Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bitten By Christmas


I thought I was going to escape Christmas this year.

Silly, silly, silly man.

This morning I was optimistic...I thought that with only two days to go I could successfully elude Christmas and would not have to worry about December 25 until next year. But Christmas is a patient hunter and it always gets its prey. While I did look over my shoulder a few times, I really didn't feel Christmas was stalking me and that I could get away from Christmas without getting bitten...because you see...Christmas comes with teeth.

I had a few close calls. In November, while with my best friend in Boston's Downtown Crossing, I felt a bit of the holiday spirit breathing down on me...but I successfully avoided getting caught. And again, earlier this month, I successfully resisted getting pulled into the holiday doldrums by deciding that Christmas, like Hannakah, is a holiday celebrated by other people but not me. As I said...I am a silly, silly, silly man.

Christmas and I do not get along. We have had our moments to be sure but for the most part we fight and I almost always end up getting mauled and bitten. Christmas is a monster that cannot be tamed or pacified...and as I said Christmas comes with teeth. But this year would be different...I would escape.

On Monday my dear friend warned me that Christmas would hunt me down...I assured her that I would escape and live to tell the tale. But a horrific Tuesday and a shaky Wednesday wore me down, leaving me weak and unable to resist today's visit by the Christmas beast. I would like to tell you that I put up a great fight but I have to tell you that it was over before it really began...

So...there is no escaping the Christmas beast. The best that one in my position can do is arrive at a plan of defense...which after I see my kids...for me includes hiding behind a mound of reheated Thai food armed with a vodka martini. Hopefully these will allow me to fend off Christmas as best as I can...

Friday, December 10, 2010

So....here we are


Everybody has to be be somewhere...and tonight I am here...writing. Its been almost two months since I last visited this place. While I have been writing elsewhere, I have spent much of the last two months unplugged, offline and disconnected...letting my Facebook profile lie dormant, going without cable TV, and allowing a bit of dust gather gather on my favorite blog.

That is not to say I have not been busy...I embarked on a project with my oldest son...I tried Tibetan food...I had the best fried clams in the world...fell in love with pumpkin soup...dipped my feet in the ocean in October...and I stood inside a stained glass globe.

I learned that you can make "milk" from almonds and water, that one can indeed go without steak for two months, that my 11 year old daughter is no longer a little girl and that my 11 year old son is still a little boy, and that molten plastic is very, very hot. I learned that Pokemon is still very big amongst the 6 to 8 year old set, that China Wok's Kung Pao Chicken is still very good, and I have a rediscovered appreciation for PBS.

I gave up a new career to return to an old one.

I also learned that the very best of times can stand alongside the very worst of times.

To be honest...I didn't mind at all this little sabbatical from things online as after all, the Internet is one of the greatest distractions yet devised by man and cable TV is...well...cable TV. I enjoyed exploring the world and bringing my discoveries back to my kids as they too...or at least my boys...like pumpkin soup and want to try Tibetan food.

So my Internet sabbath is over...and...here we are...together again...and it looks like we will be here for a while.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Walking Wounded Dad


Playing with my kids is one of my favorite things about being a Dad...and recently when my kids come over we have gotten into the habit of playing basketball or bocce …and for the near future it looks like I will be playing more bocce than basketball…

Like most forty something year old men I think of myself as a fourteen year old who can drive and drink martinis (although not at the same time). We often forget that the needs and capacities of forty something year old bodies are different than those of a fourteen year old. However, nature has a way of reminding us that we are not fourteen…its called pain…excruciating, yell out loud pain…

My boys and I were playing basketball last week when nature reminded me that I am not fourteen. My boys and I have an ongoing game with Aidan and me are pitted against my oldest son, Oliver. These games are competitive affairs…however…Aidan and I are toast once Oliver figures out that we are really playing chess and not basketball.

So…back to the reminder that I am not fourteen…during what proved to be my last basketball game for a while…I passed the ball to Aidan on the wing and then moved to receive his return pass…Aidan threw the ball over Oliver’s outstretched arms, I caught it, moved to make a left handed layup, pushing off on my right leg as I did….and then I felt like I was shot in the leg…and as I landed in a heap I thought…so…I am not fourteen after all…

My boys helped me into the house and into my chair…meanwhile I was telling myself that I was way too young to need my boys help to get into a chair…For the next month or so I am going to be playing bocce with my kids after school…how do I know this? I have had this injury before…suffered last year…while playing wiffle ball.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Goodbye

As much as we wish this were not so...even the best of friends eventually part ways.

Last Friday I had to let my friend Joey go. I knew in March that we had turned a corner and were entering the home stretch of our run together. It was then when I promised him that when he was ready I would let him go. With this in mind, we had spent as much time as we could together. Sometimes he went with me to work or to run errands, but most of our time with each other was spent outside, sitting in the sun, and at night listening to the radio.

During the course of the summer my friend’s health continued to decline yet his puppy spirit continued to shine through, that is, until about a week and a half ago…when it was clear that it was time to let him go…he was ready for us to part ways.

Our last week together was a good one. I worked from home and as I did, Joey dozed at my feet, much as he had done for the last several years. My kids, knowing what was coming, paid more attention to him than usual…as for the first time they were about to lose someone whom they have known their entire lives.…Joey also received much love and support from many dear friends, old and new, who had shared in our journey.

My ex wife and I got Joey in 1995 from the Dedham Animal Rescue League. In those early days it was apparent that he was going to be a handful. While talking to her about Joey last week, she told me that she wanted to remember him as the out of control puppy she loved and who drove her crazy. I remember him, however, as an older dog who shared his life with me and who was my companion through good and through bad.

Thursday night I grilled a couple of steaks for us, served his on a plate, placed it next to him, and watched him devour an entire porterhouse in about three minutes. As he gnawed on the steak bone, I chatted with my dear friend who knew Joey well. A long time ago it she who gently told me that when the time came it really didn’t matter if I was ready to let him go… instead...I would need to let him go when he was ready.

Joey and I sat in the sun on our last morning together, ran a few errands, and then made one last stop at our favorite place. As we sat together on the Common, in the sun, as we did many times before. I thanked him for being my truest friend and for sharing his life with me. I told him that he was a good boy…

Finally…as he faded, I whispered to him our language’s saddest word….goodbye….

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Silent Places


This space has not seen much action this past month. Not because of anything out of the ordinary happened or because I have been otherwise preoccupied…but simply because given the choice between writing and silence I took the novel approach and chose silence.

People often feel the need to fill in silent places with some sort of chatter…bloggers are no different. There were any numbers of things about which I could have written these last few weeks…I simply didn’t. Instead…I chose silence.

If you think about it…it can be a challenge to keep the TV off, the radio silent, and to allow the iPod to quietly remain in its dock. It is even a greater challenge to convince your children to do the same…to convince them that wisdom can be found in the silent places.

I have learned the most from quiet people and from them I have learned that it is in the silent places, those spaces between the chatter and noise are where you can learn much and hear the most…all you need to do is listen.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Vacation

Sunday morning, while heating up coffee in a frying pan, in my boxers, standing in my kitchen, at 6:15 in the morning, my phone rang....

It was my ex wife...

Sunday was not off to a good start...

I had realized the previous night that I had forgotten to pick up coffee at the local warehouse store and that if I wanted hot coffee the next day I would have to dip into my reserve of chilled coffee I keep in the fridge. Anyone who knows anything about coffee will tell you that hot coffee and iced coffee are two entirely coffee experiences and one cannot be substituted for the other.

So...inadequately caffeinated I was compelled to converse with my ex wife...

Ex Wife (who is already wide awake): "Hi Tom...can we borrow your tent?"

Tom: "grumble grumble...hmmmm...yeah..."

Ex Wife: "Thanks...when can you bring it over?"

Tom: "hmmmm...grumble...10:00?"

Ex Wife: "can you be over at 9:30...we are leaving at 10:00..thanks...bye..."

That exchanges such as these don't go well is usually my fault as I usually don't feel fully human until 11:30...but...I decided to keep my answers short thereby reducing the chances of verbal conflict...largely because my ex wife was leaving with out kids for a camping trip...

