My Nana’s Concierge Service: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

She took me everywhere in Manhattan, as my own parents never had. I would stay overnight with my grandparents, often for a few days during school vacation, and every day Nana would take me on some adventure in the great city.

As a boy, especially one growing up in the suburbs, I saw the city as all hustle and roar, as a movie that was all action without letup, something to see and hear at every turn. Nana took me to the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall (for movies yet!), the New York Historical Society (where I pored over newspapers from the Revolutionary War), Central Park, a toy store on the Upper East Side called Rappaports, Schrafts (for ice cream sodas), Chock Full of Nuts, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s (where Barney himself once took care of us) and who knows where else.

She would do anything for me, my grandmother.

She listened to me at length and heard my words as my parents never could.
She praised me for being smart and beautiful and clever.

In later years, she would remind me of a remark I apparently made at the Guggenheim Museum (yet another cultural landmark she took me to). We were there looking at some modern painting, maybe a product of Abstract Expressionism. And I said, according to her, “If you turn it upside down, it will look the same.”

And so it was that she poured herself into me, poured all of herself, her hopes and wishes, her attention and affection. And to me it always felt all-consuming, as if I were in the embrace of something towering and mountainous, inescapable. Through her, probably as much as anyone, I learned to speak and behave, learned manners and diction and appreciation of history and culture and Manhattan itself.

All our adventures centered on Manhattan. I rarely saw her outside it. She came to be synonymous with it, its representative, its most loyal advocate and tour guide.
Without her – her care, her guidance, her very presence – I might well have grown up feeling shunned, unloved, isolated, alone.

P.S. – See Part 3 tomorrow.

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My Nana’s Concierge Service

Dear Michael and Caroline,

My grandmother would do anything for me, and often did.
In my earliest memories as a boy, my Nana would make me anything I wanted to eat, at any time, without any question or hesitation. She would make me French Toast and coffee heavy on the milk, all most delicious.

Throughout my life, even well into adulthood, Nana would look to feed me. When I took my first apartment in Manhattan, on East 7th Street between Avenues A and B, she would give me food to take home. Brisket, stuffed cabbage, the plumpest, juiciest shrimp, tuna salad made with her own hands (complete with carrots and raisins), homemade chopped liver, macaroons, and on and on.

In my every visit to her apartment, she would offer me something to eat, a snack, a sandwich, a nosh, something, anything. Her drive to feed me was primal, instinctive and all-powerful. Sometimes I would agree to eat something she offered just because I felt I should, and because it was easier than saying no, because to say no would disappoint her and leave me feeling guilty.

Her desire to feed me, to see me eat and grow sated and strong as a result, expressed itself as a force of nature, like a strong wind that bends everything in its path.

Ah, but her wish to see me happy went well beyond food.

P.S. – See Part 2 tomorrow.

A Voice Unheard: My Mother and I: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

I suspect, for example, that having a deaf mother made me especially sensitive to sound. All my life it seems my ears have operated really well, tuned in to pick up even the lowest frequency on the airwaves. And I’ve long had a particular aversion to the sound of many voices at once, and the burden of trying to make out who is saying what. And I particularly hate noise.

As for why any of this is so, maybe it’s because, in seeing my mother live her life deaf, I’ve tried somehow to make up for it, to balance out the universe.

Maybe it’s because, as happened in my earliest boyhood, when I carried on conversations over the phone with my grandmother on behalf of my mother, I’ve come to function as her proxy, her set of ears for the world at large.

As theories go, it’s pretty good, and certainly comes in handy.

Another theory is along similar lines: that I am conducting an act of compensation. All my life my mother never heard me at all. Never heard my voice, nor heard anything I did nor a single word I said. In our conversations, she frequently misunderstood me, asking me to repeat myself, to speak more slowly and more clearly. All this back and forth must have frustrated me, yet I tried and tried, because I had the largest of all incentives, that of wanting to please my mother, to see her smile. And eventually, years later, she would generally understand me just fine. But all that struggle, the difficulty of getting through, the hardship of letting her know what I wanted for lunch or where I was going with my friends, must have marked me for life – left me, if you will, as Shakespeare said of Richard III’s deformity, “rudely stamped.”

And so it was that early on in my life, in my teens, I decided to be a writer. For as a writer I could try to make myself understood at least, maybe even minimize the probability of being misunderstood. And rather than my mother asking me to repeat myself, I could do my own revisions until I got the words right. My writing would make sure I would never again go unheard. Everyone who read me would, in effect, hear my cries.

A Voice Unheard: My Mother and I

Dear Michael and Caroline,

My mother never heard me cry as a baby. Every time I cried, as I must have, over being hungry or scared or constipated or whatever, my complaints literally fell on deaf ears.

Rather, my cries were seen. Our apartment was rigged with a sound system expressly to capture my crying. Those cries were translated into flashes of light. So my cries at least became public knowledge.

