Dad 2.0 · people

Dad 2.0; Vignette Four

I was first to sit in the Main Room in wait of Mike Cruse’s reading. There was a host of tables to choose from, and my usual modus op would’ve had me select the back table, to the left. I don’t know why so GPS-specific.

Well—back table, because I’ve always been part of the assorted bustle in the ‘Peanut Gallery’; to the left may be an accident of ideology. I always default to the left. Perhaps wish I were left-handed like DaVinci, Escher, or Michelangelo. Or at least Macca, with his restrung bass. This way, I could pretend to be in a league of creative elites by manner of genetic predisposition.

Being the first to select a seat in the conference hall, though, I chose middle-middle. The experiment: ‘Who’s gonna sit with me, when people file in?’

At the SanFran Summit, at LucasFilm, I sat in a recessed corner with my guac and chips. Kevin McKeever sat his tray across from me as rescue, and, swinging a leg over the cafeteria bench, said: “What—you didn’t make any fucking friends today?”

Others joined—old DadCentric folk—and I was relieved. I’m generally a nervous wreck; I only recently learned how to speak.

At the middle table in the Hyatt, during the quiet of an empty conference room, I cracked open my laptop and set my phone at right angle to it. I am OCD and believe in setting up a station accordingly—the things we do to make ourselves comfortable when cornered with openness. I typed maybe two sentences before a tidal wave of swag bags and backpacks were heaped on the table next to me.

“Hey, Jay!”

“Thom—how are you?!”

Jay Sokol. I hadn’t expected to see him. With all the busy thread-making in preparation for the conference, Jay had posted:

‘Might not make it. MIL just passed.’

I, guiltily, had not garnered a response.

‘Goddammit’, we sometimes say, and to ourselves without touching a keyboard to reach out.

I like Jay. He exudes kindness and has been present at every Dad event I’ve been present for. Always a disarming presence, always with a half-smile—gracious and effusively polite. He’s met my kid—the younger one—and I was able to tour the Sokol family at SeaWorld to show them penguins.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Jay—I really am.” I lost my MIL before she actually became one, dead from a failed brain surgery while my wife and I were planning our wedding.

Jay looks almost wan, wisened, or maybe just tired. But he wears his gentle smile and dismisses my apologies. We talk, and I close my laptop.

“You know what, Thom?” he says. “I have a hard time looking at the internet sometimes.”

We all do, unless we force ourselves to, like some pried-eyed Burgessian Alex, seizing on the current news.

“And I only met your son for a few minutes, but sometimes I look for him, and he makes me feel better.”

My son, the unicorn—Findlay of the red hair and extra chromosome—he does make everyone feel better, especially me. But my heart grows three sizes hearing Jay say as much, without him knowing I’ve been through similar loss, and that I have similar gain in the fact of Findlay just being Findlay.

I am sensitive to loss, but also to gain—I remember Jay’s kid chasing a duck-butted penguin on the grass at my work—and I’m thankful that, in an empty conference room, Jay surprised me by filling the seat to my RIGHT.

Thanks, Dude of the House; thanks Mr. Sokol. Thanks for sitting next to me.

Dad 2.0 · people

Dad 2.0; Vignette Three

‘I am Not a Rock’ was a panel name, which seemed also a misnomer of sorts. We are like rocks in that we can erode under parenting’s constant barrage of weather.

But, then again—and unlike rocks—we have ways of rejuvenating. We can re-sprout flowers through concrete; we can breathe and rediscover sunlight.

I caught the tail end of the panel where Scotty Schrier was showing the audience mental hacks.

“Put a phencil in your mouf,” Scotty said, demonstrating proper method, wherein you clamp a writing instrument in your teeth, forcing your lips to part.

“This engages the same muscles,” Scotty explains, “As smiling.”

Hold the pencil long enough in your teeth—you may be demonstrating the strangest of Duchenne grins, bordering on grimace—but the engagement of the smiling muscles unlocks your body’s memory of what it’s like to be happy. The brain releases serotonin as reward.

Another hack: Scotty begins by asking everyone who has self-esteem issues. The majority of people in the room raise their hands while hunkered in their chairs.

“Everyone stand up,” Scotty implores.

Everyone obliges.

“Now strike a superhero pose. Any superhero pose, though Superman is the probably the most popular.”

Unwittingly, I’m already in Superman pose, though I’m more of a reedy and bespectacled Clark Kent with a typewriter.

“You hold that pose in front of a mirror for three minutes a day, several times a day,” Scotty says, “And you will start believing yourself to be that superhero.”

I’m recently fond of saying, ‘A dad needs to be a superhero for his kid, so that the kid will become more of one.’

