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A Random Connection

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A Random Connection

I’ve stumbled upon old things before.  Older pictures of the kids, a card that was sent to me many years ago, even long-forgotten messages that were there for me to see.

Today, though, in the middle of the mundane task of doing my taxes for 2014 the strangest thing happened.

My daughter’s phone was broken, in the middle of all the boring tasks of real life.  I had set up an appointment for her, but her phone didn’t work, thus severing the immediate connection I had with her not more than a week ago.  It’s a funny thing.  I saw several eras of technology in a very short time.  When I was very little there was one phone and it was attached to the wall.  In the 1990s there was a period between the wear-on-your-belt pager and the cell phone where people chatted via email and web chat.  (Stone age technology, I know)

So this 1990s connection was the way I talked with my daughter.  Not horrible, not great.  But I needed her Social Security number and she had her card at college.  Months ago she’d given me her number so while I waited for her response . . . which was via email . . . I began to think I could scroll through my old texts and find it from her.

Randomly, with no apparent reason, my wife showed up on the list of text messages.  She passed away almost four years ago.

 

Bear in mind that when I moved phones and ran out of space I deleted most my texts.  When I looked through all the messages I sent and received from Andrea they were sad in how ordinary and boring they were.  No “I love you’s” at the end or sappy messages.  Most asked what was for dinner or what have you.

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The messages were from a period not long before she passed away.  We were both exceptionally worried about my oldest daughter.  She’d had Mono . . . and there was worry after that, much later, she’d had a problem with her spleen and might need anything from a course of treatment to surgery to God knows what.

There were pleas for me to come home early.  In fact, there was nearly a daily plea for me to come home or call out sick or any reason.  At this point, she was home with the kids, lonely, wanting another adult.  The problem for me was the fact that I was the only income so I couldn’t.  I was happy my messages weren’t acrid in their response, but they were firm.  I know they had to be, but it’s hard to read.

Still…compared to others, there is warmth there.  In the past I’d have been sad that I found these messages, they don’t show a bright spot, they don’t show poor times (well these have some of that) they just show life.  It’s a life, though, I haven’t lived in more than three years.  The part that saddens me is that it’s a life I will not go back to living, nor would I if given the chance.  Too much has happened, too much water flowing under the planks on our bridge.  Part of me misses things but part of me sees so much promise in the future.

There’s promise in living the way we do.  There’s not a lot of money, but one thing the messages showed me is how much we did struggle then.  That’s not because of her, we’re just in different situations now.

Part of me sees this, as I put on the title to this site, as a new start.  That includes a new start for me.  I have a different job.  I’m writing music.  I look forward to who may come into my life in the future, whatever may happen.

Maybe they showed up because my daughter’s broken phone is connected to my account.  Maybe it’s the fates sending me random thoughts.  Still, it’s a random connection to the past, that shows a glimpse, too, of what promise the future holds.  That, it seems, was the best part.

Pictures of Tiny Children

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Pictures of Tiny Children

One of the things social media has instilled in people is a great disposition toward nostalgia.  That’s not always a bad thing, don’t get me wrong.  I love the idea of having memories available for me to walk down that lane and live for a fleeting moment.

I have a digital picture frame that I’d forgotten to unpack from my last job.  I found it recently and put it on my desk, after adding a bunch of recent photos to it.  I hadn’t paid much attention to the slide show it runs until yesterday.  Yesterday, you see, the social media websites held their weekly hashtag-va-ganza of #TBT or Throwback Thursday.  A lot of people throw up their pictures from high school or of their spouse or friends.  Many others put pictures of their kids.  I did that, quite often.  The picture up there is one of them, my kids at Flintstone Park in Custer, South Dakota.

It’s easy on these self-induced and socially-prodded tear-jerking days to do exactly what the sites want: click.  Click on the link, on the picture, spend time on the site and then comment about “I miss those little loves!”

It’s not wrong.  I do miss those tiny little kids.  But the picture never, ever tells the whole story.

Sunflower HatMy oldest daughter was such a cuddly, snuggly, cute thing with her pony tails or later her little bob of a haircut.  But what those photos don’t show is the frustration her Mom had when she dirtied that dress or the screams when Mom tried to brush her hair or My daughter was tied to me at the hip and fought an awful lot with her mother.  She wasn’t cold to her, she just related well to me.  There were other things her mother did I could never do.  Still…that picture is a second in time.  Just a second.

