Two photos taken during Ben’s final weekend of Mean Girls, a two-year journey that concluded on Sunday night. The photo on the left was taken by a fan (Lauren Smith) and posted to Flickr; the one on the right is of the men’s ensemble on stage. Look for an announcement soon about the boy’s next project.
On Saturday, Emma performed in her last show at Point Park before she graduates in three weeks. On Sunday, Ben finished his run in Mean Girls with two shows. Very proud of all my children but leave it to my twins to face large and yet different milestones on the same weekend.
The boy's next gig: A role as one of the Jets in Steven Spielberg’s remake of “West Side Story.” With rehearsals underway and filming scheduled from June to September, that hould keep him out of trouble for the summer. The movie is scheduled to be released by 20th Century Fox on December 18, 2020.
As my daughter Emma finishes her college career at Point Park University (her last dance class was today), she wanted to get several of her friends together for one last shoot in Pittsburgh. While there to see her final show a couple of weeks ago, I was happy to oblige.
You can see more photos in my Facebook album here.
Our beautiful baby girl graduated from college today, finishing Summa Cum Laude after three years at Point Park University, where she double majored in dance and sports, arts and entertainment management.
Ben, Kate (with boyfriend Matthew), Nick and Conner, my mom, Jennifer and Michael, and Jill's cousin James were on hand with us in Pittsburgh to mark Emma's achievement.
Ben took the photo of Emma, while I took this shot of the hat she decorated for commencement. I love her message on it: Life opens at the close.
Highlights from Emma's graduation weekend at Point Park in Pittsburgh. We can’t wait to see what she does next!
We were blessed to have the entire familly there. My mom came from Texas, Nick and Conner and Michael and Jennifer drove up from North Carolina. Jill's cousin James drove in from Fredericksburg. And Ben, after his flight was cancelled, rode on a bus all night to mark the occasion.
Mental Illness: That “thing” that no one sees.
Mental Illness: That “thing” that no one sees … until it manifests itself because you choose not to understand or truly deal with what it is.
Mental Illness: That “thing” that people think is “difficult” or “a choice” to act in a certain way, when in reality it’s the polar opposite.
Mental Illness: That “thing” that prevents you at times from responding as you “should” (i.e. with kindness and tolerance.)
Mental Illness: That “thing” that no one understands.
Mental Illness: That “thing.”
STOP calling mental illness “that thing.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We have to speak up and educate others about #mentalillness #nostigma
Three belated stories from Mother’s Day:
My mom’s mom died a week after her daughter was born prematurely some 77 years ago. Soon after, my grandfather joined the Navy and sent my mother to live with her grandparents in West Texas. While he was in the Pacific, both of mom’s grandparents passed away within a week of each other; she only saw her father a handful of times in the first five years of her life. And when he returned, it was with a new wife — a person devoid of almost all maternal instinct — in tow.
Tragedy and loss are things my mom knew intimately before she could recall all the details, although her memory always has been sharp and specific, as has her tongue at times. My parents had a great love story that was not hindered or halted by my dad’s illness that consumed much of the last 34 years of their 43-year marriage.
More than anything, my mom is a survivor who somehow has maintained her generosity of spirit. She gives a lot and asks for little in return. We agree to disagree on a lot, especially today’s politics, but what I admire most about both of my parents is they never told me what or how to think. They let me figure it out on my own.
This past weekend, my mom was honored for her 50 years of membership in Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary organization for women educators that promotes excellence in the profession while embarking on a host of community-based altruistic projects. Because of graduation-related events here, I could not attend the surprise party on Saturday that drew teachers and retirees from all over the state of Texas.
I called mom Sunday to wish her “Happy Mother’s Day” and to see how the ADK event went. She was getting ready — or fixin’, as she says — to go to a birthday party for her 4-year-old great grandson. She was genuinely surprised (hard to do with her) and touched by the outpouring she had received.
No one I know is more deserving of such an honor. ADK has been part of her life for all but four years of my life, and I know how much it has meant to my mom. I hope she knows how much she means to all of us.
Two weeks ago, our daughter Emma graduated from college. On Saturday, our niece Margaret graduated from American University.
On Mother's Day, Jill and Margaret's mom Jennifer threw a graduation party for the two on a rainy afternoon in D.C. All of the family, plus significant others, a couple of the extendeds and a number of friends, joined in the celebration.
