Thanksgivings

I’ve come full circle on sentimentality. It’s not that to some degree I haven’t always had the predisposition, I have, it’s just that it’s become something I embrace, even seek out now that I’ve got some road behind me.

Life is moving as fast as it ever has. Faster in many ways. But for some reason I’m less and less moved by it. I’m underwhelmed by momentous change. I’m not as easily energized by my own morphing and evolutions. I’m simply living it. I’m running full speed to keep up and I’m barely processing it’s going so fast. Who can make sense of this stage with the solid oak I grew from growing ever wiser and the seeds I’ve planted requiring constant tending. Not to mention the intentions I had for myself before the realities I never considered became the droning and pressing necessity of each day as I try to make a life I’ll be proud of.

I’m tired and busy and energetic and overwhelmed at all times. I’m looking at a life that is zooming past and trying to find any and all rest stops and exits that look like I can afford to take them. I’m trying to get as much of this finite life as I am able and it feels impossible to catch up to it.

So I find myself on days like today, Thanksgiving 2017, in a sentimental place where I can experience the benefits of compounding interest as I feel the past in the present. It’s easy to do as Thanksgiving has been a huge part of the magic of life for me.

The early ones were at home and had the tables, all that we could move, fold, setup and tear down, stretching against the grain and crossing transoms to stretch far enough to fit all the family who could be there. I was a kids table holdout who ventured rarely and always regretfully to the grown up table at least once before I was ready. As a result I was always more than happy to give up my seat with the big people to spend another year at the fun table. The food was warm, the air was steamy, small rooms filled with big people and warmed by a kitchen that never stopped.

Later, when we were a tad older, but still young it became Florida! We went every year to visit our grandparents in Vero Beach. It was there my dad pointed out the connection that it might not be pure coincidence that Nana and Papa moved to where his beloved (Brooklyn) Dodgers had there spring training facilities. There I saw the shuttle from the driveway and looked up with my dad who marvelled that his dad, staying warm on the enclosed deck had been around when horse drawn carriages and Model T’s were filling the streets and now we were here in his driveway watching the space shuttle. It was there where we snowy natives spent hours learning how to body surf and seeing my dad in shorts, something rarely seen, but always when there was an ocean to swim in. He liked to bob in the waves, floating with his toes popping out of the water, riding the tide in peace. It was there that I saw the dance between my mom and her husbands wonderful, but decidedly commanding mother play out with a remarkable amount of good humor, understanding and grace on all sides. It was there where the adults I’d know later were the kids I remember now. When we see each other I like to think they see that young vibrant me as well. Time has taken its toll and it always wins, but its nice to know their are cousins who’ve seen you all the way through and know you. The real you. And it was their that I learned I may be the funniest in a room now and again and that may be a very useful thing, but I should never forget that theres a family tree of funny that has deep roots and long and surprising branches. I come from funny stock. Thanksgivings with the Wershing/Medler’s were the funniest.

College came and the family tradition couldn’t last forever. We quickly redeployed and had the usual guests and local family holidays that are the norm. Soon I took to heading up to the mountains where some friends had established roots. Saranac Lake and environs. It might have been just three or four times, but those Thanksgivings were amazing. They were like a vast, tribal, artisanal, low culture-high culture blend you can really only achieve in your twenties. Full capacity, zero responsibility, unmatchable sociability and comraderie and a determination to be adult. To this day, no offense to anyone else ever those meals were the most succulent and delicious I’ve ever had. It was a 3 day party and there were late night shenanigans, beer fridges and high times indeed. It was a joy of being alive kind of feeling that I’ll always love.

Then we had the family gathering at my brother’s house in Poughkeepsie. It was like a perfect little blessing that for those years, with me in the city and my sister in the area as well. We would inevitably show up the night before, until there were kids. Mom and dad would show up at night, mom having cooked a meal for twenty and packed it all in the trunk and we would unload into the just gorgeous home he was always so generous with. We would each offer dish and be welcomed to bring it and make it. My mother always liked us to be involved, but it was her production for sure and it was perfect. Food on the piano for serving, table set to Rockwell like perfection and new family as funny as the rest in on the conversations and bringing new humosrs and smiles to our faces. I don’t know what was said, I may have even had a part in the sequence leading to the laughter, but a memory that sticks out for me is my mom removing her glasses and wiping tears, in full all out laughter, only at catch her breath to say, ‘I haven’t laughed this hard since last night.’, only to kick off another round of table wide guffaws. We were all a little grayer at these gatherings, but we still through the football around and stayed up late enough for our turkey sandwiches and movies. Resisting every urge we might feel to get going home if that was in our plans. This was our first real thanksgiving after the kids. The one where we could bring a baby and begin our families traditions in earnest.

