Wednesday, December 28, 2011

They're Onto Me: Basking in the Final Days of Superdadhood

I've been indulging in excess during this winter break, eating fatty foods and lots of bread, and drinking far too many beers. I wonder if heart fatalities go up as we let ourselves go at the end of the year, in anticipation of those New Year's resolutions. I'm sure I've put on a few extra pounds in the last several weeks. Last night as we were snuggling up in my bed watching The Polar Express, Jackson patted my belly and asked, "Why are you so fat?"
I considered a defensive response, but he was right and I knew it. When I made a face (the face anyone would make upon hearing such a question) he said, "Well, you are."
He then poked the gelatinous mass once more, as if to illustrate his point.
"Yes, but there are nicer ways to ask the question. I'm fat because I eat too much and drink a lot of beer." It wasn't my proudest moment. I know, from my own experience as a boy, that he is comparing me to his male physical heroes. I did the same thing with my dad.
During my childhood the male ideal was personified by a few different figures. The most sought-after men in popular culture at that time were the Fonz, Vinnie Barbarino, Butch and Sundance, and, later, Rocky Balboa. On the extreme side of things, there were the superhero bodybuilders (Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan the Barbarian). There were the guys from the world of sports too: Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson, and Jim Palmer were known to appear in commercials, often showing off their "attributes" in various stages of undress.
I'd look at them and then at my father who I idolized, then back at the idols. Comparing him against them confused me. He was quite athletic, playing tennis several mornings a week, as well as most weekends, but he had a midsection that, like mine today, hinted at "a life well lived," as someone once euphemistically put it.
For my boys the male physical ideal is embodied by the WWF and WWE stables. Try as we might, my wife and I have been unable to push back the testosterone tide of "professional" wrestling. It's like a drug for them, and every chance they get they are with their friends, playing with John Cena action figures or staging fantasy battles on the Wii between the Rock and Andre the Giant, or Seamus and Hulk Hogan. They giggle when they ask me to make a muscle, saying I look -- in their adoring eyes, anyway -- like Big Show. (Whoever that is.)
The midsection baffles them, just as my father's did me, when I was a svelte boy-child. Let's hope they can avoid going down the same genetic path.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Filling the Silence: Making Sense of the Dual Nature of Solitude

I've always been one for "Alone Time." I enjoy the opportunity to sit, walk, think, drink coffee, read and write on my own. In fact, it's probably the sort of restorative practice I should insist upon more than I do.

It was sort of "built into" my previous job, in my air travel around the state of Texas each month. I spent a good number of hours in airports and hotels by myself. Nowadays, with this new job that I love, there is no such thing as alone time. It's all about managing people and the community they make.

This evening my wife is happily indulging in a Zumba class with three girlfriends, and my sons are across the street, playing at their friend Dalton's house.

So I'm alone.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not a "loner" as such. Like many of us (I'm willing to bet) I both covet my time to myself while also being prone to loneliness. Maybe I've just described the human condition. I don't know.

This evening, as darkness descends on suburban Austin, Texas, the house is almost achingly silent, and it gives me a clawing sense of loss in my midsection. My dog comes to me, back end wagging behind her, and offers me her usual, undying love. Still too quiet, though. I try watching some obscure bowl game, presented by and named after a company I've never heard of. Having no affinity for or affiliation of any kind with either school, I switch over to a sitcom -- one of the "lovable buffoon married to the quick-as-a-whip wife" variety. This doesn't hold my interest either.

Now I write in my journal, listening to Kings of Leon and Michael Kiwanuka, trying to make sense of the dual nature of solitude. I know that soon my boys will burst into the house, and the decibel level will go up considerably. They'll start in with the "can we, can we, can we," and the conflicts will arise.

Or....I will do what my wife does so well. I will channel their energy and summon up my own, countering their provocations with humor. We will have SO MUCH FUN that they will say, "Daddy, you're the absolute best," when I tuck them in. And I'll say, "Oh please, it's what I do."

They will fall asleep, snug and exhausted from a good day of winter vacation, dreaming the dreams of happy children.

And I'll be alone again, happy for the quiet but a little nervous about all the silence. I'll make sure there are enough lights on in the house, so that I don't feel like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween sitting alone in the flickering glow of the TV set.

Maybe I'll switch on the Kindle and try to get back into David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, a book that thrills me with its language and daunts me with its length. Or I'll find a good sporting event and continue my quest to take advantage of being on break by drinking as much beer as is humanly possible. Either way, I'll do so with one ear listening for my wife's key in the door, breaking up the wonderful horror and horrifying wonder of my "alone time."

Introspection Time

Yes, Christmas has just come and gone, and there are only a few days of the current calender year remaining. So, as is my bent, I turn my reflective eye inward and take a look at this year gone by.

So far, I have written 258 O.S.N.G. blog posts, something of which I am quite proud. The goal was to write 365 for the year, and I'll be about a hundred short of that. But I'm up from 11 in 2010 and 3 in 2009, so I'm happy about my productivity. Not every post is a pearl; some are downright clunkers as far as the writing goes. What these posts all provide, however, is a record for my children of what was important to their dad, as well as some real-time snapshots of who they were at ages 8 and 6 respectively.

There are some thoughts on education, a little bit of politics, maybe a dash of religion here and there, all of which will give Diego and Jackson a feel for what the world was like in their childhood days of the "early-to-mid-aughts."

This year I took a technique of my father's, scribbling ideas ("early tweets," I called them in a 2010 post) on 3 x 5 cards, and ran with it. For a while there I kept the cards in my pocket at all times, coming home with two or three good journal/blog ideas each day. For a few months I averaged a post a day on Blogger, and I've gotten encouragement from a range of people I respect. At my high school reunion in October, several people who have never left a comment on my blog made it a point to tell me how much they enjoy reading it.

Thanks to the technology available to me -- the Internet in general and Facebook and Twitter specifically -- my writing has an "audience." This humbles me and makes me aware of how important honesty is to what I write. Used to be that what I wrote was between me, the void, and whomever I chose directly to show my work.

Now I can pretty safely assume that if I put my writing out there, via Facebook status update or tweet, that someone will read it. So it has to be good, if I want those readers to continue to view my stuff.

In the realm of the professional, I've just recently changed jobs -- moving back into the school arena. I feel back in my "comfort zone," working with young people and their teachers, trying to help them through the maze of school. It's much more difficult than the work I was doing at Region 13, and the change is part of the drop off in my blog's productivity during the fourth quarter this year. But I like the hard work. It makes me think back to my foreman, the poet Keith Althaus, who was in almost constant motion when we worked together at the MarSpec warehouse in Provincetown, Massachusetts during the summer of 1984. He was always working -- so much so that I cannot recall Keith without seeing him walking quickly, or checking his paperwork, or operating a forklift, moving inventory. He wasn't joyless, by any stretch; in fact, I still giggle at some of the snide remarks he came out with, always in motion, with his nose to that proverbial grindstone. My favorite was his sarcasm regarding the Olympic Games that summer. The Soviets boycotted the L.A. games, bringing down the level of competition considerably. Keith came in one morning and said, "Did you guys see what we did to Guam last night? We crushed 'em."

