Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

When I was a baby, my mom had to put my watermelon into her Osterizer blender and turn it into watermelon juice because my esophagus was so constricted that I could not even swallow mushed-up watermelon. I’m now pushing 57 years old and if you want an indication of just how much I own my mom, you need look no further than that I made it past 1, let alone 56.

She was the most caring soul I knew for much of my life and that was true well into adulthood.

For example, it was the late 1990’s and my job had me traveling around the Pacific Rim pretty regularly. I had been sitting on a conference panel in Singapore; I had the flu and with over a 100 degree fever; and I was in a place that was 100 degrees and raining. I felt like crap. I was flying back to Portland, through Los Angeles, and I planned to stay with mom and dad for a few days. I got off the plane, walked out of LAX, and sitting on a little bench in baggage claim was my mother. I had never wanted to see that wonderful smile so much. Both of my parents were amazing that day. But, I’m not embarrassed to say that, even at nearly 40, I really needed my mum!

She showed me the same tenderness and love when I lived at home throughout my time at CalArts. When I’d come home from school and walk in at 2AM she’d pretend that she had just “accidentally” awoken. Then she’d feed me like the good Jewish mother she was.

In fact, while I was in college, mom and I had a very special relationship. Once a week, on my way to school, we would go together to IHOP. Rich and Sandra were both in the San Diego area, dad was off to work, and I sort of had her to myself. Just seeing, in my mind’s eye, her face as we hung out and shared our coffee and pancakes kind of makes me tear up.

As I grew older we shared some more interesting beverages than coffee. After I turned 21, mom loved to have me join her in her occasional Scotch. Many people know her as the tiny lady who allegedly could nurse a single Glenlivet all night. She SAID she just let the ice melt but, strangely, she got more opinionated and a lot funnier as those cubes melted. I could save a lot of money if I could have the ice cubes that she had! Regardless of quantity, I’m proud to say that this Glenlivit thing was not always true. You see, she and her brother Bud used to drink only Chevas Regal.  It was I who introduced her to her to single malts! Maybe that’s the only thing I did for her that was anywhere near as good as the things she did for me.

So far I’ve been focusing on memories but now I want to move forward and to speak about blessings and regret.

For the past 28 years I’ve been in Oregon, doing lots of volunteer work, and having insanely busy jobs. Because of that, I owe an awful lot to my brother Rich and my sister Sandra. I was once the cherished first son with the penchant for single malt scotch. But, I do know that Sandra and Rich did an enormous amount for mom when I wasn’t around. I love them for their deep devotion to mom in the last years of her life.

One last thing.

The night before she died Rich called and told me she was ill. Perhaps naively, we thought she would recover. After all, she bounced back from everything else. On her last day he called again. “You’d better get down here”, he said.  I left a meeting, booked a flight, headed for the airport and even changed my booking while on the road to try and get to LA in time to see her. Sandra did similarly but she drove in. In both cases we owe our spouses a lot. In my case, my wife stopped what she was doing to get me to the airport. In Sandra’s case, her husband packed for her and even remembered to toss in her favorite Ugg boots. That is the kind of relationship that we must cherish because that is the kind of devotion you can step back from, say “what would Sally do”, and know it would be the best of all possible choices. She was a role model of right action.

I got to the Burbank airport and Rich picked me up. I missed seeing my mother by less than 2 hours. This I deeply regret.  But I want to tell you something. When I walked into the room and saw my mother’s soft and peaceful face, her spirit now gone, only two things saved me from a much deeper regret.

  • First, that in her final hours my brother held his cell phone up to her so I could say goodbye. He says she knew it was me and smiled. I’ll choose to believe that and to thank him.
  • Second, that my sister was there in time to see her. I feel blessed beyond measure that Sandra made it to be with mom as she passed. She was with mother as she left us and she was there to hug me and to cry with me. For that, too, I’m grateful.

To my father I want to say thank you for being there for some very difficult years. I love you too. I also want to say this:

“Don’t give away that bottle of Glenlivet that’s in the cupboard over the stove”. I hope that you will keep it with you so that with each visit I can remember her amazing smile with a sip. It represents one of 2 drinks by which I’ll always remember my mom and it’s one hell of a lot better that watermelon juice!!

