Monday, December 21, 2009
But, it is a quiet Sunday evening, where the kids have gone to bed with aloha. And, the Eagles won, and although it was a little chilly earlier (dropped to about 72 degrees overnight) the weather has been ok overall. Perhaps I can take some time to write in this space.
Things have been good. The twins are thriving at school and have made amazing strides in the things that they can do.
The Boyo is still deeply fascinated by Dinosaurs, and his informational recall and critical thought and reasoning about them would be scary if I didn‘t already know that he was smart. He remembers stuff that I try to remember but cannot. He nods politely at me when he has to correct me, like the other day when he explained to me that Troodon meant “wounding tooth” and not “terrible claw” which is what Deinonychus means. His sister rolled her eyes at me when I got it wrong.
And yes, those were his words. Really. It’s happened more than once.
His Twin sister entered a photograph in the recent PTA Juried art show, with the theme “Beauty is…” that won an Honorable Mention, and may be headed to the regional exhibition. Her response was, essentially, “well, that’s nice. Whatever. It’s not my best work…” She was far more interested in playing with the Glitter glue that the wife bought than dwelling on an old work. She was far more gracious than I, who bragged about it all week…and just did now.
The Bear is doing well, and just received her first glasses, which look very cute when she wears them. She also served as the “Christmas Elf” for Santa’s “Representative” (because Santa was very busy getting ready for Christmas Eve) at the YMCA Playmorning program last week. Man, that beard itched, and the boots were way too small. She is really ready for preschool, and we are planning on her going in the fall.
It has been two years that we have lived here now. In all honesty, I had originally thought that we might be on our way off the island by now, and while that is always a possibility, it is really only in the last few weeks that I have honestly and truly accepted the fact that we really do live here, and that the life we have is a good one. We’ve done everything we set out to do with this move, and, in all honesty, probably more.
There have been some surprises along the way, both professional and personal, and some relationships that did not survive our move, which while disappointing, perhaps says more about their strength to begin with than anything else. I’m over it, mostly.
But, it is the holiday season, and I should touch on that. One of our more recent holiday favorites has been the film “Love Actually” which is really only tolerable because it was made by the British.
There’s a scene where the dude who is in love with Kiera Knightly, who happens to married to his best friend, and as such, somewhat unavailable, tells her how he feels, and though he says that he expects nothing says, “It’s Christmas, and at Christmas you tell the truth…”
So, I’ve decided to try that, and see how it works out. Here are some things, that, however benign, are true in our life here, and are in order as they occurred to me to write and are not a hierarchy:
1) While I miss Yuengling, pizza, and bagels, the Ahi, Edamame, and Musubi are not horrible by way of substitute. For now. I miss Scrapple too.
2) I have gained a far deeper respect for the men and women that serve in the Military. I interact very closely with a number of military spouses, and to see the sacrifice that they make on a daily basis is very humbling. I know very clearly how difficult it is taking care of my kids with my wife here and working, and to think of being home with all three of mine with a spouse on deployment is downright scary to me. Having to be on point as the only caregiver for 24/7 for every day, six months to two years at a clip, as some of my friends have had to be, is overwhelming to think of. It scares the daylights out of me. I’m in therapy already.
But, they do it. They manage, and sometimes their families help out, but in the end, Military families face a great number of challenges that perhaps some people don’t consider. I know I for one understand and respect that sacrifice all the more now that I’ve lived here on Oahu where a large portion of the population is Military, and as I have had a member of my family spend several months on deployment in the Middle East recently as well. Plus, I’ve taken the kids to Pearl Harbor on December 7th the last two years, and had them meet and thank the Veterans from those attacks, which are very much a part of the culture here. In the end, deployment is tough on the soldiers, and tough on the families, and they do it anyway. Whatever your politics are, respect is due to them all. That’s far more political than I usually get in this space, but deal with it.
3) We’ve put up all the artwork. Up until about a month ago, there were still a few paintings that we’d not yet hung on the wall. But, it’s become clear of late that this is our home, and all of the artwork, from Daddy Pop’s painting of “Anchor Street” to my signed Andrew Wyeth print, it’s all on the walls now. We live here. And you know what? It doesn’t suck. I still don’t know that I want to live here forever, but damned if this place isn’t home because we chose to make it so. My kids are happy here, and we’ve made a life here. While the Northeast was under a blizzard, I was at the park. laying on my back with my kids discussing whether the wispy cloud above looked like a Pteranadon or a Pegasus-pony. So it goes…
4) I barely remember working for a living. I can’t be more honest than that. I last used my Masters Degree in Educational Administration and Supervision from SHU over two years ago, and truth be told, I don’t think there is much I miss. That’s not to say that I don’t have some very fond memories of my time at PGHS, SKS, or the other places I worked that I won’t bother to mention, but in the end, I can’t think of that many days at work that compare favorably with the stuff I get to do on a daily basis while being home with my kids. Add to that the chance to make a home for my family, cook the bejesus out of pretty much anything I want to, plus the chance to write a novel, and man, why would I ever go back?
Don’t get me wrong-there are a lot of good memories from my career. There were moments of value, that I believe mattered, I really do. But they are moments of the past. There were periods of closeness in a number of schools where I served, where we were on the cusp of genuine educational and community awesomeness. But they never really happened in the end, and I left both disillusioned and a little more empty. I think I’m too old to go searching for that again.
While I can, I’d rather write, and teach and raise my kids. But I remember my best classes as a teacher-that last year at SKS was good. My final year as a teacher at PJHS was the greatest experience I ever had as a teacher. I don’t know that I could ever come close. I miss the kids I taught that year…they were my ultimate swan song and I will always hold them very dear to my heart for the amazing year they gave me. Should I ever land back in North Jersey, I would go back and teach at PJ in a heartbeat, if they would have me. That might be the only exit I ever made that had any grace…
Not long after moving to administration, despite initial enthusiasm, I became disillusioned with the process. I got into administration at SKS, a private school, and I did so because I thought I could do a better job than the people above me. In fact, when I interviewed for my first administrative position at SKS, I said, “I can do this job better, and I want to be here, so hire me.” I got the job. But, over time it became clear that the upper administration and I believed in different things. And I moved on.
I spent two years in North Jersey going to graduate school at SHU and teaching and coaching and bartending at the Pub, and being married to the wife and dancing to Belafonte with the our dog, Gracie.
Then I moved on to being an Assistant Principal. I think I’ve covered my time in that position pretty well in this space, but feel free to write me if you want more detail. Be rest assured though, gentle reader, I would likely be dead today, or at least infirm from a heart attack had I kept up the pace that my last job at PGHS demanded of me.
I don’t blame PGHS for that. That was the job, and I took it. There are apparently three people that now do the job that I used to do. I wish them well.
I didn’t leave because I was unhappy. I left because I could, and I wanted to do other things, and so I did.
I had some great moments in each of the schools where I served. Moments that I will never forget, and cherish very dearly. I would like to think that I did some good.
But, at least now, I don’t miss it and don’t want to go back. If I don’t have to, I won’t. Obviously, if my family needed me to, I would, as Pete Rose once said, “walk through hell in a gasoline suit” to provide for my family. And I would. But, that’s not what they need of me now. And, I think I’m getting pretty good at my current job.
5) I would never be able to live the life that I do if my wife were not simply the most amazing woman on Earth.
This one is easy. I’ve been with her since 1992. We’ve been married since 1999. There are a number of people in my life currently that look at these facts with amazement. I think they are amazed mostly that someone would choose to tolerate me that long.
In my experience, there is no real explanation for love and devotion, and so looking at the life we have, where the only forever I’ve ever needed has been perfunctory, I am continually not surprised by where we end up. It always seems very much like where we are supposed to be. She’s exceptional at her job, and provides for us. I can deal with that, but that is now. I know quite clearly that I was not of that mindset two years ago when we moved here. But I am now.
I am not where I thought I would be. Just yesterday, a pair of local kids were running far beyond the boundaries that their mother had given them in the open park we took the kids to. She was calling to them, but they couldn’t hear her. I was in between them, and after several attempts, I found myself calling out loud enough where I knew they could hear me: “Oi! Your Mama, she call you yah?” and waved my arm at him to come in. Which they did, and ran back to her, saying “thanks Uncle” on the way back.
My life is nowhere near what I thought it would be at this point, but, it’s a damned good life. My kids are so awesome that I’m forced to take a deep breath at times to handle it more often than not, especially when they aren’t throwing things at one another.
I’m deep into the creation of a novel that I would never have had the chance to do in the old days. But I can now. And it’s going to be good. It won’t be an easy one for some people to deal with, but it will happen, and some folks will simply have to accept it as a work of fiction, which it what it shall be.
But I remember the way that things used to be. I remember the nights I didn’t get to put my kids to bed when I was working 14 hours at school, and I remember the days I didn’t get to see them at all. That was not alright with me. Every missed bedtime was a loss to me.
For my whole life, it seems, I remember every moment, every stupid detail of everything, about everything. It’s who I am.
No one ever gave me a road map, which is just fine. I feel very much alright with where I have ended up.
