Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

There Is No Higher Calling

Being a father that is.  And, that is being a real father, not simply fathering a child.  In the process of creating a new life the male side of the equation certainly is the easy part of it.  That fact should not set the tone for the rest of the process, because while it may be easy to become a father, it is not easy to be a father.  By that I mean it is not and should not be easy to be the kind of father every child and spouse deserves and expects a man to be.  A real man is not some macho tough guy or other stereotype.  A real man is a good and loving father; end of story.

On my resume, the last line lists “Other” things I think a prospective employer or association might find significant, following the list of present and prior employment, education, military and memberships.  On that Other line I have one entry “Married; three children.”  Of course, my resume is really upside down.  Everything on it above the Other line is because of the Other line.

Every morning when my feet first hit the floor I am reminded of the awesome responsibility of fatherhood.  Everything I do from that moment on has an impact on that role and responsibility.  Simply taking a shower and leaving the bathroom the way I found it, eating a proper breakfast, driving carefully to work, doing a good job for my employer, being kind and courteous to co-workers and strangers, safely returning home, sitting down with the family at dinner, and being involved at all times in my children’s lives and being an example to them.

Being an example matters and that involvement takes on many forms.  Whether it’s a stepping up ceremony, or a college graduation, a little league baseball game or a college football game, a 4thGrade concert or a college Cello recital, the emotion is the same.  There is pride, joy, anticipation, hope, fear, celebration and love.  If these things are missing, then something is wrong.  There is no room for selfishness and misdirected ego in the fatherhood role.  Giving is receiving when it’s done right.

And so, I’d like to wish every father, mother, spouse, partner, and child a Happy Father’s Day because it’s all about all of us!


Photo Credit Link

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two for the Price of One

by Penny Venticinque

The only time I saw my father cry was at his mother’s funeral.  I was 12.  This was my first funeral, and the first person close to me who died.  My father’s mother lived with us.  In fact, both of my grandmothers lived with us, which I later found out, was a rarity.  Two mothers-in-law under the same roof.  It must have been difficult for both my father and my mother, having their respective mother-in-law live with them.  My brother and I didn’t really notice.  This was normal for us.  But my friends marveled at the fact that not one, but both of my grandmothers lived with me.

The thing I think I missed was visiting my grandmother’s house.  I admired my friends because they could go to grandma’s house, and I couldn’t.  Their grandmothers could cook for them and send food home with them, and I never experienced that.  My friends could stay over at their grandmothers’ houses, and I never experienced that either.  It would have been cool to go visit a grandmother, especially in another state, and have her take care of you, as grandmothers do, in her own home, with all of her stuff all around – the old photos, the antique furniture, the pots and pans that produced all those wonderful smells that only a grandmother’s house can embody.  But I did not have that either.  Both of them lived with me, and both of them were old and infirm and had long-since left behind their own homes and possessions. 

The Maternal Side
They were two very different people, my grandmothers.  My mother’s mother was a classic Victorian Lady, born in British Guiana (now Guyana).  We called her MumMum.  How British.  I remember that she was always a lady.  Always put-together, regardless of what was going on at any given time.  She wore her long white hair swept back in a bun, fastened with tortoise shell combs and “chopsticks”, neatly and strategically placed.  She always had make up and lipstick on, and she cautioned me to do the same.  You never know who you’ll run into, she said.  That man over there could be your future husband, and if you aren’t wearing makeup, he will never notice you.  Also, you never want people to know you’re feeling bad, or sad, or ill.  There’s no point to it.  There’s nothing they can do about it anyway, and if you at least make yourself up and put on a happy face, maybe you will actually begin to feel better.  I always remember that.  To this day I never go out without lipstick.  I’m not looking for a husband, but I do feel better when I think I look well.  And without lipstick, I don’t think I look well.

The extent of MumMum’s “lady-ness” really struck me one particular night.  My parents had gone out to the theater, and I was home alone with MumMum.  I was about 17, and she was probably in her 80s at the time.  She was a below-the-knee amputee, so she required help to get into and out of bed, and to perform daily duties.  I didn’t mind helping her at all.  I enjoyed her company, and I loved the times we spent together.  I would read to her - letters from family members, newspaper and magazine articles, postcards.  In fact, I got to know many members of my family by reading their letters to MumMum, and helping her to write letters to them.  One person I got to know in this way was my uncle, Albert.  Albert was an artist who had gone to live in London before I was born, so I never knew him.  Through his letters to MumMum though, I found out what Europe was like, how his painting was going, and the ups and downs of being a struggling artist.  I was in art school myself at the time, so I began to write to my uncle as well, and I was always happy to receive a letter from him.  A few times he even enclosed drawings for me, which was a real treat!  It never occurred to me that I would ever meet Albert.  He was comfortably ensconced in his bohemian lifestyle on the other side of the pond, and I was content to read his letters and hear about his gallery shows and odd-ball friends.  

