An Open Letter To Older Parents of Older Kids … Like Ones In Our 40s and 50s

Jun 2, 2015 by

Dear Mom and Dad,

As I write this morning, a friend from high school is on the verge of losing her father. She’s either 49, 48, maybe has eclipsed 50. Like any time a person we know passes, a certain amount of reflection is involved–similar to the decade when I worked in the Alabama Governor’s Office and oft reminded my colleagues–“Every day is one less day we’re going to be here.” Four-year terms in office do that to you–remind you that every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year, count. (It’s shorter if you throw in a dishonest attorney general and judge.) It’s easy to forget that.

Life.

It’s not what I thought it was going to be growing up in your home.

You did so much to care for us, protect us, and prepare us for a changing world it’s impossible to ever be prepared to take on. I wish I’d known that when I was a kid–how hard life could be, but I had to find that out much later in my life and on my own.

My friend’s father is dying. Maybe there are a dozen things she is trying to tell him before it’s too late. I don’t know. She seems like the kind who would have already said much of it.

But we are from that generation where many parents didn’t say the three words we kids needed/wanted to hear the most–I love you.

I don’t know what happened to make that so, but I made up for it with my three girls. In their younger years, when they were less busy trying to figure out the world on their own, I used to say it so often they would reply, “Dad, we know!” My response was simple–“A daddy can never tell his girls enough that he loves them. Never.”

Sitting here, I realize that can go both ways. So let me give it a try: “Mom and Dad, I love you.”

For years of my life I have cursed the US Air Force for having moved me around so much as a child. I went to schools in Indiana, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, California and Alabama. With my past work for Dallas Schools and the writing program I’m in at SMU, I can now add Texas.

I still don’t feel like I have a home. Mom was always quick to quote “Home is where your heart is.” That doesn’t help either; it’s scattered all over the country.

The blessing of Facebook has helped give me back part of the youth that was taken from me. There are kids from McDonald Elementary in Michigan, Mitchell Sr. Elementary and Atwater High in California, and Jeff Davis High in Montgomery, whom I’m now friends with again because of FB.com. (The cooler part, some of them I went to school with in Michigan and Alabama, or Michigan and California.) This alone has brought so much healing to my heart–being able to see how friends from my youth turned out and to hear about their life stories, their challenges, successes and things they’re doing now.

It’s been amazing to learn how much of who we are is already in us by middle school. So many of my friends from California to this day either sound like they did then, or still act in very similar ways. I thought older years would have bent us more, but they haven’t.

This morning, I’m writing you to say a few things that need to be said again and again and again, before it’s too late.

Thank you for the love you gave me as a youngster. You didn’t say the words “I love you,” near to what I wanted or think I needed to hear, but you showed it in your generation’s own ways.

Dad, when I needed track shoes, we were in the car headed to get some. When I played baseball you coached. When the umpire wasn’t applying the rules fairly, you objected–becoming the only parent in history to be thrown out of a little league baseball game. But the point was, the rules weren’t being applied fairly and instead of letting it go, you stood up and said something about it. That’s been a good thing to have learned, and something I’ve not learned to compromise on. Some have called it “whining.” I call it speaking the truth. (I’ve been wondering how someone in one of my old jobs can look himself in the mirror having compromised on so much. I couldn’t live like that. And didn’t. And don’t. Thank you.)

Mom, we had our rough times, but great ones, too. I love you. (It gets easier to say the more you say it.) I’m sorry for the heartaches I caused, and I’ve let the ones you triggered inside me to be forgiven and to be let go. Thank you for teaching me about Mama Cass and her song Make Your Own Kind of Music, the phrase, “Life is what you make of it,” cooking, and daring to step onto a stage at age 10 and deliver my first public speech.

Dad, the point of the baseball gloves when Field of Dreams came out was for us to play catch like we did in front of the house in Kansas, or in the backyard in Michigan. I still can’t watch those ending scenes and not think about being in first grade and you and I having a catch. That sputtered out in California and Alabama, maybe it was the heat, and then the humidity. Probably it was just the elements of Cat’s In the Cradle, a song I cannot bare to listen to, even to this day.

