Oh happy (wedding) day!

We’re coming up on a week since my son Pete and Marissa got married and, I have to say, it was a damn good wedding. Now, I don’t have the depth of experience of the average 27-year-old, who has been to 19 weddings in the past 8 months, but even so, trust me, it was good. I mean, look above.

My favorite part was seeing how happy Pete and Marissa were. And how happy everybody was for them. But mostly them, because everybody else, even Virginia and me, are just everyone else.

Sometime in the past four years Pete and Marissa did that couple thing where they found each other’s backs, flattened themselves against each other and, after a while, there was no daylight between them. That’s a good thing.

The wedding was Friday and we held the rehearsal dinner Thursday night, at Sedona Taphouse in Phoenixville, where we put 47 people in a super-tight room and lived to tell about it. (Somehow, we have yet to hear a report of a covid case following the rehearsal dinner and 190-guest wedding. There were fears …)

I was privileged to welcome everyone to both the rehearsal dinner and the reception. I shared some thoughts at the rehearsal dinner (I was smart enough to know the reception was not the time nor place):

Weddings are act openers and closers. They are beginnings and endings in our lives. And so, as we reach the end of this beginning, I want to say this to Pete and Marissa: You have begun magnificently.

 A relationship is a lot of things, and people spend a lot of money on books and therapists and other things to try to improve and fix and save and recover from them, but I’d suggest “relationship” is simply an action: it’s a turning to each other. Over and over. Until you, or it, end. And watching you two first turn to each other (I was there at the start), and do it again, and again, and then to get better at, and to trust it, that has been a parent’s special privilege and a joy.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the middle, and I am excited for it because you’ve got the movement down. Trust it, it’ll take you far.

The happy couple departing the ceremony.
Our favorite flowergirl/granddaughter

There’s much more to say, but let’s leave it here for now. If you want to see photos, you can look at these on Facebook (Marissa, Virginia, me), search #IDoDonahue on Instagram, or check out the gallery below that takes you from Thursday to the post-wedding brunch Saturday at our house.

The Most Amazing Person I’ve Ever Known Has Died

My family moved one town over, from Hazlet to Matawan, in 1973, when I was in first grade. It was a move up — from a modest home, where the dormer walls of my room slanted inward, to the model home in a newly built neighborhood. We had a sliver of woods behind our house. To me, it felt like Sherwood Forest.

Our new neighbors, Mina and Herman Brenman, had arrived a month or so before. They had two kids who were older than me and my brother and sister. And they were exotic. They were both Jewish, from Poland.

The Jewish-ness was not that unique. A lot of our neighbors in Matawan, and my friends in the years to come — Andy Goldstein, Stephen Carver — were Jewish, but Mina and Herman were from Poland, from Europe. They had accents. Their home was decorated differently from ours. They were a little farther along in life. Their daughter, Sandy, had a talent for art and her work, even then, hung on the walls.

They were pretty traditional suburbanites. Herman loved his lawn, and worked it with the energy of a fanatic. Mina cooked and baked, making cookies that were unlike anything my mom made.

As I grew up, we learned more about their past. One night, at a neighbor’s Christmas party, I heard more of their story than I ever had before. They had grown up in the same town in Poland before World War II. They were acquainted if not all that interested in each other. When the Nazis arrived, they ended up in work camps. Both lost much of their families there. Mina told of risking a trip to a barbed wire fence to hand bread to a relative. Herman said he once tried to escape on a winter’s night, and thought he was clear till he was recaptured. When he was caught, he looked at his coat and realized there was a hole in the coat, and that the bullet that made it had somehow missed him.

Somehow, they survived.

Fast forward to New York City, after the war. Mina has emigrated to the United States. She is walking down the street, and who appears, headed in the other direction, but Herman. You survived? Who did not? When did you get here? What are you doing tomorrow night?

They married, had two kids, Herman worked as a property manager for an apartment complex. They moved to the suburbs in New Jersey. Settled in. In 1973, this Irish-American family moved in next door. Herman worked his lawn. My dad tried unsuccessfully to turn his brown thumb green. Mina and my mom called each other often. Who bought milk last for whom? These were good problems to have , and good times.

Time picked up speed. The kids grew up and moved away. The men slowed and declined. My dad died a little over a decade ago, and Herman soon after. Mina and my mom remained neighbors. Somewhere along the way, Mina took to calling mom “my Irish sister.” When my mom’s sister Betty died early in 2011, Mina was the sister my mom had left.

They’ve had their struggles over the years. Mina has battled cancer multiple times, she lost her mobility, bit by bit. My mom had her own health issues. When one was struggling, the other fretted and checked on the other — who resented it. (Hey, strong women!)

Mina has been homebound for much of the past two years. Her cookie-baking days have been long past. My mom had warned us before the holidays, This might be it.

And yet, two weekends ago, my mom took Virginia and me over to visit when we were home for the holidays. Mina was lying on her couch. The shamrock we gave her several years ago, and that she always makes a point of noting when we’re there, was not far from her. Her aide let us in, and you could see Mina perk up when we entered the room. She grabbed the holiday card we had sent her, with photos of our family, including my sons and granddaughter on the front, and started to read my hard-to-decipher handwriting … just to show us that she could.