Friday, November 13, 2009
On Veteran’s Day, we all went to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu to visit the new “Dinosaurs Unleashed!” exhibit, as part of the Boyo’s birthday celebration. Although the twin’s birthday is not for another week, we’ve been trying to give the kids each a day to themselves. The Girl had hers over a week ago, and the Bear had her day last Friday, but this was the Boyo’s big day. We scheduled it on Veteran’s Day as the Wife would be off of work and we’d have the chance to go an include some of our friends. And so it was with great enthusiasm that we all descended on the Museum and their gigantic animatronic Dinosaurs, and their very nicely put together exhibits,
We chose this as the Boyo’s activity because of his natural, passionate and vital interest in Dinosaurs. He is an incredibly curious kid, and has shown a voracious appetite for learning about animals over the years, and Dinosaurs over the last six months or so. It is certainly an obsession that I not only remember from my own youth, but encourage in him, as Dinosaurs are just freaking cool. I got him the BBC “Walking with Dinosaurs” documentary last week from the library, and he enjoyed that as much if not more than the usual “kid stuff” I usually get for them. Sitting on the couch with him leaning against me and watching the Ornithocheirus and the family of baby Diplodocus’s fight for survival was good stuff. When his sisters got scared, they covered their eyes, but the Boyo stood strong, watching it all with the wonder of a child and the slightly narrowed eyes of a scientist gathering evidence. I’m enjoying this phase, as I’m still that same kid sitting on the edge of the couch, at least as it relates to Dinosaurs.
Walking around with him and his sisters and our friends, I really got a sense of the genuine joy that he garners from learning. We went through the exhibit, which was incredible, with life-size Dinosaurs, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Triceratops and child, a Parasaurolophous, and a variety of other creatures, some of which we could control robotically, and others that we could touch, and a variety of actual fossils that we could study.
He was excited as we went through, eyes wide the whole time. As we walked in, he rushed towards the first fossilized display. A very nice Local woman who works at the Museum, “Grandma Rose” her badge read, said to me, seeing the look in the Boyo’s eyes, “You’re gonna have a great time, yeah…” And she was right.
The exhibit was perhaps less vast in size than visitors to the Natural History Museum in NYC (where another of my best days took place) might expect, but each corner provided absolute fascination and wonder for my son. He was very much in his element, walking among these Dinosaurs, none of whom seemed to phase him, even those who were robotically designed to roar when we were least expecting it… He seemed to look at their roars with almost Scientific curiosity.
He basically led a clinic while we walked about. As I asked him questions about what we were seeing, he not only knew the answers, but also expanded on them, where appropriate, including:
“This one is a herbivore, Daddy. It has small teeth that grind up plants. The carnivore teeth are longer for ripping meat.”
Or, when answering my question about what Stegosaurus’ plates were for, he tapped his finger on the side of his head in thought, and replied, “For cooling off, showing off, and to scare off other dinosaurs.”
When I asked him why the Parasaurolophus species moved around in large herds, he replied, “For protection. And to be a family.”
He’s just four, at least until next week.
We enjoyed the entire museum and ended up purchasing a membership before we left. They have a volcano, and a Hawaiian and Polynesian hall that includes a life-size Blue whale model, cross-sectioned to show what it’s insides look like, and an entire hall dedicated to the Royal Hawaiian Kahili feather standards. I recommend checking out their site: http://www.bishopmuseum.org/ to learn more.
In the end, I had a lot of fun with him and with his sisters and our friends. After seeing the Volcano and the Dinosaurs and walking around and dropping a not unexpectedly large amount of money in the gift shop, we sat down for lunch in the courtyard. After about ten minutes of some eating and far more playing with the new dinosaur things, the Boyo came over and sat on my lap. I asked him if he was having fun, and he nodded, his mouth full of pizza. I asked him if he liked the Dinosaurs, and he nodded again.
And then, his chewing completed, he said something I loved.
“Daddy, I want to go see the Dinosaurs again with just you.”
And so we did, just the boys, and it was even better the second time.
There are a lot of times he knows just what to say. He’s an amazing kid, as all of my kids are, but they are very much all amazing in their own ways. He’s so inquisitive and has a mind that seems to recall everything. He’s funny and can at times be incredibly sweet to his sisters, when they are not bothering him. He shares with others without reservation, most of the time. And he’s more often than not the one who shares a moment with me when his sisters are throwing tantrums. He’ll just meet my eyes as he calmly reads a book or plays with ‘Blue doggie’ or builds his track-cities, or studies his Dinosaurs, and his look will say very clearly, “It’s ok Dad…I know.”
He’s the one who, should I raise my voice, will ask me, “Daddy, why are you yelling?” And he’s usually right, and I have to check myself. He’s the one who, when he’s tired, says, “Can I go to bed now?” He’s the one who, lately more than ever, will go out of his way to share something with his little sister without it being suggested for him to do so. He has such a sweet disposition and is really growing since he started school.
Our day at the Museum was a great one. All three of the kids had a good time, and since it was the Boyo’s special day, the girls thanked him for including them, which was very sweet of them. It was one of those days that you look at and you just know that it has potential to be one of those things that the kids remember later on. They are after all still very young, but I know that I will remember it and I’m pretty sure the Boyo will too.
Kid’s mind is like a sponge. And it was after all, a really, really good day.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
It was a tremendously significant time in my life. Anyone who knew me then or knew me well after could likely tell you a story about that time. I won’t speculate as to what anyone else would say about how I handled things, as I really don’t care anymore. The death of my Father colored every relationship and major choice I made for at least ten years after he died.
My Father and I had a relationship that was very much in development: I know with unerring certainty that my Father and I were just starting to understand one another as he got sick, and I won’t deny the fact that there are a lot of days that I feel cheated out of the relationship with him that I would have had, had he lived.
Dad was diagnosed with Cancer around Memorial Day, 1990. He died October 9, 1990. The months therein were among the most difficult times in my life. Beyond the issues with Dad’s health, I was a teenager. I had a serious girlfriend who was my best friend, and then I did not. I had friends that genuinely tried hard to be there for me, but I was too damaged to let them, and alienated myself from many of them. I made some new friends that were amazing, and they tried too, but in the end, I was lost. I was a mess, and truth be told, I would remain a mess in one way or another for a long time.
The journal that Burnett made me keep as part of my Junior and Senior years in the American Studies program at HHS has, over the years, proved invaluable in my life, so much so that back in the old days when I was teaching English, I made my kids do the same thing. I always told them what Alice told us when we asked why we had to keep a journal: “because it’s a grade, and you’ll thank me later.”
And I do. I have several notebooks of my reflections to look back on what was an interesting period of years, to be sure. Thanks, Alice.
So in remembering my Dad this week, I am revisiting these journals formally for the first time in a long time. I am not quoting the entries in their entirety, and will omit and truncate names as needed. I was sixteen when these entries start.
June 5, 1990:
“Tonight was the PIPA Dinner (the Drama club end of year function). I sang “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Your Song” by Elton John…Dad came home yesterday-it’s definite, he has Cancer. I shudder just writing the word-WHY HIM? I know a search for the answer will prove fruitless but I can’t help but wonder. It’s scary-the doctor says he has a lot going for him-perfect health, us, the best doctor (him) in the world. He’s got good chances but it’s a new field…but he has a low number of platelets or something. There’s just no answers. I don’t like it.”
June 14, 1990:
“I know I’m not going to be a coward. I love my family and I’m going to be here, make life easier. That’s why I’m here!”
September 6, 1990:
“It feels like I haven’t been gone at all-what a summer--Firstly, I spent hell of a lot of time in Princeton Hospital. My Father is very ill. Last night he went into Intensive Care with Pneumonia. What a way to start school…I’m scared.”
“Band camp starts tomorrow, and I’m not sure what to do. I called “Pelf” and asked her advice about whether to go or not and I’ve decided to go to Beemerville with the band-I really hope nothing happens at home-Dad is very sick.”
September 7, 1990:
“Today was the first day of Band Camp-it was a lot of fun-it’s really beautiful up here. I feel very at ease and very relaxed…I’ve called home a few times just to make sure all is ok-it seems pretty good-I’m beginning to think I’ve made a good choice by coming-it’s good to get away-I’m having a wonderful time. “Sweetchuck” and A.O are my roommates, and we busted into the best room here--we woke everyone up with “Tequila” this morning. Dad improved a little-at least nothing bad happened.”
The band returned form Beemerville on Sunday the 9th of September. I went back to school on Monday, and my Dad was still in the ICU. No one was sure if he would ever come out of it. While I did not write this down back then, I remember the following moment with a clarity that speaks to me of the sheer joy and significance of the moment. I’ve never written about this before, but it happened I believe on September 11, 1990. It was a Tuesday. I had Honors Physics with Grover every other day for periods 7/8 down by Shally house. I was a genuinely/sarcastically enthusiastic student of Physics, but had weaseled my way out of class that day to stop by office of the Shally House, which was around the corner from Grover’s room. The Shally House secretary, who’s name I deeply regret not remembering, once again allowed me use the phone to call the hospital to check on my dad, who was in ICU at the time and unresponsive. I called the all-too-familiar number and reached my mom, who told me that my Dad was back, and awake. As though he had simply had a long nap and woken up, he seemed to have sat up and asked about what was going on…it was a huge relief to all of us, and I remember heading back to class and running into KS, and not only hugging her out of nowhere, but twirling her around in the air.
