Happy Birthday, Dad. Still missing you, man!


Author’s Note: I published this entry on my father’s birthday for the first time in 2009. I still miss him and not only on his birthday, so I post it again today. This is the one post that gets picked up most by search engines. Other folks who missed their departed dads come here to read about mine. If you’re reading this, I wish that you were as lucky as I was in having known someone like my dad Gilberto. Blessings to yours and mine.

If my Dad was alive, today would have been his 81st birthday.  He died in a car accident in Cuba in 1979. He was 47 years old.  I almost died with him.

On a day like today, I am remembering his courage and his grace.

I would love to tell you a little bit about both.

We were in Cuba visiting the family we had left behind a decade earlier.  Ours was one of the first groups to travel back to Cuba under the Family Reunification Act.  This was a recent agreement of the Cuban and American governments that allowed family members living in the US the opportunity to visit relatives on the island.

Like a lot of Cuban families, ours had been split along political lines.  After supporting the Revolution from its infancy, my Dad broke with it in the early Sixties.  He felt the original promises of the Revolution — a return to democracy after Batista, with the Constitution of 1940 as guide — had been betrayed.  He called the Castro gang the real counter-revolutionaries.  After the nationalization of private property — including my Dad’s humble-single pump Sinclair station — and the declaration by Castro that communism, not democracy, was the future for Cuba, Dad filed the necessary paperwork for our family to emigrate to this country.  I can only imagine the pain Dad must have felt leaving his family and friends behind to move to a country that spoke a different language and lived a different culture.  He was only allowed to take with him the clothes he was wearing.

About a quarter of my family did the same thing.  The other three quarters stayed behind with different degrees of involvement in the Castro government.  Some close relatives, believers in and defenders of the Revolution, were high up in governmental circles.  I loved these people as much as I loved the ones that made it across the Florida Straits.  My Dad taught me that.  I never heard him say one negative, unloving thing about any family member that had chosen differently than him.  He had a big, accepting heart.

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Caine’s Arcade


From Colossal:

This is the story of a nine year old boy named Caine who built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his father’s used auto part store. A dollar gets you four plays, and two dollars gets you a five-hundred turn FUN PASS. Business was slow until independent filmmaker Nirvan Mullick spotted the arcade and plotted to change Caine’s life forever. Watch the short film and if you feel as weepy and joyous as I did, head over to his newly established scholarship fund. And can I just say, what an amazing dad to support, encourage, and allow his son to pretty much overtake his storefront for the sake of fun and creativity. (via mefi)

Worth Repeating


From Lapham’s Quarterly via the great Maria Popova:

Your mother and I have been a complete failure financially but if the boys turn out to be good and useful citizens nothing else matters and we know this is happening so why not be jubilant?

–LeRoy Pollock in a 1928 letter to his 16-year-old son Jackson.

The rest of the letter is here, and this is the book where it can be found: American Letters 1927-1947: Jackson Pollock & Family.

Please consider subscribing to Ms. Popova’s Brain Pickings, a very enjoyable and informative site. And “If you find any joy and value in it, please consider a modest donation. Brain Pickings remains ad-free and takes 450+ hours a month to curate and edit, between the site, the newsletter and Twitter.”

Uh-oh, Ritalin Is Not The Answer?


I’ve been married to two women who had been diagnosed with A.D.D. One of them dealt with the symptoms by taking a small (prescribed) dosage of Ritalin. A couple of other members of my extended family have also relied on either Ritalin or Adderall over the years to better manage their focusing difficulties.

This from WebMD:

The symptoms of ADHD include inattention and/or hyperactivity and impulsivity. These are traits that most children display at some point or another. But to establish a diagnosis of ADHD, sometimes referred to as ADD, the symptoms should be inappropriate for the child’s age.

and also this:

Toddlers and preschoolers with ADHD tend to be constantly in motion, jumping on furniture, and having difficulty participating in sedentary group activities. For instance, they may have trouble listening to a story.

School-age children display similar behavior but with less frequency. They are unable to remain seated, squirm a lot, fidget, or talk excessively.

In today’s New York Times, L. Alan Sroufe professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, cautions about the practice of prescribing Ritalin and Adderall as a long-term solution to deal with A.D.D. in children and young adults in a sobering reassessment:

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.

But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?

In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.

As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.

My son has shown some of the same symptoms associated with A.D.D. He is too young to be formally diagnosed, since some of these are common to most young children. Until now, I feared that medication was the inevitable solution. Now, I’m not so sure. There may not be a magic cure. That may not be that bad.

The rest of the Times opinion piece is here.

Unintended Benefits of the Current Recession


(Author’s note: When I wrote this piece, originally posted here on February, 2010, my financial situation was dire. It was the same — and, sadly it still is — for millions of Americans. I have been employed for over a year, and things have improved a great deal. I have a lot of gratitude for the change in circumstances and I thought of reposting this piece to spread a little hope and encouragement for anyone still struggling. Remember, don’t give up before the miracle).