I arrived at the house at 9:45....handed her the tent...and my camera...and watched the four of them load the minivan as I held the kids' puppy by her leash...

The kids said their goodbyes...and off they went with their mom...with me...still standing in the front yard...holding the kids' puppy by her leash.

After buying coffee...I intend to fully enjoy my vacation...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Out For A Paddle

On his porch, last weekend, in one of the rare moments in the last twenty five years where we have been alone together, my brother asked me..."so...what do you do with yourself on the weekends?"

"I paddle" I told him.

I have a kayak...its 12 feet long, its fire engine red, and it represents the best $250.00 I have spent in a very, very long time.

Its not a toy however, and its not an indulgence.

My red kayak is my Prozac, my evening cocktail, my consolation, and my escape.

The elegant combination of water, boat, and paddle helps me effortlessly pass hours and to see myself and the world from a different perspective. And so far I like the view.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tell Me A Story She Whispered; A Story Retold

There were certain quiet, intimate times, usually at an hour when only insomniacs and lovers are awake, while half asleep, I would be asked to share bits of myself that no one else knew. Feeling safe with no need to keep my guard up, I would have shared the secrets of the universe had I known them. Fortunately, I was wise enough to recognize those moments and remember them. I wish I had shared this story during one of those times.

This is one of my earliest memories, I must have been 3 or 4. It was a warm, humid, cloudy morning in September. Thinking about it now, a tropical storm must have been making its way up the New England coast. My father put me in the front seat of his truck and off we went. The cab of his pick-up truck smelled vaguely of engine grease and motor oil with hints of coffee and White Owl cigars. Rattling behind the vinyl bench seat were the tools in his tool box. My father is the sort of man who takes tools wherever he goes and he knows how to use them.

As we headed up Rhode Island Route 3 (these were the days before the Rhode Island stretch of I 95 was completed) it started to pour. I remember the rain coming down in sheets, the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the torrential downpour. I remember not quite understanding why we were out and not knowing where we were going. We turned off the main road and headed up a gravel road. As we made our way down the road, I remember the sound of tree branches gently brushing against the side of the truck. As the end of the road stood a barn and a farm house. We were at an apple orchard.

Unlike today where orchards are agricultural Disneylands to which families take their annual rural excursions, this place was really a farm whose primary crop were apples. My father took these things very seriously. For my father, as was the case for generations in our family, September was a time to put away food for the winter. The apples we got each fall became preserves and apple sauce that were to last for the coming year. With more than 300 years of farming history in my family, my father was following an instinctual drive to prepare for winter. He took this seriously and I was expected to as well.

I remember standing under an apple tree, my father scrambling to fill up our bushel baskets, the rain coming down in torrents. I did my best to help him as he explained to me what constituted an apple worth picking and one that was better left behind.

My next memory of that day was sitting in his pick-up, wet, drinking hot chocolate that we had brought with us. I remember my dad sitting next to me and I remember being happy. I am glad for that day, when I was so young, where I felt protected, loved, and happy to be my father's son. I am also sad that we had so few days like that one.

This story should have been told at a late hour, in soft whispers, while feeling safe and warm and unguarded.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fathers and Sons

Today is my father's birthday. He is now 77. I am writing with one eye on the clock as I need to gather up my kids and make the hour and thirty minute drive down to my brother's to be on time for my father's birthday party.

I wish I could say that my father and I have a warm and close relationship. We do not. I do my best to fulfill the responsibilities a son has to his father but I confess that I do little more. This is the way that it has always been and I am afraid that this is the way that it will continue to be. However, there are times when I feel closer to him than others. This past week was one of those times.

In the life of a very close friend, something happened last week, that at least temporarily, brought me closer to my father, and brought me back to a pivotal time in the life of our family. When I was 9 my father had his first heart attack. He was 43. He had his first triple bypass two years later when I was 11. Needless to say it was a time of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear.

My father responded to his health difficulties in a way that I suspect that is not all that unusual; he believed that his time was short and that he needed to get done as much as he could as quickly as he could. My father, brother, and I embarked on a series of projects that my father felt needed to get done quickly. In the span of two years we restored a truck, finished a basement, and built an addition to the house. My brother and I dug ditches, poured cement, broke rocks, sandblasted truck parts, shingled roofs, and pounded many, many nails. Work conditions were not optimal.

Now, with the passage of thirty years coupled with my own experiences topped off by what happened in my friend's life, I think I better understand what my father faced. As the sole provider for a family of five words such as fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness were not a part of my father's vocabulary. He did his best, even during those difficult times, to ensure that his wife and children were provided for, even if the worst should happen.

At 43 I can see that my own father did what he thought was his best and muddled through. Realizing this will make today's drive down to Rhode Island a bit easier and makes me aware that someday my own children will be driving to my home to celebrate my birthday. I hope as the do it will be with kind and happy thoughts about their dad.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Camp

This is camp week for the Pierce family. Oliver is at an overnight camp with the Boy Scouts, Fiona is at a day camp, and Aidan is at mom and dad camp...

As Oliver's and Fiona's camp schedule rounded into form, both I and the kid's mom asked Aidan about what he wanted to do for camp. We are fortunate in that there are a number of camp opportunities in town and any of them had the potential to capture Aidan's interest. Aidan, however, would have none of it, instead telling us that having the house, the TV, the computer, and us to himself would be like going to camp.

A quiet soul, I also think that Aidan also relished the idea of being away from his brother and sister, who, like their dad, have some hard edges to their personalities. At the tender age of ten, Aidan is already an expert in conflict resolution and conflict avoidance. As proficient as he is...I am sure he gets worn out from navigating between his brother and sister.

So this week Aidan has played hours of basketball, drunk gallons of root beer, and explored two rivers. Yesterday he rode shotgun with me as I made my appointments and we were able to fit in a trip to a coffee house and to a national park. His favorite part of the day, he told me, was the grilled hot dog I bought him at Jimmies in New Bedford. Today his mom is taking him to the zoo and tomorrow I am taking him to Cambridge...

While Oliver and Fiona are having a good week...I suspect that Aidan...who can get hours of entertainment out of wading in a river or from a fist full of coffee beans...is having the best camp week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Moment

It was a moment with one of my kids that I thought I would not have for many years.

It was just the two of us, Aidan and I, sitting in the early evening twilight at my patio table, nibbling on fruit and cheese, each engrossed in our respective books; Aidan's, a book about World War One and mine a book about the 1964 major league baseball season. Each of us, quietly enjoying each others company, communing with one another without saying a word.

Such quiet moments are rare. The last such moment I had was in March, the day after my return home from a brief stay in the hospital and prior to that, during a particular day last July. To quietly sit with someone, dozing or reading, without speaking and yet be completely comfortable in that silence is a unusual sort of intimacy that is seldom recognized as such. Such moments, by their very nature are shared with someone special, are rare and are to be prized and treasured, especially when spent with one's child.

So nibbling on cheese, munching on fruit, and drinking bubbly water, Aidan and I quietly read. After about forty five minutes Aidan put down his book, stood up and said "well...that was nice..." and jogged off to shoot baskets.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Basketball Lessons

In my backyard, my boys and I have an ongoing basketball game where, much to my surprise, basketball has replaced baseball as our game of choice.

Baseball teaches many things, among them the virtues of practice and repetition, cooperation between teammates, eye hand coordination, and is a great way for middle age men to commune with their sons as a game of catch does not usually tax forty something year old bodies. Over the years I have taken a particular pleasure in watching my boys develop their baseball skills, going from barely able to catch the ball when they were four to being able to deftly handle the most difficult of plays.

That there happens to be a basketball hoop in my backyard is a feature of my new home my boys find most appealing. They spend hours shooting baskets and more often than not, I am right out there with them. Which brings me to our ongoing game.

Actually there are two ongoing games...one where its ten year old Aidan and me against thirteen year old Oliver...and another of me against Oliver. Whereas I am slightly taller and a bit heavier than Oliver, he is in better shape, has greater endurance, and is faster than I. On the other hand...Aidan is quicker than both of us, has better eye hand coordination, however he is a foot shorter than Oliver and only half as heavy. I can safely say that both boys are better than I am at basketball.

