Tag Archives: music

Aquadog

Aquadog

I write a lot here about my immediate family . . . and my songwriting process and all my efforts to move forward.

This, however, is about my brother.

Adam Manoucheri, my younger brother, is one of the most talented people I know.  He plays numerous instruments, one of the greatest rock players around and I love him, well…like a brother.

His new release, Aquadog, is due out in the Spring.  If you have a chance, please, please go like his Facebook page.

Until the release drops, he was kind enough to tease everyone with a video of some of his time in the studio.  It’s well worth the watch and I recommend keeping an eye out for the release.  I’ll give you a countdown when it’s coming when we have a release date!

 

I Hear Music

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I Hear Music

As the evening wanes each night I have a habit lately of picking up my acoustic guitar and playing more and more.

The idea, of course, is to complete many of the songs that are just that much shy of being written and recorded in demo form.  The reality is that I get frustrated, unable to translate what’s in my head to what’s coming out of my hands.  At that point I tend to revert to playing any of the hundreds of blues songs that run through my head.  That doesn’t actually get any work completed, though.

Tonight, though, I was fumbling around and came to a chord progression that had some hope.  Not that I needed to add yet another song to the litany of pieces I need to finish writing, but it seemed to come openly, free-wheeling through the soundhole on the guitar.  I learned a long time ago that when the music starts to come in that form you just don’t stop, you find a way to make sure you both keep playing and let the ideas flow as well as find a way to record it so you don’t forget it by morning.

My cell phone is a perfect place to capture those moments.

After I finished rolling a couple minutes on the basic idea of this nugget of a song I realized I had a lot – a lot – of stuff on the phone.

One of the earliest recordings is from a demo I ultimately completed a couple years ago with the help of my brother.  The chord progression, played on an electric guitar with no amplifier, just me and the hollow, echoing sound of a former living room.  I could hear the TV quietly running in the background.

Others were incomplete thoughts, lyrics sung in the wrong key, ideas that didn’t pan out.

Strikingly more glaring were the emotions played out on the recordings.  I would never let them be heard, most are ideas or incomplete lines that are off-key, hesitant and unsure.  They’re also, in the ones more than 3 years old, very raw and very confused.  There’s a lot of glorification of the woman I lost, my late wife, in one piece.  While I adored her, the lines here were obviously so near to her death that she could have done no wrong.  Others were ideas that merged into other thoughts and became songs.  That gave me more than a satisfactory grin.

It was a map of the road . . . a musical map, if you will . . . that I had walked.  All of them are basically recorded about the same time of night when I sat down tonight to hash out these ideas.  The late night hours, the ones where I cannot sleep or am maddened by ideas in my head and work yet to be done and stress from my job.

These times of the evening, even today, are the hardest for me.  In the beginning it was due to grief and sadness.  Today, it’s more due to the fact that you look up and need to tell someone and it’s just not possible.  It’s not desire to have someone – anyone – there to speak with it’s desire to have the right person there.  It’s also the acknowledgement that time isn’t something you can parse out that awful much.  I get the kids ready and out the door; I work a minimum of 8 or 9 hours; I get home and then make dinner, get them scurried on their way and up the stairs and tucked into bed.  Quite often lately I’m dealing with my son having nightmares.

There’s no time for anyone or anything else.

It’s the late-night hours after silence takes over that you drive out the overwhelming weight of nothingness.  You simply pick up the guitar and play . . . I just came to realize tonight that I’ve been doing that all along.

A Father/Daughter Experiment

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A Father/Daughter Experiment

I had a maddening evening.  I was exhausted from lack of sleep.  Not anyone’s fault, purely my own lack of rest.

I had decided to try and finish up another demo in my home studio.  The chorus was working out fine but the bridge I was trying to write to a guitar solo just wasn’t working.  It was making me quite angry.

Earlier in the evening my middle daughter had come down and asked me to listen to a song she’d learned.  I was tired, grumpy, and a bit short-tempered.  The song apparently had a less-obvious message than the one I took, which sounded like a bunch of teenage angst asking to be one of the cool kids.  My daughter slammed her feet on every step up to her room shouting “YOU JUST DON’T GET IT, DAD!!!”