Circumstance changed and kids continued to grow and we began to have our traditional Turkey days at Karen’s parents house. It was such a treat. They live on beautiful land outside Saratoga county. Youhonestly couldn’t paint a more beautiful picture of holiday land. The house was always full of all our favorite treats and every meal was a chance to sit and visit between indoor and outdoor adventures in a landscape carved carefully by nature and man over decades of tending and refining. There were sled rides in snow, treasure hunts, long adventures in the basement workshop and treats to fill the hearts of toddlers and middle aged men. These were magical visits that always started with Grandma and Koba greeting us at the car, as excited to see us as we were to be there. Travel is hard at that early stage, but they always understood and went so far out of their way to make sure the memories were of the wonderous variety.

Now, today, the tradition turned again as we went to a new gathering place in Maplewood. We’ve been passive observers of Karen’s sister and brother in law as they’ve put in countless hours making a warm and welcoming home, a dream home really since moving in years ago. Now once again the tables were laid out against the grain, traveling through the home from back to front, seating and feeding generations of family with more than a delicious meal. It was a magical day. The kids sat at the big table and did mostly great, when they weren’t crawling underneath. Hectic moments when all arrived and too many hands went on instinct to the kitchen, chaos slowly turning to perfection as the food was pulled together by my brother in law, the magician, casual conversations happening everywhere you looked between people who loved being with each other and can so rarely be due to the simple and never ending logistics of life. Good laughs and good food, great stories and long and luxuriant pickingat desserts that fed and fueled the days journey into night. Hugs and goodbyes and smiles and warmth. The tradition is beginning for these guys, the little ones. For me it’s settling into the pace where, seeing it starting again for the kids and watching it evolve once more for all of us grown ups, I can finally catch up to the sentiment. I can feel the nostalgia and the beauty of it all in real time.

It all leaves me so grateful to be sharing this journey with these fellow travelers, every one of them from each iteration.

The Husky Dads Million Dollar Idea

I’ve never been truly thin. Not even as a kid, when I reasonably could have been considered ‘lanky’. Whatever wireyness I might have possessed was due almost entirely to my reaching my height sooner than most of the kids I grew up around. I’m 6’2″ if you go by the tale of the tape next to my headshot in the program. 6’1″ easily if you go by actual measured height and I got a legit 5’11” of that height by the time I was in 7th grade or so. But even then I knew not to go shirtless too regularly. I was kinda fat-skinny. 

In the years since then I’ve become just plain old husky. I’d be burly if I could pull it off, but doughy tugs pretty firmly at me. I’m 43 now so I’m not sure I’ll ever dip down below 200 lbs ever again. I’m okay with that as long as I’m able to stick around for as long as my kids really need me. But let’s just say the metabolism ain’t where it could be. Or rather, I’m 43, from what I hear it’s exactly where it should be.

This cake was magical. Been chasing that dragon ever since..

If you are not yet of an age, let me tell you this central and universal bit of misfortune that comes with age; You can gain significant weight in one lost weekend and you can’t lose that weight without a month or more of committment, discipline and sorrow. At least I’m told you can. You certainly can’t lose it with a months worth of backsliding committment and little to know will power and endless taking it easy on yourself and having that extra cookie. That much I can say for certain. That path is one I’m testing. Been doing it twenty years now and while I’m not yet fully ready to share my data, I’ll let you know that I’m starting to notice some pretty predictable patterns. I mean, it’s like the least groundbreaking science you’ll ever see. To that end I’m taking it easy on my overstressed joints in hopes of making them last a tad longer. Cross your fingers for me!

So this post weekend was the worst kind I’ve come across over my many era’s. While it was thoroughly enjoyable in all other ways, this weekend was a disaster for my ever diminishing hopes of ever getting back into that suit I wore on the wedding day. A day I should note happened in my mid thirties when I was significantly past my playing weight. And don’t get me started on ever fitting in that speedo I’ve yet to buy that I’ve always imagined I’d use to embarrass my kids at beaches over the summers of their youth. Though that’s perhaps more of a committment issue for me. I mean, I really have to go for that bit for it to work, but I’m just not there yet, guys. Please don’t pressure me.