We didn’t stay long. Before we left, I took her hand and she looked me in the eye. She’ll beat this thing, I thought. She always does.

Mina died this evening, after 97 years. She survived three bouts of cancer, she survived the Holocaust, she survived losing the love of her life.

Mina died because people die. Eventually. She might be the most amazing person I’ve really known in this world. Unremarkably remarkable. She scoffed at the idea that she was special. That is sitting heavily, and lightly, on my heart tonight.

In the midst of this time that has pushed so many to their limits and beyond, I want to hang Mina’s life around my neck as a talisman and a reminder: This life is hard, but we can persevere. More than that, we can live — with acceptance, with purpose and with joy.

Shalom, Mina.

A Successful Launch in Utah

I was a pretty independent teenager. When I graduated college, I moved away from home — to Delaware, Maine and Pennsylvania. Never all that far away, but out of New Jersey. As a parent, my hopes for my boys meant “launching” them, about making sure they had the skills and mindset to move ably through a world by turns big and small. I always want to be connected to them, but my desire was that they be able to make a home for themselves wherever their lives took them.

So it’s with relief and gratitude that Virginia and I returned on Monday from a trip to see our younger son Kelly in Utah. Kelly, 24, moved to Salt Lake City about nine months ago after a period of time spent adventuring (cross-country trips, Appalachian Trail) and discerning where he wanted to stay for a bit.

We went out last week, picked up him and his girlfriend, Gabby, whom he met in Utah, and headed four hours southeast for a few days of hiking through the nearby parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Dead Horse). A few of Kelly’s friends joined us. We spent three long, fruitful days hiking, cooked up a second Thanksgiving at our Airbnb, got to know each other and generally had a blast. Virginia and I came home feeling that Kelly had found a home — a girlfriend who got him, work that engaged and frustrated him (which is pretty par for the course), and a community that supported and knew him.

He’s 24, there’s a long way to go, and it seems he’s launched. It was a nice, early Christmas gift.

Happy birthday — to me.

I’ve reached 56. Not a milestone. I did 55 last year. Lots of people told me the ol’ double-nickel was a bit of a trap birthday, that the half-decade hit them in a way the odometer turning to a “5” didn’t. Not my experience, but I get it. There is a certain settling into late middle age/old guy status at 55, and I am 3-plus years into grandparenthood, which drives home the passing of time and march of generations. Honestly, though, I’m currently feeling a bit out of time.

Some of that might be a result of what has grown into the Covid Years. Time has somehow pancaked into irrelevance — or, at least, insufficiency. It’s just not very useful in understanding where and who you or I am. I’m not feeling alone, either, seeing how we are all behind on doctor’s appointments, behind on school, behind on car maintenance, just plain ol’ behind. And it’s not just people. The supply chain. Behind. The fall that didn’t show up till early November. Behind. My wife’s long-awaited Wes Anderson movie. Way, way behind.

So I’m not sweating behind. As I get older, I think less about whether I’m ahead or behind on career arc or accomplishments and more about whether I am simply moving. Do I know more than I used to? Have a forgotten things not worth remembering? Am I a little more skillful at bringing people together? Do I understand that sometimes people need to go?

And that has me thinking about 56 a little differently. I even wrote a haiku:

Fifty-six, it’s one

click over the speed limit,

but not quite speeding.

56 is an adult speed, maybe even a touch of grandpa speed. It’s not passing lane speed. But you can get where you want and enjoy a conversation with your travel partner and the view out the window. At 56, you can brake and pull over to do a little exploring, maybe grab a lobster roll at the place with the hopping parking lot that you blow by at 85.

This is not a resignation to inertia, to stagnation. I can still be impactful and effective, can still pick up and sustain a hard pace if I need to, probably could for a few years if there was a project that required it. But being in motion, not winning the race, is the goal today, because there’s a lot to see and a lot to learn at 56. Of that I’m convinced.

And I think there’s a lot to share. In fact, I’m planning to blog about this and that as close to daily as I can manage in my 56th year. We’ll see where that takes us.

For now, though, I’m headed off to ask my granddaughter to help me blow out my birthday candles. Not because I can’t do it by myself, but because it’s more fun with others.

==

There are lots of ways to 56. I’m reminded of my dad when I remember this guy, who arrived as if from a different planet. As a kid who grew up on New York sports, the only other guy who arrived similarly was probably Doc Gooden (with whom he later shared some recreational problems). They were unblockable/unhittable. For a while it seemed they were playing a different game than the others. My years in Philadelphia have moved me a long way from those days, but even at 56 I can remember watching them and realizing you were seeing something special.

Meeting My Father-in-Law, Who Died in 1974

I was going through a photo album from 1968 made up of photos mostly taken by my father-in-law, and it was as if I was meeting him for the first time. Which, in some ways, I was. Charles Christopher Kirk died in 1974, when I was 9, Virginia was 12, and we were almost 15 years away from meeting. We’ve been married 28 years and counting.

