Happy Birthday to the Boy who wasn’t “College Material”

Do you have a brother who means the world to you? I have 3, but today I’d like you to meet Lenis Edward Whalen—or Doc, as he’s called. He’s the doctor you’ll meet at Whalen Chiropractic in Zephyrhills, Florida.  At one time, Dad didn’t think Len or I were “college material,” so the day Len became a doctor (captured with Gram in this picture) was a proud day for everyone in our family.

Len is stepping into a new decade, so I asked him the same questions we asked in my book You are the Perfect Age: Celebrate Your Life. Here we go!

  1. What have you learned so far? 

The most important thing I’ve learned in life is that people need to find their true vocation. If they can do that, no matter how old or young, they can have a wonderful rewarding life. Every day in itself is an adventure if you’re living life to its fullest. Every day isn’t going to be a great day, but overall you’ll enjoy your life. So many people don’t find that. When I ask people, “Would you go to work tomorrow if you didn’t get paid?†most people say,”No.” I’d say, “Yes, I’d come in for work.” I love what I do. 

Another thing is that people are always searching for fame and legacy. Shelley wrote a poem about this called “Ozymandias.” The poem is about this King from 2,500 years ago who built himself a huge statue. But over years, it fell into disrepair and was out in the desert shattered. So nothing really ever lasts. 

Emily Dickinson had a poem that talks about fame. Everybody would like it, but when it comes down to it, there are great things about fame and there are terrible things about fame. And then it goes away. One night we were at Disney looking at the Christmas lights. It was time to go home and the lights flashed. We asked the guy who worked there what was happening. He said, “You’d better get out of here. Robin Williams is here with his family to see the lights.” And I thought how sad that was because the best part of seeing the lights is to experience it with the crowd.

When I tell the kids that come in my office, I ask, “Have you ever heard of Cliff Edwards?†And they always say no. And I say, “He was Mr. Ukulele. He did Singing in the Rain, and I guarantee, you know who he is.†And then I say, “He was an alcoholic, had three or four wives, and lost all of his money by the time he died. They sold his body to USC to pay his debts. And when they heard about it, Disney was instrumental in getting him buried because Cliff Edwards is the person who wrote When You Wish Upon a Star. And everyone knows that song. So fame is fleeting. 

Another thing I’ve learned over the years is to hold your tongue until you get all the facts on something. You know the saying “Don’t believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see.†That’s true because you don’t know all the circumstances surrounding someone’s actions, or whatever you think they’re doing wrong. But anyway, just hold your tongue and don’t judge until after all the facts are in, and then you can make a decision.

Some people have knowledge and expertise and take it out—like a gold pocket watch, just to show people they have the pocket watch. They take it out for show. Better to take it out only when you need it to tell the time, but not to brag. You run into a lot of people who are braggadocios. Stay humble. 

I think a person should have a great quest for lifelong learning. Doctor Father Hesburgh from Notre Dame and two other heads of universities wrote a book about lifelong learning and how important it is after you get your degree. It’s all about what you learn after then that counts. And so lifelong learning should be important the rest of your life. I’ve always searched for knowledge.

2. How do you feel about your age as you turn a new decade?

You know, I don’t feel 70. I feel 50. Well, sometimes I feel 90—but most of the time I feel like I’m younger mentally and emotionally. I’ve known people who come into my office who were 50, but they seemed like they were going on 90; and people who were 90 years old but seemed more like 50. It’s their attitude. So I don’t judge myself by my age. I’ve  slowed down—absolutely. But not to the point I don’t want to come into the office. With each year that passes I try to do what Jim Valvano said at the beginning of a speech he gave.

He was dying of cancer with three or four months to live. His advice was to do three things every day. He said if you laughed every day, if you think every day, if you have your emotions moved—either happy or sad—every day, then that’s a great day.

If you do that every day, every month and every year, what a good life you’d have. So I try to laugh every day and I try to think and to learn something every day. I try to have my emotions moved one way or the other and it really does make your life so much more enhanced.

Just today, a lady told me about the word “stripe,†as it pertains to a will. Let’s say parents are writing their will and want to give their four kids equal shares of their property. But if one of them dies, a stripe is a person who will get the money in place of the person who died. I didn’t know that stripe is a legal term and I told her, “You taught me something today I didn’t know.†So it’s a good day when I learn something new.  

