Signing off, for now

Bob Brody photo at Podell bar mitzvah
Dear all,

Yes, that’s me on the right in the photo up there. But perhaps more importantly, I’ve decided to take my blog on hiatus, starting today. My main reason is simple: I have other stuff to do that takes priority.

This blog has turned out to be a singular adventure, and I’ve loved doing it. It gave me the opportunity to advocate for a cause close to my heart: preserving personal family history in writing for future generations. In the process, letterstomykids.org has brought parents and children a little closer together, one letter at a time. My blog, 500 posts later, has given voice to stories from loving mothers and fathers all across the country. Little did I ever realize three years ago how much this commitment would come to feel like a privilege and an honor.

Maybe someday I’ll bring my blog back. Even after so many words posted – easily 150,000, possibly 200,000, only about half mine, the other half from guests — I just might. If I do, it would probably be on New Year’s Day, 2014, or next Father’s Day. Then again, my hiatus may be permanent. It’s hard to predict, and I see no sense even trying.

Whatever the case, nothing I have to say right now about this decision is more important to me than thank you. I’m grateful to everyone who got behind letterstomykids.org – all the guest columnists, my board of advisors, all the media who took an interest, my family and friends and colleagues. Cheerleaders make a big difference.

Special thanks go to Pam Jenkins, who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place, back on Father’s Day three years ago. And to Snow Hudgins, who helped me set up the site. And to Frank Cavallaro, who posted far and away more comments than anyone else. And to my wife, Elvira, who gave me the all-important green light to proceed with this most personal of campaigns. And above all to my kids, Michael and Caroline, who fueled me with the inspiration for the overall concept.

For now, though, if you get a chance, maybe you’ll all do me one small favor. Keep spreading the word. Take the opportunity to let parents out there know why putting our personal family histories into words for our children matters so much – matters, ironically, even more than we can put into words.

Cheers,
Bob

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My Father’s Train Ride Into History

Dad photo
The five-year-old boy who is to become my father in 20 years stands on a platform in Newark Penn Station with his mother and father waiting for the train that will soon take him away from all he has ever known and loved. It’s September, 1931.

He hands the conductor his ticket and steps onto the train under the care of a porter assigned to him. His parents wave goodbye to him and he waves back. He is all by himself now, headed to a destination 868 miles away.

Nobody else on the train knows his name or where he’s going or, for that matter, his most defining physical characteristic – that he’s severely hard of hearing, all but deaf. Because his mother gave birth to him while she had German measles, he was born able to discern only about 10% of all sounds. He has difficulty making himself understood when he speaks, and an equally hard time understanding anyone who talks to him.

The train rattles across America, through Pennsylvania and Ohio, on into Indiana and Illinois. The boy understands only that he is going away, but has no idea for how long. Finally, he arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, at his new home away from home, the Central Institute for The Deaf.

There he will stay for the next 10 years, rarely visiting home during holidays. There, in the face of a society that regards the deaf largely as dumb – several doctors originally diagnosed him as retarded – he is to study hard. He is to learn how to speak without relying on sign language, how to listen and how to read, how to function the same as a hearing person – learn, in effect, how to hear.

For years I condemned his parents for the decision to ship him off. First, the kid loses his hearing, then his family and home, too. The decision addressed one disability but created a second one.

Because his parents dispatched him, he never learned how to be a member of a family, neither as a son nor as a brother, husband nor father. How could he? And so I held a grudge against my grandparents, a chip on my shoulder that grew bigger every year.

As it happened, the boy who became my father went on to become among the first students with hearing loss ever accepted at Washington University, and graduated from Rutgers University. In 1969 he founded a non-profit organization to establish a network that, for the first time, would enable the deaf to communicate with one another and everyone else by phone.

Toward that end, my father bought, stored, adapted, promoted and distributed teletypewriters, or TTYs. The devices materialized in homes, schools, hospitals, libraries and local police, fire and emergency call departments, first in New York and New Jersey, then nationwide. He also invented the world’s first Braille TTY for deaf-blind people.

For all his public service the deaf community honored him with awards. Bell Telephone accepted him to the Telephone Pioneers of America, only the 29th member since Alexander Graham Bell in 1911. He once received a letter on White House stationary, congratulations on his accomplishments from President Ronald Reagan.

Ultimately, then, my father learned to make do with his hearing loss. He never told me what those years away from his parents and two sisters felt like. He left me to imagine how lonely he must have felt, how homesick and abandoned, almost orphaned.

Indeed, he never spoke a word against his parents about having been a five-year-old boy sent 800 miles away for 10 years. He felt nothing but gratitude for getting the opportunity to better himself.

Only after my father died, in 1997, did I confront the underlying facts. His father had come to the United States from Austria at the age of 12, alone, with no money and barely any education, unable to speak English. He had spent seven days a week running a tavern in Newark and saved almost every penny he earned – enough, eventually, to finance an expensive special education for his son in the depths of the Great Depression. Year after year, his wife wore the same dress, unable to afford a new one.

Tuition plus room and board for one child for those ten years cost him more than later putting all three of his children through college.

My grandparents made a decision – to put education first and family second. Surely that decision came hard. Surely they felt as heartbroken as he.

My father later made a decision, too. He put work first and family second, even after his grandchildren arrived. He kept his distance from me and my mother and my sister and my own son and daughter. Maybe all he ever really grasped about family was the idea of distance. Maybe, in a sense, he never really got off that train.

Even so, it’s easy to pass judgment out of ignorance. Every difficult decision about children brings tradeoffs. The decision his parents made, with heroic self-sacrifice, spelled his salvation in a society which otherwise might have had no place for him. In the end, my grudge wound up buried alongside my father, where it belonged.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/my-fathers-train-ride/276864/

Dear Kids: Here’s Why You And I Are History

My_Family_Me_Michael_Caroline_Elvira_jpg_scaled1000
In 44 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman statesman and philosopher, wrote an essay that took the form of a letter to his son. The father detailed how the son should live and behave honorably, and how best to fulfill his personal duties and civic obligations.

In composing letters to educate his child, Cicero had plenty of company among fathers over the centuries. Robert E. Lee, the general who led the Confederate Army in the Civil War, wrote his son a letter offering practical advice to follow in life. Say what you mean to do and then do it, he wrote. If you have an issue with someone, tell him to his face.

Indeed, of 31 U.S. presidents who had daughters, from George Washington to Bill Clinton, 21 wrote letters to them. Most recently, President Obama wrote an open letter to his daughters, Sasha and Malia, soon after his election. “It is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself,” the new president wrote, “that you will realize your true potential.”

Yet fathers today are more likely to text a child than keep a journal or write a letter. As a result, all too many of our children, given a test, would flunk family history.

It’s tough for fathers to keep such intergenerational storytelling alive. Both parents may work, curbing conversation at the dinner table. Family members of multiple generations seldom live under the same roof and usually farther apart, rendering reunions rare. Computers, smartphones and social media cut into time otherwise available for extended storytelling.

But plenty of fathers are trying, whether in actual letters, journals or so-called “Daddy blogs,” to record personal family history to benefit the next generation. We’re living longer than ever, too, granting us more time for retrospective reflection. In some cases, we’re even outsourcing the work. Membership in the Association of Personal Historians, who help create personal histories in the form of books, DVDs, websites and audiotapes, has grown by more than 20 percent annually for the past five years.

Five years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to do something I had long intended to do –write a family history, deeply personal, for our children, Michael and Caroline, then 24 and 19. My father never wrote anything about his family history for me and my sister, nor has my mother. And now so much is lost. Unless we document our personal family history, it will go untold, possibly doomed to disappear.

That would never happen to me. I started to keep handwritten journals, one for each child. Every week for the next year I took an hour or so to capture a special memory– how my son, as an adolescent, quoted wisecracks from the movie“Ghostbusters,” how my daughter, at age eight, sang “Colors Of The Wind” in front of an audience in Martha’s Vineyard.I also put down vignettes about growing up with deaf parents, a lavishly doting maternal grandmother, and friends who, like me, wanted to play sports all day long. I recorded my difficulties in school, my first date with my wife, and how it felt to land my first real job.

I surprised my kids the following Christmas by presenting the journals as gifts. The following year I completed a second set of volumes, also given at Christmas.

Then, on Father’s Day, 2010, with an OK from both our children to do so, I set up a blog, letterstomykids.org, that took these private letters public. I urged other parents to follow suit and enlisted some to contribute guest columns.

If you’re a parent, you might ask yourself how much your kids know about your past. As it happens, I conducted an informal survey of 100 parents and grandparents to find out. More than three in four respondents said parents and grandparents “should” write personal family history for the younger generation. Yet four in 10 reported they planned to do it and never got around to it. Nearly half said they lack the time to dedicate to it.
Asked “Do children today know more about family history than previous generations knew?” 59 percent said “no.” Still, some parents may forge ahead. Asked “What would motivate you to write your personal family history?” 36 percent named a combination of three factors: “leaving a legacy,” “rediscovering great memories” and “the opportunity for self-expression.”

As we mark Father’s Day, we fathers are often tempted to review our pasts, and also wonder about our futures. Fathers take stock of themselves, measuring our accomplishments to date against our original ambitions. We ask ourselves what our lives have meant, whether they have mattered.

That’s why we should invest in our pasts. Telling stories out loud is fine, but conversation often evaporates without a trace. Getting it all in writing, messages to the future delivered with the advantages of contemplation, is something else again.

Just imagine what would happen if more fathers (and mothers) decided to get personal. In playing family historians, you would recount your origins, your struggles, your triumphs. You would discover new truths about yourselves and express once and for all how deeply you love your children. You’ll leave behind children a legacy more valuable than any insurance policy.

The record you leave behind just might last forever. As Father’s Day resolutions go, it’s hard to do better.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-brody/dear-kids-heres-why-you-and-i-are-history_b_3436782.html

My Poppa, and Why Baseball Never Ends

Yankee Stadium train tracks
You and your grandfather Benjamin walk side by side as the No. 4 IRT line rattles thunderously overhead. The afternoon sunlight shafts through the railway tracks onto 161st Street in a flickering crosshatch of shadows.

Vendors line the street, a midway carnival selling baseball paraphernalia – programs and pennants and photos, caps and toys and balloons. The doors to all the bars are open, the aroma of beer and peanuts wafting onto the sidewalks.

The historic building looms over us. You reach Gate 2 and pass through the turnstile and take a winding ramp upwards. Your Poppa keeps his hand on the cusp of your shoulder to make sure you’re alongside him, there to have the time of your life.

We reach the upper deck in left-field and step out into the stands. You scan the panorama before you, and there it all is, with its trademark frieze overhead rimming the Bronx sky. You’ve come to Yankee Stadium on Sunday, October 11, 1964, to see the New York Yankees play the St. Louis Cardinals in the fourth game of the 1964 World Series.

You sit as far away from home plate as humanly possible without actually leaving the premises. Nosebleed city. The players look so small. All sounds from the field – the crack of the bat, a ball smacking into a mitt – are delayed a fraction of a second.
The game starts, and you’re feeling so giddy that you turn to your Poppa. “I wish this would never end,” you say. And for a moment you expect him to tell you it never will. Instead, he looks at you with a smile that also manages to be serious.
“Everything comes to an end,” he says.

You have no idea what he means. Certainly you doubt it to be true. How could it be? Everything will last forever. Of this you’re quite confident. The Yankees will always be the Yankees and nobody you love will ever die.

Your own father has long since lost interest in baseball, too busy with work to pay attention to a sport that his son now ranks in importance alongside breathing and eating. In any given October, your father has no clue which teams are competing in the World Series.

He once takes you to a game at Yankee Stadium, your father does, a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins, and there proves once and for all his utter indifference to baseball. Somewhere around the fourth inning, with cracked peanut shells littered in his lap and some 50,000 vocal fans all around, he actually dozes off. Even with Harmon Killebrew warming up in the on-deck circle, your father is snoring away.

All the more reason for you to adore your Poppa. You can always count on his attention, never need to court his affection. He always seems glad to see you, asks after you, worries about you, dotes on you.

Above all, your grandfather fills in for your father, his son-in-law, on the baseball front. In the very best of scenarios, a 12-year-old boy who loves baseball gets to share his love with someone older. You get someone who will tell you about seeing Babe Ruth swat home runs and Joe DiMaggio roam the outfield. In this sense, he turns out to be the father you needed your father to be.

“Everything comes to an end,” your Poppa told you 48 years ago. And for a long time afterwards, you refused to believe him with all the brute will of an innocent who knows no better.

But after your Poppa dies – in 1981, at age 70, of cancer – you finally believe him. The World Series game you saw with him came to an end. The Yankee streak of World Series appearances came to an end that year, leading to a drought until 1976, by far the longest in team history. The Yankees fired manager Yogi Berra and announcer Mel Allen.

The original Yankee Stadium came to an end, too, the hallowed cathedral demolished before your eyes. The Bronx as we knew it – the Bronx where you were born and lived your first 28 months – came to an end by the mid-1960s. So did your boyhood.

Then again, maybe your wish – that the game would never end, that everything will last forever – has some truth to it, too. Nothing you love ever truly has to come to an end. The Yankees are still the Yankees. Baseball is still baseball. And your Poppa will always be your Poppa.

After all, he loved you enough to take you to see baseball games when baseball meant the world to you. You still wear his Swiss watch and, come winter, his plaid woolen overcoat. You think of him often, all the more so every time the start of baseball season rolls around. Nothing you love ever really dies unless you let it.

http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/expressway-poppa-the-world-series-and-an-undying-love-1.5485354

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Laura Rossi: Papa’s Special Gift To You

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Laura Rossi Totten, mother of 10-year old girl-boy twins, is a blogger and social media addict with her own public relations agency. Her blog, My So-Called Sensory Life http://www.mysocalledsensorylife.com/, was named a “Top 25 Most Inspiring Families Blog” by Circle of Moms and a 2010 Babble Top 40 Nominated Mom Blog. Previously, Laura worked at Random House, Viking Penguin and W.W. Norton. Her writing has appeared on local NPR and in Psychology Today, NJFamily.com, and The Chronicle of Higher, among many other places.

Dear J and M,

We talk about “gifts” in our family a lot.  Not the gifts you put in your hand but rather hold in your heart. It’s this other type of gift I want you to think about tomorrow.

What you don’t know about me is that my philosophy of seeing the best in all situations and being positive no matter what is a gift that I trace back to my own father, whom you two call Papa and love as dearly as I do.

Papa has always been one of my greatest teachers and still is today. It’s miraculous to have him be able to do the same for my own children. The bond you both have with him started on the day you were born and grows stronger all the time. Papa embodies the word grandfather.

On Sunday, we’ll have the rare chance of celebrating Father’s Day with both your Dad and my Dad.  

As an extension of my personal blog and writing, I practice finding daily gratitude.   This Sunday, I’ll be thankful that Papa’s gifts are alive in both of you:

  • A love of learning
  • Curiosity
  • A sense of humor
  • Patience
  • Listening…really listening
  • History, facts, trivia
  • The bonds of family
  • Fixing and figuring out how things work
  • Appreciating how fun a trip to the hardware store or dump can be!

 And so much more. 

You’ll always have part of my Dad, your Papa, inside each of you. Not all children get this special gift.  It’s one I know you’ll pass down to your children someday. 

Here’s to celebrating the wisdom of fathers throughout our family.

Love,

Mom

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Joseph Scalia: Locked And Loaded (part 3)

Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of five grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels Freaks and Pearl and three short story collections, No Strings Attached, Brooklyn Family Scenes and Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.

Dear Janine, Ian, Jesse and Mikki,

That fall I went on to high school, and my father returned to giving haircuts and counting his loose change. We never talked about what happened. My father and I never talked about much of anything.

A lot of years have passed since then, more than I care to count. And though my father is long gone, I sometimes see his soft hands while I do crossword puzzles in the newspaper, or just folded in front of me when I watch TV. Sometimes, if I tilt my head just right, staring back at me from my shaving mirror I catch a glimpse of him about the eyes.

Today, after all my years as your father, I see my own father differently, just as I know you see me differently, too. Oh, yes, early on, I noticed how you looked at me whenever I failed to measure up as a father because of my foolishness and shortcomings – those embarrassed, disapproving looks you gave me. But now you cut me a little slack. Funny how time and growth bring a certain clarity.

It’s only natural for children to judge their parents and be disappointed, at least until we grow up enough to see our parents as they really are. We are all of us imperfect. And if we’re lucky, we come to understand that what we once thought was their weakness was really their strength.

I love you.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Joseph Scalia: Locked And Loaded (part 2)

Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of five grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels Freaks and Pearl and three short story collections, No Strings Attached, Brooklyn Family Scenes and Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.

Dear Janine, Ian, Jesse and Mikki,

Before lunch, Mrs. Higgins, the owner, introduced me to her son, Junior, who had just returned after a morning “doing chores” with his father. Junior, 13, was kind of geeky and by my standards hardly cool, but we hit it off okay and I was glad to have somebody almost my own age to hang out with.

It was Mr. Higgins who promised to make that an unforgettable summer for me. He was tall and thin, wore a straw cowboy hat and drove a beat-up pickup truck. He lived in his faded jeans and denim jacket. His hands were strong and hard and callused, and his face leather-lined. He smoked Lucky Strikes, and he let the cigarette hang in the corner of his mouth when he talked. He never said much, but when he did, his tone had a quiet toughness. He smelled of tobacco and the sweat of hard work. He was a real man, the father any 14 year old would want. Junior had to be the luckiest kid in the world.

My parents saw little of me that whole week. Instead, I got up early every morning to tag along with Mr. Higgins and Junior. I helped with chores. I raked hay, fed chickens and cleaned out stables. I worked harder that vacation than I ever worked at home. Afternoons I bounced around the rutted fields in the back of the pickup, while the smoke from Mr. Higgins’ cigarettes blew past me in the wind.

My father watched me from the area reserved for guests. “Be careful,” he called whenever I rode by, standing in the open truck. “Hold on!”

Labor Day morning, before we left for home, Mr. Higgins came out of the house holding two old .22 rifles and a box of shells. “Why don’t you boys run off and see what you can shoot,” he said, handing a rifle and some shells to each of us.

I had never seen a real gun before. My parents were opposed to guns. My father refused even to let me have the Daisy B-B gun I wanted to order from the back of my comic books.

We ran off into the trees and down the path. There, we pumped a few shots into the back of an old abandoned car wreck rusting away in the bottom of a ravine.

“Come on,” Junior said, “let’s go down to the creek” — crick he pronounced it — “and shoot some frogs.” He led the way to the little stream where guests sometimes went to swim. We could hear the frogs croaking in the brush and the shallow water on the other side of the creek.

We had been shooting in the direction of the sounds for half an hour without hitting anything. The guns made lots of noise and our shots kicked up water like little geysers. I was loading up when I saw my father coming down the path toward us. I could feel my face getting red with annoyance at his intrusion as he approached.

“Mr. Higgins told me you were out hunting,” he said eyeing the guns. “And I was worried . . .”

I pulled the trigger and the sound made my father flinch.

“That’s really loud,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be so loud. I could hear the sounds all the way back at the house.”

Another loud pop made him blink again. “Mind if I try?” he asked.

That really surprised me. I handed him my gun and held it tentatively, as if it might turn on him at any second. He lifted his glasses to the top of his head and sighted down the barrel, pointing at the water. Then he pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.

“Take the safety off first,” I said, feeling a little superior, knowledgeable in the face of his ignorance.

“What are you hunting for?” he asked, locating the safety and slipping it off with his thumb.

“Bull frogs,” Junior said.

Then, as if on cue, we heard a loud croak from across the creek. My father turned and shot in one smooth motion. The bullet made a splash in the water twenty yards away and a surprised frog plopped against the far bank, most of its insides on its outsides. Its legs twitched wildly as it tried in vain to hop away. Junior’s jaw dropped open in admiration. I was in disbelieving awe at his perfect shot. And then I turned and looked into my father’s face. He had put the gun down on the rocks, and tears welled up in his eyes as he watched the struggling frog.

Junior looked from the wriggling frog to my father’s tearing face and then to me and laughed. The rage boiled up inside of me. I kicked at a bunch of stones and rushed past both of them with my head down. Like my father, I was crying too, but for very different reasons.

I stormed back to the room and sulked, sullen and silent, until a taxi finally arrived to take us to the bus depot. I left without saying good-bye to Junior or Mr. Higgins. My mother asked what was wrong, but I kept my mouth shut, and my father just stared out the window. The ride back home was nothing but silence.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Joseph Scalia: Locked And Loaded

Joe Scalia parents
Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of five grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels Freaks and Pearl and three short story collections, No Strings Attached, Brooklyn Family Scenes and Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.

Dear Janine, Ian, Jesse and Mikki,

I never knew my father. Although we passed twenty years in the same house, eating meals, watching TV, I never really knew him.

Let me tell you what I do know. He was an old fashioned barber, my father, not a hair-stylist, as you find today. He had a two-chair shop in Brooklyn where we lived. One chair was never used for cutting hair, because business was never good enough to hire a second barber even part-time. But sometimes my father would sleep on it, between customers, or sit there with his glasses pushed up on his forehead and work on crossword puzzles, passing the time. His hands were soft and he left faint traces of lilac talc wherever he went. I’m sure if I could go back to the house where we lived and open his closet door, I’d still smell his smell, that trace of lilac talc, even today.

When I was 14, my father’s soft hands and lilac talc fragrance were an embarrassment to me. That was the year I was into cool and my head was full of James Dean movies, Marlon Brando on a motorcycle, fast cars and crushing beer cans in one hand. By those standards my father was none too cool. As fathers went, in fact, he was quite a disappointment. He had no car. He didn’t even have a license.

“No need,” he said. “My shop is just blocks from the house, and I can always take the subway or bus for longer trips.” Not that he ever went very far. He was content to spend evenings at home watching our 12-inch black-and-white Motorola TV.

The summer I was 14 would be different. He and my mother had made plans to take me away on a real vacation, for a week at a Catskill Mountain guesthouse a customer had recommended. All summer leading up to our vacation, I sneaked past his barbershop on my way to the schoolyard, or to Joe’s Candy Store for vanilla egg creams with my friends. Sometimes I could see him inside giving a shave, or if the shop was empty, counting the day’s receipts, or looking through his pocket change for the old coins he collected. Sometimes he’d be outside when I passed, and then I’d wave and rush by before he could ask me to run errands for him.

Monday morning that last week of August we loaded into Uncle Danny’s Ford station wagon to the Trailways depot for our bus ride to the Maple Lawn Farm in the far-off Catskills Mountains. When I saw the lawn chairs filled with old people, just like my parents. I just knew it was going to be a horrible vacation.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Michael R. Lewis: My Father, My Hero

Mike Lewis parents

 

Michael R Lewis and his wife Vicki, who have lived in Dallas for more than a half century, have four children and eight grandchildren. Mike and his younger brother, Randy, were raised give a day’s work for a day’s pay, never back down from a fight or hit a woman, and stay true to your word. His career as an entrepreneur, management consultant, and senior executive has extended across industries from oil exploration and health insurance to construction and software. He retired in 2010, regularly contributes articles on subjects from parenting to economics, and is currently writing his first non-fiction book on business success. He blogs at LewsClues: http://www.lewsclues.com/

To my son Michael and sons-in-law, Andres, Rob and Chris,

Biology requires a man and woman to create new life. But fatherhood is more than the union of sperm and egg – it is simultaneously the most terrifying responsibility a man can shoulder and the greatest gift life can bestow. Some men wilt under the burden, though most do the best they can, striving to be good providers, teachers, and examples. Like fathers everywhere, you will fail at times. You’ll never be confident that your efforts are right or your hopes for your children will be fulfilled. Always remember that good fathers never quit nor give up on their children. If you constantly strive to make each child’s tomorrows happier, safer, and easier than today, you’ll be okay. 

My father came from generations of poor dry-land farmers, working sun-up to sun-down, grubbing a living from the worn-out, wind-blown prairies of West Texas and Southern Oklahoma. A hard life was made harder when the dust blew and the bankers took the farms, and harder still when the Depression substituted charity and public assistance for jobs. A tall, lanky man with blue eyes and sandy-brown hair, Dad finished high school in time to fight the Nazis in Germany. He was old enough to die and kill, but too young to legally marry my mother in Texas so they eloped across state lines to Waurika, Oklahoma. I was almost a year old before he saw me the first time. 

As a boy growing up with B-Westerns and immersed in the myths of the Texas cowboy, my father was my hero. Bigger than John Wayne, more courageous than Gary Cooper, he was a Man among men. He would work all day, then play catch in the front yard until dark or take my brother and me for a game of miniature golf. He could replace light switches without turning off the electricity, repair the transmission of our old car when it broke down, and even drive nails into his stomach to hold up his pants. (All right, that’s an exaggeration. He actually wore a body cast under his clothes for a broken back from an accident, but none of the kids knew about the cast and it was a good trick.) 

Being a good father is not just about games or tricks, however. The real challenge is when life turns against you and the family is threatened. My mother suffered a serious mental illness, bipolar disorder, first surfacing when I began the first grade. For more than a decade, she cycled between bouts of extreme rage and debilitating depression with multiple suicides and hospital stays. She attacked all of us, physically and verbally, especially my Dad. Many, if not most, men would have abandoned her and us, going on down the road to seek happier climates. My Dad didn’t leave, surrender to her rejection or his own anger. He took a second job and borrowed money to pay doctor bills, slept in her hospital room to be sure she wouldn’t wake up alone, and took her abuse, smiled, cried, and went back for more. Dad didn’t know whether she could be cured or, if cured, whether she would still love him, but he stayed month after month, year after year. 

We all suffered from Mom’s illness, Dad most of all. As I grew older, we became more distant, his focus being on her and mine on the problems of adolescence. At times, when our differences seemed unbridgeable, I remembered his unconditional love in the most difficult times, his courage in the face of the unknown, and his willingness to take up the heavy cross of responsibility. He was the epitome of what a Father should be, giving me an example to follow with my own children. 

Dad has been gone more than a decade, but he seems like yesterday when he swept me onto his broad shoulders, my legs straddling his neck, and I could see across the world, ready for any adventure because I knew my Dad would protect me. I still miss him.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Vivian Kirkfield: Never Enough, But Always Plenty

Vivian Kirkfield parents

Vivian Kirkfield is a mom of three (Jason, Peter and Caroline) and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs. She recently visited Singapore to speak at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content to share her ideas about using picture books as effective parenting tools to build self-esteem and strengthen the parent-child connection. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit her at www.viviankirkfield.com or contact her at viviankirkfield@gmail.com. 

Dear Jason, Peter and Caroline, 

I’m so glad that all of you got to know my father. He was a loving and generous grandfather. Do you remember the shopping bags he would bring when he visited us, filled with goodies like cookies, cakes and toilet paper. You might have thought it a little odd that he felt he needed to supplement what was available at our local stores, but there was a reason behind his seemingly eccentric behavior.

When he was 8 years old, he came home from school to find an ambulance taking his mother away. His distraught father never explained what had happened and subsequently declared he was unable to take care of his three young sons. The extended family must have been somewhat estranged, or just strange. The two younger brothers were reluctantly taken in by relatives and the oldest child, my father, was sent to an orphanage. Remember that this was back in the 1920’s. I shudder to imagine what orphanages were like in those days. After he lived there a year, a young, newly married uncle came to visit him and was so distressed by the conditions there, he called a family meeting and said if no one would speak up and take this child, he would. Shamed into action, the relatives agreed to share the responsibility and your grandfather spent the next six years being passed from aunts to uncles to grandparents. Finally, when he was fourteen, his father remarried (a woman in her early 20’s) and allowed his sons to come back home.

This experience molded my father. Perhaps he brought those bags of food and supplies to win our love (although he certainly had it anyway), or because he had gone without so many times in his youth and never believed he would ever have enough.

Grandpa was a cautious man – another trait foisted on him by the school of hard knocks, I guess – and he instilled those fears in his children. It’s no wonder I was always afraid to learn to swim – “Don’t go in water over your knees or you’ll drown,” he would tell me.  “Stay close,” he would often warn us, “Watch out! You might get hurt!” It’s no surprise I was hesitant to try anything new for most of my life.

My dad and I had a wonderful relationship. Perhaps because of his childhood experiences, he trusted few people. But he trusted me. When I turned 18 and wanted to learn to drive, he allowed me to use his car, his precious 1964 Chevrolet Impala – his first car ever – which he waxed and watched with an eagle eye. Parking it on the street in front of our house, he’d check on it as the day progressed. If anyone leaned on it or touched it in passing, he’d tell them to keep their hands off.

A few years later, something sad happened. Your Dad and I had been married about a year and had just moved. We asked my father if we could borrow his car so that I could go to work the next day (I was a kindergarten teacher) with our car and Dad could stay home and take care of phone hook-ups and other move-in chores and have a car available if he needed one. Grandpa never hesitated and immediately handed over the keys to his precious car. It was a stormy night, rain whipping through the streets. I parked our car near our new apartment, but there were no other spaces close by – this was New York City after all. Dad had to park the borrowed car around the corner. And the next day it was gone. The police never found any trace of it – and Grandpa never said a word of blame or reproach.

Grandpa was not a bookish man, but he loved reading magazines and newspapers. Movies were a joy to him. He had worked in the film industry as a distributor for over 40 years, first with Warner Brothers, then with Paramount. I remember, as a child, getting passes from him for the local movie theater. How proud I was to be able to walk in without paying. I felt like a celebrity. Do you remember how he would tape movies and send us VCR tapes of “Roots,” “Gone With The Wind” and “The Ten Commandments.” He watched the monitor carefully while taping so he could delete the commercials.

And that was his pleasure in the last years of his life – wanting to provide enjoyment for us. At Christmas he would order fruit cakes from Collins Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. For the 4th of July, he would send us a huge order from Omaha Steaks. And even when we moved to Colorado and he came to visit us, he would pack one entire suitcase with cans of sardines, boxes of cookies and yes, rolls of toilet paper. He wanted to make sure we would never want for anything.

That’s the man your grandfather was.

With so much love,

Mom

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Hamza Hassan Balol: My Father’s Blessings

Hamza Father

Hamza Hassan Balol lives in Riyadh with his wife, Noor, and two daughters, Ludan and Limar. He came to Saudi Arabia in 2002 to help his parents financially with the raising of his little siblings. A graduate in biomedical engineering in Sudan, he is currently working for a medical company as an International purchasing coordinator. Here he shares two letters his father, Hassan, wrote to him in the 1980s while Hamza attended high school 50 miles away from home.

My dearest son,

Your mother and I are the reason of your existence in this world and we have been eagerly waiting for you to come into the world. When you made your way into the world, our happiness was beyond description for your arrival and we could not contain our emotions that God has delighted our lives with you. As you grew up, we faced unbearable difficulty and experienced endless sleepless nights just to make you feel happy. It is not flesh and blood, but the heart that makes us family. Please be informed that our hearts are still full with unconditional love, unlimited care, and undivided compassion for you.

Much love and warm hugs,

Your father

My dearest son,

We will steadfastly hold the ladder for you as you climb up the steps to your prestigious independent life. But before you think of me and your mother and if you want to obey us, we would just like you to always remember that your real birthday is not when your mother gave birth to you. It is when you find yourself on the right track that guides you to God and when you find yourself strengthened by His faith. Seize each and every precious moment you are alive in glorifying Him and accepting Him into your life. Every day, try to do your best to recite some verses from the Holy Koran to cement your relationship with Him. This is the only best way to satisfy and please me and your mother.

Much love and warm hugs,

Your father

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Vincent DeNigris: The Long Goodbye (part 2)

Vincent DeNigris photo alone

 

Dear Vincent,

I was in front of my locker at the police precinct, half out of my civilian clothes when one of the guys ran over to me. “The hospital called,” he said. “Your father took a turn for the worst.”

I quickly changed into my uniform. The desk sergeant, knowing my predicament, told me to take a radio car to the hospital. I sped over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan.

At the hospital, I saw what looked like 20 doctors and nurses all around my father’s bed administering CPR to him.

“He had another heart attack,” one of the doctors came over to tell me. “We started trying to revive him almost 30 minutes ago, but we’re still getting no pulse.”

Then he asked me if they should stop.

“Keep going,” I said.

I stood there in my police uniform, frozen, scared, as if I were a little boy, watching helplessly as my father fought for his life. I had tears in my eyes and wanted just to wail and fold up in a heap on the floor. But my police training kept me together.

After another 15 minutes, they finally got a pulse.

“Thank G-d,” I said.

I called my siblings to get over there as fast as they could. When we all assembled, the doctor informed us that although they had revived him, he would probably never come out of his coma, and that he was brain-dead. We all started to cry, except for me. I was the oldest, a police officer in uniform, and I had to keep my cool, keep myself together for all of us.

My father went on life support. I called the precinct to report what was happening. My brothers and sisters and I stayed with our father at the hospital all that day.  We sat with him day and night for five days while he lay in that bed, tubes in his body. To this day, the sound of that respirator still haunts me. Same with the beeps and buzzes from his heart beat on the monitor next to his bed.

