Category Archives: Memoir

My Family at 50

My family turned 50 this past Saturday. My family is decidedly middle aged. My family threw a party and it was wonderful. There were husbands and wives and kids and parents and grandparents and all in all everything, it must be said, is wonderful.

Insofar as wonderful can ever be. Which, when looked at while trapped in a moment can be pretty great. On those moments when you can exist inside the amber, locked in the now with the wonderful thing, well, that’s just the meaning of life kind of blissfulness. That’s what this weekend was.

When I have the chance to see my kids with my parents, relishing their attention, showing off and sharing their pride with them, I get disoriented in a euphoric way. I get trapped looking at the past and the future in the same moment, at the same spot and I’m the fulcrum from which those states swing for a moment. It’s not a feeling that overwhelms or insists upon itself, it just takes over the air and settles in my nervous system. Everything coalesces and this distracted and distorted mass of confusion on which we work so hard to impose order on a day to day basis suddenly steps back and in it’s place is a harmonic convergence of a properly functioning human condition and purpose. Understanding settles in precisely my spot. I feel it viscerally and experience it in the moment, but I don’t recognize it until a beat after it’s stepped aside or moved to another host. Whatever it is, I would never pass up the opportunity.

We arrived late Friday night. The party wasn’t until Saturday afternoon. The kids had been in the car for most of the past seven hours and there wasn’t much that would keep them from bouncing off the walls, regardless of the hour. After some time to bounce and play, jump on beds and generally experience the child version of heaven that is a hotel room, we wound it down. Took a bit, even as we approached midnight. Now we aren’t good at the 7 or even 8 o’clock bedtime we hear so much about from other parents, but midnight is a bit crazy, even for us.

Shouldn’t surprise me though. I’m from a family of night owls and I’m in competition with my mom for the mightiest of the bunch. In fact my parents were just returning from Buffalo where they’d been picking up my older brother from the airport. I never see him and and since we’re all night owls, all jacked up on caffeine, after a few texts we decided it would be nice for me to drive five minutes down the road for us to all catch up for a nightcap of greetings. I had no idea I was going to get such a shot behind the scenes of the anniversary.

Shortly after arriving it struck midnight and my father wished my mother a happy anniversary. She noted the small gifts on the table and said she’d go get hers.

‘Tomorrow’s gonna be a big day, lot to do. I’d rather have this now.’ Said my dad.

The exchange was beautiful, the cards were warm and kind and loving. Filled with the evidence of the love that propelled them decades ago. The best part for me, for one who is only now getting a perspective on the relationship at the center of our family that sees them as real people, was my mother, reading a list of 50 things she loved about my dad. Things as simple as how he walks and as profound as how he cared for her, specifically, at the most needed times. It was profound for me.

I don’t know that I’ll ever fully grasp who these people were and how they did what they did. In fact for the first half of my life I’d have filtered all of it through the selfish, myopic lense that to some degree a child can’t avoid. But sitting there, listening to a moving and seemingly neverending list of personal sacrifice and of real, action filled evidence of love, I marveled. These people are giants. They are evidence that love is a bottomless pit, capable of sustaining itself in perpetuity if it is given generously, endlessly, always. I will treasure this small memory, hold close to my heart this profound lesson, forever.

The next day life returned to normal early. Charlie woke up with a fever of 103 and we were busy looking for local Urgent Care’s while also treating and hoping we could make it work. Thankfully the Advil took and he could join us at the winery for the lunch party filled with relatives he rarely sees and loves to be around.

Looking around at that party I was squarely in the meat of the sandwich with the rest of us who grew up together. My cousins. In there with us were our spouses and even some older kids who no longer really fit at the kids table. All of us a little greyer, a little more ‘mature’. Some of us, well me, a little doughier for the greys. It’s okay, it suits my bookish self identity. That said, there was a pro photographer and I will be sucking in in the future. I don’t mind it all hanging out, but no need not to put my best foot forward. Might as well hold that belly as tight as I can. These are the family photo’s after all that will be at my 50th.

Life is slippery. It’s one of the things I’m most struck by in my 40’s. I’m at peace with who I am and I’m aware that this won’t last forever. That said, when I see the residue of the love that propelled my family into existence I am able to see that the thread, the one that sews the generations of my family together.

The next morning, after checking out and before returning to our lives hundreds of miles away I was able to see Charlie read a book to my parents while Teddy sat with Nana and soaked up the same love I’d soaked up on that same lap forty years earlier. I saw Charlie beaming with pride as he impressed the papa who was the self same man who’s pride in me gave me the confidence I needed to be able to hold up my end for my kids.

