Oh, My Father

Screen shot 2011-08-04 at 7.59.57 PMThis time a year ago I spent a few hours of Father’s Day taking a soda (And probably some other treats, but definitely a soda.) to my dad where he lived, at Forest Ridge Health & Rehabilitation in Bremerton. If I am remembering correctly it was a gloriously sunny day, like today, and we took him outside in the facility’s shaded patio to enjoy visiting.

It wasn’t always the easiest thing to do when he finally had to have full-time care in a facility like this. He had always referred to nursing homes as “mills” or “warehouses.” At times he would talk about wishing he could go home. Nothing would have thrilled us more. But by last Father’s Day he couldn’t move his arms well enough to feed himself. We would hold the straw for the soda up to his lips and he would take a swig, take a breath, then take another one.

So fitting. When Apollo was born he was so big (12 pounds) that regular nursing wasn’t giving him enough nutrition. So I got to hold him in my arms and give him sips of formula, a father feeding his son.

I don’t know if Dad ever literally fed me, but I suspect he did. And even if he didn’t, there were so many other ways that my brothers and I were fed by my father. For many years Dad fed us his love of baseball, something all three of us continue to maintain. There were other things. Dad had a pretty strict sense of right and wrong and could display a quick temper, but he also loved to laugh and had a definite fondness for anyone who could make him do it. And none of us can forget how if he were telling a joke we would never understand the punchline, because Dad would be laughing so hard that whatever words he was saying would sound foreign.

Probably one of the biggest gifts he gave us boys was his display of how much loved our mother. Mom was wonderful, too, but there were a few years that other men might have left. Dad stayed strong. I don’t think he ever considered doing anything else.

And so spending time crafting any conversation we could last year as we sat outside at the rehab facility was no sacrifice at all. He loved it. I think his whole life his favorite times were those he could spend with us. That didn’t change when his legs could no longer support him and his arms could not successfully utilize a spoon. If anything, those moments became more valuable.

I miss him.

I really miss him.

I wouldn’t wish for him to be back in that condition. I hope for an afterlife and have faith that he is so, so happy now back with our mom and helping orchestrate whatever he can down here. But I still miss him.

As I think about those moments getting Dad sips of soda, I wonder what “full circle” will mean in my life. There could come a day in my life when my limbs fail me. That’s not something I am completely comfortable mouthing, but it’s a distinct possibility for all of us.

If that day comes and I find one of my kids raising a straw to my mouth I will certainly remember those moments with my dad during the final months of his life. I will recall how sunny and warm it was on the best of those days. And I’m guessing that in a moment like that it won’t be hard at all to relate to my dad, appreciating those moments more than almost any other. Because when it’s all about to end the things that will matter to me most won’t be those that came to me as a result of my professional ambitions, it will be those that came in those moments when I literally and symbolically fed my family.

Greetings from Yak and Erna

ccardTime was, when someone wanted to send a Christmas card it had to be signed and stamped and put in a mailbox. I think it was 1997 when my boss received a bad box of Christmas cards he was supposed to send out, but they were bad because they were not in his name.

Instead the name was Yak and Erna Debrakaleer from Topeka. He asked a couple of us if we wanted them and on instinct we both said we did. We split the box, each with designs on sending out Christmas cards to unsuspecting friends. I wrote a cool newsletter to go in each one. He decided to just send his signed, with a personal note to each person. I never figured out how to get mine sent, but my coworker did. He contacted a Mailbox Plus store in Kansas and had the cards sent from there. Over Christmas he kept hearing family members tell tale of getting cards from someone they didn’t know named Yak and Erna, two people who clearly knew something about them. My friend never let on that he was the one who sent the cards.

Here we are 15 years later and I’ve never stopped regretting the fact that I never sent my cards. Then came my moment to make good on my plan.

My brother joined a multilevel marketing company called Send Out Cards. It’s based on the idea that everyone sends out greeting cards, or should. It’s a pretty cool idea. I went ahead and signed up to have a small amount taken out of my PayPal account every month. Turned out, though, that I seldom used the account. So, thinking that I would exhaust all the funds I had in there, I created a card and sent it to about 20 friends and family. The return address said Yak and Erna Applewhite and included a made-up address in South Carolina.

