Wednesday, October 31, 2012


An Excerpt from "For What It's Worth, Love Dad"

Holidays are the exclamation points that emphasize the otherwise routine days of our lives. There are holidays like New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day that mark old endings and new beginnings. And, of course, Christmas, when our children share their joy and wonder with us, and in that sharing recharge the spirit of the child that still lives within us. Holidays can be marvelous memory makers. And then there’s Halloween.

You just can’t make an eloquent statement about the nobility of man at Halloween. It doesn’t inspire people to do charitable acts or to bestow blessings on anyone. Quite the contrary! Halloween is for pranksters and tricksters and for scaring the bejeepers out of any unfortunate soul who happens to let his guard down. And, despite numerous protests and murderous threats from my wife, that’s the tradition I’ve always tried to uphold in my family.

Now, in order to effect a truly notable Halloween memory, you need a few very basic ingredients:

(1)  pumpkin

(1)  dark night (preferably with a spooky moon)

(1)  imaginative child (add more as desired)

(1)  shameless and sadistic father

It’s long been the tradition in my family that Dad and the kids go hunting for “The Perfect Pumpkin.” Come to think of it, my wife never does this stuff. Makes you wonder who thinks up these traditions, doesn’t it? What the heck does she do with all that free time while I have the kids out scouring the markets for pumpkins and such? To be fair, though my wife certainly enjoyed those periods of temporary peace and quiet, the kids and I always had a great time and, while Mom’s acquisitions would be affected by budget constraints, Dad’s purchases never had a limit. Where Halloween was concerned, there was no price too high for the perfect pumpkin! This was a tradition that I used for virtually every holiday, by the way. Hence, the perfect valentine, the perfect Christmas tree, etc. But I digress.

So the kids and I would set out in search of the “Perfect Pumpkin.” This was always a description and title that was subject to some interpretation. Each of the kids would find what they felt constituted “perfect” and there’d be an impromptu judging contest. We’d oh-so-seriously examine the characteristics of each gourd, trying to visualize how the poor thing was going to look after we hacked out its insides and carved some ferocious countenance on it. Eventually we’d reach a consensus and hightail it back to the house with our prized, and soon to be butchered, “Perfect Pumpkin” in hand.

The autumn sun was sinking rapidly behind the hills beyond our home as the kids and I set about drawing pumpkin faces on scraps of paper. After several attempts at a number of designs, we agreed upon the face that would scowl down from our living room window at the hapless trick-or-treaters who dared come to our front door. We copied the features from our drawing to the pumpkin and I selected the largest butcher knife from the kitchen to do the deed. With my eyes bulging as best I could, I gave my best impression of Boris Karloff and, screaming for just the right effect, plunged the knife into the gourd! This was, of course, met with a round of applause from the kids and a smile and shake of the head from my wife. After completing the incision for the unfortunate pumpkin’s craniotomy, we’d commence scooping its “brains” out. (Always good for a yechhh or two.). Finally, all that remained was to put the candle inside the head and place our jack-o’-lantern in the front window. By this time, the “traditional’ side of me was in full swing and I suggested that Richard go out front to make sure the pumpkin could be seen from the road.

Now, I’m really not a bad father, usually.

But it was Halloween and tradition demanded a sacrifice. This year, Richard drew the short straw, so to speak. Richard, of course, was ignorant of my adolescent adherence to arcane family rituals. He was only six, going on seven. By now he knew there was no Santa Claus, but chose to believe anyway, just in case. And at this moment, he knew there was nothing outside that could hurt him, (but what if he’s wrong?). His sister (the shark) smelled blood in the water and insisted she’d watch him through the window to make sure he’s okay, and he reluctantly agreed to go. This was as much a testimony to his gullibility as to her cold-bloodedness.

By now, the sun had long since left the horizon and it was pitch-black outside. Timing is everything with traditions, you know. And Richard, fearful but trusting Richard, made his way slowly, step-by-cautious-step, down the back stairs and around the corner of the house (where the shrubs and trees take on monstrous shapes and it’s really dark), and finally to the front curb to gaze upon the pumpkin as his wonderful, loving father, whom Richard adores, suggested.

My son was no sooner out the door and cautiously heading down the stairs, when I made a bee-line for the drawer where I kept It!

It was a full head, rubber mask that looked, at its best, like a demented old man. At its worst, It was a demented old man that lived to eat the flesh off the bones of six-year-old boys. It had craggy brows over dark, deep set eyes and a shock of platinum white hair that rose like a scream from the fringe of its balding top. And It was going to meet Richard on the path back to the house. Realizing the benefits of special effects and good lighting, I grabbed a flashlight on my way out the door.

By now, Richard had made it to the curb, given a cursory glance to the front window, just to say he did it, and confirmed that, yes, the pumpkin is visible from the road. And now he was headed back to the safety and security that waited for him inside his well-lit house, just past the trees and beyond the dark and forbidding back yard. And there, in the backyard, It waited. Richard, either sensing the danger or anxious to be back inside, was moving much faster now. Gone was all caution as he rounded the corner of the house. Running at full clip, he broke into the clearing at the back of the house and headed toward the stairs.

Suddenly, It jumped out of the bushes. Aaarrrgggghhhh!

And Richard screamed…aaaaaiiiieeeeeeeee!

To get the proper effect, I held the lit flashlight under my chin so as to cast shadows across the mask and make it more menacing. I needn’t have bothered, really.

Completely frozen in place, Richard was still screaming

By then, I was behaving like a merciless mirthful ass, virtually collapsing with laughter, and then I realized…

Richard was still screaming, and I was about to be in serious trouble!

Quickly, I removed the mask and shone the flashlight on my face so Richard could clearly see me, but he kept screaming! And I heard his mother coming…

Hearing his terror, my wife had become a she-bear, bursting through the backdoor to save her cub…

Downstairs, the grandparents have heard the commotion and come running…

His sister, sensing a change in the atmosphere, is no longer the shark and is now only concerned for her brother’s welfare… (The little traitor!)