I once asked Keith, over a quickly-devoured sandwich, why he never stopped moving. "Makes the day go faster," he said. And he was right. In the past three months, I've come to understand that a high school assistant principal's day goes by extremely fast.

And on the home front, the self-esteem that comes with the new job (although wrapped in a significant pay cut) has paid dividends. I'm able to be more "present" for my family, all of whom appear to be thriving, thank God. Sure, I have my goals, particularly in the areas of personal finance and fitness. All in all, though, 2011 has turned out to be a very good year indeed.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Tracking" Santa - And the Innocence of My Children


At some point not too long ago, someone thought it would be
cute to connect Google Earth and Google Maps with an application that would
allow children and their parents to track Santa on Christmas Eve. I have no problem with it, and actually find
the app a great teaching tool. The
little videos they post in various places around the globe are educational, and
give my kids a sense of global geography, while stoking their excitement about
Santa’s arrival.


It does require a major paradigm shift for me personally,
however, to accept the fact that the Google people have put Santa’s travels
under the watch of NORAD. I’m of a
generation still old enough to remember when nuclear proliferation and the
threat of worldwide Armageddon were a constant in the news, and NORAD was one
of those scary acronyms, along with OPEC, NATO, and SALT. NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense
Command and became something much more precious than it was when I was young.


Anyway, I’m not trying to be a Grinch about it. In fact, I’m still benefitting from the
mythology of Santa Claus, and I know it’s only a matter of time before neither
of my sons will believe in Santa any more. The wonder and magical nature of Christmas is written in their
expression with every shopping mall Santa they see. Sadly, that wonder will soon be gone (along
with my ability to mitigate and manipulate their behavior with same) and I just
have to accept this sad fact.


Diego sort of floated the idea, earlier this year that Santa
may not exist. I’m sure he picked up the
notion from one of his fellow third graders. Jackson looked at me during this crucial moment, his six year old eyes
truly incredulous. Thinking fast, I
acted as if Diego had blasphemed. “Dude!”
I said in my best stage whisper. “Do you
realize what could happen if Santa or ANY of his helpers heard you say that?”


“What helpers?” he asked, looking around the Chinese
restaurant where we were having our usual – Chicken Lo Mein and Won Ton soup –
as if he expected to see an elf stick his head above a neighboring booth to spy
on us.


“I’m just saying. Be
cool with that stuff. Believing is key
to staying on the ‘Nice’ list.”


Diego’s large eyes narrowed skeptically. Then he left it alone, turning his attention
to the noodles on his plate.


I don’t honestly remember when my belief in Santa went away,
because I don’t remember ever really believing in him. I don’t mean this in any tragic sort of way;
it’s just that I’m not sure how hard my parents ever pushed the myth on me and
my brother. They enjoyed putting cheeky “To-From”
tags on our presents, in the form of riddles that gave hints about what was
under the wrapping paper based on who’d sent each item. For example, a new baseball glove might have
been sent by Tom Seaver, or a set of “Planet of the Apes” action figures could
have come from Caesar, Cornelius or Dr. Zaius. Nerdy, I know, but we loved it, and it’s a tradition Jeanette and I
continue. Diego’s gorilla slippers are
from King Kong and Jackson’s Playmobile jungle set is from Tarzan. You get the idea.


There’s an innocence in my children that I’m especially aware
of during the Christmas season. They
remind me of myself and my brother and the anticipation that eventually gave
way to sleep.


“Diego wakes me up on Christmas morning,” Jackson told me
last night. “He says, ‘Jackson, he came!
He came! There are presents under the
tree!’”


He’ll say it again tomorrow morning, as the myth stays alive
for one more tenuous year of innocence.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Remembering Hanno Fuchs (Dec. 23, 1928 - April 18, 2000)

As I back my way cautiously down the fold-out ladder from
the attic, my son Jackson stands below, imploring me to let him up so that he
can “help me.” Instead of getting into
the first argument of the day, I employ my acting training, convincing him that
what I’ve got in my hands is too difficult for me to handle. Without his help. He reaches up, and I hand the album down to
him.


“What’s this, Daddy?” my six-year-old asks, and I take the
opportunity to walk him through the photos with which I’ve populated this
book. The first one is of my father as a
boy (pictured here) – probably not too much younger than Jackson is now. There are shots of him in the army, others
with me and my brothers and sister, one with our friends the Kasais on
vacation, and still more traveling in Europe.


“Today’s my father’s birthday,” I tell my son. He gets a puzzled look on his face, as he
tries to comprehend how someone could both be dead and have a birthday, as well.

But then he asks me a pretty sophisticated question (and
with the best grammar I’ve ever heard him use): “How old would your dad have been if he were alive?”

After making a big deal about his sentence structure, and
use of the subjunctive conditional, I tell him his grandfather would have
turned 83 today, which, to him, sounds, of course like the age of Methuselah or
Rip Van Winkle. We leaf through the
pages together, and Jackson is more tickled at seeing my various “looks” – long
hair, pony tail, full beards, goatees and such.


Finally, I place the childhood portrait of my dad next to
Jackson’s and ask him, “Do you think you and grandfather look alike?” He grins his sparkling Hannoesque grin, nods and says, “He’s looking one way, and I’m
looking the other.”

I have no real way of knowing what place my father holds, or
will hold, in the hearts of my two sons. This is the nature of loss; it is highly subjective. The departed lives on, so to speak, differently
in each of his survivors. For me, I see
my father’s face in the mirror more and more with teach swiftly passing
year. For my wife, some of the photos
bring her back to a time and place where she can recall Hanno’s kind, paternal
embrace.


For my father’s siblings – an older brother and two younger
sisters – he’s someone else altogether. I’d imagine if he and his brother were anything like me and mine, there was
a period of rivalry and intense competition, followed by a peaceful and satisfying
acceptance of one another as friends. His sisters have both shared with me a deep admiration, described by
them as a form of hero worship that changed little over the course of their
time with him.

I don’t presume to know much more than this. My siblings and I have discussed his impact
on our lives from time to time. For my
own part, I can say that he validated me and my responses to the world around
me at every opportunity. He wasn’t
perfect; I know that now. But my father
was the person I need him to be – kind, understanding and forgiving.


