Friday, January 25, 2008


What do you say to a dying man?

What do you say, indeed, to the man who raised you, as he lay helpless in a hospital bed, only able to moan and huff? Do you recount the years of lost childhood? The memories of violent nights? The chair broken on mom's back, or the toy record player thrown down the basement stairs because my sister and I argued over it? The fight over the silk screened jean jacket when I was 17? No, there's no time for anger or bitterness.

Are you supposed to keep it light, sticking only to the topic of what the kids are doing? Are you supposed to reaffirm the promises made two months ago, that we will go fishing together this summer, and work on that fence? Are you supposed to make up for lost time, years upon years of not talking, even over mundane topics? Are you supposed to lay the sap on as thick as it will go? No, this is not a time for falseness.

Are you supposed to take out your shopping list of emotional needs and guilts, unloading each one to a man who cannot respond, and wouldn't know what to say if he could, for the sake of clearing the air? Are you supposed to be serious and dark and of formidable emotional stamina as you discuss the deep meanings of your relationship even as it comes to an untimely end? No, this is not a time for business.

Are you supposed to...?

How many of these questions I've run though my mind in the last 24 hours I'll never know. And more are coming. I don't have any answers to any of them. My conclusions are guesses, arrived at from a combination of gut feeling and TV drama. The conversations I am having with my dad are one way, and I'm not much of a talker. There are almost 35 years of baggage to mull over between us. Both of us are regretful of what we've ignored, and there's no time to remedy any of it, except for me to say that I enjoyed spending time with him this summer, and know he enjoyed it, too.

I spent--we all spent--every visit to my parents' house dreading the leaving moment, watching the time bomb in the easy chair tick tick tick with every red-white-and-blue can to his inevitable breaking point. We even had a signal when the invisible line had been crossed, when the point of no return had been breached, when nothing we said or did or told the kids would change his reactions. We knew then we had only so long to get out of the house before the next time Brendan screamed or Sophia played the piano over the TV audio he'd snap. This is how we always handled things, and when Dad got confused or mad or threw a fit over it we just rolled our eyes and talked about him later at sibling get-togethers.

So now, what do say to this man, after years of circling the threatening fire, daring not to take a burning branch and call it what it was? Sure, I did love him all along, and I learned to accept him the way he was, and (eventually) live a healthy life despite his unhealthy influence. In the last year, I made significantly more effort to get to know him, to not just avoid or work around his addiction and anger, but to stand stalwart as it passed through and around me, in hopes of getting a glimpse of its originator. I am thankful that I made the decision to do this, not because he was dying (even though he was at the time, and none of us knew it), but because it was necessary to finally create a real bond with my father, if not between father and son, then between men. I am both thankful and bitter, because I intended the effort, 100%, to be the beginning of some healing years, not as a requiem to a life of misunderstanding this man who did everything he knew how as best he could, but still came off as a failed and abusive parent.

I am mad as hell that this chance has been taken away from me.

Maybe that's what I need to say, for starters at least.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


It is only a matter of days now, dozens or perhaps hundreds of hours, before my dad succumbs to his cancer. I am faced--all of us, I think, are faced--with the prospect of what to do with those hours.

This is nothing like I imagined it. Early on, I thought the chance of recovery was slim, but still believable. I made real efforts to maximing the value of our time together, but real life--work, kids, marriage, money, friends, et cetera--asserted their hold over my life as usual. Dad was in and out of the hospital. Each time, he'd recover from whatever condition sent him there within a few days. Or recover enough that he felt "100% better" by the time he left. But when he went again, it was always for something a little more dire. During one visit, his last before being admitted to ICU a week or two later, he walked around the floor with me, slowly but surely, and we talked. Having never really talked to him like that for longer than a handful of sober minutes, it was awkward, and we both knew it, but each of made a noble effort. It was embarrassing when he'd do things like get bossy with the desk nurses, or call the very cute one "honey," but that's Dad, and I was just along for the walk, and the thought that, despite my embarrassment, if any one of them thought badly of my dad for it, they could go to hell.

This is how I thought it would be until the end. My belligerent old dad, being his belligerent old self until, well, he died. But this wasn't the reality of it at all. The truth of it became a slow decline into an over-medicated state of mindlessness. When he came home from ICU, he could barely speak. His responses to comments and questions were only a few words each. Sometimes he'd start to say something, but never finish the first word. Because he couldn't speak above a loud whisper, even these fleeing thoughts were meaningless by the time I could ask, "What did you say, Dad?"