Guardedly, I looked into his mother’s eyes, and suddenly, I knew what real fear was…

With his mother’s appearance, Richard’s screams have finally subsided into an incoherent muddle of sobs and gibberish, as his mother attempted to keep him from going into shock or something worse.

Meanwhile, there I was, holding a flashlight and a scary mask, trying to look innocent and not doing a very good job of it.

Eventually, Richard calmed down, and being extremely goodhearted, he forgave me.

His mother however, was not quite so goodhearted, and certainly not as forgiving.

But by the time the Halloween had passed and that rotten smelly pumpkin had been disposed of, we were once again a happy, reasonably well-adjusted family.

Finally, October was just a memory, Thanksgiving came and went.

And then the kids and I set out to find “The Perfect Christmas Tree.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Discovery of Biblical Proportions

I have found the Tower Of Babble!

Actually, it wasn’t that hard to find, really.

I work there every day.
It’s the offices of the Federal Emergency management Agency in Algiers, Louisiana.
And no, I didn’t misspell that. But with all due respect to the Bible, my discovery has striking similarities to the Tower of Babel described in the book of Genesis.
For instance; the Tower of Babel was built by descendants of Noah’s flood survivors. My Babble came to be because of the flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina.
In the story of Babel, the Lord God Jehovah (or Yahweh, if you prefer) saw that humanity was getting pretty full of themselves and perhaps distancing themselves from proper worship. So he (or she as I suspect) in yet another display of divine stand-up comedy opted to make them all speak gibberish. And, for a final giggle, God had everyone speaking different dialects of gibberish.
Since the land of Gibber had not yet been discovered, Gibberish made no sense at all to anyone and thus, construction on the tower was doomed to failure.
Really? I mean… if I wrote this into a sitcom I wouldn’t need to write a blog again…ever! By the way, I may have also found the land of Gibber. It’s in southern Louisiana. But everyone there calls their language Cajun.
In my modern day version, the Tower of Babble was established to circumvent and overcome the impact of a hurricane, commonly a force of nature or Act Of God. I suspect that there may be a direct lineage between those original survivors of Noah’s flood and the world’s government agencies, which would explain why said agencies are (like their ancestors) also full of themselves. It would also explain God’s reaction which, keeping on a theme, was to confuse communication. But in a rare stroke of efficiency, God had the agencies confuse themselves.
This freed up God’s schedule to work on his advanced logistical plan (something involving the Mayan calendar).
And so, granted a moment of God’s divine inspiration, the government invented acronyms.
Okay, it’s starts to get complicated here, so I’ll try to go slow. But do try to keep up.

I work with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, (GOHSEP) as a State Applicant Liaison, (SAL). My office in Algiers is located in the Louisiana Recovery Office (or LRO). I review Requests for Public Assistance, (RPAs) that are submitted by Points of Contact (POCs) at local agencies (with their own acronyms) and Private Non-Profit agencies or PNP’s as we lovingly refer to them.
I’ll pause here so you can re-read the previous paragraph 2 or 3 times.


After they are granted eligibility to the Public Assistance (PA) program, applicants document their damage claims via Project Worksheets (PWs). If there is a problem with their claim, they can request information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or informally via a Public Assistance Expedited Information Request (PAXIR). The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is also in the building. They assign a Public Assistance Coordinator, (PAC) and Project Officer (PO) or Project Specialist, (PS) to work with the POC of the agency or PNP to document the PW which includes the Damage Description & Dimensions (DDD) and Scope of Work (SOW). To determine appropriate costs of repairs, FEMA may utilize the Cost Estimating Format or CEF.
It helps if you’re sitting down while reading this….really.
Once this is done, the SAL (me) and the PO and the PAC will meet with the POC of the PNP to present the PW and discuss the DDD and SOW. We then forward the PW to Quality Assurance & Control (QAQC). If the Katrina PW passes QAQC it gets entered into the National Emergency Management Information System (NEMIS), where it gets processed thru a queue of reviews including (but certainly not limited to) Environmental & Historical Preservation, (EHP) which will also include a signoff by the State Historical Preservation Officer or SHPO.
And this is the condensed version. For sake of your sanity (and mine) I’ve left out a multitude of other potential steps. But you get the idea.
As you can easily see, it is quite possible, in fact an almost daily occurrence that I can have a complete conversation without uttering a single actual word.
Somewhere in heaven, God & Daniel Webster are laughing hysterically.
One final note, for anyone who doubts the logic of attributing acronyms to God’s wrath & warped sense of humor, I submit the following;
According to Wikipedia, the Tetragammaton transliterates the Hebrew word & symbols for “God” into YHWH….

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

Call me slow, or maybe just blissfully unaware of the obvious. But I just discovered today that my birthday suit doesn’t fit anymore. Not sure when it happened, but somehow the damned thing got stretched out in the front, sags in the back, and has so many wrinkles my steam iron just laughs at me (hysterically).

Add to that, it hangs in places it shouldn’t and very obviously doesn’t hang in places it used to (embarrassing). The feet now look like a hobbit/duck cross-genetic experiment gone awry and the knees have permanent Lewinsky pads…you may recall the whole Bill & Monica affair? Shortly thereafter I was installing some ceramic floor tile and christened my knee pads “Lewinskys”. My wife thought it was disgusting, of course. But my kids thought I was pretty witty at the time. They’re a better (and more forgiving) audience than my spouse, so I tend to believe them more than her.

Making matters worse, I sneezed this morning…repeatedly. Sneezing by itself is an all-encompassing experience, but generally without lasting impact. Unfortunately, I was shaving at that particular moment. So the result is that I have a mangy looking beard to go with my decrepit birthday suit.

Continuing on the theme, I then scratched my eye while putting in my bi-focal contact lens which promptly tiger-striped the white of the eye a vivid red.

