Boss Man…

A short but true story…

In 2005, my baby brother, Mark, moved to Alabama with his son.  Mark was determined to raise his son on his own and make a living with his hands and his wits.  How he ended up in Phenix, AL is a much longer story.

Mark eventually found work at a metal fabrication shop as a welder.  He quickly made friends with his co-workers (who were exclusively black), as well as his supervisors (who were exclusively white).

Everybody loved Mark.  It was his special super power. He was also as big as a grizzly bear.  Nobody screwed with him.

For three years, Mark squeaked by on $10/hour, supplementing his income as the manager of his trailer park.  He collected a menagerie of unwanted or wounded dogs and cats.  Mark simply could not say “no” to the vulnerable fuzzy things of the world.  Unfortunately, buying food for everyone put his accounts in the red every month.

My wife, Melissa, would make sure that well-timed money, clothing and food arrived.   I called the local Piggly Wiggly and became friendly with the manager.  I opened an account there and put money in it.

However, Mark was proud.  He really wanted to be independent.  He hinted to his boss that he needed a raise and access to the company healthcare plan.  At that point, Mark had developed a very large hernia that protruded from his belly button, and he clearly needed surgery.

Eventually, Mark’s boss came to him.

Boss Man: “We really like you here.”
Mark: “Thanks. I like it, too.  Plus, it’s nice to be able to buy food!”
[laughter]
Boss Man: “You know, I know you’re not from here, but I think you need to know that, if you want to move up, you can’t be having lunch with them anymore[pointing to Mark’s black co-workers].”
Mark: “Thanks for letting me know.”

Mark went to one of his black co-workers and told him what just transpired.  The co-worker shrugged, and said, “That’s how things work here.  I won’t take it personally.  You’d be a good boss.”

Before Mark went home that night, he stopped at Walmart and picked up a year’s supply of brown bags.

Mark never stopped eating with his co-workers.  He was never promoted.  He never received a raise.  Mark’s hernia remained untreated.

After a few years, the same co-worker in whom Mark confided said, “I’m sorry.  I guess you just a n*****r like us.”  Mark shrugged and said, “It’s fine with me.”

They went back to work in the fumes and the sweat.

And Mark’s loving soul remained intact.  When I buried him in April, he still had the hernia.

STP

P.S.  This is the soundtrack of my grief for Mark.  He was a better person than I was…in every way that mattered.

My baby brother, Mark, and I before the R40 concert at Auburn Hills. Chemo and radiation started two weeks later.

 

 

Angry Steve…

A true story from 1992:

I worked a few jobs, saving money for law school. During the day, I edited coupon books at Entertainment Publications in Troy. At night, I worked as a mechanic at the Sears in Oakland Mall. I lived with Nick Zalinski in a small apartment in Royal Oak. Life was good but a bit hectic.

One day in the Spring of 1992, I showed up for work at my day job in Troy. In my right hand, I held my brown bag lunch. In my left, I held the keys to a small blue Chevette that a friend and co-worker had sold to me (Thanks, Margaret White). I wore my usual office casual attire: khaki pants, black turtle neck. I was trying to grow a ridiculous beard that made me look like a baby pirate. I never looked forward to my hours in the cubicle farm that awaited me. Sometimes, even now when I have a stressful dream, I am lost in that corporate hamster cage.

Anyway, on that Spring day, I was 22 years old. Angry. Confused about the direction of my life. Unsure about this whole law school thing. And perpetually exhausted. I could never get my hands clean from the mechanic job. I smeared the proofs of my coupon books. The printing folks in the office were constantly cleaning up for me. Again, thanks Margaret White.

As I walked to the building, I saw a man shaking a young woman violently by her shoulders. He towered over her: 6’3″, black t-shirt and jeans. He was over 250lbs with shoulder length brown hair. He looked about 27-28 years old.

This was happening about 40 yards from where I parked my car. They were on the sidewalk, near the mirror glass exterior of the building. From where I stood, it looked like two assaults happening at the same time.

