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To My Facebook Friends: An Apology

facebook-556808_640Dear Facebook Friends,

I owe you an apology–all 899 of you.

You see, for the past year, I have not wished one friend a “Happy Birthday” on Facebook. I have not written on anyone’s wall, or posted an emoji in honor of another year passed, even though I would get several reminders from my news feed to do so. I can’t claim I didn’t know. I DID know, and still, I chose to do nothing. The reason? Guilt. I could not, in good conscience, wish certain people a happy birthday, while knowing I would miss other people’s birthdays during the days I did not go on Facebook–oh, yes, there are days I do not go on FB.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Facebook. I like feeling connected to the people who comprise my world. I like seeing what childhood friends are up to, even if I haven’t seen them since childhood. I like that the boy who was mean to my wife in grade school complimented her on a photo she was in recently. I like getting friend requests from people who would not invite me to a party in high school. I like seeing your children, your pets, your sunsets (I could do without the food shots, except for @phillyfooddude‘s). But I do not like the feeling I get when wishing some people a happy birthday while completely ignoring others. I do not like the pressure I feel when Facebook reminds me that Dutch and 4 other friends have birthdays today; that Leanne and Jennifer had birthdays two days ago; that I have 27 friends with birthdays this month; that I could send money or a gift to them–all 27 of them… I didn’t even like when Facebook would automatically type the birthday wish for me. All I had to do was click “send a message” and the words would magically appear in the comment box. Yet, the guilt remained.

It was too much. So, I decided to stop the madness. I woke up one day and thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t acknowledge one, or ten or 500, and NOT acknowledge all 899.” It had to be all or nothing. I chose nothing–and that has made all the difference.

I must admit, there were times I was tempted. And I did cheat once or twice by writing a comment underneath other comments that indicated well wishes to the birthday boy/girl. But I could not officially write on someone’s wall. Hell, I can’t manage to send cards– or even a text message– to those who are closest to me. My bar is set so low that I can only make sure I have cards and gifts for my wife, sons, and mother, and I will sign any card my wife sets in front of me. That’s it.

To those of you who have mastered this birthday wishing in our modern world, I salute you. To those of you who have wished me well in the past, I thank you. And to those who have forgotten or ignored my birthday, I understand. I truly do.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I humbly request that you not write on my wall. I won’t even mind if you write on the walls of the seven other people who share my birthday on your Facebook.  I just think it unfair.

Thanks for reading this. Thanks for being my friend. I hope that this year of your life is the best one ever (I used to write that on certain walls:). I’m looking forward to liking your next post, and commenting on occasion. Until then, take good care.

Your friend,

Michael

P.S. Laney and three other friends have birthdays today.

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My Son Turned 100 Today

Here is a picture that my seven-year-old drew of himself at 100–to celebrate the 100th day of school.  photo (46)

I love his red hair–which is brown now, and that he gave himself glasses in his old age. I could make out the cane easily enough, but I was confused about the thing he was holding in his other hand: A wand? A microphone?

“What’s that pink thing you’re holding, Hayden?”

“A lollipop!” he says, matter-of-factly.

Of course it is. If anyone will be eating lollipops at 100, it’s this guy.

Thanks for the glimpse into your future, Hayden. Enjoy every decade!

 

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“Can’t they have a childhood?”

Continuing my vacation by reflecting on the minds of others–this one from an interview with comedian Patton Oswalt. Oswalt is an everyman, a guy-next-door type. Very funny. In a recent interview with Scott Raab in Esquire, Oswalt reflects on how becoming a father has changed his outlook:

Patton Oswalt: I’ve gotten very cynical and kind of anhedonic about all the things I have to do to get to do comedy: all the travel, hotels, and airports. Louis C.K. has that great bit about how everything’s amazing and no one’s happy…I wanna get away from travel for a while. And I cannot tolerate being away from my daughter.

Scott Raab: How old is she?

PO: Three. I just… It really…

SR: I get that.

PO: Drives me crazy.

SR: You can’t buy back a day.

PO: She’s gonna have plenty of time to think life sucks, so I want her to think life is great. I get so bummed out when I see a lot of these archconservatives saying, “They give these kids trophies just for playing. Those are loser trophies! You gotta teach ’em!” If it makes you feel any better, they will end up an asshole, hard and cynical like you, trust me. Just give ’em a few years. I’m sorry that no one gave you a childhood, but can’t they have a childhood? I don’t want more people like me. I want happier people that are more optimistic.