I forgot to mention, over the last few days I had sequestered myself on the 9th floor of my hotel, safe from any rising flood waters that may have been forthcoming as a result of Hurricane Isaac. Needless to say, the flood waters didn’t happen, for me at least. But we did lose power. Consequently, every trip for a meal was accompanied by a death march, (down & up) 18 flights of stairs. Two days of this and I now kind of hobble from one side of the room to the other, listing slightly to the left and correcting the list with an occasional lunge to the right.

The resulting combination of the sagging suit, mange-ridden beard, blood-laced eye and stagger-lunge gait have left me looking not unlike one of the walking dead I see in so many movies and TV series these days. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by the horrified glances I received from passersby on the street this morning.  The good news is that only the tourists were horrified and, truth be told, I may have hammed it up a bit with them just to get a better response.

The other good news is the locals just assumed I was another homeless wino. And in the short course of one hour, I had collected twelve dollars and thirty-37 cents.

At this rate, in a few more days I’ll have enough money to maybe get a new birthday suit!

Sunday, August 5, 2012


For me writing is a Sunday drive with no specific direction in mind. I cruise along, mindful of my intended passenger/reader (that would be you), asking “Are we there yet”? But still, I selfishly enjoy the journey for its own sake. I’m just in it for the moment and somewhere in the myriad of left, right, and U-turns encountered on my keyboard, I chance upon that intersection where that one feeling that’s longing to be expressed meets my fingertips and…

I find the destination I didn’t know I was headed for.

Last January, my youngest and only son, Richard and his fiancée, Lynn tied the knot. Richard, never one to rush into things, had taken 12 years to figure out what Lynn had known in the first 12 minutes… that they were made for each other. For a really bright guy, my son is sometimes a bit slow. But it’s an inherited trait that I believe comes from his mother’s side.

Deb will say it’s all my fault, of course. But she’ll have to make that argument in in her own blog.

My somewhat global family arrived in various stages for the wedding, with Jen & Phil from Tasmania just before Christmas and Cathy & Sam coming in from Texas a week before the nuptials. It was a great, if somewhat hectic, holiday season that I’ll always cherish. And, trust me; it gave me scads of new material to write about.

One evening I watched as Phil & Jen passed the time by playing Blackjack with Jen’s grandmother, Gert. It was an especially poignant moment for me and it took me back to September of 1985, when Hurricane Gloria downed power lines across the state, leaving us without electricity for 11 days. It was during that period when Gert, in an effort to keep them engaged, first taught Jen & Rich how to play Blackjack.

She explained the rules and helped them shuffle and deal, patiently waiting as they tallied the points in their hands. It was a simple enough game for the kids to grasp with the objective of getting as close as possible to 21 points without going over. More than 21 points meant you were busted and you lost. Simple, to the point, and no second chances like in draw poker. Blackjack meant you placed your bet and played the hand you were dealt, made your choice to hit or stand and let the chips fall where they may. I didn’t realize then the significance of those rules and how they would relate to our lives in general.

And now I watched quietly as Phil & Jen set about to teach her grandmother how to play Blackjack. You see, Gert had survived a stroke a year or two back, and the result was she had lost some of her most precious skills. Crosswords were now a struggle for her and simple arithmetic was a total mystery. But somewhere inside, the significance of the cards remained. And now it was Jen & Phil who worked to keep Gert engaged. They quietly coached as Gert would struggle with the simple act of dealing the cards and they lovingly assisted her as she counted the point values of her hand. And I wept a bit inside. Not from sadness so much. But from the sheer magic of that moment, when a gift given over a quarter century past was now being returned in such a beautiful way.

We all play the hands we’re dealt. And sometimes it’s not about the winning, but the fact that we just keep playing, no matter what.

(And yes, dear passenger/reader, we’re finally there!)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Maximum Love

Maximum Love

“Dad, are you feeling okay?” My father in-law was sweating profusely and his coloring was off, not his usual florid pink….more gray.

“I’m fine”, he said, “just a bit tired this morning.”

He wasn’t fine, though. Even as oblivious as I can be, I could see he was in trouble. So I called Deb down from upstairs to have her take a look at him. She was an E/R nurse and it only took her a minute to say “call 911”. Her father was in the throes of a full blown heart attack. Not surprising, considering how active he was for a man of 75. Bill was a force of nature, a bull of a man who somehow managed to navigate through our china-shop lives without getting more than a bruise or a scratch, or maybe the occasional cold. But today he was in trouble.

I could go into the details, but since this story isn’t really about Bill (his tale comes later), I’ll just tell you that he managed to make it to the hospital and went through the angioplasty procedure there with flying colors. He was home a few days later and ready to resume his normal rigorous routine of home repair and yard mowing. You’d be tempted to say “All’s well that ends well”…..but you’d be wrong.

“Dad, are you feeling okay?” (Deja-vu all over again). Once again Bill’s coloring was off. But this time, instead of the healthy pink or ashen grey, Dad was yellow. Not a yellow tint, but a blatant taxi-cab yellow. Another dash to the hospital confirmed that somehow, during his angioplasty he had contracted Hepatitis C, a nasty blood borne illness. The hepatitis was attacking his liver and throwing his blood chemistry off, causing his skin to have that yellow glow. The bad news was, except for the heart attack, he had been a perfectly healthy man. However, this hepatitis was incurable and would eventually kill him.

The weeks and months that followed were nightmarish for us all. Dad, who was normally the life of the party and raring to get going on any new project, had overnight become a frail old man, unable to navigate across the room, or sometimes not even able to dress himself. He endured the cruelty of his condition as best he could. And as we cared for him at home, we all did our best to deal with the level of care he needed, choking back our outrage at the injustice of his being saved from his heart attack only to have contracted this horribly debilitating disease.

The days stretched into weeks, and months as Dad’s condition continued to deteriorate. With his liver under attack, his blood chemistry would swing violently one way or another, and this began to affect his ability to think clearly. This marvelous man, this husband and father, would forget how to dress himself. Never at a loss for words before, Bill couldn’t find the words he wanted anymore. And so, was often unable to express his thoughts or needs to those of us, his family, who now cared for him night and day.