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Then came her sister, who looks more like me but was tied to her mother at the hip.  She’d fight me, argue with me and constantly sided with her mother on everything.  She loved me, would hug me, but was the polar opposite of her sister.  When things were great, Mom could do no wrong.  When she got hurt she would come to me to fix the problem, then go right back to Mom.  That was fine…but the picture up there?  The hat and dress lasted all of 2 minutes.  That’s the only snap we got worth using.  It drover her Mom nuts.

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Then there’s those little boys.  They were smiley, mischievous, devious, and funny.  The pictures don’t show the one on the left throwing a tantrum every time we went to the store for a Thomas the Tank Engine train.  We owned every…freaking…train, including some they had stopped making.  They don’t show the one on the right following the pretty girl in the store around so he could chat her up . . . even at 5 years old.  We had to frantically look for him while he flirted with a girl more than twice his age.  God help me in a few years.

The other thing none of those photos show is their mother.  She refused photos which is a shame because beyond the fact she was beautiful, those snapshot memories don’t include her, even though she was there.  My first lesson for you: be in the pictures.  I don’t care if there are leaves in your hair or you haven’t showered.  In 10 years…20, even 30 you’ll wish you had been.  More importantly, your kids will wish you had.  The best pictures aren’t staged portraits they’re moments captured . . . and that’s why they make such great memories.

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Last…bear in mind that today’s pictures are tomorrow’s memories.  This last picture was from when we first moved to California.  It was strangely profound, this picture my parents took.  It shows the family, in its current status, years before my wife passed away.  Still…there’s the oldest, carefree and goofy.  There’s her sister…hair messed up, in shorts, mouth open, being a little monster.  There’s the tantrum . . . and the flirt.  This is a moment that actually tells far more.

I miss those tiny kids but what amazing big kids they have become.  I don’t have to scramble for a babysitter, their sister is old enough.  She went from being irresponsible to totally responsible.  The tantrum-kid hasn’t thrown one – not one single tantrum – since his mother died.  My middle daughter hugs me every day and talks to me more than she ever did.  My oldest is doing what she loves.

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Life was fun and interesting then.  It’s still fun and interesting now.  As the little kids transition into bigger kids and then adults you see that the core of what they were when they were tiny is still there.  Our family cracked a little when their mother passed away.  It didn’t break completely, though.  Now when you look at pictures, I let myself be in them…overweight, over-tired, no matter what.  We take more pictures, too.  We do it because even after the unthinkable happens…you still have those moments.  You still live.

It’s good to look back, but it’s good to look around you, too, and document today.  Life, like the world as it turns, orbits, and expands with the universe, keeps moving forward.

A Particular Set of Skills

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A Particular Set of Skills

I have amassed a particular set of skills . . . skills I have attained over a long period of time that make me a nightmare for someone like you.

Okay, I’m no Liam Neeson, nor are my hands categorized as deadly weapons.  I have, though, amassed a myriad of skills that I thought I would never have.  Sure, I cook.  I cooked before I ever met my wife, though.  There were days, bored in my college apartment that I would go into the kitchen and make a bunch of oatmeal-butterscotch cookies.  Why?  Because I wanted them.  When it was a band mate’s birthday I baked them a chocolate cake.  I do mean a homemade, from scratch, cocoa powder with brown sugar and homemade frosting kind of cake.

There are some skills, though I didn’t inherit and had to learn.

Laundry was the first.  I tried before, lord knows.  Every time I tried to do a load of laundry, though – hell even when I just was moving it from washer to dryer – I ruined something.  There were expensive dress pants of my wife’s that became shorts for my daughter . . . they shrank that much.  After Andrea (my late wife) passed away it didn’t get better at first.  In fact, I gave some shirts and other things to my little niece because my oldest daughter’s sweaters ended up in the dryer.  Wool doesn’t handle that well.

Slowly, though, I managed to get through the ridiculousness of my mistakes and I tend to run the washing machine every other day.  Repetition, I suppose, was the key.  So was stopping the stupid mistakes and reading labels in the clothes.

Then there’s Christmas.

