Character is everything, but what is “character”?

Character: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some personor thing.” ( definition)

Several years ago, the junior pastor at a the church I was regularly attending  preached a sermon on our core values, one of them being “Unshakable Character”. The other values included extravagant generousity, audacious faith, and a few others I cannot recall. Unshakable character was the one that stood out for me and over the years I often pondered over, analyzed and studied myself as well as others to understand in depth what unshakable character really is, what separates good character  from bad, what are the black white and grey areas and how does one truly develop such character. The only definite thing I know about good character is that it’s a process and ever progressing.  Even at this point, while I am finally writing the piece my hands have been twitching to write for over a year, the final understanding is somewhat inconclusive.

Two things during the years following that sermon stayed with me for a long time regarding character. They are “Integrity”, and “Christ-likeness”.
INTEGRITY: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. ( definition)
Pretty simple to define this word, and integrity is something you either have or you don’t. It isn’t based on situations, moods or convenience.
Christ-likeness however can get seriously complicated. It’s basically, ‘What would Jesus do, say or think?’ Remember that bracelet in that Madea movie? W.W.J.D. ? Something like that, only, easier said that done.

What got me writing this piece is a conversation with my ex few months ago that left me in complete dismay, disappointment, utter shock, and feeling betrayed and even scared. I’ve known him for 3 years and over the course of 3 years I’ve learned many things about him. To me he was that genuine, sweet, calm and collected, economic and ancient history nut whom I could talk to about anything and everything for up to 7 hours straight. He has never been disrespectful, aggressive or abusive and generally did adorable things like bring me little gifts, go for long walks with me and even play basketball with me at random hours. Our only very obvious mistmatch was that we were unequally yoked. As in I’m a Christian and him, not so much. This naturally lead to differences in beliefs and our over all values, etc.
I had always known that he wanted to be successful and in leadership but the conversation took a turn unexpectedly and ended with him blurting in his drunkenness,“I love you. You make me happy… but I can’t control you…. I don’t care about happiness, I want power and control. That’s my goal…”
My immediate reaction to this was,“Wuthe Hitler!?” Not to mention some things I disregarded in the past came flooding back like the time when he esteemed Hitler above Ghandi. He believed Hitler was interesting and it intrigued him that he was able to make so many followers, while Ghandi was a dictator and he suppressed and oppressed people. I don’t know too much about Ghandi but it occured to me that my beau might have self control issues and/or outright dispise laws, rules, ethics, and moral values. I also contemplated whether it would be worth mentioning that Hitler had psychological issues and eventually took his own life but never quite accomplished his goal of taking over the world. 

For a few weeks that followed I was outraged and sad. My mind was muddled with so many mixed emotions and I couldn’t comprehend who this man was. He had become an entirely different person in an instant and I realized that I might have been clueless for two years and fallen for lies and deceit. His character, the way he carried himself, and who I believed he truly was, was now tainted. I began again to wonder what really makes a good character and Christ-likeness.
Do you recall in elementary school, the question, “Who is your role model?”
I remember writing papers and journals about my role models several times in different grades throughout elementary school. Each time it was a different family member from my Grandma to my uncles and aunts.

