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.

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 Richard Kagan: My Dad’s Surprise Gift To Me


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.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Halfdan W. Freihow: The Parrots You Drew In The Trees

Halfdan W. Freihow, husband of Henni and father of Gabriel, the youngest of four children, is the author of SOMEWHERE OVER THE SEA: A FATHER’S LETTER TO HIS AUTISTIC SON. An intimately confessional memoir, just out, it takes the form of a letter from a father to his young autistic son (Gabriel is autistic) and is a testament to unconditional love and the parent-child relationship. Halfdan, who grew up in Mexico, Norway, Spain and Belgium, and now lives on an island off the west coast of southern Norway, has worked as a publisher, reporter, translator and literary critic. Please see http://halfdan.autisable.com.

Dear Gabriel,

As you well know, it’s a complete mystery to me why you have given up on your drawing activities. For many years, at least since you were six years of age, you would spend hours a day sitting hunched over a sheet of paper with your pencils and your eraser, your head cocked horizontally just an inch or two above the page, meticulously depicting the details of whatever motive you were trying to capture.

You were amazingly talented. I remember once when you were around ten. You came to us with a piece of paper so covered in drawn details that we had to struggle to identify them.

“Look,” you said.

We looked, and told you how impressed we were that you had managed to create a whole town, complete with windows in every building, streets with cars and pedestrians and advertising signs.

“No,” you said, “look better.”

We did, and discovered that behind the sprawling city there was a big park, a forest almost, with countless trees, each one equipped with numerous branches and thick foliage.

“Wow,” we said.

“No, you have to look better!”

OK, we thought, and brought the sheet under better light, and discovered that the trees were no mere blur of foliage, but, rather, that you somehow had found the patience to draw thousands of tiny leaves individually.

“Unbelievable,” we said.

“No! Don’t you see?”

And then we did. Hidden in the dense foliage, on a small branch barely a half-inch long, two parrots sat facing each other. And so small that it almost took a magnifying glass to see it, we realized, they were both holding a knife and fork, and were sharing a delicate miniature meal.

At that point we had no words left to express our admiration.

This drawing now adorns the bedroom of your grandfather, who tells us that it still gives him a daily pleasure to study and decipher it.

You’re eighteen now, and I have no problems understanding that lots of other stuff appeals more to you than sitting by yourself and rendering on paper the world as you see it in all its glorious detail.

I’m also naturally delighted that you’re gradually taking your first cautious steps into a social life with friends. So while I privately miss your talented artistic depictions of the world surrounding you, it gives me great pleasure to assure you that as you gradually explore the vastness and wealth of social life, you’ll discover that it is as full of mesmerizing and surprising detail as even you could ever imagine in your parrot masterpiece.

Love, Dad

P.S. – Please see this video of father and son:

P.S.S.– Please see guest column from Joe Scalia tomorrow.

Kjære Gabriel


Father’s Day Guest Columnist Christopher Speed: Kindness, Above All

Christopher Speed, a dietitian in the public relations/marketing industry, is husband to Liz and father to a son Declan, 2, and a daughter, Maeve, now four months of age. Originally from Sydney, Australia, he moved to the U.S. 11 years ago and now resides in Midwood, Brooklyn where he enjoys the vast array of food that results from living among incredible cultural diversity. In his spare time, he plays the classical guitar, cooks and appreciates great beer and wine.

Dear Declan,

Each year I have set myself a personal goal of being kind, and with parenthood this undertaking has become more meaningful to me. I think this personal quest started long ago. My father told me when I was a child that the reason he was kind to me had nothing to do with his wanting me to be kind to him in return. Rather, he wanted me to appreciate how good it felt to receive kindness from my own father so that someday, as a father myself, I would in turn be kind to my own children.

Now that I am nearly 40, with a wonderful growing family and incredible wife, you have helped me appreciate what your grandfather meant. Kindness is one of the most important traits someone possesses that needs to be instilled in us and you’ve shown me that it can start at a young age.