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That present under the tree is my son’s.  He asked for a box, found the paper and tape and took tremendous joy in knowing that he had the first present under the tree.  He’s 11, by the way, and wrapping isn’t something he’s done much.

I, however, used to have that very kind of terrible wrapping job.  I didn’t really choose to improve because my wife was so amazing at decoration that I couldn’t really find a need to do it.  She was pretty amazing in her ideas so I left wrapping to her . . . except for my presents to her.

But over the last few years, after watching the people at Nordstrom’s and on TV wrapping I learned.  A lot.

So this evening, as I wrapped my first present my middle daughter watched me break out the paper and wrap.
“Wow, you’re really good at this,” was her surprised response.
“I’ve been doing it awhile.”
“No, like really good,” she informs me.

It’s here I wrinkle the paper, curse under my breath and start over.

“Well, I would have kept it that way,” she informs me, trying to be nice.

She was a bit disappointed that this was a present for a friend and not one of theirs.  I relegated their wrapping to later in the week.  I still have presents to buy.

But the Christmas wrapping . . . that gave me an indication of the things I never thought I’d learn, let alone have to accomplish.  Wrapping presents, choosing paper, matching decorations and all were things that I’d never attempted.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, I’d never had to venture into those brambles along the path.

Turns out . . . it’s not that awful painful.  It’s just been gaining experience . . . new experience.

It’s a particular set of skills . . . skills, it turns out, that were anything but a nightmare to learn.

A Technological Decision

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A Technological Decision

I had a person ask me today what limits I put on my kids’ use of their phone.

Imagine the horror in their faces when I told that same person that only my daughters – ages 19 and 15 at this writing – are the only kids with cell phones.  The other person was so taken aback that they literally could not continue the conversation.

I don’t state this as a techno-shaming moment nor do I try to make myself look better.  There just didn’t seem to be a need for my sons – twins at age 11 as of this writing – to have cell phones.  They go to school near the house, they know how to get home safely, and I have a home phone should the house catch on fire or someone try to break in or if one of them cuts off a digit or falls down the stairs and needs an ambulance.

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It isn’t as though the three kids and I haven’t had this discussion.  My middle child – coincidentally in the middle in that picture – has had an Instagram account for a little while.  The caveat was that I am one of her followers and that I have access to the data, use and other apps on her phone.  I don’t log on – or haven’t in a long while – but she always knows that if there’s cause for alarm I’ll know it.

Still . . . when she turned 15 I thought she was old enough to handle a social media account.  I offered to let her have a Facebook page . . . and she just didn’t want it.  Apparently, Facebook is for old people like me.  She lives and communicates via text and Instagram with her friends, some of whom have had to move out of state.  I am fortunate in that my kids haven’t given me cause for alarm.

The boys see nearly every child in their class with iPhones around them.  Neither boy has a phone but neither has it bothered them much.  My son told me yesterday how several kids in their PE class had their phones confiscated . . . because they’d been texting, calling, and using Facebook during class.
“Almost everybody has a phone,” said my son.  I was prepared for the argument and headed it off:
“You don’t need a phone yet.”
My son just looked at me a bit confused.
“I wasn’t asking for a phone . . . I was just telling you these kids had their phones taken.  What do I need a phone for?”

It was here I realized that they couldn’t miss what they never had.  Sure, I’ve let them play games on my phone.  When I mention that they do that he simply informs me that he has a Gameboy and it’s got the ability to play games in 3D.  The phone doesn’t.  I ask what happens if they need to get hold of me and he tells me the school has phones and the house has a phone.

We worry that we’re immersing our kids in too much technology.  I worry when my kids would prefer to play their video games and the Wii and watch television all day.  It’s not, though, because of the technological rot.  It’s because I want them to get up and move around more.

Overall, though, I came to a technological realization that I needn’t have worried about the tech so much.  My kids didn’t crave it nor did they miss it.

Maybe that makes them a rarity.

I prefer to think it’s because, as I’ve said before, kids are far smarter than we give them credit.

Is It Tomorrow?

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Is It Tomorrow?

It was a very long week, though fulfilling for me.  I was at a journalism conference and spent a lot of time both learning and teaching, both things I feel privileged to do.  It’s not often something can be so fulfilling and yet so exhausting at the same time.

