Saturday, May 30, 2009

Forgiveness

Written: June 14, 2004


Forgiveness. This was the topic of Beth’s sermon this week. She said an interesting thing: “In order to forgive others, you must first forgive yourself.” That got me thinking (again).

First, is there anyone that I have not forgiven? And, second, for what do I need to forgive myself?

I don’t believe that I harbor grudges. I believe I’ve gotten pretty good at forgiving people. In my conscious mind, I can’t think of anyone I need to forgive. If I probe a little, though, I can bring up people who may have “wronged” me, from a prior employer. I think I even have a little emotion around them and the fact that my career goals were thwarted there. The reality is that any roadblock they created launched me on to better things. I grew as an HR executive and have since, had the experience as the top HR executive in two different firms. Let it go, Dan.

But the bigger question is for what do I need to forgive myself? I didn’t have a clue a few minutes ago, but I think I know now.

I need to forgive myself for not being perfect. More, I need to forgive myself for not being perfect in every way. I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but on some level, it’s there. I need to be in perfect condition and at my ideal weight. I need to be a perfect executive, serve my community and the generations ahead. Nothing I do is good enough. I’m always driven to do better.

Being driven to do better is fine, but beating myself up for not being perfect is not. I forgive myself now, for being the imperfect man that I am. I don’t expect others to be perfect and I’m no different from others in my imperfections. I’m human.

There may be more, but this seems to be the crux of it. So, forgive. Live in joy and abundance, serving where you can and being content in your service.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Consequential Life

Written: September 3, 2007


Living a consequential life. That’s what George Washington was trying to do. (I think he did it.)

I read in a Smithsonian article today that that’s what honor and fame meant to 18th century gentlemen including Washington and Lafayette. But what does that mean for today’s human beings?

There are a lot more of us than there were in Washington’s day. How do you live a consequential life with more than 6 billion people on the planet today? Earlier in my life, I felt a drive to make a difference in the world. Now nearing my 57th year on the planet, I’m not so ambitious. I’m more content and complacent. And more appreciative.

I’m appreciative for the love of my family and the opportunity to work. I’m appreciative for my health and my new found creative outlet of woodworking. I’m appreciative of Emily and Matt finding each other and joining together on life’s journey. I’m appreciative of Sarah’s growing into a woman and finding her way in life. Life is good.

But what can I do to live a consequential life? I can “play the hand I’m dealt” and try to contribute to making my employer a better company. I can write a little – perhaps a blog with a monthly contribution to start. I can sing and entertain others – the quartet is starting again. And I can build things to leave behind.

Maybe that’s all you can ask. There are monumental problems to be solved, but somehow, at this point in my life, I’m not up to solving them. But for now, as I become aware of the finality of time, I want to just enjoy my life and each day. And by living each day, contribute where I can to making the world a little better place for future generations. Maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s consequential.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Transitions Part - II

Ever work for a company that’s being sold? It gets you to the bottom of Malov’s hierarchy pretty fast as the foundation of your economic security crumbles like sand.

In late December, 2005, we learned that the company was being sold. From then on, it was a day by day adventure (including a public bidding war) until the deal finally closed at the end of March 2006.

Here are a couple of examples of attempts to write myself off the window ledge during that time.


Written: February 5, 2006


Beth always gives good and thought-provoking sermons. I wonder how she can be so consistently inspired! Two phrases she used today caught my ear – “wounded healers” and “hard-won wisdom.”

The first phrase captures the fact that we have all suffered in life and recovered. Like a broken bone, an emotional, spiritual or even economic wound heals stronger. And we can use that strength to help others who are experiencing a loss or trial similar to one we have had and overcome. That ties into the phrase that really jumped out for me – “hard-won wisdom.”

I think almost all wisdom is hard-won. And the older we get, the more opportunities we’ve had to screw up and recover, and the more time we’ve had to heal open wounds. That’s why through the ages (in most cultures) wisdom has been associated with old age.

The ironic thing for me, as I arrive at my 55th year on the planet, is I’m starting to feel I have more, not less time. I can usually fit what I need to get done easily in the time I have for it. I’m living a pretty full and varied life. I have time to work-out, write a little, blow glass and quartet. With all of this, I can still handle a pretty complex job and serve on a couple of volunteer boards.

So why am I reflecting on this? It’s because I’m at another fork in the road in my working life. I had penciled in my calendar to evaluate my job and my career before I turned 55. I did that, and decided to be complacent with the status quo. Six months later circumstances outside my control are compelling me to re-examine that decision. And it’s a great time in my life to do this.