She was right, I didn’t.  I tried apologizing but the hormonal horror had been realized and there was no bringing the level of angst back down.

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I was at full-volume, massive amounts of air moving through the room, near beating on my guitar when I noticed my daughter was in the room watching me.  Why it hadn’t crossed my mind before, I don’t know.  I looked at my daughter, watching me recording – quite unsuccessfully, I might add – and I stopped.  My progress wasn’t particularly great anyway.

“You want to record one of your songs?”
My daughter’s face brightened considerably.
“Really?  Sure!”

She leafed through her journal, a well-used and dog-eared gift from her sister, and found several pieces.
“I just need to get some of the chords ready . . . ”

I looked at her and reminded her of one she’d played me some months ago.  I remembered thinking at the time it was all but perfect.

My daughter has an uncanny writing ability.  Not necessarily melodically, but lyrically she’s unmatched.  There are days I wish I had her talent.  Being a typical 15-year-old, though, she thinks she lacks it.  She’s constantly comparing herself to friends she thinks have more artistic ability than she does.

I was determined to show her otherwise today.

The biggest obstacle was keeping time.  There’s a built-in metronome for my daughter to follow.  She kept trying to get past it.  At one point I played behind her trying to keep the time until she found a semblance of meter and was able to record a basic backing track.  It was particularly hard for her because, prior to this, she’d just use the audio notes function on her phone and sing while she played.  I, however, was determined to multitrack her.

As she played I asked her to hold between verses on a chord for an extra eight bars so that there was room for some guitar fills.  She obliged but wasn’t sure what I meant, so I played with her.  Her eyes got big . . . “that’s cool!”
“Well, just play something like that behind there and you’ll accentuate the verses.”

She furrowed her brow.

“I don’t think so.  You could do it.  I don’t solo very well.”

We argued about this for about half an hour until I caved-in.  We recorded her vocals and she plowed through them like a pro.  I wasn’t sure how, the song had more emotion than many of the songs I’d recorded in my lifetime.

My daughter used music, much like I did, to work through the grief and emotions of losing her mother.  This one dealt with it indirectly, beautiful, tense, and melodic.  It was stark, just a few guitar fills behind her acoustic guitar.  She belted out a line and then another and then more.

I put a rough mix together and had her listen.

I remember the look on her face.  I had it the first time a song I wrote came together.  It’s not pride, though I suppose some of that is there.  It’s accomplishment.

It was near midnight when I finally went to bed.  Evenings recording tend to fly away from me.  She asked me to send copies to her grandparents, her uncle, aunt . . . and I sent it to her sister.  She wanted to share with a select few until we found a way to go in the studio and record her . . . and yes, it’s that good she could record it in a full studio.

Yes, I’m a proud father, but the material is good enough it could sell.  That I’m fairly certain.  She’s not proud enough to think in those terms yet, I suppose.  The uncertainty of puberty always seems to overcome reality sometimes.

Proud, however, she should be.  Her father is.

(Due to the fact it’s a rough mix of a demo and the fact I hope to go into the studio in the Spring I am not posting the song right now.  Sorry!)

The “What Ifs” of Youth

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The “What Ifs of Youth”

My daughter has been asking me a lot of questions of late, most of which involve what the future brings.  Most of that comes from the fact that we watched an hour-long special on how terribly high student loan debt is today.  In my defense, even though she’s just a high school sophomore, I helped produce the special so she didn’t have a choice but to watch it.

Sure, over the last few weeks she’s freaked out about the cost of a college education.  She bemoans the fact that we likely can’t afford a really expensive, private art college.

But that’s just a temporary thing.  She even says as much.

Then tonight she came to me with a sincere question.  It’s one of those “what if” questions that usually only come from middle-aged people who bemoan what’s missing in their lives.  One of those “if I’d only” questions.

