The Greatest Generation

humility

Start time was 4:00pm. We pulled into the parking lot at 3:40pm. We made it. But it wasn’t pretty. Torrential rain, back-ups on the NJ turnpike, standing water, all treacherous, extended our drive time by 90 minutes.  Being late for this event was not a memory I wanted to bank. We walked briskly for a mile to get to The Pavilion, the venue for Rachel’s college graduation ceremony.

Late = no seats. Responsible parents arrived 60-90 minutes early.  Susan (a member of the class of responsible parents) arrived earlier in the day, waited for us, and couldn’t hold our seats because we were late. I caught the scud with my chest.  This time, I had no counter. Cut it too fine.

Susan found a seat. I stood at the back. Bad Dads in the back.

He had to be in his 80′s.  He arrived on the arm of a Graduate, had to be his Grandson. A navy blue suit, oversized but neatly pressed. Black wing-tip shoes that had long since lost their gleam. A powder blue handkerchief peeked out of his suit jacket pocket. A taupe colored shirt with the tail hanging out. He dragged his right leg behind him, his Grandson offering ballast. (WW Veteran?)

He grabbed the chair in front of him and slumped down heavily. They were seated in my line of sight up 1 row.

The distinguished guests and the faculty processional was followed by a thank you to Parents, family members, and significant others. His Grandson softly nudges him.

[Read more...]

One gets the sense they are trying to armor up

graduation

Excerpt from David Brooks in the NY Times: The Streamlined Life

In 1985, only 18 percent of freshmen said that they felt overwhelmed by all they had to do. By 2013, 33 percent said they felt overwhelmed. In 1985, 64 percent of students said they ranked in the top 10 percent or at least above average in terms of mental health. But today, students admit to being much more emotionally vulnerable. They also declare low levels of spiritual self-confidence.

At the same time, one gets the sense they are trying to armor up, in preparation for the rigors to come. They assert their talents. They rate themselves much more highly than past generations on leadership skills, writing abilities, social self-confidence and so on. For example, in 2009, roughly 75 percent of freshmen said they had a stronger drive to achieve than their average peers.

Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.

Read full article:  The Streamlined Life


Photograph by Mutaz Albar

Our hearts beat faster

Rachel-2014

The collegiate alumni chairperson of Rachel’s sorority asked the parents of graduating seniors to write a letter to their daughter, which was read out loud to them by their little sister at the traditional Senior Send Off event for the sorority.  The event was held this morning. Here was Rachel’s text to us.

Rachel-text-message

Here’s our letter to Rachel:


Dear Rachel:

Let’s just say that you were difficult from the get-go. Your Mom and Dad tried for 9 years (9 YEARS!), and we almost gave up.  And then you just appeared. Voila! A tadpole on a monitor.  Roll the tape forward 9 months plus 23 hours of labor (23 HOURS!) – - your Mother threw up her hands and Doc pulled out the scalpel.

They say that all babies are beautiful. Hmmmmm. The forceps stretched your head. Your eyes were disproportionately LARGE and bulging. You were WAILING. I had to double pump the scissors with my trembling hands to untether you from your Mother. I was flooded with images of E.T. – - “E.T. Go Home!”  I needed assurances from Doc that all of this, this, was normal.

You had colic for 6 months. You started up when I arrived home from work and stopped during our long walks down Biscayne Blvd.  You were strapped in a papoose tight to my chest. With the fronds on the palm trees clapping in the gentle evening breeze, there you were looking up at me.  Sobbing, then sniffling, then quiet.

We’d come home. I’d turn on Annie Lennox – - “Walking on Broken Glass” – - and you would settle. I would slump down on the couch, exhausted, and let you sleep on my chest. The little hair that you had, was matted and glistening with sweat. Your cheeks and eyes, swollen and red.  Your little fingers clenched my t-shirt. Your heart pitter-pattered on my chest. And your intermittent, puffs-puffs of baby breath – - you, all of you, a miracle.

