Category Archives: Family

The Things I Leave Behind

Someone offered me an ice cream in a cup, the kind that comes with the little wooden spoon. First this reminded me of my father and the time he beat up the ice cream man. Then I realized that it’s been nearly three years since he passed away.

It’s weird to say that I’m over someone’s death because it feels too much like being over someone’s life. I’m over my ex girlfriend, I’m over the Mets collapsing in 2007 and 2008 but I’m not over one of my parents being gone. Instead of saying I’m over it, I say I’ve gotten past it. It’s still there in the past, I just look back less frequently now.

Every now and then some unexpected pops up, like today when an ice cream cup reminds me that just before my father’s death he called me. Our conversation was cut short but before he hung up he said: “I need to tell you something, but I’ll call you later.” The follow up call never happened. I realize now that he was going to tell me that he wasn’t well but sometimes I imagine that he was trying to tell me about a treasure map or a secret pile of magical pornography (this is more likely).

One of my most useless skills is the ability to remember every phone number that I had growing up as well as the phone numbers for family members and local businesses near my hometown. Occasionally I will pick up the phone to make an business call and instead I will impulsively dial one of these numbers. Today I dialed my father’s number and when it rang I hung up so that I didn’t have to hear an unfamiliar voice on the other end. I’m past it, but not over it.

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Riding With The Big Man

When he was still in his early 20’s my father owned a Camaro. In my head I can still see it in front of my grandparents’ house; blue with a white stripe down the hood with an 8-track player and seat belts that were only a suggestion.  I remember how it sounded when it pulled up to the house and I remember what it felt like to sit in the front seat on the rare occasions it was just dad and I going for a ride. Outside of that, the only thing I remember is that one day the car was gone and instead of a Camaro my father was driving an old van, which he later swapped for an old Ford Bronco. My father would never again race someone who pulled up beside him at a light but the Bronco held his tools during the week and his kids on the weekend, which was enough.

The one thing the Camaro and the Bronco had in common was music and by the early 80’s this usually meant Bruce Springsteen. My father played Born to Run like he was preparing my brother, sister and I for a test on it and if there was a test we would have done just fine. We knew it was a town full of losers, we knew about the back streets, we knew most importantly when the change was made uptown and The Big Man joined the band because of all of the songs on that album we liked 10th Avenue Freeze Out best (I never thought about it at the time but I suppose we liked it because it was easy for us to all sing along with.)

In 1986, when Springsteen and the E Street Band released the live set of songs from 1975-1985 my father carefully selected his favorites and copied them onto cassette so we could listen to them in the car. He included a live version of 10th Avenue Freeze Out but our favorite song soon became the live version of Rosalita. By this point in time my father had seen Springsteen live but for the rest of us this 10-minute version of Rosalita was as close as we would get to the live experience. In case you’ve never heard it, that version of Rosalita, recorded at the Roxy Theater in 1978, includes a break to introduce the band which culminates in us learning that Bruce had in his corner, the man he called the king of the world…The Big Man Clarence Clemons. We had seen Clarence in pictures and on TV but it was this song that captured my imagination and set the image in my head of The Big Man as more than just Bruce’s sideman, he was also (as far as I could tell) his protector and confidant which is just what I needed and why in my head, when I recast my family as the E Street Band* I always made my father Clarence Clemons.

*Don’t act like you’ve never cast your family as a famous band. My family has been The E-Street Band, The Wu Tang Clan and many more over the years. Basically any band with more than five members can serve as a stand in for your family. Give it a try.

Here is the Clarence intro from around the same time as that Roxy show.

Yesterday, I was saddened to hear the news that Clarence Clemons had passed away. Today is Father’s Day and as many of you know, my father passed away about a year and a half ago.  Today I’m thinking of both big men and I’m grateful for the times we all spent together, I won’t let the fact that Clarence was never actually driving with us stop me in the least. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.

Happy Father’s Day to the big men in all of our lives, wherever they may be.

