Reading and Listening

I used to sleep in your room
Because you would wake in the middle of the night
Waking everyone up
And your brother couldn’t go back to sleep,
So I’d read the Tao in the spare bed,
Then when you stirred,
I’d grab you and put you in bed with me.

Sometimes I read the Tao to you,
Thinking you might catch a few lessons
Of how to be calm in frantic lives, r energetic when
Things went flatline, but mostly so you would stay asleep.
I probably was the one sleeping like a baby,
It seems my snoring kept you content
Because you never woke anyone else.

You’ve kind of had this Chi thing going,
An energy that I can’t explain,
One you have a hard time understanding.
It pulls you this way,
Tugs you that,
Kind of the way you’ve always yanked
On my heartstrings and played with your emotional yo-yo.

But that is you,
A full portrait of the Tao,
An energy not able to be named,
Nor understood,
But given to others with such generosity,
Often held from yourself in a difficult and stingy
Yin-yang thing that makes it all incomprehensible.

Yet you have clarity,
You know what you want,
Your standards are high,
You have a vision, and it’s all right there,
But patience is difficult when you know you’re ready
While the world says you must wait, so there is the test,
Will you wait out the troubles to find what is on the other side?

You will and I’m going to bed,
“I Wish I Was the Moon Tonight,” is playing on repeat,
You know Neko brings the sounds that wash over frayed nerves,
We share her therapeutic echo, I’ll read you some of my latest book,
Some writings by Bruce Lee where he says, “give with adversity,”
“Bend slightly and spring back stronger than before,”
“Wu-Hsin,” no-mindedness…

Follow those thoughts, my daughter,
For you will recognize their lessons
From those readings in Downingtown not so long ago…
From the way you have lived this short life of yours…
And hopefully from the love that flows from me
To you
As you continue to listen to me think in the way we always have.

Thanks, Chach

So I’m in the city of champions
Excluding Foxboro, Montreal, and Los Angeles,
I’d be in Pittsburgh
With its three-sport existence
Where time would seem to have blessed the city
With more than it’s share of winning seasons.

If only Philly had such a history…

But tonight I found that abandoned churches
Can brew the best Almond Joy liquid representations
And renovated YMCAs make for great hotels
With their hipster crowds and pick up dodgeball games.
Man I wish the libations and exercise didn’t conflict
Or that my old soul could party and play that much harder.

At least I didn’t bleed when the ball hit my nose piercing…
(I don’t have one, but someone else did…)

Before arriving in the Steel City
I stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial.
Words are hard to find for what I felt,
But I’ve only had that feeling at
The Vietnam Memorial and
When Taps was played at my grandfather’s funeral.

Sometimes emotion is too much…

So we lean on the mundane,
Like amazing crab dip and steak to distract us.
The whiskey and tequila helped and
Whoever invented Uber
Must have had too many DUIs
To drive safely. Thank goodness for them!

Thank God my daughter was there for the important stuff!

The Night My Dad Tackled a Drug Dealer

There are times when we all need to understand that our father’s can be bad asses. We need to see that their manliness can be summoned for righteous purposes. We need to see that they are not snoring corpses who don’t know anything about anything, but we all need to know our father’s are strong and still have a bit of the caveman DNA that protects us from lions, tigers, and goats that got set loose in a marijuana field.

I got to see my dad in all out John Wayne one night. “Williamsburg was humid that evening,” my friends. Come to think of it, Williamsburg is always humid in summer. My friend’s mom dropped us off at Blow Gym on William and Mary’s campus. We were there to play racquetball. Coincidently, my father had just finished playing and was hanging out on the stone wall that separated the inside of the campus from Richmond Road. He looked tired and worn out. To a thirteen year old kid, he looked old. Given that I was in junior high school and therefore knew everything, I was pretty sure that I could outrun my father without a problem.

He sat there in cut off jeans and a white T-shirt wiping the sweat away from his graying hair and rubbing knees beaten up by a blue collar life. The other guys there were also policemen and one was on-duty, but dressed in plain clothes. Again, I thought that there was no chance these guys could stop a small caper and forget about running down a major criminal.

Through the heavy air came a young dude striding in typical William and Mary preppy clothes from the time. His Polo shirt with the turned up collar gave him an air of prosperity, but the three police amigos saw something different. They saw a drug dealer who had been ordered to stay off campus, yet there he was carrying a satchel and walking towards a dormitory.

What happened next may have been the most important part of my childhood. My dad turned into a linebacker with the speed of Usain Bolt and the hops of a champion high jumper. He and the other policemen jumped the five-foot fence and went after the Nike wearing preppy drug deliveryman. Before they were out of sight the trespasser was on the ground and being cuffed. My old, tired father was the first to make it to the dealer. He took him down quickly and with the help of his mates arrested the criminal. His bag had a some hash, some acid, and plenty of weed to raise the dopiness in the dorm by more than a little. Oh, and there were no guns needed in the arrest.