Now, a scant week after his return home, he is barely aware of his surroundings. His body is destroyed, both due to his disease and its treatment, and his mind is deprived in the name of comfort. I cannot say goodbye to this man. I cannot tell him, during his final hours, what he meant to me. I cannot express my fears and be comforted, or comfort him of any fears he may express to me. All I can do now is hold his hand ask, "Are you warm enough, Dad?" and hope he can give me an answer.

I pray for some clarity. I pray for peace. I pray for these for both he and I, and everyone else dealing with this reality. I will hope for a moment of connection before he is gone forever when he will know what is in my heart, that he may take it with him when he goes. What I will say or do in that moment, should it come, is as much a mystery to me now as what I will do with my grief when it comes, but I pray for it just the same.

And despite all else, I will say goodbye, I will tell him what he meant to me, and I will comfort fears, both his any my own, in the knowledge that no matter what, he's my dad, and that will never, ever change.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sorting Myself Out

(Written 2 February 2007)

The path to this place in my life is riddled with as many failures, successes, embarrassments, triumphs, fears, and doubts as anyone's. I'm really not that different than most white American men in the middle class Midwest. I'm okay with that.

I make the generic statement that every person is unique. I believe it to be true for both Divine and biological reasons, nature and nurture combined. Okay: easy enough to understand. But what does it mean to be unique? To truly understand your gifts and limitations? To know yourself well enough to make the most of every day, and therefore life? These are questions I struggle with, and one reason I chose to write here. I only know at this point that I can think and speak for myself, which is something of a rarity, that I am intelligent and talented, and that I want and know I can achieve more out of life.

Throughout my 33 years, I have fit into several pre-drilled pigeon holes, but none completely. What I really need at this point is some real definition and priority. My first attempt at this will be to sort out which of these holes I fit into and which are most important.

Today I am especially focused on fatherhood. When most people meet me for the first time, it is usually in a family setting, so this is entirely appropriate. I became a father for the first time in 1998, at the age of 25. I had no idea what it was that made me think I could do it. Of course in theory, it all seems fairly straightforward, if not complicated and messy on occasion. But parenting, I found, takes more than a plan.

We describe Anthony as the perfect first child. He was easy to soothe, slept through the night at 6 weeks, attentive, happy, healthy...all the things you read about in the first paragraph of each chapter in the "What to Expect..." books. He was (and remains) a very tender child with an empathic connection to the feelings of those around him. This alone disturbed me.

My past is troubled, and my marriage imperfect. There were many times during Anthony's early years that I experienced things I had no idea how to handle, and I reacted accordingly. I tried to shield my new son from as much of this as I could, but I knew almost immediately I could not hide my feelings or mood from him. As any new parent knows, there are few choices about the various duties of child rearing. Feeding, changing, bathing, dressing, napping, playing, and bedding down of the kid takes place whether you are ready or stable or not. Failure to do these things is unacceptable, at least when trying to establish a routine with which your infant will hopefully begin a long successful life. But when you can't think because your mind is racing, it's 7 o'clock and dinner still hasn't even been talked about, and you are trying to sort through the bills because not all of them can be paid this month, the last thing you need is a stinky diaper. And it takes a toll on you. Anthony could see this a mile away.

I beat myself up about it, and wondered: How would this child turn out if he had healthier parents? If he'd never seen his father cry, or heard him shout at his mother? As real life churned around us both, I slowly saw Anthony's perfect infant view dull. His reactions to things became more subtle and less enthusiastic, and I wept the loss this innocence. What I did not see at the time was the beginning of a new personality, and the natural attrition of things that change in every baby as he grows into toddlerhood.

At some point, I realized that I, we, his parents, would never be perfect, and though our problems would take a toll on his and our lives, we had the responsibility to carry on and do our best. Sometimes that meant chalking up a bad day to something that, maybe, would be different tomorrow. Sometimes it meant looking in the mirror and doing something about those problems. Sometimes it meant apologizing to the little boy who, despite his age and inability to understand, deserved better than what he'd been handed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Michigan Primary

Yesterday, voters in my state had the chance to be heard. Republicans and Democrats* came together in the common cause of democracy to decide who will represent their parties in the run for President this fall. It was a time of great pride in America to partake in such a process--the process that allows me, a common citizen, to make my voice heard and take part in one of the greatest societies on Earth today.

