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The Story

Several people have asked me about the trip my family took last winter to Vermont, the trip where my wife got the flu, our car couldn't make it the final two miles to our house so we walked through the  freezing rain in the dark, and I broke my wrist trying to snowboard. It is a good story.

So, if you are looking for a laugh and a little perspective on this Monday morning, give it a read.
It has become an annual tradition for my seniors to end their year by writing and delivering ten-minute commencement speeches. Each year, I write one as well. Here is my speech for 2017.
Most commencement speeches focus on what the speaker has done. It is from the things we do that we gain valuable life lessons, and it is these lessons that are sometimes worth sharing.
I contemplated talking to you about wiping out and breaking my wrist this winter trying to learn how to snowboard as a forty-year-old. I could emphasize the importance of taking risks, I thought, or bouncing back from failures, or how that whole experience only solidified my desire to try new and challenging things. If you never get broken your aren’t risking enough - that sort of thing.
I thought about explaining how my wife and I bought a house in Vermont in October; I could emphasize important lessons about not listening to the advice of those who tell you your dreams are impractical, about how we just took a deep bre…

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My face has been known to intimidate my students.  It has made my sons cry on more than one occasion.
“What is the matter?” people ask on days I am feeling just fine, good even.  
Between my eyebrows, there is a furrow which at first glance may suggest deep thought, or mild aggression, or possibly boiling rage.  I have to concentrate to relax it away, and change the message of my face from “tread carefully” to “why, hello there.”  
I don’t smile nearly enough - not at my boys, or my wife, or my parents, and certainly not at strangers or casual acquaintances.  If my face is a book, I am not sure it is one people would be excited to read.  
The book of my face does an admirable job of telling the story during the big moments of life.  When my story is one of exceptional joy, my face will show you that in a moment’s glance - crooked teeth, eyes alight with happiness.  When I am angry or feel I have been wronged, there will be no hiding it.  I lock eyes with my adversary, and bystanders dive …

On the Eve of the Inauguration

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As both a father and teacher, I feel like a Depression era farmer on the eve of the Dust Bowl.  The farmer has done everything to ensure his crops will grow.  For years he has worked the soil to make it as fertile as he can, but a hard world has overpowered his good intentions.  Day after day he watches helplessly as all he has tried to build blows away with the grains of dirt howling across the flaking paint of his front porch.  He wants control, but he has none.  He wants to heal the earth he has tended so carefully, but he can't.  All he can do is hope.
Tomorrow Donald Trump becomes the next President of The United States.  As a teacher and father I find that deeply troubling.  For twenty years, I have tried to use literature to teach students the importance of this country’s core beliefs.  Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson despite the racist forces of society working against him.  Toni Bambara’s “The Lesson” in which a girl living in poverty stands before FAO Schwartz wonder…

The Santa Sham

I struggle more each year with the approach of the Christmas holiday, as I find myself deeper and deeper in the Santa lie.  It felt so good at first.  When my first son was born more than a decade ago I relished my new role as Santa.  Above my desk at work I hung up the card my wife gave me that first year: “First he believes in Santa,” it read.  “Then he does not believe in Santa.  Then he is Santa.”  I loved that last part, the magic in it, the giddy sneaking around with Mrs. Claus after the kids were in bed to fill up the space under the tree.  I hung that card above my desk with a special care previously reserved only for stockings.  With our kids we put out deer food for Santa’s team.  We strained our ears for any jingle, and scanned the skies for any glimpse.  We swore we heard a bell, were certain we saw a twinkle.
These are the difficult years, now that my eldest son has reached double digits.  I know some year soon - perhaps even this one, though I hope not - my son will reali…

The Haunting of Ghosts

I keep thinking about haunted houses, the ones of our childhoods where we were taught to fear the dead.  I think we have it all wrong.  If I heard of a haunted house now - gray clapboards weathered by winter after winter - I would make my way there like a pilgrimage, counting those who have passed like rosaries.  I would sneak inside to wander the darkened hallways, trying rusting doorknobs in the hopes of opening up a portal to my grandfather, or Frank’s dad, or Kate’s mom.  I would press my ear to the walls and listen for the accented Croatian tongue of my brother-in-law’s father.  I would turn the knobs on dusty old radios long unplugged, straining to hear the call of the Cubs games I always listened to with my grandpa, the spectral taste of Pop-ems on my tongue.  I would climb to the attic and listen for the whispered advice of the dead as I try to navigate the complexities of this life.  
I want to be haunted.  I want so desperately to believe that is possible.  
Tonight, I spent m…

A Break in the Narrative

“Got time for a haircut?” my father asks as soon as soon as I walk through the door of my house.  He is waiting for me, literally opening the door as I walk up the two front steps.  He and my mom are there when I get home, having gotten my sons off of the school bus.  I take a deep breath.  “Sure,” I say, “let me grab the stuff.” I pull one of the dining room chairs onto the tile of the kitchen floor, walk down the hall and grab the comb, scissors, and clippers.  Sitting there in the middle of my kitchen, my eighty-two-year-old father looks old.  He looks tired, and I am not sure it has been a good day. He no longer looks like the father of my childhood remembrance.  I take his glasses from him and place them on the counter beside us.  I wrap a towel around his thin shoulders; he folds his right hand over his twisted and atrophied left, and the world tilts.  The patient way he waits for me to begin, the vulnerability of it, knocks me off center.   I grab pieces between my fingers and sn…