Amen, Brother Oswalt. Amen.

PS Readers: I had to look up the word “anhedonic”. It is the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable.
Read more: Patton Oswalt Interview – Patton Oswalt Comedian Quotes – Esquire
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“I do not speak the minds of others…

…except to speak my own mind better.”

I am a lover of quotations. The brevity. The clarity. So much contained in so little. During the school year, I begin every day by sharing a quotation with my students. It allows me to impart wisdom to these young people that would take me years to articulate. And I can draw on the observations and lessons from men and women who lived thousands of years ago, or are a part of the morning headlines. Such is the power of words.

Take this quote above by the great thinker and essayist Michel de Montaigne from the 16th Century. A simple Google search about quotations led me to the mind of this popular statesman from the French Renaissance. And once I was captured by his words on quotations, I became immersed in many more of his observations about life, love, marriage, human nature…all topics that are timeless and hard to describe succinctly.

My family and I are on vacation this week. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity over the next few days to share with you some observations from what I’ve been reading. These words from others help me speak my own mind better. Indeed.

The first is from a woman whose name I do not even know. Her words appeared in the advice column “Tell Me About It”, by: Carolyn Hax. I have been reading Ms. Hax’s column for over fifteen years now, and I always find her advice spot on–I also have a little crush on her:) The beauty of an advice column is that one can glimpse wisdom and stupidity in the predicaments of others. Take these words from a woman reflecting on a slight that occurred fifty years ago when she was a teenager. Her thoughts half-a-century later:

“Parents need to understand that it is their job to foster love and understanding, not bitterness and hate within their children. Children who find love in the world grow up with self-esteem and self-worth. Those who do not, spend their lives looking for slights wherever they go.”

These words flooded my mind with images of people I know who are always feeling slighted–looking for people to blame for their unhappiness in the world. It only took two sentences to remind me of my mission as a father: to create an environment for my sons where they are able to grow up with self-esteem and self-worth.  It is my job to allow them to find love in the world. That love starts with me. Thank you for the reminder.

Check out more wisdom from Carolyn Hax and her readers at http://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/page/carolyn-hax .

Swim Lessons, Take Two

High DiveI spent the afternoon at the YMCA with my sons, watching them take swimming lessons. We’ve been at this since they were babies–every winter they take lessons, and I do see the results. But, God, sitting in that steamy hot chlorine sauna known as the indoor pool, I secretly pray that neither boy wants to join a swim team. As I watched them swim, I was once again made aware of how quickly they are growing, yet still wanting me close by. Hayden, my six-year-old, even insisted I sit on the benches at the deep end, so I could watch their dives up close. I find I am one of those parents who likes to sit farther away. This prevents me from hovering–wanting to reprimand their every misstep and also alleviate the perennial fear that they will get hurt. For instance, sitting near the deep end today, I was concerned with these pole-type things that hang down from the diving blocks. How are more kids not getting stitches from those, I wondered? Plus, the farther away I sit, the easier it is to check my cell phone.

Like many parents, I have the talk in my head when at an event like swim lessons. It goes something like this: “Now make sure you actually watch them when they are in the water. They really like to know you are paying attention. Do NOT check your phone or sit there texting like a teenager.” My other voice replies, “Jesus, give him a break, he’s sitting in this steam bath getting high on chlorine. He can look at his damn phone once in a while.” “Well, you know what I mean–don’t sit there the whole time and ignore your kids.” “He’s right,” a third voice chimes in.

I really want to be present in the moment. I want to capture all of these small snapshots in my memory, so I can happily sift through the slide show in my mind for decades to come. But swim lessons are boring as hell. I make an effort, though. Like an obedient dad, I do sit on the bench Hayden summoned me to. As instruction begins, I feel my phone buzz– a text from my wife about tacos for dinner. Hayden calls from the pool, “Dad, I was first to finish the lap.” I look up from my phone–caught, “Awesome, buddy.” “Pay attention, Michael”  Voice One reprimands. “Okay,” I say–right after I check Facebook. “Dad, watch this.” Now it’s Owen, conveniently in the lane next to Hayden, beckoning me to watch him bob from the poles hanging from the diving block. “Cool,” I say, looking up from my cell. “Dad!” It’s Hayden again, confidently waving to me from the other end of the pool. I hear his voice 50 meters away, yet there I am buried in my damn phone still.