On one such day, I looked out the 12th floor window. I saw people on the street, kids dressed in Halloween costumes, and felt bad about being unable to take my son trick or treating.

By the third day, the doctors said a decision had to be made about whether to continue life support. Because he was brain-dead, he had no hope for a life with any kind of  quality. After our family discussed it, my brothers and sister left it up to me.

I then made one of the hardest decisions of my life. I said we should take him off life support.

On the night of the fifth day, my brother Anthony – may he rest in peace – started to cry. He said he could no longer stand to be there. Every time he saw our father’s blood pressure drop on the monitor, he felt like he was going to lose it. “You stay,” he said. “I’m taking a cab home.”

“It’s 3 in the morning,” I said. And I drove him home.

I stopped at my mother’s house to tell her what was happening, and just then the phone rang. It was the hospital. Someone told me my father was near death and to get there right away.

But I was too late. By the team I got there, he was already gone. No more tubes, no more monitors, no more of the eerie sounds we had endured for five days, just silence and my father, all bloated, his eyes puffy, his hands swollen from all the fluids and meds given to him. A neatly folded sheet covering his body was tucked under his chin. It reminded me of those photos of newborns all wrapped up.

Alone with him now, I held on to the rail of the bed  and bent down and cried and kissed my father goodbye.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Vincent DeNigris: The Long Goodbye

Vincent DeNigris photo alone

 

Dear Vincent,

“I can’t breathe,” my father said over the phone. It was 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday.”Vin, can you take me to the hospital?”

“Dad, when did this first start, Dad?”

“Yesterday morning.”

“I’ll be right there.”

My father and I had the same conversation at least once a month for a year before his death.

Frank DeNigris was a Navy man, a cook, retiring in 1977 after 30 years of service. After that, and up until he died, he worked as a cook for the New York City Department of Correction in the Bronx House Of Detention.

My dad was short and stout, had a great sense of humor, and owned the shiniest shoes I have ever seen on any man’s feet.

He met my mother, Maria, in Italy while he was stationed in Naples in 1957. They married in Italy, moved back to the states and had four children. My parents always joked that I was made in Italy, but born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I am the oldest of four. After me came, in order, my brothers Anthony and Frank and my sister Rosemarie. My parents divorced in 1981.

My father smoked heavily for most of his life. His health problems startedafter he left the Navy. He quit smoking after his first heart attack, but the damage was already done.

Well, I hung up the phone that day and grabbed my duffle bag and drove to his home. I had work in the morning; I was a New York City police officer in Williamsburg’s 90th Precinct.

When I arrived, we argued – the same argument we always had.

“Why did you wait all weekend before calling me? You know I have to be at work at 6:30 in the morning!”

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

This was the script we followed, word for word, every month.

“All right,” I would say. “Let’s get all your meds and clothes together and go.”

He always wanted me to take him to the Veterans Hospital in Manhattan. I guess he liked it because it reminded him of the service, and he could chat with other vets.

As usual, I checked him in, and while we waited for a room, he flirted with all the nurses. It was around 5 a.m.

“I have to get to work,” I said.

“Go ahead, I’ll be OK.”

“I love you. I’ll be back after work to check on you.”

I left my Dad sitting up on his bed in the emergency room, chatting up one of the nurses.

The hospital would keep him for a few days and send him home. That’s how the script always went.

At least that’s what I thought would happen.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Michael R. Lewis: My Mother: No One Ever Loved Me Or Hurt Me More

Mother and me 1-30-66 edited

 

Michael R Lewis and his wife Vicki, who have lived in Dallas for more than a half century, have four children and eight grandchildren. Mike and his younger brother, Randy, were raised give a day’s work for a day’s pay, never back down from a fight or hit a woman, and stay true to your word. His career as an entrepreneur, management consultant, and senior executive has extended across industries from oil exploration and health insurance to construction and software. He retired in 2010, regularly contributes articles on subjects from parenting to economics, and is currently writing his first non-fiction book on business success. He blogs at LewsClues: http://www.lewsclues.com/

Dear Shelley, Michael, Shannon, and Amanda,

“You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.” Whether the plaintive cry of an abused child or the heart-felt explanation of contrite mother, the lyrics of the 1944 Mills Brothers song encapsulate and epitomize the complex relationship of loving abuse. My mother, a victim herself, fought a life-long battle with bipolar disorder, cycling through periods of prescription drug addiction, suicide attempts, hospitalizations, and shock treatments. No one has ever loved or hurt me more than her. 

Living with a manic-depressive is akin to being with someone who carries an unlit stick of dynamite in one hand and a flaming match in the other – you never know when or why the fuse will be lit and all hell will follow. Without warning, a slap, a pinch sharp enough to break the skin, or a whipping with whatever serviceable belt, switch, spoon or spatula was nearby would descend from on high, too quick to evade, too heavy to blunt. In the best times, her rage was directed to others who she thought had bullied or slighted me in some manner; she was an avenging angel willing to take on any size foe, man or woman, teacher or policeman, on my behalf. 

Sometimes, though, she would cower in her nightgown for days on end, hiding from life in a darkened bedroom, unable to toss off the sadness and guilt that covered her as completely as the bed sheets. My father, working two jobs to pay the hospital and doctor bills, was often gone, leaving me to feed and care for my younger brother of five years. My last task before going to bed each night during those periods was to check that my mother was sleeping, her cigarette extinguished, and any prescription drugs hidden away. 

I was a lucky child, however, blessed with two parents who loved me and my brother deeply. I learned at an early age that actions don’t necessarily reflect feelings, that people can be driven by demons they simply can’t control, no matter how much they want to change. I learned to live in the here and now, looking to the future, not the past. I learned everyone has good days and bad days, that most people try to do the right thing, but often fail, and that promises are rarely inviolate or eternal. Most of all, I learned to never give up, that sunshine invariably follows the darkest nights and that each morning is an opportunity to be a better husband, father, and friend than the day before. 

My mother loved me, sometimes with a depth almost too much for her to bear. She wasn’t perfect, but neither am I. She has been gone fifteen years and I pray every night that she finally found the peace that eluded her in this life.

Father’s Day Guest columnist Richard Kagan: My Dad’s Surprise Gift To Me

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Richard Kagan, who lives in Queens, is sports editor of Education Update and has freelanced as writer for 15 years, contributing articles about sports to Newsday, amNewYork and the Western Queens Gazette. He also conducts outreach and writes book reviews for the Queens Library’s innovative Mail-A-Book program, which e-mails books and provides a toll-free chat line to the homebound and elderly.

On a warm spring Sunday in 1968, while a junior in high school, I had an unforgettably exciting moment, thanks to my father. We lived in a pretty, bucolic suburb, Highland Park, 25 miles north of Chicago. Highland Park is famous for being the summer home to the Chicago Symphony, and when I was growing up you could see popular groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary and the Chad Mitchell Trio. A few years later, Janis Joplin played there and I listened to her near a fence just outside the grounds. Her voice came from the gods.

As for the relationship between my father and I, it was hardly what I would call the greatest. It felt like he was the sergeant and I a private. I carried out prescribed duties, like taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, cleaning out gutters full of leaves, and being a pair of observant eyes around the house. My parents divorced and I became the surrogate father of the household. My mother was unable to drive due to an illness and my younger sister, Linda and I needed to get around.

On this particular day, my father was driving us around Chicago, near Lincoln Park, just north of the zoo, in his spiffy Oldsmobile Toronado. We parked, and my Dad, Linda and I got out of the car.

They both wore poker faces. Yet somehow I suspected they knew something I didn’t know.

We walked around, and saw a lot of cars parked on the street. New cars, older cars. My Dad loved cars, and he sized up the cars there that day, even looking into the windows. I’d seen him do that before.

We walked maybe 100 feet and we came upon a navy blue Ford Mustang that looked shiny and new.

“Wow!” I said.

“Do you like this car, Rich?” my father asked me. “What do you think?” His light-hearted tone of voice told me he was enjoying this moment.

Linda trailed a few feet behind, watching both of us. I looked in the window and saw the automatic stick shift on the console and thought, That’s so neat. The interior was a dark blue that looked so inviting. I felt like a young child gazing at the store window of the great Manhattan toy store, F.A.O. Schwarz.

“Gee Dad, this is a cool car,” I said, all the while thinking, What kind of game is he playing here? An adult version of cat and mouse?

“Why don’t you get inside and look it over, see how it feels?” he said.

Get in the car, I thought, growing ever more curious. What’s he talking about?

“Here, Rich,” he said, sounding a little more serious now. “Get inside and take a look.”

Just then he reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a set of keys. My eyes widened and I looked at him in shock. For a teenage boy this was equivalent to finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

“Rich,” he said. “This is your car. It’s new and it’s yours. Now you can take your sister wherever she needs to go. Just don’t drive fast.”

“Sure thing,” I said, nodding up and down. He put the keys into my hand.

Linda jumped up and down in glee. “I knew, I knew!” she said. “And I kept it a secret!”

“Oh My God!” I said. “How will I drive it home?”

“Don’t worry,” my father said. “You’ll get home. Just drive safely.”

The inside of the car smelled brand new, as if the leather might pop. I put my hands in the steering wheel. It felt scary yet comfortable. I was in a daze as I drove back to the suburbs in this shiny new Mustang.

I drove so carefully on the expressway, wanting only to keep my sister and I alive and avoid smashing up the car, that a cop actually pulled me over for driving “too slow.” Gave me a ticket, too.

We made it home just fine. There, I stared at my new car for hours. The next day, I drove Linda to school. For a long time, because of my father’s kindness, I was so happy it felt as if my feet never touched the ground. Life brings you plenty of surprises, but that one had to rank among the very best I could ever have imagined.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Susan Gordon: Father Knew Least

Susan Gordon photo

 

Susan J. Gordon and her husband Ken of 47 years have two grown sons, two daughters-in-law, and six sensational grandchildren. She is a freelance writer and the author of two books, including Wedding Days: When & How Great Marriages Began, about the courtships and marriages of famous couples throughout history. Some of her work can be found at WWW.SUSANJGORDON.COM.

Dear Kids,

I’m so glad that our family celebrates Father’s Day with your dad, my terrific husband. I feel this deeply, because when I was a kid, I hated Father’s Day. In the stormy family stew that was my almost-daily diet, “father” meant “Sid,” and that meant trouble.

My mother left Sid when I was two years old, and took my older brother, Jerry, and me from our suburban home to my grandmother’s one-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York. Angry battles between my parents erupted with Vesuvian force as they fought about everything including child support which was always late, and court-ordered visits that Jerry and I endured with Sid. We never knew when he might appear at Grandma’s door, pounding furiously or climbing through her first-floor windows if we didn’t let him in “NOW!”  He never forgave my mother for walking out on him, but he aimed his rage at safer targets – Jerry and me.

I was barely four when Sid put us on the outside fenders of his car, and drove down Northern Boulevard. A few months later, he sent us (non-swimmers without lifejackets) off a rowboat that drifted around a bay while he watched from the shore. Another time, he smashed Jerry’s glasses and beat him up in a public park. An uneasy crowd of gaping bystanders stared but didn’t intercede because Sid insisted he was “just disciplining my boy.’ Even so, family court judges reduced but would not eliminate the visits. By the time I was eight, Jerry and I saw Sid only one hour a month, in the presence of a guard hired to watch us.

“Name the Ten Commandments!” Sid demanded. He often complained that we lacked religious educations. Quickly, I rattled off no killing, stealing, or wanting what your neighbor had, but deliberately skipped the Fifth – “honoring” your parents, which I didn’t understand at all. (Did that mean him?) Fortunately, the hour was almost up, and Sid didn’t ask again.

Our visits ceased when I was fifteen. Sid faded from my life, but his specter lurked around the edges of my consciousness. Terrifying memories haunted me and hung like heavy rocks around my neck. Now and then, he sent mildew-stained copies of old court records, but he never apologized for his actions. I wouldn’t respond; Sid’s punishment was never to know anything about me.

Much later, I learned about Amalek – the collective name of the ancient tribe that attacked and harassed the Israelites thousands of years ago during their forty years of wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.  The Amalekites preyed unmercifully on stragglers at the rear of the caravan – the very young, the old, and the weak. And I realized that Sid was my Amalek – the evil malevolence you never spoke of but could not forget.

Decades passed until, through the flimsy grapevine that endures even in ruptured families, I heard that Sid was in a retirement home in southern California, and I decided it was time to show up. Maybe confronting him half-a-lifetime later would help me overcome my fears, and sort things out. Only after I made flight reservations did I realize I’d be there on Father’s Day.

Seeing him was a shock. In my mind, Sid was still forty-something, with meaty hands and a smile that could turn into a sneer. Minutes passed before the scraggy old man with wobbly dentures, smudged eyeglasses and droopy tennis socks comprehended who I was. “Susan?” he asked. “My Susan?” He lurched and embraced me, crying, drooling and laughing at the same time. I let him hug me, but I couldn’t hug back.

All afternoon, he tried to correct what he called my “misconceptions about the past.” “You were so young,” he said. “I was your father; you had no reason to fear me….”

No reason? I was exasperated. But my nightmarish recollections only produced cockeyed retorts: “You were just a child… your memories are distorted.” “Children often misinterpret their parents’ actions.” “Your mother brainwashed you.” “I didn’t kidnap your brother; he was confused.”

He begged me to call him “Dad,” but “Sid” was the best I could do. “Are you married?” he asked plaintively. “Do you work? Do you have children? What are their names?” He had missed out on everything.

I had grappled with the Fifth Commandment long enough. Even if I couldn’t forgive Sid’s unhinged anger and violence in the past, I could feel pity for this pathetic 87-year old man now. If I couldn’t “honor” him directly, I, myself, could behave honorably.  So I began to tell him about my life and my family, especially you, his grandchildren.

I never saw Sid again, but until his death, sixteen months later, I wrote to him occasionally, and shared more stories. I didn’t write to make Sid feel better, although I’m sure that I did. Mainly, it was good and healthy for me.

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother, Recalling San Francisco In The 1920s

Lin Joyce grandmother Frances photoLin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie and Susie,
In the mid 1990s, I paid my grandmother, Frances, a visit in the city of my birth, San Francisco. I would visit her at least once or twice a year, usually for eight to ten days at a time, but this particular visit was to be special. It would ultimately change the course of my life.
It was an overcast morning and we had nothing particular to do that day. We sat leisurely eating our breakfast of hot cereal, stewed apricots with cinnamon, tea and toasted Parisian sour dough bread.

Soon she began to tell me about the year she saw San Francisco for the first time. Now in her 90s, she spoke of being 21 years old and more than ready to leave home and become an independent woman. Her family lived in Sellwood, Oregon, just outside of Portland, and this was a big move for her.

My grandmother decided in 1923 to move to Los Angeles together with a school friend named Nora. Quickly my grandmother obtained a job as a secretary at Selig Zoo and Movie Studio, both located near Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles.

Colonel William Nicholas Selig had shot the first motion picture ever produced in Los Angeles. He also had a famous private zoo on that site — in reality a home for the animal actors. While she worked there, she saw a crew shooting scenes for the picture “Abraham Lincoln.”

She recalled getting to know the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star who operated the studio cafeteria. The elephant trainer let my grandma ride the elephant bareback, and the lion trainer showed her his scars. My grandmother was always slender and she recalled Blossom trying to persuade my grandmother to fatten her up.
One lunchtime, my grandmother recalled seeing actors in costume eating in the movie studio canteen. Amusing, she said, to see people eat lunch while dressed up as cowboys and Indians.

As I listened to my grandmother speak, I thought, “What will become of these stories about an age long gone when she passes away?” It dawned on me that as her oldest granddaughter, I had to do something. And I got an idea.

“Grandma,” I said, “what would you think about me tape recording some of your memories while I’m visiting you? I think your stories are really wonderful and the rest of the family would love having your stories preserved.”

“Really?” she said. “Do you think anyone would really care about what happened in my life?”

“Absolutely! Would you allow me to ask you some questions about what you remember?”

“Well, okay then. It might even be fun.”

That afternoon I drove to a nearby Radio Shack in Westlake Village and bought a three pack of Sony’s highest quality recording cassette tape. My grandmother already owned a simple tape recorder. I knew I had everything I needed to begin.

That very day we began a most pleasant task that, unknown to me, would began my new life as a personal historian. Up until that point, I had had no idea of what a personal historian even did.

Over the next eight years, I went to San Francisco many times to visit my grandmother. I recorded 15 hours of memories in all – stories of war and peace, vastly expanding technology, social change, travel and her reflections on living to be 104 years old.

Oh, how I loved to hear her reflect on days long gone. Each and every minute with her turned into treasure.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother Recalls San Francisco In The 1920s (part 4)

Lin Joyce grandmother camel
Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.
Dear Annie and Susie,
In 1981, at the age of 79, my grandmother, Frances Louise Meyer Macken, wrote her memoirs (little realizing she would live another 26 years and reach the age of 104. Here are still further excerpts about her life in the San Francisco of the 1920s:
Altogether it was a fun time for a young single woman to be living in San Francisco. We were “flappers” and followed all the styles of the time – daring short dresses, high heels, lots of makeup, short hair, cigarettes and dancing the Charleston. Until the First World War, no nice woman would have dreamed of cutting her hair or smoking and drinking in public. We thought we were sophisticated, but we were really very innocent, at least I was. No one I knew lived with the opposite sex out of marriage, and most young women had high moral standards.
Ruby had to return to Portland and the night before she was to leave, a friend of hers from Portland dropped by to say goodbye. He brought with him an acquaintance from the Army days at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1918, whom he accidentally encountered on Market Street on the way to our apartment. They hadn’t seen one another since leaving Fort Lewis and it seems like fate that they met that night because the acquaintance was Ray Mackin, whom I married four years later. I decided that night that Ray was a real good and generous person because he immediately invited us to dinner and paid the bill for all four of us!
In 1926 I changed jobs again, going with Standard Oil Company of California at 200 Bush Street. I was in the Land and Lease Division, where we mostly wrote leases for prospective oil-bearing lands. I can recall writing leases for land in Saudi Arabia not realizing that the Saudis would one day control most of the oil production of the world. Standard Oil was a good place to work – the surroundings were pleasant and my fellow workers high class, educated men and women.
Our office was on the eleventh floor and we were able to watch the construction of the new high-rises. In the early twenties there were only a few tall buildings in the financial district, most of the buildings being only one, two or three floors. In the three years I was at 200 Bush, several tall buildings were erected, the most interesting being the Russ Building at Bush and Montgomery. When it was completed, it was the tallest building in San Francisco.
After Rudy returned to Portland, I moved around from guesthouse to guesthouse. These guest houses were all in old S.F. mansions and for $60 a month, I had a private room (shared bath), two meals a day and excellent service. These guest homes were mostly staffed by Filipino men who knew what the word “service” meant. The guests were generally young, single people with an occasional married couple. It was an ideal living situation – we had pleasurable times together and many romances developed.
I dated Ray Mackin on and off for several years. He always took me to good restaurants; the best plays, sporting events such as baseball games, college football, hockey games, etc. He was very good company, being witty and somewhat more affluent than most of the young men I knew. Ray gradually edged out the competition until I was going only with him. Neither of us was in a great hurry to marry but we sort of drifted into it and were married at the Star of the Sea Church on Geary Street, San Francisco, on September 7, 1929.

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother Recalls San Francisco In The 1920s (part 3)

Lin Joyce grandmother restaurant

 

Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. .She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie and Susie,

In 1981, at the age of 79, my grandmother, Frances Louise Meyer Macken, wrote her memoirs (little realizing she would live another 26 years and reach the age of 104. Here are more excerpts about her life in the San Francisco of the 1920s:

We found an apartment in a new building on Ellis Street, near Hyde.  Later we learned we were living in the heart of the then “red light” district of the city and we took a lot of kidding about it.  However, we were never bothered and it was a very good location – close to downtown theaters, shopping and not far from the financial district.  I found a position with the North British Insurance Company.  And made some friends, one of whom I still see now and then, Pearl Pickering.  It was a good fun-loving group in that office and I soon became initiated into the life of the jazz era.  If I had known then it was an “era,” I might have paid more attention. Prohibition was the law but not greatly observed by San Franciscans.  I was never much of a drinker and was wary of anything except wine, but we thought it smart to drink and I usually indulged moderately at parties and dinners at the North Beach cafes.  The wine was always hidden under the table and served in coffee cups.

We loved to go to the French and Italian restaurants where we could get a full five-course meal for 50 cents, 75 cents on Sundays when half a chicken was the main course.  We continued our love affair with the movies.  All the downtown movie houses had live entertainment besides first-run pictures.  The Warfield, the Granada and others on Market Street vied with one another each week to produce the grandest extravaganzas so the public got its 50 cents worth and more.  The California Theater was famous for the organ concerts by Max Dolin and the Warfield for the shows produced by Fanchon and Marco, a San Francisco dance company.  We often went to the Orpheum Theater on O’Farrell Street to see the latest vaudeville shows.  Across the street from the Orpheum was the famous down-stairs after-theater club, Coffee Dan’s, where everyone pounded on the tables with wooden mallets whenever new guests arrived.  Next door to the Orpheum was Morrison’s Restaurant where we loved to eat before the performance – it was considered chic to sit at the counter! 

A short distance away was Marquard’s where there was tea dancing on Saturday afternoons.  On Powell Street was Tait’s famous coffee shop where one could get a good meal for a reasonable price amid a cosmopolitan atmosphere.  The city abounded in cafeterias that served excellent food amid tasteful surroundings.  Another gustatory delight, especially for women, were the numerous tearooms, mostly in downtown alleys and upstairs in buildings, that served better than home-cooked food.  There was almost no limit to the number of restaurants in S.F. where one could get delicious food.  These restaurants were concentrated in the downtown and North Beach areas until the 60’s when a few began to appear in the outer reaches of the city.  One exception at that time as a cafeteria called Noah’s in Burlingame that was famous for its ham.  We would take a streetcar from downtown and ride all the way to Burlingame just to go to Noah’s.  Yes, there was a streetcar from S.F. to Burlingame for many years after I came to S.F. in 1924.  The right-of-way is still there and should have been utilized for a rapid transit system long ago.

There were many nightclubs where there was dancing, good food and entertainment.  Our dates would bring a bottle of bootleg liquor, which was kept, discreetly under the table.  The club usually charged one dollar for a ginger ale “set-up”.  Our favorite nightclubs were the Lido on Columbus Avenue, Bimbo’s 365 Club on Market Street and Shorty Robert’s at the beach.

P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: My Grandmother Recalls San Francisco In The 1920s (part 2)

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Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie and grandmother to Emily, Cameron and Jacob. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago, she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie and Susie,

In 1981, at the age of 79, my grandmother, Frances Louise Meyer Macken, wrote her memoirs (little realizing she would live another 26 years and reach the age of 104. Here are excerpts about her life in the San Francisco of the 1920s:

I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with my life in Portland and in 1923, over the objections of my family, I left for Los Angeles with my friend, Nora.  We took passage on a steamship to San Francisco where we stayed for two days.  I loved San Francisco from that first visit and even then regretted that I was not staying there.  We continued our journey by ship to San Pedro.  We stayed with my mother’s oldest sister, Polly, for a week or so until we found a one-room apartment in the Westlake District of Los Angeles.  It was all so exciting to us – the palm trees, the balmy climate (no smog then), and the beautiful clean beaches.

My very first job was as secretary to Col. Selig, who owned the Selig Zoo and also the Selig Motion Picture Studio.  During my lunch hours, I became friendly with the elephant trainer, the lion trainer and Blossom Seeley, an ex-vaudeville star, who operated the studio cafeteria.  The elephant trainer let me ride the elephant bareback, and the lion trainer showed me his scars, and Blossom fed me.  While I worked there, the picture Abraham Lincoln was being made and I watched them shoot many scenes.  The actors collected their paychecks at our office and although I knew most by sight I always made them tell me their names.  I refused to let them know I was impressed!  I stayed there only a few months because the office manager had very handy hands.  Even then there was sexual harassment.

I immediately found another position with the Union Oil Company in a brand new office building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.  All the best stores were nearby, good places to eat, and exciting events happening.  Los Angeles was a beautiful city at that time and there I was right in the heart of it.  I could even walk to work!  My job was not at all that demanding – in fact I often wonder what I was paid for doing.

It was shortly after coming to L.A. that I met a young man with whom I had my first serious love affair.  He was very nice and pleasant but did not have much ambition.  His sister was a famous opera star; I cannot now remember her name.  I never met her, as she did not come to L. A. while I lived there.  Eventfully I became unhappy with the progress of my romance and decided to return to Portland, a decision I regretted.  I learned you can’t go home again.  Living at home after being on my own was unsatisfactory (I am sure my parents felt the same way although they never said so).  I found the climate of Portland very depressing after sunny California and in less than a year I took off for San Francisco with my friend, Ruby Christensen.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Guest columnist Michaela Gagne Hetzler: The Fine Art Of Being A Mom

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Michaela Gagne Hetzler lives in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Josh, and three children: Lorelei, 9, Evan, 8, and Andreas, 10 1/2 months. Michaela is a public-school adjustment counselor and art therapist assisting youth in need. She is a national spokesperson for the American Heart Association, and speaks in public about being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition and undergoing surgery at the age of 17. Michaela held the title of Miss Massachusetts 2006 and competed to become Miss America 2007. Most of all, she enjoys creating art, playing soccer, and going on vacation with her family.

Dear Lorelei, Evan and Andreas,

Soon after I was unexpectedly diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition at the age of 17, I opened my college acceptance letter. Opening that envelope was a moment to treasure, affirmation that life would move forward and that I still had so many positive qualities to offer this world, despite no longer being able to achieve my life-long dream of playing Division I soccer.

My mom was so excited for me. She hugged me tightly. “So you’re going to major in Art, right?” she asked.

I remember being startled at her question. I’d thought only a little about what I wanted to spend the next four years studying. Yes, I loved art. I could draw and create for hours on end, and in retrospect it helped enable me to survive the last few months of pain and confusion at suddenly being told I could no longer perform as an athlete.

My answer was a quick, “No.”

Her face dropped as she questioned why. I went into my rational explanation of how majoring in Art was going to give me a foot forward in any career only if you counted the job of “starving artist.” The conversation reversed the usual situation, with the parent trying to convey that the arts are a practical post-secondary option.

My mom then asked me a simple question. “If you could major in anything you wanted, without worrying about what was to come next, what would it be?”

I closed my eyes and knew, but she sensed my hesitancy.

“Follow your heart,” she said. “The rest will work itself out.”

I entered college as an Art major, and loved every minute of it. During my junior year, my mom called to tell me about a career she had just heard about and she thought I would love: Art Therapy. In speaking to a colleague, she learned about this field in which art was brought into the counseling process. I was sold. It perfectly combined my two big passions, helping children and creating art.

I went on to receive my Master’s Degree in Art Therapy and Mental Health Counseling, and I currently work in a high school as a counselor and art therapist helping youth in need. I love my job. It seems the “rest” certainly worked itself out.

I thank my mom for encouraging me to follow my passion. She has helped me understand that it is taking on challenges that make life worth living. I’m sograteful for her love and support. She has shown me the kind of mom I want to be, and as you three grow, I hope to come close to being the rock she continues to be for me.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.

Guest Columnist Vivian Kirkfield: The Grandmother You Hardly Knew

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Vivian Kirkfield is a mom of three (Jason, Peter and Caroline) and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs. She’ll be flying to Singapore soon to speak at the 2013 Asian Festival of Children’s Content to share her ideas about using picture books as effective parenting tools to build self-esteem and strengthen the parent-child connection. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit her Positive Parental Participation website or contact her at vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com 

Dear Jason, Peter and Caroline, 

You might not remember too much about my mother because she died while you were all still young. I think it’s important for you to hear about what made her such a special person.

When I was growing up, if you said you were an SAHM, no one would have known what you meant. Most moms WERE stay-at-home-moms, and my mother was one of the best. She had been a nursery school teacher and she loved doing arts and crafts with me and my sister. She also loved reading to us. That’s where my love for picture books started, with me sitting on her lap, listening to books like The Little House and The Little Red Caboose and Madeline.

If you wondered why I was always happy to help you with homework during your school days, you can thank your grandmother. In my own school days, I would sit on the floor, notebook and pencil in hand, mulling over an assignment.

“What do you have to write about?” she would ask. No matter what the topic, Mom was ready to help.

Nibbling on the eraser I’d say, “But how should I begin?” The beginning was always the hardest for me.

To get me going, she spoke faster than I could write and I often had trouble reading my handwriting when I went to copy it over. No, she didn’t write it for me, but she gave me the spark of an idea. More importantly, she gave me confidence in myself. I knew that if my mom was there, I would do a good job.

My mother and I got along well for the most part, but we did have a couple of rocky times. Even though it may be hard to believe, I was once a teenager! She was strict about curfews. She worried that I would get too serious with my boyfriend. She was afraid I wouldn’t finish college. I know now that she was just being a mom.

She was a practical person as well as a philosophical one. Her favorite poem wasthe Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.

She also wrote poetry. Do you remember how every birthday card from her came with a personal verse she had written? Perhaps that’s where I get my desire to write rhyming picture books.

One of the most important lessons I learned from her was to be a hands-on mom when kids are young, but to be a hands-off mom when they become adults. Let me share what happened once.

It was a hot steamy day in early August and we were at a county fair. Jason, you were only six weeks old, dressed in a little sleeveless outfit, well-shaded and resting comfortably against me in the baby carrier. Your grandmother didn’t say a word at the time, but years later she told me that she had wanted to “advise” me to put a blanket on you, but had decided to “hold her tongue.” I hope I never forget that as I watch each of you raising your beautiful children.

With so much love,

Mom

 

Guest Columnist Alicia Sokol: “If Words Could Kill”

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Alicia Sokol, a photographer and writer, lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Andy, and their two sons, Matthew, 7, and Gabriel, 4. Alicia writes the cooking blog, Weekly Greens (www.weeklygreens.com), which she developed to help busy families take the guesswork out of planning and creating fresh, seasonal weeknight meals.

Dear Matthew and Gabriel,

When I was three years old, I told my mom “I wish you were dead.” (Can you imagine me saying such a thing to your sweet grandma?) No one remembers what injustice she had inflicted on to me to elicit such a response.

Stung by my words, she told my father about the incident later that day. “Alicia told me she wished I were dead,” she said.

“Well, that makes two of us,” he replied.

My mother was shocked, interpreting his words to mean he also wished she were dead. She began to rethink her life. Why was she married to someone who wished her dead? Why stay in a house with people who wanted her gone?

So she grabbed her coat and purse and headed to the mall.

“Just pretend I’m dead!” she said as she pulled the door closed behind her, leaving my father to care for my younger brother, your Uncle Tony, and me.

She milled about the mall as she turned the caustic words over and over in her mind. Finally, she returned home, still quite upset. She found my father seated in an armchair with a child on each knee.

“She arose!” he said, daring to make light of her dramatic exit just hours before.

In response to his joke, her anger grew hotter. And yet there she let the matter lay, carrying on with life and motherhood.

Several weeks later, though, my mother brought up the incident. At first my father had no idea what she was talking about.

“You said you wished I were dead,” my mother reminded him.

“What? I never said such a thing,” he said, confused by her accusation. “Of course I don’t wish you dead. How could you believe I’d say something like that?”

“I told you Alicia said she wished I were dead and you said you did, too,” she shot back.

“That’s not what I said. I said, ‘That makes two of us,’ meaning that she’d told me the very same thing earlier that day,” he explained.

“Really? That’s what you meant?” my mother stood before him slack-jawed and stunned. “I misinterpreted your words and then I was mad about it for days! That’s why I went to the mall that afternoon. And I was furious when I returned and you made a joke of it!”

She had endured needless suffering over a few misinterpreted words.

“Did you really think I wished you were dead?” my father said. “I love you. I would never say such a thing.”

They laughed about it and vowed to communicate more openly going forward.

I was reminded of this story just last week. You, Gabriel, wanted something — a toy, a treat, five more minutes to play, I forget exactly what. And I said “no.”

And then you, frustrated at being denied something to which you felt entitled, objected. Angrily, you said, “I want a new mama.”

Ouch.

Now, I know that you no more meant you wanted a new mother than I meant I wished my own mother dead. I never truly believed anyone would love me more and take better care of me than my mother, just as I hope you realize the same about me.

But that’s how it sometimes goes between parents and children. We say stuff. We disagree with each other, we get disappointed in each other, we misunderstand each other. And someone gets hurt. And nobody really wants to hurt anyone.

All this illustrates an important lesson. We have to talk with each other and share our feelings. We’ll all feel so much better if we do. After all, it never pays to assume anything, least of all that each of us always means exactly what we say. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes we’re actually trying to say something else.

