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.

Picture Day on Mamalode

Today I’m looking back and projecting forward as I look at my son on Picture Day. Click the link to see my story on Mamalode.

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Picture Day 

Today is picture day. You are wearing a new blue button down shirt and we packed a more durable, comfortable shirt in your bag for you to wear at after school. I have my suspicions as to whether you’ll change, though. You are so proud of yourself today and you know you are handsome. It doesn’t occur to you to be bashful, to quell your pride. You smiled this morning and you were excited. Today is picture day.

Picture day is a day for us too. It’s a day to get a snapshot of you in Kindergarten. A chance for us to attempt earnestly to do the impossible. To capture you as you are now, to freeze you in this moment. We do it so we can share this moment with the wide world of people that love you. To capture and disseminate your joyful boyishness so that even a tiny bit can be transported across space and your Grandma and Koba and Nana and Papa can hold this part of you from hundreds of miles away. So they can put you on the fridge and look at you whenever they wish. So they can show their friends and your relatives, ones you don’t even know yet, how well you are doing. So they can feel pride. Not only in you, but in us.

We also take these pictures so that we, your mommy and daddy, can travel through time to right now. It’s important. We dress you in your finest and we do your hair especially carefully. I think you may have even had your first encounter with hairspray this morning. We do it as it is our wont. We want you to look your finest and be happy. So we can find this picture a few years from now when you are perhaps a bit self conscious and less open to us combing your hair. When you try to comply and smile, but when that smile is put on, something to think about and not so much your default facial expression. We will come back in time to this picture and the others like it to remember who you are inside, at least the part of who you are that we first met. We’ll always see that part, even after you’re convinced it’s not there anymore. We’ll know it’s just dormant. You will never look like you do now and that’s important to memorialize, but you will feel this way again, but it will be tempered by life and what it teaches you.

Innocence is highly overrated. But it is also a real and wonderful part of being five and while you are a more mature boy everyday and while we love that you can be quiet and contemplative from time to time, there is something we will miss about this time you are rapidly graduating from where you are earnest and honest with us and yourself by default. You haven’t gotten too caught up in fitting in. Too caught up in trying on identities you conjure. Instead you look at the camera proud because you are handsome, funny, smart and loved and you know it. And so do we.

We’ll know it when you are away at college and going on adventures to find yourself. When you are busy developing and defining your purpose.  We will look at this picture and the others, the ones from every step on the way and we will be recognizing ours. We will see all that went in to getting you to picture day and take pride in us, all of us, for doing what we did together. We will still be doing it, but it will look a lot different than it does now, all of us smooshed together, experiencing it as one and interpreting it individually. There might be times when these interpretations are deceptive and we struggle to stay positive. You may need to distance yourself and we may reactively hold tighter. You’ll surely have to push us away someday, just like we will surely have to nudge you along from time to time. It will all be from love, but it might not always feel that way. When it doesn’t these pictures will help.

They’ll help you too. You’ll look back and remember vividly some things. I remember my mother wetting the comb and working with my cowlick. Trying over and over to supress my hairs natural desires in an attempt to look my best. Licking her thumb and cleaning the smudges from my cheek. I remember the brown bags we used for lunches that my father would sit at the table at night and decorate. I’ll remember the joyful pink elephant sitting under the lone palm tree on the tiny island on a lunch bag that I used repeatedly that I loved so much that he made for me. It’s another framed talisman from a time gone by that I cling to, though after my many adult moves I can’t say I know exactly where it is. I’ll find it someday, probably too late, and when I do I’ll cry tears of love and joy.

Hopefully when you look back, from a great distance and see your picture you’ll see love. The love and time and unabashed joy we took in giving you what we had. In doing our best to make sure you were taken care of, that you knew you were loved. Because when we look at them, when we travel through time and space to see the you you are now it will be with joy. It will be with love. It will be with longing for the time we had with you and the many journey’s you are surely going to take.

I Hate School

img_3083I hate school.

I hope you won’t but I fear you will.

Let me be clear. I don’t fear you will fail at school. You are INSANELY smart and I suspect you will soar at school. My fear is that school will fail you. Will turn your attention from satisfying and stirring curiosity to simple and attainable achievement. That a fire you carry will dim in order that the oxygen it would have taken to be stoked from a flame to an inferno will be otherwise deployed to satisfy the wishes of others. It’s hard to stay away from that. You’ll spend lots of energy pursuing that which you may be unsure of to pursue the expectations you are handed. A little of that is okay, good even. But only enough to learn that you aren’t here alone and you are accountable to others. Beyond that my only wish is that you find that which excites you and you pursue it without fear, embracing the failures that come from trying new things. Staying true to yourself will make most failures tolerable and some downright necessary. Just remember that failures are not end points. They are merely spots on the journey.