Still . . . during the entire process I had the ability to call my kids each day.  The time varied, but the wonderful slow pace of their summer made it so the only times I had to worry about were the times when they were eating dinner.   Even so, I occasionally forgot the two-hour time difference and interrupted their meal anyway.

Today I booked the kids’ flight home, though it wasn’t without a lot of wrangling.  Not on their grandparents’ part . . . theirs.

“I’m booking your flight home,” I told them on the phone.
“Is it tomorrow,” I heard from one child?
“Tomorrow?  Well…at least you’re not like your sister who whined she didn’t want to go every day until you got on the plane.”

This drew an inordinate amount of much-warranted sarcasm from the peanut gallery, including her sister, grandparents, and brothers.

“No, it’s not tomorrow,” was my response.  There are a myriad of reasons why.  It’s not that I wouldn’t want them home, I certainly would!  But coming home requires them to be home . . . not outside riding bikes, in the park, helping their grandparents, none of that.  It means they’re sitting in the house, watched by their sister (whose complaint was that she wanted to see her friends.  I informed her, rather impolitely, that she wouldn’t see her friends because she’d be watching her brothers).

The reality is, I’ve been working and wandering other cities for two weeks.  That doesn’t lend itself to being a single parent, either.  So given that . . . they’ve been in far better shape than if I’d left them in hotel rooms for a full day or left to their own devices.

And it’s been good for me to stretch my feet and spread my wings a little.  I met with old friends, met new people and moved around in circles I don’t normally know.

I went to dinner – yes, alone, I actually enjoy that – and bought dessert for a beautiful woman in the corner of a jazz club just to be mysterious.  No.  I’ve never done that, I’m not really smooth, I’m not a “player” and there was a reason for it: hopefully this woman will forever wonder who the man was bought her food and then left, quietly, anonymously from the place.  The mystery will likely always be better than the reality.  I kind of like that!

But in the end . . . I got home from the conference and immediately pulled up the airline sites.  I do miss the kids and I miss my family . . . and it will be great to see them again.

No, it’s not tomorrow.  But it will definitely be soon!

Full of Sound and Fury

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Full of Sound and Fury

It was a weekend . . . a long weekend . . . full of non-touristy things and then some touristy things.

I had a couple meetings in New York for a project I’m putting together and my oldest daughter, for lack of a better word, is the researcher for the project.  She’s getting paid, though the dry material, which includes testimony from Congress in 1985, is not the easiest material to digest.  But she’s my daughter, and like it or not, she inherited my genetics and some of my brain.  She’s stuck with it.

But as much as I needed the meetings – and I did – my daughter had done a tremendous amount of work, babysitting, helping and just adjusting over the last few years.  So as a result she got to come along with me on the trip and I made it a big deal

No.  We didn’t spend ten tons of money on shopping on 5th Avenue.  I got small gifts for the other three at FAO Schwartz and we had dinner at a couple hole-in-the-wall burger joints and lunch at a place that was absolutely amazing.  None of it was insanely expensive.

But the other thing was the opportunity to walk around, with my oldest daughter, just like when she was a little kid again.

Some of it was just like when she was little.  The “whoa!” and “that’s so cooool!” that came out occasionally showed me the tiny little girl that used to have pig tails and sang whatever song came to her head on a regular basis.  Much of it, though, was the reminder that, however much you want your children to be little kids forever, she’s an adult.  She grew self-conscious of the clothes she was wearing and commented that everyone in New York was dressed up and looked great.  She wasn’t asking for new clothes, just bemoaning the choice of clothes she brought with her.

Then came the occasional moodiness that I saw in her mother.  Hurt feet.  Walking through Central Park.

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But the adventurous kid was there.  When my friend told me we should go to Rockefeller Center because some strange combination of Dinsoaur or Horse . . . a Dogasaur…or a Dinohorse . . . was installed there we had to go.

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She snapped a picture of me in Central Park, particularly since I had so many of her all over the city.

Essentially, this was as much a trip where we walked around a city that she has grown to love, though visited only twice, like we were veterans.  People stopped us on the street asking directions and we knew where they were wanting to go.  We didn’t eat at the normal places, we wanted to find the little, non-tourist places.  (Okay,we ate breakfast at Panera on Saturday, sue me.)  We went to things that neither of us would have done when we were little . . . and there were things that none of the other three kids would have done, either.  Particularly the Museum of Modern Art.