As moms are wont to do, Jennifer and Jill went above and beyond for the event. The party was a huge success and a great way to congratulate both girls, the last of the six first cousins to cross the threshold into adulthood.
Congratulations again to Margaret and Emma, and here's a shout out to the women who raised them (and the others as well).
On Sunday morning, I went to get Jill coffee and breakfast as a small Mother's Day token. Because the D.C. weather has decided to take on Seattle/London characteristics — we beat a record for the most rain over a 365-day period this past week — the four-block walk required a raincoat and a quicker than usual pace.
En route, I saw a homeless woman sitting in one of the narrow gaps between the buildings on King Street. She's a familiar face around here; you can often see her sitting on one of the benches, talking to people we think of as imagined but who seem real to her in that moment.
Standing in the Starbucks line, I thought of my mom's altruistic work with ADK and Emma's insistence on giving her hard-earned money to those who are homeless or less fortunate. So I bought an extra coffee and croissant and gave it to the homeless woman as she sat in the rain.
"Happy Mother's Day," I said.
"Same to you," she replied. "God bless you."
I have no idea whether she is or was a mom to someone. All I know is that she is someone's child. And none of God's children should ever go hungry, especially if they are looking for a dry place to sit on Mother's Day.
The story of "And then there were five..."
I've always said I never would get a tattoo unless the ink I was putting into my body meant something that showed a commitment to my family. I got my first shortly after being laid off almost six years ago. It is an infinity symbol that matches the one Jill has on her foot. My second was a set of arrows around the symbol, each replicating the ones my children had gotten.
The third is "create." on my right wrist. It is one Ben has, and it serves as a reminder daily to take risks, to never lose the desire to find ways to challenge, support, entertain and occasionally inspire others. It also ends with a period that serves as a declarative statement.
Number four is a semicolon on my left wrist. This type of tattoo is used as a message of affirmation and solidarity against suicide, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues.
So, if this is my fourth tattoo, why have I dubbed this story, "And then there were five..."? Because tonight, while on a brief empty nest getaway, Jill and I became the 4th and 5th people in the family to do this, joining Kate, Emma and Ben in showing our support for an all-too-important cause.
Tattoos are a personal choice, one now much less frowned upon than when I was growing up. Like anything, some like them and some don't. It's whatever floats your boat.
That said, I'm proud of my kids for leading the way, and of Jill for joining them and bringing me with her in the process. Building upon that unity and togetherness is, to me, what family is all about.
The boy announced that he's leaving the show on April 7. On to new adventures!
File this under the miscellaneous people who walk into your life and (thankfully) stay there.
When Ben was in “Billy Elliot” on Broadway, one of his child wranglers was Todd Montgomery. Ben and Todd quickly bonded over music and the fact that our youngest son thought he was generally “pretty cool.” (He is, BTW.)
One night, Todd introduced me to his wife, Carole, and described her as the “funny one” in the family. Literally, because as it turns out, Carole has been a successful standup comedienne for decades.
In addition to being two of the best and kindest people I’ve come across, Todd and Carole are a great testimony to making marriage and a partnership work. They helped take care of our son as if he were their own at a time when we truly needed the help, and for that alone, I’m truly grateful. I’m also eternally thankful for their no b.s. approach to friendship and family as well.
At some point, Carole mentioned a project that she was working on, a show featuring women all over the age of 50. The project has taken off in comedy circles, and has resulted in a special being taped for Showtime. The special airs on March 23 (plus additional dates, I’m sure) and promises a full hour of honest and sincere belly laughs.
That it’s been made possible, and nurtured, by a person I’m proud to know makes it all the more special. So, to all my friends in their mid 50s, as well as those a decade younger and older, I hope you will take the time to watch “Funny Women of a Certain Age.”
Some of my favorite pics from Nick and Conner's wedding at Duke Chapel in Durham. It's hard to believe that it's already been a month since they walked down the aisle. (And a shout out as well to Brian Mullins Photography.)
On February 18, after getting back from the weekend festivities in Durham, Ben taught a “Mean Girls” workshop in Lorton before heading back to New York. Broadway World ran a press announcement as well as these photos that were taken by the class organizers.
