Tuesday, June 24, 2008

summertime and the livin' is easy

We are headed south...

be back in a week or so.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Colm and Sam - a boy and his dog

Catch me is more fun than playing fetch.

Keeping our feet warm in the bus.

Pause for a little face time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Obama's Father Day Sermon

Obama gave this sermon at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago yesterday. It's about 25 minutes long. It's not a stump speech; rather, it's calm, reflective, searching and sometimes funny. This speech really exemplifies what makes him a rare figure for all of us at this moment in history. Ask yourself, who else has the potential to not just deliver this message (a message which is much more cultural and conservative than it is political or liberal), but, more importantly, to get the full spectrum of American people to listen to it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Proud Father

Here's a shout out to my oldest male child and fearless globetrotter....happy birthday Timmay! I'm not sure where in the world you are at this moment but I can feel you working your way back.

A Father's Day message - being good enough

First off, I want to let everyone know that I'm feeling great. The previous post "Bloody Hell" was anything but an objective account of my actual health - more a peek into the squirrel cage that is my mind sometimes. Some of you of you have contacted me to express concern and support...thanks, and know that I'm well.
As for Father's Day...well, Beth tells me that my little boy had a great idea for a gift. "Let's get Daddy a new blog!"
Beth- "Great idea!"
Then Colm and Tess took it a step further. "Let's get him a new computer!"
I kinda like the direction this is going, but I'm not holding my breath.

I'm looking forward to getting on the golf course with my own father (and my brothers) next week. The golf course is one of those venues where I am brought back to some of my deepest and oldest childhood bonds with my father. My life with him has been marked in part by an abiding obsession with balls and games. He infected me with a delight for the feel and the heft of a ball in your hands, for the myriad possibilities of putting it in flight, for the subtle signs of speed, arc, spin and angle that meant the difference between being in the right spot and being too short, too slow, too far, or just too bad.

He also mentored me in the much more problematic exploration of those shadowy areas where personal ambition butts up against physical pain, fear and personal limitations, where individual desires grate against the dictates of coaches, and where self knowledge is hard won in the context of becoming a teammate. My childhood with my father was at times intense, but in a way that gave my life meaning and a sense of urgency. The games we played were both fun and serious. My dad entertained and diverted me but he mostly challenged me.
On the most basic level, he challenged me to beat him. He needled and cajoled me, he teased and taunted me, but mostly he just beat me like a drum. It wasn't always pretty or pleasant. I couldn't ever win, it seemed, yet somehow my father walked that fine line - he never extinguished my competitive desires; rather, he fanned my hopes that one day I would win, but only if I was good enough.
My father was better than me for as long as I could remember being a child. I only managed to beat him in basketball when I was nearly fully grown and his own skills had been eroded a little by age. Even this "victory" of mine was another lesson in the implacable ways of life. My chief (and sole) regret about being a father at this stage of my life is that I won't be able to be that physical force, that immovable object, against which my young children will be able to measure themselves....at least not on the ball field. Obviously, I'll have to find other ways to fulfill my fatherly obligations to my kids.
In the end, what I've taken away from all of this is the rather humbling realization that becoming good enough is a lifelong task, full of reversals, and that being good enough is not always enough to secure victory, but that being good enough is its own reward.

It's also the best way I know how to honor my father.
Happy Father's Day dad,

p.s. - for what it's worth, I've never yet beaten my father in a round of golf... some things never change.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bloody hell

