Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘mom’

We Will All Become Orphans

Sadly, I have had numerous opportunities over the last year or so to note that there is not a single language on earth that has a word or name for a parent who has lost a child. Words exist to describe a surviving spouse, and of course we have a word in most languages for a child without parents: orphan. The word conjures up Dickensonian images of waifs and wastrels in varying degrees of distress and underdress, under-fed and unloved. In reality, despite the ubiquity of this stereotype, there are many, many ways that one becomes an orphan. Indeed, in a proper order of events, each of us will be orphaned by the loss of a second parent.

It is somewhat amazing to me how many people have lost a parent early in life through abandonment. A mother or a father simply ups and leaves. No forwarding address or email, just gone forever. It hurts just to type those words. What must it feel like to live them? Still others lose a parent for years on end before that parent actually dies. Mental illnesses of all sorts, most commonly the various types of dementia, essentially wipe a loved one’s personhood off the planet long before the empty shell passes on. It’s a rather cruel joke, that, to see what looks like your Mom or Dad sitting across from you like some kind of reasonable facsimile, an avatar perhaps, but not really Mom or Dad. Mourning begins years or decades before anyone sits Shiva.

In the end, though, orphanhood comes for us all, in one way or another. My friend Bill, the surgeon, expresses surprise and a sense of something that is a bit more than frustration, though slightly less than anger, at what he calls the “final reckoning” deathbed visit. Why, he so often wonders, do so many people, so many sons and daughters feel the need to achieve some sort of closure, some sort of final peace in the last waning hours of a life? Mind you, this is a man who practices “live and death” medicine; his point, forged so close to the fire, ought not be missed.

Mothers and fathers are no more or less flawed than any other humans. For most of us their flaws lie cloaked behind the curtains of devotion in our childhood. As we ourselves age, certainly if we become parents, those curtains part and we begin to see more of the whole person who makes up Mom or Dad. Blessed are we who find more to like and love behind those curtains. One hopes at worst that what we find does not dim the glow of childhood memory. Bill’s point, or at least what I think he is saying, is that we should know that orphanhood is inevitable. There is nothing that you can say or do on death’s doorstep that cannot be said or done long before you approach the threshold of your own orphan status. Bill would say that closure is important, that he understands and supports the compulsion to make sure that your parents know that you love them. It’s just the timing he’s wondering about.

Why wait until the cusp of orphanhood? Why not discharge regrets and express your love and gratitude when you and Mom and Dad can might have time to enjoy what comes next? Together.

 

Leaning Home on Mother’s Day (Sunday musings)

On one Sunday each year we celebrate the Hallmark Cards Mother’s Day. My work buddy Ken actually has it closer to the mark when he says that there are actually 363 Mother’s Days, the other two being Father’s Day and Ken’s birthday. While I love that sentiment we all know that a super-majority of mothers actually give a super-majority of their working hours to their kids, either directly or through the prism of worry while they (the mothers) are at work. There’s not much celebration going on there. For all of its gifts, motherhood the vocation is chockablock filled with hard work and worry.

In my day job a large percentage of my peers, especially my younger peers, are women who are also mothers. I have said (and written) that the pressures on these women is infinitely greater than that on those of us who are fathers because of the fundamentally different demands of what constitutes the minimal expected parental involvement of a mother. Heavy stuff. It is especially daunting to attempt to climb a career ladder that is in addition to what must be done just to do a good job each day in the office. To be a physician leader on the national level is to commit to countless days and nights away form home on top of those that are standard fare for a “regular doctor”. Face it, not a single dad in the same situation is ever asked how he feels about the stress of being away from his kids.

Not a single mom goes through a day without having multiple people ask them just that.

Listen, there’s just no easy answer to this dilemma. One need only look at the tragic epiphany Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook had after losing her husband to an accident shortly after her book “Lean In” took every woman who ever worried or wondered about the cost of success to task was published. Ms. Sandberg was adamant that women had no choice but to compete on a level with men. Indeed, that it was their duty, for themselves and for all other women who would follow. She and her book were tone deaf to the realities of life outside the bubble in which every executive/professional was married to a wealthy entrepreneur and had nannies, housekeepers, and cooks. Single mothers, in particular, had trouble finding themselves in her philosophy. One leaned in without a thought to what one might be leaning OUT of.

Ms. Sandberg just published another book, “Plan B”, in which she deals with her grief at losing her husband. To her credit she also revisits her original thesis on what it means to be a mother as well as a woman who has the potential to reach the pinnacle of their respective careers. The pain of her realization of the time she could have spent with her husband and children but didn’t fairly drips off the page. It is truly heartbreaking. Although I was quite frankly repulsed by the arrogance of her first book I can find nothing but the deepest sympathy and sorrow that it took such a loss to open her eyes to what she now realized she’d been missing.