You recently fetched a pacifier for your sister. You politely stepped aside at the playground so that someone could use the slide. And although I had to remind you to share your ball, you did so with great conviction and joy. You are inherently kind. And as you will soon realize, the world needs as much kindness as it can get. With so much political, social and financial unrest, kindness seems to have taken a back seat.

You’re still too young to recognize the significance of being considerate toward others. Still, you make me happy and proud each time you show me glimpses that you understand its value.It gives me the peace of mind that as a new parent I am guiding you on the right path. You understand that you never need a reason to be kind — except that it’s simply the right way to treat others.

All through life, you will get frustrated and disappointed. But you should always know that the kindness in your heart is important, and that it comes from a seed your grandfather sowed in me.

P.S. – Please see guest column from Scott Nathanson tomorrow.

Say Hello To My 2012 Father’s Day Guest Columnists

Five fathers of all ages from around the U.S. will perform a special act in honor of Father’s Day this year. Starting this Monday and extending over the next two weeks, each father will go public with a letter he wrote to his children. They’ll do that in my second annual Father’s Day special here at letterstomykids.org (LTMK).

The lineup:

Christopher Speed, a dietician and public relations specialist in Brooklyn, will tell what his father taught him about kindness that he has passed along to his son Declan.
· Scott Nathanson, a former lobbyist in Washington D.C., will tell his sons Gunnar and Gus why he believes so strongly in the value of play.

Halfdan W. Freihow of Norway, author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Somewhere Over The Sea: A Father’s Letters To His Autistic Son,” will share a letter to his autistic son, Gabriel.
Joe Scalia, a former teacher in Long Island, New York, will post a recent letter intended to reconnect him with his estranged adult son, Jesse.
Bud Hanley, a financial advisor in South Carolina, will deliver a five-part series and reveal his letters to his son Matthew, who died shortly after his premature birth almost 10 years ago, and the charity established in his honor.
As it happens, other fathers increasingly appear to be doing likewise – putting personal family history in writing as a legacy to future generations – whether in letters, journals, “Daddy” blogs or memoirs. More than ever, Dads are evidently doing what Dads are seldom known for doing in public, much less in private – opening up and expressing themselves, writing down what they might never say aloud..

Richard Haddad, a former and future LTMK guest columnist, has long written letters to his children, Ashleigh and Jonathan. Frank Cavallaro, likewise an LTMK contributor, has done the same with his three daughters, Laura, Jennifer and Kim. So have others.

Of course, fathers writing letters to their children is hardly new. The practice dates back at least as far as ancient Rome, when the philosopher and statesman Cicero wrote letters to his son Marcus. More recently, President Barack Obama went public with a letter to his daughters Sasha and Malia.

Please share the upcoming guest columns with the world at large to help spread the word. After all, fathers (and mothers) who commit to the simple practice of writing down personal family history create a legacy that lasts forever. Thank you.

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

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

Dear Tasha,

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

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

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

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

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

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Schuyler Moore: Learn the Lessons I Learned

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

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

Dear Merritt and Schuyler,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said he would listen.

He said he would try to understand.

He said he would help me resolve the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To My Three Sons,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve learned that nothing beats good dinner conversations.

And that laughter really is the best medicine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.


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

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

Dear Laura, Jenifer and Kim,

Darn, I just hate genetics.

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

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

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

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

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

As I mentioned, the list is long.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Father’s Day Guest Columnist Brian Wommack: Togetherness Counts

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

Dear Meghan, Brendan and Caelan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Kate, Rebecca, Milo and Nash,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Way to go, Sam.”

Sam, who?


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

There in my mitt lay a baseball.

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

Not that I felt that way.

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

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


Father’s Day Preview: Seven Guest Columnists

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be grateful for small blessings.

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

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

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

Dear Readers,

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

So shows my informal Father’s Day survey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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