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Not often you see an installation with the actual Warhol paintings . . . even if you aren’t a Warhol fan.

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Perhaps the greatest moment, though, was walking into the Park Avenue Armory and seeing Kenneth Branagh perform Macbeth.  My daughter is a Shakespeare nut . . . so it was a no-brainer to take her to see a play performed by perhaps one of the greatest interpreters of the Bard’s work in the modern era.

But nothing prepared us for what we saw . . . the entire interior of the building transformed into a Scottish Loch, the audience separated into Scottish clans.  The battles were fought as rain fell in the middle of the room.  It was, perhaps, one of the greatest performances I have ever seen.  Bar none.

To steal from the man . . . it was a weekend full of sound and fury.  There was no tale, no idiot telling it (except for your author here) and in the end it was what I have preached for the last three years.

This was . . . an adventure.  We bounded around the city, enjoyed ourselves, diets and exercise be damned . . . we walked 5 miles anyway.  We stayed at a hotel in Chinatown.  We rode the subway like natives.

This . . . this was a wonderful opportunity to get work accomplished and show my daughter my appreciation of both the work she’s done and of the adult she’s become.

I only hope we can continue, all five of us in this household, challenging the days with equal sound and fury.

The Life of Riley

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The Life of Riley

There are moments in your life and the lives of your children that resonate.  I don’t mean the average Father’s Day (which I know is coming up) or Christmas or what have you.  There will always be the particular holiday or event that gets tempered into your mind.

Then there are extraordinary moments.

When my oldest daughter, Abbi, was about to turn five there was a particular thing she wanted.  It wasn’t a massive party with a bounce house.  (Okay, she probably wanted that, but so what)  The year before we’d taken her to see the Brian Setzer Orchestra simply because she loooooved the song Jump Jive and Wail.  Setzer did the song with distinct aplomb.

But at the tender age of five she had another person, young as she was, that she heard me talking about seeing live.  The King of the Blues: BB King.

You have to understand . . . this is the girl who, at the ages of two and three would sit in the back of my car and say “Daddy?!”  I would reply, “Yes, Abbi?”
Her command was loud even then: “SING!”

She once freaked out her aunt because they were driving down the road together and she was in her car seat, this delicate little thing, and singing “I want to hear some funky Dixieland pretty mama come and take me by the hand . . .”

So at the age of five, when her compatriots were all singing Brittany Spears and maybe even the Wiggles at times (I don’t remember, sue me!) she was walking around the house shouting out: “Caledonia!  Caledonia!  What makes your big head so hard!”

It was this particular five-year-old that had heard her father talking about the opportunity he had to meet and interview one of his biggest heroes: BB King.  I mentioned that I had tickets to go see his show and without hesitation, this almost-five-year-old said “can I go too Daddy?”

I interviewed Mr. King on his bus.  I should preface this with the fact that his people were over-protective – which I get – to the point of almost cold.
“You will get five minutes with Mister King.  Five only!  You will not get a second past that, so keep it brief,” they told me.  I had set this up, taking months and months to get it.  I negotiated, nearly begged, and when they said yes I cornered my friend John Chapman, reporter and sports anchor for WOWT in Omaha.  He initially said he had to produce sports until I told him who we were interviewing.
“Hell, I’ll re-rack the 5 o’clock show . . . I’m in!”

When we got there, after another reprimand of keeping to five minutes, we met the man himself: Riley B. King.  He brushed off his people and spent almost a half hour with us.  At one point John got quiet, looked at BB, and said:
“Nobody love me but my mother . . . ”
and without missing a beat, BB King looked up, and said “and she could be jivin’ too!”  You can almost see the camera jiggling as all three of us laughed.

Knowledge, said Mr. King, is important.  Reaching his audience, too.  He noticed the shift from mostly African-American to mostly white audiences.  Then new generations coming as well.  He said he wished more young black kids would embrace the blues, but he also embraced the new audience that was coming to see him.  With the new record Riding with the King he recorded with Eric Clapton he was on the Billboard charts.  He didn’t bemoan the change in audience at all.
“Blues,” he informed us, “is how we’ve lived in the past, how we live today, and I believe how we will live in the future.”  He told us off-camera what John and I already knew: blues isn’t sad music.  It’s all emotion.  You can have insane happiness, deep sorrow, intense anger, all of that wrapped in the color of the blues.

