Really Dad? Carpe Dolphin

Michael

My kids think it is a sacrilege that I have not managed to stay up late enough to wring in the New Year for at least a decade, but I think the whole idea that you need a holiday to get a clean slate once a year is contrived. The concept falsely implies that all of us will be granted another year to change our lives, but this year’s loss of several precious souls has reminded me that our sand slips through the glass more quickly than we think it will. And yet at the end of each year I dutifully jot down a catalogue of resolutions, a sort of a punch list to improve myself as a father, husband, son and boss, as though the very act of writing down these intentions will transform them into reality. Then I compare the previous year’s list to the current resolutions only to realize that many of the items are carried over from year to year, a grim confirmation of my repeated failure.

So this year, I was reluctant to double down on my fresh starts and renewed intentions. I turned in around 10:30pm and was sound asleep at midnight when Michaela burst into the bedroom of our rented home on Cudjoe Key to announce with great exuberance that the calendar had rolled over to 2015. I wish I could report that the first words I uttered in this brand new year were as cheerfully suitable as Michaela’s, but suffice it to say that if I had made my usual list of resolutions, I would have broken one already.

When I awoke in earnest about seven hours later, I stepped out onto the balcony, greeted by a bright sun shimmering across the Florida Straits, not even a whisper of wind wrinkling the glassy bay. I was about to head downstairs for a cup of coffee, then head out for my traditional New Year’s run when I saw a geyser of water about a half a mile offshore. I thought it might be a tarpon rolling until I saw the glistening dorsal fins and tails of at least two dolphins.

Since they seemed to be staying in the same general area, I hopped into a kayak to get a closer look-see, making course corrections every time I saw them break the surface. As I paddled closer, I noticed that there were three of the cetaceans swimming together, periodically thrashing wildly as they dove in the shallow water for fish. The water was only four feet deep so every time they sounded they kicked up a cloud of silt that whitened the aquamarine water. They were so close that they splashed my kayak as I videoed them furiously flipping their fluked tails while they hunted for their breakfast, as though they were doing hand stands. Two of them flashed their enormous white bellies under my kayak, within inches of my feet.

Until that moment when I saw just how fast they were moving in their frenzy to eat, I had planned to slide into the water with them. Instead, I followed them for 45 minutes mesmerized by their grace, speed, power and playfulness. When they disappeared, I would try to guess where they would surface, listening for the puff of vapor they would shoot out of their blowholes which sounded like a snorkel being cleared.

We floated into deeper water where the turquoise-colored water gave way to a darker blue making it easier to discern the shapes of the three dolphins as they zigged and zagged underwater, seemingly becoming more at ease with the 10 foot chunk of plastic tagging along with them. By now I realized that a run was not in the cards this morning, but I didn’t mind. I stowed my camera deciding that instead of trying to capture the moment, I was going to live in it.

And so for the better part of an hour, I communed with these animals, that swam playfully but purposefully, not worrying about how to make themselves better dolphins, or fretting about their shortcomings from the previous year. They were splashing, rollicking, diving, breathing and living each moment as it came. I was an intent student in their classroom learning the art of joie de vivre.

The wind picked up and was blowing me offshore, in the general direction of Cuba, an island I am eager to visit, but not via kayak. It was with the greatest reluctance that I began paddling away from my new friends, back to shore, resolving on this day of resolutions, to live more like the enlightened dolphins, knowing that with each morning we are born again.

Michaela

Life is like playing the notes on a piano. Some of the notes are high and beautiful, while the flats and sharps in the lower octaves are dark and dissonant, but played together, they can be a masterpiece. Just as darkness defines light so do the minor cords give meaning to the major cords. Each day is a note of its own and each year a piece of our end song. Some years are beautiful songs and will linger forever in your ears. These are songs with notes played on the right side of the piano, the high notes. Other songs from other years will strike the black keys from the lower register, heavy with pain and sadness. And of course, within any year there is always a mixture of all of these notes that makes the song of our lives such a rich melody of experience.

As this year has come to an end, some notes will never be played again: the note of my friendship with my best friend; the note of my family living under one roof (my brother will be off to college next fall); the note of my grandfather’s life. I will always remember him teaching me to read the passage from “Twilight Land”: “There he sat and sat and sat until the sun touched the rim of the ground…” I will always remember the morning drives to school with my brother while we listened to the“shower mix” on 93.7. I will always remember the laughing and playing with my family in our warm house. These are the notes that I would love to hear forever. When I close my eyes I can see them dancing in my head. They have been played, but they will always be a part of my song.