It has been almost two years since I decided to close my six year-old business because the economic realities were all pointing in one direction: downward. At the end of the line, I felt about my business as I felt at the end of my previous marriage: sad, disappointed and frustrated but I was convinced that I had done all that I could to save them both. It just had not worked. On both instances, when I walked away, I felt that I was not going to look back, except occasionally, to see if there was something to be learned that would help me navigate the current waters.

I make it a habit of not complaining about my situation because I know that there are so many more families that face equal or worst problems than mine. Besides complaining never got me anything, unless I was dealing with Costumer Service at a department store, and even then…

What I have tried to do instead is look for the silver lining — not in a pollyannish, but a practical way — in this economic Waterloo.

Silver Lining in the current recession

I’ve come up with some evidence of silver. I would love to share it in the hope that it might help some of you deal with your own storm clouds. I know that it will certainly help me to talk about it as I move forward.

I never suspected, when I closed the doors to my business, that I would be almost two years without employment and that I would be facing the dire financial difficulties I have faced.

I’ve heard the expression “Every cloud has a silver lining” a thousand times and I’ve never looked up its meaning or origin until I sat down to write this. According to Wikipedia:

The origin of the phrase is traced to John Milton’s Comus (1634) with the lines, “Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?”

I am not going to talk much about the cloud part of the expression because I don’t want to bore anybody. Besides, we all have our own misery quota. I want to talk about the silver lining component instead, as I have come to understand it.

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A Stroll Up Memory Road: Fireflies in the Garden

Image via Wikimedia Commons: "Gluehwuermchen Im Wald" by Quit007 ©2010. Some Rights Reserved

As an adult, I lived in three different houses on one block of Mountain Road. Four, if you count the apartment I shared with my second wife. I now live about a half a mile from there. Most days, particularly in the warmer months, my walking route takes me around these former residences. My emotional relationship to these places vary from the insignificant to the life altering, but because I see them so often, these connections tend to stay in the back of the memory bank. They’ve become part of the background scenery.

These are some of them: my daughter was born on one of these addresses; I lived across the street when I graduated from college; my family had a small garment business in an industrial building — now converted to condos — at the beginning of the street; I faced a “dark night of the soul” at another one of the residences at the end of the Road and lived to see the morning light. That was two and a half decades ago. I also see the house where I last saw my father alive, in a cold day in February, thirty years ago. This house, overlooking the Island of Manhattan and the Hudson River, is vacant. It waits, along with a few of the neighboring properties, a rebirth by redevelopment into high-end housing units. Continue reading

Do You Tell Your Child: “This Is Going to Hurt”?


Editor’s Note: This was first published July 11th of last year. We had another doctor’s visit this week. Vaccines this time. Four shots. Same feelings.

Today was blood work day. Routine, thank God. I had moved up the appointment a full week to wait for the return of our favorite doctor at the pediatric practice. He also had the steadier hand and the most luck when searching for a tiny two and a half year-old vein.

When I’d take my older daughter to the doctor — two and a half decades ago — I got into the habit of telling her ahead of time the nature of the procedure and, most importantly, wether it was going to hurt or not. I just felt I owed it to her.

She was trusting me and I wanted to be honest. It never lessened the pain but it help build up communication and trust. She’s almost thirty and she knows I don’t lie to her no matter how painful or difficult the subject.

While we waited for Dr. K to come into the examining room, I held my son. I noticed my anxiety level rising. The protective instinct is well developed in most adults and certainly all parents I’ve known. I get into rationalization mode: The blood tests and the immunization shots and the administration of shitty-tasting meds are part of a parent’s duties and responsibilities. It’s part of the protective code we inherited as parents.

So as I’m holding this trusting, sweet and innocent little person I’ve been entrusted with, I hold his hand and on the top, I give a light pinch and I tell him:

“When Dr. K. comes in, he’s going to give you a pinch right here — harder than this, of course — to do a test we need to do. I’m hoping he gets it on the first try. I don’t think you understand me, but I need to tell you. It’s going to hurt and you’re probably going to cry. I am sorry, but we have to do this to make sure you’re healthy.”

There’s a blank stare. I then add:

“After we leave here, we’re going to the playground!”

This he understands. He smiles when I kiss him on the forehead.

When the doctor comes in, he stops smiling. I sense little red flags are going up in his head.

The worst part is holding my son down while the procedure is taking place. I feel like a traitor. While I kiss his tears, I imagine him thinking: “Yeah, you tell me the truth but how come you don’t help me out. I thought you were here to protect me!” My guess is most parents go through this agony, some more often than others. And some with more serious procedures than a blood test.

I don’t breathe until I see blood flowing into the syringe. This time it took three tries. Dr. K. feels just awful about it.

As he’s leaving, my son waves at him and gives him a very emphatic: “BYE!”

I am relieved that we won’t have to do this again for another year. We pray for, and expect, good results. The misery and the joy of parenting.

One of the most amazing qualities I’ve noticed in my son is his ability to live in — and fully experience — each moment. When we run into the playground, I hoist him into the baby swing. I give him a few pushes and he’s flying through the air. It’s clear that no one, in the whole history of the world, has ever enjoyed swinging more than my son.

He’s not thinking about the visit to the doctor anymore. It will take me a little while to recover.