During these games I encourage the boys to develop strategies and tactics that allow them to maximize their strengths and advantages while exploiting their opponent's weaknesses. Aidan is particularly adept at this as over the years he has found ways to compete athletically and intellectually with his much larger older brother. For an example, Aidan and I encourage Oliver to expend as much energy as possible by allowing him to run and dribble as much as he wants while the two of us lie in wait. I am waiting for Oliver to realize that it makes far less sense for him to dribble about simply because he can than for him to devise a way to break down our defense and take quality shots each time he has the ball.

Despite what we see on ESPN, basketball is a game of quickness and angles, of strategy and tactics. Aidan and I have a strategy of wearing out Oliver and we employ tactics towards that end...we run him ragged. My strategy against Oliver is to not get worn out and to play games that end quickly...and I play accordingly.

So...basketball has become this summer's teaching tool where I am trying to teach my boys to assess situations, maximize their advantages, minimize their weaknesses, and above all else, think and plan before acting. Hopefully they will also learn when and how to land the well placed elbow as well.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sun Blocked

Its hot...damn hot...too damn hot...

Lacking air conditioning, on Tuesday the boys and I set out for Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. According to the state beach website, Nantasket is located 45 minutes south of Boston (although I defy anyone to make it to Nantasket from Boston in anything less than an hour and a half) and is very much an urban beach.

At Nantasket you can hear Spanish, French Creole, Russian, Irish brogues, Vietnamese, Chinese, and any number of other languages along with the distinctive Bahhhhston accent. Its a place where soccer moms from affluent Boston suburbs settle down in their beach chairs next to single moms from Dorchester and Roxbury. Believe me when I tell you that there are few other places on earth where this would happen.

So the boys and I found our place at the beach and had a great time. We went for a walk, we swam, and I read for a while as my oldest son did his best to drown his younger brother...just because I went to the beach with two kids in no way means that I need to return from the beach with two kids.

On the way home, Aidan, age 10, shared with us some of his observations;
  • I was the only man under 50 on the beach without a tattoo
  • Speedos should be outlawed...especially white speedos (he learned that bananas and grapes belong in a grocery bag...not a swim suit).
  • That he wants to go back to the beach earlier in the day because he can't throw rocks into the water at a crowded beach.
  • That there are times when he really, really, really hates his older brother.
  • Sunblock is always a good idea and, looking at his scarlet skinned brother, that he was glad he wore some.
Oliver also learned that sunblock is always a good idea but he learned it the hard way. Displaying a foolhardiness that only a teenager can demonstrate, Oliver ventured out into the July sun without sunblock...and when it comes to a showdown between our fiery friend the sun and fair Irish skin...the sun always wins. He also learned that avoiding agonizing pain is better than having a nice tan...

Oliver learns from his mistakes...Aidan learns from his brother's mistakes.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Three Day Weekend Eve; The Virtues of Plan B


I belong to a particular subset of the fatherhood fraternity...I am a divorced dad...among other things this means that while I am always an active member of the aforementioned fraternity, there are times when I have my kids with me...and then there are times I don't. On this three day weekend I don't.

The solo three day weekend can be the fuzzy end of the divorce, single in your forties, ex boyfriend lolly pop (not that the candy end of this particular lolly pop is all that great either). Seventy two hours provides ample time to pull apart every life decision, wallow, and eat too many half gallon boxes of ice cream. So...when entering a three day weekend its always advisable to have a game plan...and once you have a game plan...make sure you have a Plan B.

A few weeks ago I had come up with a pretty damn good game plan for this weekend...but...plans changed and the game plan had to be scrapped. And I confess...it took an early morning email today from the person who taught me the virtues of having a Plan B to spur me into action. So...as I told her...my plans for the weekend included bicycling on Friday, kayaking on Saturday, and an arrhythmia on Sunday which should also cover me for Monday as well.

Too many divorced parents spend their child free weekends wandering around wondering what to do with themselves...and it ought to go without saying that this does neither the parent nor their kids any good. We remain parents whether our kids are with us or not and its our responsibility to make sure that we take care of ourselves...and wallowing is a lousy way to treat oneself. Besides if Daddy ain't doing well ain't nobody going to be doing well....

So...while the original game plan would have been a winner...and frankly my first choice...Plan B will work just fine...I just hope to skip the arrhythmia part.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Friends

Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready for a visit by my mother (a blog posting in and of itself) I got a phone call...it was my daughter...in tears...asking if she could come over and have lunch with me and her grandmother. I asked her what was wrong and she said me that she would tell me later.

Not having much to say, she managed to make it through lunch, however, as soon as her grandmother pulled out of the driveway Fiona burst into tears.

She had planned to go off with her best friend to the mall. There was much discussion and much planning, even down to what she was going to wear and where they were going for lunch. However, yesterday morning Fiona's friend called at the last minute to cancel. Minutes later, Fiona saw the friend in question pass by in her grandmother's car, with another friend. To have her friend cancel at the last minute was upsetting enough, to see her blithely move forward with other plans was devastating...

Fiona is much like me when it comes to friends...while she does not have many she is fiercely loyal to the ones she has. One indication of this was a few months ago when I made an off handed comment about one of her friends which Fiona interpreted as being unkind...she did not speak to me for three days. While holding her friends to a high standard, Fiona gives all of herself in return.

We talked about what it means to be a friend and what it means to be hurt and disappointed and let down. I also tried to discuss forgiveness with her...but yesterday afternoon was clearly not the time for that discussion. Fiona was pissed off...and frankly I didn't blame her.

So today I will try to help Fiona come up with a way to tell her friend that she is hurt and angry and will also try to have that discussion about forgiveness. I guess what I will do is tell her that those people who are special enough to be our friends are also special enough for our forgiveness...

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Dog Days

The alarm went off, I stumbled to the kitchen, turned on the radio and the smooth, soothing voice characteristic of an NPR newsreader announced that it was 78 degrees in Boston...at 6:20 in the morning.

Its going to be a hot one...making a day spent in an unairconditioned car more unappealing than usual...so I am going to that part of my territory where the weather is typically the mildest, where the roads are shaded and reminds me of where I grew up. Rochester, a place populated by part time artists and cranberry growers is, at least from this visitors' point of view, idyllic.

My kids are with their mom today and I am battling the temptation to call her and try to solve the inevitable problem of what to do with the kids in such hot weather. She does not have a pool, there are few ponds to go to, and my kids have few friends within an easy bike ride. She...my ex wife...is going to have a fun day...

In thinking about Rochester and what suggestions I can offer my ex wife I find myself thinking about what we did when we were kids on days like this. I am not one to idealize where I grew up but if I am honest...where I grew up was...gulp...in some ways almost idyllic.

One place...one special spot...in particular comes to mind...a place that you could only find in a small town. On a back road, about five miles from my house, was a swimming hole, complete with a rope hanging from a tree from where we would swing out over the brook and drop into the cold water below. My brother Keith, my friend Mark, my friend Jimmy, and his brother George were frequent companions to this special place.

There, free from meddling adults, we swam, talked about baseball, and debated the merits of certain girls who shall remain nameless. There we found relief from the heat, escaped our parents, and were able to indulge in those pursuits which preoccupy boys of a certain age.

I wish I could whisper in Oliver's and Aidan's ear of the whereabouts of such a place near where they live. I suspect that there are none to be had...where kids can go and indulge in such summertime pleasures as I did many years ago. We live in a different time and such places exist only in our memories and our imaginations...and perhaps in Rochester.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yard Work


The baton has been passed, the rite of passage reached, the goal has been obtained; my oldest son is now mowing the lawn and God willing...will be raking the leaves when Fall comes.

Fathers do not have sons in order for the family name to continue (I have four nephews who can handle that)...they have sons so someone take over the yard work.

Over the last year Oliver and I have had a number of "Great Santini" moments where he his athletic prowess has developed to the point where it exceeds mine. He can throw farther and harder, run faster, jump higher, and when we play basketball I have to resort to cheating in order to win...actually...I have always had to resort to cheating in order to win at basketball...anyway...I thought that if he was tall enough to block my shot he was big enough to push a mower.