As I’ve stated before, I believe the greatest gift my
parents gave me was the capacity to love. Yes, there are other things that are important in life, but none more
than this.

Happy 83rd, Dad. I miss you.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stopping by Roscoe


I posted yesterday’s blog, and it caused quite a nostalgic
stir on FBDC, with some twenty comments, and they’re still coming in. It’s gratifying when I touch on something – a
common memory that gets people talking as they themselves remember.


As I mentioned, I left a few things out – details not fit
for Internet posting and all the eyes that might fall on the sordid details of
a respected school administrator’s misspent youth. There was another, very specific item I omitted
– not because of fear of self-incrimination but because I didn’t know quite
where to fit it into the piece. The
Roscoe Diner was on my mind the entire time I was composing my post, but in the
end I’d left this detail out as well. Frankly, in the format I’ve been working with, I couldn’t figure out
where the eatery should enter into the narrative. As my college roommate, Greg King mentioned,
Roscoe, New York was the unofficial midpoint between home and school.


Perhaps I should have put it right in the middle.


When I think of Roscoe and the diner, the first image that
comes to mind is of a sign depicting a thick, meaty trout breeching almost
joyfully, someone’s skillfully tied fly imbedded in its cheek. “Welcome to Roscoe. Trout Town, USA.”


I suppose I could Google it, but back then you wouldn’t
have, and I remember being skeptical about that sign. Did they determine the moniker of Trout Town
based on poundage? Did the town keep records of all the lunkers that had been
pulled in within its limits over the years?


Or maybe Roscoe had simple decided one day they would
proclaim themselves the capital, based solely on how happy the fish on their
welcome sign seemed to be about being hooked.


Other images, in addition to that welcome sign, include a
wide parking lot, which was always packed with cars sporting license plates
from all over, from Montreal down to Florida. Because of the time of year my friends and I normally traveled home from
school and back, the diner was often full of men in loud plaid vests and coats –
hunters taking advantage of the abundant deer population in the area. Deer carcasses could be seen strung onto the
hood of many a vehicle in that large parking lot. Some were big bucks with elaborate antlers,
reaching up to slate-gray winter skies, while others were more delicate looking
does who seemed more peaceful in their repose. I can recall seeing one carcass that must
have been recently dressed, as I could swear I saw steam rising from the body
cavity there in the parking lot.


These were glimpses into another life, one I read about in
the books I loved at the time – by Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, Jack London, and
others. The images I took in at the
Roscoe Diner made their way into my own work, as well. In one of my short stories a boy is cornered
in a diner men’s room by a drunk man who is showing him a school photo of his
dead son, who the man says would have been about the same age as my
protagonist.


The story had its strengths, most notably in the description
of the place, but was ultimately highly derivative of Raymond Carver’s work,
probably to an embarrassing degree. But
I did get praise for its emotional honesty. And its setting. And I have the
Roscoe Diner to thank for that – a place as iconic and as real as any other I’ve
been to.


I don’t remember much about the food, except that it was
plentiful. And for a 19 year old young
man on a long winter drive home, sometimes in automobiles with no heat and
questionable safety standards, the portions were perfect. My friends and I devoured the large helpings,
fueling up for the couple of hundred miles to go before we slept.


Dedicated to Greg
King, the best roommate of them all.



Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Perilous Crossings: Memories of Driving in Winter


It was this time of year back when I was young, some 30 years ago to be exact, that I would make the long winter journeys between Syracuse University where I studied and Westchester, New York, where I lived. I made some of those excursions by train, which I’ve discussed in an earlier post.

There were occasions too, however, when I made the trip between Purchase and Syracuse, New York driving. My mom and/or dad would drive me up, or I’d go with a friend or two. These trips were generally “uneventful,” as they say, in that no one was ever injured, killed or arrested in connection with any of them. Believe me when I say, with no hint of irony or hyperbole that any of these three eventualities could easily have come to pass during my five years of being a student up in the frozen tundra. It’s not something I say proudly, or even lightly; in fact I’m humbled and more than a little ashamed when I think back to my recklessness behind the wheel during my early driving days.

My friend Mignon Young (Hambrick back then) and I like to recall the time she, Pete Landau (pictured above in a photo by Mignon) and I drove home together in her aging Renault Fuego (as Mignon recently said, “I later determined that fuego was Italian for ‘biggest piece of shit on the road.’”). The car had no heat, and this was a five-hour trip in the snowy dead of winter. We
entertained ourselves in the freezing car by playing games like “Botticelli” and “the Movie Game.” The latter was of our own invention; one player names a movie title, the next has to name their own, starting with the final letter of the previous player’s movie title. It was a ridiculous, inane game, but one that made the minutes and hours pass more quickly somehow. Of course, the fact that we were young and had a joyous friendship helped too.

On that same stretch of road – Route 17 – I recall being stopped by troopers one year. There had
been a lot of snow and ice, so they were ushering cars over a particularly icy bridge one at a time. I was behind the wheel; my mother was in the passenger seat and my brother Mike was in back. The trooper looked at each of us and then, like the guy who straps you in to the roller coaster, he said, “Okay, man, just take it slow and keep those wheels straight and you should be fine.”
I nodded and, gripping the wheel, my forearms stiff as planks, tapped my toe lightly on the accelerator, then the brake, both of which felt suddenly unfamiliar, as if I were borrowing a friend’s car for the first time, instead of driving my mother’s LeBaron – the very automobile on which I’d learned to drive.

I’m not sure what happened next; I do recall the hundred yards or so of that bridge seeming much, much longer, and the moment when I silenced the unsolicited driving advice I was getting from my passengers, not by yelling but by evenly asking if either of them wanted to take over for
me. With the quiet I needed, I got us over that bridge and to our destination.
There are other stories I could tell on myself that involve that route, but I think I’ll wait until I’ve got less to lose. I like my job and my “place in my community” too much. Who knows? It might make for a good deathbed confession someday…….

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Exceptional Sleep Patterns of an Exceptional Family



It’s before sunrise, and I’m the only one awake in our
house. The thermostat has just kicked in above my head, somewhere in the
attic. There’s a humming, the collisions
of once still molecules, as the water in my coffee pot begins to sputter and
boil in the kitchen.



I have that distinctly American (or is it distinctly male? Or distinctly American male?) satisfaction that comes with the knowledge that
your family is indoors, warm and safe, despite the chilly darkness just outside
the door. Everyone is present and
accounted for, even though it did get a bit confusing there for a while last
night. It would have been amusing to
watch time lapse photography of our movements. Jeanette was the only one who stayed in one
place.