Cookie. Nap. Cookie. Nap. This is my cycle. Has been since they were little..

This past weekend was a quick trip to the grandparents. Well my kids grandparents. My inlaws. They are the nicest, kindest people on earth. So nice that they, well, she, makes ALL of the things I’ve ever complimented and told her I loved. Have you ever had pumpkin pie ice cream? Not pumpkin pie with ice cream, though I will note this here for future reference, but rather pumpkin pie flavored ice cream. I have. I hadn’t when I woke up last Friday. Now I’ve had an easy half gallon. Super easy. Like so easy. 

I remember hearing for decades now that you can get serious control over your diet by writing down everything your eat. It’s supposed to keep you from overindulging I guess. Maybe spur some healthy, light self loathing. After loosening my fat cargo’s I thought, maybe I have to do it. So I took a sheet of paper and wrote. Chicken salad sandwich, 1 2  3 bowls of pumpkin pie ice cream, chocolate chip coo- and I stopped. Right in the middle. Damn that was one fine homemade chocolate chipper she gave me, I thought. There have to be more. No one bakes one cookie, I thought some more. And like that I was off. Sure enough. Full tin. Right there, out in the open. Where I could grab a half a cookie anytime. There, maybe six halves, whenever I walked by. Damn, damn, damn. Writing didn’t work. Don’t worry, there were rich buttery scones to get me through breakfast. 

Anyway, it occurred to me this past weekend that Perhaps I’m missing a real opportunity here. Maybe there are other men, men like me, men of what we like to call a certain age. Men who pause a beat too long when someone says to us from behind a counter, ‘Sir, I said we have a chip reader’. I love chips. I just learned how to make them from scratch. Well I mean, it’s pretty basic, but I digress. My million dollar idea is simple. It will take some marketing to convince my customers, but I’ll be the first and most enthusiastic of adopters. Without further ado…

It’s well past time that men like myself should have a good, high quality, fashionable, High waisted, control top, boxer briefs to wear in the wake of these lost weekends. This market is real

Who’s with me!

The Madness of Prince Teddy

‘Ew, no Charlie! Wahhhhhh!’

The above is shouted. Sharply and insistently. It is my four year old son’s response to his brother eating yogurt. Or ¬†an apple. Or drinking milk. Teddy is not one for subtleties. He cares not for the feelings of those who offend his olfactory senses and he will not be dissuaded from his opinion that the vileness of these things are rightly and roundly rebuked. No sir, he will simply prefer to spoon his ketchup into his mouth in a different room, thankyouverymuch.

Okay. He’s 4, it’s not like he’s great at thinking of others feelings, but you’d think there’d be some recognition that registering his disgust so broadly, and by that I mean in the ‘broad comedy of Jerry Lewis’ (May he RIP) sense of the word, might be hurtful. But no.

Just today we were in the car and he starts.

‘Drink it! Charlie, Drink it.’ The first sentence was shouted. This is white noise to all of us by now. It is ignored and as much registered as a first, ‘morning’ one says prior to coffee, still half asleep. But the second was screeched in the manner of the classic Hollywood scream queens. This is by no means reason for alarm though it does wake the rest of us up.

‘What?! What is happening! Why are you screaming! Is everyone okay! WHAT’S WRONG!!’ This situation clearly needs a bumbling, distracted, middle aged man to thunder in with volume and stress. It’s just the recipe to really get everyone calm quickly and I’m just the man to do it.

‘Charlie won’t drink his drink.’ Teddy says.

‘Teddy, that’s too far. You are not in control of when Charlie drinks his drink. Come on, buddy?’

Appeals to reason, I should know by now, are only passingly accepted and ONLY when they suit his need for utter and total control of all that he purveys. This statement, I should note, could easily be applied to myself or T so, you know, art is in the eye of the beholder, so whichever you prefer.

‘Charlie’s drink is empty.’ Says Developing Mom (a name I hasten to add is only employed in the most sophomoric of tongue in cheek fashions as she is a fully formed and wonderful mom) in a manner that is dismissing the dramatic nature of the 4 year olds clearly false claim, for which he has clearly been busted for his over dramatic ways. This is done so nonchalantly as it is de rigueur by now.

‘No!’ screams T, ‘The drink in his mouth!’

Come to think of it, Charlie has been suspiciously quiet. Good for him, don’t let him take you down, dude.