Through the hazy night air, I got to see that my dad, while not someone who would use that kind of discipline at home, was capable of putting a hurt on me if necessary. Some might think that kind of observation is sad since it’s based in a bit of fear. I kind of like it because my father was never one to be tough or physical at home. I knew, though, that he could do whatever was necessary to restore order, even in that advanced age of late thirty, early forty something.

As my birthday comes around and I’ve long since passed the age that my father was when he was tackling drug dealers, I’m having two thoughts. The first is that my son, who is twenty, better think twice about jumping on my back in Staples because I’ve still got enough left in the tank to take him down. The other thought is that I don’t want any part of my dad. I’m not sure if I could win that one.

To An Old Coach

One problem with time is that way that it can mess with a man’s memory. Children grow up without knowing any better and naturally trust those who are in positions of authority. As we grow up, we rebel, we strike out on our own, and sometimes we look back and see the our pasts with clarity. What do we really know, though, because time can mess with a man’s memory.

Besides time, there is another problem we face as children. We don’t know anything about the people who are coaching and teaching us. Coaches and teachers speak with voices conveying a purity about life that we all should aspire to. They drive home lessons about team work, commitment, and unity. As kids we buy into the lessons and work to impress these guys who happen to be in charge because do so will get us more playing time. As we get older, we begin to see the faults of these once great men and I can’t help but believe there is a little disappointment on our parts.

I loved growing up in Williamsburg. I also struggled there. The town was small, so I think I was more bored with a life there than anything else. I had a lot of friends and got a good education, even though those who know will tell you, I really didn’t like school. I was also lucky with coaches. There was one guy who had a subtle influence on me, Coach Mo Weber.

On this day, I am racing to Virginia to interview my ninety-three year old coach. The last time I saw him we were both in different places. I was interviewing him for a final project in a class about careers in sports and he was about to enter as much of a retirement as he could ever stand. Rain fell that night and today the sky is threatening to drop snow, which would probably suit both of our gray heads just fine. I got to the Southern Kitchen at noon and stepped right back into my past.

“Coach Weber?”

He looked up from the booth with the same excited eyes I remembered from 1985. He was searching for anything that would help him remember me, but for a man who had evaluated and coached thousands of baseball players he was going to have to work real hard to place my face.

“Chris Hancock, Lafayette, first base, opposite field hitter… I’m glad to see you again.” He motioned for me to sit down and so would begin our latest lesson.

“How did you remember me that fast?”

“I called Jamal and he emailed me a picture. You are quite a bit grayer and life seems to have been good to you.” He patted his belly and shot me a thin smile.

“The years have been kind to you also, Coach. Are you still hitting the heavy bag?”

Coach Weber was a baseball diamond Bob Hope. He would hang out by the dug out and during the down time start riffing about being a champion boxer and graceful dancer. His routine was polished and to a group of seventeen and eighteen year old kids he was so funny.

“You know why I did all that stuff?”

“No.”

“I couldn’t help it. It’s just who I was.”

“Well, it was fun. I’m glad you did.”

We ordered. I went with chicken fried steak and a baked potato. He went with a small salad.

“You know I had two heart surgeries? Wanna see the zippers?”

“I’ve seen the first one,” I said. Back in high school after his first heart surgery, Coach Weber took pride in showing off his sixty three year old physique. On hot days he would go skins and tell us all to be careful about what we ate.

“Oh yeah. You know, it hasn’t really been that tough living with a broken heart.”

I was taken aback by his comment because that was kind of why I was there. I had learned a little about my old coach. His father was the great artist, Max Weber. After moving from Williamsburg, I had become more interested in art and here I was sitting with the son of one of America’s greatest artists. I was hoping he and I might talk a little about what it had been like to live with such a famous father. I wondered if his broken heart comment might be an opportunity to bring up his father.

“Why do you say that, coach?”

“I’m not sure. Medicine…doctors…they have this whole thing figured out at least in terms of managing our health. They opened me up, changed some stuff around, and I listened to their advice.”

“How did your life change after the first surgery?”

“I got back to what was important, which was being at home and baseball. Being a stock broker was tough living and baseball was a joy to me.”
“What was it like coaching in Williamsburg?”

“I don’t know. Like anywhere else I guess. Some people liked what I did and some people didn’t.”

I decided to go for it.

“Like your father’s art?”

