Summer of Joy and Pain

Underlying what has been in fact my most enjoyable summer in decades, if not ever, is the reality that a part of me is struggling. I’m listing and drifting further and further from the confidence I recently took for granted.

As I write this I’m still in the shadow of a vacation in which I spent long evenings sitting up with close and distant relatives laughing and listening. I’m sitting at my dining room table while my sons play with legos at my feet. They’ve taken to making their own creations from the thousands of assorted blocks we’ve accrued over the years. I’ve had the entire summer home with them and I haven’t wasted it. Sports, days at the pool, a little shouting now and again, but all in all an opportunity I didn’t imagine I’d have when they were this age.

An opportunity that has left me worried about whether we will be able to maintain this life. Concerned and ashamed, honestly, that it’s my failings that are putting all of this at risk. I keep stoking the flames as I search for  the answer but I am finding less and less hot coals to revive. It’s the end of August and I’d say I’m at least a couple of weeks away from the search picking up again. People who hire people in my situation (too experienced and too expensive for most openings) are out of the office at this time of year. I guess we are all on a school schedule of sorts.

Our youngest will be entering kindergarten and his older brother will be starting 2nd grade in a little over a week. I know that they look up to me, but I’m having a hard time feeling admirable. I can appreciate my value beyond how it is defined by capitalism, but I can’t deny that on the capitalism front, I’m failing.

I have perspective and my day to day isn’t devastating by any means. I’m actually quite happy. If I could design life it would look like this. Long summer days spent playing and swimming and exploring with my kids. What could better. The answer, the obvious one, is I could have that start date for my next contribution sitting in my head, validating the part of me I always try so hard to deny. That part that knows ‘provider’ is not my strongest suit.

TIme to wrap it up. We are off to the pool this afternoon and we want to get there in time to get a good spot.

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.

Acknowledging my Dismay

It may seem silly for me to say that I need to take a moment to talk about my dismay. You may be hearing the combined weight of those of us who lost lamenting, licking wounds, expressing rage or just generally expressing anxiety. For what it’s worth, I know this little trickle will not move the needle. But I have to do it. I’ve been searching and seeking understanding and I think I’ve gotten some. I think the issues that are pressing to me differ from the people I grew up around, who voted pretty overwhelmingly for Trump and it shouldn’t surprise me as I had a unique experience. I’m from a multicultural, multiracial home in a fairly homogeneously white region of the world. I’ve been seeing racism up close for as long as I can remember. My sensors formed before many would be aware of the issue. I’m going to continue to try to understand and build bridges to those folks that voted for Trump in spite of his ideas. But I need to take a minute to indulge this existential despair. I owe it that much. If I don’t acknowledge it I will be consumed by it. I need to purge some periodically to keep from being fully defeated .

Have you ever run into the customer service person behind a desk at say, the DMV, who responds to your honest and simple question about proper procedure with an audible sigh, eye rolling exasperation and a general disdain for you as a person. That’s what it sounds like when I share a genuine anxiety and a feeling of existential dread about the years to come. I’m happy that after years of your seeming existential dread of the President I loved you are relieved by this result. Good for you. But honestly, don’t engage with this if you are telling me it will all be okay. You don’t know that. Objectively, we are going into uncharted territory and besides, even if you are right, that’s not what this is about. So go away. I’m not trying to change your mind. This is a yell for empathy from people, mostly, who agree with me and share my dread. That is my disclaimer. I’m going to make clear my fears here. You may feel like you’ve heard it a million times the last week or so, but this is my turn and I’m not interested in your levity. This is a support group post for other people weighed down by the state of things. Don’t be that DMV worker Go away and let me get this off my chest for and with the people who get me. As I learned when I got married, sometimes it’s not about finding a solution. Sometimes it’s just about being heard and empathized with.

Now, for those of you left who I know will get this… What the hell has happened. We have a president who is terrified of the job. He clearly was so focused on winning that he didn’t consider whether he wanted the prize. I’m convinced that for a long time he was TRYING to lose. In his private moments I’m sure he’s daydreaming about the network he was so well positioned to start and lamenting the fact that he can’t do it as president.

