FATHER’S DAY THOUGHT

Here is an article I published on time.com (time.com/4821335/fathers-day-children-father-essay):

My sister is nine years older than me, and during most of our father’s life, she enjoyed a closer relationship with Dad than I did. She would refer to things they had done together when she was little, fun things like playing make believe games on the living room floor.

I didn’t have the same relationship with him. Sure, my Dad did some things with my younger brother and me, occasional day trips and outings to ball games. But mostly, my dad worked — days at a factory, three or four nights a week at a market — and often when we saw him, he was gruff, short, removed.

It seemed that my sister and I knew two different men. And in fact, we really did. A significant thing happened between the time when my sister was in the heart of her childhood, and when I was in mine. I had a brother who died.

He was a year younger than my sister. And when he was 15 — when she was sixteen and I was seven, and my dad was 45 and squarely in the middle of his life — my brother developed a disease called aplastic anemia.

In those days, in the early sixties, if a young man was interested in becoming a priest, he attended school away from home at a seminary. It was a pretty intense experience for those boys; they came home on only holidays and during the summer, not even on weekends, and family visits were limited if not outright discouraged. Starting sometime after Christmas in my brother’s second year, in the early part of 1961, he began to call home and complain of having a lot of bloody noses and headaches and a rash. He had gone to the infirmary, but whomever he saw just gave him aspirin.

When he came home at Easter, my parents took him to the doctor, who sent him immediately to a hospital. He never came out. Aplastic anemia was destroying his ability to make blood cells and platelets. He was bleeding internally. He was dead in three weeks.

My parents were devastated. Not for years, really, did their grief abate. One of the ways my father coped was to work more. He took the second job. He increased his overtime. Very simply, he was around less. And when he was around, he more orbited his family than functioned as a part of its nucleus. Often when he tried to fit in, it was awkward. It took an effort. By the time I was a teenager, I wasn’t much interested in trying.

Eventually, I went to college. I met a girl and got married. We put off having a family for many years, and not until I was 36 was my first daughter born. She was my parents’ first grandchild, and both Mom and Dad were thrilled to see the day they had started to doubt would come.

By then, Dad was in his early seventies. I don’t remember Dad doing much with our daughter when she was a baby, but once she became mobile, he shocked me — he played with her. He got on the floor. He played with Barbie dolls, built Lego towers, laid out Thomas the Tank Engine tracks. The grouchy, distant man I knew pretended to be a crash victim and allowed her to bandage him until he resembled a mummy. He pushed her on swings, strolled through petting zoos with her and went on roller coasters, which neither of her parents would do.

He did something else. Having pretty near lost his hearing to 36 years in a factory, Dad spoke loudly. “WANT SOME COFFEE?” “HAVE YOU SEEN THE SPORTS SECTION?” He spoke that way to everyone. Including my daughter. For a while. Then he realized that his loud voice frightened her. So he did for her what he did for no one else: He lowered his volume.

When our second daughter was born, it was much the same. Dad played with both of them.

Along the way, something unexpected happened: He and I grew closer. Part of it, I’m sure, was that I was more mature, and that since I had become a father, I more clearly appreciated all that he and my mother had done for me and my siblings. And what they had lost.

But part of it, too, was that he had changed. Softened, maybe. Opened himself up, for sure. For too many years after the death of my brother, Dad lived on the outskirts of his family. When my children were born, he made an effort to try to be closer, and he appreciated that my wife and I not only let him, but welcomed him and happily made a place for him.The last good memory of my Dad before he died was at my daughter’s high school graduation. We made a party for the occasion, strung up lights in the back yard, set up tables. Many of our friends came. He had met most of them over the years, and they all sat with him and spoke to him. I remember him sitting there on that warm June night with a very satisfied look on his face, the happy paterfamilias, the man my sister knew as a girl, the man who through the grace of my children I finally got to know.

FORTY YEARS AND STILL GOING STRONG!

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Last Saturday Ginny and I marked (almost) forty years of wedded bliss with our friends and loved ones at Trattoria 160 in Pleasantville. Front row: Dave Jensen, Ginny, me, Cara Malanowski, Molly Malanowski. Top row: Paul Lindstrom, Anne Lindstrom, Cathy Gallagher, Tim Hart, Susan Schmidt, Greg Schmidt and Shawn Kelly.

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A NEARLY PERFECT DAY

photo-13Molly took me to the ballgame yesterday. It was a very hot Sunday afternoon, and we had excellent seats, in the shade the whole game. The Yanks played well, with Hiroki Kuroda pitching seven scoreless innings. We did not hit much, but we did manage to nudge across one little run. As the game went on, we thought that might be enough, especially with Mariano Rivera coming in. But shockingly, the Great Rivera gave up a two-run homer to Adam Jones, and that was all she wrote. Alas, a grunbly end to an almost perfect afternoon.

Photos: Above, Yankee Stadium, baking in the sun. Below, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki; Potential Hall of Famer Robinson Cano, on his way to another All Star game; Stalwart starter Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched beautifully; The Great Rivera; Molly and me.
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SPORTY NIGHT!