 

Not only do I not despair but I’m a very blessed guy. Here are a few examples of why:

  • Cindy and Tom and Laura and Adam let me be wing-man to the true chick magnet, Cooper.
  • My sister’s daughter Jessica has just moved to Oregon and I now have a next-gen family member to hang with.
  • My cousin Cheryl’s kid Rachel and her wife share their awesome sons with me.
  • My friend Traci has allowed me to be part of her son’s lives ever since I’ve known her and, in the wake of the tragic early passing of her husband has opened their lives to me daily.
  • My niece, Denise, allowed me to help her when she was young until now when she has a clan of her own. From the days when I could buy her her high school class ring through her wedding day, and into married life, she is among the brightest lights ever.
  • In fact, Denise’s brothers and parents have been among the coolest family of all time.
  • As president of my Synagogue I was given the great privilege of being allows to feel as a parent to dozens of kids.

These are just a few wonderful things I think of every day. These are people who open their lives to me and give me the joy of participating with their children. These are some of the reasons that I feel no despair. I feel shared love.

So… wanna hear my philosophy of life as a dude without kids? It’s this:

  1. You don’t always get what you want. You get dealt cards and you play the hand you are dealt with as much joy, skill, and competence as you can.
  2. You get chances every day to make decisions. You can like or dislike them in retrospect but you must take responsibility for them without looking back.
  3. People have intrinsic value. Children are people. Therefore, children have value.
  4. Being the best human you can be has the highest value. Children are in a process of emerging as fully developed humans. Therefore, raising great children has the highest value.
  5. Sometimes the universe intends for you do do something you did not expect. I don’t have kids but, had I, I might not have been their for Denise when she wanted her class ring, I might not have been able to drop everything to help Traci with the boys when she was dealing with a loss, I might not have been able to serve the kids of my synagogue. Etc. Etc. Etc. So, perhaps my path in life was to help other kids. How could that be anything but a blessing!
  6. Live in the moment. Take the kindness and generosity of others and embrace it with love.
  7. Don’t feel bad about one thing when you can feel good about the million others that surround you.
  8. Ignore any religious doctrine that makes you feel lesser for not being “fruitful and multiplying”. It’s silliness and it just screws with your mind. Remember how shallow the gene pool would be if everyone followed the ancients.
  9. If you want kid-joy then take responsibility for finding kids who need the joy you want to share. Help other’s children grow and take ever second you have to do that as a sacred gift.
  10. Live not for what isn’t; just live for what is.

What all of that means to me is this:

Some people don’t want kids. I did. Things are different than I’d planned. That’s no reason to go crazy. It’s totally cool to have periods of melancholy; I am, after all, human. But, there is no value in looking backward when, living in the moment, I can find someone whose children need exactly what I can share at every turn.

So, to sum it all up…

Yup. I sometimes feel sad when I see other people who have the kids and grandchildren I’d once envisioned. But, that is a normal thing and there are millions of moments when things are just fine. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few down moments compared to millions of up ones. Every day I look forward and, if my path in life is to help other people’s kids then fine by me, the most important thing is to use the blessings that surround you to keep repairing the sorely damaged world.

Whoever’s kids inhabit that world in the future, if I can make it better for them and make a few of them better for it then I’m a happy guy!

 

We’ve established that the word “despair” blows me away and that you don’t need to feel sorry for me. So, why should you give a shit about me and my lack of grandkids, at all?

The first answer is easy:

Love is not binary. Feelings are not binary. Emotions are not binary. In fact, love, feelings, and emotions are not even discreet. These elements of our life are continuous functions. So, just because I’m not suicidal does not mean you shouldn’t care. I want your love and support.

The second answer is more complex:

To me, a part of examining one’s life in an open forum is to help others learn by sharing experiences. I share many things here and on Facebook and Twitter that are really no one’s business but my own. I choose to share my shit, not so you will feel sorry for me, but so that we can learn from each other.

  • I guarantee you hate some of my posts.
  • I guarantee you smile at at least a few.
  • I guarantee you don’t know why the hell I share some things I do.
  • I guarantee I piss you off.
  • I guarantee that, at least on occasion, you think about the value of compassion, the need for personal responsibility, and the value of integrity. Those are the 3 pillars that support me and…
  • I guarantee it helps ME to get shit out of my system and to embrace your feedback.

As Socrates reminds us, “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I embrace that in a public way both for me and for anyone who cares. So, it’s good for us all if you care.

The fact is that caring about other people, while holding myself accountable for my own actions, is the foundation of my life.