The photos were the usual stuff, the kids around the house and on birthdays and family occasions, and a few travel photos. But for me, it was an introduction to his gaze. He caught the kids in moments of quiet, hanging on the front stoop while playing with friends or he got them to pose on a snow day or at the beach. There were photos of a Western trip he and Rosalie took, and Rosalie ends up posing at sign posts along the way — Pikes Peak, the Grand Canyon. In all of these he takes the time to compose an image that speaks to what he cares about. You can feel the love. At least I could, because it’s how I take photos too.

There’s one of this little girl, relaxing in a chair (see above, but better below). It’s quiet and intimate, and Virginia at rest, which I imagine was as unusual then as now, and all I could think as I looked at it was, we both loved this same person, over all these years, and how cruel it was that six years later he died and he didn’t see her at 15 and 25, on her wedding day and as she became a mom and a reporter and a social worker and a wife and a bike rider and a grandma and a care giver and all the things that were probably so apparent to him when he looked at her. I really ached for him.

The strangest, wonderful thing for me in this grief time, in saying goodbye to Rosalie, is finally, at long last, meeting Chris Kirk. And being drawn together by this simple fact: what you loved, I love, too. It’s one of the graces of this parting time.

Chris’ photos (and some of Chris himself)

In remembrance of Rosalie Kirk

It’s been a few weeks since Virginia’s mom, Rosalie Kirk, passed away. After a trip to Maine, during which Virginia grieved in motion, we’re back home in Pennsylvania and feeling Rosalie’s presence in the negative—the lack of the evening phone call, the absence of a need to plan a trip down to Maryland.

In this time without, I’m trying to remember her in the positive, to think about the things she held in regard—her love for music and theater, for coffee, for her family—and the ways she had an effect on those she knew.

As her son-in-law, I remember how she always was a strong advocate. Rosalie was proud of her family—from her two children to the families that grew around them—and she wasn’t shy about sharing that pride. Sometimes she poured it on a bit thick (I mean, I’m a pretty good husband and son-in-law, but I knew better than to believe Rosalie’s pronouncements about me), but I never took it as some kind of overblown pride. Rosalie had overcome a lot and was justifiably happy to see things working out for those she loved. And for herself, because somehow, despite being widowed at 39 and spending the next 5 years not working while she cared for her kids, she saved enough in her life that, when she decided at 80 she wanted to sell her house and move into a lovely community at Vantage House, she did it. And once there, she flourished for her final 5 years. I’m not sure how exactly she managed it (though I looked in the dictionary and next to the word scrimp, I saw her photo), and I don’t miss the months before moving as we cleaned up the house for its sale and her departure from it, but I remain impressed by her ability to discern the life she wanted and to make it happen.

In addition to be sneakily effective, she had an uncanny ability to remember darn near everything. One of the most touching moments in her final days was when her sister Doris called and told her, “Rosalie, you can’t go. You’re half of my memory.” As if to prove it, a little later Doris was referring to a time she and Rosalie had traveled together and saw a Broadway play, and Doris was trying to remember who the star was, I looked in Rosalie’s eyes and you could sense her desire to fill in the blank, to interject “Patty LuPone! It was Patty LuPone,” even as she was struggling mightily to breathe and stay alive. She was still there, and she still knew. It made me think how family memories are indeed shared treasures, how we all share a threaded memory, a collective story.

Deeper than her knowledge was her deep love for her children, for those they loved and those they brought into her life. Those last few days what stayed and buoyed me was knowing how we had known and loved each other through decades. It was realizing that in deep ways, we were each others’, and that time was short.

What follows is Rosalie’s death notice in The Baltimore Sun. After it, I’ve posted some photos. I encourage you to leave a memory of Rosalie in the comments below. We could do this on Facebook, but I wanted to create something that Virginia and others could come back to over time.

Also, here are some photos from Rosalie’s 80th birthday celebration.

Rosalie’s obituary

Rosalie Carroll “Roz” Kirk, 86, former longtime Hammond Village resident, passed away Sunday, Sept. 6th, surrounded by family at Gilchrist Center in Columbia, Md.

Mrs. Kirk, the daughter of Charles Carroll, a street car conductor, and Mary Catherine Kochanski, was raised on South East Avenue in Baltimore near the Patterson movie theater and graduated from Patterson Park High School. She studied for a year at Goucher College and worked a number of jobs-including at Pratt Library and the University of Maryland medical school library-and completed an English degree at University of Maryland, College Park. She met her husband, Charles “Chris” Kirk of Darlington, Md., there and soon settled in Howard County. While raising her two children, she was active in the Howard County League of Women Voters. She also was active with the Girl Scouts, as a Troop Service Director for the Hammond Village area, and served on the board of the Hammond Park Recreation Inc. After the early death of her husband and love of her life in 1974, Mrs. Kirk worked in market research and spent 12 years with IRI.

She loved to travel with her sister and they enjoyed Elderhostel tours and cruises throughout Europe and the United States, often focusing on opera and musical theater.

Mrs. Kirk moved to the Residences at Vantage Point in 2015 and quickly found an active life attending musical events, movies and lectures, playing bridge and making new friends while reconnecting with old ones.