 3. How are you going to celebrate your birthday?

I’ll probably go to Disney World ‘cause it should be open by then. If it is, I’ll do that. Or I’ll fly up to the Biltmore Estates. I wanted to get back there because the first time I went there was with my friend Nina. We joked about getting around there because our gluteus muscles were so big—not tight, just big. We slipped through this legends area. So, we were joking that if she could get through it, I could get through it. I want to go back there as a kind of memorial to her because she died a year ago. I’ll go to one of those two places. So I just haven’t decided. 

4. What are your plans for the future?

My plan for the future is to keep working as long as I can. I want to work for another 10 to 15 years.  My mentor in the chiropractic school worked until he was 85. So I have 15 more years to go—as  long as my body holds up and I get in here. On July 1,1987 I came to this office here in Zephyrhills, Florida. I’ve been in this same office, the same place for 33 years. When people ask me when I’m going to retire, I say, “When I cannot get into the office or people quit coming.†People still keep coming every day.

I want to keep learning. Recently I’ve been learning more about the different kinds of headaches, what causes them and where they come from. I’m also learning different orthopedic tests to determine what’s wrong with a torn rotator cuff, or if it’s strained or whatever—same thing with the hips and low back carpal tunnel. I want to grow in my career because you never know it all. The more you study, the more you realize how much you don’t know. I have to be reading or studying something every day.  Some days I can’t turn it off, but other times I can go home and crash on the couch and watch Sherlock movies.

I’d like to encourage young people to be curious. When the kids come in for sports physicals I always have them look at my huge poster of The Mona Lisa that hangs on my door. I ask them four or five questions about it and give them a dollar for each correct answer. The questions might be: “What’s the name of this picture?” ” Who painted it?” ” What city is it located in?” “Which museum is it in?” ” If you wanted to buy it, according to the experts, how much money would you have to have?”

Most kids get two or three right. I do it because it’s a way to encourage education. I also tell them, “Now if you ever go to see this painting in the Louvre, you’ll see that it’s a tiny little picture. If you turn around and look at the opposite wall, there’s another painting that’s 30 feet by 20 feet called The Wedding of Canaan, which is unbelievable. So if you ever go there, make sure you see it as well.”

I also keep thinking of different practical jokes and look for humor. [A hefty book could be written about Len’s practical jokes and family assignments.] You can’t live without humor!  I’m going to continue to work with the clocks too, and do what comes every day. Every day is different, you know. I will keep make things and doing things for people that will make them feel good.

As far as travel, it all depends if I meet the right person. I definitely want to go back to the Biltmore again. My sister Karen and I talked about going to Augusta for the Masters again this fall, because it’s going to be so different than whenever we’ve been there before. I just love Augusta and the Biltmore—and Disney, of course. Otherwise I don’t have any plans to travel out of the country.

I consider myself a happy person. Absolutely. Dad used to say, “You gotta be happy with the person you see in the mirror.†And I do. I do consider myself really happy. The only thing missing out of my life is a partner. That’s the only thing I wish I had. If I find somebody that will be okay and if I don’t, that’s okay too. But I feel really fortunate, really happy. Sometimes when I get that clarity and I see something, I well up with that—that ecstasy inside myself, where everything is wonderful.

5. What do you worry about?

Sometimes I think about what I would do if I couldn’t practice. That’s probably number one. But there’s always teaching or writing. There’s all different avenues, but I’m just fortunate and there’s different techniques I could use that wouldn’t take a lot of physical strength and prowess. But that’s probably the only worry; otherwise I don’t have a lot of worries. I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s—of course it doesn’t really run in our family. But I don’t want to be a burden on somebody. Otherwise that’s it. 

I’m not worried about who will get elected in the fall. The country seems to survive no matter who’s in trying to carve it up; whether it’s the Democrats or Republicans, we’re still strong enough to survive. We’ve survived 200 years. There are good people everywhere and the bad stuff they’re putting on the TV is so minimal. It’s interesting, but it’s not indicative of everyone. 


Len and I go way back and I’m proud of the man he is today. One day (a very long time ago) I told him, “You better be nice to me today because tomorrow I’ll be going to kindergarten and I won’t be around much anymore.â€

Little did we know that we would both go to college, and share a mobile home in Winona, Minnesota. We’d never guess that he’d be my “Man of Honor†at my second wedding. It’s been an adventure to know him as a brother. Here’s wishing Doc Whalen a wonderful birthday and 15 more years (at least) of work, laughter and his continuous quest for knowledge.

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