In 2015, I want to make a beautiful song and reach for all of the high notes. I want to live life with no regrets, to love everyone with all my heart, to live each day as though I will not be blessed with another. I want these things because in 2014, I learned that each moment counts. I have realized that you do not always control what notes are played, or when your song will end. I discovered that as much as you want to play the high notes, there must be low notes in your song. However, you can make the best of the notes that are played. Each moment will be a note that contributes to your end song. In 2015 and for the rest of my years, I want my song to be a masterpiece.

Really Dad? Enjoy the Ride

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Enjoy the ride

Michael: It was bound to happen to my little girl sooner or later. She is, after all, a freshman in high school, an age when young ladies are attracted to members of the opposite sex.

She has fallen in in love with Carlos, a brown-eyed, chestnut haired, six footer. She makes no apologies for his brash attitude and his rude manners. It is part of the attraction for her undoubtedly. Not only is Carlos a bad boy; he is a big boy, too. At 1200 pounds, the horse has some serious swag going on. If he were a high school boy, there’s no doubt in my mind Carlos would wear his cap cocked a few degrees off center, his underwear would ride way up over his jeans, and he would have a pair of Dre Beats clamped over his ears, jamming out tunes, oblivious to everyone around him. Just the kind of boy Mickey would fall for.

Carlos rarely does exactly what he’s supposed to do. His 70-something- year old owner, Lance, has said Carlos does not listen to anybody. That’s the reason Lance has not entered Carlos in many shows.

Sometimes when my daughter is riding around the outside rink, he will unexpectedly rear up, and try his best to dump her off the back of the saddle, or he will suddenly sink to his knees and attempt to slide her off the front of the saddle. Somehow Mickey stays atop of Carlos, firmly reins him in, then digs her heels into his side, and urges him back into his cantor.

If he resists, she will spur him forward with a sharp wrap of her riding crop on his backside: he will stutter-step sideways for a few paces as if some electric current pulses through him. Then he will straighten up and trot as pretty as any horse you have ever seen. Even Lance has had to admit that no one has ever been able to get Carlos to do the things Michaela can. In June, he encouraged her to ride him in his first show in years. After the two of them worked through their initial jitters in the first class, they earned ribbons in all of the other events.

Back in the barn, where there is an earthy-smelling melange of leather, horse sweat, fresh hay and manure, Michaela begins the ritual of untacking him, first unlacing the bridle, slipping on the halter that she hooks up to the cross ties to keep him centered. She presses her face up against his face, looking at him eyeball to eyeball. “You were a bad boy today. You shouldn’t try to buck.” Then she removes the saddle, putting all of the equipment back where it belongs in the tack room.

This is my favorite part of the whole process because I have never witnessed this miracle at home: Michaela putting away things. In the real world, I can pretty much walk into our house at the end of the day and retrace her steps after school. There are several textbooks open on the bar, next to an an empty Yoplait container, the remnant of her snack after homework; the television is on and leg rest popped out of the easy chair where she watched the Disney channel; and there is a puddle of clothes on the wet bathroom floor next to the shower where she bathed after she, wait for it… practiced serving over the net in the yard as evidenced by the volleyball at the edge of the woods. But there will be no such telltale signs of her presence in the barn after she is gone.

Before she leaves Carlos for the night, she always feeds him a treat. She holds a piece of a candy cane in her flattened palm as he bends his head toward her hand revealing teeth that could easily shred bark off a tree. “It’s okay as long as you keep your palm flat and don’t move your hand at all,” she explains, reading the panic that has frozen my face. He takes only what is being offered, no flesh. Then she looks at me and says “you try”. No thanks. With all deference to the Connecticut Supreme Court who recently found that horses do not have dangerous propensities, I like five fingers on each hand. And given all the shark fishing I’ve done in my life, I am not willing to press my luck any further.

She kisses her Carlos goodnight on his muzzle, a soft swatch of quivering velvet. Do his eyes look just a little bit sad as he tries to poke his head through bars at the top of his stall? I can hear him neighing loudly as we leave the barn. “See you tomorrow, Carlos!” she tells him, blowing him a kiss. My daughter is in love with a boy named Carlos.

Michaela-KerinMichaela : I fell in love at a young age, with the most handsome boy in my viewfinder. He is a crazy one, from a family of speed demons. The boy’s name is Carlos, my horse. Our bond is somewhere between that of a mother attending to a trying-son, and a sister and brother, who share each other’s secrets with unconditional love.