So this year Oliver took over mowing the lawn. His mother fought long and hard at this...I think she wanted me to remain her yard boy and she did not want to see our son old enough to assume an adult responsibility. That I was riding a tractor, taking apart trucks, and digging ditches before the age of 12 was not a persuasive argument.

I showed Oliver where to add oil and gasoline and how to start the mower. I took him where there were tricky spots and how to reach them. I told him to leave the mower and call me if it stalled because the blade was clogged with grass. I also told him that the only reason I had children was so they could do yard work.

So...Oliver now cuts the grass. As attention to detail is not a characteristic common to 13 year olds he does not do the best job...but its good enough...And on last Thursday I showed his mom how to trim the hedges while not cutting the extension cord...lets see how that works....

My son cuts the grass...and hopefully now he will know better than to block my shots...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Yard Work


The baton has been passed, the rite of passage reached, the goal has been obtained; my oldest son is now mowing the lawn and God willing...will be raking the leaves when Fall comes.

Fathers do not have sons in order for the family name to continue (I have four nephews who can handle that)...they have sons so someone take over the yard work.

Over the last year Oliver and I have had a number of "Great Santini" moments where he his athletic prowess has developed to the point where it exceeds mine. He can throw farther and harder, run faster, jump higher, and when we play basketball I have to resort to cheating in order to win...actually...I have always had to resort to cheating in order to win at basketball...anyway...I thought that if he was tall enough to block my shot he was big enough to push a mower.

So this year Oliver took over mowing the lawn. His mother fought long and hard at this...I think she wanted me to remain her yard boy and she did not want to see our son old enough to assume an adult responsibility. That I was riding a tractor, taking apart trucks, and digging ditches before the age of 12 was not a persuasive argument.

I showed Oliver where to add oil and gasoline and how to start the mower. I took him where there were tricky spots and how to reach them. I told him to leave the mower and call me if it stalled because the blade was clogged with grass. I also told him that the only reason I had children was so they could do yard work.

So...Oliver now cuts the grass. As attention to detail is not a characteristic common to 13 year olds he does not do the best job...but its good enough...And on last Thursday I showed his mom how to trim the hedges while not cutting the extension cord...lets see how that works....

My son cuts the grass...and hopefully now he will know better than to block my shots...

Extended Family


It's time...to paraphrase the very wise words of one former girlfriend... "to put on my big boy boots" for today...I am attending a family event.

Attending is probably not the best word to describe what I will be doing later on today...chauffeuring and observing are more like it. In each family everyone has their roles. In my family of origin, my brother's role is to help my father, my sister's is to be best friend to my mother, and mine is to deliver my children to family events, find a quiet corner, observe, and do my best to keep my mouth shut.

As someone with more than his fair share of experience with complicated relationships...I can safely say that my relationship with my family of origin...is...well...complicated. But again, whose isn't? The tricky part, however, is to isolate my kids from the complexity of my own relationship with my family.

Extended family brings a richness and fullness to a kid's family life. When I was growing up I enjoyed my own cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents and frankly cannot imagine my childhood without them. I am sure that my own parents had to put aside their own familial issues so that the three of us could have a relationship with the extended family. And to their credit, they put aside whatever issues they may have had to make this possible.

So...today...I am putting on my big boy boots, driving my kids to Rhode Island, and hope that somewhere in my brother's house there is a quiet corner from where I can watch my kids enjoy their cousins, aunts, uncles, and their grandparents. Hopefully I will be able to keep my mouth shut.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bacon Roasted Chicken...thank you Julia Child


The trick, I have found, to making sure the kids and I eat decent, well balanced meals, is to cook in advance and have food ready to serve at dinner time....besides...in 90 degree heat I have no desire, in the heat of the day, to stand in front of the blast furnace that is my oven.

So...last night I was bored...climb the walls, pace back and forth bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. Bored.

Bored.

I did not know what to do with myself. So I did the obvious thing...I roasted a chicken.

The other day, while channel surfing, I stumbled across Julia Child on the local PBS affiliate...now...watching Julia Child nowadays, for me anyway, takes a supreme act of courage to undertake...however...I was able to overcome my cowardice and watch. Why? Because she was preparing a meal involving two of my favorite things...bacon and chicken....

One of the few challenges when roasting a chicken is to keep in moist. My solution to the problem is to drown the bird in as much butter as I can spare. But I like Julia's solution better. With twine, she tied pieces of blanched bacon (blanch - to boil briefly and then immediately chill in ice water) to the chicken before roasting.

At 375 degrees and an hour and 15 minutes later my 4 lbs chicken was done....Now by this time my kitchen felt like the inside of a steel mill in July...but it was worth it....standing in my kitchen at 11:30 at night gnawing on a chicken leg worth it. So worth it that I had chicken for breakfast this morning.

So...if I can resist the siren call of bacon roasted chicken my kids and I will have a ready made meal this afternoon allowing me to spend my time with them playing basketball and drawing on the sidewalk. All it took was an idea stolen from Julia Child and an act of courage...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

For Father's Day

My ex wife...God Love her...in I think was an attempt to help my kids devise a Father's Day plan...asked me the other day what I wanted to do for Father's Day...and I told her..."for Father's Day I want to be the dad I want to be..."

She rolled her eyes and walked away....

I suppose I could have made something up to provide her with a more satisfactory answer...but my enigmatic reply had two virtues...it annoyed my ex...and it was true.

Today... I want to be the dad I want to be.

I was fortunate...even when I was very little my own father provided me with numerous examples that helped me early on to figure out what kind of dad I wanted to be. And while I continue to apply many of those lessons from my early childhood I have learned that parenting is a one day at a time, step by step affair, and that what "works" today may not work tomorrow.

So today...in about an hour I will pick up my kids, we will go out for breakfast, and then back here...to my place for an afternoon which I am sure will include food, basketball, sidewalk chalk, and petty squabbling. In other words, a typical afternoon at Dad's. And during this time with my kids I hope to be the dad I want to be...active, engaged, tolerant, watchful, appreciative and thankful for the individuals my children are becoming.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tell Me A Story She Whispered

I usually do not see my kids on Friday nights...but I always call to say good night. When I speak with my daughter she always asks what the favorite part of my day was. I did not share with her my favorite part of yesterday (Friday) as it was a sort of moment, that at the age of ten, she would be unable to understand how it could be special, let alone be the favorite part of my day.

At around mid-day I had decided to rearrange my work schedule and go into town to take care of some business. As I left my place at about 1:30 I thought I would beat rush hour traffic and that my errand would take about two hours to complete. I am such a silly man.

There is one constant concerning Boston traffic...its unpredictable. There have been times, when at 11:45 at night, I have sat in the Southeast Expressway's southbound lane for 45 minutes...such are the things we do for love...Anyway...yesterday's traffic took me by surprise...it took more than two hours to get into town and after such an ordeal...I decided to stay in town for a few hours, kill some time, and avoid rush hour traffic on the way home.

I was not at a loss for things to do...there are plenty of bookstores and cafes in which to while away an afternoon and lots of interesting people to watch...and in Harvard Square one is reminded that it takes all sorts of people to make up a world....However...I was hot, tired, annoyed, and in an all around lousy mood.

While walking from Harvard Square, there was a section of sidewalk that narrowed due to some construction. Approaching from the other direction was a Buddhist nun...her shaved head and her saffron robe gave her away. We could have both navigated the narrowed sidewalk...but instead...why I have no idea...I yielded the sidewalk to her to let her pass...she looked at me, smiled faintly, pressed her palms together, and softly bowed her head. I returned the gesture....

In the midst of the late June heat, my sticky clothes, my day that was blown to hell, and the less than kind thoughts that were swirling around my head...this passing nun afforded me a moment of gentle serenity.

By any measure yesterday was a lousy day...however...this silent exchange between the nun and myself is something I will remember and will take with me...and with it the hope that my little girl will someday grow into the sort of woman who can appreciate such small moments.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm Bored


At 7:15 this morning my phone rang...never a good thing....but since this was my kid's mom's number I answered...

Dad: What?

Voice on the other end: Hi Daddy....(it was Fiona)...

