Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “May, 2017”

13 Reasons Is 13 Too Many

Sunday nights at home when I was a child, was “family television night.”  We would watch Walt Disney.  Other nights we might also sit and watch television together, Brady Bunch, The Nanny And The Professor, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  But today, with families going in fifty different directions, children now have much different interests, and parents are often exhausted from a full work day, and completing house work that needed to be done for the day.  Technology makes it all the more convenient for all the different schedules.  But whereas with family night, as with The Courtship of Eddie’s Father or the Brady Bunch, if there were issues or questions that we had as children, our parents were there to answer and explain.  Today, other than perhaps attending a movie with each other, the family most likely never sees anything together.  And that can be problematic.

There is a video series on Netflix, called “13 Reasons Why.”  Simply, it is about a teenage girls, who sadly commits suicide.  She leaves 13 recordings for individuals she blames for her making such an unfortunate decision.  Just as our society determined that cigarette smoking had been glorified in television and movies with the frequency and situations involving smoking, which was believed to contribute to enticing youth to start smoking, the same concern is now emerging with this particular series.  And there are legitimate concerns.

Before I go any further, I need to state my qualifications and interests in this subject.  I spent more than a decade dealing with youth and angst.  I was a psychology major in college.  The very first topic I wrote a paper on, was teenage suicide.  And now, I have two daughters of similar age.  I will spare all the statistics, the facts, and the statements always echoed by families “I had no idea.”

13 reasons why this child chose to take her life in the series, was 13 too many.  Even after the first reason, the issue should have been dealt with then.  But then again, that is where the denial begins.  And as it goes through reason after reason, unless those dots are connected, even the 8th or 12th reason is still considered not a credible concern as if it were the first reason.

But the girl decides to kill herself because she has finally had enough.  And this is where the message needs to be stated strongly, suicide is never the answer.  Which I do feel, this has not been made clear enough.  But the death of this child, has now been viewed by millions who now see as long as they can justify their own deaths, it does not matter how many reasons that they have.

Over my lifetime, I have discussed teen suicide with many youth, and have had to do so recently with my daughters.  Sadly, I have too many examples of when adults did not “know” anything was wrong, when clearly adults did know, they just chose to ignore issues, or blow them off as just a phase.

Last week, a student from my daughter’s school, was on a railroad track, at 5am, and was struck and killed by an oncoming train.  My daughters did not personally know her.  But as discussion occurs, and it already has among the students, since the adults have declined to deal with this publicly, the children are now dealing with this on their own.  It is a nice gesture for the school to make counselors available for the kids.  But that only works if the children go to them.  Sometimes adults need to be proactive, and for now, adults in position to help, are choosing not to.

Of course there will be fear of other children who may “copy cat”.  And then of course, extra attention may be paid to the series “13 Reasons Why”.

I am not objecting to this series at all.  Quite the contrary.  I am saying that if your child is watching it, this is an important opportunity for parents to help children understand the permanent consequences of such an avoidable choice.

Happy Mother’s Day

I sure am glad I did not forget today.  But it was apparent this morning, while at the grocery store to get some breakfast items, there were many who definitely did not remember today.  And to say it was a gender issue, with the majority of customers being men (probably 95%), is an understatement.  Yep, so many just remembered this morning in fact, today is Mother’s Day.  Fortunately, Publix was prepared to bail out the absent-minded gentlemen.  Their reputations for being the most thoughtful would be saved.

I live quite a distance from my mother, so I was reliant on the United States Postal Service to get my gift to my mother in time.  That required me to remember at least a week in advance.

I have written about the relationship between my mother and I over the years.  While not the typical “Norman Rockwell” portrait of a family, our relationship is what we have made it today.  And that is what counts.

Yes, we rely on Moms to take care of our bumps and bruises, help us with homework, and cook some of the greatest Macaroni and Cheese, but it is in adulthood that we really get the chance to see the true value of “mom.”  And then “mom” realizes her role changes as well.

My mother has gone through a lot with me as her son.  And though really I cannot take all the blame for it, because of the many health issues I have, it kind of does make it my fault.  Unlike as a child though, the care of my “bumps and bruises” as an adult are now handled by me.  For the most part, I make her sit on the sidelines, watching, trying to coach from the bench, cheering me on.  And I know she wants to do more.

I feel she has more important things to do now as my mother, at least more important to me.  At some point in a mother’s life, there is a good chance she is going to take on a new role, grandmother.  Now, while today is Mother’s Day, my mother’s role as a grandmother is important to me.

