Harvey’s Mailbag

First, a big thank you to the many of you who sent me messages after my last post.  It is nice to be appreciated for your writing.  For me, it’s nice to be praised for something that was about my dad.

One of my sisters pointed out (rightly so) why Dad would have been laughing at me running.  He was an actuary.  Numbers never lied to him and the more data he could get his hands on the more complete a picture of your impending mortality he could paint for you.  Runners, it seems, tend to die.  Well, if I remember this one correctly, it had something to do with the fact that all human beings die.  In a nutshell, though, runners tended to enjoy a negligibly similar mortality with non-runners (there was always that control group).  In other words, overall, running doesn’t make you live longer or shorter.  But it did correlate with death from (do not quote me on this) an enlarged heart.  Again, there wasn’t a direct cause and effect, just a correlation.  Whatever, I’m going to keep running so I have a way to burn up the nervous energy of an ex-smoker – as in, “What do I do with my hands!?”

Now then, on to the rest of the mail.

Six and half years ago, right after moving to Texas, my wife, in-law’s, and I traveled to Oklahoma one night to see one of my favorite singers – the immortal Frankie Valli.  I then wrote a story about it.  I’m not even going to link it.  If you want, you can find it for yourself.  In that story, as in so many stories I’ve written over the years, I employed a sort of absurdist humor.  For the uneducated or uninitiated, this type of humor is represented by several key hallmarks including series of events that do not follow (often in an extreme fashion, also called “non sequitir humor”), descriptives that are patently false yet played for reality, and a sense that the narrator may in fact be suffering from dementia.  In my story about Mr. Valli, the reader ought to be able to tell a few things.  First, I truly do love this man, his voice, and his contribution to the world.  There is no denying that.  Second, I am using absurdist humor to prop him up.  In other words, at an age when every human on the planet has outlived his actuarily lifespan; Frankie Valli is still making a buck, doing what he loves.

So I received the following comment…

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 12.52.09 AM

Takeaway: People read Harvey!

At first I wondered if the person posting the comment was a personal friend of Mr. Valli.  Then I began to realize something…  There is at least one person who read a post of mine almost seven years ago and remembered it well enough to dredge it back up.  In an absurd way, this person just validated my writing.  But let me address the issue at hand because I do not like to stifle criticism.  I’m a big boy and I can take it.  The comment was civil in tone.  Let’s assume that we live in a world in which a guy from Newark, NJ can’t poke some fun at an idol of his who also happens to come from Newark, NJ (which is a pretty awesome place, by the way) and is a gazillionaire celebrity who’s probably seen worse on the pages of Billboard Magazine.  Let’s assume.  Well, then, Mr. Valli and your dear family, I apologize for hurting your feelings.  If you’d ever like to suggest that my writing is crap please feel free.  It’s on me this time.  I promise I won’t even cry.

In the meantime, if you’d like to keep reading I will keep writing.  And Frankie, if you’re reading this and you ever feel like sending me an autographed headshot for my kids (who also adore you), let me know.  I’ll send you my address.

Advertisements

Having Run the Race

In a few days I will mark the passage of one year since my dad died.

 

 

The_Apostle_Paul_-_Rembrandt

Remrandt’s Apostle Paul (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Just writing that sentence made me feel a little weird.  My father remains the finest man I will ever know.  Not only did he give me life but he took care of me.  For the 39 years I had him on this earth with me there was never a time when I didn’t know in my heart that he cared for me.  Through my childhood he raised me, provided everything I needed and many things I wanted.  He gave his advice, though not always in a sit-down “Son, we need to talk” kind of way.  In fact, we never had a conversation like that.  He taught by example.  I never heard him complain, not even once, about a solitary thing in life.  We laughed one night at dinner a few years back when he made a comment about not liking pot roast much because Mom had been serving it for dinner almost every Sunday for years.  He was happy with the life God gave him.