We all started out – the four of us – snuggled up in the
king size master bed, watching the finale of the Next Iron Chef America. Diego was the first to give in to sleep, as
usual. I transported him over to his bed
without any problem. Jeanette fell out
shortly after learning that Geoffrey Zakarian would join the ICA Pantheon. “Should have been Faulkner,” she muttered. As I said, she stayed right where she was.



I then offered to lie down in our guest bed with Jackson
until he fell asleep. (He’d drifted off
for a power nap on the couch while his mother was preparing dinner and was now
energized as a result.) He liked that
idea, so I lay there with him for a time, both of us tossing and turning,
scratching and farting, until finally I informed him I would need to do the
dishes and that he could either stay where he was with the door open, or sleep
in his room, along with his brother, but with the door shut.



After briefly weighing the options, Jackson chose the guest
bed, knowing he could listen to me in the kitchen, which soothes him for some
odd reason. I did my bid in the kitchen,
watching the conclusion of the Ravens-Chargers game in the process.



When I was done, I went back to the guest room and checked
on Jackson who had succumbed, proving there is a God and that He is merciful.



I then went back to the sala
and lounged on my easy chair, where I watched a bit of Conan’s “Best-of”
special before dozing off.



I made my way into my own bed and went to sleep. At some point in what I can only refer to as “the
middle” of the night, I was aware of being crowded, and I could hear the not
unfamiliar sound of an extra set of miniature lungs breathing in my air.



Jackson.



Rather than move him, I chose to move myself. Back to the guest bed. Which was, of course, occupied by our dog
Ally, who will take any door left open by a sleepwalking child as her
opportunity. I shooed her away and sat
directly on Diego, who was also in the bed.
I then carried him to his bed (for the second time, mind you) before coming back and collapsing on the
guest bed one final time.




Monday, December 5, 2011

The Reason We Had Two

Yesterday morning I caught Diego and Jackson in a lovely, unguarded moment. They were seated together in my comfortable leather chair in the family room, with Diego's "Snakes and Reptiles" book open over their laps.

"Look at this one, Jackson!" Diego said again and again, to which his younger brother replied, "Whoa!" or "Oooh!" or "Wow!"

It was a rare glimpse, and I did what I could to preserve the moment, snapping a few pictures on my phone, but not so conspicuously as to cause them to scatter like Brooklyn roaches. When they leafed upon a picture of a creature that looked particularly creepy, scary or interesting, Diego read aloud to Jackson, who sat there more transfixed and still than he ever is with me when I'm reading to him each night before sleep.

I cast no judgment or aspersion on anyone who has chosen to have only one child. Believe me. There are moments -- regularly -- when I envy them. Like my brother and me, and my father and uncle before us, Diego and Jackson fight almost constantly. Mutual combat is their preferred mode of expressing their love for one another.

It's in these rare, peaceful moments, however, that I'm reminded of why we chose to have two. I can count on one hand the number of "lifelong" friends I have. My brother Mike is always first on that short list. It's a comfort to know, as someone who won't be around all that much longer (I'm speaking relatively, of course. No veiled "threat" intended.) that Jackson and Diego will have each other's backs, so to speak.

They may not always see eye to eye on every issue; in fact, they may grow up to be two very different and divergent people. I have a feeling, though, that their friendship is being forged in the fire that is their childhood, and that the iron being cast will be strong indeed.

Oh and by the way: in case you're wondering, Diego and Jackson have no new "friends" on the way. Nor will they. Ever. As a great man once said, I may be dumb, but I ain't stupid.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Early Morning Stress Haiku"



Complete exhaustion.
Listen to the clock ticking.
Late for work again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Oy Christmas Tree






It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and there was a seasonal chill in the central Texas air. Conditions were perfect: it was time to purchase the annual tree.



I packed the boys into the car, along with our friend Melissa, her son Statton, and Statton’s sister Hayden. The six of us made our way over to Evergreen Farms in Elgin, just a few miles east of us. (We had decided to divide and conquer, with J. going to Costco’s to do the week’s shopping. Plus, the four of us have been on top of each other for the past week. A break was needed by all.)



The farm was great fun, complete with a hay ride out to where you pick your tree, activities like face painting and marshmallow roasting for the other kids and a general sense of good, old-fashioned “Holiday Cheer.” ®™



After inexpertly tying the tree to the roof with twine and bungee cords, and after thanking God for keeping it fastened up there for the time it took to get it home, the children were eager to begin trimming the tree.



We got the Christmas music on the radio and set about decorating the tree. The kids are getting better at it every year, and I’ve learned to let go of the control and let them have it a bit. As a result, the finished product is perhaps a tad rough, but it’s an obvious collaboration, which is most important in my mind.



Of course the holidays (and particularly this one) are always evocative of the past, and how could this nostalgic navel gazer not watch his two sons squabble over ornament placement, without once more traveling back in time? It’s the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – when my father, an avid amateur gardener, had an idea. Instead of buying a cut Christmas tree, or one of the garish artificial varieties they sold at the five and dime, Hanno would purchase a small pine tree, complete with root ball, every year. At the conclusion of the holidays, he would dig a hole in the cold, hard soil and plant the sapling in his yard.



(As a side note: I know what the Jews who are reading this must be thinking: “Wait, wasn’t Hanno a refugee from Nazi Germany? What’s with all the goyische stuff about Christmas and trees?”



Well, Gayle, the way it was explained to me was this: There is a combination of factors at play here. On the one hand, the upper middle class Jews in Germany were often liberal agnostics who enjoyed the strong secular holiday of gift giving that was Weinachten.



The other, perhaps more understandable explanation or motive was that he married a Depression-baby Schikse from Little Rock, Arkansas who, although poor, came from a long tradition of Christmases past.



Either way, the result was some lovely holidays, which my brother and I loved and will never forget. In the photos, the trees sometimes look tiny – not touching the ceiling like the Noble fir we bought yesterday – but if you drive past the old house on Hartford Lane today, take note of the towering pines, some forty years later, part of my father’s legacy of the productive time he spent on this Earth.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Memory

Lately, my children have a fascination with all things British -- I think it's a result of watching "Flushed Away" over and over, or maybe meeting my friend Janet Gordon from London not too long ago. ("Daddy," Diego whispered, as Janet charmed him and his brother in my living room last month, "she really speaks British.")

One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories is from 1987, when my girlfriend and I were living with our college friend, Tim Knight, and a band of BUNAC (British University North America Club) American expats for about a month in a flat in the Kilburn section of London, where we were studying to become certified English teachers. We were a pretty clueless crew, incapable of simple tasks like cleaning the shower curtain, which was an impressive science experiment of mold-cultivation. We were a fun bunch, though, and we knew how to laugh it up on the regular.