And then the frames would pass. Minutes, days, weeks and years.  All accelerating.

You left home to go to College. We cried on the long drive home.

You lit up sharing your experiences with Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and St. Jude Children’s Hospital – - freezing me in place as I listened to your Sunday night updates. I have yet to find my God, but I could feel something working me through you.

My chest swelled when you were named President of your Sorority. When you made Dean’s List. When you landed your Summer Internships. When you received your first job offer.  (I just cut the cord. We just dropped you off for your freshman year. Where did it go? Sand slipping through my fingers.)

I know you are listening – listening to these words – sitting among your friends.

It’s time.  Time for me to put on my headphones and play “Walking on Broken Glass” in a loop.  And roll the time back to remember the beautiful moments in between then and now.

I can feel you.
I can feel your fingers clenching my t-shirt.
I can feel your puffs of breath.
I can feel your heart beating.
And when your heart beats, my heart beats faster.

Love you Honey.

Mom & Dad


Mantra for the Week

cool-paper-evolution-people-act-window-professor-funny


Source: themetapicture (Spotted in the window of a biology professor office…)

Dad reads. Eyes (and heart) moving down the page. Then bows his head.

delta delta delta,photography,hand symbol

Dad didn’t like it.
Dad didn’t support it. (Story here.)
Dad gets rolled (ignored is a better word).
Daughter does it anyway.

Last night, Daughter as President, addressed Seniors and incoming Freshmen in her final official duty.

Daughter sends Mom and Dad two text messages last night.

“Everyone Loved it.”

“They all cried.”

Here’s a summary of her speaking notes:

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Say Something

college classroom

Dread.
It started in the shower.
Stomach sour – doing loop de loops.
Northern Michigan.
Late November, 1980s.
The morning shower is followed by a long walk in the dark from the dorm.
Square into the teeth of a wicked Northern Michigan wind.
Mitts. Goose down coats. Parkas. Sorel boots.
Students filing in for the 8:00 am class.
I find a seat in the middle-back.  Need to get invisible.
I’m below the stoners and the drunks, adorned with hoodies.
I’m above the whizz-bangs, a**-kissers and kids with coke bottle glasses.
Three weeks earlier the Professor kicks off his class with ground rules.
“A full letter grade is determined by your class participation, frequency and quality.”
Red Pencil in hand.
He’d put a tick mark next to each name who’s hand would go up.
He’d hang over his journal scribbling after a noteworthy comment.
I’m sitting.
And shredded in half.
One half with head down to avoid being called on.
Coward.
The other half, The Angry Man – a full letter grade down before taking a single exam.
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Landslide

cloud in a blue sky

It was move-in day.
A North Carolina morning.
Where a cool breeze dusted your face.
And a cumulus cloud was chiseled into an otherwise unmarked sky.
The Sun was warming.
Yes, another one of those days in which you know.
You know that this wasn’t all by accident.
Too large. Too complex. Just too big.

We are among other parents and their children getting an early start.
Moving day buzz and jitters.
Hauling printers, pillows, college-ruled paper and milk crates. Setting up bunk beds.

He’s tense.
Momma and Momma’s Boy are tangling over where to put stuff.
PC isn’t working.
I tell him to let me try.
I sit in his desk chair. The chair he will be sitting in for the next 9 months.
And work on setting up his printer.
I feel his disorientation.
The Anxiety.
Change.
He’s inherited this from his Dad.   [Read more...]

You’ve Still Got A Friend

Thursday.  He was running late for lunch.  My college roommate.  Just like him to be late.  My mind whirring back to college…

Short (very) and stocky build.  Permanently attired in University of Minnesota Gopher sweatpants and an oversized sweat shirt with hoody. Everything hung large.  Everything rumpled.  “Unkempt, having an untidy or disheveled appearance.”  Webster’s should have added his name.  He was the magnetic center – the beating heart – of every college party.  Quarter-bounce champ into Pabst Blue Ribbon at the Alibi.  Ringleader for late night games of Hearts. Out late. (Very)  Up late. (Very)  Blessed with a quick wit and quicker on the ice.  Selected easiest path to graduation: Art. Sculpture. Sociology. Physical Education. And even this was a struggle. Yet, he was never late for hockey practice.  Vote never taken, but most likely to end up next to the curb.

