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Time was, I would have scoffed at the idea of a Father/Daughter dance. Then, of course, I had a daughter, and when your normally stoic daughter acts excited about the Father Daughter dance, you put on your big boy britches and you go to the Father/Daughter dance.

Granted, my daughter is still in elementary school, so I get off the dancing hook completely. The minute we get there, we’re in the snack line for some punch and chocolate.  Then she’s off in a blur with her friends, leaving me holding her shoes and propping up a back wall for two hours. I can’t complain, though. One of my biggest fears for my daughter going into her new school was that she wouldn’t adjust socially. There’s still a lot of work to be done there, but at least in 1st and 2nd grade, her classmates have been largely accepting of her quirks.  Junior high and high school? We’ll cross those serpent-infested waters when we get to them, I guess.  (Part of me kinda hopes for the collapse of civilization. I’m pretty sure trekking with my family across the wastes in search of food and shelter will be easier than the high school years.)

This is my second trip to our school’s Father/Daughter dance, and I noticed at least a few things:

  • The DJ who manned the boards for last year’s dance, and who played things like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” was thankfully replaced by someone who played much more appropriate music.
  • For all my “sad bastard” music snobbiness, and despite my shelves groaning under the weight of Townes Van Zandt and Leonard Cohen albums, I have to admit that we live in Taylor Swift’s world.  At least if the singalong reactions of the girls at this dance were any indication.
  • I’m still astounded that nearly every girl in the elementary school age bracket knows every single line dance.
  • There’s always that one dad who’s out there by himself, who loves the dance floor, and who is relaxed as all get out. You go, Dad Who Can Actually Dance!
  • There’s nothing freakin’ cuter than a dance floor full of elementary school kids losing their ever-lovin’ minds and pogoing for the duration of “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).

In the end, it was a lot of fun, and I left looking much more festive than when I arrived. My daughter’s OCD impulses kicked in so she started collecting ribbons and streamers from the tables and stuffing them in my pockets.  By the end of the night, I pretty much looked like the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow if he’d gone to Carnival.

“I, too, know the love of a taciturn man.”  — Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, probably echoing my wife’s thoughts most of the time.

We’re about two weeks into my dad’s chemo/radiation regimen and things seem to have settled down a bit.  The first weekend was rough. The treatments must have been a real shock to his body because he was sick from Saturday to Monday.  He couldn’t keep in what little food he was eating, losing two pounds over the weekend, and not getting much sleep, either.

This weekend, after the 2nd treatment, was the complete opposite.  He felt great, had an appetite, and slept uninterrupted for 11 hours.  He really needed that.  I don’t know if they adjusted the dosage, or perhaps his body acclimated a bit. He did have one scary reaction moment in the chemo chair, though, when he said he felt like his body was on fire and it was going to explode.  The nurses converged on him, fiddled with this, unhooked that, added some medicine here, and it was all good. Apparently, it’s a known reaction, although he would have been expected to have it on the first treatment.

I went with him to the first radiation treatment, and it struck me how familiar everyone seemed to be with one another. For all I know, at 7 weeks, my father may be having a shorter treatment, or maybe it’s common for people to come back for subsequent treatments after some time to recover.  At any rate, the room was full of mostly elderly people and their younger relatives acting as handlers/assistants.  Lots of conversations going on, which is the exact opposite of most waiting rooms. Two old men were negotiating a handgun trade when it was determined that one of them had far too much firepower for his current security needs and needed something a little faster on the draw.  Another fellow told tale in which he stumbled over a black snake, ran over it with the lawnmower, got his pistol and shot the pieces, and then buried the pieces separately in the yard so they couldn’t rejoin.  It was a pretty riotous story, if a bit sad for the snake, since black snakes aren’t really known for hurting anyone.

Back home, the whole situation has thrown my family’s naturally stoic nature into stark relief. We tend to figure that if someone needs a visit, they’ll call and ask us to come over. We sure don’t want to bother them.  Plus, I guess we place a lot of trust in the grapevine to get information around.  At the Super Bowl party tonight, none of the menfolk (born into the family) asked about my dad. However, all the women who married into the family wanted to know all about him.  I guess the attitude amongst the men was that if there was anything they needed to know, they would have been told about it.  After being on the “has the information” side of the equation for once, I’m not sure this is the best assumption.  I’m a member of the family, too, after all, so that makes me reluctant to divulge any information that isn’t explicitly asked for.  Over the years, this kind of scenario has probably been why we can barely remember the names of each other’s children.

