My Dad: A Photo Study

Just study this picture, and you will know most of what you need to know about my dad.

  • Loves music? Check!
  • Beatles fan? Check!
  • Still reads paper magazines? Check!
  • Needs glasses to read those paper magazines? Check!
  • No way he’s cutting the dish/cable apparatus? Check!
  • Need to know the temperature because he’s old? Check!
  • Yet still uses earbuds for his iPod (yes, an actual iPod)? Check!

Yep, this is him. Very much surrounded by what he loves. And very much set in his ways.

And I love him everyday for it.

Our Unifying Force

A couple of weeks ago, the trailer for the latest Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, was released. Several co-workers gathered in our conference room and watched it multiple times on the Surface Hub.

It was a shared experience between lovers of this movie saga. We dissected the meanings behind the dialogue, commented on the music, spoke about how awesome December was going to be when the movie is actually released. It was fun. It was enjoyable. Like I said, a shared experience.

But when I got home, I realized that this unifying experience was not limited to our conference room. Twitter was alive with the buzz of the trailer. People from every walk of life: Geeks, Politicians, Sports Writers, Tech CEOs, Software developers, Literary Writers. The whole gamut was represented in the “audience” of Star Wars fans.

It occurred to me at that moment, that Star Wars is THE unifying force (pun *not* intended) in our current climate. With so much divisiveness present in our collective society, this one movie franchise seems to have the power to bring us all together.

I wonder if George Lucas ever dreamt that would be the case way back when this story was forming in his mind.

Editorial Note: Despite the tragedies that are the prequels, he should be very, very proud.

Hope, by any other name

Day in and day out is a struggle. Work. Kids. Family. Relationships that run through all facets of my life. Soccer practice. Managing. Coding. Speaking. Not sleeping well.

It gets overwhelming. Most days end with utter exhaustion. Some end with anger. Some end with laughter. Some end with emptiness. Some end with joy. And some even end with the feeling that no matter how hard you try, there’s always something waiting to drag you down.
Then, there is a moment that warms your heart like no other. It makes you realize why you push through all of that stuff above. One of those moments happened to me last night. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Caroline had soccer practice yesterday evening. I had been in meetings all day. Struggling against the idea that I’m getting nothing done. Feeling inadequate, to be perfectly honest, on many levels.

It’s about 9:30pm. Brian’s tucked in, he’s down for the night. And Caroline walks out to tell me she’s ready for bed. Her hair is wet as I hug and kiss her goodnight. She loves taking baths after dinner these days. And as I turn to go, I see her start to climb the stairs to her bed. She’s holding something in her other hand.

Clutched in her left hand is her doll. Not just any doll. The only doll. One that she affectionately calls “Baby” because she didn’t know any better name when she received it when she was less than a year old. That doll has been through everything with her. Moves. Fights with friends. Sicknesses. Sleepovers. Family trips. Everything.

She climbed that ladder, “Baby” in tow, without any fanfare at all. It was simply part of her routine. Part of her. Maybe she’s done this night after night and I just haven’t noticed it. But I noticed it last night.

And I realized something. Deep down, underneath all of the sass and attitude and facade of wanting to be cool and accepted that comes with pending teenage-dom, she’s still my baby girl. And she still has some of that innocence left. Yes, it will eventually fade with time, even though I wish it’d stay forever. But it’s still there right now. And that makes me unbelievably happy.

I needed that moment.

More than I realized.

Loss

“See you this afternoon,” he yelled as he walked out to the garage.

“Have a good day, sweetie!” She smiled as she rolled over to get that extra 20 minutes of rest.

How many times have you done this with your wife? Your husband? Your kids? Your girlfriend/boyfriend?

A lot.

Let’s not kid ourselves. A lot a lot.

We walk out the door, knowing in the back of our mind it could be our last. But to stay sane, we keep it stored WAY, WAY in the back. Because we want to believe that we are immune to the bizarre happenings of the universe. We expect to be back soon. We want to be back soon.

But what if you never made it back? Or even worse, what if they never made it back?

I watched a 2013 episode of Netflix’s show Black Mirror. Entitled “Be Right Back”, a young couple have moved to the English countryside to finally start their life together. Wanting to start a family. A routine trip to the store for Ash turns into a nightmare for Martha. He never returns. A policeman knocks on the door the next day and she must deal with the fact that he is gone, and won’t be coming back.

She’s left in a state of confusion. A state of denial. A state of being directionless. She can’t move. Because she doesn’t know how to move in such grief. She is without him. Left in a void of his absence.