Here’s what I want you to remember most of all. I’m imperfect, same as my mother, and only human. I always try my best, just as my mother did. You’re loved no matter what, just as I was loved no matter what. I always have your best interests at heart, guided purely by my desire to protect you.

I love you even when you’re naughty — and yes, even when you say you want me replaced.

Guest Columnist Vincent DeNigris: The Mom You Lost

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Vincent DeNigris, who lives in Hancock, New York with Samuel, his partner of 24 years, and his English bulldog Bella, is the father of Vincent, 35. He is a retired New York City police officer who worked the same streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn where he grew up. He was on duty on September 11, 2001 and lost 23 of his friends that day.  He has raised pigeons as a hobby for 42 years – learning how from the old Italians and Jews in his neighborhood – and is now widely known as a master breeder of English carrier pigeons.

Dear Vincent,

I met your mother, Barbara, on Devoe Street, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her grandparents lived around the corner on Humboldt Street, and her Aunt Nettie and  cousin Elvira lived two houses over from there. Barbara and I became childhood friends.

Your mother was funny and bright, and none too bad on the eyes. She loved music and loved to dance (you’re so much like her in that respect). We always enjoyed being together.

After you were born, everything just started to fall apart. I was holding down three jobs. I was a stationary engineer for the Minkskoff Theater family, a part-time stagehand on 44th Street and Broadway, and superintendent of our apartment building in Kew Gardens. While I was out making a living so that we could buy a house close to Uncle Nick and Aunt Marilyn in Bethpage, your mother started to do hardcore drugs.

The rent we collected for the landlord, your mother would take and spend on heroin.

She always told me she used that money because she was running short, and that I was bringing home too little money for us to survive. She did a good job of covering up.

I would be up for work and out of the house at 6 a.m. every day, and your mother would give you breakfast, take the bus back to Williamsburg, drop you off with your grandmother Carmela, and go do drugs with her friend Irene.

I finally caught on to her and we got divorced. I could no longer live with myself knowing you were living with her while she spiraled out of control. I got full custody of you when you were three years old.

Because I always loved your grandmother Carmela, I would let you go to her apartment to visit your mother there. I would bring you there on a Friday night with the promise you were going to see your mother, you were always so happy and excited about that.

Sometimes your mother would show up to see you.

But more often she failed to make an appearance.

Carmela would always plead with me to let you stay a little longer so that your mother could see you. At first I did that for the both of you. But your mother had a habit of showing up to see you just when I was about to take you home. Depending on my mood, I would either let you stay a couple of hours more, or I would just take you home because most of the time she showed up, she showed up high. This went on untill you were nine years old.

During all that time, my heart would just tear apart for you. When you were sick and cried for your mother, it was my face that you would see hovering over your bed. When you woke up screaming from a nightmare, it was either me or your grandmother, (my mother Maria) who picked you up and comforted you. Your first day of school, you proudly waited for your mother to show up at our house to see you off. She never came.

Your mother died when you were only nine years old. I waited three days before I could get up the courage to tell you. She died from AIDS-related complications brought on by intravenous drug use. It still kills me to remember how badly you took that news.

I know you have gone through hell, my son, and I wish I could just take away all your pain. I wish I could have been a mother to you. No matter how much a father does, a child wants and needs a good mother.

Neither of us care to acknowledge Mother’s Day. Your Mom is still a very hard topic for us both.

And so, my son, I did the best I could for you with what I had.

Love,

Dad

Guest Columnist Francine Brevetti: My Pantyhose Confessions

Francine Brevetti mother

Francine Brevetti, a longtime journalist, writes clients’ biographies and conducts workshops teaching people how to write their own. She calls her business Legend Crafter, www.legendcrafter.com. A San Francisco native, she worked as a reporter for newspapers and magazines around the world and is the author of “The Fabulous Fior — over 100 Years in an Italian Kitchen,” the history of America’s oldest Italian restaurant (http://www.fabulousfior.com/book/, available on Amazon.com).  Here she pays tribute to her mother, Tecla Brevetti, formerly Puccetti, who died in 2011 at the age of 99.

On the morning we would bury my mother’s ashes – I had slept badly the night before and awakened  depressed, sure I would lose control of my emotions at her grave – the pantyhose I picked to wear looked unfamiliar and somehow went on too easily.

By the time I met my cousin Linda at her office, the pantyhose were sliding down to my buttocks. I had to hitch them up several times. I actually had to pull up my skirt and rearrange them over my nether parts.

Only then did I realize that they were mamma’s pantyhose. I had taken them when I cleaned out her nightstand the day she died.

We drove to the office of the Italian Cemetery in Colma and found cousins Stanley and Bob waiting for us. Before we walked out to the cemetery, I ducked into the ladies room so I could pull the hose back over my behind.

Italian Cemetery is a lovely place with broad paths, expressive statuary and dignified mausoleums. The sun was shining, a welcome event after several days of cold. The trees that line the paths are sculpted into halos so the sun casts intriguing shadows of the branches onto the ground.

Linda, Stanley, Bob, my dog Lola and I walked towards the lot housing my grandparents’ crypt. The damned hose kept wiggling and slipping, making me extremely uncomfortable.

I then told everyone my little secret, whispering, and they roared with laughter.

“Why don’t you just take them off?” Linda asked.

“I don’t wear panties underneath,” I said.

“Too much information!” someone said.

Every few steps I gripped my skirt and hoisted my hose up under it, staggering all the while like Quasimodo or Frankenstein’s Igor. What could’ve been a solemn occasion – and perhaps should have been – was instead slapstick

My grandparents’ grave was open. We looked down a shaft of some eight feet leading to a flat surface. Underneath that were the caskets of my grandparents and their two infant children, Albertina and Albertino.

Mamma’s ashes lay in a white plastic container about the size of a microwave oven, her name, “Tecla Brevetti,” emblazoned on top.

A worker standing by at the grave descended the ladder and took mamma’s remains down to the floor of the crypt. Stanley and Bob had brought a bouquet of flowers — something I had forgotten to do — and Stanley extracted the one red rose. He had remembered that Tecla’s favorite color was red. He threw the red rose down into the crypt and, luckily enough, it landed right on mother’s box of ashes.

“Tecla is running the show today,” Stanley said.

We all looked at each other and wondered what we should say or do now because I had decided we would have no ritual prepared.

“Should we sing something?” Linda asked.

We sang two lines of the Italian song “Mamma.”

Mamma, la canzone la piu’ bella sei tu/
Sei tu la vita e per la vita non ti lascio mai piu’.

Yes, we sang the son in Italian. Translated, the lyrics mean: “Mamma, the most beautiful song is you/You are life and for life I shall never leave you.”

And that was that.

And we returned to the cemetery office with me still staggering from wearing my mother’s ill-fitting pantyhose.

Later I wondered about the reason behind this little misadventure. Maybe my mother had somehow guided my hand that morning to her pantyhose. Maybe, in the end, she wished for us to bury her with a laugh rather than a sob.

Flying The Coop: A Story Of Life And Death

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

The day after a recent Christmas, I discovered a trespasser on our terrace. A pigeon. But it was no mere intruder. It was also a captive.

Our terrace is enclosed with a wire-mesh screen. We made this home improvement expressly to keep pigeons out. For years they had visited unannounced, warbling ad nauseum and depositing souvenirs.

But now a scruffy gray pigeon had gotten in. It squeezed through a gap only a few inches wide. And now it was trapped. It tried to get out, flapping its wings, darting high and low.

My first instinct was to save it, though more to rid a nuisance than out of mercy, and I commenced eviction proceedings forthwith.

Unfortunately, I had no pigeon removal experience. I could try to drive the pigeon toward the gap it had entered. Or try to coax it into our living room, adjacent to the terrace, and enable it to fly through its open windows.

So out onto the terrace I stepped, a plastic outdoor table held in front of my torso as a shield. The pigeon saw me moving in and took to the air. It veered over and around me, wheeling right, then left, clearly in a panic. So much for that.

Nor was I now going to risk letting the pigeon into our living room. I imagined it going berserk, smashing mirrors and lamps, even pecking at my skull. Neither was I about to summon our building superintendant or the city health department. I needed a quick, easy solution.

Then I decided to leave the pigeon be. It would starve out there. Eventually it would die.

Now, I was never a friend to the pigeon population. I never fed one, for example. But neither was I an enemy of the species. I never flung a rock at one. Rather, I adopted a United Nations neutrality, wishing pigeons neither well nor ill.

Still, when it came to murder, I had a clean record. So my decision left me feeling guilty, even ashamed. This pigeon had done nothing wrong except gotten trapped by accident.

When you and Mom came home that night, I explained everything.

“So you’re just going to let it die out there?” Caroline asked.

The pigeon perched on the bedroom windowsill and stared at me. The next day the temperature dropped below freezing, and the pigeon huddled shivering under the table. Every few hours it roused itself from stillness to try to liberate itself. Round and round it flew, rustling in a frenzy, hysteria setting in.

Over the next few days, as the pigeon repeated this routine to no avail, I learned to live with my decision. After all, pigeons were technically vermin, in the same class as rats, carrying germs and potential infection. They marred statues and benches and buildings with filthy deposits, serving no productive purpose.

Then, one day, the pigeon was gone. As it faced death, starved and freezing and weak, it somehow turned its entrance into an exit and escaped its prison.

In cheating death, that willful pigeon took me off the hook. It granted me a reprieve from my role as executioner and spared my conscience. It saved its life and taught me a lesson about mine. Oh, I knew what I had done. Make no mistake about that. But I also knew I would never do it again.

If I’m lucky, someday I’ll get a chance to prove it.

Hooked On Motown: How Your Dad Once Got Funky: part 5

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

In May of 1994, 24 years after the talent show, thanks to the kind of serendipity that might happen but once in a lifetime, an incident brought me full circle back to Motown. I was at Ellis Island, in the Great Hall, attending a dinner ceremony for the Ellis Island Medal Of Honor. An organization called the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, or NECO, originally formed to recognize and preserve diversity in America, sponsored the event to pay homage to the immigrant experience. Over the years, NECO had conferred its award on hundreds of Americans, including six U.S. presidents and numerous Pulitzer Prize winners, not to mention Bob Hope, Muhammad Ali, Henry Kissinger and Frank Sinatra.

I was on duty there – in a black tux, no less – as a newly hired vice president of Howard J. Rubenstein Associates, the influential New York public relations firm. My job that night was essentially to escort Norman Brokaw, chairman of the William Morris Agency, a client who happened to be an honoree. Brokaw, who had started his career in the agency’s storied mailroom, wound up representing the likes of Marilyn Monroe, whom he reputedly discovered, as well as Barbara Stanwyck and Clint Eastwood.

I ate dinner in my usual anxious state over the vagaries of client satisfaction. My boss, the formidable public relations impresario Howard Rubenstein himself, was on hand making the rounds. Indeed, Howard kept glancing at a seating chart he clutched in his hand and making a beeline to buttonhole whichever bold-face name occupied a given table. It was as vivid a lesson in the art of high-powered networking as I had ever witnessed.

About halfway through dinner I took the liberty of leaving our table to reacquaint myself with the concept of personal freedom and catch a breather taking a stroll around the premises. I turned a corner to go down a long corridor and there, coming toward me, flanked by associates, was none other than Berry Gordy, Jr. I recognized him right away – the baby face that carried a hint of bulldog pugnacity. Now, I could have done what I often do when encountering the well-known by chance and followed the protocol most New Yorkers follow: acted as if he were in fact as mortal as everyone else and just let him be.

But no, no chance. This was Berry Gordy, Jr., a k a Mr. Motown. Berry Gordy, Jr. had founded Motown Records in 1959. Berry Gordy, Jr. had discovered Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Berry Gordy Jr. had gone on to sign Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five and, yes, the mighty Temptations. He was the entrepreneur who had engineered Hitsville, USA, the mastermind behind the music that had kept me high from boyhood on. And now I was in a public place all of 10 feet away from him.

“Hello, Mr. Gordy,” I said with an upbeat lilt, putting my hand out with a smile. “Hello,” he replied, all business, and shook my hand. “You’re responsible for a lot of great music,” I said enthusiastically. “Thank you,” he responded. He, too, now smiled, even bowing his head slightly in courtly acknowledgment and appreciation, almost, I dare say, as if he were hearing such a compliment for the very first time in his life and, accordingly, delighted.

I could have said much more, of course. In fact, you can be sure I wanted to say more. I could have taken another minute to tell Berry Gordy, Jr. about our talent show at Fair Lawn High School back in 1970. And how Larry and Eric and I had, improbably enough, simulated The Temptations performing “Cloud Nine.” And how we had just wanted to be cool, and how I for one had never quite cracked the code for cool. And how it was a peak experience for us, and how we had meant it as a tribute, and how I was supposed to be Eddie Hendricks, by then dead only 18 months, stricken with lung cancer, 30 years of smoking forcing the removal of one of his lungs, that creamy tenor falsetto forever stilled. And how my little solo for some reason drew a big laugh.

I could have told him, too, how deeply I loved the music of Motown, all of it, how much soul music had meant to me and how much it spoke to me and how much I loved to listen to it and, most of all, dance to it, dancing out on our terrace in Forest Hills, Queens and while going up and down the stairwell in our apartment building, getting high on its fumes. I could have told Berry Gordy, Jr. all that.

But somewhere along the line, my infrequently deployed capacity for common sense kicked in, and I thought better of it. I had gotten a privileged opportunity to say my piece and pay my respects to Berry Gordy, Jr., and had therefore alighted briefly on my own version of cloud nine, and realized I should leave it at that. Why push my luck? What I had told him – that he was responsible for a lot of great music — he no doubt already knew. Then again, everything I left unsaid I suspect he somehow already knew, too.

P.S. — Here’s the version of this piece that appeared in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/01/the-motown-sound-revisited-my-five-minutes-as-a-temptation/266328/

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Hooked On Motown: How Your Dad Once Got Funky: part 4

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

Only years later, as it turned out, would I come to understand certain underlying details about our performance as the Temptations on that night so long ago. For starters, back then we remained quite clueless about the meaning of the lyrics we mouthed to “Cloud Nine.” We had the idea that the song was basically about feeling good. Example: “I’m doing fine/Up here on cloud nine/Listen one more time/I’m doing fine/Up here on cloud nine.”

Eventually, though, someone pointed out to me in passing, and I immediately recognized its truth, that “Cloud Nine” was actually a strong dose of social commentary, a warning about drug addiction, presumably heroin in particular. After all, the song is about a man who left home looking for a job he never found and wound up “depressed and downhearted” and then “took” to cloud nine. That’s where he found himself, all but miraculously, without any responsibility to bear and “riding high” and “free as a bird” and “a million miles from reality,” in a “world of love and harmony.” The song we once naively considered so joyous and celebratory was actually profoundly sad, a cry of ecstatic anguish. And it was this anti-drug message we unwittingly delivered that night to a white suburban audience most likely as ignorant as we. Sometimes, I suppose, you just hear what you want to hear.

Only years later, too, would I see that talent show in any sort of real context. In 1970, race relations in America still qualified as incendiary. We performed our act only two years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., only four years after the founding of the Black Panthers, and only five years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act into law, the riots in Watts and Newark likewise still fresh in memory. Angela Davis was arrested in 1970. Only that year would the Miss America pageant have its first black contestant. Our country was still right in the thick of the civil rights movement.

Our suburban town of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, 11 miles from the George Washington Bridge that connected us with New York City, was an altogether Caucasian enclave, increasingly made up of mostly of the children of European immigrants — Jews, Italians, Germans, Poles, Czechs – many of whom had migrated from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Virtually no blacks lived there, much less attended our high school. The only black person I knew as a child was a sweet woman named Marie Esposito, our maid, who came to our house once a week by bus from the predominantly black neighboring town of Paterson, just across the Passaic River, to scrub our floors, dust our furniture and babysit me and my sister.

Against this backdrop, then, Larry and Eric and I had performed in our high school talent show pretending to be black entertainers. Why is easy to explain. We three white upper-middle-class Jewish boys suffered then from what could readily be diagnosed as a mild to moderate form of black envy. To us, certain blacks had a certain kind of cool – talked cool, walked cool, acted cool, sang cool, danced cool. And we, too, wanted with all our hearts to be cool. And so dancing to the rhythm and blues of Motown was our humble attempt at cool. More, it was a symbolic act of support and solidarity – it was how we sought, at least within the safe suburban cocoon that we occupied, to get down with the brothers.

An iffy endeavor, to put it charitably, for we had little familiarity with tough times. We had never lived in a cardboard shack without running water in some backwater boondocks. Oh, granted, I occasionally got detention for flicking spitballs in class, and our front lawn might have experienced some crabgrass, and my SAT scores came in below average, and our basement often flooded in a heavy rain. But in terms of struggle, that was about it. We had clean streets and pretty much no crime and good schools and both our parents around for the long haul and fireworks at the municipal pool on the Fourth of July. My idea of The Man, against whom the oppressed back then invariably found themselves pitted, was the junior high school principal who once suspended me from class for a day for talking too much in homeroom.

And yet in retrospect, I realize that our enactment of this mimicry could easily be interpreted, at least on the face of it, as mockery. In that still-volatile racial atmosphere of May, 1970, it’s entirely conceivable that what we had intended as innocent tribute could perhaps be misunderstood as satire, and that certain extreme activists could have seen the stunt we pulled masquerading as The Temptations as downright insulting.

No, you could never have exactly characterized us as crusaders. But we had a general idea of what we were doing that night. We had a kind of case to make. We three white kids fancied ourselves, more or less, as honorary blacks – forerunners, if you will, of the generation of white boy wannabes who would come along about 30 years later, likewise afflicted with a strain of black envy, going all ghetto to propel the musical phenomena that are rap and hiphop.

And maybe that’s why the audience laughed so hard at my little solo turn. Maybe it was because the sight of a skinny white bespectacled upper-middle-class suburban Jewish teenager, complete with frizzy “Jewfro,” my face and dance moves so earnest, looking to channel the spirit of a broken-hearted young black man from the housing projects of the Detroit ghetto, trying so very hard to palm myself off as the most soulful dude the planet had ever known, all while lip-syncing a voice so flamboyantly falsetto, so flamingly, stratospherically castrato – well, maybe it somehow came off as inherently absurd. And yes, utterly laughable. At least that’s one theory anyway.

P.S. – Please see part 5 tomorrow.

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Hooked On Motown: How Your Dad Once Got Funky: part 3

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

I love the music of Motown no less today than I did on that Saturday night 42 years ago. It still speaks to me, maybe more clearly than ever. I’ve never stopped listening to it, more the music than the lyrics, and have never, for that matter, stopped dancing to it. I own an eight-CD set with all the greatest hits, but play those tunes, as a rule, only if I’m already on my feet. I’ll put on the headset of my Sony Walkman, probably among the last people clinically alive who still listens to music on anything other than an IPod, and go onto the terrace of our apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, overlooking the fountain in our courtyard – it could be hottest summer or coldest winter; it makes no difference – and re-enact the same dance moves my friends and I attempted at the talent show.

The music we loved as teenagers tends to stay with us forever. Early enthusiasms seldom dim, certain melodies and rhythms carving a groove in our neural pathways. In that respect, Motown remains for me a kind of cloud nine. For the last 26 years now, I’ve relied on Motown to get me through my exercise routine during New York winters. I listen to Motown tunes as I repeatedly walk up and down the stairwell in our 22-story building, typically for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, my footfall tied to the tempos. I stop on the landings every 10 floors or so, sweating and panting, expressly to dance. On occasion, fellow tenants who are navigating the stairwell purely for transportation purposes will spot me doing my stuff and wonder what’s what and whether to call security. But hey, it’s just me, a harmless bald 60-year-old father of two still getting high on Motown.

P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.

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Hooked On Motown: How Your Dad Once Got Funky: part 2

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

Out we bopped onto the stage in the auditorium of our high school for our big number, then, Larry and Eric and I, strutting out in front of the footlights and hundreds of spectators, our families, friends, neighbors and classmates out there in the dark beyond. And streaming over the public address system came the guitar riff with the wah-wah pedal that signaled the overture of “Cloud Nine.” And for the next three minutes and 27 seconds – that’s how long the song ran – with the curtains now parted and each of us at center stage with microphones in hand, Larry was lead singer David Ruffin, Eric baritone Paul Williams and I Eddie Kendricks, he of the creamy tenor falsetto.

We performed onstage that night just as we had practiced in my bedroom for weeks beforehand. We mouthed the words, our lips in sync to the lyrics of the first stanza – all about a guy raised in the slums, in a one-bedroom shack, along with ten other children, and hardly ever enough food to go around – hard times alien to our affluent suburban experience. To the thrumming bass line, the pounding congas and the blasting horns, we, too, shimmied and sashayed. As we fake-sang – all about the lazy father who “disrespected” his wife and treated his kids “like dirt” – we stepped lively, first forward, then back, then to the left and then to the right. We clapped and swayed our hips and twirled and sliced our hands through the air. We pranced and boogalooed and walked The Temptation Walk, a glide to our stride, always in unison.

Yes, we had the patented Temptations moves down cold, or at least lukewarm. And all along, even though our grasp of hardship in general and poverty in particular was highly suspect – we each occupied our own bedrooms, never lacked for food and had fathers gainfully employed who treated us and our mothers reasonably well – we each nonetheless strove to make like super-cool, bad-ass, dudes from the most hardcore slums. We bobbed our heads peacock-style and bit our lips, keeping it real for the rest of society, as if we somehow now embodied the very essence of Motown soul.

And then, about halfway through, I stepped out in front for my little solo as Eddie Kendricks, co-founder of the Temptations, who arranged most of the vocals. “And every man, every man, has to be free,” I “sang” in an ever-ascending falsetto, the word “free” elongated into four syllables, my hands flung aloft overhead, fingers fluttering, as if in holy-roller, glory-hallelujah prayer. And at that moment, the audience, to a person, exploded in laughter. About thirty seconds later, I stepped forward again to offer the refrain, “I wanna say I love the life I live/And I’m gonna live the life I love,” and laughter again erupted. That laughter, so sudden and so loud, stunned me with its tidal-wave force. I was unsure what to make of it.

Someone else won the talent show, though I forget who or why, perhaps conveniently so. No matter. Our routine had come off without a hitch. For those three minutes, we three performed with a sense of control, of owning the night, such as we’d never felt before. It was ours, that moment, all ours. Our appearance mimicking the legendary Temptations, the coolest of the cool, brought another bonus, too, and turned us briefly into the talk of the school. Classmates came over to us in the hallways to compliment us, at least for the next week or so.Do your solo again, some urged me. I had finally verified my longstanding suspicion, once and for all, that I, too, had soul.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

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Hooked On Motown: How Your Dad Once Got Funky

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Dear Michael and Caroline,

On a Saturday night in May of 1970, my friends Larry and Eric and I, each of us then 17 years old, performed in the annual talent show of Fair Lawn High School in Bergen County, New Jersey. We chose to do an act that came naturally to us. We three upper-middle-class Jewish white boys, just months away from going off to college, impersonated the Temptations, the all-black Motown musical group, lip-syncing the lyrics in our rendition of the now-classic song “Cloud Nine.”

We had practiced our routine for weeks in my shag-carpeted bedroom, its walls then decorated with large posters of Raquel Welch, Sophia Loren, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Newman, in the post-WWII split-level colonial house that I shared, albeit grudgingly, with my parents and sister. We would play the album that contained “Cloud Nine” again and again on my Panasonic turntable as we choreographed our dance moves. Larry took the lead, deciding who would play which member of the Temps and how long we would rehearse and even the steps we would do. Eric and I, much his inferiors both athletically and academically and glad simply to be aboard for this ambitious musical enterprise, complied readily with his every command.

Though the three of us had markedly different personalities – Larry serious to the point of driven, Eric easygoing bordering on lax and I somewhere in between – we had in common something powerful, just a notch below our diehard habit of playing pickup basketball. What brought us together to practice in my bedroom for hours on end for our high school talent show was our love of soul music, and most particularly the soul music that came out of the justly fabled locale known as Motown.

Oh, we loved other kinds of music, too – the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. But soul music came equipped with a unique agenda. For as much as we loved listening to it, singing along to it, even daydreaming to it, most of all, we loved dancing to it. And the soul music from Motown Records, rhythm and blues tinged with gospel, made us want to dance as nothing ever had before.

By then we’d already known about Motown for a few years, of course. We had bought all the records, seen its stars on “Ed Sullivan” and “American Bandstand,” danced to its tunes at all our school dances, and that special sound had long since seeped under our skin. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Isley Brothers, Junior Walker and The All-Stars, Marvin Gaye and his heavenly honeyed wail – it spoke to us on a level all but molecular. “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Baby, I Need Your Loving,” “Dancing In The Street,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” “I Second That Emotion,” “Love Child,” For Once In My Life,” “Never Can Say Goodbye” – such tunes from the Motown catalogue mainlined themselves into our bloodstreams.

But perched at the peak of the Motown hierarchy, hard as it was for us back then to pick favorites, were the mighty Temptations. The five young men from Detroit who made up the group debuted in 1962 and broke through in 1964 with “The Way You Do The Things You Do.” Along came other hits – “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “Get Ready” and “My Girl.” Motown_images_the_temptations_one“Cloud Nine” had come out as a single in 1968, the Temps venturing away from romantic ballads and into what came to be called psychedelic soul, landing Motown its first Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Group performance. More than anything, we loved how the Temptations danced, how they shimmied and sashayed, perfecting a signature move known as “The Temptation Walk.” Eventually, over 25 years, with no fewer than 43 top 10 hits, the Temptations would evolve, despite some musical chairs among its members, into the most successful rhythm and blues group of all time.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Brenda Greenberg: Small Towns, Big Memories

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Brenda Greenberg lives in Toronto with her husband, Rob Wagman, an eye surgeon; her son Jake, 22, a recent Dean’s Honor list graduate of Queens University in Kingston Ontario; and a crazy mini Aussie shepherd puppy named Waldo. She is a veteran television writer and producer.

Dear Jake,

This fall, as we drove north to close our cottage for the season, you stared out the window, and ever the sophisticated city kid, you asked, “What do people in these small towns do?”

Quite a question, that.

And having grown up in the small town of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, I asked myself a question, too. “What did we do?”

Instantly my memories came flooding back.

We did many of the same things typical kids everywhere did. We hung out at each other’s houses, went to proms, dances, and holiday parades. My favorite was the Memorial Day parade because as a girl scout I got to participate. There was something fun about marching down the street and waving to people I knew (my first experience as a celebrity).

As teens, we sneaked into New York City to see concerts in Central Park, Carnegie Hall and the Fillmore East. We hung out in Greenwich Village and ate at trendy restaurants trying to look cool — look, if possible, like anything but the suburban kids we so obviously were. I loved my adventures with friends in the city. But always felt a sense of relief when we stepped off the bus, back safe on our hometown turf.

We had a circle of friends that constantly expanded and contracted, with a core group always intact.Together, my friends and I shared so many firsts: first kisses, first booze, first cigarettes and first…well, let’s leave it at that. We had no idea at the time that our shared adventures would build bonds that would last a lifetime.

Now we live in a different country, (America’s best friend to the north), and I could easily feel lonely and removed from those friends. Thanks to social media I have stayed connected, and also reconnected, with so many old friends from high school. It gives me a sense of a “larger family” and warms my heart to hear about what’s going on in my high school pal’s lives.

This past year you graduated from college (or “university,” as they say here in Canada) and I’m happy to see that you, too, are keeping in touch with many of your friends from home; Skyping with a buddy in Hong Kong, sharing a birthday dinner with another and lending support to friends in need.

I’m proud of you, son, and hope you’ll continue to “make new friends, but keep the old.” If you’re unfamiliar with the ditty that gave us that line, I’ll be happy to sing it to you any time.

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Dispatches: True Confessions: Part 3

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We’ve all got something to admit that’s never going to win any beauty contests. Yet dig down deep inside ourselves we do.

A mother who chose to remain anonymous, a domestic abuse survivor, wrote a letter to her “missing child,” a son whose father, her former husband, left home, only to return six years ago, take the boy, then a teenager, and never bring him back. The son lives in the same town as his mother, and she has occasionally “glimpsed him from afar.” But she stays away from him, apparently because his father may be a threat to his and her safety. “It is so hard to choose,” she says, “between seeing him (her son) and keeping us all safe.” In her anguish over losing all contact with her son, she faults herself for being “deficient and powerless” as a mother. “What a failure I sometimes feel myself to be . . . It is the price I pay for you and us to have peace in our lives.” http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/a-letter-to-my-missing-child/

A mother of four and grandmother of nine who chose to remain anonymous wrote a letter to her grandson asking for an “appointment.” She seeks to schedule a private meeting free of distractions because, she says, “somehow I lost you.” Yes, they still see each other. Yes, they enjoy what little time they spend together. But, she says, “for me there is something missing.” She wants more of him – to know what he’s reading, how he feels about life, who his best friends are. “Grant me this hearing, young man,” she implores. If he does, she promises, she’ll go home “content with fleeting hugs and intermittent text messages.” http://alettertomychildren.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/2074/

A mother of three from Baton Rouge, Louisiana who chose to remain anonymous wrote a letter to her four-year-old son Maddox about how she expected never to be able to have children. First, she was diagnosed at age 17 with endometriosis — then, while pregnant, with cervical cancer. That second discovery came in her first visit to a physician to check on her fetus. “By this point,” she writes to her child, “you had already saved my life.” As it turned out, the act of birth evidently rid her of all her cancer cells. Then she learned that her son has autism. Here she declares, as if in prayer, her hopes for his future. letters

Dispatches: True Confessions: Part 2

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We’ve all got something to admit that’s never going to win any beauty contests. Yet dig down deep inside ourselves we do.

Jessica T, a mother of two and photographer in Utah, wrote a letter to her son Sam shortly after his fifth birthday to admit she’s having a tough time accepting the milestone. To her it means he’s no longer a baby and growing independent and now needs her less. “I struggled because as your mom I want you to NEED me for the rest of your life,” she tells him. Even so, she’s prepared to put her son first. She looks forward to his starting kindergarten, and to teaching him to tie his shoelaces and to ride a bicycle without training wheels. She’s excited about the prospect of watching him make friends and excel at baseball and “finding your place among your peers.” http://adayinthelifeofatomlin.blogspot.com/p/letters-to-my-children.html

Ajay Rochester, a single mother and actress in Australia, wrote a letter to her 12-year-old son, Kai, because they argued about money just before he went away to a camp for a month. Ajay squarely addresses money struggles as a source of family friction, specifically her lack of it and his desire to have more of it to spend. She apologizes to him for the tight squeeze, but also pleads with him for understanding and cooperation. “I am the only person who looks after you,” she tells him. “I’m far from perfect, but I do my best.” As she tries to gain some measure of control over her life and his through this letter, she reveals her anger, her shame, her frustration and her disappointment – in herself as well as in him. She was so sad after the argument that she cried. She admits making “many mistakes” in her life, such as dropping out of school. Ajay also shares details about her “horrible childhood” – how her mother beat her up every day and her father screamed at both every night. http://findingmymojo.com/heartbreaking-hopeful-letter-my-son/

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Dispatches: True Confessions

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We’ve all got something to admit that’s never going to win any beauty contests. Yet dig down deep inside ourselves we do. That’s what the following three mothers have done.

A mother who chose to remain anonymous wrote a letter to her newborn son revealing a detail mothers rarely if ever reveal to a child – that she and his father had no intention of her getting pregnant with him. Yes, they wanted kids, but just later on. Still, she has no regrets. “Within moments of seeing you for the first time,” she writes, “I loved you more than I have ever loved anyone on this earth.” http://firsttimebabybumps.blogspot.com/2012/06/letters-to-my-son.html

Another mother who stays anonymous wrote a letter to her one-month-old son, Griffin, her third child, likewise acknowledging that the pregnancy was unplanned. Originally, she asked herself what she had gotten herself into. She even “threw a tantrum when that positive line showed up on that pregnancy stick.” Now she feels drastically otherwise – elated, in fact. “I’ve spent hours holding, kissing and admiring every pore,” she writes. She calls herself “utterly honored and amazed” to have received this “perfect gift.” http://myuncensoredbrain.wordpress.com/tag/griffin/

Amanda of Nashville, Tennessee wrote a letter to her three children to express her wish for God to restore in her “the full joy of being a mother.” As much as she adores her kids and feels honored to be a mother, she admits to being selfish and considers herself “broken.” “I will still mess up and mess up big,” she writes.” She longs to love her children well “in this crash course in love called family.” Ultimately, she admits she needs Jesus. “My love for Jesus is bigger than my love for you,” she declares. Now she faces the dilemma of somehow reconciling what she sees as conflicting forces. http://life-edited.blogspot.com/2012/05/confession-praise-letter-to-my-children.html

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Richard Haddad: Welcome, Alex Nicole, My Granddaughter, You Hypnotic Beauty You

 

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Richard Haddad, who lives in Westminster, Maryland with his wife Valorie, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. The letter below was prompted by the birth of his first grandchild, Alex Nicole. Previously, Richard contributed guest columns to this blog about all of his children, including letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan on the days they were born, and a four-part series about his disabled daughter Erin. Links to those columns appear at bottom (in between two more photos).

