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Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

In a New York Minute…

In Family, Life Lessons on July 21, 2010 at 7:19 am

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon.  My wife and I fell asleep watching TV in bed.  I’m not sure how long we were sleeping, but I was awakened suddenly by the ring of the phone.  It was my brother, telling me that my dad had fallen while rollerblading in Central Park.  Not wanting me to panic, he told me that it was just a concussion…nothing to worry about…he just wanted to let me know that he and my mother were in the hospital with my dad.  He said he would call me back in a little while with an update.

People get concussions all of the time.  I wasn’t happy that my dad was hurt, but he had been through much worse things than a concussion, so I figured he would be fine.  My wife and I even drifted back to sleep.  About an hour or so later, the phone rang again to wake us up.  This time, my brother told me that they would be keeping my dad in the hospital, and that we should probably come to see him.

Knowing that I would have to navigate from New Jersey through New York City weekend traffic, my brother never let on the severity of the situation…but he didn’t have to.  I knew exactly what was going on.  Things were not good at all.

I don’t remember the whole ride, but I do remember frantically maneuvering through the city streets like a taxi driver with reckless abandon.  By the time that I finally got to the hospital, bad turned even worse.  My dad was out of surgery, but the prognosis was not good.  While my family held out hope, I asked the surgeon to give it to me straight.  With a fairly stone cold look, he told me that it was likely that my dad would not recover from this fall.  I’m not sure if he used the word or not, but he intimated that it would take a miracle to survive.

I returned to my mother and brother, shared the news, and then crumbled to the ground crying in the hallway outside of ICU.

How could this be?  We were all together the day before celebrating the baby-naming of the first grandchild in the family.  It was such a happy occasion.

As we were leaving my sister’s house after the baby-naming, I hugged my dad and kissed him on the cheek.  For some reason, I ended up doing it twice, probably because we ended up getting distracted by someone talking to us.  Little did I know that the second goodbye would be the final one where my dad could reciprocate.  It was as if the first goodbye was for the day, and the second goodbye was a son saying goodbye to his dad…forever.

My dad was a fighter…in life as well as in death.  He hung on for five days when he was given only hours several times as he spiraled downwards.  On his final day, we were told that he probably wouldn’t make it through the night.  Things had progressed beyond modern medicine’s capabilities, and he was only being kept alive by machines.  Although we were told that he wasn’t in any pain, we realized that his best prognosis was one that he never would have wanted.  We made the humane, but most painful decision that anyone could make…to let my dad go peacefully.

Saying goodbye after getting together to see each other was easy…casual even.  Saying goodbye forever was painful beyond anything that the written word can portray.  But I did it.  I said goodbye.  I told him that I loved him.  I told him that I would keep him in my heart forever.  A kiss on his head, a final hug and I went outside to wait for the inevitable.

The call came at around 10:30pm that my dad had passed.  Just like that.  In a New York minute, the man that I loved and looked up to all of my life was gone.

I felt tremendous sadness.  I felt tremendous anger that miracles happened to others, but not my dad.  I felt numb as I drove home, almost on auto-pilot…in shock that I would never get to talk to my dad again.

The anniversary of my dad’s death is always very painful for me.  And though it has been nearly ten years since his passing, the void has never gone away.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad’s passing, but for the first time, I did things differently.  Because I no longer live in New York, it wasn’t as easy to just go to the cemetery to visit and then spend the day reflecting about the greatest loss that I have ever suffered.

We purposely planned this trip back to New York so that I would be here for the anniversary, to visit his grave and to be here with family.  Being back in New York on borrowed time, means that there is no time to waste wallowing and reflecting.  The truth of the matter is that it is not something that my dad would have ever wanted anyway.  So, for the first time since his passing, I decided to honor his legacy rather than spend the day mourning his passing.  Somehow, I think that he knew…

I decided to take my family to a Long Island Ducks (minor league baseball) game.  It was something that we loved to do when we lived here, and one of my fondest memories of my dad was going to baseball games at Shea Stadium.  I could think of no better, or more appropriate way, to celebrate his life.

We arrived at the stadium just as the gates were opening.  The first 1500 fans received Buddy Harrelson bobbleheads.  I wanted to make sure that we got at least one, but thought that it might not happen because we weren’t there as early as I’d hoped.  I dropped my wife and son off at the curb, and went to go park the car with my sleeping daughter.

I carried my daughter across the parking lot, and headed for the East Gate (which had no line).  As I got to the top of the steps, my wife and son were waiting there with bobbleheads in hand.  I smiled as the staff member handed the last two bobbleheads to my daughter and me.  What were the odds that we would get the last two that they had left?