But one year earlier the light seemed to go out of his life somewhat.  He was old.  He was tired.  And he had just been dealt a terrible blow.  In October of 2015 my oldest brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I still hate that term.  My parents watched as their son, who had lived perhaps not the most exemplary of lives, literally came home to die.  Thirty years earlier they had lost three children in a terrible tragedy.  Back then Dad didn’t have time to grieve.  Now, he couldn’t help himself.  No parent should ever lose a child.  To lose four…  I can easily forgive him for coming to the conclusion that it was his time to let go as well.

My dad was fond of a passage in Paul’s Letter to Timothy.  “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”  When he died these words came back to me.  The man was a fighter, stalwart in his faith.  That’s what he taught me.  I remember in the day or so after her died printing a copy of that passage.  Mom had asked me and my niece to read at his funeral.  I was honored to read at this mass.  My dad had been a lector for years when I was growing up.  From him I learned my love not only of the Catholic faith but of what was his passion – the liturgy.  I remember so many years, day in and day out, before I moved away where I would go with him to mass every day and later as an adult when I would take him with me.  I, too, am a lector and I think of him every time I read at mass.  My niece, a young girl of 13, had been reading at daily mass – the mass they’d take Grandpa too – for a while and I know how much he loved to see her read.  But something happened.  When we got to the sanctuary, she asked me where the reading was.  I mistakenly mentioned that it was in the book.  Instead it was in my pocket.  She read a different reading.  It was still very fitting but it wasn’t 2 Timothy 4:7.

I had to make this right for him.  At the cemetery I mentioned to Mom what had happened and asked the priest if my niece could proclaim that reading there at the grave.  She did.  Somehow it seemed more fitting here.

The last words spoken in the presence of his earthly remains were from his granddaughter and I know in my heart she was speaking them of him.

“I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”

My dad impressed upon me the solemn duty of an Irishman to attend wakes and funerals.  “It’s just what we do,” he had said to me before.

And as if to show him I had learned his lesson I stayed behind with the funeral director as the last man, his youngest boy, until my father’s casket was lowered to his final resting place.  I dropped the rose from my lapel the fifteen feet or so and watched as it landed squarely on his coffin.  I was kneeling in the dirt as I said good bye to Daddy.

Other than the impending anniversary, I don’t know why this memory is haunting me at the moment.  I still talk to the man every day.  Typically I blurt out “Dad, help me!” with one of my many crises.  I’d like to believe he’s working overtime to obtain for me whatever particular grace it is I’m seeking at the moment.

img_0643

Dad doing a crossword.  He did one of these every day for decades.  I learned to love crosswords from him.

He was an amazing guy.  Anyone who’d ever met him loved him.  He was funny, smart as a whip, and incredibly loving and kind.  His family was his world.  And my mom…  She was the sun, moon, and stars to him.  There is one thing he taught me that I think I actually get right most of the time.  I learned how to love from the both of them but I learned how to treat my wife from him.  I never saw them go anywhere where he didn’t open her door.  He laughed with her.  He thought she was the most beautiful creature God ever put on the earth and he was always happy when he was with her.

In a few days I will board a plane and travel to see her and to celebrate and remember a remarkable man who gave me life and taught me how to fight, to run, and to keep faith.  I can’t say I’m much of a fighter or a runner and I often feel like despairing; but he taught me what to do.  The reason I was a teacher for so many years was because he first taught me.

As we draw near to that day, I will carry him ever more in my heart remembering the lives he affected and how much better we all are because he fought and ran and kept the faith.

God bless you for reading this far.  Say a prayer for my family if you would be so kind.  And say a prayer for me.  40 years from now if even one person could say of me that I kept the faith I will die a happy man.

Oh, and I started running again.  I’m 40, I’ve got a major spinal problem, I just quit smoking after 22 years, it’s cold, and I suck at running but I’m doing it.  Dad is probably laughing.  But perhaps I’ll be able to say literally that I’ve run the race.

Gallery

Hi-ya!

