Sunday, January 27, 2008

Of Fathers & Sons

Over the summer, I attended a weekend workshop for men. Many cultures have a ritual to lead boys into manhood, but ours leaves many of us to fend for ourselves. A large part of the weekend was to provide some of that experience which may have been lacking in our lives as young teens.

Motivations were many for me to attend, although it took a year to “find the time”. My chosen vocation was in a tailspin of disasters leading to the brink of a second bankruptcy in five years. My marriage suffered from the stress. After 60 years in the same home, my parents were moving to an assisted care facility, and standing right in front of her, I could not even be sure my Mom really knew who I was.

Much of the first half of that weekend I spent in skepticism, my ego very attached to the concept that I am inherently good and the world around me was the one in chaos. True, I had come willing to change. Aware that my life was not working, I wanted to take responsibility for my faults, but the levels of resistance were so deep and numerous. The rituals seemed either too silly a game, or too naked and simple a process. I kept looking for the Real work to begin.

Only when I stopped watching the transformation of my fellow initiates, closed my eyes, and looked hard at myself, did I begin to fully participate. The first wall to crumble was how hard it was for me to accept the rigid and sometimes ridiculous rules. Even knowing they had a purpose and might lead to the changes I desired, it was difficult to play along.

True to my life work to be exceptional, I proved to be the most challenging initiate to the leadership in their process to get us to face our own individual demons. No different than facing my sixth grade teacher who asked more of me than I was willing to give, these men could only try to help me help myself. It was really up to me to make the difference.

Finally, early Sunday morning, I began to focus on the little boy inside of me who had just wanted to fill buckets of water at the swimming pool one summer day long ago, trying to get the terrace wet all the way around before the sun dried any of it. This had been a simple task he had set for himself, nonsensical to anyone watching, but he was working hard, having fun, and he was so very happy.

This little boy has long been lost to me. Sometimes, I’ve seen him flying down a mogul field, sometimes heard him sing with his guitar, sometimes playing with his own family at the beach. Lately, he’s been learning to play defense on a weekly afternoon pick-up soccer game with Latino and African refugees.

The theme of fathers and sons repeatedly came up for me throughout the weekend. I relived the pride I felt each Saturday morning as a kid when my own father invited me to the lumber store, and also the dread I felt approaching the stoplight, where if it were red, he would be awkward waiting in silence, only able to express with a hard slap to my knee, raising a welt, how much he loved me. I know he was doing the best he could, given the lessons he'd learned from his own quiet father who was 50 years older than him.

When we were released from the workshop late Sunday afternoon, our cell phones returned, I immediately called my father and euphorically vomited the lessons I’d learned. He listened with interest and an amazingly detached and understanding perspective, considering he could have defensively argued back thinking I was being critical, or sulked in regret. With my mother no longer there to translate, the best part was that we were talking at all, and I promised I would journey to his new home to visit soon.

I can see I have the opportunity to change this world for my own son. Open heartily, he reaches out to me, and I know it is important to return his hug, recognizing and overcoming my own discomfort, based on my past training. His coach for many years, now we play in that pick-up game together, sometimes side by side, sometimes opposing, and ride home afterwards through stoplights in blissful companionship.

He is learning to ski moguls with me, and on the chairlift, we talk about girls, math tests, and the temptations and dangers of drugs. This morning, I’m teaching him to make waffles from my great-granny’s recipe.

Perhaps we really will take that road trip across the country in his senior year that we regularly talk about. Possibly we’ll go on a dream-warrior survival weekend that equals any initiation ceremony. In the meantime, I do all these things to help him become a man, humbly aware that my own life is fragile, my business not prosperous, that I am still financially reliant on my own father. If I can help my son be comfortable in the knowledge that he is loved, help him to go forward confidently in this strange and wonderful world, if I can help tomake it a little easier for him, then all will be worth it.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Golden Tragedies

The most amazing fact in the dust of a tragedy is how much gold can be found.

Truly, I was raised by an optimist. My mother chose to picnic by the side of the turnpike on a bitterly cold, miserably windy day, and exclaim about the joy of being together under a blue sky. But such blind faith does not paint the heavens blue.

The truth is that people really are basically good, full of love. No matter how trite the saying, we are each trying the best we can.

Some try harder than others, some are luckier. Certainly the pain of tragedy can bring anyone to their knees, turn a monster out of a mole. Hurt can make one want to hurt back. But looking more deeply, it is easy to find light in many dark places.

When the fire trucks were leaving the smoking remains ( Artisan Builders: 2nd Story Addition), I was warned to stay close because looters would definitely follow. In disbelief, I listened, but couldn’t understand. Two older men, nearly strangers to me, refused to let me stand by the ruins alone, but kicked the stones with me for several hours, tossing tales back and forth, or staring quietly out to sea until my sister arrived. And sure enough, when those huge four wheelers roared up the mountain trail, saw us, and backed right out again, I was grateful for my two new friends.

When cancer first struck our family, overwhelming us with an immediate medical education and physical hardship, neighbors rallied. A schedule was organized and every night for weeks, dinner arrived in abundance, delivered with a hug and a quick withdrawal to leave us to our own private healing.

