Tag Archives: raising boys

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.

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‘If You’re Gay…’ on Mamalode

I worry about what will happen when my kids aren’t so comfortable sharing every thought with me. Some of that is natural and a part of the process of growing up and growing out. A part I dread for many reasons, most of them regarding me and the nature of that life change. But there are small things that worry me and I want them to know where I stand.

Read my story today on Mamalode.com

http://mamalode.com/story/detail/if-youre-gay

A Note to my Sons On How Men Get it Wrong

To my sons.

There’s a lot I can help you with. Even more, I suspect that I’ll try to help you with. Perhaps even long past when you cease needing it. At those times I suspect you’ll be frustrated. You’ll wish to be left to do things on your own. You’ll wish it too early and I’ll let go too late. That’s what a good dad does. While I can’t give you everything you’ll ever need I will do my best to give you a good dad. In that attempt it occurs to me that there are some things I should share with you when they occur to me. This is one of those times.

img_3575You are little boys right now and I can’t tell you how delightful that is. For us and for you. Your problems are plentiful but mostly easily solved. Life has only just started and without a baseline for context the fact that your brother wants to play with your Halloween costume is enough to  bring you to tears. We hug you and kiss you and assure you that those tears are not necessary. We might be wrong. We’re wrong a lot. Anyway, I went a long time without crying. I cried so much when I was little, just about the ages you guys are now, that I was removed from Kindergarten. I wasn’t ready and as a result I cried everyday until all the grown ups agreed with what I knew. I wasn’t ready.

I believe that men have often so confused the concepts of weak and strong that it’s a reasonable conclusion to come to when you are young that true weakness is strength and true strength is weak. It’s a real mindf*ck for young men. We are taught that crying is weak. We are told that needing others is a sign of weakness. We are told to ignore pain. To quiet our emotions. To not emote, to be stoic. Truth is I don’t know if I was ever told these things but I knew them. The message got through that manhood, that true masculinity was immune to pain, stoic and self-reliant.

This is total bullshit. It took me way too long to understand that.

To the contrary. In many cases those very same attributes, at least for me, were indicative of my own fear. I think I went a good decade without crying. I trained myself to be stoic, literally berating myself and commanding myself to be disciplined and to shut up when I would drive to parties or family gatherings. Seriously. I’d say it out loud. ‘Just shut the fuck up. Why do you have to make a comment about everything. Shut. Up.’ And when I’d do it, when I’d stay aloof and removed and not needing of so much attention, I’d be proud of myself. And I wasted yet another chance I had to tell people how much they meant to me, how much I needed them, to show them how much they meant to me because I was trying to be something I thought I was supposed to be. Strong. Stoic. Self reliant. I wasn’t any of those things. I was weak. I was afraid to be myself. I was a million miles from being able to ask for what I needed. I was a man.

img_3520Well, it turns out that strength is exactly where I thought it wasn’t. I’m 42 years old now and I’m as prone to tears as I was at just about your age. I’m as needing of the love and support of my family as you are now, just in a different way. And I’m oodles happier for being comfortable with the truth which is that it is so much better to be able to ask for help than it is to be staunchly resistant to it.

I asked for a little help, in an office, from a professional. I figured out, with her help, that I needed to poke some holes in the bubbles I’d surrounded myself with and I did that, after years and years of avoiding it, by having a long overdue reality testing (revealing) conversation with your amazing Nana, my mom. I confirmed that it was okay to need someone by falling fully in love and revealing my full self to your mother when we met, almost immediately upon meeting, actually. Finally, I was a changed man who understood what it meant to be strong when I held you the first time and shed tears I didn’t know I had.

Don’t be afraid of feelings. They are to be embraced and explored. The reality is you can ignore them forever but if you do you’ll miss out on all that life had to offer.