So we’ll see what the coming weeks hold in store. We’ll try to get him eating healthy foods, and hoping the grind of the treatments doesn’t get him down too much. And I’ll need to remember to keep the family posted on how he’s doing, because they won’t be asking no matter how much they might want to know.

My dad had been feeling poorly for a while, so he finally went to the urgent care clinic in town. They told him he had pneumonia and sent him to the emergency room for admission into the hospital.  Once there, they told him that it also looked like he had lung cancer. I’m pretty sure the doctor at the urgent care clinic knew this, but was just too chicken to bring it up.

So things were very hectic there for a couple of days as they not only tried to beat the pneumonia down with antibiotics, but also scanned Dad to see if the cancer had spread to his brains and bones.  Dad was feeling relatively fine during this time, so there was no real chance of losing him while he was in the hospital, but it was obviously very tense.

My father’s 67 so there were, of course, moments of inappropriate humor. He’s a curmudgeon with bad hearing, and possibly even less concern for how to refer to people when you can’t remember their names. So his nicknames for the nurses, all of whom he liked, might have been sarcastic: one nurse was the “dingbat,” for example, while another was “Mama June” (in reference to the mother from Here Comes Honey Boo Boo).  He didn’t mean anything by it, and Lord knows my grandfather unwittingly said far worse things when he was in the hospital fighting cancer about a decade ago.

Anyway, the good news is that the scans came back to reveal that the cancer had not spread to the brain or bones, and was indeed limited to the lungs.  On the bad side, it’s a very large tumor — about six inches across — so he’s been classified as Stage III-B, which in Dad’s particular case has very excellent chances for shrinking the tumor, but bad odds for longevity (according to the most recent figures, only about 5-10% of patients make it to the 5-year mark).  Obviously, we’re hoping to beat those odds.

Today was the initial consultation at the oncologist’s office.  It’s a bit of a strange place. It tries to be as comforting and laid-back as possible but there are reminders everywhere of the serious work going on there.  The lights are dim and comfortable, the carpet and wall colors are pleasing, and there are inspirational sayings and tapestries everywhere. There’s also a row of wheelchairs over by one wall, and a wig shop across the foyer.  All of the doors are extra-wide, all the better for wheelchairs to pass through. The doctor’s personal office space is really nothing more than a closet with a phone and an Internet connection.  Cancer doesn’t stop, so no need for a real office when you’re hopping from exam room to exam room.

The treatment approach for my dad will be radiation 5 days a week for 6-7 weeks, and chemo every Friday for those same 6-7 weeks. Despite this sounding very brutal, the doctor characterized the dosage as fairly mild, and that he expects Dad to have few side effects from this.  So we’ll see.  You hear stories about how brutal chemo can be — I’ve certainly seen it treat others roughly in the past.  That was years ago, though, and the doctor said that treatments have come a long way in terms of treating the body better and in terms of effectiveness.  Again, we’ll see.

After the appointment, Dad came over to see the kids and my daughter played some piano for him. This is a big step for her; half the time she won’t even practice in front of me, or she’ll tell me “don’t listen” if I’m in the same room. Fair enough. I don’t like practicing my own paltry guitar skills in front of anyone.  And when he left, and she kissed him goodbye, her loose front tooth came out (she’s a vigorous goodbye-kisser).  So while I’ll spend the evening worrying about my dad — thinking ahead about his treatment, wondering how he’s doing at his house by himself after getting all of this news — I’ll also be playing tooth fairy.  Life, thankfully, has a way of keeping you busy.

Seriously. It’s like walking into a fairy mound. You think five minutes have passed, but outside it’s been five years.

My wife came up to me the other day, as she will, and said that I should get back to writing this blog. She said she’d been reading the old entries, and that they’d reminded her of a lot of things she’d forgotten. It may be hard for non-parents to imagine, but all of those cute things your toddlers are doing that you can’t imagine forgetting? You’ll forget quite a few as you adjust to the new quirks that come on a nearly weekly basis.  So write all those cute sayings down, and videotape the crap out of your kids. You can cull later.

So that sounded like a good enough reason to me. I don’t think I had any particular wisdom to impart via this blog (apart from the “there but for the grace of God go I” vibe some folks might get by reading of our attempts to parent), but I do like the time capsule aspect of it. So if anyone else enjoys it, that’s great. But it will at least serve a personal purpose.