The company is for sale and the latest bid by another multi-family real estate operator says my job is toast. The bidding company already has all the functions we have in Baltimore, so they could squeeze about $9.0 million of payroll cost and $350k office rent out of operating expense by closing our office. This they surely would do – maybe not right away – but within a year the Baltimore office and most jobs are toast.

My job over the next 45 days or so is to do what I can to help others in the company sort out next steps and to facilitate his or her and the company’s transition. And it’s also to start winding down my affairs and looking to the future. It’s a little scary not knowing what the future holds, but it’s an opportunity – an opportunity to find something that really turns me on and that enables me to use my highest and best skills to give back to the world a little.


*******


Written: March 21, 2006


I only write when I’m feeling pain. When I’m feeling well, it’s just a strain.

Today, I’ve finally started to feel the sadness of winding down the company. I did a good thing today, by negotiating severance for the two project managers who had offers from the new employer but didn’t want to go. But I felt no jubilation. It was the right answer, but it came too late and with too much pain. The home office employees are despondent, angry and sad. And the field employees are scared but complacent. I think it will only get worse for them once the deal closes and they are employees of the new company.

So, I had a sense of ennui and sadness today. I just wasn’t excited about all the packing I needed to do to clear out my office. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem like a productive task. Oh well, those are the cards I’m dealt. It’s natural to be sad under these circumstances.


*******


The deal closed, the company was sold and has since been liquidated. My colleagues and I went on to new employment. Interestingly, three years later, many of us are on our second post-purchase employer. We humans are a resilient bunch!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Loving Your Work

Written: Monday, June 14, 2004


At Uncle Earl’s viewing, my cousin Tim said to me that, Uncle Earl "loved his work." That’s not something everyone can say.

That got me thinking. My dad said something similar to Emily once. Emily had the mistaken notion for a homework assignment that she was to interview someone and write a bio. I suggested she talk to my dad. It was before his Alzheimer’s had been diagnosed and Dad was still pretty lucid. I listened in on the interview on another phone. Dad said, "he loved his work. Every day was different. It went by so fast." I took from the last statement that he was not just talking about his day, but his entire career.

The question is did they really love their work so much while they were doing it, or did it just look better in the rear view mirror? Did the perspective of retirement romanticize what they did every day and how they felt about it?

I think in both cases, they really loved their work. Uncle Earl was a train engineer for 47 years, after all. And Dad took another law enforcement related job after retiring from the police department. I know not every day was a fun day for him, but I think he liked going into work, socializing with the officers and just having a good time. He was a sociable guy.

So, here’s the question, do I love my work? As a musician, I certainly loved what I was doing. Initially, anyway. It didn’t feel like work to “play” my tuba. Eventually, this work got to be routine, though, so I left the orchestra for other challenges. In HR, I had a passion and a drive to do more, learn more and come up to speed. I liked the systems work and organizational culture challenges. I still do.

I guess what’s missing now is a passion for my work. I enjoy it, but don’t love it. My passion has shifted to glassblowing, which I do as often as I can. So, do I love my work? No. But it’s an integrated piece of my life. And life is pretty good right now -- nice work, a chance for artistic expression (barbershop singing and glassblowing), a chance to build something (the house and the new office space build-out), good friends and a loving family. Do I love my work? No, but I do love my life.

Isn’t that even better?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Transitions - Part I

Written: September 10, 2000


Mike’s sermon today was on transitions. He cited a book by William Bridges -- Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. Bridges says transitions have 3 phases:

• Endings (disengagement, disidentification, disenchantment, disorientation)
• The Neutral Zone
• The New Beginning.

The neutral zone is a seeming unproductive time when we feel unfocused and undirected. It is a time to surrender, give in to the emptiness and trust in the eternal rhythm of the universe. I think this is another way of saying “let go.” It got me to thinking about other ways to say “let go” to put more meaning into this, for me, over-used thought and expression. So here goes:

Let go, surrender, give up, quit, relax, be, throw in the towel, detach, retreat, resign, release, move on, get a life, get real, whatever, watch and wait.

The final thing about transitions is that when we are ready to make a new beginning, we will shortly find an opportunity. How true this has been for me in the transitions in my life. I have to believe this is a universal law not subject to repeal any time soon.