As regulars to this blog may know, I was diagnosed with a blood clots (DVT) in my lower leg last February. After completing a three month regime on anticoagulants I went off my medication about two weeks ago. My doctor had run extensive tests on me and everything had come back normal. She and I both hoped that the clotting had been produced by poor sitting habits when I write, causing pressure and decreased blood flow.
Absent any other chemical or genetic risk factors I started counting down. Mentally I had been looking forward to that moment when I'd be med free, and also when I wouldn't have to watch every single cut or abrasion since it could produce a lot of bleeding. Physically I had been lifting weights again and feeling fit once more.
Last week however I noticed my left ankle swelling a lot. The other one too but not so much. It was weird to look at it. I felt like it was someone else's ankle, like my body had become a stranger to me. I went for a couple of days with it like that, and then Beth prevailed upon me to call the doctor. The doctor couldn't see me and so she recommended that I go the ER, again.
I had planned on golfing that very afternoon with my friends; I considered going to the course and then going to the ER but Beth and her friend Meg, who is a naturopath, disabused me of that idea in a hurry.
Ten minutes later I was sitting in the hospital waiting.
Everybody there kept telling referring to my "history" and what a good idea it had been for me to come even though it might be too early for anything to show up on the ultrasound. Show up it did however. Clots in my upper calf and my ankle area. The ER doctor informed me that I'd spending the night in the hospital for observation. I was told that I'd have to start over with the self administered injections for one week and also the oral meds that I'd just been on for the past three months.
I couldn't believe it was happening all over again. For one thing, the next day was the final day of final exams at the high school. I was completely unprepared for the notion that I would not be able to say goodbye to my students before they left for the summer. It's interesting in retrospect to observe how slow I was to let go of what I had decided was important based on earlier and now somewhat outdated information. Perhaps it was because I didn't understand how to assign importance to this new and unwanted part of my life. I called my principal and arranged for a sub. I told where I had hidden my final exams, one set was under a phone book, another was beneath a stack of papers in an organizer on a bookshelf. I was a bit bemused to have to disclose my security-through-obscurity approach to filing important papers.
When my doctor's partner showed up, he told me that it used to be standard practice to hospitalize someone with DVT for ten days. Nowadays they don't think normal activity hurts anything. He decided to discharge me that evening but not before reviewing with me the warning signs of a pulmonary embolism...shortness of breath, chest pain, a general sense of unease or panic.
I went home that night but not before getting a cheeseburger, fries and a pop and then dropping in at my classroom and getting everything organized for my sub. Mentally I began making plans for dropping by the next day at the end of each test period. Once home I did my best to debrief for Beth, but there were no answers to satisfy either of us.
The next day I did indeed sneak over to the school twice in order to collect exams to grade and say goodbye. I took Colm with me. It was a much needed tonic. Word has seeped out about my condition and so I had to reassure them that everything was okay. I could see that they were filled to the brim with anticipation for the beginning of summer. I couldn't help but be a little intoxicated by their energy. I waved goodbye and collected Colm who was hiding at the door. He ran to the elevator and made ready to push the buttons.
The next few days saw my ankles return to something approaching normalcy. People kept inquiring about my health. I kept telling that I felt fine, which was true. I also told them that the only problem was this information I was carrying about this material adhering to the insides of my veins. More people than I can count volunteered stories about relatives who had suffered embolisms, most had died. They'd finish their story and we'd stand there together shaking our heads ruefully...weird.
Then, the day before yesterday Beth took the kids to Portland to see our friends over there. That same day I saw my doctor again. She expressed puzzlement over my condition and told me that she was going to send me to see an oncologist to see if he had any ideas or tests that he might be able to suggest. I wore my poker face. She gave me clearance to work out again, when I asked specifically about walking a round of golf, she almost snorted, as to say, you call that exercise?
I was elated, and the next day I was out on the course with John and Phil.