School made me horribly self critical. I don’t know why but it did. As you prepare to head out for your first day you are so much more prepared than I was. Still I find myself regressing. I sat with your mother last night and it all came out. I’m horrified and angry that you are heading to school. I had a miserable first few years at school and as a result I learned how to be liked regardless of whether or not I was remaining true to myself. I lacked confidence and swam in conformity. As much as I could. My heart and mind were free, but under wraps. All that time and energy spent hiding me made me wonder if I was worth anything.

img_3078If anyone ever laughs at you or says something critical about who you are ignore them. Seriously. Hold on to your kind heart, smart head, unique tastes and your loving and weird family.  If you do you’ll see these clowns for who they are. Okay, there was a tad more anger in this sentiment than intended. Truth is most of them are scared and excited and wanting to hide in a corner unnoticed while also wishing to have all the attention possible. Growing up is confusing sometimes. The only power anyone has over your opinion of yourself is the power you grant them. Don’t give it. Hold firm. You are weird and wonderful and unique and perfectly flawed and loved. Find the people that are engaged in the things you want to be doing, regardless of what anyone else thinks about them, and sit with them. If it takes weeks or months or years, I don’t care. Stay where you want to be, don’t go where you’re ‘supposed’ to be.

I love you so much and for one of the few times since meeting you I’m shaken. It caught me off guard. I’ve been spouting the ‘I hate school’ gospel for over 35 years now. But I didn’t realize how much I feared it until I was seeing it through your eyes. Seeing it from a perspective of a protective dad. Seeing it as someone who is certain that school worked in reverse, at least for me. It killed enthusiasm, stoked self-consciousness, raised fear and followed through on it. I know this won’t happen to you, so why am I now thinking thoughts I haven’t thought since I was your age. Feeling scared that kids might make fun of your stuff. Hoping to god you aren’t picked on. Feeling a visceral concern that you have the wrong hair or wrong shirt or wrong glue sticks and you’ll react like I did.

This is your journey and I have to check out of it. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this part of me, I have to protect you from it. Maybe when you are older we can talk about it. When we are two adults. Not now.

You really are going to do amazing things. You’re going to LOVE school! YOU are going to make friends today that will be your friends for the next 13 years and probably for the rest of your life.

YOUR LIFE. I’m sorry if I forget that at times.

Grabbing Life, Holding On

img_2962With every age and stage there comes certain signs. Signs that my little boys are running out of time to be ‘little boys’. It’s not such a bad thing. In fact, for them it’s the most exciting thing you could imagine. The walls are starting to come down. Well, perhaps not, but they are certainly moving further and further out and for my sweet rambunctious boys this is very, very exciting. From time to time they will pretend they are babies. Not in any real way, but they will say, ‘I’m a baby…’ in a silly voice, smile, giggle and laugh at the absurdity. They are decidedly little boys and we are accepting as best we can that we’ll never have our babies again.

img_2921Like so many parents before us, we know they will always be our babies. It’ll be a metaphor to them, but it won’t be to us. They will be our two and only babies and we will hold them, if only in our hearts, as closely and tenderly as if they were newly wrapped and leaving the hospital for the first time for the rest of our lives.

But that will be it. The rest of our lives. The seemingly inexhaustible but ever diminishing time we have left with them, here amongst them, able to hug and be hugged is also being put into stark relief with each barrier breached and each new independence learned and granted. As they go through life reveling in the ever greater autonomy of being a ‘big boy’ another tiny tick passes and we are closer to the end. Not noticeably so, not always, but the big ones can pierce the bubble we’ve so happily stayed in during these early years. Can make us aware if not of our own ticking clocks then those of their time left in the bubble we’ve created and cared for and patched up and loved. As they grab life that is out there waiting for them we are hard pressed to let go of another tiny piece of it that we’d give anything to keep in our grasp til the end of time.

img_2930It’s joyous. I don’t want you to misunderstand. It’s a faint feeling of time passing and is easily overwhelmed by the joys we share as they start there journey’s. But it is a real feeling. A real sense of life’s passing. We are older parents and we aren’t so quick to let feelings slide passed as we once were. I suppose that’s true for all parents, regardless of age. But with the years we bring to the task comes a thought that this second act that will happen when they no longer need the minute to minute, the meal to meal, the day to day or week to week attention they once did may be more on the down slope of our time here, our time with them. It’s jarring to think, but comforting as well. As long as we can make it long enough to know they are safe, to know they are loved and to know that they know how wonderful this all is, than knowing this is the thing, being a parent and doing our best to make foster this family, we’re pretty happy having that be the thing we go out on. The last and best of what we did while we were so lucky to be here.img_2978

Handle with Care

I sometimes take a picture of you because you’re just so adorable and amazing and beautiful. And sometimes I catch a hint of fragility in what the camera catches. Other times I see huge heaping mounds of it. Giant reserves of delicate. Like you’re a crystal chandelier in the shape of my beautiful boy. And then, in my minds eye, I see all the thousand ways you’ll be disappointed by the realities of life you can’t even fathom at this point. Sculpted from this thing of beauty into another thing of beauty to be sure. But still, that journey is treacherous and full of potential. Potential harm. Potential fortune. Potential damage and grace.