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Filed under Betheboy Dad Stories, Family, Music Nerdery

Opening Day (Cheer up Charlie)

Today the Mets start their 2011 season and after 30+ years of watching opening days I keep my expectations reasonable. I don’t expect much from the Mets this year so anything I get will be fine. I’ll still catch as many games on TV and on the radio as I can but I’ve learned to not take it all so seriously. However, a few minutes ago I was thinking of the game and realizing that I feel like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory* after his family believed the last golden ticket had been found and that means tonight is my last chance to dream about the Mets being great before reality sets in.

*Let’s all agree that the Cheer up Charlie song almost kills the movie before it really gets going.

The last time I got my hopes up for a Mets game in April was in 2009 because I was going to be in New York for the Mets home opener which happened to be the first Mets game at the new Citi Field. My father called me a few days beforehand to tell me that he scored us a pair of tickets to the game. New season, new park and my father, who is responsible for my being a Mets fan, was taking me to the game. This was as good as life could get when it came to baseball.

I’ll spare you the details but long story short we didn’t make it to the game. Through no fault of my father’s the tickets fell through at the last-minute, this felt like a bad end to a disaster of a trip (I wrote about it at the time here). At least I thought it was a bad ending at the time.

My father apologized for what had happened and invited me to join him at his favorite bar to watch the game. We sat over a few beers and enjoyed the first few innings before heading for home to watch the rest. The Mets fell behind early and lost the game but that didn’t matter, it was good to watch the game with my dad. After 34 years of misunderstandings and missed opportunities we were finally just talking like two people who actually liked one another. We talked baseball, comedy and family When the game ended we stayed up a little while longer talking about the future. He had to work early the next morning and I had to catch a flight back to Los Angeles so we said goodnight and goodbye.

The next morning my father was gone before I got up and despite the great night I had watching the game I left my hometown disappointed by the whole trip and unsure when I’d be back. As it turned out, that Mets home opener would be the last game I would see with my father; my next trip home was six months later when he passed away.

It’s been two years since that night and the disappointment I felt that day has long since been replaced with perspective and a genuine grateful feeling for the fact that I had one last opening day with the person who taught me that opening day was important.

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Dreaming of Faraway Cold Places

Last week my wife Nina and I were at Della Terra one of our favorite spots Los Angeles. We enjoy Della Terra because the food is great and the service is unhurried; it’s where we go when we want to get away from our regular routine but don’t want to travel far. At one point, as we mapped out plans for future adventures over a casual dinner, I noticed my wife’s attention had shifted from our table and was focused on someone or something behind me. I stopped talking and gave that “We’ll are you going to tell me what’s going on?” look to Nina who said: “That mother and daughter are wearing cool matching vests?”At first I was hurt that she found matching vests more interesting than our conversation but as I saw them sit down a few tables to my right I noticed they were fabulous vests…and then something happened, I stopped paying attention to where I was and started to think of Long Island on a snowy day in 1982.

In the winter of 1982 my parents had been split up for only a short while. My mother, brother, sister and I were living in a basement apartment where we mostly played Atari and ran around like maniacs. Freed from her relationship with my father my mom was trying to balance the hard work of raising three kids on her own with having a little fun. Since we were poor this usually meant improvising some fun at home like roller skating in the house or drawing cartoons on the walls. Most of the time we’d adjourn to the one room in the apartment where we were allowed to say dirty words and swear our heads off. Yeah, it was a magic time even if we barely had money for school lunch and warm clothes. The lunch money issue could be dealt with by bringing food from home. The clothes issue was manageable since we lived 100 feet from the school and running could keep us warm.

On a snowy day that winter found ourselves in a bind: school was closed and my mother had to work. The woman who lived upstairs could keep an eye on all three of us kids in morning until someone could get to the house to watch us but she had two kids of her own so she just opened the door to our place and told us to come and go from her place to our apartment as we pleased. My sister took her up on her offer but my little brother and I headed outside to throw snowballs at cars, which we believed was the best thing life had to offer. The problem was we didn’t have coats; between the two of us we had a sweatshirt and a vest and it was cold.  My brother came up with the idea: one of us would wear the sweatshirt AND the vest until the other one got cold too cold and then we’d switch back.