I recognized the young woman (23 years old and a college graduate). She was a co-worker who will remain nameless. It was a poorly kept secret that her boyfriend beat her. She would wear heavy make up to hide the bruises. Ladies in the office would often be seen making a fuss over her when she had a particularly bad encounter with her boyfriend. I had only worked there for six months, but I knew the stories. There were no secrets.

I could hear him yelling as he shook her. The word “bitch” reached my ears. My keys and brown bag lunch hit the asphalt near my car. I sprinted toward him. His back was to me. He did not see me storming up behind him.

I grabbed him around the waste and half heaved and tossed him away from my co-worker. He stood up to fight me, and I had an out-of-body experience. I watched my hands in slow motion pummeling this man in every open area of his body. I don’t remember breathing. I just remember flailing away with huge hooks, left and right. He staggered back against the mirrored windows, holding his hands in front of his face. I hooked around his hands and hit his left eye socket and temple. I could feel the blood in my ears. I was screaming something incoherent as I beat the man into the dirt and shrubbery that adorned the east window sills. As he fell, I continued to hit him and scream. I was spitting and foaming with rage. The man tried to shield himself, but his clothes were caught in the shrubs.

I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders. My co-worker, Rick, who was my age but much taller than me, was yelling for me to stop. Please stop. Rick was always the office clown. A big grin, a ready joke, a full head of red hair and matched by a Cheeto-colored mustache. Even in my rage, I recognized my friend and stepped backwards.

I went to the young woman and walked her inside the building. She was crying hysterically and sobbed out the words, “He said he’s going to kill me!” Once inside the door, I turned around to see Rick beating the guy down. I jumped in between them, and I pulled Rick back. The man in the black shirt ran for his car and peeled out of the parking lot. The Troy police showed up a few minutes later. They took perfunctory statements and left.

The work day was filled with gossip and replays. Apparently, the entire second floor (where our cubicle farm was) witnessed the incident. One co-worker did an animated pantomime of me punching upwards (I didn’t realize that the man was that much taller). She insisted that I had jumped to throw my punches. I honestly could not remember. I could only remember the seething rage. It was opening a door into the darkest part of my soul.

Late in the day, Rick pulled me aside and said, “You were screaming ‘NEVER TOUCH HER AGAIN!!’ at the top of your lungs. I thought you were going to kill that dude.” I told Rick that I was pretty sure that the blood on his pink polo shirt was from his own turn beating the guy down. I felt a little defensive at the suggestion that I was out-of-control in that moment. But I believed what Rick told me, and I was curious as to why I could not remember WHAT I was screaming. My friend had to tell me. Weird.

That night, Rick and I stayed with the young woman at her parent’s house. These were the days before restraining orders and stalking statutes. Her parents were on vacation, and she was alone in a small colonial in Sterling Heights.

Rick sat in the front room, trying to keep her calm. She swore that her ex-boyfriend had a gun and would be driving over any minute. I sat in the kitchen by the phone, waiting to call the police. The butcher’s block was within reach.

The phone rang. I answered it:

Ex-Boyfriend: “You’re the guy who attacked me today.”

STP: “Yes.”

Ex-Boyfriend: “You know I can beat your ass, right?”

STP: “I am here.”

Ex-Boyfriend: “Why are you there? Is [she] afraid? Do you think you can protect her from me?”

STP: “I will call the police. They are looking for you.”

Ex-Boyfriend: “You sonofabitch! You fucking snitch.”

STP: “If you get here before the police, I will carve your heart out.”

I slammed down the phone. The night passed without incident.

The work week dragged on. The ex-boyfriend was never “caught”. The Troy police did not believe that it was worth the man hours.

In the aftermath, I made two decisions. First, I was going to be an attorney. Second, I would learn how to fight properly.

At the time, I had a dear mentor, George Pickering, who would listen to my stories and experiences, and, like magic, extract some wisdom from the chaos of my life. I relayed the series of events involving this young woman and my inability to remember what I was screaming as I beat a man into the dirt. George looked at me and said simply, “You are a really angry person. You might want to figure out why.” He was not judging me—George was simply pointing out the obvious. He was also on his third bourbon, and he did not mince words.

