Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Winner!

I suppose the one good thing about a blog like this is it is the place I can tell my stories my own way, because most of the time the outside world will have other priorities.

Spring soccer season is under way. Some late winter storms have been raining out practices and games, but my two soccer players have been very active nonetheless.

Last night, Aidan gathered his U-14 girls team at Franklin Square for the second pre-season practice of this spring. The girls were distracted and excited because they had a dance afterwards.

That wild emotional energy is something their young (17-year-old) coach has a great deal of trouble understanding, but he patiently led them through the drills he'd prepared nonetheless.

It's hard to believe that one of the tallest girls (nearest in the photo above) is his younger sister and my youngest child. She's a stalwart defender on this squad.

And they did fairly well under his direction, despite their distractedness.

Afterwards, he joined his club team for a vigorous practice way across town, in a bitter cold (by San Francisco standards).

This morning, my cellphone rang early with news that the rainstorms sweeping over the city had forced the cancellation of my daughter's game, and therefore freed my coach-son to focus on his own game today.

That game was to be played far to the east and north of here, in Brentwood. A quarter century ago, this was a farming district where we took our older kids to pick fruit.

You can still do that in a few places there, but today it is essentially another sprawling suburb.

"What is this place, Dad?" is all my son could offer as we landed there.

Luckily the hard rain stayed to the west and south as his State Cup game got under way. His team has not played well lately and if they lost today they would be eliminated.

In sports that's called sudden death.

They fell behind 0-2 by the half.

But then the pace of the game changed. Aidan and his teammates stepped up their game and scored first one goal, then a second, to tie it and force the game into overtime.

After two overtime periods, as the skies were darkening and the few of us parents in attendance were shivering and fearing what appeared to be a ferocious oncoming storm, the contest proceeded to penalty kicks.

This is when one player from each team gets a shot all alone at the opposing keeper. After he shoots, an opponent shoots at his keeper. All shots are from point-blank range.

The teams deadlocked over the first seven rounds of PKs,6-6.

That's when Aidan stepped up for his chance. He positioned himself as if he would shoot right and looked straight at the right side of the goal as he approached the ball.

The goalie followed his eyes and his positioning and dove that way while Aidan sliced the ball into the left corner.

With that he won the game for his team.

As a defensive player, he has rarely ever had an opportunity to be the hero, but today he got that chance and he rose to the occasion.

Congratulations, son!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Fight Is On

The largest ship to ever enter San Francisco Bay or any U.S. port, steamed through the Golden Gate late yesterday. It's almost a quarter-mile long and the containers it carries, if stacked end on end, would stretch for 50 miles across land. I tried to glimpse it as I drove around high points last night, but it was cloaked by our relentless fog.

Later, we got some very bad news. Long-time readers will remember the damaging IRS audit that so disrupted my life two years ago. Yesterday, my ex-wife got the news that the IRS is once again, inconceivably, auditing her 2009 tax return.

This, less than a week after she was hospitalized and while she continues to be under ongoing medical evaluation to make sure she will be okay, once her present problems are treated.

Our kids, to their credit, didn't panic at this latest bad turn of news, even though they all remember how much trauma the last audit caused.

For my part, I just tried to reassure everyone that we will come out of this fine. I will fight the IRS once again, and I will prevail.

I cannot express, however, how much these senseless audits have caused me to come to hate my own government. Why us? We've done nothing wrong. I thought that that was proved last time around.

Apparently, being honest, hard-working parents with professions that are not well-paid means you are easy prey for government bureaucrats looking to make an easy buck off helpless victims, as they meet their quotas.

My ex-wife is weakened by illness and stress, and meanwhile I am the one good with numbers. So they may be auditing her, but the IRS is confronting me.

Fuck you, IRS! We'll see who wins this round.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Invisible Ink or How Hope Dies

Now that the dust has settled in what used to be called the "blogosphere," it turns out that only around one percent of us are committed enough to continue blogging over time.

I consider myself an extremely unsuccessful blogger. Most of that is my own fault. I've refused to play by the rules, such as they are. Those rules are to specialize and concentrate on one subject.

Instead, I've yearned to blog about everything that concerns me, from politics to parenting to love to sports to the environment to hope and to hopelessness.

If this particular blog, one of many that I post to, has had any consistent purpose, it has been to work out a way to write my memoir. But, over time, I am moving further away from that goal, not getting closer.

One reason is that by posting here, I am slowly letting off the steam that if I kept it bottled up, might ultimately result in such an ambitious goal being met.

Instead, bit by bit, I let my memories of a life lived slip away here, into the ether, to a tiny audience, for no compensation.

I used to actually collect a small amount of ad revenue from this site, a few hundred dollars a year, but that was lost when one over-zealous fan clicked on the ads on this site from my home ISP address, and Google disqualified me.

That was two years ago, and I can never be reinstated, apparently, even though I had nothing to do with this calamity.

Such is life. It's often, in fact usually unfair.

Today, I met with one set of people who control my fate in another of my blog outlets about whether there might be a way for me to earn more money there.