You worry when you meet your heroes that they won’t meet your expectations.  He exceeded them.

Before we left, I asked him a question, very humbly:
“My father is a huge fan and is socked in by a blizzard.  Could I bring you his copy of Completely Well and have you sign it since he can’t make it?”
He agreed, wholeheartedly, and said it would be his pleasure.

For whatever reason, Abbi’s mother did not want to come to the show.  She’d seen him before, but still, it was Abbi’s birthday.  But when Andrea wanted to be persnickety she was persnickety.  She dressed Abbi in faux leather pants and a leather jacket and did her hair.  It was late by the time the show was over and Abbi started to fall asleep.

When we got backstage BB King looked at me, said “there he is!” and welcomed us in.  As Abbi approached he pointed and said “and this is what we were talking about earlier.  This would be the third generation that comes to see the King, am I right?”  Abbi looked up at me, and seeing me smile nodded.

BB King smiled, hooked his arm in Abbi’s, and pulled her next to him as he sat down.  “Come here, princess,” he told her.  He took a small cup filled with guitar picks and plastic pins and dumped them on a shelf next to him.
“Do you have a brother or sister?”
“I have a sister, Hannah,” she said.
“Then pick something out for her,” he told her.  Abbi grabbed a small thing from the table.
“But I’m not letting you have one of those,” he told her.  She looked confused, but knowing who he was she wasn’t going to complain.  Even at five, her birthday (which I’d told BB), she was respectful.
“Want to know why,” he asked her?  Abbi nodded.  BB pointed to an enamel pin on his lapel that was of his beloved guitar, Lucille, and said “because I’m giving you this one!”

Abbi’s eyes got as big as plates as he removed the enamel pin and pinned it to her lapel.  He let us pose for the picture you see at the top, and he embraced Abbi and thanked her – thanked, her! – for coming to his show.

From then on Abbi has remembered that night.  She kept the pins in a little box that she still has in her room.  When people ask her, she tells them “I have BB King’s personal pin!”  When they don’t know who he is . . . she proudly informs them that they need to know and educates them.  Then and there.

I wanted to write about this as a documentary is hitting the theaters called BB King: The Life of Riley.  This man could have hidden in his bus, left us outside, ignored us even.  He didn’t know me from Adam.  Still . . . he made an indelible mark on my daughter’s life.  He showed her a lesson that I tried every day to impress: respect, love, generosity, all these things are important.  When you have down time utilize it for knowledge.  In the short span of time we were in his backstage room he was the nicest, most humble man we’d met.

To this day, the man people know as a King . . . treated her like a queen.  The bar was set very, very high for every man who comes before her from now on.

That’s okay.  This . . . like the trend on social media of Throwback Thursday . . . is one of those moments, tempered in her memory.  It’s amazing that I was the one able to give it to her.

Summer Memories

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It all started at the barber shop.  Well…Sport Clips is the name of the place.  Call it what it is, no old guy with a machine that makes foaming shaving cream and a leather strap to sharpen his single-blade razor.  This is the modern take on trying to get men to do more than just get the hairs on their head trimmed. It all started at the end of the time there, though.

The kids are getting ready to visit my folks out of state while I have business meetings and a conference to attend.  That equates to them being a little stressed.  Their middle sister also had them all stressed out because she ticked off all the things that could go wrong on a trip even though they’re more likely to get struck by lightning than have anything she listed happen.  Didn’t make a difference, the damage was done.  The boys were stressed. So while their sisters went out to shop for clothes I took the boys to get a much needed trim.

When I was standing at the counter about to pay the two boys just started to slug it out.  Not push, shove, wrestling kind of slug it out but flat out punching each other: in the chest; in the arm; the face was next.

I stood between them, not even having taken my credit card out of the wallet yet. The woman behind the counter snickered.  I, however, wasn’t so benevolent. As I moved to go back the two boys started to move toward one another, arms raised.

KNOCK IT OFF!” was the response they got from me, in full volume.

I grabbed one by the arm and moved him to a corner of the salon’s lobby.  I grabbed the other and moved him by the window. Then I paid, giving a gracious tip, just because of the scene in the middle of the salon.