And, so, I had a lot of work and writing to do. Decades of it. I did go to law school. I did study Shaolin kung fu and jujitsu.

However, I did not find peace until I engaged in forgiveness and love. My friends and teachers showed me a better way.

In the days ahead, we will all be tested. Our heart strings will be plucked. Our emotions will be manipulated in social media. Please remember to forgive. Please remember to love.

Peace,
STP

Angry

Jory’s Prayer

August 14, 201

Beloved,

May you be healed in body and mind.  In failing this, may you be healed in your everlasting and most worthy soul.

You are brother and son.  Friend and confidante.  Youthful and wise and blessed.  This only makes the hours darker now. 

May the grief, tears and worry that were the lot of James and Mary—assuaged by the Everlasting and Merciful—be taken from Jack and Melissa. 

Wisdom is the bitter gift of these dark hours.  We pray you remain and will gladly forego the wisdom your calamity has visited upon us.

Return, linger or leave—we will wait.  Until your days are done, know that you are loved.

In God’s merciful name.

Today…

Dear Mark,

There are days, like today, that I want to talk to you about.  I want to pour out the silliness and pain and new knowledge.  I want to hear how you made it through 24 hours.

Today, like all days now, I find myself waiting for you to call.  A simple “hello” or “hey, big brother” would do nicely.  Just once.

I recorded your voicemails to my archive.  And your voice will wait there for me. For days like today.

I love you, little brother.

STP

Dad the Avenger…

In other installments of my blog, I have discussed some difficult aspects of my childhood.  And by “difficult”, I mean deeply traumatic.

At the heart of my childhood was domestic violence.  During rages that were unpredictable and intense, my father would bellow and hit his children.  If my mother intervened, it got worse…for everybody.  And then, the storm passed, and in the days that followed, Dad would be intensely quiet and remorseful.  While the exact details aren’t today’s topic, redemption is.

I have written about how–unlike my siblings and my mother–I tried to understand my father and how I pitied him for his loneliness and isolation.  I felt then that it was my job to try to understand what made my father the way he was.  It was a daunting and scary task.

First and foremost, my father was a man of extremes and contradictions.  Never, for one moment, did I feel he was emotionally detached.  Quite the opposite.  I found my father’s behavior was one of extreme attachment.

His emotional outbursts were unpredictable, but, as a rule, the outbursts usually involved money or his family’s security.  Dad was very tribal, and, by that, I mean there was HIS family and then there were a bunch of OTHERS.

One summer, the City of Warren experienced a rash of child abductions.  My baby brother was six years old, playing in the driveway.  I was a few houses down the street.  A strange car pulled up to the front of our home.  A man inside tried to lure Mark into the car.  The man leaned over and pushed open the front passenger door of his gold-colored Chevelle.  Mark took a step closer to the stranger’s car.  I ran toward the car, screaming at Mark, “No!!!”  My father heard the screaming and ran outside.  The car screeched away. I held Mark in my arms and sobbed.  Mark started crying.  I told Dad what happened and described the car.  My Dad went into the house, grabbed his .45 and peeled off in his car.  Dad searched for the perpetrator’s car for two hours, driving all over Warren.  He stopped people, questioned them and kept going.  I have no doubt in my mind that my father would have killed the man who tried to kidnap my brother.  No doubt at all.

In another incident, a neighbor’s son “Tony” got into a fight with my brother, George.  Tony’s father, who was “Tony Sr.” or “Mr. Tony”, liked to brag that he was in the mafia and would occasionally show kids his gun and shoulder holster.  Mr. Tony walked up to the entrance of our garage where Dad and I were working on an orange Chevy Vega, replacing the clutch.  I was eight years old.  Mr. Tony complained loudly that George, my brother, had beaten up his son.  The discussion quickly became heated.  Neighbors started to notice the commotion.  Dad was easily six inches taller and a 100 lbs bigger than Mr. Tony.  Feeling more than a little “disrespected” by my father’s attitude, Mr. Tony pulled back his suit jacket slightly and indicated that he would come back and shoot my father if something  happened again.  Instead of yelling, my father’s voice dropped to a deadly whisper.  My father’s exact words “Tony, you’d better pull that gun out right now and shoot me, because I’m about to shove it up your ass and pull the trigger.”  We never saw Mr. Tony after that.  He moved away.