You can only lean in to one thing by leaning out of others. You can have it all I guess, just not all at once.

There is no right or wrong answer here my friends. Certainly no right or wrong answer that I would ever be presumptuous enough to offer, for sure. Only that each of us, mother or father, makes a decision about what it is that we have to do in our own little families. Those of us outside someone else’s family should simply be as understanding as we can possibly be, you know? I wish for Ms. Sandberg sake that she’d been a little more sympathetic before she was tragically forced to be empathetic to those folks who walk in different shoes. For my professional friends I simply wish for a few moments of thought so that they may make a conscious decision about the path they will take; a career will drive away with you if you don’t take the wheel.

Being a Mom is hard work. I’ve not seen anyone in my life work harder than my mother or my darling wife, both of whom stayed home with their children until the school years had passed. They, too, sacrificed, in their cases leaving careers behind, as did my sisters. By leaning out of the traditional workforce their choice was to lean in to their families. Men do that, too, you know, but that’s probably fodder for Father’s Day musings, right?

So for today let us all wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all of the Sheryl Sandbergs out there, to all of my professional colleagues who are trying so hard to balance their professional potential with their desire to be the best moms they can be. Happy Mother’s Day to the moms who spend each hour of their day in the full-time pursuit of the being a mom, looking wistfully at careers that once held so much potential. Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you who wake up each day and go to sleep each night thinking and dreaming and hoping and worrying about your kids. That’s what moms do, no matter what else they also do, right?

Finally, Happy Mother’s Day to my Beth, mother to “The Heir”, “Lovely Daughter”, and “Lil’bingo”. We are the family that we are because you chose to be the mother you are.

The Ghosts of Savannah

Savannah is populated by hundreds, maybe thousands, of ghosts. In truth if we met any  when we visited I either didn’t notice or don’t remember. They, the ghosts that is, are all said to be sad or angry. If Savannah does indeed have ghosts it stands to reason that they ALL aren’t angry or sad, and that got me to thinking about ancestors.

Have you ever examined your heritage? You know, looked at what’s swimming in your gene pool, and where it’s been through history? There’s probably a ton in there, probably a ton of information that is worth knowing. History is awfully cool, a rich and vibrant panorama that can be viewed from any spot and examined in either direction. Your OWN history is like this. You should know your own story.

The entry of grandchildren has focused my attention on our family’s stories. Beth went through hers while she filled in a “My Family” book for the Man Cub. I have my version of that book lying on my nightstand, and I’d better hop to it and fill it in with my Mom’s help the next time we get together. There’s no indication that Mom is planning on joining the brigade of ghosts any time soon, but just the same, she and I should make time to do this.

Some of your own heritage may still be around, their panorama moving ever slower as they spool toward the end of their part of the story. Are they happy? Are they fulfilled? Have they imparted all they, and you, need? If they were to leave this life, if there be ghosts, would they be those quiet, happy types, or the sad angry ones that provide fodder for tour guides “crawling” the haunts of Bogart and his ilk? Time grows short for your living heritage, for them and for you.

If there be ghosts, might you be wise to learn their stories before they cross over?

Sunday musings 6/25/16

Sunday musings…

1) Brexit. Certain to show up in the next “Hangover” sequel.

2) Hangover. Man, who thought THAT was a good idea?

3) Ritz. “I had the feeling you get when exiting a cinema after a matinee, blinking at the light and still half-living in the film.” WSJ on a stay at the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

Lovely writing, that. A bit hard for me to relate, though, since my last matinee was “The Jungle Book” with my 79yo Mom.

4) Sincerity. “The key to life is sincerity, and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” –Robert Steed 1936-2016

Man, how good is that in this election cycle?

5) Edge. Whether or not you know it, or knowing it whether or not you acknowledge it, everyone is always on the lookout for the edge. Everywhere. The edge has lots of names, but by any moniker we all seek it. Our Puritan ethic sends some of us in search of the edge in more, or harder work. Lots of that around here, chez CrossFit. Others of a different ilk seek the edge through shortcuts and work-arounds. Think PED’s and the Olympics, or access to information about a trade or a deal milliseconds before the competition. In some ways, at some times, getting the edge is about coming out on top in a zero-sum game where winning means also not losing.

What’s puzzling is when the edge is freely accessible to everyone, and yet there are legions who either ignore it or actively turn away from it. Think health. There’s some pretty easy stuff out there that will give you the edge, stack the deck in your favor if you will. Yet there are many among us who are militant in their refusal to take their piece of the edge, even when it is freely given and nearly free. You don’t need me to point out the obvious here.

I find myself torn between an intense need to teach those I care about to grab the low-hanging fruit, and an equally intense desire to not be around those who chase an irrelevant 0.01% edge in one domain while giving up10% in another. More and more I find that avoiding the latter gives me an edge.