‘Teddy. He can swallow whenever he wants. You don’t get to control everything. But I will let you know something. The mare you ask and cry the less likely he is to swallow it. Just be quiet for a minute and I’m sure he’ll swallow it down. Besides Chocolate milk slowly turns into rotten chocolate milk if it stays in your mouth too long. Surely he knows that.’ Okay, I’m making up the last bit, about the rotting in your mouth. But I wish I said it.

‘Teddy, it’s gone now.’ said Charlie, finally entering the script from his pivotal though silent role as unwitting, though I suspect fully witting, agitant.

And like that we’re off, to our next dramatic flourish which is surely no more than a mile or two down the road. Teddy is like me in many ways. One is that he can be ‘over peopled’. Today we were at the Adventure Aquarium, one of his favorite places on earth. He loved it and behaved. He was all you could ever want from an excited and engaged four year old. His big brother was at his best as well. But, you know, now back in the car, away from the maddening crowd, he had to let some of that stress out. It was a huge relief to be home after periodic meltdowns all the way home. We said no to screens all the way home as well, so it was a bit.

But it was good to be home. Everyone reverting to their creature comforts. I with my whiskey (okay, that’s only happening now as I write in a quiet house at 1:14 in the morning), Teddy with his cheese stick to wash down his pizza (I can’t wait until I offer a menu item with mozzarella and he insists he hates the stuff) and Charlie with his apple and a yogurt. Yep. I was over done and I brought out two parts of T’s unholy trinity just like that and put it down right there, right where he could smell it (his claim to how it offends) and see it (the obvious actual trigger to his claims of fear and loathing).

I braced myself. But nothing came.

‘I eat apples like that at school.’ He said. School is daycare.

‘What?’ I said, incredulous.

‘I Like them at school.’ He said. Just like that. No biggie.

‘He said he likes yogurt there, too.’ Said Charlie.

When the hell were you gonna tell me! I didn’t say it, but come on!

‘Did you hear this, honey? Teddy eats apples at school. He likes them!’ I said as Developed Mom walked by.

‘I know.’ She said.

‘Did you know he likes YOGURT there too!’ Come on, share some outrage at this travesty I screamed with my eyes.

‘No, I know. He drinks milk there, too.’

What the hell.

Teddy’s Cheeks

Perhaps its just my nature to be wistful. That very well could be it. I could easily make the argument that wistfulness is my strongest suit as a writer. But wistful for me these days is honest. Because while parenthood is very very good at making you spend a good deal of your day living in the moment, it is also a role that is forever slipping through your fingers. 

There’s a lot that surprises you that first second. I became a dad in an instant. One second I’m a husband and about to be dad and the next I’m a dad. Full blown, card carrying dad. The card in this case was a Visa card and not some license to be a dad, though were there one my merely being a dad would not entitle me to the card. Nope. That comes later. I’m certified now, but still a newb. Becoming a dad is merely the starters pistol in your sprint to learn to be a dad. 

What I learned first, after the new brand of love, the overarching, in your bones kind of love that you learn in that first instant, what I learned was that life is fragile and mine will end. Hopefully some day decades and decades down the road when the loss will be real for my kids, but when it will be manageable. Still, this little boy had a story and it was starting right there, smack in the middle of the story I’d been only just getting accustomed to sharing with his mom. If everything goes right, if it goes as right as it can go I’ll get a few decades to overlap, 30 or 40 or 50 years to be in his story. Then, inevitably, I’d be leaving. Wrapping up my tale with tentacles lingering on the fringes of the stories they will be living. It’s the best outcome one can hope for and it is unavoidably imbued with melancholy. Sad is the wrong word. Melancholic. A sustained low level presence of unavoidable sorrow, that recedes to the background when joy is present and it is so so present so much, along with exhaustion and frustration and confusion and exhaustion. Did I say exhaustion twice? I did? Well, clearly I’m not as tired as I was a few years back. Then the entire list would have consisted of exhaustion and the list would hav been 7-12 items long. All of them exhaustion. 

My first son made me a dad. He came into the world and boom, I’m a dad. He cried, I messed up, I learned my error and I became more of a dad. This is a seemingly infinite loop. I mess up, I recognize it by something going wrong with him, I see that I messed up and I try something new and it gets a little better  and we do that all day every day forever. Which is true, but not true. It’s not forever. Time is very viscous and slides faster than I can keep up. You do eventually give the swing to sisters and brothers who will need it. You throw out the car seat that is beyond beaten and smelly and you recycle the last bottle you’ll ever have. Things disappear into the far back memories and then they go from there. Some of them go invisibly and without regret or a second thought. I’ll never change my kids disaster diaper ever again. The kind where you resort to cutting the clothing off to save everyone the terror of it coming off any other way. That piece of history is happily behind me, though I actually think I appreciated it for what it was at the time. Your mind and memory play little tricks like that. I know better. Just happy that’s in the past. Other things, well, I can’t let go of so cavalierly. Like Teddy’s cheeks. 