This particular evening I had put MumMum to bed and was watching TV when the doorbell rang.  It was after 11PM.  Being alone in the house I was reluctant to answer the door at this hour on a Friday night.  I gingerly approached the door, thinking of how I might defend myself should this be an intruder.  There was only one lock on the front door, and it wasn’t a deadbolt.  I wondered if I should even respond.  It might be easier to just allow the person to go away, but what if they didn’t?  What if ignoring the doorbell made him think that no one was home?  That might be worse.  I approached the door and peered out through the glass.  I saw a man with graying hair and a full beard and mustache.  He was carrying a suitcase of some sort.  I thought he must have had the wrong address.  There was no car waiting and he was alone.  

Then some kind of recognition came over me.  This man wasn’t entirely a stranger, although I had never seen him in my life.  I opened the door, and the man said hello and I immediately knew who he was.  It was my uncle.  A man I had never met, but had known through his letters to MumMum

"Uncle Albert?", I said, as I opened the door fully, knowing full well who he was!

"YES", he said, and of course he knew me immediately as well.  We hugged and looked at each other as people do when they haven’t seen each other for a long time (or ever).  How must I have looked growing up?  How had I changed?  He would never know.  Here I was almost an adult and he had never seen his only niece.  He came in and of course, immediately asked for MumMum.  I had just put her to bed, and said so, but I knew she would want to see him immediately, no mater what time it was.  I told him to stay right there, while I went to wake her up.  He did.  He stood right outside her bedroom door, waiting for me to signal him in.  I imagined him there with his ear to the door, listening to his mother, whom he had not seen in over 30 years, scream with excitement at the surprise she was about to experience, and expecting tears of joy and reunion!

Not wanting to scare her, I gently touched her shoulder to wake her up.  She opened her eyes without moving and asked me what was the matter.  

“MumMum, I don’t know how to tell you this but…Uncle Albert is outside.  He’s HERE.  He’s here to visit you!”  

“My SON Albert?  It can’t be.  Are you sure it’s him?  You never met him…are you SURE???”  

“Yes MumMum, I am absolutely certain.  Let me get him.”

It was then, at this moment, that I realized what a true lady is.  Both my uncle and I expected that she would shriek with pleasure and want to see him immediately.  Not MumMum.  She simply said, “please help me get dressed.  I don’t want to greet him in my nightgown.”

I knew what that simple statement meant.  It meant at least a half hour, probably more – getting her back up, getting her out of bed and back into her chair, picking out something to wear, and re-combing her hair, etc.  I went back outside of the room to tell my uncle that MumMum wanted to get dressed before she saw him, and that he should make himself comfortable.  All three of us were anxious with anticipation.  But MumMum was in control, and she would not see her son, even after 30 years, until she was “presentable”.  We got her up, washed her up again, got her dressed, combed and twisted her hair, dusted with talcum and sprayed a pinch of cologne…and put on her full makeup, including, of course, lipstick.

It always strikes me when I think of this.  The importance of presentation.  I suppose that not seeing someone in 30 years makes it all the more important to look as good as possible, not less so.  The pride of MumMum wanting her son to see her at her best, after a lifetime of separation, even under these circumstances – her with only one leg, and sick with cancer (she also had a colostomy bag which needed to be emptied and changed).  As a result, I try never to complain, and I try to always look as good as I can at any given moment.  You never know when you will meet your future husband, or your long-lost uncle.

The Paternal Side
My father’s mother was another story.  She was a bulldog of a woman.  Built like a brick house, and had a look on her face that would make Idi Amin blush.   She had had a stroke when I was very young, so I never knew her to be fully in her “right” mind.  By the time she moved in with us, she was already not functioning well physically or mentally, as a result of the stroke.  She dragged one foot when she walked, and had trouble holding on to glasses and cups.  She was also diabetic.  In our refrigerator, there were always vials of insulin, and glass syringes that had to be boiled and sterilized.

We called this grandmother, Grandma.  She seemed to be more trouble than she was worth, at least to us kids.  We didn’t understand her when she talked, because not only did she slur her speech and confuse her words, but she spoke with a thick Jamaican accent.  And, more often than not, diabetes notwithstanding, she almost always had a hard candy in her mouth.  

“Grandma, are you eating candy?”  

“Noumgghhh…norogudjlksad candipisadny.”  

“Look, I know you are eating candy, I can see it in your cheek.  Spit it out and give it to me.”