He walked in. Hair salt and peppered grey. Blazer. Blue open collar shirt. Tropical skin tone. (He’s got it together.)

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Let there be light…

child, bicycle, sad, bike, child riding bike, illustration, black and white

5:45am.

I’m in the car off to work.

It’s dark.

It’s cold.

It’s wet.

I’m scanning my playlist to find a match to my mood.  I’m challenged.  Nothing seems to fit.  Nothing that is, except the weather.

Mind pans back ten years. A sunny day in Miami.  A lazy Sunday afternoon.  She loves car rides.  The sun roof is open.  Andrea Bocelli is crooning on the cd player.  We’re crossing the Rickenbacker Causeway.  The City center is on our left.  Biscayne Bay’s shimmering aquamarine blues are on the right.  A warm tropical breeze is gushing through the windows.  I look over and her eyes are closed and her hair is blowing in the wind.  A portrait of youthful bliss.  An indelible image that can be pulled up at will.  [Read more...]

Cat’s left the cradle

Eric-before-after-2012

He returned home for Thanksgiving.  My strapping 6′ 3” son walked into the waiting area.   He had grown.  Looking down on his Dad from a higher elevation.  Adorned with knee length gym shorts. (47F outside.)  Sweat shirt with hoody.  And his hair.  Wow.  Only a Mother can love this slovenly look.  And she does.  I let it ride.  For about 24 hours.  Do you think just maybe you could trim it up?  Dad puts up the fences and guardrails.  Empathetic Mom breaks ranks.  Intuitive Son notices his parents on opposing sides.  Mamma’s boy digs in and expects full cover.  With leverage waning, I grab the last lifeboat …when one feeds at the trough, respect the farmer.   Outcome: No haircut.   And, I now have a Son using hair elastics and headbands aka hair accessories.

He returned home for Christmas.  There he was waiting for us at the airport terminal. Same knee length ratty gym shorts.  (39F outside).  Same sorry sweat shirt with hoody.  And his hair. All intact.  Clothes, hair, shoes…looking matted, dingy and need of a hot shower and wire brush.  Mom first.  Then, Dad gave his Son a hug. Zeke, electrified, and in the midst of a full head-to-toe body wiggle, finally settled after Eric kneeled down to hug him. Of course, Zeke needed to be part of the greeting party. [Read more...]

Hi Daddy…

Rachel:   Hi Daddy!

Dad:          Hi Honey.  What’s up?

Rachel:   Daddy, I scored an 88 on a brutal Managerial Accounting Test!

Dad:          Wow, that’s amazing Rachel.  Well done!  I’m proud of you.

Rachel:   OK Daddy.  Just wanted to let you know.  Gotta run.

Self:           “Daddy.”

45 second phone conversation with daughter on car ride home from work.  Priceless.


Image Credit: Thank you abirdeyeview

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Just a few more seconds…that’s all I need.

He arrived late Thursday night.

He looked taller. He looked like he had filled out. It had been less than 60 days. An illusion.

We couldn’t make it to Family Weekend in September. I could sense disappointment. His roommates’ parents showed. They graciously invited him to dinner.

It was a short 4-day week at school this weekend. A trip home before Thanksgiving wasn’t in the budget. Many of his new mates on the floor had planned to head home as they lived within a few hours drive. He didn’t want to make the call. He didn’t have to say it. And he didn’t. He wanted (needed) to come home, even if it was a brief weekend stay. And he could catch up with his sister who was home on break.

Dad and Son engaged in their customary near-monosyllabic dialogue. [Read more...]