Some days I come to the barn to ride Carlos, however some days I just come to be with him in his stall and to play with my baby. I will stand there grooming him, combing his tail, brushing his mane, using the curry comb to get the dirt off of his body. Every once in a while I feel a nudge at my thigh, or a nibble on my hair, and I know Carlos is looking for some love. I will walk in front of him, wrap my arms around his neck, put my head on his head and just breath with him. There is nothing better than loving him and knowing he loves me. I could stay with him all day in silence and still be at peace. He is my little boy no matter how big he is.

Some of the other riders who work at the barn have suggested that Carlos is a bad horse. I say he is a spirited one, with a lot of fire in him. He likes to show people who is the boss, sometimes forgetting that the only boss around here is me. He has a mind of his own, so sometimes he tests the limits. He doesn’t want to be held back, he wants to fly. And he never ceases to try.

Each time, I have a couple of seconds to prepare for his take-off when I feel his body tense beneath my legs, and see his ears go back, as he lifts his head. I sit back, deep in my seat, squeeze my thighs, keep my head up, put my heels down, toes up, and get ready. Then he bolts like it’s the starting gate of the Kentucky Derby, or he pitches a little bucking fit. I have to pull back on the reins with all my might, and sternly yell “No Carlos,” which usually makes him stop. Then I whip him in the rear end with my crop so he knows he was bad.

But most of the time when I get onto Carlos, we act as one being. We don’t communicate through words or even actions; just through thoughts. If I am anxious, he is anxious: when I am happy, he is happy. The rush that fills my body when we are cantering around the ring is indescribable. It is like conquering my worst fear, in the best way.

However, when my dad comes to watch me ride, and sees his little girl flying around the ring on a big, dark horse, cantering round and round, he definitely needs to swallow a chill pill. His face gets flushed, his fists clench, and his jaw bands poke out like marbles. It’s almost like his bulldog look, but scared, not mad. It’s quite funny, if you ask me.

I assure him there is nothing to be afraid of. I tell him that I am in my element, and that I can control Carlos. But he sputters on about how this 1200 pound beast could throw me or crush me in an instant. Really dad? You are worried about me riding my horse in a closed ring, when you ride your Barbie-bike on the highway taking your chances with 5,000 pound cars? You scream down hills on wheels so skinny you can tell which side of a penny is up when you roll over it. That’s funny. You should get on a horse and see how it feels to fly together, then tell me to slow down.

In the words of Chris LeDoux, a world champion rodeo rider : “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high, keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky, and live like you ain’t afraid to die. Don’t be afraid, just enjoy the ride.”

Really Dad? T Bone

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T Bone

Michael : I think of our home as a sanctuary from the madness of the outside world, a place where our family can soothe our frayed nerves every night.

But each day, even before I can close my car door, the illusion is shattered by the shrill yipping of my daughter’s Yorkshire “terror” (not a typo), T Bone. As much as I may have looked forward to entering the threshold of my home all day, the cacophony that awaits me on the other side of the two doors repels me. I dread the next 12 steps through the mud room where the furry fury bares gnarly teeth in his lower jaw, growling at me as though I were a burglar ready to ransack the joint.

Then I maneuver across the terra-cotta tiles, careful not to land on one of the ‘tootsie rolls’ he daily deposits anywhere but on the 2×2 absorbent “training “pads that we dutifully place on the floor every morning, hoping for a different result. It is the only four foot square area in the house where “T bone” does not do his business. I often wonder whether we would be better off carpeting all of the floors with these training pads, leaving a 2 x 2 area of exposed tile upon which he could relieve himself.

In spite of our years of failure, we patiently walk him several times a day, and are rewarded by his squirting a fresh puddle on the hardwood floor as soon as he gets back in the house.

Every night as T Bone winds up his barking crescendo, our golden retriever, who only barks when there’s a real reason to do so-a stranger at the door, or one of our neighbor’s cows, Guinea Hens, goats or donkeys meandering through the yard-looks askance at his canine cousin as if to say: “Shut your under-bite.” Chai, our good dog, saunters up to me and rubs her head against my knee, asking for nothing except a little attention.

Chai surpasses T Bone physically and intellectually by an exponential of 10. Yet whenever I fill their shared bowl (we used to have a separate kitty bowl for T Bone but he insisted on eating from Chai’s bowl) Chai waits patiently for the runt to fill his puss with several pellets of food, then watches the teacup scamper over to a corner to crunch his stolen pieces before returning to the trough, where he noses Chai out of the way for another mouthful.

If Dante Alighieri ever lived to meet the likes of T Bone, perhaps he might have created a tenth ring of hell populated with Yorkshire Terriers. To live every day with this dog is to suffer a sort of hell, but for what sin I have been assigned this punishment remains the unanswered question. Perhaps it is the sin of timidity.