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Originally posted on Harvey Millican: Raising Your Kids Without Lowering Your IQ:
I took my son to his first karate lesson tonight.  Boy was he excited!  And I was excited for him and with him.  It’s been raining here in…

Family Game Night

One of the things I’m already enjoying about being “temporarily out of work” or “between jobs” or “finding myself” or some other such shit is the sense of peace and calm that has come over me.  A scant six hours after leaving my former job for the last time I endeavored to use this newfound tranquility of soul to my advantage.  Since I didn’t have to worry about answering a work phone, checking email, or trying to accomplish things that I’ll have time for tomorrow I thought a fun family game night would be in order.

IMG_1166

The Commodore (Cornelius Vanderbilt) would be proud. I think Lionel Ritchie would be too

I may have mentioned on these pages once or twice that my children have inherited from me some rather desirable traits such as a quick wit, stellar vocabulary, and devastating good looks.  OK, two out of three ain’t bad.  Armed with these gifts we sat down – Mommy, Daddy, and the two kids – to play a family favorite.  It’s called Ticket to Ride.  The board features a map of the US circa 1850 and lots and lots of “routes” between pinpointed cities.  Along these routes players build railroads by collecting and then distributing cards.  The player who successfully builds the railroads on his route cards typically wins the game except that there are bonuses.  For instance, a player receives a bonus for having the longest continuous railroad.  Why, you might ask, would anyone invent such a riveting game about antebellum transportation?  Clearly Parker Brothers had beaten them to the punch on their original concept – a board game about the triangle slave trade for players 8 and up.

IMG_1168

Can you believe people once traveled by tiny plastic?

About ten minutes into the game I had amassed a handful of cards with different routes on them.  My prospects looked good at completing a transcontinental takeover.  “I’m going to drive the golden spike!” I thought as I approached Salt Lake.  How fantastic…  My wife even encouraged me to use a little known maneuver and collect even MORE route cards.  “Listen,” she said, “You’ve already laid a lot of track down.  It’s very likely you already have completed routes that you could claim.”  Seemed like a good idea.

My son, meanwhile, was studying the map like a champ.  “Daddy,” he said, “I thought you said there was NOTHING in Kansas City.  Why would a railroad go through there?”  Perceptive, that boy.*

Looking across at my wife, my brow furrowed as I saw her suddenly begin to claim route after route in a rapid succession of turns.

“Daddy,” asked my daughter, “I’ve never seen that much white around your eyes!”

“Sorry, sweetheart,” I said.  “Daddy’s just been screwed over by Cornelius Vanderbilt,” I said as I pointed toward my wife.  None of them got the reference.

“Captain of industry?  New York Central Rail…, you know what?  Never mind.”

I looked at my cards.  There was still hope.  Not only did I have a few moves left to complete all of my routes but I remembered that this was only a game.  A game with tiny trains.  On a board.

On her next turn, as I was relishing the sweet taste of accomplishment at the thought of finally connecting Nashville to St. Louis, my daughter metaphorically punched me in the gut.  Placing two cards down she reached across the board and neatly positioned two locomotives between those cities.  Hey, she didn’t know.  She was just doing what made sense for her hand.

IMG_1167

She took my route!

“WHAT!?” I blurted out.  “Uh, um, you sure you want to do that?  I mean nobody goes to St. Louis anymore!”  “But Daddy, they’ve got that pretty arch and anyway it’s my only move left and then the game is over.”

My wife, realizing what had happened, stepped in and tried to persuade our little girl to make a different move.

Nothing doing.

I had to think fast.

“Sweetie, did you watch the news earlier this week?” I asked.

She shook her head.

“Well, it was very sad…”  I proceeded to tell her about the history of train derailments, demonstrating with her Nashville line by toppling her plastic engines off the board.

IMG_1169

Daddy just “derailed” your dreams, sweetheart.  Consider it practice for life.