I made one boy sit up front and the other in the back as we got in the car, just because I didn’t want to end up doing the stereotypical “don’t make me pull over!” line while we were on the road.  They both started to itch and shake their shirts, hoping to remove the loose hairs floating around their bodies.

“Can we take a shower when we get home,” they queried?
I remained silent.
They got grumpy, still, even resentful. I didn’t care.

Something clicked.

I realized that it was summer.  It was summer vacation and they’d been stuck inside the house, alone, with two girls who wanted to watch Parks and Recreation and talk about the book The Fault in Our Stars and do all the things that sicken little 11-year-old boys.

I passed our exit.
“Where are we going, Dad?”
I remained silent.
“Seriously, what are you doing?”
Stone-faced father continued to drive.

I pulled up across from the intersection by a giant levee and parked the car.  The boys followed me and we crossed the busy intersection at the light and then came, after much huffing and puffing to the intersection of a walking trail and the levee.

“Right or left,” I asked.  “Levee or shore?”
“Shore!” they shouted abruptly.

IMG_3743We walked down and spent the next hour and a half down on the shores of Folsom Lake.  We posed for pictures.  Mostly, though, we skipped stones.  One of the boys kept standing as close to the water as he could and hopping back just as the wake of a boat would make its way to overtake his shoes.

IMG_3746I stood, watching them.  I took some photos, yes, even posted some on social media.  But that was about five minutes of time.  The rest . . . was just me and my sons outside.  By the water.  No electronics, no depressing romantic books about someone dying.  No shopping for clothes.

IMG_3742No stress.

It’s summer.  These are the memories we should strive for.  We got back in the car, red-faced, thirsty, tired, and both boys looked out the windows, huge smiles on their faces.  There was no thought of planes or vacations or heading out of state.  No school, no books, no game boys were on their minds, either.

I saw it, peeking right there.

It’s summer.

Never Enough Time to Do All the Nothing You Want

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Calvin and Hobbes, Universal/Uclick

Never Enough Time to Do All the Nothing You Want

Over the weekend we spotted a documentary about the impact of a comic strip.

Yep.  A comic strip.  No, not a comic book, not like Captain America or Iron Man but a strip that you used to seen in the papers.  Calvin and Hobbes.

Dear Mr. Watterson was the documentary, so named because of the author of the strip, Bill Watterson.  The creator is a bit of a recluse now.  He felt he’d come to the end of his creative run on the strip and decided, just like that, after ten years, to just . . . stop.  I guess he’s a painter somewhere in the Northeastern US now, happy I suppose.  He never marketed his stuff.  (Those stickers you see of Calvin peeing on a Ford/Toyota/GM/Dodge logo are all unlicensed and made by someone else.  He never authorized it, neither did the syndicate who distributed it.)

It’s one of those times that, even though there wasn’t any animation, no talking cartoons, just a bunch of animators and other fans on the screen, my three kids sat on the couch and watched it, beginning to end.

It wasn’t the documentary, though, that got me thinking.  It was about two hours later that my son came downstairs.

“Look what I found!” He was giddy as he came around the corner.

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In his hands . . . every Calvin and Hobbes book I’d ever owned.  Without realizing it, I’d managed to pack those with all the other books and there they were, worn, covers faded, corners folded, and sitting there.  Titles like “The Lazy Sunday Book”; “Weirdos from Another Planet”; and my personal favorite: “Scientific Progress Goes Boink?!”

I know what some of you might think, what is he doing with a bunch of books of comic strips?  But you don’t realize what was so different about this particular strip from all the others.  This wasn’t Garfield, which I’ll admit I enjoyed as a kid.  This was different.

Calvin was a kid who lived in his head.  He had ideas and delusions of grandeur and when he walked out into the world it was even bigger than the world his diminutive form saw.  He saw alien worlds and cliffs to dive off and thought of life as an adventure.  Sound familiar?  This is pretty much how we started seeing things over the last three years . . . though without the dangerous chances and horrible repercussions.  I have more of Calvin’s Dad in me than Calvin himself, I suppose.