She is survived by her son Chris Kirk and his wife, Susan, of Silver Spring, and her daughter Virginia Kirk and her husband, Kevin Donahue, of Eagleville, Pa., as well as her sister, Doris Plaine of Columbus, Ohio, her niece Mary Carroll Plaine and her life partner, Ellie Eines, of Baltimore, Md., four grandchildren (Peter Donahue, Kelly Donahue, Ryan Kirk and Emily Kirk) and a great-granddaughter, Mia Potoma. Arrangements will be made by the family. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Maryland Food Bank or Sundays at Three Chamber music series.

4-month check-in, holiday greetings and new year wishes

OK, so it’s been a while (4 months), but I changed jobs, got busy and looked up to realize the year was nearly over. So I hope your holidays have been joyful and maybe even occasionally restful.

Here’s where we are in the story of us:

I am four months into my job at Universal Health Services (UHS), based in King of Prussia, Pa., which manages hospitals and healthcare services. I direct story-telling, which is daunting, because we’re a Fortune 500 company with 87,000 employees, 2 million patients a year, and more than 300 facilities across the United States, Puerto Rico and England. We’re BIG — and hospitals are inherently home to human stories. There’s drama built into a hospital in a way that isn’t true when I go to the dollar store, or the gym, or even church. Turn on the TV — anytime since there have been TVs — for proof, in the form of hourlong hospital dramas. So there’s a lot to say. And yet, people are busy and reluctant to hand their stories to a huge company and sharing their stories can be problematic from a privacy standpoint. It’s a complicated gig, with nice people and the possibility to do some good. I’m enjoying it.

Speaking of health, I had a health hiccup this fall, when a routine stress test pointed to a potential return of my heart issues. To cut to the chase, a surgeon did a cardiac catheterization in early November and, after taking a good look around, decided nothing needed to be done. The result didn’t surprise me; I hadn’t been feeling as I had the previous three times I’ve been “cathed,” so I was skeptical that anything was dramatically bad. But I’m not the doctor and the stress test result was concerning. Even so, I was heartened when the surgeon took my side and  pronounced my arteries OK, though he suggested I clean up some of my eating/lifestyle habits, which I agree is needed.

As I said, the episode reminded me a bit of the events of 4 years ago, which makes me think about mortality, and that almost always takes me back to my dad, who died nearly a decade ago. That seems a long time and not so much, which reminds me of something the Rev. Ken Beldon, the founding minister at my church, said recently, “People die, love doesn’t.” I found it helpful in understanding this persistence of human presence long after the physical person is no longer among us, and drives home for me that we are far more than our physical being. 

While I don’t enjoy having cardiovascular disease, its existence within me does unlock a vulnerability that I would have difficulty accessing if I was without it. And dealing with that discomfort provides a focus that helps me to cultivate a more mindful ease than I could imagine otherwise. As the late Rev. Forrest Church said, “Want what you have” (the opener of his three prescriptives, followed by “do what you can; be who you are”). It’s not easy, and I keep trying.

In more family news:

  • Pete, Marissa and now-20-month-old Mia have set up a household in Cherry Hill, N.J. Pete is working for Draft Kings, the online fantasy sports behemoth that recently moved into online sports gambling. Pete works in player development. Marissa continues to work as an IT recruiter in Philadelphia. Mia remains our favorite (and only) granddaughter and, at 20 months, she is a wonder to behold (above, from Christmas, in Gigi’s arms). 
  • Kelly is at a goat farm in Northern California, the third farm he has worked on since heading west at the end of the summer as a WOOF-er (WOOFing is Working On Organic Farms, details at wwoof.org). He’ll be traveling to Greece and hiking the Appalachian Trail before heading to Camp Unirondack again this summer. Kelly enjoys being outdoors and working with his hands, and has time to read and hike. He is healthy and happy.
  • Virginia was recently promoted at her job to supervisor of a group of service coordinators at her company, AmeriHealth Caritas. She now has to report to an office, just south of the Philadelphia International Airport and, for the first time maybe ever, she has a longer commute than me. I, at least, am enjoying it.

Recommendations

A couple recent things worth sharing.

  • Virginia and I saw the movie Parasite, and both recommend it. It reminded me a bit of Get Out, a movie that starts like a humorous critique of America and race its first half, then veered in a much scarier, violent direction in its second half. Parasite, which was made in Korea and is about class instead of race, isn’t THAT extreme, but it is very well done. Definitely worth a watch. And suddenly, there’s a lot we want to catch at the movies.
  • Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Brandon Brooks struggles with anxiety and he was unusually candid about his mental health issues last month after missing a game when he suffered a debilitating panic attack. His courage in talking about it was so very good and I’m sure led to a lot of talk and maybe even some understanding about a health condition still smothered in stigma.. And speaking of persistence and resilience, the Birds have painstakingly hung in there through a difficult season and increasingly look as if they could make, and be dangerous in, the NFL playoffs. It hasn’t been fun, but it might make for some exciting moments in January.
  • The headline pretty much gives away the bottom line – “I Worked for Alex Jones. I Regret It” — and it doesn’t do justice to what a great job the former employee does of putting in context just how frightening and dangerous Jones is. 
  • I’ll get itShe’s not here right now and It’s for you are all phrases on their way out of the American dictionary, in lockstep with the disappearance of the landline from American homes. And that, argues this article in The Atlantic, is a loss. If you gave up your landline in recent years (like we did), this set off some waves of remembering and nostalgia, and I agree with the writer that it does mark a loss in the Family Commons. That said, I’m not going back and I doubt many others are, either. 
  • This long article about a group of historians who wrote a letter taking to task the editors of the 1619 Project, a look at America through the lens of its relationship to slavery that was published in The New York Time Magazine earlier this year, was, I thought, a comprehensive and even-handed examination of the issue. I have read some, not all, of 1619P, and I was struck by its pessimism about the possibility of change — and I also get that such a conclusion is justified by a reading of the historical record. I am an American optimist, even in these difficult times; I believe this: we’ve come so far; we have so far to go. My hope is, despite those who wish us to hearken back, we step forward to the country the founders wrote into being, rather than the one they excluded from the document and thus allowed to persist. 
  • Finally, I just finished listening (via Audible) to A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles’ novel about a Russian aristocrat who becomes an unperson and is confined to a cosmopolitan hotel in the capital, ostensibly for the rest of his life. The book is simply a triumph, and the audiobook even moreso, as the reader embodies it perfectly. I’ll say no more.