When I started to write this piece I tried to close in the box by referring to people who I met in church and were in ministry. This isn’t to put down Christians it Christianity or people in ministry,  because including myself, we’re Christian because we’re all imperfect people who need a perfect God, Christ. But in all honesty some of the least favourable and least Christ-like people I’ve met were Christians in leadership roles at a church. Don’t get me wrong, I have met wonderful Christians also. But for some reason my mind strayed to a key few who have had terrible impacts on my life. The Pastor’s son who spent more time skipping class, getting suspended and drinking behind the school; the visiting pastor from Sri Lanka who was more of a dictator, completely arrogant and ignorant that he’d assumed judgemental imaginaty situations about many youth in the congregation and unjustly, ruthlessly belittled members of the church without so much as knowing their first names. Then there was gossip central. A crowd of four or five girls in leadership roles, who had no better hobby than to bud their noses into and talk behind the backs of others. This group had been the soul cause of 30 something young people leaving that very church. Say what you will about cutting church leaders some slack, but I think if they need that slack they aren’t ready to be in leadership. And once in a blue I get the tendancy to step up and speak on behalf several people in the same scenario, and my message to that visiting pastor was, “try taking a course in interpersonal communications.” Too many innocent and generally kind people have gone home crying because of his ignorance and assumptions. They say “the fish stinks from the head,” and the reminiscing about such people discouraged me very quickly from continuing this piece.
Luckily, just in time I attended the retirement party of one of the best people I have ever had the privelege of knowing.
Mr. Tony D’agostino, alias Dagger, our beloved coach. It was like a 10 year reunion with the most wonderful human beings God had placed on this earth and I felt so nostalgic from being in that atmosphere and around the people. One by one people got up to give their speeches and I kid you not, left me teary eyed at the end of the speech. I’ve been to many weddings and a few funerals but no speech had ever kept my attention nor stirred any emotions in me. Looking around at the calibur of athletes, students, family members and colleagues of Dagger that were present that night made me realize just how amazing a person he truly is.

Some of what was mentioned in the speeches added to my searching of character.  A teacher mentioned, “Tony has always been a spiritual guy.” His son added the thing about respect and his athletes about encouragement.
On my way home I compared my ex’s desire to have power and control vs my coach’s natural ability to lead without ever trying to control or manipulate anyone or anything.

It was character. It was integrity and Christ-likeness. Not to mention he had power, authority and control but through respect and because of who he is.
Was it the inumerable OFSAA medals, the Championships, and titles? Was it the Candian, Interscholastic and Ontario records that were broken by his athletes, the ones he coached and brought up under his watch and mentorship? Was it the number of full scholarships awarded to his athletes and/or the very fact that he produced national and international level athletes? Was it any of the achievements? Heck Yes! But these were only the smaller part of it. They were achievements deserving of respect and recognition. But Dagger was always down to earth, and never egotistic.
Throughout our high school years my teammates and I experienced the best of times and the worst. We came from so many different walks of life and we all had baggage. From eating disorders, annemia, iron dificiencies,  dysfuntional families,  poverty, child abuse, single parent homes to everything in between and all scenarios under heaven were among this crowd. Not to leave out the sitcoms we had among ourselves. And through it all there was Dagger, dragging 20 something of us to and from York U everyday in our big red van, giving us a step above every other school in practice facilities. He took us to many different cities for meets, and to Penn Relays to run against the world’s very best. Opportunities we couldn’t have imagined without Dagger. He listened to our problems, and even helped us through so many. When no one believed in us and when we didn’t believe in ourselves, Dagger didn’t just say with mere words but showed us that we could. He never gave up on any one athlete, whether it be the smallest, or the slowest. He flew down with the athletes to visit their universities and he even brought some of us our first furnitures. Dagger showed a kind of compassion and acceptance that very few people now know how to show. All the while he never expected anything back.
But it wasn’t a fiesta. There were many moments of tough love too. When we were up to no good he made sure to put us in our place.
The times crossed my mind of when I was caught with the wrong crowd that was causing a lot of trouble,  and Dagger just shook his head disappointedly as he walked by me that day. I had never felt so guilty in my life. When I went down to the office that afternoon he said one thing to me that still rings in my every time I consider my friendships today. “If you hang around shit for too long, you’re going to start smelling like it.”
I remember I was a little rebel in high school, pulling stupid stunts deliberately to make my mother upset (she was controlling in the most abusive- power hungry way). But I never dated anyone because Dagger told us all, “No!” When I spoke to my bestfriend about those days, I realized it wasn’t just me, but we all didn’t want to let Dagger down, we wanted to make him proud. I know that anything I achieved  in high school was because I didn’t want to let Dagger down.
The last thing really big thing I remember after a really bad year was the pep talk he gave me. I was a little trouble maker from time to time. The little mischievous side used to stop by sometimes and because I often got away with things by just smiling,  sometimes others were at the mercy of my mischief. By that I mean my bestrfriend and a few of my teammates had to jump in to save my behind or got in trouble by association. We laugh about it all now, but I remember the very last time when Dagger pulled me into the office sat me down, and began a pep talk. He had never ever yelled at me but this time his face was pretty serious. I remember those words to this day, “At some point you gotta be honest with yourself cut the crap,  put all the BS behind you and get your shit together.”
This meant business. I still have days when I have to remind myself of this speech just to get out of bed, get to work or class and keep moving. That’s how powerful Dagger’s words were.
And last but not least, Dagger is definitely a spiritual man. We all do still remember the huddle. While every other team huddled and blurted out some school cheer, we huddled together and prayed. We prayed together before every single race. I had never been on any other sport team where we prayed before the meet or games. But this was the tradition that was passed on for decades on the Ward track team. He is humble. Never once had Dagger belittled, or discouraged any other team, coach or runners. On the contrary he applauded and celebrated every other victory with just as much pride as those of his own athletes. To quote his teacher, “he checked his ego at the entrance.”
Bottom line Dagger is the most Christ like person I ever knew, but he never once talked about God nor preached a sermon. He lived it out in his life through the way he treated others, through his selflessness, compassion and through his dedication to molding these young vulnerable people into the incredible adultd they’ve all turned out to be. He taught us to believe in ourselves and to finish the race, to leave everything on the track.  the team performed because he cared about every individual on the team. Believe it or not, some of his traits stuck and passed onto us as we grew older.