“I don’t mean this in a bad, sad way, Dad, but what would you have done if you hadn’t met Mom and had us?  Would you have been in a band?  Would you have gone on tour and been a musician?”

I will, in all honesty, say that this question has gone through my mind.  I’ve thought long and hard about it.

“I would have liked to do it,” was my reply.  “I thought at the time I was pretty damn good.”
“You are good, really good,” she tells me.  That made me smile.
“Okay, now I am.  But I wasn’t that good when I was 20 and 21.”

It’s true, too.  The band I was in really only played cover tunes.  We tried to write material and had a couple original songs but the reality is we didn’t have much.  It wasn’t until I broke out on my own that I actually began writing my own material hard and heavy.  Most of that came because I didn’t feel like the music and lyrics I’d written fit in with the cover band I was in at the time.

My first band, Drastic Measures
My first band, Drastic Measures

But there was a far more important message to give my daughter.

“I would have wanted to be a musician,” I told my daughter, “but I’m relatively certain I wouldn’t have done it.”
“Why,” was her question?
“Because your Mom, when she came along, met me when I was really lacking confidence.  She gave me confidence.  Lots of it. I started my own band because she met struck up a conversation with a drummer I know and convinced us we should play together.”

Whatever had happened, I simply didn’t have the confidence.  It wasn’t my upbringing, that was pretty great.  It wasn’t anyone else’s fault.  It was my own failings, my own lack of respect for myself, my abilities, intelligence, whatever it was that changed it all.

But one of the things I’ve sworn to do, and I told this to my daughter, was to help my children gain that confidence.  Had I broken out on my own back when I was in my early twenties I might very well have improved to the point of being able to play.

There’s something else, though, too.  Things are just different now.  I told her as much.  I am nowhere near the person I was nearly four years ago.  I’ve changed a great deal physically, personally, emotionally, and it’s for the better.  We’re all doing what we want at this point.

I wouldn’t have wanted to go through the pain and grief we all did, but I’m also playing more, writing better, and doing far more than I ever did before.  None of that happened before my wife passed away.

“Plus, I wouldn’t have had you four,” I told my daughter.  “That’s a pretty big deal.”  As much as I pulled back on being a musician because I had kids it wasn’t the main reason.

This discussion came after I recorded a vocal line for yet another demo for a record my own kids have told me I need to record.  Many of the emotions come from loss and grief, sure.  They also come from struggle, happiness, and conflict due to trying to find ways to go on a date.  This is particularly hard since, just a couple nights ago, my sons informed me that instead of worrying about finding a woman to share time with I should just get a dog.  (Though I think there’s some selfish motivation in that statement on their part.)

What my daughter wants to know is do I regret the way things have gone?  I regret a lot of things.  I think nearly everyone has regrets, unless they’re Paul McCartney or Richard Branson.  (And I think Paul’s probably regretting that second marriage and divorce, truth be told)  I don’t regret that I had a topsy-turvy, interesting, emotional marriage.  It had amazing highs and spectacular lows, but we lived.

I also don’t regret that we’re living and thriving without her.  That’s necessity . . . and it’s brilliant.

am a musician, I tell my daughter.  I may be in my 40s, but that doesn’t mean I am not.

It also doesn’t mean I can’t still record, sell, and perform.  Nothing is beyond your attempting to reach for that dream, that’s my message to my kids.  You may fail, you may falter . . . but you won’t regret having tried.  That’s the main thing.

A Sense of Community

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A Sense of Community

No . . . this isn’t some “it takes a village” line to talk about raising my children.

I will extol, though, the virtues of music to young people, particularly those my kids’ ages.

I don’t care if it’s playing Dvorak or Beethoven or if you’re Rockin’ the Casbah with the Clash.  Music has a rhythm and sense of movement that help your brain do so many things.  More than anything else, though, music brings people together.  Musicians are a community in and of themselves, be it the Blues musicians in the Delta area of Mississippi or the symphonic players in the orchestra for the Boston Pops.  It’s music and it brings people together.