Who knows what today will bring. Life is hard. I know that now. In part, you taught me that. Much of it, I just had to find out for myself.

Thank you for teaching me to love God. I give Him things to solve, but you also raised a hard-headed person who sometimes still thinks he can fix them on his own. Maybe I won’t ever learn to give enough to God, but he hasn’t given up on me.

If we could go back in time there is much I would change. Regrets? No.

Dad, you once told me about how you’d watch me and my brothers run cross country, even at young ages. We’d be beat red in the faces, fighting to keep going, and you said you were so proud of us because we dug down deep inside and found another gear, pushing forward to the finish line.

There have been times since when I couldn’t find that gear and just gave up. I learned the hard way that there are some things that just aren’t ever going to be. But it is joyous when miracles happen.

I’ve learned to recognize that when God wants something to happen, it does. I left so many friends behind and longed to find them, searching through the years. But when God finally said I’d learned enough in isolation from them, he opened up the lines of communication like we’d not taken a thirty-year break.

I wish as the eldest of five I’d not been so scared to tell you how much I liked a girl in middle school. I wish you could have met her then, or seen her, so that you have the context I have of how she’s still just as special today. I wish I’d learned more than how to just meet people. My worst characteristic today is that I don’t know how to be close to people because every time we tried when I was a kid, we moved in three months. It got too easy to not open up because the pain of leaving hurt so much more each time. I wish I’d spent more time in Yosemite when we lived in California. I wish….

This is longer than I wanted it to be. Ha, how can I dare say that? I could go on. There’s a lifetime of things I want to tell you about. I’m sure you have so much as well.

We don’t talk enough these days. Life makes us so busy. Can we try to fix that, while there’s still time?

Today is one less day we’re going to be here; I’d like to make it count.

 

–PS: Dad, handshakes are nice; firm, a look in the eye. That’s nice. But bear hugs, like you mean it, are better.

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April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

Apr 27, 2014 by

April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

I was in Huntsville, AL for April 27, 2011, one of the worst tornado outbreaks ever recorded in the state with 247 killed in 62 storms. I never will forget that day as long as I live, for I thought at one point, it was going to be my last.

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095 (Photo credit: Tales from the South)

During the mid 1990s, I worked in the Governor’s Office of Gov. Fob James. His lead bodyguard, State Trooper Tom Taylor, became a life-long friend of mine. It was during the spring of 2011 that I was working with a client in Huntsville, where Tom, wife Karen and the rest of the Taylors returned to after leaving the administration in January 1999. I was staying with them north of Rocket City in a little community called New Market.

That morning, I’d gone into the city to work with friend and colleague, John Hornbuckle. Around 9 a.m. that morning we heard of a tornado warning just northwest of the offices and gave chase, but it was moving too fast to catch up to. We went back to the office. But what I didn’t know was how bad the storm had been when it went over the Taylor’s house. They had downed trees. It was something of a mess.

Now having been in Texas for a decade and away from Montgomery, Alabama where I’d spent almost 20 years of life and 10 of them working in or around the Governor’s Office, I’d grown unfamiliar with Alabama weather. While in office with former Gov. Guy Hunt and Gov. James I remembered the Airport Road deaths from tornadoes at rush hour in the late 1980s and then I still have photos somewhere of me, Gov. James and Trooper Taylor walking through the damages of the F5 tornado that hit west of Birmingham in April 1998, but I had no idea how the rest of the day was going to go.

Here in North Texas, our weather people are good at hyping the weather, they’re just not very good at accuracy. And like most talk in Texas about things being bigger – the rivalry between Texas and OU, the severity of storms, etc. I’d grown accustomed to not getting too serious about dire weather predictions after a decade of blown North Texas forecasts. Usually, like even this morning in DFW, a line of storms comes thru and the event is over.

April 27, 2011

But that didn’t happen in Alabama on April 27. I left John at the office about 11 a.m. to go to the Taylor’s because they had downed trees and I was going to go help. Well, by the time I got there, Tom had already returned, Karen was there, the kids were out of school, (It was a week day) and word was around 12:30 p.m. that we were all headed from there to a shelter close by.