At this moment, I’m lucky to be standing behind Greg Washington. He has a left fist cocked to his ear, his head turned upward and to the right. He looks triumphant, his right fist punched skyward, his calves coiled and engaged. He actually readjusts his pose several times to perfect his superhero-dom, to be invulnerable.

Which is to say, I guess we are rocks, after all.

Dad 2.0 · mental health · Uncategorized

Dad 2.0; Vignette Two

“So—yes—you’re doing better?”

And from a person I’m so used to hearing emit a staticky vocal fry on YouTube, Jessi is absolutely crystal.

“My husband says he doesn’t recognize me,” she beams.

She has dark brown eyes and as-dark hair, and whereas she usually poses for photographs with an open-mouthed smile, she this time just smiles. (Still, there’s hint of the prankster).

Jessi and me—we’ve both had one hell of a year.

“My wife says the same thing. I wasn’t THIS person,” I say, tapping my chest, “Two weeks ago, if not two days ago. It just keeps getting better.”

The foyer scene is nice, everyone lounging before the next lunge into something. Panel in the Rhodes Room, impromptu podcast in 612, drinks at Drift.

At some point during the conversation, I turn over Jessi’s forearms to look at her black-inked tattoos. I’m getting one soon, monochromatic as well.

David Vienna pipes up: “I’ve been counting quills since I got here,” which is like counting de-feathered crows. He points to his quill buried in a field of orange, than Jessi’s quill isolate of color.

“We’re all writers—everyone’s got the quill.”

(Which is a good designation of devotion. For example, I know I’m at a good restaurant when both the front of the house and back sport knife tattoos. Not of the Rambo persuasion, with serrated edges and castaway skulls illustrated bloodily on down the bicep; but I mean a photorealistic representation of a nice Shun, or a Westhof, on the posterior flexors).

I’m getting a nautilus eventually, in illustration of the Golden Mean.

Mike Cruse just got a good quill this past year with an unfurled banner reading: ‘Your move, Chief.” The quote is from ‘Good Will Hunting’, Robin Williams’ Sean saying to Will, “You’re terrified of what you might say…Your move, Chief.”

The quill can be used to face off desperation, terror. It can either simply excise the demons, else sublimate them into winged things with shrinking horns.

It can have you write in the present tense to escape being presently tense.

The pen might not always be mightier than the sword. Since I spoke about knives earlier, which are relative to swords, Elliot Smith (of the ‘Good Will Hunting’ soundtrack) carved the word ‘NOW’ into his forearm before composing ‘Everything Means Nothing to Me’, a song he fairly lilted even while blood dripped on the piano keys. He turned a knife on himself eventually to forever end his quilling.

BUT, since I will not end this sadly—this post or anything—for me all these feathers and ink nibs immortalized in mortal skin hint at a craft that is meanwhile changing us while we change it. Try NOT to become something different at every turn in a sentence. A period never means full stop, ever.

Dad 2.0 · people

Dad 2.0 Summit; Vignette One

The elevator is full, and why it is we don’t take the stairs when going up just two floors is beyond me. Still, where elevators tend to be uncomfortable and anxious rides—people with attaches looking decidedly forward, else up at the meter—we break the mold by facing all different directions at once, smiling. A few hotel patrons huddle in the back with as yet unpacked suitcases, glancing curiously at our motley assortment of lanyarded folk: there are ukuleles, white teeth, pint glasses, and resident weirdness.
I glance to my elevator car neighbor, Aaron Canwell, with his gigantic and cobwebby beard, bald pate, and uke on point.
“You know,” I say, “The fact of your beard and your ukulele DOES make this elevator ride a bit more surreal.”
As if this were the cue, he breaks into song, “We’re ri-ding on the elevator, we’re go-ing up.” He skiffles on his instrument as the doors slide open. Everyone makes the feint forwards, until we realize we’re on the wrong floor. We collectively shoulder back.
“We-re on the wrong flo-or,” Aaron sings, while the doors slide shut. He hums for the duration of the next ascent, before dropping into a minor chord when the car doors open at the correct place. Everyone laughs.
“Well done, my friend,” I say. “When you’ve nothing major to say, drop into minor key.”
And we tumble out as band of giddy brothers with the mighty, mighty ukulele as grand marshall.