Maybe it’s you. Maybe I’m not just a proud dad that’s just insanely obsessed with my kids. Maybe your specialness, your perfectness is not a function of my pride. Perhaps you are magical and I’m afraid of being at the helm and breaking you by some silly decision I make that seems necessary that I’ll grow to regret years from now.

I could stare at the pictures of you, the you you are now, on the precipice of independence and I dread the pain that growing up can be.

You’ll be fine. I know that. But you’ll be broken too. You have to be. Good, happy little boys can’t survive growing up. If they could they’d never grow up. Which sounds good until you realize that never growing up makes it hard to be a good man. That’s just the way it is. It’s okay. If you figure out what’s important from being a boy you can pull some of those parts out and take them with you. You may have to pack them away for a time, but they will be there when the time comes and you need them again.

A broken arm is one thing. I can handle that. Easy, actually. But the thought of you being teased or picked on or not knowing what to do in a school cafeteria and feeling sick and disoriented because you think everyone doesn’t like you, that thought ties me in knots. I got caught up in that process when I was a kid. I cried everyday for months when I was sent to school the first time. I was removed eventually and allowed to return the following year, but by then I knew to be cautious. I knew people didn’t like me. I knew they didn’t have to. What was wrong, though, was that I looked at the few that enjoyed making fun of me and thought ‘how can I do what they want me to do? How can I make them like me and stop picking on me?’. All along there was a world of kids who’d have been delighted to play and be my friends. But I just kept trying to impress the cool kids, even shunning kids I’d have gotten along with great who weren’t at the ‘right’ table.

Eventually I figured it out and sat safely where I didn’t want to be. It was mostly fine and it largely defined who I was to the world, or at least to my classmates who comprised the entirety of the world for me then. It took so long for me to be the me I liked and was comfortable being. I learned early on how to make them like me and I leaned on that all the way through school, which I hated because of how it all began. I spent so many years not liking me, internalizing the voices of all the wrong people.

All because I had some tough early days. The types of days grown ups like to say are ‘tough but you get through them’. Days we fool ourselves into thinking aren’t all that important because we were 5 and how much damage can really happen to a healthy and loved 5 year old. But we’re wrong. We can get hurt and scar up in tender places at very young ages. Even those of us that had enough of everything. imageI see your precious face and your beautiful and awesome expectation that nothing breaks and everyone will love you always and it scares the hell out of me. Because some day you’ll feel weird, alone and scared. And you won’t know why. And it will break you as it must. In the end I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about the ‘weird’ and the ‘scared’. You need to get through these things. We all do. But if we can help you with the alone part for as long as possible and stay present for the times you’ll need to explore being ‘away’ than maybe, just maybe, a small but invaluable piece of you, a piece of the you you are now might be able to make it through to the other side. If it does I hope that you are able to see all the things that I’m getting to see in you. If you do you’ll see what all that breaking was for. You’ll know once again what it feels like to be a fragile chandelier. To look at something you love so much that you can’t even imagine it ever not loving you back. The mere thought makes me break just a little.

Hell Found Me at the County Fair

County FairSaturday we found ourselves, all of us, lost amidst the deep weeds of toddlerhood.

We were leaving the county fair. It was hot, crowded, noisy and uncomfortable. This was the setting as I did my own performance piece re-enacting every episode of cops ever. The big one was melting while the little one was overdone and riding his big brother’s coat tails. All the mistakes that can be made were. We were unprepared for the crowds, the food, the animals and the heat. Naps were skipped and bad behavior was mollified with treats. In hindsight any parent of any ability could have predicted the outcome. We could have predicted it. But we chose instead to barrel through because that is what you do with toddlers. If you waited for optimal conditions you’d be frozen in place, TV blaring, hiding from your kids. Forever.

Instead we took them to the fair where hell found us. It’s not the fault of the fair. Its not the fault of the heat and it’s not the fault of the various vendors and tricksters hanging their sweet booty, in the form of plush Spiderman dolls or blow up Spongebob’s to attract the hearts and minds of the worlds most brutal and successful class of negotiators, toddlers. Actually it’s totally the vendors fault. And of course the toddler’s fault. Everything is their fault. It isn’t their responsibility to do anything other then what they do, but lets not kid ourselves, we’re all grown ups here, it’s ALWAYS the toddlers fault. That’s okay, they can hardly be blamed for it.

Back to our story…

As I sit on the vacuum packed, stifling, Twinkie-shaped, sardine can of a school bus with with all manner of humanity, waiting on the edge of my seat to see if one of us will crack, scream and dive out the window as the bus tries to weave it’s way through the throngs of fair goers oblivious to those of us on the bus and our plight, toward the traffic that it will have to navigate before getting us to our abandoned vehicles in a vast empty field 3 miles away, I felt relief that at least we were nearly done with this trial. I believe that life tests you and it looked like we were going to make it out of this one having passed this test and learned a lesson.

