One of my favorite movies is Defending Your Life starring, written, and directed by Albert Brooks. It’s about a man who dies on his birthday and wakes up in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area where he must justify his life in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. It’s warm and funny and will keep you examining your own life for a very long time.
My son Jeremy loves this movie as much as I do and today is his birthday.
On my birthday 17 years ago, shortly before he died, my dad told me he couldn’t believe he had a son who was 50. I know the feeling.
Jeremy was born 42 years ago today. Like all loving parents at this age I understand that he’s an adult with a family of his own and our relationship has grown with us. But like all parents, in my heart he will always be my little boy.
You have to be careful about that when you talk to a middle-aged child. Occasionally I still have to stop myself from calling him, “Kiddo”.
I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeremy and me. Many fine words have been written about ideal father-son relationships and the bonds of love that can’t be described. I have nothing to add. We know how we feel and how we’ve enriched and informed each other’s lives.
I will say this, however:
I am a far better person for his existence than I would be without his love, influence and instruction.
Parenting is a two-way street. You get as much as you give; you learn at least as much as you teach, probably more.
If you’re happy with who you are today you can thank your children in large measure.
When I arrive in Judgment City I will point fearlessly to my boy and testify, “This man is my justification for everything.”
I don’t remember when I first realized that I was never going to be special. I don’t mean as a person. I’m a good guy and I’m proud of that but when we’re very young we imagine a world of glory and achievements just waiting for us to arrive and pick them up as fate has arranged.
As kids we’re told we can be anything we want to be. It’s a lovely lie.
I wanted to be a major league baseball star. I daydreamed about it for years and played the game joyously. I was good, too. I could hit the ball a mile but at some point I suddenly understood that hitting World Series winning home runs would always happen only in my imagination because I could never be good enough to play center field for the Giants.
The seed of doubt was planted in me early. Fourteen or fifteen, maybe.
I wanted to be a professional actor and as a young adult some pretty knowledgeable people told me I was good enough to get better and succeed. I’m still not sure what stopped me from trying. Fear of failure, I guess. Though, my wife, the lovely and feisty Carolann Conley-Williams, says I actually fear success. It’s an interesting possibility.
And that’s where I am now: 67 years old, most of my futures behind me and sometimes still wondering why I’ve carried self doubt with me through a lifetime.
I’ve had a very good radio career. I’ve worked morning shows in major markets and learned my craft as well as anyone in the business. I say that with expert objectivity. I’m very good but I’m not great.
I can write but I don’t. I want to but I don’t burn for it. Writers always say they write for their own satisfaction but I think that’s a nifty bit of self deception. What’s the point in writing if lots of other people don’t read your work and love it?
Writing is hard, lonely work fraught with doubt.
I describe myself in social media as, “Happy husband, proud dad and grandpa, unrepentant underachiever.” I wrote it to be charmingly humble but it has suddenly dawned on me that it’s true. I am an underachiever in one sense but I love my life, every bit of it. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not one instant.
Pushing 70 I’m beginning to understand that finding glory in one’s ordinariness can be a deeply satisfying thing.
My old friend, doubt, brought me here.
Pictures courtesy of the free online photo share source, Unsplash.com.
I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully. Mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.
– Anita Garner
My friend Anita wrote those words in her blog earlier this week and it made me think about my own upbringing.
My parents taught me small things about washing dishes and how to work a slingshot. Mom taught me to scrub my face with Phisohex to wipe away teenaged pimples. Dad taught me to stand up straight and look a man in the eyes when I shook his hand.
Neither of them talked to me about girls or careers and retirement. I didn’t even get the birds and the bees talk.
There was no talk, not one speck of advice about fulfillment, about health, about work, about relationships, about how all of that changes through the years. – Anita
My parents, like Anita’s, left me to learn the deep, quiet lessons of life in my own good time. They taught me to be honest and respectful and that was pretty much it. Matters of my future and relationships were not theirs to teach.
These days parents seem to be much more hands-on. They plan their kids’ lives from sunup to sundown, from birth to college and beyond.
For all the stuff we read about helicopter parents and everyone-gets-a-trophy I don’t think parents today are doing anything wrong. It’s not mine to judge. The world seems much more complicated now than it was 60 years ago, though I don’t understand why.
I do wish my grandsons could spend their free afternoons building forts in open fields with no grownups around. I wish they could ride their bikes home at sundown dirty, sweaty and wearing a freshly scabbed knee and simply be told to go wash up for dinner.