But still, my mother never heard it. So even though she saw those lights flashing, she had no idea how my cries sounded, whether loud or soft, wailing or whimpering, pianissimo or staccato.

And so this central connection between any mother and child – the ability to interpret this most primal of signals, that of a baby crying – was missing between me and my mother.
Of course no one is to blame here, and I’m faulting no one. My mother was, is, deaf, profoundly deaf, hearing neither me nor my sister nor her husband nor even her own mother and father.

That’s just how she turned out, unfortunately.

And even though I’ve wondered long and hard how being deaf affected her, I’ve probably spent even more time wondering how her deafness has influenced me.

I have a few theories.

P.S. – See Part 2 tomorrow.

Year Two: A Special Message to Readers

Year Two of letterstomykids (LTMK) promises to be different from Year One, dramatically so.
For starters, LTMK will no longer be about how my kids grew up. Rather, it will be about my life, especially my larger family, my mother and father and grandparents.

As such, you’ll hear a lot about happy memories – adventures at a wooded watering hole, playing drums in a band, how much my maternal grandmother adored me, my grandfather taking me to a World Series game at Yankee Stadium, my fondness for the music of Motown

and the Cupid who introduced me to my one and only,

In short, peak experiences, complete with divine bliss.

But I’ll also bring forward experiences colored in a darker shade – about parents who suffered from the same disability, about drunk driving and legal battles and stealing from my father, about an embarrassing ferry ride from Martha’s Vineyard and a humiliating performance in a high school track meet, about assorted secrets and lies, not to mention a near-divorce and a near-suicide.

No life is perfect, after all, or even necessarily close – and my own life, exceptional as it might feel, has proven no exception to that rule.

In terms of tone, then, the rhapsodic and the elegiac will share equal billing here.

Through the next year, LTMK will also reprise certain popular features, including guest columns, especially those by mothers for Mother’s Day and by fathers for Father’s Day. We may also venture other experiments, perhaps a Thanksgiving “Thank You” Week and even a “Why I Took The Pledge Week.”

So check it out. Keep those comments coming. And if any of this ever gets boring, please, I beg you, just shoot me.

P.S. – Year Two officially starts tomorrow.

Year One: A Special Message to Readers

This blog is now one year old, and a first anniversary is as good a time as any for a quick recap.
If you’re looking to talk numbers, page views reached 50,000, posts 148, pledges taken 61, subscribers 23 and comments – alas – all of 22.

If your focus is subject matter (I refuse to call it “content”), you’ve read all about our son Michael and our daughter Caroline – my memories of how they grew up, my recognition of how well they’re turning out.

If you’re thinking publicity, letterstomykids.org (LTMK) has drawn attention from The New York Times, the Fox News Channel, The New York Daily News, Womansday.com and New York 1 News. I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute essays about my blog to The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and Newsday.

More broadly, you’ve come across contributions from 21 guest columnists – mothers and fathers, all – to mark occasions ranging from Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day to my favorites, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

You might also have noticed the informal survey I conducted of attitudes among parents toward writing personal family history and my weeklong series offering insight into and advice about how you, too, can write “letters” to your kids – not to mention my goofy venture into Pledge Week and other occasional, perhaps vaguely ill-advised, bouts of whimsy.

But if you’re wondering what happened behind the scenes at LTMK, here’s the scoop.
First of all, my wife and kids, after some discussion and much debate, agreed to let me do my little blog here. No small deal, that, and some stuff got left on the cutting-room floor (too personal). Support for my project came from other quarters, too – from my trusty advisory board to friends, colleagues and complete strangers, including a woman who called me from Canada after seeing me on television to ask how she should go about writing letters to her kids.
Second of all, taking my personal life so public has turned out to be an experience even more profound than I ever imagined. The whole enterprise has reinforced my belief that being a father is far and away the most important job I’ll ever take on. In doing this blog, and in recounting my life piece by piece, I’ve also come to better understand myself and those closest to me – better acknowledge, appreciate and accept, too.

Above all, I’m heartened that here and there people have stepped forward to express allegiance to our modest crusade here. I’m starting to sense that the whole concept of preserving family history in writing for future generations might actually catch on.

Oh, I could also mention how I’ve struggled to master the medium of the blog in all its technical subtleties and nuances, learning as I go about hashtags and share buttons and Google Analytics.

I could touch, too, on how early on I developed a habit of checking my page views with a frequency that bordered on the pathological, as if consulting an EKG to find out how well — or how poorly – my heart was beating.

But instead, let me say this. All in all, this blog business has gone great. And I’m just getting warmed up.

So thank you.