6) Dad. A long-time columnist in my home town paper writes this morning about making it to his Dad’s bedside for a final hug, just hours before his father passed away. I’ve been thinking about my Dad quite a lot recently. He left us very quickly, his long, slow slide into oblivion interrupted quite unexpectedly and quickly. Only one sister was there. It’s kind of strange, but I find myself missing him more and more, both in the literal sense at gatherings, and the more emotional sense in his just being gone.

We missed him at both of my sons’ weddings, for example, and the space at the table next to my Mom still doesn’t look quite right 9 months on. There are 8 grandsons on my side of the family, and all of them took turns swinging their Gram across the dance floor at last week’s wedding. I found myself looking over at her table, looking for that little twinkle in my Dad’s eye, the one he always got when his wife was happy. Even as his mind betrayed him toward the end, that part of him remained. The part that so loved my Mom that her happiness brought him more joy than pretty much anything else. Alas, no twinkle. Just an empty space and the hint of his shadow.

It’s been 8 years since I’ve swung a golf club. After thousands of rounds in the company of hundreds of very fine people, the game of golf doesn’t owe me anything, and I only rarely give it any thought anymore. That’s why it’s so strange that I’ve found myself dreaming about playing golf. Like every night dreaming about playing golf. I admit that I miss the camaraderie of the game. The tomfoolery on the first tee as you haggle over the bets to come bookending the jackassery in the bar afterward as the lies grow and the round becomes so epic in the re-telling that Harvey Pennick himself couldn’t have made us better golfers. I do miss that, but the playing? For whatever reason, the game itself has left me.

Or so I thought, until the dreams began. It doesn’t take a Freud to figure out that the dreams have little to do with golf, of course. They are about missing Dad. You see, after seeing my Mom happy, it turns out that the next best thing for my Dad was to see his kids happy, and on the golf course we tended to have happiness as we got old enough to care less about our scores and more about our foursomes. Thinking back I recall lots of twinkles in my old man’s eyes in the company of his sons on a golf course.

There’s no real point here, my friends. No teachable moment at the end of these musings. Just an old guy at the stage of life where loss has the edge, missing his Dad and wondering when, or if, that ever gets any easier.
 I’ll see you next week…bingo

#IDon’tCare: A Cranky Old Dude Examines Micro-Issues

Micro-aggressions and micro-insults have created a world awash in micro-constituencies that demand macro attention. That is, the micro-constituencies demand that you pay attention to them. Each one has a public presence that approximates the visibility of a 2016 presidential candidate’s public exposure. They’re everywhere, and they are deeply offended to begin with, and then borderline apoplectic if you don’t pay attention to them. It’s all so tedious, so very tiresome. It’s as if you are not even given the option not to care.

That’s a problem, because by and large, I really don’t. Care, that is.

It doesn’t really matter what the issue is, really. What’s got me in high dungeon today was a huge article on the tragic experiences of “non-Moms”. That’s the name of their group. Non-Moms. Not that it’s tragic that they are not Moms mind you. Oh no, not that at all. Heck, we are probably wired to be uber sympathetic to non-Moms who desperately wish to be Moms. Nope, this group is browned off that folks’ first reaction is sympathetic, and they are demanding that you not only stop doing that, but that you listen to them air how your sympathy is wrecking the great life they have because they’ve chosen not to be a Mom. More than that, it is their inalienable right to have you forced to hear their beef. There’s a website and a Twitter feed and a PR agent placing articles on this most terrible thing being foisted on this unfortunate, micro-oppressed group.

I. Don’t. Care.

The spoken demand is that you pay attention to something you’ve neither caused nor have the ability to fix. Listen, please don’t think I really have a problem with this particular group or their particular issue. I’m not really meaning to pick on them because of their beef; it could have been literally dozens of examples shoved in my face as I read the morning papers. That’s the point, the shoving in my face part. Why do I even have to know these things exist if I am not guilty of even the contemplation of the heinous micro-aggressions at issue? The only thing I’m guilty of is not caring.

There are some real, certifiable big issue things going on in our world today. Things that are so substantial and so real that every one of us candy-ass First Worlders need to think about them. Like, you know, the shortage of feather-friendly sunblock for all those penguins at risk for global-warming associated skin cancer. It’s just getting harder and harder to plow through the barrage of noise coming from aggrievements that even 10 years ago would not have risen to the level of dinner table discussion among loved ones. “Oh honey, I’m so sorry that your hairdresser was complaining about how her daughter wasn’t pregnant again. Pass the Ranch, please.”

It’s time to assert the right not to care. I have no idea where to draw the line of societal magnitude necessary to care about any particular issue, but I have an idea that I can figure it out for myself. The alternative is total capitulation to the whole micro-issue demand thing. Maybe that’s the ticket. Maybe I’m actually going about this entirely wrong, acting like a cranky old man out of touch with the importance of having everyone know how tough someone else has it. Perhaps it’s time I get in line. Maybe it’s time to demand my slice of your attention, to join the legion of the offended.