It was the first time I had felt hopeful in along time, and the weeks that followed were significant. I can’t recall a moment after that, for a long time, where I was so enthusiastically hopeful, or perhaps hopeful at all. One of the best hugs I ever got.
After this point, my journal went into after-the-fact retelling-mode, as I hadn’t written in the journal until three weeks after my Dad had died. Much as I do now, I kept notes in my calendar about the things that were going on in my life, and wrote the following narrative with that in hand. This is what I wrote in late October 1990, as it pertained to the last few weeks of my Father‘s life and the first few weeks of my life without him. I have edited for content, clearly, as my thoughts on the HHS football team, and other such trivia are not quite as relevant to this topic, nor are my thoughts on my romantic relationships at the time. In addition, I am omitting from this column a variety of stories including that of an epic canoe ride, a drive to pick up storm windows, my debut as a solo artist at the short-lived “HHS Club,” the delivery of a Renoir poster, seeing “Flatliners” at the Mercer Mall, “The Foreigner,” Hancock Field, and my first rehearsals as part of the 1990 NJ All State Chorus. I was verbose, even then, but I am trying to focus there. It was fun to re-read all of that stuff though.
"Was a special day-we sprang Dad from the hospital for a few hours. We took him to the church picnic and had a wonderful time. Just for him to be out among friends was wonderful. He is so charismatic with people-everyone loves him-as do I”
September 18, 1990:
"Dad got to come home-it was so wonderful to have him back home. He slept in my parents bed for the first time in weeks and said he slept great! It’s really wonderful to have him here-I hope it lasts for a while.”
September 21, 1990:
“I had a little party-just some friends came over and we played music loud and ate and danced and talked and watched movies and stuff-it was nice to have people in my house-some of my best friends have never been here. Now they have”
The gap in time here covers a lot of the stories I mentioned above. I remember that time at home being very busy for me personally, with a pretty heavy course load, a role in the Fall play (until they fired me), rehearsals for All State Chorus, the band, Church, and the other social rigors of being a 17 year old boy with an ‘85 Sentra to cruise in. A romance had ended in my life, and another was beginning. I was pretty much every other thing I would have been at 17, except my Father was dying. Life at home, as I recall, was very pleasant. It was decided that it was important that I try to maintain as normal a life as possible and I did. Although, to be frank, I probably was not as honest with the people in my life about how bad things were with Dad’s health. I remember some of my friends being legitimately shocked that my Dad was as sick as he turned out to be.
October 6, 1990:
“The band had our first competition-what a night it turned out to be. As I marched on the field, I felt very confident. Dad at this point is very sick and I’m scared-Later, as I marched off the field, I realized that I had just played and performed well, and that my daddy wasn’t there to see it, and he may never be. He may never see his children get married or his son perform an original composition. I cried. I cried as I’ve never cried before, with TS and RA I wanted my Father back as he always had been. I guess I kinda knew.”
October 7, 1990:
“Was the last time I saw my Father. I went to the hospital alone and spent a few hours with him. I told him how I admired him for all he is and how I loved him. How much that is a part of me came from him. He was out of it and pretty unresponsive, but he held my hand and I held his. He didn’t really respond, but somehow, he must have heard me. He squeezed me hand and he knew I was there. Somehow, I know he heard me.”
Monday, October 8, 1990:
“Somehow, I had this desire to call the hospital and see how he was. I called from the Band Room phone during fifth period. My Mom was with him and she put the phone up to his ear I told him I loved him and he said ‘I Love you.” With an oxygen mask on and feeling so weak, slowly losing it, he managed to tell me he loved me! That is the last time I talked to my Father.”
October 9, 1990:
“My Father Died. I was awakened at 6:30 am by a phone call from the nurse who spent the night with him and said ‘He’s having a little more trouble breathing this morning, tell your mother.’ Mom had asked to be notified in the event of any change. By this point, Dad had developed the Pneumonia again that had put him in Intensive care and mom had decided not to treat him with Intensive Care. He made it back once and it was a miracle-a wonderful miracle. Mom didn’t want him to suffer in ICU forever. Mom left for the hospital. By the time she arrived, Dad had died. At the age of 50. She called me and said ‘It’s not looking good, don’t go to school.’ She didn’t tell me he had died until she came home. I knew though. After I got off the phone with her, I walked to my backdoor. It was such a beautiful morning and there was this breeze-a warm, loving and tender breeze. I went outside and walked around my backyard. It was very beautiful, the sky was a pale dark blue, free of clouds and the Sun made all the world so colorful. The dew had not yet dried and the birds were singing in my backyard that morning. That breeze lasted for 5 days. On the 5th day, I knew my Father was in heaven.
Jean, the Rector of our Church came home with my Mom. I had by now circled round to my side yard and saw them pull up. I knew. She told me. I held her in my arms. We planned the services that morning.
The first place I wanted to go was school. I did so-to get my books and to tell a few of my friends was had happened. I had Pelf and RA paged to the office and when they came, I took them outside and told them. We must have spent an hour outside talking. Pelf let the band know and helped organize people to come to the service. She is one of the best friends I’ve ever had…"
October 11-12, 1990:
“On the 11th, we held a prayer vigil at my church for Dad. It was great…the service was on the 12th. I went into school for 3 periods (just for Pre-Calculus and American Studies) and it was nice. I can’t wait to go back Monday. I feel so at ease at school. All my friends are there. My Grandma and my Uncles came Wednesday night. Some friends came over too. BP, JG, RA, TS, CR, and Pelf. I had told them before he died that when what happened happens, I would not want to be avoided or treated with kid gloves. They know me well. They are here.
The Funeral was Beautiful. We had a nice sized pickup choir, incense, banners, bombastic music. It was not dull at all. It was a beautiful service-so many people. I made a speech there. It was very well accepted by the people. (Note: The eulogy I wrote, in Annie’s purple pen, is taped into the journal here. I later used my words that day as the basis for my College essay )
My sister’s friends from Ohio drove here for the service, 12 hours in the car, stayed for a few hours and went back that night for GRE’s the next day. It’s great to know she has such great friends.
Almost everybody came to the services-there were some surprises also. RL organized a whole bunch of SPS people to come, many of whom I haven’t seen since graduation. I was just overwhelmed at the amount of support…I don’t know where I’d be without this band, I’ve been involved with it for years but this it the first year I’ve officially taken it as a class…"
Late October, 1990:
"…I miss my Father. I’ve realized it’s pointless to ask why this had to happen to us. We really had and exceptional family situation. I used to come home from school and go to the kitchen and Dad would be at the table…the radio on and Mom would be cooking and I’d tell them what I’d done, etc, all day. Now I come home from school and he’s not there. On Monday night, the football game’s not on. Every time I would go down to the playroom, all my life, he’d be there reading or watching TV and I’d watch with him for a bit in between homework…I miss him. I want him to be here for my All State concert and to see me march in competition and sing and play with the Jazz Ensemble and play with the concert band. I want him to hear the music I write and meet his grandchildren and travel the world with Mom when they retire. I want him here. Somehow, I think he can see me…This is not how it was supposed to be but they say life gives no guarantees…
From where I stand, the sun is still shining. I look to the sky, but I ask no questions. I know it will not answer the questions I have…There is a breeze that reminds me that I am loved.”
The journal continues beyond this point, but I had lost steam with journaling after that and was working more with expressing myself through awful poetry and later, into songs, starting with such non-hits as “The Road Not Far Behind” and “The Beach Song.” For the bulk of the next decade, that became my medium of expression. I wrote a lot of songs, and I remember reading the lyrics to one of my more mediocre lyrical efforts at Dad’s gravesite in Ohio, nearly two years after he had died.
In the end, I think that while I miss him-his humor, his nature and his presence, what I miss the most is what might have been, and the relationship that I might have had with him. I was a dumb 16 year old kid when he got sick. I was never the same, and my own inability and refusal to deal with the challenges of my life and those of others around me at that time clouded every relationship I had for nearly a decade following his death. I was a mess for years, and I didn’t know it, and it was my wife that pulled me back from the edge, though that is another story.
But, when all this went down, I was a kid. I often wonder about the relationship Dad and I would have today had he either lived through his cancer, or had he not had cancer at all. Both are fantasies, and I don’t indulge them often anymore, but I do wonder at times.
We all have a history. That was a significant time in my life. While it’s fun to look back, I do find myself looking back with less frequency. The past doesn’t change much, and there is an awful lot happening in the now and in the future that matter an awful lot.
So, 19 years have passed since Dad died. I was 17 when it happened. I know very few things about anything, but I do know this: My Dad would have loved my wife. He’d have gone nuts for my kids. He was a good man.
That’s what I think. I don’t know what he would think of me as a man or as a Father. Nor can I speculate on what he would think of the choices that I made by leaving my career and walking away from education, which was his love. I don’t know, and in the end, I don’t know that it matters. He was my Father, and I loved him. His death and the manner in which I handled it, affected me deeply for many years, but I got better. I do wonder sometimes what he would think of my life now, but I wonder it less than I used to. I’m happy with it.