This was the message on the inside of the card:

Holy cow, folks! I’m sure you can understand the tardiness of our annual Christmas greetings, what with the courts and the media attention and everything. We thought about sending you a card anyway, but Jake had hid our address book under one of the fenders of the pickup and didn’t think to tell us until about a week ago.

Life has finally settled down for us. You know us well enough to know that we’ve had a more than casual relationship with law enforcement in the past, but never all at once. I won’t go into too many details, because those have been spelled out in the newspapers. There are just three things we want to reiterate:

1.The police have become pickier about defining “kidnapping.”
2. Even if someone asks you in writing to hit them in the head, the law still considers it “assault.”
3.We honestly thought that girl was a mailbox.

Of course, you’re our friends, so we don’t have to explain that to you. We are going to miss Jake, Ellen and Spike for the next few years, but we trust they will make good friends and learn important job skills in the meantime. That alone gives us a reason to think we’ll have a good Christmas, even if we are celebrating it three months late.

We hope you had a great Christmas and look forward to hearing from you and hearing all your good news.

It takes a little longer for Send Out Cards to get out there. Several days later I saw this from one of my friends on Facebook:

OK FB peeps, help me out here.We got a “Christmas” card in the mail today, addressed to both of us from a “Yak and Erna Applewhite” from SC. I’m guessing it’s a joke or promotional thing, but I don’t get it. In summation the card alludes to legal issues, saying: “with the courts and the media attention and everything…” the card wasn’t sent on time. It then says: “You know us well enough to know that we’ve had a more than casual relationship with law enforcement in the past, but never all at once. I won’t go into too many details, because those have been spelled out in the newspapers. There are just three things we want to reiterate: 1. The police have become pickier about defining ‘kidnapping’; 2. Even if someone asks you in writing to hit them in the head, the law still considers it ‘assault’; 3. We honestly thought that girl was a mailbox.” Huh?! Seriously, can anyone shed some light on this?

I was pretty excited, especially because another friend posted that they got one, too. Then it got a little troubling when one of the first responses was “Not funny. A little disturbing. A lot Creepy.” Another friend of my friend suggested calling the police. I wasn’t worried that I would get in trouble. I’d explain it was a prank and figure everyone would be cool with it. But since I was operating under an account held by my brother, I was worried he’d lose whatever privilege he wanted. My friend knew it was a joke and wasn’t going to call cops, but I knew I’d never be able to hide it at work anyway, so I let on.

So if you got one of the cards, now you know its source. Please don’t contact the authorities.

Happy Birthday to Apollo!

Apollo the protector

This little guy you see pictured here; this boy who can be so deathly afraid of ferns that people in the parks will call out and ask if we’re OK but will pick up any cat despite all their protestations and no matter how many times they end up scratching him; this boy who only recently got up the courage to watch Matilda, but is also the little guy who idolizes his older brother and adores his older sister and always wants his mom to tuck him in but wants his dad to take to him to parks because Dad will take him to 7-Eleven for a Slurpee: this imp who complains about taking too long when we visit Grandpa, but talks to him more than the other kids; who goes outside in bare feet in the cold to jump on the trampoline or to crawl into his dad’s car or mom’s van; this boy who doctors said was a toddler at birth because he weighed just a shade under 12 pounds, the kid who was immediately idolized by his cousin Teesha and who fell into a pool once when I wasn’t watching well enough; who joked about falling off the Hoover Dam and yelling “Tally Ho,” who decided for himself that he no longer wanted to wear diapers and later didn’t want any help with cleaning up the dirty business, who keeps his private parts private from view but openly discusses his and those of others, who likes to spend the whole day sometimes in nothing but his undies, who knows his way around all our iPods, whose train tracks constantly dominate our living room and who looks like an angel when he sleeps because he really is an angel who came to our family and blessed it and made us all better people just by being with us, has a really special day today.

He turns 5.

Yesterday he said he thinks he’s going to like being 5. I’m going to do all I can to make sure that’s true.

Happy Birthday, Apollo!

Every anniversary is worth the wait



Fifteen years ago today I was sitting, waiting for Diana to arrive to the Salt Lake City LDS temple, where we were scheduled to get married that day. I was a bit nervous, because in the past I had made plans to get married before, enough times that when my mother called my brother Jim and told him I was engaged he responded, “Again?”

Diana did arrive and we did get married that day and today we celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, clearly marking the best 15 years of my life, or any life, if I can be so narrow minded.