The bus eventually picked up speed as we traveled away from the fairgrounds. A breeze moved the still hot air and we all let our shoulders down a bit. Even the enjoyable parts of such a day, for parents, are challenging. An example? The Butterfly’s. Going into the netted area, filled with flowers and butterfly’s was something like magic. Until you try to control a 4 year old and a 2 year old that don’t really get it. We were given small, foam style paint brushes upon entering and were told they were dipped in nectar to attract the butterflies, which the 4 year old could eventually do. I turned for a second to look and marvel at how he had managed to procure a butterfly for his very own enjoyment. Being four and having the attention span of a gnat and needing the validation of constant achievement at video-game speed he was bored nearly immediately, which was fine, I still had to look after the 2 year old. Where the hell did he go! Ah. There he.. wait. Teddy, no! He had started brandishing his brush like a weapon and was trying to in fact ‘squish’ the butterflies. Thankfully he is not as coordinated as he thinks he is and no butterflies were harmed in the making of this disaster. In the future, even later that day, this was the memory we isolated and highlighted as the ‘magic’ part of our trip to the fair.

As I slowly drove the air conditioned car I had a few moments of serenity on my way back to the fairground to pick up my wife and kids. A thought snick into my mind. I could probably get away with sneaking off for a bit. Have a beer, catch an inning or two of the Mets game. Why not. What would they care if they got to stay at the fair for a few more minutes? Kids love fairs!

Having arranged with Karen to have the boys across the street from the gate through which we entered the fair I knew it was not to be. They were waiting and I had what they needed. A car, some screens (I don’t care what you think about this, keep it to yourself, talk behind my back, just don’t think I care about your data and research) and a ride back to the grandparents house.

I’m afraid that my abilities as a writer will fail me as I try to describe what it was I returned to. The fairgrounds are in a rural area and the lawns of the residents of the modest homes in surrounding the grounds are  filled to bursting with cars that paid a bit extra for the convenience. These folks who paid $10 to be able to leave immediately, when free parking was right down the street, people I called suckers not 3 hours ago, are the smartest people. Ever. As we crowded our car onto the edge of one such lawn, across from the parked police car, lights aglow for apparently no reason other then to be prepared, my family came into sight. The full blast of a Volvo AC unit with the windows up can completely cancel out the sounds of what was perhaps the busiest moment of the busiest day of the county fair, megaphones ablaze, kids screaming from death defying rides and all manner of annoying, ice cream truck style circus music blasting from the concourse that is perhaps as much as 25 feet to my left. What it can’t obscure is the wailing and screaming of my four year old son, retreating to the maze of automobiles behind him, blood curdling screams that would cause me, you and any other decent person to stop and watch to be sure that he is not in mortal danger.

He is not, but it’s not so evident. You see, I’m angry now. Again, it’s unfair, not his responsibility and still entirely his fault that I’m now on a warpath. He’s a big four year old and his brother is squirmy. Being outnumbered and overburdened by the necessary and unnecessary items that accompany a mom of toddlers from a fair, my wife was not able to fully gather him in his state and it was a full blown disaster unfolding. I kid you not, everyone stopped, as if this were a real episode of cops, and watched as I stormed, cheeks ablaze in frustration and fed-uppedness as I marched directly at the boy and restrained him physically. This was a situation in which diplomatic methods could not be employed, not yet at least. We were in the midst of a full blown rebellion. What was needed was a police state, removal by force and I was the brute squad.

Here I was, a stranger in a strange land, looking to all the world like the type of father I was, but not the type I reported to be. I prefer to be the benevolent dictator, allowing my boys to think they have choices. ‘do you want to brush first or read a story first?’ that kind of thing. But when the moment is upon us, when hell is staring me down at the county fair all artifice is lost. This is a regime that must occasionally use the full force of it’s bestowed powers and put down all threats. Today that threat came from within and I’m terrified to think what the surrounding masses thought of our little performance. Surely they saw my anger, his frustration, our failures and must have come to the same conclusions I’ve often come to when seeing others in this or other, similar situations.

Within five minutes, a seemingly short time until you’ve spent it confined in a station wagon with two screaming, not shouting, SCREAMING toddlers, we were able to diffuse the situation using the wisdom of our elders who always have spoils ready for their grandkids visits.

‘Okay, Charlie. I guess I should call Grandma and tell her to put away the cupcakes and ice cream. Cancel the pancake dinner. Charlie doesn’t want it.’ I said in my best toddler-whistle falsetto.

Deep breaths. Wiped tears.

‘No. I want cupcakes.’

‘You do?’ I asked.

‘Yeah’

‘Okay, I’ll tell Grandma, as long as your a good boy and say you’re sorry to mommy.’ Still falsetto.

‘I’m sorry, mommy. Yeah!’ he shouted, and got the attention of the other.

‘Cupcakes!’ They yelled in unison.