Likewise, this week when one person’s pain spoke for many and reopened raw wounds on the shoulders of me and my family, so much more has been the support of friends and strangers who have witnessed the exchange and been comforting. Although in many ways I deserve the rebuke for my many business decisions that have gone badly, I am grateful that so many have come forward to express their understanding, sympathy and forgiveness of my mistakes.

This goodness of people is truly humbling. At the center of so much pain, embarrassment and shame, I stand before you, amazed to feel so blessed, grateful to still be offered the companionship of so many good people.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Zen and the Art of the Midlife Crisis

Around the world, many cultures recognize the age of 50 as an opening door to a deeper spiritual exploration. In America, however, it is often described as a time of hormones rampant or the opportunity to trade in for a younger sportscar.

Obviously triggered by the shift from unlimited futures to impending finale, like leaves changing colors, it is a time to examine the dreams still in reach and those to let fall away. In this culture, it is too often measured by bank accounts, toys accumulated and the degrees of our children.

From such a perspective, it is easy for me to feel like a failure. I have struggled in my work, survived one divorce, been distant at times from my children, siblings and parents. I have hurt friends in the heart and many associates in the pocketbook. I have bounced checks and stolen a christmas tree. My life has not turned out the way I imagined, long ago safely nestled in the home of my successful and loving parents.

Now I've reached a point of acceptance that some things can be changed and others are just a part of who I am and always will be. I've had very little luck at easily telling the difference, so it might seem my head is bruised and battered from so many hits against the brick wall in front of me.

This is a blog about making a difference, finding a way around the wall, making a change. I have no formula, no grand vision. Nothing in particular I need to stand on my soap box and shout to the world. Already I've been soiled, hanging out my laundry here. Oh well, I asked for it. Perhaps, seeing my story, some may take heart, in claiming I'm part fool, as well as gold, some one else may take comfort in their own foolishness. At the very least, these blank pages are so much softer, but may actually--as they get filled--knock more sense into this thick head than any brick wall.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008


Tea break in the Octagon on the top of Mount Mansfield, Stowe, Vermont: the sun blazes to the West over the Nosedive; evening comes on fast from the East across the far fields and distant mountains. The table is full of flushed faces. Voices glad-mouth over a cup of Lipton's and a Milky Way bar, all cares care-less while the boots are still buckled on those nearly-exhausted-but-ready-to-crank-one-more-time-muscles.
The last run. Time to go.
The whir of the chair nearby spins off its riders, two by two, swoosh. The bindings are cocked, the skis dropped: left boot connects and locks, the right clicks in right beside. Squat to tie up the straps, flex and stretch the muscles limber. Rub those deep down gloves once together, slide them through the straps, grip the poles.
And look to the others. Big smiles all around. We're ready to go.
We're off.
Slide snowplow easy down the alley, dip down right, under the chairs, skating for speed and relaxation. Let the skis taste the snow down the Main Highway, skipping with little exaggerated frolics of a two-step turn, the hips thrown out.
Pull up short at the start of the National. It's time to get serious, buried VWs are soon to be thrown in the way. The gang assembles, lined up like an instructor's class, only there is no one to lead or teach: we're just together, taking turns to say the Way.
One starts off through the opening, not terribly steep here, but the moguls run long and the valleys deep so you get stuck in the line, twist-twist, going fast, and have to bail out 100 feet down just where it drops off steep to the bottom. The panic is on: this bump is no place to stop as the next skier funnels headfirst for it. Push off, hug the left for three pairs of hip-grinding, mother lode sweeping turns. Cut across two bumps, take the next mogul straight, a jump of about 15 feet to quick-turn and rest on the road which cuts through (affectionately known as Panic Alley) on its way to the Liftline.
Aaaah, sweet luxury of a resting place! There's not another until the Birch tree (no longer standing tall save by reputation) way down about two football fields' worth of mean bumps away. Skiers standing nearby wonder whether to hazard the ice over to the more gentle but still ferocious Liftline, or stick with the sheer drop of the National. Expressions on faces run from cool tameness to utter wobbly-kneed panic. But even in the eyes of the most accomplished there lurks a spot of churning respect, like a fore-boding, for the path which must be negotiated before life may continue.

Sharp intake of breath, like a private dare, and shove off. Slip-slide through the gate of rocks (one crunches delight of a solid bite of tender ski-bottom) and suddenly it's oh my God here comethemoguls. Too steep to stop and too fast to breathe, the world becomes a whirlwind tunnel of action and reaction, a stab of the pole right, hiptwist, knees crash, float through the absolute silence of pure air, crash back to the Maelstrom, knees hitting chest, stab left, then left again, right…down…on…through….
About 100 yards into furious heaven, the slope slows into the Cross-over, merge of traffic left, the double chair overhead, duck under the single, and it's the left side again. Hug the woods, sometimes into the woods and quickly back out (flash of thought: "no, no, not smart!"), still on the left and moving oh so fast, twisting and turning oh so hard, the last few screaming so with exhaustion and pain and ecstasy they're hardly turns at all but a racing, contorted, desperate sliiide to the Birch tree.
Piles of people gather here. Fifty-year-old corporate executive of a family man stands next to twenty years of golden locks on a ski-bum. No prejudice, nor envy besmirch the Birch where all who reach this spot have had to travel the same heavenly trial of a trail.