We took the kids for souvenirs and headed for our seats.  It wasn’t long before the game started.  We finished our ballpark food just in time for the National Anthem.  The feeling of being “home” distracted me from thinking about my dad, but only for moments at a time.

At the end of the second inning, the Ducks mascot (Quackerjack) stood atop the visitor dugout with the kids who were there celebrating their birthdays with a party at the stadium.  The last kid was one of my son’s best friends, who he hadn’t seen in nearly a year.  We had planned to get together with them later on this week, but it was a nice surprise to see them there.  They had no idea that we would even be on Long Island the day of his party because my wife knew that July 20th was blocked off because of my dad.

My son and I chased his friend and his dad down the aisle.  The look of happiness on the kids’ faces let me know right away that I made the right choice to do something to celebrate my dad.  We followed them back to the party area, where my son saw his other best friend and former classmates that he knew from the area.  In a New York minute, my son was transported back in time.  The kids all picked up right where they left off.  It was as if my son had never left.  He just became a part of the party as if he were planning to attend it all along.

While the kids sat eating their pizza and ice cream, the home team had fallen behind 3-0, although they cut the lead with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning.

We all returned to the section where the party was taking place.  In the late innings, the visiting team hit another solo home run, giving them a 4-1 lead as the game was drawing to a close.  I figured that the Ducks would probably lose, but somehow, it didn’t matter too much.  All things considered, seeing my son with his friends and being back at one of our favorite places was enough for me.

In the bottom of the inning, the Ducks tied the score with a monster blast.  In a New York minute, the Ducks were back in the game.

The Ducks held the visitors without a run in the ninth inning.  One run by the home team, and the game would be over.

As the bottom of the ninth inning started, I was watching the stadium clock.  The exact time of my dad’s passing was fast approaching.  It is something that no one else in the world probably knows, but for some reason, it has always stuck with me.  I have never been out of the house as the time occurred.  It was kind of surreal what happened next.

The first Ducks batter was retired in the bottom of the ninth.  The second batter had already tied the game with a home run, and the fans were hoping that he could do it again.  There was less than a minute to go until my dad’s exact time of death.  I kept shifting my focus from the stadium clock to the field and back.  As I looked back to the field, I heard the crack of the bat, and watched as the ball sailed through the dark Long Island sky for a game-winning, walk-off home run.  In a New York minute, the home team had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

All of the Ducks celebrated the come-from-behind victory at home plate.  As the hero of the game crossed the plate, the clock changed to the exact time of my dad’s passing.  I don’t know if it was some kind of sign or not, but it struck me just the same.

The irony of it all is that we never would have seen this dramatic ending if my dad was the one deciding when to leave.  As much as I loved going to ball games with him, I knew that we were always going to leave in time to beat the traffic.

Most of who I am today as a dad can be attributed to my dad’s mentoring.  He showed me what being a dad is all about without ever having to tell me with words.  The only “improvement” that I have made, is that I am willing to sit in traffic after a ball game so that we can see the game in its entirety.

I would like to think that my dad helped guide that ball over the fence as a sign to let me know that I did the right thing by bringing my family to the game instead of staying at home in mourning.  I would like to think that my dad helped guide that ball over the fence as a way to make it up to me for missing exciting endings like this when I was a kid so that we could beat the traffic.

I don’t know if signs really exist or not.  What I do know is that, in a New York minute, things that happen, can (and do) change your life forever.

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Homecoming

In Family, Life Lessons, Pursuit of Happiness on July 14, 2010 at 10:58 am

The alarm went off at around 3:00am yesterday morning.  It was essentially the middle of the night, but it didn’t bother me at all.  Quite the opposite actually.  Although I was awake before the birds, it meant that I was one step closer to our long-awaited visit to New York.  My wife and I got ready, and then woke the kids up just after 4:00am to get ready.  Even in their sleepy haze, they were excited that the day had finally arrived (my son in particular).

At 4:20am, the phone rang.  It was our car service arriving 10 minutes early.  We scrambled to finish getting ready.  I took my little one’s hand and told her that it was time to leave.  Outside, we saw nothing but headlights from the car shining through the pitch black sky.  Still kind of sleepy, my little one looked around and then looked up at me and said…“Daddy, the plane isn’t here yet.” I guess at her age, the disconnect between living in an apartment complex and taking a private jet doesn’t exist.

We got into the Lincoln Navigator driven by the owner of the company…a Nigerian man named Peter.  He and I had spoken on the phone a handful of times.  It came as no surprise to me that he was so friendly and polite when we met him because he was exactly the same way on the phone whenever we spoke.