My Dear, Beautiful Alex Nicole,

I’m embarrassed to admit that I was completely unprepared for the effect your birth would have on me. Naturally, throughout your mom’s pregnancy I was really excited by the prospect of becoming a grandfather for the first time, and I was also very happy for your mom and dad who were obviously already in love with you. But I was totally surprised by the emotion in my reaction when you were born. I’ll never forget that day.

Your dad had been doing a great job of keeping everyone in the family posted on details like when your mom would be admitted to the hospital, and how your delivery would be managed by the hospital staff. That was important to all of us because we all lived out-of-state and wouldn’t be able to be there ourselves. And then on the night your mom was admitted, he began sending us a stream of in-hospital photos that just erased the hundreds of miles between us.

But I still didn’t expect to be so mesmerized by your face in the photos he sent starting about a minute after you were born the next day, or the emotional rumbling inside me that would follow. Your perfectly adorable face – your petite features, your dark hair and striking dark eyes – played a role in that reaction, I’m sure, but the realization that you were a part of my offspring – my son’s daughter, the first in the next generation of my family, just hit me like a rock.

And then the couple of days we spent with you a few weeks later when we visited you at home, cuddling you and touching your silky skin and kissing you and just staring at you for hours at a time (hypnotized as if we were staring at a roaring fireplace, as Grandma Val said) were just incredible. I couldn’t come up with the right words when trying to describe that experience to my friends afterwards, but that didn’t matter to those who are also grandparents because they knew exactly what I meant.

Another thing that so impressed me on that first visit was how lovingly and tenderly your mom and dad handled you and looked at you and looked at each other. Your dad has loved children from the time he was a boy himself and there was never any doubt in my mind that some day he would have a family of his own. He actually began practicing being a dad at the age of fourteen, when your aunt, his sister Ashleigh, was born, and we could see then what a loving parent he would be some day by the way he interacted with her.

With a mom and dad as devoted as your parents are, you are going to have a fantastic upbringing, my dear Alex Nicole, and I’m excited by the prospect of being a part of that. You already have a large extended family in your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and we’re all very family-oriented people, so growing up is bound to be a full and busy and loving experience for you.

I’m so happy to have you in our family, and just a little more than a month old, you are already a major presence my life and in the lives of other family members. Thank you for being. I love you.

Grandpa Rich    

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http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l

http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l-14224

http://letterstomykids.org/guest-columnist-richard-haddad-brothers-and-s

http://letterstomykids.org/guest-columnist-rich-haddad-your-brothers-and

http://letterstomykids.org/guest-columnist-rich-haddad-your-brothers-and-94081

http://letterstomykids.org/guest-columnist-rich-haddad-guest-columnist-r

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Guest Columnist Craig Podell: How We Played Then, How We Play Now

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Craig Podell, who lives with his ex-wife Lesly (they married in 1982, got divorced in 1993 and have reunited) in La Quinta, has two children, Scott and Jessica. Scott, 28, works in music management, production and promotion on both coasts. Jessica lives in the East Village and works with Steiner Sports Memorabilia in New Rochelle, New York.

 

Dear Scott and Jessica,

 

As a little boy, from the ages of 5 to 11, I walked to my elementary school, Radburn School, without fear of being abducted. We had no security issues. After school, I ran home to change into my “grubbies,” only to race off to a ballfield.

Every weekday from 3 to 6 in the afternoon, we chose up sides and got up a game, whether baseball, football or basketball. Playing sports — that’s what our gang always most looked forward to doing. So much so that in the winter we would shovel snow off the basketball court so we could play.

That’s how it was growing up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I had a childhood filled with such enjoyments. It also afforded me the opportunity to establish middle-class values.

On Saturday afternoons in autumn, the big feature in town was high school football. As you approached the field, you could smell the raked-up leaves burning. Somehow that fragrance always aroused my appetite for those 25-cent hot dogs boiled in steamy water on a fresh bun with lots of mustard.

 

Watching the Fair Lawn High football team play in 1966-67 turned out to be a real treat. Our star player and toast of the town was a highly recruited kid named Bruce Jankowski. Jano ended up going to Ohio State University to start for the legendary coach, Woody Hayes.

After 1967, my Mom and Dad moved away from Fair Lawn. Dad had a good measure of success in business. We moved to a nicer home in Wyckoff, 10 miles from Fair Lawn. Though my folks drove nicer cars and we were more financially secure, my sisters and I always maintained our middle-class values.

Fair Lawn was, and still is, very different from your hometown of Calabasas, California. You led a different life from mine. You grew up with Atari, PlayStation and a computer. Your high school classmates drove cars nicer than 90% of the faculty. That you grew up with such excess — well, let’s just say I never envied you.

 

As for me, I never rubbed shoulders with the elite. We had no paparazzi around at our local supermarkets, much less Kim Kardashian cropping up. We had a broomstick and a pink rubber ball. If we were lucky, we drove used cars, and that in and of itself was really cool. We parked on the street.

 

And competing in sports was ever so much fun. “Would I make the team?” I asked myself as a kid. “Or will I get cut and wind up an object of ridicule?” You see, back then only certain kids made the team, and only the champions received any trophies.

I still remember how it felt playing on those cold, long-ago days with my friends. “Gotta go now,” I would announce, knowing the street lights would be going on soon. “My Mom wants me home.”

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Dispatches: The Mortality Effect (part 2)

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Time is on our side, at least for now. But here’s a fact that life – and especially parenthood – tends to drive home: someday we’re all going to die. We start to calculate how many days we’ve already used and estimate how many we may have left. We feel a sudden need to get our affairs in order, clear our consciences, and generally lay the groundwork for posterity. In short, if our mortality is staring us in the face, we stare right back. And so we write a letter to our kids.

Ralphie May, a comedian, wrote goodbye letters to his two children after serious health issues threatened his life. Last November, he came down with walking pneumonia, only for a pulmonologist to discover, fortuitously, a clot in his leg. Within six hours of a procedure to locate and filter the clots, the doctors would know if the effort would succeed. “My life changed in that six hours,” Ralphie says. “I wrote a letter to my children.” http://www.sj-r.com/features/x1780478502/After-health-scare-comedian-Ralphie-May-comes-roaring-back

A mom who is also a Marine and a lawyer, yet declines to identify herself, started writing letters to her two young children, all to be made available only in the event of her death. “As much as I plan to be the great-grandma with the best stories and the huge garden when I’m really old,” she writes, “I have to face the fact that I could just as easily be taken in a car accident on the way home.” She posted a blog piece about her plans, asking her audience, “What would you say in this kind of letter?” Now, thanks to the advice and encouragement she received, she plans to keep a journal for each of her kids. http://cheapwineandcookies.blogspot.com/2012/03/if-i-die-letters-to-my-kids.html

Donna Pagano of Los Angeles started writing letters to her three children more than 10 years ago. She intends for her kids to read the letters only after she’s gone. Her motivation for writing the letters: proximity to death. A close friend of hers, the father of two young children, suffered a fatal heart attack. Eventually the certified financial planner co-authored a booklet, “The Family Love Letter,” about what parents should leave behind. It has a section strictly about family history and remembrances. “It’s not only what’s in your bank account,” Donna writes, “but also what’s in your heart.” http://www.familyloveletter.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8&Itemid=3

Dispatches: The Mortality Effect

Heaven_image
Time is on our side, at least for now. But here’s a fact that life – and especially parenthood – tends to drive home: someday we’re all going to die. We start to calculate how many days we’ve already used and estimate how many we may have left. We feel a sudden need to get our affairs in order, clear our consciences, and generally lay the groundwork for posterity. In short, if our own mortality is staring us in the face, we stare right back. And so we write a letter to our kids.

Velinda Peyton of Los Angeles decided the night before undergoing surgery that threatened to end her life almost 20 years ago that she should write letters to her children. “If I died in surgery, I would never have had the chance to say goodbye to my children.” Only recently has Velinda compiled the letters in a book, “This River Called Life: A Letter To My Children.” She reflects on her difficult childhood – how, for example, her father abducted her and her brother, only for her mother to hire a private detective who luckily found both. http://velindapeyton.com/my-book/

Tim Lott of the United Kingdom decided to write an open letter in The Guardian to his children. His reason: why wait until he’s on his deathbed to do so. “I should write a letter to my children before I go,” he writes. Besides, “I can never get my four daughters to listen to me on such matters without sniggering. So I’m going to write it down instead.”Here Tim takes the opportunity to dole out advice about how to make time count. “The present is all you’ve ever got . . . Living is tricky, everything is a guess . . . Be strong but be flexible.” He concludes with a lesson he learned regarding fatherhood about why sometimes “being wrong is fine.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jul/14/tim-lott-company-of-women-letter

P.S. – please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Jennifer Scalise: The Day My Life Went Off A Cliff – And How I Climbed Back Up (part 4)

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Jennifer L. Scalise, a former Fortune 500 executive, is a single mother who lives in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake, 17, and Paige, 9. To honor her daughter Brooke after her death, Jennifer established the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that has awarded more than 120 church camp scholarships to junior high school youth. She is the author of “A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss, and Life Beyond,” the inspirational true story of her fight for survival after the tragic death of her daughter (www.JenniferScaliseAuthor.com). She is a member, speaker and writer for several national grief organizations; raises awareness about the dangers of traveling to third-world countries, and is a spokesperson for Concerned Families for ATV Safety.

Dear Paige,

 

Before I became pregnant with you, something deep in my soul told me I needed to have another child. Even then, I feared that something could happen to Blake or Brooke. I knew right away that my pregnancy with you was God’s plan.

 

You were an easy baby and your brother and sister loved to help take care of you. Brooke looked after you like a little Mommy. She changed your diapers, fed you, and put you to bed, enjoying every minute. You grew up extremely independent, determined to do everything on your own.

 

You had just turned six when we went to Costa Rica. Like the rest of us, you were having a blast there. You spent a lot of time with Brooke, following her everywhere and even sleeping with her at night. She never complained about having you with her so much, even though most girls her age would have.

 

I know sometimes you struggle with your memories of the accident that day. You were right there with us, there on the cliff, when your sister vanished, never to be seen again. Losing Brooke and then seeing me so panicked and hysterical was a lot for you to handle at the age of six. I’ll never forget how you soon expressed the fear that someday one of your own children might die.

 

Yet you somehow managed to comfort me during my mourning. I would tell you how much I missed Brooke and get upset and would wish I could hug her. You would simply tell me I still could hug her and to do so. We would swing on the swing set and you would tell me Brooke was right there with you. You shared your memories of her with me – the remarks she made, the fun times you had together; how well you remembered so many details — and reminded me, on my darkest days, that I never had to let her go.

 

You suffered through your sister’s death, but the hardship gave you resilience and strengthened you. You understand that tragedies happen and life sometimes hurts, but we still have to go on and keep fighting. You joined gymnastics after we lost Brooke and quickly became an outstanding gymnast, in part because of your lack of fear. In a short time you reached levels that many others work years to achieve.

 

That’s because you already recognized the reality of death. If you’re fearless, you feel you have nothing to lose. Only then can you truly attain greatness.

 

So brave are you that you’ve worked beside me to offer support to other bereaved parents. Because life can be dark, we must supply our own light. You’ve personally served as a light for a mother dealing with both the murder of her son and the death of her husband. You’ve accompanied her to their graves, holding her hand and whispering encouraging words. You’ve helped her to smile and laugh again.


In recognizing the reality of death, you’re also wise enough, at only nine years of age, to understand the fragility of life. Because you’ve endured so much pain, you have a vast capacity to experience total joy from the simple beauty you see around you. You stop to admire the clouds in the sky, the birth of baby birds, the sunset. You love freely with all your heart, and value your time with those you love. People marvel at your constant smile and happy demeanor.

I’m sorry your childhood has gone so much harder than those of most children your age. Thank you for always being such a trooper.

 

Today, I see so much of Brooke in you. How you, too, love to do good deeds without expecting anything in return. How you, too, realize there is always something to be thankful for. How you, too, see all people as beautiful.

 

Let Brookie live on in your heart. If you do, Peanut Butter, I promise nothing will ever hold you back as you reach for your dreams.


Love forever and ever,
Mommy

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Guest Columnist Jennifer Scalise: The Day My Life Went Off A Cliff – And How I Climbed Back Up (part 3)

 

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Jennifer L. Scalise, a former Fortune 500 executive, is a single mother who lives in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake, 17, and Paige, 9. To honor her daughter Brooke after her death, Jennifer established the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that has awarded more than 120 church camp scholarships to junior high school youth. She is the author of “A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss, and Life Beyond,” the inspirational true story of her fight for survival after the tragic death of her daughter (www.JenniferScaliseAuthor.com). She is a member, speaker and writer for several national grief organizations; raises awareness about the dangers of traveling to third-world countries, and is a spokesperson for Concerned Families for ATV Safety.

Dear Blake,

It’s hard for me to believe you’ll be turning 18 in just a few months. I see it as the end of your childhood years, but I know you must feel your childhood ended that tragic day in Costa Rica in 2009. It’s hard to believe, too, that what seemed the perfect family vacation could turn out to be such a nightmare. We were having so much fun on the ATV tour that day. And then the guide led us up the dangerous road and your sister Brooke missed the turn.

No child should have to endure what you endured. You had to wait and wait after I went down the cliff to look for Brooke. You had to hear your worst fear confirmed, and then leave before I came back. You had to return to the condo without her, alone in a foreign country, with no phone, no family, still in shock over the accident. It’s beyond my imagination how awful you must have felt.

And yet during those hours alone, you got on the computer and posted a PowerPoint on YouTube asking others to pray for our family. You had the presence of mind to notify Brooke’s best friends online about what had happened. You were only 14 years old. You stepped up to lead our family at a moment when your father and I were broken and frail.

Thank you for that, buddy.

Later, you reassured me Brooke was fine, pointing out that this life is short compared to eternal life. You were there for Dad, too, spending many nights by his side caring for him as he suffered a severe emotional breakdown. Your encouraging words gave me strength. Your faith was stronger than ours at that time. Your support for Dad and me left you no chance to grieve properly, and a year later you suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Before you were even born, my first child, my love for you had already surpassed any love I had ever before experienced or imagined. I would spend hours in the rocking chair in your room singing to you and imagining our life together. Maybe because you were born premature, weighing only three pounds, two ounces and requiring extra care and attention, I’ve always felt especially protective of you. You were so small, so very small. You had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for three weeks. I had to leave the hospital before even getting to hold you for the first time. But then we brought our miracle home. After the first few months, you turned out to be an easy baby. We knew we wanted another child soon, though, because I had hated being an only child until I reached 13, and Dad had always loved being so close in age to his brother, your Uncle Jeff. By the time you were nine months old I was pregnant again. I felt guilty, secretly thinking I could never love another child as much as I loved you. But when Brooke was born, I realized I was mistaken. A mother loves each of her children uniquely.

You and Brooke bonded instantly. Even at only 18 months old, you did everything you could to help with your baby sister. You would rub her head affectionately. You would put her pacifier in her mouth. Later, when Brooke was only one year old, you pushed her around the kitchen in her grocery cart. You buckled her in beside you in your play Jeep and drove around.

You and she made quite the pair. One minute you would both be wearing football helmets and jerseys, and the next – because she would get her say, too – you would be decked out in Princess dresses. We seldom called out your name without hers, too, or hers without yours. “Blake and Brooke! Brooke and Blake!”Your younger years had so much fun and love and laughter. We had a perfect family.

Then your Dad and I got divorced. And Brooke died. Your childhood ended too soon, much too soon. All I had ever wanted to do from the very first was to protect you, and I was unable to. I am so sorry, Blake.       

Yet you’ve survived tragedy a better person. You appreciate life now more than most people do, including all the so-called little stuff others take for granted. Your pain has strengthened you, your sadness taught you to value happiness, your tears made you braver.

You’ve also become far more confident in yourself, and know you’re capable of achieving whatever you set your mind to. You’ve gained a sense of independence, and have even decided to attend college in another state, where you literally know no one. There, you’ll get the fresh start you need, and have the fun you must have missed in high school.

You’re an amazing son, and I’m proud of you, more so than you can ever imagine.

Soon you’ll be away. My wishes for you are simple. Live life to the fullest. Love freely and take chances. And please, please, let us always remain close.

Love always,

Mom

P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.

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Guest Columnist Jennifer Scalise: The Day My Life Went Off A Cliff – And How I Climbed Back Up (part 2)

 

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Jennifer L. Scalise, a former Fortune 500 executive, is a single mother who lives in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake, 17, and Paige, 9. To honor her daughter Brooke after her death, Jennifer established the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that has awarded more than 120 church camp scholarships to junior high school youth. She is the author of “A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss, and Life Beyond,” the inspirational true story of her fight for survival after the tragic death of her daughter (www.JenniferScaliseAuthor.com). She is a member, speaker and writer for several national grief organizations; raises awareness about the dangers of traveling to third-world countries, and is a spokesperson for Concerned Families for ATV Safety.

Dear Brooke,

In the days after the accident, pieces of your life quickly came together as if in a puzzle. As close as we were to each other, I discovered a lot about you only after you passed. Your worship journal sat in your room, unopened. I had never opened it because you had written, “please do not read” on the outside. Now I looked inside.

There, you thanked God for always loving you. You wrote, “I will help spread the word about you to people because I know that is what you want me to do.” Over and over you thanked God for coming into your life, and mentioned wanting to go to church more. You wrote of your love for your family, saying that we all meant the world to you. You also said, “Most importantly, You God are in my life.”

It seemed you had left behind some sort of message for everyone in your journal. The most recent letter, written less than two weeks before you passed, gave me peace. It also convinced me that deep down, your soul always knew your time here would be short and you were already prepared for your journey Home.

You wrote, “God, thank you for everything. I know you are here for me every second of the day. You still love me even though I have sinned . . . Please let my mom realize we were made for you.”

You wrote that God was who you loved most, listing God before your family and friends. You wrote something else that gave me comfort. You described your favorite place, the ocean in the mountains, the very place you passed.

What we found – surprising considering you grew up without a religious upbringing – touched us all.

Since then, so much has happened that convinces us that your spirit lives on. Our phone, for example, rang at exactly midnight on your birthday. It was hard to believe that was mere coincidence. The night I woke to the sound of the TV playing Faith Hill’s song “There You’ll Be” I listened to the lyrics and heard messages from you. These events enable me to feel close to you. They make me feel your presence. I see so much of you in your siblings Blake and Paige every day it’s amazing.

I have to confess that at times I feel selfish. I wish more than anything that you were still here, living your life. I feel robbed of everything we’re never going to get to do together, of all the milestones you’ll never reach.

Even so, I set aside quiet time each day to connect with you. To do this, I close my eyes and reach inside myself and feel our love and cherish the wonderful memories from our 12 years together. I remember our joyous times and create new times. Sometimes doing something as simple together in my mind as locking arms and spinning in circles in a beautiful meadow puts me in Heaven with you. This process helps me feel happy even when I am sad. This gives me strength I never new I had which has helped me find peace so I can heal.

I have learned our hardships awaken us to new understandings we could never see otherwise, shaping us into the people we are meant to be. Through this lesson I have found out who I really am, my true being, my soul. You have taught me that in the worst of circumstances, it is up to us to reach out to God for his hand to give us the strength and courage to survive. I know my purpose is to share your story. Thank you, princess, for guiding me.

Today, your legacy lives on, mainly through my book and your foundation. The Brooke Scalise Foundation has awarded 120 church camp scholarships in your name. I receive emails and letters from people all around the world – family, friends and strangers, including other bereaved parents – whose lives you have touched. It’s clear to me your life had a divine purpose. I’m blessed God chose me to be your mother, and long for the day we can be together again.

You are my sunshine, princess, and I will always love you.

Mommy

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Jennifer Scalise: The Day My Life Went Off A Cliff — and How I Climbed Back Up

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Jennifer L. Scalise, a former Fortune 500 executive, is a single mother who lives in St. Charles, Missouri with her two children, Blake, 17, and Paige, 9. To honor her daughter Brooke after her death, Jennifer established the Brooke Scalise Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization that has awarded more than 120 church camp scholarships to junior high school youth. She is the author of “A Mother’s Journey of Love, Loss, and Life Beyond,” the inspirational true story of her fight for survival after the tragic death of her daughter (http://jenniferscaliseauthor.com/jenniferscaliseauthor.com/INTRO_PAGE.html). She is a member, speaker and writer for several national grief organizations; raises awareness about the dangers of traveling to third-world countries, and is a spokesperson for Concerned Families for ATV Safety.

Dear Brooke,

Up until the accident, those last days we vacationed together in Costa Rica in the summer of 2009 were perfect. All week, you were so carefree and happy, laughing and playing, determined as usual to live life to its fullest.

We saved our biggest adventure, the rainforest zip-lining/all-terrain vehicles excursion, for the end of our trip. Our long-time family friends the Bietschs, your siblings Blake and Paige, and my significant other George as well as his son Little George were all there with us enjoying the fun. We stopped for lunch and you danced in front of the camera smiling and laughing. I captured what would be the last images of you alive.

After lunch, we hopped on our ATVs and headed back. You were on the ATV in front of me, and Paige and George were on the one behind me. As we neared the bottom of a steep road you stopped for a moment as if you somehow knew what was ahead. The back guide had strangely disappeared and we trailed so far behind the guide in front that we could no longer see him. We sped along the steep road with no warning signs of danger or guard rails for protection from what lurked below.

As I rounded the sharp turn just a few seconds behind you, I saw your life-long friend Emma standing in the road screaming hysterically. The rest of the group had driven on without realizing you had missed the turn and gone careening off the 260-foot drop. I began to panic. I had no idea what to do. George pulled up behind me, immediately secured his ATV and took off to find a way down the cliff to you.

My brain struggled to process what was happening. Something inside me felt different and my heart told me you were gone. I was terrified to look over the edge of the cliff for fear of what I was going to see. As I slowly peered over, all I could see was the ocean sparkling far below. I kept screaming for help as I literally rolled around in the middle of the road in worst pain imaginable. Instinct took over and for some reason I called Daddy back home and told him, I knew I needed to let him know.

Everyone was trying to figure out how to get down to you. I saw George walking back up the road looking completely deflated. His body language said it all. He could barely look me in the eyes. I asked him if you were gone, and he nodded. I begged him to take me to you.

Once we finally made it down the cliff, the police, who had come by boat, were there, guarding the site. They refused to let me near you and they did nothing to try to help you. I sobbed and pleaded for them to let me hold my baby. After being ignored for 30 minutes, I sent George back up the cliff again to get more help and to bring the camcorder to prove that they were doing nothing and keeping me from you.

All I could think was, “What if you are still alive?” I screamed hysterically until I could only whisper hoarsely.

Then George came back with the EMS workers and they coldly told us you were gone. I rolled in the sand in misery screaming for them to let me hold you. It started to rain. Unable to make it back up the cliff now, we had no choice but to leave by boat. Leaving you there that day was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. At first I refused, throwing myself into the ocean, but the Coast Guard pulled me out and forced me to leave.

I dealt with the Embassy, trying to claim your body and see to it you were returned to the states, all of it a nightmare. It was so hard to come home without you. I was in disbelief. Surely this was happening to someone else.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Guest Columnist Michele C. Hollow: Dear Son, Why I Had To Say No To Kittens

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Michele C. Hollow lives in South Orange, N.J., with her husband, Steven; son, Jordon, 12; and their two cats—Chai and Karma. Michele works as a freelance writer and is the creator of the pet lifestyle blog Pet News andViews (http://PetNewsandViews.com).

Dear Jordon,

When we adopted Chai and Karma from the local animal shelter this past December, you were so happy. You wanted kittens because you were afraid that an older cat would not be around as long as a kitten.

I know the passing of Mr. Earl Gray, our cat who lived to be 20, was hard on you. When you were born, Earl was eight. You came into a house with a cat, and became fast friends with Earl. You also developed a fondness for animals.

So, we waited a bit after Earl died before getting another pet. We all miss Earl, and in time we all thought about getting another cat. I was opting for an older cat because kittens usually get adopted quicker than older cats.

Dad and I talked with you, and you made a great case for getting a kitten. I decided that we should get two so they could have a constant companion when we are out of the house.

The local shelter chose two sisters—an all-black cat, which we named Karma, and a tortoiseshell named Chai. We immediately bonded with the kittens. You even said, “Kittens are more fun to play with than dad’s iPad.”

They are great cats, and now they are almost six months—a perfect age to get them spayed. As you know, I write about pets, and I preach about the importance of spaying and neutering cats and dogs.

Each year between four and five million cats and dogs are euthanized at animal shelters around the country. When we went to the pound to adopt, after playing with Chai and Karma, one of the volunteers asked me if I wanted to see any other cats. I let out a big “No” because it breaks my heart just thinking about all of the animals that we left behind.

I know you said you wanted to see our cats give birth to kittens that we could keep and give away. Unfortunately, there are so many—too many—cats (and dogs) that are in need of loving homes. I won’t support breeders just because I think it is wrong to intentionally bring more cats and dogs into a world when our animal shelters are overcrowded.

I tell people all the time that if they desire a specific breed, they can find one at a breed-specific rescue. There are rescues for so many different types of cats and dogs. My first dog was a rescued poodle, and my first kitten was a stray Siamese.

And if you want to see babies being born, we can watch a video or read a book about kittens being born.

Spaying lengthens the life of a female cat (or dog), and helps to prevent breast cancer. The cost of spaying or neutering (a male cat or dog) is cheaper than caring for and raising a litter of kittens (or puppies).

Most importantly, I am going to have them spayed because of the millions of cats and dogs that enter shelters each year that are euthanized. These high numbers are a direct result of unplanned litters.

So just recently I took Chai and Karma to the vet to be spayed. Though I know you want babies, they could each have had four. And that would have given us 10 cats in all, too many for us to live with, much less care for.

Here’s what I now ask you to try to understand: with so many cats and kittens in need of foster homes, getting Chai and Karma spayed was actually an act of kindness.  

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Guest Columnist Becky Fawcett: “A Childless Life Was Never An Option For Me”

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Becky Fawcett lives in Manhattan with Kipp, her husband of 16 years, and two children, Jake, 7, and Brooke, 3. She is executive director, on a pro bono basis, of Helpusadopt.org (http://helpusadopt.org/), a non-profit organization she and her husband founded in 2007 in response to their own adoption experience. Helpusadopt.org enables couples and individuals to overcome financial hurdles to adopting children. In its five-year existence, it has awarded $570,000 in adoption grants to build 73 families. Becky owns The Fawcett Group, a lifestyle public relations and marketing firm.

 

Dear Jake and Brooke,

 

I know you always wonder why sometimes when I look at you my eyes fill with tears. And why I never miss an opportunity to say “I love you” even if it’s fifty times a day. It’s because you are my miracles. Let me try to tell you why.

 

My first miscarriage was the worst. At 16 weeks I was confident I was out of the woods and I was pregnant enough for the whole world to know. So I was unable to experience the loss privately.

 

My second miscarriage, at 12 weeks, was equally devastating, but at least private.

 

My third, at 10 weeks, happened on Christmas Eve, leaving me too numb even to cry.

 

Three pregnancies, three miscarriages. I had expected the road to my children to be easy and with each miscarriage I felt my dream starting to slip away.

 

Yet a childless life was never an option for me. I was born to be a mother. I needed to be a mother. I had to be a mother. Being a mother was in my DNA. The question was never “if” I would have children; it was “how many” would I have?

 

At that moment, then, I committed myself to building my family through adoption.

 

The process of adoption was different from what I had imagined. It was long, arduous and expensive. Sometimes in life, you have to make compromises, to acquiesce. But not this time. Nothing was going to stand in the way of my becoming a mother; I would do whatever it took to make it happen. I would fight and fight hard.

 

I was there when you entered this world, Jake. And when I held you in my arms and you officially became mine, your eyes opened wide. To this day I believe you knew exactly why you were there — to heal my broken heart.

 

As for you, Brookie, I was on the phone with your birth mother as she went into the delivery room. The minute you arrived — three weeks early, by the way; you had just decided you were ready — your birth father texted me a picture of you. Once your birth mother placed you in my arms, I kissed you. I wanted never to let you go.

 

When I watched Dad hold you and Jake at the same time, I realized that was my world right there — the three of you. What I understood as we had our first “family hug” was that “how” I became a mother mattered less than the reality of getting to be one. I count my blessings every day that Dad and I were in a position to afford it.

 

So that, in brief, was the journey, the struggle, that brought you both to me (and me to you, for that matter). I wanted to be a mother so badly. But becoming a mother was harder than anything I’ve ever done in my life. I endured physical and emotional pain beyond anything I had imagined. Some days I can hardly believe how hard I had to fight. It nearly destroyed me.

 

But it was worth it, just as I knew it would be.

 

I’ll never forget your birth mothers, of course, nor will you. Because I was unable to achieve motherhood on my own, I had to rely on these two women, these beautiful, selfless, kind-hearted, courageous and loving women. They, after all, are the women who carried you to term, who loved you first. It was they who chose me to be your mother, and they who then placed you in my arms.

 

They are the women I still see today when I look in your eyes. They will always be part of who you are, and now they are also part of who I am, too.

 

My three pregnancies, my three miscarriages, each brought me one step closer to both of you—one step closer to motherhood. Little did I realize that just as my dream of having a child was dying — this, Jake, is how you so eloquently put it — a new dream was waiting.

 

I love you more than life itself.

 

Love, Mom

Becky_fawcett_photo_2

Guest Columnist Anne-Carole Grosh-Cooper: How To Write A Love Letter To Your Child

Valentines-day_image

Anne-Carole Grosh-Cooper lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two children, Lana and Raphael. A former secondary education teacher, she is a stay-at-home-mom and a freelance writer on behalf of Cardstore. She juggles writing and attempting to keep a clean house with being a mom/friend/drill instructor. For more about Cardstore, see here:  http://www.cardstore.com/

There is no more important person you can compose a love letter to for Valentine’s Day than the love of your life: your child. Some relationships may fade in and out of your life, but your love for your child will be lifelong.

 

The written word is permanent and enduring, different from words spoken aloud, which may tumble out clumsily.

Here are some tips about how to write a love letter to your son or daughter that will be fondly remembered for years to come.

 

1. Gather Your Thoughts
Take a few moments to think about what you want to tell your child and jot down an outline. Sometimes a visual reminder of the points you want to touch on and the tone you want to take can help keep your letter on-track.

Sample Outline:

A)  Why you’re writing 

·         What you love about your child

·         What you hope they’ll get out of this letter

B.) A Valentine’s Story

·         Valentine’s Day from your youth

·         Valentine’s Day now with your child

C.) A Valentine’s Wish

·         For now

·         For the future


2. Remember Why You’re Writing
It’s the little details that mean a lot. As a parent, you likely notice so many such details about your child’s ever-evolving personality. It’s these details that endear your child to you. Jennifer Wolf, parent advocate, coach, educator, and About.com columnist, compiled a list of seven words to use as prompts in letters to your child.

·         Love

·         Notice

·         Enjoy

·         Proud

·         Cherish

·         Hope

·         Believe


3. Tell A Story
Share memories of Valentine’s Days from your own youth — either as a child or from the early days of your courtship with your spouse. Your child will always want to learn more about where he or she comes from.

Example: When I was little, my Mom and Dad — your grandparents — always made Valentine’s Day special. Actually, they made the day after Valentine’s Day even more special. On Valentine’s Day, they’d give both me and my brother (your uncle) a small toy. I’d usually get an action figure that I’d been eyeing in the toy store weeks before. The following day, my parents would give us two boxes of candy each. They explained the reason: they loved us twice as much. In later years, they explained that the red, heart-shaped boxes of candy were two-for-one the day after Valentine’s Day, so we could get double the candy for the same price. What kid is going to complain about getting more candy?

4. Keep It Short and Sweet
Kids have short attention spans. (To be fair, so do some adults.) Try to keep your letter to just one page. More people quote from the sweet and simple words of Dr. Seuss than they do passages from Tolstoy’s “War And Peace.” Referring to your outline can help you condense your thoughts and pack more meaning into a short space.

 

5. Be Authentic
How you say it is maybe even more important than what you say. Be the real you, the parent your child knows and loves. Love comes from the heart. Years down the line, your child will have a lasting — and accurate — memory of you.

 

Example: This Valentine’s Day, I want you to know that even when I yell at you, I still love you. You may hear “Go to your room!” or “You’re grounded!” more often than “I’m proud of you,” but it makes me no less proud to be your parent. In fact, sometimes I’m secretly proud of you for the very reason that I sent you to your room. I’m proud of you for always being you. And I hope you feel the same about me as your parent when you look back 20 years from now.

