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I hate this song. Not because it’s a crappy song, but because it messes with my head. First released 35 years ago, this Harry Chapin classic is about an aging father who reflects back on all the missed opportunities he’d had to bond with his son. The pattern comes full-circle when the son, now grown up with kids of his own, can’t find the time to visit his father.

I don’t know why this song haunts me the way it does. It’s like a little parasite that found its way inside my brain, where it lurks in the background. It feeds on my insecurities as a father, and rises to the surface whenever I’m feeling torn in different directions. Sure, in some respects I was the kid from that song. But I’m no different than the millions of other kids that grew up in a broken home. You dig deep, pick yourself up as best you can and move on.

Truthfully, the song never got to me until I became a dad. Now, it’s like a bucket of ice water thrown in my face every time I hear it. My Pavlovian response is to self-analyze and critique my own actions as a father. How many times have I said “no” when I really could have said “yes?” What will my kids remember from their childhood? What opportunities am I missing?

It’s not about spoiling them, it’s more about being present and engaged. Honestly, I think I’m doing a decent job – far from perfect, to be sure, but I’m pretty involved in just about everything that they do. But when I hear that song, I can’t help but wonder if I’m falling short in some way. I suppose it doesn’t help that my first child really did learn to walk while I was away.

And deep down, I also know that I’ve become the grown-up kid from the song. My dad’s been hitting me up for a fishing trip for years now. I’d really like to go.

I’ve got friends in high places. I’ve also got friends in low places, close places, far-away places, and everything-in-between-places. I’ve got old friends and new friends. Lately, it seems that new people are asking to be my friend just about every day. Some of my friends are actually family, does that count? I’ve got friends I haven’t seen since high school, and some of my closest friends have yet to become . . . friends.

Is social media redefining what it means to be a friend?

Now, more than ever, it’s easy to make, find, and keep our friends. A quick scan of my Facebook account shows that I’ve got 51 friends, which is pretty lame by FB standards. My daughter’s profile, by comparison, indicates that she’s much more popular than I am, boasting no less than 100 friends. I think that’s awesome, and only time will tell how many of them are in for the long haul. But I’m at a different place in my life, and I’ll gladly trade a hundred virtual friends for a dozen real ones.

When I was young, I usually had a best friend. The person so duly honored would change from time to time, but nonetheless, there was always an anointed one. On occassion, there was some rivalry over the matter, which in hindsight all seems pretty silly. As I grew older and got into high school, the landscape changed. People moved in packs, and being new to the school, there were only a handful of familiar faces.

I’d been in that situation plenty of times before, so I didn’t worry too much about it. Somehow, I’d find a way to make some new friends. This time around, my big break came in the form of a birthday invitation. It came most unexpectedly from a girl in my English class (I think it was English – it was 30 years ago!), and soon enough, other kids began to reach out to me as well. I didn’t know it at the time, but these were friends that I’d have for the rest of my life.

As a group we didn’t seem to fit any of the typical categories: the “popular” ones, the jocks, the geeks, the stoners, etc. We were a little bit of everything – a melting pot of the student body.  Through the years, we shared triumph and tragedy, humor and heartache, doing our best to figure out life and our place in this world. There were a lot of things we didn’t have, but we had each other and we stuck together.

Looking back, I have to say that we turned out pretty well. From our humble beginnings emerged an impressive collection of engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers and business leaders. We’ve got families, mortgages, and kids of our own. But put us in the same room together, we’re still a bunch of clowns, and I absolutely cherish that.

Social media has made it easier to stay in touch, but it’s not the foundation of our friendship – only life experience can provide that. But I will say, this new medium has allowed me to find and reconnect with some old friends that I’d lost touch with, and that alone is pretty cool.

All of this leaves me to wonder, will our children experience friendship in the same ways, or will the lens of social media render indistinguishable the real from the imaginary?

I’m not one of those people who can’t live without my daily Starbucks fix, but we were fresh out of coffee at work this morning. And being somewhat addicted to caffeine, I needed some java to snap me out of my Monday morning coma. No big deal, I thought, and grabbed a handful of change out of my desk drawer and walked down to Starbucks. 

The patio outside seemed awfully quiet, and when I gave the door handle a pull . . . nothing. My friendly neighborhood Starbucks was closed for renovations. As I lingered outside the locked door to ponder my options, a small group of people passed by on the sidewalk. One of them was a young blonde gal, about five feet tall and wearing what must have been five-inch heels, and I couldn’t help but notice her DD’s.  

Uh-huh, you know what I’m talking about . . .

Dunkin Donuts. There was a store right across the street, but I’d never been there. I’d heard so many people rave about it, and read stories about how DD’s and McD’s are both stealing market share from Starbucks. “Just as good as Starbucks, only way cheaper,” or so I’ve been told. I was skeptical. The same claim had been made about McDonald’s coffee, and I was hugely disappointed. But, with limited options, I figured I’d give it a shot.

First, let me dispell the myth about DD’s being way cheaper. At $1.49 for a 14-oz cup, I found the difference in price to be negligible – about two cents per ounce. And the taste test? BLAAAACH.