Dad: (suppressing urge to ask Fiona if she knew what time it was)...hi princess...whats going on?

Fiona: I'm bored....

And so it begins...21 hours into school vacation and one of my children has already declared themselves board. I give my kids another 4 hours before they declare me boring. I know of one mom who is already poised to declare her kids boring.

We parents arrange play dates, vacations, send our kids to summer camp, buy swimming pools, erect basketball hoops, juggle our schedules all so our kids can be entertained during the summer. We behave as though we are legally obligated to provide food, clothing, shelter, and entertainment.

I am not a cruise director...this is what I told my daughter and her less than thrilled mom.

So my daughter is bored...I am sure her brothers will soon follow suit. Everybody gets bored...I get bored...last night I was bored silly. It happens. But expecting to be constantly entertained is...well...not good...and certainly not an expectation we should create for our kids. However, our behavior fuels that expectation.

So I told Fiona two things...that for some people 7:15 is the middle of the night and that its OK for her to be bored and that if she looked around there were plenty of things for her to do. I will need to keep this in mind as surely there will come a time this weekend when I will say to myself..."I'm bored."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

School's Out


At around 11:30 today my kids will be out for summer vacation...I will see you in September.

Just kidding.

Over the last few weeks I have been asked a number of times about what I was "going to do" with the kids for the summer. On those few occasions when I was able to muster more than a deer in the headlights stare I blithely replied to such queries by saying that I was all set as I have arranged for the kids to be put into storage for the summer.

Based upon the look of shock and horror one parent gave me at least one person took me seriously... (God...there are times I truly love the parking lot at Holy Family School).

However...I am facing the very real prospect of having...for the first time...to deal with the issue of what to do with the kids for the summer. Fortunately (or unfortunately) this is an issue that I have not had to worry about as I since I have been a dad as either I worked from home or my kids' mom was around to mind the little ones during summer vacation.

So...last night...at a ball game...surrounded by children left to me to manage by parents who apparently trusted me enough with their little cherubs to go off and swill watered down ballpark beer all night...I discovered that the trick to parenting is to not let your children become your problem...let them become other people's problem...and this meshes well with what my kids really want to do this summer;

Dad: "Oliver what would you like to do this summer?"

Oliver: "Dad....trust me...you will NOT see a lot of me...I am going to be hanging out at my friends..."

Dad: "Don't forget to send your mother a postcard otherwise she will be calling me asking why she has not heard from you..."

Fiona has similar plans...that is to hang out with friends. As for Aidan...he would be content to play XBox all summer...This is a kid who could live on Goldfish. As for his other bodily needs, I know a nurse and she has experience with catheters...

So my solution to my summertime childcare problem is to make my problem other people's problem. Either that...or I could open a Daddy Day Care and charge other parents for me to watch their problems...I mean...their children...but nobody would want that...would they?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fatherhood

It started innocuously enough...I wished someone with whom I went to high school a safe journey home from an extended business trip to east Asia...in our brief exchange of messages I thanked him for the kind things he said about my efforts in this space...in reply he suggested that I write more about fatherhood....

Apparently its not that apparent that writing about fatherhood was what I have been attempting to do in the previous 299 posts. Actually...Joe did me a favor in that he caused me to pause and give some though to what have been doing as a dad and in this space. He always had this way of challenging you in ways you might not want to be challenged.

Fatherhood is who you are and what you do...I am trying and failing to make the word "fatherhood" into a verb but fatherhood is an action or at least a series of actions that determine whether you are a good father or something less and whether you are a father or a dad. I have a father and perhaps I needed one...but my kids need a dad and I have been struggling ever since they were born to be a good one.

As a dad I am in the business of raising future adults and in doing so its my job to raise them with a certain set of values and priorities which will help them be strong, kind, and loving people. Additionally, its also my job to equip them with the skills they will need to thrive and make sense of the wider world. I want my children to be happy and moral individuals who lead lives that make sense to them and who will be able to contribute to the greater good.

In this space I have written about a series of experiences and observations; about me personally, about the people in my life, about the world in which we live, and about my kids. As I think about it, it has also been a chronicle of my own efforts to decompartmentalize my own life and to live a life that makes sense. I have no idea if my efforts will succeed, but I can say that I have learned that attempts to wall off parts of one's life will ultimately lead to chaos and will eventually fail. We are the sum total of the parts of our lives and these parts need to fit together or they will fall into rubble.

So writing about food, playing catch, about a book my girlfriend gave me, about illegal immigration, or about my own struggles is writing about fatherhood. As is writing, not so obliquely, about the people, mostly women, who have influenced me most in how I "dad" today. These experiences, the influences in my life, and the people I know, make up who I am. And being a dad is who I am and what I do.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Moved


I am...now that I have Internet access...ensconced in my new home.

Finally.

The last week has been one taken up by sifting, sorting, packing, hauling, lugging, shoving, arranging, tossing, swearing, and moving. And through much of the sifting, sorting, packing, hauling, lugging, shoving, arranging, tossing, swearing, and moving my son Oliver was with me and not merely for company...he helped.

My son and I moved down three flights of stairs and onto a truck and into my new place one sofa, three chairs, a kitchen table, four kitchen chairs, four mattresses...and on and on it went. Doing this together was fun...well...almost fun. However, it was a gratifying experience to have my boy help me not because he had to...but because he wanted to be my partner in this...and at 5 feet 6 inches and the strength of a horse he was able to...and with more smarts and maturity than I sometimes give him credit for, he was able to see the wisdom in my decision to move. Besides...where I now live has a basketball hoop.

That my kids played a role in choosing where I live and that they helped me move I think will help them with the transition through which all four of us are going. Together, as a family, we discussed what moving meant and how our lives would change, we celebrated the end of this period in our lives, and together we are starting a new chapter.

In my last night at the old place, sitting in my camp chair, listening to my old radio much like I had that first night away from my kids almost four years ago, it very much felt like that I was at the end of a chapter. I am deeply grateful to the people who helped me write this chapter in the life of my family. They...and you...have helped me and my children through what was often a difficult and challenging time. Additionally, they...and...you have helped prepare me to be ready to find our future and to look forward to that future with much enthusiasm and with great hope.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Packing


The boxes and boxes of books are gone as are the sofa, the leather chair, my bed, and almost all of the other major pieces of furniture...

All that's left to do is to break down the kitchen and to figure out what to do with the bits and pieces that remain. And as always, its the bits and pieces that are the most difficult with which to deal. When I decided to move I thought that as I had moved here a mere year ago that I did not have the opportunity to accumulate much in the way of stuff, of scattered remnants, of things...I realize that I could not have been more wrong.

I have come to the realization that I believe that things hold memories...I know its a superstition...I know its illogical...and I know that the object merely triggers a series of chemical reactions in my brain, allowing me to recreate the event in question. These things I know...but I believe that it is the object itself that holds the memory.

So as I go through the scattered remnants in my soon to be former home, I am paring down, cutting ties, and throwing out. I have no need for the electric bill from last July that I found in my dresser...I have no idea how it ended up there. Nor do I have need for two pairs of pants three sizes too large, last worn too long ago. These are among many items that have ended up in the dumpster.

But there are some things that are too important...too powerful to banish the memories they contain to the uncertain realm of intangible thought...the memories these items contain must remain tangible...at least for now...the paper "blizzard" given to me by a certain then four year old, a book a matches from a favorite watering hole in Plymouth, a pass to a particular museum of natural history, a hospital ID wristband, a depleted Charlie Pass...these I will keep...as these were the sign posts for the road I have traveled during my time here in this place and these sign posts I need.

My sentimentality comes as no surprise to me...but the power of my superstition does...its illogical, unreasonable, and makes me feel a little guilty and a little foolish. On the other hand...a little illogic and unreasonableness never hurt anyone...besides...these are the things that help make us human.

Things hold memories...this I believe.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Papers Please

On the way to school this morning we were listening to a story about the new Arizona illegal immigrant law...you know...the one where police can ask for proof of citizenship of anyone they think might be here illegally....

From the mouth of Oliver Pierce, age 13.."there is nothing more fascist than a police officer going up to someone for no reason and asking for their papers."