Guest Columnist Marcie Riger: One Fairy Tale Ended, But Another Began

Marcie_riger_and_kids_photo

Marcie Riger, who lives in West Milford, New Jersey with her boyfriend, Steve Agnello, has four children: Matthew 30, Blair 27, Paige 24, and Kevin 21.She works in a dental office. In her spare time, she loves to go to the beach, get lost in a good book and spend quality time with her girlfriends.

Dear Matthew, Blair, Paige and Kevin,

We started as a typical family. Dad goes off to work and coaches baseball and softball. Mom stays home for 19 years, chairs the local PTA, coaches soccer, even drives a “soccer van,” trying to get four kids to a different field, all at the same time.

Then, somewhere along the way, little by little, our fairy tale life unraveled. Dad lost his job and remained out of work for two years. Nothing was ever the same after that.

For starters, money was always an issue. Worse was the lying about money. We also refused to talk about it, creating a tension we could never resolve.

Then came more job losses, compounded by health issues, plus a lot of pent-up anger. I finally admitted to myself something my friends already knew from all my crying: I had been unhappy, unbearably so, for more than ten years. I realized I had to get out of my marriage before it dissolved into an emotional black hole.

Scary stuff. It would mean giving up the home we had created. It would mean people would talk. But I knew there had to be a better life out there. So your Dad and I separated after 30 years of marriage. I never thought this would be me.

Then my life turned around yet again. I went to a 40th high school reunion. It was there that I ran into Steve, an old friend from the neighborhood. He had always made me laugh. He used to come over my house to play and give me piggyback rides. We went through elementary school together and we were in the same class in third grade.

Steve and I met for breakfast at a diner the following week, and right away I knew. Despite my determination never to have another serious romantic relationship, something very special was happening here.

Nothing came easy, though. I was still uncoupling from our marriage. Steve was still involved in a serious relationship. So we had to figure out what to do. I loved how happy I was with Steve. I knew in my heart I was meant to spend the rest of my life with him. And now, as luck and fate and destiny would have it, Steve and I are living together. I’m happy beyond any expectations I could ever have imagined.

Why am I telling you all this? I’ll tell you why.

Because, my beautiful, amazing children, each of you a dream come true for me, we’ve all gone through a lot of turmoil, especially in the last two-and-a-half years, and it’s important to me that you better understand how we all got to where we are now, and at last it’s time for us all to heal.

Because I’m always going to be your Mom and always going to be there for you and I love being your Mom and – you’ve heard my say so a million times – consider it my best work and the proudest, most joyous reward of my entire life.

And because, above all, in the years to come, I wish for you to experience the same love and friendship with a special person that I’ve miraculously discovered, all these years later, with Steve.

Marcie_riger_and_steve

Guest Columnist Ben Michaelis: Just For You, A Quiz On Self-Love

Ben-michaelis_photo

Dr. Ben Michaelis lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and children, Juliet and Charlie, ages 5 and 2. His book, YOUR NEXT BIG THING: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy was released last December. Currently in full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Michaelis specializes in blending play and creativity with mental health. He has served on the faculty of Lenox Hill Hospital and is currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. His writing appears regularly on The Huffington Post.com and Psychologytoday.com, among other publications. For more information about him, please visit http://www.drbenmichaelis.com, and follow him on Twitter @drbenmichaelis.

Dear Juliet and Charlie,

 

Because you’re both still quite young right now, what Valentine’s Day basically means to you is chocolate. Which, believe me, I respect. For me, and for many others, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to think about, and demonstrate, my love for those most important to me.

 

So here’s a letter you can read when you’re old enough to, and interested in reflecting on, this holiday.


The long and short of it all is this: to get the love you want, you have to love yourself first. Why, you ask?  What’s self-love got to do with it?

 

Let me answer your questions with this three-question quiz about self-love:

 

[1]When you read the words “Self-Love,” how do you feel?

 

(1) Fine.

 

(2) Uncomfortable. 

 

(3) Disgusted.

 

[2]Imagine a friend of yours told you that she had worked hard to learn to love herself. What would you think?

 

(1) Good for her. She is growing and getting healthy.

 

(2) That sounds pretty good, but I hope that she avoids becoming self-centered and forget where she comes from.

 

(3) My friend has been listening to shrink-talk nonsense.

 

[3]Picture someone who loves himself or herself. What do you imagine that person will be like?

 

(1) Quietly confident.

 

(2) Bold and maybe a little brash, but fundamentally self-assured.

 

(3) Arrogant and disrespectful.

 

So, how did you do? 

 

Add up the scores (1, 2, or 3) on the three questions from this quiz and look below to consider how you feel about the idea of self-love.

Score 3–4: You probably already love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin.

 

Score 5–6: You are on the path toward loving yourself, but you occasionally doubt whether loving yourself is healthy or “right.”

 

Score 7–9: Self-love is either a foreign concept that you have never considered, or you have thought about it and the thought makes you feel sick.

 

Whatever you scored, I hope the quiz made you think about self-love, because again, only a person who loves himself or herself first can give love freely to others. And if you feel loved and believe in yourself, you’ll be giving, gentle and kind. You’ll be calm, consistent and confident, too.

 

You’ll also realize there’s plenty of love to go around. And you’ll have the faith to see the glory in — and inspire — others.

  

Much love and many blessings,

Dad 

Ben_michaelis_book

Guest Columnist Ben Michaelis: Just For You, A Quiz On Self-Love

Ben-michaelis_photo

Dr. Ben Michaelis lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and children, Juliet and Charlie, ages 5 and 2. His book, YOUR NEXT BIG THING: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy was released last December. Currently in full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Michaelis specializes in blending play and creativity with mental health. He has served on the faculty of Lenox Hill Hospital and is currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. His writing appears regularly on The Huffington Post.com and Psychologytoday.com, among other publications. For more information about him, please visit http://www.drbenmichaelis.com, and follow him on Twitter @drbenmichaelis.

Dear Juliet and Charlie,

 

Because you’re both still quite young right now, what Valentine’s Day basically means to you is chocolate. Which, believe me, I respect. For me, and for many others, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to think about, and demonstrate, my love for those most important to me.

 

So here’s a letter you can read when you’re old enough to, and interested in reflecting on, this holiday.


The long and short of it all is this: to get the love you want, you have to love yourself first. Why, you ask?  What’s self-love got to do with it?

 

Let me answer your questions with this three-question quiz about self-love:

 

[1]When you read the words “Self-Love,” how do you feel?

 

(1) Fine.

 

(2) Uncomfortable. 

 

(3) Disgusted.

 

[2]Imagine a friend of yours told you that she had worked hard to learn to love herself. What would you think?

 

(1) Good for her. She is growing and getting healthy.

 

(2) That sounds pretty good, but I hope that she avoids becoming self-centered and forget where she comes from.

 

(3) My friend has been listening to shrink-talk nonsense.

 

[3]Picture someone who loves himself or herself. What do you imagine that person will be like?

 

(1) Quietly confident.

 

(2) Bold and maybe a little brash, but fundamentally self-assured.

 

(3) Arrogant and disrespectful.

 

So, how did you do? 

 

Add up the scores (1, 2, or 3) on the three questions from this quiz and look below to consider how you feel about the idea of self-love.

Score 3–4: You probably already love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin.

 

Score 5–6: You are on the path toward loving yourself, but you occasionally doubt whether loving yourself is healthy or “right.”

 

Score 7–9: Self-love is either a foreign concept that you have never considered, or you have thought about it and the thought makes you feel sick.

 

Whatever you scored, I hope the quiz made you think about self-love, because again, only a person who loves himself or herself first can give love freely to others. And if you feel loved and believe in yourself, you’ll be giving, gentle and kind. You’ll be calm, consistent and confident, too.

 

You’ll also realize there’s plenty of love to go around. And you’ll have the faith to see the glory in — and inspire — others.

Much love and many blessings,

Dad

Ben_michaelis_book

Guest Columnist Ben Michaelis: Just For You, A Quiz On Self-Love

Dr. Ben Michaelis lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and children, Juliet and Charlie, ages 5 and 2. His book, YOUR NEXT BIG THING: 10 Small Steps to Get

Moving and Get Happy was released last December. Currently in full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Michaelis specializes in blending play and creativity with mental health. He has served on the faculty of Lenox Hill Hospital and is currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. His writing appears regularly on The Huffington Post.com and Psychologytoday.com, among other publications. For more information about him, please visit http://www.drbenmichaelis.com, and follow him on Twitter @drbenmichaelis  

 
Dear Juliet and Charlie,

 

Because you’re both still quite young right now, what Valentine’s Day basically means to you is chocolate. Which, believe me, I respect. For me, and for many others, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to think about, and demonstrate, my love for those most important to me.

 

So here’s a letter you can read when you’re old enough to, and interested in reflecting on, this holiday.


The long and short of it all is this: to get the love you want, you have to love yourself first. Why, you ask?  What’s self-love got to do with it?

 

Let me answer your questions with this three-question quiz about self-love:

 

[1]When you read the words “Self-Love,” how do you feel?

 

(1) Fine.

 

(2) Uncomfortable. 

 

(3) Disgusted.

 

[2]Imagine a friend of yours told you that she had worked hard to learn to love herself. What would you think?

 

(1) Good for her. She is growing and getting healthy.

 

(2) That sounds pretty good, but I hope that she avoids becoming self-centered and forget where she comes from.

 

(3) My friend has been listening to shrink-talk nonsense.

 

[3]Picture someone who loves himself or herself. What do you imagine that person will be like?

 

(1) Quietly confident.

 

(2) Bold and maybe a little brash, but fundamentally self-assured.

 

(3) Arrogant and disrespectful.

 

So, how did you do? 

 

Add up the scores (1, 2, or 3) on the three questions from this quiz and look below to consider how you feel about the idea of self-love.

Score 3–4: You probably already love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin.

 

Score 5–6: You are on the path toward loving yourself, but you occasionally doubt whether loving yourself is healthy or “right.”

 

Score 7–9: Self-love is either a foreign concept that you have never considered, or you have thought about it and the thought makes you feel sick.

 

Whatever you scored, I hope the quiz made you think about self-love, because again, only a person who loves himself or herself first can give love freely to others. And if you feel loved and believe in yourself, you’ll be giving, gentle and kind. You’ll be calm, consistent and confident, too.

 

You’ll also realize there’s plenty of love to go around. And you’ll have the faith to see the glory in — and inspire — others.

Much love and many blessings,

Dad

Guest Columnist Ben Michaelis: Just For You, A Quiz On Self-Love

Dr. Ben Michaelis lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and children, Juliet and Charlie, ages 5 and 2. His book, YOUR NEXT BIG THING: 10 Small Steps to Get

Moving and Get Happy was released last December. Currently in full-time private practice as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Michaelis specializes in blending play and creativity with mental health. He has served on the faculty of Lenox Hill Hospital and is currently a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University.  His writing appears regularly on The Huffington Post.com and Psychologytoday.com, among other publications. For more information about him, please visit http://www.drbenmichaelis.com, and follow him on Twitter @drbenmichaelis  

 
Dear Juliet and Charlie,

 

Because you’re both still quite young right now, what Valentine’s Day basically means to you is chocolate. Which, believe me, I respect. For me, and for many others, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to think about, and demonstrate, my love for those most important to me.

 

So here’s a letter you can read when you’re old enough to, and interested in reflecting on, this holiday.


The long and short of it all is this: to get the love you want, you have to love yourself first. Why, you ask?  What’s self-love got to do with it?

 

Let me answer your questions with this three-question quiz about self-love:

 

[1]When you read the words “Self-Love,” how do you feel?

 

(1) Fine.

 

(2) Uncomfortable. 

 

(3) Disgusted.

 

[2]Imagine a friend of yours told you that she had worked hard to learn to love herself. What would you think?

 

(1) Good for her. She is growing and getting healthy.

 

(2) That sounds pretty good, but I hope that she avoids becoming self-centered and forget where she comes from.

 

(3) My friend has been listening to shrink-talk nonsense.

 

[3]Picture someone who loves himself or herself. What do you imagine that person will be like?

 

(1) Quietly confident.

 

(2) Bold and maybe a little brash, but fundamentally self-assured.

 

(3) Arrogant and disrespectful.

 

So, how did you do? 

 

Add up the scores (1, 2, or 3) on the three questions from this quiz and look below to consider how you feel about the idea of self-love.

Score 3–4: You probably already love yourself and feel comfortable in your own skin.

 

Score 5–6: You are on the path toward loving yourself, but you occasionally doubt whether loving yourself is healthy or “right.”

 

Score 7–9: Self-love is either a foreign concept that you have never considered, or you have thought about it and the thought makes you feel sick.

 

Whatever you scored, I hope the quiz made you think about self-love, because again, only a person who loves himself or herself first can give love freely to others. And if you feel loved and believe in yourself, you’ll be giving, gentle and kind. You’ll be calm, consistent and confident, too.

 

You’ll also realize there’s plenty of love to go around. And you’ll have the faith to see the glory in — and inspire — others.

Much love and many blessings,

Dad

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: More Than 500 Letters Later, A Granddaughter Is Born (Part 2)

Lin_joyce_annie_photo

Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories. 

Dear Annie,

As you well know, your dad and I love to travel. But I had no idea just how much traveling I’d be doing when I married your father 37 years ago. I have the U.S. federal government to thank for 18 moves in 21 years, 12 being international relocations.

I gave birth to you during our second overseas assignment in Amman, Jordan — a great memory, of course. You are already aware of some of the unusual details of your birth. For example, very few Americans citizens have a birth certificate written in Arabic that is signed by an official representative of King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. But you do.

 

You were supposed to have been born in Bangkok, Thailand. That’s where we were living when the nurse at the American Embassy Medical Unit told us that we were going to become parents. But when the office in Washington DC called with travel orders, we always said, “Yes.” And so we were transferred to Amman when I was five months pregnant.

 

Because your dad had to leave right away, I decided to go stateside to visit family and then fly to Amman by myself. What a long trip that was for me! My belly had gotten uncomfortably big, my moo-moo styled dresses were getting tighter and my ankles swelled if I stood for too long.

Lin_joyce_pregnant_photo

Your dad met me at Amman’s airport and soon I was walking into our new home. The American Embassy provided us with a spacious home only ten minutes from the embassy. The house had three floors and we were to occupy only the top two floors.We had three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a washer and drier but no disposal or dishwasher. The floors were all marble and the walls were wallpapered or covered with dark wood paneling. The house came fully furnished with Drexel Heritage furniture. We had many lemon and blood orange trees growing in our backyard.

On the morning you were born your dad spilled his coffee all over the kitchen table. It was raining outside and because of the Arabic Summit that was going on in the city, security was very tight on the main streets of Amman.

Still, all we could think of was: today we would become parents.

Your birth was helped along with a pitocin drip. During the birthing process, my Lebanese-trained obstetrician told me to stop making so much noise. You were born at 5:00 p.m. on the afternoon of November 21, 1980 at the Al Khalidi Hospital in Amman, the only light-haired baby to be found in the nursery.


You developed an elevated bilirubin level, which scared us. It was necessary for us to leave you in the hospital for a few extra days, but soon that situation resolved itself.

We got to bring you home on Thanksgiving Day, 1980.That was a Thanksgiving I will never forget. Your dad and I were so tired. We found two Swanson turkey TV dinners in the freezer that I had purchased at the Embassy Commissary and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very thankful to be celebrating Thanksgiving at home together.

Love always,

Mom

Lin_joyce_annie_birth_certificate

Guest Columnist Lin Joyce: More Than 500 Letters Later, A Granddaughter Is Born

Lin_joyce_annie_photo

Lin Joyce, a personal historian based in Washington, D.C., is wife to Bill and mom to Annie and Susie. She is head interviewer for Reel Tributes, a company that produces personal history documentaries that combine personal videos, pictures and music WWW.REELTRIBUTES.COM. Lin is also Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for the Association of Personal Historians. Three years ago she founded The Life Stories Program for Capital Caring, a hospice serving the Metropolitan Washington D.C. area, to train hospice patients to preserve family memories. She believes everyone has a story to tell, and loves playing a part in helping to tell those stories.

Dear Annie,

For many years, as a result of my husband’s job with the Central Intelligence Agency, our family did a lot of traveling and relocating. We spent many years living in West Africa, Asia, the Middle East and in Europe. I once counted that we had moved eighteen times in twenty-one years.

Over the years I wrote letters to my maternal grandmother to whom I was very close. In my letters to her I described our daily adventures of living abroad, our unusual cultural experiences and the stories of giving birth to and raising our two daughters in foreign countries. My husband is now retired and we have put down our familial roots in Northern Virginia. 

In 2004 I visited my grandmother in her home in San Francisco. During this visit my grandmother handed me a large, beautifully wrapped gift box.  Upon opening the box, I saw all the letters that I had written to her. The letters were neatly tied up with different colors of satin ribbon – a bundle for each year of our travels. Over the next few days, I was delighted to read my letters again and to reflect on so many of the adventures I had experienced and shared on paper with my grandmother. What my grandmother had been unaware of until that time was that I had saved her letters, too. Eventually, I was to see that together our letters numbered over 500.

Fast-forward a few years…

You were expecting your first baby on December 27, 2007. As your pregnancy progressed, you became more and more uncomfortable and longed for the pregnancy to be over. I then remembered the letters that I had written to my grandmother 27 years earlier. I remembered writing in great detail about being pregnant with my first baby (you) — and remembered how I, too, suffered nausea, indigestion, swollen ankles and late-night awakenings from pains in my legs; and how I, too, longed for the waiting to be over. Maybe you would take comfort in reading that I had dealt with the same inconveniences.

I decided to share my letters with you, now saved in a large white binder, in the hopes that it would reflect my love, compassion and empathy for what you were going through. I presented the large stack of letters to you. Early the next day you called me on the telephone.The excitement in your voice was all I needed to hear. You had read all of my letters in one night.

You were thrilled to read about my pregnancy experiences and even more about what my life was like at the time of her birth. You said that she had no idea of what I went through – the experience of giving birth at the Al Khalidi Maternity Hospital in Amman, Jordan, not having family nearby to help me, and not having the comforts of Westernized medicine throughout my pregnancy, labor and delivery.

After reading my letters, you told me that she gained a new and deeper understanding of what my life had been like and how difficult it must have been for me. You said that it must have taken a lot of courage to go to Jordan not knowing how things would turn out or what things would be like.

This mother-to-daughter insight was all made possible because my grandmother had the foresight to save my letters. They are only pieces of paper but the thoughts, memories and stories reflected on them are priceless. 

Now my sweet daughter is the mother of three — a beautiful five-year-old daughter and active twin two-year-old boys. She is making her own memories and one day will have some amazing stories of her own to tell her kids.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Dispatches: Because, Above All, We’re About Advocacy

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We’re all about championing a cause, the more righteous the better. Now, because we’re advocates at heart, always looking to spread the good word, it’s only logical that we try to press our own kids into public service, too.

Kayt Sukel, a single mother in Texas, wrote an open letter to her baby son Chet about a controversial political action she recently took regarding birth control, despite cautionary advice from her mother that it would be “impolite” and her child miight someday read all about it. It involved a satirical piece she wrote about the potential use of aspirin as a contraceptive. Author of the recent book, “Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex and Relationships,” Kayt explains here why she assumed her self-avowedly “impolite” stance against what she calls Republican attacks on birth control. “It’s important to me,’ she writes to her son, “that you grow up thinking of women not as fragile creatures that need to be patronized or protected (as sluts or angels, so to speak), but as equals who should have the right to their own power and freedoms.” http://www.xojane.com/issues/open-letter-my-son

Roxana Soto wrote a letter to her five-year-old daughter, who has asthma, about her own efforts to save the environment. “You’re still too young to understand the perilous state of our planet,” she writes.” Roxana admits being embarrassed about doing little to improve matters until recently. Now she has joined an organization to fight against Congressional action to weaken laws that safeguard clean air and water. “I know you have no idea what I’m talking about,” she writes, “but one day you will.” http://www.care2.com/greenliving/a-letter-to-my-children.html

Guest Columnist Tom Weck: Now, Son, We Tell Stories Together

Thomas_weck_2

Tom Weck and his wife Sandra, who live in Wilmington, Delaware, have four children — David, 42, Peter, 41, and Kathryn, 39 and Andrew, 32– and seven grandchildren. Tom, a retired engineering and environmental executive, and Peter are co-authors of a series of children’s books about a kingdom of beans, the size of lima beans, who overcome many of the challenges that small children face. Among the titles are “The Labyrinth,” “The Megasaurus,” “The Cave Monster,” and “How Back-Back Got His Name.” For more details, see limabearpress.com.

Dear Peter,

This is a long overdue letter to thank you for pushing me to share with others the Lima Bear Stories that I made up and told to you and your brother David and sister Kathryn (and, of course, to Andrew, too, later on)when you were all somewhere between three and eight years old.

I can still picture the four of us in the double bed with my arms cuddling the three of you as you all eagerly awaited the story. You all loved the bean-sized characters because, as small children, you could relate your own challenges in coping with an “oversized” world designed for adults to the challenges faced by these tiny beans.

Some of the Lima Bear stories I must have told to you kids at least 10 times. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that all of you seemed just as happy hearing an already-told story over again. You and your siblings would, on occasion, tell some of the stories to each other – a delightful experience for me whenever I witnessed this.

You were always my biggest fan. You would laugh the most, even at a story you had heard many times before. Your laughter was a great tonic to me.

But all this storytelling introduced an unexpected challenge. When I retold a story, sometimes I was unable to recall all of the original details. But you could, and whenever I made a “mistake” — for example, calling King Limalot’s robe red when I had originally called it purple — invariably you would correct me. Sometimes, particularly when I was really tired from a hard day at the office, it seemed I made a lot of mistakes. Your corrections became so numerous as to interrupt the flow of the story.

Finally, your exasperated brother, David, would say, “Peter, just let Daddy tell the story. What difference does it make if he called the robe‘red’?”

Kathryn, the born mediator of the family, would then chime in, “But David, it was purple.”

I needed a solution, and I needed it pronto. At first, trying to remember every detail of a retold story proved inadequate. Then I latched onto a different strategy. A case in point: as a story came to a certain point, I would say, “And the king’s robe colored a beautiful…Peter, I bet you remember the color of the robe.”

Without a pause, you would advise that it was purple.

And I would say, “That’s right, purple,” and go on with the story.

This approach seemed to satisfy all parties.

Luckily, in 2000, you approached me at the age of 29 to volunteer to join forces with me to create a children’s book publishing company. You were concerned that the Lima Bear Stories, now fallow, would vanish unless put into print. You began a campaign to prevent this from happening. The idea was that we would each contribute our memories, still vivid, to bring these stories back to life.

It was your persistence that led us into this venture. As I once told you, if you were ever reincarnated as an inanimate object, you would come back as the tide. And we’ve collaborated ever since. And what a joy it is for me to have this unique relationship with you as we reconstruct the stories. I think both of us are still young at heart, with all the wonderment, curiosity and innocence of children.

Our partnership has warmed me in ways hard to express in words. And as we reconstruct the stories, hearing you laugh all over again with that same infectious laugh as when you first heard these stories motivated me even more and made me glow inside. It has lent to our togetherness as father and son a new, wonderful dimension.

Your memory has surely proved useful as we reconstructed the stories for ultimate publication through our company, Lima Bear Press, LLC. Thanks to you, and to our combined efforts, and also to our team of five professionals, eleven stories are now written, with four published and a fifth due out early this year.

Love,

Dad

Thomasweck

Getting Personal: How To Write Family History For Your Kids In 2013 (part 5)

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Here are more tips on how to write personal family history for your kids:

8. Tell A Story. Your toddler is venturing his first steps, wobbling, about to keel over. Right away we wonder what will happen next. Will he make it across the room? The suspense is killing us. We’re rooting for the kid now. In doing my journals, I sometimes looked for an issue, a conflict, a turning point, a decision. Michael kept getting ear infections, for example. I looked, too, for signs of growth, of a change in character, of a coming to terms. Then I might try to translate events into some kind of insight. As in: “Only then did I realize . . . ” I’ve always believed that what counts is less a matter of what you know than what you make of what you know.

9. Make Every Word Count. See # 7 (Briefer Is Better). This philosophy is worth underscoring twice. Ever sentence should advance the overall cause. Nobody expects you to nail every single detail – only the right ones, the ones that are essential.

10. Anyone Can Write. I know that sounds like lip service, so let me clarify. Everyone has stories to tell. Every life has its drama. All of us are inherently more interesting than we probably realize. And nobody knows your story better than you. Do you have to be a writer? No. It comes down to harnessing the memories we all have within us to honor our heritages.

Now for two bonus tips, free of charge:

11. Lend Yourself A Hand. I wrote the journals by hand. The handwritten comes across as more personal than anything typed – more organic, more authentic. Words written carry a primal quality that harks back to stories told on cave walls.

12. Keep Secrets. I gave my kids the journals as surprise Christmas gifts. Keeping a lid on the news made the project much more fun for me.

P.S. – So what do you think? Ready to take action?

Getting Personal: How To Write Family History For Your Kids In 2013 (part 4)

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Here are three more tips on how to write family history for your kids:

4. Stick To A Schedule. Every Saturday or Sunday morning, I logged an entry in my journals. Same time, same place, day in and day out. It keep the commitment doable, and so I easily found the time and energy needed. That’s what worked for me. Disclaimer: Do your stuff any time the mood strikes you. The overarching idea here is to get it done. After all, your kids are waiting for your news.

5. Keep It Spontaneous. I know: this tip contradicts tip # 2 (Plan It Out). Let me explain: I planned my journals precisely so I could then be spontaneous. If you start with a general direction to take, you no longer need to worry about the course to follow. So I went with pretty much whatever I felt the impulse to say. I changed nothing, crossed out nothing, added nothing after the fact – no second-guessing, everything done on the first take. Robin Williams once described peak experiences in standup comedy as going “full-tilt bozo.”

6. Briefer Is Better. Most of my journal entries ran about 400 words (this post clocks in at 320). I’ve often favored writing that’s more suggestive than expansive – writing that’s understated, implicit, allusive, elliptical. It seems to me sometimes more dramatic to leave something between the lines – to say what you have to say without always coming right out and saying it. Let the facts speak for themselves. Facts tend to be eloquent. Let those facts accrue, telling your story for you, the less explanation, the better. The trick is to leave out whatever you can leave out without actually appearing to have left anything out. Kids, like adults, know how to fill in the blanks. Disclaimer: Ramble from one non sequitur to the next without any prayer of coherence for all I care. I just work here.

P.S. – Part 5 will appear tomorrow.

Getting Personal: How To Write Family History For Your Kids In 2013 (part 3)

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Here, in further detail, are the first four tips on how to write about your personal family history for your kids:

1. Decide To Do It. If you really mean to do it, chances are you will. So you might treat the idea the same as you would getting married or quitting cigarettes. Here’s a little trick I used long ago when wondering whether I should marry my then girlfriend, Elvira. I asked myself every day, “Should I marry her?” I asked the same question for at least 25 days in a row. And day after day my answer came back as a “yes.” That self-survey helped me decide. We’re now married 33 years.

2. Plan It Out. Before I jotted a single word, I daydreamed for weeks about what I might write. I opened the gates to my memory until images and fragments of dialogue poured through. Then I took notes – “gleaned my teeming brain,” as John Keats famously wrote. “Caroline singing for Nanna,” one note said. My notes amounted pretty much to the kitchen sink. But ultimately they served as cues and clues to the stories that came. So please, muse away. Disclaimer:You may prefer simply to cut loose with whatever comes to mind. Hey, it’s still a free country.

3. Vote For Reality. I’m big on facts. Facts are presumably verifiable and certainly more believable. My son Michael and I sometimes butt heads. That’s a fact. My daughter Caroline sometimes resists my advice. That’s a fact, too. All of us occasionally feel tempted to rewrite history, to paint the past only with bright, sunny colors. But kids have an inherently keen sense of truth. So you might as well keep it real.

4. Single Out Highlights. I could have written about anything. But I knew I would be better off writing about something particular — something, if possible, singular. A story that is mine and mine alone to tell. So I sifted through all my notes and set priorities. I decided to zero in on memories that resonated as special, that mattered, that meant something. And to seize, above all, on moments, the truly momentous. It might be a single action or comment or incident. It had to be specific, tangible, revealing – a moment of understanding and discovery, perhaps a revelation. Disclaimer:You retain the right to be arbitrary, even freewheeling. This is supposed to be a pastime rather than a job.

P.S. – Part 4 will appear tomorrow.

Getting Personal: How To Write Family History For Your Kids In 2013 (part 2)

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Here, then – in brief for now, with further details to come in the days ahead – are my all-time top 10 tips for writing about personal family history for your kids:

1. Decide To Do It. No, really. Decide wholeheartedly. You’re either in or you’re out. That’s square one.

2. Plan It Out. Do at least an outline. Even Shakespeare needed a blueprint. Call it a GPS for the flow of your thoughts.

3. Vote For Reality. Kids can smell spin from a mile away. So opt for the truth about yourself and your family, however much it might hurt you to do so.

4. Single Out The Highlights. Draw only from the richest memories, the most lasting moments, at your command. Forgo trivia and the otherwise mundane.

5. Stick To A Schedule. A little regularity never hurt anyone. A half hour or so once a week is probably realistic – better still, shoot for a set time on a set day.

6. Keep It Spontaneous. First thought, best thought, poet Allen Ginsberg famously said. Theoretically, then, you’ll bring yourself within flirting distance of the genuine.

7. Briefer Is Better. It’s the soul of wit, no? Enough said.

8. Tell A Story. Each entry will ideally have a real narrative, how this happened, then that happened – in short, a beginning, a middle and an end. Maybe even a point or two as well.

9. Make Every Word Count. Your readers will, in a sense, be keeping score. So why waste any time?

10. Remember: Anyone Can Write. We all have stories to tell, professional writers and amateurs alike. We’re all storytellers at heart. Period.

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

Getting Personal: How To Write Family History For Your Kids In 2013

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Let’s say, with the new year now here, you’re ready to make the big leap. You’re finally going to write about your personal family history for your children.

Good for you. Still, you might be asking yourself some questions about how to go about it.

Where should I start?

Should I go chronologically or jump around in time?

How do I say to my kids what I want to say?

How can I make it memorable?

Well, all I can tell you is how I went at it. I devoted two years to keeping journals for both our kids, compiling more than 100 vignettes.

So let me start with this advice: Go at it more or less however you wish. After all, I’m me and you’re you.

You might write letters to your kids with the merriest of hearts, brimming with love and understanding. Or you might prefer to look back on your life in anger, unleashing all the bile and bitterness at your command. Or both. Or neither.

Again, that’s your prerogative. To thine own self be true, and all that.

My point is this: you’re going to have to do this on your own. You’ll have to find an approach that best suits you.

Please feel to call this strategy laissez faire (“a philosophy or practice characterized by a usually deliberate abstention from direction or interference especially with individual freedom of choice and action”).

Still, I’m going to try to be of some service to you here. So over the next five days, I’ll be posting tips about getting personal and writing about family history for your kids. How to decide what to write. How to find the time. How to do justice to your memories.

These tips as intended only as guidelines rather than some kind of guaranteed formula. My aim is simply to help you to get going in the right direction.

Remember, this is your life we’re talking about. And you know your life better than anyone else. It’s your turf, so you get to claim absolute sovereignty. You’re entitled to tell your story as you please.

So go with your gut. Do what comes naturally. Those are my only real edicts. Soon enough you’ll get into a groove.

And if you’re lucky, you’ll find your true voice. A voice your children will hear loud and clear and cherish for the ages.

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Guest Columnist Matt Collins:Family Painting A Mystery Solved (And A Lesson Learned)

 

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Matt Collins lives in Hastings on Hudson, NY, with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters, Jacqueline and Michaela. A graduate of Amherst College and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Matt currently is Director of App and Partner Marketing at Nokia. 

 Dear Jacqueline and Michaela, 

Someday, you may find yourselves balancing precariously on attic beams, looking through tattered cardboard boxes for family relics. Among those artifacts, you are likely to find posters and pamphlets emblazoned with the green lettering of the University of Oregon. They represent a vestige of a two-year investigation into a family mystery. Its resolution offers some hints at talents and abilities possibly hiding within you.

You may recall a dreary fall weekend in 2010, when we made our final trip to Cutchogue, NY, to say farewell to the old family summer home. Though parting with the house was painful, we salvaged many photographs, books, and artwork, mostly of purely sentimental value. That included a painting of what was at the time unknown provenance. It is called Deeploma O’Litho, and it once hung in your great-great grandmother’s bedroom. Her name was Persis Weaver Robertson, though the family called her “Grammy.”

Perhaps to soothe the broken heart I felt about the house, I poured myself into learning who painted Deeploma and why Grammy kept it in her room. I learned that in 1932 and 1933, she left her two daughters and husband in Des Moines to study lithography at Grant Wood’s art colony in Stone City, IA. (You may recognize Wood as the master who painted the classic, American Gothic.) Her instructor was a young artist named David McCosh.