Almost as though we were living a double feature of A Day at the Races and Horsefeathers (minus the Marx Brothers and the mayhem), we followed an afternoon at Keeneland with some exciting SEC pigskin action at Commonwealth Stadium, where were saw the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the Kentucky Wildcats. Both teams cam in at 3-4, but there was no doubt that State was superior on both sides of the ball. Kentucky’s quarterback Morgan Newton seemed to have no arm at all, and the line wasn’t doing much of a job opening holes for Kentucky’s serviceable runner CoShik Williams. Kentucky’s chances perked up in the second period, when Newton suffered an ankle injury and was replaced by freshman QB Maxwell Smith. He did much better, completing 26 of 33 passes and for 177 yards, and leading the team on a couple of strong drives. The game, of course, was irrelevant; what was fun was being in the rah-rah atmosphere, and seeing the bright lights, the marching band, the cheerleaders with the flaming batons, the dance team, and some pretty spectacular flag work by the Mississippi State spirit squad. (Top: Field goal, Kentucky! Above: Marching Band! Fiery Batons! Left: When in Lexington, Molly and I do as the Wildcats do. Below: Bulldog flag-wavers sure can spell.)

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY AT YANKEE STADIUM

I finally cashed in the fabulous Father’s Day gift I received in June, as Ginny and Molly and Cara took me to see the Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 7 to 5, on a picture-perfect end-of-summer afternoon in the Bronx. We sat in Section 306 in the Terrace, which put us in a prime position to get study the dorsal side of the right field foul pole. The new Yankee Stadium, with its fine wide concourses and clean bathrooms and multiple line-reducing concessions, is a fine improvement over the old, and the new Metro North stop made commuting a breeze. As for the game, diffident starting pitching by Javier Vasquez nullified early hitting by Derek Jeter (Below left) and Robinson Cano, but five innings of fine bullpen work stemmed the Jay attack, leaving the door open for Marcus Thames (below, right)to become the hero by slugging a two-run homer in the seventh, his 11th of the season. The great Mariano Rivera notched his 29th save (top), and once again, the crowd sang “New York, New York” as they walked out into the sunset. It was the eighth win in a row for the Yankees, who now hold a to-game lead on the Tampa Rays for the lead in the AL East, and for the best record in baseball.

THE WATERFALLS OF NEW YORK

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On Labor Day, Ginny and I coerced Molly and Cara to go down to the South Street Seaport and take a water taxi around New York harbor and catch the four waterfalls that were installed by artist Olafur Eliasson. Well, I don’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we saw them at their best single advantage, but the effect was underwhelming. It was just like `Yeah? So?” But it was nice to be out with the family. Above, waterfall by the FDR Drive in Manhattan, left, and under the Brooklyn Bridge.

GUEST BLOGGER: ITALIA, SAYS THE WORLD TRAVELLER

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My daughter Maria (the happy, pretty girl at the left) recently returned from a month in Italy. She had a blast. Here are excerpts from an interim report she sent:

We got back late last night from Venezia (Venice) around 11pm. Our hotel was a 5 minutes walk from St. Marks Square. I took lots of pictures. Venice is beautiful! Its so weird to see buildings hundreds of years old next to more modern buildings and being passed by speed boats. We were there for the Feast of the Redeemer which is a celebration of the end of the Black Plague in 1576 when the Doge prayed to God to spare Venice. It worked and a church was built in honor of the “redeemer”. Lots of feasting and drinking topped off by fireworks. The fireworks were nothing special and were very similar to our 4th of July display.

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We left at 6am on Wed to go first to Assisi where St. Francis lived and died (no idea who he is). We went first to a church in which he founded his little group of franciscans, lived in literally a hole in the ground, and died. I was extremely grouchy from having not gotten to sleep untill 2am and getting up at the crack of fucking dawn. But I kept my mouth shut, which I gave myself a pat on the back for. But I slipped when we were shown these rose bushes where Francis threw himself into and the thorns fell off. I couldn’t help it, I started laughing. I was instantly shushed and given a lot of dirty looks. Oops. Then we went to the main part of Assisi (more pictures) which is still a very medieval town with lots of small winding streets and squished looking buildings. There we went to the Basilica of St. Francis, erected in his honor after he was canonized. Huge ass church with 3 levels and lots of steps. We were given a tour by a Franciscan friar from Seattle, very nice guy. Of course we couldn’t take pictures of talk. What gives? He told us about the art and the birth of the art form where depiction of the human body became huge. I forgot the name. He pointed out several frescos showing Francis and important holy people. He also said that Francis is often compared to Christ, which I found interesting. I liked the crypt best. Although I didn’t get the feeling there were any ghosts down there, which disappointed me. Got to see where Francis is buried (supposedly) and several of his followers. I think they should do DNA just to make sure but that’s just my opinion.
We had lunch and headed to Florence. Florence was only remotely interesting since there was nothing to do in the evening! NOTHING! We went to some church and we saw the David. God Damn is he hot! I lot of the girls said if he were a real man they would totally bang him. But we weren’t allowed to talk or take pictures. . . .I went on a water taxi with Valery, Angela, Marcia (Vals roommate), and this older woman also from our group Sat afternoon. We went to this English pup around Campo di Fiori and danced. Sigh. We’re going to Capri on Thurs. Very looking forward to that.

A CRAZY HAMLET

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One of the best highlights of summer these last few years has been seeing Shakespeare in Central Park with my daughter Molly. We’ve seen Twelfth Night, Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Musical, Mother Courage, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hair, and, last week, Hamlet. The productions aren’t always great, but it’s always fun to go and to spend time with M. This year, Michael Stuhlberg gave us a really crazy Hamlet, which is surely a legitimate interpretation, but he really wears out his welcome. Andre Braugher could have displayed a bit more hauteur as Claudius, but Margaret Colin (I’ve always liked her) as Gertrude and Lauren Ambrose as Ophelia were strong, and Sam Waterston stole the show as Polonius. It’s a sign of my advancing age that I identified with Gertrude (why won’t my son grow up and let me enjoy my life a little?) and Polonius more than any of the other characters. (Below, Molly, before the show, right, and taking the late train home, left.)

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