When I heard about the Youth Symphony in Sacramento trying to build on that image – that music and its musicians are a community – I immediately thought it was worth a news story.

Then I thought it was something my kids should experience.

The Youth Symphony’s conductor, Michael Neumann, had a dream after studying an old score, that it would be something amazing to have 1,000 musicians of all shapes, sizes, caliber and the like play together.

So they did it today.  (I write this on Sunday Evening.)

After two years’ preparation, they got a thousand people together to play a handful of pieces – roughly an hour’s worth.  The idea was twofold – bring people who wanted to play together and to show the community that this was something worth pursuing.

The key idea here was that people could do this . . . they got the professionals, the intermediate players, and the beginners.  They had several 4-year-olds, an 80-something-year-old and a young man who was blind but learned two of the pieces anyway.  There were people who hadn’t played in 40 years and people who’d been playing forever.

Until today, none of them had met before.  None of them had played together.  They all downloaded the music and rehearsed at home.  Then they showed up, spent an hour rehearsing with Neumann . . . and then played.

I brought my kids, after having previewed the day in the news, and the orchestra filled the entire floor of the Memorial Auditorium.  So many people in so much space they needed a massive monitor to show the conductor.

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Even when the musicians, all at once, began to tune to the “concert ‘A'”, you could feel the note, physically, vibrate to the very core of your bones.  They hadn’t even played a piece yet and something magical began to happen.  As Pete Townshend put it . . . “once was a note, pure and easy, playing so free like breath rippling by.”  It was a massive breath, wafting past us.

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My kids weren’t overly thrilled with the fact that they were being dragged to something symphonic in nature.  However . . . once the music began . . . this became something far different than a day at the symphony.  This was witnessing and being a part of something never done before.  While the gallery and the seats were filled with a number of nervous, stressed-out, anxious parents the majority of the auditorium seats and the orchestra “pit” (and I use that term very loosely) was filled with smiling, giddy, anticipatory looks.  The audience listened to the obligatory introductory statements that come with events like these and many were on the edge of their seats as the first anthems came.

The highlight, though, was the show’s last pieces . . . where the entire 1,000 people played the “Hallelujah Chorus” and closed with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  The latter, as Michael Neumann extolled, being – in his opinion – possibly the greatest symphony ever written in human history.

When my children, though bored with certain sections, heard the Chorus and the Ode . . . they stood, as with the rest of the audience, and cheered.

The point here was not perfection, and that was certainly not the case.  Some sections had a hard time keeping time and some notes were a bit off.  But that gets lost when the one missed note is joined by 999 others rippling by.

We stood and left the communion of musicians and knew that we’d witnessed something special.

It isn’t the pursuit of perfection that binds musicians and people.  It’s the sense of community that music – something we all have in our heads and hearts – instills in us.

Or, as small children of mine put it on the way out the door . . . “that was just so cool!”

A Cold Shot

Cold Shot

Allow me to got back to my past where I was simply a teenager, just met a blonde woman who would one day turn my world on its ear, and was an aspiring guitarist.

In 1989 and 1990 I had just learned to play the guitar and had bought a used 1985 Fender Stratocaster.  It was tobacco sunburst, the color a dark, almost black stain going to red then yellow with the wood grain showing.  I had joined a band after playing only a year and thought I was the cat’s pajamas.

Here’s my first band, Drastic Measures:

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Yeah, I know, ignore the bad hair and uplifted collar.

The salesman at Schmitt Music Center in Omaha sold the virtues of the Stratocaster, talking about the “Lynyrd Skynyrd tone” and all that.  He didn’t have to try that awful hard, I already knew about a Strat.  I wanted one early on because Eric Clapton played one.  By this point, though, I had seen the guy in the video up there playing a beat-to-hell, dragged behind the bumper of a car looking Stratocaster.  Stevie Ray Vaughan.  This evening, right before heading to bed, the internet alerts started pinging with the musician’s official page letting me know that Friday would have been his 60th birthday.