My own efforts were mainly limited to emotional support for my wife, her mother, our kids, and yes, for Dad too. Dad and I would sit together as he tried to describe his day, his feelings, or the details he wanted me to handle after he died. The lion’s share of Dad’s care fell to his wife of fifty-five years. Gert began and ended her days taking care of Bill, helping him dress, bathe, eat and move from bed to chair and back to bed. When Deb returned from work at the end of her shift at the hospital, she’d fill in for Gert as best she could and more than once provided her mother a shoulder that Gert could lean and cry on.

As time dragged on, our days became a never-ending series of Dad’s mishaps as his mind and body gave way to the ravages of his disease. Each day was a replay of the previous one, with his condition worsening in an excruciating day by day manner. And over time, the pace and quality of our existence slowed to match that of Dad’s. So much so that we all descended into a hellish depression and it became a struggle to console each other anymore.

I realized then, that as Dad’s condition was only going to get worse, something would have to be done to change our focus and (hopefully) his.

And so I now come to the subject of this story (finally).

It was the 1st Christmas since Dad’s diagnosis and the dark cloud of his condition had kept any light of the holiday season from warming our home. I arrived one night after work and walked into my in-law’s living room where Dad & Gert were seated. Their inability to deal with their situation (or each other) anymore was palpable. How do you deal with your life or your loved one’s life when there’s just too much pain and not enough hope?

But I was going to give it a try anyway.

Unzipping my jacket in showman-like fashion, I presented them with the tiniest ball of fur they had ever seen. The little Shih-Tzu puppy was all of 8 weeks old and weighed about a pound and a half. Two large Marty-Feldman-like eyes peered out of the little ewok face, taking in the new surroundings with a very serious gaze. I had belabored my decision about getting a puppy, knowing that everyone already had their hands more than full with taking care of Dad. But my instincts told me that if we were going to pull out of our depressions, all of us (including Dad) needed to focus on life, not death. And there are very few things in this world that say “LIFE” more than children and puppies. Since another child could not be arranged (at least not quickly), I figured a puppy was just the ticket. And it would have to be a puppy that was so immediately loveable that no one would be able to object to my new family addition. Hence, I chose this little champagne & white Shih-Tzu. And it was obvious from everyone’s reaction….I was right.

Gert, who had been sitting with a deadpan expression, pretending to be watching some TV program, suddenly broke out into a huge smile and started gushing baby-talk at my little companion. Dad, who had spent the last several days in a silent depression, sat up, grinning from ear to ear, and started chattering away about the size of our new family member. And in that split second, that’s what he had become, our newest family member. The puppy was unimpressed with the adults in the room and while they gushed and ooh’d and ahh’d, he commenced perusing the room, sniffing this and that. When he was satisfied that our home was marginally acceptable, he expressed his satisfaction by squatting on the carpet and having a pee, this much to the delight of my mother in-law.

I was amazed! This from a woman who fussed over every little spill or coffee cup ring, and she was positively in love with this miniature mutt who had just whizzed on her floor. (Go figure)

Deb determined that our new addition would be named Maximillian, “Max” for short. Although I argued at the time that we should call him Murphy since he never barked, but just “mrrphd”. Max didn’t seem to mind though and took to his new moniker like it was meant to be.

And suddenly, the world changed for us all. Dad was still sick and still facing death. He still required the same level of care. But somehow, our focus (and Dad’s) was no longer his care. We were all too taken with life with this little charmer. Max of course was fine with all this attention and was quite happy to be the recipient of the occasional doggie treat or piece of cheese. Dad would gleefully watch as Max displayed his prowess at hunting down and terrorizing the multitudes of stuffed toys he began to accumulate. Max would “grrrph” and “mrrrph” and Dad would cackle with laughter as Max pounced on a fuzzy squirrel or his favorite, a little white sheep. But when Dad began to tire, Max was more than happy to curl up in his lap and take the occasional nap.

It wasn’t all fun and games for Max, though. It’s not an easy task, being a micro dog in a macro world. When he was fully grown, he didn’t weigh over 3 ½ pounds and only stood 8 inches high. The winter after we got him brought snow 2 ft deep. To help the little guy out I dug a random track through the back yard to accommodate his basic needs. Stubborn as he was though, he would try to go off the track to do his business somewhere his nose said would be more appropriate. Introduce 8 inches of dog to 24 inches of snow and you get the idea…

Likewise, he had “socialization” issues. Being king of the hill at your own home doesn’t mean squat to the other dogs in the neighborhood, i.e., the boxers, labs, etc… Max must have had bad eyesight, because he would invariably bark warnings at the neighbor’s dogs, only to have them approach in all their massive girth and send him into a yipping panic attack.

It’s tough to have a lion heart in a chipmunk body, I guess.

In Max, Gert found a friend that she could give and receive affection…something that sadly, had become a rare event since Dad’s diagnosis. It’s hard to open up to love when it’s accompanied by so much pain and regret. So most of us will end up walling off the bad things not realizing that the bad things are the cost of admission for all the good we could receive if we just allowed ourselves to accept what life gives us. And finally, Dad was able to focus on life and love in its purest form. Cause that’s what dogs give us.

And then came that day in June of 2003, when Dad had finally had enough, when he just couldn’t fight it anymore, and we all said goodbye. And though we were all saddened by our loss, we were thankful for the time we had with Dad. And even more thankful that Max had been able to bring our family together prior to Dad’s parting.

Max helped carry us through some very tough times. Dogs do that for us, don’t they? Somehow, their love transcends everything. That wonderful, unconditional love is the gift they bring and we gratefully accept.

That July, less than 2 months after Dad’s death, Jennifer was married in our backyard. Max was there, embarrassingly dolled up for the event. He endured the indignity of it all with his usual aplomb. And he was quite willing to defer much of the attention to the bride, seeing as it was her day after all.

In the months that followed, however…we began to notice Max wasn’t moving quite as well or as often as he usually did. His scampering gradually reduced to a slow walk and he tended to list toward one side or the other. A trip to the vet showed that Max had a degenerative bone disorder. His hips had never fully formed as a puppy and now were getting worse. He was slowing down because he was in a lot of pain. So we gave him the pills the vet prescribed and took him home to care for him as best we could.