When my wife approached me about getting this dog for our daughter at Christmas four and a half years ago, I immediately rejected the notion. But my wife would not let go of this idea, insisting that we could not deny Michaela the years of pleasure this dog would bring. So after receiving email photos of the dog from its breeder, and after more entreaties from my wife, I ignored my deep misgivings and surrendered, hoping that my wife was correct when she said this was a gift that would keep on giving.

My wife was right about one thing: this dog has brought great joy to Michaela’s life. If she has had a tough day at school or a falling out with one of her parents, it is always T Bone who comes to the rescue. On such occasions, it is common to see her holding him in the crux of her elbow, talking to him like a baby. T Bone trusts my daughter implicitly, and will allow her to handle him or scold him in ways that none of the rest of the family could get away with. Each of us has been bitten at least once by this menace, yet Michaela can flip him on his back and rub his underside so that he falls asleep with all fours poking in the air. And if you try to steal a kiss from Michaela at bedtime, you better make sure that the limp lump stays under the covers or risk getting your face ripped off.

She totes him around in her pocketbook with just his head sticking out of the bag where he seems very content, except on the one occasion she sneaked him onto the New Haven – New London train, and was ejected by the conductor in Old Saybrook because of the dog’s incessant barking.

Michaela, the biggest germ-phobe I know, will hold that shaggy haired, urine soaked, fleabag next to her face and let him lick her with his sand paper tongue. And if you speak to Michaela in a harsh tone, the dog will set his lower jaw forward in his intimidating fashion, unleashing his guttural growl.

There are some things in this life that I cannot pretend to understand: I must accept them. Michaela’s unconditional love of T Bone is one of them. Another is the average life expectancy of this cruel breed is 12.8 years, another 8.3 years to go, but who’s counting. And while I would never overtly harm any animal, I have an enduring fantasy that is often triggered when I step out of our shower and land barefooted in one of his chocolate messes. I imagine one of the red tail hawks that circles high over our home almost daily, swooping down upon T Bone, who is in the backyard, unattended during one of my momentary lapses. The hawk digs his talons into the scruff of the dog’s neck and soars skyward, the mutt’s strident yaps becoming more muted with each flap of the hawk’s wings, until the only sound is the sweet whisper of wind through our black walnut trees. Then a piercing yelp punctures my happy reverie, causing my focus to dip from the heavens to the mudroom floor, where T Bone is standing in a new puddle, his head slightly cocked. The gift that keeps on giving.

Michaela

My dog is my baby. He is my favorite thing in the world. He always makes me happy no matter what. I love him to death. He follows me wherever I go. I always know when someone is coming up behind me because T Bone tenses up and lets out a small growl. When T Bone barks he isn’t being a nasty and mean dog: he is protecting his mom. My dad just can’t seem to comprehend that. When he hears T Bone protecting me, he seems to assume that the dog is going to gnaw his head off, irrationally fearing that this five pound terrier, which is smaller than my dad’s head, could maul him. Of course this is the same guy who screamed and jumped around the yard like a schoolgirl this morning when I told him that there was a mouse sitting on his foot in the garden, where he had been pulling weeds. But I digress…

I admit, I may have something to do with T Bone seeing my dad as a threat. I taught him to bark and growl at people when I give him our secret signal, and it just so happens that I signal him a lot when my dad is around. Like whenever my dad tickles me or wrestles with me, I will sic T Bone on him. So now, T Bone automatically sees him as a threat, and my dad does not seem to care much for my baby either. He has shared with me some of his fantasies about T Bone slipping his leash, never to be found again, or one of the hawks that scours our yard almost daily stopping by for a chomp. The story usually ends with my screeching, and I bet you can guess who comes to my rescue.

Even the sound of my dad’s voice seems to alarm T Bone, especially when my dad goes into our downstairs bathroom. I can always tell when my dad is on his way into or out of the shower, when he bellows: “Michaela! Your dog left another present right outside of the shower! Ugh!!! I swear Santa was on crack when he brought you that shaggy little rodent.” Really Dad?

Then he grumbles about how he stepped in the mess. Wouldn’t you think after almost five years my dad would look before he steps? I never have that problem. And besides, his poops are smaller than tootsie rolls. Then my dad threatens to “drop kick the rat into next week” and “make him into a real T Bone”. Very funny dad.