“No.”  Well at least I understood that.

When we weren’t chasing after Grandma trying to wrench the candy from her clenched hand, we were wondering what the hell she was talking about.  Us kids got very good at mimicking a West Indian accent, even though we had no idea what we were saying.  My father seemed to understand her, but he didn’t seem to have much patience with her either.  He was the one who gave her her insulin injections, and he used to get angry that she would sneak candy, after everything he was doing to try to keep her healthy.  And he must have resented this responsibility, since he had a sister who lived not far from us, but did not get along with their mother at all.  The children all seemed to be disconnected from her, and the only reason they associated with this woman was because she was their mother.  I think that is the reason that my father called his mother Mrs. V.  Never Mom, or Mother.  I don’t remember him ever calling her anything other than Mrs. V.  

“Mrs. V. are you eating candy?”

“Noumgghhh…norogudjlksad candipisadny.”  

“Shit.  I know you are eating candy, I can see it in your cheek.  Do you think I’m stupid?”


And so it would go.  Grandma eating, or not eating candy, speaking in odd sentences, dragging her foot, and sitting quietly on the couch all day long.  She really never initiated a conversation.  If you said hello she would answer, but you were never quite sure she knew who you were, or what had just happened.  Sometimes we’d say, “Grandma, do you know who I am”?  And she would say, “Yes suh.”  “Well, who am I?”  No answer.  She did, however, know what belonged to her.  Or what she had claimed in the house.  She always sat in the same chair.  If anyone else sat there, she would say, in pretty plain English, “That Mrs. V. chair.”  Okaaaay.  And she knew when dinner was ready.  She would push you out of the way to get to the table.  And sit in Mrs. V. chair.  My father would say grace, and Grandma would start eating before he finished.  We’d all roll our eyes, but we had patience, because we knew she didn’t really understand what was going on.  Why did we have to have this lecture before dinner?  Aren’t we here to eat? 

She and MumMum would sit next to each other at the dinner table.  MumMum, the consummate lady, and Grandma, the bulldozer.  Everyone talked, except Grandma, who just ate.  She chewed very loudly.  My father had to cut her meat and sometimes he had to point out the food on her plate, as if she didn’t recognize that it was edible.  She never complained though, and ate everything that was put in front of her.  MumMum was more discerning.  There were things she didn’t like, and she would not eat them.  MumMum was a pretty good cook, and even though she was an invalid, she still could wheel herself up to the stove or the table, and help to prepare dinner.  Grandma sat in silence as all this was going on, waiting for the call to the table, so she could dive in before grace.  

As a result of the difference between my grandmothers, people responded to them differently.  Everyone talked to MumMum, hardly anyone talked to Mrs. V.  They would say hello to Grandma, and then spend the rest of their time chatting with MumMum.  MumMum always sat at the door in her wheelchair, while Grandma sat on the couch in the living room.  MumMum did crossword puzzles.  Grandma did not.  MumMum sang and played games.  Grandma did not.  When we went out, we had to carry MumMum to the car and put her wheelchair into the trunk.  Grandma just shuffled behind us, pushing us out of the way so she could get into the back seat.  MumMum was older and more frail.  We always thought that she would die long before Grandma, who was built stronger and more solid, and seemed to be invincible, in spite of her mental status.  But this was not the case.  In fact, MumMum outlived Grandma by about 12 years.  

At Grandma’s funeral, my father sobbed into his hat.  He covered his face with his fedora, and I could hear him sobbing and see his shoulders moving as they do when you cry very hard.  I had never seen my father cry.  It seemed odd to me that the death of this woman, who was largely a nuisance to all of us, could make a grown man, my father, cry like a baby.  Had we missed something?  Even though my father often lost his patience with her, and probably secretly bemoaned his lot to take car of her, he clearly cared for her very much, and we didn’t even think of that.  His reaction seemed to come out of the blue.  She was a human being, a mother, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a sister, a grandmother, and a pain in the neck.  I think I might have even seen MumMum shed a tear.  For all their differences, they were in the same boat.  And so were we.

Photo Credit: Stock Xchng - "Memories" by Mr. Wojciech Wolak, Poland

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kiddie Street Chic

The great thing about New York City, our nation's Fashion capital, is the chance of finding fun Avant Garde things happening out on the street for free rather than tucked away inside for a fee. This afternoon, while walking down Flatbush Avenue, a street that runs from the Manhattan Bridge to the Mill Basin area and beyond, we noticed a NYGard event in progress. It was hard to miss the tall lanky and  beautiful models and their chaperones.