I have dozens of stories where my father’s tribal instincts to protect his family led to hilarious and not-so-hilarious results.  We developed a saying in my home: “Dad is great in an emergency.”  For whatever reason, Dad would become calm under fire.

In 10th grade, Leonard Draving, my science teacher, accused me of cheating on a final exam.  It was/is the only time anybody had accused me of cheating at anything.  I was emotionally destroyed.  Mr. Draving had been one of my favorite teachers.  Moreover, he was a very passionate and talented teacher.  Unfortunately, he was also very rigid and had odd quirks.  Mr. Draving frequently lectured us about how the “black squirrels” were taking over the trees in his neighborhood.  He would then launch into a discussion about how much he hated “black squirrels”.  Most of us didn’t mind these diversions.  They were usually followed with something interesting and germane to the subject of the class.  Still, his obsession with rules and “black squirrels”  bordered on obsessive.

Getting back to the final exam…

I had been talking to one of my friends near the end of the test, but it wasn’t about the exam.  It was the last test of the semester, and we were about to be free for several weeks.  My friend was done with his test.  I was still doing mine.  Mr. Draving saw me talking and exploded, “Give me your test!”  He grabbed it from me and accused me of cheating in front of the entire class.  Humilitated, I went home to tell my parents.  I expected my father to hit me.  He didn’t.

The next day, my mother and father had an appointment with the principal, Gene Miller, and Mr. Draving to discuss the accusation of cheating.  I sat between my parents as the adults in the room discussed my fate.

My father listened intently, with his head tilted backwards looking down his nose, as Mr. Draving passionately explained that I was talking during the exam and that I MUST have been cheating.  He explained that it was a RULE that you could only talk AFTER you turned in your exam; otherwise, Mr. Draving would be forced to presume that the “talker” was cheating.  My mother was furious that her son was accused of cheating (and from past experiences, she strongly disliked Gene Miller).  My father, in the same deadly whisper he used with Mr. Tony, said, “You think my son cheated?  Give him the test again.  He’ll pass your test.”  Draving wanted me to fail the ENTIRE course.  This was NOT his plan.  Draving sputtered, “Well, I am going to have to make up a NEW test specially for him.”  Dad said, “I know you’re going to try to fail my son, but he’s still going to pass your fucking test.”  My father’s profanity, the situation, my mouth hanging open, all of it combined into several pregnant moments of shocked silence.  Draving looked angrily to the principal, Gene Miller, who shrugged (as he always did during difficult conversations) and said, “Mr. Draving will give Stephen a new test tomorrow at 11am in Mr. Draving’s classroom.”

I went to the classroom.  I was alone with Mr. Draving.  He handed me an eight page exam that was EVERYTHING he taught that semester, plus EVERYTHING in the textbook (even though he only presented 70% in the class).  I churned away on it.  Mr. Draving announced that the hour was up.  He took the test from me and graded it on the spot.  He took out his red pen.  He marked a few answers with a small “x” but without any other elaboration.  He handed it back.  It said “B” on the top of the paper.  Through some magical number theory I still got a “C” in his class, but I let it go.

When my father got my report card, he smiled at the “C”.  We went out that afternoon, and he bought me parts for a Suzuki motorcycle we rebuilt together.  As we were elbow deep in the grease of the machine, he looked up and said, “I knew you would pass.  I love you.”

And so started a long, slow road we traveled together.

 

The Weight…

When I began studying jujitsu, I noticed a young man setting up a training facility next door, and he was using some unorthodox training methods.  I was no stranger to old school strength training (read “stupid and destructive”), so I kept an eye on his classes.