How reassuring. How comforting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bob Lohr

Written: October 11, 2008

Bob Lohr died last Wednesday at 4:30 A.M. I went to his memorial service today. Why? I think it was out of a sense of duty. I was channeling my own Dad – doing my duty -- the right, civic thing.

I found myself moved several times during the service. I was moved by his son’s grief. I was moved by his “son-in-love’s” grief. I know the sense of loss, the hole in the heart feeling from experiencing the loss of my grandmother Huffman (whom I occasionally dream has come back to life -- it was not death, just a medical misunderstanding), my grandfather Brown, my grandfather Huffman, my Dad and, most recently, the loss of my father-in-law, Omar. I re-live that hole in the heart feeling at every memorial service and funeral. And lately there have been too many.

Through all of this, I can’t help but contemplate my own demise and legacy (or lack thereof). What have I contributed? What am I leaving behind? How can I make the future a little bit better for my descendants, in particular, and humanity, in general? Big questions and I don’t know the answers. But I do know that there’s no use waiting for situations, circumstances and events to be perfect before I start to figure this out. Time’s a tickin’.

Finally, I hope that when I go, no one is surprised at who I was. I hope that those who know me at work, home and hobby, all know the same, integrated person. I guess I won’t be around to know.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Omar

Written: December 3, 2007

How did I spend the weekend? In the hospital. Well not like it sounds, but with Marcia visiting her hospitalized father. He’s 89, active and has been in good health until this acute attack of an auto-immune blood problem.

He spoke of death, his father’s death and that it had been a good life, but I don’t think he’s really ready to go, yet. He was too intellectually engaged. But I do worry for him and I know Marcia, her brothers and sister and his wife, Dot, do as well. I think we’re all hoping that his body’s defenses kick back in. I imagine, either way, it won’t be a gradual thing, but sharp turn either for the better (I hope) or for the worse – his body just giving up.

Omar and his family have been good for me. They gave me Marcia who has helped me grow into a better person and showed me what a loving, well-functioning family looks like. It was a great model for raising my two daughters (versus the model I observed growing up in my house.)

In addition to his love, Omar is one of the most intellectually alive people I know. He reads widely and thinks about things. I love having conversations with him. We could always expect to get into a deep family (and in-law) conversation instigated and led by Omar at holiday family gatherings. And, although he’s been slowing down over the last few years, it hasn’t stopped.

It’s been great to know and learn from Omar over the last 37 years or so. I hope we can squeeze out a few more walks and talks before our time together comes to an end. And I hope for more high-quality of life years for Omar. He’s a great role model.

*******

Written: December 7, 2007

So, Omar is dying. I knew this would happen eventually, but not so soon. I was hoping for another 10 years and rooting for him to make it to his goal of living to 100. When I asked about this goal last Saturday at the hospital, he said that he “wasn’t so sure that it was still a goal for him.”

Omar has been a blessing to my life. He gave me Marcia (with a little help from Dot, of course). And he welcomed me into a loving, caring and functional family – not something I had much prior experience with. I have tried to live up to the example that Omar and Dot set for a loving family.

We inherited traditions from Marcia’s family from singing meal graces to vacations in state parks. Many times I thought we were re-living Marcia’s childhood. And I enjoyed it. It healed the open wounds left over from my growing up.

More important, we inherited the traditions of intellectual curiosity and love. Omar was a personification of life-long learning. He was always the first one to read the newest biography, history or political book. After visiting him last Saturday, I started reading his latest book on Eisenhower. On Sunday, we had a nice conversation about it. Omar was sharp as a tack. (And I noticed in reading the book, that he was picking up and correcting all the missed editorial mistakes in the book as he went along.) Omar’s the smartest man I know. I’ll miss these conversations.

Omar was love. Marcia just called me to tell me that Omar is now back at home to die. Once the social worker left, he called everyone into the bedroom. They didn’t know why. It was to sing happy birthday to Dot. Through tears, they sang all three verses (the extra verses are unique to the Buchwalter clan). Even in dying, he’s loving others.

Omar was a champion of social justice. This I know less about, but I do know he marched with Martin Luther King in DC in the 60’s and that he cared passionately about justice throughout his life. He was a dedicated democrat and liberal for as long as I’ve known him and long after it was fashionable to be either. I admire him for the strength of his convictions.

Omar had six lovely children, which is probably enough. And I had a father who loved me (although he wasn’t always so good at showing it). But I also claim Omar as father and I know I’m not the only in-law that has done that, nor the only in-law that has grown as a human for knowing him.