October 9 has always been a date of note on my calendar, but I have noticed that as the years go by, it means different things. I’m glad that I revisited my journals of the time, and am grateful to Burnett for making me write them. I found it interesting to revisit the kid I was then, as I am someone very different today.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Peter, Paul and Mary always meant something different to me, and I was sad to read that Mary Travers died today, at the age of 72 after a long bout with leukemia. In a year fraught with celebrity deaths, hers loss and her impact on music and culture will likely be far less heralded than that of Michael Jackson, or Les Paul, or John Hughes. But she, and her group, mattered a great deal to her generation, her fans, and to me.
Peter, Paul and Mary were among the first groups to popularize the work of Bob Dylan, and were steadfast in their support of peace, justice, and civil rights, and performed Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke famously about a variety of topics, and said a great many things, including, “It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
For some reason, on revisiting the 1963 speech, that line struck me.
But I remember listening to their music as a kid, and as I grew older, I remember watching a PBS concert with my parents, as we didn’t have cable, and it was on, and my homework was done for a change, and I liked music, so I watched it.
(here is a clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0DPyqg59TA )
Now, like most young guys who are into music, I had a beat up acoustic guitar I’d bought from some guy for $5 in my closet, and didn’t let the fact that I didn’t have a clue as to how to play it stop me from trying to impress girls. And I certainly didn’t let lessons or actual study get in my way of playing that old guitar. But I remember watching this Peter, Paul and Mary concert on PBS and staring at the hands of both Peter and Paul, and noticing that they seemed to play very fluidly and very calmly and very much similar chords on a lot of their songs. So, I figured, if I learned to play a few of their songs, I’d be on my way to not only actually sounding like something other than a tortured feline while playing, but maybe learning enough chords to do something interesting.
So, on days when I got home from school early enough, before my Dad was home to catch me, I’d pop on the old VHS, as we had of course recorded the concert, so we could fast-forward through the copious pledge breaks, and sounded out the chords. The G, the D, the C chords came easy. That seemed to cover a lot of the vintage folk tunes. Once that sophomore dude with the long hair taught me A minor and E Minor, I was pretty much convinced I now had the tools with which to set the world on fire.
So, for the most part, Peter, Paul and Mary taught me to play guitar. And for better and for worse, that has become a very significant part of my life to date. Now, I don’t play as much as I used to, but there was a time I played a lot. I subjected audiences in Princeton, Wooster, Philly, and a few clubs in NYC, not far from The Bitter End, where Mary Travers once sang for the first time with Peter and Paul, to my brand of music to varying results. I like to say that I have “retired” from such performances…but that’s a bit of an overstatement.
Beyond that, I remember a very early date at my parents’ house with a high school girlfriend where I’d had to secure permission to have her have dinner with us with the understanding being that she really wanted to watch the PBS concert on video. We did watch it, with our portions of popcorn strategically placed in separate bowls by my parents, so as to keep our hands from touching…
I had a chance to see them live in Jersey with one of my best friends back in the early 90’s, and was blown away by their ability to move the crowd. I got to meet Peter after the show, as she and I both pretended to be part of a group of exchange students from Russia…but that is another story altogether…perhaps in the next novel…
They made music together for over 40 years, and along the way championed some interesting ideas like equality, peace, justice and overwhelming humanity. I admire that.
I played one of their records (yes, on vinyl) tonight for the kids, and they really grooved on it. The danced around, and the girls really liked Mary’s voice. The boyo liked the song about the horse (“Stewball”) and joined his sisters in bopping around to the songs. I talked to them about why the group was important and referenced the Dylan songs they did, as the kids know Dylan, so it was a reasonable teaching point. I actually found myself getting a little emotional during “Puff the Magic Dragon” while looking at my son, as he was at that moment lounging on the couch in his post-homework relaxation, listening to the words and thinking about him growing up. The moment was particularly poignant in the light of some of the challenges and adjustments that we’ve been managing of late.
In the end, the kids liked the record and want to hear it again. That works for me.
I don’t know what they’ll say about me after I’m gone, and I won’t speculate on how they will categorize me as a parent, but I’ll say this: I hope they always feel like there was music in their lives and that they value it. There were times in my life that the music was most assuredly vital to the life I have led. There were times that it was in fact the only thing I felt I had not only to give, but also to hold onto.
I recall Mary Travers saying of Peter and Paul, late in their career together something akin to “If I’d have found either one of them attractive, we wouldn’t be here…” That still makes me laugh.
In the end, I’m not sure I would ever have bothered to try to teach myself guitar without them, and for that I am grateful. I won’t speak for my audiences over the years, but I was immeasurably changed by the door to performance being opened by their graceful performance and by her soaring vocals.
So, God Speed Mary Travers. Your day is done… Seems only appropriate to share that song too:
Aloha, for now.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Regular readers of this space know that I am a Philadelphia sports fan. I love my teams, and that never wavers. My teams are a part of my heart, and matter to me more than most people would find palpable.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed Michael Vick this week, and he will start training with the team today, Saturday August 15. His signing was shocking to me as an Eagles fan. They have typically shied away from pretty much anything that is controversial in the years that the Lurie family has owned the team.
But they have signed him. He has said many of the right things, and the team has said many of the right things. But the debate continues.
I have a friend that recently told me that she thinks it is “Disgraceful” that the Eagles signed him, and that Vick “should never be allowed to work again.” There are a lot of Eagles fans that are being critical of the move for reasons ranging from “It could create a quarterback controversy” to “what happens when he screws up?” I don’t know what will happen in regards to all that. I don’t know if Michael Vick will matter to the Eagles as a player, nor do I know if he will matter as a person. Time alone will tell.
But I do have something to say about this situation:
I believe in the power of redemption and I believe in second chances. I’m less committed on third chances, truth be told. Just wanted to put that out there.
I truly believe that the Eagles stepped way out of their comfort zone, something I have become intimately familiar with over the last two years, to make Michael Vick a part of their team for two reasons: one-they feel he can contribute to the team, but more so, two-they feel that he is not only ready for a chance at redemption, but ready to be an agent for positive change.
My wife has worked for years in the prison system, so I am most assuredly biased towards the power of redemption. Vick spent almost two years in Leavenworth, and I can tell you without hyperbole that he did hard time. Leavenworth is no joke at all. Trust that.
He is in a position to do what we always want our fallen icons to do. We always want them to rise from the ashes after they have fallen. Don’t get me wrong-I thought he was overrated as a player when he was with the Falcons, and got a great deal of pleasure out of watching him get beat up by the Eagles when they played, especially in the NFC Championship that led them to the Super Bowl in ‘04. But, if Elvis hadn’t died on the toilet, wouldn’t he have made a great spokesman for the evils of drugs? Or Layne Staley? Or Kurt Cobain? Wouldn’t they have had the chance at redemption?
And in the end, I could go on, and list other sports figures and other celebrities that have screwed up and gotten another chance. Ted Kennedy? Chappaquiddick? He’s now seen by many as the pillar of the Democratic Party.
Whatever. What Michael Vick did to the dogs he was responsible for, and what he did not do to protect them was criminal. The manner in which he conducted himself during much of the investigation was criminal also. And the caught him on it. And he went to prison. Leavenworth. A real prison.
Regular readers of this space will know that I had a dog, and loved her with all of my heart. I miss her every day, and what Vick was a part of is extremely distasteful to me. I’ve watched the interviews with him over the past 24 hours, and have observed the same seemingly contrite and remorseful young man that many of you have. I hope for his sake and that of my team that he is indeed that young man who is ready to become an agent of change. I really do.
I’m reminded of my favorite parable in the Bible, and I’ve taken some heat from some friends for referencing this as part of the Vick story: In the Gospel of John, there is the story of a woman who is accused of adultery and the religious leaders of the time bring her before Jesus in the temple to force him into a situation where he will be forced to either allow her to be stoned according to “the law” or defy the law of Moses. Jesus ignored them for a while, and then he tells that that “he who is without sin shall cast the first stone.” And they all leave. Jesus is then left alone with the woman, to whom he asks, “Is there no one here to condemn you?”
She replies, “No one, Sir.”
And Jesus answers, “Neither to I condemn you--Do not sin again.”
That passage has always been very much at the heart of how I feel as a spiritual person. It was that simple for Jesus to forgive the woman-who am I to make it more complicated? I am not a perfect person, and I am more than ready to give someone a second chance when they are truly asking for one. I don’t know Michael Vick, but I hope he is genuine in his request, as myself, and
I would imagine the mass of Eagle fans will toss him to the curb as fast as week-old Scrapple if he fracks this up. It’s up to him.
I think that the people who are saying he should never be allowed to hold a job again should take a look at their lives and decide for themselves where the anger generates from.
If forgiveness is within one’s power, who are we to deny it when truly and genuinely sought? Whether or not Vick turns out to have been worth the chance the Eagles have taken with him is for time to decide. But he deserves the chance at redemption, just like you and I would. That's what I think anyway.
What he does with this chance is up to him.
Monday, August 10, 2009
The twins were awake and smiling within ten minutes, and wheels were up a few minutes after 7am, with all three kids and the wife in the van. We made it to school with plenty of time to spare, which allowed for a quick visit to the potty (our old nemesis) and a chance to view the cafeteria, which the Boyo was curious about.
Copious amounts of photographs later, the kids were on their way to their classrooms, which are right next to one another, and their teachers, both of whom were happy to see them.
There were no tears from the kids, and none from me. I’ll leave it there.