Eventually, I found the time to meet him and do an introductory class.  He introduced himself as Jerry Trubman.  He was the son of Russian immigrant parents.  Jerry was beginning his career in “The Protocol Strength and Conditioning”–a new business to Tucson and a new approach to mobility and functional strength.  I learned that Jerry trained athletes to office workers.  His methods were not aimed at making his clients “look” strong–his goal was to make his clients as strong as they could be (while maintaining healthy joints and ligaments).

I’ll admit: I was not sold at first.

The first session was simply an assessment.  I failed/succeeded in a number of balance and core strength movements.  I figured my years of sports injuries would keep a certain ceiling over me and any strength training I would do as a supplement to martial arts.  Jerry announced, at the end of the first session, that I was “hyper-stable”–a euphemism for being less flexible but strong.  That seemed fair enough.

I started a journey with Jerry that day, and I count myself lucky to call him a close friend.  Our road–his as a business owner and top-notch strength trainer and mine as a student of strength–has been years of hard work.

It culminated last summer 2016, when Jerry asked me to be part of a team that would become national champions in the RAW strength competitions.  Surrounding me were men and women of all ages and sizes.  The women were especially impressive–all were about to become state, national or WORLD record holders.  Thus, our battle cry became: “Let’s be strong like women!”

Because I trained hard (perhaps too hard) through my baby brother’s hospice and death, leaving his side long enough to lift ugly and lift angry at a gym near the hospital in Macomb, Michigan, I was deeply wounded in my soul.  Every repetition became an exorcism of sorts.

Mark is about to watch R40 with his “big” brother.

I returned home from burying my baby brother.  I returned home to Jerry’s gym and his coaching.  I wanted to prove that I could carry the weight.  He slowed me down.  He took weight off the bar.  Jerry wanted me to heal inside.  It was an excellent and loving gift.  Unspoken and gladly accepted.

Then, the day came.  The day came to load of the bars to practice for the three competition lifts: bench, squat and deadlift.  All lifts were to be performed according to rigid standards and commands.  We were going for the final round of HEAVY and DENSE lifting to prepare for de-load training.

My training partner, my son, my philosopher/warrior, Jeffrey.

We had a helluva day.  My son, Jeff, trained with me (as usual).  We topped the day off with deadlifting “stacked fives”–five repetitions for a set of five.  And the weights would jump upwards in the stack.  I lifted in my competition gear which includes a pair of men’s ballet shoes.

There’s something about THE WEIGHT.  The weight in your hands that fires up your entire nervous system.  There’s something opened inside you.  It’s like a door to a secret room where maybe you put all of the pain and the tears.  And you rip the bar off the floor.  Reset. Lift, reset. Repeating over and over the movement.  And THE WEIGHT breaks you down.

WATCH: Training Heavy Grip

I left the training area to catch a private moment.  I found myself weeping from the weariness and pain.  THE WEIGHT was not in my hands.  It was buried underneath an anger I could barely contain.  Watching Mark die was on a replay loop in my dreams and my waking thoughts.  THE WEIGHT.

I returned to the iron. I finished.  Jerry and Jeff knew how I felt.  They embraced me to ease my loneliness and pain.

Two weeks later, our team took first place in the state competition.  All of us placed first in our age/weight divisions.  The ladies CRUSHED several national and world records, because they are AWESOME.

What I never told anybody…what I will say now: every time I grabbed the bar, I talked to Mark and told him I would lift THE WEIGHT for him.  I promised him I would carry THE WEIGHT.  It was stupid, I guess.  Toxic masculinity and all that.  I could have hurt myself.  And even after collecting my medal and the team photo, I found THE WEIGHT was still there.

And so it will be.  And, I promise, baby brother, that I WILL carry it.

Peace & Love,

STP

 

The “Why” of Yvonne…

When I was troubled 13 year old and alone, a friend came to me. He was a new friend. Unexpected but most welcome. He became my best friend.

We went to his house and met his mother, Yvonne. She was a tall stern-looking woman with round glasses and a hint of steel gray running in tiny streaks through her long hair.