Peace and love, Omar. We will miss you, but not forget you, as long as we live.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

BART Brown: 2/11/06 – 1/30/2007, RIP

Written: February 4, 2007


So, less than a year ago I bought BART. He was a shinny, red 2004 Ford F-150 with an extended cab and extended bed. He stood about 6’3” and was wide and long – a Big Ass Red Truck (hence the name).

In the year that I had him, we loaded him with hay to mulch the road, loaded construction debris left behind by the contractor who abandoned my shop construction, trucked manure for the garden and trucked pallets left after moving six tons of stone. He got to take three trips to the dump – high heaven for pickup truck. Two were even necessary – one was just for fun. The fun one was ruined by the dump man making fun of the light load. “You could have just thrown that in your neighbor’s yard,” he said.

But BART was not always a good truck. In his brief life, he lost a side view mirror when he whacked it into a leaning road sign, scraped a car with his right running board trying to avoid rear-ending a car that suddenly stopped, turned and signaled (in that order), scraped his head on some low hanging pipes in the old office garage, backed into a guard rail trying to turn around in a tight dead-end road, backed into the Marketing VP’s car the first day in the new garage, and ground some more off the right side running board against a column the second day in the new garage.

He was also very thirsty, getting less than 14 miles per gallon in his 23,700 miles. I figure gas for the period cost about $4,200. That plus $1,000 for tires and the $9,000 difference between purchase price and sales price less than a year later made BART an expensive date. It comes out to $14,200 total, about $1,200 per month and $0.60 per mile. Yikes! I think I could have leased a Rolls Royce for that!

So, why did I need BART? We were in our new home and I thought we’d need a snow plow, for one reason. But I never could bring myself to purchase and store a snow plow just to plow the driveway. Having never plowed, it would have been a recipe for disaster to start with our tricky hill. Instead, I bought a snow blower (which I have yet to use).

I thought I’d be starting a glass blowing business for retirement. But that didn’t pan out. The energy cost (petroleum and personal) just didn’t make sense. And the retail end of the business has never lit me up.

I thought I needed something with leg room. But I bend my legs when I drive. If I need room to stretch them out (without going through firewall in most cars), I can always stop and get out of the car to stretch them.

So, why did I buy BART? For some unknowable, to me, emotional reason, no doubt. My Dad bought a blue truck in his late 40’s. I asked him why he bought it. He said, “Because I always wanted one.” Maybe that’s why I bought BART, not because I always wanted one, but because my Dad had one. (And mine was bigger, whatever that means.) Closer to the truth, though, is that I think I just wanted a truck at that time.

But that time has gone. I wasn’t driving into DC at that time. I wasn’t sitting in bumper to bumper traffic spewing pollution into the atmosphere as I idled, waiting to move forward. I wasn’t worrying about wiping out a small car or bicyclist as I changed lanes, hoping no one was in my blind spot. And I wasn’t trying to white-knuckle myself into and out of incredibly, tight, and over-parked DC parking garages.

So, it was time for BART to go and, probably as penance, I bought a Prius. It’s the most energy efficient and least polluting vehicle available. Do my legs fit? No, but they fold. Can I see over traffic? No but I can scoot right a little and look along it. Will it work on long trips? I guess that’s TBD. All and all, it’s the right car for the commute I have right now.

So, so long, BART, and to whatever you meant on an unknown level. And hello to the Prius, who may someday also have a name. If nothing else comes of it, at least now my daughters won’t personally blame me for global warming.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dad’s Demise

Dad had Alzheimer’s disease. It was a slow and ugly death. I wrote my way through it – emails to family and letters to myself. After he died, I put all the correspondence back and forth in chronological order. 103 pages worth. Someday, that will see the light of day. Meanwhile these snippets will have to do.


Written: September 30, 2002


Dear Family,

All of us are struggling with Dad’s horrible disease. It consumes us emotionally as much as it consumes him physically. It certainly preoccupies me in my daily life. Given the events Saturday night of Dad’s violence, the police being called and Sandy’s 3:00 AM drive, I’m even more preoccupied with the difficulty of appropriate care for Dad. So, not really knowing where this is going as I start to write, I feel compelled to get some thoughts down in an effort to be as objective as it is possible for me to be.