Teddy’s cheeks aren’t going anywhere. I trust he’ll have them for the rest of my story. But they are changing. He has epic cheeks. Anyone and everyone who has known him will tell you. They are squat and round and adorable. They are a feast for the eyes and they are so connected to the little misspeakings of an adorable toddler with the childlike voice that I’ll never fully have anymore. He is our last and when those cheeks go, they’re gone. Forever. And this time forever means forever. 

My Teddy’s cheeks won’t come back. So I am wistful. Nostalgic. Sentimental in the extreme because my life, my consciousness has a timeline and the horizon, though distant, is firmly in view and when I lose Teddy’s cheeks that horizon will draw ever so slightly nearer.  

 

The Letter, The List and My Greatest Fear

Mansfield, Pa. I was there for the week for basketball camp. I don’t know how it became a thing in our town, hundreds of miles away, but for anyone serious about basketball, at least any of us between 10 and 14, you went to Mansfield for a week of basketball camp. I was the most serious about it and I was there. I was about 12 and it was great.

It was a great time for a 12 year old who was obsessed. I was the kid who had a basketball in my hand every minute. I was the kid in Western New York, where it can snow in 8 or 9 different months a year, who would shovel the court to play in January. Or October, if need be. I was the kid who played a level up always. I was obsessed and good as far as anyone could tell. This was the first big year away at camp and the first time I shined outside my own town. I was good against the good kids my age from other towns. I could run with the good kids older then me. It was a buzz.

My dad picked me up and my memory is that he told me we had to get going fast. Mom wasn’t home and we had to get moving.

‘Where’s mom?’ I asked.

‘She had to go to see Grammy.’ He said.

‘When?’

‘She’s there now.’

A lot of things happened in our house without advanced warning. There were six or seven kids at that time, including a toddler, so it’s possible these plans were always in the works and I was just never informed. Still, weird for her to travel alone, but to be honest, she’d gone to Israel on her own while 8 months pregnant with the little one so who’s to say if it was weird that she went on short notice to see her parents.

‘Why?’ I asked.

Here’s where my memory fails me. I don’t know if I asked that. Maybe I didn’t, though I can’t imagine it wouldn’t have come up. Maybe we were driving a friend of mine home or something and he couldn’t tell me. Whatever was said I didn’t know ‘why’ she was gone until I read it in a letter. Might have been in the car right when I was packed up and we were ready to go. I have a memory of it being a letter I read when I got it on the kitchen table when we got all the way home. In hindsight I can imagine a dad wanting to keep it from a kid as long as possible.

What is true is that I found out in a letter. My dad probably wrote it. Might have been mom, but I can’t imagine. It was one of them. My grandfather was dead and he’d killed himself. It was a suicide letter by proxy.

I haven’t been writing much lately. I have to start again. I’m nervous about losing writing. I fear it’s like basketball. I’m old and unable and all those years of pounding my knees on pavement have not left me very able with a hoop and a ball anymore. I can shoot, I’ll always be able to shoot, but the rest is rusty and the will and ability to fix that are gone.

I’ve been sharing the writing I’ve done in the past in different ways recently. It’s been good to reach some new people and find some new life in old stories about times gone by. It’s been interesting to mine my own work, produced largely without reflection. Or rather, to reflect on what I was compelled to write over time.

I recently shared a piece that was written as if it were a letter to my sons. It was a letter outlining the fact that what I want for them is to feel loved and to love. I want the person they love to love them and to inspire laughter and curiosity and energy and compassion and passion and all the things that love alone can fulfill, but I don’t care if the person they love is a man or a woman. I will very much care about who that person is, I just won’t care about that.

It’s in line with a lot of my work, really. Often I’m sending a message out through time and space hoping they will see it and know they were loved. Know that I’m aware of the things I got wrong. Sorry for the parts I’ll fail at. I want them to know that I was a failure. That I was a drunken mess for years. That I had false starts and self doubt and self loathing. That I was depressed. That I hated school. That I didn’t know what I was doing when they came along and all I wanted to do was do right by them. That love so amazing as the love they and their mom have brought to my life is worth slogging through painful times for. That even the hope of it is enough.