Or it would have been, if only the Democrats* hadn't screwed it up.

What's big in the news today is the fact that Hillary Clinton won the Democrats and Mitt Romney won the Republicans. There's endless analysis and speculation all over the newsphere about what it means, blah blah blah. What's not really in the news except around here is the fact that only one major candidate--Hillary Clinton--was on the Democratic ballot.

Last fall, Michigan's Legislature made the decision to move our primary from (don't know when) to January 15. Apparently, they wanted us to be more like Iowa, one of the early states who gets to be some key indicator and thereby have more influence on the final outcome. It was also supposed to have some effect on our crappy economy. Again I say--blah blah blah. Whatever their intent may have been, it seems they ignored a rule by the Democratic National Committee to start most state primaries after February 4th.

In an act of party loyalty, most Democratic candidates both withdrew their names from Michigan's ballot and banned active campaigning in the state. Now, I'm not big on party loyalty--or any kind of loyalty that lends itself to accepting the wide brushes modern politics apply to what, in my opinion, demands a much more complex, personal approach--but let's face it: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and all the rest of the Democratic candidates are counting on the DNC's support in November, and they sort of have to toe the company line, or (presumably) get left in the political cold of obscure third parties*.

One Democratic candidate, however, while she didn't campaign in the state, did not withdraw her name from the ballot. Have you guessed who? That's right, Hillary Clinton. Let me first say that I love the idea that we could possibly have a female President next year, even if it is Hillary. It doesn't make sense to me that one of the greatest societies on Earth can't bring itself to seriously consider anyone for President who isn't a white man. Hell, we even threw a fit about a Catholic white man, and he turned out to be one of the most popular presidents in our history. It should be a global embarrassment that dozens of other countries (some for centuries) have had female leaders, while in the United States just the idea of a woman running is a novelty.

That said, back to Hillary. The reasons for her campaign's decision to ignore the DNC's hard line are unknown to me (my ears not being very keen to politics), but what's clear is that she obviously didn't give a damn what the party thought. The Obama and Edwards campaigns urged Democratic voters to select "Uncommitted" on their ballots if they supported either candidate. The final outcome of the Democratic primary was 55% Clinton, 40% Uncommitted. I wonder how many people would have voted for either absent candidate if their names had been there. I wonder how many people, confused by both the process and the ballot SNAFU, put a mark down for Hillary just because they didn't see the name they wanted. I wonder how many people opted for the Republican ballot instead. I wonder how significant it is that the bill changing the date was introduced by four Republicans*. I wonder.

And what of Hillary's disposition in her party? Will she be booted because she wasn't a good Democrat by pulling out of Michigan? Do you think, say, the Libertarians would have her now? Or the Greens? Of course this isn't a real issue: she will remain on every Democratic ballot in every other state left, and this will pass mostly unnoticed on the national level. If Hillary ultimately is elected, what does her Michigan decision say about her future administration?

The truth of the matter is that Michigan Democrats were cheated out of their right to choose the candidate of their choice, plain and simple. Writing in a name was not an option. The Michigan Democratic primary was an embarrassment and a farce, and every senator and representative who voted to change the date is to blame. In their effort to make Michigan's primary more important, all they did was undermine what value it already had--at least as far as the DNC was concerned. What's ironic is that Michigan has both a Democratic governor and a Democratic House. I know for a fact at least one lawsuit attempted to block the change, but the case was quickly struck down and got ten seconds airtime on the morning newscast.

"Tonight Michigan Democrats spoke loudly for a new beginning," said Clinton Campaign Manager Patti Solis Doyle (in this article). But that's not what happened at all. What did happen is the good old fashioned political machine kicked in. Voters got trampled, and democracy took the hit. This is exactly why the high estimates for voter turnout were 20%, and the main cause of voter apathy. My usual reaction to a person who doesn't vote is the impulse to slap them, but next time I hear someone say "Why vote? It won't change anything anyway," I might just agree with them. At least if they're a Michigan Democrat.

* Though I'm a huge fan of any good conspiracy theory, I'll make no speculation on the true intent of Michigan Republican senators Michelle McManus, Cameron Brown, Bill Hardiman, and Michael Bishop when they sponsored Senate Bill 0624(2007). Another consequence of the date change was to effectively eliminate any third party participation in the primary. So which party was it that really screwed up the primary election?

More information on Public Act 0052 of 2007, and an excellent resource for Michigan voters.