P.S. – Questions of the day: What did you think of my first year? How can I do better?
P.S.S. – Tune in tomorrow for a preview of Year Two.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Sany Munro: Keeping Family Stories Close to Your Heart

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Sandy Munro, father of two living in Aspen, Colorado, is the author of “Finding Uri,” a memoir about his father. A former navy pilot and high school physics teacher, he owned Aspen’s Great Divide Music acoustinc string shop and performed with bluegrass bands (http://sandymunromusic.com/s/Sandy_Home.html). One day he discovered 190 letters between his mother and father, a naval aviator who went missing while flying in the Pacific during World War II, when Sandy was four years old. The letters inspired him to write “Finding Uri,” an intimate look at the special relationship between his parents while they were separated by war. Further details atfindinguri.com.

Dear Tasha,

When you were born, your great-grandfather Alec called you his little Russian princess. He should know—he was married to one. Perhaps Varvara was not an actual princess, but she was, at the very least, a darkly diminutive beauty whose aloofness could be mistaken for nobility. Alec was a Scot who married his Russian dream, and so your grandfather Uri was born in Russia. It’s why we called you Natasha, with no middle name.

I’m sending you this book I’ve written, to arrive in time for Father’s Day. It’s the story of Uri, and my mother Betsy. None of us, until now, had a chance to know my father. He was lost flying in torpedo bombers in the last few months of World War II when I was not yet four years-old. Then, in 2007 — what a shock! — to receive almost two hundred letters that no one knew existed. And what a surprise to meet your grandmother Betsy, wildly in love at the age of twenty-three. As you know, even in her eighties she was the feisty center of it all.

I’m so proud of the life you’ve carved out for yourself. You’ve laughingly embarrassed me about my puffed-up stories of growing up with horses. I really did help take care of them, but only owned one—Blackie, a spirited Welsh pony with one eye blue and the other brown. On your eighth birthday I took you to meet horses. You fell in love and it’s never been the same. Now you and your beautiful children, Uri and Sophia, ride your horses, and feed your pigs, goats, lambs, and chickens while your well-read, soft-spoken husband trains horses that once thundered through my dreams. I’m proud of how lucky you are.

On this Father’s Day I find myself thinking not just fathers and sons, but daughters and mothers, and the strong threads that tie us. My editor and friend, Karen Chamberlain, taught me that we all have family stories—that they’re all important, and that they all deserve to be told. Keep our family stories close to your heart, Natasha. When Sophia and Uri ask you to tell a story at the dinner table, remember you have some good ones to pass along. In the process of writing this book, I discovered that by sharing the stories we can make people live again.

P.S. – “My book certainly made clear to me the importance of these family ties. Writing to your kids is a particular type of storytelling. Most families have a box of letters somewhere. If my book makes people think about digging those out to pass on, I’m a happy guy.”
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Father’s Day Guest Columnist Schuyler Moore: Learn the Lessons I Learned

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Schuyler Moore, the father of two daughters and a lawyer in Los Angeles, is head of the entertainment department at a large national law firm

and an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Law.He is the author of ADVICE FROM DAD (http://www.advicefromdad.co/), a memoir and inspirational advice book about how he overcame a youth marked by drug addiction, multiple arrests and near-death accidents. Here’s an excerpt from the prologue.

Dear Merritt and Schuyler,

I wrote this book for you, my two daughters, so that you know a bit more about your father and my life, and may be able to learn from my mistakes, misfortunes, and successes. I hope the mistakes are edifying, since it is a tad less painful to learn from the missteps of others than from your own . . . I describe the pitfalls of one path versus another with stories from the misadventures of my youth, as well as recounting a number of things I did right.

. . . I have laid out my life story of what made me, me, which impacts what made you, you. Alternate chapters offer my suggestions on how to maximize what you get out of life, so you can squeeze the absolute most out of your short time on this earth . . .

That is a rather ambitious goal, and who am I to lay out the keys to the kingdom (other than being your father)? . . . As you know . . . I have made more than my share of mistakes. I do, however, have a few background facts that hopefully demonstrate that I am doing something right . . .

I have been happily married to your mother, Alice, since 1984 . . . Most importantly, I have you two strong, compassionate, over-achieving daughters, both of whom were accepted to Harvard on early admission: Merritt, majoring in physics after taking a year off in mid-college to be a professional ballet dancer with the Zurich Ballet; and Schuyler, competing at the national level in springboard diving for Harvard. You can both speak and read Latin, have read all the classics, and know the Greek myths by heart. You both are self-driven, happy, and thriving . . .

Merritt, you once asked, “Dad, how do you do it?” With this book I have finally taken the time to answer that question in detail . . . I know that you both . . . want to obtain the highest level of success you can, and I assume you want your own children to similarly thrive and prosper—in short, you have ambition and dreams . . .

Some of the techniques in this book may seem extreme, and you may think that following these suggestions could result in a Spartan, unhappy life . . . First, just skip any suggestion that seems too extreme for you and accept the tradeoff . . . Second, and most importantly, I am only advocating arranging your life in a manner to maximize your productivity . . . choosing the path of productivity brings with it a sense of calm, achievement, and power.