During my early childhood days, my mother had to work second shift jobs.  Which meant after I came home from school, my grandmother took care me during the week.  The majority of my childhood years spent with my grandmother, was probably the most critical period of my life as there was so much that I learned from her, not just the every day stuff, but lessons in life.  But I also grew very close to my grandmother.

Not only would my grandmother become my moral compass in life, she was the most important inspiration to me when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  She was the first cancer survivor I had ever known.  And I knew that if she could do it, I would follow in her footstep, even using the same oncologist.  Of course we know how this story has played out.  I am currently a 27 year survivor.

When she passed away, it really hit me, what I had lost.  I realized just how important a role she played in my life.

But as an adult, I witnessed other grandparents in action.  So many were just so proud to show off their grandkids and all the memories that they were making.  And the pictures all showed the same thing, huge smiles from the grandchild looking up at either “poppop” or playing with grandma.

As a parent, I witnessed this new bond and its importance first hand.  My children loved my father, and love my mother.  Right from the beginning, I made it a point to make sure that both of my parents, even though divorced, would each play an important role in my daughters’ lives.  When it came time for visits, both of my daughters were eager to make the hour long drive to visit both of my parents in each of their homes.  They greeted my parents with excited hugs and kisses, and lots of giggles.  And when it came time to leave, my daughters left with the biggest hugs and “can’t wait to see you again” kisses goodbye.  My daughters valued my parents as much as I valued my mother’s mother.

In recent times, the role of grandmother and mother have combined in a huge way, and what I once thought was impossible.  Two years ago, my mother gave me the surprise of a lifetime.  Not only was she going to get on a plane and fly to visit me, she was bringing two very important co-passengers… her granddaughters, my daughters.

It was the first time my mother had flown.  It also gave my mother some very special time with her granddaughters and vise versa.  This trip has been repeated, and will continue.  This is a special thing between my daughters and my mother, their grandmother, something all will always remember, especially me.

The best gift I could give my mother is the appreciation I have, for all the love and kindness she gives and shares with my daughters every chance she gets.  To know how much she means to my daughters, and my daughters to her, is what means the most to me at this point in my life.

I know today is supposed to be a happy one, lots of flowers, making breakfast for mom, taking mom to dinner.  And of course, flowers and cake.

But my heart goes out to so many too, who grieve on this day.  Because of my circumstances and age, I know so many today who grieve for their mothers.  And a totally different sorrow, mothers who grieve the loss of their child.  If there is any solace, it is seeing the memories that they have been sharing today, that clearly show how much each other meant in their lives, and there are happy memories to remember them by.  And it is my hope, that they can still find the ability to celebrate that love today.  Because at one time, this day meant something special in the physical sense, it should mean just as much in the spiritual sense and memories.

Happy Mother’s Day.

An End Of An Era

In a little more than a month, my youngest daughter will be done with elementary school.  I spend so much time, going back through time in my mind to the days that both of my daughters were first placed in my arms to today.  My oldest has just about completed her first year of middle school, which is worthy of a post itself.

I look back at my own childhood, and the memories I have from elementary school, and the many teachers that had the first major impact on me, getting me to enjoy school.  And for me, it is that simple.  But now, as an adult, elementary school worth took on a whole new meaning.

I could not have been any more excited for the first days of school for my daughters.  First, I would ask off from work so that I could not only see the girls off to school, but took as many photos as I could of those first days, leaving the house, getting on the bus, to even entering the school.

From those “first” moments, my life as a father would change forever.

Monday begins Teacher Appreciation Week around the country.  And I do not think you will find anyone who appreciates teachers as much as I do, and my daughters are only mid-way through their education.

I remember all my teachers through elementary school, mostly by name, not necessarily for what they did for me, except for one, Mrs. McGuire.  I was quite sick and needed surgery during my first grade year.  She visited me and helped me with my homework while I recovered, yes, beyond the 9-3 school day.

My oldest would start elementary school officially in 2009.  The school district was going to be entrenched in a brutal contract negotiation, that would eventually result in a strike by the teachers.  Like many uninformed parents, I was irate that the beginning of the year was going to be delayed, which of course was going to have a last minute impact on finding child care to substitute for the absence of school.  “Those damn greedy teachers!  How dare they?”