Trying to help, a friend of hers recommends a service, a new, somewhat secret service. It claims to let a user connect with their lost loved one by scouring the dead individual’s social feeds, photos, emails, etc. Anything that they left behind in the digital world. It combines these together to make a “profile” that will, effectively, interact with the user.

Desperate, she signs up. And waits.

Until her computer dings one night. It’s “him”.

She begins to chat with him in text. All night. And over the next couple of days, texts turn into phone calls. (Apparently, the service can replicate personality through voice as well.) She is connecting with her love again. She goes on walks while talking to him. Lays in bed talking to him. Runs errands talking to him. Paints while she talks to him.

She is falling in love with him again. All of the grief, all of the heartache, all of the pain, she pushes down. Because he’s there.

Having hooked Martha, the company takes it one step further and offers her an experimental service. They offer her the ability to “recreate” Ash so that he is (seemingly) a real, live person. (This is where you must simply accept the sci-fi reality aspect of the story, and go with it.) 

Again, wanting to be with him so badly, she says yes. The package arrives and she follows the instructions. And waits. (The details of how this happens are weird, but ultimately don’t matter to the story.)

She is absolutely startled later that night when her dead husband is standing in front of her at the base of the staircase. Whole. Real. Tangible. She can touch him. Speak to him. Kiss him. Hug him.

She realizes very quickly that feeling of being whole again.

For days and days, she explores life again with him next to her. Walks. Talks. Laughter. Romance. Sex.

And everything seems perfect. She has her Ash back. He’s there with her. Life is moving forward again.

Except…

It’s not him. She notices the small things at first, but brushes them aside. She has the good again. Why would she do anything to spoil that? Over time though, they become hard to ignore. And they start to weigh on her as days turn into weeks.

She begins to realize that he doesn’t act or react exactly like Ash did.
His personality is not exactly like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly kiss like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly laugh like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly make love like Ash.
He doesn’t exactly smile like Ash.
He doesn’t love her exactly like Ash did.

He is different. So many things are the same. But they are not exactly the same. It’s an uncanny valley situation at the most personal level.

I’ve spoiled much of the episode here, but I’ll save what she does about this situation for the episode itself. It’s a really good 44 minutes of television, and I recommend you watch it.

But it does challenge you to bring the central question back to a very personal place. And it’s a question that I couldn’t answer right off the bat. Even months after watching this episode for the first time, it still haunts me to some degree. Here’s the question:

Would you (or could you) live with a version of someone (especially someone as close as a spouse or a girlfriend/boyfriend), even if you know it’s not actually them?

Could you do that?

Loss is a terrible, heart-wrenching thing. It makes you question so many things in your own life. So many personal things. Things you share with only a few in your entire lifetime. Knowing there was a time where that person was such a part of you that you believed you could never live without them. And now, you’ve been forced to live without them. Sometimes, very suddenly. Very abruptly.

Yet, at the same time, you’ve been given the unbelievably unique opportunity to bring them back, so to speak.

Would you do it?

You already know that this “person” is not yours. They are NOT the person you knew. Intellectually, you know that. But all of your real-world senses tell you that they are. And yet, they’re not. Not exactly.

Is the opportunity to have 97% of your loved one back worth the idea that 3% of them will not be them?

It’s a tough question. A tough couple of questions. I will say that, for me…

I don’t know that I, personally, could accept that.

The hubris inside me says I could handle it. I would get over it. I would make it work. Because, like Martha, I want it to be true. I want it to work. But the logical part of me fires back. “No, Lee, just no. That’s not [person’s name]. They will never be them. No matter how much you want them to be.”

I would also imagine that the answer may change from day to day. After all, some days you may feel strong and confident that you are moving on and living your life despite the terrible loss. And other days, you may swim in the sorrow of that loss. Your heart is broken, and you don’t know that you’ll ever get over it. You are missing part of yourself.

And then there are all of the days in between.

In the end, I’m left with the following personal truth. If this “new” person is not going to be the person I loved, if that person is not going to be the person i opened my heart to, and I know it will never be that person, I don’t think I could do it. Because they won’t be my version of that person. I would never have fallen in love with this “new” version. And they would never have fallen in live with me. It’s fake. It’s not real. It’s a lie.

One thing i know very definitively about myself is this: If I can’t have the real thing, I don’t want a substitute. Those two “people”, or versions, are NOT the same. And they never will be. Ever.

I want the real.
I want my real.

What’s in a word?

Brian asked me a question this evening that I didn’t quite know how to answer:

“Why is using the word ‘fuck’ so bad?”

Hmmm, ok.

Let’s see.

I could explain the idea of social norms to him. We could talk about “polite society” and why it’s not “proper” to use “bad” words in public. And let that be the end of it.