Allow me to clarify. Unlike McD’s, the coffee wasn’t wimpy and watered down. It had plenty of punch, it was just a nasty punch. I was reminded of the coffee that you get in your hotel room – those tiny little packets that go with those tiny little coffee makers. The flavor isn’t very good, but if you’re desperate, it’ s better than nothing. DD’s was more like taking two or three of those packets and brewing the same pot of coffee. Still bad, only more so.

All of this makes me wonder, if DD’s and McD’s are faring so well against Starbucks in blind taste tests, who’s doing the tasting? Probably the same folks who like Velveeta on their hot dogs.

When I was 5 years old, I got to watch the moon landing. When my daughter was 5 years old, she watched a jetliner smash into the World Trade Center.

I’m willing to bet that every one of you remember exactly where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001. As for me, I was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV watching everything unfold. Moments earlier, I’d been hurrying to get dressed and off to work. But after witnessing hundreds, if not thousands, of people perish instantly in a ball of fire, my design work for a posh new country club suddenly seemed irrelevant.

Confused and scared, my daughter climbed into my lap, and I clutched her in my arms. How does one explain the events of that morning in terms that a kindergartner could understand? I watched in (mostly) stunned silence, wondering if the nightmare would ever end. Over the next couple of hours, the situation seemed to settle into an awkward, eerie calm, but deep down I had a feeling that our country had just been lured into a war that we weren’t prepared to fight.

Like most Americans, I’d never heard of Osama bin Laden or Al-Qaeda. But eight years ago today, with an attack that must have exceeded anything in his wildest dreams, Osama bin Laden caught us with our collective pants down. For many, the toll is measured in the nearly 3000 lives lost that day. Others will point to the loss of the twin towers and the disastrous mess that lower Manhattan had become. But from my vantage point, the toll remains immeasurable. For all of the physical damage, it pales in comparison to the devastation wrought on our economy, our politics, and our sense of what it means to be an American.

Now hang on, before you start hyperventilating, I know what some of you are thinking . . . Americans came together following 9/11! We drove around with little American flags and bumper stickers, and we sang “God Bless America” at baseball games! Sorry folks, that’s false patriotism. It’s done for show, and it doesn’t count. What I’m talking about is the collapse of our true spirit, the abandonment of the values that America was founded on, and the crushing political extremism that prospers in its wake.

With the words “You’re either with us, or you’re against us,” President Bush drew a line in the sand and ushered in a new era.   In post-9/11 America, fear and ignorance would be exploited for political advantage, and for profit. Intelligent and reasoned analysis, global diplomacy, and our own Bill of Rights were tossed out the window. Those who questioned our government’s tactics or motives were labelled as weak, terrorist sympathizers, un-American and, conspicuously . . . un-Christian.

Since this is a blog post and not a history document, I’ll refrain from droning on with examples. My point is simply that, when faced with a national crisis, we made a bad situation worse by abandoning our principles of tolerance, dignity, and respect; we falsified intelligence, corrupted our values, bullied our allies, and turned Americans against each other, all in the name of freedom, or God, or so-called patriotism.

*

Fast-forward to today, a majority Americans have regained their perspective. Eager to put this chapter in our history behind us, the American people spoke loudly and clearly in favor of a regime change within our own borders. In an historic election, hope trumped fear, and intellect trumped propaganda. For me, it was a proud moment, but sadly, the moment has been short-lived.

Once again our country faces a crisis, a test of our character. And once again, we are seeing a deliberate, organized campaign of misinformation directed at our own citizens, ripping apart the fabric of our nation. The topic of debate has changed, but the methods have not. The rhetoric surrounding health care reform offers a stark reminder of what an ugly business politics can be. And when this is the way our national business is conducted, we all lose.

It’s easier to explain the events of 9/11 than to explain what’s happened to our unity, integrity and self-respect in the years since. Somewhere, Osama bin Laden is watching, and he’s laughing his ass off.

Anyone who speaks of rain in dreary and depressing terms must not live in the desert. Around here, nothing feels better than a good rain shower, and Saturday offered a delightful break from the relentless summer heat.

Our family has always enjoyed rainy days. Sometimes, we’ll run outside during the height of the downpour and perform our own little rain dance, with a nod of gratitude to the rain gods. At the very least, we give pause to just stare out the window for a while. For this occasion, we cancelled some other plans and spent the morning under cover on the patio with a cup of coffee, while the kids took advantage of a break in the thunder to go for a swim in the rain.

Everything about it – the sound, the smell, the freshness in the air – seems to invigorate us, as if breathing new life into tired souls. For reasons I can’t explain, tension and grumpiness start to melt away, and everyone’s spirit kicks up a notch or two. The spa industry makes millions every year on “treatments” that mimick the feeling of a warm rain, so I guess we’re not alone. There’s just something zen-like about it.

Speaking of zen . . .  just now, as I write this, I can hear the patter of raindrops starting to graze the window. I think I’ll head out for a short walk.