Seeing as how the Clinton-Obama race has come to a head following all the state's primaries, and with the Big Day approaching for the would-be opponent of John McCain, folks are making quite a stir over Michigan and Florida's discounted primary results. Two articles:

Florida, Michigan seek exit from Democratic penalty box -

If allowed, Florida, Michigan could tip nomination -

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ode to America

This morning I opened my email and found an old article supposedly written following the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Cornel Nistorescu, a Romanian newspaperman. Despite its topic, I was skeptical of its authenticity. After a quick look, it passed the test of believability.

I suppose this a bit is outdated, but I submit that it's never too late to praise the praiseworthy. I also tend to be a bit extreme sometimes in my patriotism, something I will never apologize for. So I'm turning over the "just for me" sign today, and turning this blog into a public forum. Here it is.

* * * * *
Why are Americans so united? They would not resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all the languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and religious beliefs.

Still, the American tragedy turned three hundred million people into a hand put on the heart. Nobody rushed to accuse the White House, the Army, or the Secret Service that they are only a bunch of losers. Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed out onto the streets nearby to gape about. Instead the Americans volunteered to donate blood and to give a helping hand.

After the first moments of panic, they raised their flag over the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colors of the national flag. They placed flags on buildings and cars as if in every place and on every car a government official or the president was passing. On every occasion, they started singing:'God Bless America !'

I watched the live broadcast and rerun after rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who gave his life fighting with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that could have killed other hundreds or thousands of people.

How on earth were they able to respond united as one human being? Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put into a collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit, which no money can buy.

What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way? Th eir land? Their history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace, I thought things over, I reached but only one conclusion...

Only freedom can work such miracles.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Lunchtime Thoughts

At lunch today, I sat in a 2-person booth and read posts. The coney was very crowded, no surprise considering I got there at five after noon. I sat in the smoking section. Even though I'm not a smoker, I've found that most often, when one is seeking to be ignored at his table by others at their tables, it's best to choose the smoking section. This is partially because groups with small kids don't sit there, and whenever small kids are around I have trouble concentrating on anything but them. The place being as crowded as it was, it was very smokey.

No matter, thought I, and plodded into the plots of Phoenix7 and USS Arapaho. I was blissfully into cold flow when my senses became acutely aware of...something. I looked up unconsciously and discovered a new smell: something very pleasant and vastly different from that of the lingering haze around me. It was then I saw that a woman had just settled beside me in the booth opposite the little cream-and-green-checkered wall separating our rows.

She was not necessarily an attractive woman. Although all I could see of her was the top of her head, she seemed to be a smallish woman. Her hair was a short, spiky blonde, and she had the top of her ear pierced with a not very subtle stud of some kind. She wore glasses.

I went back to my reading, still struck by the effect this person's smell was having on me. I enjoyed it subtly throughout the rest of my lunch. At some point, I decided to mention it to her. I formulated some comment: "Pardon me, if you don't mind me saying so, you smell very nice" or something like that.

By the time I stood to leave, I'd lost my nerve. I put on my jacket and looked at her, prepared to rationalize myself right out of speaking up. She returned the look, full in the face, and smiled. She was not extraordinary, but something connected between us. I reconsidered my comment, but nothing came out. The smile I offered in return was barely a smile at all. I said nothing. As I walked off to pay my check, I chided myself for not being honest enough with myself to acknowledge the energy others occasionally give me so freely, abundantly, and, apparently, thanklessly.

* * * * *

So I've sort of rediscovered a hunger for language.

This comes after a handful of months in doldrums, caused by who knows what...emotional reaction to my dad's cancer, financial worries of the holidays, seasonal changes, quarterly men's cycle...whatever it is, I've resolved to get a handle on it.

Yesterday I jokingly told a coworker I was 'turning over a new leaf.' "Another one?" she replied. Yes, I thought. "Gotta keep trying 'til you find I find the right leaf," I said. Today, I was talking to my Jane Austen buddy and described my resolution as something different than the traditional thing people make and break on an annual basis. I compared the cycle to a pay period. Couple days before payday, typically I don't have a choice but to pack a lunch and go hungry at snack time. It's how things work. I'm making (perhaps forcing, but time will tell on that judgment) a similar assessment of 2007. My resources had simply run out. Since 01 Jan, I've got a clean slate, a full emotional pocket. Practically, I know the main difference is just attitude, but I understand enough about how I work inside to create an emotional and physiological environment to either make or break this change. And two weeks into the new year, I'm doing great.

