Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Kid likes country music

One day when I was a kid, I remember Gumpy tried to talk me into listening to more country and Western music.  He loved it, listening to it on the transistor radio mounted to the right rear fender of his tractor.  I think I was in my hair metal phase at this point, and I certainly wasn't about to give up Whitesnake for Willie Nelson.

He told me that my Uncle Jim discovered that studying to country and Western was easier because you didn't have to think so hard through the sound.  You could just focus on a few sounds and easy lyrics.  At the time, I had trouble believing that.  I'm pretty sure Jim did listen to the genre, I just had trouble thinking it could help anyone study.

I learned to stomach some country, mostly because my mom loved listening to her Randy Travis tape on our trips to Traverse City but I never liked enough of it to call myself a fan or even an occasional listener.  Heck, I'm listening to the Digitally Imported minimal channel while I'm writing this, so it is a stretch to think I'd ever really care for the genre. 

Times are changing.  It turns out that while The Kid was in foster care, she learned to listen to country as a way to fall back asleep if she woke up during the night.

I'm not about to start listening to country now, especially the drivel known as young country.  So I'm compromising by starting to listen to Bluegrass when I'm in the car with The Kid.  It doesn't always work to calm her down, but a little Roy Acuff or Bobby Bare will always bring a smile to my face.   

Saturday, December 22, 2012

My 2012 birthday letter to Gumpy

Gumpy, you've been on my mind a lot this year.  There have been so many changes in my life, things that you would be excited about and I still wish I could just pick up the telephone to share them with you.

I'll start with the big news first.  Gladys and I are adopting a little girl.  She's 10 months old, full of energy and a smile that would melt your heart.  Lately she's started blinking at people purposefully, as if to try being extra cute.  It works!

You would appreciate that country music was played each night for The Kid as a way to keep her calm through the night.  I'm sure you're laughing at me right now because you know my disdain for country music in general, although I am softening a bit on that stance.  We listen to Bluegrass in the car whenever The Kid starts crying.  It doesn't always soothe her but at least its music I can stomach.

I think about you everyday, but The Kid has really amped up my volume of thoughts.  Little ones at her age weren't necessarily your bag, but you were always willing to get on the floor with us and play as far back as I can remember.  You were always excited for my victories, no matter how small.  You were always there to tell me I was a good person, even when I gave you several good reasons not to believe in me.  You helped me learn to laugh at myself, what it means to work hard, what it means to love your kids and grand kids, and what it meant to just be present for the people you love.  I try to emulate your spirit daily because I know we all turned out just fine.   

Gladys and I also adopted a dog named Barney.  As far as we know, he's part Border Collie and part Wire Hair Terrier, which makes him an active dog who loves to sniff everything in sight.  He would be one of your best buddies.  He's a quick learner, is good with the family and follows me everywhere, kind of like Shep following you all over the farm.

I started a new job in April.  You'd be happy that I'm working for a company you've heard of and that I'm doing something that I enjoy.  I don't think you'd understand what I do, mostly because I don't think you ever used the internet for anything, but I know you'd be proud of me regardless.  And between this job and the work I was doing beforehand, I've met some pretty incredible people that would fascinate you.

I'll never forget you Gumpy and I look forward to writing to you on my birthday next year.


P.S.  The Detroit Tigers made the playoffs again, this time making it to the World Series.  While I didn't go to as many games during the season as I would have liked, I did get a chance to go to a playoff game.  You would have loved the seats I had!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Things Gumpy would want me to know as a dad

My mom enjoyed this Thanksgiving dinner with my burgeoning little family.  It was our first official holiday with The Kid, and Gladys and I were happy Grandma Roz could join us.

Inevitably, Mom and I talked about how Gumpy would react to me becoming a father.  He was pretty funny about me aging in the first place, often remarking that he felt older on my birthday than he did on Mom's birthday.  Mom is steadfast in her belief that he would be thrilled for me, and I happen to agree.

She did amuse me, however, when she stated Gumpy was great with babies.

He is the same man that went upstairs to tuck in a newborn baby Roz, only to mistake the baby with a full head of hair for the teddy bear that was in the crib with her.  When Ema went upstairs to check on the baby, she found Baby Roz uncovered and the teddy bear tightly tucked in for the evening.  Mistaking the baby for a teddy bear was a topic of debate between my grandparents for the rest of his life.