As least 13 year olds know the makings of a police state when they see one.

Maybe I am just cranky from packing all day or because I got a ticket this morning or maybe Oliver is right.

We had a Republican administration that was intent on running the Constitution through the shredder and its Democratic successor had done nothing to repair the damage. We are subject to full body scans at airports, our emails and phone conversations are sifted, filtered, and scanned. In public places we are filmed, taped, and watched. The authorities have access to our every movement through the interaction of our cell phones with cell phone towers. We detain people without according them the rights of prisoners of war while denying them the protections once offered by our Constitution.

Coercive interrogation is another phrase for the word torture. Rendition is another word for kidnapping. We have secret courts, we have secret warrants, we have secret trials...

Our government tells us that these measures are needed to keep us safe. There is now a bill poised to go before Congress that would strip the citizenship of anyone "affiliated" with a foreign terrorist organization as defined by the State Department...(see link). We used to be the land of the free and the home of the brave...not the cowering and cringing.

My son doesn't want to be safe...he would rather be free...and so would I.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rites Of Passage


There are, in my fridge, 15 ounces of delicious, grass-fed, porterhouse goodness. This beautiful piece of meat is waiting for me, calling to me, wantonly beckoning me to lay it on my sizzling hibachi and then, once ready, to devour it's beefy deliciousness...

Perhaps I have been spending a bit too much time pondering torridity...

Usually, my steak eating escapades are quasi decadent affairs done on weekend nights in the privacy of my own home. That I can consume of a pound of USDA beef, a baked potato with an eighth of a pound of butter, and a salad in one sitting brings with it a particular type of shame. A, lets do this again and again, week after week kind of shame....

Anyway...I digress....because I had a friend who had a lonely beer sitting next to her last night, I had to go out, leaving my porterhouse friend to languish. So even though tonight is Monday, a kid night, a dad night, a family night...I have to grill my steak. And thus, I now have an opportunity to turn this quasi decadent, semi shameful ritual into something wholesome...

It is time to teach my oldest son Oliver, the manly art of grilling. He is ready to learn the essentials of cooking steak over fire; That charcoals need to be a certain shade of gray before they are ready to receive the steak. That a fine piece of meat, aside from kosher salt and pepper, requires no additional adornment. That a one inch thick steak with a bone requires four minutes on one side, three on the other, to arrive at grilled perfection, and most importantly of all, that once done a steak requires patience and must be left alone for a least five minutes....which means no hacking, no cutting, no sampling...simply leave the steak the hell alone....

I have taught my sons how to fish, how to throw a curveball, and tonight, I shall teach Oliver to cook with fire. Bit by bit I am sharing with him and with Aidan, the rituals and habits of manhood...and that along the way I hope they learn to appreciate the subtleties and nuances of life. Because as in grilling a steak, life is not meant to be lived charred on the outside and blood raw on the inside.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Moving


I.....am moving.

I resist change, I hate packing, and I grow attached to places.

I hate moving.

This move will entail a major disruption in my family life, smaller accommodations, and a less comfortable home. However...if last year taught me anything, I learned that there are times when you need to take a step back in order to take two steps forward.

Last week a received a gift from someone whom I used to date. She and I are in fairly regular contact, frequently commenting on the insanity that comes with managing the comings and goings of everyday life. Our relationship is such where I can be genuinely pleased that she has someone in her life with whom she is happy and where she can freely offer me the advice that only someone you dated can give.

She told me that I needed to find my future, not my past. I had known this for sometime but I needed my friend to help me crystallize this feeling into a plan of action. It was a gift I needed, it was the right size, and it came at the perfect time.

So...moving out...even to a smaller, less comfortable place, is a step towards the future...and a step I am looking forward to taking.

It should be fun.

But I still hate packing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Baking Bread

This was our second date...and as picked at the remnants of our pad Thai and Thai spicy squid, we looked at each other, knowing that it was time to leave. As we made our way our to the car, she turned to me and gave me one of the most precious things someone can give...a recipe for bread. And off into the night she went...what a tease.

Actually...it was a link....and here it is...recipe for no knead bread.

You can trade a lot of things on a date; information, stories, experiences, spit, and in my case, looks of sullen resentment over another misspent evening...but I digress...However this was a first for my checkered dating career, receiving a recipe on a second date...usually you have to wait for the fifth or sixth date for that to happen.

I am pretty fearless in the kitchen, but bread making has always intimidated me. I was...and as my loaf is, as of this writing, still in the oven, afraid that my efforts will yield either a charred cinder or doughy creature that will engulf me apron and all.

Bread baking used to be a local affair and was something sold fresh and bought daily. It was not stuffed full of preservatives as store loafs currently are. Even the so called artisanal breads come with a certain price...the ones at my local market are shipped in from New Jersey. Talk about a carbon footprint.

Fresh baked bread is...if all goes well...relatively easy to make as well as cheap. I did the math and figured that my loaf will cost me less than fifty cents to make. And while this is a twenty four hour process it takes only about ten minutes of actual work to make a single loaf. As far as I am concerned its time well spent.

So, I remain on the lookout for the doughy, yeasty creature that I am sure is lurking in the oven. Meanwhile, I am incorporating into my dating strategy a tactic for extracting new food ideas on the first or second date...hey...its a way to get something out of a misspent evening.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Believe In Butter


You hang around long enough and you will encounter people who believe in all sorts of things...I have lived with Jewish guys, have had Hindu roommates, and lived with someone who believed that God can be found in fire. I've dated someone who believed in a "presence," and someone else who did not believe at all...heck...I even dated a Congregationalist...

Frankly...I did not and really do not care what someone believes in as long as they are kind and decent and loving...but there are certain deal breakers...let me find a tub of spreadable margarine or vegetable spread in your refrigerator then all bets are off . I will summon the food inquisition and will lead the mob to your doorstep with torch and pitchfork in hand.

Because I believe in butter.

I also believe in whole milk, all natural ice cream, sugar, farm fresh eggs, and locally raised produce, dairy, meat, and poultry. I believe in eating seafood caught off of our own coast and processed locally. I believe in real food.

But back to butter...the ingredients for butter; cream, salt, milk...period...that's it...now we could discuss what the cows that produced the cream are fed...but that is for another posting for another day.

Here are the ingredients for a popular spread; veggie-oil blend, (including corn oil, flax seed oil (flax seed oil?), and cotton seed oil (again WTF), water, whey (milk), salt, veggie mono & diglycerides, soy lecithin, citric acid, artificial flavors, vitamin A, beta carotene (for color, because I am told that this shit is "naturally" gray)...and this is an abridgement of whats in this stuff (check out this link to see how this stuff is actually made). They are damned right that this is not butter.

I believe in butter because its the not so secret ingredient for my roast chicken and my mashed potatoes, as well as my homefries. The aforementioned foods appear to have the magical ability to placate my children and to make women swoon....how this works I have no idea I just know that it does. I am convinced that a former girlfriend kept me around just for my homefries...and for that I have butter to thank.

My ex wife as well as my parents use vegetable spread...perhaps my relationships with them would improve if they converted to butter.

That we would rather have something conjured in a lab rather than something made from cream, salt, and milk tells you how messed up our relationship with food really is.

But I am OK because I believe in butter.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Atheism, farts, and other inappropriate topics of dinnertime conversation

Saturday afternoon, during Mass....I found myself thinking about atheism...

The other day my ex wife called me...in the middle of the day...and announced..."we need to talk."

I hate when that happens.

She went on to express her concern about the books that my oldest son was reading and about some of the topics the kids and I discuss during dinnertime...

(Note to self....explain to children the concept of "code of silence")

Specifically...she was upset about a chat we had earlier in the week concerning atheism....and here I thought she was going to express displeasure about Wednesday night's chat about different kinds of farts...

I went on to explain to her that what happens at my table is my business and she need not worry about the kids...but I did share with her what we talked about...

For a while I have been concerned that I am raising my kids in a Catholic bubble. As they go to parochial school and live in predominantly Catholic state I am a little worried that they will be unprepared for a wider, more diverse world. While I am content to leave them in their bubble for as long as I can...I have taken the approach that its best to expose them to different ideas and faiths now...rather than later. I have been leaving books out for the kids as well as my single volume encyclopedia, strategically left on the coffee table "accidentally" opened to selected entries in the hopes that they will do a little investigating.