Fearing the possibility of running late and missing our flight, we decided to err on the side of caution and arrive at the airport two hours early.  In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best decision.  Trying to kill time at an airport early in the morning, with kids, is no easy feat.  Most of the stores aren’t open, so there is nothing to do but wait around.  Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy to see that our flight was one of two that was delayed.  An extra hour and twenty minutes to entertain restless and anxious children.

After a long wait, we finally got on our flight.  It was the first time that my daughter had flown on a plane.  I buckled her seatbelt, she looked out the window and said the magical words that every parent longs to hear…“Daddy, are we there yet?” She had her moments of fun on the plane, mixed in with moments of crankiness.  Overall, about what I expected from her.

When we landed in Milwaukee for our layover, we decided to stay on the plane since it was scheduled to depart for New York 40 minutes later.  Before long, we were being told that we had to exit the plane because there was something called a “ground stop” issued at LaGuardia Airport.  We were looking at another hour at best.   It was frustrating, but it is a part of air travel that everyone has to deal with.

We kept checking the departure board.  No changes for a while…and then it happened.  Next to our flight number, in all capital letters, appeared the word “CANCELLED.”  This had never happened to me in all of my years of business travel, and now it was happening for the first time with my wife and two kids on the most important trip since our honeymoon.  Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling.

I immediately returned to the ticket counter, and was told to take any carry-on items off of the plane.  When I asked what we were supposed to do, I was met with looks of sheer confusion by the Air Tran workers.  They told us all that our checked luggage could be retrieved at baggage claim, but also that it could be left there as it was being watched.   Somehow I doubt that it was actually being watched, but that never factored into my decision to leave it there, especially since it would likely have created more problems as we only possessed boarding passes for a flight that no longer existed.  Lost luggage was a risk that I was willing to take if it meant that I’d be able to get onto another flight to New York later in the day.

Waiting on line is something that no one ever wants to do.  I am certainly no exception.  But I was determined to do whatever I could to get my family to New York.  Being stranded in Milwaukee was not an option that I was willing to accept.  So I waited….and I waited…..and waited some more.  It took all of the restraint that I had to avoid having a confrontation with a foreigner who spoke no English, and thought nothing of cutting the line.

As I waited on line, I overheard the results that others were getting….“tomorrow is the best I can do”“it may be as late as two days from now”“if you fly through Atlanta to Philadelphia, you will arrive at around 1:00am.” Quite frankly, all of the options short of getting onto the next flight were terrible.

I called the airlines, and was assured that I would be on the next flight, but I still had no confirmation from the ticket counter in the form of boarding passes.  So I waited….and waited…and waited some more on the line.  At one point, they decided to move the line to another counter, and told us all to keep our place in line.  What a joke!  People took their chance to move ahead, but I stood my ground and made sure that I wasn’t pushed any further back.  I may be living in Texas now, but I am still a New Yorker willing to thrown down some New York attitude when the situation calls for it.

With only one person in front of me, the frazzled supervisor got on the loud speaker and announced two names that had boarding passes for the next flight.  Thankfully, mine was one of them.  However, when I raised my hand, he handed them to me without checking my ID to see who I was.  He did the same with the other woman.  A bit ridiculous when you consider that, in today’s times, my 3-year old had to have her Dora the Explorer sneakers scanned for shoe bombs.  Interesting how security measures take a back seat to chaos.

When I got the boarding passes, I returned to my family and proclaimed loudly and proudly (in my best New York accent)“I feel like I won the friggin’ lottery!” Amazing how perspective can change so quickly.  If someone would have told me before my trip started that I’d arrive in New York 4.5 hours late and be happy about it, I would have had them immediately committed.   Seeing the haphazard manner in which the suddenly flightless passengers were handled, I didn’t see any possible way that our checked luggage would have gotten onto the flight with us.  Unfortunately, my prediction came true.  As I am writing this, it is getting close to noon, and we’re still waiting for our luggage to be delivered.  But it doesn’t matter.

As tired and frustrated as I was with how the day began, I was thrilled with how the day ended.  We were home at last!  Our niece and her boyfriend picked us up at the airport.  What a sight for sore eyes.  We hit traffic on the way home, but it didn’t matter.  I knew the roads.  I knew that the traffic would be heavier near the Jackie Robinson Parkway, and then it would let up a bit.  The same holds true for the Douglaston Parkway area.  None of it mattered.  With each passing exit on the Northern State Parkway, it felt more and more like home.