Now that Dad was gone and Max no longer had to look after him, it was our turn to take care of our little guy. And this we did gladly. Max was looked after and cared for and treated with all of the dignity and loving care we could muster. Instead of Max running up for a treat, we’d have to seek him out. We’d pick him up, oh so very carefully, because any movement was painful for him.

But eventually we had to make that last trip to the vet. Max had deteriorated to the point that we weren’t sure if he’d see another sunrise. The vet offered little hope and said that she could put an end to his misery or she could try one last time to turn him around, but it would be expensive. Deb and I looked at each other, we didn’t have a lot of money, and Max was probably too far gone at this point. But he was “family”. He had been there when we needed him. And we couldn’t walk away without trying everything we could to save him now.

So we gave the vet the go ahead, praying that whatever treatments she had would be enough to bring Max home to us again….But in the end, Max had to follow Dad.

And so we experienced Max’s “Maximum Love”.  But it came at a price.

A price that I’d gladly pay again…and again…and again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

For Braxton's Dad

I'm a little late getting this entry posted. But it's still a nice read, I think.

Father’s Day…(For Braxton’s Dad)
It’s raining in New Orleans this weekend. And I’m here on yet another Disaster Recovery assignment to help Louisiana settle their FEMA claims from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. There’s not much to do on the weekend when it rains, but watch TV, read….and remember. I compensate by mingling with the hotel guests, observing their family dynamic. And, almost without exception, I marvel at how so very much alike we families are. Road-weary dads are all lugging bags full of God knows what, while moms run herd on the little ones. There’s usually a bored looking teenage daughter with a cell phone permanently attached. And maybe a pre-teen son magically navigating the lobby with his eyes glued to the video game he’s playing.

This morning I met Braxton, a handsome and well-mannered young man all of two years old, though he looked almost four. I watched as Steve (his dad) loaded their SUV with the bags, cooler, stroller, and more bags, while mom Kelly set about making sure Braxton’s curiosity didn’t lead him too far away. Nice people. Talking to Kelly, I learned about Braxton’s age and about his soon to be little brother who looked to be about a month or so away from his debut appearance.

As Steve packed the car, Braxton was led by his inner navigator to wander around like little boys must. It’s a purely male phenomenon that boys must always be in a state of perpetual motion. I remember my own son, Richard, sitting but never still, with his legs swinging back and forth, frantically trying to move him…



But where he was supposed to be.

While his sister would sit with the immobility of the sphinx, Richard would itch, twitch, sprawl and crawl, all within the 18 inches of the chair seat.

I envy Steve and Kelly. This year will be my 42nd as a father. Forty-two years of summer ball games, fishing, chorus recitals, band lessons, trips to the doctor, and trips to the beach, and all of them were magical. I remember having the presence of mind at the time to say, “I must remember this moment”. Because I realized even then that those moments were flying by more quickly every day. But for Steve & Kelly, their magical adventure is just beginning.

Before they left for home, I ran back up to my room and grabbed a hardcover copy of my book, “For What It’s Worth, Love Dad”, and inscribed it to Braxton’s Mom & Dad. They thanked me and Braxton waved bye-bye as they drove away.

Happy Father’s Day Steve…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Forty-Two Father's Days

This year I’ll celebrate my 42nd Father’s Day. Cathy, 42 has three kids of her own and Jen, who lives in Australia, will be thirty-three. And Richard (the baby) just turned 30. He's as old as I was the day he was born.

When did that happen?

Wasn’t it just yesterday we were chasing each other through the house with their mom yelling for us to “take it outside”? Didn’t we just put that final coat of paint on Richard’s pinewood derby car? And it couldn’t have been that long ago when Cathy received her high school award for sewing. She’s still a domestic diva, by the way. And didn’t Jen just floor me and her mom, announcing she was moving to the other side of the world?
Forty-two Father’s Days!
I’m old!
But since the only folks that don’t get older are sx feet under, I guess being of advanced age isn’t so bad.
I was just 18 when Cathy was born…not much more than a kid myself. Lucky for me she didn’t know what a novice dad she was getting. Lucky for me I had no idea that there was a car out there somewhere, waiting for her to turn two years old… and then cross its path.
I gained a few years that day.
I gained a few more years later, when a pickup truck broadsided Jen in her little Plymouth. But those are stories for another day....not today.
Yep, forty-two Father’s Days can include some pretty scary times.
But in between those horrors there were so many more moments of magic. Every year brought 3 birthday cakes, complete with gifts & smiles, photos of 42 Christmas’s with tree hunting, trimming (and taking down afterwards), 3 kids, each having their first day at school, each learning to ride a bike, 2 learning to water ski, 1 learning to snow ski. Three graduations and 3 grandchildren!
Three lifetimes for me to share!
How blessed am I?
Forty-two times (so far)
Happy Father’s Day to all you Dads and soon-to-be Dads out there!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Father's Day....(Seriously)

My son, bless his heart, credits me with the wisdom of Solomon, so much so that he has dubbed me “The Bruce”. For him, whatever “The Bruce” says must be the gospel. The truth of course, is that whatever insights I may have, didn’t accompany my birth certificate, but were learned from a lifetime of my mistakes. I guess the wisdom part is that over that time, I learned from my mistakes. Maybe that’s what he sees.

The irony of fatherhood is that while we are teachers to our children, we are all students of parenting. And while I didn’t get any wisdom with my birth certificate, I also didn’t get the manufacturer’s instructions that should have accompanied my children. And together my wife and I learned about the “some assembly required” aspects of building each one’s character.

We learned how to focus on each child according to their need, to be as honest with them as we expected them to be with us. To be fair, to wield authority without being an authoritarian, to judge without being judgmental, to counsel but never preach, to be ready to scold when it was called for, and to be equally generous with praise when it was deserved.

According to my kids, we did this reasonably well.