Cayden · Dad 2.0 · home

How We Go to Sleep

Having de-planed from Dad 2.0, and having found my usual spot on the couch, I’m writing on vapors and am looking forward to bed. Jenn has retired post-Oscars and, as I’m pressing my last ‘send’ and about to retire too, Cayde appears in the living room. We talk, in that laconic man-to-man way. He’s confused that he went to bed just an hour ago and that–already–the Tooth Fairy has delivered him money. “Look–I got two dollars!” I can’t explain the Tooth Fairy’s expedience; I’m very much tired. Luckily Cayde says, “Hold on, Daddy.” He re-appears with a blanket. “This is for us.” And we crash on the couch. I still have my phone open. “Hold a sec,” I say. I manage to find the Andrew Bird song we played on the way home from the hospital. The wireless headphones don’t work, and Cayde eventually shrugs them off. So we play the song all tinny on an uncooperative iPhone and that’s how we go to sleep.

Dad 2.0

Business Card

I had almost managed to re-find a seat after my five minutes at the conference podium before being handed a business card. This happened at the back of the auditorium—naturally—because I’ve always gravitated towards the rear seats of the classroom, else comfortable corners where’s it’s easy to hide. I figure it’s a mammalian tendency, and of the beta variety: hug a wall, protect your spine (or lack thereof).

The lady who proffers the card says her name is M—(?). There’s an’M’ certainly, but I don’t hear her name exactly because the room is now applauding the keynote speaker (Michael Kimmel—and, yes, he was great). M—(?) says she would like to speak to me and I find it curious she has a tear in her eye when we’re still halfway through coffee; tears generally come later and when en vino veritas is the presiding sentiment. While still in a haze, I thank her and stammer a ‘Sure’ though networking remains something I’m not good at and something I most likely won’t improve on much over the weekend. (I’m the guy who leaves sweaty palm-prints at the bank-clerk counter, else replies a clumsy ‘how are you?’ when asked the same question).

A day later, I finger the card while doing some typing in the corner of the foyer. M—(?) is from the CDC. (Y’know: the place that blew up in Season One of ‘The Walking Dead’). The Center of Disease Control. And, for emphasis, ‘.gov.’ I find M—(?) today, and she was walking away from a leather-chaired sit-down; I overhear her saying she was right hitting a wall. I felt apologetic tapping her on the shoulder, but I was also the one that could direct her to coffee, so all was even. You see: I’m industrious in my shyness—I had the hotel completely staked out. Coffee in a few strategic locations, sub-par IPA downstairs.

(I know the barback’s name. At three’o clock the light at Table 10 by the window is fantastic and perfect for writing).

We collect coffee. We also graze some chocolate-covered things as bonus. Suddenly there’s a DC PR attache, too, also with a card. I’m certainly not used to this; I was asked for a reciprocal card a few times this weekend and wished to reply that I hadn’t exactly figured out the cut n’ paste feature on my phone just yet. Which—all things considered—means business cards may not exactly be in my immediate future.

(But ask me about Patrick Bateman and I’ll tell you that his card has a ‘bone’ motif; it’s also lettered in ‘silian rail.’).

I don’t know exactly how to hold my coffee cup. M tells me she’s wanted to meet me even before the conference began. And we’re in a side-room where there is something more than hotel-light and where we’re offered charging-stations and cushioned respite. There is talk of messaging, policy-initiatives, media-dissemination. Most importantly—advocacy.

“I love your writing. You made me cry.” M is gracious and exudes something earnest.

‘You made me cry’, mind you, is flattery for any writer. Or maybe relief, actually.

Because I guarantee you every writer cries at least once when putting down some serious bones. That the tears should be of worth and collectively pooled means someone’s crying with you, and when the drying of tears becomes a necessarily shared activity, there is empathy. Endall, it usually amounts to change.

That’s exactly when you want a business card pressed your way. When you’re both drying your cheeks. It means it’s not exactly business; the cards take softer corners.

I talk a lot while the sun spills in and I figure out that the best thing to do is to set my coffee cup down on the table in front of me. I talk, and: too much? I dunno. We break, and I’m excited as can be; I probably end the conversation abruptly because my world generally lacks pressed palms, and I really want to hear my new buddy Justin read in the conference hall. I’m not good at this. I really liked M, though, and when we separate I pour another cardboard demitasse from the communal carafe. Then I hide again. I tap some more keys. Being fond of ellipses, I type a few of those. (As something promising, though, and not something necessarily unfinished).

I take my fortieth look at the business card afterward. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

I think of my sons who I’m missing, currently.

In my satchel is one of those knit hospital caps—Findlay’s. The post-delivery nurse scribbled ‘FINN’ on it when my son was born with a permanent marker; she talked around the fact of his diagnosis, and with unnecessary and frenetic alarm. Considering everything, I would prefer to have the last word, and a word not scribbled messily with a Sharpie.