So as I've said, I'm rediscovering an old love. As it happens, this rediscovery comes a few months (hrm, imagine that *refers to 'handful of months' reference above*) after I made the hard decision to break clean from my responsibilities in the art of language. I simply wasn't doing the job, and the organization was suffering as a result. A week or so ago, with Me08 in full effect, I went back to the org for some casual writing, maybe to help out if I could.

Going through the posts was a joyful, painful process. I instinctively edited, then made notes in the margins, and finally ended up full-on bitching about some of the mistakes in grammar, spelling, and style I noticed. I wrote across one paragraph in angry, black ink THIS MAKES NO [EXPLETIVE] SENSE. A small part of me shouted from deep, deep within "I told you so!" But I paid no heed...after all, Me08 doesn't stop and linger at the energy blocking stuff, he rolls on.

And so now I'm faced with a new quandary: how to apply my rediscovered love. And whether. I could just keep writing, helping in small ways, the smallest being to set a good example. I could go volunteering for some online editing, but I fear I may become swamped. I almost wrote "swamped again" but I'm not sure it applies. After all, the reasons I quit last year, though certainly valid in their own context, may or may not have had anything to do with my schedule. Whatever it was, it doesn't matter now. What matters now.

Addendum: Edited for politeness.

Disclaimer: A majority of the writers I work with are both talented and creative, including the one who got the expletive on his post. The truth is I'm a grammar snob. So sue me.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Welcome Back Ira

Since the acquisition of my new vehicle last June, a very bright and sporty 2000 Jeep Cherokee, which is fathoms cooler than my previous vehicle (a drab and efficient 1997 Ford Escort LX), I have been without one key component to my everyday commute to work: the oh-so soothing sound of Ira Glass on the mp3 podcast of This American Life. Conveniently, he always splits the show into two segments, roughly in the middle, and though I know this is a necessary part of being on public radio, it almost feels like he does it just for me: half the show on the into work, the other half on the way home.

Don't get me wrong: having my new truck very fun, gas mileage notwithstanding (16-17 mpg vs. 30 or so with the Escort), especially with our newfound winter weather, but even though it came with a really cool aftermarket Pioneer stereo, with removable face and CD player and option for a subwoofer and such, I was loathe to listen to morning radio. Granted, I was without a car at all for a few weeks, which sucks supremely, but the victory of my Jeep was tainted by the loss of being able to her my daily TAL episode. My old car wasn't flashy, but it did have a cassette player, and with a cheap tape adapter I was able to bring a good share of my CD and mp3 collection into the car with me. There is no such adapter for CD players.

But now that era is at an end. After a long period of shopping for, buying, and returning crappy FM transmitters and auxiliary connection equipment, after hours of various Google searches for combinations of "Pioneer DEH-P3600 adapter/connector/auxiliary/mp3," and weeks of looking for instructions how to get to the back of my hardware, I have finally installed the thing with just the right plug at the end to make my old-school mp3 player talk to me again. And Ira with it.

So it's a new year, a new Me, and a new chance to make right with the world, but a welcome return to an old habit. Welcome back, Ira. You've been missed.

Addendum: My Automotive History

2000 Jeep Cherokee (no nickname...yet) [June 2007]
1997 Ford Escort LX ("The Green Car")
1994 Ford Escort ("The Blue Car")
1999 Chevrolet Blazer (only new car) [1999]
1986 Cutlas Calais (no nickname)
1977 Malibu Classic ("The White Ghost")
1978 Buick Century (my first car, $500 at HS graduation) [Summer 1991]

Only a Dad

From a fatherhood blog I feed to called Total Depravity.

* * * * *

Only a Dad
By Edgar Albert Guest

Only a dad with a tired face,
Coming home from the daily race,
Bringing little of gold or fame
To show how well he has played the game;
But glad in his heart that his own rejoice
To see him come and to hear his voice.

Only a dad with a brood of four,
One of ten million men or more
Plodding along in the daily strife,
Bearing the whips and the scorns of life,
With never a whimper of pain or hate,
For the sake of those who at home await.

Only a dad, neither rich nor proud,
Merely one of the surging crowd,
Toiling, striving from day to day,
Facing whatever may come his way,
Silent whenever the harsh condemn,
And bearing it all for the love of them.

Only a dad but he gives his all,
To smooth the way for his children small,
Doing with courage stern and grim
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen:
Only a dad, but the best of men.