If you’re not a musician, you may very well not get the point of this post, but I’ll try to get it to you.

I certainly, at that time, idolized Eric Clapton.  The reality was, though, that I never really thought I’d get to play with or meet the man.  It just seemed too far off, too high on a pedestal for me to reach there.  Yet, as much as I loved the songs, the playing and the style the Clapton utilized, I felt even more when I heard Vaughan play.  He seemed to channel a varying stream of blues greats and reform their own styles into a raucous, flambouyant, never-ending stream of notes coming out of his guitar.

In this era, the late 1980’s, when hair bands like Bon Jovi and Whitesnake were reaching the ebb of their peak this seemingly dead genre, blues and blues-rock, came rocketing back into mainstream because this guy with the boots and the black hat and shitty-looking guitar just wouldn’t be ignored.  He didn’t scream, he didn’t yell, he didn’t partake in theatrics, he just wailed on the guitar.  He beat it into submission, imposing his will on the instrument not so much by beating on it – though he did plenty of that – but by caressing the stream of ideas that flowed like a river out of him.

I know, flowery words and praise for a guy playing the guitar.  Understand, though, that I was hit like a shockwave when I first heard him.  As a result, I bought that guitar . . .

So when he died in 1990, just when I was starting to play on stage, my breath was taken away.  I couldn’t go to class.  Those crazy stories of people weeping because the Beatles broke up made sense.

Clapton was God . . . people said so on the walls of the London Underground.

But if he was God . . . who cared?!  Vaughan was Hercules.  He cared nothing for gods, he was paving his own way.  He would walk onto a stage with Buddy Guy, BB King, Clapton, tour with Jeff Beck, and just wanted to play.  That, to me, was the mindset I felt.  I didn’t want to meet these people or even idolize them.  I went to concerts and my fingers ached because all I wanted to do was go up there and play the music with them.

Whether you knew of SRV or not, he paved the way for music to change.  In an era when music was all synthesizers and pop ballads and hair metal . . . this guy walked in with a Stratocaster, playing blues and Hendrix and jazz and caring little for what people thought of genres or styles . . . and gave us musical whiplash from the speed and grace he gave us.

Having dealt with drugs and alcohol he’d cleaned up his act . . . and was even more on fire than than before.  Just when he preached that he was living on borrowed time . . . he was gone.

I was hurt because I wanted to meet this man, play with him, share a stage – even if it was just a living room or porch – and share in the love of the music he adored.  I ended up with a Vaughan model Strat, the closest I ever will get to him . . . but it’s close enough for now.

I came to the conclusion years ago that, like Hendrix, I’ll never play like Stevie, and that’s okay.  The lesson I learned, hearing pieces of the three kings, Clapton, Beck and Hendrix and Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker in his solos . . . you shouldn’t try to imitate.  You should play.  Just play what you feel, what you hear.

My kids see that when I play and they know his material.  They can hear just a couple notes and know it’s him because his playing is just so striking.

Losing Stevie Ray was a Cold Shot, to use one of his songs . . . but live on he does.

Because he just couldn’t be ignored.

Recording this week
Recording this week

A Change in Tone

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A Change in Tone

Three years, six months and five days ago our lives changed in an instant.  I’m not counting the days, by the way, I had to grab a calendar and do the math.  I am terrible at math – which is why I went into journalism – so I must have wanted to really make the numeric point, by the way.  Still . . . that’s how long it’s been since life for me and my four children changed dramatically.  My wife passed away suddenly and everything went a bit crazy.

Just about three years ago I started this blog and wrote about difficult events that transpired in my home.  My theory then, as now, was that it was for me . . . a healing process.  I had neither the time nor funds for therapy and wasn’t really looking for therapy, I suppose, not in the typical sense.  Yet . . . I might have benefited from it simply because I knew then that I had issues I needed to get out.  My children had issues and I was trying to hold it all together.

The worst part was the evenings.  My four children would go to bed knowing school was coming all too soon the next day and I would be in the house with silence surrounding me.  Even when you have another person in the home with you, say if they’re sleeping or resting, there’s no complete silence.  You hear them breathing, you feel the atmosphere in the home change.