Best wishes in the new year!

– Kevin 

Grandpahood, for Real

Editor’s note: I tweaked my back last week and couldn’t sit for very long, throwing a wrench in my weekly newsletter schedule. So we’ll call this Week 3-4, and pick up on the regular schedule around Friday, Feb. 22.

Also, this week’s is a little different, mostly a personal essay (And sorry about the subject line tease in the last newsletter. I planned to share this then, but decided the whole thing was too long and pulled it without updating the, you know, TITLE of the newsletter. Oops!). Hope it connects with you.

//

I’m a grandpa. Have been one for 10 months now. 

If you have seen me in the physical world, you most likely know this. You might have even seen me with my granddaughter, Mia. If you haven’t, this is her, from last week.

Baby Mia

She’s got soft, porcelain skin, full cheeks, huge blue eyes and brownish curls. She is a very small person, a little over 21 pounds ― which is funny, because I experience her as large, probably because we spend much of our time together up close.

She likes Cheerios and apple sauce, sure, but also blueberries, eggplant, salmon and her grandma’s red lentil soup. We haven’t found any food she dislikes (dairy’s a no-no for another few months). She gets serious food envy when she watches other people eat. As she crunches on a cracker with her eight teeth, I think about how someday we’ll sit together and make a mess of a bowl of spaghetti, or pull apart and share a still-warm pretzel, or eat ice cream from a paper cup with a little plastic spoon. 

She is ever-curious and on the move. Her crawling is percussive and bouncy, like a four-wheel-drive vehicle on a washed-out road. She can cover a lot of ground quickly. Moving makes her smile. She wants so badly to walk. She stands, has mastered the three-points-of-contact version and is testing what happens when she gets down to just two. Sometimes she lets go with both hands, sometimes she lifts one foot as well as one hand. Her free-standing never lasts for long. But it will. Soon. Words aren’t that far away, either, I think, though my favorite sound she makes is a deep, friendly growl. She makes it when she is engaged in something she’s enjoying.

A Mirror Facing Backward

For this 53-year-old grandpa, Mia is a wayback machine. She reminds me of an earlier time and a less-creaky me and, second hand, of the challenges of parenting Little Ones. It had rewards, but also real compromises. I remember feeling this fierce love, but also exhaustion and distraction. I have great empathy for Year One parents.  

Being a grandpa is simpler. Most importantly, I’m not primarily responsible for Mia. She is a part-time gig. (I am awed by grandparents who serve as full-time caretakers.) 

Mia stays overnight at our house, usually twice a week, and it’s a highlight of the week for grandma and me. We play, we sing, we eat, she poops, she cries, she claps, she moves, she tires, she waves across the room, she sleeps. She bangs together blocks, I bang together blocks. She makes guttural sounds and excited sounds and unhappy sounds, I try to stick to the first two. As she develops, night time has many more smiles and far less inconsolable crying. 

The part-timeness of grandpahood makes it easier to be patient and attentive. It also helps that I’m more self-assured than when I had my own little kids, and more cognizant of the moment I’m in and less anxious to be in some other time or place. (Score a bunch of points for having a spiritual practice.) I know that Mia is growing fast, that she will be this exact combination of skin/cheeks/eyes/curls/smiles/scowls for a constrained period, and to miss it now will be to miss it, with her, forever. That’s why I love to get close. To hear her growl. To catch her attention by clapping a plastic watermelon slice against a plastic cup from her plastic picnic basket.

Grandpahood is also a second chance. Everyone has heard a friend say of their dad, “He’s not the guy that I grew up with.” That’s the extreme version, and sometimes that second chance can be a repudiation of the first cycle of caring for little people. A dramatic do-over. Other times, it’s a refinement. Sometimes ― similar to when the NFL announces it will officiate specific parts of a football game in a new way in the upcoming season ― it’s a “change in point of emphasis.”  I’d put myself somewhere in the “refinement” part of the spectrum.

Whose Story Is it?