The wife and the little bear and I stopped by the PTA’s “Boo-hoo Breakfast” which they hold for the Kindergarten parents. It’s really just a chance to introduce the parents to the PTA and the volunteer coordinator, and the counselors and the vice Principal, etc, but it was very nice. The invitation read “Whether you’re shedding tears of sorrow or tears of joy, you’re welcome at the boo-hoo Breakfast.” Bear liked all the food, and let everyone know with a series of spectacular belches that would make her Godfathers proud.
Upon leaving campus, the wife and I did something I don’t believe we’ve ever done: we took the bear to a park together by herself. We had the run of the place, and she was in her glory-having both of us and a playground all to herself…it was fun.
I went back to school to help out with the Kindergarten lunch period, which was fun, and watching my twins walk to the cafeteria in a line, single file, with their classmates, and smiling, was quite enough to reinforce to me that we made the right decision in sending them to Kindergarten. Lunch for them was a delightful medley of chicken fingers, brown rice, a roll, canned peaches, and a small salad. Choice of chocolate or regular milk. Portions of it were eaten and enjoyed. The twins sat together.
They had a brief time on the playground after lunch, too brief by the boyo’s estimation, but he did get on line with his classmates to go back to class, and my time helping out was done for the day.
When I got home, the wife and bear were doing fine. So, I took a nap. It was spectacular.
When I picked the twins up from their classrooms, they had made a large paper schoolhouse. The girl had a photo of herself pasted inside, and a picture she had drawn of herself and her little sister. The boyo drew a picture of “the monkey bars” and had written his name. It was pretty impressive stuff.
They’d made some new friends. The girl said that she played with one kid during the day, and when I asked “What was her name?” she replied, “It was a boy, Daddy…and I don’t remember his name.” The boyo has a nice young man who sits next to him, and apparently they got along very well as well. I saw them both play nicely with one another and other kids on the playground.
Good reports from both teachers. They are excited to go back.
When we got home we settled into the inaugural edition of “Homework Time” with mixed results. The girl was excited about it and completed both Monday and Tuesday’s homework. Her brother did the first part of Monday fine but was less interested in part two, so it took a little work. The wife worked with him on it, after I took the girls upstairs, as they were distracting him, and he got it done.
Dinner, bath, books, bed by 6:30. It was a really good first day. And so it begins.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I’ve very rarely had to wake any of the kids up in the morning. Typically, the twins get up and play in their rooms or with each other for a while, and then we all kind of meander down to breakfast. This summer in particular, we’ve been very flexible in the mornings, and it has been really nice. We had some structured activities this summer: a lot of time at the library, the summer movie series at the Cannery, the Zoo, the Discovery Center, the Water Park, the Pool, the Parks, Vacation Bible School, playgroups, etc. We had a lot of fun all summer, but once we decided to enroll the kids in Junior Kindergarten, the end of the “Summer break” loomed for me in a way that it never has before.
I wrote extensively about the decision to send the kids to Kindergarten and some of the emotions involved in the last column, so I won’t rehash it all here. I’ve come to some peace about it all, and realize that I can’t keep them to myself anymore. But the coming change is really the most dramatic one that we as a family have faced since we moved here to Oahu almost two years ago.
All three kids are excited. We got to visit the school and meet their teachers on Wednesday of last week. The teachers met individually with each child and tried to get a grasp of who they are and what they know, so as to help tailor their experiences in the coming year. They got to sit at their desks and both kids had a blast. Little Bear is excited for them, and of course wants to go too, but she and I will be embarking on a series of “Adventures” once the twins settle into their new routine. I’ve never really had the chance to walk around with just one kid before. Should be interesting as I’ve had pretty limited time one on one with her in the last 2 years. I really can’t imagine what that will be like, but I’m looking forward to it a great deal.
The twins are ready, much more so than the wife and I were at first. I know that they will face challenges along the way, but who among us didn’t in school? My own challenges in school were quite notable, especially from Kindergarten through Grade eight. I hope they do better than I did, to say the least.
Everyone keeps asking me what I’m going to do with all of my new “free time.” I just don’t see how I’m going to have any-I mean, the twins already have homework and the first day is tomorrow. I got the email tonight from the boyo’s teacher with his assignments for the week. As a retired teacher myself…I totally popped on that. Remind me of all the summer reading papers I used to make my kids do. Miss those days…
But I digress. I wanted to post this in anticipation of another column in the next day or so regarding their first day at school and how it all went. It’s been over a month since my last post, but we’ve been a little busy. We’ve gone a lot of places and done a lot of things, but more than that, we’ve just spent time together as a family. “Pinky Dog” has had at least 15 Birthday Parties. “Baby Ruff-Ruff” has had several sleepovers and picnics with pretty much everyone. The kids went on a huge Dr. Seuss kick. The boyo has built a series of transit systems with his tracks, cars, and trains that would be a grand improvement over the trafficy mess they have here on Oahu. They played together a lot and I think they will continue to do so once school starts. I was worried about that for a while, that they wouldn’t want to as much. While I’m certain there will be adjustments over the coming months and years, I think at least for now, all three of them just have too much fun together for that to change overnight.
So, the sun is down in Oahu and my kids are asleep. It’s a big day tomorrow and they are excited. I knew then wouldn’t stay little forever, and I’m really grateful for the last two years where I’ve been able to be with them as I have. Of course, I imagine I’ll still be seeing quite a bit of them even at school: as a newly minted member of the PTA, as well as a registered volunteer for the school, I’m pretty sure our paths will cross. I’m looking forward to being on the other side of the school-parent relationship after the years as a teacher and administrator.
I consider it a promotion.
I hope to post an update in the next few days. Thanks as always for your readership and for your comments both public and private.
And away we go…
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
During this passed June, the twins finished their preschool year, the wife visited the mainland with the bear, we’ve visited the Water Park, Waimea Falls, celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary with a night in Waikiki, enjoyed the library summer reading program, celebrated Father’s Day…it has been an eventful month, and truth be told, I started several different columns over the month, but either lost interest in the topic, or in one case, decided that upon reflection that the column was perhaps not appropriate for this space.
As I said, it’s been a month. Quite a month.
But moving forward, there are some major changes and transitions underway, the most pressing of which is, the twins are going to kindergarten.
Well, it’s really “Junior Kindergarten” but the concept is about the same. In Hawaii, if your child turns 5 before August 1, they must go to Kindergarten, however, if they turn 5 between August 2 and the end of the year, as mine do, you can enroll them in “Junior Kindergarten.” They follow the same basic curriculum, and at the end of the year, the parent works with the teacher to determine if the child should move on to 1st grade or remain in Kindergarten for another year.
So, after much deliberation, exhaustive research, and paperwork, we have obtained spaces for them at a very good elementary school in our town-not the one we were zoned for, but Hawaii has slightly different rules than NJ did, so, long story shorter-we chose a school we liked and were able to get them spots in Kindergarten.
So, August 3, that’s where I’ll be: dropping them off for their first day of school. Five days a week-full day. Big Change.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that although I am excited for this new challenge for the twins, and they too are excited, it was not without some level of trepidation, or, as my wife would (did, rather) say, “Blubbering” on my part as we got closer to the decision. I prefer my verbiage.
The kindergarten discussion was brought about by a variety of factors, and while I won’t go into them all here, suffice it to say that we weighed every factor involved in either sending them back to preschool, looking for a new preschool, moving forward to kindergarten, or keeping them home. We kicked them all around. As it happened, the kindergarten choice began to look like the best one, and as I thought about my twins moving into a five day school life, I, um…well, I had some feelings about it.
I started thinking about how awesome the twins are together when they are just goofing off together at home. The worlds they create in their play are so tremendous, and they honestly can go for hours just playing together, and with their sister. The imagination and the creativity they display I wrote about in the “Toy” column a few months back, but I started to think about the fact that right now, they have the time to simply goof off. They were only in school two times a week this year for three hours each session. While we did other things when they were out of school, this new schedule will be a major overhaul in the infrastructure that is the life we’ve built for ourselves here. There will be less time for, “Ok-whatever,” and I started to feel that loss very much over this past weekend.
I started to fear for the change in them as kids: who they would become and how their relationship with one another would change. When they aren’t beating the daylights out of one another, they are truly very cute together, and I know they miss one another when they are apart, which has not happened very often. When they are apart, they are always happy to see one another. When they argue or spat, they are quicker to forgive than anyone I’ve ever known.
There has been more than one incident that I wasn’t done policing as the parent, and they were ready to move on. Would that connection continue?
I think so, and I hope so, as they share something very special being twins. They always seem to fall right back into the same banter and rhythm that they always have had, no matter what happens. They watch out for each other. I hope that although they will inevitably make new friends, and will certainly grow and change over the years, that the wife and I continue to create a home for them that is full of love.
I worried that I would lose the amazing chance that I’ve had to bear witness to their innocence and magic. I guess I realized that it was time to share them with the world, and I didn’t want to. So, I had some trepidation. (Still like my description better than that of my wife.)
I’ve spent going on two years now as a full-time-stay-at-home dad. I’ve experienced life in a way that I really never expected to and to do so, I had to move way, way away from my comfort zone. In the process, I suppose I’ve built a new comfort zone, with me and the kids palling around doing our thing, or not doing a thing at all if the mood strikes us. As hard as being a stay-at-home-parent has been at times, when it hit me that that might all be about to change, and they would take yet another step away from me, I, well, alright, full disclosure: I kind of lost it.
