Thursday, May 27, 2010
Three years ago this evening, your mother and I were cuddled together on the couch, watching Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short in The Three Amigos in a desperate, yet ultimately futile, attempt not to think about what was ahead.
Nine months of pregnancy had come and gone. Her contractions were getting stronger and stronger.
You were on the way.
Here's what I wrote to you as we awaited the point in which your mother's contractions were close enough to warrant driving to the hospital:
There’s no feeling like this in the world. It’s Christmas Eve mixed with the top of Disney’s Matterhorn. A little bit of the pre-soccer game jitters. A little of the apprehension I had the first time I went to war. Airplane turbulence. Raging hunger. Communion prayer. It’s they way I felt when I stared into your mother’s eyes the night we were married. It’s the way I felt when we kissed behind the curtains at the reception the night before. It’s a little bit of staring out over the ocean. It’s a little bit of standing on the side of a cliff.
A few hours later, you were born — all four pounds, nine ounces of you. And I waited for all of those feelings to go away.
And I waited.
And I waited.
It's been three years, now, and I still feel the same way I did on that day. Every time I look at you. Every time I think of you.
I've had my share of adventures. More than most, I'd be willing to bet. I've been shot at by insurgents, Tasered by police officers and threatened by murderers. I've stood toe-to-toe with presidents, generals, astronauts and elephants. I've climbed mountains, jumped out of airplanes, landed on aircraft carriers and rode horseback ahead of madly charging buffalo.
But nothing compares to the adventure that began three years ago this evening. Nothing compares to you.
For three years you have enlightened me, entertained me and challenge me. For three years you've exceeded every lofty expectation I've ever had of you. For three years, you've demanded that I exceed the meager expectations I have of myself.
Some people ask: Where does the time go? But I don't feel that way. The past three years have been the best of my life — and I've known it. Every passing moment, I've known that I'm experiencing the best moments of my life. And when you know something like that, you savor it. You chew on it. You ponder it.
This evening, before you went to bed, you hugged me for the last time that you'll hug me as a two year old. And I swear that hug lasted forever.
No, there's no feeling like this in the world.
I love you.
More than anything.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
There's a chess game, afoot, on the table in our breakfast nook. One of the rooks is a wine cork. A chopstick directs the play: pointed left, it's my turn; pointed right it's your Uncle Mikey's turn.
We move once or twice a day. Seldom more than that. A single game can take weeks to complete.
Nine months into this experiment in cohabitation, we've all fallen into a fairly comfortable, if sometimes awkward, routine.
The game is a good metaphor for that: The pieces move about the board — sometimes coming into conflict, sometimes just moving from here to there in service to some grander, yet unseen objective.
Your uncle spends his days sleeping in his room — except for when I send you upstairs to wake him for a turn at child care. Then, he slumps down the narrow stairs in his pajamas, often wrapped in a blanket. He reads and plays games with you. Sometimes he takes you to the park. And then, when I return, he climbs back up the stairs and falls asleep again. In the afternoons he teaches guitar and in the evenings he performs at the theater or the restaurant where he plays guitar and sings. It's not unusual for him to return home from work at 4 a.m., which is why he burns so much daylight sleeping.
Your uncle is a special guy. Different, to say the least. He's a brilliant musician and a gifted actor, but, alas, life is not a stage. He can be a challenge to communicate with. He's emotional. Maybe a bit bipolar. When he is happy, it is infectious. When he is depressed, the whole house seems to have a cloud over it. He seems to have a knack for teaching, but it's a knack in progress. Maybe it's in his cards. We'll see. I hope he finds his way.
Your mother mostly avoids or ignores the man living in our attic. It's not that they don't get along — just that they don't seem to have a lot in common, other than their love for you and their tolerance for me. She certainly appreciates what he brings to our family, though: There was a moment last night at dinner, for instance, when you were acting out and your mother and I were just too exhausted to correct behaviors for which you would generally receive a scolding. Your uncle swept in to assume the disciplinary role, correcting you for your dinner table antics and giving us a rest from our rather strict parenting regimen.
I straddle the ground between your mother and your uncle. I try to make sure we share a non-confrontational conversation at least once a day. Maybe about you. Maybe about chess. We're brothers, but there's not a whole lot else we share in common, either. I also try to communicate the things that, as adults sharing a home, we can all do to help smooth this sometimes difficult coexistence. Sometimes it feels as though I've inherited another child. At this point, though, it has become pretty clear to me that your uncle didn't come here seeking direction — and certainly not direction from me.
No, he came here for you. And that means a lot to all of us.
In the next few days, your uncle is going to decide whether he is staying with us next year. It seemed, earlier this month, that he was leaning toward sticking around. But after your great grandfather's death, it seems as though he's been pining to return home to California. I wouldn't brave a guess as to which way he'll fall, but either way we'll support his decision. We'd love to have him stay with us for another turn of the calendar. But if he leaves, we won't mind getting back some of the privacy we've sacrificed by inviting another adult to live in our home. On balance, I suppose, I hope he stays. He's good for you. And maybe for all of us.
There's something you should know: Even though Uncle Mikey came here for you, if he decides to leave us, it won't be because of you. I've known your uncle for 28 years, but that doesn't mean I know him very well. I do know, however, that he cares deeply for you. If he goes, it will be because he has decided that his pawns need to move this way, his knights need to move that way.
But you, my dear, will always be his queen.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Your great grandfather died last Thursday. I’ve sat down every night since then to write you this letter and have not gotten further than a few words.
But maybe tonight is the night.
When I was nine years old, my grandfather took me to the Major League Baseball All Star Game at the Oakland Coliseum. We sat on the first base line, just behind the dugout, one row up from where Hall of Famer Leo Durocher was sitting.
Papa recognized him right away.
“Hey,” he told me. “See that guy right there? They call him ‘Leo The Lip.’”
He exchanged a few kind words with the salty old manager, who shook my hand and gave me an autograph.
That’s about all I remember from the game, which went 12 scoreless innings before Tim Raines hit a two-run triple for the National League in the top of the 13th inning to end the marathon.
At least, that’s what I read in the newspaper the next day. We left after the 11th inning, perhaps because Papa caught me nodding off in my chair.
We took the train home, unwittingly got off at the wrong stop, and spent the next hour wandering around the parking lot looking for our car.
All in all, it was a rather unspectacular night, but Papa never got tired of retelling the tale. And over time I’ve come to think of that day as one of the best days of my life, because I’ve come to understand, as your grandfather always did, that it’s not what you do, but who you do it with, that is most important in life.
When you were just a few months old, your great grandparents drove out from California for a visit. As was his habit, Papa had made sure he knew exactly where the nearest Catholic church was — and had the route mapped out so that he could make sure not to be late for Sunday mass.
As luck would have it, the nearest Catholic church to our home is the Cathedral of the Madeline, a 100-year-old Gothic and Romanesque marvel so awe-inspiring that it sometimes makes me wish I was Catholic — which, of course, is the point.
We arrived early and took a place in the back pew. After a few moments, a priest approached and made some small talk with your great papa, who was holding you in his arms.
“Are you Catholic?” he asked.
He needed someone to carry the sacraments to the alter, and he asked your papa to do it.
I’ve never seen a man so proud as he was when he walked, along with you and your mother, down the center aisle of that beautiful church. It was the best gift you could have possibly given to him, and you didn’t even know you were doing it.
Your Great Papa was a good man. He was smart and he was brave. He was funny and he was tough.
He loved a good story. And in lieu of a good story, he’d just tell whatever story came to mind.
He was a kind and decent man.
And he loved you very, very much.