The Middle National slides into a dance, a waltzy tango with the snow for a partner, the music of poetic motion scattering notes of snowflakes. The rhythm rocks even and steady, swish--swish--swish--swish, down to the final plunge, head-spinning rush of steep turns, fifteen twists and a roll to arc one long final ride of a turn to wait panting at the Park Bench for the pals to gather and bid back-slapping adieus.
From here Downhill Madness wreaks its havoc. Push off with a skate and come tightly into a tuck, head rolled down, eyes strained to tears from the speed. A straight-away rolling down, a slight turn right, dips deep and rolls away left--ears roaring, body flung out from going too fast--straighten and grip tight to nothing and everything through the ripples of bumps down another dip right. Hang just inside over the roots of the woods, straighten and jump the bump, landing to ride out the slope with thighs tuck-tired, screaming to quit around large flat turn left and another 100 feet to open onto the parking lot and the day being done.
On the way home along the Mountain Road, one drop in a stream of tired, aching and exhilarated skiers, slowing down and speeding up as cars stop at the Matterhorn (first bar off the Mountain), or their motels (signs bright against the New England graying light)--riding home after a fine time of such skier's delight, there is not a thing could be said, not a thought or feeling, to dampen the unbounded joy of such glorious sport.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mom & Dad's Move--journals by Lane de Moll

May 21, 2006
Dear Friends who know and love my parents and the Rose Valley House –
This spring Dad made the decision to sell the house he began to design and build 57 years ago and which we all grew up in. The upkeep has become way too much for him. It is, in fact, already sold to a wonderful sounding blended family with 6 teenagers. A family found for them by their mutual cleaning person. The new folks are keeping the pool table, the piano and even, if all goes well, the St. Bernard!

Mom and Dad are moving into White Horse Village, a retirement community where they already have some friends about 15 minutes away from my youngest sisters Lauren and Meg. Dad will be living in an apartment. Mom is making the long dreaded move into the dementia unit.

While in many ways, this move is breaking our hearts, it is clear that Dad no longer has the energy to keep taking care of the house or of Mom, despite the extra help he has most of the day, both hired and from Lauren and Meg. He has done a sweet and fabulous job for Mom and he is very very tired.

It is very much his decision to do this. He's also giving up driving since his macular degeneration has suddenly taken a huge turn for the worse in stress of the last couple of weeks. He is now mostly blind.

I am flying east tomorrow to help get Mom ready to move on June 3 and help Dad deal with the challenge of telling her (over and over) of the changes. Dad will move sometime over the following week or so. They will only be about 150 yards apart in their new digs. We are praying that the social benefits and relief from responsibility will make up for the loss of the familiarity and beauty of that green acre they have lived on since I was a baby.

On the weekend of June 17th, 30 or so of our kids, spouses, and cousins are gathering for a house party to help us mourn, celebrate, love each other and move on. A wake.

Immediately after that, the five of us siblings will stay to divide up the remaining material things, sort through memories, and get the house ready for cleaners by about the first of July.

To read more of this journal go to

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Story Book Romance

My Father was captain of the football team in high school, my mother captain of the cheerleaders. In a small town outside of Philadelphia, he worked for the local pharmacy and no matter where the delivery, he made sure the route always took him past her home.

Their senior year was shadowed by Pearl Harbor and the certain knowledge that all the boys were going to war. My mother went to college, living 3 years in constant dread, despite his constant letters of reassurrance filled with characitures and limericks. To the end, they stare lovingly at each other as she recounts the tale of reunion when in the dark and deserted train station, they nearly missed each other, but instead ran from opposite ends across the tracks to the embrace of a lifetime.

After a one room apartment just off the Penn campus finishing school, they moved to an acre of land and a little hand-built house ( They began their family. Five children and five additions to the home spanned the next years as his architecture flourished and she pioneered an afterschool program.

From designer to leader, he became president of the International Union of Architects. As their children became parents, my Mother and Father travelled the world. For a decade, they returned home with tales of adventure and appreciation. A south African took them on a safari, hearing lions practically in her back yard. They toured a temple buried into a Middle Eastern cliffside, radiant in the sunrise as no tourist could see it. They were backstage at the Moscow Circus. And as Lech Walensa led Poland towards freedom, my mother arranged exchanges for students she had met there.

Although it was like any marriage that suffered winters, they celebrated regally their 50th anniversery, surrounded by two generations of offspring. He gave her a ring inscribed in characteristic simplicity "No regrets".

After 60 years, my Dad organized nearly every step to move them into a community where she has marvellous care in an Alzheimers unit, and he has his own apartment 150 yards away. Most evenings, he sits with her in the garden appreciating her joy at rediscovering roses over and over again. Returned to his quiet little space, he writes us EMAILs to reveal his love for her is stronger than ever.

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