The fidgetiness during those moments of waiting was well earned. A few years earlier I had made an appointment to get married at the same place, and later called to cancel it. The woman on the other end of the phone asked if I wanted to reschedule it. I wanted to say, “Yes,” but there was no reason to, and I sensed she was pained by my response. I may have been projecting.

I had been to a few weddings in LDS temples. In Salt Lake City, probably more than any other temple, it can be like a scene out of the movie “Cousins,” where one of the weddings takes place in a location called “Weddingland.” All morning long you see people following a different bride all over the grounds. To someone not of the LDS faith, who because of the church’s unusual position of only letting card-carrying members into the temple ceremonies, the scene must be especially dreamlike. There were 42 weddings at the Salt Lake City temple the day Diana and I got married, but to an onlooker must have looked like thousands.

Those moments for me, though, only came after that time of waiting before Diana arrived, as I wondered could this really be the “due time of the Lord.”

Another ritual Mormons undertake is one of a patriarchal blessing, in which a particular priesthood holder gives a blessing regarding the future. The language is often left to interpretation, but when my patriarch told me that one day I’d get married in the temple and he included “in the due time of the Lord,” I feared that meant it was going to take me a while. And indeed it did.

The reason was pretty simple. I wasn’t ready. I thought I was, several times, but I wasn’t. I needed to grow up. I’m a slow learner and adulthood took a while to set in.

Thank goodness. I wouldn’t be with Diana otherwise. She’s beautiful and brilliant. She’s patient.

She arrived that morning 15 years ago as eager as I was to get the ceremony going, though unaware she was a bit late and not especially tuned into what tardiness that day might mean to someone who had waited 13 years for that day to finally arrive.

As always, Diana was worth the wait.

Happy Anniversary Diana.

Here’s a post to a Salt Lake Tribune story about young LDS men taking their time getting married.

I am the parent of a teenager

The skies here have shared some sunshine in the past few days, but mostly they have been gray. Over the past few months we have struggled through the stress of caring for a loved one whose care is getting more difficult. That comes with a sobering dose of reality that if I don’t change, his present could become my future. And yet that change is so hard to grasp.

This might be why my daughter Sarah turning 13 seems like such a joyous event to me. I should be sad, I’m told. But her birthday, her milestone, her own rite of passage has somehow become all that for me, too. The other reason the event is so wonderful for me is because Sarah is so wonderful herself.

In a story I’ve told a million times she was the granddaughter my mother always wanted. I’ll be honest. I wanted our first child to be a boy. I envisioned a protector of all the others. I got over that within minutes and embraced the idea that for the first time in my life I would live in a house in which I was outnumbered by females.

The pregnancy was a relative breeze for Diana, but the birth was touch and go. Almost every problem that could happen, did, for both Sarah and Diana. When Sarah was finally free from her mother as the doctors worked quickly to heal Diana, another set of doctors surrounded a tiny table bearing an infant who took her time in announcing her presence. My gaze shifted back and forth between what was happening with Sarah and what was going on next to me with Diana.

And then the cry.

The first one I had ever heard for a child of my own was sweeter music than any, relieving some of my worry as the work on Diana continued. Within a few minutes they wrapped Sarah up and brought her over to me. They put her in my arms and she sunk into them quietly.

They say babies can’t really focus for a few weeks, but in the first moments of Sarah’s life it seemed to me she was looking inside me as she gazed up and made eye contact. It was less like I was holding something new and more like I was sharing affection with an old friend who seemed awfully glad to see me again. She was even smiling a sweet, gentle arc.

Sarah turns 13 today, so the days of that kind of bonding are not as frequent as they once were. As it should be she has entered a part of her life where some of the closeness she had with me and Diana has been replaced by her bonds with her friends. That moment I had during her first minutes of life is not one she will ever remember. In fact, at this point in her life it may be that her mother and father are a constant threat to embarrass her.

But that’s OK, because I will remember that moment, just like I will remember the time she got off the bus from kindergarten, saw me at the front door and ran toward me yelling “Daddy!” and those walks we took when she was about 4, when we decided we probably better not walk into that forest because Tigger might bounce on us. There was also that New Year’s Eve when she was little and we came home after midnight from friends. Sarah was tired and let me have it with a barrage of unintelligible, but loud, complaints about us having left our friends and her having to go to bed.

