Good Parents

Why did the fire engine wear red suspenders?

To keep its pants from falling down.

Okay, I admit, it doesn’t make any sense.   It never did.  But when I was four years old, I’d walk around repeating it, and I’d always get a big laugh, especially from my mom and dad.

Last Friday marked the second anniversary of my dad’s death.  My mom’s been gone for almost twenty years now.

When you’re growing up, your parents are always there, looking out for you.   You long to be grown up and on your own, independent, out of their reach, but then the excrement hits the fan, and the world reveals something you hadn’t expected, and you reach out to your parents, and they guide you through.

Then the day comes when you realize, this is it, I’m grown up now, I’m independent.   You start making your way through the world.  You’re armed with the tools your parents gave you, and they’re still there, to help you out if you find yourself in a bind, to guide and advise you, to show you how to use those tools.   More than anything, you hope for their approval.  You want to make them proud, and at the same time, you know that in those moments you come up short, the times you fail, they’ll forgive you, because they love you.

The years go by and you become comfortable enough in the world to have children of your own.  Your parents age, and they change, your relationship with them changes, but they’re still there, they’re still your mom and dad, and you love them as much as you ever have.

I miss them both.  I miss making them laugh, and laughing with them.  I was always a show-off, a ham, and they were my first and favorite audience.   When they laughed, their faces lit up, and everything was okay.  There’s never been anything as satisfying as making my mom and dad laugh.

I’ve been thinking about how lucky I was.  My mom and dad may or may not have been the world’s greatest parents, but they were the greatest parents I could have ever had.   I’ve been thinking about what makes a good parent, and a few things become apparent when judging a parent:

Good parents are not perfect.  Good parents are not cool.  Good parents sacrifice for their children.   Good parents let their children develop their own interests.   Good parents raise their children to be independent.  Good parents have a sense of humor.  Good parents learn from their mistakes, and let their children make their own.  Good parents want better for their children than they had.  Good parents respect each other, and respect their children, too.  Children of good parents never forget that no matter what happens, their mom and dad love them.

I learned these things from my mom and dad.  Whether, as a parent myself, I practiced them or not is up to my children to decide.  I’m certain I fall short of the standard my mom and dad set.  But I’ve tried, and I like to think that, seeing the beautiful full grown adults my children have grown into, they’d be as proud of them as I am.

Oh, and I almost forgot:  good parents laugh at the stupid jokes you tell, and let their children show off for them every now and then.

Gravel Driveways and Kitchens in Chicago

Last night I drove down to Chicago to attend a book signing by Michael Perry at the Book Cellar, a really cool and atmospheric independent book store in Lincoln Square.  It was a great opportunity to see one of my favorite writers in person.  Perry is a great speaker, with a stand up comic’s timing and rhythm, and with a voice and a stage presence that heightens his beautiful and moving writing.  As a humorist and the leader of a band, he is comfortable in large venues; seeing him in such a small and intimate setting (there were about fifteen people) made it feel like we were all standing in a gravel driveway listening to him shooting the breeze.

He read some excerpts from Visiting Tom, did a very funny hour or so long monologue, and closed by reading my favorite passage from any of his books, from Visiting Tom, where he describes Tom and Arlene’s kitchen, and the depth of meaning he takes from its familiarity.  It’s a great passage because it goes beyond nostalgia and atmosphere and memory and gets to what the familiarity really means to him, and recognizing the same meaning in the woman who will later become his wife instantly deepens his bond with her.  It’s a wonderful example of Perry’s gift, the ability to find the profound in the every day, and hearing him read it out loud added another layer to its meaning.  I’d reprint the passage here, but you’re better off buying the book.

Afterwards, I had him sign my just purchased paperback copy of Visiting Tom, (I previously only had an e-copy of the book – it’s difficult to get one of those signed) and introduced myself as the guy who’d interviewed him for the 2nd First Look website (here is a link to the article and interview ).  He was gracious, and I was pleased that he remembered me, but I don’t know if I got across to him how grateful I was for him agreeing to do the interview.

Not that that matters much.  Interviews, it occurs to me, are a dime a dozen.  What I wish I had told him was how grateful I was that he let me into Tom and Arlene’s kitchen.

Thirty Two and Counting

(This Thursday will mark my 32nd wedding anniversary)

You are everything to me, the sunshine that lights my days and the lighthouse light that guides me through the windswept seas and rocky shorelines of night.   You are strong as a rock and frail as a leaf.  You are heart and you are soul, you are passion and comfort.  You are astonishingly beautiful.  Your eyes, lit by the incandescent flame of your glowing soul, see and understand everything, everything that matters.    You are the love of my life; you know all of my secrets, my triumphs and failures.  You’ve inspired me to do things I didn’t think I was capable of.  You’ve stood by me when I’ve come up short.  You’ve given me reasons when all reason seemed lost.