London was gorgeous in that month or so I was living there -- adorned with Christmas lights, which looked especially lovely in that historic city. On Thursday, November 27, the holiday season was in full swing, and outside our little group of expatriate misfits, the day was just another winter Thursday.

We, however, were aware that it was the last Thursday of the month, and we felt compelled to make something of the day. Between the 10 to 12 of us, we managed to throw a turkey in the oven and have it come out pretty well. There may have been some imbibing going on that day, as well, so we didn't stand on ceremony, as far as the table setting was concerned. In fact, I don't remember any plates at all.

We were a dozen young, unkempt and carefree Americans living in an Irish neighborhood in London, drunkenly devouring turkey with the trimmings. It was a unique moment, a moment verging on perfection, a moment steeped in the joyful ether of youth.

It's a moment I won't forget.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Having Something Left

It wasn't until I pulled my car out of the parking lot that I finally exhaled. That was the kind of day it was at Cedar Ridge High School.

After a good early-morning meeting with my old boss, who now serves as our external coach, I found myself in Z.J.'s annual Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting. Z is a complicated young man with a host of issues, and he's also the first student to latch onto me the way students sometimes do. The meeting was going well, until Z and Dad got into a disturbing verbal confrontation that included Z's father claiming Z's grandparents feared him. I don't doubt that this is true, as Z can be unpredictably explosive, but those words -- "They're afraid of you, Z" -- were like five daggers; I could almost hear them piercing the boy's heart. As often happens with Z, he began crying, and the meeting was adjourned, to be continued at a later date.

The day snowballed from there. Two Downs Syndrome students got into a physical fight in the Life Skills classroom, a girl was stumbling drunk, I busted a kid for smoking in the bathroom, and a colleague was physically threatened by a student.

In addition, I had to fit in two classroom walkthroughs, participate in a learning walk with our coaches and discipline several other students.

I suppose the good news is that the world kept turning and all of us survived -- albeit wearily -- to see another day.

The most important test I passed came after all of this was over, after the aforementioned exhalation. When I picked up the children, Jackson was beside himself, inconsolable that we'd moved him into the ACE after-school program, without informing him he'd be leaving LEAP. I inhaled again, and the breath stuck in my chest. There was a clearly defined moment when time stopped, I stepped out of my body, and made a decision. It was when I walked around to Jackson's side of the car to help him into his seat.

The burning anger, the wish to lash out made its way toward the surface, and before reaching for the door handle and yanking it open, as (I'm sorry to say) I've done before, I imagined the day's troubles rolling off me like raindrops off a newly painted automobile.

(Breathe out.)

"Jackson?" I said in a calm, measured tone that made him stop and look into my eyes. "Would you feel better about ACE if we went to look for some vampire teeth?" (He's been asking for them since Halloween.)

"Yes," he said, smiling through watery eyes. "And Daddy?"

"Yes, Jackson?"

"I'll give ACE a chance."

The three of us went on to have a pleasant, fun evening together, which helped remind me that there's much more to my life than ZJ's tears or kids getting tickets for smoking in bathrooms, or sitting with a crying boy who can't understand why he'd been hit in the temple by a bully. That simple choice to let out that deep breath and give my son the love he needs fortified me, built me back up and made it possible to come into work this morning with a smile on my face.

(And ending my evening last night with a shot of Cuervo and a cold Lone Star chaser didn't hurt either....)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thank You, Satellite Academy High School

It's not unusual to hear graduates or alumni of an educational institution talk about how much of an impact their school made on them. In my own case, I've written recently about my good memories of Harrison High, many brought back by my trip home last month for the HHS 30th reunion.

Less often does one hear from a former teacher about the benefits of having been a part of a school's faculty. I've been an ardent proponent of Satellite Academy High School, where I worked from 1992 to 2005, for about as long as I've known about the place. Designed with the disaffected student in mind, Satellite is a place that builds students back up who have been worn down by the relentless tides of impersonal, traditional schooling. Satellite puts the student squarely at the center of the educational equation -- not in a babying way but in a fashion that affords respect and autonomy while simultaneously insisting on accountability. Students are amazed at first, then thrilled and humbled by how different Satellite feels, in contrast to their "old" schools.

As the adults in charge of such a place it was imperative that we lived the dream, so to speak; we had no choice but to model the values of the place, if it was to work the way it was meant to. For most of us working at Satellite was a rare example of being allowed to live out the idealism of what had brought us to teaching in the first place. Occasionally a teacher would wow us at the interview table and then end up being outside our fold, someone who insisted they taught subject as an expert, and either the students got it or they didn't. Their humanity (or "humaneness") never entered into how they thought about teaching and learning.

Those teachers didn't last too long. Usually the place made them into True Believers eventually. Sometimes, though, they tendered their resignations, stating the school was a "bad fit." And they were right, and thank God they were honest.

Now, in my middle-aged administrator phase, I occasionally receive praise for my "unusual" leadership style. I've learned to ask people to elaborate when giving me any kind of feedback, even praise -- not because I like the tolling of my own bell, but because I can replicate what I know works only if I know what it is.

Most people have trouble putting it into words. Some call it kindness, and others say I make them feel like professionals. Generally, they say I do things "a little differently."

This should come as no surprise to me, as I "grew up," essentially, in a small, different high school called Satellite Academy, where kindness, respect and a sense of humor went a long, long way. I want to bring a "small school mentality" to my gigantic, 3,000-student school where I currently work, and I think I am doing it so far.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sometimes a Cigar is . . . MORE Than a Cigar

I'm no longer a smoker, thank God. The moment I threw out my last pack of cigarettes -- after a particularly medieval dentist visit back in the year 2000 or so -- was a sincere one, and I have no urges to return to that sort of butchery. Not to mention the less visible damage that I did to my insides.

However...I will admit there have been moments in the intervening years during which I've entertained a flirtation with cigars. Yes, the stinker and I have had an on-again-off-again relationship since 1993, on my 30th birthday, when I went into Village Cigars in Sheridan Square. It was a cold night and I was pretty well bundled up as I recall. I had the salesperson clip the end of my stogie -- probably something inexpensive like a Garcia y Vega -- and made my way out into the December night.

I get why smokers smoke. I don't defend it; I'd encourage anyone reading this to try and quit. However I refuse to judge anyone for smoking, because I've been there, and I recall not only the addiction and sense of relief when lighting up, but also the privacy it affords. Those five minutes it takes to smoke that cigarette are mine and mine alone. Time stops during the cigarette break, and one can reflect, as they watch their cloud open out from their lips and nostrils.

With a cigar, those five minutes are expanded to 15, 20, 30 minutes, depending on your hurry. My winter walks in the West Village were lovely -- those red-brick brownstones lit up for the holidays in the crisp night, but the cold sometimes cut those walks short.