Here, our in house and budding designer shows off her street style entitled layers of fun.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

... Worth a Thousand Words


By Penny Venticinque

It’s funny how all women have issues with their bodies. No matter what actual shape our bodies are in, we all harbor some ill feelings about how we look – whether it’s our bodies as a whole, or individual parts – there’s always something about our bodies that make us cringe.

And I thought it was just me.

Just this morning I was talking to a colleague who used to be a model. I like this person very much, but I really don’t think we have much in common, as far as being “women” is concerned, other than the plumbing. She’s tall, I’m short. She’s thin, I’m not. (I refuse to use the “F” word, or any other euphemism for size.) She’s young, well, 40-ish (yes, that’s young to me), and I’m getting to be 60-ish. She’s stylish in her dress, and I tend to be conservative and understated. She’s married, I’m single. You get it. In short, there’s really not much, on the surface, that we have in common, other than being female.

Until we looked at photos.

A few months ago we had a celebration at work, in recognition of Women’s History Month. This is a time when we honor some female colleagues for their contributions to our professional community, and the community at large. I was the “mistress of ceremonies”, welcoming everyone and handing out the individual awards, so I had plenty of “face time” on camera. I’m never comfortable with having my picture taken. I don’t think any woman is, unless she is posing for a professional photographer, making certain that all the angles are flattering, there is ample opportunity for airbrushing (or, these days, Photoshop-ing), and she can control which images get seen by anyone. Most of us just make the best of things when we have to have our pictures taken.

Most women, well, I’m probably telling on myself here, but I assume most women have figured out how they look their best in photos. We will stand in front of the mirror practicing that look, the look that is most flattering to our faces and bodies – so that when a camera is in the vicinity, we know just what to do. We know how to smile – not too much teeth, not too broad so the crow’s feet don’t show, turn your head just so. We also know how to stand – one foot in front of the other, feet at a slight angle, toes pointing slightly in opposite directions, shoulder tilted toward the camera, head up, so as not to show a shadow which might be mistaken for (or actually produce) a double-chin. Pick up a camera around a woman, and she will immediately say “wait…don’t take it yet, I have to be ready.” Most men will take this as vanity. It isn’t. Men often prefer the candid shots, photos that capture the moment as it was. Women, on the other hand, do not, under any circumstances, wish to have moments captured as they were. We want them to reflect our beauty and charm and poise. And yes, this takes a minute to create. For example, no woman wants to be photographed while eating. Even if she is eating a salad. Men, please make a note of this. If a woman is eating a salad, that’s all well and good, and it could be used as proof that she is trying to be weight-conscious, which is always a plus, but it could just as easily result in spinach stuck in her teeth, or salad dressing oozing from the side of her mouth. And few women wish to be photographed while laughing heartily. This produces a contorted face that is never flattering. Do I look like that when I laugh? Jeez. From now on, I’m never laughing at ANYthing. I don’t care how funny it is. Get away from me with that camera or you’ll be walking “funny”. Also, if possible, do not photograph women sitting down. Sitting down produces that famous belly roll, or middle-aged spread. If you must take a picture of a seated woman, make sure there is a table or a desk or a half-ton boulder in front of her, or at the very least, another person. Oh, and never, and I repeat NEVER, from below. The first time I saw a photo of me taken from an angle below me I thought I would just vaporize right there on the spot. I looked like the Goodyear blimp on steroids. Not flattering.

So here we are, my friend and I, looking at photos of ourselves, not as mementos of a special occasion in which we gathered to honor our sisters, but as indications of how horrible we looked at that moment, and probably all the time. For my part, I am always comparing myself to others’ sizes. Oh, OK, I’m smaller than her. Oh wow, look at my hips! Gee, where did that bulge come from? Must be that sweater. Note to self – those grey slacks go to Goodwill as soon as I get home. They make me look like a battleship. I didn’t know my nose was that big. Is it possible to gain weight in your nose?? My friend, who used to be a model, says…oh thank God, my arms don’t look fat! I wanted to smack her. I didn’t. My restraint is remarkable these days. It must be age. Er, I mean maturity.

It is notable that neither of us even mentioned or acknowledged the actual reason why we were having our photos taken that day. And I am certain that when we show these same photos to the other women in them, they will have the same reactions. Rather than seeing the occasion, the honorable circumstances, the historical significance, they will, instead, scan the photos for evidence of cellulite, weight gain, and age-related facial manifestations. In this day of digital imaging, every line, wrinkle, hump, bump, stump, lump, and protrusion shows in acute detail, leaving little to the imagination. We may as well get used to it. The days of blurred photos are over. There we are, blemishes and all, with nothing to hide behind.

Anyone got a half-ton boulder?