It’s dark out…

this too shall pass - psychology - struggle - worry - quote - quotationEach morning. For 18 years.  It would be early and dark out. I’d silently prepare for work.  I’d shower.  I’d shave.  I’d dress.  I’d grab my briefcase. I’d tip-toe past their rooms. Their doors would be closed.  No need to peer in.  They’re safe.  And in a deep sleep under their comforters.

Today.  I silently prepare for work.  I shower.  I shave.  I dress.  I grab my briefcase.  I walk down the hall.  My heavy footfalls ricochet off the hard wood floors and echo in their rooms. It’s early.

And it’s still dark out.


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Image Source: creatingaquietmind via wordsanctuary

You must go at it with monastic obsession…

John E. Smith @ strategiclearner is a frequent inspiration stop for me.  Here’s another one of John’s great shares.  Henry Rollins speaks to college students in this clip however I believe his remarks are inspirational to all of us.  He shares an important message that needs to be heard, shared and passed along. It’s worth 5 minutes of your time.  You’ll find the transcript below.

Transcript of Henry Rollins’ remarks:

Young person, you’ll find in your life that sometimes your great ambitions will be momentarily stymied, thwarted, marginalized by those who were perhaps luckier, come from money, where more doors opened, where college was a given–it was not a student loan; it was something that Dad paid for–to where an ease and confidence in life was almost a birthright, where for you it was a very hard climb.

You cannot let these people make you feel that you have in any way been dwarfed or out-classed. You must really go for your own and realize how short life is. You got what you got, so you have to make the most of it. You really can’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about his. You really have to go for your own. If you have an idea of what you want to do in your future, you must go at it with almost monastic obsession, be it music, the ballet or just a basic degree. You have to go at it single-mindedly and let nothing get in your way. You’re young. That’s why you can survive on no sleep, Top Ramen noodles and dental floss and still look good.

All the people you admire, from Mohamed Ali to any politician, they work and work and work. Your president right now is a man who got where he is through very hard work and scholarships, mainly hard work and application and discipline. If these people can do it, why not you? [Read more...]

He’s Gone.

The countdown started on Monday.  My first day back from vacation.  Rachel is off to school.  And three days from an empty nest with Eric packing up for his freshman year.  (The short week felt like repeated bouts of getting up quickly from reading on the bed.  Disorientation.  Stabilization.  Disorientation.  Stabilization.  Grab an arm rail pal.  Get a grip.  You can’t slow down the clock.)

The Chariot was packed and ready to depart for the 11-hour journey. (No, the King doesn’t pack. The scope of his competency is narrow and deep…and some would argue not that deep.  Best for him to stay well out of the way of logistics.)

It was impossible to see out of the side windows.  Every square inch of trunk and 1/2 of the back seat was stuffed to the roof top.  Changing lanes was a roll of the dice.  Normal humans would invest in a car-top carrier, rent a van, or borrow something larger…not this Cat.  The $500 expense on top of the college tuition was the tipping point.  So, we jammed it all in and off we went.

The King was sitting in a cubby hole behind the driver’s seat.  (Oh, what delicious irony.  My first memory of Eric was driving him home from the hospital a few days after his birth.  I was driving at far less than the speed limit and slipping glances back to see that he was okay.) 

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The Last Supper.

image I was running the rough math in my head. They have been subjected to over 100,000 “course corrections” during their lifetimes.

Wash your hands. Tie your laces. Look people in the eye. Use a firm handshake. Wipe your face. Keep your voice down. Sit up. Comb your hair. Brush your teeth. Pick up your things. Put on clean clothes. Don’t yell. Get along with your Brother. Get along with your Sister. Say please. Say thank you. Say you are sorry. ENOUGH TV.  Read. Get to sleep. Go to the bathroom before we leave the house. Enough candy. Do your homework.  Plus 1000 others.  And, certainly not all of them delivered with finesse or a light touch. When you are molding a sculpture, some rough chops are necessary. And per the King’s rules, as long as the game is played within the fences and by the house rules, all is good.