I got fixated on who they are now and was worried if I’d done enough to get them ready, I worried about their relationship to each other and to the rest of us, I worried about how they would do, and I worried how I would do. What would I do? Have I been a good parent? Will they be good at school? How long until they don’t want me to tuck them in and read to them, or heaven forbid, sing Bon Jovi, Springsteen, and Sam Cooke songs to them?
So it has been kind of emotional, but I’ve gotten some good thoughts and advice from some friends, including, “Well, they need to learn how to be that amazing with other people too.” That was a good one. Others were encouraging, and I got a lot of, “Oh, they’ll be fine…” type of comments, which I found of varying degrees of comfort depending on the source. In the end, it was something the wife said:
“They can’t be little forever.”
And they can’t do that. Despite our best efforts, life only seems to go in one direction. And though it has in fact been extremely challenging over the past few years, in the end, I think that the twins have done exactly what we wanted them to do: they’ve grown into good kids with loads of personality, loads of imagination, and a ton of spirit.
So in the end, I’ve got to let them go. Granted, their new school is only 7 minutes away, but I won’t be there all the time. Life is once again telling me that my comfort zone has grown too comfortable I suppose.
The kids are excited. We did one of our Investigations, this time focusing on Kindergarten, and we found this short film, which we watched together:
It was cute to watch them get excited about different things: “Wow-we get to eat lunch AT SCHOOL?” and “Ooooo, BLOCKS!” and “Cool-naptime?”
They had to watch it twice. I think they are ready. I just know that I wasn’t, but I think I am now.
After some trepidation, anyway.
Monday, May 25, 2009
October 12, 2000. The United States Navy Destroyer USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers while in port at the Port of Aden, in Yemen. It was a Thursday.
When I first heard that the attack had happened on the news, I was of course sad to hear about it. But something bothered me, on the very edges of my mind that I had no explanation for until the wife and I got home from a night out.
I had left the boarding school, (SKS) and was now teaching at a day school (PJHS) and going to Graduate School at Seton Hall, so I had fallen out of the loop a bit, but I remember the last time I had talked to Pat. He visited SKS in his uniform and to me, didn’t look much different, except for the uniform. I already thought he was a pretty solid young man by that point. I had been the Dean of Students for his graduating class, and remember really taking pride in that.
There are days that I wish I had stayed on in that role. But I didn’t. I remember shaking his hand as he prepared to leave, and telling him to take care, and to keep in touch.
The wife and I came home on that Friday evening from dinner at the Dublin Pub in Morristown, NJ, and a movie that I don’t recall, to find a message on our machine from Billy. I remember it like it happened this evening…
I was just walking into the room scratching the ears of our dog, Gracie, as the wife hit the message button after having seen the blinking light.
“Kugs…I don’t know if you’ve heard, but, that ship that got hit out there, well, I don’t know how to say this, but Pat was on it. It looks like they can’t find him…call me.”
I remember leaning forward and just catching the edge of our bed, and managing to find a way to be seated. Gracie came up and laid her head on my lap, and I scratched her head. I remember saying “I just knew…” and then I cried a lot.
Pat Roy was the kind of student that makes me miss teaching. He was not a spectacular student, but a good one, truth be told. He worked very hard, and he gave me some of the best teaching moments I’ve ever had.
He was also the kind of athlete that makes me miss coaching. He was not an amazing athlete, truth be told, but he worked hard there too, and he loved lacrosse and did things on the field that to me were personally amazing. He was a coaches kind of player. I remember hearing the Head coach remark once: “Man, Kugs…give me a team full of kids like Pat. That would be a fun team.”
Pat became a student of the game, throwing himself into Lacrosse. I remember well the times that he simply willed our team on to victory or times when simply had a better idea than everyone else. There were also times that he simply threw himself in front of the ball as it was shot towards the goaltender. I remember he asked me early in one season to track that sort of thing for him, as I kept the game stats. I did, though I remember telling him he could easily track it himself with the bruises on his legs…but he grooved on making the play, so I tracked his blocked shots for him. I was glad to, since Pat had asked.
Pat made some mistakes early in his time with us, including an incident where my car was shaving-creamed and the air was let out of all the tires.
I was much younger and less mature then, and I was pissed off at what had been done to my car.
I was living in the dorm then, which lends itself to hard feelings and small worlds in which to express them.
I was wicked pissed off. No one else from the offending group stepped up, except Pat. He was sorry, and he made that clear. So, as a result, I was able to write the whole thing off as a goof.
Because of Pat. He looked me in the eye, and as no real damage had been done, we all moved on.
There were other times during his time at school where I saw him stand up in a manner that was way beyond his years…but they are not stories for this space. Those are stories that belong to those who lived them.
But there are some others I can share: I was trying to teach Hamlet to a group of seniors that had little interest and less motivation to study Shakespeare. Pat was in the class, as we were trying to read aloud the “Folger Library’s” excellent translation.
It was not going well. At all.
After a tremendously unsuccessful class, Pat happened to stay behind a moment, I believe because the young lady he was dating was in my next class, but as I was the assistant Lacrosse coach, and he was our Coaches Captain, he seemed quite comfortable telling me:
“Kugs…this reading aloud thing is not gonna work for everybody.”
He was right. I was trying to teach a play in a dead and overly artistic language to students who came from such disparate academic backgrounds, that everyone was so uncomfortable, that it was a waste of time to show up and read.
So I asked him, as I too knew it wasn’t working, “Well, you got any ideas?”
And he did. He always seemed to.
He thought that the class would be able to get it if they were able to follow along in their Folger editions as they watched it onscreen. I remember his saying: “If everyone can see what’s happening, I think they’d get it.”
And he was right. I never taught Shakespeare the same way again.
Pat forced me to think differently as a teacher, and I did for the rest of my career. Remembering the way his class changed after I took his advice makes me miss teaching, as it was among the most satisfying experiences I ever had as a teacher. That was a fun group.
I think my favorite memory of Pat might be the words he spoke at halftime of the Championship match of his senior year, which was held at the Harvey School. The team was not playing well, and was starting to get down on itself as it was losing somewhat dramatically for the first time all year.
It was a crisp and clear day, and I can still see Pat in my mind, leaning on his longstick, as the Coach asked him if he had anything to add. I remember it much like this, as he said “Guys, I’m going to be on a ship somewhere in a year, and I don’t think they’ll let me bring my stick, so this is like my last game ever, and I’d rather remember going out there with my friends and having fun playing lacrosse, and leaving it all out there on the field.”
And they did. I think we lost that game, but I know I remember the second half being genuinely satisfying. And I remember Pat smiling at least a little on the way home on the bus.
There was another time when a group of students had pulled some kind of prank on me, which again was not uncommon in those days. I reacted badly, which I’m embarrassed now to say was also not that uncommon in those days. I was younger then. Anyway, I decided who was at fault, and pretty much lashed out at the group. They lashed back, and it was an uncomfortable few days as these were young men in my classes, and in my dorm, and some on my team. It was Pat that sought me out, and told me, “Kugs-I’m not going to tell you who pulled that on you, but I will tell you that it wasn’t the guys you flipped out on.”
And I believed him, because it was Pat. I found those guys and apologized. They were less than enthusiastic about my efforts and actually got kind of snarfy about my even approaching them. It was Pat, again, who said, “Let it go guys-he stepped up and said he was wrong. Let it go.”
And we all kind of let it go. Because of Pat.
Yes, I may have been the adult here, but those lines get very blurred in a boarding school environment like SKS was. I was young and impulsive and so were most of the kids I dealt with. It made for some interesting times and interesting relationships.
When Pat was killed, I remember feeling that my life as a teacher had just grown less magical. I’d never lost a student before, much less one that I thought as highly of as Pat Roy. I remember showing up at PJ that next Monday, and I had missed a morning department meeting. My boss at the time found me just before classes started, and voiced her displeasure at my absence. I had only been there a few months, and didn’t really know anyone that well, but I remember standing in the hall just outside my classroom, thinking, there was no way I was going to get through the day, and told her so. I said, “I just lost one of the best I ever taught…”
They held a memorial service for Pat sometime in the next few weeks, and I went up and spent the weekend on campus. It was a very strange weekend, as I was definitely an outsider returning. The staff had changed, and the kids had changed too. The weekend went by in a bit of a blur, but I remember standing on the field where they planted a Tree for him. This was the field that Pat had roamed as a defenseman and even run balls for me when I coached the soccer team. It was a beautiful day, and a lot of the old crew returned to campus to honor him. Pat’s family was there and I recall being genuinely moved by their grace and humility.
I took a picture that day of the tree they planted, which looked out on the field and the Hudson Valley. I kept it in my classroom, and then my office, and when I left education, I brought it home, where it sits on my desk today.
Now and then, I would look at that picture, seeing that little yellow tree, and it would be just the right message at just the right time. Perhaps I was dealing with a really tough discipline problem, and seeing Pat’s tree would remind me to be fair and hear the whole story.
I remember other times when the students were driving me out of my mind, and looking at that tree would remind me that whatever my current crop of students were doing, it would pale in comparison to some of the stuff Pat and his pals pulled, and that would make me laugh every time.