I really don't remember anything remarkable about him and my Aunt Mary's sons when they were little either, other than I always changed diapers for him when I was around.

Still, I think he would be thrilled and he would be looking for excuses to come home to visit The Kid this winter.  Everything he did was for his family and that is where my lessons would begin.  I think he would sum his thoughts in this way:
  • That child is the most important person in your life.  
  • Do everything you can to make sure she gets a good education.
  • Do everything you can to provide for your family financially and emotionally.
  • Teach her how to laugh.
  • Don't take yourself to seriously.
  • Make sure she understands our family history and knows her extended family.
  • Don't allow her to suffer from OCD (only child disease).
  • Do what you can to protect her.
  • Don't let her become a Republican.
  • Do show her you love her.
I've been pretty calm as we progress through our adoption of The Kid, which seems counter to the way I usually operate.  I thank Gumpy for a large part of my calmness because even thought I can hear his voice tell me I will be fine, I saw him approach his daughters this way.

In case you're reading this from heaven Old Boy, I promise to not only do as you said but do as you did when raising my own daughter. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

My road map for being a good father

Gladys and I have finally found a spiritual home we are both comfortable with but we've been terrible about attending Sunday services the past few weeks.  We're in the process of adopting a little girl who has been in foster care since the day she was born and Sundays have been the most feasible for our visits the past few weeks.

When we walked into today's service, we had no idea the spiritual theme for the month of November is gratitude or that we would be honoring the people we are grateful for at a "community alter of remembrance."  The unexpected theme and exercise provided me with a few extra minutes to think about Gumpy, a welcomed time to reflect on just how much I've thought about him the past few months.

Some people brought photos or momentos to place on the alter in rememberance, for those of us who did not have anything physically with us we were willing to share, leaves were provided.  I took it as symbol of the circle of life we were celebrating, something that had lived with a great purpose and continued to serve the community in death.

I was the last to approach the alter.  I started to look at the leaves.  There were plenty of oak leaves, a few ginko leaves and one maple leaf.  I grabbed the maple leaf because it was Gumpy in that moment to me.   

As I walked back to my seat, I couldn't make eye contact with anyone because I was afraid I'd start crying.  Not that I was upset, rather I am grateful for the relationship I had with Gumpy and all the random thoughts that had been running through my mind the past few months finally made sense to me.   

Meeting our little one for the first time
I have been feeling oddly calm about becoming a father.  I do worry a little about my ability to always be a calm, loving, firm, caring guide, and protector of my daughter, but that worry has not risen to a level of grave concern.  It does not keep me up at night the way many other things do.  Instead of dreading the changes that are about wreak havoc on my life as the result of becoming a parent, I'm looking forward to all the things I can share with my daughter.

I think of Gumpy most days anyway, lately I've been thinking about him more and in the context of how he would react to becoming a great-grandfather.  And I realized walking back to my seat that it was these thoughts that were helping me stay calm.  He gave me the road map for being a good father just by being.  There are no big lectures or great speeches that I can recall him giving on fatherhood.  Instead, he worked three jobs for years to take care of his family.  He made sure we all knew we were loved.  He made sure we all had someone who would protect us, someone who would be there for us in our darkest hour.  He was a friend and confidant to us.  He was a fierce defender of us.  He was someone we could all depend on.

Will I do things differently than Gumpy?  I know I will, I am not him.  Regardless, the old boy gave me a valuable gift by showing me how to be a good father.  Actions always speak louder than words.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The end of a shaving era

Gumpy's electric razor finally stopped working a few weeks ago.  It was a decent razor.  Nothing fancy, just a plain electric razor with a small trimmer.   It couldn't have cost more than $40 but it was always good for a decent, quick shave. 

So it's back to the disposable razors that seem to last for two shaves before my baby face painfully lets me know I need to get a new razor.  Regardless of shaving implement, I still chuckle a little every time I shave thinking about Gumpy.