The weather that day was the first genuinely summer day we'd had since, well, last year. It was warm, very warm, almost too warm for my heavy pants. But I didn't mind because it was like being released from a pen. There were some early quips like "If you see me clutch my chest and fall to the ground, get your sand wedge and spray some sand on me and say a few words."But then the three of us settled quickly into our old and familiar habits and for a couple of hours there was no thought of clots.
That night I showered and slipped into bed feeling spent. I set the phone on the night stand telling myself that Beth might call, though it was pretty late for that. Really though, I think I was trying to be prudent. What if I needed to call someone in a hurry?
I was so tired in fact that I forgot to put Sammy in his kennel. He slept beside my bed on a pile of clothes. I awoke in the middle of the night feeling a familiar discomfort, cramps in both feet. It wasn't unusual for me to get these especially after physical exertion. I tried to pronate my ankles to ease the tightness. It worked but only temporarily. I had to keep doing it. After some time fending off cramps in this manner, I suddenly felt them penetrate upward through my calves. Cramps in calves are painful and I immediately stretched my calves by bending my toes back towards me. Unfortunately I couldn't make the cramps go away, but, even worse, and somewhat alarmingly, the cramps now began to spread into both thighs. They were excruciatingly painful. For a moment I couldn't decide how best to tackle the situation, on my back or standing. And then another thought intruded and this one thought managed to burrow right into the center of my consciousness...what if I was having an event?
My initial response was to tell myself that these were cramps. I'd had cramps many times; I knew cramps, but, then again, there was something about the way these pains had migrated upwards that put me in mind of the nightmare scenario described by my doctor and countless other people over the last few days. In spite of myself I grabbed the phone. I wasn't ready to call but I had no idea how much time I'd have to make a call should it become clear to me that an embolism was in progress. I clutched the phone, squeezing it hard, and I struggle to my feet. By now the cramps were fierce in my thighs and I was crying out in loud sharp groans, cursing here and there for good measure. It occurred to me that I could scream as loud as I wanted.
It felt like my thighs were being pulled backwards through a hole in my femur. I staggered stiff legged into the kitchen and with my free hand got a glass of water. Then I ate a banana. All of these things were, I knew, much too little and much too late to relieve the pain I was in, but they helped me persuade myself that what was going on was what I hoped was going on, not what I feared. Sammy had wandered into the kitchen and was now underfoot, yawning loudly. I decided to go back to the bed and try being horizontal.
Back in bed I fought to find a calm space. I managed to breathe more regularly and that seemed to help everything. My legs were quivering, and I was on tenterhooks, afraid to change positions. I began to question myself. Why shouldn't I call 911? Every decision I'd made to go to the ER in the past three months had been justified. Why not this one too? Maybe I should drive myself...the thought almost made me laugh out loud. I imagined myself ramming the gas with an outstretched foot and then colliding with a power pole or street sign. Absurdly, I imagined forgetting to call someone about Sammy. As I calmed down, I seemed to think more and more imaginatively, casting all sorts of scenarios in which I might suffer an "event." Me in the bus knocked unconscious by the windshield, me in the garden next to some of Sammy's droppings, me on the floor of the house reaching for my bathrobe, the phone still in one hand, the dial tone ringing.
Slowly and by degrees however I regained my trust in myself and in what I thought I knew about my body. These were cramps. The doctor had said nothing about cramps, only shortness of breath and chest pains...and general unease. The unease I was experiencing derived, it seemed to me, from trying to tease some subtext out of the doctor's words and it derived from my own very particular physical symptoms...there was nothing general about it. In this way I argued myself, albeit in a somewhat sophistic manner, into inaction. At length the cramps subsided. I lay in bed sweating from exertion and unable to sleep. I remembered Sammy. I struggled up and took him out in the back yard. He peed and yawned again. He went inside his kennel without complaint. Gingerly I got back in bed.
Not knowing what else to do, I turned on my laptop and began googling "leg cramps embolism". For another hour I read abstracts of studies, journal articles and chats on subjects related to those search terms. I learned a few things...for example, many if not most embolisms are diagnosed several days after they occur. Mostly I just read to see what would come first, enlightenment or sleep. I kept the phone handy. Sleep won out. In the morning I woke up alive but perhaps no wiser.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