Last Saturday night the boys and I went to a dinner party at a friend's place, and our host was kind enough to offer me a cigar to chew on as we watched football on his large-screen TV in the living room -- children and dogs running noisily around.

At one point, after enough beers had gone in me, I thought it would be a good idea to go out into the mild Texas evening and light the Bad Boy up. I grabbed some matches from atop my friend's fridge and -- with the burn ban solidly in mind -- I went out on his back deck and lit up.

There, in the glow of my cigar ash, as I puffed, locomotive-style, a memory came to me like a shot. It emerged from far deeper down the well -- much earlier than 1993. This flash was more like '73, and I was in my grandparents' living room at 42 Maple Hill Drive in Larchmont, New York. My "Opa," Bill Fuchs, sat in his favorite chair, feet up on the ottoman, puffing beatifically on his cigar. I'd forgotten my grandfather was an aficionado. I don't know what brand he smoked (he was in the import-export business, so I'm sure it was a good one), and now have a notion to ask my uncle and aunts.

No one complained about his smoke -- partly because it was the early 70's and the tobacco industry was still running full throttle. Mostly though it was all any of us had ever known. That room without cigar smoke would be as sad and lonely as if it had lacked Bill himself, which it would do, sadly, not too many years later.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Generations on a Mantlepiece














My eye was drawn recently to the mantelpiece – more specifically, I found myself looking at a fascinating heirloom called a Wanderbecher.


At first glance, it doesn’t look like much. The silver of this two-ounce cup is tarnished. One can hardly make out the inscription, or even know that there is one.


What makes it truly special is the note my uncle sent along with the cup:


Dear Diego:


This ‘Wanderbecher’ is like a challenge trophy and must be passed on according to a simple rule. It is to be passed down through generations of (male) May babies to perpetuate the Fuchs family name forever.


It was given to me by your great grandfather’s cousin Gottfried (Godfrey) of international soccer fame, since I (Werner Gottfried) – the next generation Fuchs – was born in May.


It is now yours to keep until a future generation gives birth to a Fuchs baby boy in May.


Use it to drink in the sweet nectars of a wonderful life.


Much Love,


Your great-uncle,



Geoffrey


The actual inscription that is etched into the cup reads, Wanderbecher der Familie Fuchs and is followed by the May birthdates and the respective names that go with them. The first two are in German, and the last is in English:


3 Mai 1889 – Gottfried Eric Fuchs


3 Mai 1926 – Werner Gottfried Fuchs


May 16 2003 – Diego Reyes-Fuchs


My uncle Geoffrey and I are similar in a number of ways. I think we are both idealists who cling tightly to the notion of family and family history. There is a great deal of importance in keeping our family name alive in the world, and keeping this branch of the Fuchs tree growing strong.


Obviously, when one looks at the dates on the Wanderbecher, one notes the piece is over 120 years old. Almost more striking to me is the idea that my uncle will turn 86 next May. I’d like to figure out a way to see him soon. He’s a good man and an inspiration, due to his strength, commitment to learning, and love of family. My cousin’s son Gabe (Geoffrey’s grandson) recently had a child, making Jeff a great-grandfather for the first time.


I’d love the opportunity to see the two of them together – patriarch and most recent arrival – sometime soon. I can only imagine how it must light my uncle up, to be in the room with four generations of der Familie Fuchs.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To Ms. O'Donnell, With Love

When I first saw her at the reunion, I made the rather silly assumption that she might have been somebody's mother. How sweet, I thought, bringing one's mom as a date. I then turned back to the business of trying to guess people's names without looking at their name tags, which sported their yearbook photos from 1981.

Later on, I got a better look at the gray-haired woman I'd glanced at before, and I realized with a jolt that she was Mary O'Donnell, someone I've mentioned in a previous post as being a major influence on me in my life as a writer, a teacher and as a person.

I gave her a big hug and we chatted for a while. She seemed amused to learn I was a high school assistant principal, and that I had taught high school English. On her end, I was pleased -- and not at all surprised -- to learn that she keeps busy working with new and struggling teachers.

In addition, I found out that she still drives her signature Corvette convertible, which is in mint condition. She's having it appraised and is hoping to get enough for it to purchase a home on Nantucket. I showed her photos of my boys, of course.

Before we were done, I made it a point to inform her of the difference her influence made. Had it not been for Mary O'Donnell's brief appearance in my life, I never would have become a teacher myself. In turn, just as she had touched my young life, I was honored to be able to do the same for the many students I've worked with over the years.

The impromptu, unexpected meeting with one of my favorite teachers served as the perfect reminder for me of why I'm doing the work I'm doing, and why I always gravitate back to being in a school. As much as I'd like to claim Ms. O'Donnell as my teacher alone, I know she had the same effect on many of us who were fortunate enough to have her as a teacher.

So, from this modest platform, I'd like to publicly honor not just Mary O'Donnell but all teachers who bring their best to the classroom each day. Thank you, not only for making me feel loved, but also for always insisting on my very best.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Importance of Routines, Revisited

I'm not sure why I skipped yesterday's Morning Pages. I've been getting a bit lazy about doing such things. I suppose I've got a good excuse for not riding my bike -- though I miss it -- in that I've had a cold recently, but I've got to be careful about making excuses. Besides, that one doesn't hold much water, once you begin to consider I've been battling sinus infections and allergies for almost a year now, and it hasn't stopped me yet.

I've written about it before, but it bears repeating, now that I'm not doing those things that make me happy in that they belong exclusively to me. Riding my bike and writing each day are not things I do for a paycheck, or my principal, or for other people's children, or for the Greater Good. I do these things because they make me feel stronger, both physically and mentally.

When I stop doing either or both of "my" daily routines, I feel diminished, not to mention guilty. Now, on a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree morning, I feel much as the grass must have felt last week when rain finally came pouring down, after months of drought. I absorb this general sense of nourishment because, like Central Texas rain, I have no idea when they might go away, and how long it will be until it will be back around these here parts again.

One might argue I'm in a better way due to having the day off today (I'm traveling later), but I have to say that despite (or maybe because of) the stress of the job as Assistant Principal at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, I am really enjoying my new position. It's nonstop work all day long, and I never know what the next knock on my door or ring of my phone will bring my way. And (a bit to my surprise, I'll admit) I absolutely love it.

Now that I'm gradually becoming more familiar with my school's (enormous) physical space and (many, many) faculty and staff members, the general anxiety I carried around with me all last week has fallen off like skin off a growing snake. I'm able to engage more fully with students and their parents, and to hold my post with confidence.

