February 19th, 2014 § 4 Comments
After some two plus years, we were out of West Los Angeles. We left behind Palms Junior High, the bus rides to Westwood, Tower Records, Penny loafers, Venice, black kids bussed in and Jewish kids from the Fairfax District, KDAY, Prince and Bruce Lee. We headed East, the burbs. The four bedroom house with the basketball court and swimming pool was no consolation for the quiet and the heat. The air – stale, vacuumed of energy by homogeneity. “Bro, where the hell are we?” Yanked from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and dropped into The Breakfast Club.
And what precipitated this unfortunate change in script? Three armed men walked into Hillis Liquor one night. My parents and a family friend were put, face down on the floor. With the business end of a shotgun pressed against the back of my Father’s ear, the register was emptied.
Years later when my parents told us the story, they glossed over the robbery but told in vivid detail what they saw when they got home. They looked into our room and found their two boys fast asleep. Oblivious. The thought of their sons waking as orphans sent a shudder through them that a loaded gun could not.
Standing there, without a spoken word, the decision to get out of the liquor store business was made. Just like that. All good fathers are prepared to restructure their lives for the sake of their children. When it threatened his children’s well being, my Father walked from the only business he’d known into the uncertainty of starting over.
December 17th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Daddy, do you believe in Santa?
The question apprehensively lobbed from the back of the mini van. They were at that age around which doubt trickles in. Questions no matter how much they’d like to hold them at bay begin to push fissures onto their innocence. “Of course Santa is real … but then how come I haven’t ever seen him?” “What about apartments with no chimneys?” “Flying deer?”
They had reached that threshold. The fear of the truth succumb to the need to know. At the risk of getting what they did not want hear, they asked the closest thing to a reliable source of truth – good old Dad. It was a brave question, a direct question around which there was precious little room to dance. “Do I believe in Santa? Yes or no?” I peaked at my kids in the rear view mirror. Holding their Christmas hopes in my hand, I began to dance.
What do you think? Do you believe in Santa?
Kid #1: Yes. I believe Santa is real.
Kid #2: Me too.
Kid #3: (Too young to care)
(They begin cite flimsy circumstantial evidence ie. stuffed stockings, the bite out of the cookie and the half drunk glass of milk; in a vain effort to assuage their doubts)
Kid #1: What about you Dad? Do you think Santa is real?
You know, I’m more interested in what you all think. Why do you want him to be real?
Kid #1: Because he’s nice and gives us presents.
Kid #2: Yeah, he gives us Christmas gifts.
Kid #1: Yeah, I think he’s real.
The reason I danced around the question is two fold. One, I believe the innocence of children is a beautiful thing. Their extraordinary ability to suspend disbelief is rooted in humility. They have not learned to trust themselves first and foremost. I wanted them to hang onto that innocence as long as possible. Secondly, I have determined to tell my children the truth. When the question was posed, the first thing that ran through my mind was this: In years to come, I will tell them that certain things are true, real – things that will be difficult for them to believe. When I tell them these things, I do not want them to have a single experience with me in which I told them something was true when it was not.
October 31st, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I can’t remember what initiated the fight. What I remember of it was our youngest’s reaction to it. It was a couple years ago, so that would put her at about six or seven years old. We were all sitting at dinner, when I started in on it with my wife who was sitting across from me. It was heated, but not out of control – voices raised, animated, but not out of line. As I pled my case, I caught out of the corner of my eye my daughter begin to cry.
What’s the matter? Are you crying because we’re fighting?
(A nod. No eye contact)
Why does it make you sad?
I’m afraid you’re going to get divorced.
(My wife and I look at each other)
Hey, we’re not going to get divorced. I love your Mom. I’m mad at her right now. We have a disagreement; we need to work it out. That’s what we’re doing. We’re mad at each other right now, but we’re not getting divorced. We love each other. We love you all. No matter what, we never think about divorce.
It put our daughter at ease. It put our other two kids at ease. The affirmation of our commitment to one another in the midst of a fight actually threw cold water on it. Within a few minutes, apologies were exchanged; forgiveness extended. This event, it wasn’t something that just happened; it was in a way, planned. We had decided some time before this occurred to do our fighting in the open, not behind closed doors. Unlike our own upbringing, we planned to teach our kids how to fight. And like most things, they were going to learn first by seeing us do it.
We’ve continued to do our fighting in the open. Our hope is that when required, our kids will put up a good fight: A fight that is courageously open, that moves toward reconciliation, and displays self-control.