Quite a bit’s gone on in the years since the last update.  The kids have grown, injured themselves, healed up quite nicely, developed real and differing personalities, and are turning into good kids.  There’s also stuff going on with the other side of the timeline involving parents and cancer, and I think I’ll be touching on some of that as well.  To clear my head, if nothing else.

So onward…

My son has lived and breathed Star Wars for months now, ever since he first encountered the Lego Star Wars game for the Wii.  He’d never seen the movies. (A situation we’ve since rectified by letting him view the first three.  The original three. The holy trinity of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi that God and Nature intended.)

So for months it’s been Darth Vader, the “Robot that Freezes People” (R2D2), and the “Guy that Walks Slow” (C3PO).  Then my son went to Disney World and met Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers in the flesh. It scared the wits out of him and seemed to scare him straight of any aspirations to become a Sith Lord.

The severity of this might have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t happened right before Christmas.  Suddenly, our son who’d spent months asking for everything Star Wars was opening his presents from Santa and complaining that he didn’t like Star Wars anymore.  We had a quick talk, about graciousness when you’re receiving presents and that he might as well steel himself for more Star Wars presents from his grandparents.

It turned out OK in the end. Most of the presents he got were more cartoonish depictions of the Star Wars universe, and after a little hesitation, my son took to them.  It turned out that he was traumatized only by realistic depictions of Darth Vader.  That’s understandable.  It’s hard to look the devil in the eye.

During my talks with my son, though, I found myself saying things like “Darth Vader was good in the end, so why don’t you just decide that it’s the good Darth Vader. You can like the good Darth Vader and not the bad one” or “Boba Fett’s a mercenary.  Mercenaries can hunt bad guys just like they hunt good guys.”  Essentially, I was telling him that he could create his own Star Wars universe, that he could make it into what he wanted.

It made me think of J.R.R. Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy Stories.”  In that essay, Tolkien laid out a set of conditions by which he thought stories did or didn’t qualify as fairy stories in the classic sense. One of the more interesting ideas in the essay, if I remember correctly, was the idea of Creation: that you could create something that was a fairy story as long as it had consistent rules and logic that the reader could use to suspend disbelief.

So here I was basically telling my son to create his own Star Wars if it kept him liking the game and the movies and the toys.  I gave some thought later as to why it meant so much to me, when I might have just shrugged if he decided he suddenly didn’t like other things. As both of my children have proven, interests can be fickle and fleeting things.

It was Star Wars, though, that helped set me down the path to geekdom (buying a paperback copy of the The Hobbit at a yard sale when I was 12 would seal the deal), and despite all of the affronts that George Lucas has inflicted on the franchise, the Star Wars universe means a lot to me.  And it means a lot to me that my kids at least get the chance to experience imaginary worlds and creations like Middle Earth, Earthsea, the Federation, the Tardis, and so on.  After that, they can certainly make up their minds to roll their eyes everytime their parents start gushing about Firefly or the latest Neil Gaiman book.  But I won’t let a chance encounter at Disney World snuff out my son’s interest before it gets a chance to catch fire on its own.

I suppose, in the end, that my makeshift tactic for talking my son down would be Lucas-approved. He was very much in the Joseph Campbell school when he filmed Star Wars, and Campbell was always a big proponent of myths and legends adapting and evolving and being repurposed to fit new times and cultures.

So crisis averted this time.  My son has a much more relaxed attitude about the whole thing now.  I don’t have any idea what I’ll do, though, if we go to Dragon Con or something and he gets spooked by someone dressed as Gandalf.

Note: I currently have two WordPress blogs that don’t typically overlap, but in this case they do, so I’m posting this entry on both. I don’t know if there’s blog etiquette or standard operating procedure for that sort of thing. I’m just happy to be posting. :)

“Mama said a lot of things and ‘be thankful’
was the one she never minded saying twice.
Thanks to her I can think clear enough
to be thankful that she died before tonight.”
— The Drive-By Truckers, “Ghost to Most”

When I was growing up, I lived next door to my grandparents.  They had friends and relatives over to their house several nights a week to play cards, and the door was always open for any unscheduled visits that anyone wanted to make.  The card games usually consisted of Rummy, but there were the occasional Uno games as well, and at a pretty young age, my grandparents and great aunts and great uncles would let my sister and I play. And heck, sometimes we’d win. Not usually, but sometimes.  When my grandfather wanted to lay the smackdown on you at the card table, he could do it without even trying, his face only occasionally moving past a wry grin. He once caught my teenaged cousins playing poker for money at one of the Christmas trees (we called our family Christmas party the “Christmas tree” — we may be the only people who did such a thing, because I’ve never heard it anywhere else).  He didn’t say anything. He just sat down, started playing, and cleaned them out of every dime they had.