Looking at the adults they’ve become, I’d have to agree.

Personally, I’m still working on many of those traits I tried to instill in my offspring. But in order to be a success as a father, I had to lead by example. And in setting that example, I ended up learning a lot about life… and myself. In the end, I’m proud of my children and the adults they’ve become. And I’m almost as pleased with the man they’ve made of me.

This Father’s Day, I’ll celebrate every moment with my kids, every laugh, every smile, every memory revisited, and be thankful for the time (and the love) we continue to share.

For What It’s Worth,



Sunday, May 6, 2012

Living With Bill...The Ups & Downs

Affixed to the cabinet alongside our refrigerator, secured by a small Velcro patch, sits an innocuous little gray box. It’s the remote control for our electric garage door opener, not very imposing or even notable to the casual observer.

And yet… this little battery operated device opens more than the door to our garage. For me, it’s a key to a treasure trove of happy memories…

Our raised ranch home was shared by my brood of 5 living upstairs and my in-laws who occupied the lower half. I’ll give my wife’s parents credit; Bill & Gert were the picture of patience when it came to adapting their September years lifestyle to the often chaotic activities that came with raising three children and an infinite series of pets that included dogs, an albino boa constrictor, two cats, and numerous hamsters…not to mention a bat (the flying kind) that my children brought home one afternoon. Richard, pounding out an overabundance of teen hormones on an 80 pound punching bag, would cause seismic reverberations throughout the house. Gert was famously phobic about snakes and Jen’s boa constrictor caused no end of lively discussions. And then there were the doggie deposits that seemed to gain a whole new revitalized fragrance when Bill would inadvertently run over a hidden pile of poo with the mower.

But I was talking about the remote control, wasn’t I?

Bill & Gert’s prior home, the one that they had blissfully lived a solo existence in, had come equipped with an electric garage door opener, a feature that was painfully lacking in the home we now shared.  Anyone who has ever attempted to open their garage during a torrential summer thunderstorm, or one of our New England-style winter nor’easters will attest that an electric garage door, while it may not be a “necessity”, is certainly highly desirable. At least until you have a power failure.

But that’s another story.

So Bill and I agreed to split the cost and installed a Craftsman opener we had purchased at Sears. The whole installation process went remarkably smoothly considering Bill was left-handed where I favored my right. To those of you who are not experienced in multi-dexterous interaction, I can tell you that left-handed people don’t think the same way as right-handed folks.

Not that they’re wrong, mind you, just… different.

Add to that, Bill was one generation removed from being British, with his parents having come across the pond just a year or two before he was born. As for me, I was born and bred in Kentucky (the land of beautiful horses and fast women) from a mongrel line of Scot/Dutch/German descendants (all of which have a disagreeable history with the Brits). Bill was of course, a member of what journalist Tom Brokaw referred to as “The Greatest Generation”. While I had my questionable coming of age in southern California, not Haight-Ashbury mind you, but still, it was the 60’s. Needless to say, where Bill would select a crescent wrench, I’d be grabbing a socket wrench. When I tried to finesse a part into place, his idea was to use a bigger hammer. And yet, somehow we managed to not only refrain from killing each other, but to become fast friends in the process… despite my wicked and shameless sense of humor.

It was only a week or so after the opener’s installation that it began to malfunction. Press the remote button and the door would start to rise only to stop halfway up. Try to close it, and the darn thing would come half way down only to pause in its descent and then go back up. We figured out that the seasonal temperatures had changed, causing the metal door runners to expand or contract. This put too much tension on the opener and triggered its safety switches. Not a big thing and easily adjustable. So I left Bill to do the adjusting. Dragging out the ladder and an assortment of wrenches, screwdrivers and other paraphernalia, Bill spent about 20 minutes tweaking and adjusting the guides and the sensors until he was satisfied that all was operating smoothly. From my kitchen window, I watched as Bill put the tools and ladder away, walked to the front & center of the driveway, about ten feet outside the garage, raised his hand with a flourish, aimed his remote control, and pressed the button.

With a motorized whirr and a metallic clatter, the garage door obliging descended to the closed position. Bill, eminently pleased with his handiwork, began to turn and was in mid-stride back to the house…

When I reached out to my remote, (remember the one velcro’d to my cabinet by the fridge? Yep! That’s the one!), and I pressed the button.

The door, which had hit bottom and appeared to be happily at rest suddenly reanimated itself, rising like Dracula from the grave, apparently of its own accord.

Bill, who you’ll remember was in mid-turn and mid-stride back to the house, almost tripped over his own feet as he spun about to watch in wonder as this formerly inanimate object was seemingly coming to life on its own.

He stood there a moment, staring at the garage…thinking. Once again, he extended his arm raising the remote with what I must admit was quite an imperious manner. Pressing the remote’s button again, but this time with that English air of authority, he commanded the door to close….and it did, (almost).

Until (grinning from ear to ear), I pressed the button on my remote again.

 I am SO going to rot in Hell for this!

Bill stood there in amazement as the door once again began to rise. Holding the remote with one hand and scratching his head with the other, he then looked up at the clouds doing that “God, why are you doing this to me” prayer. In the kitchen, I’m laughing so hard that I can barely stand.

Now Bill’s wheels are turning in high gear. He looks at the remote and briefly considers that it might be misfiring. So back into the garage to get a screwdriver he goes. I watch him in the garage as he disassembles and reassembles the remote, and then returns to his command spot in the driveway, raises his arm, and once again commands the door to close.

Just for variety, this time I let the door come down only half way before I stop it with my remote.

If there had been any room for doubt, it was now more than obvious that Bill was thoroughly pissed off. His eyes have bugged out to an alarming level and his normally pale face was beet red. Storming into the garage, he drug out the ladder once again and set about inspecting the door runners on either side of the garage. Then, he proceeded to spray lubricant over every inch of the runners.

Then, while still inside the garage, he hit the button again.

As the door descended those last few inches, I envisioned my father in-law peering at the door mechanisms, trying to identify whatever the malfunction might be should the door decide to rise again.