I am the first to admit that I am a bit of an odd bear, and that my choices have not been “conventional” by any stretch. So, to a large extent, this book documents instances where my choices ran left or right of the train track (or took a short-cut right across the field) . . . So give it a shot, try out some of the ideas . . . Trust me, they work.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Carlos Nino: The Art of Listening

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Carlos Nino, a doorman at Parker Towers in Forest Hills, New York, is the father of two sons – Jason, 27, and Kenneth, 21 – and a resident of Kew Gardens/Forest Hills.
Dear Jason and Kenneth,

When I was a boy, my father encouraged me to do something important. He said that if I ever had any problems, I should let him know.

He said he would listen.

He said he would try to understand.

He said he would help me resolve the issue.

“If you keep too much inside your head – if you stay mad about your problems – you might drown,” my father said.

More than once I took him up on his offer to tell him what was bothering me. My father and mother had gotten divorced. So one time I asked him why. And my father explained it to me.

“Now that your head is clear,” my father said, “you can go to bed and sleep better. You can smile, too.”

My father, whose name was Humberto, and who came from a town called Santan Der in Columbia, died a year ago. But in a sense, he’s still alive.

And that’s because he set a good example for me. I’ve kept his memory in my head. I remembered the lessons he shared with me and copied him in raising our two sons.

“If you ever have any problems,” I told both of my sons early on, “you should let me know.”

And they have. One time, Jason told me he was having trouble getting along with the other kids at school. He wanted to avoid getting into fights.

So I listened. I tried to understand and help resolve the issue. I wanted to prevent him from drowning inside his own head.

We have to listen to our kids. And they should know we’re going to. It’s a sacred responsibility.

When you’re fathers yourselves, I know you’ll listen to your kids as my father listened to me. That will honor his memory and make me even prouder of you than I am now.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Al Villeta: Fatherhood is a Calling

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Al Villeta, a long-time driver for UPS, lives in Forest Hills, Queens, with his wife Georgia and three sons. He’s my close personal friend, an all-around good guy, and a legendary schoolyard basketball player.

To My Three Sons,

I do know that you are all well aware of how much I love you and how proud of you I am, but I’ve never told you how grateful I am for not only having you in my life, but for the lessons you have taught me, and for this I will always be thankful.

I know you’re all probably thinking “here goes Dad again, off on some tangent,” but I need to express to you how dearly I cherish our lessons, for they have not only allowed you all to grow into fine young men, they have molded me into the Dad I am today.

Since the day you were born, Nick, I knew that being a father was not only a title for me but a calling. We were both “newbies,” you a newborn baby and me a newborn Dad. And as I held you for the first time, the room seemed to glow, for I never experienced love of that nature before.

Luke, when you were born I realized that life is ever so delicate, and strength has nothing to do with size – the irony in that still amazes me.

Alex, you’ve taught me that being a father has nothing to do with “biology,” but everything to do with love and respect. Unlike Nick and Luke, who were “stuck” with me, you chose to stick by me.

Throughout the years I’ve learned how a smile, a kind word, patience and a thoughtful gesture truly can and do make a difference.

I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously and have become a better listener.

I’ve learned that nothing beats good dinner conversations.

And that laughter really is the best medicine.

And that the greatest compliment one could receive is hearing young Luke tell someone, when asked what he wants to be when he grows up,” I want to be a Dad, just like mine.”

I cannot express how proud I am when one of our neighbors or one of my customers stops me just to say they’ve run into one of you boys and shares with me how helpful, polite and intelligent you are. I’m always humbled by this.

I realize that all of the moments we’ve shared together, all of the first and lasts, all of the laughter and tears, are my most treasured possessions.

For truly what do we have in this world but each other?

So, my dear boys, I hope that as long as I can I’ll keep teaching you the lessons I’ve learned and that you will in turn keep teaching me.

Thank you for your unconditional love, and for making me smile every day.

To be continued.

Love
Dad

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Frank Cavallaro: Why I’m Doing What My Father Never Did

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Frank Cavallaro, a long-time resident of East Meadow, Long Island, is father to three daughters. Schooled as a graphic designer, he joined several advertising agencies but eventually went out on his own and added copywriting to his list of services. Much later on in life, he entered the financial services business, where he eventually became a teacher in continuing education. He retired at 65 and resumed a childhood love for making things and working with his hands. He started a business where he offers to fix the homeowner’s mundane problems, or will help fulfill their majestic wishes, from wainscoting to pergolas. Nearing 70 years of age, he just celebrated his fifth year of doing business as Friendly Frank.

Dear Laura, Jenifer and Kim,

Darn, I just hate genetics.

If it weren’t for that, maybe you would have more patience, maybe even more sympathy, than I, and would gladly sacrifice a few minutes here and there to listen to your old man’s stories about where he lived and how he grew up as a boy in Brooklyn.

But, oh no, just like I was years ago, you girls are much too busy to hear about your dad’s exploits, groaning at the mere suggestion of my newest nugget of freshly mined information from the depths of my past. But how could I ever fault you for being just like me, slaves to heredity?