I used to think I was an Objectivist. Then I found how much joy I got from helping other people succeed. I gave up the Objectivist path because if lacked a notion of benevolence. Then my friend Nathaniel Branden (of blessed memory) started speaking of benevolence at Objectivism conferences. I’ll still never be an Objectivist because it conflicts with some of my Reform Jewish values. But, from it, I learned to take responsibility for myself and to recognize that making one’s self the best one can be DOES help others succeed! it does so because one may stand as a role model and because there is nothing wrong with bringing others along for the ride. So, when I paired that with my Jewish notion of benevolence I came up with a value system that works for me.

That is why you should care about me and my desire for children. Because my hope is that taking you along for the ride will make us all better people. Helping all of us to become better people is why I see those of you who share your children with me as an extraordinary blessing. It provides both the giver and the receiver the opportunity to help others through responsible action.

More on that is coming soon…

Okay y’all, I said on Facebook that I’d write a post like this and here it is.

A few days ago my very good friend Cindy met me and Patt for coffee. She brought with her, her grandson Cooper. I totally dig the kid, his mom, and yes grandma. I posted on Facebook that I wish I had kids and grandkids. Among my main points was how blessed I am that my friends and family allow me to be part of their families. A few people got that. Some did not.

Let’s start with the folks who feel sorry for poor, melancholy, Steve. I need to clarify something: You don’t make me feel any better by telling me I can adopt kids or be a foster parent.

I’m fucking 56 years old. There is a very important woman in my life (in fact the most important thing in my life) with whom I’d like to spend time before one of us keels over. I can barely stop myself from continually working now. I doubt that putting kids through college at 70 or 80 is a good retirement strategy. One can not change past bad decisions by making present bad decisions. Thanks for the thoughts, though. I know that they come from your heart.

Second, please don’t go overboard in trying to psychologically deconstruct me. I may need a therapist to do that but I’ll forgo the amateur (though clearly, lovingly, well-intentioned) deconstruction. I received an email from someone telling me this:

I waited so long for my children that I was in despair, despair of much the same kind as yours is.

I am NOT in despair. To me the word “despair” is huge. It means something like “I don’t have kids, how horrible! I’ll kill myself if I don’t have kids”. Dudes! That is NOT me!

I have no sense of despair. Sometimes I have a little melancholy but that’s not a bad thing. It certainly is not despair. There are lots of things I wish I had; mostly money related. But I despair over none of it. As long as I have Patt, there will be no proper use of the word “despair” in my life. So, get over that one. I promise to let you know if I’m ever in despair.

Now, though I love them all very deeply, you know what I think about people who feel sorry for me. The more important thing, though, is how I feel about ME.

Stay tuned.

 

I’ll make this relatively brief because all I really have to say is that I’m crazy-excited about today’s landmark SCOTUS decision insuring legal gay marriage throughout our land! I am one happy straight guy today. I emphasize that I’m straight because I want to make it clear that I’m not happy because this benefits me personally.

  • I’m happy because this benefits everyone.
  • I’m happy because this applies the 14th amendment to everyone. As JamesObergefell, the lead plaintiff, said this morning:
    • Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court affirms what millions across this country already know to be true in our hearts – our love is equal; that the four words etched onto the front of the Supreme Court – equal justice under law – apply to us, too.”
  • I’m happy because this furthers the cause of applying the concept that “all men are created equal” to an ever-widening notion of “ALL”.
  • I’m happy because this demonstrates that, in a country founded on liberty, LOVE between rational human beings can still trump religious dogma.
  • More than anything, I’m happy because now, throughout the United States, the sanctity of monogamous marital commitment can now be celebrated equally for all who wish to dedicate themselves to loving each other and creating traditional family units.

I’m always surprised when I see the most conservative people arguing against gay marriage. Conservatives, above all, should want two things that legal gay marriage provides:

  1. The need to keep the government out of our personal lives
  2. The want of people – regardless of sexual identity or gender orientation – to have traditional monogamous relationships

THEY should be the ones who WANT gay marriage!

Unfortunately…. the true small-government, traditional family conservatives have been completely overrun by the dogmatic, Bible-thumping, evangelical Conservatives. That piece of the Republican party has every right to their religious beliefs. It’s their desire that Christian religious views should have control over American jurisprudence that’s the problem. This is not even an issue of Conservatism. It’s an issue of religion. And religion must be separate from law in a country that celebrates diversity. That’s the ONLY way to avoid the “tyranny of the majority”.