RadarScope App

It was at this time that Tom told me about and shared with me the best app for iPhone I’ve come to use yet–RADARSCOPE. It gives amazingly accurate and up-to-date radar images. Previously I’d been using the WeatherUnderground.com site. In the past few weeks, they have made changes to the site that to me make navigating it a complexity and in times of a storm, I just want to see what the radar looks like, the color in the formations, how fast it’s moving and I don’t need it down to the street level.

To their credit, on Twitter, WeatherUnderground asked me for feedback, but I have to say, I’m not getting anything near with them what I’m getting on my iOS devices in RadarScope.

The Afternoon of April 27, 2011 in Huntsville, AL

We got to Tom’s brother’s house. It had a storm shelter in the basement and a ramp around back where one could seek shelter. Being north of Huntsville in New Market, I had no idea that we had moved further into the path of the storms that would knock out areas to the northeast of Decatur and south of my Dad’s birthplace, Athens.

As I recall that day, we endured SEVEN tornado warnings. One nearly right after the other. It was harrowing.

Around 5 p.m. Karen, Tom and I thought things were going to die down enough for us to get out and go get something to eat. There’s a great Mexican place just across the Tennessee border we’d talked about going to. But before going north, we went back to their house. And then …

The Drive Back To The Bunker

When we realized another ferocious storm was coming, we left Tom and Karen’s house headed the two or three miles back to the bunker we’d been in. But by then the storm was upon us. There were torrential rains. The road ahead at one point headed due west was overflowing with rushing water. We were in a Jeep with a plastic-type lid. It began to hail and every stone that hit the car sounded like a rock in that blinding rain. We made a right turn to go north. More rain. More wind. And when there’s hail, there’s usually something spinning at high speeds, a tornado, around it.

As we drove thru this, I began to pray harder than ever before. Now I’d ridden thru hurricanes coming ashore and that kind of thing with the governor and Tom before, but this was different. We were being tossed and banged. We could barely see and the last thing we needed to do was stop because we surely would have met tragedy.

I could see off to the right of the road from the front passenger seat. Trees were falling to our sides. Trees were falling on the roads.  I just knew we were about to be off to the right of the road in a ditch.

The storm didn’t let up the entire ride over to Tom’s brother’s house. But by the grace of God, we made it.

The Rest of Alabama

That day, 62 tornadoes dropped to the ground in Alabama and 247 people met death’s door, a fate I thought at several points we were certain to join them in.

Because of the storms, the power in Huntsville and most of North Alabama was out for nearly a week. By early morning, Karen, Tom and I had ventured out to see Highway 231 a log jam in both directions. Traffic lights were out. People were seeking food, gas and ice. Miraculously, I found an open gas station about a mile from the Taylor’s house and once topped off, headed to see my Mom in Montgomery until things were restored.

All across the state, people were mourning the loss of family and friends.

I was lucky to have survived that day. I know it was by God’s will that I didn’t die because he had some other mission for me to fulfill. It’s days like today I reflect on whether or not I’m meeting him and his purpose. Today’s sermon in church was about stopping things we shouldn’t be doing and getting focused on God; letting Him take over and putting the things holding us all back onto the Lord and dealing with them, no longer ignoring them.

Finding Your Purpose

Have you found your purpose? Do you know why God has led you to where you are now? More on that to come, but I encourage you today to remember those who perished this day just three years ago. Bless you and bless them.  Radar right now is showing a mass of storms in Mississippi and they’re marching toward Alabama like General Sherman on Atlanta. Let us pray that things go okay today. History doesn’t need a repeat.

 

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Win Or Lose Tonight, Auburn Still Wins

Jan 6, 2014 by

Win Or Lose Tonight, Auburn Still Wins

I just had lunch at my local Wing Stop, figuring it’ll be too crazy to get in there tonight with Auburn and Florida State University playing for the final BCS National Championship. I went in wearing a sweatshirt I received for Christmas heralding Auburn’s chance to play in tonight’s game, and ESPN was playing with no audio at both ends of the store. Across from me, two men spied me watching as Coach Nick Saban commented about Auburn’s defense. Auburn Logo

When I sat down, almost like he was trying to pick a fight, one of the men looked over at me and said, “They’re not going to win tonight.”