Nearly a year had passed since we packed up the van and headed southwest.  Our kids have grown before our eyes, but their growth was very noticeable to their aunt and cousins.  Seeing my kids hugging everyone made me happy and a little sad at the same time, still dealing with my feelings of guilt for moving away.

It had been a long, stressful day, and none of us had eaten anything of substance.  Our planned pizza lunch had now turned into a late pizza dinner.  I couldn’t even wait for the pre-ordered pies to come out.  I had to get a slice that I ate at almost room temperature.  As the old saying goes…“you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘till it’s gone.” Like all displaced, native New Yorkers, we’ve missed New York pizza terribly.  The room temperature New York pizza that I had was far superior to any pizza that I’ve had since moving. So, despite having an annoying, frustrating day yesterday, it ended on a high note.

“Home” means different things to different people.  Sitting down with family and eating New York pizza on Long Island is “home” to me.  Same goes for the bagel breakfast this morning.  And though I can’t speak for my wife and kids, I believe that they feel the same way.

I guess, to an outsider, it may seem that my homecoming is about “carbo-loading” with family.  But it is much more than that.  I didn’t know it until I gained the perspective of being outside of New York, but pizza and bagels represent more than just food.  They represent the New York culture, where many unrealized moments are shared, and very often, taken for granted.

Despite the difficult journey getting here, and the aftermath of missing luggage, all in all, I am very happy to be home!

The Decision

In Family, Life Lessons on July 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm

By now, even the most casual sports fan has heard about LeBron James leaving his hometown Cavaliers to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, forming a power trio that most never thought possible.  As a sports fan, I have been following “the decision” more because of the enormity of the story than any actual interest in where LeBron James plays basketball.  Quite frankly, there are many more important things going on in my life.  But, like the O.J. Simpson car chase, I found myself compelled to follow this developing story.  This time I wasn’t alone though.  My 8-year old son was following along with me.

As the ESPN coverage started, my son and I sat together in anticipation of “the decision,” even though the rumors all day long said that LeBron James was going to Miami.  Truth be told, we just wanted to hear where he was going.  Neither of us cared too much for the unnecessary drama of it all.  After watching the show, I think that it was a colossal mistake on LeBron James’ part to announce his decision in the reality television format that has become all too prevalent in today’s times.   It’s too bad that the satisfaction of being referred to as the biggest free agent in sports history wasn’t enough for him, because his hour-long show tarnished his image to many people living outside of Miami.

Obviously, Cleveland fans were going to be outraged seeing their hometown hero abandoning them for seemingly greener pastures, but they are not alone.  Fans of the other teams that were in the running to sign LeBron James are also feeling jilted today, virtually guaranteeing that LeBron will be booed in at least five cities next season.  However, the greatest fallout from the self-absorbed announcement will likely mean that the most popular player since Michael Jordan will now be looked at as a villain by many.  He may end up winning multiple championships with his new team, but his chance to be “like Mike” is likely gone forever, and he has only himself to blame.

Professional athletes don’t live by the same rules as the “working stiffs” who essentially pay their salaries.  While their playing years are relatively short, the dollars that they earn are more than most people could earn in several lifetimes.  Their money is guaranteed (for the most part) regardless of whether they continue to perform up to the standards that earned them the contract in the first place.  And though they aren’t required to give their former employer notice before leaving for another job (new team), common decency should still apply.

If LeBron James truly was appreciative of his years in Cleveland, he shouldn’t have disrespected management by making them find out about his departure on national television with the rest of the country.  But that’s not even the worst part.  What he did to the fans of Cleveland was disgraceful.  I have no problem with an athlete playing wherever they want to when they become free agents.  It’s a part of the business that we (as fans) must accept.  However, the train wreck that was “the decision” was a slap in the face to all of the people of Cleveland who supported and idolized him.

Cleveland fans finding out that their hometown hero was leaving the team for another team was bad.    Finding out that his reason for leaving was because he didn’t feel like he could win a championship with the team that has been one of the best in the league in recent years is even worse.  Having to hear the news on a nationally televised broadcast was unnecessary, and quite frankly, in extremely poor taste.  It was tantamount to a couple standing at the altar getting ready to marry, and one person calling off the wedding, leaving the other person humiliated in front of their friends and family.

Bloated contracts, lucrative endorsement deals, 24-hour news networks, an abundance of websites and social networks (like Twitter) virtually guarantee that professional athletes will continue to find new ways to feed their bottomless egos.  Gone forever are the days when kids could unconditionally look up to professional athletes as heroes.  Sooner or later, many end up do something illegal, immoral or simply distasteful.  Maybe it has always been this way and we just didn’t know about it because information wasn’t so readily available.  Or maybe, the money has gotten so out of control that professional athletes can no longer connect with the real world in a meaningful way.