I could do all of that.

But I wouldn’t be answering his actual question. His question was “Why?”

So I started thinking…

Why is using the word ‘shit’ any worse than ‘crap’ any worse than ‘bad’?

“That statement is bullshit.”
“That statement is crap.”
“That statement is bad.”

The last one is fine. The first one is not so. And yet, all three of them are simply syllables that form words. Why are they any different?

The real difference is the meaning to which we give these words. It is a tangible example of how we define ourselves as a (collective) people. As well as who we are as individuals. How we have agreed to live and communicate.

If we deem the word ‘shit’ as bad, then we have all agreed that its usage is discouraged because of its “bad”-ness.

The best example I can think of is the use of the word ‘nigger’. In the worst usage, it is a (terrible) slur against African Americans and, really, any people of color. But think about it this way. It’s only a slur when used in a certain context by a certain group of people.

If that word is used by a certain homogeneous group of like-minded individuals, its usage is not considered bad or hurtful. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

“What up, my nigger?” is something that I have heard by (African American) friends addressing each other. Its usage denotes a sense of oneness, a togetherness, that is shared by those individuals within that group. It’s used in a loving manner, not a hateful one. It’s accepted. And it’s accepted because those within that group have agreed that its usage with one another is acceptable.

Conversely, when used in an entirely different homogeneous group of like-minded individuals (let’s use the KKK as an example here), its usage denotes a sense of hatred and revulsion. And it’s for the same reason. The individuals within that group have all agreed and accepted the fact that the word means something “bad”.

A less polarizing example would be the word ‘love’. We all understand that the use of the word ‘love’ denotes a deeper connection, a deeper sentiment than the use of the word ‘like’. Why? They’re just words, right? But they mean what they mean because we have given them that meaning.

So what did I end up telling Brian about using the word ‘fuck’?

I told him that we, as a group of people, as a society, have determined that the word ‘fuck’ is not to be used in public. It is impolite in an improper context.

And why?

Basically, because WE said so.

The American President (1995)

The American President (1995)

Tomorrow morning the White House is sending a bill to Congress for it’s consideration. It’s White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a twenty percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I’m throwing it out. I’m throwing it out and writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and hand guns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I’m gonna convince Americans that I’m right, and I’m gonna get the guns.

I can’t even imagine a president being able to say something like this now. This movie was released in 1995, made in 1994, and probably written years earlier. Our country has (fundamentally) changed. We don’t believe in common sense anymore. We don’t even believe in facts anymore. Everything is so unbelievably partisan.

The last scene in the movie shows President Shepherd walking into the House of Representatives chamber prepared to deliver the State of the Union. I can’t imagine Donald Trump walking into that chamber. I can’t imagine him standing in front of Congress, and giving us (the American people) an update on the state of our country. Not from someone who views his presidency as a gameshow.

We (collectively) are lost.

‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’

‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’
by Garrett M. Graff
September 09, 2016

A wonderful recounting of one of the worst days in our nation’s history, told from a variety of perspectives. A true must-read…

A few thoughts I had while reading:

  • This is President George W. Bush’s chief of staff Andy Card:

    “I really think President Bush—I know President Bush took office on January 20, 2001—but the responsibility of being president became a reality when I whispered in his ear. I honestly believe as he contemplated what I said, I took an oath. Preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. It’s not cutting taxes, it’s not No Child Left Behind, it’s not immigration, it’s the oath. When you pick a president, you want to pick a president who can handle the unexpected. This was the unexpected. That’s what the president was wrestling with that day. He recognized the cold reality of his responsibilities.”

    I can’t imagine Trump being a serious person. Not in the way that is needed to be the president. I just cannot. Believe me, my views of W. are easily noted as not being favorable, but I can absolutely see him as a serious man. I will miss that come late January. I am truly fearful of this.

  • As someone who loves (and prefers) wearing jeans, I do love this rule that Bush had for the White House:

    “Karen Hughes, communications director, White House: September 10th was my anniversary, so I had stayed back in Washington. I was scheduled to do a Habitat for Humanity event with [Secretary of Housing and Urban Development] Mel Martinez that required us to wear blue jeans. President Bush didn’t allow blue jeans in the West Wing, so I’d just planned to spend the morning at home.”

  • This is presidential:

    “[In 2011], the very first telephone call that President [Barack] Obama made after we were sure we’d killed Osama bin Laden was to President [George W.] Bush. President Obama knew that I’d been with him on 9/11, and so he asked me to fly down to Dallas after the raid to brief President Bush personally. I went down about two weeks later and walked President Bush through every aspect of the raid. I thought I could see in his face some sense of closure.”