Nevertheless, I feel the urge to tell my tales of surviving nuns and a Catholic school education; using insects for playthings; a never-ending parade of interesting daily discoveries like a gyroscope that ignored gravity, chemistry in a box, fireflies in the summer, playing chess on a stoop.

There’s my account of a psyche-rattling kamikaze introduction to the birds and the bees; the joy of creating with my hands; living with an overbearing mother, and a brother, in a tight-fitting one-bedroom apartment that quashed our creativity and imagination.

There are recollections of hand-made clay dinosaurs, astronomy, music, and bows and arrows made from tree branches and string, and a thousand toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians.

As I mentioned, the list is long.

I’d like you to know about the painful death of our first dog, and the serendipitous arrival of our second, a loveable cocker spaniel; how medical problems were handled back when doctor-specialists weren’t so commonplace, with moms unconcerned about detecting every disease and condition that could potentially affect their children.

My father would occasionally interrupt my busy life with stories of his youth, but I was preoccupied with my own existence (see above) and begged him, as you girls sometimes plead with me, hoping that “this won’t take long.” I now wonder how he reacted when his physician-father tried to interrupt his life with stories of growing up.

Obviously, my dad’s words, spoken to me many years ago, with time dimming the facts and flavors of his sometimes painful and sometimes interesting discourse – of being born in America, then leaving for Italy, then returning to America – all happened before he grew to adolescence. He told of struggling with the dual embarrassment of being of meager stature and speaking broken English with an Italian accent, while bullies feasted on his limitations.

Now that he is long gone, so is virtually all proof of his existence, except for one handwritten letter which is a delight to read and re-read, and a dozen or so silent photographs. I wish there was more and mourn that there is not.

So that I don’t commit the same parental blunder by omission as both my parents did, I feel obligated – no, compelled – to recount the escapades of my boyhood days for the enjoyment and interest of you, my children, and my grandchildren, and others who may be curious about my early existence, if not now, maybe someday.

Who cares if you’re too busy? I’m putting my thoughts down anyway. I’ve already written about 65 essays. My words will be waiting for you — when you are ready.

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Father’s Day Guest Columnist Brian Wommack: Togetherness Counts

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Brian lives with his wife Julie and Meghan (9), Brendan (7) and Caelan (5) in Lorton, Virginia. In his “other job,” Brian is a senior vice president at Powell Tate, helping companies communicate effectively during crises, litigation and other sensitive situations (http://www.powelltate.com/). He’s been with the firm for twelve years. Previously, Brian practiced law and worked on Capitol Hill.

Dear Meghan, Brendan and Caelan:

You have all gotten old enough now to have started having really busy lives of your own. I have loved watching each of you find successes and passions, and I love the happy chaos that kicks up when it seems we’re all going in different directions at a million miles a minute.

But you know what I love even more? The times when we can put aside everything we’re always involved with – work, school, sports, scouts, and other activities – and just be together.

Some of my favorite memories are of long periods of family time – beach trips to Alabama in the spring and Florida in the summer; at home around Christmas and New Year’s; our trips to Great Wolf Lodge every February; our getaways to Disney every other year; and of course our Shrine Mont retreat every Father’s Day weekend.

Those times sharing adventures together are when I remember what I love most about each of you.

Meghan, I remember getting up with you so many times before the sun. Reading to you, outside or overlooking the water if possible. I love that you have grown into such a reader and a writer. I also love how confident and capable you are getting – able to take charge of your little brother and sister when you need to, and now being a safety patrol officer at school helping other kids; growing into a wonderful musician who sings, plays cello and piano beautifully; and also your love of – and budding stardom in – lacrosse and running. I admire how you stick up for others, even when that’s unpopular and sometimes makes things harder for you.

Brendan, when you came along, you liked to get up even earlier than Meghan! I remember playing trains all over the floor for hours at a time, building tracks, tearing them down, and rebuilding again. And all the games of rolling a ball back and forth, back and forth. When our train world grew too small for you, you explored new frontiers in the neighborhood and in video games. You’ve developed into a great baseball player. You’ve always been big for your age – but I love that most people see you as a big cuddly teddy bear, very comfortable being sweet and strong in equal measure. Love that you are the tough guy who plays chess and piano and sings in the church choir.

Caelan, by the time you joined us, we already had a lot going on. Maybe that’s why you’ve always had such star power – you were trying to make sure we noticed you! And what a little star you are. You patiently waited your turn on the sidelines many times, being a good sport and cheering on your siblings. Now that you are getting your chances, you are an absolute natural in the spotlight, equally poised whether it’s dancing, singing, art or sports. Your brashness takes some by surprise, because nobody expects it from such a little princess, but that’s your secret weapon, along with your natural charm. You’re also fearless, even in the face of things that would terrify most little girls.