When my son and I started watching “the decision,” he was ready to become a fan of the Miami Heat if LeBron James chose to join the team.  By the time the interview was over, my 8-year old said to me…“you know, Dad, LeBron James is kind of full of himself, and he’s a liar.  I don’t believe that he woke up every day thinking that he was going to play for a different team.” Needless to say, he no longer is considering becoming a Heat fan.  It makes me proud that he was able to see through all of the hype on his own.

We all make decisions every day.  Some are big decisions.  Some are small and insignificant.  Some are good decisions.  Others are so bad that we end up regretting them, wishing that we could turn back time and get a “do-over.” I suspect that LeBron James will one day look back on his decision and wish that he would have done things differently when he chose to leave his high school sweetheart (Cleveland) standing at the altar because he ended up falling in love with the prom queen (Miami).

What Freedom Means to Me

In Family, Pursuit of Happiness on July 5, 2010 at 5:20 am

Nearly everyone that I know looks forward to having a three-day weekend.  Because July 4th fell on a Sunday this year, many people are off from work today to celebrate.  If I were still an employee, I would be enjoying the three-day weekend as much as everyone else.  But since I am working for myself, I won’t be taking the day off.  It’s not that I can’t if I wanted to, but I have things that need to get done, and self-imposed deadlines to meet.  So while the masses are celebrating America’s freedom, I will be celebrating my personal freedom by choosing to spend the day working….and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I decided to start working for myself a number of years ago, I realized that there would be pros and cons to my decision.  Obviously, the biggest con is not having a steady paycheck that I can count on from week to week.  In recent years, the skyrocketing cost of medical insurance became another big con, but my wife and I have worked through that problem (to a degree) by having her work part-time at a company that provides family healthcare for all employees (as long as they work a certain number of hours).  Is it the best insurance?  Not from my perspective, but it is better than the alternative of paying out of pocket for everything or not having any insurance at all.

Freedom, (like most things in life), isn’t handed to anyone.  Sacrifices must be made in order to achieve freedom and enjoy it.  I certainly would prefer not to have my wife leaving the house before sunrise, and it would be much less distracting to work from a traditional office instead of the home office that I’ve created for myself.  But that would only create a different set of sacrifices that aren’t as appealing as the lifestyle that we have chosen for ourselves.

In all likelihood, I probably would have earned more money by continuing to climb the corporate ladder instead of going into business for myself, but it would have come at a cost.  It would have required a sacrifice that I was unwilling to make unless I absolutely had no other choice.  Most likely, I would have had to continue commuting into Manhattan by train (something that I disliked more and more as time went by).  But more importantly, it would have required me to sacrifice the one thing in life that matters most to me…time with my wife and kids.

When my son was first born, I did commute into Manhattan.   It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t something that I wanted to continue to do long-term.  I understand why so many people do it, but seeing my son for a half hour in the morning and less than an hour in the evening (during the week) just didn’t work for me.

After 9/11, commuting became exponentially more difficult for a number of reasons.  The commute that I found to be tedious in the best of times became even worse with the added fear of a possible terrorist attack always looming in the back of my mind.  The company that I was working for at the time offered services that started to become obsolete after a seismic paradigm shift by consumers took place, so moving up would have meant moving on to another company, and quite possibly, another industry.  However, the most important reason that I no longer wanted to commute was that I didn’t want to neglect what I felt (and still feel to this day) is my most important job…being a father.

Having lost my father less than two months before 9/11, I had a heightened sense of awareness of the fragility of life.  I also knew that I wanted to be the kind of father to my son (and later to my daughter) that my father was to me, and that wouldn’t be possible if I was spending most of my son’s waking hours at work and on the train.  I knew that I wanted to coach his teams when the time came, but that wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t get home from work every day until nearly 8:00pm…so I made a choice to make a change in my lifestyle.

To me, freedom basically comes down to making choices and accepting the sacrifices that come along with those choices.  And because of that, I find freedom to be a very personal thing.  The sacrifices that one person is willing to make may seem incomprehensible to others.  Part of the beauty of freedom is that it allows us to live by our own values, despite what others may think of how we choose to live our lives.

“It’s my life…it’s now or never…I ain’t gonna live forever…I just wanna to live while I’m alive.  My heart is like an open highway…like Frankie said ‘I did it my way’…I just wanna live while I’m alive…‘cause it’s my life.” (Bon Jovi – “It’s My Life)

I’m very grateful that I live in a country that affords me the freedom to do it “my way.” I may not always make the right decisions, but at least the decisions are mine to make.

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