Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Education”

5 Years Later… I Still Miss My Dad


For those of you, too young to recognize the photo above, the is a disc of vinyl on what was called a turntable.  The arm placed on the vinyl, had a “needle” or stylus that produced music, before there was MP3’s, digital downloads, and even CD’s (hopefully you know what those are, though as I understand they are being phased out now too).  In any case, I spent so much time listening to music this way.  I took care of my records.  No scratches, a common problem for vinyl, that could impact the quality of the sound, as well as the ability to play the music.

You see, over time, a condition might often occur, where the needle would get stuck on the record at a certain spot, and as the record continued to turn around, it would just repeat that same groove on the vinyl, over and over.  We referred to this as a “broken record.”

In life, there are many things that we face, that often get us stuck in that kind of rut, unable to get on to the rest of the record.  Metaphor aside, at least I used to be able to, just buy a replacement album if I wanted to do so.  And normally, I do not hold on to something for so long, because of that rut.  But there is one thing I have not been able to move forward on.

The loss of my father, now approaching five years.

It just has not gotten any easier.  But it is not for the reason that you think.  I have written before about my inability to grieve properly, not something I would describe as a character flaw, but rather a defense mechanism.  A mechanism I have carried most of my life, a way to protect myself.  But protect myself from what?

I have often discussed the three chapters of the life that I had with my father, a split childhood between married parents and then divorced parents, estranged for a majority of my later childhood from my father, but the second half of my life, moving on from all the hurt, rebuilding what we lost, having a relationship with someone that I considered one of the strongest people in my life.

We had a lot to mend with each other.  Things had been said.  Things had been done.  And were it not for a major medical crisis, we may never have turned that corner.  That event opened a door to discuss guilt, give explanations, offer support, and ask for help.  We began talking again.  He learned a lot about what I had gone through with my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  And when his health took a turn, with a major heart attack, it soon became my turn to help him with his needs.  And then as late effects from my treatments became obvious, he was there for me, something that he had not done in the past.  We were moving forward finally.

My dad had many grandchildren, but for the purpose of this story, my daughters gave him the opportunity to do what he did not do for me in my childhood.  And he loved all of his grandchildren.

Approximately seven years ago, my father informed me that his doctor had seen spots on his lungs, which would lead to an early diagnosis of emphasema.  At this point, the doctor considered it reversible, even for someone who had been smoking for over five decades.    Though he would try to quit, with various means, he was unable.  But during a follow up exam, it was now felt that my dad had developed lung cancer.  I have written more in detail about that in past posts, so I will spare the details now.

My father had asked me, to accompany him to appointments.  This made sense to him because of my history.  He knew that I would understand things being said, and be able to explain to him if he did not understand.  I would also be able to ask questions that my father might not think of.  I was also very likely to remember most if not all of my father’s medical history.  I was touched by what my father had asked of me.  Estranged for as long as we were, my stepbrother would have been the more logical choice, and I would have understood that.  But this is what my father had wanted.

But as time went on, it soon became apparent that my father was going to need more than a companion or caregiver.

As the cancer became more serious, my father realized that he needed to have decisions made in advance, in the event that he would not be able to make them himself.  At this point, again with no objections from me, my father appointed my stepbrother as his legal rep, but asked me to take on the role of his health care proxy.  In other words, should something happen that he would no longer be able to make his own rational decisions, I would be trusted to carry out my father’s wishes.  If there is one thing that my father knew about me, getting back to that character quirk that I have, disconnecting emotionally, my father knew he could count on me to follow his wishes, no matter what.

At this point, conversations between my dad and I had become dominated by his issues.  I no longer spoke of things that I was dealing with myself.  I had a lot on my plate.  I was campaigning for school board (my second campaign), my own health had been giving me difficulties from my late side effect issues, and my marriage was failing.  But I was not going to allow my dad to feel I was being overwhelmed with his issues.  I knew that I could do what my dad wanted and needed.

But in February of 2014, my father was informed that his cancer was now terminal.  My role as his health proxy was going to change from that of advocate and support, to adding comfort as his cancer would rapidly progress.

Now anyone who has ever been a health care proxy, knows this is not an easy thing to do.  Emotions must be shut down, logic must take over.  You must also balance your needs with the task of caring for someone else.

The first pressing issue faced by my stepbrother and I, was trying to keep together what had not been apart in over four decades, our parents.  My stepmother needing her own level of a different care, my father his own care, did not qualify to be kept together in the same home due to a technicality in his supplemental health insurance.  Needless to say, together, we did get them together, and a lot of funny stories.  More importantly, they were together when he passed.