In a nutshell, my new professional routine (to tie back to my earlier theme) is all coming back to me. Like riding a bike, as the missus recently said. As I engage more freely with the teachers and students and families of Cedar Ridge, I'm reminded that I have been a school person for just short of 20 years. I know how to do this stuff. I'm good at it.

I don't mean to sound self-celebratory. If anything, I'm giving myself a pep-talk, not completely unlike what I did as a new teacher in February of 1992. You see, I've always been aware of this nagging little tug of a voice inside my head -- and I wonder how many of you who are reading this have heard this, too -- who snickers at my every move. Even now he's standing there, leaning against a wall, arms crossed, legs crossed at the ankles, shaking his head.

"You call yourself a writer?" he asks.

"Yes, I do," I answer with confidence. "And I call myself an educator, too."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sinister Stillness

The dog is curled up on her bed before the fireplace, in this perfectly silent home, at just before six in the morning. It’s still dark outside, and the windows become black mirrors as a result. The only sounds are the ticking clock in the kitchen and the measured breathing of my sleeping son, Diego.


It’s extraordinarily peaceful this morning; however there’s something about the month of October that lends a sinister flavor to everything, so that peace and quiet become “eerie stillness.” This morning I’m teetering between the two, as if I might look up at the back door glass panel and see the figure of a man, his facial features obscured , peering in at me from the darkness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Recurring Anxiety Dream

The other night I had an interesting dream -- a kind of a twist, or a variation, on a recurring nightmare I've had periodically since my earliest childhood days of being aware of my dreams.

The dream has always been about anxiety and it involves having to drive a car in an unusual fashion. Normally I'm in the backseat, trying to manage the steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal from back there. It takes an enormous amount of concentration on my part, and the anxiety is the result of being put in a situation where I'm being asked to control an unfamiliar situation. The fact that I'm in a two-ton vehicle adds to the tension; lives are at stake, after all.

It would be fascinating to go back and look for a pattern, and to see whether the events in my life at the times in which this dream has resurfaced have anything in common. I can say with confidence that the events happening now -- finding myself, all of a sudden, in this position of leadership in an enormous comprehensive high school -- does create a very real anxiety, which I'm forced to sublimate in order to perform my job. The analogy -- of maneuvering a car (in this case on a tow line, in crowded city traffic) -- is an accurate one.

Maybe I had the car dream/nightmare my first week of Kindergarten. Or moving upstairs at Virginia Road Elementary, to Fourth. Maybe my first day of teaching, or before I performed in front of a thousand middle-schoolers in Madrid -- my first real public performance as an actor.

I wonder: could this dream be my unconscious mind's way of saying, "Chill, dude. It could be a lot worse than what you're going through now....."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Sense of Community

On Friday night I took the boys over to the Manor ISD Athletic Complex to watch the Mustangs take on the Hippos from Hutto.  Our whole town turns out for the games, in true "Friday Night Lights" fashion, and I enjoy seeing my kids' teachers and their families at the games.  It feels like an authentic community experience.

We ate nachos and hot dogs until Diego decided he wanted to go.  We got to watch a little bit of football in the process, with our Mustangs leading big at the time we got there, in the second quarter, by a score of 35 - 13.  The Hippos came back (I read in the paper the next day) to win it 45 - 43. 

Like the football game, Manor Fest was a nice bit of community the next day.  The downtown area was blocked off to traffic, and transformed into a street fair, complete with a car show, a barbecue truck courtyard, live music and lots of activities for children.  Diego impressed the crowd on the bungee trampoline, doing some impressive flips while being whipped into mid-air.  We ate Elgin sausages, sitting in the shade of the bouncy castle. 

It feels good living in a small town, especially after so many years in one of the world's largest cities.  I like our little home and our little hometown, even if it is a bit "suburban" for my taste.  It's a comfortable place to hang my hat at the end of a long day.  And starting Monday, my days are going to get a LOT longer. 

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

I spent most of the day on Friday packing, sorting through the professional detritus of my career -- books and articles, keepsakes and photographs that have some connection to my working or family/personal life.  Occasionally a colleague stopped by to chat and wish me well.

There was the usual bittersweetness of a Last Day -- the "bitter" manifesting itself as an emotional tug in the gut and throat, suggesting that under the right conditions I could shed a tear for Education Service Center Region 13 and the people there I'll be leaving behind.

And it has been a good run, I must say.  As I stated in the now perfunctory "all-staff" farewell email, my co-workers have been nothing but kind and helpful during my 21 months there.  The place has a great reputation for customer service, due to the people they hire.  I'm proud to have been one of them and grateful for all that I learned.  Now it's time to put the learning to good use in a school.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll work at Region 13 again one day . . .

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Reason I'm Not a Poet


Here’s a little something silly that just kind of slipped out this morning as I sat at my usual table in front of the Cuban CafĂ©, listening to the traffic roll by on US 290.

I like my bike,
and my bike likes me.
It’s a silver kind of color
and fast as can be.

AKA a “bicycle,”
It really hugs the road.
Cool as an icicle,
it carries my full load.

I ride it here
And I ride it there.
The ladies see me coming
and they fancy-up their hair.

On my bike I’m
Superman, a steroid masterpiece.
I’ll take you for a ride some time
and give you inner-peace.

And so this rhyme
is over now.  I know that makes you sad.
I’m gonna put my helmet on,
and ride off, Super-bad.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Good Walk, Unspoiled

Golf is a good walk spoiled.
-- Mark Twain


It is the first morning of autumn, on the calendar anyway, which doesn’t mean much in the extreme scheme of weather we “enjoy” here in Central Texas. But there is, thankfully, a slight north breeze that brings a promise of cooling temperatures, and encourages me to put the leash on Ally and bring her out on the Shadowglen golf course, which shut down about a month ago, when the management realized they could no longer afford to water the greens and fairways in the drought.

I have taken Ally there on a couple of other occasions, with the idea of taking off her leash and watching her run a bit. She did so, but the heat was so extreme both times, that she made a bee-line for the creek, dunked herself in, then came back, practically guiding her snout into her harness, then taking breaks every so often on the way home in order to lie down and pant in the shade of a tree.

This morning, thanks to the cool north breeze, when I let her off the leash she bolts, making it to the end of the fairway with remarkable speed. I pick up a stick and wave it in the air, causing her to return to me just as swiftly. She takes a few sorties like this one, and then dutifully reports back to me. I put her on the leash, and she sets her nose to the ground, taking in the myriad scents, every muscle in her lithe body on the alert.

I, in the meantime, take in the sights and sounds of the abandoned golf course. I’m struck by its expansiveness, and am startled when an owl flies from one treetop to the next. Its wing span is astounding and makes me think of pterodactyls. Ally looks up briefly from her sniffing before getting back to whatever scent trail she has been following.