And other times, I would see it, and it would make me sad for the loss of a beautiful young life, so full of promise and talent and humor, to such a senseless act of violence. No parent should have to bury their child. And I am sad to think of his family, his younger brother in particular, that lost far more than I did, having to move on without him. I still have an image of Pat coming into my office at the end of his Senior year with his little brother on his shoulders, saying, “Kugs-this is my little brother,” and flashing a proud smile. It was one of the happiest I’d ever seen him. And it makes my heart hurt.
And then, I think of Pat, and something he said to me as I, in one of my heavier stages, running laps with the team. I’m sure I looked somewhat winded, and I can still hear him laugh, and call out, “Suck it up, Kugs!”
And that makes me smile, and even now, nearly eight years later, I think of Pat Roy. So, on Memorial Day, I’m remembering Pat and all of those who have died in service to our country, and those they have left behind.
Friday, May 22, 2009
I could not let go of any of it, regardless of anyone else’s perceived triviality, and regardless of the fact that my room, then basement, then apartment, then house became stuffed with matter- that for some reason had to matter. I believed that discarding it, whatever it was, would be the end, the termination of whatever it was that had made that item unique or special. I felt responsible for its survival. While on the surface, that might sound like an endearing concept, in reality it became somewhat ridiculous.
I remember going out to the trash late one Christmas day, when I was like 9, to retrieve a sample of gold wrapping paper that had been used at every Christmas I could remember.
Someone had commented while we were opening gifts that, “Well, that’s the end of that roll…”
I remember feeling terrified that something could be lost forever if discarded. So, I took some of the goldenrod paper which for some reason celebrated the 49ers of San Francisco: folded it up tight, and slid it into my piggy bank, where, to be honest, I think they remain to this day. I may have to check on that. That would mark the only time something from San Francisco held any such sway in our house.
I’ve grown older since then, and I’d like to think that I’ve made some strides in handling such things as I’ve aged. I had to trim down my property after several moves, in particular the move to Oahu. It was not until we were planning to move here that I really was able to take stock of the sheer volume of matter I had accumulated since childhood, but also the ludicrousness of some of the things to which I had assigned value.
Please know that I am not disputing the fact that the things that we possess have true value. I am just illustrating that it took me years to embrace the difference between “Cherished-ness” of the blanket my Great Aunt made me as a baby and the pieces of wrapping paper I snuck out to get so it would not be “lost forever.” As a child, I never wanted to let go of things and truth be told, I have trouble with it as a “grown-up” at times.
As it happens, I have a soft spot for toys, especially these days. I am grateful that my mother saved some of the toys and things that I enjoyed as a child to share with my children. My son, and his little sister both love the bright yellow vintage Tonka dump truck. Their older sister loves sitting at her little table that was once both mine and my sisters and having tea parties, or reading her books, or just playing with her animals. Actually, as of late, the kids have taken to using that table and its chairs to climb into the upper reaches of their closets to generate messes of enormous proportion. But that is another tale. The Little Bear enjoys the kitchen set that was my sisters, and the dishes that came along with it. These things all get used and are played with well.
My soft spot for toys has been very much brought to the surface as I spend the majority of my days with my children and the worlds they create almost spontaneously in their imaginations.
I see on a daily basis the magical and absolutely pure pleasure they derive from their toys. The worlds they create out of genuine imagination and fun are both breathtaking and melancholy to me. Having two 4-four year olds and a 2-year old, all in the house at once together has essentially turned my home into a perpetual world of play, and everything is a toy. Everything.
This is not to say that they don’t have moments of conflict. If we make it to lunch without a “he pushed me” or “she pinched me” it would call for a press release. But they are quicker to forgive and move on then anyone I’ve ever known and they tend to do it better if I’m not involved.
My children are comfortable doing thing together while at other times they very much want to play by themselves. The Little Bear in particular has relished some of the days that the twins were at school and she could play in their rooms, with their stuff, with impunity. She likes to run from room to room with “Baby Ruff-Ruff” playing with her brothers trains and her sisters “Pinky Dog” and not have anyone bother her for doing so. Just this morning, after she and I got home from dropping the twins off at school, as soon as we walked into the house, she took off like a shot upstairs. I heard about 21 thuds as she bounded up the stairs and then sprinted the distance from the top of the stairs to her brothers’ room, where I then heard the door slam. I checked on her a bit later, and she looked at me with a huge smile, holding up a train, saying, “It’s Gordon, daddy!” And I also noted that “Baby Ruff-Ruff” was serving as the driver for Gordon’s friend Thomas the Tank Engine.
I should explain that, much like the characters in “The Velveteen Rabbit,” and “Toy Story,” there is of course, a hierarchy of the toys in the pantheon of our home life. There is a family of Doggies that live in my home. The Boys’ most treasured is his “Blue Doggie.” His Daddy is “Daddy Blue Doggie” who is a larger version of Blue. “Blue Doggie’s” sister is “Pinky Dog,” who is the Girls’ most treasured. Somehow, it was decided that Pinky’s mother was “Pink Dinosaur.” “Baby Ruff-Ruff” is a smaller version of Pinky and is the most treasured of the Little Bear, and as far as I can tell, plays the role of younger sister to the other Doggies.
The adventures that these Doggies have, with their supporting cast of characters: Buck the Tiger, Puppet Buck (the other Tiger), Mama Tubby and Baby Tubby (they are hippos), Panda Bear, Koala Bear, Cow-ey, Bear-ey, Giraffey, and of course, both “Pink Dinosaur” and “Red Dinosaur” are beyond belief at times. The intricate worlds that my kids create with their menagerie are genuinely beyond my ability to describe, but they make my heart ache with how amazing they are.
It makes me sad to think that there will ever come a time when they will want for more than to play with their toys. It makes me sad to think there might ever be a time when my son won’t want his Blue Doggie around, or his sisters won’t want theirs. I don’t know that that will ever occur but the thought of it makes me feel heavy in the heart.
I know that there is still a place for the treasures of my childhood in the life I lead now. I still have a great many things that have meaning. I may not have that bottle of Raspberry Soho from that date in April of 1989 anymore, but it was recycled. Look at me going green 18 years later. I still have some toys that mattered to me, some of which the kids are enjoying, and others that are for the moment “off display” in my personal collection. I still have a lot of Boardwalk-related memorabilia, most from Wildwood, but some from Seaside, and some from Atlantic City.
I suppose it comes back to what the “Velveteen Rabbit” has to teach us about the magic of toys, which is that only when they have basically been loved into submission do they become real, and only then are they as magical as a child’s imagination. It’s as though that moment levels the playing field, and maybe that’s a part of what it means to grow.
But I know that I for one, don’t plan to ever live in a world without those Doggies. They’ve earned a spot in the permanent collection.
But beyond that, I suppose I see the joy that they get from their treasured toys as a parallel to the joy that they give me. Being a stay-at-home parent is hard at times, and sometimes it is really, really hard, but in the end, when I can remember it, all I have to do to make them laugh is puff out my cheeks and make a fart noise. Or I lay on the floor and become a jungle gym. Or I give them a “Honu-ride” (Hawaiian for turtle). Or we read a book. Or, we’ll do one of our songs. The Girl is all about Sam Cooke, and her sister grooves on Bon Joni and Bruce. I am proud to say I once got her to sleep on a tough night by giving her the entire first side of “New Jersey.” Acoustically of course, but I know Jon would be cool with that. My son can name the entire E-Street Band, and knows that Sinatra was from Hoboken.
Alright-I’m done showing off.
Sometimes it feels like work to tuck them back into bed for the fourth or fifth time. I wish I could say that I cheerfully perform all these things regardless of the lateness of the hour. But I try to, as I am realizing that the days are not far away when I just might not be able to make it all right by reading the “Cars” book one more time, or by making up a story about the Bear and Ruff-Ruff’s adventures looking for Honus.
In the end, I’ve been trying very hard to embrace the fact that it is not things that we cling to but the value we assign to them. I continue to be amazed by the magic that my kids create on their own. I am proud of myself for keeping myself to a lesson that I learned hard-way soon after we moved here. Regular readers of this space might remember the column I wrote some time ago about how I had over-programmed the kids, and we all went a bit batty as a result. I learned then that the kids, and the wife and I for that matter, needed time to just play. No boundaries. No lessons. Just play.
As the late George Carlin once said during a delightful rant about the rearing of children, “Just leave ‘em alone…”
So I’ve tried to do that. We have activities and school and other things but I’ve been really trying at times to just let them go play. And they do.
They play with their toys, and their books, and their furniture, and my kitchen tools, the couch cushions, the laundry, in the sink and on more than one occasion things that I’d rather they not play with, but they play. Although there are times I’m tempted to pull them away from their play to teach them more advanced skills such as how to read or to say turtle in Spanish, I’ve really done well with refraining as there will be time for that.
As a recovering pack-rat, I am a memory/moment collector of uber-proportions. I still have things I won’t discard though I am learning that it is moments as opposed to things that is essential. You can’t believe some of the stuff I held onto before the move. Really, you can’t.
The moments take up less space in a shipping container anyway, and in the end, it’s the moments I remember. Even with that scrap of wrapping paper. It was the moment shared with my parents and sister that was important, and though the paper was a reminder of that, I don’t know that the moment needed it. I remembered anyway.