So far so good...it also helps that I keep a dish of candy on the coffee table.

Anyway, the other night at the dinner table we were talking about a program we had been watching about Tibet when Oliver asked about atheism. He knew I recently read for a second time a book whose protagonist was an atheist...after briefly talking about atheism, Fiona asked how can atheists be good if they do not believe in God.

Oliver rolled his eyes....meanwhile we talked about how goodness, kindness, friendship and love are virtues that anyone can and should practice because its in our human nature to do so...and not because God will punish us if we don't. Resisting the temptation to wade too far into deep philosophical waters, I drew from examples from my and their lives where people of different faiths...or of no faith at all...showed us goodness, kindness, friendship, and love and that anybody can be good because its the human way to be...While beliefs (or lack thereof) are important...how a person acts and treats others is far more important...and telling.

Today I am leaving out a few books about Russia...lets see what happens...meanwhile...I can't wait for the phone call that will surely result from tonight's dinnertime activity...Aidan wants to stage a belching contest...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Perspective

I spent about an hour yesterday chatting with a friend. We talked about the usual things that two single parents talk about; kids, schedules, ex spouses, as well as our social lives...she has one...I have HBO...

Anyway...we were both having bad days...neither of us were dealing with anything of great import, just a series of little things that were dragging us both down. We were having a bitch fest...and then my phone rang. It was my brother.

My brother-in-law, a man in his mid fifties, was suffering from small cell lung cancer. He was a biker, and he very much looked the part. A big man, chemotherapy and radiation had made him a shell of his former self. I last saw him at a family gathering in March. He told me that the end was soon.

My brother called to tell me that our brother-in-law died the night before.

My sister is now a widow and my niece lost her father....

The universe force fed my friend and me a very large does of perspective.

When I used to complain about something very trivial an ex girlfriend used to ask me "is anybody going to die?" (it seems sometimes that what wisdom I possess has been gleaned from the women I have dated...)..anyway...she believes that if you use death as a standard anything else is manageable...and so it is.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Old Friends

Today I am going to meet my dearest friend for lunch. I knew from the day I met her that she would always have a special place in my life. That we were both seven at the time probably helped bolster my certainty that we would be together for the rest of our lives (the young are very good at being certain about a great many things).

And in a sense, we have been together ever since that first meeting. We were in the same class throughout elementary school, shared many of the same classes throughout junior and senior high school. In fact, we would often run into each other during the my first two years of college. We hung out together during the summertime. Our birthdays are a mere 16 days apart. Her son shares the same name as one of my boy's.

However, as these things often happen, we fell out of touch. For much of our 20s and some of our 30s we did not hear much from each other. About ten years ago we were accidentally re-united at South Station in Boston. She was returning to work after taking maternity leave for the birth of her daughter and I was running late to work. We chatted a bit and met for lunch a few times....and since then we were in sporadic contact and had a few lunches together along the way....

Over the last several months we have been in weekly, if not daily contact. We have discussed the challenges of raising children, joked about our respective parents, and have kept each other up to date on our mutual friends. We have talked about how our youthful expectations have had to yield to middle age realities. Earlier this year, when I was sick, I learned that I could count on my dearest friend...

While ours was not and will never be a romantic relationship, we share an intimacy that only old and dear friends can share. When with her and the handful of other friends who were in our circle it feels less like a reunion of friends but rather a gathering of cousins. We are related by our shared formative experiences and by bonds of friendship that have lasted more than 35 years.

So I am meeting my dearest friend today for lunch. I am excited to see her. Besides, its her turn to pick up the bill.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grandma

The last few days I have been thinking an awful lot about my grandmother. She died more than sixteen years ago and I still miss her.

Each summer, my brother and sister and I would spend about five days at my grandparents. These days would begin with the sound of my grandmother making us breakfast and the smell of cooked bacon drifting through the house. After breakfast, my grandmother would make a lunch for us and she and my grandfather would take us on a day trip somewhere. We would go to the Cape or to the zoo or to Plymouth. In the evening my grandmother would make us dinner...something simple but always delicious. And at night she would tuck us in and tell us that she loved us.

More than the smell of bacon or the day trips I remember how I felt when I was with my grandmother; safe, loved, cared for, secure...all of the things a little boy should feel all of the time.

When I moved to Massachusetts in my mid-twenties I made it a point to see my grandparents a few times a month. On most visits I shared a meal with them. I remember down to the detail the last meal my grandmother made for me.

More than the smell of dinner being made or the times spent chatting in her living room I remember how I felt when I was with my grandmother; affirmed, loved, and supported...all of the things a young man should feel when he is with his family.

In a manner of speaking, my grandmother is still with me, I use her pots and pans to cook with, I grill my steaks on her hibachi, and I listen to her radio in the evening. But more than the artifacts of her life, I have with me her example of how people should be treated...with kindness and with respect...and the example of how children should be made to feel...safe, loved, cared for, and secure...all of the time.

She died more than sixteen years ago...and I still miss her.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Dirty Dirty Car


You know things have gotten bad when your mild mannered, soft spoken ten year old looks up at you with the biggest brown eyes in the world and screams "DAD CLEAN YOUR CAR!."

My car is a mess.

Its always a mess.

And I am being kind when describing my car as a mess. Years ago, an ex girlfriend got into my car and said "this is awful." From that point on we took her car. I dated someone off and on for more than a year and she never saw the inside of my car. Yes...I have car shame. My car is a combination work space, lunch room, warehouse, office, reading room, and kennel...oh yes...I also haul my kids around in it. Its a multi functional vehicle and it shows.

Admittedly, I am not the neatest person in the world. Visitors to my current home may not know this...this is because I spend two days tidying and cleaning before they show up. I have always been this way, my fifth grade teacher used to regularly tip over my desk because it was so disorganized.

The other day, I was listening to a story on NPR about people who appear to be disorganized. Whereas most people organize things by category and will neatly file things away, these folks organize things visually and spatially...in other words...they have a pile for everything and everything has its pile. I am one of these folks...I know where the electric bill is not because its in the bill folder...but because its underneath the cable bill next to the the picture of my kids on my desk on top of a book of English poetry...

Still...how I organize my universe is no excuse for a car that is on the verge of becoming a Super Fund clean up site. So...after this morning's game, with bucket, cleaning rags, and assorted cleaning supplies in hand...I am going to clean my car. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Sh*t


Sh*t

Its never a good thing when sh*t is the first word you utter in the morning.

Sh*t

The other night, as is becoming my habit, I fell asleep in my chair...an alarming trend to be sure and one I hesitate to disclose here lest any future ex-girlfriend reads this and finds unappealing my pre-bedtime napping habits...anyway...I have gotten into the habit of dozing off in my chair...

So I fell asleep the other night thinking that I had a good Dad day...I showed Oliver how to use hedge trimmers, played ball with the boys, went for a walk with Fiona, and made pizza and brownies to put in their lunches. As I fell asleep I thought to myself..."put today in the win column."

The next morning I woke up...made coffee...sat outside for a while...read for a bit...in other words I putzed around for an hour and a half before waking the kids.

As I walked passed the laundry I saw Oliver's uniform floating in a washing machine full of water...I had forgotten to turn on the washing machine the night before...

Sh*t

And that was that the first word I uttered yesterday...that was the first word my children heard yesterday.

Sh*t

I wrung out Oliver's clothes as best I could and tossed them into the dryer...finally...they were dry enough for him to put on...and off to school we went...my oldest son in wet clothes...

While the guilt only lasted for about 30 seconds....there is nothing quite like being scolded by a 13 year old boy for poor time management skills to cut you down to size.

Sh*t

Monday, May 3, 2010

At The Little League Game

A week ago Sunday Aidan pitched. He threw well, however his team, an amalgamation of 9 and 10 year old boys with varying ability and experience, was...well...shall we say...shaky in the field. As a result Aidan gave up a bunch of runs and barely made it out of the second inning. After the game I bought him an ice cream treat.