I remember having a conversation with my sister a number of years back where I told her that I have always kept a list in my head of who it is I think is most at risk of killing themselves. It’s not some list of sad celebrities or self destructive artists of one sort or another. It was a list of family and friends. Mostly family. A list I at times put myself on. A chronicle of my real time assessments of presumed depressive states that were potential life changing suicides. I did it subconsciously and without noticing I was doing it for years. It sounds like bullshit to me, but it was true. I was truly unaware of this constant drone in my psyche.

One of the recurring points I’ve made over the years was the startling and profound understanding of mortality that I had when I saw my kids the seconds after they were born. It’s more pronounced after the first, sure but that isn’t to say it wasn’t there with the second. It’s a bell that can’t be unrung, but it can certainly be rung again.

It was a rolling realization but the fact is that it was inevitable, being me, that sooner than later the fear of the worst thing I could ever imagine would occur to me. What if some day, too far out to imagine, but not so far out I can avoid ever thinking about, one of my kids, in a moment of pain and suffering and confusion and hopelessness and depression killed himself. It’s the worst thought I can imagine. It’s vomit inducing to say. It’s my biggest fear and I’ve never acknowledged it until now.

Because I got that letter. The one that I had no idea would ripple into the future not in weeks or months or even years, but in generations. In families that weren’t even imagined yet. In the darkest corners of my imagination and in the lists I’d construct mindlessly for hopes that somehow the preparation would perhaps soften a blow I couldn’t possibly see coming.

I’m not capable of having an objective view of my life. By definition it’s impossible, but at times my subjective experience of it can lead to insights that perhaps obvious to others are still profound for me. So saying that it would appear my grandfather killing himself may have effected me and my point of view may sound obvious to you, it wasn’t to me. It wasn’t at all.

I felt bad after reading the letter. I felt hurt even. There was no ‘good’ way to tell me and at a time when communication at a distance was not like it is today I understand why I’d learn about it this way. But it felt like I was left a few days behind. I came back to everyone being in the third or fourth day. I came back to a process that I was left out of. It wasn’t like it was anyone’s fault. I’m really only putting it together right here. At the time I just felt out of synch with the world. I didn’t know what else to do then keep doing what I did. I probably went and shot hoops. It’s literally how I spent an easy 50% of my waking hours at that time.

What I didn’t do was cry. I felt terrible about that. I wanted to so badly, but it just didn’t happen at that time. I didn’t really shed a tear. Maybe I would have had I been there for the group horror, but I wasn’t and I was a twelve year old boy. Emotions are hard always, but they’re a more confounding sort of hard, a less tethered kind at that age. It was 30 years later, when a young man I only knew through others and only enough to say hello to killed himself that I finally wrote about him, and my grandfather and read it to my mother that I really bawled about it.

The tears were not just sad tears. The tears I’ve shed for this event are sorrow filled to be sure, but they are rage informed as well. Confusion and fear are in tears for a suicide as well. There’s empathy and judgement and all of it just comes out. It doesn’t get processed or fixed with a good cry. That’s the thing about suicide. It doesn’t, as far as I can tell it can’t get resolved.

I write because I write. I have only this single keyhole through which to see the world and from where I’m looking the threat of finding out the worst news imaginable is possible because I’ve found it out before. And I’ve watched others find out what it all means, over time, others more directly related and I can’t ever lose the fear of it. So I write. I write about as many of the feelings and failings I can muster the courage or the perspective to find in my story. I write to the worries I have that can keep me up, about what if they don’t know how much I love them. What if they are disconnected at a time when I can’t reach them and they think an awful thought and I can’t hug them and hold them and assure them they are loved. What if they are afraid of me or think I will judge them harshly and I add weight to the burdens I can’t know that they will someday carry. And I write.

I write because it brings me joy and relief and understanding and it can fill me with pride and drive me to dig deeper. In doing so I’ve come to understand that I don’t always see all the forces compelling creation. I don’t always understand why the topics come to the surface. When they do I can ignore them or indulge and some I’ve indulged should likely have been ignored and many I’ve ignored should probably have been explored. The process of creating over time though is starting to reveal reason’s to me and one of them is I don’t want to ever catch myself ever thinking I’ve ever failed to do everything in my power to keep these two names, these two magical and wonderful human beings as far away as possible from my tragic lists. Lists I can’t sop making.