I am a fan of traditional monogamous families and I’m especially a fan of those families who dedicate themselves to rearing well-adjusted children. To that point, Justice Kennedy nailed it when he wrote:

“Without the recognition, stability and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” 

I want to give you my answer (as a non-lawyer) to the two things that Republicans say against this decision:

  1. They say that this is a “states rights” issue. -> WRONG. If we left marriage law purely up to the states, there would still be states where whites and blacks could not intermarry. In this particular case, democracy at the state level would, through the “tyranny of the majority” enshrine discrimination.
  2. They say that the court has “redefined an institution that has been in place for millennia” -> TRUE. But that’s NOT a bad thing. Slavery goes back as far as the Romans, the Hebrews, and the ancient Sumarians. It was in place for millennia too. Then, human culture evolved. Change is GOOD when it is in favor of respect, dignity, and cultural evolution!. The same people who (rightly!) call Sharia law medieval say we should not change an institution just because it’s thousands of years old. Not only is that hypocritical, it’s not even intellectually consistent. Institutions must adapt to evolving cultures. That’s my opinion.

So, in summary: Today I’m happy that families, kids, monogamy, and love have trumped dogma!

All of the agility photos are the wonderful work of Joe Camp, here in the Portland area. The first Image is a poster I created in memory of Sydney. But, other than that, if it’s agility, it’s Joe Camp not I. Enjoy these memories of my best friend next to Patt.

In Memory of Sydney - Jumping Poster The Girls with Richard Serra Sculpture 025 IMG_0057   Sydney - NADAC - Novice Vet Jumpers - Feb 2010 Syd Agility June 07 008 Sydney Bilow - March 2009 CAT NADAC Trial  Shot By Joe Camp and edited by Steve Bilow

IMG_2861 - Cropped to 4x6

Sydney - NADAC - Novice Chances - Feb08 - 2

SydSnow07-1

Last night I was finishing the new book “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead. In it she was discussing childhood memories and how we tend to best remember the beautiful, pastoral things of our childhood – tending to suppress the muddy fields and darker events. She said something that really resonated with me. She said that we remember the beauty of childhood because that is the part of our lives where we “became human”. This reminded me of one of my favorite Roland Barthes quotes, from the essay called “The Light of the Sud-Ouest”. Barthes says this:

“…childhood is the royal road by which we know a country best. Ultimately, there is no Country but childhood’s“.

The reason these quotations resonate so strongly for me is because, now in my 50’s, I do exactly what Mead says that all of us do. I think back about my childhood in Inglewood California and I remember playing “hide and seek” on my block of Condon Avenue; working in the back yard garden, with my dad, because he promised to take us to “Bob’s Big Boy” for dinner; climbing over the back fence into Ladera Park, via the well positioned lemon tree; Rabbi Soloff praising me in Hebrew School for trying to do “sleep learning” by listening to my Torah portion via a pillow speaker as I slept; visiting with my neighbor, across the street, who’s garage was filled with a giant ANALOG computer; camping with the Cub Scouts and the Indian Guides; playing handball on the courts at La Tijera Elementary School; Shopping at Henshey’s and Builders Emporium and hanging out at “Pizza Palace” (thanks, just today, to my Facebook friends); schlepping around the neighborhood kids in mom’s maroon and white Buick Skylark; sailing to Catalina Island on weekends with the Eddy’s; swimming in the Nelson’s pool; playing basketball with my uncle Mel and his kids in the driveway after Thanksgiving dinner; visiting grandma Bea in Santa Monica; turning one of my bathrooms into a darkroom at the age of 11 or 12; the “Chicken Kiev” at my Bar Mitzvah luncheon; the time my poor old dog Coco got hit by a car and broke her leg and I sat with her under my dad’s desk; the old Philco black and white TV in my bedroom and the 25 foot long-wire antenna I hung out that bedroom window for my Heathkit Shortwave radio; sending off receptions reports to the shortwave stations “Radio Moscow” and “Radio Peking“, and how I got the QSL cards back in envelopes that had been opened and had numbers written under their flaps; watching Apollo 11 land on the moon at the Baffa’s house because THEY had a color TV and watching cartoons and the Rose Parade (!) on our first color set; and on and on and on. It all seems really wonderful as long as I suppress (repress?) the memories about being teased for my “coke bottle bottom” glasses and the fact that I was the shyest, lowest self-esteem, kid I knew.

But, that is exactly Rebecca Mead’s point. Becoming human is such a significant part of youth that it’s easy to idealize that youth. I think it’s possible that we could more easily wrestle with, and dispel, that which we suppress and which ultimately makes adult life more difficult, if we did not do that. But, at the same time, I rather like thinking back on the good things.

Besides, it makes Facebook a hell of a lot more fun!