My dad and T Bone’s relationship reminds me much of Tom and Jerry: T Bone being the cute little mouse and my dad being the raggedy old cat. My dad constantly finds ways to harass the poor thing. Harnessing him to the zip line and sending him whizzing through the trees in my yard, putting him on the slide in the play set, placing him atop of a six foot snow drift, that quickly swallows him when my dad lets go, leaving me to dig out my scared baby.

One time, I snuck T Bone into Walmart in an Adidas bag without my dad knowing it, until T Bone started barking, at which point my dad quickly walked away, acting as if he didn’t know me.

He pretends that he wants nothing to do with the dog. But on occasion I will come home from a long day of riding or playing lacrosse and find my dad asleep on the couch, with my baby curled up happily in his lap. When my dad realizes I am in the den, he looks up with a slightly embarrassed, if not horrified face and quickly swats away T Bone, as if I didn’t walk in on a man- to-man snuggle “sess”.

Deny it all you want dad, but even you love my cute little fluff ball. And just remember, T Bone is expected to live another eight years, and I intend to keep him for every second of it. Buckle in dad.

Really Dad? Menemsha Blues

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Mike

Our family spends a good chunk of that fleeting miracle called summer living together on a 34 foot boat in Block Island. If you are conjuring an image of a yacht from Robin Leach’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” think again. We have bikes, boogie boards, knee boards, water skies, fishing poles, clam rakes, grills, tomato and pepper plants strapped, stowed or bungied everywhere on the boat. We clothespin our hand-washed laundry to the bow rail to dry in the ocean breezes. We are the Clampetts of the waterways living in a marine trailer park. But hey, it is the only way our family could ever spend a couple of months on one of the most beautiful places on earth. (I commute between the island and the mainland on weekends, and on occasion, my mind follows suit).

Every summer I float the idea of doing what our trawler was made for: cruising, and every year I get outvoted. When I tried to flex my muscle a couple of years ago, “forcing” them to motor over to that squalid little town on the mainland, Newport, there was nearly a mutiny. “What’s so great about Newport? Block Island has everything we love.” For them, the Block is the beginning and the end of the world. And indeed they have their clique of dock friends, and their own lives out there. My wife and I rarely see them unless they are hungry, need a few bucks, or are returning for curfew.

So this year, despite the opposition, we took the last week of June, before the kids started their jobs on the Block, (yes, we introduced a dose of reality into nirvana by requiring them to obtain and maintain jobs this summer) to explore Martha’s Vineyard. It took us five hours to steam the 38 nautical miles to the Vineyard on our slow trawler, with Michaela and her brother operating the much-faster center console boat alongside of us, frustrated that their Ferrari was tethered to our Dodge Duster. They even did a few donuts to mock our slow progress.

We had been warned by other boaters that Menemsha, at the Northwest corner of the island, about five miles past Gay Head on Aquinnah, was just a sleepy fishing village without a lot of amenities. People told us that Oak Bluffs and Edgartown had a lot more to offer the kids, but I had an idea that Menemsha was the place we needed to be.

As we cleared the narrow breachway where the current ripped out of Menemsha Pond, famous for having been the background for much of the Jaws movie, the air was a heady mixture of salt, barnacles, drying nets and lobster bait from the many high-bowed Down-Easters in the harbor. It was the smell of a working harbor. Conspicuously absent were any megayachts, tourist shops, glitzy restaurants or Mcmansions. Even Billy Joel’s old house was an understated cottage perched on the hill overlooking the harbor. Dozens of youngsters swam or netted crabs in the buoyed lagoon between the jetty and the dock in the harbor, and more children fished from the beach, just beyond which terns were dive-bombing the bait rippling the surface.

We tied up and cleaned the boats, walked down to Larson’s Fish Market, then to the one retail store in town called Menemsha Blues and the ice cream shop. Michaela moaned: ‘Are you serious, dad? We left Block Island for this?”

I felt like Clark Griswold in “Family Vacation” wanting to tell the kids to buck up and give the place a chance, although even I was beginning to wonder if there would be enough to do here for five days. As a conciliatory gesture, we ran the center console the 15 miles to Oak Bluffs, where we tied up our boat in front of one of the dozen waterfront restaurants lining the wharf. That town was an impressionist painting filled with pink shirts, blue shorts and Black Dog hats which Monet might have entitled “Vineyard Vines”. Fortunately, I did not have time to fret about whether my running shirt was too declasse because we had to beat feet to make it back to Menemsha by dark.