One thing I am more sensitive to in this time with Mia is social media. If you have only connected with me through social media over the past 10 months, you probably don’t know Mia. She’s never appeared on my Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feeds. At first, this was a response to Mia’s arrival, which was unexpected and very much tied to her mom and dad’s story. I felt at the time, and do now, that the story of Mia, Marissa and Pete is for her parents to tell. It’s not mine. And once Virginia and I decided to avoid social media related to our time with Mia, the more sense it made to us. We didn’t need it to feel connected to her. In fact, I worried that introducing it might intrude on or complicate a good and special thing.

This plays out against a larger issue I’ve reflected on from my time parenting small children. I am more sensitive now to whose story I’m telling. This gets into the “second chance” territory. 

About a decade ago, our younger son Kelly, then about 10, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. We did our best to care for him, but it involved trips to hospital ERs and to weeklong stays at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Throughout this time and afterward, I posted about our lives, including several times a photo of Kelly in a hospital bed or in the lobby at CHOP while recovering from a flare of his UC. I did it at the time because I thought I should ― that if I was going to share the fun parts of our lives on social media, then I should share the challenging parts too. 

And I found that such posts got a lot of response. Way more than when I, say, shared a photo from a bike ride or an article I appreciated. Sometimes it made me feel connected to people at a time when I could use the support. I also think that the engagement on those posts ― the likes and comments ― spurred me to more posts.

It nags at me today that Kelly should have had more of a say in how his story was told, especially as he grew into his teens. There is this tension that changes over time. As a parent, your kids are your kids; you are empowered to tell their stories. That power is absolute when they are little. Over time, that agency transfers, drip by drip, to them. These days, with 21- and 24-year-old sons (and a 10-month-old granddaughter), I find myself asking, what is the reason for telling their story and when does it become their decision about when and what and how. I’m less certain of that answer all the time and I respect all the answers parents and grandparents come to around the question. For me, I now try to ask if they are OK with sharing something before I do it. 

I realize that my decisions might strike some as very alien. That’s OK. 

For now, my intention is to maintain my social media boycott for Mia. That could change this year (and it’s fair to ask, Hey Kevin, what is different about a newsletter? For me, it has to do with a chance to add context, my ability to know who will read this, and the lack of a “like” button and an algorithm to pump up its distribution).

Grand-Guy Hood

And that’s grandpahood ― or Grand Guy-hood, as I’m hoping that’s what Mia will call me as she learns to speak and decides what she is going to say and do. I want to lather her, and her mom and dad, in care. I want to honor her story and bouncy spirit. I want to stay close, till she wants some room, which happens occasionally even now, when she wants to test her limits in this larger world and squirms to escape my protective grip. It’ll happen in more challenging ways as she gets bigger, and this tension will exist more for her parents than me, I know.

But that’s not this day. Today she is very big because she is very close, like a Supermoon. Super Mia. It’s a good day to be a grandpa.

What I’ve Been Reading

I always thought the magnetic North Pole was the same as the geographic North Pole. I was wrong. Even worse, the magnetic has been moving all over the place ― as much in the past 20 years as in the preceding century, says The Verge. That’s not good news for GPS, which helps when you want to track a run or, more importantly, when that airplane you’re on attempts to land at the correct runway. The good news: “Don’t panic,” says an expert from the British Geologic Survey. It’s unlikely to substantially affect your GPS unless you are very near the North Pole ― you’re not flying to Iceland anytime soon, right?

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One of the things I’ve thought as I get older, and people I love get older, too, is that one of the benefits of aging is simplicity. And that this simplicity is good, that it pulls us closer to our intentions. While speaking at a beloved uncle’s funeral, I said that I thought that in his later years he became more about the things that mattered to him: his family, his sense of whimsy and jokes, his little dog Mack. My trust in simplicity was challenged by this article from the digital, science-centered magazine Nautilus, which said simplicity is fragile, and that complexity is what makes youthful beings more resilient and robust. As the author points out, maybe we should turn our backs on Thoreau’s call and aim for complexity, complexity, complexity. And maybe, just maybe, this fragility in some ways drives the essentialism of older lives, that this vulnerability is what makes the experience both sparer and richer. (The article included tips on maintaining complexity, too.)

Sports Bits

  • Seeing the Rams, especially their quarterback Jared Goff, come up very, very small in the biggest spot of all left me feeling pretty good about the Eagles. Schadenfreude isn’t a great look, but it feels so good in the moment.
  • Nick Foles remains the last QB to throw for a touchdown in the Super Bowl for another 11 1/2 monthsl!
  • J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies is a big move to me. I was not sold on Jorge Alfaro ― all the physical tools, but he never seemed to figure out how teams were pitching him, which was weird in a catcher. And with so many big names still not signed as Spring Training opens in Florida and Arizona, is baseball broke?
  • Kudos to Elton Brand on remaking a talented, deficient Sixers team in two short days. That starting lineup is a real juggernaut and the second team now appears capable of defending, if not quite shooting the lights out. The loss to the Celtics threw some cold water on the excitement of the previous week, but I think Brett Brown can come up with a Plan B that leans on Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris when teams (ie, the Boston Celtics) gameplan against Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
  • I was hoping in my secret heart that the Sixers would reacquire Dario Saric, who was apparently on the block as a poor fit with the Minnesota Timberwolves. But alas, The Process runs in one direction.