No, there isn't.

How can I describe the way a writer's spirit starts to die? It's a gradual process. You have to start asking yourself, "why does any of this matter?"

I keep waiting for a brighter day. I have always embraced hope and believed in hope and tried to spread hope.

But tonight I feel a heaviness in my heart.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Witnesses, and Costs

My life is both an open book and a closed book. What I try to tell here, on this blog, is the sharable part. What remains untold cannot be shared without hurting someone else I care about.

Whom I care about is not a changeable item. I'm not like some of the people I've known and become involved with. They will drop one lover for another, move on without regret, cut off all contact, and pretend that that is a viable way to conduct a life.

That is not a viable way to conduct a life, that is a recipe, ultimately, for a sad, lonely end.

I seek another kind of ending, to my story. One filled with as much emotional honesty as can be mustered, where whatever mistakes we made, collectively, those whom I've loved and presumably loved me back, were justified in the totality of our love.

Then again, as I reconsider these matters, there is the very real issue is who was watching as we adults comported ourselves as we did.

And this is where this story becomes very painful. As I look into the lovely eyes of my youngest child, a girl becoming a woman, and consider what I have subjected her to the past, I worry about the people I've introduced into our family, into her reality.

She talks to me all the time about her memories of our life together. She is an artist and a story-teller. Some of the friends, especially women friends, who have been welcomed into our family over the years figure prominently in her memories, which is normal.

But, as is also apparently normal, all of these people have more or less disappeared. When she and I are working on a project for school, they are absent. When she and I are planning an outing, they are absent. When she and I are doing something as simple as going shopping, they are all completely absent and silent.

In the end, apparently, few if any of them actually intend to exist for her going forward.

But that's okay. Because she has, for now, at least, a Dad. A man who sees her and values her and cares for her, which of course will play a big part in her future emotional health.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Family Dynamics

Saturday dawned drier than the two previous days here, when we were drenched by waves of rain sweeping across this peninsula from the Pacific. Most of us, especially my two youngest, say they love the rain, although my daughter was disappointed that her soccer practice had to be cancelled.

There were inches of water standing on the turf; the drains must have become clogged during our long drought this winter.

All three were up yesterday morning, and I was cooking them breakfast, when a phone call from an unknown source came to my cellphone. Their mother was in the emergency room of a local hospital with a very low blood count, just over a third of normal.

A friend, who is also a doctor, had insisted she go to the hospital after noticing that she wasn't looking well and had no energy. Thus began a long, long day of confusion, occasional updates from the ER, worry, and coping methods employed by the kids.

From the onset, I was assured by my ex-wife (in her original voice mail), and later by her doctor friend, and later still by her boyfriend) that this was not a life-threatening emergency, but a medical situation that should be able to be handled by a series of blood transfusions.

As information came in, I updated the kids, always trying to present the information in the calmest, most reassuring manner possible.

But this was their mother -- a woman in such excellent physical shape that she almost never has been sick over 29 years I have known her, let alone lying in the ER.

Meanwhile, what was going through my own mind were the memories of meeting her, long ago, right here in San Francisco. How the very first time I laid eyes on her, she was surrounded by three younger (than me) men, vying for her attention.

She was stunning, I admitted to myself, before proceeding to my office, and marveling about how obvious most men are (or at least were, in that era) about their interest in a woman.

It was six years later, before I started admitting to myself that I'd fallen under her spell, as well. By then, a whole lifetime of pressures, worries, excitements, mistakes, confusions, and twists and turns had led me out of a long and happy and stable marriage into a stupor.

What I mean by stupor is stasis. What I mean by stasis is poetry. What I mean by poetry is the realization, at some point in our strange lives, that we have to live it line by line, never knowing whether there shall be even one more tomorrow.

I was lost in a cloud of selfish reflection, out on my own, knowing that by being in this state I was hurting those I treasured most and yet unable to stop myself.

Other people put names on these kinds of experiences. They call them "mid-life crises."

I'd prefer to call them nightmares.

And yet, for me, there was an angel who appeared in my nightmare; an angel I fell in love with, in line with Western romantic theory, in of all places, Paris.

Yes, Paris.


Now that same woman, whom I'd married in 1992, lay sick with an ambiguous condition in a hospital across town. Our marriage had barely survived a decade; our divorce didn't finalize until most of another decade later.

I never once, during the time I was with her or the many years since, envisioned a scenario under which I would survive her as our kids' only parent. She is a few months less than eight ears younger than I am; her parents are in their 80s; her grandfather lived damn near 100, etc.

But yesterday, for the first time, I had to look in the mirror and say to myself: "Are you sure you have a backup plan?"

Because I am the father of three teenagers, 13, 15, and 17. As anyone who reads this sad little blog or knows me personally is well aware, they sit at the epicenter of my universe. I would gladly die at any time if it meant they would live, and I'm sure every parent feels as I do.

I've had a good run. It's their turn. Meanwhile, as their dad, there is a lot of work to do, a lot of logistical work, and as we worried about their mom yesterday, I continued to do it.