Today I somehow wound up Internet surfing upcoming concerts and live theater events in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Here’s a short list of shows I would enjoy seeing but will not:
1. ELTON JOHN’S FAREWELL TOUR – Cheap seats, $282 each. (In a basketball arena that seats 21,000.)
2. PAUL MCCARTNEY – Cheap seats, $82 each. (Third deck of a 50,000 seat MLB stadium.)
3, The Broadway tour of HAMILTON – Cheap seats, $345 each. (For that price CarolAnn and I can fly round-trip to California and spend a week with our kids.)
As a self-conscious old fart I figured that I’m just way out of touch with the cost of living these days. So, I did some quick Google work on cost of living comparisons and here’s what I found:
— When I was a teenager in the late 1960s the Rolling Stones played the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. Ticket prices were $2.75 (including a Homecoming Queen Contest). In today’s dollars that’s just shy of $16.00, not the $282 and up for nosebleed seats to see Elton John.
— In 1966 The Beatles played their last-ever live concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Tickets were $4.50 – $6.50. Paying $82 next year to see McCartney in a baseball stadium is a price increase of 551.77% and that’s just for one Beatle, not all four.
— Broadway tickets prices for Orchestra seats were $15 in 1970. That would be roughly $94 now, not the $345 they want for a seat that would require me to carry a telescope to see Hamilton.
Look, I believe in capitalism. If people are willing to pay these prices for two or three hours of big show entertainment who am I to protest?
I’m just kicking myself for skipping that Stones show.
You ever notice that people who have a cold almost always beef it up a bit with paralyzing adjectives that make it sound like an exceptionally bad cold, not just a “common cold”?
This cold of mine is the worst cold in the history of colds. Trust me.
Thirty years ago when I was still young, eternal and bullet proof I just ignored any illness that didn’t force me into a hospital. A cold? Flu? Please. It will go away no matter what I do or don’t do. That was my attitude then and it was proven correct time and again.
I spent a lot of my 1980s evenings in a Northern California honky tonk wearing boots and hat and sucking on beer bottles, smoking Marlboros, chatting up the ladies and laughing with my friends.
Don’t go getting all judgmental on me, it was a different time and socially acceptable. To say nothing of hella fun.
In those days I learned that if I caught a wicked cold I could stay home, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and I would gradually recover within a week or two. On the other hand, if I went out and smoked, drank, danced and laughed as usual it would take seven to 14 days for me to regain normal health, such as it was.
I don’t live like that anymore, I’m too old, and I don’t recommend it because it’s not socially acceptable these days. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure:
Dancing and drinking and smoking cigarettes with a cold made the time pass much more quickly than shivering on the couch alone and feeling sorry for myself.
We didn’t have Facebook or Snap Chat or Twitter in those days. Whining about a cold had to be done in person and your real life friends helped you get over yourself.
She must have been about ten, maybe a little younger. Holding her daddy’s hand she walked solemnly down Main Street next to me, surrounded by hundreds of other people, all headed toward the exit.
Bright colors fired both sides of the street; joyous music came from nowhere and yet everywhere. Imagineered snow flakes floated in the air all around us.
We all wore silly grins for no reason at all except that we were together, ageless and happy.
The little girl’s daddy leaned over and said, “Isn’t it pretty? It looks just like real snow, doesn’t it?”
Her reply was succinct, matter-of-fact and grown up:
“I think I’ve had enough.”
“The important thing is the family. If you can keep the family together — that’s what we hope to do.” – Walt Disney
CarolAnn and I celebrated our 30th anniversary at Disney World in Orlando this past week. For all the technological magic and excitement we found everywhere we looked our greatest pleasure was watching young families and remembering our own.
The small moments that bring families closer together work their magic on everyone nearby. We love being collateral beneficiaries of joy and sharing with each other the children we still are at heart.
“A dream is a wish your heart makes…”
Hang the expense, it’s worth every penny and more.
Half the registered voters in Texas voted early this year. When I got to my polling place on time today, Election Day, I felt ashamed for being late.
I’m just kidding about that. Everybody in the place was all smiles: poll volunteers, voters, kids tagging along to get a whiff of democracy.
I still like voting on election day. This morning it was in the neighborhood fire station. Last time I went into a school cafeteria. Often I’ve met my neighbors voting in a garage down the street. Garage voting is neat. It smells a little like bicycle tires and sometimes they have a dog I can pet while I’m waiting in line. Sometimes they have free coffee and if you get there early enough, maybe even some doughnuts.