But more so I’m terrified of the schism that is revealing itself. It’s a schism that has always existed, but the boorish violence that is now occurring with such a lack of shame is disturbing. I feel like in this new ‘Trump’s America’, the Klan may just do away with their hoods. Why should they hide. The shame is gone. I heard Strange Fruit yesterday and never in all the time I’ve heard the hauntingly beautiful song about lynchings in the south has the grotesque reality of that world of which she sings seemed so present.

I’m tired of bending and flexing to make my moral outrage quiet enough to hear the justifications. I don’t want to be relativistic in terms of racism. There are built in, institutional disadvantages I’d rather be fighting, playing the long legislative game. Instead we’re faced with heart and soul of Breitbart having an office off the oval and the ear of a dangerously reckless, nihilistic president in way too far over his head. There might be some fear around the world at the prospect of this administration, but there also has to be a certain amount of opportunistic energy prepping to fleece our very overwhelmed and scared president.

Also, while I’m at it, why can’t we all just come out and say that racism is bad, that misogyny is bad that homophobia is bad and that we should all be working to make sure it is exposed as such. That these things are anti-American and in direct opposition to the concept of liberty. I mean if we can’t all just say F*ck the KKK what can we say together. What the hell?

Also, are we sure you aren’t at least a little racist or Misogynist or xenophobic if you voted for an openly hostile (granted he’s toned it down in the days since Nov. 8th) person who is all these things? A person who mostly answered questions of policy in such a blank slate way that there was no policy to reference if you wanted to vote for him on the basis of ideas. A person who played on the fears of angry white voters and gave ‘huge’ encouragement to intimidate ‘those people. You know who they are, you know’ at the polls and suggested that the ‘2nd Amendment people’ get to his opponent. I hear a lot of my friends, and myself, saying a lot of things that start with, ‘Okay, so you’re not racist/sexist/xenophobic but…’ I’ve believed it about those I’ve known as real life people, but I think the blanket exemption is not altogether true. Something more like, ‘I know you don’t think of yourself as a racist/sexist/misogynist/xenophobe, but as someone comfortable voting for one…’ might be more accurate. But that would shutdown the conversation.

It’s time to harden our moral outrage. Not just at the opposition but at the lurching away from wage earning families and cozying up to corporations our own party has engaged in for more than a generation now. A habit that leaves us so out of touch that there is an opening the size of a truck that anyone could have driven through were they only willing to run on a blatantly white nationalist message, putting dog whistles away for openly racist appeals, willing to treat many women worse than the worst ways we’ve imagined of a presidential nominee, being caught bragging about sexual assault and defending it as ‘locker room talk’ and making sharp, personal identity jabs at ones opponent. We should all feel lucky, for now, that it was someone so brazen and so incompetent. A different type of sociopath, a competent AND charismatic one could have done far better and would have been plausibly able to claim a mandate.

I’ll get back to reflecting and analyzing soon. For now I just need to wallow in dismay. Just for this time. Just now. Then, I have to get to work.


This Past Sunday, Afloat in our Bubble

I cleaned out the fridge this morning. I’d like to say it was an easy task as it’s something we stay on top of, as one should, and I didn’t at all remove a cucumber that had decayed into a soft husk of bursting pus that made me screech like a woman in a 1940’s domestic stage play frightened by a mouse that scurried across her kitchen floor. I’d like to say that.

Keeping our house clean is a ways off, but we’re getting better every year. We moved in to our little house, our lovely little house with  the beautiful back yard and the elementary school and ball fields across the street when our youngest was just a few weeks old. Our big boy wasn’t yet two and we were in what’s referred to in the parenting manuals as the ‘hot mess’ stage of the transition from newborn to whatever comes next. Recently born, I suppose. That day was magical despite how incredibly taxing it was. We were in a house. After decades of apartment living we’d managed to get into a house. An adorable little house on a picturesque street in a small town with great schools. As far off into the future as we could see this little house would be the perfect place to live.

We’d tried to pack for weeks, but the little one and the toddler at home made it a challenge. We did pretty good, but we paid the movers to do a bunch of it for us. We didn’t have the money, but let’s face it, we’d just sunk our next thirty years into a very cute home that we didn’t realize was so cozy (small) having lived only in apartments to that point.

Here we were, overwhelmed, overjoyed and overexcited with a newborn and an almost 2 year old moving into our first home on a gorgeous day in mid December. On an average day with our kids it would have taken a lot to get through to us, to knock us sideways from what we were enmeshed in, but on this day, the day we are moving to our family home, no chance.

