Time Keeps Flowing Like A River


Way back in June 2010, this little guy donned his handmade mortarboard and in a small ceremony in his school auditorium, he and all his other kindergarten schoolmates were officially bestowed the title of First Grader.

So little was he that in order for me to take this picture, I had to crouch down to his level.

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To give you a better idea, here’s a shot at my eye level. I may have even had to crouch down here as well.

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Look at that “Congrats, Graduate!” button! It’s almost as big as his head.

Flash-forward to last Thursday at the very same school, a day I would not miss for the world and one I thought would never arrive. Not because Anthony is a lousy student but in the world of parenthood, you see and go through a lot. You also think a lot, and my thinking back in 2010 was “Wow, he’s a first-grader. He’ll be graduating in what, 2018? My God, that’s so far away!”

Yet that day had arrived and all the grandparents and his only uncle were there to witness Anthony’s advancement to high school.

And I have to admit I held it together fairly well before the event. But let’s not talk about the slideshow during an award ceremony a few days before. A few months in advance, parents were asked to submit pictures of their students through the years at the school and I added my fair share. It’s when they were put together with music that both Ann and I lost it. It was great to see them over the years but also touching knowing these days were soon to be over.

At that award ceremony, Anthony was given the Outstanding Academic Achievement Award as part of the President’s Education Awards Program.

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I know whose signatures are on it. I don’t care. He would have earned this award regardless of who was running our country into the ground and fiddling like Nero while Rome burned in the Oval Office and if you knew how hard this kid worked this year to bring his grades up to excellent levels, you’d look past that too. It’s something the school believed he rightfully earned and I’m okay with that. It’s now hanging in his room.

Back to Thursday. We all take a seat in the quad and wait for things to begin. Music plays in the background. As the crowd continues to roll in, I stopped in my tracks as Fun.’s “We Are Young” started to play over the loudspeakers. I tried to hold back my tears but I’m human and just couldn’t. That song is one of Anthony’s favorites and I can’t tell you how many times we heard it coming from his bedroom. I realize the true meaning of the song but it’s more or less the hook that really stuck a nerve with me given the circumstances:

Tonight
We are young
So let’s set this world on fire
We can burn brighter
Than the sun

It’s a pretty strong anthem as it is. Adding a personal connection made it so much more meaningful.

Song over. Music fades. Then the Star Wars theme starts and here we see all the kids filing in from the other side of the quad.

Personally, I would have gone with Throne Room myself – triumphant, and it’s the final scene of an epic story. But goddamnit, why is it so dusty out here?

Once seated and we all recited the Pledge of Allegiance and Star-Spangled Banner, it began. A few of the school’s top awards were given and a some students gave speeches. About 45 minutes later they started to call student names so that they could receive their Certificate of Promotion.

It looked like a concert with all those people holding up phones to capture the moment, but this was so much better than any concert we’ve ever attended or would ever attend. I even saw one person FaceTiming the event which I thought was really moving. Some things get to me and that was definitely one.

By then, parents were all over taking pictures and videos. I stood behind the podium on a flight of stairs to capture this shot of our soon-to-be former middle school student.

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I’ve taken thousands of pictures in my life but very few will be as meaningful as this one. A broken ankle, dislocated finger, violin recitals, plays, programs, a little bit of schoolyard heartbreak and the end-of-year picnic, everything he experienced at that school was all behind him now. I have never seen this kid have such a look of relief in his eyes with the smile to match. It absolutely melts me, and I’m sure Dad would have been the same way.

When his name was called, I didn’t clap. I yelled his name and cheered as I took a few more pictures as he was handed his certificate, shook hands with administrators, and made his way back to his seat.

Then, once all the names were called, they were officially declared high school students. We all gave them the applause they so rightfully deserved. I then stood next to where the students were filing out and ugh, I can’t begin to tell you how hard it was for a lot of them and as a parent you can’t help but feel the same way. One of the girls who gave a speech was absolutely broken as she hurriedly shuffled her way out of the quad. Some of the guys – the ones you would least suspect to be moved by this – looked like they had been crying since they got there. I saw Anthony approaching and he looked okay but definitely had red eyes.