That seems like real grass roots American democracy to me.
Voting early and by mail is convenient but I don’t want to vote from home. It makes me sad to think that before long we’ll all be voting with our smartphones. We will, you’ll see.
I think we should spend more time with our neighbors, shaking hands and introducing ourselves, smiling and feeling good about being there.
In Texas fall teases you like a puppy. It yaps at you, snaps playfully at your fingers and then darts away to plan another surprise attack.
I wore a sweatshirt last week. Today it will be 80. Tomorrow could bring snow. It’s the wonder of Texas weather that I love because I don’t like predictability.
Life itself is unpredictable and that’s how it should be, even and maybe especially life’s tragedies.
A man arises before dawn, showers, shaves, kisses his slumbering wife and kids goodbye and then he leaves home and dies.
I don’t mean to be morose. It’s just the unpredictable nature of life.
On my early morning radio news shows I’ve told these stories daily for decades. We get used to them, both in the telling and the hearing because the stories are framed in frigid cop talk, in matter-of-fact terms detached from emotion and personal reality.
“Dallas police responded to a fatal head-on crash early this morning. Officials say a wrong-way driver slammed into a late model Toyota southbound on I-75 near Walnut Hill. The driver of the Toyota died at the scene.
We don’t even learn his name.
Let’s see how that’s affecting traffic: live with Traffic on the Fives, here’s Bill Jackson…”
Bill explains that emergency vehicles have the wreck confined to the divider with officers directing a ten minute slowdown into the right two lanes.
“Meanwhile, inbound on the Dallas North Tollway there’s a slowdown at Northwest Highway…”
The Toyota driver’s wife and kids are still sleeping as a hundred thousand commuters deal with a traffic jam.
The family will probably be wolfing down breakfast on hurried schedules when the knock comes at the door.
But, I digress. I was talking about unpredictable fall weather and the unexpected turns in our daily lives.
Most people seem to live their lives focused on annoyance, oblivious to the small joys of the moment. We worry about trivial things and bitch about each day for trivial reasons.
We wish it was summer, we wish it was Friday.
We wish away the unpredictably wonderful moments of our lives.
We’re constantly told to live for today, in the here and now, and to stop and smell the roses. I don’t know anyone who has figured out how to do that but I’m working on it.
I thank God each morning for another day of life.
I don’t wonder if He exists. I’m just happy to be grateful.
Before I go to sleep at night I conjure images of my wife and children, my grandchildren, the friends I’ve made and the handful of very special people I’ve known and loved in my life. I give thanks for them all. Then I drift off to sleep without a care in the world.
Tomorrow will be another unpredictable day and though the possibilities include everything, glorious and tragic, I’m looking forward to it.
I’m going outside to mow the lawn now. It might snow tomorrow or I could die tonight.
I was just trying to organize my iTunes files. It’s a maddening process that forces me to access the gnat sized portion of my brain that insufficiently understands digital stuff so that I can preserve the memories of my heart.
I rarely listen to music and until just now I didn’t understand why.
I grew up in the sixties loving the Beatles, the Stones, Janis and Jimi. I was a radio rock jock at 17. I used to crank up the music LOUD when I was behind the mic in the KROY studio on Arden Way.
That time of my life passed quickly. I remember it fondly but I don’t live in the past. For some reason I’m not overly sentimental.
Once in a blue moon though I stumble across a song that brings a memory from my heart to the surface; it pulls my younger self out of the past and paints a moment with goodness and glory that can only be imagined.
This is a performance of a particular song by a group of musicians I knew during a very special time in my life. Like memories themselves it’s a grainy piece of film with a somewhat ethereal soundtrack that can’t do justice to reality as I have held it.
In my heart, I’m still there with the boys in the band as you see them. We have not aged. I’m on my feet under a freeway with hundreds of other fans shouting with joy, frozen in time on a Saturday night in a Sacramento spring.
Sharmayne is with me. This is our song. The trombone player is her man and I’m her best friend.
34 years later Sharmayne is gone and I can’t find Fritz. Rainer, Dieter, Charlie and the other boys have taken their lives elsewhere.
This is probably why I don’t listen to music much anymore.
It hurts too good.
NOTE: This is the Allotria Jazz Band from Munich in 1984. This particular performance was filmed in Germany, not Sacramento. That’s obvious by the narration. Still, Sharmayne and I thrilled to their music and this particular song many times over the years they appeared at the Sacramento (Dixieland) Jazz Jubilee.