Category Archives: Serious

It’s the Little Things We Remember. . .

I was a child during the Vietnam war.  My Father was a young sailor, frequently gone on deployment.  My Mother was like a lot of young military wives back then-alone, afraid, struggling to be a grown-up too early in life, trying to raise, at the time, a family of three kids far from extended family support on a budget more appropriate, but still insufficient, for a family half our size.

Mom was successful at what she did.  She kept the house functioning, neat, clean, and well stocked despite budgetary limitations.  Another thing she did very well was insulate us from any indication times were tough, and that she was lonely and afraid.

I frequently look back on my life growing up in an enlisted man’s family in the 60’s and the 70’s .  As I get older, I am in complete awe at what my parents accomplished.  I could tell you story after story about how difficult our life was during that time period, but I would temper it with absolute respect for the way my Mom handled it.  I mean no disrespect to my Dad, but Mom was the anchor and the foundation of the family.

Dad did what he could, with what he had.  And I know, from constant self-reflection, I took many good things from my short and too limited relationship with him.

I have a strong memory from when I was in kindergarten, and Dad was home with us.  Dad had a “friend” who lived in the same military housing complex we did.  This man (and I use the term loosely) had a son my age that I played with frequently.

One day, my Dad and his friend were sitting in front of this friend’s house talking and drinking beer.  My Dad was a drinker, but his friend was a mean drunk.  My friend and I were playing nearby.

I vaguely remember hearing the friend of my Dad say something about his son, my friend. I don’t remember the exact words, but I remember my friend, also in kindergarten, going suddenly quiet and still.

I remember him calling my friend over, while telling my Dad discipline was the key to control.  I remember him taking his son over his knee, and telling my Dad he was going to show him what he meant. As he raised his hand to strike my friend, I remember my Dad standing and grabbing the hand of my friend’s Dad and stopping its downward momentum.

My Dad wasn’t a big man.  But he had been in the military since his teens, and had been through things I couldn’t imagine.  He had a commanding presence, and when he spoke, I listened.

I saw him speak quietly to this other man, though I don’t think I heard what he said.  But the other man listened.  When my Dad released his hand, he let his son go.  My Dad stood there, quiet and still, while the other man collected his things, and went into his house with his son.  A few months later, the man and his family moved away.  I remember it, because I lost a friend when they moved.

I remember my Dad gently took my hand and walked me home.  He was quiet, and, although I didn’t know at the time what had happened, I knew not to say anything.  When we walked into the house, my Mom took one look at him and asked what happened.  My Dad didn’t speak, but walked up the stairs to the bedroom, and shut the door.  Mom followed shortly after she got me settled with a snack and cartoons.  I have no memory of what happened after that.

I realize my perspective of that incident was that of a 5 year old child.  I realize that my memory of that incident may have been colored over by my own experiences growing up, and the fact that my Father passed away before he and I could discuss many things as men.  I also realize, and understand now, better than I ever could before, that my Father had his faults.

I have thought of that incident many times in my life.  For whatever reason, I believe that incident has guided many of the decisions I have made in my life.

Both Mom and Dad are gone, now.  Dad taken at the far too early age of 38, when I was just 14 years old.  Mom passed later, but still too early, in her mid-60’s.  Quite honestly, I have a mental block concerning my Mom’s passing-I can never remember the year she passed, or what age she was.

The nature of my personality mandates that I analyze my life constantly.  I frequently get lost in introspection.  As I get older, I struggle to make sense of . . . things.

That experience with my Father is one of the few I can remember easily.  When I reflect on that experience, I am reminded that we, as men, as fathers, as human beings, can have a profound effect on our children and their development, without even realizing it.

We never got the chance to discuss what happened, or what it meant to him that he did that.  He probably never knew how much I watched him when I was young. He died before I learned to understand how complicated life is, and before I could ask him the “whys” and the “whats” I needed to know.

But I know he wasn’t frozen by indecision or by fear of unexpected consequences.  He didn’t worry about interfering with someone’s child-rearing. He didn’t second guess what he did.  And what he did was heroic in its own right.

I’d like to tell him how much that one incident in the vastness of time and space affected me. I’d like to tell him that I remember his heroism that day.  And that I appreciated it, and that his story lives on through his son.

I don’t know what happened to my friend.  I don’t remember his name.  I don’t know where he went.  I don’t know if he subsequently suffered even harsher treatment from his dad because of what happened.  But I have to think, no, believe, that he didn’t.

I remember my friend’s watery eyes looking at my Dad as he spoke quietly to his tormentor.  I’d like to believe my friend was as profoundly affected as I was, that he grew up a good and loving father in his own right.

And I’d like to believe my Father’s memory lives on as my friend tells his own children of the day a man, my Father, did what every man should do without question or fear of consequence. . .stand up for what is right.


You Can’t Go Home Again

I moved to California from Detroit in the mid – eighties, shortly after I graduated from Wayne State University.  When people asked where I was from, I joyously told them, “Detroit. . .it’s a good place to be from!”  Meaning, of course, I was no longer there. . . and that was good.

I succeeded in Southern California.  I became a police officer, which was my main reason for moving here.  When that career ended due to a drunk driver arrest gone bad, I made the choice to go to law school and start a new career as a prosecutor.  I succeeded there, as well.  After my stint as a prosecutor, I opened a successful solo practice.