And I will remember what she meant to my mother, who gave birth to three boys and had four grandchildren, all boys, until Sarah came along. Two weeks after Sarah was born my mom learned she had stomach cancer and two weeks after that she died. For every reason but one she was ready to die. The one thing that made her want to stay was Sarah. Having watched Sarah now for 13 years, I can see why.

Those beautiful bonding moments that happened so often when Sarah was little still happen from time to time. They just look different and they’re harder to predict. I don’t mind that Sarah is getting older. (What does bother me is that I am, too.) Every day, if I pay attention there is something new to celebrate about all of our children. Sarah has borne the burden of leading the way for Sascha and Apollo with some ease, some willingness and sometimes some resentment. It is not always easy for her, I’m sure, but I don’t often get the sense that she regrets her station in life.

That Sarah is becoming a woman now is something I can still watch as a happy father. I know that could change the moment some boy becomes part of the story. So far, though, so good.

The day will come when I will watch a door close behind her when home becomes a dorm, or an apartment or some other element I can’t conjure. I imagine that day being within the list of those that stick with me. Those usually come, though, when I’m not anticipating them. I didn’t expect to earn that gaze from Sarah that first day of her life, but like so many I’ve had with her since, it became a moment that lasts forever. No matter what success I ever achieve in life in the form of money or respect from the world, nothing will give me the joy that that lasting memory has. That was the moment I discovered love.

Happy Birthday, Sarah.

Love, Dad.

Turning Off the Television

family watching televisionWhen I was in sixth grade I could have probably told you any program that was on in prime time on the major networks. That was true for even the shows I never watched. We subscribed to TV Guide, for one. For the other, it’s not that hard to memorize the schedule for three networks. Now, though, it isn’t just the insane number of channels we have to choose from that makes me less inclined to have the agenda down pat. It’s that life has served up things more important than whether Richie, Potsy and Ralph Malph manage to foil the guys burglarizing the Cunningham’s house.

Still, I love television. I love all the news shows available. I love “Lost” and “Saturday Night Live.” Assuming I remember it’s Thursday I’ll often watch “The Office.”

Despite that, we’re considering turning off the cable television. One reason is the instrument in front of me. All of the shows I mentioned can be seen online, at a time of my choosing.

Second, though, is the concern over whether I’m watching my children become too attached to the screen. The house might be quieter. There might be more noise from the piano. It would benefit me, for almost certain, but I’m more wondering whether this might be the right move for the kids.

Now if you’ll excuse me, Diana wants to watch “ER” on my laptop and I’m going to see if the latest episode of “Mad Men” is available.

Writing Mad

churcy lady posterWeeks ago I was home on a vacation from work. The whole week was spent in the garage, clearing out stuff and rearranging things, something we’ve been waiting about three years to do. Our next door neighbor, Craig, a 71-year-old guy who is pretty much the caretaker of the neighborhood was bringing a plant to my wife. Shortly after there was a trauma. You can Diana’s account on her blog and the version I wrote on the Kitsap Caucus blog. Seriously, go read those so you know a little bit about Craig and the trauma.

The short version is he fell off his deck. Diana was the first to render help after a contractor was yelling for someone to call 911. Craig’s face was buried in the grass. He wasn’t breathing. We all know to not move people in that situation, but he was not breathing. So she moved his head. As soon as she did he started to breathe again.

Since Craig has been hospitalized, and the injuries were severe, our role has been to take care of their little dog and send out the e-mail updates. Diana sent one out tonight. Shortly after, she received the following comment from an anonymous writer.

“While I admire your ability to post this information, I am apalled at the fact that you would post pictures of you and your family showing off your bloody hands and clothes. What are you thinking?? Do you for one minute think that his family would want to see this??? Did it also occur to you that by moving him immediately following the fall may be the reason that his injuries are that severe?? The first thing you learn in first aid in an emergency situation is that if you suspect a neck or spine injury, you never, ever move the head or neck!!! My prayers are with him and his family.”

Diana did decide to take the pictures down and wrote a response herself, saying she believed at the time she was doing the right thing. This is the first time that has been questioned. Diana was shaken by the comment, sent a note to Craig’s wife apologizing if the blog post was offensive. The photo was one of her with the ambulance in the background. In it you would have seen a little blood on Diana’s hands. I took the photo. Being a newspaper guy, I saw it as the best illustrator of the trauma we were all experiencing.