I didn’t have this.

So when 9, 10 or 11pm rolled around the silence was maddening.  I made lunches, baked, played guitar, wrote (terrible) songs, but none of it helped.

Then someone gave me the idea to write it all down.  It’s like chronicling your life in a journal, I suppose, except the world gets to see it.  My theory was if it helped me it might very well help one or two other people so why not?

What I see now, when I look back at those early posts is how much it’s all changed.

I wrote far more colorfully in those early days.  I also wrote about a lot more issues.  The thing is, as sad and colorful and emotional as those posts were . . . our lives were not as bleak and grey as they appeared in those posts.

I have also noticed something else: the tone has changed.

The language and adjectives are not as colorful, no, but our lives and the posts are more colorful.  There’s far more about what we’re doing than what we did.  There’s a lot more about how we live than how we lived.  There are many more solutions than problems.

This wasn’t a conscious shift.  I didn’t wake up one day and say “damn, that’s bleak!  I need to be happier!”  We just adjusted.  We just learned to live the life we have and not focus on the life we had.

That makes a lot of difference.

Dano

I have written a lot of new music and started the process of demos for  all of them.  I hope to have a Kickstarter after the first of the year and maybe enter the studio in the Spring.

We have been on trips, visited family, moved one child to college . . . life has literally continued.

That’s the thing about it.  I guess it’s safe to say we didn’t fight what was coming, we just let it happen.  If we’d lived totally in the past and continued to bemoan what was missing the tone would still be a bit bleak.  Instead…it’s less prosaic but more colorful.

The tone changed, but I’d argue the people changed a little with them.  Some of those changes had started long before my wife passed away.  Three years hence we don’t talk so much about how much we miss Andrea, we talk about the things that she did.  We talk about the things we did together.

We have seen the darkness and are feeling the light, if you’ll excuse the really bad cliche of symbolism there.

Perhaps, though, the better way of putting it is we’ve changed the tone.  No minor key in a droning dirge.  We’re moanin’ the blues, wailing out the excitement, and rockin’ at midnight, so to speak.  We may have been grey, or blue, in a funk.  The thing about those musical styles, though, is that blues – to quote the King of the Blues, BB King – is “life as we lived it in the past, as we’re living it today, and I hope as we’re living it in the future.  As long as there are people there will be blues and it will live!”

We have our moments of sadness and extreme gladness.  So we write the melody to what we have.  It may be the raucous, lively, happy swing of Caledonia or it may be the sad, droning wail of Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (and She Could Be Jivin’ Too!).  

The tone may have changed . . . but then . . . life changes all the time, doesn’t it?

Support

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Support

It’s not often I can use one word, but this was a day that deserves it.

I ended up having to work late.  Not that it’s a particularly uncommon event in my household for me to say “Dad has to work late,” but usually I know enough in advance, with my position, to make arrangements for that.

“Arrangements” means that I normally get some food in a crock pot or pre-cooked so all my middle daughter and two sons have to do is heat it up and eat.  This is what I was unable to do today.

So given that I had a cell phone and so did my daughter I texted her and asked if she thought she could make something.  We had spaghetti sauce, fettuccine noodles and the like.  So she said she’d make pasta and get the boys ready.  When a couple hours turned into many hours that also pushed it to bedtime.

“Tell the boys it’s time to shower,” I told my daughter via text.
“Already done, one is showered, other just got in.”
I smiled, taken a bit aback and happy things were going well.

An hour later it was bedtime.

I grabbed my phone and texted my kids “goodnight.”
Then I realized that my phone upgrade had the ability to send an audio text.
“Goodnight!  Love you guys!”

I got one in return.

Exhausted, with the only food open for the night being crappy McDonald’s burgers for me . . . which I regretted 5 minutes after eating them . . . I entered the house and heard music playing from my stereo.
“Jesus just left Chicago…and he’s bound for New Orleans.”