September 4th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I suspect it was the Geisha that got him up, that sent a jolt of life through him that afternoon. Once awakened, he engaged my brother in a way I’d never seen. And his gift of teaching, his natural artistic skill spun out of him. It was as if an ominous gray statue, one we tip-toed around suddenly came to life and danced before our eyes, filling the room with color. Who knew such things were in him? Looking back, can’t help but think, “It could’ve been different; it should’ve been different.” What got him out of his seat should not have been the hatred of a people under whose heel his people had so suffered. No. It should’ve been the love for his son. His immensely gifted son.
If it were love, he would have gotten up long before that afternoon. If my father had been watching closely, he would’ve seen that his son had that same, natural gift that was in him. A chip off the old block. Eyes that see, and the hand – the skillful, steady hand. An artist. Being an artist himself, he could have cultivated this gift. Taught. Encouraged. Kindled in his son a love for art, and in effect a love for who he was, is. But my father did this only once. Like so many fathers, most other days, he did more wishing than watching. The wishing as it does for us all made him blind to the gift, right there in front of him. Sitting next to him was an artist, and mostly he bemoaned that his eldest son was not a scholar.
I’ll never forget that afternoon. It was the one time that my father engaged his son in something his son loved. About three years ago, my brother picked up that long forgotten brush. He still paints. Beautifully. The gift survived the years of neglect. He’s made the long journey back to that afternoon. His father is not there, but the gift they share comes alive in a quiet garage, filling it with color.
July 25th, 2013 § 2 Comments
Sometimes I walk into our kids’ bathroom and think, “We are not animals!” The place gets pretty tore up. There is this dried, food/toothpaste blend spit streak in the sink – residue left from a hurried, careless brushing, and even a worse rinsing. Have you seen this? It’s nasty. There are damp towels balled up. Yesterday’s clothing strewn about. Sometimes, I have to run and stop my wife at the door. Spread myself across the threshold, “No! You don’t want to see what’s in there.” They can be messy. It is one of many maddening things about our kids.
Years back, on one of these occasions, upon discovering something my kid had done or failed to do, when the first thought to cross my mind was, “You don’t get it,” just as this thought was strutting across my mind with its accompanying air of justified superiority, another thought flew in and knocked this thought on its ass. The thought went something like this, “Now, tell me, what exactly were you like at eleven?”
Let’s see, hmm … I was listening to Prince and the Revolution, stealing baseball cards, getting straight C’s, souping up my BMX bike, and cussing like a sailor. I had no concept of cleanliness, Godliness, or any other form of “liness” for that matter. My heroes were Bruce Lee and Clint Eastwood. And my number one goal in life was to learn to break dance.
Remember, he is seven. She’s eleven. Remember how long it took you to, as we say, Get it. Remember that you have over them the benefit of twenty, thirty+ years of experience, hindsight and development. Remember that a good deal of the things they do to drive you nuts is them acting their age.
July 10th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
It was an important realization for me: Say “yes” as much as possible. Obviously, you can’t say “yes” to everything … maybe not even to most things. So, upon my realization came the dilemma, How to swing this? How do I say “yes” when I really need to say “no”? Here’s a tip: Timing.
As I’ve mentioned, I have two beautiful daughters. Beautiful. They’re … they’re the most precious things … for lack of words to adequately express it. And they’ve made me dislike every young man/boy on earth. Other than my son, that’s it. They are all … well, they’re, they’re all potentially guilty. You know what I mean. They’re not to be trusted. Okay? And I don’t like them.
The older of my two daughters is turning thirteen here in a few short months. And with this auspicious turning of the page, the talk of “dating” has surfaced. Now, I can’t say the word “date” in connection with my daughter without feeling an urge to kick something. But let’s face it, in reality I want her to date. Of course I want her to date. Eventually marry. The key here is timing. What doesn’t work at thirteen is great at twenty-five. What? Twenty-five’s too late to start dating?
Okay, so when she looks up at me with those big, pretty fourteen year old eyes, and asks, “Daddy, can I go on a date?” I’ll say, “Yes. Yes you can. But not now.”
June 25th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
When I’m bent, at least half the time the problem lies with me. Sure, something real initiates the bending: some slight, a misunderstanding, plans gone awry. And because it’s real, I’ll tell myself that it’s their fault. Yeah, them. If they didn’t do this or that … My wife. My kids. Those people … yeah, them over there. If they understood … or if they would just listen. If people would cooperate and get with my program … you know, my idea of what my life ought to be then I wouldn’t be so bent. You know what? I take that back. It’s not “half the time” it’s most of the time. My problem.
Those real things cut something deep inside. A deep disappointment held, taut in fragile skin. Like a balloon filled, stretched thin with black paint. One little something and the spilling out. The bleed of black that darkens the eyes until hope that is already a distant blur shaken by the heat rising from the blacktop of reality vanishes on the horizon. That something inside is inside me.