It’s unclear what transpired between the two, but Grammy impressed McCosh enough that he created an original, one-of-a-kind painting for her to acknowledge her “graduation” from his lithography class — hence, the name Deeploma O’Litho. Even though no one in the family can remember Grammy talking about it, she clearly cherished the gift, which is why she kept it in her bedroom all those years.

It turns out that McCosh went onto become a renowned regional painter of the American northwest, as well as a professor at the University of Oregon. Unsurprisingly, Deeploma, when appraised, was more valuable than we had imagined that sad weekend. Even so, when I learned all of this, I decided to donate the painting to the University. It belongs in a place where McCosh is still studied and admired.

Jacqueline, you may recall our trip together to Eugene, OR, in 2011 to see the painting in its new home. What you may not recall was the unsolicited feedback we received from the university staff and at the art gallery we visited. Grammy, they told us, must have had great talent in order for McCosh to have created such a gift for her. In fact, Grammy was very good. She exhibited her lithographs at many of the finest art museums in the United States and won several juried awards. Her lithograph Front Door is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I had the privilege of taking several of her pieces to the 40th annual Grant Wood Art Festival this year in Anamosa, IA. Scholars there told me that her lithographs were on a par with those Wood himself made.

Here is where the lesson for you both comes in. Grammy clearly was really good, good enough for a famous artist to make her something so special as a sign of his respect and admiration, that it now hangs in an art museum. If you choose to pursue a career in the arts, I hope you will find strength and optimism in this knowledge about your ancestor. On the family tree, your branches are near hers. You, too, might have what it takes to excel.

I look forward to our finding out together.

Love,

Dad  

Matt_collins_deeploma

Guest Columnist Matt Collins:Family Painting A Mystery Solved (And A Lesson Learned)

 

Matt_collins_with_daughters

Matt Collins lives in Hastings on Hudson, NY, with his wife, Michelle, and two daughters, Jacqueline and Michaela. A graduate of Amherst College and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Matt currently is Director of App and Partner Marketing at Nokia. 

 Dear Jacqueline and Michaela, 

Someday, you may find yourselves balancing precariously on attic beams, looking through tattered cardboard boxes for family relics. Among those artifacts, you are likely to find posters and pamphlets emblazoned with the green lettering of the University of Oregon. They represent a vestige of a two-year investigation into a family mystery. Its resolution offers some hints at talents and abilities possibly hiding within you.

You may recall a dreary fall weekend in 2010, when we made our final trip to Cutchogue, NY, to say farewell to the old family summer home. Though parting with the house was painful, we salvaged many photographs, books, and artwork, mostly of purely sentimental value. That included a painting of what was at the time unknown provenance. It is called Deeploma O’Litho, and it once hung in your great-great grandmother’s bedroom. Her name was Persis Weaver Robertson, though the family called her “Grammy.”

Perhaps to soothe the broken heart I felt about the house, I poured myself into learning who painted Deeploma and why Grammy kept it in her room. I learned that in 1932 and 1933, she left her two daughters and husband in Des Moines to study lithography at Grant Wood’s art colony in Stone City, IA. (You may recognize Wood as the master who painted the classic, American Gothic.) Her instructor was a young artist named David McCosh.

It’s unclear what transpired between the two, but Grammy impressed McCosh enough that he created an original, one-of-a-kind painting for her to acknowledge her “graduation” from his lithography class — hence, the name Deeploma O’Litho. Even though no one in the family can remember Grammy talking about it, she clearly cherished the gift, which is why she kept it in her bedroom all those years.

It turns out that McCosh went onto become a renowned regional painter of the American northwest, as well as a professor at the University of Oregon. Unsurprisingly, Deeploma, when appraised, was more valuable than we had imagined that sad weekend. Even so, when I learned all of this, I decided to donate the painting to the University. It belongs in a place where McCosh is still studied and admired.

Jacqueline, you may recall our trip together to Eugene, OR, in 2011 to see the painting in its new home. What you may not recall was the unsolicited feedback we received from the university staff and at the art gallery we visited. Grammy, they told us, must have had great talent in order for McCosh to have created such a gift for her. In fact, Grammy was very good. She exhibited her lithographs at many of the finest art museums in the United States and won several juried awards. Her lithograph Front Door is in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I had the privilege of taking several of her pieces to the 40th annual Grant Wood Art Festival this year in Anamosa, IA. Scholars there told me that her lithographs were on a par with those Wood himself made.

Here is where the lesson for you both comes in. Grammy clearly was really good, good enough for a famous artist to make her something so special as a sign of his respect and admiration, that it now hangs in an art museum. If you choose to pursue a career in the arts, I hope you will find strength and optimism in this knowledge about your ancestor. On the family tree, your branches are near hers. You, too, might have what it takes to excel.

I look forward to our finding out together.

Love,

Dad  

Matt_collins_deeploma

Guest columnists Barry Kluger and Kelly Farley: Law Should Give The Sandy Hook Parents Time To Grieve

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Barry Kluger lost his daughter Erica in 2001. He is a former media executive and is President and CEO of The MISS Foundation, a global bereavement organization (www.missfoundation.org). Kelly Farley lost his daughter Katie in 2004 and his son Noah in 2006. He created the Grieving Dads Project (www.grievingdads.com).

Dear parents of the Sandy Hook School tragedy,

Like many of you, we have watched the nightmare that came out of Newtown, Connecticut over the last few weeks. Some of us look at the horrific event and believe the pain the parents are feeling is unimaginable, while others understand what this pain feels like.

We speak from experience. We know the pain of losing children, and even though our losses were several years ago and in circumstances far different, we can relate to the parents who now grieve over the Sandy Hook tragedy.

We are both bereaved fathers who lost our children (Erica Kluger, Katie and Noah Farley) in 2001, 2004 and 2006. We each have translated our losses into actions designed to give other bereaved parents more time to grieve. In 2011, we established the Farley-Kluger Initiative (www.FarleyKluger.com) to amend the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 to include death of a child. Right now, you get up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off after the birth of a child, but only a customary two to three days to bury that child.

 

No doubt, most managers and the companies are compassionate enough to provide such parents much more than two or three days of bereavement leave. But sadly, we have learned in the course of our efforts on the Farley-Kluger Initiative that many parents feel pressure to get back to work immediately, for fear that doing otherwise might cost them their jobs.


The grief that comes from the death of a child never goes away. It lasts a lifetime. It eventually lessens in magnitude as we learn to deal with it, and we survive in spite of it. We all know what to do when we lose a job, but we have no idea what to do when we lose a child. No one and nothing, even our faith, prepares us for what we will feel or will have to do. The dynamics of such invisible wounds are universal. Sometimes we are unable to feel at all or cry, or we cry, but feel we should cry more.

That’s why we want to change the law, and why we are taking steps to advance that change early in the next session of Congress. We have sent petitions with more than 41,000 signatures to members of the U.S. House and Senate and met with more than 45 legislators, including many in the Connecticut delegation. Next month, we will be back at it, only now representing the parents of the Sandy Hook School victims.

 

Hundreds of thousands of parents over the centuries have lost a child to illness, accident, war, murder and suicide. Each story is heartbreaking. And all of you now belong to a club no one wishes to join, and only those of us who have walked in your shoes understand the indelible sadness. Though Newtown is unique in its terrible circumstances, you will never be alone, nor should you ever be forgotten.

 

We ask all of you — and others who were spared tragedy — to join us in this fight to make a difference. We never know when we, too, will have to walk this path.

Guest columnist David Rosen: You Caught Me When I Fell And Now I’ll Be Catching You

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David Rosen and his wife Deborah live in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with daughters Allison, 10, and Jessica, 7. David has worked in pharmaceutical and healthcare public relations since 1993. Laid off at Bristol-Myers Squibb four years ago, he wandered the earth in search of his next position. In 2010 he went back to school to become a New Jersey state-certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and today answers the call in the towns of Cherry Hill and Berlin. He’s also a volunteer firefighter with a unit of the Cherry Hill Fire Department that coordinates rehabilitation of firefighters during incidents. Last month he landed a position at Ogilvy Public Relations in New York.

 

Dear Allie and Jess:

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote you a letter and told you how you have helped me through these last few, tough years for me. I promised you I’d be there to support you and be your “cornerstone.” I promised to spend as much time as possible with you, all to help you grow and catch you when you fall (http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-david-rosenyou).

I’d like to think I’ve succeeded. Yes I’ve been around more since getting laid off at the end of 2008. But in 2012, even with my crazy hours as an EMT, I was more involved — general family time, coaching soccer and running you around to all your activities.

You’ve both matured so much in the last year. You took a huge step in going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I know it was harder on your mom and me than it was for you to go away for the summer. You both ran to the bus when it was time to go. Your excitement comforted us. But we felt sad because you were leaving us for the first time.

But then you both did something – you climbed the steps of the bus, turned around, and flashed us those big, beautiful smiles — and that strengthened us. In that split second, everything become okay – we knew we had prepared you for those weeks away. You in turn prepared us to make it through those long summer days without you. Showing us your strength made us stronger.

You also showed us through your commitment to your schoolwork and the sports you participate in that the lessons we’re trying to teach you are getting through. You’ve proven yourselves as leaders on the soccer field and dedicated and disciplined with your karate lessons. Your growing confidence makes your mother and me so proud!

Best of all, you continued to help me — to help me to see what’s truly important in life. You continued to support, comfort and tolerate me. It was hardly easy. Even though I returned to public relations for a few months, that job ended in January. I went back to being home and job searching. I put in long hours every day looking for a job and playing taxi driver for the both of you. And then I went to work at the Cherry Hill Fire Department or Berlin EMS where I gave my time to help others in need. Only sometimes did you understand why I was away so much.

But you accepted it. You made sure the time we spent together — at Phillies games or at your soccer and softball practices — really counted. I often wished I could freeze time so those moments would last forever. But then the next day would come and turn out to be even better.

In 2013, I promise to be there for you as much as you’ve been there for me.

Love,

Dad

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Guest Columnist Mindy Gikas: Patience, Patience And More Patience (My Mantra For 2013)

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Mindy Gikas and her husband, Reverend Basil Gikas, live in Mahwah, New Jersey, with Justin, 13, and Lillianna,11. Mindy is a Senior Vice President of Human Resources for a firm in New York City and Father Bill is a Greek Orthodox Priest in Wyckoff, New Jersey.

Dear Justin and Lillianna,

Wow, what a year it’s been! We’ve been on a roller coaster of exhilarating ups, sinking downs, unexpected twists, and scary turns. We started the year leaving our old church and coming into a new parish. Then we dealt with Dad’s surgery, followed by the seemingly endless search for a new house, then finally got settled in a new area, and started in a new school, and made new friends, and on and on. Thank God, we’ve weathered it all. I’m truly proud of the way you’ve both managed the ride.

Last year I published my resolutions for you on this website, letterstomykids.org, in the hopes of really keeping them (http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-mindy-gikas-fin). Here we are a year later and I’ve had mixed results.

Lilli, last year I resolved to spend more time with you and to listen more. Though it hasn’t always been easy to find the time — we’ve been so busy juggling all the demands of daily life — we’ve grown closer this year. I’ve seen you grow up before my eyes from my little girl into an amazing young lady. You have good judgment (or so it appears). You’re also smart, motivated, beautiful and self-assured.

In the coming year, I resolve to continue to be there for you, to help you, to support you and to listen to you – even when some of what I hear about life in middle school may be scary to me (like boys, parties, etc.). I also promise I won’t mediate every argument between you and your brother, but will resolve to remain impartial — except when the screaming gets really loud and then I’m retreating to my room to let the two of you battle it out. Sorry about that!

Justin, last year I resolved to give you more space and more freedom to manage your school work and we both know that didn’t really work for either one of us. When you’re left on your own, the school work didn’t get done and mediocre to bad grades were the result. My frustration and helplessness often got the better of me and I often lost my temper (okay, there was lots of yelling and screaming) and for that, I’m sorry.

This year, my resolution is to have more patience. I’ll keep on top of you to make sure you do what needs to be done because I love you too much to let you neglect your school work, but I will do it with patience. I’m not quite sure yet what that will look like when I come home late from work only to find you haven’t done some major homework assignment due the next day, but we’ll see. I’m hoping I won’t lose my temper as often, I’ll try to keep calm, help you if you need my help, and remain firm that you need to work harder, complete homework assignments on time and study for tests. Perhaps with more patience on my part, we’ll both be less stressed out and your grades will improve as well.

Finally, your father’s and my faith in God helped guide us through this roller coaster year. We continue to keep our faith in Him as we move into a new year of new challenges and opportunities. My final resolution for both of you it that you too will keep your faith in God and allow Him to guide you always – no matter how uncool you think that might be.

Happy New Year. I love you both more than you can ever imagine.

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Guest Columnist Eliza Schleifstein: In Death, We May Discover Life

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Eliza Schleifstein lives with her husband Todd and daughters Darcy, 10, and Emily, 7, in Randolph, New Jersey. Still practicing public relations after all these years, but now as a freelancer, she works with advocacy groups and pharmaceutical clients to help raise awareness for disease categories and new treatments, but only when she is not playing chauffeur. Eliza has been writing letters to her children for them to read when they are older since Darcy was born in 2002.

Dear Darcy and Emily,

It’s about 3 a.m. on Monday, December 17, and I can’t sleep. You’re going back to school tomorrow. Because of the tragedy in Newtown, the police will be there. Counselors will on hand to talk with you about what you’ve heard about Newtown if you need. Kids in elementary school should never have to deal with anything like this.

When I heard the news the Friday before, the phrase that popped into my head was, “There but for the grace of G-d, go I.” It’s sad we live in a world where this could happen anywhere, but unfortunately, the fact is that it can happen, even with armies of adults working every day to keep you all safe.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to write something for you both about how a child copes with death – more particularly, how I coped with the death of my mother when I was six years old. What I learned from the biggest tragedy of my life and what you both should take away from it. But I was unable to write a single word.

Until Newtown. The murder of 27 people, including 20 children who are the same age as you are, Emily, broke through that resistance.

My mother died after a long battle with cancer. But because I was so young, I had no idea she was going to die. So her death felt sudden. Most of my memories of her are of my visits to her in the hospital. I grew up marked by a certain unmistakable sadness. I spent most of my childhood afraid that something bad would happen to my father, too – that he, too, would die – and I would be left without any parents.

Here, then, is what I I learned at the age of six. Life can be cut short. Life is fragile and every day is precious. And no matter how hard you try, picking up the pieces is very difficult and takes time. Yes, you have every right to take time to be sad. The deaths of loved ones, like your Grandma Dorothy, or events like those in Newtown, Columbine and Aurora – and on 9/11 – where many people perished, are horrible to live through.

But pick up the pieces you must. You have to live your life and accomplish something in order to honor the lives of those no longer physically here. In trying to be the kind of parent my mother would want me to be — and always to advocate for you – I honor my mother.

I want nothing more to raise you both in a bubble and always keep you safe. But my mother would have wanted me to be a different kind of parent. She would have wanted you to take the opportunity to live your lives to the fullest, even in the face of inevitable risks. That’s the most important lesson I learned from losing my mother as a child, and that you can now learn from Newtown. Never live your life in fear of what could happen. Look forward to every day. Do what the lost children of Newtown would do at this very moment if they could. Take the hands of your friends. Run out to the playground. Enjoy being alive.

Love & Kisses,

Mommy

P.S. – Let me leave you with one other thought. Six teachers died on that Friday in Newtown, essentially acting as human shields to protect their students. They, too, were moms and dads and children and siblings. They, too, are now mourned by family members. When they signed up to be teachers, it was because they loved to teach. Unfortunately, though, they found themselves with no choice but to become human shields. They adored their students as if they were their own flesh and blood and protected them without worrying about their own lives. So it is at your school. Your teachers, your principal and the whole staff also love you and your friends as if you were family. I have no doubt they would have acted the same. So when you go to school today, please give the staff an extra big hug or a high five. Today is probably even tougher for them than for you. Now they grasp as never before that caring for children is the biggest responsibility any adult ever faces.

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Take The Pledge To Write Letters To Your Kids (Part 3)

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Dear Readers,

Once again I’m extending to you a one-time offer to take the pledge to write letters to your kids – except of course technically this is my second offer.

Once again, too, taking the pledge is available free of charge – only now I’m offering a discount.

So if you’re under 100 years old, you get 15% off.

And if you’re older than 100 years of age, you get 20% off.

And in case I forgot to mention it, if you take the pledge, you’ll never be hungry again or get fat.

In fact, you’ll be happy 24 hours a day, year in and year out, even possibly well into your afterlife.

So here, to bring us home for the week, is a question just for you. Why else, among all the possible motives at your disposal, should you take the pledge to write letters to your kids?

Here are my top seven reasons:

1. It will make you feel good.
2. It will make your kids feel good.
3. It will make the world a better place.
4. You’ll learn about yourself and your life.
5. You’ll realize just how very much you love your kids.
6. It will make the world a better place (I said that already, but it’s worth repeating)
7. My best friend, Al, likes this blog. So does my favorite doorman, Carlos. And if it’s good enough for Al and Carlos, it should be good enough for anyone.
So ask yourself, “Do I want a bright future? If the answer is “yes,” then take the pledge now.

P.S. – Take the pledge here: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

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Take The Pledge: Write Letters To Your Kids (Part 2)

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Dear Readers,

So here’s a New Year’s resolution I urge you to make for 2012.

Write letters to your kids. Get it in writing. Preserve it for posterity.

That’s what this blog is all about. Letterstomykids.org is drawn from journals about my personal family history that I wrote for our kids, Michael and Caroline, over the course of two years.

Now, as January 1 nears, I’m calling on all you parents (and grandparents) out there to do the same.

But why take my word for it? Look below at the endorsements my humble little blog has accumulated from The New York Times,The Washington Post, CBS News and Huffington Post.

Chances are, if the White House were even remotely aware of my existence – a big “if,” I know – it would probably recommend it, too.

Ditto the GOP, for that matter.

That’s why my home page invites you to “Take The Pledge” (below). Just click the link and scroll down to the pledge icon. Click again to close the ad there and click once more to answer the question, “Will you pledge to write letters to your kids?” (Presumably your answer will be “yes.”

Voila! Three clicks and you’ll see your voice counted.

P.S. – Take the pledge here: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

P.P.S. – Media coverage about my blog: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/letters-to-my-kids/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-parenting/post/spending-thanksgiving-thanking-our-kids/2011/11/21/gIQAcn8jlN_blog.html

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7393406n

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/23/thank-you-letters_n_1110137.html

P.P.P.S. – See part 3 tomorrow.

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Take The Pledge: Write Letters To Your Kids

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Dear Readers,

From today through Friday, letterstomykids.org will hold its third annual Take The Pledge Week.

Without further ado, then, I hereby officially invite you to take the pledge to write letters to your kids.

“Why should I?” you might ask yourself. “I’ve made enough pledges – to stop smoking, to circumnavigate the globe, to master quantum physics – to hold me for life.”

Well, for starters, if you take the pledge, you’ll lose all your extra weight overnight.

You’ll also be able to earn at least a million dollars a day working from home in your spare time.

Can any other pledge you know make such claims?

Ah, but here’s the clincher. Taking the pledge to write letters to your kids is now free.

True, it was free before. But now it’s even freer.

In fact, it’s twice as free. That’s a 50% savings!

Here’s the catch, though. It’s a one-time offer only. Or at least it will be until the second time it’s offered. The third, too.

So act now. Happiness guaranteed or your money back, no questions asked.

P.S. – Take the pledge here: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

P.P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Guest columnists Kate and David Marshall: If Life Is A Journey, Here’s a Map (part 3)

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Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net

Dear Emily and Ben,

We’ve been working on mapping out our lives—past, present and future—using My Life Map. We each made a map for our whole life and a set of maps for the next ten years focusing on different parts of our lives: family, friends, learning, work, service, and play. As we map our own futures, we again find ourselves wondering what your next steps will be. We hope you’ll think about mapping your lives, too. Guess what life mapping journal you’re getting for Christmas?

We want you to be happy. What do you need in your lives to be happy (kids, mountains, ample playmates, a loving marriage, stimulating career, doses of solitude)? What do you want to be known as (lawyer with a heart, marathoner, master pie maker, innovator…)? What do you want to be known for (popularizing wind energy, making people laugh, designing a new product…)?

These questions aren’t easy, we know, but they are important. You’ll be asking yourselves these questions again, many times, in your life. Each time life surprises you (unexpected baby, job opportunity or loss, relationship changes); each time a major life transition approaches (graduation, marriage, empty nest, retirement); and whenever the path you’re on stops feeling right, you’ll stop and reassess. At least we hope you will.

Figuring out your work lives is probably center stage for both of you now. How do you picture yourself practicing law, Emily: what kind of law, what kind of firm? Ben, how will you use your engineering degree: what kind of projects, what kind of team? None of these decisions are irreversible, but they are big choices nonetheless. Does it feel overwhelming? We are honored to talk things through with you.

Other parts of your future lives deserve some imagining as well, not just work. Emily, since you haven’t had much time to play since you started law school, what do you miss? What sort of play do you want to bring back into your life or to start, once you have time—travel, painting, hula hoop? How do you each see yourselves contributing in the future: coaching youth soccer?, donating to a food bank?, raising wonderful children?, opening a free clinic?, volunteering for a political campaign?

Does long-term planning make you squirm? It’s okay:

1. Angst is normal. We adults try to make kids think we just naturally have it all figured out. But that’s not true; it takes work.

2. It’s easier than you think, if you use a tool like My Life Map that breaks it into bite-sized pieces.

3. You will not be a failure if what you write in your life map does not come true!

Sometimes things turn out the way we planned them, and sometimes they don’t. As a young girl growing up in rural New Jersey, Mom’s dream of faraway lands eventually led her to living in exotic places such as Mexico, Germany and…California. On a life map Dad made in his twenties, he wrote that he’d be a minister living in Asia about now. As you know, he’s not, and we don’t. He’s not a failure for not having done what he imagined, but re-reading that map now, and seeing how important spirituality was for him then, reminds him to pay attention to that part of his life now. On another map, he imagined himself going to Harvard Business School. He did fulfill that goal.

Lastly, we hope you will listen to us over the coming years, but trust you not to be directed by us. We might be able to suggest good paths, but only you know what the right path is for you. Where we might imagine you to be in five or ten years is not nearly as important as where you imagine yourselves.

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Guest columnists Kate and David Marshall: If Life Is A Journey, Here’s a Map (part 2)

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Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net

Dear Emily and Ben,

When you were young, we sometimes wondered what you’d be doing as adults.

Emily, your favorite German word when we lived in Germany was “Hund,” and you playfully insisted on wearing a rubber doggy nose for a remarkably large part of your pre-school life there, so we were not surprised to see your passion for dog training in high school, nor that you went to college planning to study pre-veterinary medicine.

But you developed other interests along the way as well—history, politics and government, and more—that excited you more than Organic Chemistry, so you’re now halfway through law school. You always loved our winter visits to New Hampshire, so that you picked colleges in Connecticut and Minnesota made sense, too.

Ben, when you were young, we painfully stepped on enough stray Lego pieces, and heard you gleefully calculate enough statistics for your many sports teams, from T-ball team on up, to know that you were destined either for a career in sports announcing or for something that used math and science.

In a way, you’re doing both now: watching a 49er or A’s game with you is always educational, and you’re about to finish a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. Living in California now works for you as well—you get to ride your bike year around, stay close to your 49ers, and take quick trips to the snowy Sierras for a skiing fix. Heaven.

We’re proud of where you both are now: you’ve chosen courses of study that make use of your talents and interests; you’ve developed meaningful relationships; and you are actively learning valuable professional and life skills.

It’s hard to always have our lives perfectly balanced between family, friends, learning, work, service, and play, but over a lifetime, we hope that you’ll find the balance you want. Years ago, your medical doctor Aunt Teresa counseled us that every meal you eat doesn’t have to have every food nutrient in it, but you should have all the major food groups over the course of a week. Life is like that, too.

Since you’re both full-time students, formal learning is the dominant force in your lives now. Other parts of your life are on the back burner. Emily, with the intensity of law school, you may feel that the “play” part of your life is on hold, but have faith that play will become a bigger part of your life in a few years. Ben, you’ve managed to keep playing by being part of the Triathlon Club (but can you please explain again how swimming/biking/running until you drop is fun?).

With limited time and money now, traditional “service” may also be on the back burner, but we’re impressed by your commitment to making a difference when you can even now, with your kindnesses to family and friends, Ben’s regular blood donations, Emily’s labor law clinics, and by both being educated voters. You do what you can, with what you have, when you can.

We love watching you shape your lives in ways that work for you and look forward to seeing what’s next. Thank you for continuing to make being parents a joy.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

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Guest columnists Kate and David Marshall: If Life Is A Journey, Here’s a Map

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Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net

Dear Emily and Ben,

We finally traded in our mini-van “Sandy.” We loved that van. She wasn’t glamorous, but she let you have the childhood we wanted for you.

With Mom at the wheel, Sandy shuttled you and an assortment of buddies to elementary and middle school, soccer practice, and scout meetings. You stuffed her many cup holders with granola bar wrappers as you snacked between band practice and trips to the store for science project supplies. We loaded her with Thanksgiving turkeys for family feasts here, both practical and fun Christmas presents, your first bikes, and our first computer.

When you were teens, she bravely offered herself as your learn-to-drive car. She rose early to drive through morning fog to Ben’s soccer tournaments far and wide; to Emily’s dog sport trials at county fairgrounds in the valley; to road trip vacations to Oregon and Vancouver. Like Mary Poppins’s bottomless carpetbag, she barreled down Highway 5, magically loaded with Ben’s bed, desk, bike, and the rest of his college gear to and from LA for four years. We loved each and every one of those 141,000 miles she drove in service of your many interests and our family vacations.

Saying “goodbye” to Sandy made us look back at how much you have both brought to our lives: the German that Mom learned alongside you in toddler playgroup when we lived in Munich; the joy we both felt as you discovered a love of reading; the friends we made while sitting on the soccer side lines; and the permission that being with you gave us to have moments of pure silliness. Having to come up with answers to your many, many questions about how the world works kept us learning.

At times, you have been our muses: your curiosity about Dad’s unusual upbringing in the Ecumenical Institute helped convince him to write his memoirs about it. Emily’s discovery of the dog sport of agility gave Mom a new hobby when she took over for you after you left for college—who knew that running through timed obstacle courses with our dog could be so much fun? Ben’s interest in golf gave Dad a new hobby, too. Your curiosity, drive, and pure energy gave shape to our lives for many years.

When we were writing about our pasts in our life planning journal, My Life Map, we were struck by how much better you’ve made all sections of our maps—place, family, friends, learning, work, service and, most definitely, playing.

We missed you each when you left for college in 2004 and 2007. The sudden quiet was deafening. With no flurries of activity as you swept through the house, no homework sprawled across the kitchen table, an empty sink and laundry basket, and no Cheerios in the cupboard, it was clear that a new phase had begun. But we were happy for you: you were in college learning, growing, deepening and broadening your ideas, building lives.

We miss Sandy, and all that she stood for, but we’re also excited about the new car. Mom has named her “Vicky,” in part because she is a Prius V, but also to celebrate our Victory as a family. We had no idea what an adventure raising you two would be, but it has been an extraordinary success. When we look back at the start of our little family—our marriage, each of your births, how hard we all worked to take care of each other, and how much we’ve all grown—we are proud of us. We’re thankful for the opportunity to raise two amazing humans. Victory!

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Dispatches: Dear Son (Letters From George Patton and Ferdinando Sacco)

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In England in 1944, as General George S. Patton prepared his troops for battle, he wrote a letter to his son George, then enrolled at West Point. Though the letter is father to son, it comes across more as a communiqué from officer to soldier, and as a mission statement about personal conduct in war. In the letter, Patton, who as commander of the Third Army captured more prisoners and liberated more territory in World War II than any other army in history, in effect lectures the 21-year-old cadet (at the end he acknowledges having given a “sermon”). For example, he addresses the issue of courage versus cowardice. Of those who act timidly in combat, Patton writes, “You will never do that because of your blood lines on both sides.” The peptalk also urges the son to take risks and be self-confident (“You can have no doubts about your abilities as a soldier”). Most memorably, he advises him to be true to himself, because unless people are themselves, they are “nobody.” http://artofmanliness.com/2011/08/21/manvotional-a-letter-from-general-george-s-patton-to-his-son/

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In 1927, four days before he was to be executed by electrocution for murder during an armed robbery, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco wrote a letter to his son Dante. “Whatever should happen tomorrow, nobody knows,” the doomed anarchist wrote from his jailhouse cell in Charlestown State Prison in Boston. “But if they kill us,” he wrote, he encouraged his son to remember always to smile with gratitude at the friends and “fallen persecuted comrades” who love him. He urged Dante to be strong so as to comfort his mother, and to do as he once had – “take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wildflowers” and “rest under the shade of trees between the harmony of the vivid stream and the gentle tranquility of mother nature.” http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/sacltrchar.html In 1950, folk singer Pete Singer wrote a song, “Sacco’s Letter To His Son.” http://www.peteseeger.net/sacco.htm

Dispatches: Dear Son (Letters From Cicero, Lord Chesterfield and Robert E. Lee)

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Back in the day, namely 44 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote an essay, three books long, that took the form of a letter to his son, also named Marcus. In the essay, titled De Officiis, the Roman statesman and philosopher detailed how to live and behave honorably, meaning mostly how to fulfill personal duties and observe civic obligations. Published after his death – only, as it happened, the second book produced by the printing press after the Gutenberg Bible – this classic of wisdom and common sense, though lofty in its aspirations, offers practical advice anyone can use. A case in point: We must live for others as well as for ourselves, Cicero wrote (“Our country, our friends, have a share in us”). http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=542&chapter=83344&layout=html&Itemid=27

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Philip Stanhope, also known as the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield – or, if you prefer, simply Lord Chesterfield – took a similar path with his namesake, Philip. For more than 30 years, from 1737 to 1768, the aristocratic statesman, literally a man of letters, wrote 400-plus letters to his son, who was born, as they say, illegitimately. Those letters sought to overcome the presumed taint of illegitimacy, offering guidance in topics ranging from history and politics to literature and geography, as well as personal instruction about basic manners. Every word wound up compiled in a book called Letters To His Son On the Art of Becoming A Man of the World and a Gentleman. “A man’s own good-breeding is the best security against other people’s ill manners,” Lord Chesterfield wrote. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chesterfield/letters/

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In 1861, Robert E. Lee, the general who led the Confederate Army in the Civil War, wrote a letter to his son, George Washington Custis Lee, himself a Major General (for the record, he also wrote heartfelt letters to his daughter, Annie). In plain language, the military leader gives his son personal, practical advice about basic tenets to follow in life. Say what you mean to do and then do it. If you have an issue with someone, tell him to his face. If a friend asks for a reasonable favor, grant it. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/to%20his%20son.htm

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest columnist Rich Haddad: Your Brothers And Sister, All Coming Together Just For You (Part 5)

 

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Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l

Dear Steve, Jason, Ashleigh and Jon,

I was tremendously impressed by some of the decisions you made and things you did as young adults, some of them things that I would never have had the guts to do at the same age, like Steve’s decision to quit his job a few years out of college to “find” himself on a driving tour across the U.S. and back, taking with him not much more than a sleeping bag and a back pack and some money for food.

Jason, you wouldn’t believe how many people I’ve told about your answer to my sarcastic question to you when you were a couple of years out of college and still waiting on tables at a restaurant, about whether you had decided yet what you were going to be when you grew up. “No, I haven’t,” you said to me, without batting an eye. “But I have decided that I’m not yet ready to grow up.”

Ash, I’m still reeling from your decision (but sharing it proudly with friends) a few years after getting your Bachelors degree to go heavily into debt to get a Masters in acting and music at a prestigious school overseas in order to pursue your dream of a career in the arts. And Jon, I’m just bursting with admiration for the focus and discipline and dedication involved in your pursuit of a career in firefighting from the time you were in middle school, and with the success and accolades that have followed.       

I was proud that I might have helped inspire the values and priorities behind decisions and actions like those and helped each of you to develop the self-confidence behind them.

But the most important part of my experience of being your father had to do with my relationships with each of you: getting to know you as individuals and trying to help you discover and become comfortable with your personalities; genuinely liking the people you were; and loving you the way I did.  

I’ve always thought that helping to raise you to be the fine individuals that you are has been the greatest accomplishment of my life, and in my opinion there is no experience more satisfying than helping children grow to adulthood. But raising you has also been an enriching experience for me. It grew the nurturing side of my personality, balanced the “protect and provide” side that I think would otherwise have dominated. It helped me to be a better supervisor at work, to develop and enjoy relationships with my staff and with other people who worked with me, to get cooperation on important work initiatives.   

You’ve helped me to develop as a man, to become the person I am today, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

I love you.