At one point we get up to the top of a hill that reminds me of the hills my brother and I used to sled down at the Knollwood golf course across Knollwood Road from our street. We catch sight of the clubhouse. I realize then we’ve been walking in the wrong direction all this time, and that we’re about one hundred yards from where my children go to school. (I should have been tipped off sooner, as the sound of the Manor High School marching band, practicing for Friday night’s game against Elgin, their rivals, has been getting louder in my ears as we go.)

I decide that rather than face accusations of trespassing, the better idea would be to turn around and figure out our way back home. The golf course opens back up before us, and I find visual landmarks that guide me back to where we’re supposed to be headed. In the end, my dog and I probably walked a good two miles that morning, and it was a hike I’ll remember for some time, I think -- the sights, sounds and sensations being the kind that implant themselves in that part of the soul that is melancholy, and searches for the ever-elusive “perfect moment,” as Spalding Grey called it.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Something Beyond Recall

“Miss Lucy?” I ask Jackson, who immediately positions himself facing me, claps his hands together, as we intone the first word, drawing it out, “Miss. . . . .”, until we’re ready for the first right-hand-to-right-hand clap. It’s one of the simplest patty-cake games there is – right-to-right, left-to-left, both-to-both, and I’m amazed at how effortlessly the absurd lyrics come back to me as I chant:


Miss Lucy had a steamboat,


The steamboat had a bell.


Miss Lucy went to heaven,


And the steamboat went to –


Hello operator,


Give me number nine.


And if you disconnect me,


I will kick you in the –


Behind the refrigerator,


There was a piece of glass.


Miss Lucy sat upon it,


And she broke her little –


Ask me no more questions,


Tell me no more lies.


The boys are in the bathroom,


Pulling down their –


Flies are in the meadow,


The bees are in the park.


The boys and girls are kissing in the --


D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, dark, dark, dark.


This activity is something beyond recall or memorization. It is a chant so ingrained in my consciousness that it nearly feels involuntary, like breathing, or pumping blood through my veins. The words, or the narrative they form, telling of childhood naughtiness and “bad words” almost spoken still give me a giggle, and Diego is now old enough to get the double entendres.


Jackson, on the other hand, is still at the age when the fun is in the clapping with Daddy. Pretty soon he’ll get that glint in his eyes when he thinks, “Hey, wait a minute. I think I know what this thing is about.


For me it’s yet another bit of time travel, back to long summer days filled with activity, including sitting with my younger brother, clapping hands, faster and faster, telling the silly story of Miss Lucy and laughing until we gave ourselves the hiccups.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Realization About "Predilection" Gets My Dad Off The Hook

“Predilection” is defined by Encarta as “a special liking or preference for something.”  When I was a child, my father took a lot of heat for appearing to “prefer” my brother.  I can remember overhearing my Oma chiding her son in her accented English, “Hanno, you must be careful to treat your two sons viss ze same level of care and attention.”
Hearing my grandmother say these words set my thinking on a path that really never diverted until this morning.  I didn’t want to buy in to her image of me as the neglected weakling who wasn’t asked to join in the games of catch, the frames of bowling or the sets of tennis, so I played it off, outwardly anyway. 
The dynamic is yet another one that I see playing itself out with my own boys and myself.  (DNA continues to amaze me on a daily basis.)  My younger son is already showing signs of being a gifted athlete at age 6; like his Uncle Mike he has outstanding coordination and balance.  Like me, he has speed and strength.  Diego is quite athletic too, though he is built differently than his brother.  (I often think of the number 10 when I see them standing side by side, and their Aunt Sylvia has referred to them as Laurel and Hardy.)
What brought me to this understanding about predilections this morning was a simple exchange with Diego.  We were both up early, and I was considering whether or not it would be a good idea to leave him alone while I took my morning bike ride.  Jeanette and Jackson were asleep in my bed, and I was probably more concerned about him waking them up than anything else.  Then it came to me:  There was no reason not to ask him to join me on my ride. 
Diego was playing one of his Wii games by that point, and I interrupted him, asking, “Hey Diego, how would you like to go on a bike ride with me?”
In a very pleasant voice, with no shade of any anger or ill feeling of any kind, he answered, simply, “No thank you, Daddy,” and returned to trying to help Pac Man defeat a giant teddy bear robot.  
I immediately imagined what Jackson’s reaction would have been to the same question.  “Yay! Can I ride the big bike? Do I have to wear a helmet? Will you buy me a donut when we get to the store?” 
It’s the same question, asked to two different young people – two people who have different predilections.  Jackson, like my younger brother, is drawn to action (“Action Jackson,” yes), sports, motion and the like.  Diego is not a complete bookworm; he too is drawn by cool action, but his predilection is to stay inside and play video games, watch a good movie, or read. 
I guess the important thing is to make sure I take the interest in both boys and their activities, no matter how different they may be.  I think that may have been the part that Oma misunderstood about my father.  Yes, he did spend a great deal of time on the tennis court with my brother, and catching his curve ball in the back yard.  But he also never missed the chance to read something new that I wrote, and his criticism was always kind and constructive.  In the end, I think he even became a fan, if I can be so bold. 
So Oma, thanks.  I appreciate you looking out for me the way you did, but I was happy in pursuing my own predilections that had nothing to do with what Hanno and Mike were doing back then.  And Dad, don’t worry.  You’re off the hook. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Father's Fear of Bullying

There was a couple speaking on the morning news today about their fifteen-year-old son who was bullied to the point of suicide. It's a terrifying thought, and I fear for my own children in their lives away from me. I'm not naive; I know I cannot protect them from all the pain and suffering that will befall them in the course of their lives. I can only try my best to watch for the signs of anguish my boys may or may not wear on their faces, or suggest with their body language, in the event they are being mistreated. They have to be convinced in their own hearts that they are worthy of respect and that no one has the right to abuse them in any way.

I'm less concerned about Jackson. Something tells me his out-sized personality and athletic ability will keep the wolves away from his door. If anything, his fascination with professional wrestling gives me cause for concern, and I worry he will try to put his hands on other kids, in the name of "fun."

Diego is such a kind, gentle soul and my fear is that his is the type of personality that other children target. He's already been the victim of an alleged bullying incident, in which he was coerced to do something that put him at the brunt of a cruel, if ridiculous, joke. J. and I took the opportunity to treat it as a "teachable moment," and my hope is that he will not allow himself to be a "victim," in any form, ever again.

If, however, some other child or children decide to attack him, I want him always to be able to come to me and tell me, so that his feelings don't bottle up and tear at his soul, the way they obviously do for so many children who make the ultimate decision to escape. This must never happen, because if it did, I can't imagine a scenario in which I'd be able to recover from it.