When she spoke to me for the first time, I knew I had come home. And so it was for all of her son’s friends.

Yvonne was secretly amused by the craziness of raising six children, especially teenage sons for whom the world was a vast, reckless mystery, despite their genius, duplicity and ingenuity. She was wise, but never deprived us of our mistakes. Yvonne was strict, but she never let the rules prevail over decency and kindness. Or her boundless love for you. You did not want to disappoint her.

How strong was Yvonne? She walked in the winter to a church four miles away. She walked to two jobs that were even farther away. In better weather, Yvonne rode her bike. She made the best of bad situations. In a place built by and for machines, she was a throwback to simplicity and unshakeable faith and perseverance.

When you heard her laugh…well…you never wanted to hear any other sound again. It was a sweet rain in a dry, dusty place. It was a gale in drought. It was the final veil to fall from a woman to proud to quit.

Yvonne was a gardener. I would watch her plant seedlings before the frosts broke. I watched her worry about rain and pests. Her patience with that garden was infinite, and, at the end of the season, her reward was a splendor that she shared with all. You see: Yvonne did not grow things for herself. She did it all for others.

And a better gardener of young souls I will never know.
I would never call her “Yvonne”—I would address her respectfully as “Mrs. Zalinski”. As a 40 year old man sharing a meal with her, I cleaned my plate and never left a cup half finished. I minded my manners. I curbed my sardonic tongue and gratuitous profanity.

I call her “Yvonne” now only because I must say goodbye. It is a last loving act in a relationship—a relationship that built a young, uncertain boy into a man who values friendship and love above all else. And she gave us (me) Nick, who is also a great, inscrutable and humble gardener of people.

Thank you, Yvonne, for being my gardener. I know “why” now…at the very end.

Dad’s Redemption…

I am not a slave to linear narratives.  Some stories are best told with the ending firmly planted in your mind to appreciate them.

And, so it is with my father and our life together.

In my blog entry “Before the Parade” [see http://stephenportell.com/index.php/2016/12/18/before-the-parade/], you, gentle reader, were informed that I came from an abusive home–a home where my father’s unpredictable outbursts of rage resulted in real emotional and physical harm to me, my siblings and my mother.  In the days to come, I hope to tell the interesting story of how this terrible beginning had a happy, loving ending.  I hope to tell you about the small revelations along the way.  I want to tell you about forgiveness, understanding and how much love and change a human heart can contain.

I loved my dad.  I was probably closer to my dad than anybody on this earth.  But it wasn’t easy.  I am here to tell you he redeemed himself–that is the happy ending.  He died a year ago on January 2, 2016.  I am here to share the final words I spoke to him and about him at his funeral:

THE EULOGY

Dearest Friends and Beloved Family, it seems we are here again at St. Bridget’s too soon.

It is my honor to talk to you about my father, George Portell.

But which man shall I eulogize?

The man who worked 360 days straight without a SINGLE DAY OFF in an auto plant that was dirty, noisy and ultimately poisonous?

Or should I talk about a man who loved nothing better than playfully building the BIGGER, BETTER amplifier or the tallest antenna tower?

Should I tell you about the man who nursed me back to health after a motorcycle accident or the man WHO taught me to ride motorcycles in a church parking lot?

The cautious, sensible man or the daredevil who loved speed?

How about the man who had strict rules about his home, but invited two of my friends to live with us when they became homeless after high school?

I could tell you an interesting story after mass about my dad’s showdown with a low-level mobster, but I will also tell you how my father saved that same man’s son from freezing in the Michigan snow in the dead of winter.

Ultimately, if we speak to honor our loved ones—and I dearly love my dad—we can only do so by speaking the truth.

And, my dad was a complicated man. I happy to report to you that he was different in all kinds of good ways.

While other kids got plain old toys for Christmas, my father gave me electric drills and REAL tools. While other dads were manicuring their lawns, my dad taught me morse code and how NOT to electrocute myself in the radio room. He taught me how to mill the head on my first motorbike, so I could push out a little more HP.