I love who each of you is, and also who you are becoming. You reveal that in the daily back and forth of life, but never more so than in those special extended times when we’re together.

That’s when I remember that being your Dad is is the job of a lifetime.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Dr. Sam Brody: What Dad Taught Me

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Sam Brody is a primary care internist who practices in Forest Hills. His specialty is geriatric medicine.

Dear Kate, Rebecca, Milo and Nash,

My father taught me I could catch a line drive with my eyes closed. He probably would not have remembered this. I will never know because he is dead.

Dad was never athletic. He was always fit but, for him, competitive sports, the arts, horticulture, sports cars, world travel, were irrelevant.

What mattered to him was being learned in his field.His field changed many times. At least three that I know.

Businessman with an MBA from NYU by the time he was twenty-one.

General medical practitioner in his thirties and early forties and then his favorite.

He never said it was his favorite but it was — child psychiatrist.

He played hard in each of his fields. In the area of learning about his current profession, dad was a great athlete.

I guess he thought I should learn to play sports even though he had no interest in any organized sport. He certainly could not have known about the line drive or the fact that I would catch it with my eyes closed. Maybe he would have. He knew me very well. He knew me better than I knew myself and probably knew I needed to catch that line drive with my eyes closed — just to see that it could be done and that it could happen to me.

Otherwise, he spent most of his parenting time teaching me about hard work and delaying gratification for later reward but, I think, having me play right field may have been his greatest lesson.

One of the patients in his general medical practice in the mid-1950s was the coach of a little league baseball team. He was a tall, ruddy-complected man with an Irish sir-name.

Dad and I were the oppositeof this man. This man knew the history of the Yankees. Could quote Babe Ruth’s batting average. Was one of the first to embrace the new Mets and get season tickets.

He was also willing to let a chubby klutz play on the same team as his own sons. His sons played most positions on the team and seemed confident. I don’t remember feeling confident about anything when I was twelve.

I do not remember much about the day, but I think it was sunny and can’t be sure where we played. Probably the local high school practice field. Did we win or lose the game? We lost. How do I remember that? It is not because I remember losing or winning. I remember that I was daydreaming out there.

I wasn’t nervous because the ball almost never came out to right field. Right field was where left handed batters hit the ball. The exception being coach’s sons who could hit to both fields. I remember that because I could hit to neither.

The loud scream caught my attention and I immediately wondered what I had done wrong. Then I started running with my gloved arm reaching into the air. This must have been a reflex response, which was amazing given my lack of any other previous manifestation of innate or learned skill as a baseball player.

I also did what anyone with my level of athletic ability does when required to perform. I closed my eyes.

Luck would have to win the day. So to speak. With the sun burning through my eyelids, I raced across the field when suddenly I felt a thud in my glove. It felt hard and certain. It was delivering a message but, for the first few seconds I could not figure out what happened and kept running. Then I heard the yelling again.

“Way to go, Sam.”

Sam, who?

Me?

Me!I stop running, opened my eyes and slowly lowered my glove from the heavens.

There in my mitt lay a baseball.

As my eyes rose from the ball, I heard my teammates exhorting me. Okay, at this point they were screaming for me to throw the ball in. Of course my reaction was immediate tears. I just cried like a baby, which I was. I mean, I was twelve and belonged as much on that field as…well I guess as much as any other twelve-year-old.

Not that I felt that way.

How do I remember we lost? I don’t, but I do remember crying again on the way home and figure it must have been because we lost. Or it could have been that I realized I’d never had another moment like this ever. I’m not sure if dad was there that day, but he’s been there every day since.

Even now, after he’s gone, he’s still right here.

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Father’s Day Preview: Seven Guest Columnists

Dear Reader,

You’re in for a treat next week. In honor of Father’s Day, we’ll be posting guest columns from seven fathers, each addressing a letter directly to his kids.

Yes, that’s seven, as in five more than two and three more than four. I did the math.
You may recall we pulled the same stunt with mothers for Mother’s Day last month.

Among the contributors this time around will be Dr. Sam Brody of Long Island, a primary care internist who specializes in geriatric medicine and is the father of three daughters.

Also here will be Brian Wommack of Lorton, Virginia, a senior vice president at the communications firm of Powell Tate,(http://powelltate.com/) and the father of three.

Rounding out the cast of contributors will be:
· Frank Cavallaro of East Meadow, Long Island, the father of three daughters as well as a former graphic designer and copywriter for advertising agencies and current all-around fix-it guy.

· Sandy Munro, a father of two living near Aspen, Colorado, a musician and writer, now author of “Finding Uri: A man’s journey to discover the father he never knew.”

· Carlos Nino of Kew Gardens/Forest Hills, Queens, the father of two sons and a veteran doorman at Parker Towers in Forest Hills (http://www.parkertowers.com/).

· Schuyler Moore of Los Angeles, the father of two daughters, a lawyer, a professor and the author of “Advice From Dad” (http://www.advicefromdad.co/).