Dad

Guest columnist Rich Haddad: Guest columnist Rich Haddad: Your Brothers And Sister, All Coming Together Just For You (Part 4)

 

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Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l

Dear Steve, Jason, Ashleigh and Jon,

Of course, it was satisfying for me to “be there” for you as you were growing up – to talk a problem through with you or to encourage you when you were down; to cheer you on as you were playing baseball or soccer or lacrosse, or to be in the audience as you performed on stage; to meet with your teachers about your schoolwork or to help you with a homework assignment; etc. And you’ve each told me how important that kind of support was to you.

It was great watching you decide that one extracurricular activity or another was not the right one for you and move on to something else, and then to watch you succeed at something you loved – in sports, in the arts, etc. – and have your accomplishments honored.

It was great watching you bond as siblings and then stay very close as you became adults. And I was so happy over your love for your sister Erin and how you treated her. The cerebral palsy and severe mental retardation caused by the brain damage Erin suffered during birth limited our activities as a family and complicated so many other things about our family life. But instead of being resentful about any of this, you were all so accommodating and so protective of her.

P.S. – Please see part 5 tomorrow.

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Guest columnist Rich Haddad: Your Brothers And Sister, All Coming Together Just For You (Part 3)

 

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Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l

Dear Steve, Jason, Ashleigh and Jon,

Each of you made me feel great a couple of years ago explaining to me in a special Father’s Day letter what it was like having me as a father as you were growing up. So today I want to return the favor and tell you what a great experience fathering has been to me.

As you know, my dad was an immigrant and brought a lot of “old world” values with him when he came to the U.S. at ten years old, including values about the roles of men and women in raising children. Also, since he was about four when his own father died, he essentially grew up without any kind of a father role model at all, old world as it might have been.

So although he was unquestionably a good man who took good care of his family, there wasn’t a heck of a lot of father-son interaction between the two of us when I was a kid, and this was at a time when the Ozzie Nelson and Ward Cleaver television characters were among the models of American fathers.

Maybe understandably, I decided as a young man that my fathering style was going to be a lot more “hands on” than what I experienced as I was growing up. But my “no-nonsense,” duty-driven personality, and the way I saw my role as a parent at the time, were the foundation for a lot of what I did and didn’t do in my first years as a dad.

I approached my role as a father then mostly as a matter of responsibility. I was to be a strong role model, to have an answer to every question, to be rational at all times and not allow emotion to influence decision-making. I also generally stayed away from “mom stuff” – except when asked by mom to get involved. It took me a while to figure out that while setting and enforcing rules and being a good role model and requiring responsible behavior are important parts of parenting, they are not the heart of the parenting role.

The heart of parenting, I learned, is about encouraging and guiding exploration, risk-taking, growth. It’s about nurturing. Being a parent meant that I had to think about how I felt about things that affected you, not just feel what fathers were “supposed” to feel. It meant respecting you as individuals, allowing you to disagree with me and to argue your case on virtually anything, reversing myself when it looked like I had made a bad decision. And when I figured all of that out, I began the most awesome experience of my life.         

P.S. – Please see part 4 tomorrow.

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Guest columnist Rich Haddad: Your Brothers And Sister, All Coming Together Just For You (Part 2)

 

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Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l

Dear Erin,

You lived with your family for 19 years. By the time you were 13 or 14, it was becoming clear that we wouldn’t be able to provide you with the 24/7 care that you needed indefinitely – dressing and undressing you, changing your diapers, bathing you, preparing your blended meals and feeding you, lifting you into and out of your wheelchair seven or eight times a day. So we began working with state officials on securing a place for you in a group home in the care of the state.

Moving you was especially difficult emotionally for your mom, much as she knew it was necessary. But you get good care where you live, we’re able to see you whenever we like, and we bring you home for your birthday and for Christmas, and the arrangement works well. When you’re home we can still enjoy watching you enjoy listening to your favorite music – from Sesame Street and Disney movies – and smiling when a sound strikes you as funny. We can still hug and kiss you. 

There is no way to tell, dear Erin, what goes on inside your brain, which has apparently developed only to the level of an infant. And although we’d like to think so, we don’t know for sure whether you recognize and feel the love of your family members. 

But love you we do, not because of what you’ve taught us or how you’ve changed us all for the better; but because of who you are – daughter, sister, a unique human being who has touched our hearts, an inseparable part of our family and our life.

And love you we always will, unconditionally.                              

Dad

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Guest columnist Richard Haddad: Your Brothers And Sister, All Coming Together Just For You

 

Rich_haddad_and_erin_2012

Richard Haddad, a resident of Westminster, Maryland, is the father of five children, Steven, Jason, Ashleigh, Jonathan and Erin. Recently retired from a career managing support services in the public and private sectors, he has written on the side – articles, essays, fiction and satire – since college. He also founded – and for five years edited and published – American Man, a magazine devoted to seriously exploring the male gender role and the male experience. Rich’s previous contributions to this blog, letters to his daughter Ashleigh and his son Jonathan written on the days they were born, appeared around Thanksgiving, 2011: http://letterstomykids.org/thanksgiving-guest-columnist-richard-haddad-l

Dear Erin,

I first met you one evening in 1981 when I stopped at the apartment where you lived to pick up your mom for a date. You were almost six then.

I had heard about your cerebral palsy from your mom, so I was prepared to see you in a wheelchair. I also knew that you had severe mental retardation and didn’t speak or understand what was being said when someone spoke to you. But I was not at all prepared to feel close to you immediately.

I was probably falling in love with your mom by then, and that may have had something to do with my reaction when I met you that evening. But for whatever reason, my feeling for you at that first meeting was a precursor of things to come for us.

Your mom and I married a couple of years later, and a few years after that I became your adoptive father and you became a Haddad like the rest of our family members. By then, you were already a very special person to every one of us.

Your mom had been devastated to learn, shortly after you were born, that because of the brain damage that you suffered during delivery, you would have severe disabilities for the rest of your life. Your birth injuries changed her life dramatically.

But in adjusting to your condition, she dedicated herself to giving you the healthiest and richest and longest life possible. From that moment on, her eyes and hands and legs and feelings became yours, and you were guaranteed that your disabilities would never result in your being neglected or suffering unnecessarily.

Your mom’s character was one of the things that most attracted me to her. Her thoughts, her actions, her decisions reflected solid, core values, and consciously so. It’s now clear to me that her character had been influenced by the experience of raising you to that point; she had become a more purposeful and stronger person, and appreciative, as she put it, of “the miracle of a healthy child.”       

Your older brothers Steven and Jason assumed a loving, protective posture toward you from the first time they met you. I remember them arguing about which of them would get to push you in your wheelchair when we’d go to the mall together. Likewise, your younger sister and brother, Ashleigh and Jonathan, would watch out for you from the time they were toddlers, always letting me or your mom know when you were fussing about something or other.

And your mom and I understood the depth of the feelings of protectiveness all four of your siblings had toward you when you were hospitalized for pneumonia in 2008 while we were vacationing in Europe. Your brothers and sister immediately and naturally substituted for your absent parents, and were there by your bedside to keep you company and to ensure that you were as comfortable as possible.

All of them, like so many others who have known you, seemed to become more compassionate human beings because of you and more appreciative of the abilities and faculties that they had – walking, seeing, interacting with others, expressing themselves – that you were missing. They seemed to be more appreciative of the very experience of living because of you.

As your sister Ashleigh put it in an entry in her elementary school journal, “I will never forget the wonderful abilities I have. When I wake up in the morning, I can see the trees waving their branches through the window. I can feel the crisp, cool air when I go outside. I can hear the blue jays singing in a tall tree. I can smell the sunflowers in the garden. I can taste the wild raspberries. I have a sister who can’t do many of these things. Her name is Erin.”  

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest columnist “Anonymous:” Why I’m Grateful For My Children

 

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He’s a fiftysomething father of a son, 29, and a daughter, 26, lives in the Northeast with his wife of 30 years, and runs a highly respected professional services firm.

Dear kids,

 

Am I grateful for you? Yes. I’m grateful that you’re both, like me, interested in politics, history, movies and sports. I’m also grateful that, like me, you root for the Mets and the Jets, however pathetic those teams may be. More important, I’m grateful that we all wear our love of Israel and Judaism on your sleeves. And I’m especially grateful that you have both grown up to be kind, intelligent, hard-working adults.

 

But I am also ungrateful. Ungrateful that time has moved so quickly. I feel bad that you both live so far away. I’ve always lived within 15 minutes of my boyhood home.

 

Still, let me say this. I’ve always felt grateful for the ideals my parents tried to instill in me. And when it was my turn to have children, I wanted to share the values that I learned with you. And I believe it was beneficial for you both to witness the relationship your mother and I had with our parents.

 

Let me confess something you both already know: I am hardly what you would call an effusive person. I am no John Boehner, Ed Muskie or Jack Paar, crying at every opportunity. In fact, I doubt my tear ducts function. If you ever heard me gush, you would probably be uncomfortable. But when it comes to being grateful for my children or anything else, this I believe. Actions speak louder than words.

 

I’m grateful that like me, you both adhere to the philosophy known as L’dor v’dor. That Hebrew phrase, used in both prayer and friendly conversation, translates to “from generation to generation.” It also means we’re responsible for more than ourselves. We’re also responsible for others, especially for those younger.

 

As you know, my father joins us every Friday night for a Shabbos meal. Most of those dinners, in between eating challah and drinking wine, feature classic debates about politics, history and sports. I know my father is grateful that I respect his values, that I’ve tried to live those values every day, and that I’ve tried to pass those values on to you. My hope is you will follow our lead, joyfully, when you have children of your own.

Guest columnist Maureen Mackey: Is “Grateful” Really The Right Word?

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Maureen Mackey lives in the New York City area with her husband and two sons, 17 and 15. An editor and writer, she is currently managing editor of The Fiscal Times, a dynamic website covering business, economy, politics and more (http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/).

To My Boys,

 

Grateful is an interesting word. What are most people grateful for? A roof over their heads. Food in their bellies. Good health. Money to pay the bills. A job.

Push it, and you could be talking about a car, a lawn, a deck, an iPhone, a laptop, a vacation to a warm and stunning place with clear blue water, and so much more.

But grateful for you, my kids?

‘Grateful,’ move the heck over. Waaaayyyy over.

Let’s talk about love — a love so life-changing you couldn’t grasp that it existed before, and once you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine how you ever walked the face of the earth without it. Maybe you were half a person back then. Maybe you were a shadow of yourself, an inkling of what you were to become, a speck, a fleck. Maybe it was just, you know — inhale, exhale. Not that you didn’t get some good things done. You did. You think you did. But it was different.

Let’s talk about pride — pride when you, my children, achieve new milestones in your lives, when I see you flourish in school or on the field or on the stage, when I see you show toughness when you need to, kindness when it’s called for, consideration to complete strangers, or thoughtfulness when it’s least expected but most appreciated.

Let’s talk about happiness — at the way your smiles cheer my heart, or your joy makes me laugh, or your presence in the room makes me feel the world is a better place just because you’re standing there, occupying that space.

“Are you good?” I text one of you at night when you’re at a friend’s house, using our shorthand for how are things, how is the night going, are you in a safe place and is all well in your world at this moment in time. You’re driving now.

“I’m good, Ma,” you text back a minute or so later. And because you get what I’m asking, sense the depth of how I need to know, my heart is warmed.

“Tell me about your Earth Science test,” I say to you, my other teenaged son, one night after dinner.

You say you did well — in the 90s, and as you share the details, talk about how hard the test was, how much you worked through some of the answers, I can see your sense of accomplishment. I tell you I’m proud you tried so hard, that you hung in there, and we hang together for awhile, enjoying the moment, lingering, not letting it go.

Water children and they’ll grow, and change, and charge through the world — moving up and away and then circling back, God willing. But as long as you want me there I’ll never leave your sides. I know that about my two stepsons — my first children but young men now, gorgeous and strong and smart — and you, my sons, know that too.

This Thanksgiving, life is richer, happier, more serene and more complete because of you. That poor word ‘grateful’ … it just tries so hard! It’s a word inadequate to describe how I feel toward you all. Love and pride and happiness trump gratitude any day of the week.

Guest columnist Alexandra Owens: “I’ve Killed My Child” (part 2)

 

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Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 14, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; www.asja.org).

 

Dear Gillian,

 

And then you cry — a cry of distress such as I had never heard before. We can both breathe now, certainly something, certainly better than nothing. I call the ambulance and have a difficult time explaining where we lived, since the road out front has yet to be built. We have to walk out through the construction, you in your bucket-shaped car seat, still wailing. The paramedics finally come and take us away, and the questions begin immediately.

 

What happened? they ask. Does she cry a lot? Is this your first child? How are you feeling?

 

As the doctors and nurses work, it feels appropriate to be judged and found wanting. They are looking for signs of abuse in you or post-partum illness in me, trying to determine if this is an accident or something worse. Are they right? Still in shock, I think maybe they are. Am I negligent?  

 

Clearly, I’m unfit for this job, I think.  It’s wrong to trust me to take care of my own baby.

 

The x-rays show a crack in your skull, but at your age they’re unable to tell if it’s just a natural unfused suture. All I hear is “possible skull fracture.”

 

Those three seconds of the fall refuse to end, the images still circling in my memory. That night and the next and the next are exercises in fear as I listen to you breathe in the night, waiting for the signs of serious problems the doctor had told us to look for. Do you stop breathing at all? Are you hard to wake up? Did your feeding schedule change?

 

But you, my tiny baby, were fine. So small barely an armful, yet so sturdy you had bounced. Yes, bounced. The only mark of the fall is a minuscule scratch on your head where you hit the wall. You heal completely, and forgive me immediately, loving me with your whole being as only a baby will love her mother. All the punishment I receive comes only from within me.

 

And of course Daddy forgives me, too. He not only carpets the stair steps that very night, but covers me with love and unstinting support as I heal from the shock and then the pain of my own injuries. He watches over you at night, lets me cry when I have to, and never wavers from his affirmation that yes, accidents happen and, yes, this was indeed an accident.

 

We live in the same house and walk down those stairs multiple times each day. The memory is always there, imprinted into the wood. The Christmas pictures that year show my wrist brace, clear evidence of my carelessness. It takes a long time, but I finally come back to trusting myself to keep you safe, having learned it’s harder than it seems.

 

Every summer brings stories of tragedy – a hot car, an unlocked pool gate – and many are caused by parents who would gladly die instead. I understand a tiny bit of how they feel. For those three seconds I was in their shoes, thinking I had killed you. Every time I remember, I feel a gratitude beyond description — gratitude that I was mistaken, that we had averted disaster, that we were lucky. 

Guest columnist Alexandra Owens: “I’ve Killed My Child”

Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 14, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; www.asja.org).

 

Dear Gillian,

 

Let me try to describe how it felt, the most vivid three seconds of my life. Only ten weeks in as a new parent, the holding of a baby is both wholly natural and yet unfamiliar to me. Though I’d only recently learned to do it, in fact it was oh-so-easy from the very first moment. You fit perfectly into my arms, your soft solid warmth a part of me. No tiny, frail thing, you: no, from the earliest days you were a baby of substance, making your fellow 10-week-old babies look almost waifish. The power of my love is such that nothing can ever pry you out of my arms. I know this. I knew it once anyway.
 

It was the morning after your first Thanksgiving, 1998. The holiday had proven wonderful; you met many members of your extended family for the first time. The next morning it’s just you and me in the house. After our morning cuddle, off we go toward the stairs, ready to take on the day. I was thinking about the leftovers and festive clutter needing my attention down in the kitchen. 

 

And then…an overconfident step, slightly off-balance, in socks that make no purchase on the hardwood floor. My feet go flying out from under me, my hands grasping for the handrails in frantic reflex, and your soft weight leaves my hold.  My left hip and elbow hit the hard edges of the stairs and moulding, and I land on my back and right arm and wrist. My vision is filled with your face, contorted in surprise, floating down the stairway in front of me.

 

This flight of stairs, with 14 steps, is made of hardwood, and I had slipped at the very top. You looked up at me, your mouth an “O” and your eyebrows up, all the long way down those stairs. And as I watched you go, emotions unfathomable filled my being. How? How could I ever have let go?

 

You move through the air — slowly yet quickly — and I think thoughts I’ve never before thought. 

 

I’ve killed my child.

 

I’ve done it, and now it’s over.

 

Our child will never grow up, my husband will never forgive me, the pain will be eternal, I’ve wrecked our family forever.


My life will forever be defined by this moment, by what happened before it and what happened after.

 

There will never be redemption and I will never heal.

 
And then you land. Feet first, face down, your tummy hitting the edge of the bottom step, and your head clocks the wall right at the sharp edge of the wooden moulding. You are mere inches from the piece of garden rock that sits there serving as our front-door stop. Panicking, I clumsily finish my own descent in pain and horror, hearing only silence, the worst silence I can imagine.

P.S. — Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Dispatches: U.S. Presidents Write Letters To Their Kids, Too

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George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson did it. So did Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William H. Taft. More recently, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have done it, too. And, yes, Barack Obama has done it as well.

Write letters to their daughters, that is.

It’s the truth. These U.S. presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, took time out from presiding over momentous affairs of state while in the White House, to perform a parental act no less momentous in its own right. They shared advice with their daughters on topics from education and politics to friendship, marriage, parenting, home life and even the art of letter-writing itself.

With the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign now down to the wire, it’s timely to recognize such historic letters as revealing of presidential timber.

George Washington, for example, presumed to offer his step-daughters advice on love. Thomas Jefferson outlined a detailed daily schedule for his daughter Martha. “Keep my letters and read them at times,” it ended, “that you may always have present in your mind those things that will endear you to me.”

Rutherford B. Hayes warned his daughter “to curb her rebellious spirit.” Theodore Roosevelt, while preparing his assault on San Juan Hill, offered fatherly reassurance to his daughters Alice Lee Roosevelt and Ethel Carow Roosevelt. William Taft counseled his daughter Helen about her impending marriage.

Indeed, there’s a book called “First Daughters: Letters Between U.S. Presidents and Their Daughters.” The anthology, a collection of private correspondence between 21 of the 31 U.S. presidents who had daughters, was co-authored by Gerard W. Gawalt, curator of the papers of presidential families in the Library of Congress.

His co-author? His daughter, Ann G. Gawalt, who came up with the idea for the book in the first place.

http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=3850

Most recently, President Barack Obama wrote an open letter to his daughters, Sasha and Malia. Titled “What I Want For You – And Every Child In America,” it appeared in Parade magazine soon after his election in 2008. “It is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself,” the new president wrote, “that you will realize your true potential.”

http://www.parade.com/news/2009/01/barack-obama-letter-to-my-daughters.html

Hey, if U.S. Presidents can take the time to do it, you can, too. Here’s my six-part series with advice about how:

http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-101

http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-101-part-2

http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-101-part-3

http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-part-4

http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-101-part-5http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-101-part-5

http://letterstomykids.org/letters-to-my-kids-101-part-6

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Guest Columnist robert temple: Dear Kids: Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama (Part 2)

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robert temple, who lives in Oakland, California with his partner Lory and his formerly feral cat, Batty, has three children and four grandchildren. His children, all of whom live in California, are Carl, 37, Julia, 35, and Jessica, 33. His grandchildren are Kyree, 13, Annabelle and Tallulah, 5 (fraternal twins), and Amir, 6.  robert has performed as a singer songwriter and guitar player for some 30 years, playing around the country but mostly in California. His song “Lift Us Up,” from his CD “What Would YOU Do?,” was chosen to be on a CD commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. His song, “Turn Signal,” was featured on the nationally syndicated NPR show “Car Talk.” You can hear some of his work and learn more about him at www.roberttemplemusic.com and www.facebook.com/roberttemplemusic.

 

Dear Carl, Julia, Jessica, Kyree, Annabelle, Tallulah and Amir,

 

I never thought of Barack Obama as a savior, from George Bush or really anything else. But I was still excited that he was elected president. It had less to do with him and more to do with the aspirations of the people for a better way. It was a veritable bomb on the American political landscape for a person of color to have been elected president.

 

I wrote then, and believe now, that people needed to get and stay in the streets in order to create the conditions for any politician to stand up for progressive values. Some people got in the street. Many have not. This disarming of the liberal to progressive left is one of the unfortunate byproducts of his election. Obama has had a middle-of-the-road nature pretty much all along. He has bent over backwards to find common ground with Republicans, who would just as soon see large numbers of people living on cat food than to allow a few surplus shekels to slip from the grip of their class of the privileged.

 

Guantanamo Bay is still open, despite his promise to close it. Drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and engendering decades of anger towards us. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows the killing of American civilians without a trial and it goes on. Obama did not stand clearly with the folks in Wisconsin who stood up to Scott Walker’s union-busting and he did not openly support Occupy Wall Street (which was the most progressive challenge to the system in decades).

 

There are also accomplishments. Despite the fact that Obamacare is modeled after a Republican model and is miles away from national health care, which is the only humane option, it does at least make the point that people deserve healthcare and provides some benefits therein. Romney would have you find your way to the emergency room and see what happens.

 

The ending of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the amnesty for undocumented immigrants’ children (over the protestation of the squealing right-wing set) are positive developments. Obama’s plans for the economy include at least some semblance of greater taxation for the really wealthy and in that it is miles from the Romney/Ryan plan. Obama believes in, and promotes a policy that includes, funding for contraception and a woman’s right to choose. Obama will pick more reasonable people to be on the Supreme Court who will have to deal with the horribly reactionary crew of right-wing ideologues who almost own the place now.

 

Romney? Disaster!

 

We are saddled with a horrible two-party system that poses as democracy while money is in charge and our choices for representation are truly limited. I don’t know what the best strategy is for breaking free of this. I would encourage you to vote for Obama and make plans for how to make real change.

 

Here’s a song I wrote called “Rise Up:”

 

I’ll take a little socialism any day

Than a government that wants to give away

More to those who live so high

While the rest of us are just getting by

Them that’s got ain’t got no shame

While they watch so many folks

Circling down the drain

Rise up if you give a damn

Rise up while you still can

No politician ever moves without a strong demand

Rise up rise up rise up

Rise up rise up

Nickled and dimed, and dollared too

They call it class war while they turn that screw

You waged it on us and when we turn your lies around

You call out the cops to make it safe in “your” town

Them that’s got ain’t got no shame

While they watch so many folks

Circling down the drain

Rise up if you give a damn

Rise up while you still can

No politician ever moves without a strong demand

Rise up rise up rise up

Rise up rise up

Now we’ve been writing letters, registering our dissent

We’ve been voting our conscience, nothing is changing yet

We’ve camped at the hollow halls of justice

With tear gas billy clubs and sweat

And if they’ve ever given us anything but the major shaft

We haven’t seen it yet we haven’t seen it yet

Rise up rise up rise up

Rise up rise up

 

Ó 2012 temple time music (ascap)

 

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Guest Columnist robert temple: Dear Kids: Why I’m Voting Against Mitt Romney

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robert temple, who lives in Oakland, California with his partner Lory and his formerly feral cat, Batty, has three children and four grandchildren. His children, all of whom live in California, are Carl, 37, Julia, 35, and Jessica, 33. His grandchildren are Kyree, 13, Annabelle and Tallulah, 5 (fraternal twins), and Amir, 6.  robert has performed as a singer songwriter and guitar player for some 30 years, playing around the country but mostly in California. His song “Lift Us Up,” from his CD “What Would YOU Do?,” was chosen to be on a CD commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. His song, “Turn Signal,” was featured on the nationally syndicated NPR show “Car Talk.” You can hear some of his work and learn more about him at www.roberttemplemusic.com and www.facebook.com/roberttemplemusic.

 

Dear Carl, Julia, Jessica, Kyree, Annabelle, Tallulah and Amir,

 

It is hard to say which issue most bothers me about Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. It is clear that Mitt Romney will say or do almost anything to get elected. It is also clear that he substitutes talking points for principles.

One image that stands so large in my mind is at the Republican Convention when Romney said that “Obama promised to begin to slow down the rise of the oceans…and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.” He played this for a laugh and got it. Truly stunning.

Romney has promised to end funding for Planned Parenthood (the only source of healthcare for many women) and to support a constitutional amendment that says life begins at conception and thereby end legal abortion and much contraception. He does not believe that women should be able to control their own bodies. (despite the fact that his own mother was decidedly pro-choice)

Romney discounted 47% of the American people with his now famous videotaped comments in Florida. This was the most animated and excited I had ever heard him up till that time.

Romney is completely out of touch with the average American with his mansion in La Jolla and five other houses and his brazen refusal to release his income taxes, as most presidential candidates do. His record at Bain Capital exhibits complete disdain for anything but profit for his company. His claim to be a job creator is a bad joke.

His comments about world issues are saber-rattling, opportunist and ignorant. He attempts to appeal to a form of nationalism that says whatever America wants America gets by subterfuge or force of arms.

The attempt by the Republican Party to carry out widespread voter suppression, despite the fact that it is almost non-existent, is an affront to anyone who believes in the right of people to vote. (So far the main voter fraud has been the Republicans hiring of a contractor who turned in illegible, incorrect, and falsified voter registration forms)

All of this does not mean that I am a Democrat or strong supporter of Barack Obama. I believe that the Democrats are very much a corporate party. Although I don’t believe our fundamental economic and political contradictions will be solved, I think that the lives of ordinary people will be somewhat better if Obama wins.

I used to work in a steel mill. Your very life is in the hands of other people in that situation. One develops a sense of people’s gut nature there. This was also true when I worked high rise construction and as a cab driver. You need your gut to survive.


My gut is twisted over the possibility of an empty shell like Mitt Romney being elected president.

 

Here’s a song I wrote, “Sorry ‘Bout Your Poverty” (Ballad Of Mitt Romney):

 

When I need a second helping I just help myself

You think that it’s a piece of cake hoarding all this wealth.

I’ve got a home in La Jolla and five more with killer views

Bring around the Caddie, today I’ll take the red one

No, I think I’ll take the blue

Sorry ‘bout your poverty

You picked your parents poorly

In the place you came up less

It seems I came up morely

Is there something in your genes

That makes you act so sorely

I was graced by god with things not meant for you

A town without a ghetto is a town that I don’t trust

There has to be a lower class to raise that upper crust

I’m feeling kind of rusty ‘cause I haven’t fired anyone for a day or two

I’ll bet you 10 G’s that in the end I’ll pay a lower tax rate than you.

Sorry ‘bout your poverty

You picked your parents poorly

In the place you came up less

It seems I came up morely

Is there something in your genes

That makes you act so sorely

I was graced by god with things not meant for you

You might say I was born with a silver spoon

You’ll never extricate the truth or my taxes

Even with a whole bag of prunes

Sorry ‘bout your poverty

You picked your parents poorly

In the place you came up less

It seems I came up morely

Is there something in your genes

That makes you act so sorely

I was graced by god with things not meant for you

 

Ó 2012 temple time music (ascap)

 

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Robert_temple_three_kids

Dear Kids: Why I Vote (Part 3)

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Over the last few weeks I’ve asked parents around the country a few questions about the upcoming Presidential election. Why do you vote? Why will you be voting on Nov. 6? Why does voting matter? What do you think about the campaign and the candidates? I invited parents to answer those questions in the form of letters to their kids.

Here’s what 10 parents – addressing kids little and big with views patriotic, poignant and political – had to say:

Cynthia Ramnarace

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Dear Mira and Miles,

 

Your father and I have raised you with certain values. You must always wear clean underwear, brush your teeth, say your prayers and finish your homework before you can watch TV. We hope we have equally instilled in you the responsibility to vote. And not just in the popular presidential elections. Every time you are asked to choose who will represent you in government, you have a civic duty to respond to that call. I’d argue that the small races, where only a few hundred people show up, are actually more important to your everyday life than who sits in an Oval Office hundreds of miles away. The city councilman exerts the influence to determine what roads in your neighborhood will be fixed; which schools will get extra funding; which police departments will get the extra beat cops. And he’s much more accessible.

 

If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: Think about the Americans who have given their lives so you can get an “I Voted!” sticker. Think about people in new democracies who stand in line for hours to get to the ballot box. Think about the people in the world who have no vote, and consider what that means for their lives. Think about how proud that sticker would make them.

 

And remember that I will be calling you on the first Tuesday in November. And you’d better not be home.

 

Love,

Mom 

Cynthia Ramnarace lives in Rockaway Beach, New York, with her husband Sid and her children, Mira, 8, and Miles, 5. She is an independent journalist specializing in health, women’s issues and caregiving. Her work has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine; AARP Bulletin and American Baby, and online at iVillage.com, Reuters Personal Finance and TheBump.com, among many others.

Michele C. Hollow

Michele_hollow_photo

Dear Jordon,

I do talk to you about why we need to vote. Plain and simple, you lose your right to complain if you don’t vote. I took you to the polls on Election Day four years ago, and you come with me for the small elections too – school board and local government. Four years ago you noticed the excitement in the room. I live in a blue community. I know everyone in that room voted for Barack Obama four years ago. One voter even wore a “Support Barack” T-shirt hidden under her jacket.

You had to watch the debates for school. You normally go to bed at 8:30, so staying up is next to impossible for you. You watched the first two debates, and were confused at the President’s performance. You told me you thought Romney looked more presidential, which made me cringe. You got sleepy after 30 minutes, so we put you to bed.

You also thought the vice presidential debates was more interesting, and your take was that Joe Biden did a better job. I did explain that Ryan was not telling the truth and was being vague. I guess as parents, some of us influence our children’s thoughts.

Michele C. Hollow lives in Northern New Jersey with her husband, Steven, and their son, Jordon, 11. All are left-leaning. Steven works as a performer – a professional storyteller and puppeteer. Michele writes the blog, Pet News and Views http://www.petnewsandviews.com
michele@petnewsandviews.com, and contributes travel stories to the New York Daily News and other publications. 

Yehuda Grabie

 

Dear Malka, Yitzchock, Mordechai and Yisroel,

 

I vote because as an American citizen that is the way I can express my opinion in choosing the government officials who I feel are most qualified to serve. I will be voting this November 6 because that is the designated day to choose the President who best represents the future of the United States both domestically and in our foreign policy. I think through the debates, the candidates have expressed their positions on issues concerning the U.S.A. over the next four years, and also clarified their characters.

 

Yehuda Grabie, who lives with his wife in Forest Hills, New York, has four children: Malka Esther, 27, a mother of three; Yitzchok Zvi, 26, comptroller of a cigar accesory company; Mordechai Yosef,  24, a pre-med student conducting stem cell research at Mount Sinai hospital in Manhattan; and Yisroel Yaakov, 20, a pre-med student at Queens College. His wife teaches at Bais Yaakov Academy in Kew Gardens and at Mercy College in Brooklyn. Yehuda is sales manager at M. Grabie Woolen Co. Inc., in New York City.

 

Bob Kirsch

 

Dear Iris and Sam,

 

Voting is a privilege: serfs and slaves and people in the Middle Ages did not have an opportunity to vote; and today not everyone in our country or, in particular, other countries has that opportunity. Voting is a credential: would you accept the opinions on government, healthcare, education and gun control of a person who did not choose to vote? Voting is a force: not only the act of voting but planning to vote, knowing that voting has some importance, discussing our vote with others.

 

Bob Kirsch, who lives with his wife Mary in Ossining, New York, is father of Iris, a high school English teacher in Baltimore who also owns a cooperative coffee shop; and Sam, a businessman in Astoria, New York. Bob is a medical writer.

 

 

Dear Kids: Why I Vote (Part 2)

 

Why_i_vote_image_number_two

Over the last few weeks I’ve asked parents around the country a few questions about the upcoming Presidential election. Why do you vote? Why will you be voting on Nov. 6? Why does voting matter? What do you think about the campaign and the candidates? I invited parents to answer those questions in the form of letters to their kids.

Here’s what 10 parents – addressing kids little and big with views patriotic, poignant and political – had to say:

Barry Kluger

Barry_kluger_photo

Dear Erica,

The day we lost you in a car accident, you were months away from your first chance to vote. In your name, I started the Farley-Kluger Initiative to Amend the FMLA (Family And Medical Leave Act) to give time off for people who suffer the same pain your family feels today, and in your name, we are helping others. I am supporting Barack Obama for his commitment to healthcare and also our local Republican Congressman who has vowed to get a bill introduced so your legacy will live on. Your time here has made me a better person. The Talmud says: “He who saves one life is as if he has saved the entire world.”

I love you.

Dad

Barry Kluger, father of Erica, lives in Scottsdale with his wife Hope Kirsch, Erica’s stepmom. They have devoted themselves to pro-social efforts, with Barry serving as President and CEO of The MISS Foundation, a global grief and loss organization (www.missfoundation.org); and Hope, an attorney, serving the special needs and education community. They think of Erica every day and have committed their careers to making sure her memory lives on.  