Thanks for reading and to those who have reached out with feedback, thoughts and invitations. I’m happy to pick up the conversation and available at 484-751-7795 and kevdonahue@gmail.com, and on Twitter as @kevdonahue. Let me know which parts you liked and which parts you didn’t.

Till next week, stay warm and safe!

– Kevin

Our Trip to Italy in Pictures

We decided on our family trip to Italy more than a year, and have been actively planning it for 6 months, so it was kinda surprising just how surprising the trip was. We weren’t prepared for just how much we’d find in Rome, the Cinque Terra, Venice, Tuscany and Florence. Here’s what we saw, with tons of photos.

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Rome

We landed in Rome on Friday morning and took a bus into Termini station, and eventually found our way to the AirBnB apartment, on the west side of town, at Valle Aurelia, near the Vatican—but first, the bus just happened past the Roman Coliseum (above).

After that, we napped—then we started to work through Rome: Forum, Vatican, Palatine Hill, Capitoline Hill, the biggest, baddest equestrian statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius that made me want to watch Gladiator in the Capitoline museum, the Diocletian baths, the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon.

 

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Pompeii

I knew Pompeii’s story but the thing I had to see to understand is just how much of Mount Vesuvius is missing—how much higher it must have been until it blew its top in 79 AD and dropped 10 meters of ash across the countryside, burying this city for a millennium and moving the Bay of Naples back half a mile. Virginia really enjoyed our tour, and wished she had a lot more time there.

Positano

This “vertical city” literally falls down the mountain to the Mediterranean Sea. It was gorgeous and one of Virginia’s few regrets on the trip was not buying any clothing there.

Cinque Terra

These “five towns” are a couple hours north of Rome, past Pisa, and totally picturesque. We stayed in Vernazza, which is a one-street town that sorta pours down a mountain to the sea, with an adorable, tiny harbor. Our AirBnB was on the second floor and our bedroom was extremely pink (you’ll know it immediately below). We ate by the harbor on the first night and in a restaurant perched 100 feet up on the second. We also hiked from Vernazza to Monterossa, which is one of the most glorious, beautiful walks you could ever take in your life.

Venice

One of those places where East and West meet. St. Mark’s Basilica was strange and beautiful. I loved how different it was than St. Peter’s in Rome. No gondola ride for us.

Tuscany (Artimino)

This was our “time off,” aided by our friend Kris, who directed us here. We relaxed by the pool, hiked around the town of Artimino, checked out the Medici family hunting lodge, ate like kings (and queen), and were treated to a great wine tasting by Cristina.

Florence

Florence was our final stop and, in some ways, I wish it had been our first. It had so much to offer, but we were starting to get fatigued. One of my favorite times in our trip was a late afternoon stop at the Piazelle Michaelangelo (it’s his hometown), enjoying a refreshment and looking over the city.

From Florence, we caught the train to Rome and the airport and headed home—well, Pete, Virginia and I did. Kelly booked a flight to Paris and went there on the way to Amsterdam. He comes home Wednesday.

It was great to visit Italy. Even better was the chance to spend uninterrupted time with the boys, which is difficult now that Pete works and Kelly has school and his job as a counselor at summer camp in upstate New York.

Some thoughts

  • We did AirBnB everywhere but Artimino and it was for the most very good. Locations were good, and most of the master bedroom beds were good. The boys’ beds, not so much, though they were good sports. The best place we had was in Rome, with a great terrace. The worst was Florence—centrally located, but right on a small, but busy, road and apparently sitting directly in front of a sewage tank that needs to be pumped out on Wednesday mornings. Yuck! We’d do it again.
  • Speaking of “gig economy” companies, we used Uber, once, in Rome, to get back home from a dinner in Trastaverte. Guy pulled up in a very sweet Mercedes sedan. Uber wasn’t available outside Rome.
  • One bit of curiosity fallout: I am completely intrigued by Michaelangelo. He is simply a transcendent genius. Listening to The Agony and the Ecstasy but I’m thinking there’s a better book to read. What is it, people?
  • Time with the boys was great—and when Kelly left us at 3:30 am on the last day, to catch a flight to Paris, I felt both sad he was leaving and buoyant that he was brave enough to strike out on his own. That he texted us later in the day that he’d befriended his hostel roommate (a 20-something copper miner from the Yukon Territory—you can’t make this stuff up) and was rapturous about the city was icing on the cake. Virginia and I have always wanted to hold our sons close and launch them as adults. This trip felt like confirmation that we could do both. And that was a great feeling for the trip home.

 

 

Mary Visits Philly

Virginia’s cousin Mary Plaine came (via train from Maryland) and visited us this weekend. We went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Comcast Tower’s Christmas show, then visited the Christmas Village at City Hall. A very Philly Christmas to all!

-Some rain, but hearts warmed being together and trying to feel that hope that is part of Advent. A hard season to get there with so much to change in 2017, but gotta hope the light and love will return and will sustain us. Being with so many of my favorite people always helps. vak

 

 

Remembering My Uncle Tom

Today is my Uncle Tom Stansfield’s birthday. He would be 87. The fact he passed away last year (June 14, a Sunday) doesn’t lessen my wish to celebrate him on this day. So here is a rough reprise of my parts of Tom’s eulogy, delivered along with my brother Chris, at Holy Family Church in Union Beach, N.J., 9 long months ago. My notes were still sitting on my nightstand, which tells you something. Maybe you knew him and this will bring him to your mind and heart. Or maybe — if you’re lucky — you have your own Uncle Tom.