The Pursuit

I’m not entirely opposed to participatory trophies. I don’t love them, but I get it. But there are times that I think we adults are making decisions that avoid headaches for us and rob kids of a chance to grow for expedience sake. To get them in the car without hassle. In terms of their experience of life as youngsters we are certainly raising the floor but in doing so we are lowering the ceiling. Which is fine, I guess, as long as we do it knowing this is the result. I’m not worried about kids getting a sense of entitlement to a trophy, I worry they are starting to get a sense of entitlement to happiness when happiness doesn’t work that way.

I was amongst the earliest generation of kids who were handed self-esteem. This too doesn’t work this way. The tsunami that came shortly after was a flooding of positive reinforcement heaped on children that was perhaps reflective of a truth, but connected to nothing. It was positive reinforcement for breathing and being. Now it’s far better than it’s opposite and there might be a need for remediation for children raised in brutal environs. But surely us bike riding, middle class suburban kids didn’t at all need to be rewarded for being. But we were. As a result many of us had no idea of who or what we were until we took ourselves out into the world and were made aware pretty quickly that we weren’t perfect. It’s a lesson that might be better learned before embarking on adulthood.

The disappointment of real adult life, with all it’s challenges and hard work and unfairness is jarring to some and I see people using the magic of technology to broadcast how unhappy they are. To lament the state of life. They aren’t wrong. It’s hard.  Where they miss the point is that it’s supposed to be. If it didn’t seem impossible and too hard to do at times it wouldn’t have any meaning. Happiness is found, achieved most of the time. Sure, it can be sprung on us and we can rent it for a time with money, but ultimately its not to be possessed. Its to be experienced. Remembered fondly. To be pursued.

Assessing one’s own ‘happiness’ in real time is a futile exercise indulged in by privileged people. I know. I’m one of them.

2015-07-10 18.21.48-1The reality is though that I’m never happier then when I’m working. Not at my job, though often there as well. What I mean by working is that my curiosity is piqued and I want to explore. Playing would be a more accurate way of looking at it. It may be physical, hiking a mountain in the Adirondacks or it may be a stack of books staring me down begging me to add my imagination to the half finished story the author offers requiring my brain, my imagination for it to become complete, to enter the world. It’s an idea that has congealed into an intriguing thought, transformed into a sentence that is telling me to write it down so it can have a chance at life. Too often these thoughts feel so compelling that I wrongly assume I will never lose them but I always do if I don’t write them down. Still, sometimes I don’t. I’m unhappy to have lost an idea. On the whole, though, that ability to be moved, even negatively, to care about something just because it intrigued and inspired me is something, an ability that makes me very happy.

Happiness is very often bought. I love that kind of happiness to. I just respect it’s fleeting nature. It’s here but a second and leaves little to no residue of it’s existence. The lasting type is the type that comes with effort. Effort that has risk inherent. You might find happiness and you might find disappointment. You might put down the pursuit for a time when it’s defeating you only to find renewed motivation and vigor upon jumping once more into the breech. That kind of happiness, the kind that comes from full engagement and commitment, from the excitement of the chase, that is born of curiosity or desire or inspiration, is happiness you can access and should access whenever you can. Even if the frequency of achieving it is low.

2015-08-23 10.30.30Happiness is not an entitlement. It’s not a pot of gold that once found can provide endless, unceasing joy. Happiness is a relative state of being that depends completely on the presence of a full spectrum of feelings. The founding fathers were wise in not focusing on happiness. It’s ethereal and gelatinous. What isn’t is the pursuit thereof. I have sons who are small right now and I have to say, like all parents, it hurts me to see them upset. I tolerate it. I even cause it when I must. But there happiness is incredibly important to me. It truly is. But a true sense of well being must incorporate disappointment, frustration, loneliness as well as excitement, purposefulness and connection. For my children to experience it all they should aim at happy, they should pursue it. But I hope they come to understand the nature of happiness to be more than that which is so often presented to them. True happiness requires engagement and effort and is never guaranteed. That’s why it feels so good.