In the interim between then and now, I met and married my wife.  We had two beautiful children who proudly exclaim they are Southern California natives, born and bred in Southern California, just like their  mother.  Dad, on the other hand, is an alien, having been born on Planet Michigan.

Both my children experienced their first snowfalls around the age of eight- years -old. Cloudy days are an anomaly, rain is a rarity, and sweaters and jackets come out of the closet when the temperature drops to the low seventies.

We live, as the crow flies, less than ten miles from the Pacific Ocean and all its beaches.  We go to the beach maybe twice a year.  We have the Zoo, Sea World, Lego Land, Water Parks, and other attractions that yearly draw thousands of out-of-towners to our fair area.

We, ourselves, rarely visit these places.  Don’t get me wrong, we have visited them.  But prices continue to rise, the crowds are large, and after a few visits, these attractions lose their luster. We have had beach parties, hiked the back country, visited theme parks and museums, and spent Christmas Day in the pool under the hot sun.  We’ve water and jet skied on the Bay, boated on the ocean, and visited Mexico when it was dangerous and when it wasn’t.

But it’s thirty years after my move, and my heart is pulling me back to Michigan.  At the end of December of 2012, I took my wife and kids to Michigan to visit family and friends.  We were fortunate to experience an early Michigan snowfall in late December.  This allowed us to ride snowmobiles on Houghton Lake trails, to ski, snowboard, and inner-tube (for the less daring) down a Michigan hill the natives call a mountain.  My kids even shoveled some snow, so they could experience a little of how I made money when I was growing up in the Midwest winters.

My children and I enjoyed our first snow ball fight together, and they got to experience temperatures in the teens for the first time.  My wife looked stunning in her faux-fur lined, hooded Artic winter coat and gloves.  We took a picture under the sign delineating the town of Beverly Hills, Michigan, while standing in a foot of snow.  Not the Beverly Hills we were familiar with, for sure.

We ate Coney Island chili dogs, Oberweis ice cream (several times), and Jet’s Pizza, but didn’t take the opportunity to visit Greektown or eat Polish food.  We explored a little, discussing briefly the possibility of moving to Michigan while we visited some lovely neighborhoods in Farmington Hills and the surrounding areas.

We talked about a less stressful life, staying home with the kids, less expensive housing, open land, lakes and rivers, and the changing of the seasons.

I told stories of a canoe race on the Clinton River (as we drove past it) I was in during my freshman year at Finney High School.  This was shortly after my father died.  A teacher saw me struggling with being a new student with no friends, dealing with racial tensions I had never experienced before, and took me under his mentorship.  I believe he saved my life by distracting me from those issues.  He gave me direction and purpose where I had none.  I wish I remembered his name.

I drove the family by the locations of all three of the high schools I went to, all of which are now closed.  I drove them through my old neighborhood, and saw the decay and destruction caused by time, apathy, and neglect.

We drove through the Wayne State University Campus, where I did my undergraduate work, and where I showed them my old apartment building on Cass Avenue.  Rebirth was evident in new businesses and new buildings.

We drove through downtown Detroit, where I pointed out landmarks such as the old Renaissance Center, where I spent a summer working on the Detroit Grand Prix, the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival, and the Freedom Festival.  I took them down Woodward Avenue, showing them the route of the Thanksgiving Day Parade I worked on one year.  I showed them the Bonstelle Theater, where I spent many a late night rehearsing and performing college theater.

They were soon bored, because we were in a car and the drive was long.  But I wasn’t.  This was my history.  This was where I was seasoned, and where events transpired to make me the person I am today.  Everywhere I went, a memory surfaced.  There was the movie theater I worked at; there was the mall I hung out in; this is the freeway where I spun out one winter, doing multiple 360’s before coming to rest on the side of the road; there’s the pizza joint I went to; there’s the 7-11 I had the gun pointed at me.

I wanted to take them to the cemetery where my father and brother are buried, but was warned against it due to how dangerous the neighborhood had become since they were buried.  I thought of venturing there myself, but didn’t want to risk it after the severe warnings we received.  It is one regret of the trip.

I thought the whole trip was successful, if not a little long.  Everyone said they had a good time.  The kids indicated they wanted to return some day.  We were all fatigued by the time we left, and were grateful to get home.  But Michigan lingered in my soul.  It is a beautiful state.   Even Detroit, with all its problems, has an attraction created by its danger, mystery, and now, opportunity.

I had spent a great deal of time researching and planning our trip.  I had been reading the Detroit area newspapers for years.  I had been exploring on the internet areas of Michigan I didn’t even know existed when I lived there.  Using the internet, I visited  Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pictured Rocks National Park, Muskegon, the Mackinac Bridge, the Cherry Festival, the western coastline beaches, and other areas, that I wanted to explore in person.

Thomas Wolfe said, “I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.”

I realized that, while living there for many years, through high school and college, I rarely ventured out of the Detroit area.  Visiting Houghton Lake was the farthest north I had ever been in Michigan.  I don’t recall ever being farther west than Ann Arbor, except when I drove through to Chicago to visit friends.  I knew I had to return and visit other parts of Michigan, to finally see it.  And I did return, in the summer of 2013,  just me and Da Boyz-skis (my sons).

And I learned that you can never go home again.  Because not only did home change, but so have I.

But that’s a story for another time.