But something happened during the hospice process that appears to have changed everything for the rest of us involved in this process.  And the honest reason is I do not know why.  I had followed my father’s wishes.  And even up to my father’s memorial service, everything seemed as if we would just move forward.  But as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this “needle” seems to be stuck.

I do know that there were decisions that were made by me, that other family members disagreed with.  And again, my father trusted me to make those decisions.  One of those decisions was protecting his privacy from anyone who might try to interfere with his care.  And I totally get it when someone is dying, you want to do all you can, everything, to cure them.  But, there are limits to that, and this is where my logic took over, and actually got quite firm.

As anyone facing a death sentence from cancer, of course, you are willing to try anything, and that includes clinical trials.  These are treatments that might have hope.  And at the time that my father was dying, there was such a drug that had showed promise as a possible treatment for advance stage lung cancer.  But what I could not convince anyone of, the difficulty of qualifying for clinical trials.  Forget the fact there is no guarantee of cure, but time was quickly running out.  But even that would not have disqualified him.  But the fact that my father had experienced so many health issues over the recent years, and during his cancer diagnosis, HE WOULD NEVER HAVE QUALIFIED FOR THE CLINICAL TRIAL.  Sure, we could have fought for him, but I knew we were never going to see any victory, and all that would happen would be to have lost the last moments with my father.

But as his health deteriorated further and rapidly, so did his mental status.  And this would cause a lot of issues among all of us, because there were times that my father was so convincingly lucid, though in reality he was not, arguments over his care and handling often resulted in conflict.  It soon became a battle with just giving a dying man whatever he wanted regardless if it was good for him or not, or if it was at the expense of the care he was given.  He was dying, just let him enjoy his last days.  Which honestly, as his son, I would not have had any problem with.  But that was not what my father asked of me.

I was a monster for not allowing my father to eat sugar candy snacks and drink caffeinated drinks because that would keep him awake at night, often giving the minimal night staff problems with behavioral issues.  Rather than risk my father being ignored or worse, restrained, I restricted the things that would keep him awake at night.  No matter the pleas, “he’s dying just let him have what he wants,” that did not result in my giving him back his cigarettes to enjoy.  He had been restricted to the nursing home eventually, but that did not stop some from wanting to take him offsite for some last outdoor enjoyment.  Again, this was not possible procedurally, just another source of growing conflict.  And then of course, there was the huge disagreement of care of a hospice patient, who is dying.  Treatments and medicines are no longer given.  As Hospice is not about extending life, which would only end up being more painful, it is about making the end of days as comfortable as possible.  And that is what my father expected me to do.

As I mentioned, I had my share of things I was dealing with as well.  But many of my nights were spent with my father at the hospital and nursing home, days at work, and squeezing in my medical appointments.  And with a pending court order coming in my divorce, I had other pressing decisions to make as well, all as my father lay dying.

Again, I never asked for understanding.  I had been trusted by my father to honor his wishes, and I did just that.

My stepbrother has my father’s ashes, again, which I had no issue with.  The plans as far as I knew, were that eventually my stepmother’s ashes would eventually be combined with my father.  Again, not something I objected to.

But something happened after that memorial service that I just do not have any answers to, and why that “needle” just continues to skip.  And for that reason, I cannot grieve for my father, now approaching five years later.   Like I said, I get that there are many that did not agree with the decisions that were made, and I can accept that.  But there is more going on than anyone is letting on.  But, as communications have basically been cut off from the majority, I will never know what changed after my father’s memorial service that I have been cut off from nearly everyone, and for no reason.

Sad really, even my children understand something is not right.  My younger daughter has even offered to request some of my father’s ashes for me to have as I have been cut off from contact, for no reason, or at least none given.  While I appreciate her gesture, her being a child is not going to help it get done, though both my daughters are really confused as to why the animosity.  And I am just as confused myself.  I have not had any communication with anyone in the nearly five years since.  I have made attempts, but no response.  Evidently even acknowledging and offering sympathies for other losses are not acceptable as a temporary halt to whatever is at issue.

And so, another year passes.  Dad, I do miss you so.  And I know this is not the way that you intended things to turn out.  That is not who you were.  I know that.  Because of our relationship, the second half of our life was able to become what it was.

Below is the link to a story that I wrote, and was performed on stage, sponsored by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the tribute I wrote for my father.