So of course, this time I didn’t trigger my remote, leaving him standing in the garage was just too tempting.

It took a minute or two. But eventually, the door once again began to rise. But since I had him trapped in the garage for the moment, I figured, “What the Hell” and hit my remote again to freeze the door as it reached the midpoint. This action was immediately followed by not so equal but opposite reaction characterized by a prolific string of expletives emanating from the depths of the garage. Then the door once again descended as Bill pressed his button again.

Having effectively extended his exile to the garage, I was laughing so hysterically that I started to tear up and I was in serious danger of becoming incontinent. Meanwhile, Bill had commenced crashing about in the garage, doing God knows what to that poor innocent electric door opener.

Finally, in a rare moment of charitability, I grabbed my remote and stepped out onto the porch where Bill would be able see me. After an extended period of banging around in the garage, Bill pressed his button and emerged from the garage. It was at this moment… this oh so memorable moment, I innocently asked, “Are you having problems with the door, Pop?”

Exasperated beyond reason, Bill explained that he didn’t understand what the problem was, but the door opener must be faulty. And that we’d probably have to take it back to Sears for a refund. To demonstrate, he once again raised the remote and pressed the button.

Dutifully, the door began to descend…

At that moment, Bill turned to look at me, just as I raised my own remote and pressed its button, stopping the door once again at the midpoint.

Bill just stared at me with this blank expression.

It took a full 10 seconds for him to grasp what I had been doing and that I was the source of his last 30 minutes of insanity.

“YOU SON OF A …” For the sake of his grandchildren, I won’t repeat the words that poured from the mouth of this otherwise normally agreeable, peaceful, pleasant man. But since I’m laughing (even now as I write this), I have to admit I deserved every word of it.

As much as I treasure that memory, the crème de le crème moment occurred about a week later when Bill figured out how he could get even with me. Without telling anyone, he changed the code on the door opener and his remote, (but not ours). Consequently, he could operate the door but we couldn’t. He was in his element as he waited to take his revenge. But the only thing he hadn’t considered was that I didn’t park in the garage! His daughter did. So when the magic moment came, my wife, who was innocent in this whole affair, was the recipient of Bill’s vengeance.

So now I sit looking at that remote control… that otherwise mundane little device and remember. I’d like to say that was the end of the arguably juvenile pranks I played on my father in-law. I’d like to say that I eventually matured and never again had a laugh at his expense. I really would. But then, there’s always the tennis ball, an otherwise mundane little toy...

But that’s another story.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Excerpt from my book, "For What It's Worth, Love Dad"

How Did I Get Here?

Sitting here, I am painfully aware of just how much of a cliché I’ve become. You could accurately describe me as several gray hairs past middle-aged, warily viewing my midlife crisis through my Coke-bottle bifocals, lamenting my thinning hair and a growing paunch that often blocks my limited view of my large and rather unattractive feet.

 In short, I’m a babe-magnet!

Actually, I think I may be morphing into one of those blue-haired pear-shaped people I used to laugh about. The only possible way I could be more ridiculous would be to buy a ’70s muscle car and take up with a young bimbo. But one requires too much energy, and they both cost way too much money to maintain.  

Not to mention, your mom would want to drive the car, and she’d expect the bimbo to help with the housecleaning.

But I can handle getting older. It’s that other cliché that hurts the most, the one that describes me as an “empty-nester.”

As I look around my home, I can see remnants of you kids everywhere. The house has weathered into a testimony of our time here, and the yard is landscaped with memories. With every day that passes now, I find I spend more of my time remembering our past, which leaves less time for envisioning the future.

Yes, all of you fledglings have long since flown. And to the untrained eye, it might appear that this nest is vacant. But I can assure you, any nest that has had you in it can never really be empty.  

If you look carefully, under several coats of paint, you can still make out the pencil marks on the door frame in the kitchen where we measured your height from year to year. Each of you would stand your tallest, stretching your necks to gain that extra half inch. And Jen, you’d bemoan the unfairness of life as your younger brother Richard began to catch up. 

Behind the garage is a small plot of land, where you guys used to help me garden, and where, later, we played baseball, horseshoes and badminton.

Over by the rock wall planter is where Richard’s Cub Scout troop assembled scarecrows for a merit badge, and it was also there that we would place the arbor for Cathy’s wedding.

In the grove behind the house I can show you where we built a clubhouse with a rope bridge and where you and friends had your race track set up to run your toy cars. The other day, I came across an unexploded paintball from a free-for-all you had when you were about fourteen. Apparently, paintballs aren’t very biodegradable.  

Also in the grove was a dogwood tree that you used to climb. Sadly, the tree got diseased and had to come down. But the stump is still there. I can show you…

And there in the grove, not far from that dogwood stump, is where Jen eventually said her “I do’s” with her new husband. And here in Cathy’s room , which then became Jen’s room and is now my office, I can still make out a few of Jen’s damned self-adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling…I thought I’d gotten them all off, but they keep showing up. Wanna see…?

There in the enclosed porch is where you discovered that the dead bat you’d brought home wasn’t dead, but just sleeping. And then you had to capture it before your grandmother came home. It was on that same porch where you first got a look at the German Shepherd puppy I brought home and you named him Champ.

I wasn’t always this way. I mean, as much as you kids have been my life, I had another life before you came along. Back then I was Peter Pan, a loveable flake with no intention of ever growing up and certainly no plans for ever growing old. I was a kite, driven by the wind and in love with the exhilaration of it all. It didn’t matter then that the winds sometimes dashed me to the ground. I’d pick myself up again and throw myself into the next gust, anxious for the thrill of the flight. Never worrying about where or how I might land next time. There were places to go and things to do and I was mid-stride in my step to take on the world.

And then I met the woman who would become my world.

I met your mom...

And somehow, looking into those green eyes of hers, I saw a future that I hadn’t envisioned before.