When we nosed into the harbor a few minutes before sunset, there were hundreds of people milling about the beach, and a hook and ladder parked at the end of the road. I thought we were watching a tragedy unfolding until I noticed everyone had cameras or cell phones aimed across Vineyard Sound, where the last gleam of the red globe was sliding behind Cuttyhunk, the moment punctuated by the fire truck’s siren. Sunset is apparently a sacrament here.

For the next four days my son and I spent hours boating all manner of aquatic life, including sea bass, scup, and fluke. We gunk-holed in Menemsha Pond, following the channel into some skinny water where there are no navigational aids for a half mile or so, and then the pond opens up revealing another hidden harbor. We even managed to take a hard bike ride together, one of the few times my son has ridden my son following our transcontinental trek last summer.

Meanwhile Michaela and Lisa were off on their own “explores”, cycling around Chilmark, eating speciality salads at the grocery market, taking the bus into Vineyard Haven to check out the shops, and enjoying the spit of beach at Menemsha. We ate dinner in Edgartown two nights, enjoying the restaurant, The Port Hunter, so much the first night that we returned for an encore, proving our initial visit was no fluke. Every dish was more savory than the last, with the plat de resistance a plate called tuna “sunnyside up”, seared on one side and uncooked on the other. Suddenly, there was no more grumbling about that other island 38 miles to our west. In fact, we stayed a day longer than we had planned, lulled by Menemsha’s magical rush and withdrawal of the waves rolling into the beach just the other side of the jetty.

The only disappointment was that by our last night, my son had not landed a striped bass. That species was not interested in our artificial offerings when there was so much bait in the water. We tried to find some live eels, but that would have required a 30 mile round trip to a part of the island that does not have Indian names, where tourists wear their goofy golfing outfits or clutch Kate Spade purses. That did not deter my son from his noble pursuit. Every evening he threw his popper off the jetty toward the raspberry sherbert sea, a perfect reflection of the sunset’s afterglow. And every evening he returned to the boat empty-handed.

On our last night, my son asked me to join him on the jetty to throw a plug. While I was eager to hunker in my berth with my novel, and quite possibly a glass of wine, so I would be ready to shove off at dawn, on the rare occasions when your teenage kid asks you to do something with him, you best do it. After a half an hour of lobbing a creek chub into the harbor dimpled by the frustrating swooshes of stripers sucking up all of the live bait, I told Caelan I was going back to the boat.

Just as he was trying to negotiate more fishing time, he stopped mid-sentence. With an excited inflection, he said: “I got one, dad!” I could tell by the way the fish was taking line it was a keeper. I borrowed a net from a fellow fisherman on the jetty, and when the fish splashed close to the rocks, we traded positions so he could net it (and not blame me if we lost the fish). A couple of minutes later we were walking back to the boat with a 32 inch striper wriggling in his hands. After a few photos under the docks lights, Caelan sluiced sea water through his gills, and released him in the harbor.

As we left the cliffs of Gayhead in our wakes early the next morning, I began to realize just how fortunate we had been to spend time together on that forgotten corner of paradise, without any friends, electronic disruptions, or plans, living moment to moment. Of course it could not last, and the kids were soon begging us to run the little boat back to Block ahead of us so they could resume their “real” lives. We did what parents of teenagers do: held our breath and hoped for the best as they sliced through the waters of Rhode Island Sound, slowly disappearing over the horizon.

Michaela

Mike-and-Michaela3-300x180My brother and I had five hours to dream and wonder what Martha’s Vineyard would be like as we motored in his Bristol Harbor, from Block Island, at an annoying eight knots. I had heard many flattering things about the Vineyard. I imagined hopping off the dock, being greeted by young dock boys dressed in Vineyard Vines apparel, then strolling into some fancy towns with the aroma of delicious food wafting from nearby pubs.

I was dreaming about walking down the streets that I had seen in magazines, maybe spotting a Kennedy or Taylor Swift, when I was rudely awakened by the most acrid stench imaginable. At first I thought we were downwind of Cormorant Island, a little clump of rocks in Mystic, painted white with seagull poop. The smell had a tinge of decaying fish mixed in with a splash of cat pee. Thinking this might just be a bad dream, I popped open my eyes to see us coming into a beat up looking harbor with a bunch of working boats. The word “luxurious” did not fit into what I was seeing and smelling. To make things worse, if that was possible, my dad had taken away my phone for the week.

At least it was sunny, and I could get a tan in the middle of nowhere. So I made the best of it riding bikes into Chilmark with my mom, something we never do at home or even on Block Island. We had some arugula, tomato and mozzarella salads on the porch of the grocery store, my mom bought me a necklace at the closest thing to a real store for miles, Menemsha Blues, and we hung out on the beach while my dad and brother fished every day. I read one book and made it halfway through another one. And we went to some cool restaurants on the other side of the island, an hour’s bus ride away.