There are no group of people I look up to more than the girls I ran with. The kindest, most selfless and giving ones like Omoye, Leanne and Danielle, or the natural leaders like Lindsay and Cherise. Just like Dagger’s words, Lindsay’s MVP speech taught me time management and study skills, while Cherise’s lecture taught me not to get into destructive relationships with the wrong kind of people.

Ushakable “good” character is one that remains constant and doesn’t conform or sway under pressure. It is selfless, dedicated, disiplined, empathetic, uplifting, humble and shows mercy, forgiveness and unconditional love. Sounds pretty Christ-like to me.


This is where the power is, in unshakable character. And in where  there’s unshakable character you find integrity and unconditional love. This is longest blog I have ever written and definitely the closest and most personal to me. It is a heartfelt thank you to all the coaches, teachers and mentors in this world who are still commited to the children and dedicated to making their paths straight and bringing out all their potentials. You are awesome, and you make the biggest difference. This is also a call to more people in these roles and outside to become these unshakable characters. The world needs you.

R. A. Newton

The last 3 years of my life had shaken me up and the people, one man in particular, had impacted me greatly. This blog isn’t about him. But as I sat in agony and bitterness for days, even months due to the betrayal of one person and the lies he had told to fulfill selfish needs, I began to lose any trust or faith in humanity altogether.
I will definitely write a long, explanatory, analytic and hopefully inspiring blog about this encounter one day. When I am completely healed from the negative encounter, perhaps. But today I want to tell you about something, or rather someone, more positive and contrasting in many ways to that person.

It has been a sulk of a week, a slump of  a month, and a slouch of a year. I finally picked up the phone and texted a friend from my new number to check in on her and to let off the last bit of steam. (Yes, the end of a tragic encounter lead me to behaviours as drastic as changing my number.) If I went into details I’d probably take up a hudreds of pages and months to write it all down. But the effect it had on me was so destructive that I had gone from the sweetheart, to hating people -men especially- in moments. I deemed everyone untrustworthy and I wrote off every family member and friend under the bitterly sworn oath of “I’ll never allow anyone to mistreat me again. I’ll never trust anyone again.”
I had myself convinced that it is afterall a fallen world, and that not one soul could be redeemed. Let’s face it we’ve all been there, rock bottom and nowhere to turn, feeling cornered and dealt a bad hand one too many times, by one too many persons in too short of a season. Well, this was my version of that season. When I woke up this morning, I was regretful of a hundred encounters, a thousand choices and a million mistakes. I gave up on the belief that people could ever be any good, and if they had any kindness in them it was masking some kind of ulterior motive.