He paused for a moment and took a little time to size me up. I knew right away I was out of line. For whatever reason, Coach Weber had not talked about his father to us. After learning about his family, I had wondered why he never mentioned that his father was such a great artist, but it was the stare from his normally welcoming eyes that let me know I had touched a nerve.

“I suppose you could compare the two, but why do you ask?”

“I guess I’m wondering why you never mentioned that your father was such a famous person. Were you proud of him? Was he proud of you? I’m just curious as to what that was like.”

The sparkle came back to his eyes. “I know your father. What was it like growing up with him?”

“Good. We are very different, but in many ways the same.”

“That is true. Your father is a good man. He’s not famous, but good nonetheless. My father and I were the same and different also.”

“Could you relate to him?” I asked.

“Not so much when I was young, but when I look back now I think I understand him better. You?”

“We are different. He is a hands-on guy, a tinkerer. He’s able to see things and build or fix them. I don’t have that 3-D creativity like that.”

Coach Webber leaned forward, “But you write, don’t you? You are creative just like him, only the creativity expresses itself differently.”

I had not thought about it that way. I am like my father, but with different abilities.

“I wish I had some of his skills, though,” I said.

Coach Weber stopped short with his next bite, “Then you wouldn’t be you.”

We ate in silence for a minute and I felt like I had made a big mistake asking Coach Weber about his father. The relationship he had with his dad was really none of my business. Throughout our brief time together, Mo had been so generous with his knowledge and time that I began to believe he would have shared more about his father if he had wanted to.

“You know, Chris, there is a simple reason that I never talked about my father with you guys.”

He paused.

“There was no point. How would that have helped you hit better or make the team play better?”

His answer was as stripped down as his batting instruction.

He started again, “My father was a great artist, according to some, not so much according to others. On some days he was a great father. On others, well, we didn’t see eye to eye. But he was my father and I love him for that, not for his artistic ability or celebrity. As for my life, I made my choices based on my goals. I wanted to be Maynard, not Max’s son.”

It was my turn to size him up. What I saw was a man who had lived a full life. He lived it on his terms and would continue to so with all of the time he had left.

“I’m sorry if I crossed a line in asking about your father.”

“Not at all. He and I are linked for better or worse. How’s your father? Still in Williamsburg?”

“Good and sort of. They moved out of town, but they’re close enough that I tell people they are still in Williamsburg.”

“You know, Chris, kids are a little of their mother and a little of their father. Mostly though, they become who life pushes them to become. Themselves.”

He excused himself and headed for the restroom. As he walked away, I could see those short, middle infielder steps he used to prance around with on the field. I had sought out Mo to learn about his relationship with his father and I would be leaving thinking about mine. He had turned the conversation on me and taught me another lesson. Always the teacher.

When he returned he had his hat and jacket on. “Okay, let’s go. I’ve got to get home before the snow and you should be heading on to Williamsburg.”

He was right, I wanted to make a detour home to see my parents.

“I’ll get the bill, Coach,” I said.

“I already did. What did you think, I had to go to the bathroom? Come on, young fella, you’ve got a lot to learn.”

Yes, I do.

My Harry Chapin Moment

My Harry Chapin moment
Just happened
When my son told me
His friend said the FooFighters series
Was cool
Not such a big deal
But for five or six weeks
I’ve been saying the same thing
About the same show
It’s true, dads just don’t know
Our moxie long gone
From the view of the shallow eyed yutes of today

So I called him out
In a joking kind of way
Asking him if the show had credibility
Now that his friend
Had dropped a little hipster knowledge

“Yeah, something like that.”

Ahhhh!!!

My boy was, indeed, just like me
And it left me feeling for my dad
When I dismissed him
And his dad when he…
And his…
And…

Poor Mouthin’ It

Talking to my dad
The stories that he tells
Each one so full of
Historical reference
That I feel like I’m speaking with
The World Book

Today he got me with
Volume T
Mostly for Tesla
A little for tyranny
All for good conversation
Which I’ll take anytime

Graduation

Last night hanging with my daughter
While my son finally finished high school

Finally only because it takes so long
Not for any other reason

Was such a blast
I think she babysat me
Because of my adult onset uncomfortableness
And disdain for ceremonies of grandeur

The truth is,
Tassels and square hats don’t move me
But the joking with my daughter
As she nearly killed the lady in front of her
By dropping an Emily Bronte book on her head

Not really, the book dropped on an empty seat
The lady was standing at the time

And talking with my son afterwards
Where the smugness of adolescence
Seemed stripped away
And all he could do was smile
Ready for that next step,
Was all I needed.

The circumstances have
Conspired against us
Leaving time too short
I’m older now
No less wiling to submit
Than I was when I walked across
The stage of my graduation
But one thing is for sure

My kids are cool.