A few highlights from the wedding of Nick and Conner this weekend at Duke Chapel in Durham. It was great to have our extended family (biological and not) join us for the celebration. And it’s terrific to formally add another Cook to the family.
With my boys in Durham. Let the wedding festivities begin for @nickcook129!
Happy birthday to the love of my life. With each and every passing day, I realize more and more how much you mean to me, to our family, and to those near and far whose lives you touch. I don't know what I'd do without you.
You might consider me a honeymoon child, given that I was born nine months and 20 days after my parents got married on March 27, 1964.
Except there was no official honeymoon. My dad moved from Longview to La Marque after my parents got married on Good Friday and my mom went back to work teaching school on the following Monday.
It's hard to believe that was 55 years ago, or that this photo of Mom and Dad was taken 15 years ago. It's hard for me to believe my father died almost 12 years ago.
It's easy to believe their honeymoon, while never "real" in the sense of a vacation, never really ended either. All you had to do was see how they looked at each other.
Sometimes your children do things that make you swell with pride, with the realization that these humans you’ve known since they were in the womb have become mature, thoughtful and caring adults.
This is an example of that.
Emma graduates at the end of April from Point Park, finishing in three years (plus some summer work) with a double major in dance as well as sports and entertainment management. She submitted a concept to PPU's dance club and was chosen to choreograph it, on top of her already full course load.
The project, which she titled “Perpetual Mental Battle,” was inspired by Emma’s sister Kate, who struggled with bipolar throughout childhood and adolescence. Emma, in her description of the dance, admits that she “never really understood” what Kate goes through and notes the disorder is “often misinterpreted by others in society as well.”
“I created this work aiming to physicalize the feelings and emotions experienced by someone with bipolar when they are going through a manic- depressive episode,” Emma writes. “It is simply meant to shed light on the internal conflict occurring that others never see, and usually fail to address in an appropriate and healthy way.”
In developing the dance, Emma talked to Kate frequently to “ensure it was an accurate representation of her personal experiences.”
“This piece is very timely for Kate's journey as she is finally in a mentally stable place,” Emma writes. “She has a wonderful job working at a preschool and is thriving in other aspects of life. She has become one of my biggest supporters, and I only hope to be able to provide her with the same love and support.”
Wow. Just wow.
Thanks to the dancers who did such a lovely job of performing Emma’s piece on Saturday night at PPU, including two (Lauren Michaels and Kyra Smith) who she has known forever from her days at MSA. The other dancers are Mariah Barajas, Hanna Eidson and Sara Ekern.
It's Thursday afternoon. I'm sitting in a coffee shop working on a couple of freelance projects. Just like any other day, except... It's not just any other day.
FIrst, it's two days before my first born gets married, so the coffee shop I'm sitting in is in Durham, not Alexandria. Second, it's also the first anniversary of the Parkland High School shooting, a sobering reminder in the midst of the celebration to be (see below).
Finally, it's Valentine's Day. That is reason enough to make anyone pause, because it's a natural opportunity to reflect on your relationship (or lack thereof) with your significant other, even when candy/flowers/adult beverages are not involved.
As I think about the life Jill and I have established (reflecting that is not exclusive to a Hallmark holiday), I'm eternally grateful to have her as my partner. She is living proof that soulmates do exist, that love can endure and ultimately triumph. I don't know what I'd do without her.
Back to the wedding: Ben and I drove down yesterday, and he now is bachelor partying it with Nick and the rest of the groomsmen in Asheville. Since we're (voluntarily) down to one car, Kate and Jill are coming down today on a slow moving Amtrak. Emma arrives from Pittsburgh tomorrow, as do my mom and sister from Texas.
As parents of the groom, our primary role in all this is the rehearsal dinner tomorrow night, which is when the true festivities begin. By Sunday, it will all be over.
For Nick and Conner, that's when the rest of the story begins. #lovewins
Between my birthday, the crazy winter weather, the ongoing government shutdown, and the anger over students taunting and harrassing a Native American veteran who served in Vietnam, it’s been a heckuva a week. (And that’s not counting a trip to South Carolina and a shoot at the Library of Congress.)
• Monday: Dipping a toe into the Toddler in Chief cesspool that now has kept portions of the government closed for more than three weeks: HTF (TF being exactly what you'd expect) can he justify using the phrase "humanitarian crisis" to justify his call for a border wall? Especially when it relates to anyone who is disadvantaged? Come on, even my GOP friends can see the lack of sincerity in that.