By about the third day, I understood why my parents had not kept going past Menemsha, to Oak Bluffs or Edgardtown, which is what most people do, and what my brother and I had begged my parents to do. I was sitting up on the flybridge after dinner, writing in my journal, sipping a cup of tea, when I started to realize just what it is about this place that I was beginning to love.

The air is lighter out here, almost like it’s easier to breathe, and you kind of get used to the smell of the harbor. The regulars on the dock, the people who make Menemsha their summer home, have told us that Menemsha is the best kept secret on Martha’s Vineyard. Like Bob, an 88-year-old man from New Jersey, who has been returning every year since 1962. In that time he has caught 30,000 pounds of striper from his 8-foot dinghy, has gone through four outboards, sunk it once, and has been around the entire island in it. You can tell this place still excites him every time he talks about it.

I sat up on the fly bridge that night watching the light slowly melt from the sky, listening to the stripers splash the water, hearing silky ripples lap against the hull of our boat, and the clear clang of the bell buoy at the harbor’s entrance, observing the people swarming to the beach to see the sun dip from sight, their eyes soaking up every shade of color in the sky.

I think I have found a little slice of heaven. Even though I did not have my phone or my friends, it was so simple to be happy out here. There is nothing to distract you from the beauty of this place. You cherish what you have. You are grateful.

If every place could have a little bit of Menemsha in it, there would be no reason to complain. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I am going to miss this place. But I know Menemsha is now a part of me. I will bring Menemsha with me wherever I go.

Really Dad? Father’s Day

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Father’s Day

Michael

It is easy to take Father’s Day for granted until you lose your dad.  Before Sunday, I had never visited anyone’s graveside, so when I started out on my bike ride that afternoon, I was surprised to find myself wheeling down the gravel road leading to the old Milford Cemetery.

Some of the headstones in the yard are so old that several hundred years of wind and rain have all but obliterated the names and epitaphs etched into them.  A number of these anonymous markers lean at desperate angles, like the tips of masts from sunken sailboats poking out of the sea.

On that rainy day in March when we buried my father, I had not noticed the shiny granite headstone with the one word chiseled into the rock. On Sunday, I brushed my hand across the letters cut into the stone.  “Kerin.”  Although my dad was a minimalist, this seemed austere even by his standards.  I made a mental note to ask my mother whether there would be more verbiage added later.

I was not sure where to stand, or even if I should stand.  Kneeling on the ground did not seem practical.  I looked around the graveyard, the way I do at church sometimes, to see what other folks were doing. There was only one other person in sight: a very old woman in a wheelchair.

I felt oddly disconnected to my father, standing here in this graveyard, with this ponderous slab of rock glinting in the afternoon sun.   Then I saw the depressed outline where the ground had been broken on the first day of spring three months ago, and where grass and weeds were pushing through.  Now I knew where to stand: at the edge of the portal between this world and the next.

I said a few words aloud, but they sounded as garbled as though I had spoken them underwater.  So I stood silently, remembering the many things my father had taught me, grateful for all that he had done for me. I knew I was lucky to have had a father who set so many good examples by which to live, while at the same time I lamented my own shortcomings as a father, which stood in stark contrast to the memories of my father.

As I clomped back across the un-mowed field in my cycling shoes, toward my bike which was leaned against a giant oak tree whose roots had been growing in this soil before the first grave had been dug, and would undoubtedly outlast me, I happened to see a splash of purple springing from the ground nearby. It was a cluster of wild violets, just weeds, and yet impossibly beautiful. I picked four of the stalks and laid them on the headstone, remembering that my father would always collect a bouquet of wild flowers for my mother upon his return from a walk.  I think he would be pleased.

When I arrived home, Michaela read me her Father’s Day card, which I have reproduced below, with her permission.

 

Michaela

In the past 14 years I have gained a lot more from you than the spelling of my name. “It’s Michael with an A” is what I find myself saying after I announce my name and get that quizzical look that tells me it requires a spelling. I truly am “Michael with an A.” I have every part of you in me. And then I have a little extra part that is all my own.  I have your need to succeed and your will power that pushes you to do your best whether in educational pursuits or your athletic endeavors.  I have your powers of legal thinking in my genes. And whether I choose to become a lawyer or not I will always be one of the the most persistent people you will ever meet.