 

And to those family members, I really do not know what I did that changed things after my father died.  And since none of you will explain to me, I guess it is what is.  It does not change my relationship with my father, or my relationship with my daughters and their grandfather.  But the door is still open.

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The Numbness Of School Violence


The phone call is a parent’s worst nightmare.  A robocall from the school district…

“This afternoon, there was a lock down at the school.  A student was observed with a weapon.  Police were called.  The student apprehended.  The lock down was lifted.  The students are safe.”

The message was actually more detailed and lengthy.  It seems that a student had chosen to bring a BB gun into the school.  He was seen taking it from his back pack and placing it in his locker on video surveillance.  Further investigations would reveal two other such weapons.  The student had gotten away with it at least one other time, if not twice.

Sure, the weapons were only BB guns, not normally the weapons chosen for maximum carnage, but there are two other factors to take into consideration.  I have lost count, but this is either the 3rd or 4th “lock down” this year alone at the suburban school.  Another thing that concerned me, it was reported shortly after, that an actual school shooting had occurred in Colorado just miles away from Columbine, where the first notorious mass school shooting had occurred decades ago.

I had only recently become aware of something called “the dark web”.  It is a different section of the internet, known by many of our youth.  Were the situations of my daughters’ school lock down and the shooting in Colorado something coordinated through “the dark web?”  Perhaps not.  At this point, we parents are still waiting for the “why” this student had brought 3 BB guns to the school.  And because I do not know the facts, I am barely refraining from judgement, barely because this was just too close to home.  Because it is important to know, was this the act of just a stupid kid, planning on doing some target practice with some buddies after school?  Or was it a “dry run” by someone upset, to see if he could be successful bringing weapons on to school grounds?

But right now, all we were encouraged as parents to do, was to talk with our children about the day’s events.  I am not sure who this is supposed to benefit.  The worried parents, or the numb students who simply chalk up yet another “lock down” as “just another day at school,” and another day still alive.  Yay.

This post is not about gun control or choice of weapons.  The truth is, that discussion has been going on since Columbine, and even the unthinkable Sandy Hook massacre was unable to bring our country together, let alone our government.

Here is the staggering numbers, as provided by research done by CNN last year, 288 school shootings in the US since 2009 through 2018.  Surely this cannot be a statistic unique to the US.  Or can it?  CNN compared the US to the 6 other major industrial countries who made up the G7, for those who do not know what countries made up the G7… Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and England.  Here are the numbers:

United States     288

Canada                     2

France                       2

Germany                   1

Japan                         0

Italy                            0

England                      0

The countries that make up the G7, are assumed to be the most advanced, democratic (not to be confused with the Democratic party), the most concerned countries when it comes to human rights.  “The United States  had 57 times as many shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined,” was how the headline read on CNN’s Facebook page on May 21, 2018.

Again, I am not making this post about bureaucratic bullshit with excuses like, different size country, different laws, yada yada yada.  The answer often given, need more guns also clearly falls way short as these other industrialized nations do not have a gun inventory problem.  Yet here in Florida, state government has approved a policy to allow teachers to now carry guns in school.  Imagine, they can now carry a gun, when they often cannot get educational supplies.  Priorities.

This post is not about spinning wheels and talking points.  We now have only two other relatively new concepts that may offer some hope, yet one of those is completely unacceptable, because it accepts martyrdom as the solution, in other words, expect a student to die a hero throwing themselves at a shooter.  I will explain.

I was returning home from my visit with my daughters, which occurred just days after this current lock down.  I was at the airport, when I learned my flight was delayed.  As people often do, once realizing we are going to be waiting longer, we need to entertain ourselves to make the time pass.  The unlucky person being chosen to talk to me, just so happened to be a “School Resource Officer.”

An SRO is normally either a retired cop, or active cop.  And yes, they are armed.  But more and more schools are using this option to maintain safe schools.  Many schools have an entire force of SRO’s.

Having just gone through yet another “lock down” issue, being a former school board candidate who campaigned for safe schools as a major platform, I now had someone who had first hand experience and knowledge of what schools are facing today.  I appreciate that he was willing to talk to me openly.  But the one thing that I notice he did not talk about, nor do the school systems, and surprisingly, you rarely hear parents talk about, is the parental role in prevention.  I will get to that shortly.  But here is some of the conversation I had with the SRO:

Me:  why not install metal detectors?  They are used in courthouses, and airports.  Clearly they would work in schools preventing weapons from getting inside.