For that moment the world was aligned and all was right in my world.

Notes from a Developing Dad

From the start this blog has been an art project for my kids. It was meant to be a place where I could document the process, from the start. I wanted a place where they could visit where they were before the memories were there own. A place to shade and fill in the memories they cling to years from now, when we are old and the world is there’s. To this day that remains the thrust of my writing.

Over time that initial idea has expanded. I want them to know who I was when they were little, but the further I went down that road the more I wanted them to know who I was when I was little like them. I want them to know who Nana and Papa were and why I think of them as heroes. I want them to have a place to learn the story of how I met their mom. I want them to read about the love we had for each other that lead to our family. I want them to read about how hard it all was as well as how fun and amazing it has all been. I wanted them to understand my flaws and see my imperfections. I want them to understand that I knew they were there and worried about how they’d be affected by them.

As you can see the sprig of that initial idea, to make an art project for them of our early family is at the root, but like any organic thing fed and loved, that idea grew and continues to grow. One way it grew was that it turned out that there was an audience for this kind of art. This project with a specific audience seemed to be relatable to many others feeling and experiencing the transformative nature of parenthood in a way that made others seek out some of my sotories. Some were funny and some tender. It was a huge day when outlets like Scary Mommy would accept these writings and publish them. I’m thrilled to have worked with amazing editors at sites like Mamalode, Good Men Project and Sammiches & Psych Meds, amongst others.

It’s been and remains a journey that I’ve enjoyed. It was only natural when I came to a point where I decided I wanted to collect the best of my writing, the most personal, the funniest, the most well written and turn it into a book. It was exciting to work on these pieces and in the process I started to see a forest amidst examining the trees. This process of growing into the dad I am now has been extraordinary and I’m so happy I have this place where not only they will be able to come to learn about us but Karen and I will be able to visit years from now when we want to visit this most vital and amazing time in our lives, when we are rich in memories and have time to collect ourselves and make sense of lives well spent I’m heartened to know this place will be here for us.

If you would like to purchase a kindle ebook or a paperback copy of your own with these stories you can find them here.

I Don’t Have the Words

I don’t know that I will ever be able to fully articulate how I love my kids. Were it a quantifiable thing I’d give you a number. As it is I don’t think any sophisticated adult has ever improved on the simple claim made by all of us lucky enough to have been loved as a child who have spread our arms wide and said, ‘I love you this much!’

img_4923Charlie is the sweetest boy and he will stop us to make sure we are listening, in the middle of getting ready for bed or when we are cooking or whenever, to tell us, ‘I love you. You’re the best daddy.’ or, ‘Mommy, I love you more than anything ever!’

‘Oh, Charlie.’ I gasp, ‘I love you so much, you are the most wonderful boy.’

I wish words were more evolved. I wish our minds, our full creativity could describe what flows through you as a parent. All of it is extreme. The frustrations, the joys the exhaustion‘s and elation‘s. The simple act of falling for your child, for me an act that happened in an instant, opens a vein you didn’t know you had. It pours from you in every way you can imagine.

I didn’t appreciate the love I was given as a child, not fully at least, until I discovered it from the other side. Until I looked intently at my own kid and marveled and recoiled and felt the bond between us so deeply that it seemed I could reach out and hold it.

img_5026Teddy is my little man and I can’t get over his curiosity. He’s trying all the time that his brother is around to compete, a thing that looks different in a younger brother than an older one. His focus primarily is on his big brother but his quiet moments are the ones that steal my heart. He can smile when your head shares a pillow with his and he wants to tell you about all the things he is thinking. About his ideas and plans, about how much he loves mommy and Charlie and me. He builds big and little bridges to you and everyone one at a time. It’s magic.

On the other side of this newfound entity of love for my kids is an equally newfound fear. One that could only exist in relation to my fondness for these boys. I’m terribly afraid of random tragedy now. While they have opened me up, have cracked the shell around my heart, they have also made me a vigilant hawk. See, I’m now and forevermore aware that there is something infinitely more tragic that can happen than there ever was prior to now.

The first week it paralyzed us to a degree. We had no idea that there was something so awful as the fears of a parent before they hit us. People can’t wait to tell you about the lack of sleep and the magic of babies. They don’t tell you that the most tragic of ends now comes to reside in your resting imagination.