And compared to other fathers in the neighborhood, my dad possessed great physical strength and determination. He had huge hands with thick callouses. I don’t know that he actually needed a wrench to remove lug nuts.

But…he didn’t want to play football, because—and I quote him now—“It hurt to get hit.”

Still, I trusted him to hold up engines while my tiny hands replaced engine mounts. I trusted him to lift me from bed to bath when I was too weak to walk.

I trusted him, because he was unfailingly loyal. Fiercely loyal. He was a faithful friend to many of you assembled here. And, unapologetically affectionate and faithful to his family.

Still, my dad’s parenting style too often strayed into “cautionary tale” rather than “Leave it to Beaver”. Who teaches an 8 year old how to use an arc welder?   My dad.

I’ve got a newsflash for all you kids here today.

Parents are not perfect. Children are not perfect. Our friends are not perfect. We need to forgive and seek forgiveness far more than we do. We are all recruited from the same flawed human race.

And so it was with my father.

But to me, he was perfectly flawed.

My father was a complicated man caught in a predicament of extremes.

  • A temperamental, wrathful man who forever sought forgiveness and redemption. He sought to make it right.
  • A stubborn man who showed great compassion and tenderness of heart.
  • A passionate man who made great efforts to think calmly and coolly under pressure.
  • A self-taught man who did not trust academic musings but possessed a keen intellect and valued intelligence and creativity.
  • A strong man capable of gentleness and nurturing.
  • A man at times consumed by fear and doubt but unshakeable in his faith and determined to do what was right and honest.

My father was too often uneasy in his soul, believing, in his weaker moments, that he had not done enough good on this earth.   Not surprisingly, I disagree.

And, now, Dad, that you cannot interrupt me and argue with me, I finally will have the last word.

AND I SAY TO YOU, DAD:

“You were your own harshest critic. You seldom gave yourself the credit you deserved.”

“Yours is a worthy and loving soul.”

“We, your friends and family, are grateful for your life and your many acts of kindness and love.”

“We forgive your transgressions no matter what they were or what you imagined them to be. “

“I am proud to be your son.”

“You were perfectly flawed like the rest of us.”

“Please rest now knowing you have done enough.”

“Please rest now knowing that you are loved and remembered.”

I look forward to sharing my dad’s story of redemption.  He was, as it turns out, a most worthy soul: a man who sought forgiveness and yielded to love and understanding.  May we all seek the higher gifts, no matter how imperfect our search is…

Peace & Love,

STP

 

 

Perhaps my Favorite Tolkien Quote…

When people talk about personal responsibility and daunting, dark times, I often return to a piece of dialogue that was burned into my heart when I first read the Fellowship of The Ring in Wilkerson Elementary School:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.

‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

Those lines–those perfect lines–summoned a courage in me.  It was a nascent feeling of empowerment that had been growing for a few years.  And hope grew with it.

It is easier now for us to see the right path. Courage will be our companion on that road.

“Not all who wander are lost.”
Peace & Love,

STP

Tommy Love…

Sometimes, the world spins exactly right.

My favorite breakfast/lunch spot is First Watch.  I love the people there–without exception, they are hard-working, kind and wonderful human beings.

One of my fellow regulars is a boy I will call “Tommy”.  Tommy is almost 30 years old and has autism; however, his experience with it is different.  He has no filter.  Anything that pops into his mind comes out and at a high volume.  Tommy is pure and unfiltered.  Also, he is FILLED with love for people.  Tommy is especially loving toward children and will give them hugs and call them by their names and say repeatedly “I love you”.

Now, I do not claim to know anything about autism.  Tommy is forthright about announcing “I have severe autism” and “I am afraid to swim”.  His father and his caretakers accompany him and are good folks.  They indulge Tommy–it is impossible NOT to love this kid.  I, candidly, did not know that autism could manifest itself this way.  I can’t say I really know what his disability is all about, and, in a very real way, it simply doesn’t matter to me or the people working in the restaurant.