Finding My Center

What is passing for ‘what I know’ today is that it’s pretty easy for small, practically imperceptible doubts that reside in the far reaches of my memory and dark corners of my conscience, upon finding one another, to amplify their small voices to such a degree that they can drown out all that confidence and self assuredness I’ve been gathering over the years. Doubt gathers in the dark and waits. It plans and attacks under the cover of propulsion, hidden by my aloof optimism and neverending schedule. But it can pounce.

There’s nothing in particular to note. Nothing I’ll signify here, and what my specific doubts are misses the point. Which for me is that more than anything I’m so grateful to my kids because they center me like nothing else. Like I guess my parents did when I was 5. In a way that is so massive and consequential in my life it’s a very good thing that they don’t have any clue that they carry this weight for me. They carry in them the ability for me to continue, never folding and never quitting. They are inspiration and reward. They are the end all and be all for me in a way no other people on earth could ever be. When they go to therapy to deal with the issues I’ll surely give them it will be something I hope they will be  able to take into consideration, how direly important they were and are and will always be to me. 

Really, I get a ton wrong. I yell like an angry, over the line drill seargent and immediately return to calm and measured. It’s effective and terrifying and surely I’m doing it wrong. Like the thousand other things I’m doing wrong. But they forgive and love me and let me stay here, in the middle of their universe. They give me everything by simply orbiting me. I won’t always be the sun and when it fades it will be my watching them venture off orbit that will center and sooth me. I don’t think I deserve it frankly, but it will happen that way and I’m forever greateful for it. 

I don’t know that I’ll be writing about them so much going forward. They are after all growing up  and the last thing I’d want is to hurt them in some inadvertent way. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I’m likely to continue to shift the focus more to me and the forever becoming part of fatherhood that keeps me growing and moving forward. Still, I’ll be watching them and loving them every stop of the way. Worry is just starting to creep in. That’s a lie. Anyone who’s read my work knows I’m a worrier. But the fears of things that are unknown are becoming more serious. Why shouldn’t they be more serious. After all, the older they get the more tools they have. I will continue to write about my love for them. 

Amongst my greatest fears, and this likely says far more about me than it could possibly say about them, is that they will grow up and wonder if I loved them. If I thought of each one of them as individuals and was enamored and enthralled with them in the way that I should be. So I’ll tell them, in awkward and uncomfortable moments. I’ll relish the squirming of their tightly wound teen psyche’s recoiling from the embarrassing dad laying the ‘I love you’s’ on thick and frequently. At drop offs and pick ups and in front of friends. I’ll put it here so they’ll know I thought it before they ever knew it was a thing they’d wonder. But I’ll refrain from sharing them too much with the world. It is called Developing Dad, after all. It’s clearly a place where I should be sharing too much of me with the world. 

I wonder sometimes whether the dark visions that are making their way into my brain are a result of my aging. Am I’m simply going down the path I’ve so long been highlighting in my mind of old men who have become blind to the light, unable to train their focus away from the subtle dying of the light in order to see the abundance of good so clearly evident in the world. Am i simply a stereotype, a grumpy old man who sees a world growing ever more harsh and unforgiving. A world that doesn’t properly value love, empathy, responsibility or decency. A world devolving. It’s a world that’s easy to see these days, be it because I’m aging and falling in the trap I’ve so long focused on avoiding or because of a world that isn’t living up to the promises I thought it had made. Regardless, when I see my kids, when I’m with them or thinking of them I’m instantly back. Purpose returns. Love returns. Undeniable, unavoidable empathy and faith. It’s all in them. And to think, they think I’m the one they need. They couldn’t have it more wrong. 

Taken for Granted

More than anything in the world I’m grateful that we will have pizza this week. And vegetables. Fresh and frozen, canned. Whatever. I’m grateful that we know with near certainty that we won’t spend a minute thinking about whether or not we can eat.

I don’t always appreciate how safe I am. I lie in the dark and wonder if I left a lock unturned. I wonder if that was someone downstairs. I think about what is nearby that i could use to club a potential burglar or worse. Then I wait and wait and I forget about it and I go back to distracting myself with pictures of family and tales of struggle and memes that make me laugh. I watch highlights and listen to comedians interview each other on podcasts that I hear on my phone which can access, essentially, all human knowledge. I do all of it knowing I am not likely to have war greet me at the door. My children are not likely to learn the worst of life until they are ‘ready’ and then they will do so through books and movies and lessons and not life. I know the further out I project the less sure I can be of these things, but I’m confident.