I never so feared my own death before knowing that it would effect my own kids. It never occurred to me to think of it. Now if Karen so much as has a cold I’m worried, only for a moment at a time, but I worry there’s something bigger hidden in her cough. If I’m making dinner and she’s picking up the kids and they are a few minutes late my brain arrives, in an instant, at a place where I can imagine all three of them, struggling in an overturned car, or thrown from the car, scared and alone in their final moments. I know. IT’S AWFUL!!

But as quick as it comes it disappears and I’m back to worrying about whether or not I should use the last of the celery as it’s Charlie’s go to and whether or not T will eat the string beans or should I not bother to make them.

I don’t know what the word would be to describe these things, these rushes between otherworldly levels of joy and dread and monotony, but there should be a word. It seems to be a universal feeling and across the board it seems unknowable until the instant you fall for that kid and unshakable from that point forward.

Looking Back At Me

img_5002When did those show up? Those points. My skin is falling, my face is aged and aging and now I have points. Hanging on either side, mid chin. They are not shocking, until you notice them. Staring blankly in your mirror shaving. You see them. They are just there.

I don’t remember how old I was when my dad told me that it was mildly haunting to look in the mirror one day and for a second see your father staring back at you. It sounded like it could certainly be freaky. To know that you are looking out of your own eyes, possessing your own body, studying a face that is yours, you know, but doesn’t look anymore like it feels. It feels like that face you had in high school. That young, narrow, strong, perfectly fitting face you had. The one you stared at and inspected for laughs when you were little. Searched for blemishes when you got older. Ignored entirely for what appears to have been 20 years now as you got on making a life.

It was a utilitarian face. One that was being used to see the world, eat the food, drink the drinks, make the jokes, scream the pains, howl with laughter, bare to the elements and wear through it all. You hadn’t considered it for years. And years. And there it was. A face wholly your own but weathered and worn by time.

The first reaction for me was to recoil a tad. How did this happen? Why did this happen? The answers are obvious but the reactions are cascading. Shock, worry, awareness, fear, love and wonder. Reflexively I recall my own father sharing this moment with me, a young boy unaware of how this must have felt. I’m aware now and the moment, the memory of that brief conversation in a room long ago left for others to live in is reformed. Some new meaning, some heavier weight.

I’d never noticed anyone other than me looking back at me in the mirror until recently. I’ve played with faces when I was little, trying to see if I could make myself laugh or be angry or scary or silly. I’ve tried to pull faces, to see what others saw as I came into my own and was desperate to figure out who I was and thought the answer might lay somewhere on my appearance. I tried to hide the emotions I felt that my face betrayed. I’m embarrassed by that now, but shouldn’t be. It was some strange form of embarrassment that compelled me to try so hard to not show anything but anger for some early man years there.

Now I see a hint of my father in that face, but just a hint. There’s some of my mother there to. It’s not what I want it to look like. I want it to have so much more left to find. At least that’s the first thought. I want it to look like me. Like the memory I’ll have of my face whenever I can’t see it. The one that had no cause for lines and no time for sag. The me that was stupid but pretty. The energetic, unknowing eyes. The vibrant and taut skin. The me that wondered what it would feel like to see the years looking back at me from the past.

‘Shake It, Shake It, Hillary…’, The Miseducation of an Impressionable Young Man

‘It’s because Donald Trump is Mayor!’

There’s some subtle humor in the phrasing, but it doesn’t overshadow his tone. Charlie is not a fan of our current President. We kept the election from the kids but we haven’t been able to control the fallout.

Charlie came home on November 8th having learned about the process of voting. Apparently they held a mock vote in his class. Kindergarten. Whatever. Best I can tell he heard the names of the candidates the first time that day. Being our child he felt a great deal of guilt when he found out that he voted for a candidate he wouldn’t have had he been better informed. Than a kindergartener. Again, whatever.

‘Now Charlie, we disagree with President Trump, but we don’t get angry.’ I say, obviously causing some confusion as I’m certain he has met me before this moment and is aware of my Tuck Frump t-shirt I wear on my demeanor at all moments of the day. That said, I’m here to teach. ‘We have a job to do. We have to be extra nice to people. We have to show people that we love them and care about them. Right?’

It’s not that often, but it’s a routine conversation by now and we are all familiar with our script. Some of the older kids at the Y dropoff informed him one day that his brown friends were going to be kicked out of America. Strange conversations are being had with kindergarteners these days. Lots changed since either of my turns in Kindergarten in pre-Reagan America.

Over the weeks following the election he became more militantly defensive of Hillary than I was. I certainly liked her enough, to paraphrase my favorite POTUS. But we fancy ourselves decent people and as such we believe in equality. Some people call this many things, one of them being feminist. I prefer to think of it as decent, but fine, feminist is a badge we men in this family will wear well if a woman so chooses to place it on us.