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He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me…

Eric (son) and I concluded our college visits last week.  The May 1 final decision date was banging on the back door.  He has 2 excellent choices.  One close to home.  One a plane ride away.  Son like Father is not long on words…and Son has been close to the vest on the final call.  I roll out of bed in the wee hours of the morning today.  Look at the clock…3:50am.  Flip open my smart phone.  Email from Eric.  A rare occurrence.  I sit down.  I rub the sleep out of my eyes.  I take a deep breath.  And I read.

“So after giving it some thought I have my mind set on W.  Here’s my reasoning:

  1. W is more expensive but W’s school rank is higher than B.
  2. W is more appealing in terms of the small class sizes.
  3. I feel that it would be easier to stand out when applying to med/grad school in a smaller school with a reputation for exceptional academics.
  4. I found the living and food situation at W to be a lot better.  Air conditioned dorms. And I’m GUARANTEED to be on campus.  Which is a short walk to class.
  5. The major drawback to W is the distance from home but I feel the educational experience is superior.  I will just deal with the travel and deal with being further away from home.
  6. I felt a greater sense of community at W, and I warmed very much to the southern hospitality.  So this is my rationale.  I’ve been getting pretty excited at the prospect of going to W the past few days, so I think my mind is made up.

So, it’s done.  Mr. Independent has pulled the trigger without so much as a 10-minute discussion with Mom & Dad.

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The Believer of Convenience.

Scene: Sunday, April 17, 2012.  Beautiful sunny day in Chestnut Hill, MA.  Home of Boston College. (BC Alums, did I get your colors, right?)

This was a Father and Son day trip where we were joined by 1000+ other incoming freshman and their expectant parents – some like Eric, who were trying to decide if BC was going to be their home for the next four years.

Father Jeremy Clark (b. Australia; Chinese History specialist; Rugby enthusiast) kicked off his remarks by sharing some background on the Jesuits and their foundation which I recap like this: Pursuit of education and knowledge.  Integration of education with Religion and one’s pursuit of their highest personal calling.  Embracing character, community and service.  And, AND, their belief that “God is in All Things.”  More on this later.

Roll past a 45-minute briefing session in Biology and another 45 minutes in Chemistry (and I’m ready for therapy – Can I be the most clueless parent in the room?  Why are most of the parents taking notes?  Should I be taking notes?  On What?  Maybe I’ll doodle.  Ahh, I forgot my pen.  And I have no paper.  Isn’t the time up yet?  Why can’t I get an iPhone signal in here to check my emails?  Isn’t it hot in here?  I glance over at Eric.  He’s intently focused on the Professor. At least someone has it together. Could he be adopted? Or Worse?).  We moved on to the last of the formal classroom sessions which was hosted by four BC seniors sharing their thoughts on the BC experience.  It was standing room only.  No air in this room.  Or, perhaps I’m still hyperventilating from the last Chem session.  (What is wrong with me?)  During the end of the Q&A, a parent asks how invasive the religious requirements are at Boston College.  You could only hear crickets.  The Believers, shifting (squirming) uncomfortably in their chairs.  Gritting their teeth I’m sure.  The non-Catholic/non-Jesuit/”Other” parents and students sitting up at attention waiting for the response.  And me, I’m standing up against the wall…behind my son who sitting in front of me…I plant my feet…lean up against the wall…I squeeze his shoulders…I feel woozy.  (Get a grip man!)

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Week in Review: Down but not out…

Top of mind this week was all Eric and his pending college application decisions…applications to high quality schools where I’d be lucky to simply walk the hallowed halls and roll around on their manicured lawns.

My stubborn young man was determined to complete and submit his applications without any “management” oversight.  (He did not, however, balk at help with the application fees.)

He also did not want to call on an influential family friend for an Ivy league school reference for one of his applications.  He wasn’t confident that he would attend this school if he was accepted to his #1 choice and he didn’t want to embarrass the alum.

[Read more...]