· Al Villeta of Forest Hills, Queens, the father of two sons, a long-time personal friend, a driver for UPS and a legendary schoolyard basketball player.

All these guest columns are very much in keeping with my plan to let you hear voices other than mine for a change.

Be grateful for small blessings.

Meantime, as long as we have your attention, let us urge you to take our pledge to write letters to your kids http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge.

P.S. — Our guest columns will start this Monday.

Parents: We Should Write Family Memories as Legacy for Our Kids – But Few of Us Manage To Do It — Father’s Day Survey Shows

Dear Readers,

A majority of parents and grandparents say they should write personal family history for their children and grandchildren. But only a minority actually plan to do it.

So shows my informal Father’s Day survey.

More than three in four respondents (77.8%) reported that parents and grandparents should write personal family history for the younger generation. Yet four in 10 (39.2%) say they planned to do it and never got around to it.

Nearly half the respondents (48.3%) say they lack the time to dedicate to writing personal family history, with 9.2% giving forgetfulness as a reason and 6.9% citing being “too tired.”

The multiple-choice, nine-question survey, conducted online through surveymonkey.com from April 3 to May 14, 2011, is based on 100 responses: 74.7% from mothers, 24.1% from fathers and 12.6% from grandparents.

In the survey, only 33% say they’ve learned “a lot” about family history from their parents and grandparents, with 27% saying “a little” and 42% “a moderate amount.” Yet they’ve repeated the pattern, with only 17.6% saying they’ve shared “a lot” about family history with their own children, 41.8% “a little” and 28.6% “a moderate amount.”

And fewer than one in four respondents (24%) say they learned family history through personal family writings handed down. As a result, children today may grow up knowing less about family history than previous generations. Asked, “Do children today know more about family history than previous generations knew?,” 59% said “no,” with only 14% saying “yes” and 21% saying “maybe.”

Even so, some parents may forge ahead. Asked, “What would motivate you to write your personal family history?” 36.4% named a combination of three factors – “leaving a legacy,” “rediscovering great memories” and “the opportunity for self-expression.”

Here’s the survey in its entirety: http://www.surveymonkey.com/MySurvey_Responses.aspx?sm=n6mg%2f7Me7IjAknEFsRHVLX5J8afY4wTl%2bWdzRl3UPYg%3d

Question of the day: What do you think of the survey’s findings?

What I Love Most About My Daughter: The Sequel (Part 3)

Dear Caroline,

I love how protective you are of Michael, how much you appreciate your big brother, how hard you laugh at his wisecracks (does anyone make you laugh harder than he?), and how close you are to Mom, how much you respect her and how loyal you are to her, how much you value everything she does for you.

I love how loving you are to us, to those still here and the one now gone, and how you climbed into my lap crying and hugging me the other day because you saw a TV program where something sad happened to a Dad, and how you just kept crying, and I love how loved that made me feel.

I love so much about you, so very much, how you look in that photo from second grade with your arms outstretched for all to see, how you wince at thunderstorms and lightning, how you squeal at the sight of puppies and babies, how you stuck with it at DiCapo and look how far you’ve come since, how you’ve blossomed into a songbird belting your songbook from the treetops, and how you’re just starting out, really, everything still in front of you.

If love is an ache, it’s also a remedy.

It’s the darkest night suddenly brightened by the glow from a firefly, a rainstorm followed by a rainbow, a miracle.

And that, finally, is what I love about you. You’re a miracle. First came Michael and then came you. He showed me how deeply I could love someone new, and you’ve shown me I could love someone else new just as deeply. In a single stroke, you doubled everything.

Every day I love you more, more fully, free of question or doubt, more than I ever dreamed possible. Everything else might come and go. But my love for you is different. It’s here to stay.

It’s forever.

P.S. – What do you love most about your kids? Please tell me.

What I Love Most About My Daughter: The Sequel (Part 2)

Dear Caroline,

But now, as the years go on, I love so much more about you.

I love how you treat your singing career (only 20 and already you actually have a career!), how professionally you practice all through the apartment and the halls and the elevator and the garage and out on the street, and how you focus so intensely on your studies and learning the librettos and understanding the characters, and how everyone important who ever rehearsed with you marveled at your work ethic, your dedication to craft, and how you always seem to be practicing your singing, even if it’s only in your head, imagining the music you will bring forth from your heart, and how you’re in never-ending pursuit of opportunity, of auditions and openings and opera companies and tours here and abroad, how your appetite for new prospects is insatiable, and how you’ve established and expanded a network of advocates for yourself, with so many mentors instructing you and steering you and encouraging you, Gary and Kathy and Michael, and how you keep improving as a singer, your range widening, your voice stronger and more supple, your storytelling more vivid; and how intently you listen to the singers you admire, the heroes you model yourself after, tuning in to other voices to sharpen your ears and give voice to your own soul, how you’re always educating yourself in the substance and style of it all, reading your issues of Opera News and catching the Met online, and how you hate to be interrupted as you’re singing and studying, how very viscerally you object to it, and how it’s all because you refuse to be satisfied with yourself and your performances until you’re perfect.