My daughter looked up.  “Hi Daddy!”
“Hi kiddo…ZZ Top, huh?”
“Yeah, I found a tape on the stereo cabinet.”  It was a mix tape I’d made Andrea when we were still dating.  It actually still played.
“I made that for your Mom…” I said, not able to really finish the sentence.  ”
“Yeah.  I figured if you made it the good stuff you listen to would be on there.”

I smiled a little because as I walked into where she was in the kitchen she’d already made sandwiches for her and her brothers for tomorrow.
“You didn’t have to make lunches,” I told her.
“Well, I only got the sandwiches done so far.  Dishwasher is full.  Boys are in bed.”

This is the same girl who wouldn’t do dishes, wasn’t turning in homework and was having major issues 3 years ago.  I hugged her.

I put the bag with my “dinner” in it on the table and helped finish the lunches.

The evening was long and a bit exhausting but I was energized by the smile and help my daughter had given me.

It isn’t often my kids help me instead of the other way around, but I needed the little bit of boost this week.

I hugged my daughter and she went up to bed.

As I sat and ate my lukewarm hamburgers . . . I listened to Clapton sing “My love has gone behind the sun…” and smiled at the memory of her mother.

 

Continual Change

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Continual Change


(“Changes” by Santana from the LP “Zebop”)

Change.

That’s been a bit of a constant in my house.  Three years on, it seems, change is the constant . . . which sounds like such and oxymoron it shouldn’t really be.  But the one continually consistent state of being in my house is change.

2011 saw the largest amount of change.  My children and I saw my wife, Andrea, pass away and leave our daily lives.  As a result of losing a second income, we lost our home.  I was forced to leave my job.  We moved to a rental home – a nice one, not bad at all.  My oldest daughter had to change to the public high school.

Then came last year . . . my oldest daughter went off to college.  Her twin brothers had to move schools so they’d be on the bus route home.  My oldest, you see, had picked up the kids from school every day.  That’s not an option when she’s no longer home.  My twin boys now saw themselves moving to a new school for 5th grade . . . and 5th grade alone.

That could have been catastrophic for just about anyone.  Instead, my sons have thrived.  Their older sister – my middle (yep, I have 4 kids!) – started high school.  Again . . . she found her element.

Now comes this school year.  My sons move – yet again – to another school.  This time it’s because of the move to Middle School, but still, it’s another change.  The boys have been excited about starting this school, one of the twins, who is still having a hard time adjusting, seems to hope that the larger school, broader scope of personalities and children, will help him find a niche and group he can relate to.  I hope so, too.

But we’ve weathered so much over the last few years, without sounding too confident here, I think they’ll be okay.  Certainly, there’s nothing worse than losing your parent – unless it’s losing your brother, sister or spouse, I suppose – so changing schools can’t be too high up on the difficulty scale for them.  It’s stressful and it’s a totally different kind of stress than grief can bring.  I certainly know and realize that.  But to see the change coming and prepare them for it is the biggest thing.

Three years ago the change was abrupt when they had to see our family shift from two parents to one.  Someone asked me once what would happen in the future for them.  I told them I had to take it a day at a time.  It’s also true that I’m their Dad and they are my kids.  No matter what happens . . . if I stay single, if I fall in love again, even if I get married . . . they are my kids.  Nobody else’s.  They won’t have another Mom, either, that will always be Andrea.  No secret there.  With the boys being 11, their sisters 15 and 19 . . . that won’t change, either.

So what do you do with the change?  You weather it.  Sure . . . I have more white in my hair than most 43-year-olds, I suppose.  But I’ve had grey hair since I was 25.  Sure, I’m a bit more weathered, but that’s also experience.  I also feel like, hard as the last three years have been, I value time, experience and . . . life.  It’s just too short.  Sure, there are lazy days where we sit around the house, but I also see the value of jumping in the car and heading to the first place we see that looks interesting.  Might be San Francisco and it might be Capitola.  It might be Reno or it might be travelling to the Trinity site in Los Alamos.