But as quickly as those emotions came out, the school board released a full page color ad of the salaries of the teachers and union personnel of the district, of course to enflame the community.  My past experience as a victim of bullying, I saw this for what it was, bullying.  And immediately, that flipped a switch in my mind that something else was going on.  It was not as simple as it seemed.

In the meantime, the teachers returned back to school, and on the very first day, on a Thursday, at 7:45pm, and there is a reason I remember this exactly,  I received a call from my oldest daughter’s teacher.  She wanted to discuss a concern that she had about my daughter’s cognitive levels, especially with her being internationally adopted.  We spent more than 45 minutes on the phone.  Now keep in mind, this teacher had two young children of her own, but contrary to the popular myth, teachers days do go beyond the hours of 9am to 3pm.  Instead of spending time with her own children, she was helping me, to address a concern with mine.  There are countless examples of this throughout both of my daughters educations.

Teachers have almost as important role in the lives of our children as we, the parents.  Teachers spend more time during the awake hours with our children, not just teaching our children, English, Math, History and such, but often times, lessons about life that we do not have the simple answers to, many times uncomfortable.

I will never forget the care given to not just my daughters, but to all the students who would hear of the horrible massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Even small children know that they should be safe in school.  Sandy Hook changed that not only for the children who heard about the horror, but teachers soon found out, that in spite of the slaughter at Columbine High School years before, violence could even reach the elementary levels.  Now, teachers not only put their heath at risk with contagious germs and such, but were now expected to physically guard our children.  I am certain, this was definitely not dealt with in college when they studied to be a teacher.

My personal experiences with the teachers at my daughters elementary school also had a major impact.  The uncertainty of my health, led to many instances of an emergency phone call to the school, with last minute instructions for care, transportation, and sometimes, explanations.  And every time it happened, and there were a lot, the teachers responded with such assurance and professionalism, which made each incident a lot less traumatic, not having to deal with the stress of the care of the girls.  I always knew they were in good hands.

And no parent wants to get the phone call, “your daughter’s school bus was involved in an accident.”  But I got one of those phone calls, and again, the school staff handled everything perfectly.

During that first year of my oldest’s school year, I paid a lot of attention to the negotiations of the teachers contract negotiations.  I began to attend district meetings, noticing more things that did not make sense, and clearly came to the conclusion that the teachers were being made scapegoats for a situation that the school board had created.  It was very easy to fool the taxpayers who were just as uninformed as I had once been.  My voice by itself, along with a barrage of letters to the local newspaper opinion columns was not enough.

And so began my short political career, as I decided I would campaign for school board in the next election.  Along with four other candidates, and a great campaign committee, I spent the next six years, dissecting the business and activities of the school district.  Clearly things could be improved, but I definitely felt it was not the fault of the teachers as it was being made to believe.

Along with my school board campaign, I also became more involved in my daughters school activities, participating in their parent organization, an anti bullying campaign, and even managed to have some extra curricular fun, volunteering as the “official” school disc jockey for fun events made even more popular with fun music.  My daughters were split on just how cool it was to have “dad” DJing, but their friends always encouraged them that their “dad was cool!”

Over three years ago, the direction of our family took a dramatic turn that none of us had ever expected, divorce.  And with that, came separation from my daughters.  But the staff of the school, as they had done the previous years, stepped up as they always had, realizing that even the distance between my daughters and I, I was going to continue to be involved in my daughters educations, as much if not more, as when I had been local.  Teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, the principal, everyone has done everything I could ever ask, when it came to helping me, help my daughters with their educations.  From studying for a test, to making sure homework got done, the staff has always been there.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week.  And you better believe it, I appreciate the teachers that my daughters had, teachers that other children have, friends of mine who are teachers, and the ones who started it all for me, my teachers.  Teachers are full time workers who put their health and their safety at risk every day.  Their day begins when they step through the entrance of the school, but does not end, well beyond exiting those same doors.  Teachers have homework or tests to correct, preparations for the next day lessons, and of course, there are the personal correspondences to reach parents whose children are struggling in school.  I know there is more that they do, but I can only talk about what I have experienced.  I am not a teacher.  But they know what all they do in a day for children.  And so for that, I publicly say thank you.  And keep up the good work.

And to the staff at my daughters elementary school, I am so thankful to each and every one of you.  My daughters have so many positive memories.  You kept them safe, and as I found out with my oldest daughter in her first year of middle school, you did a great job preparing my oldest as she has done well so far after three marking periods.

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