I'll just leave it there. No further explanation necessary.
Pause. Pause. Beat. Beat.
Nah. Not worth it.
• Tuesday: Quote from Hayes Carll: “I take stock of myself and the world around me and write about it. ... I understand a lot of people look to music as an escape, and it can be really upsetting when it feels like that’s disrupted. But I have a really low tolerance for the people who say ‘shut up and sing.’ It minimizes everybody’s voice. We are citizens, and we are artists.”
• Wednesday: The Mathletes are at it again, this time at last weekend’s BroadwayCon.
• Thursday: I’m now 54. Great notes and posts from family and friends far and wide. It’s enough to make someone in his early 50s feel like the cool kid from elementary school.
• Friday: Reblogged from @alicexblog, on the topic of whether it’s OK to platonically say “I love you” to your friends: “I think it’s incredibly important to express when you love someone. Tell your parents if you love them. Tell your friend who helped you through every bad break up since you were 14. Tell your fat cat. Tell them.”
• Saturday: I hope the smug looks have been wiped off the faces of the students from a Catholic school in Northern Kentucky who verbally harassed a Native American elder and other activists at the Lincoln Memorial. The students, who were wearing red Make American Great Again hats, were shown in a video that went viral mocking the elder, a Vietnam War veteran who was chanting as part of the Indigenous Peoples March.
Postscript: As always, there are two sides ot every story, and additional video has been released that shows both adults and the youth did nothing to de-escalate the situation. It's sad all around, and yet another example of how divided we've become as a country. Everyone has a position and no one is willing to listen to the other side. That's difficult to swallow.
Several years ago, I decided to confront something that was inevitable: I am the source of my kids' ADD.
I've always sort of known I had it, even when I was a child. I enjoy multi-tasking, which is helpful when your thoughts drift like the winter wind. I also enjoy the occasional benefit of hyperfocus, which allows me to tune out everything around me while I work to complete a specific task.
Still, as I've gotten older, my ability to pay attention to things for sustained periods of time — aka when the deadline is not on top of me — has become progressively compromised, so much so that I'm taking meds to combat it. For the most part, the meds work pretty well, but sadly, as with anything pharmaceutical, some days it feels like I took a placebo.
And that, my friends, is incredibly frustrating. Today is one of those days.
Instead of being completely unproductive, I thought I'd give you a look into "The Saturday Morning of a Middle-Aged Man with ADD."
Hope you enjoy it.
TIme: 8 a.m.
“Which story should I work on today?”
• One of the three freelance assignments due next week.
• The essay I want to write about childhood trips and Stuckey’s.
“Hey, I’ve got laundry to do.”
“Maybe I should work on...”
• The essay on taking in an older foster dog, incorporating how that relates to my grandmother’s cats and my sibling’s inability to “check the tail” before assigning names.
• The book proposal I’m working on about parenting lessons learned, most of them the hard way.
“I can do Jill’s laundry and my laundry. She'll appreciate that.”
Time: 8:30 a.m.
Said older foster dog, who is deaf and mostly blind, needs to go outside.
Standing outside in the cold while serpantining with said dog so he doesn't hurt himself:
“Of course, there are photos I could edit.”
• The photos from our visit to Hamilton Pool in Texas last month.
• The ones from Nutcracker now that I’ve got MSA’s selections.
• The photos from Summerton, S.C., the place where I’m writing one of my features on this month.
• The photos shot during the 1,000-miles of driving from Virginia into and around South Carolina.
• The photos I took this week at the Library of Congress.
"I wish we had a dog like Doug. We have a lot of squirrels."
Time: 8:40 a.m.
“I haven’t heard this Jack Ingram concert from 2005 yet. Should I play it?”
“If I play it, then I might not be able to concentrate on writing.”
“I’ll play it anyway. After all, I’m doing laundry.”
“I’ll tweak the parenting lessons for a minute. Maybe start editing some photos.”
Time: 9:30 a.m.
“Wait, what about that line for the Summerton story that I thought of in the middle of the night?”
Middle of the night: Another middle-age male reality.
“I need to send out a few emails for the third freelance piece.”