Coming soon to FB, Twitter, Instagram, and every MSM outlet there is: #IDon’tCare. Don’t even THINK about not paying attention to us.

 

Musings at Christmas on Connecting

‘Tis the season. Home for the  Holidays and all that. Gatherings of all sorts, at home and away, as we make and re-make our connections in one of the best parts of the Christmas Holiday season. We send out a couple hundred Christmas cards every year, and I never tire of seeing the cards from friends and family as they pile up on our “card tree” on the counter. Those annoying notes and letters that accompany the cards? The family pictures? Love ‘em! In Gladwell’s universe my wife and I are “Super-Connectors”; this year I’ve been thinking about how we all connect in our modern world.

1) Twitter. Has there ever been a better example of the power of community interacting with the power of a technology than CrossFit HQ weblebrity  Pat Sherwood, his “Go South” adventure, and Twitter? Calamity or comedic pratfall, there to pick up the pieces were CrossFitters who have never set foot on U.S. soil, let alone Santa Cruz, all connected to Pat via Twitter. That was fun.

Twitter is “instant on/always on”. Kinda like a 140 character postcard from anywhere and everywhere, we take the pulse of our world (and others take our pulse for us). I’ve only made a couple of connections here, but I’m learning.

3) Facebook. Gotta admit, my entry into the world of FB was initially a rather cynical attempt to grow the business at my day job. That lasted precisely one day. That’s how long it took my Facebook page to be discovered by one of my CrossFit friends from the days when CrossFit.com had 1000 comments.

Boy, did THAT work out well for me!

There are all kinds of folks over there on FB who have read something of mine, or who know someone who did. I treasure each one of them. The really cool connections though, are the ones where FB has allowed us to grow what was probably just a handshake at the CrossFit Games or a quick hello at some event, and keep expanding something that would very likely be a nice little friendship if it weren’t for the hundreds of miles between us. Here’s hoping I get to shake a bunch of new hands, for real, in 2014.

4) Email. About 2 years ago I was invited to join this incredible email thread comprised of men like me who had spent some time at a particular tiny college in New England. The tactic used by the guy who launched the thread some 10+ years ago was quite simple: wish one of the guys a Happy Birthday and tell a story about his days in college or shortly thereafter.

Sometimes even tell a true story!

I’d call it a low-rent Facebook for old guys but for two important points: there are no pictures (I have no idea what 95% of the guys look like now), and it is quite private (we all know how that privacy thing is working over in Zuckerburgville, eh?). Not a lot of places for any of us to work through stuff with people who get you at whatever stage of life you might be in at the moment.

I’m connected there.

5) Hugs. ‘Tis the Christmas season in the Christian world. If ever there’s a time we seek to connect this is it. Planes, trains, and automobiles–or if you are Pat Sherwood a motorcycle–we move Heaven and Earth to get ourselves together. Not Facebook or Twitter or Email together, either. Nope, real live, honest to goodness, reach out and touch connecting.

I like to think of it as “hugging distance”.

On Christmas Day I will be in an airport, alone, heading to my ancestral home. Back to the primordial bed. I will leave my little, growing family in order to be with my parents in time for Christmas dinner. My siblings and I have hosted our folks in turn, each of us having the privilege of their presence every 4 years. Now unable to travel, in order for my Mom and Dad to connect, we four must go to them.

If you are very observant you might have noticed a couple of connections missing from my list above. Postal service and phone calls are how the extended Clan White has always communicated. Once upon a time Gram sent each of us a postcard every day. That’s every single day. Four of us. We called and talked on the phone, all of us. We still call and we still talk (you young’uns might have a fleeting knowledge of what that green “call” button on your texting instrument is there for) even though Gram and Gramp don’t really do the cell phone thing.  But the postcards have stopped.

Aged and bent, very nearly (but not yet quite) broken, my parents’ lives have shrunken to the point where nearly all that is left is that most intimate of connections, the one that can only be made by walking through the front door.

This is not one of those wistful “oh I wish” or “oh if only I had” posts. Our lives proceed as they will. As they have. As Rafiki would say “it doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.”  We connect and we disconnect. Sometimes quite deliberately, on purpose, and sometimes quite simply by accident. At any one time, though, we are connected to some someones, and our connections might still include a Mom and a Dad. Anyone who’s been here awhile and read any of my nonsense might remember my post around this time last year; it seemed quite unlikely that I would have another year with my Dad.  I travel on Christmas this year with one part sorrow at the leaving, and two parts surprise and joy at the destination. Against all odds I still have that front door to open, with TWO parents on the other side waiting.

One more time, to my great surprise and delight, “[W]e’re gonna get together then, Dad. We’re gonna have a good time, then.”

Merry Christmas.