It was December 14th, 2012. The day a man walked into an elementary school a couple hours away from us and murdered 20 six and seven year olds and several of their teachers.


This past Sunday in the midst of our family morning we remained detached from the world at large and somehow didn’t know that another terrible thing that haunts your thoughts and never leaves your hearts had happened. There was no disturbance in the force field we’d built around this home, one that is wholly in our minds and unshakeable in so far as we can never imagine something senseless and tragic and angry and violent ever happening here. Then I ran out to run some errands, buy some fruits and veggies, pick up some mulch to beautify our little slice of heaven we love so much and I turned on the radio and I learned what had so tragically happened in Orlando. I felt nothing other than sorrow. For the people, their families and for us. All of us.

I suppose it’s our turn. Our turn to say that the world, this beautiful blue marble where cosmic coincidence has resulted in a wondrous and vibrant diversity and richness of life, a magical reality unique in the cosmos, is going to hell in a hand basket. To claim with certainty that we know the path we are on is unique in human history and march defeatedly into a future of bleak, stark destruction of all that had been so wonderful so recently. Before we came along and fucked it all up.

I feel like we are on the edge of a cliff when I’m feeling optimistic. Most of the time I feel like we are in the fall, hurdling to a life ending thud that will spell ruination not just for us but for all those that will come after. The anxiety and fear that courses through the world at this time is so overwhelming that it makes it’s way inside. It is so pervasive, so insidious that it permeates even our personal boundaries, even our skin. On days like today it hits us in the gut and punches our hearts and feels like it’s growing in strength and we, shrinking.

How much of this is being 42. Do wild eyed 23 year olds see the brighter future? I’ve worked with so many of them, since I was one, and I know they are out there, doing far more than I ever did or could to make the world better. Undeterred by all our hand wringing inaction. Is it just that now, now that I’m a dad, do I not identify as much with the victims of these crimes and instead identify more with the parents of those victims? I might. Parenthood has made me so much more capable of empathy when it comes to other parents and to kids. The fact is I see those victims, some of whom were older than me, but most were younger, much younger, and my heart breaks for how they spent their final moments, ripped from love and joy and exuberant expressions of it and destroyed by anger that was based on fear, so far as I can tell.

Whatever it is that makes me feel it,  whether it’s the same feeling  my parents might have had when they thought it was all going sideways 20 or 30 years ago or when their parents harbored feelings that the world had lost it’s way a generation before that and so on and so on or whether it really is true, it’s hard for me to shake the unease I feel about this world and what it seems is happening to it.


Sunday morning while the world reacted and I cleaned out the filth that had somehow been allowed to fester undetected and undeterred from the back of the fridge something beautiful happened. I saw Karen and Charlie snuggling and talking while laying on the trampoline in the sun. Charlie, the boy who was not even two when we moved here is now five and for twenty minutes he layed in the trampoline, cuddling up to his mommy talking about his friends and his world. Trying to figure out if they could live in the trampoline. Whether they would need a fridge and where they would put it. I was so delighted that I was able to sneak up on them and get some pictures.

As much as I fear everything that’s happening these days, and I truly do, I also see many many people doing wonderful things to help other people. It so surrounds us that we don’t even notice it anymore. If you pick your head up and really look for it there is so much good in us, so much kindness being exercised in great and small ways everyday.

For now we can’t avoid the painful reality. Nor should we. As sad as it is that this national, global mourning we engage in is becoming ritualized, it doesn’t mean we should ever, ever let it slip past. No. We must mourn together to heal as much as we can, to show communal and human love and compassion for those who will never be able to move on from this day of tragedy or the many that have come before or the ones that seem will inevitably come in the months and years ahead.

When we are done living and breathing this tragedy, when life goes back to everyday sameness I know I’ll never stop appreciating those moments. The ones we’ll look back on in thirty years when we will be empty nesters missing the kids who could never ever visit enough to make us satisfied, when we look back at this time and are able to remember when the world couldn’t reach us, when we constructed fantastical worlds with the imagination and freedom of five year old little boys hoping to live the rest of their days cuddling with mom on the trampoline while daddy was cleaning the fridge.

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