When our telephone rings, our kids, if they're nearby, will sprint to pick it up. The lucky caller then gets to engage Colm or Tess in a little ritual chit chat before the phone gets handed over. Ironically, both kids get tongue-tied pretty quickly on the phone. Listening from my side, what ensues is a series of "uh huh's" and "yea" and "no".

Having taught in the classroom as long as I have, I recognize the trap that people on the other end typically fall into - the all too familiar pattern of yes/no questions turning a promising opening not into a conversation but something more like a hostile interrogation.
Needless to say, the kids are usually more than willing to turn over the phone once I ask for it, and the person on the other end is usually on the verge of forgetting why they called in the first place.
Last week, a new development. First there was a message for Tess from one of her classmates. Apparently in preparation for the end of the school year, the kids had exchanged phone numbers. The next day the phone rang. Tess picked it up. I listened, wondering who might be calling me or Beth.
"Who is it?" said Tess. Then she said. "Nothing. What are you doing?...I'm sitting on the couch. What are you doing?...Nothing."
I didn't need to imagine the other half of the conversation as it was no doubt the mirror image of the one I was hearing.
"Who is it?" I said.
"It's Tommy."
I almost said, "Who's Tommy?" But as I listened to yet another reprise of "What are you doing?" I shifted to, "What does he want?"
Tess shrugged and ignored me. She seemed very pleased by the direction things were going.
"I told you. I'm sitting on the couch, silly." She laughed.
I imagined this phone call going on ad infinitum; worse I imagined it being repeated several times a week, several times a day even.
I said to Tess, "Tell Tommy you can't talk for very long. Someone else might be trying to call us."
"My dad says I can't talk for a long time." She put the receiver down. Just like that it was over.
"You didn't say goodbye."
"He hung up." Tess said it as if it were a perfectly normal occurrence.
The phone etiquette of seven year olds.
Tommy called a couple more times over the weekend, once he left a message, once Colm picked up when Tess wasn't there.
"Tell him Tess isn't here," I hollered across the room.
Colm looked at the phone, then at me. "He hung up."
Privately I began musing about what the future portended. Was I ready for the phone to be appropriated by kids lounging on the sofa, twirling the cord mindlessly around their fingers while idly chatting away the morning or afternoon or evening.
Then the voice of my father came to me. It intoned how the telephone was not a toy, that it was for business or emergencies, that to tie it up frivolously was to risk preventing someone from reaching us with urgent news.
Could I make that pitch to my daughter?...could I even make it to my wife? I knew the answer, still....
Then about 9:45 Saturday night the phone rang. I picked up. It was Tommy.
"Is Tess there?" The voice on the other end was as sweet and guileless.
"Tommy? Is this you?"
"Uh huh."
"Tommy, it's too late to be calling Tess. She's ...."
He hung up.
I held the phone in my hand as if not sure what to do with it next. I had not meant to scare the little guy...well, maybe part of me had in fact wanted to nip this calling thing in the bud, but now I felt conflicted about how it had gone. I checked the phone memory and saw Tommy's number and his mother's name listed. Impulsively I dialed it. The phone rang, and I wondered if Tommy or his mom would pick up.
It was his mom. In what I fancied to be my friendly phone voice, I introduced myself and explained that I was Tess's father, and that Tommy had just called.
"Yeah, I just saw him on the phone, and I wondered what the heck he was doin'."
"I told Tommy it was too late to be calling Tess."
"I'm sorry..."
"No. It's not a big deal. I just wanted to give you a heads up."
"He got some phone numbers at school, and he's real excited."
I should have concluded things there, but my that other parental voice inside me took over. "I just don't want to encourage Tess to talk on the phone for no good reason. I don't want her just chit chatting."
Tommy's mother didn't say anything.
"I mean if he wants to call to set up a play date or something, that's great..."
"Yeah, okay...like I said, I just saw him on the phone..."
"No, it's no big deal. I just don't Tess wasting too much time on the phone."
A tiny, too tiny, voice inside my head had begun whispering, "Shut up, Kevin!"
By the time I did listen and had hung up the phone, I felt quite sure that I had mishandled this phone thing about as thoroughly as I possibly could have.
The next morning, I met Beth and Tess in her first grade classroom. It was her end of year student-led parent conference where she would show Beth and I her portfolio of work for the entire year.
I sat there with Beth and found myself both impressed and enchanted by this little girl who had grown in so many ways and who stood before us now. She seemed somehow to personify both the timid, fearful little thing who first crossed the threshold of that classroom and unwillingly let go of my hand, knowing only her letters and colors (and of course the French language - a secret she kept locked away from everyone outside her family) and the squirmy, smiling, ebullient, long legged girl who now read with aplomb and took great pride in interpreting for us her many drawings. It had been a miraculous first grade year. I felt grateful to her teacher, and my parental pride was in full bloom.
Then in walked a little boy much shorter than Tess. He was with his mother and another older boy, maybe his big brother. I looked at Beth for confirmation. She nodded. It was Tommy. As he passed our table I ventured a greeting.
"Is that you, Tommy?"
The boy leaned into his mother's leg and seemed to shut down; rather, he narrowed his focus on the table in front of him and me and made straight for it. He looked uncertain and even fearful. He sat down with his back to me. His mother followed suit.
Tess, who had barely registered Tommy's arrival herself, was still busy presenting material to us so I didn't linger over whatever unpleasantness there might be. To make a long story short. Tess's presentation went on for some time whereas Tommy's wrapped up in short order. So when he and his mother left, it was the same scene as when he entered.
"Bye Tommy." Beth looked at me as if to ask, why are still doing this? I shrugged. Then I said to her. "Maybe we should invite him over for a play day. What do you think?"
"You want me to go out there and talk to them?"
I nodded lamely.
When Beth came back she told me that Tommy had indeed taken our night time conversation pretty hard but that she had managed to revive his spirits before he and his mother left. Then she said, "He's leaving this weekend for the whole summer. His mother gave me his phone number. I told her Tess would call him."
Again, I nodded. I was grateful to her and to Tommy's mother. I felt bad for the little boy.
That afternoon, I came home from work. Beth had to run some errands. Before she left she showed where Tommy's phone number lay on the table. I went into Tess's room, and saw her doodling in her journal at her desk.
"Hi sweetie."
"Hi dad."
"How would you like to call Tommy now?"
"OK. But I don't know his number."
"I have it. You dial, and I'll tell it to you."
She went to the phone and picked it up. I told her the number. She dialed. "Don't forget to wish him a good trip and a happy summer."
Almost immediately I heard her say, "Hello?"
That was fast, I thought.
"I'm sitting on the couch....what are you doing." Tess had already settled into the couch and begun twirling the cord around her fingers. She looked suddenly like a teenager to me. She seemed ready for a long comfortable time. Her eyes seemed fixed on some point in the air in front of her, her mouth turned up at the corners in an impish smile.
Something Tommy said made her laugh.