All those folks from the older generation are gone now.  There are one or two left, but none from that core group whose elbows I always seemed perched on, checking out their cards.  My grandmother died after several strokes, while cancer got my grandfather not too much later.  Various faces of old age and disease took the rest.  As a child, I thought they were immortal.  In my mind’s eye, they were never young — I only knew them once the wrinkles started coming in — and they never changed. They were the rock solid foundation of our family.  After I grew up and went off to school, and got busy with my halting and laughable attempts at getting my adult life going with some momentum, it was always comforting to know that they were there.  That they were still going square dancing, that one great uncle was still telling hilarious tales to whoever would listen about his fear of airbags in cars, and that you could count on my grandfather to give you his honest opinion about whatever stupid thing you thinking about doing (He wasn’t a negative person; I genuinely came up with some stupid stuff).

It’s hard not to feel unmoored as a result. My parents are still here, as are their brothers, sisters, and all of my cousins and their children. It was that older generation, though, who made sure we had reunions, Easter egg hunts, and Christmas get-togethers.  It was a generation rooted in tradition, from those regular card games, to my grandfather’s ritual of giving all the boys in the family five bucks and a package of tube socks every Christmas.  Now that they’re gone, the clan doesn’t get together anymore, except at funerals. We tried a reunion recently, and it went well.  We’re a quiet family, though, and my wife was a little startled when we walked into the banquet hall and everyone was just sitting there staring at each other.  That’s just how we roll until the sweet tea starts flowing and loosening everyone up.  Not sure if we’ll have another one, though.  Summer’s rolling around again, and I don’t hear anyone talking about doing it. As it was, I think it was my sister who was the driving force for that last one, and she lives seven hours away, while the rest of us all still here living close to each other.

We’re fortunate in the fact that my wife’s family still maintains some of their old traditions. Her mother and father both died fairly recently, and that has caused some of her family’s traditions to change, but the larger clan still does what it can to maintain some sense of community and continuity.  Plus, we’re able to get our kids downstate on a fairly regular basis to play with their cousins, whom they absolutely adore.

We’re also lucky to have my mother keeping the kids a couple of days a week while we work. There’s the obvious benefit of saving on day care costs, but it also creates some continuity because they’re essentially getting a bit of the same raising that I got (although, apparently, with more ice cream and freezer pops).

Still, it’s sobering to think that in some ways, our kids are being raised not knowing the deep and wide-ranging familial ties that my wife and I grew up with.  I think they’ll turn out fine, but there’s something to be said for realizing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, even if that “something bigger” is an older generation that’s keeping an eye on you and ratting you out to your parents.  I miss that older generation, even though I didn’t see them as much in my later years because, you know, life gets in the way and you’ll make sure to get by there next time until there aren’t any more next times. It’s very unlikely, on my side of the family, that my children will really know many of their relatives. Apart from my male cousins and I getting together for infrequent boys’ nights (where we joke that we don’t even know the names of each other’s children), we just don’t gather.  They’ll fare better on my wife’s side, but that side of the kids’ family tree lives four hours away.

It’s not the kind of thing that would have made my grandparents proud, the way their descendents have pretty much forgotten their shared roots, or even how to communicate with one another. Heck, only about five of us are even on Facebook (if you count my sister running silent under an alias), and I’m the only one who occasionally posts.  So we can’t even lamely say that we at least know what each other is up to.

And it’s not like, if I got off my butt and helped call a yearly gathering of the tribe, that it would help much.  One of the reasons that I got to see so many family members on a regular basis is because we lived next door to my grandparents.  People were always coming by to see them, and us kids would just run around for a few hours getting into God knows what while the adults talked.  There’s not a central location like that anymore.  These days, it sure won’t be our house. We’re loners. So’s everyone else.

Welcome to the family, kids, the nicest bunch of hermits you’ll ever have the chance to maybe meet (at once-a-decade reunions, funerals, and chance meetings at hardware stores).

Wow, 2010 was the last post.  It seems like yesterday, like so many other things involving kids.  The kid count’s still at two — and staying there — and they’re turning into quite the fun pair of oddballs. I’ll be getting back to posting here soon for the two of you that check every once and again.  I’d like to promise a regular schedule to such updates, but that might be a little ambitious at the moment. See you soon!

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