I find myself lost in the dark, adrift in the unending night, and I reach out to you, and you’re there, warm and still, and even now, after all this time, after fate and circumstance and disease, our breaths rise and fall in time together, the rhythm to dreams that still come to me, dreams that are dreamt within the dream we’ve been living for thirty two years now.

Ben Hur or There

I’m no biblical scholar, but I’ve been thinking about those commandments lately.  As I recall, god appeared as a burning bush and spoke to Charleton Heston and gave him the stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments, and then there was a chariot race that ended with Moses discovering that Soylent Green is people.

But about those commandments:   I have to say, when reading them, that as divine laws, most of them leave a little bit to desire.  Oh, sure, there are the obvious ones, like you shall not murder, or steal, or commit adultery.  Then there are the ones that seem like pretty good ideas, like not bearing false witness against your neighbor, or not coveting your neighbor’s stuff.  Honor your mother and father; I can go along with that, that’s a nice thought.  Then there are the ones that deal with that “jealous” god.   We can’t have any other god before him, or create any likeness of him, or speak his name in vain.  Apparently, in the middle of establishing a moral code that we would all be judged against, god wanted to slip in a couple of commandments that addressed personal pet peeves.  These seem so petty that either god has some serious self esteem issues or he was having a bad day when he created the tablets.

It seems to me that these commandments may have been appropriate all those years ago, but they’ve lost some of their relevance in these modern times we live in.  I think it’s time we get a new ten commandments that fit in with the world today, that would give people a clearer moral compass to guide them and make the world a better place.  So I thought I’d take a shot at creating my recommendations for a new ten commandments.  I’m no god, and this ain’t no stone tablet, but what the Hell, as recommendations go, well, you be the judge:

1)      Thou shalt refrain from saying “My bad”

2)      Thou shalt not put only eight hot dog buns in a package when hot dogs come ten to a package.

3)      Thou shalt not wear socks with sandals

4)      When the wedding band so commandeth, thou shall obey, and put thy left foot in, take thy left foot out, put thy left foot in and shake it all about

5)      Thou shalt not speak the name David Hasselhoff in vain

6)      Thou shalt keep off of the Lord’s front yard

7)      Thou shalt not put raisins in cookies with chocolate chips

8)      The toaster shall be used only for creating toast; bread that is warmed but not toasted shall not be considered toast.

9)      The lord is a jealous lord so therefore be careful  to let him win at Yahtzee

10)    In the morning, though shalt not photograph the lord until after he’s had his coffee.



So They Say

I think I’m ready.  I think I’ve lived long enough, and that I’m smart enough.  I know enough about how the world operates.  I think I’m ready to become one of them, or, more accurately, one of they.

We’ve all heard about they, even if we have no idea who they are.  They make the rules, and they’re not shy about telling us.  How many times have we heard, “They say you’ve got to crawl before you walk.”  Whoever the Hell they are, we seem to put a lot of stock into what they say.

I imagine that they is a group of smart people who get together once a month at the local KFC and make new rules.  There are two groups of they; the regular group that makes general rules, and the advanced group of elders who get to decide what it is going to do.  Never mind that none of us knows any more about it than we do they;  we still hear ourselves repeating things like, “They say it’s supposed to rain today.”   The words “supposed to” speak to the authority that this elder group of they have.  If it doesn’t rain today after they said it’s supposed to, then it could be punished.  You might say that it is in for it.

So anyway, now that I’m old enough and smart enough, I’m going to apply for membership to they.  Once accepted, here are some additions I’ll be making:

                “They say that he who hesitates is lost or is just taking his break”

                “They say that a camel without humps has likely been to a plastic surgeon.”

                “They say that when the crows fly away, you’ll over sleep, because there will be no caws for alarm.”

               “They say that money is the root of all evil, and that twenty seven cents is the root of seven dollars and twenty nine cents.”

              “They say not only to each his own, but that each should also get a decent pension when he retires.”

            “They say it’s supposed to keep at least twenty five feet away from me at all times, and it’s not supposed to remove its ankle bracelet.”

One Small Step

The latest sign that I might be growing up a little bit: today, the second issue of the local magazine, “Left of the Lake,” came out, featuring an article I wrote about Rebecca Venn, a gifted artist from Kenosha who specializes in water colors.

The magazine looks great, and I was pleased to see my name and my words in print. I read the article, and it’s okay, but something seemed different about it. I went back to the original article I submitted, and I noticed an entire paragraph I submitted was omitted from the published text.

Here’s where it turns out there might be hope for me after all: I instantly realized that the article was better without the missing paragraph. While I should have seen that when self-editing, I’m pleased that the editors of the magazine saw it and removed the paragraph.

I’m even more pleased with my reaction. It means I’m developing some level of objectivity to my work. The removed paragraph was clumsy and out of place, and diverted attention away from the subject. The editors did their job, and I am grateful.

Ms. Venn has enormous talent and does beautiful work. I’m still not convinced that my little article does her justice. But there is evidence that I’m learning a thing or two, and that’s about all I can ask for.