So you could imagine my shock when I heard Charlie dancing around the house singing…

‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

On it’s face this may be the exact antithesis of what we hope for our boys. It sounds objectifying. It sounds dismissive. It sounds sexist. And it would be if, say, I were the one saying it. It wasn’t me. It was a six year old kindergartner.

I got one of those Google Home things for my birthday. It’s amazing and can change how everything in your home, née your life, works. It can apparently simplify everything from taxes to exercise, provide onsite security and clean your house at the mere utterance of ‘ok, google.’ This is what the commercial will have you believe. For our purposes however it’s mainly a voice operated speaker. It plays music. Still, a great value for such a magical thing.

One of the magical memories of our brief, though memorable courtship my wife and I share were our many weekend trips from the city up to our favorite hippy dippy slow food gourmet restaurant in Woodstock. We used to luxuriate on the rides upstate. After our meals we would drive home, not a care or pressure in the world. After having kids I’m pretty sure I remember life before as pressureless. One of the things we liked to do on these weekend trips was listen to cool radio. We dated in our 30’s so sometimes this meant NPR weekend entertainment. Other times it meant college radio. WFUV was a favorite. You could get it for about the last hour or so of our ride back to Astoria, Queens.

‘This is a Dead song. I don’t know who’s playing it, but the dead played it as well.’ I said.

‘Hmm. It’s good.’ She said.

We enjoyed after the song hearing the story of the song, what the meaning of the song was and all it’s somewhat obvious storytelling. The history of the song was fascinating as well. How different bands had come to it, earliest known playing of it and the songwriters story. I could have this all wrong. Whatever was said, we both kinda fell in love with the song. ‘Sugaree’ was the name and it was one I’d always known but never really heard. It was like we discovered it together that night.

So fast forward eight or nine years and it was nice to finally have our magical voice activated jukebox be able to whisk us back to that awesome time. It was a more than risqué song, but it was buried under melody and metaphor and adult knowledge, and none of the words in themselves were bad, so what harm could it do to have it playing while we raised two little boys. Besides, could do worse than the Grateful Dead.

Until your burgeoning little man starts singing a woman’s praises by imploring, ever so innocently, to ‘Shake it, shake it, Hillary.’

Snow day or raising kids?

First it’s daunting. How can we change our lives so completely and so quickly? Will we be able to tolerate turning on a dime? Had you asked us before anyone considered this as a possibility what our lives would be like we could have told you, with pretty decent accuracy exactly how things would have gone. But, some things you control and some things are out of your hands.
To be honest, just sitting there having your coffee, still groggy and tired, it can catch you off guard. I mean here we are. A family. All together, just us. Everything I planned for is gone and I don’t need to explain myself. It’s amazing what’s been given to us, how lucky we are. What are we going to do with all we’ve been given. It’s energizing.

Looking out the window it really is beautiful. A whole new angle on the world. One I don’t think of often, but it’s always there. The magic of it all. Bounties and possibilities falling from the heavens in a seemingly neverending supply.

Before long practicality has to step in. You can only sit safely inside the safety of the whole world now existing in these four walls for so long. There’s places to go. But how. Life is changed and all that mobility, all that freedom you had it seems just yesterday is gone. I frankly don’t even know how we’d go about getting out of here. Like logistically. Emotionally.

Eventually, and much later than I should have, I had to do something. I knew there was work to be done. Jobs I might not have done given my druthers. But my druthers aren’t really the deciding factor any more. I start to wonder if they ever were. Whatever. Time to get on my big boy pants, the comfy, functional, warm ones and get out to that driveway and get going. It’s time to work dammit. For my family.

At first the work is overwhelming. Really, did I sign up for this, I ask myself. Isn’t there some other way? And of course there is. Or there was. I could have planned better. Could have made decisions long ago that would have made all this work easier. Would have put me in a better place on this day. Would have given me the tools to make all this easier. But that’s not the bed I’m lying in. Besides, after all the monotony, the pain and the drudgery it isn’t long before I look up and look back and see that it’s almost done. I’m excited. At first.

Sure. There’s a lot I’d like to have behind me. But given our fun times we’ve already had, and the fun times surely still ahead of us, well I’m not sure I want this to end. Ever. What’s facing me after this. This is all of us. Together. What can be better than that.

In the end though, you can’t think of it that way. So much of this was magical. So unexpected and full of fun and play and laughs. Good food and junk food and games and hugs and love and movies and forts and conversations big and small.