30 Years Ago, 30 Years From Now

Me, Karen and the boys...
Me, Karen and the boys…

When I was eleven years old life was pretty damn great. I was finally able to play on the CYO team where I was the star everyone saw coming. I was finally allowed to leave the school where I was punched more than I’d have preferred and was instantly popular in my new school, where I wouldn’t catch a punch for a good five years. Girls, girls I was starting to notice almost all noticed me! Of course one or two didn’t, which was also great because that allowed me to talk about them for hours on end with my best friend Cory while we shot hoops, rode bikes, got into trouble and hung out everyday. I remember it like it was yesterday. The map of the streets, and all the little curbs you could catch air off of, and all the paths through woods, the towpath along the canal that could take you uptown to the theater that played matinee’s of Back to the Future that I’d bring myself to after earning money mowing the lawn. The locks that everyone else jumped off but I was too mature (scared) to and the trail into the woods where parents didn’t venture and where we taught ourselves to smoke cigarettes. If there was nothing to do for some reason I had a basketball court across the street that was essentially mine for years where everyone came to play. Hoops on either end but we only ever used the one side, the one with the net that came off, then the chain that went in its place only to become half destroyed and half tangled so you couldn’t get that satisfying sound of the chain swish when the ball made it through. It’s all engraved in my brain. It was 30 years ago. And it feels like I’m still there.

30 years from now I’ll be in my 70’s. I fully intend to be vibrant and present and years away from my final farewell. But still, your 70’s is your 70’s. My great accomplishments will have been achieved, whatever they might be. And don’t kid yourselves. Anyone that makes it to their 70’s has had their fair share of great accomplishments. They’ve had a fair share of everything, actually. They’ve had love and loss. They’ve had wins and losses. They’ve had boundless optimism and crushing defeats. They’ve had magic. They’ve had insurmountable challenges that they prayed to be saved from only to find out how capable, how able, how great they actually could be. They’ve learned that most of the tragedies are actually just turning points. They’ve survived what they thought would kill them. Maybe physically, maybe spiritually maybe just situationally, which often feels the worst but leaves the least scarring. They’ve bought and sold and bought. They’ve seen cruelty. They’ve been moved to tears by beauty and by rage and by love and compassion. They’ve had a life.

It’s impossible to think that I’m as far from 11 as I am from 71, but no matter how I crunch the numbers it always works out that way. Sadness is a small ingredient in this soup. Gratitude is the broth, the part that all the rest swims in. If I had to isolate a feeling I wish for you guys when you reach an age, it’s gratitude. It’s truly the key to unlock true acceptance, love and happiness. Because this gift you are given is not to be trifled with. I’ve seen people who didn’t get it, who stewed in hate, anger, resentment and ugliness and it’s not worth it. It’s scary to be truly vulnerable but it’s also necessary if you are going to ever be able to feel what all of this can be.

Little Weirdo
Little Weirdo

I started writing when I was not much older than 11. Back then it was the muse that would get to me. It might be months on end of filling notebooks or it might be years of living and reading and thinking and learning, not once putting pen to paper. Putting the pen to the paper was great. Not in quality of the work, but in the quality of the time spent producing that work. When there’s so much to say, things you’ve only just figured how to articulate, so many things that you don’t know how to keep all the plates spinning and fear you won’t be able to get out this new piece of knowledge, this new way of understanding how the world is all connected, but it organizes itself, you let go of trying to hold on and you find yourself simply flowing. It’s remarkable. It’s playing pool on beers three and four, the angles appear to you effortlessly and you execute their plan intuitively and confidently. It’s a jump shot going down for days, the hoop starts to look bigger, like it’s looking at you and you know you can’t miss. It’s finding a task that excites you and becoming so enmeshed in it that you lose awareness of yourself and function fully  engaged. It’s a way of refreshing yourself to be so fully immersed. It feeds you and gets you back to full. It’s a glorious feeling that has occurred to me at the keyboard and with my open notebook. I hope you both find something that replicates that feeling. It’s so gratifying.

I shared it with a handful of people from time to time. It was hardly their fault that they didn’t fully understand the task they’d been assigned. They were to merely report that it was brilliant. Transcendent. Perhaps they could have questioned what it was I was doing wasting time working when I was sitting on a goldmine with this massive and massively beautiful talent. Instead they said hurtful and mean things like, ‘It’s really very good. I really like it.’ I eventually would recover and write about how cold the world can be to an artist.

20141025-102744-37664948.jpgThen you two came along. Turns out you guys were just the kick in the ass I needed to start living the life I talked about wanting. I started with a terrible first attempt at blogging while mom was pregnant with Charlie. Writing has always been my way of logging memories. Not just of events, but also of experiences. Of feelings and thoughts. And even in the excitement before I met you, at the mere thought of meeting you someday, I had to start building my collection of memories up. But I couldn’t do it. I’m embarrassed actually by the things that were there. I’m not kidding when I say this, I was literally the only person to have ever seen this blog. Even your mom, who was kind and supportive only heard what I read to her.

