Hello, Readers. I trust everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving had a meaningful and restful holiday weekend. It was nice to have a few days free from the cluttered pile of work on my desk and--as is always the case--it sucks to be back.
I'm like a terrified puffer fish. I sneezed earlier today and gravy came out of my nose. My six pack feels like it's been vigorously shaken. I'm as blocked up as the Lincoln Tunnel during rush hour. Mt. Vesuvius was less angry than my digestive system is right now.
I trust you're beginning to get the picture so I'll stop beating the dead horse--although, as I type that sentence it occurs to me that a bloated farm animal in extremis is perhaps the most accurate metaphor for my post-Thanksgiving condition. At any rate, I ate a ton and I had a good weekend.
I awoke early this morning, a rare exception to my biologically imposed status quo and an amazing feat for me in the absence of an angry alarm clock. Some Guy is a bona fide night owl with diagnosable insomnia and I have been since perhaps the age of ten or so. I have vivid memories of my father literally dragging me out of bed for 8 a.m. soccer games when I was a child. In fact, the majority of the posts on this blog have been written between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. In law school, those were also my most productive study hours.
After reading my current literary choice for a bit (I won't bore you with the title), I grabbed my iPad and began to peruse the news. Let me restate that. I went straight to my TMZ App in order to see who was arrested last night. I guess that's "news." LiLo and behold I was shocked to see that, yet again, Lindsay Lohan had been arrested in GASP! a New York night club and charged with assault. Frankly, I don't know how that self-entitled little brat has stayed out of jail as long as she has, but she's apparently going to have a bit of time to contemplate that in her new cell for 6 months to 1 year very soon. The up side for her is that she'll have nothing to do all day but smoke.
Amazed, I got up and jumped in the shower thinking about poor LiLo's (I hate the new trend of abbreviating celebrity names, by the way) run ins with the law, which inevitably lead me to the topic of personal responsibility. At this point it is difficult to argue that she is anything but responsible for her own situation. However, between Dina and Michael Lohan, her "parents," it's almost impossible to ignore the deplorable example they've set as human beings. It's incredible that she made it past adolescence although I suspect that has something to do with the fact that she's been a cash cow since she was a child. It's sad, really.
Inevitably, my thoughts wandered to that aforementioned rude awakening by my own father who, from the first time I stepped on a field, court, diamond, or track coached every sports team I was on until those duties were wrested from him by junior high and high school coaches. I have a vivid memory of my father running from the parking lot late for soccer practice with clipboard and whistle in hand still in his work boots and jeans after getting stuck at work because of the 1983 phone company strike. My father didn't believe in unions or in strikes and he was one of very few people to cross the picket line and continue to work. His reward? 90 hour work weeks, little sleep, and the same gold watch he would have received anyway when he retired. In hindsight, those were probably insignificant things to endure in exchange for keeping his principles and integrity. I digress.
With the exception of one high school basketball game on a Tuesday night that was a 3 hour drive from home both of my parents attended every single event I, my brother, and my sister ever participated in as children. I've often reflected upon that feat as an adult trying to manage his own unbearably busy life and there is no other explanation for it other than the fact that my parents unquestionably and without hesitation always made us their first priority, often (very often) to their own detriment. I'd like to share with you some thoughts about my father. In the spirit of brevity and clarity, I'll save mom for a different post.
There is something inherently odd about reaching an age (my birthday is this Tuesday) that I have a clear and distinct memory of my father reaching when I was in my early teens. When I think back to my earliest memories of my father I remember his hands. I can't explain why, however. I look down at my own hands now and I see his hands and I am forced to compare myself to my father not just physically but in every other way as well.
I have many memories of my relationship with my father from my childhood through my early adulthood. Few, if any at all, are negative. My father was a consistent model of hard work (he began climbing telephone poles at the age of 16 for the phone company and eventually worked his way into management), dedication to his family, self sacrifice, and practicality. We lived frugally not, as is the case with many people from immigrant parents like his, out of an unwillingness to spend money but rather from a constant shortage of money. We certainly weren't poor, but--as I learned in an offhand comment my father made many years later--we lived literally paycheck to paycheck and, thanks to my mother's liberal use of the local mall, sometimes beyond that.
My parents made significant financial sacrifices so my siblings and I could grow up in a safe place with an excellent school system that would prepare us all for a college education--neither the former nor the latter were afforded to my father who had both the intellectual capacity and the desire to attend college.
While most of my friends' fathers came home with fresh shoe polish on their shoes and a sharp crease in their slacks my father came home with fresh mud on his work boots and fresh grease on his jeans. On many occasions he shared that he regrets allowing himself to be talked out of his first semester of college by his parents and extended family in order to "find a trade" and "put money away for the future." Not everyone benefited from the Depression mentality.
As short sighted as that advice may have been it's understandable considering it came from uneducated, Italian-speaking immigrants who arrived on Ellis Island with nothing and who had sacrificed greatly in order to establish themselves. My grandfather's name was "Faustino" until his first American teacher declared it "too silly for a little boy" and began calling him "August"--the month he began school. He was "Grandpa Gus" for the rest of his life and, in fact, into eternity because his gravestone bears that rather than that silly other name.
I am fortunate that my father realized the value of both education and environment long before I was born and I am even more fortunate that he was unselfish enough to do whatever it took in order for me to have access to both after I was born.
There's a point to all of this and I'll get to it . . . eventually.
I recall being dragged out of bed on a Saturday morning in order to play a soccer game. I was probably around 10 years old. We got in the van and my father drove through our neighborhood and picked up a couple of the other boys who played on the team with my twin brother and me.