“Did I take my meds this morning?”
“Well, shit, I did.”
“I really should update my website.”
Time: 10 a.m.
“What do you mean the dog needs to go out again? OK. I know I heard him bark. That’s a sign that something is about to happen either way.”
Second outside serpentine with said dog so he doesn’t fall into the bushes. Back inside.
“Boy it’s cold out there. Should I get some coffee to warm up? "
Time: 10:15 a.m.
Ingram concert over. “That wasn’t bad. Not great, but I'm not a fan of his more popular stuff."
"Now I can move from photo edits to the freelance writing.”
“But wait, I can do Stuckey’s research. After all, that place was iconic when I was a kid.”
Time: 10:30 a.m.
“Time to put the first load of wash in the dryer. Hold on the Stuckey’s research.”
Time: 10:40 a.m.
“What do you know? I didn’t find any change that fell out of my pockets in that load. Wonder how that happened?"
Time: 11 a.m.
“I really should be writing.”
Time: 11:30 a.m.
“Wait, did I put the second load of laundry in the wash?”
“Well, shit, I didn’t. I wonder if there will be any loose change in this load.”
“The meds aren’t working. Maybe I need to get some lunch."
"Perhaps I should take a nap. I’m tired. Maybe that will allow me to reboot.”
Postscript: I finally finished the Stuckey's around 9 p.m.
Our family — all seven of us — went to a frigid New York City for Thanksgiving this year, the first time we’ve been there for the parade since 2011. (Our son, Ben, was performing in the parade for the first time as part of the cast of Mean Girls.)
Before sunrise on Thursday, with temperatures in the low 20s, we trekked down to midtown Manhattan to grab a spot close by and catch some of the action.
Streets were closed off, so my daughter Emma and I had to wind our way to meet other family members on the parade route. We walked in zig-zag fashion from 8th Avenue and 34th Street to 6th Avenue and 37th as the sun rose.
Once we found our spot, I didn’t take many photos of the parade because the temperature dropped to 19 degrees with a cold and bitter wind. We later learned it was the coldest parade on record.
Soon, I will post photos from the parade and from the blowing up of the balloons just west of Central Park. For now, enjoy these images of a stunningly beautiful sunrise.
Today marks the start of "Birthday Month," also known as the unofficial kickoff of the annual Cook Family Fundraiser.
Nicholas, fittingly because he's the oldest, is first up among the four kids who share their celebrations with Christmas and other observances. He's now 26, with a master's degree and exciting new job, and is getting married in February.
We love you, son, and are incredibly proud of you!
Birthday Month, Rounds 2 & 3 (aka WE MADE IT!)
Ben and Emma are 21 today, meaning our children are legally no longer "children." That's almost as strange as explaining the three kids in a year or four in the month of December phenomenon.
No doubt, these two have greatly enriched our lives. We love you both — and birthday bookends Nick and Kate — more than you will ever know.
Here's to adulthood!
This is Hammer, Ben's new shelter dog who has been visiting with us for the past two weeks while the boy works on a project. Incredibly cute and sweet, Hammer also is the subject of quite a few photos and (bottom center) even a few selfies. We'll miss him when he goes back to New York with Ben after Christmas.
The Cook Family Christmas was celebrated in style with three of the four kids — Nicholas was in North Carolina — posing for the traditional "morning of" picture on a new set of stairs.
On Christmas Eve, Jill made her usual tremendously tasty feast and we were joined by Jim and Sharon Truesdell and Jill’s cousin, James. Then we trekked over to a neighborhood watering hole where we played pool (Jim kicked our collective butts), Ben and Jill danced, and folks participated in karaoke (no videos or pictures). Given that everyone is now 21 and older, legal beverages were consumed by all.
After taking the picture on Christmas morning, we followed tradition with a movie (“Mary Poppins Returns”) and leftovers. A very nice time was had by all.
Unfortunately, Santa noticed we didn’t have a chimney and decided to make his exit through the garbage disposal, cracking a pipe in the process. The day after Christmas has been spent with Jill taking Ben and Hammer back to New York on a one-day roundtrip while I watched a plumber cut holes in the basement walls.
Five more days until the most expensive month of the year is over. (And only one more day of three 21-year-olds as Kate turns 22 tomorrow!)