You have taught me to be strong even when I feel weak.  And every day, in different ways, you teach me a lesson.  You have taught me to always be myself, not by ever saying it, or enforcing it. But by dancing in Stop and Shop in the aisles just to embarrass me, or wearing skin tight lycra biking shorts, complemented by white socks and sometimes dress shoes if you have come directly from the office after a workout, or singing “Wide Awake” at the top of your lungs in the car with the windows down and the sun roof open in front of everyone when you drop me off at the mall, or worse, at school, even though you only know three of the words in the song.  And by strolling down Paynes dock (Block Island)  for your friend Wally’s birthday party, wearing a full scuba outfit including flippers, a snorkel , a mask and a neon orange life jacket. Even though everybody on the dock thought you were insane, you did it to make your friend laugh.

There is a song that says we are supposed to live everyday like we are dying: that is what you do. I thank you for giving me every ounce of your “Michael” and helping shape my “A”. Thank you, dad, for being the best father possible.

Really Dad? Boys

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Michael

My daughter, Michaela, celebrated her 14th birthday recently. Even though she has been a teenager for more than a year now, I still find myself looking for the little girl who used to race through the house to hug me at the front door every night when I got home from work.

Now, if I am lucky I get a quick “Hey dad,” and if I try to steal a hug, I hear “You’re being weird, dad,” as she unclasps my arms from her like they were radioactive.

She, and her “besty,” Dominique, who was also celebrating her 14th birthday asked to have some friends over for a birthday party which seemed innocent enough until I learned there would be about 20 kids coming over to our house, half of them boys.

Suddenly I was prickled by the memories of my eighth-grade basement parties in which a room full of hormone-spiked adolescents played Spin the Bottle and Post Office. My past and my daughter’s future were on a collision course.

Michaela’s plan was to cook S’Mores around the fire pit if the rain held off, otherwise they would retreat to our family room. I was praying for rain so that I could keep a closer eye on the crowd that began to get dropped off at 6 p.m.

My soon-to-be 17 year old son and a few of his friends volunteered (okay, they were paid) to patrol the perimeter to make sure that no one wandered into the dark woods bordering our property.

I held my breath for much of the next four hours, watching the bonfire flames licking up toward the night sky, trying to count heads, making sure everyone was accounted for. While boys with backwards caps and girls with yoga pants roamed through the house, my wife calmly surveyed the chaos, and I wrung my hands  until they were blue. On occasion, I would see a couple of shadowy figures stray too far from the fire, and my son would steal up next to them, and sound his hidden air horn, blasting them out of their amorous reverie.

At 10 p.m. headlights bounced across our front lawn. The cavalry had arrived, and not a minute too soon for me. After every last urchin was whisked away, I could hear Michaela and Dominque giggling happily, presumably comparing notes about their party.

I asked her how things went. She flashed me a big smile and gave me an unsolicited hug. “It was great, daddy.”

 Michaela

When I asked if I could have a birthday party with my best friend Dominique for our 14th, I was surprised to get a yes. Little did I know my dad was gearing up for a trip to Party City for a baby-pink piñata, a cake, and some “my little pony” candles. Dad, crank up the hearing aids. I said 14, accent on the “teen.”

On that note, you should have seen the look on my dad’s face when I said the “B” word. We are talking about boys here. Yes dad, boys. They no longer have cooties, at least most of them don’t. They are no longer stinky, nor sticky, for that matter. In fact, a chosen few are actually acceptable for yours truly.

So when I say party, I do not mean a sleepover with the girls in footsies, giving each other makeovers, telling each other our “crushes,” and painting each other’s toenails. I mean music and hot boys. And of course, Dominique by my side to check out the boys.

After about four hours of getting ready, Dominique and I were looking good. We were excited about the party and all was great until I came down the stairs. Of course, we were stopped by the fashion policeman, who by the way, asks me what tie he should wear every day.

“Are those paint-on leggings? Did a bear attack you?” No father. We actually have a sense of style. I know, it’s hard to believe, someone with your DNA can actually wear a matching pair of socks.

So when the party finally came, my mom was on call with the defibrillator paddles in the event my dad went into cardiac arrest when he saw a male and female actually touch skin. And then there was my annoying brother with the air horn. I’m pretty sure by the fourth blast of the horn, people pretty much understood that no “hanky panky” was going down at this party.

Of course, if my father’s “precious” were out of sight for more than a couple of minutes (probably timed exactly considering he times everything, and I mean everything with his stopwatch) he was bringing out his bull dog face, when he gets slightly stressed and bites his upper lip with his lower jaw, just like a bull dog. It seemed for him, 10 o’clock couldn’t come soon enough.

Little does he know, the boys will be back.