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Why a Son Stranded at Night Resonated with So Many Friends

I was dead asleep on a Monday night when the phone rang. I’d been asleep only an hour, but as I was startled awake, it felt like much longer. It was my oldest son calling to say that his car had died on the way home and he was stranded on the side of the Schuylkill Expressway. He was asking about how to call AAA. He hoped AAA would be able to jump-start his car and send him on his way.

I confirmed with him how to call them, then sat there thinking. It was unlikely the car simply needed a jump. Eventually I got up and awaited the follow-up call.

It came and we agreed the car should be towed to where it could be repaired, at the family mechanic’s place. We met there and were back home by 1:40 a.m. I went to sleep and the next morning I wrote this on Facebook.

A midnight call from the oldest son that his car broke down on the Schuylkill Expressway is no fun.

And yet, to see him manage a small crisis, to pick him up and drive home in the dark talking and excavating small truths, to return to bed, everyone safe (the tow truck driver even waited with Pete till I arrived where they took the car) confirms for me that this world is full of graces embedded in its difficulties, large and small.

Grateful for this particular, small one. But a little tired too.

And then people started to like it. It amazed me when it was liked by more than 120 people (and counting). I wonder why, and I think that in a Facebook feed dominated by eruptions against (and occasionally FOR) Donald Trump, something that is non-political and simply an acknowledgement of the challenges and rewards of this life struck people as real and valuable.

And thank God for that.

May your life be occupied by the real things—the care and concern we share for the ones we love. Our efforts to influence the things we can to make lives better—our lives, others’ lives. We are in this together.

Christmas Time

We started the holiday with a brunch for friends on Christmas Eve, went to New Jersey on the 25th, and ended up this weekend with the Kirks visiting us here in Pennsylvania. It’s been good to see everyone, and now it’ll be good to get back to a normal schedule and eating like normal human beings—before Kevin weighs 300 pounds.

Some photos from the forthnight:

Pete and Grandma in Vegas

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About 5 years ago, my mom made the offhand comment to Pete that she would take him to Las Vegas for his 21st birthday.

Five years later, she was good to her word. This is the two of them in the lounge of the hotel/resort/casino Aria.

The two of them spent four nights in Vegas before she headed home and he headed to San Francisco to visit his friend Zack Moore.

Pete told me he didn’t have much money to his name after working a minimum wage internship this summer, but somehow he managed to find enough money to play table games. From his Twitter account it sounds as if it started badly.

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before a late rally.

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My retirement plans hope he’s right.

Oh, here’s his photo from the Marin Highlands looking back through the Golden gate to San Francisco (with a little photo editing by me).

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Kelly's Graduation

We celebrated Kelly’s graduating high school with a party Saturday. About 50 adults and many students were there. We could not have done it without the help of the Kirk and McKeone families. One thing Susan and Emily Kirk helped with was a set of table placements that included photos of Kelly and facts, real an dubious, about the kid. Kevin made up most of the dubious ones. Emily did a great job connecting images and facts. Give it a look. And prepare to laugh.

Kelly's Senior Prom

We’re getting to the end of Kelly’s senior year of high school and last Friday was a milestone: his senior prom.

he went with his girlfriend Emily, and we met her family when they came over for photos. We also had the grandmas.

i’m starting to think he’s actually going to graduate.

Delaware!

Kelly and Mike have made their college choices and, surprise!, they’re going to the same place: the university of Delaware.

Can you tell from the photo?

This is them taking a break at an ultimate frisbee tournament.

Main Line's Youth Service

One of the strange things about our family (among many) is that our kids don’t go to our church. Pete doesn’t go to any church, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he sees the value in it sometime down the road. Kelly does, but he followed his own call to Main Line Unitarian Church, where he knew some of the kids from Unirondack summer camp. He is one of the youth leaders there.

it was his experience at Main Line that took he and I to Haiti 14 months ago, and took him to UU General assembly last summer, and generally drives his desire to be involved in our faith. It’s one of the biggest blessings of our family life, and it was a special treat a week ago when he and the rest of the youth group led a Sunday service at MLUC.

Back in the fall, the youth group did something and we were surprised to see Kelly dance in public. My god, the kid can dance! This time, he joined a couple kids with musical instrument and Virginia and I realized with some excitement and dread that the kid was gonna sing! and he did, rapping Macklemore’s 2012 plea for tolerance, Same Love. You can catch a snippet below.

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Florida trip

It’s been a crummy, cold, nasty winter, so escaping to Kevin’s mom’s place in Vero Beach for a week in early March was a wonderful treat. We sat by the pool, saw some spring training baseball (all Mets, all the time), and ate A LOT.

There were four of us, but it was a bit strange. Kevin’s mom was there, Kelly was not (it was not his spring break week and he has missed enough school that he can’t afford to miss any more). Sadly for him, the weather in Pennsylvania was atrocious, and there was not a full day of school all week—2 days canceled, 3 partial days. Oh well, Kelly and Kevin are planning their father-son trip after school ends.

More photos here