A few posts back I suggested you as a father need to say to your kids, “I’m sorry.” Tell them you were wrong. Admit your mistakes. If you do this each time you become aware of your fault, then you’ll likely do it often. Good. Now, you can do more. Look inside. When you say “sorry” for raising your voice, you can tell them that often you raise your voice because of other things going on in your life. You can tell them that you misunderstood because you can’t stand to be wrong. Tell them your fears. Share with them your weaknesses.
By saying “sorry” you will strip your mistakes of the power to harm your kids. By availing to them your frailty, you will become a safe place for them – someone to whom they get to extend forgiveness, with whom they get to empathize. And if they can do that … if my kids can see me as no different than themselves, then when I get over … each time I get over my problem, I can inspire them. “Hell, if Dad can laugh with all his problems then so can I.”
May 23rd, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Last night, I was at the school “open house” for our youngest. She’s our third, so we’ve been to a few of these. They’re not such a big deal. We know her teacher, and are familiar with her work, so nothing new there. And with fifty people roaming a tiny classroom, there really isn’t much to do but to take a quick perusal and call it a night. Our older ones don’t even care about them anymore … could take it or leave it.
None of this matters though; nobody asked me what I thought. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter what my daughter thinks either. In it of itself, I’m not sure how important last night was for her. That might be overstating it a bit, but for now what matters is what she perceives is the level of my interest in her. That there is what made last night’s “open house” a big deal.
I think the mistake we make is we evaluate primarily the thing itself. We cannot do this, evaluate the thing itself until we have established in their minds our priorities. With our three children, I’ve worked hard at being there … birthdays, holidays, award ceremonies, games, performances. When attending, I’ve worked at being attentive. Like I said, the work has taught me that whatever my kids do is more interesting than the most interesting thing others do. Once they have no doubt about your priorities, then some things will not be a big deal. Until then, attendance is mandatory.
May 16th, 2013 § 2 Comments
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’ll let you in on a little something: I like sports. I don’t get the fascination with Nascar and hockey alludes me, but pretty much all else … at the very least, you can get me interested. What? Figure skating? I’m talking about sports. As a friend once told me, “Accompanying music and choreography disqualifies.” As an aside, this guy has a whole list of what ought to qualify something as a sport. It’s hilarious and pretty tight. By tight, I mean he’s tough; it’s a stringent list. Like, “If there is subjective judging, not a sport.” He’ll go as far as, “No defense? Got to wonder, is it a sport?”
So, anyway, I like sports. Follow it. A few weeks back, I won a NCAA Tournament pool. Here’s the not so funny thing: Can’t take credit for it. I pretty much picked in the dark. I don’t have time to be educated on NCAA basketball. Are you kidding? With the parody out there these days, knowing Syracuse and Duke isn’t doing it. Now you have to be versed in Mid-Majors like VCU, Wichita State, and random upstarts like Florida Gulf Coast or whoever they were. Forget it. I used to come into March with a clue. Not anymore. That all changed with our first kid. Priorities. NCAA basketball didn’t make it. Spring and summer baseball; cut. NBA; cut. Just some NFL and a bit of golf. Golf? Yeah, I know. Golf is disqualified under my buddy’s list for “dress code”, no defense, and hushing the crowd. He’s right, it’s a sport like croquet is a sport.
Couple posts back, I wrote how I love being at a swim meet. Love it. Wasn’t always the case. That first season, we bemoaned, “What have we got ourselves into?” I learned to love it. And Priorities was my teacher. Your children ought to re-structure your life: Your work, your hobbies, your money. If they do not, your priorities are out of whack. If you live long enough, you’ll live to regret it. Make peace with this: You can’t have it all. I’ll let you in on something else though, and this one is not so obvious: I gave up life as I knew it, and found life richer than I could have ever dared dream.
May 8th, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Our kids are swimmers. They are, all three on a community swim team. This means, all summer long, every Saturday we are on the pool deck from 8AM til at least 1PM. If you count prep and clean-up, we go 6 til 2. Every Saturday. What is more surprising than that my life’s path has led me onto a pool deck all summer long is that I love it. Seriously. Love it. Watching my kids get up on the blocks, look around for me and my wife, to see them apprehensively excited, and when they spot you to see their expression shift – imbue with a touch of confidence … there’s nothing like it. And when they dive in … the cheering, the willing them to the wall. And then they surprise you: their strength, their competitive drive, their skill. If you’ve never seen a five year old breast stroke, let me tell you, it’s something to behold. So often I’ve stood on those pool decks in speechless wonder.
At these meets there was this one dad. He’d show up right toward the end of the meet in his full Tour de France get up. Rushing onto the crowded pool deck, pushing his $10,000 dollar bicycle. Every time I saw him, I had the same thought; it was neither judgment nor envy. “Dude, where were you? You missed it. The best part of your day. The best part of your life and you missed it.” I felt sorry for him. Really did.