There are some older people who complain about Tommy to the manager.  Sometimes, I overhear their complaints.  The general nature of their concerns are (a) his volume and (b) his behavior.  One man even confided to his companion: “That kid shouldn’t be allowed in public.”  I am not surprised by this. A lot of people from that man’s generation regard mental or emotional disabilities as a source of family shame.  Happily, Tommy’s family does not.

In the last two weeks, I had individual lunches with my sons while Christmas shopping.  Nicholas was first, because Jeff had finals.  My Nick is shy, but enjoys attention.  He is acutely aware of people around him.  With strangers, Nick is very reserved.  Nick is 12 years old.

Tommy was seated across the restaurant.  As Nick and I left, we stopped by Tommy’s table to say “hello” to him and his father.  Tommy looked at my son.

Tommy: “What’s your name?!”
Nick: “I’m Nick.”
Tommy: “Come here, sweetie!  I love you!”  [reaches for Nick and hugs him tightly]
Nick: [returns the hug and smiles at Tommy]
Tommy: “Where are you going with your dad?”
Nick: “We are going Christmas shopping for my mom.”
Tommy: “I love you!” [give Nick another hug]

A few moments passed where this continued.  Nick just rolled with it and returned the hugs and smiled genuinely.  I hugged Tommy and said goodbye.  As we walked out, I wanted to shout: “BEHOLD THE PICKLE–GREATEST BOY IN THE WORLD!!”  I never expected him to handle the situation with such kindness and acceptance.  Yes, I underestimated my boy.

A few days later, Jeff, my 15 year old bear-of-a-boy, went Christmas shopping with me.  We stopped by the restaurant for breakfast.  We made a list and checked it twice.  Tommy and his caretaker came in a few minutes after us and were seated directly next to us.  I said “hello” to them both.  Tommy looked at Jeff.

Now, it is important to note that Jeff is very much like his shy, introverted mother.  He REALLY doesn’t want attention from anybody.  In fact, just to screw with him, I will sometimes try to embarrass him with the people that work there, by telling them how strong, wonderful and intelligent he is.  Jeff always lowers his head and mumbles, “Shut up, dad” through a half smile.  Jeff did NOT play football this year, because–in his words–there were too many people.  He did not want to put himself out there to get to know 40+ new people.  Jeff lectures me (as any teenager will do in a withering you’re-so-stupid tone) that I just don’t understand introverts.

Tommy keeps looking at Jeff, trying to decide whether Jeff is a boy or a man.  Candidly, it is hard to tell.  Jeff is huge and has a deep voice, but he has a boyish face.  I, personally, think he is as handsome a kid as there ever was or will be, but there I go being an embarrassment to my teenager AGAIN.

Tommy clearly decides he must know who Jeff is.

Tommy: “Who are you?”
Me: “This is my son, Jeff.”
Tommy: “Oh!  Hi, Jeff!  I love you!” [Stands up and walks over to hug Jeff]

For me, time stood still.  What would my teenage boy do?  Dudes his age don’t even like it when their own mothers hug them in public!  How is this going to play out?  The restaurant was packed.

Jeff: “Hi.” [Stands up and gives Tommy a big bear hug]
Tommy: “I love you.  Will you help me swim.  I am afraid of drowning.  Can you help me in the pool sometime?”
Jeff: “Sure.”
Tommy: “I love you.  You are so big and strong.  I am afraid in the water.” [Hugs Jeff again; Jeff hugs him back]
Jeff: “I will help you.”

My heart–already filled with the death and losses of the year–burst.  A few poignant tears leaked out.  I quickly wiped them with my napkin.  Jeff spent the rest of lunch rolling with Tommy and making light conversation.  I hugged Tommy goodbye, received the last “I love you’s” of the day and said goodbye to his caretaker.

I walked out of the restaurant.  I decided that, no matter what may come, Melissa and I did a pretty damned good job with these boys.

Jeff turned to me: “Dad, what would you like for Christmas?”
Me: “Nothing.”

Peace & Love,

STP