I pocket the business card and it fits my thigh perfectly.

childhood · Dad 2.0 · Down syndrome · family · favorites · parenting

Object Permanence

The ‘Mongoloid’ card gets played despite ground rules and—across the table—my wife Jenn and I meet glances. Finn’s asleep in Jenn’s lap, thumb resolutely in mouth.
In slumber, Finn’s almond eyes close along sinuous lines; the seams of his lids resemble ‘tildes’, those accent marks that give flourish to Latin ‘n’s: tildes make ‘en-ye’s’ out of ‘n’s. Finn’s eyes are different, as is he, and: do we call this exotic?
When the ‘Mongoloid’ card is played—we are playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’, something I’m suddenly regretting—I feel a particular blunting. The table is still friendly, and this is Christmas Eve, but I turn to my friend John-Paul who’s sitting next to me and say: ‘I think I’m done.’ The ‘Mongoloid’ mention has its certain hurt.
John and I are sharing a barrel-aged stout, something fourteen points, so me saying ‘done’ is appropriately camouflaged by a near-finished pint. I could be done by nature of what I’m imbibing, but that’s not why I quietly say ‘uncle.’(Since we’re talking numbers and points, Finn has 47 chromosomes, not the usual 46. The 21st chromosome was doubled somewhere in the early and meiotic phase; it turned Finn’s eyes almond and troubled his heart so that it needed surgering three months following his introduction into the world).
Another hand is dealt, and with my son sleeping—a slur having just been played and re-shuffled with Finn deep in Nod—I tell John-Paul that ‘I’m just gonna amuse myself, here.’ I’m uncomfortable. Finn sleeps. He has an arced palate and a lazy tongue by nature of his diagnosis—something biological. Lazier tongues, without diagnosis, have asked me: “Is he retarded?” A normal and relatively shallow palate should better lock a tongue into place, but it’s not always the case. People say things, coin questionable terms. And: ‘Mongoloid’ is a word that’s shocking to see still in circulation.
Wait—why am I playing this game?
The game asks that I play two associative cards. I lay down: ‘Heaven.’ ‘Object Permanence.’
I’m amusing myself. The point of this game is to play despicable cards when given a prompt—to be as devilishly clever as possible. I start playing cards to not win. ‘Heaven, object permanence.’ On a pizza sauce-stained tablecloth, and where the ‘Mongoloid’ card receives a laugh, my combo fails to even get a chuckle. But I’m happier for it.
Then, it’s Christmas morning. The sky is impossibly blue, weather having lifted. The retreating cirrus leaves something matte, and—as if cards played the night prior were something predicative—there’s a feeling of permanence. Like this sky could last forever, and unchanged.
We’re at a park near Lindbergh Field, in between houses and in between holiday visits. It could always be this blue, and, to announce the fact, the planes take off overhead, their perfect paint jobs illumined by the mid-morning sun. Weather, velocity and altitude surely flake the paint on the regular—inevitable atmospherics reducing veneer to scales—but today the jetliners gleam, flawless. Jenn pushes Finn on the swing and he’s laughing; Cayden—my oldest—clack-clacks the sidewalks that loop the greenbelt on his skateboard, and I soak up this Christmas sun on a concrete bench.
There are other dads—that guy with the cargo shorts and grey beard, kid astride his shoulders; the other guy with a palsied face one-handedly flying a kite with his son. There’s a canopied picnic to the left of me, and the table is neatly kerchiefed in plaid; a tow-headed girl hides beneath her dad’s jacket arm near the cooler.
Cayde inexpertly stops in front of me. He received kneepads from Santa and is now invulnerable, and don’t we all wish for that. “Soccer, Daddy?” Cayde suggests. I’m in a loose-knit scarf, suede penny-loafers, and a cardigan but, “Sure,” if only to add to this panorama. Different dads, different children.
Cayden declares goal-markers—“From here to here, Daddy”—but we wind up not keeping score. There are no points, and no point sometimes to numbers. Before, I would introduce the fact of Findlay’s diagnosis as ‘Trisomy-21.’ The dash and mathematic embellishment meant I didn’t have to say ‘Down’, nor—certainly—‘Mongoloid.’ But now: 21, 47: who cares? There are numbers on the underside of the airliners that are currently taking off, and they mean as little to me.
Numbers suggest perpetuity. Also a constant countdown to a something, nothing: a dwindling arithmetic.
Suede-footed, I bend a kick Cayden’s direction and, as if there’s a cosmic time signature at play, the ball caroms mid-air while Finn laughs in the background kicking his legs in an upwards swing. An orange-bellied plane takes off while the soccer ball pauses, and there’s both a temporary and permanent suspension.