Thank God I contacted my friend. She simply brought up a name that resounded heavily and I came to a sudden hault when remembering this person. She told me that my high school track coach had or was retiring and it struck a very tear jerking reaction in me. I remembered everything this great coach had done for my teammates and I. I mean we were a handful bunch, and everyday with us was like a mad sitcom of angry, outrageous teenagers who took everything out on the track, but this man not only put up with us but also taught us everything we ever needed to know in order to survive the bad, push through the hard and speed past the finish line.

He was more than just a coach. He was a mentor, a teacher, and encourager, and at times a father figure. When a teammate’s family couldn’t afford to fly south to visit a  university, he flew down with her. When I first moved out he actually brought me my first furniture. I remember him dragging the other team members along all the way to my new place with boxes of kitchenware and functional, necessary furniture. He taught us that giving up was not an option and he always – every single time – went out of his way to support us and to make sure we were on track somehow.

I automatically began to compare the differences between the two types of people. My coach who gave his life to create incredible athletes and instill discipline, winning habits, mindsets and strategies in them,.versus the man who admitted to me recently that he was selfish and that all he wants is money, power and control over people (including me).
I realized that there will always be the good alongside the bad. That is will “it will rain on the just and the unjust”. That’s beauty and irony of life. Good and evil will always be balanced out, not always evenly, but always coexisting. It’s up to us to decide what we allow to move us, and what we must surpass with indifference.

I had to make a choice tonight to either allow the dogs of this world to dictate my character, define my happiness and determine my perspectives of the world or to allow the gems of the world to become the kind of person I want to portray to the world. The kind of person who creates other gems. There will be Hitlers and Mandelas all around us, but whom will we follow and whom will we imitate?

I was certainly blessed to have been coached by the most praised and celebrated coach in the history of High School track and field. Definitely a man worthy of it, who made a great difference to all of us under his mentorship. And I know today, as I write this post that I want to be able to touch peoples lives and leave imprints of goodness, kindness and encouragement in those I come across just as he did. That’s the kind of personality I’d like to model.

I sat here for awhile reminiscing about one of the most bittersweet memories of track practice. It was a pretty consistent one since I so very much loved the burgers and fries at our school cafe. We would be training at York U and right after my first set of mega twos or endurance work outs (and I mean those 400s and 600s were killer), every so often, I would end up puking. Why? Like I said, I loved my deep fried, extra fatty lunches. But no sooner than I washed my mouth and took a sip of water, Dagger would ask, “Douglas you ok man?”
And I would nod hesitantly, hoping I wouldn’t have to finish that work out. (I still very much loathe the mega twos). But Dagger would ever so casually state,”on the track. You’re next.”
So cheers to Dagger, aka Anthony D’Agostino, for making a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of young athletes. For molding them from children into indredible, talented and aunthentic young men and women who never give up simply because he NEVER LET US GIVE UP.
Thank you Dagger for everything and I wish you an awesome retirement.

R. A. Newton
(Previously known as R. A. Douglas)
August 15, 2015.

The Chase

We hurt the people worth keeping
To chase those better leaving.
In the muddled clutter of struggles-
The money, the study
The honey, the strategy-
The irony,
Is that everything we chase becomes everything we wish we never encountered.
What is life but a ‘vanity of vanities’?

R. A. Newton
August 14, 2015.

White Rose

A dozen white roses
And a million white lies
Is what it took to win her
One simple mistake
And an ugly truth
Is all it took to destroy her.

A china glazed doll
A molded figurine
Life breathing painting she was
One smirk to capture
A sweet word to conquer
And one last lie to bind her.

Beauty they called her
Yes, a beauty she was
In the eyes of a preying beholder
One whisper of his love
One touch of deceit
And a poisonous kiss to defeat her.