I know that the laughter that all three of my children shared as they wrestled with me this afternoon is something I will hold onto. Before I left education, I worked almost exclusively with teenagers, so I know something about what they may face as they grow older and how they may change.
My hope is that, like the moments, like the cherished treasures, and like the joy of just playing, my children are able to hold on to the love that is here in our home, as it is never uncertain. It is never, ever uncertain.
I know I need to spend as much time in their world now as I can.
As a stay-at-home-full-time-parent, I don’t get a bi-annual evaluation, and my kids don’t get the same from me. My success or failure as their primary caregiver will be years in the determining.
In the end, I know that I cannot wish happiness on my children nor can I wish success on them. While I want those things for them, and pray for such, I can only provide them with the tools with which to become Good people. And I hope that they will be.
So, as the days sprint by faster than I want them to, I grow more and more assured that my children will be good people, based on the way they play, and the way that they love and by the magic that they instill in nearly everything they touch; especially their toys.
They are magic.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I’m certain it may be an interesting read should I revisit it.
But, the morning after I had started the column, Harry Kalas died.
As such, my most recent column dealt with Harry, and with my thoughts on his impact on me and the world that is Philadelphia sports. My column that day was somewhat impromptu and was an emotional one for me to write. I just re-read it, and even now several weeks later, I feel genuine emotion listening to Harry’s voice and connecting with my own thoughts at the time.
I very much appreciate that thunderclap of a response I have received both in this space, through Facebook, and through the magic of email. As it turns out, the column I wrote about Harry is the most read column in this space to date, edging out the “Stegosaurus,” the “Albums” and the “Big Island” columns.
Thank you for that. I am both humbled and motivated by your responses.
So, before I move on, I thought it would be worthwhile to wrap up some questions that I have received over the past few months, in preparation for moving forward with other topics. I thank you as always for your reply’s and even more so for your questions. The following are the three most asked questions from either on site reply’s, emails responses, or messages via the magic of Facebook. Enjoy.
1) What is the state of the kids potty training?
Although I’ve not written about this topic in a while, I get a lot of questions on it. As it stands, I have bought my last pull-up. They are doing great overall. The twins are in general going all night, though we get them up on occasion to go at night. The little bear is doing way better than her brother and sister did at her age, (2) and while we put her in a re-usable cloth pant at night, she does very well during the day. I am really proud of the kids, and while I will admit to cleaning up the occasional accident, I know we have turned the corner.
But in short, dealing with the Potty training process sucks. It’s no fun. But, then it was over. Kinda. I still say “John and Kate Plus 8” are full of crap.
2) Who won the music poll?
The recent album/music poll, that was somewhat interrupted on site by the death of Harry Kalas proved a resounding win for Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” In what amounted to a surprise to me, Paul Simon’s “Graceland” came in second, over Bruce Springsteen. I received perhaps my most detailed responses to date over email to that column, and ironically enough, much of it dealt with my writing about U2, who received no votes in our little poll, but generated the most enthusiastic email reply’s.
It was an interesting topic, and it is one that I will revisit. That one was fun to write.
What was even cooler though was that I got a ton of recommendations of new music to listen to. A lot of it I liked. Weeks before this column, my friend Kathy and I started a music exchange, which has been awesome to do, and I think is really important as I get older. I read “Rolling Stone” every other week, but I love the fact that friends like Kathy and my cousin Kel can recommend a band that they love that I’ve never heard of, and then I hear them, and then I know what they were talking about all along.
To me, that is the real power of music, and the joy of shared art. I used to be really good at the “Mix tape” back in the day, and I think there is room for that spirit in the MP3 world of today. But, thanks to Kathy and Kel, I am now totally grooving on The Fratellis, Colbie Callat, and Brett Dennen, and I know that I have turned others onto New Jersey’s own The Gaslight Anthem, TV on the Radio, Vienna Teng, and Gilkicker.
The album column was a really satisfying one to write, and I got a lot out of it, so thanks. Keep it coming.
3) You’re writing a novel?
This has come mostly as a question on Facebook, but, yes I am. And I’m making a lot of progress on it. If I’m absent from the blog in the coming months, that is why. I am hoping to have the first full draft completed before the end of the year. With three little kids, it is always hard to find the time, but my wife, who is doing exceptionally well in her career, has been truly helping me find both the motivation and time to plug out the work. I don’t know if it will ever amount to anything, but I think it’s a good project.
I have been genuinely touched by the positive feedback I’ve gotten from many of you. You should know that such things matter, a whole lot.
I can tell you all quite sincerely that there was a night this year when I was up late, trying to work on a chapter, and grew genuinely discouraged. I checked my email and had just received one in response to one of the columns I had posted here, and it really motivated me.
That email got me back on track, and that chapter got done. Thank you, for that, and you know exactly who you are.
With that, I bid you aloha for now.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Last night, I checked on the score of the Phillies-Rockies game before bed, and read where Matt Stairs had hit a game-winning home run in the 9th inning. I went to the Phillies website, hoping to see the clip and hear Harry’s call. They had a clip of the hit, but it was the Rockies broadcasters making the call. I shook my head, hoping that they would have changed it by the time I woke up this morning. I really felt like I needed a dose of Harry. Living in Hawaii has it’s pleasures, but proximity to local Philadelphia telecasts and radio signals aren’t among them.
I got the news this morning when I logged onto my computer just seconds before my phone rang with confirmation of the news. At once, a very significant aspect of my life as a Philadelphia sports fan was forever changed.
Harry Kalas has died.
I am certain that in the coming days, writers of far greater skill than I will remember him and memorialize him. I am certain that the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom he was not only the voice, but in many ways the heart, will honor him appropriately. His family and friends will mourn and celebrate him. His fans will tell stories about where they were when they heard him call the 1980 World Series, or the 1993 National League Championship, or Mike Schmidt’s 500th Home Run, or even the Phillies winning the World Series this past year. They might even recall the night that the Phillies and Padres played until almost 5am, and the pitcher Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams had the game winning hit, as there were no players left to hit for him. They’ll remember how they felt when Harry’s longtime broadcast partner Richie Ashburn passed away, and now he and “Whitey” can watch the team from the best seats in the house. They’ll talk about how Harry died at work, getting ready to call today’s game with the Washington Nationals. Some might even say that his final call was a Phils win in which the team staged a 9th inning comeback, and how that is fitting.
But we will all do it in a world that is a little less magical than it was yesterday.
If you are not a sports fan, you may not understand. If you are not a Philadelphia fan, you may not understand. Harry Kalas was Philadelphia baseball to pretty much everyone to whom such things matter. Beyond that, of course, he was a husband, a father, a friend. But to millions of rabid sports fans, to whom the every minute detail of their teams is vital, Harry was the voice. He was the great constant of my life as a baseball fan, which much like the team we both loved, had some ups and downs.
The Phillies had some horrible seasons during my life as a fan. I’ve written in this space before about the joy in my house when the team won the World Championship in 1980. Along the way, through both the highs, like the 1983 and 1993 World Series teams, and of course last years Series win, and the lows, like finishing the season under .500 for the six years leading up to ‘93, twice coming within inches of loosing 100 games in a season…those were bad years. One might have been tempted to turn the game off.
But you didn’t. Because of Harry Kalas. It would have seemed rude to turn the radio off on a hot July day while Harry and Whitey were talking. They tried their best to make dreadful teams interesting during most of the 80’s and much of the 90’s. And we listened. And we watched. And we relished moments of success all the more when we heard how Harry called it. It was as though the moments weren’t real until we heard Harry tell us how it happened. That voice, now silent, permeated the malaise of whatever dreck was on the field. He was in the room with you, and a friend. Even during those drowsy summer afternoons, when the Phils were playing the Cubs, and it was the 7th inning of a 10-3 drubbing, Harry’s voice had the power to wake you up out of a sound sleep when you heard the crack of a bat, followed by “It’s a long drive, deep to left field…that ball is ‘outta here!”
You got jealous when you heard his voice calling NFL games during the Winter. Harry was our voice, and it just didn’t sound right to hear him calling a Lions-Seahawks game in December. But, you could allow him his small indiscretion, as you knew that once Spring Training started, it was just a matter of time until you’d have a chance to hear him again. He was our guy, no matter how many NFL Films shows he narrated.
The voice of Harry Kalas was Summer at the Jersey shore. It was sitting on the big orange couch with my dad, and dozing off in between innings, though we both pretended we weren’t. It was mowing the lawn with headphones on, and doing the last bit real slow so you didn’t have to go inside until the game was over. It was at times, the only reason to pay attention to the often dreadful Philadelphia Phillies. To hear him get caught up in the emotion of a moment, whether it be a title win, a dramatic homerun, or an amazing performance by a pitcher, it was simply all so genuine because he was not just an announcer. He was a fan. He was a friend. He was a Hall of Famer.
He was Philadelphia.
Take a look at this clip if you’d like to see him in one of his best moments.
I’m sure there is more I could say, but I’m no Harry Kalas. I’ve found this column difficult to write.
My little girl gave me a hug this morning right after I found out. She saw I was sad, and asked me why. When I told her that I was sad because Harry had died, she said that she wanted to draw an angel. And so she did, and I included the picture here. Suitable for framing...
The Phillies won today 9-8 in Washington. God Speed, Harry.