“ENOUGH!” I think all the voices in my head say this at the same time. I place my phone in my back pocket, and swear  I won’t look at it again until we are in the car.  “Enjoy this time. Watch them swim. They want you here. Be present.” And so I watch their various drills, up and back the pool length. I admire how cute their new haircuts look now slick against their skin. I watch their little heads submerge in the water and come up to the surface with new life and excitement. I marvel at how their feet kick like tiny motors. I am in the moment. Until…Until, I begin to recall my own days of swim lessons. As I watch my own six-year-old in the water, he reminds me so much of what I think I was like as a child, bad bangs and all, and my mind flashes back 37 years…

I am in Abington Senior High School. It is the weekend. I am here with my five-year-old neighbor, Greg. His brother, Jeff, is my age (6) and we are friends, but Jeff is a capable swimmer, and I am not. Even Greg seems more advanced than I.  So, here I am, one of the oldest kids in the class, which will continue to be a pattern in my remedial athletic experiences as a kid (I think I was the only boy playing T-ball who had a learner’s permit).

Greg’s mother has driven us here. She drops us off outside the school, and we make our way into the labyrinth alone. It is our first lesson, so I am quite nervous.  I think this is my first time in the public high school, and since I go to Catholic school, I am immediately fearful of what I will find inside: kids hanging out doing drugs, gang members sharpening their knives, pregnant girls searching for the fathers of their unborn children…I was quite neurotic as a child (note the past tense).

Not surprisingly, Greg and I get lost. This confusion does nothing to calm my nerves. Finally, we find our way through the maze-like hallways to the boys’ locker room. We change, and then try to find the pool. I am overcome with anxiety, which means I have to go to the bathroom….number two….pronto. I tell Greg, and he kindly tries to find one with me. With each passing second, my nervousness increases, until finally, I can take it no more. The urge overtakes me, and I go to the bathroom in my bathing suit. Number Two. Number Freakin’ Two.

I am too embarrassed to tell Greg, so like any good Christian, I lie. “I don’t have to go anymore.” (Technically not a lie, I realize as I write this.) He is none the wiser, so we make our way out to the pool. Any bathroom still eludes us, so getting rid of the evidence is not an option. Once on the pool deck, we find our instructor, who checks our names off the list. My panic comes back, as I am now confronted with what the hell I am to do with this load that is sitting in my bathing suit. I contemplate telling the instructor. Or Greg. Or anyone. But then, I look around at all of the people, and I imagine all of them laughing at me. I peer into the future, and see my nickname years down the road: Poopy Pants Trainer, Poop for short. No effing way am I saying a word.

We are told to line up at the side of the pool. We are to jump in and swim to the other side. Now, I am nervous about the fact that I stink at swimming. Thankfully, this replaces my anxiousness about what lies beneath my bathing suit. “Okay, everybody, on the count of three.” I realize I must jump in and swim with the pack. Swim close to everyone else. If the poop does fly out and surfaces to the top of the water, I want a crowd around me so I will be able to deny, deny, deny. If I am in a pool surrounded by a dozen other kids, there’s no way they can pin it on me! As the instructor commands “three” I jump in wildly. I swim to the other side with reckless abandon, making sure that other kids are within arm’s length.

We get to the other side, and so far, no sign of my package being delivered. The instructor tells us to swim back and forth so he can assess us as a group. On about the fifth lap, I finally have the courage to feel the back of my suit. Gone! GONE I tell you. There is nothing but netting. In hindsight, I may have opened up the lining so it could slip out, but I honestly don’t remember. All I know is that the evidence disappeared from my suit, and did not resurface the entire time I was there. I was so relieved. After the lesson, I say nothing to Greg. When I get home, I do not breathe a word of this to anyone. The story alone could give me a nickname for life. My brothers would have had a field day with this one. Yes, I would be keeping this to myself. I consider it the day I swam and swam, and I never looked back.

“Hey, Dad.” It’s Hayden again. Waving to me for the umpteenth time. His voice brings me back to the present moment, and this pool a few lifetimes away from the one I was just revisiting.  I smile at the recollection of my swimming lesson. The smile turns into a chuckle. I laugh at it all. The craziness of my youth. The fact that now I am the adult in charge, and these two boys want very much for me to be there on that bench watching their every move.  I love that they care so much that I am watching. I love that they feel a sense of calm and security knowing that I will be with them each step of the way, so they won’t get lost; that I am just outside the pool if they need me, for example, to take them back to the locker room so they can go number two.