SRO:  Detectors are very valuable in detecting weapons.  But you are probably aware of the length of time it takes to go through detectors at courthouses and airports.  You are talking about thousands of children needing access, in time, to start the school day.  You would have to have students arrived hours before the start of day to get through the entrance.

Me:  One comment I heard on social media, was criticism of the students hiding, and in this case, for basically nothing more than BB guns.  Of course I told the asshole off, clearly not a parent for expecting a reaction to have been different without knowing if a real threat or not.

SRO:  In recent years, the best option considered for active shooter drills have been “run, hide, fight.”  Kids would secure themselves in their classrooms, hopefully out of view of the doorway, out of the risk of being hit by gunfire.  But in all honesty, at this point, the children become sitting ducks when they do this.  If the shooter is in the school, the thing that makes sense is to get out of the school as quickly as possible, away from the shooter.

SRO:  There is a new concept, an option called “ALICE”, which stands for Alert, Lock down, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

It was when the SRO explained to me how ALICE worked that I realized what we have now put our children in a position they do not only not deserve, but should never be put in that position, of being a hero, taking a bullet for another classmate or more.  The philosophy is simple, better to lose one student, than many more.

SRO:  The first three steps that initiate with ALICE are basically the same as run, hide and fight.  But it is when you get to the point after “Inform”, “Counter” that the shit will get real.  Counter means no more hiding, the students keep running.  But someone must make the decision to counter, attack the shooter.  And if it means taking the bullet, to prevent other students from being killed, that student has done a heroic thing.

I could not believe what I heard.  A child, A CHILD, is supposed to make a life and death decision when we do not let them drink or smoke til they are 21, do not let them vote until they are 18, do not let them drive until they are 16… why?  Because they are not mature enough to handle those responsibilities, this guy wants a child to make that snap decision to go after the shooter.  First, even as an adult, any hesitation in a decision like that, will end tragically.  But to expect a child to execute “ALICE?”  Are you fucking kidding me?

To say the conversation was enlightening about assumptions that I had even made how to solve this issue, it is extremely heartbreaking to know that we are now at the point where we expect our children to sacrifice themselves, just because GOD DAMNED ADULTS REFUSE TO DO THEIR FUCKING JOBS AND KEEP OUR KIDS SAFE!!!!!!!!!

I ran out of time to continue our conversation, because it was my next question that probably could have offered a dialogue that could give ideas that have not been tried, and the one source that has NEVER been considered.

Me:  Why don’t we hear about parental involvement when it comes to these events?  I mean after all, there are always plenty of excuses from ignorance, to lack of time (no excuse if you are a parent, you make time for your child).  If this child at my daughters school is hurting, the parents surely need to know something.  And at the least, the parents of this child have failed in enforcing the fact, bringing weapons to school is unacceptable.  Why are parents being held accountable?  As is a possibility in the recent Colorado shooting, bullying and other offenses may have played a role, why are schools still not “zero tolerance” when it comes to bullying.  We have lived over and over and over, events culminating in violence just because bullying was ignored.  We are zero tolerance for weapons, why not for bullying?

SRO:  I really wish we could keep talking.  Your question is so spot on.  But the truth is, as long as there are lawyers willing to fight for the rights of the student and their education, parents would rather pay a lawyer to get their child out of the jam, rather than deal with their inefficiency of their parenting skills.  I know it is harsh, but too many parents have the “not my kid” syndrome.  So until we deal with parents, and making no excuses, because it takes less time to deal with your child, than it takes to make excuses why not, and to deal with the after effects of tragic decisions that get made.

And with that, the SRO left to board his plane, to see his children.  I know many other SRO’s in my life.  And I am very active with my daughters educations.  I am still in communication with the school district that my daughters attend.  It is my hope that some day, we will find that the answers to these school shootings and violence will come from where they start, with the student themselves, possibly at home, possibly at school.  We are wasting time arguing over gun rights and safety, which honestly I do not ever expect that argument to be solved in my lifetime.  The question is, how many more school shootings will there be before something is done.  Sandy Hook should have been the last one.  And we are no closer to solving anything than we were then, or Columbine.  The only difference is, now we are expecting our children to take a bullet, and are children get through their day as getting by without getting shot today.

Why does the record of the US with school shootings stand out compared to those other countries?

Are We Ever Going To Try?