As a kid…I lived in my head just as much.  I had asthma, and then it wasn’t as common as it is now.  I couldn’t play as long or hard as the other kids, so I spent my time reading and playing inside and . . . well, just imagining what I could do.  I related to Calvin and Hobbes because it seemed to be just like my childhood in a lot of ways.

My kids, all three of them, sat at the table reading those books and they each saw something different.  I began to realize…my son, in a lot of ways, is Calvin. He lives in his head.  He’s too smart for his own good sometimes.  (Okay, all four of them are)  This wasn’t a comic it was art, philosophy, sarcasm and intelligence all wrapped into one.  My kids sat for the entire weekend and read every single book.

It’s not often that the three of them sit quietly without video games, no television, no arguments and get along without a single angry word.  This weekend it happened.

I found myself with a book in front of me, much like my 15-year-old self did in 1985 when the strip came out, and reading the books.  In a lot of ways they’re funnier now than they were when I was a kid.

I understand, I’m an adult, yes a bit geeky sometimes, but an adult.  Should I let my kids read a comic strip?  Well…yes!  When you get philosophy, wisdom, and phrases like “sometimes I think the surest sign there’s intelligent life elsewhere in the universe is the fact that they haven’t visited here…” I can’t help but think it’s far more intelligent than an episode of Spongebob.

And they’re together, sharing the strips, laughing . . . and I realize, we could all benefit by being just a little bit more like Calvin.

There really isn’t enough time to do all the nothing you want. . . and yes. . . sometimes scientific progress does go “boink!”

Sometimes It’s Just in Your Head

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Sometimes It’s Just in Your Head

I spent most of the last two days talking my middle child off an educational ledge.

Well, let’s face it, both daughters.

When I was a kid you went to school, thought about what you wanted to do for college, but that wasn’t drilled, every day, every minute, into your head.  For my kids that’s changed.  Maybe it’s the competitive nature of our educational system.  (They do feel secondary to just about every other country, I get it) Maybe they’re honestly trying to give our kids good preparation for life.

But when you’re a freshman in high school, telling them they need to know now what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives is . . . well, too much pressure.  Guide them.  Prod them.  Ask them questions.  Don’t demand answers at the age of 14 about what they’re going to do for a career for the rest of their lives.

I work with a ton of journalists who, to be honest, never went to school for journalism.  I know a lot of PR people that have journalism degrees and were once reporters.  I was married to a woman who was a reporter and then went back to school and became a pharmacist.  So when my oldest is wondering if she likes other things, not just theater or drama . . . it’s fine.  It’s okay.  This is the age to try things out, cook the spaghetti, throw it at the wall and see what sticks.

My middle was stressed beyond belief because she wanted to get into an honors class and the teachers were drilling into them what this meant for college credit and what it would do for their future and . . . in the end it just made her face get more pimples and kept her up.  All . . . night . . . long.  That, in turn, kept me up all…night…long.  If your kids worry, you certainly worry.

Look . . . three years ago, before losing my wife, I might have dug in, done the work, and helped lay on the pressure.  Today, not so much.  I left one type of job, a newsroom manager, and went back into the field.  I became a writer and write every week for a parenting website.  I met new people and made new friends.  I shoot other things on my own and make documentaries and I’m a musician.  Nothing says that when you graduate high-school you’re screwed so – damn you – better pick what makes you satisfied now or you’re stuck!

So when my daughter was freaking out last night . . . I asked her:
“What happens if you don’t get into the honors class.”
“I take the advanced class.”
“Okay . . . something wrong with that?  Does the teacher suck?  Do you hate the material?”
“No. . . everyone says the teacher’s awesome.”
“So what’s the worst could happen?”
“I take advanced.  I just want to get into the honors class!”

So I informed her I knew she had the skills and ability to get into honors.  It’s not whether she can, it’s the self-destructive stress she was putting on herself.  The stakes aren’t her life . . . they’re what she wants.  If she wants it she should study and work hard.  If she’s doing it because everyone tells her she should . . . then she’ll never do it as well because her heart’s not in it.

Tonight, as it’s over, her stressed hunching of the shoulders has gone away.  Her face cleared up a little.  She’s happier.

It’s done.  If I get in, great, but if not . . . there’s always next year.  I was just stressing myself out.

“Yep,” I informed her, pulling the hair out of her eyes for the millionth time.  “Sometimes it’s just in your head.”