Although I’m not sure where this will take me, I know I want to be as frank with myself and others as I can. In doing so, I don’t pass judgment or criticize anybody -- we’re all doing what we feel is best for Dad. And Sandy has had an especially difficult cross to bear over the last few years in personally caring for Dad. I hope to help the situation with one-person’s view of the data. These are my opinions only -- I’ve not discussed this with anyone else. So here is my read.

First Dad has been at Xxxxx Xxxxx almost two months now. I believe he’s adjusted to the fact that he needs to be in a Retirement Home. He doesn’t talk about getting out or getting a ride home anymore. Dennis, Don and I have each taken him out for extended periods and returned him “home” without struggle or incident. He definitely belongs in an assisted-living setting. But I no longer think he should remain at Xxxxx Xxxxx.

Since he’s been at Xxxxx Xxxxx, he’s been assaulted, over-drugged, under-nourished and under-cared for. As far as the night staff is concerned, anyway, I don’t feel he is welcome at Xxxxx Xxxxx. This could happen in almost any retirement home, but the difference is we are all so far away that we can’t adequately monitor his care. We’ve all tried to do what we can. Don has especially been there. But even Don has an hour round-trip to make.

We need to be in a position that someone can visit Dad daily. This can only happen if he were closer to Springfield. I say Springfield because Dennis is there. Dennis has the time, flexibility and, I perceive, the desire to take on a big part of this duty. If Dad were near Springfield, he would still be accessible to Don from his work in Reston and be much closer to Valerie as well. It would be a two hour trip for me versus the current four hour trip, so I could help more often. Sandy would, of course be closer too. But the burden of daily visits shouldn’t fall on Sandy. Sandy has more than done her part in this regard. It’s time for the brothers and sister to step up to the plate.

Related to that, perhaps it’s time for the siblings to take a larger role in Dad’s guardianship. Sandy shouldn’t have to be the only one to have to make the tough medical decisions or face problems alone at 3:00 AM. She should feel comfortable that she can travel and Dad will be in good hands if something goes wrong.

I realize that the reality of finances may be playing a large part in the selection of an assisted-living facility. We need to discuss this frankly. Can Dad’s retirement income finance a, more expensive, Northern Virginia facility without leaving Sandy destitute? If it can’t, can and will we brothers and sister help financially? Alternatively, is there a Xxxxx Xxxxx-like alternative in or near Springfield?

As I said before, no matter where Dad is he has the potential to be assaulted, over-drugged, under-nourished and under-cared for without the family’s vigilance.

I think I’m now at the end. And I hope no one has taken offense. All of us are primarily interested in doing what’s best for Dad. His disease will continue to progress and what was a good decision at one time will not be a good decision later. We need to be able to talk about his care at each cross-road and make the best decisions we can as a family.

I hope we can meet as a family to discuss this once everyone has had a chance to think about it. Please let me know by e-mail that you’re willing to get together and talk. Meanwhile, let’s all keep Dad in our prayers.

Love,

Dan


*******


Written: December 24, 2002


My dad is dying. As I write this he’s in the hospital deteriorating. Last week he made it to his 75th birthday, but due to the Alzheimer’s disease, not all of him made it.

When looked at through the lens of our ultimate death, it’s a miracle anything ever gets done. The reality of our demise means that much of what we do in our brief time on the planet is meaningless and impermanent. Mankind works under the illusion that things matter and an illusion of immortality. Only if we suffer from this collective delusion, can we get so wrapped up in petty annoyances, our small plans and achievements.

Yet, cutting through the haze, something matters. What is worthwhile doing? How should one invest one’s life? The only answer that makes sense is to invest your life in small and large ways that make sense for future generations – for your children and your children’s children.

That’s why we’re building the house (and why we’re trying to build it as “green” as we can). Not only for our enjoyment, but for the future. That’s why blowing glass is enjoyable. Not only for the process, but for the results that will survive. That’s why I work – to help people now and future.

So, here’s to the adventure of 2003. Here’s hoping I make my highest and best contribution to current and future generations and invest in a life worth living. The adventure continues.


*******


Written: February 16, 2003


Dad died early Wednesday morning. The call from Sandy came at 3:00 AM on the 12th. We had warning.

Monday afternoon, Marcia called; telling me that the nurse at Leewood said the time was near. Dad was “mottling” (fingernails and toenails were blue and his color was ashen) and he was laboring to breathe. He was near death but no one knew whether it would be hours or days.