I grabbed him, gave him a big hug, told him how proud I was, and took another picture. He then filed out with the rest of the students to the front of the school where things got even more emotional.

More tears. More hugging. Lots of pictures. Did I mention tears? Anthony made the rounds and found as many of his friends as he could and got pictures with them. Afterward, he wanted to go say goodbye to a few of his former teachers. It also gave him one last time to walk the hallways of the school.

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In speaking with them, they all agreed: this kid here was one of the most caring, compassionate, and giving students they’ve ever had. One of them even told him that what you learned here was important but what kind of human being you are is just as important. I can assure you they will miss each other equally.

Anthony is one of only a handful of students who attended Newcomb Academy – a name I’ve withheld from the blog since he started school – from kindergarten through 8th grade. This time includes being relocated to another campus as their school was literally razed and rebuilt from the ground up, which is why things look so different from the first picture.

And note the size of the button now. Not so small, is it? (I told him to look serious for this shot, by the way.) Yes, we still have it and yes, we will make him wear it in four years.

But let’s not get that far. I’ll be 54 by then and I don’t want to think about it. But I do want to say this.

Kid, you made it. You muddled through your share of academic challenges over the last 9 years and as expected, came out on top as you always have and as I always said you would. You’ve doubted yourself but I never did. And being that you inherited your stubbornness from me, I know that you’re much to critical of yourself on many things.

Don’t be. You’ll learn as you get older that it’s not worth it and it just frustrates you. Move on. Just think back on what all of your teachers told me about you on the last day and always carry that with you.

A big, new world awaits you in September and it will be much different from what you’re used to, but it will also be fun. Of course you’ll have some bad days scattered here and there but that’s to be expected no matter what. Hell, I still have them. But just keep this in mind.

Mom and Dad love you and are incredibly proud of the young man you’ve become. And although you’ll be glad when you’re all done with high school, let’s not talk about the Class of 2023 just yet. Let’s take it a day at a time.

Because if these last nine years were a blur to you…

First day of kindergarten

…just imagine how quickly four years will pass.

Last day of 8th grade

Congratulations, son. Set this world on fire. Burn brighter than the sun. A new chapter of your life has begun and we are looking forward to every second of it.

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So About Tonight…


I do just about everything I can to keep Dad’s memory alive, whether it’s getting a tattoo in his honor or taking Anthony places that he used to take me. My hometown, restaurants, whatever. It’s just always a treat to walk into someplace with him and stand in the very same spot where Dad held my hand as a child. It’s how I feel Dad’s presence and his bond with me, even 39 years after his passing.

Tonight I decided to take Anthony to one of those places: an oil refinery. Yes, it sounds ridiculously stupid but allow me to explain.

Every year for Halloween as they have done for the last 60+ years, the ConocoPhillips (formerly Union 76) refinery sends out a crew of skilled artisans to paint – yes, paint – the face of a jack-o’-lantern on one of their tanks: the big orange gourd-shaped tank. Once the transformation is complete, the tank takes on the persona of Smilin’ Jack and the locals love him.

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There he sits amongst the rest of the tanks all bright and orange and lit up at night for that one time of the year when he demands the spotlight. He deserves it.

But what is it about Smilin’ Jack? Is he just a decorated tanker?

Oh no. It goes beyond that.

Locals will tell you the reason they visit him: caramel corn. Yes, when Smilin’ Jack returns it also means that on October 30 and 31, his minions at the refinery will set up shop in the parking lot and watch lines of cars file through. When they arrive, they will bombard visitors with bag after bag of caramel corn and other goodies.

This is why they go and this is why Dad used to love taking us – “us” meaning every kid in the neighborhood stuffed into a Pontiac station wagon. Seeing us smiling like Jack was his reward.

It’s silly and it’s fun, and it’s something that reminds me of Dad. And in case you’re wondering what it’s like to be assaulted with bags of caramel corn, watch this video.

While it may not look like we got a lot of bags, let’s be clear of one thing: we did.