Alexandra Owens

Alexandra_owens_photo_new

Dear Gillian and Catie,

Voting is many things. Sometimes it’s a chore, sometimes a privilege, sometimes a chance to let off some steam. I have felt all of these things at various times in my life. I remember casting my first ballot at 18 as a sophomore in college. I was sad it had to be cast by mail instead of at the local polling place. I’d accompanied my mother to cast her vote many times over the years, and couldn’t wait until it was my turn. I wanted to wait on line (yes, I’m a New Yorker), step inside the curtain, flip the little switches to make my choices, and then pull the lever that made them permanent. (Those old voting machines were so satisfying to use – resounding clicks when you made each choice, and then such a great big “chunk” they made when you pulled the master lever. That was voting!)

So that first ballot was undramatic, just a checkbox on a form and a stamp. But from that point forward I felt a part of the national conversation – a member of “the people,” a person whose opinion counted. I haven’t missed an election since, because to do so would be to give up my voice. This is what it means to be a citizen. Well, voting and paying taxes. I do both proudly and gratefully, and take my place as a citizen of these United States.

Love,

Mom

Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 13, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; www.asja.org).

Frank Cavallero 

Frank_cavallero_photo

Dear Laura, Jennifer and Kim,

I realize that I will never be able to understand all the issues of a presidential race, nor would I have the time to learn about healthcare, taxes, employment or unemployment, inflation, diplomacy, immigration, the national debt, to name some. Yet, people I know argue these points based upon headlines. I think that most people, unless party loyalists, vote for the person they’d want as a next-door neighbor. For me, that’s Obama.

Frank Cavallaro, who lives in East Meadow, Long Island, is father to three daughters, Laura, Jennifer and Kim , and two grandchildren, Olivia, 8, and Luke, 6. He worked at several advertising agencies but eventually entered the financial services business. After retirement, he started a business of making and fixing things for homeowners.

 

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow. 

Why_i_vote_image_three

Dear Kids: Why I Vote (Part 2)

 

Why_i_vote_image_number_two

Over the last few weeks I’ve asked parents around the country a few questions about the upcoming Presidential election. Why do you vote? Why will you be voting on Nov. 6? Why does voting matter? What do you think about the campaign and the candidates? I invited parents to answer those questions in the form of letters to their kids.

Here’s what 10 parents – addressing kids little and big with views patriotic, poignant and political – had to say:

Barry Kluger

Barry_kluger_photo

Dear Erica,

The day we lost you in a car accident, you were months away from your first chance to vote. In your name, I started the Farley-Kluger Initiative to Amend the FMLA (Family And Medical Leave Act) to give time off for people who suffer the same pain your family feels today, and in your name, we are helping others. I am supporting Barack Obama for his commitment to healthcare and also our local Republican Congressman who has vowed to get a bill introduced so your legacy will live on. Your time here has made me a better person. The Talmud says: “He who saves one life is as if he has saved the entire world.”

I love you.

Dad

Barry Kluger, father of Erica, lives in Scottsdale with his wife Hope Kirsch, Erica’s stepmom. They have devoted themselves to pro-social efforts, with Barry serving as President and CEO of The MISS Foundation, a global grief and loss organization (www.missfoundation.org); and Hope, an attorney, serving the special needs and education community. They think of Erica every day and have committed their careers to making sure her memory lives on.  

Alexandra Owens

Alexandra_owens_photo_new

Dear Gillian and Catie,

Voting is many things. Sometimes it’s a chore, sometimes a privilege, sometimes a chance to let off some steam. I have felt all of these things at various times in my life. I remember casting my first ballot at 18 as a sophomore in college. I was sad it had to be cast by mail instead of at the local polling place. I’d accompanied my mother to cast her vote many times over the years, and couldn’t wait until it was my turn. I wanted to wait on line (yes, I’m a New Yorker), step inside the curtain, flip the little switches to make my choices, and then pull the lever that made them permanent. (Those old voting machines were so satisfying to use – resounding clicks when you made each choice, and then such a great big “chunk” they made when you pulled the master lever. That was voting!)

So that first ballot was undramatic, just a checkbox on a form and a stamp. But from that point forward I felt a part of the national conversation – a member of “the people,” a person whose opinion counted. I haven’t missed an election since, because to do so would be to give up my voice. This is what it means to be a citizen. Well, voting and paying taxes. I do both proudly and gratefully, and take my place as a citizen of these United States.

Love,

Mom

Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 13, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; www.asja.org).

Frank Cavallero 

Frank_cavallero_photo

Dear Laura, Jennifer and Kim,

I realize that I will never be able to understand all the issues of a presidential race, nor would I have the time to learn about healthcare, taxes, employment or unemployment, inflation, diplomacy, immigration, the national debt, to name some. Yet, people I know argue these points based upon headlines. I think that most people, unless party loyalists, vote for the person they’d want as a next-door neighbor. For me, that’s Obama.

Frank Cavallaro, who lives in East Meadow, Long Island, is father to three daughters, Laura, Jennifer and Kim , and two grandchildren, Olivia, 8, and Luke, 6. He worked at several advertising agencies but eventually entered the financial services business. After retirement, he started a business of making and fixing things for homeowners.

 

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow. 

Why_i_vote_image_three

Dear Kids: Why I Vote

Why_i_vote_image_polling_booth
Over the last few weeks I’ve asked parents around the country a few questions about the upcoming Presidential election. Why do you vote? Why will you be voting on Nov. 6? Why does voting matter? What do you think about the campaign and the candidates? I invited parents to answer those questions in the form of letters to their kids.

Here’s what 10 parents – addressing kids little and big with views patriotic, poignant and political – had to say:

Kenneth Miller

Ken_miller_photo
Dear Kids,

You’ve come along while I’ve voted in the past few elections, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained why I eagerly cast a ballot whenever I have a chance. There are lots of reasons, but here are the two biggies.

Reason 1: I vote because my great-grandparents couldn’t. Back in Russia, our ancestors had no say in how their country was run. If government policies led to unwise military adventures, discrimination against minorities (for example, Jewish people like us), or widespread poverty and famine, the only thing ordinary folks could do about it — short of starting a revolution — was to move somewhere else. My grandparents’ parents came to America with their children, leaving everything they knew behind, because it was a place where people could control their own destiny. The ability to vote was a major part of that. It’s a gift they passed down to me, and I’ll always cherish it.

Reason 2: I vote because I want the world to be a better place for you kids. The people we elect today will make decisions – about the environment, about the economy, about how we relate to other nations – whose consequences will be felt for years to come. When I look at the way pollution is affecting our climate, or at the budget cuts that are hurting our schools, or at the millions of families who’ve suffered through hard times in the past few years, or at the wars that have cost so many lives since you two were babies, I realize how much of a difference voting makes. We can do something about all these problems, but only if we use the power that we’re lucky enough to have as citizens of a free country.

I’ll take you with me when I vote on November 6, and I hope you’ll take your own kids when you grow up.

Love,

Dad

Kenneth Miller lives in Los Angeles with his wife, novelist Julie Ries, and their two children (ages 13 and 9). He is an award-winning journalist who contributes to Reader’s Digest, Discover, Ladies’ Home Journal, among many other national magazines.

Dana Kahn Cooper

Dana_kahn_cooper_photo
Dear Sam,

I am so proud that you really “get” the Democratic process. Yes, it’s hard to believe that when asking other kids in school who is running for Vice President, you get blank stares – or maybe worse, they say McCain, Palin or Clinton. And the conversation you had with your barber was maybe even more enlightening. You were so curious about his enthusiasm for this year’s election, you asked him if he had seen the debates and who he would be voting for. His reply that he doesn’t really watch that stuff or understand politics, so he is voting for Obama, because he thinks it would be really cool to high-five him,” was maybe even more shocking to you than your classmates’ responses. Too bad you’re only sixteen. You’re obviously better prepared to vote than many others.

Dana Kahn Cooper lives in Monmouth County, New Jersey with her husband David and two sons, Joshua and Sam. Joshua, 20, is a journalism student at West Virginia University; and Sam, 16, is a high school junior and aspiring R&B singer. Dana is a communications specialist and David is an audiologist.

Zelda Baum

Dear Link, Craig and Duffy,

I vote for many reasons. It is a privilege to be able to select the leader of the free world. It’s also my duty as an American. I’m voting for Obama because I believe he has a better view of what is needed in the future for me and my family. Romney is a man who professes to be a self-made man but he isn’t. He comes from big money and he made much more. That is not a sin, but his view of the world is skewed. As a person on Social Security, I don’t want vouchers for Medicare, and I don’t want it for my children. We worked and paid for Medicare and Social Security, and to deny this to elders is unconscionable. I think Obama is more in tune with the middle class, and he is brilliant.

Zelda Baum, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, was married to Ward Baum for 58 years – he was the love of her life – until his death in 2004. She is the mother of three children, Link, Craig and Margaret (Duffy). She has managed commercial real estate and served as National Executive Director of The National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis, among other national health associations.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Dear Kids: Why I Vote

Why_i_vote_image_polling_booth

Over the last few weeks I’ve asked parents around the country a few questions about the upcoming Presidential election. Why do you vote? Why will you be voting on Nov. 6? Why does voting matter? What do you think about the campaign and the candidates? I invited parents to answer those questions in the form of letters to their kids.

Here’s what 10 parents – addressing kids little and big with views patriotic, poignant and political – had to say:

Kenneth Miller

Ken_miller_photo

Dear Kids,

You’ve come along while I’ve voted in the past few elections, but I don’t think I’ve ever explained why I eagerly cast a ballot whenever I have a chance. There are lots of reasons, but here are the two biggies.

Reason 1: I vote because my great-grandparents couldn’t. Back in Russia, our ancestors had no say in how their country was run. If government policies led to unwise military adventures, discrimination against minorities (for example, Jewish people like us), or widespread poverty and famine, the only thing ordinary folks could do about it — short of starting a revolution — was to move somewhere else. My grandparents’ parents came to America with their children, leaving everything they knew behind, because it was a place where people could control their own destiny. The ability to vote was a major part of that. It’s a gift they passed down to me, and I’ll always cherish it.

Reason 2: I vote because I want the world to be a better place for you kids. The people we elect today will make decisions – about the environment, about the economy, about how we relate to other nations – whose consequences will be felt for years to come. When I look at the way pollution is affecting our climate, or at the budget cuts that are hurting our schools, or at the millions of families who’ve suffered through hard times in the past few years, or at the wars that have cost so many lives since you two were babies, I realize how much of a difference voting makes. We can do something about all these problems, but only if we use the power that we’re lucky enough to have as citizens of a free country.

I’ll take you with me when I vote on November 6, and I hope you’ll take your own kids when you grow up.

Love,

Dad

Kenneth Miller lives in Los Angeles with his wife, novelist Julie Ries, and their two children (ages 13 and 9). He is an award-winning journalist who contributes to Reader’s Digest, Discover, Ladies’ Home Journal, among many other national magazines.

 Dana Kahn Cooper

 

Dana_kahn_cooper_photo

Dear Sam,

I am so proud that you really “get” the Democratic process. Yes, it’s hard to believe that when asking other kids in school who is running for Vice President, you get blank stares – or maybe worse, they say McCain, Palin or Clinton. And the conversation you had with your barber was maybe even more enlightening. You were so curious about his enthusiasm for this year’s election, you asked him if he had seen the debates and who he would be voting for. His reply that he doesn’t really watch that stuff or understand politics, so he is voting for Obama, because he thinks it would be really cool to high-five him,” was maybe even more shocking to you than your classmates’ responses. Too bad you’re only sixteen. You’re obviously better prepared to vote than many others.

 

Dana Kahn Cooper lives in Monmouth County, New Jersey with her husband David and two sons, Joshua and Sam. Joshua, 20, is a journalism student at West Virginia University; and Sam, 16, is a high school junior and aspiring R&B singer. Dana is a communications specialist and David is an audiologist.

 

Zelda Baum

Dear Link, Craig and Duffy,

 

I vote for many reasons. It is a privilege to be able to select the leader of the free world. It’s also my duty as an American. I’m voting for Obama because I believe he has a better view of what is needed in the future for me and my family. Romney is a man who professes to be a self-made man but he isn’t. He comes from big money and he made much more. That is not a sin, but his view of the world is skewed. As a person on Social Security, I don’t want vouchers for Medicare, and I don’t want it for my children. We worked and paid for Medicare and Social Security, and to deny this to elders is unconscionable. I think Obama is more in tune with the middle class, and he is brilliant.

 

Zelda Baum, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, was married to Ward Baum for 58 years – he was the love of her life – until his death in 2004. She is the mother of three children, Link, Craig and Margaret (Duffy).  She has managed commercial real estate and served as National Executive Director of The National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis, among other national health associations.

 

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Guest columnist Michelle Collins: Why Staying Healthy Is Staying Happy (Part 3)

Michelle_collins_headshot

Michelle Collins lives with her husband Matt and daughters, Jacqueline, age 11, and Michaela, age 6, in Westchester County, New York. She is certified as an American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal fitness trainer and owner of Fit and Happier, a fitness service specializing in one-on-one and small-group home-based training for women. Learn more at www.fitandhappier.com or find a certified fitness professional near you at www.acefitness.org and enter your zip code under ACE GetFit.

 

Dear Jacqueline and Michaela,

After your births, my mission expanded. I would present a model for you to follow that made fitness less than a choice to make than the norm. That’s turned out to be difficult. New mothers face heavy time demands. I occasionally strained to carve out the time to exercise and prepare healthy food.

But I soon learned that there was nothing selfish about taking care of myself. I ate a wide array of proteins, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables in proper portions, the better to benefit from a variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. All our meals and snacks involve lean protein (lean beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs and legumes); whole grains (minimally processed and as close as possible to fresh from the farm), whole fruits and vegetables, all prepared with or containing small amounts of healthy fats such as olive, canola or nut oils.

Exercise should be varied, too: it’s best to combine cardio, strength and flexibility training. I do a cardiovascular workout four days a week — a 30-minute jog one day, for example, with a 30-minute step routine on another and a 60-minute power walk on yet another. I also do interval training that brings into play a stationary bike and rowing macine. On other days, I use free weights and do Pilates-style strength training. Exercise boosted my stamina, relieved stress, strengthened me physically and recharged me body and soul, all of which has contributed to shaping me into a better mother.

You are fortunate to live in a time and place where you will have far more choices available to you than most women in the world, and more than women before you. Whether you choose to be full-time mothers, powerful career women, or throw yourselves into a cause that barely pays the bills, please take my word for this much: You should balance your life’s calling with your dedication to fitness. It’s important. You’ll be at your healthiest in all your endeavors. You’ll also be happier. A better recipe for a successful life I’m hard-pressed to imagine.

Michelle_collins_family_photo

Guest columnist Michelle Collins: Why Staying Healthy Is Staying Happy (Part 2)

 

Michelle_collins_headshot

Michelle Collins lives with her husband Matt and daughters, Jacqueline, age 11, and Michaela, age 6, in Westchester County, New York. She is certified as an American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal fitness trainer and owner of Fit and Happier, a fitness service specializing in one-on-one and small-group home-based training for women. Learn more at www.fitandhappier.com or find a certified fitness professional near you at www.acefitness.org and enter your zip code under ACE GetFit.

 

Dear Jacqueline and Michaela,

As the latest scientific studies show, being sedentary is much worse than being overweight. People of normal weight who lead sedentary lives are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, for example, than people who are 10 to 20 pounds overweight but stay active. Unless they engage in resistance training, most women will gain weight in their 40s and 50s because natural hormonal changes lead to muscle loss which slows their metabolisms.

Because of her sedentary lifestyle combined with her weight gain, then, my Mom developed high blood pressure and diabetes. She faced other, equally serious challenges that compounded these issues. First, she lacked the knowledge to take proper care of herself in the face of these two diseases. Second, she was saddled with an inability to make her own health a high enough priority. Third, she had an old-fashioned belief in what a proper lady should do when it came to her family obligations, and stuck by her traditions.

The consequences of these factors turned out to be severe. My mother’s high glucose levels (her diabetes), despite insulin injections, led to nerve damage, causing numbness and pain particularly in her feet and creating balance problems. That forced her to grow even more sedentary and put on still more weight. That in turn brought about knee problems, fallen arches, various infections in the legs and, finally, a diagnosis of heart disease in the bargain. In short, she lost control of her health, and set in motion a snowball effect that has now put her in a wheelchair.

I was young when all this began — in my teens when my mother was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and in my early 20s when her diabetes was discovered. And even though I was always thin, my mother’s health problems served as a real wake-up call for me. I realized I might have inherited the genes that would predispose me to the same “gateway” diseases. I also learned these diseases are largely preventable.

Eventually, I made it my mission to avoid the same fate as my mother. I adopted a balanced diet involving whole foods and reasonable portion sizes. Even more important, I began exercising regularly. My goal: to be fit (as opposed to either skinny or even necessarily athletic). Fitness, to me, is a state of mind and a way of life, an avenue by which to achieve and maintain physical, emotional and cognitive health, not to mention an all-around higher quality to life itself.

After you were both born, of course, it became even more important for me to maintain that balance.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

Michelle_collins_daughters

Guest Columnist Michelle Collins: Why Staying Healthy Is Staying Happy

Michelle_collins_headshot

 

Michelle Collins lives with her husband Matt and daughters, Jacqueline age 11 and Michaela age 6, in Westchester County, NY. She is certified as an American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal fitness trainer and owner of Fit and Happier, a fitness service specializing in one-on-one and small-group home-based training for women. Learn more at www.fitandhappier.com or find a certified fitness professional near you at www.acefitness.org and enter your zip code under ACE GetFit.

 

Dear Jacqueline and Michaela,

You may wonder why I walk in the pouring rain to the point where my socks and sneakers grow to twice the weight they were when I left the house. You may wonder, too, why I don well-treaded hiking boots to safely maneuver freshly fallen snow. You may even wonder why I ask you to busy yourselves quietly for an hour while unfamiliar women come to the house to be taught “how to exercise.”

 

Well, it may surprise you to learn that my behavior has nothing to do with the pursuit of an ideal body type, an addiction to exercise or a super-competitive spirit within me. The truth is, I’m driven by a much healthier goal. But to understand that you need to know a little more about our family — and our nation’s history. So here goes.

My Mom, your Memere, was born in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, and raised during World War II, when scarcity and back-breaking labor were the norm. As the country recovered, great advances were made and prosperity returned. Thanks to everything from the combustible engine and assembly-line manufacturing to more efficient heavy farm equipment and the interstate highway system — farmers could plant and harvest more crops with less manpower and food could be transported relatively easily and quickly. That meant affordable food was abundantly available to the average family.

 

Unlike today, women were expected primarily to tend to their homes. It was considered unladylike to play sports or even to sweat. Eventually, a cultural revolution would liberate women from this single-minded expectation, enabling them to compete in the workplace, even in careers that men once dominated. But that revolution happened long after Memere married and had three children in rural Massachusetts.

My father, a k a Pepere, needed our one car to drive to and from his job. That ruled out working outside the home for Memere. She focused on the one job she could have: becoming a mother (at which she happened to be awesome, by the way) and keeping a clean, orderly home. By today’s standards, she worked physically hard to do this job well.

 

Then, emerging as if overnight, along came cheaper home appliances and inexpensive, highly processed foods. As a result, she was able to get a lot of household chores done in a fraction of the time and effort that it had taken her mother. Now faced with a novel concept — downtime or leisure — she picked up sewing. It was a thrifty hobby, certainly worth doing, and she was great at it. But it’s also a highly sedentary hobby. Over time, like many in her generation, she ate more and moved less.

On top of that, almost everything she did, including her sewing, she did for others. She constantly mended our school clothes and my dad’s work clothes. She made dresses for me, quilts for baby gifts, even outfits for my Barbie dolls. She also crafted items to donate to school and church fundraisers. Only rarely would she make clothes for herself.

And so it was that as my Mom entered her 40s and then her 50s, she gained weight.

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

Michelle_collins_photo_1

Guest Columnist Mary O’Donohue: The Boy We Lost But Will Always Have (part 3)

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Mary O’Donohue and her husband Jim live with their son Connor, a teen, and daughter, Grace, a ‘tween, in suburban Chicago. Mary is author of When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, a month-by-month guide that provides parents with practical tools to raise children with extraordinary character. Her career in television production has included work on The Today Show, Meet The Press, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among other programs. She donates a portion of her income to charities benefitting families and education, and can be reached atwww.maryodonohue.com

Dear Sean,          

You are the little boy I would have had between Connor and Grace. You would have been almost 13 now. I had a miscarriage and lost you when Connor was a toddler. I believe I’ll see you one day. In the meantime, you know I love you because I tell you all the time. And the funny thing is, I know of all my three children, you would have been the most mischievous. I just feel that in your spirit. And I miss you.

I always knew I would have three children, and I’m so grateful for all of you. Motherhood has been the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Even with the heartache, even with the exhaustion, even with the feeling of being overwhelmed at times. Because you, my sweet children, are so worth it. And there are no words to express my gratitude. So I will say only this: God bless you.

I love you always, always, always,

Mom

Mary_odonohue_book_cover

Guest Columnist Mary O’Donohue: The Nightmare That Turned Out To Be A Sign Of Grace To Come

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Mary O’Donohue and her husband Jim live with their son Connor, a teen, and daughter, Grace, a ‘tween, in suburban Chicago. Mary is author ofa month-by-month guide that provides parents with practical tools to raise children with extraordinary character. Her career in television production has included work on The Today Show, Meet The Press, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among other programs. She donates a portion of her income to charities benefitting families and education, and can be reached atwww.maryodonohue.com

My sweet daughter Grace,

Long before you were born, I had a nightmare. I was kneeling in front of a locked door and you were on the other side. I knew you needed me, but I couldn’t get to you. I kept telling you not to worry. I promised I would find a way to get you out. But I couldn’t open the door. And then I woke up.

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted three children, and I always knew I would have a daughter. But the nightmare seemed to be a sign telling me that it wouldn’t be so easy to get to you. As it turns out, it wasn’t easy at all. You, my child, were in China. The other side of the world. But that wasn’t going to stop me and daddy and Connor from getting to you and bringing you home. You were and always have been my girl. My Gracie.

So after almost two years of paperwork and praying and waiting, we finally got “The Call.” You were our daughter. I remember that exact moment when the phone rang. Connor was five years old, and he didn’t know what to think when I was jumping up and down and crying at the same time. That’s when I told him about “the happy cry.” So he jumped up and down and cried, too, while we called daddy. Eight weeks later, I held you in my arms for the first time. You were 10 months old and it felt like I had finally woken up from that nightmare and opened the door between us.

In those first few weeks in China, we all had the privilege of starting to get to know you. On that first night, some of the other seven babies who had just met their new families cried for hours. A few of the babies even shut down and didn’t cry at all. Apparently, these were the two reactions most often seen in the first few days.

But not from you, Grace.

You were smiling at us.

And giggling.

And enjoying your bottle.

And clapping.

And snuggling.

From the first minute. Extraordinary. And you clung to me for three days without letting go. You even slept on me! But I didn’t mind.

I didn’t want to let you go either.

Once we got home, you adjusted quickly. And we had six months while I wasn’t working to just hang out together and play every day. I loved that time with just the two of us while Connor was in kindergarten. It went by too fast.

One of the things I have always loved about you is that you are fiercely independent. One of your first sentences was “I do by self!” You are also incredibly smart and resourceful. I have always admired your ability to figure things out on your own, and the way you help me figure things out. Your insight is remarkable and you are the most adaptable person I’ve ever met. What did I do without you?

I love spending girl time with you. Going for walks or bike rides, chatting over lunch – we always have fun together. You’re compassionate, outgoing, and incredibly joyful. You love your collie dog, fashion, and Barbies. Wait, scratch the Barbies. That was over last week. Now you’re into a boy band called One Direction. Slow down, Gracie!

I feel so incredibly blessed to be your mom. You’re an amazing girl and I know you will grow up to be an extraordinary woman. I am so deeply proud of you Grace.

I love you always, always, always,

Mom

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

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Guest Columnist Mary O’Donohue: From A Love Of Learning Blossoms An Extraordinary Young Man

 

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Mary O’Donohue and her husband Jim live with their son Connor, a teen, and their daughter, Grace, a ‘tween, in suburban Chicago. Mary is author of When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It, a month-by-month guide that provides parents with practical tools to raise children with extraordinary character. Her career in television production has included work on The Today Show, Meet The Press, and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among other programs. She donates a portion of her income to charities benefitting families and education, and can be reached at www.maryodonohue.com

Dear Connor,

When I first became a mom, some friends of mine asked me how my life had changed. All I could say was that before I had you, I breathed air. Once you came along, I breathed joy.

I loved the way you used to look at me when you were a baby, and I checked on you in the middle of the night, accidentally waking you. You would look up with those blue eyes and smile at me and then go right back to sleep. And I would stand there for a long time just looking at you and feeling so blessed and overwhelmed with love. Corny, I know. But true.

One of the things I love about you is that you love to learn. Dad and I have been reading to you since you were about three months old. By the time you were two, you would insist I read the same book over and over again. Seven times was usually my limit! I remember the day you sat on the floor with Dr. Seuss’ “Hop on Pop” and said out loud, “Hop. Pop. We like to hop. We like to hop on top of Pop.” You were 2 ½ at the time, so I rationalized that you couldn’t be reading. You must have memorized it! Well, by the time you were three, there was no doubt. You were reading. And through the years I’ve lost count of the nights I’ve gone in your room to make sure your lights are off, only to find you asleep with an open book in your arms.

Connor, I love your sense of humor, and your kindness, honesty, and courage. Everyone has challenges and strengths in life, and you have faced your challenges with determination, and embraced your strengths with passion. I admire your talent and creativity and I look forward to seeing you blossom as a filmmaker. I respect the wonderful child you have been and the extraordinary young man you are becoming. I’m so deeply proud of you.

I love you always, always, always.

Mom

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Guest Columnist Michael Durand: Your Grandmother, Grand And Strong

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Michael Durand, father of Matthew, age 24, and Adam, age 20, lives with his wife, Marlene (age classified) , a crazed Labrador retriever, and two insouciant cats in Pelham Manor, New York. A long-time health care marketing communications professional — he founded Porter Novelli’s global health care practice — he is currently an independent health care marketing consultant. In his spare time he is a struggling competitive rower and runner and enjoys reading about foreign intrigue, politics and history.

Dear Adam and Matthew,                                                

Your grandmother passed away 18 months ago.  Though you only got to see her once a year, I know you were close to her – that, despite her nagging and “friendly advice.” Here’s the eulogy I gave at her funeral; I hope it gives you a sense of her inner strength, resolve and values that you carry forth.

The words etched on the state capitol in Sacramento are “Bring me men to match my mountains.” If you forget the semi-sexist peccadillo, bring me people to match my mountains is a good description of my mother’s journey from small towns in Western Colorado and Wyoming to San Francisco and Redwood City, where she spent three-fourths of her 96 years on this earth.

Of course she wasn’t physically grand like the Sierras or her beloved Rocky Mountains. But nonetheless she was in many, many ways both grand and strong. Grand in her concern and love for her friends and her family, which were her anchors and the center of her life. How she doted over her grandchildren Matthew and Adam and how her voice rekindled when talking to the kids. Grand in her faith and love of her church – St. Peter’s – where she remained active both as a parishioner and as a volunteer for nearly 65 years. And grand in her keen mind.  At 96 she still played bridge every week – and played pretty well…far better than I will ever be able to play.

Her strength was on display in many ways. That she lived in her own well maintained home until well past 90. Of course she would insist I mention how many years ago she was rescued from a burning cruise ship off Alaska, hoisted from the “inferno” by a Coast Guard helicopter. Our very own Kate Winslet. But more important, her strength unfolded as she raised her immediate family – my brother and I, largely alone, instilling in us both values about treating others with respect and wisdom about the world around us.  

My mother saw the 20th century unfold and eclipse; and a new century born. She described for me how folks still rode horses when she was young and worried over polio and whooping cough. But in her later years, she marveled over the Worldwide Web, or as she called it, “The Intercom.”

But if we pull back the camera lens, my mom was a example of what Tom Brokaw called, “the greatest generation.”   A generation incubated in the Great Depression, a generation coming of age in the Second World War, then turning to the tough and mundane job of raising kids and raising a nation. And we all have to admit, they did a darn good job of it.  

A thousand of the greatest generation are passing away every day, I am told. Passing on, but leaving an indelible impact on us all, especially their children and grandchildren. To all of them of the greatest generation, and especially to my mother, we tip our hats and lift our glasses. They were and they are all people to match the mountains of the West.

Dispatches: Why Parenthood May Be A Laughing Matter

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Just because parenthood is a serious business is no reason to take it too seriously – especially if, as two aspiring parents recently found out, you have yet to actually have any kids.

Ross Hyzer, a stand-up comedian recently married, wrote a letter to his unborn child, to be read on his or her 25th birthday. Marriage, he says, moved him to devote more time to wondering what the future might bring. Ross opens with some jokes, but soon turns semi-serious, and – “life being as fragile and fickle as it is” – puts forward seven pointers, including “Avoid the Internet” and “Be Nice To Goths.” In conclusion, he apologizes. “I’m sorry the world is so weird. Your mother and I tried to make things better, with our flash mobs and yoga parties and retweets, but nothing seemed to work.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ross-hyzer/parenting-advice_b_1465811.html

A woman who chose to remain anonymous wrote a letter warning her future children about her ultra-competitive mother. Specifically, she cautions her kids against ever getting competitive with her, least of all in anything physical. “Trust me on this one, kids,” she writes, “she is feisty and never, ever backs down.” She then gives some examples of recent encounters with her mother that, thanks to her “firecracker personality,” turned into confrontations. One incident involved ice cubes as an improbable instrument of revenge. So, the mother-to-be says, “no racing, arm wrestling, no anything under any circumstances, even if she’s in a wheelchair.” http://huntingforbliss.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/letters-to-my-hypothetical-children-part-2/

Guest Columnist Daniel Feldman: A Yom Kippur Prayer For My Son

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Daniel Feldman lives in Woodmere, New York with his wife Sandy and son Chaim, 19. Daniel is a child of deaf adults, or CODAs, as well as the father of a deaf child. He designs computer training manuals and courses for corporations, schools and individuals. He has written articles about applying ethics to improve people’s methods of learning and encourage better employee relations. Daniel can be reached at dannyfeldman@yahoo.com.

Dear Chaim,

 

You have told me how often over the years you have felt that people have wronged you. Being deaf is difficult and often painful. People sometimes make fun of you. Hearing people leave you out of their conversations.

 

In school, you often missed classes because your therapists had to help you during those sessions. Many of your teachers tried to adjust to your schedule, but could do only so much to help. You were angry that you had to miss class. You often came home crying, unable to understand the work, with no one in your school available to spend the extra time to explain it to you.

 

You were so angry, in fact, as to feel unforgiving. How, you wondered, could people be so insensitive or lazy about helping you when you needed help? You had every right to be angry.

 

I shared your anger, and sometimes expressed it to your teachers and principal. Often, I succeeded in improving the situation, but more often I failed. And I, too, felt unforgiving.

 

With Yom Kippur now behind us this year — we spent much of this past Wednesday in synagogue asking God to forgive us for our sins – let me share a few words about the concept of forgiveness.

 

God may be able to forgive us for sins we committed against Him, but he cannot forgive sins that we have committed against other people. In a sense, we have to be responsible for our own damage control. You’ve probably heard this principle in your yeshiva (religious school).

 

I know how you feel. When I was a teenager, I was angry, too. My parents were deaf. I spent a lot of time helping my mother and father communicate with others. I often found myself in the middle of disagreements within my family. I was placed in a position where I had not only to interpret what people were saying but also to negotiate compromises. So that made me angry. I just wanted to be left alone to enjoy my free time the same as any other young boy.

 

On top of that, some of my classmates made fun of me because my family was “different” – even my friends. That made me angry, too.

 

Most of all, I was sometimes angry at God. He had made me the child of deaf parents. I just wanted to be the same as the other kids in my class.

 

But around Yom Kippur years ago — I was probably all of 20, a year older than you are now – I came to a new understanding. I realized that harboring anger was harming me far more than those causing the anger. I no longer expected apologies from anyone, nor would I demand any. So I did something I had never done. I took a bold step.

 

I forgave everyone I felt had wronged me. To a person – family, friends, classmates. Unconditionally.


Yes, I know this action defied logic. But Yom Kippur, in a sense, also defies logic. God, too, has every right to be angry at us – we’re a stubborn species, we humans; we always think we’re right about everything; we’re blithely unaware of the wrongs we commit – yet we ask God to forgive us.

 

And He does. God forgives us. Unconditionally.

That’s what happens every Yom Kippur. How, then, if we ask forgiveness from God, can we do anything but extend the same forgiveness toward others?

 

So rid yourself of your anger toward others – your resentment, too. You may soon come to recognize that people are just ignorant. Or are actually trying to help you. Whatever the case, let forgiveness be your solution.

 

After all, it takes courage to forgive. All of humanity desperately needs such courage. But if you learn to forgive others, you will be rewarded. I promise you that, my son. So pray. Pray for God to grant you this bravery. The choice is yours.

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