I thought of these memories, which I had forgotten for nearly 30 years, in a matter of seconds as the mother and daughter took their seats. I shared the story with my wife who is always amused by absurd moments from my childhood and impressed by the fact that I’ve grown up to be a normal adult. I always tell her that I grew up just fine because I never thought my life was different from anyone else.

After dinner I thought about my brother who knew that keeping us warm one at a time was better than both of us freezing.  As far as brothers go mine is top-notch and always has been, especially when it comes to helping people. Many miles away from my home in Los Angeles, my brother and his wife are expecting another child. Their baby boy is due in the summer but at the first sign of cold weather my brother will surely give the shirt off his back to keep the baby warm. Hopefully someday soon we can all get together, throwing snowballs at cars will be optional.

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The NY Jets and How I Won it All

Last year the New York Jets were one win away from going to the Super Bowl and on the eve of that game I broke down and cried. Three months earlier my father had died unexpectedly, I took it very hard but I didn’t cry. I was deeply saddened and angry through the travel, the wake, the funeral and the handling of my father’s estate but I could not bring myself to shed a tear even though I wanted to.

When I got home I tried to return back to my normal life but I felt like there was a tremendous hole in the middle of me that couldn’t be filled. The closest I felt to normal came on the Sundays the Jets played. My father was a Jets fan, which means I am a Jets fan. My father and I had our difficulties and were often at odds with one another but when we had cause to not speak to each other we still had the Jets to talk about. Eventually football talk would give way to other discussions. When I was a child we sat over chocolate milk, cookies and the preview of the weekend’s game in the paper. We talked about match ups and betting and then finally the reasons my parents divorced. Years later, over drinks we talked about games and made peace with one another over slights both real and imagined. The day after I got married in Las Vegas, my father and I stood in the Sports Book discussing possible wagers  on the upcoming Jets season and he told me he thought that my new bride and her family, who he had met 48 hours earlier were: “The Goods” and that I did pretty well for myself.

The last time my father and I spoke was after a Jets game, in September 2009, a few weeks before he died. After he was gone I’d watch the games on Sundays and everything would feel normal until I’d reach for my phone to call someone who wasn’t there. Over the course of the rest of the season I attached a great significance to the Jets playoff hopes. Since the Jets were the last thing my father and I spoke about I felt like the season represented the last tangible connection I had to him and that connection would be severed when the season ended. When the Jets managed to get into the last playoff spot I felt like I had been granted one more week to feel connected to my father. After they pulled off two straight upset wins I began to think that maybe something magical was going on and maybe the connection I had created in my head would last all the way through the Super Bowl. However, the night before the AFC Championship game against the heavily favored Colts I knew that the odds were against the Jets and I would likely have to let go sooner or later, so I cried. I cried for the loss of my father and I cried over the memories of Sunday afternoons spent watching football with him. Then, when I had gotten it all out, I got ready to watch the game. When the Jets lost I was sad but I was okay, I had gotten everything I needed from the season including some closure.

This Sunday, the Jets are once again underdogs who are one game away from going to the Super Bowl and I have some perspective. I want the Jets to win it all but as time goes on I’ve realized that my love of the Jets has always been and always will be a stand in for the love I have for my father. Sometimes my father and I needed the Jets to help us communicate but I never doubted that he loved me and I’m sure he always knew I felt the same. No matter what happens this weekend, nothing can take that away. No matter what happens on Sunday, I have won.

That said: J-E-T-S! JETS!, JETS!, JETS!

