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 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 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. 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 took an early morning email today from the person who taught me the virtues of having a Plan B to spur me into action. I told 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.