While Diana was upset, I was incensed, basking in my own self-righteousness, I suppose. I have learned to not write things when I’m angry. Tonight I didn’t care.

Dear anonymous, Perhaps you missed the part where Diana wrote that Craig’s face was buried in the grass. He wasn’t breathing. Had she, and then we, not moved him he would not have survived, because the paramedics took well more than five minutes to get there. Go without oxygen for eight-ten minutes and paralysis will be the least of your problems.

I don’t know if you have ever been in a situation in which you know you’re holding someone’s life in your hands. You don’t make decisions irrationally, but you make them quickly. Diana knew the risks. We all knew the risks, but he needed to breathe. Diana did the right thing. You weren’t there, so keep your armchair quarterbacking to yourself.

You’re appalled? I am absolutely disgusted there are people like you who are so quick to judge and then to suggest that perhaps it’s Diana’s fault that his injuries were so severe. You think those pictures were insensitive? Look in the mirror.

OK, so I know I relied on a couple of standard phrases common in Internet fights. “Perhaps you didn’t notice . . .” “Look in the mirror.” Be kind to me. I wrote it on deadline. The anger was fading, I had to get my wrath out quickly.

Apollo Thinks Big

apollo as moses

“And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.”

Leave Home for One Minute and . . .

Illahee Road near our house. This means our son’s bus ride to school has gone from 10 minutes to a half-hour.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall.

On Wednesday we returned from a week’s vacation in sunny (mostly) Southern California to this.

While in San Diego at Legoland, my brother-in-law sent a picture to my cell phone of a car submerged in water. It was in Silverdale, and the water flow is the worst there when it rains heavily, so I thought perhaps we had a storm that was a little wetter than usual. Then I talked to him and it took me a while, but I eventually understood that the storm this region was getting was significantly bigger than normal. I made some calls to folks from church to make sure they were OK and to see if someone could come sweep some debris out of a couple of storm drains at our house, but one guy I talked to said he didn’t think he could make it. He lives about a 10-minute walk away, but it sounded to him like the road was out.

The picture here is what had happened.

Our house was fine. The water got a few inches deep in the driveway, but none went inside. We didn’t take the laptop with us on our trip, so I wasn’t checking my paper’s Web site for updates. We relied on phone calls and watched Nightline, surprised that rain in the Pacific Northwest merited a segment on the show.

It wasn’t until we got home that I really understood the strength of the storm. The road outage you see here means my son’s bus ride to school has gone from about 10 minutes to about 30 minutes. Not only was this road completely destroyed here, two others that beat a path to the school were partially damaged, enough to close them for a few months.

In short, this was a big deal.

On Friday before the storm we were at Disney’s California Adventure Park, the new amusement park next to the main park. It rained on us hard that day. We found out Disney stores could run out of ponchos. Across the way another store had them. My daughter and I went on the rides while my wife and sons went after less rapid amusements. It’s pouring rain on us and we decide to go on this river rapid ride. Because everything is so wet, there’s no waiting in what is the slow season anyway. We get around one time only partially soaked (thanks again to the ponchos) and we get asked if we want to go again. I say, “no,” but Sarah wants another round. It was a fun ride, so I agreed. We got a little wetter.

We then head to a couple more rides and get on the California Screamin’ roller coaster, which is probably the best roller coaster I’ve ever ridden. (I don’t get out much.) Again, the rain is so constant that there’s no waiting for any rides. We get off the first time and walk around to get on again. After that I tell Sarah, “I think I’ve got one more in me,” and we get in line again, holding out for the front seat. (That meant waiting behind one set of people.) The last ride was great again, but as the cars begin coasting into the end point, my stomach tells me the last ride may have been one too many. I manage to get off the ride but linger back a bit to let everyone else get ahead. When everyone’s out of sight I lean over a railing in case I need to deposit my breakfast. I’m grateful I didn’t, though I came close.

We went on one more ride before deciding we’d had enough after only three hours. My wife and sons were ready to go, too. (Heck, our youngest is nine months old and will basically do whatever we tell him.)

We were cold and wet, which at Disneyland counts as suffering.

Nothing like coming home, however, to bring on the dreaded disease — perspective.