That fear of being fully exposed, the fear of being vulnerable in front of people, it owned me. Not just in what I had written but in life. My life was in service to never feeling vulnerable and exposed. Ultimately it’s a goal you can accomplish and many men do, but it’s a goal you’ll regret achieving. It’s fools gold. As men you need to know, feelings are often hard for us to understand and to recognize, but when you do notice something don’t succumb to the foolishness of thinking you can outrun yourself. You can’t. That game is rigged. You can’t avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed. If you do you might make it through protected, but you will have lost the only opportunity you have to live a great life.

Sure, I am a proud father and I would not at all be surprised if you accomplish a great many things in life that would make your resume a thing to be envied. But I can tell you right now at 2 and 4 you each have the chance to have a great life. A beautiful life. But if you hide from life, avoid pain and discomfort, try to keep who and what you are covered up, you’ll get to the end and realize you wasted the whole damned thing. I’m so thankful to you both for being the unwitting teachers who clued me in to this.

Before that it was your mom who crumbled the walls. She helped me understand that I had to stop hiding from life. Which I did actively through passivity until she helped me engage and be vulnerable in front of just one person. Her. In doing so I saw what I’d been missing.

Writing here has taken many turns I didn’t see coming when I started. I’ve had some successes and it’s been great. I hope there are more. But in the end, this, the developing dad blog is about you guys. Even the parts that are so clearly about me and my journey. Some day I’m not going to be here and you’re going to be left with an understanding that you didn’t know as much about me as you wished you did and it’s my hope that this can be a small supplement to your record of me, mom and our family. Not just when I’m passed, but before that as well.

I want you guys to have the chance to read about how we were with you each and how much we loved you. How obsessed we were with you. I want you to know who I was growing up. I want you to know that I’ve made huge mistakes and lived to tell about it. I want you to know that I’ve been really depressed for long periods of time and even thought about ending it all. I’ve even taken comfort knowing it was an option. Then I want you to read about the amazing wonderful life I got to live instead. I want you to know that therapy is something you can do. It’s like working out and eating right. Therapy can be part of being healthy and you should never ever feel anything is beyond repair. I want you to know fully, from my own words how flawed and human I was. I want you to know that I was funny. Sometimes in really inappropriate ways, though I’ll probably hide most of the really blue material (I also want you to know I love old phrases that were not even a part of my life, but once found I incorporated them into my language, things like ‘blue material.’) from you guys. I want you to know that I made bad decisions and that none of them were as bad in the end as they may have seemed at the time. I want you to know that I had a big heart and my work meant something to me.

I want you to have a chance to meet the me of 41 and hear about what I thought about. I want you to have a place to go if you’re ever curious about who I was when I was growing up. Your parents voices are your native language and I want you to have this always here so you can hear my voice in your head saying my words to you when I’m gone. I want you to hear me say I love you, Charlie, with all my heart. I want you to hear me say I love you, Teddy, with all my heart. I want you both to know how much this life has meant to me because I got to be your dad. I want you to know I just cried a little after saying that.

I want you to have all of this, all of me for as long as you want it. I want to be there in the only way I can be at the times you’ll wish I was there but know I can’t be.

I love you with all of my heart, Teddy.

I love you with all of my heart , Charlie.

My Life in Stories

2015-01-06 07.36.22We have two boys. Two separate but intertwined stories. I’m lucky to be here at the start of their tales. Amongst the first things that became evident was that I was not going to see the end of their story. I can’t even hope to see these stories through to their natural end. Nope, these tales are meant to extend beyond me.

My life has been anchored around stories. They have been a tether to the world and to the people in my life for as long as I can remember. I have loved movies and television my whole life, but in my heart I’m a reader. These days, with two very active little boys I’m often only a ‘reader’ as a description of who I was. That said the nights are getting quieter and longer, slowly but surely I can now begin to think of building a bedside tower of books to read for sheer pleasure.

I’ve had my nose in books since I was a kid. I used to sit on the landing at the top of the basement stairs, atop loosely stapled carpet, door to the “living’ part of our home closed, sequestered in my private little compartment, feet on the steps, bare bulb overhead atop the dangling string used to turn it on and off. There amidst the stored 2 litre bottles of Adirondack sodas I’d read through the scripts of the plays I’d seen my older brothers perform in middle school and high school productions. I’d read all the lines and all the stage directions and recreate Oklahoma! in my head. I’d devour the scripts to Cheaper by the Dozen and Sweetest Little Girl in Town for the hours between getting home and being beckoned from the kitchen just on the other side of the door beside me, to the dinner table.