Growing up, my family always had a thing about number patterns, so it was always strange to me that none of my children particularly liked math.
Since they are "grown ups" now, I'll send off this year's birthday month with a set of numbers for Kate. My second child, born two days after Christmas, is now 22. She was followed in rapid succession by twins born on Dec. 11 (1+1=2) the next year, giving us four (2x2=4) in all.
Kate, justifiably, would probably look at me and say, "Dad, please stop doing the math. You know it makes my head hurt." And I would look back at her with a smile.
This is the type of relationship we have, bickering and picking at each other. It hasn't always been in fun or jest, but over the past couple of years, it has evolved into our definition of "us."
I greatly admire and respect the woman Kate has become. She has taken charge of her life, has a new home with two roommates and a job/career path she loves. What more could any parent want?
It all adds up to this: We love you, Katharine Alexandra Cook, and are very proud of you! Happy birthday!
The cast of "Mean Girls" performed the song "Fearless" during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade amid record low temperatures — 17 degrees with a strong windchill, to be exact. Here is the performance.
And right after, we all found our way to a bar. Because, of course, this is how our family rolls on a frigid Thanksgiving morning.
I saw Billy Elliot last night at Signature Theatre to support some of my MSA friends who have kids in the show. (They were great, BTW, as was the production in a theatre one-fourth the size of the Imperial.)
Beforehand, we went to dinner and I was the only parent without a kid, which felt a little strange given how many times I was on the other side of the table. I shot this photo of the three kids and sent it to Ben, who quickly responded with "how full circle."
How full circle, indeed.
“As a writer I believe that all the basic human truths are known. And what we try to do as best we can is come at those truths from our own unique angle, to re-illuminate those truths in a hopefully different way.” — William Goldman
If you took away all the writers I’ve met and seen over the years, all the novelists, essayists, screenwriters and playwrights I’ve admired, and left me with just the work of William Goldman, I probably would be OK with that.
Goldman died today. He was 87, with a six-decade career that saw him pen acclaimed novels and essay collections, win two Academy Awards, and have his plays produced on Broadway. To sum up, his life was not a bad gig.
He may not be a household name, but chances are you’ve seen or read his work — the original screenplay to “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”; the adaptations of “All the President’s Men” and “Misery”; the novels and screenplays for “Magic,” “Marathon Man,” and “The Princess Bride.” His books on writing for the movies — “Adventures in the Screen Trade” and “Which Lie Did I Tell?” — are indispensable.
This is where the professional summation ends and the personal one begins. What I liked most about Goldman was his sense of humor, in large part because it was so similar to my dad’s and (hopefully) my own.
I distinctly remember seeing “Butch Cassidy” with my father when I was a kid. One of his favorites, he could quote many of the punchlines, and “Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?” always brought a smile to his face. This was in the pre-cable days of mid-1970s, and network censors failed to fully take out Robert Redford’s “Ohhhhh … shiiiiiit!” during the waterfall scene.
I turned to my father with the, "Did you just hear what I just heard?" look and he smiled. It's the first time I remember hearing profanity in a movie.
In 1999, a special edition came out on DVD for the movie’s 30th anniversary. Even though I didn’t have a DVD player at the time, I bought it and watched it on my computer. It took me back to those days of sitting on my couch late at night with my dad, and I called him the next day to excitedly tell him about the “extras” on the DVD.
Several years later, when Ben was 8 or 9 and just getting into acting, the first “adult” movie I showed him was “Butch Cassidy.” The mix of humor and action helped turn him into a third-generation movie fan.
Another memory: Ninth-grade World History class, taught by Mrs. Selman. At the start of the year, she told us she would read a book to us on Fridays. Many in the class rolled their eyes as she opened Chapter One of “The Princess Bride” and started acting out all the parts of Goldman’s cheeky fairytale; by the end of class, we could hardly wait until the next Friday.
Years later, I don’t remember a thing about World History, but I will never forget Mrs. Selman reading that book, or seeing the tagline on the back jacket of her tattered paperback: “What happens when the most beautiful woman in the world meets the handsomest prince in the world, and he turns out to be a son-of-a-bitch?”
It still is one of my best memories of high school.
As these things can do, the news of Goldman’s death sucker punched me as Jill and I drove to Pittsburgh to see Emma. Our youngest daughter is performing this evening in an unofficial kickoff — or continuation, depending on your opinion — of the professional and familial tilt-a-whirl that doesn’t slow down until Nicholas gets married next February.