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I think I counted 15 bags of it, not including the one Anthony and I shared on the ride home.

Speaking of the ride home, I surprised Anthony my making one totally random stop.

“Hey,” I said looking over at him. “You want a hot dog?”

We had already eaten dinner. I ate too much at the Halloween party at work. My weight is going up. Why not? And so we did.

There was really only one choice: Wienerschnitzel (or Der Wienerschnitzel  if you’ve been going there as long as I have). But this isn’t just any old Der Wienerschnitzel location; this is the original one that opened back in 1961 and as such, has been designated as a historic landmark.

Wellll, maybe not but there is a plaque that recognizes it as the first location. And I don’t know what it is about this location but everything just tastes better there.

Anyway, we stopped and bought a bag of dogs just the way Dad used to in that Pontiac station wagon. I’m sure he would have had a blast hanging out with us tonight. I miss him.

Then once we had our bag of hot-dog goodness, we made our way home. Me and Anthony chatted along the way with him bringing up the concept of Heaven and Hell. (Keep in mind that Anthony was never baptized into any religion; we want him to make his own choice down the road). It was an interesting conversation considering he’s merely 11 years old and has sort of made up his own mind about whether they exist or not.

My stance is simple: I don’t know. I don’t think that as humans, we were ever meant to know. But despite that, sometimes it’s nice to think that there is such a place where all good souls gather to spend eternity with their loved ones by their side. On the other hand, I find it selfishly unfair that Dad was taken from us far too early and that whomever thought this was a “divine plan” is a real heartless bastard.

Anyway. We continued our talk as we sat in traffic. There was a Kia Soul in front of us as we waited for the red light to change.

Tonight was all about Dad and some of the things we did together. And I know he’s around, even if I can’t completely commit myself to believing in Heaven, Hell, or otherwise.

And as if I needed more reminders of it tonight, the bumper sticker on this Kia Soul sealed the deal.

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I know it’s hard to see but the text running along the top was a blur with through my 46-year-old eyes that seem to be getting worse with every page I proofread at work. But the big word in the middle is “KOREA.”

The small text at the bottom reads “I SERVED.”

Dad served in Korea. This wasn’t the only time he reminded me.

Goodnight, everyone. And thanks, Dad.

Decade


It was the first week in September 2003 when I got the news. Ann, having been suffering from what she thought was a bout with the stomach flu, called me at work once she returned from the doctor. And I’ll never forget it.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, voice quivering. Barely being able to hold onto my oh-so-chic Nokia 8210, I was ecstatic, scared, nervous, and freaked out.

Us, with a child. Us, parents. Wow.

I told her to meet me for lunch at the office. When she arrived, I ran outside and greeted her with a big hug and the two of us shared a moment we would never forget. It was the first time that we had officially held each other as parents.

From there, it everything went so fast. Our schedules revolved around doctor’s appointments and every little thing a nervous Ann thought didn’t feel right required a call to her OB/GYN who was outstanding throughout the entire pregnancy. She also performed the C-Section.

Nothing really hit us until we saw the first ultrasound.

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That little peanut was our baby although at this point its sex could not be determined.

It didn’t matter. We were ready for little Girl or Boy to arrive. I printed out this ultrasound and stuck it to the side of my work computer and as I got updated ones, printed those out and replaced the last one. Coworkers would come into the office to get an update on things and see the latest ultrasound and, of course, ask how we were both doing.

And being it was a small business, they got together and had a Baby Shower which was just the beginning since one coworker decided she would throw us one herself…

…as did Ann’s parents.

A total of three Baby Showers. Don’t ask. I guess people like us. By the way, that Picasso print over my left shoulder is still hanging in the den.

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Then, after all the showers had come and gone, The Big Day arrived — March 30, 2004. I was on my way to work when Ann called me on my cell phone which at the time I never had on while driving. But something told me to turn it on this time.

I was a block away when I got the call to come back home because her water had broke. I turned around, called the office to let them know my vacation had officially begun and, much to Ann’s chagrin, started the video camera.