The work all got done. Each of us doing what we could to make the best of it all. It was so great and so precious that we just hope it all happens again sometime, in some way.

Do You Believe In Miracles

‘Do you believe in miracles!’

 Al Michaels iconic cry as time expired in the semi-final game of the Olympic Hockey tournament in 1980 in tiny little Lake Placid, NY. The feelings this can stir in me are notable. They run the gamut from patriotism to belief to hope to astonishment. There was no way we were going to win. They were the best of the best of the Evil Empire, men driven by personal and professional and patriotic duty of their own against our upstart group of ragamuffins. A team of college stars in a sport, Division 1 Mens Hockey, that didn’t make stars. We didn’t even have all the stars. Get me on the topic for too long and I might start to tell you we even had some high schoolers getting valuable minutes. While not technically accurate, as far as narrative goes it would be true enough. We were a nation ready to believe, looking for a miracle and this team, this makeshift team did it. They gave us our miracle.

It’s a thrilling and stirring tale. One capable of inspiring tears and long bouts of sentimental nostalgia. Which is shocking and possibly troubling as I didn’t watch the game. I didn’t even know it was happening. I doubt I learned about it until perhaps 8-10 years later. As best I can tell, we didn’t have it on our radar at my house. I learned of the story by learning about it.

Still the story is worthy of everything it gets and at times I think it’s worth so much more.

I grew up in the height of the Cold War. Russian equaled bad. They were the big bad wolf out to get us, I guess. I mean I remember fearing the idea of that nuclear weapons were in the mix, but that was the extent of my analysis. I was a kid. I saw War Games and I cheered when Rocky beat Ivan Drago (the sonofabitch who killed Apollo Creed). I knew that they were the enemy. My mind and sights were clear, but really I was just a kid. As much as I’ve heard about the tensions of the time I have to say, they didn’t filter down to me.

I grew up in the heartland, really. It’s New York State, but it’s the Great Lakes part of the state. I loved and hated where I grew up. Had nothing to do with where I grew up, I’d have felt that way anywhere. But it was a GREAT place to be a kid. A stupid, oblivious kid. A great place to get your first real kiss while playing truth or dare. A place to get caught by kindly neighbors telling on you that they saw you buying cigarettes at the diner cigarette machine. A great place to fall in love for the first time and to lose your mind when you saw that girl making out with the cool guy who you could never compete with because he was two years older than you and he had not only a license but a car. It was a great place to play basketball, sun up to sundown in playgrounds where other kids were playing. It was a great place to ride your bikes uptown and get pizza or tacos or see a movie or just hang out with all the other kids that lived near, ‘uptown.’ It was a great place to walk to the neighborhood doctor who knew you since you were new. Or to catch crayfish walking barefoot through the crick. It was a great place. Still is.

It wasn’t a place for me to process the Cold War, despite all of it happening, apparently, the whole time I was doing all that other stuff. It wasn’t a place that was nervous or palpably anxious. It wasn’t a place that was out of step and it wasn’t a place that was in line. It was my American experience. I suppose the seeds of what has happened since were around. Factories closed. Our local economy had for generations been underpinned by Kodak and I did see that diminish a ton while I was growing up. Hard not to notice as it was kids parents you went to school with. Other things popped up, but nothing, no amount of things popping up could make up for losing jobs by the tens of thousands, seemingly every year for a couple decades there. Good jobs too. Union jobs for a labor force that often had only needed a high school degree. Just gone. I saw that. Didn’t know it would be such a harbinger of things to come for a pretty big stretch of the country. I imagine my elders did see it coming. Imagine those that stayed saw it coming and to some degree perhaps even got caught standing on the path.

I don’t know what my kids lives will be 30 years from now. My parents weren’t locals to where I’m from and their parents aren’t local to where they’re from. I suspect that trend will continue, but who’s to say. Perhaps my kids will love it here so much that they stay. I would be happy. I would be happy to know that they not only loved where we raised them and found a community of kind and caring friends and neighbors here, but also if they were inclined to stay because the opportunities look like staying was a good decision. I’d like them to have options.

I’m anxious. I’m scared about the direction of so many things. The economy. The hostility that seems to be so prevalent in so many. The rising social issues, some we considered if not resolved, heading inevitably in that direction in the America I grew up in. The role of America in a world in upheaval, without the terrifying order the Cold War provided. I’m hoping this anxiety that seems to be floating free in the world is resolved and my children grow up as I did. Happily oblivious to all that they will one day read about and wonder how they didn’t see it all. Nostalgic for that miracle that is awaiting us just around the corner.