Unfortunately, she continued the story by insisting that a crane had come in to re-position the trains.  Where did she get that from?  It’s like the time I played Battleship with my son and he figured out I had been moving my battleship.  “What, son?” I asked.  “My ship was under attack.  I would have been derelict as caption not to move her.”

And with that it was game over.

Next time we’re playing Trivial Pursuit.

 

She’s Amazing

Believe it or not, I do not like to write about my wife very often.  It’s not that I don’t love her or think the world of her.  I certainly understand more than most husbands the imbalance between myself and her.  My dad didn’t dispense marriage advice to me often.  He just lived the life of a dutiful husband.  He placed my mom on a pedestal, adoring his “child bride” for the 60 years of their life together.  The way he treated her – loving, honoring, and truly cherishing her – was more than enough for us to see what being a husband and father meant.  But he was fond of saying, whenever the subject came up, that “all women marry beneath themselves.  They marry men.”  And it’s certainly not that he thought ill of his sons, simply that he recognized the inherent beauty, dignity, and grace of woman.  Let’s face it.  Men are brutish, boorish, and hairy until a woman graces us with her presence.  Even then, we’re still pretty hairy.  But it is in the instant that a young man discovers a woman who’s taken an interest in his potential that he radically alters his life to become the “man” God always wanted him to be – a strong, providential, gentle, patient, and loving man capable of raising a family.

No, I don’t write often about my beloved for the same reason that I never mention students by name and I use my own photos rather than images grabbed from the internet.  The people and places involved in the re-telling of my life never asked to be the subject of a blog!  While it is true that I can talk about my life all I want, I am always mindful of crossing the line and exposing someone who might enjoy some of the privacy the entire human race enjoyed before the online world took over our lives.

That being said, I have to relay something the wonderful Mrs. Harvey did for me today.  A month and a half ago I resigned from my job as a school administrator.  I had worked so hard and long for this opportunity.  But when the moment came, not too long into this job, and I realized it wasn’t working out, I decided it was time to move on.  The past few weeks leading up to my last day have been strange for me.  I’ve had very little to do but show up.  When I wasn’t at work I was starting to get depressed.  You see, I’ve never been in this position of having no prospect or idea of where I’m going to wind up.  I’ve been reflecting on lack of marketable skills other than teaching which I think is impressive but most people think of as a joke.  In fact, I think I want to go back to teaching but it’s mid-year and there aren’t too many teaching jobs available.  I’ve struggled with self-doubt, lack of confidence, and a feeling that I had failed – not just myself which would be tolerable enough but also the woman I vowed to give my life to and the children she’s given me.  And through it all she’s been so gracious to me, encouraging me, helping me to see the situation for what it is, and doing it all without losing her mind.

fullsizeoutput_1f49

Don’t laugh at the diet tonic.  I like my gin and I don’t want all the extra carbs.

So today I finished up at work and drove home.  When I walked in the door my wife and kids were out running errands.  As I opened the door from the garage I noticed a large gift basket on the counter in the kitchen.  This basket was filled with, well to put it gently, booze.  Knowing my wife’s tendency to purchase such baskets at gala auctions I almost walked right past it.  But then I stopped and read the card.  It read something to the effect of “I’m so excited to start this next chapter of our life together and I love you.  Now drink up.  You’re on vacation!”

I’d like to think that I could ever be as amazing as she is but I know that’s not likely.  I will spend the rest of my life searching for a way to make her as happy as she makes me.  In the meantime, I’d better do as the lady says…

Cheers everyone!

Keep the Prayers Coming

I really enjoyed our online novena last week.  It was nice to know that I was being prayed for and to pray for others, not just my own intentions.  It was also especially gratifying to spread devotion to St. Rita.

cajetan

St. Cajetan (Gaetano) the Theatine, patron of the unemployed and job-seekers.