Donald and Darren rushed to Leewood. I didn’t. I struggled with whether or not to go and decided I could do no good by going. Dad was unconscious and I didn’t want to have another ugly picture in my mind of his demise. Anyway that’s what I rationalized.

What did I do? I kept working. I went a quartet rehearsal that night and traveled to Charlotte on business the next day. I got home from Charlotte Tuesday ~ 8:00 PM and debated again whether or not to visit Dad. I came to the same conclusion as I did on Monday and went home instead. The call came at 3:00 AM. Dad had lasted 36 hours in this final stage. What did I do? I went to work. And I went to work the next day too.

Friday, I sang a quartet gig on the radio in the morning and spent the rest of the day at the funeral home. And Saturday, after getting Emily on a plane back to Hanover, we went to the funeral.

The continuing to work thing is a little extreme. I don’t know if I get this from Dad’s work ethic or have developed this neurosis on my own. In light of the reality of death, it seems a little bizarre.

I was surprised by the relatively small turnout for Dad’s viewing and funeral. He had worked and lived in the same area all his life. I expected neighbors and co-workers by the score. There were neighbors and co-workers but by the handful. Mostly, it was the immediate family, his surviving brother and sisters, Sandy’s brothers and sisters, a few neighbors and a few co-workers from Fairfax County.

I guess the older and the more removed from work relationships you get, the less people there are who knew you and feel the need to show respects or celebrate your life. To my knowledge, only one gentleman (besides Dennis) was there who knew Dad in his capacity as a DC police officer (about 28 years of his life). And he also worked with Dad in Fairfax County.

After the funeral, my brothers, sister and I were carrying Dad in his casket down the steps of the church to the hearse. It was snowing lightly. To our right, six Fairfax County police officers came to attention and saluted. That got me. Dad would have liked that – being saluted and honored by his own – on duty, standing in the snow.

To me this moment captured something about Dad - doing his duty. He did his duty as a policeman, magistrate, deacon, trustee, son, brother, husband and father. He worked shift-work almost all his life, yet he sacrificed sleep to be where he was needed. That’s not all Dad was, but duty was an important part of the equation. And it didn’t seem to be a burden. He almost always had a sense of humor.

Dad and I had 52 years on the planet together. It wasn’t always ducky. And sometimes, I was the parent. But on balance, he gave me life, humor, strong values and, definitely, a work ethic. I mourn my loss.

Peace, Dad.


******


I couldn’t speak at the funeral. I just couldn’t trust myself to hold it all together. So, instead, I offered this for the funeral service program.


*******



Warren Brady Brown

1927 - 2003


In 1996, when I was 45, I felt the need to write about Dad. I wrote for myself, so I’d remember. But when I was done (well done for a year and half – you don’t want to rush into these things), I decide to give a copy to Dad. (I think I edited out a few sentences -- Dad was a sensitive man and I didn’t want to offend him).

I’m glad I gave it to him. We’re not an overly demonstrative family. This was my way of saying “Thanks and I love you, Dad.” He later told me he read it over many times and it “choked him up” which was his way of saying, “I love you, too.”

While it doesn’t capture everything about the father, husband and man Dad was, it captures my limited perspective to the best of my recollection. Reading it over seven years later, I found I couldn’t improve it. So here it is.

Peace, Dad.

Love, Danny


*******

September 27, 1997


Dad,

Thanks for the card and the phone call on my birthday last week. The message you left on my machine, “that you’re proud of me” means a lot (you’ll see why later).

Did you ever think you’d have a middle-aged son? (OK, past middle age). Turning 47 hasn’t been so bad -- I think I had my mid-life crisis last year and am set for a while. For whatever reason, it drove me to reflect and write some personal stuff about people who’ve had a big impact on my life. Maybe it’s so the great-grand-kids can find it someday and know something about me and my family. I kind of wish some of my ancestors had done this.

Anyway, you are, of course, one of those influential people for me. After all, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I thought you might want to see some of the thoughts I captured when I set down to remember you when I was growing up (that’s why it’s in past tense).

I haven’t shown this to anyone and don’t plan to anytime soon. It was just meant for me to try to work out my mid-life crisis. It’s also meant to be positive -- I hope nothing offends you.

Anyway, here it is and thanks for answering the question in the last line!


March 1996


My dad was strict with his first child. Being a policeman in DC, he daily saw many wayward children and some of the worst parts of life. I guess he feared this for his own child and did all he could to prevent juvenile delinquency at home. As time went on, he eased up on my brothers -- the oldest always paves the way.