R. A. Newton
July 15, 2015.

Soul Man – Chapter 1 : Adonis

Students were finally gathering their belongings and filing out of the classroom. It was a clumsy, unorganized affair. The professor waited patiently as the last student added the final touches to his blueprint. We scurried to our usual seats. All except me. Of course the one baldheaded, overachieving, nerd of student who is always last to leave the class, had to sit in my seat.

Just a little bit annoyed I took the seat right behind him and settled in. He was still there. The clock was ticking and he had a whole two minutes before our professor would throw him and his belongings out with the female professor who, still, waited ever so patiently for this.

He-let’s call him Baldy since I didn’t know his name yet- finally looked up from his work and rolled his blueprint into a gigantic baton. I was still annoyed but also curious to see his face. I just wanted to know who Mr. Seat-stealer was, but so far I could only describe the light gleaming off the back of his head.

Suddenly, while I was still caught up in my mind trying to place face to the head, he stood up. All 6ft 4 inches of him, standing sturdy and tall with a posture of a noble Englishman. He was probably 3 times my size, maybe almost 300lbs of solid muscle and could probably destroy anything that made contact with his steel physique. This was just a side view.

Swinging his backpack over one shoulder he turned his face to me, looking right at me. Or should I say, looking right through me? A piercing intensity in his eyes as we made eye contact, for a brief moment, while piercing but distant, his eyes passed right over me. All the while I could not take my eyes off of him.

I don’t know for sure, but my jaw might have dropped. I might have had my mouth gaping wide open in awe as I shamelessly stared at this handsome man. His eyes, his nose, his jaw line, his lips, his body; not one part of him was out of place.

He carried on without ever realizing my existence that day, and my eyes followed him to the door and beyond without blinking. As he exited the class I heard myself whisper, “Adonis.”

I was shaken to reality as my phone vibrated. “Its so hot when you talk legal,” read the line across the top of my screen. Immediately I brought myself back to planet earth where I normally lived, and reminded myself of the complicated rut of a relationship I was actually in at the time. Shaking my head, I put my phone away and forced my attention toward white board.

My poor professor was straining his voice and rapidly going through slides, teaching and lecturing in vain, to a group of tech-addicts who were all smiling down at their crotches where, I’m hoping, they had their mobile devices. I started paying attention, mostly out of sympathy, but slowly, random thoughts started creeping in and out of my mind.

For the first time ever I looked up at a man and was immediately attracted to him. For the first time ever, I wanted to jump out of my seat to run after a stranger just to get his name. For the first time ever, I “checked out” a man while I was seeing someone else. For the first time since meeting Tubz – that’s what we’re going to call the complicated relationship guy- I actually wanted to break up and move on.

It was one long class to sit through that night, and I don’t remember taking any notes. And Baldy? His name isn’t really Baldy or Adonis, but it was a nice enough name to match his demeanour. I’ll tell you more about him and how we met later. But this story is actually more about falling out of love and healing post break up, than about the gorgeous distraction that first took my mind off of Tubz. Adonis is how I realized that I was in denial of the fact that Tubz and I were hanging by a thread.

R. A. Newton

(previously known as R. A. Douglas)

November 20, 2014.

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He was afraid of her femininity.
He had never met a woman who was beautifully satisfied with being a woman.

The power was hers alone. She was gentle and quiet. It was in her subtle acts, and kind words. It was in her dreamer’s gaze and the intensity of her eyes; her impartial attention, intricate observations, and an understanding he could not bare. She had it all, brought it all and gave it all. She left his mind unwound, heart full and body rejuvenated. An antedote ran through her veins and into his soul, ridding him of the poisons of past loves. And as he held her for a brief moment, he believed it all belonged to him.
But he was a simple minded man and so, he let it all slip away. She became, in a impulsive moment, a passing spring breeze full of floral scents and promise of life but never to be grasped with his hands.


R. A. Newton

(previously known as R. A. Douglas)

March 21, 2015.