Two headlines today.  One in a town of Pennsylvania.  The other occurred just miles away from the site of another massacre, decades ago.  The difference for me with this post, is one of these headlines affects me personally.  And really, it should not matter which headline it is, neither should have occurred.  But they did.  And as of this post, the Colorado shooting has now left one teenager dead, with 7 wounded.

Like many parents, I got the phone call this afternoon from the school district, announcing that the school that my daughters attend, had been in “lock down.”  Most of us have no idea what is involved in this condition because we do not get to see it, that is, unless you have seen the movie “8th Grade,” or seen it explained during a news telecast.

The recording came with details, that a student clearly between the grades of 7 through 9, was on security camera moving a BB gun into their locker.  Security, unable to determine the type of the weapon, acted swiftly, instituted the lock down, and notified the local police.  The student was apprehended, all students were declared safe, and the lock down was lifted.  It was later discovered that additional weapons had been found during search.  But the bottom line, a major crisis was averted, and even though the weapons may have been of the caliber of a BB gun, the fear and panic that could have resulted, could have resulted in tragedy itself.

In Colorado, the assailants entered the school, deep into the school, eerily it seems similar to Columbine, wounding several, now officially killing one teenager.

This post is NOT about gun control.  We all know that neither side of the argument is not going to go anywhere with that discussion.  The slaughter of children at Sandy Hook we all swore would finally bring us to the point that we had to do something.  And our country failed.  Again and again and again.

I have some experience behind the scenes with the school district that my daughters attend.  I know the efforts that are taken to secure the safety of students.

I campaigned as a school board candidate the year of the Sandy Hook massacre.  That tragedy was actually one issue that all candidates agreed on, that needed to be dealt with, at all costs.  In fact, later that year, the district held a forum to inform the community and families of the efforts the district took to makes sure students were safe.

Personally, at the time, my daughters were in elementary school themselves.  Of several things that I learned while campaigning, attending school board meetings, and attending “safe school” committee meetings, I learned of the evacuation plans, mustering plans, but also something else, that needed to be dealt with immediately, the access to the building at the main entrance.

Many schools today, hopefully all, have electronic entrances, you need to be “buzzed” in once identified, while all other doors remain secured.  The problem with my daughters elementary school at the time, the monitor used to view the person entering, was of such poor quality and small size, the person would have to be admitted pretty much on an honor system.  And by then, our school would have been at a similar risk for tragedy.  This was one of the first things addressed and corrected.  The fact is, the district has taken many more steps to secure our schools and keep the children safe.

The technology worked.  The trained staff acted accordingly with swift response.  Local authorities responded within minutes.  The suspect was apprehended.  Everything worked exactly as it should have, and without tragedy.

Yet even with everything we, as adults know, about the efforts to keep our schools safe, there are still certain students, in spite of methods to intercept weapons, still attempt to bring them into the schools.  And yes, with a BB gun, fatalities may not have been likely, but definitely harm could have been done.  And because our district has done all it can to prevent, plan, and respond, that means the rest falls on one other entity, the parent.

In my years of campaigning for school board, and since, the one thing I hear no conversations about, are what can parents do to prevent events like this.  There is always ridicule about the parents on Facebook or news stories and what they should have done, followed by defenders of those same parents snapping back that we do not know what their home life is like.  And there it is.  The only one who knows what is going on in the home, is the parent.  The parent is the one who needs to be aware if their child is emotionally hurting.  The parent is the one who needs to know about weapons that their child may have access to.  And this final thing should not be that hard to do, the parent needs to explain, on a regular basis, that it is wrong to bring any weapon, toy or real, to school.  The parent needs to explain the consequences for making such a horrible decision.

Yes, parental accountability.  It is the one thing that has not been discussed even 10% as much as gun control is raised with each school shooting.  The districts do what they can to keep our children safe.  Local law enforcement trains to respond to active shooters at schools.  But the only ones having no part in this conversation, are the parents themselves.

And I would encourage every parent to attend a school board meeting, and raise this issue.  As the deputy sheriff in Colorado stated basically that the area and school is low crime, a good place, also known as “won’t happen here town”, it can happen anywhere.  And while my children, along with their classmates followed orders during this lock down, not knowing if it was a life or death situation, I should not have to keep having these “after it happens” conversations just because parents do not want to talk to their kids before it happens.

I am relieved that today was resolved without anyone being hurt.  But my heart aches, for yet another school shooting that did result in injuries and death.  Time for the parents to be a part of the safety plan.

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