I greeted him and responded with, “We weren’t supposed to win the last two, either.”

That was the end of the conversation. It was like talking to a Bama fan up until Wednesday afternoon. (BTW: The best joke so far today–“How long does it take to beat Alabama?”–Answer: “A second, or Sooner.”) Where does such arrogance and outright anger come from anyways?

What The Man At The Table And Most Others Don’t Understand

I’ve been an Auburn fan since we moved from Atwater, CA to Montgomery, AL  in 1981.

In Alabama, you have two options, you’re either an Auburn fan or you’re “One of them.” (An Alabama fan.) Bama has a much longer tradition of winning than Auburn does. One of my friends, in a put down earlier this year, said, “Alabama seniors have won more national championships than Auburn.” Quite biting, yes, and true.

Tonight, Auburn has the chance to win it’s third national championship in the school’s history. No, that’s not as storied as Bama, or Notre Dame, or USC’s past programs. And yes, there’ve been many years at Auburn when we’ve had to just chalk things up to “next year.”

But here’s the part others don’t understand–Auburn was never expected to be playing tonight. All year long we were beaten down by Alabama fans and the news media. Bama fans, up until the last play of the Iron Bowl were constantly crowing about their being on the way to their 16th national championship. All they had to do was push pitiful Auburn out of the way.

So without the expectation of even being here, with a 3-8 record last year, a horrible showing in the Iron Bowl and one of the worst losses ever to Alabama, Auburn’s team this year did something special–they ignored what EVERYONE was telling them and they went inside for something all of us should do day in/day out–they found an inner strength and a determination to not let go of their dreams.

#AUBURNWINS

ESPN is running a nonsensical, non-scientific Twitter poll right now. If you think FSU is going to win, you Tweet #FSUWins, if you think Auburn, #AuburnWins.

In many ways, it feels like I’m back in the Alabama Governor’s Office today waiting for 7 p.m. when the polls close. Then all the pundits and nonsense can stop and the real poll can be conducted.

I hope Auburn wins tonight. But even if they don’t, I’m still going to be very, very proud of what this group of kids and our new coach have done. And we have about 320 more days to remind Bama fans of how long it takes to beat them…..

 

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What The Auburn Alabama Game Has Done For Auburn

Dec 5, 2013 by

What The Auburn Alabama Game Has Done For Auburn

dad-cutout-auburn

dad-cutout-auburn (Photo credit: ClaxtonCreative)

It’s been five days since the 2013 Auburn Alabama Game in Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. A game where Auburn was ranked 4th going in and beat UAT/BAMA, ranked 1st nationally going in, and where Auburn won the game in one of the most unusual and spectacular 109-yard TD run plays of all time.

And the impact of the game has been surprising. When I was in college, the Bammers used to love to mock Auburn and say, “Where’s that?”  Even five days after Bama’s defeat this year, people in surprising places have been talking about AUBURN.

At the end of the news on ABC’s Nightly newscast with Diane Sawyer Monday, they ran a feature story of the Auburn-Alabama Game.  Brian Williams, Tuesday in talking about the man-made earthquake from Monday Night Football in Seattle pondered on air, “What would have happened had they been doing seismology tracking in Auburn Saturday night?!”

Justin Timberlake chimed in on Twitter Saturday calling the game one of the most spectacular he’d ever seen.

And all that’s great, among the famous people. But something else has happened these past few days.

As I’ve moved about Dallas, from a lunch scene at Corner Bakery Wednesday, to lunch at Jason’s Deli Thursday in Mesquite, I’ve either overheard people still talking about Auburn and their win, or people, a woman today, came up to me and said, “Wow, you must have had an amazing Saturday.” (I was wearing an Auburn sweatshirt..)

Last year, Gene Chizik had made the Auburn football program crap. We were 0-8 in SEC games. Bama fans were relentless and have been since Cam Newton interrupted their string of national championships.