I see pictures of children who are being greeted by a world that is roiling with chaos and violence the likes of which I can’t even truly imagine without a sheen of Hollywood staging and two dimensional falsehoods that are stored in my brain as images of war. Then a picture will turn up in the news of a child, a toddler, old enough to process but not enough to understand, if there is such an age, why the men are killing everyone, why these bombs are coming for them and I fall to pieces. I question everything. I wonder why I’m not doing more.

I didn’t know the gut punch of these pictures, these images until I had my boys. Until I had the identity of a parent. I could Identify tragedy, yes, but I feel it so very viscerally now. I see the confusion and fear and courage and bravery on the faces of children enduring war and I shutter at what they know. No 4 or 5 year old should know what these children know. I fall to pieces.

I don’t appreciate how good I have it and I never will. But at times it becomes starkly real when I see the world I’m protected from. The world I continue to place safely out of view. One I care about, want to change but am determined to not see. I don’t think this makes me a bad person, relatively speaking. Relatively speaking I’m fine. But I’m also selfishly and honestly and determinedly invested in keeping my boys out of those pictures. Out of harms way. Safe in this place where even the greatest tragedies, thus far are little more than inconveniences and mild disappointments when seen in the grand scheme of things.

I wish I was better than I am. I wish you were. I wish anyone who could would walk into hell and walk these children and their families out. I’d be so incredibly happy to help them, from here.

The Boys on the Trampoline

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I can’t begin to express how much I love this picture. I love that the tips of the pine are a lighter green, early spring and new. I love the underbrush, rich, lush and untamed. I love the slide you so long ago conquered now used solely as a ladder to a bigger kids toy. I love the soccer ball alone under the slide. Mostly I love the two of you, sitting with your backs to the house, both looking out and talking without us there.

I know that you’re saying things of no immediate import. Maybe Teddy is asking a question of you, Charlie, something he’s curious about. Maybe Charlie is imagining your boundryless stories that you offer in real time, words barely outpacing your synapses as you get yourself excited by the places your brain can take you, Teddy. Maybe you’re just taking a breather. 

Part of what I feel when I see this is a certain loneliness. It’s mine. It’s the kind many men feel as far as I can tell. Many people I should say. It’s a little scary to me because I’m seeing the seeds of future states these days in ways where I can’t help but project onto you my experience. The truth is I look at this and the first feeling is hope. Hope that you both will know how much you are loved. Hope that you will love each other. Hope that you will endure whatever is out there that we can’t see, that you will have to figure out. Hope that you’ll have empathy for each other and for yourselves. 

It’s easy these days to lose sight of what’s important. We live in an area and I daresay a time when parents are a bit too involved in the process of raising kids. It’s not a criticism, it just seems that way. There is so much being emphasized on the important things that aren’t all that important. Homework in kindergarten seems a harbinger of a severely out of whack system. I want you to learn that love and kindness and empathy are the best protection you have. I want you to know how to be loved and how to love. I don’t really care if you aren’t hitting milestones or excelling in the way you should be. I want you to learn to look inside for validation. I want you alone to determine what makes you happy. I want you to have extraordinary lives, not necesarrily over or overtly successful one’s. I want you to know how much is enough and to be grateful that you have it.

As you sit there side by side I want you to know that that is home. When you are 18 and 16 and one is going to college and one is staying I want you to feel the pain of loss but know you won’t be alone. When hearts are broken in minor and major ways I want you to sit on a bench like you are in this trampoline and just be brothers. I want you to be better at family than I am and I think you already are. 

You are our little boys and we will be here to protect you for what feels like forever to those two little boys in the trampoline. But watching you there together I can’t help but yearn for a snow globe to descend from above, covering you and us and our home and our yard and stopping it all from moving forward. 

I remember fifteen years ago like it was yesterday and time is only slipping faster from this particular vantage point. in a blink you’ll both be in your 20’s and I’ll be nearing 60. I’ll give you all the wisdom I can mine within me and I’ll keep searching and scraping for more, but when it fails, and it will one way or another, always remember that you have each other. 

None of life is guaranteed except for yesterdays. Collect as many as you can and hold them as long as you can. For me I’ll add this sight of you two figuring out life together from the comfort of your backyard and I will feel very lucky that I get to know you. 

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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.