This Saturday, Aidan pitched. He threw well and his team, with some additional experience, played well in the field. As a result, Aidan gave up two runs and pitched four innings in a six inning game. After the game I bought him an ice cream treat.

In both games Aidan pitched well. He prepared for both games the same way....by playing more Xbox than I ever thought I would allow a child of mine to play. In both games he threw strikes and in both games he was able to adjust to the hitters and to the umpires. He continues to learn the difference between throwing and pitching...which is sort of like the difference between preparing food and cooking...

After Saturday's game, Aidan and I sat at the snack bar and discussed the game. He asked me if I had ever done my best and did something really well and have everything turn out poorly. I told him yes....I then asked him if he had ever done his best and did something really well and have everything turn out great....he said yes.

We decided that beyond doing your best there is only so much you can do...so doing his best...Aidan decided...was a perfectly acceptable outcome...and that while winning and loosing was important...that he can only do his best and hope for the best.

I have always felt that Aidan was the wisest member of our family.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Mundane: A Tribute


Up before 6:00...thankful that I passed on a second helping of Thai spicy squid, I stumbled pass the bathroom, into the kitchen, and filled my coffee pot with cold, clean (relatively anyway) tap water....

I paused by the radio, and deciding it was too early to listen to the news of the day, I flipped on the CD player...no...I do not have an iPod...and as I pulled myself together, listened to the rest of last night's musical accompaniment, Aida.

Not for an instant did I think about the engineering marvel that is electricity...of how it is generated at some far off location and carried via wires over what could be hundreds of miles into my home. Nor did I think twice about running water. I take for granted that will be clean and will always be at the ready when I need it. I don't have to go to a well to get it and I don't have to boil it to make it drinkable...

After being up for a while I decided I was ready for the news of the day and flipped on the radio...the lead story was about a major rupture in a pipe that brings water into metropolitan Boston. About two million people in the Boston area will will have to boil their water before it is drinkable. I immediately thought of my good friend north of Boston, hoping that she heard about this before she made her morning coffee...I also found myself wondering if you should let boiled water cool before making coffee...one needs to know such things as the unraveling of civilized life continues.

So here is to the mundane, the run of the mill, the everyday...here's to refrigeration, electricity, and to the other basic things in life we take for granted. Here's to clean, running water...which is sort of like oxygen...you don't miss it until you don't have enough.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Toast With Marmalade


Friday mornings...up at 6:10...make coffee....try to make my brain do things...like make toast...that it is simply not ready to do...

I have a Friday morning tradition...I make toast with marmalade...Friday mornings are something of a transition period for me. The kids are not here and unless there is a game or activity on Saturday I will not see them until Monday. While I enjoy the quiet...it takes a bit of effort to shift gears and be comfortable with that quiet.

Toast with marmalade helps.

Like I have written here before, food tells stories, and for me toast with marmalade tells a story of comfort and of the ability of certain people, places, and things to make the world go away...if only for a while. Toast with marmalade is a civilized breakfast...simple, elegant, and deceivingly complex....the cool, sweet, tangy marmalade mingling with the crunch of warm toast...

No kids...no rushed breakfast...no fights over who sits where and when...and apparently...last week...no brain...

This morning...I found my marmalade not in its usual spot in the refridgerator...but...instead...in the freezer...where it became a solid block of orange ice....

Making toast is more than my brain can handle at 6:10. Toast with butter will have to do.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Morning Coffee


6:10.......

The alarm goes off at 6:10 every morning....without fail...which is damn early for someone who has to wait until 11:00 to feel fully human.

6:10......

I get up that early to take advantage of the best part of the day and to have some quiet time before my kids wake up....again....I am not fully human until 11:00....

A part of my morning ritual is morning coffee. Now...there are some things I can manage without first having coffee...that list is very short and even those things I wonder how well I do without coffee. One morning, before 6:10...I took Joey out and when we got back inside I found myself trying to get into an apartment that was not my own...it would seem that I needed to climb one more flight of stairs to get to my place...

Four years ago, as I prepared to set up my own household, the thing I bought was a coffee grinder. Before furniture, dishes, towels, lamps, anything....a coffee grinder....

I was told by the third floor tenant in my old building that each morning she could hear my coffee grinder from her bedroom...too bad...I needed my coffee...she was a tea drinker anyway...

The second thing I bought, as I prepared to set up my own household, was a coffeepot. A humble $15.99 Mr. Coffee coffeepot.

I still have both the coffee grinder and the coffeepot.

I did the math...I have 27 days worth of coffee mugs...and then it would be on to espresso...

From time to time...Oliver joins me for a morning cup of coffee (do not tell his mom...for some reason its OK for him to drink gallons of Mountain Dew but not alright for him to have coffee)...

Inside my head I have a voice from distant memory that whispers "coffee" to me every morning....

I think I might have a problem.

No matter....nor does it matter if its because of the taste, the caffeine, or its warmth...morning coffee is not merely a starter fluid, its a comfort and a pleasure. And I need all the comfort and pleasure I can get at 6 freaking 10 in the morning.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hmmmmm....Doughnut.....


Sunday morning...after a night of tossing and turning...and turning and tossing...and very little sleep...I needed to be on the road before 9:00...I needed something...a pick-me up...something to help me with sleep deprivation and to brace myself for a day of Little League baseball....

I stopped by my favorite mom and pop doughnut shop intending to get myself a treat to set myself up for the day and to deal with a pounding headache...and yes...there was more than a little sublimation going on as well...

From the counter, browsing the doughnut and pastry case I found exactly what I needed;

A jelly filled marble cruller...under a heavy coating of sugar glaze....

Whomever came up with the idea for this decadent jelly filled deep fried treat should be given a medal or put in prison for developing a doughnut form of crack...as in the parking lot I immediately ate the first one I bought and rushed back inside to buy another...as I said...there was more than a little sublimation going on...

Anyway...the glazed jelly filled marble cruller...its sort of like coming up with a perfectly fine candy bar and then deciding to slather it with frosting...the damn thing was sooooo good it was almost evil...

Sometimes you need a good stiff drink, others a bowl of ice cream....and sometimes...at least for me anyway...you need a doughnut...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

My Little League Experience; Opening Day


Today is Opening Day for the Bridgewater, Massachusetts Little League season. Because we just can't have our kids go to the field and play baseball, I am going to be at the field at 9:00 this morning to watch a parade, listen to a few endless speeches, and be generally cranky about the whole thing.

And then Aidan plays at 12:30.

Oliver at 3:00.

Fiona and I are going to be in for a looooooong afternoon.

I had forgotten all about the parade until earlier this week when a friend of mine emailed me a not so gentle reminder. This friend of mine, whose son graduated from Little League last year, was an integral part of last year's Little League experience and in sending me the reminder I knew exactly what she was saying..."enjoy the parade Pierce and have a good time standing around Legion Field for three hours...I will be at home in my yard..."

Gee...thanks...

I enjoy going to the field/court/dance studio to see my kids in action...what I don't like...at all...is the inclination, the impulse, the unrelenting drive to make an event out of every activity in which our kids participate.

My (erstwhile?) dear friend told me a story of her careening across town to get to Halloween "parade" at her son's school. This parade entailed the kids going out of their class...and walking down the hallway to another class...Earlier this spring my son had a kickball game with Cub Scouts....parents brought their video cameras, held up signs, and carried on as though this was surely going to be THE formative moment of their son's childhood...all of this FOR.....A.....KICKBALL.....GAME.....I dropped Aidan off and went off for a walk with my daughter....I was later scolded for not taking pictures....

Somewhere along the way we lost all perspective and have decided that a birthday party for our kid is not enough...we need to get a jumpy and have entertainment...That it is not enough to let the kid go to school in his Halloween costume...there has to be a parade...That its not enough to have the kid play in in Little League...that there has to be opening ceremonies...

If everything is special and important...then nothing is special and important.

So...in about two hours I will be standing at the ball field...drinking my coffee, thinking my thoughts, and pondering my ponderings. I do know one thing...the time spent on parades, ceremonies, and making more of things than they really are...these are disctractions...an attempt to make us feel better about something...about what I am not exactly sure. When I figure it out I will let you know.