Now, this book is not about my love life. (You kids couldn’t handle it.) If it were, I’m sure you’d have found something else at the bookstore with a red-hot cover and a lot more pizzazz in it, something with a photograph of a bare-chested Adonis and tempestuous beauty with a significant chest of her own. But, in deference to your mom I feel obliged to digress for a moment here.

There have been countless descriptions of women penned by the men who loved them. And I am not so accomplished an author as to compete with the millennia of those artful phrases. Let’s just say that all the things that have ever been written by men in love, about the women they loved, are all very true and accurate.

And they all describe my Deb.  

I shudder to think where I might have ended up without her by my side. Remarkably, she never seriously tried to change who I was and let me remain my kite-like self. In fact, she has almost always celebrated my occasional flights of fancy. The only difference for me, now, was she held the string that guided me, and helped keep me aloft so I didn’t come crashing to earth as much. And on those infrequent times when I did crash, she was always there to pick me, dust me off and launch me back into the sky. It’s a rare woman who can do that for a man and continue to do it time and time again for a lifetime. I had, to quote yet another cliché, found my soul mate. But, she’s more than that. Your mom completes me. She’s the yin to my yang, the night to my day, and somehow she manages to accomplish all this and still be the pain in my neck.  

She says much the same about me, by the way, but she describes her pain at a much lower point on the body.

Okay, so enough about that! The point is, I wasn’t always “Dad.” Like most dads, I started out as a kid. And like some of the luckier dads, I stayed a kid, at least on the inside, anyway. The problem I have now is that all my kids grew up and left me here with no one to play with anymore! (You ungrateful wretches.)

So it’s up to me, I guess, to try to figure out: do I resurrect my Peter Pan self and coerce my wife into playing Wendy? Or do I accept the inevitable and do as so many men do…fading away into obscurity, spending my time in rocking chairs and gardening? Not much of a choice, really. 


Next stop, third star from the left and straight on till morning!

Something I Always Meant to Tell You:

The secret to a happy life is…

Choose something you love and dedicate your life to making it the best it can be.

I chose you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Finding Willoughby

In one of his signature "Twilight Zone" episodes, writer Rod Serling gave us a glimpse of Willoughby, a small Ohio town where a man could slow down and "live life its full measure". In the story, Dan Daly plays Gart Williams, a harried advertising executive who struggles daily with the battles of the cutthroat Madison Avenue ad business, but all the while longing for a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn existence.

I believe we are all Gart Williams. We all want the same things… love, peace, security, a family, Sunday Frisbee tournaments with the kids at the park or the beach. But we don't do that, do we?

Instead, we join the vast buffalo herd and stampede ahead, never really sure where we're going or when we're going to get there. And never being really sure just where "There" is.

It’s a uniquely American phenomenon, this herd behavior. And in many cases, maybe we’re not buffaloes. Perhaps lemmings would be a better comparison. After all, aren’t they the ones who are notorious for running off cliffs? I’ve been to Scotland, England, Thailand, Mexico, and my favorite place, my Willoughby, is the little village of Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania in Australia. The people there seem to have it figured out. They work, of course. But they work to live. Nobody lives to work. And everyday they go about their business, the business of living. We Americans, we can-do types, scoff at the Aussies and the Europeans because they really don’t “have any ambition”. But the sad truth is, we’re the ones that aren’t getting it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the stats on anti-anxiety drug sales in America, the divorce rate, the number of troubled kids.

If you’ve been struggling to “get ahead”, stop and consider if “ahead’ is where you really want to be. Look at your boss, your supervisor, your manager. Do they really look happy? Probably not. They’re saddled with a job that demands too much of their time, energy and integrity. And because they bought into that philosophy, they can’t really understand why anyone else would choose not to. They started out just like you, though….wanting more. Do you really need that promotion? Will working more hours for what will ultimately be less pay and less time with your loved ones really make you happy?

Of course, you don’t have to travel the world to find Willoughby. It’s right there. Right where you are now. All you have to do is stop running around trying to get more so you can enjoy life, when all you really need to do is enjoy life more.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'll Be Happy When...."

Everyone, says it, almost every day..."I'll be happy when...". I'll be happy when this week is over, when this report is done, when I get through this semester, when this baby finally gets here, when Friday comes, when I get my life back together, etc.. I just can't wait... for this week to be over, for the holidays to end, for the kids to be grown and out of my hair.

Life can be a roller coaster ride, to be sure. You start off with a little excitement and apprehension, followed by some increasing anxiety as you ratchet up the first climb. You know that climb? The one with the highly visible tracks that seem to go up,and up, and up into infinity, ending abruptly just at the end of your line of sight? I mean, you knew it was going to be there, right? After all, that was one of the reasons you chose to take this trip. Logically though, you know the tracks continue on. But your instincts keep asking, "What if you're wrong this time?".

As you reach the crest of that first climb and you see the path ahead, you're suddenly aware that maybe this time you've bitten off more than you can possibly chew. But there's no where to go now, so you hang on and try not to scream as you begin to fall. Momentarily weightless and picking up speed, you plummet down at an ever increasing (and terrifying) rate.

Over the next few minutes (that seem like hours) you're whipsawed back and forth, more climbs and gut wrenching falls, all the while cursing yourself (and probably the friend sitting next to you) for ever having taken this ride in the first place.

And then, just when you think you're about to have a sudden and intimate reunion with the lunch you consumed a half hour's over.

You glide into the end of the ride, the lap bar lifts away and you shakily step out onto the platform. As you regain your composure, everyone, and I do mean everyone, experiences that elated and crazy moment when you think; "That was FUN!... Let's do it AGAIN"!

I believe our lives are just like that.
Some of us choose our paths, others let other people do the choosing for them (which is really just a different kind of choice, I think). But the point is, you're on the ride you chose! It may not all be fun and games. There will certainly be some peaks and valleys and numerous hairpin turns when you least expect or are able to deal with them.
But when it's over, and it will be don't get to take that ride again (unless maybe your Hindu).
For What It's Worth...
Your time on earth is yours to kill...or spend. It's really up to you now, Isn't it?