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Sadness To Get Treated Like A Chump

Ladies and gentleman I am done with feeling sad. Last night I wrote a messy and complicated post about death and closure that left me feeling exhausted and sad, so I closed my laptop and went to bed. When I woke up this morning I felt like it was finally time to put the sadness I’ve been carrying around behind me. Over the last year I’ve lost loved ones and had some difficult days but I’m still here. I’m not only still here, by any measure I am doing well. Consider these things:

  • I have a lovely wife and a dog who loves me
  • I’m surrounded by a terrific family and outstanding friends
  • Health-wise I have never felt better
  • Most of the time I like my job

In case these things don’t give me enough to be happy about, consider these facts: The Best Show on WFMU is back and The Reigning Sound, my favorite band, will be playing in my town for the next two nights.  Starting right now, sadness is getting steamrolled because I don’t have time for it anymore. From this point forward I’m choosing to put the negatives behind me and focus on the positive things in my life.  This doesn’t mean every day will be perfect but it might mean I realize I have more things to be happy about than I give myself credit for.  If you’re looking for me tonight or tomorrow, I’ll be seeing these guys and feeling pretty great about life:

From this point forward, things are going to be just fine.

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Filed under Family, General Tomfoolery

A Messy Update Where More Is Revealed

I warn you in advance that this is a little bit of a mess, hence the title.

According to reliable sources my father married three times in his lifetime.  While select unreliable sources credit him with four wedding (and a funeral) I’m going to stick with what can be proven. Many of you reading this are familiar with his first and third wives (my mother and his last wife) but I suspect that only my family knows about my father’s second wife, Linda, whom he was married to for the longest time of the three. While I’ve mentioned her a few times in stories on this blog she has never really gotten the credit she deserves for being a positive influence on my life. Here are a few things you should know about her:

1- The first time Linda I met her I had just been suspended from school and sent to my father’s house so he could deal with me. Despite my delinquency she made me chocolate milk.

2- From the time I was 15 until I was 20 I lived with her and my father. During much of this time my father was only sporadically employed so his second wife fed and clothed me and kept a roof over my head. She later did the same for my brother and sister.

3- She caught me smoking and drinking when I was 15 and didn’t tell on me.

4- The only time my father hit me I did not hit him back, but she did.

5- About six weeks ago, she died.

My sister called me today to tell me that she just learned that Linda had passed away after a long illness that we did not know she had because we had not spoken to her in many years. This was not by design, over the years we just lost contact.  The easy thing to say is that she and my father divorced and each one went their separate ways but the truth isn’t always so neat.

The truth is this: they had several good years but things changed over time.  She and my father both brought out the best and worst in each other, the best was the ability to light up any room they walked into and the worst was alcoholism and raging self-destruction. In the five years I lived with them things got ugly with enough regularity that as a teenager I always had an escape plan in the event it got too out of hand.

From my perspective it seemed like my father caused these problems a greater number of times but it takes two to make an unhappy marriage. Regardless of who was to blame they split up shortly before I moved to Los Angeles but that was kept a secret.  The night before I moved she joined my father and I for dinner and smiled like nothing was wrong. No one in the family knew they had split until Linda stopped RSVP-ing for family events. My father proceeded with his life as if nothing was wrong and nothing had happened. Our questions about her were met with vague answers or silence. Still, we kept in touch for a while through email and mutual acquaintances would tell my family how she was but eventually those things stopped. When members of my family tracked her down they were kindly told that she was sorry but she wanted to leave the past in the past. I accepted this decision because I had no choice, still I hoped there would be time at some later date to catch up.

When my father passed away last year Linda’s absence was notable but understandable. After all she had been through with my father I understood that she might not want to reopen those wounds even if I was a little hurt that she wasn’t there. What I didn’t know is that she was already sick from cancer at the time. When my uncle tracked her down to tell her my father had died she asked how my brother, sister and I were doing but never mentioned a word about her health.

Today I don’t know what to think. I’m sad that someone who meant a lot to me is gone and I didn’t know about it for six weeks. I regret that I could have at any time over the last several years tracked her down and I never did. I feel terrible that I allowed my father to essentially erase someone out of our lives. I feel selfish for having hurt feelings when she didn’t show up last fall. I’m sorry that things ended badly between she and my father and I’m sorry that she didn’t live long enough for her life to get better again. More than anything I just wish I could have said thank you.

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