He always wanted me to call him “sir” but I just couldn’t do it. I think it’s because he started too late. Just a week or so, after I was born, he was off to Korea having been called back into the service through a clerical mistake. The inactive reserves were called instead of the active reserves. It didn’t even matter that the Army knew this was a mistake -- once the orders were sent, there was no appeal. By the time he came back, I could learn to call everyone else “sir” but not him -- he was always Dad -- sir just was too distant. (I learned the sir lesson well for everyone else, though. When in high school, my tuba teacher told me I didn’t have to call him sir. What did I say in response? “Yes sir.”)

Dad had a work ethic. If it were threatening snow, he’d park the car a mile and a half away, and walk home. He’d leave four or five hours early for work to make sure he got there. I only remember him missing work one time -- he had pneumonia. Seeing him so weak really scared me. It was almost as bad as the daily worries I had when I was younger, waiting for him to come home from work. I just couldn’t keep track of his schedule and knew at some level his job was dangerous. I remember the minutes seemed like hours waiting for him to arrive home and fearing he wouldn’t. Thank goodness, I had my dog, Smokey, to talk to about my fears. She was a great listener.

Dad was a solid citizen. He was involved in the community -- JC’s, an occasional volunteer fireman, a Sunday School teacher and a deacon. He was a responsible son. Even though he was not the oldest, he took responsibility for the family and his mother after my grandfather died. He was always there when his youngest brother got in some kind of scrape and took care of his mother visiting her almost every day until she went into the hospital the last time at age 93.

On top of this, he took courses toward his bachelors’ degree (earned after 20 years part-time study) and at one point was working three jobs. He would work his main job as a policeman, pump gas (if anyone remembers those days) when he was off and sell Kirby vacuum cleaners in his spare time. It was about that time he fell asleep driving on the 14th street bridge coming home from work on the mid-night shift and totaled the car. Besides glass in his scalp, he was OK. I think he was a little embarrassed, though, since he had just balled me out the night before for denting the bumper of the car he had just totaled. (I thought it wise not to point out this fact.) Why was he so driven?

I don’t know if it was the three jobs or the shift work that caused the accident. Dad says that when he joined the police department, he was told, he’d get used to the shift work after a while. Thirty years later, he was still trying to get used to working a different eight-hour shift every two weeks.

Besides the occasional car wreck, shift work took a toll on our family life. Many times, we’d go for weeks without seeing Dad as he tried to sleep during the day after working all night. When we saw him, I don’t think we were seeing him at his best. The scary part was having to constantly poke him in the sides to keep waking him as he drove on a long trip. The fun part was guessing how long he could stay awake in church and how loud he would snore.

My dad has a sense of humor. Although he’d laugh uncontrollably at Laurel and Hardy, his humor wasn’t jokes per se, but quick conversational wit. And repetition! It was funny when you finally figured out (after the 100th time he said it) that he wasn’t saying catch it after he threw you the ball but “cat shit.” Most the time, though, the repetition just drove us nuts -- it’s only funny in retrospect. I wonder if my kids will one day wonder why I say “close the door, you think we’re trying to heat all of Franconia!” (We live in Columbia). My brothers and I caught the repetition thing, however. Dennis says after beginning the same story for the third time “have I told you lately?”

The dark side of repetition was when he was trying to teach us a lesson. It seemed the broken record technique was all they taught in parent school when he was enrolled. It brought out the stubbornness and rebellion in me. Eventually, though, I would give in and change whatever behavior he was trying to get me to stop.

The most lasting lesson from my dad was one that was not repeated. I have vivid memory from when I was about four. I was dressed in my best clothes, and we were going somewhere in the car. As we approached Springfield, I must have been acting up. Dad turned and said something to me to stop the behavior and then said something that, I later realized, motivated me for about 40 years. He said “you want us to be proud of you, don’t you?” I don’t recall answering, but I do recall thinking -- of course I want to make you proud of me. That statement and the realization that most of my strokes came from doing rather than being, pushed me to constantly try to do more.

I’ve read that we raise our kids in reaction to the way we were raised. I try to tell both of my daughters that I love them just the way they are. No doubt, I given them some complex that will take them 40 years to recognize and work through. Whatever. I’m doing the best I can at the parent thing and I realize my dad did too.

People describe me as being driven, having a sense of humor and being repetitious. I wonder where I get this from? (Dad, have I made you proud of me yet?)