My 15-year-old had a plan to hang out with his friends, so I drove him to Bernal so he could do that. He said he would have his phone on and that it was fully charged and I should tell him if he could visit the hospital.

My 13-year-old turned to her science project, which under other circumstances might have been ignored. I took her to Office Depot, where we purchased colored paper and rubber cement. (She had to prepare a poster about her recent experiment bending water by rubbing a balloon with one of my wool socks, therefore generating static electricity.)

Through all of this, the oldest, who is 17, stayed very silent. I tried to keep my eye on him, trying to sense what was going on.

I tried to get through to my ex-wife at the ER, but the hospital has a strict privacy policy and refused to allow me any contact. Meanwhile, her boyfriend was trying to actually get there in person, and called me to say that an idiotic, drunken St. Patrick's Day parade had essentially bifurcated the city -- to the point that no one on our side (the southwest) could make it to where her hospital was located (on the northeast side.)

Eventually, after hours, he made it there, and called me again from outside where she was being treated. "She's going to be fine. But it's going to take some hours to get her the transfusions, so maybe the kids can visit later on today."

After more back and forth, including emails and calls to key friends and family members, alerting them to the situation, I realized that the logistics were going to become quite complicated by late afternoon, when my 17-year-old had a soccer game in the extreme southwestern corner of the city.

As my daughter continued to work furiously on her science poster, periodically throwing her hands up in frustration at one problem or another, and my 15-year-old texted me asking for updates, and my wife's boyfriend, sister and friend texted or called me with or for updates, my 17-year-old son's fury was growing.

He had been lying almost comatose on the couch, under a blanket, ostensibly playing a video game and watching a movie for hours, when I gently reminded him it was time to start getting dressed for his game.

Over the next 15 minutes, he started throwing things around the room angrily. Nothing big or dangerous, nothing that could hurt anyone. Just random items like socks, shin guards, shirts, anything that he could use to express his ineffable frustration and stress.

I just stayed silent and allowed him to express all of the toxic bundle of emotions that had been coursing through his body and mind since he first learned his mother was ill.

Once he gathered himself to be dressed for the game and we exited the apartment, he finally started to speak. "I should have seen this coming. She has been looking so weak lately, and she never eats enough food. I'm trained as an EMT, I should have known that she was in so much trouble."

Although I knew my words would offer little comfort, I assured him that none of us could have known what she had kept private over the past few weeks. All we had were clues, very scant clues, and the internal workings of the human body are mysterious in any event.

"It is not your fault!" I finally asserted.

At this precise moment, as we were making our way through traffic to Crocker-Amazon, I once again located the real reason I love encouraging kids to play sports. Because next to me in my car was a young man who badly needed a productive outlet for his pent-up emotions, especially at a time like this.

It's times like these that allow us to glimpse deeper inside ourselves, and at least catch a fleeting sense of who we really are and what our lives may be about. Most of the time, we are too busy, too distracted, and too self-pitying, if I may say so, to grasp the larger picture.

And, of course, in the common narrative, the common wisdom, teens are the most selfish of all people, but I beg to disagree.

I do not believe that that is true. I think that in fact teens are the most sensitive of all people, based on the terrible stage of life they are forced to endure.

Many of the behaviors they exhibit, and the rest of us feel so free to blithely critique, result directly from the pain they feel by having reached the peak of the human reproductive cycle, thanks to evolution.

My son was an angry young man when I dropped him at the pitch, so much so I mentioned to his coach that if he saw anything untoward out there, he should pull him from the game.

What was worrying me was that he might use his size, strength, agility and speed to take his angst out on an opposing player, but once again, I had so under-estimated him. And that, of course, is another of a parent's curse.

As the contest proceeded, he looked relaxed and was clearly playing brilliantly, not with anger but with focus. It was then I realized what I should have known all along -- soccer is an emotional outlet for him.

He doesn't have to take his pain out on anyone else, he just has to express himself -- like a poet, like a dancer, like any of us!

As I watched, wrapped in two warm coats, a hat, and gloves against a fierce wind, sipping hot chocolate, I was grateful to the game and his coaches, over the years. Being the oldest child is not always easy, but to him, playing soccer is.

He was brilliant, and that's one of the reasons his team won, 3-1.

Afterwards, he wanted to see his mom. As did his younger brother. Her BF drove them to the hospital, where they sat by her side, with all of the tubes running into and out of her body, as doctors slowly boosted her blood level to slightly more than 50 percent of the normal level, which was the maximum they could do at that point.

After more rounds of evaluation and tests, she was released late last night and allowed to go home. Her BF drove her and my sons to my house to pick up our youngest, who was still polishing off her science poster.

(We had decided it would be too scary for her to see her mother in that condition; thus the decision to have her stay here with me.)

"I wanted to see you so much, Mom, all day!" she said as she entered the car, starting their conversation. My 17-year-old stepped out and gave me a hug. My 15-year-old, the middle child, and the great silent one, emerged as well.

"I love you, Dad." And then he kissed me goodnight, first one of those I've had from a son in years.