Showing posts from 2016

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…

Commencement 2016

For the last two years, my seniors have ended their year by delivering ten-minute commencement speeches. They are the most remarkable part of my year. Here is the speech I gave to them.
I was looking at a poster in my son’s room last night, and thinking of how many superheroes wear capes.  Tomorrow when you walk around that track, taking your final steps as high school students, you will also be wearing capes.  

Okay they are robes, but they are a lot like capes and I like the symbolism.  You are headed out into an imperfect world and you must fight injustice.  Billionaire or not, you must act like Bruce Wayne.  Like The Batman, you don’t possess any real superpowers, just your own determination, intellect, and maybe some cool gadgets.  My goodness you all carry the equivalent of the batphone in your pockets.  As you soak up all the pomp and circumstance of that event, don’t forget about the capes you are wearing.  

My time with you as students is now down to a matter of minutes.  I ho…


To entice my first son to move from his crib to his new “big-boy” bed, we told him we would paint it any color he wanted.  He did not hesitate for a single second: PINK!

He said this with a huge grin, and the unbridled enthusiasm of a little kid being given the freedom to make a decision all his own.  Pink was his favorite color, and I had made a habit of challenging anyone who raised an eyebrow.  “What do you think this is,” I would ask with varying levels of indignation, “the 1950s?  It is a color.  He likes the way it looks.”  It was shocking the number of people who felt they needed to weigh in on this.  Friends and family members alike, people I believed to be intelligent and open-minded, rolled their eyes and made jokes.  Pink is a girl’s color.  Pink is a gay color.  Archaic, ignorant, outdated nonsense.  

So, there my son was bouncing with excitement at the new color of his bed.  “Any color other than pink,” I said immediately.  I did not debate this answer.  My better self - a …

Teacher Appreciation Day

I was pumped this morning when I realized it was Teacher Appreciation Day.  Everyone loves a free cup of coffee and a donut.   
But, my real joy came when a former student walked up and handed me a note.  “Thank you for being a teacher,” she wrote.  “It can’t be an easy thing to do, with tests and politics pulling the marionette strings.  It must feel pretty powerless sometimes.”  She is right about the puppet strings, but not wholly right about the powerlessness.  I have learned to cut some of those strings meant to control my every move in the classroom.  All good teachers have, but we could use more help.
Think back to a teacher who influenced you in a meaningful way, and I suspect you will remember character more than content, how you felt more than what you learned.  I am not saying content and skills are pointless, just that they are not the main point.  Most of what my former student wrote about in her note was about my seeing in her the wonderful person she would become rather t…

Food, Kids, and Beauty

Our food.

There is no beauty in grocery shopping.  I think there once was, maybe for my parents, or my grandparents, perhaps I have to go back farther than that.
Asphalt parking lots, metal carts, meat packaged in a way that allows us to forget we are eating things that were once alive and looking about.  Florescent lights and packaged foods designed to sit on our shelves for unimaginable stretches like that book I have been meaning to read but never get to.  Increasingly we turn away from ingredients that might expire and rot because meal planning takes time and thought, and we are too busy.  With preservatives piled high, we can all just stock our pantries and grab whatever we need whenever we need it.
We have simplified the whole shopping experience in the name of progress.  Gone are the days of buying meat from a butcher, vegetables from a farm stand, fish from a fish market.  Now it is one stop shopping.  We no longer carefully examine a piece of produce for color and texture: wh…

Happy New Year

I like routine.  I like small get-togetherswith a few people I know very well much more than large parties where I meet new people.  Small talk exhausts me.  My sports of choice are running and cycling - activities known for their monotony.  I make an espresso to start my morning every day, and get a little cranky if that can't happen.  I can settle for a cup of coffee instead, but I smile less and grumble more.  I am thirty-nine years old, and am suddenly seeing less humor in the little idiosyncrasies of my eighty-one-year-old father.  Think Ghost of Christmas Future with asnarkyand sarcastic sense of humor: See that buddy?  That is you in forty years.  Ha.   
My dad.  He has a collection of mugs from his travels around the world and each day he drinks from the one on the bottom shelf, far right.  Then he shuffles them all over one space and replaces that one at the back of the order when he is finished.  He listens to adifferentopera every Saturday.  At one o’clock.  After fini…