Any discussion about my grandfather and shaving has to start with his mustache.  He loved that mouse-pelt under his nose.  When I was a kid he favored the handlebar look, complete with goose grease, otherwise known as mustache wax to those outside the family.  As he got older, the mustache transitioned from a Rollie Fingers-esque creation to something more subdued.  Every so often, he would talk about trimming it off for good but he kept the mustache for at least 35 years. 

The mustache was more than just facial hair, it was the mark of a man who knew that a well-kept appearance was key to being successful in whatever someone wanted to do.  And God had given him one body to take care of during his time on Earth, so it was part of his covenant with God to keep a neat appearance. 

Staying true to that covenant led to the first time I remember feeling that I was finally able to help him.  He was in the Cleveland Clinic recovering from heart valve surgery and my sister and I drove out to visit.  We arrived during a heated discussion between my grandparents about what Gumpy would eat for lunch.  Ema insisted he eat the fried chicken and Gumpy insisted she was trying to make him worse by feeding him chicken.

When the peanut butter sandwich arrived and he ate a bit, we were able to talk Ema into taking a break from her diligent care giving.  That is when Gumpy asked me to help him shave.  That little electric razor, the same one that recently gave its life trying to fight through my stubble, was charged up and ready for the task.  But Gumpy had been sick for months before his surgery and was a little too weak to get the job done without some help.

I don't remember the old boy ever having a beard, just the mustache.  He disliked the way stubble felt on his neck, so he was vigilant in his daily shaving routine.  We started there and finished the job in a few minutes, leaving the mustache in tact for trimming later. 

As I finished, you could tell he felt like a new man.  He felt just a little more normal that afternoon.  He felt like he was doing his best to keep his covenant.  And I felt like I was finally able to do something meaningful for Gumpy. 

When he passed away a few years later, Ema asked me if I wanted the razor.  As a practical matter, I really needed one at the time.  Disposable razors are expensive, especially when you have a baby face like mine, so part of me was happy for the gift.  And the razor could be looked at as a good allegory for his life.  Dependable, easy going, great at what it was designed to do and purposeful.  So I accepted it without hesitation and did what any good Midwestern grandson would do with it.  I shaved regularly.

Alas, now it is time to purchase a new razor.  I think I might spend a few extra bucks and get something a little fancier.  Maybe one with a trimmer that always works.  Or maybe one designed to help men with sensitive skin keep from feeling like another layer of face has been removed. 

I am going to miss that little razor.   

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My new suit

Until very recently, the work I do rarely requires wearing a suit on a regular basis.  As I become a better writer and my reputation within Detroit social media circles grows, I find myself in more situations where I need properly tailored suit.  With somewhat of a heavy heart, I realize my days of being able to go to every meeting in jeans with a t-shirt and sport coat are numbered.

I have a few suits but only one of them has ever fit properly so I end up just wearing one suit everywhere, which isn't a good look when you start having more than one meeting per month that requires better attire.

Since Gumpy took me suit shopping for the first time, I have gone for a few on my own with mixed results.  Finding a good tailor is the difficult part for me, so I was more than a little hesitant to go this time.    

Walking into Sam's Tailor Shop, I could hear Gumpy's voice in the back of my head reminding me of his guide to buying the right suit.  Make sure it is 100% wool, worsted wool if you can because it will last longer.  Make sure the sport coat does not pucker up between your shoulder blades, it is a sign of poor tailoring and lack of attention to your appearance.  A well tailored suit is always a handsome suit, so spend the money to make sure it is tailored correctly.  It is better to be conservative with style and color, this is an investment that should last several years so don't make your suit choice too trendy. 

I walked right over to the suits and Ali, the tailor, starts showing me different looks.  I decisively chose the third suit I looked at, a nice Navy blue with a subtle medium tone blue pin stripe.  We measured for tailoring, I paid and left with my claim ticket to pick up my suit.  

Yesterday I picked up my suit.  It looks great and I couldn't ask for better tailoring.

More importantly, purchasing this suit gave me the chance to replay a few memories of Gumpy in my head.  It gave me a chance to remember just how much he enjoyed exchanging the cowboy boots for dress shoes or a golf shirt for a dress shirt and tie.  I was able to enjoy the memories of the day we spent shopping together and chuckle again at some of the stories he loved telling about his days negotiating contracts for the union. 

I can't wait to buy another suit.