But change has one constant itself . . . it’s never boring, nor are our lives.  Change, breaking down the walls of silence and lifting shadows from your mind (had to borrow from the song up there).

We have to weather the change, but it still tempers us into stronger people.  I see the strength in all of us.  So we brace, press forward, and shove our shoulders into the winds of change.

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Dave Manoucheri is a writer, journalist and musician based in Sacramento, California.  He’s chronicled the life of he and his four children since his wife’s passing in 2011.  Laughter, tears and much music fill their lives and this blog, named after a saying among the family pictures on their wall: Our Story Begins.  You can follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan or on Facebook.

How Could Things Be Better?

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How Could Things Be Better?

I like the fact that my family – my kids and I – are moving forward all the time.  Well, (he said in his best David Tennant voice) most the time we’re moving forward.

But occasionally I’ll get asked to explain the differences between how things are today compared to how they were even three years ago.

For those new to this blog (and there are some, I know) my wife, Andrea, passed away in 2011.  We didn’t expect it, we weren’t given any indication it might happen.  She had a cough one day and less than a week later a seemingly resistant strain of pneumonia had taken her from us.

We are now, as of this writing, three years, three months and eighteen days since she passed away.  No . . . I don’t have a daily tally, by the way, I had to do the math which is hard for me.

So again  . . . I’ll get asked to compare where we are now to where we were.  Depending on the day I’ll use the phrase: “in some ways it’s hard, but in some it’s better, too.”

That sparks the question in the headline up there: “How could things be better?!”

Hard as it may seem to believe, it’s reality.  I know it’s hard to imagine because I hadn’t really imagined it, either.  For the first year, as a matter of fact, I stumbled, fell, tripped, and was on my knees (figuratively) so often I began to think it was easier to live horizontally.  I was thrust into a life that had been, a mere 24 hours earlier, a parenting relationship.  That’s what it is, too.  I don’t care if you’re married, divorced or just a significant other . . . if you want to be a parent it’s a relationship.  I get that some Dads and Moms, even, are not involved.  This isn’t about them.  Some relationships are great and others are dysfunctional but they are a relationship.

Parenting, at least in my household, was a partnership.  Sometimes, I’ll admit, I was selfish and I traipsed around the world for work and left my wife to care for the kids.  There were also times, particularly when my middle was a newborn, when I was the only one doing the work because my wife had gotten ill.  Even then, though, the decisions, the thoughts, the ideas all came after discussion – long or brief – between the two of us.  We didn’t always agree.  In fact there were times we fought like Ali and Frazier.  (No punches, just lots of shouting) Still . . . it was a partnership.

Then three years, three months and eighteen days ago that all changed, in an instant.

I became the sole voice.

So how could it be better?  It was an adjustment, sure, but things changed.  Drastically.

We could be on the way to San Francisco and we’ll just decide, on a whim, to go to the Jelly Belly factory.  No reason for it, but spontaneously we will.  Not a stop we’d have done before, my wife got stir-crazy in the car and wanted to get from point “A” to point “B” quickly.  We missed out on a lot of little adventures because of that.

Financially, we do okay.  Not great, no major savings, which I need to have, but we’re slowly trundling along like we should.  We ended up in a house that suits us just a little better.  It’s smaller, sure, not quite as nice, I grant you.  But we can afford it and aren’t in over our heads.  That’s a big change.  We’re musical…even those who can’t sing well are singing all the time or playing instruments.

My daughter came to terms with doing what she wanted for a career, not what her Mom wanted.  That was a hard fought battle inside herself and she got there.

By no means does this mean we hated the 18-odd years that happened before this.

But I have to meet the idea of “How could things be better?” with the response “how could they not?”  I have four amazing kids.  I know every Dad says that, but I truly believe it.  I certainly have to chastise them, prod them, guide them along and all that.  I have to remind them to get along.

But we’re together . . . and we’re stronger together than when we’re apart.  That’s the biggest lesson . . . and the most amazing, most positive thing to come out of our funny little tragedy.