So there’s that, your singing and all, so much to love there, and love to pieces, too.

But wait.

Did I say I was done yet?

No.

Just a little more here, more about what I love most about you. I could go on and on, of course, but who would listen? So let me say this.

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

What I Love Most About My Daughter: The Sequel

Dear Caroline,

So now I’m once again going to tell you what I love most about you. Let’s start small, or at least smallish.

I love how pretty you dress, how smartly you’re always pulled together, and how nutritiously you eat, never forgetting to indulge yourself occasionally, and how you read your women’s magazines for guidance and entertainment (books, too), and how you like to watch the same cartoons we watch, “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”

I love how you act around others, whether friends or strangers, how polite and ladylike and humble (with nothing to be humble about, by the way), and how much fun you are to feed, game to experiment with your palate, ever the adventurer.

I love how beautiful you’ve turned out to be, graduating from adorable, you with your ballerina neck and elegant jawline and perfect, pampered skin and those dark eyes that can win me over or cut me to the quick, depending on your mood that day.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks, a little more serious if you please.

Oh, make no mistake. I’ll always love how you still wake up in the morning so babylike, clenching and unclenching your hands, and how you’ll always think you’re tough (because you are) and how you looked that day I held you in the pool at Silver Point Beach Club, gleaming so gloriously in the sun. I love all that stuff and always will.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

What I Love Most About My Son: The Sequel (Part 3)

Dear Michael,

But now let me tell you what might well top the list, the number-one reason I love you. And if I fumble in the attempt, forgive me. But I might as well go out swinging. So here it is.

I love how you came you came into the world as if from nothing and nowhere, but how you really came from us, from our love for each other, from our faith in the future.

I love how you gave me someone new to love, someone I could call my own, blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, and also how you in turn love me.

I regard you and Caroline and Mom as my greatest accomplishments in life by far, as rewards surpassing anything I might ever have imagined.

I love, too, how absolutely bottomless my love for you is, how, just as I might one day believe I love you with all my heart, the next day finds me loving you even more. I love that, love how my love for you grows and grows, limitless, into infinity.

There. I’ve said it. And you can take it to the bank.

P.S. — What do you love most about your kids?

What I Love Most About My Son: The Sequel (Part 2)

Dear Michael,

Well, how you felt as a baby, putty in my hands – I loved that.

And how you look in more recent photos, with that too-cool-for-school expression still on your face – love that, too.

Oh, and how you’re now keeping regular business hours, syncing up with the world around you – love that as well.

Nothing I put down here is going to do justice to the love I feel, it’s true depth. An act doomed to futility! Still, how can I in good conscience let it go without trying? No chance. So let me bring this little book home. And tell you what I love most about you.

How your face looked in the moonlight in Southhampton, back around 1986, as I carried you outside the cottage we rented, how your eyes beamed as you looked up at all the stars glittering in the sky that night, the constellations a canopy as your mouth opened in awe. I loved that, and to this day love it still.

How you took your lumps with that girlfriend of yours, really sustained some serious bruises, injuries to internal organs, too, but then you came back, ever the romantic, your belief in love unflagging, and picked yourself a winner. Love it.

How your attitude toward me has changed, how your respect for my professional opinions has suddenly grown, and how it’s as if you’re finally able to see me for who I am for the first time after all these years. Love that, too.

Oh, so much more to say here – about how you act around others, so gentlemanly and how well you write, how your appreciation of movies is evolving into true discernment and sophistication, and how you’re trying to make a career for yourself and get yourself going, none of it easy as I well know.

I love all that, and also, most important, how well you remember the one no longer here, who still counts so much now and forever, a source of light and warmth for all of us as strong as the sun.

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

What I Love Most About My Son: The Sequel

Dear Michael,

We might as well start with the quicksilver wisecracks, the sarcasm that spurts forth without warning.

And with how quickly you’ve once again dropped all that weight and pulled yourself into shape, relying on protein and pushups, please hold the carbs.

And how you took right away to the concept of your own blog about movies and are now bringing it all the creativity at your command.

We’re talking once again here about what I love about you. It’s hard to get it into words, as hard as anything I’ll ever do, but I’m going to give it a try, realizing I’ll never capture it all, probably nowhere near, but maybe just a few highlights. So here goes.

I love how you love your bacon, you primate you, you ravenous carnivore.

I love how you’re playing the role of big brother, the part of a lifetime, giving it your all.

I love how you’re controlling your temper better now, the eruptions growing fewer and milder.

Shall I go on?

Remember, by no means will this tally ever prove comprehensive. But let me give it a go and bring you your due. After all, I love you so much and also love so much about you that to take a crack at cataloguing it is worth venturing. So what else then?

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.