It was time for me to subtract myself. Before leaving however, I waved at Tess to catch her eye. She looked up.
"Tell Tommy I said hello," I whispered.
She did it.
I heard giggling as I backpedaled into the kitchen.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

You can come home again

Been around the world....

seen some momentous changes...

reached some personal milestones

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

fait accompli....Obama gets it

This is a very satisfying moment, made all the more so by the long and tortuous primary campaign we've all just finished witnessing. Unlike a lot of people, I'm not terribly anxious about or even interested in watching Hillary and waiting for her to finally exhale. She seems wound about as tight as a human can be....grace notes don't come easily to her. I hope she'll follow through on her pledge to deliver her supporters, but her speech tonight seemed pretty conflicted on that front.
Obama by contrast was gracious and generous to both Hillary and McCain tonight, but he also served notice that he'll be nobody's punching bag. Here's a link to his speech.

Obama has developed a more visible relish for public debate over the past many months. It seems to me now that he can hardly wait to get into ring with McCain. He also showed himself to be a very shrewd campaigner in his pledge not to use religion as a wedge or patriotism as a bludgeon in the upcoming general election campaign.

What some of my more purist progressive friends seem to undervalue is the practical value of being able to seize the moral high ground in the public mind. They seem overly and narrowly focused, in my opinion, on specific policy positions having to do with specific issues like health care or climate change; at the same time they often seem tone deaf to the cultural conditions which both make change possible and which make change agents electable. Obama may not personally articulate the progressive positions that some of my friends advocate, but they are missing the forest for the trees.

Obama is uniquely poised to be an agent of change. Someone who can mobilize the electorate and unleash on our political landscape new and as yet unpredictable political dynamics. Complaining about how pure his progressive credentials are, how ready he is to compromise, how much of a centrist he may truly be...these are complaints that progressives should weigh against Obama's pledge to make our politics more transparent and therefore more accountable to us...as long as we are vigilant and diligent in our capacity as citizens.

As a Republican, I'm not voting for Obama because I share his progressive vision (such as it may be). I'm voting for him because I sense in him a commitment to building a new kind of American electoral ethos, one closer in spirit to community activism than to legislative or judicial fiat. I'm willing to bet on concerned citizens making good choices especially when and if they are served by politicians whose chief aim is to properly educate them as to what those choices are and what consequences and costs they entail.

I sense in Obama a similar willingness to allow debate to follow its course, to allow ideas to be freely represented and to see how well they fare with an energized and well informed electorate. This is where some progressives and I really fundamentally disagree. Some of them seem to be convinced that they already possess the solutions, the right policies, and that all they need is the authority to implement them. I tend to view this as a paternalistic point of view. Let people judge, but first give them access to information and to government itself. That is a long and rather messy process, but it is also one that dignifies the role of citizen activist. Who exemplifies this vision better than Obama? Who can you name who has a better chance of being an agent for change on the national stage?

Not being a progressive myself, I'll leave it to one of the heroes of the progressive movement, Grace Lee Boggs, to tell you why Obama is the one.

Viewing society as a laundry list of problems, liberals promise solutions. Radicals, having concluded that another world is necessary, begin to lose hope that another world is possible when only a few people show up for their meetings.

Obama does not promise solutions. He doesn’t view people as masses. Out of his experiences as a community organizer and his dialectical/historical appreciation of movement building in the U.S., he is asking us to become active citizens, builders of a new America that all of us will be proud to call our own.
know hope,