Saturday’s win has shut the Bama mouthing down. It’s been a nice quiet few days of people, who had they beaten Auburn, would have continued along with their sometimes arrogant, can’t be beaten, Titanic-type of attitude. Some have posted congratulatory posts to Auburn on their Facebook walls, but none/few of my traditional harassers has put anything of congratulations on my own wall. And that’s okay. And I’ve not gone looking to rub it in. I should, but I’ve not, because I’ve also seen how viciously ugly the Bammers can get when the subject is brought up. Apparently it’s been okay in the past to trash Auburn for losing, but it’s not okay to tease Bammers when they lose.

Nonetheless, for the purposes of this post, I want to return the focus on the good that’s come about because of what happened in a second of official time in Auburn Saturday. People around the country know about Auburn now and they’re saying nice things. What a change that is from where we were last year.  What a change that is from where we were 30 years ago…… Now if only Auburn will make something positive of all the new attention….

 

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A&M Not Ready for Bama Game–Hello! This is the SEC

Sep 1, 2013 by

A&M Not Ready For Bama Game–Hello! This is the SEC

On my Facebook Wall yesterday I made a post that said the NCAA should consider putting the SEC in it’s own division because football on the collegiate level isn’t played like it anywhere else. At least not traditionally.  Admittedly, that was before Texas A&M,  Bama, Auburn and LSU struggled to beat their non-SEC opponents and Georgia got beaten by Clemson by three.

But what was most troubling of all yesterday was to watch the goings on in College Station. ESPN had the A&M v. Rice game on before the Bama game, (I’m sure there were some in Tuscaloosa upset they’d been pre-empted by Johnny Football) and they hyped the non-sensical suspension (Which rumor had it this past week some Bama alums were behind getting the whole autograph deal before the NCAA) and they showed the video of the official telling Johnny Manziel to get off the field while he was still suspended, they showed him coming in to play, they showed his silly “show me the money” gesture after making a score and made note he’d been doing that last year, and then they also showed the mimed signature bit, his two jawing sessions with Rice players, and then Coach Sumlin ripping into him. About that time, the UAT (University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa) game came on, and then shortly after that, the Auburn game and so what was going on in College Station and even the whole Syrian matter with President Backed-Down all faded into irrelevance for the rest of the day.

ESPN focused on a Twitter post from a Rice player involved in the penalty event with Manziel where he said JF said something like, “Hey Nick, nice play.” How the refs would take that and throw a flag is puzzling, but nonetheless the central point of this post is this–there’s a game in two weeks with Alabama, whether they are ranked #1 in the country or were not ranked at all–this is the SEC and once you tick a team off like Alabama and its alums like Manziel did last year, you’d better get your affairs in order.

And from what transpired yesterday, Manziel isn’t aware of that significant fact and neither is his coach.

I didn’t think Bama looked all that impressive with what I saw of its offense yesterday, and even EPSN was noting at one point that special teams had carried most of the day in point generating, but when UAT gets to College Station in two weeks, with a week’s break in between, it’s going to be like there’s a hurricane blowing into south central Texas. (Matter of fact, maybe A&M’s fokes should start praying for one to give them some additional time to prepare.)

Now one could joke that officials in College Station should be guarding any pretty trees they have on campus from being poisoned by stupid-assed Bama Updyke fans, the real danger here is that A&M’s fokes don’t seem to understand what it means to be playing in the SEC. Rivalries run deep in the SEC. In talking to a Montgomery, AL minister a few weeks ago, he was explaining to one of my friends from California, (where they have no real concept of what real football even is.) He explained that football in the South, particularly the SEC, often rivals worship to God. And he wasn’t kidding.

Yes, it would be good for Bama to beat A&M, being an Auburn fan.  But it’d be better still for A&M to beat UAT from my point of view. And from what I saw on the field in College Station and even in Atlanta yesterday (Why did Georgia officials not light the Georgia Dome from end zone to end zone BTW? It’s like watching football in a cave on TV) A&M isn’t ready for Alabama and they don’t even have a clue why not…..

It’s going to be ugly in two weeks … but maybe that’s what the attitude of Manziel needs most of all.

 

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