On occasion we would go up to the Seymour Library and I’d look for scripts by Rogers and Hammerstein. I’d investigate the section filled with scripts until we were leaving and I was forced to pick. It was what friends of mine would do at the record shop, what I still do at book shops if I can steal a half hour in the afternoon. This was all before I was 10. I’d get a stocking stuffer book about Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabar of the quality you used to see at drugstore checkouts. Books with all the slapdash appeal and accuracy of neglected Wikipedia entries on singers of little note from bygone era’s. I’d read that biography time and again until it was incapable of maintaining its structural integrity. Then I’d read it ten more times, being sure to keep the many loose pages precisely where they should be. As a teen I would discover novels. I’d go through phases. A little Holden Caulfield here and some Phillip Pirrip (Pip) there. I’d take the Electric Cool Aid Acid Test in college, not a novel but so full of eclectic and eccentric characters that it read like one.  This would spark my curiosity about Kesey and his perfect representation of how we all got it wrong. I’ve come to think of that type of outlook as misguided and stereotypical of my young manhood. To be fair though, he wasn’t altogether wrong, but as I went on my tools became more refined and I gave more credit to my specific history and I fell in love with John Irving. The early striving and reaching and failing of Water Method Man or the so-close, pre-brilliance of Garp, the tease that made you know that something great was to come. It did with A Prayer for Owen Meaney. A fairytale of the neighborhood sort. The story was so great I didn’t care about the clumsy attempts to make a statement of the moment in the midst of an allegory that was timeless. I followed Mr. Irving to India and to the prep schools of the fifties and sixties and the Hotel New Hampshire and felt like I was getting a private tour of a brilliant mind trying to understand the complexities of the human heart. It was thrilling and I relish visiting their still. I’ll skip alternate chapters in Owen Meaney now to avoid the now dated commentary on the political realities of the time it was written. I’ll read only the first half of A Widow for One Year. These are my stories and I can consume them however I like.

I moved on to Russell Banks. He is still the pat answer for the question, who is your favorite author. I didn’t have the patience or inclination for the early stuff. It was designed to spit at convention and in so far as it buttresses me when i know its right to spit at convention, it was helpful, even not reading it. But everything from the blended cultures and New York upState teen life of Bone to the Hardscrabble New Hampshire of Wade’s life were and are things of brilliance. Being in these books are some of the most wonderful times of my life, reading these books and discovering a tender hand at the helm of such hard stories of hard lives. The pure intellectual self satisfaction with which I read the account of Owen, the youngest son John Brown, as he told his tale like it were a gospel, and for him it was as John Brown in fact made himself a bit of a god while pushing us to confront our sins. He was as much a True Believer when it came to god and to abolition as ever there was. The book was a tome. And it was and is something I’ll carry with me forever.

I have had a very real and vibrant life in stories. They have provided me with a language to understand, organize, proclaim and make sense of the story of the life I’m living. What none of them have prepared me for is being a bit player on the outskirts who dies half way through. But to some degree this is where I found myself after Charlie was born.

2014-10-25 12.47.40At the moment, a phrase that is pretty much the entirety of my life since having kids, I don’t often think of the end of my story. In fact I rarely think of my story at all. Not that it’s not important, and their are certainly things that bring it to the fore now and again, but

Before I was a parent, I was the author of MY story. I was the maker of worlds and the decider of fates. Granted, on a small scale, but still. To some degree, to be the author of my tale was the ultimate power I could wish for. Since having the kids I’ve lost all that authority. Now my life and its schedules are determined by the needs, and frankly, often, by the wildly swinging vicissitudes of two toddlers, who with all the authorial power, but none of the awareness or judiciousness of a good storyteller, throw chaos like beads from a Bourbon Street Balcony on that which pleases them and threaten with tears and tantrums if they are displeased by something so slight as having to endure a moment’s boredom. I am completely out of the moment to moment control and authorship game when it comes to my life. My story is now one of messiness and disorder and to be honest, I never knew that I’d so appreciate losing the long view of next week or next month in favor of trying to manage and please minute to minute while always attempting to ensure safety and security measured now in years and decades.

Before kids I was having a great time steering the ship and living my story. But there was a terrible reality that started to creep in. The terrible reality that this is a story with an ending that is coming ever so slightly into focus. Looking 30, 40 or even 50 years out, there it was. The lines were blurry but I’d started to recognize the colors of that portrait. It was navigating, this knowledge that we all have at an early age, from my head to my heart and becoming more real for taking up residence in both.

Baby boy, Char
Baby boy, Char

Thankfully, I’ve come to understand better the larger view. I’ve sacrificed my central role in the story to be sure, but I’m so much happier now. In this story. In their stories. Still a featured character, one with impact and one with an important role to play in the stories of our protagonists, but more to the side of the main characters. For my graciousness in ceding the lead role I’ve been given a new perspective. A new perch. I’m still headed to where I’m headed, but now it happens in the middle of the greatest story I could imagine, one designed to be of more interest and import to me then nearly anyone else on earth, rather than at the end of a story that was mine, but which never grew to live beyond me. I’m a part of a larger, more inclusive and connected story now. I’m a part of something bigger, better and far more enjoyable.

Learning to See

family.pictureAt first my family was everything. Then they were my everyday. Then they were my identity. Then they were that from which I needed to break free.