Assuming the roles of both coach and bus driver were things I took for granted at that time. It never occurred to me that the reason that both roles were available for my father to assume was because the other fathers weren't clamoring at the doors of the gymnasium on registration day in order to assume them for him.
On the way to the field, we stopped at the local Shell station for gas and headed to the field where my father coached the game. An hour later we loaded up to head home and dropped all of my friends off at their houses. Incidentally, I recall pulling in a one of those boy's driveway and seeing his father sitting in a lawn chair reading the morning paper with a cup of coffee and waving to my dad as he dropped off the man's son.
My brother and I were playing the requisite game of grab ass in the back seat when the van stopped. I remember looking up and expecting to be in our driveway. However, we were back at the Shell station and my father was inside talking to the cashier. He quickly returned, put the van into gear, and headed home. My brother asked, "Dad, why did you go back to the gas station." My father looked calmly in the rear view mirror and said, "because I realized at the soccer field that I was in such a hurry this morning that I forgot to pay for my gas." "Oh," we responded in unison.
In retrospect, I don't believe I could have been given any lecture, textbook definition, admonishment, or any other form of lesson that would have so succinctly and cleanly illustrated the concept of honesty. In fact, I cannot think of any other instance in my life since that day that has.
As formal as I've made him sound, my father also has quite a sense of humor. Indeed, both of my parents are inherently funny people. I have to admit that my saltier side comes almost exclusively from my maternal roots; however, the clever side may be traced back squarely to the paternal ones.
From the time I was old enough to assist my father insisted that my brother and I help him with the yard work. In retrospect, our yard was a standard sized corner lot in a suburban neighborhood but to a kid saddled with the duty of mowing it, it seemed much larger. Yard duties consisted primarily of 3 things: Mowing, Edging, and Sweeping. When we were big enough to manage the mower my father gladly surrendered that chore in favor of edging. My brother and I (never without a fight) would switch from week to week between mowing and sweeping. Invariably, my father would be the ultimate arbiter on "who's turn it was" to mow or sweep. This was usually preceded by 15 minutes of "did not", "did too" followed by a fist fight. Boys.
Now, in my neighborhood yard work was a standard burden for all school age boys. Like Toughskins jeans, it was passed down from older generations to younger ones. However, if you'll recall earlier I listed among my father's greatest attributes "practicality." While the majority of my friends mowed their own yards with the Holy Grail of lawn mowers--the self propelled, self bagging, super efficient Lawn Boy--my brother and I were relegated to the cheapest model my dad could find at the local Sears store. Another important fact to mention for those of you reading this in far away places is the fact that Texas is rife with St. Augustine grass.
It looks like this:
Remember Toughskins? They looked like this:
St. Augustine grass is used for a few reasons: It's thick as hell, impossible to kill, and outgrows weeds. In short, if it's left to it's own devices it will be thicker than spray tan on Snooki. Add in a good rain and it gets mushy and squishy to walk on--also like Snooki. Whenever my brother and I would bitch about it being too difficult to mow due to the aforementioned qualities, my father's response was a canned "tough" or "Can't means you're not trying hard enough"--one of his favorites. In retrospect, his refusal to assist me forced me to figure it out--albeit while cursing his despotism. That skill--figuring it out--has been innumerably applied throughout my adult life.
One Summer evening, I recall my father standing in the driveway with my mother talking to our neighbors as I struggled tremendously to push the mower across the lawn after rain had soaked it the day before. I failed to mention that the average high temperature in Houston, Texas in the summer is around 98 degrees, which much to my chagrin, is also the average humidity.
As I pushed and pushed I succeeded in getting the mower to go five to ten feet before stalling under the suffocating thickness of the wet grass. Frustrated, I'd clear the mower, restart it and push some more. After stalling for the fifth or sixth time I remember my neighbor, Nancy, looking over at my father and saying, "You really need to get yourself a self-propelled mower." My father, without hesitation, replied, "I have a self-propelled mower. I put a kid behind it and it propels itself." Oddly enough, I found that neither humorous nor practical at that particular time. I still don't.
I mentioned my father's propensity for dispensing wisdom to me with a single word or a simple phrase. As annoying as those bits of wisdom were to me at the time, their repetition has permanently embossed them on my brain. Below are a few of them.
- The saddest thing in life is wasted talent
- Always do your best
- You don't get rewarded by me for doing what you're supposed to do in the first place
- Education gives you options
- Can't means you're not trying hard enough
- If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you? (His response to "He told me to do it")
- Were you raised in a barn? (upon seeing my disheveled room)
- Get out of my chair
- Apply Yourself (this in response to a poor progress report or difficulty with homework)
Am I plagued with the impression that my father is perfect? Absolutely not. Like any human being, he has flaws and weaknesses. He is, however, by any measure an exceptional person. Time has proven him to be a consistent, moral, humble, dedicated person. Indeed, I have been be direct beneficiary of all of those things in my lifetime. However, there is a bitter side to that realization as I approach the date of my birth. I do not have my father's habits nor do I have his integrity. I have often fallen short where he has succeeded. I have wasted the precious talents I was given. I haven't always done my best nor have I tried my hardest.
I think it might be comforting to a person who grew up with a disinterested or abusive father to realize that he has overcome his father's faults and has emerged a better person than his father. I, on the other hand, have become less than he was at my age and am less than he is now. That realization makes me admire him more and it makes me want to do better in the years ahead of me. I'm thankful I have access to a good set of blueprints in order to try and make that happen.
Thanks for reading this week. Take care of yourselves. In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be shopping for a self-propelled mower. DP