day. Dad is now 78, but here is his current remodeling project, tearing a hole in the wall to create a main floor laundry room so Mom doesn’t have to go up and down the stairs so much with her arthritic hip.


And having my kids get to spend time with their grandparents (including working with them in the garden) is a true joy. Here’s my youngest, John, out with his grandpa yesterday:


Being born and raised in the land of MacGyver to parents who continue to exemplify that can-do spirit (as well as the Spirit) is cause for great gratitude on Father’s Day.