I was compelled to leave and couldn’t. I was fifteen or sixteen and temperament and hormones conspired to convince me I wasn’t happy, that it was an awful place and that I MUST get out of there to become whom I was meant to be. Its a very harsh, but from what I can tell a fairly common sentiment at that age when you think you know everything. On this energy I catapulted out of the cradle of my life and found a big, amazing world and I’m so happy that I did. Had I not I would never have been able to see how wonderful a world I had been born to.

I grew up amidst the apple orchards, corn fields and rust belt industrial hubs of western New York. Brockport, New York, to be specific. It’s an area that is occasionally mistaken for belonging to the northeast, but as a matter of reality its the Midwest. Much more in common with Cleveland than with New York or Boston.

I love the place, I miss the place and I imagine I always will. It was a beautiful place to grow up, and a cold one. Not many people would think of North Jersey as more hospitable in winter, but EVERYONE from where I’m from would. In fact it gives me a palpable sense of superiority every winter when locals complain about anything more than a dusting of snow and how hard it is to drive. Please. I was born in November and took my drivers test in January in Brockport, NY amidst copious amounts of lake effect snow.

From time to time I would have the occasion to bring people back home to Brockport. Often it was folks that worked at the lodge with me while I was in college. They were usually in their early twenties like me, and often from other countries. From my perspective it was a chance to have worlds collide, friends from home hanging out with my new found friends from far and wide.

We would go to bars, drink in apartments and socialize like young people the world over do. During the days we’d look for things to do. Being me and being in my early 20’s and breaking free of my home at that time I had a generally negative view of my region of the world and a specifically negative outlook on the town I was from. Shamefully now, I was embarrassed most of my home and my family. Bringing strangers from strange lands to visit changed that for me. It gave me a fresh perspective on what was in fact the great good fortune of my charmed life.

The broad, vast, open sky and miles and miles of beautifully worked farmland was visual white noise for me by the time I left. I would warn folks of the sea-level, flat monotony of the region. It was something entirely different to them. Taking them to see Hamlin Beach on Lake Ontario, the only thing I’d ever considered a lake, and to have them point out the obvious to me, who was so used to this sight as to think it nothing, that it was in fact hardly distinguishable from an ocean and breathtaking not only in its scope but also in it’s unexpected beauty was paradigm changing.

To bring them to Niagara falls and see there mouths agape, speechless at its awesome grandeur made me reassess this thing I’d so long taken for granted. I’m from a place, not nowhere. That place is unique and vast and beautiful. It’s a thing I was certain it was not, it was gorgeous. It took looking through others gobsmacked eyes to realize what it was I’d been looking at all those years.

While my head was down lamenting the tediousness of flat topography the eyes of my friends, eyes from the world over looked up and marveled at a sky they never imagined could be so enormous and vast and filled with so many stars.

In high school all that I was embarrassed me. I was popular and a jock and not a kid that was picked on or mocked. I’ve come to find that many of the young men I grew up with who were similarly fortunate have never stopped longing for that time. I was not reveling in it and felt little more than relief that my older years turned out far better than my younger years suggested they might be.

I was uncomfortable in my role. I was certain that I needed to get away from all I was to be what I wanted to be. And this was indeed true.

Becoming an adult is an act of contrivance and one that only made sense after the job at hand was completed. An inkling snuck in at the edges of my youthful anger and self-righteousness that I was in fact from a truly special family. But I needed the fuel of thinking I had something to run from, something that would always forgive me and accept me after my return, in order to motivate me out of the local bars and past a comfortable but unchallenged existence. For me that was getting away from the ‘crazies’ that were incontrovertibly ‘my tribe’, and trying to find another tribe to call my own. And I did.

The Lodge. It was an experience that propelled me directly to where I sit in life now. It allowed space for me to be curious and envious and striving and lazy and ponderous and annoying and loved. Thank god I went.

A funny thing started to happen. As I met and learned of the private lives of eccentrics and strivers and stoners and journeyers I learned that I am just like everyone else. All the things I felt shamefulness embarrassment about were in fact precisely what made me able to relate to these free thinkers, adventurers and truly revolutionary spirits who both attended the lodge and provided stewardship to the place. I started to feel like there might be a day when I’d feel fully comfortable in my skin and harmonious with my people.

I started bringing the world to my family and was afforded the opportunity to see them through others eyes. I came to realize that I had perceived them so ungenerously.

My family is what was and remains the most amazing gift my life has provided for me. They are generous and kind and thoughtful. They are fierce and funny and incredibly smart. They keep you sharp and keep you warm and keep you laughing and with the right mix at the right time, they keep the party going, although a laid back party with smart jokes and warm smiles.

Now that I’ve seen a few things, not a ton, but some, I know their was no better place on the planet to have grown up. I’ve met some people and had some victories and some struggles and in the end I am certain my big, crazy, funny, talented and thoughtful family is the only reason I am any of the good things I may be.

There is no doubt in my mind that I was exactly where I was meant to be, exactly when I was meant to be there and I will look back for whatever time I have left with nothing but generosity and appreciation for the wonderful family I was born into.

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