Things started to move on the job front, if only slightly.  You have to understand that I’ve never been in this position.  I resigned from my job and I am 100% positive this was the right decision.  I know God is asking me to trust Him right now.  I know He will lead me somewhere better.  Tonight I had a meeting with the principal of a phenomenal school.  We spoke openly and honestly and it certainly looks like there might be a job for me there.  Next school year.

So that leaves me with next month…

It will be interesting for sure.  I will probably have to take non-teaching work in the meantime which is not something I was looking for.  So for the sake of humor I will now walk through a few possible scenarios.

 

TSA

Everyone’s favorite government agency is ALWAYS hiring.  Lucky for me I have a MAJOR airport five miles from my house.  The up side?  I love airports.  The down side?  I hate putting my hands on other guys’ legs.  True, I could have some fun with the X-ray machines imagining things that aren’t really there and then calling them in.  Also, I understand that people in these kinds of jobs are generally not altogether there.  With a pinch of ingenuity and a pulse I could be a real standout.  Unfortunately I don’t look good in blue.

RETAIL

nordstrom

Actual Nordstrom where I worked years ago.  Or not.  They all look alike.

When I was in college I worked in a Nordstrom department store.  My customer service skills are top notch.  It also helped that I worked for the only retail outlet on the planet where they say the customer is always right and then actually mean it.  I remember one time I took a return.  It was a $1000 leather jacket that had not been purchased in a Nordstrom.  We know this because we had never sold that jacket.  Furthermore it was 20 years old, frayed, and had a dead rat in the breast pocket.  Apparently Mr. Nordstrom believed it was better to have a satisfied customer in the store with cash in his hand than to upset the delicate flower.  I remembered those words as the customer was quickly exiting the store with a thousands bucks in hand laughing at the security camera.

FAST FOOD

This could work.  I like to eat fast food.  By that logic, though, I should work in a liquor store.  Let’s come back to this one…

TELEVISION

You know I used to work as a writer and producer in this exciting medium.  If I was any good I’d have been the breakout star of 2005.  Still, there are several large media outlets in my neck of the woods.  Unfortunately not only can I not get the Texas drawl down but I can’t seem to shake my Jersey accent.  I’d be a bigger fish out of water than that large fish a friend of mine caught.  Wow that was a really bad literary device.

PUBLIC SAFETY

fire

See… I couldn’t get this huge if I tried.

I’d consider the FBI if I weren’t too old.  I’d consider a police force but my back injuries would probably rule me out.  I’d consider the fire department.  Let’s think about this one.  1) Every fireman I know is ridiculously huge – like GI Joe proportions only taller.  Yes Grady, even you.  There isn’t enough protein in the world to make this frame that size.  2) Having lived through a multiple-fatal house fire as a child the psychological trauma of running into a burning building would make it impossible for me to do my job.  3) I can only imagine the first time an alarm rings and I have to shimmy down the pole.  I would think of a TV segment I produced for a news program in New York.  It was about a new workout called “the stripper workout”.  Seriously.  The mental image of our aging anchor dancing around a pole would make me incontinent with laughter and I would fall through the hole in the floor breaking multiple bones.  Thus I would be rendered incapable of fighting fires that day.

So there you have it.  Looks like I’ll have to get creative.  I’m open to suggestions so let’s hear ’em.  Or you could just continue to pray for me.  Otherwise I’m going to get real familiar with Wendy Williams and Kelly Ripa.  That’s a fate worse than death.

Impossible: Day 9

Well friends, we are there!  We have reached the ninth day of our novena.

The prayers, as always, are found here.

I don’t know how this one will end – for me or for you.  Know that I have been praying for your intentions as well as my own and that I am grateful for all of your prayers for me.

I will share that many years ago I prayed this exact novena for a special cause.  On the ninth day in the evening I stood face to face with the woman I would marry.  And yes, I knew at that moment that my prayer had been heard and answered favorably.

St. Rita, advocate of impossible causes, pray for us!

11b955b5ba6e9104ab28ee61a686a35b--sainte-rita-catholic-saints