We arrived at the hospital and Ann was still doing okay. After filling out some forms, she was taken into a room for observation. Her OB/GYN showed up for the delivery and gave us a rundown of how things would happen — and reminded us of the complications we could encounter as well. Ann was then wheeled out to the OR for the delivery as I donned my sterile outfit.

Here’s a selfie of me in said outfit as I ready to enter the OR. And as is evident by this photo, I was shooting what are known at this particular moment in 2014 as “selfies” long before it was chic. And I was doing it with film cameras in the 90s, you hipster twits.

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The boy we came to name Anthony entered this world at 10:47 am. I sat by Ann’s side the entire time, only leaving her to take photos with two of the three cameras I took with me: two still (film and digital) and one video camera. On said video, I am filled with absolute euphoria as the doctor held up Anthony for the first time. I was crying more than he was and repeatedly saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! I can’t believe it!”

Ann, pretty drugged up, just smiled at me.

Once Anthony was cleaned up and I had taken umpteen photos, the nurse handed him over to me to hold for the first time. I’ve never had such a feeling of love in my life. Here, in my arms, was our little creation tightly wrapped in blankets and whose newborn eyes were seeing light for the first time. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I wouldn’t let him go. I held him so close to me as I looked into his big, blue eyes* with absolute wonder, cherishing a moment we may not ever see again. I cried again just staring at him and could almost hear Dad laughing and carrying on behind me, beaming with as much pride as myself and handing out bubble-gum cigars.

Before we knew it, Anthony was off to the Postnatal Ward for more measurements and monitoring. That’s when the grandparents saw him for the first time.

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I was also able to spend a little more time with him later that day as well as change a diaper or two.

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From the time we found out, I’ve always been proud to be this boy’s father. Nothing makes me happier than to see him smile and over these last 10 years, I’ve seen him change so much but remain the sweet little boy I’ve always known.

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May he never lose his sense of wonder. May he always be curious of things as simple as the spots on ladybugs or as complex as the galaxies that swirl above us.

May his compassion continue to flourish whether it’s helping the homeless or playing with the Special Ed kids at his school, both of which he does frequently (despite being ridiculed by some who aren’t as mature as he).

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It doesn’t matter if he follows in my footsteps or decide to take his own path. The only thing I can ask him to do is to be a person of integrity and honesty, and as of right now I think he’s well on his way to making that a reality.

His heart will be broken by his first love. He will lose golf tournaments. He will fail his driving exam. He will make bad decisions.

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But if he is anything like me, he will learn and move on. Whatever the case may be, we will always be there to love him and support him, just as we promised we would the moment we found out he was on the way.

Happy 10th Birthday, Anthony. You mean the world to us.

*Most newborn eyes have a blue tint to them. Their natural color eventually breaks through.

Blogging 365, Day 42: Not Born Yesterday


Yesterday for lunch, Anthony — not yet 9 and still very much a kid — got a Kids Meal from Rubio’s Fish Tacos. While they serve food other than the kind that swims, their emphasis is on seafood. (He opted for the chicken taquitos and I don’t blame him. Seafood…blecch.)

As we were eating, Ann was reading the jokes printed in the sides of the Kids Meal bag. I don’t recall the first one but the second made me laugh for sure but not because it was funny.

Ann: What is the saddest fish in the sea?

Anthony (thinks): I don’t know.

Ann: The blue whale!

Anthony (seriously): Mom, a whale is not a fish; it’s a mammal.

He continued eating, grunting and rolling his eyes in the process.

So Rubio’s…your jokes might be fooling some kids but definitely not mine 🙂

Blogging 365, Day 16: Thanks A Lot, Kids


I’m going to make this quick seeing as I don’t have a lot of time.

I just want to extend a hearty thank-you to the kids we watched on Monday. Thanks so much for barfing and defecating everywhere and for sharing your flu germs with us. Ann and I have been playing Musical Chairs in the bathroom since 2 am and not only were we not paid for watching you, we now have to miss (at least) a day of work while we recover.

A special shout-out to the parents who were completely oblivious to their collective illness.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go – literally.