With our kids now (almost) fully grown, we’ve been trying to simplify. We’ve gotten rid of or stored most of the things from our old house in moving into our empty nest. Kate, now a big movie fan herself, has most of the posters that were up in our old basement.
The one movie poster in the new house — “The Princess Bride.”
As someone who has written recently about trauma, grief, and mental health, I'm truly grateful to my wife for all she has taught me on this subject and to my children for their commitment to debunking myths. In observance of World Mental Health Day today, I hope you will join us in raising awareness.
World Mental Health Day is held annually on Oct. 10 to raise awareness and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme is "Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World."
The photo here is of three of our four kids who have the semicolon tattoo in support of “Project Semicolon,” an American mental health nonprofit that primarily functions as an anti-suicide initiative.
Founded in 2013, the movement is aimed to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. The semicolon tattoo is a form of solidarity between people dealing with mental illness or death of someone from suicide.
After Jill posted about last weekend’s engagement party for Nick and Conner, several folks asked why we didn’t have any photos of the happy couple. Other than taking a few pics before things got started and a couple of crowd shots, I stayed happily busy in my role as the groom’s dad.
That said, I have taken a couple of sets of engagement pictures over the past few months, and as things get closer to the big day in mid-February, thought I’d share them with you. So in the spirit of celebration — something we all need these days — here are some pics of last week’s party intermingled with my first born and his lovely bride to be.
The photo on the left was taken of Kate a few days before she entered kindergarten. Today, our 21-year-old (pictured at Thanksgiving) started the school year as a teacher assistant at the Merritt Academy in Fairfax.
We are very proud of you, sweetheart, and know the students will benefit from your kindness and loving spirit. They are very lucky, and we are, too!
The Mathletes are at it again.
The photo on the left was taken on Emma's first day of school. The one on the right was just two years ago, just before we left her at Point Park University. Today, she starts her third and final year at PPU, working to complete a double major in exactly 3/8ths of the time it took me to finish one.
We are so proud of you, Emma, and can't wait to see what the future holds!
A very happy birthday to the lady on the far left, the person we affectionately call Mom, Grandmom, and Grandmommy. Still smart and full of, um, sass, we love you!
Our last "child" left the nest today. Like any parents, our eyes welled with tears while knowing this was different. With this departure, there will be no reunions, no holiday dinners, no weddings, no grandchildren.
That's what occurs when the child is your family pet, in this case our 17-year-old cat, Victoria (aka Vicky, Miss Vic, or Mob Boss, a nickname coined by Kate.)
Vicky and her sister — the appropriately named Tempest — were shelter kitttens who came into our lives shortly after we moved to Virginia. The kids were 9, 4, 3 and 3. Jill and I always had pets, and it made sense given how much running around we do for us to have cats rather than dogs.
Tempest was the alpha, well, something. Headstrong and stubborn, it was no surprise when she left one day and never came back. Victoria, on the other hand, was docile and sweet; originally named Tootsie, we changed it, because she was never one to demand much attention.
Every day around the same time, Vicky would come through, run figure 8s through our legs, purr loudly, allow us to pet her (holding her was at her option) and then be done until around the same time the next day. That was enough.
She never ate wet food and enjoyed the occasional kitty treats, but her favorite food for some reason was sliced processed ham. (Passive-aggressive approach to the food chain, perhaps?)
Vicky largely tolerated other pets — dogs and cats — who stayed with us for short periods. She mostly ignored them, but occasionally tensions would flare, and Vicky's response — usually quiet but always pointed — left you with the feeling that she was the family member in charge.
When Cairo came into the picture is when Kate gave Victoria the official Mob Boss designation. Cairo, sweet, loud and needy, was more than happy to be Miss Vick's lackey as the consigliere perched on top of the living room chair and reaped the benefits.
What I came to appreciate most about Vicky was her resilience and her presence. She was always there, never demanding to be the center of attention. She simply endured. When Cairo passed away in February, I called the kids to let them know and each was shocked it wasn't Victoria. I wasn't; until the past month or so, I would have bet she'd outlive us all.
After our move to Alexandria from Lorton earlier this year, Victoria adapted to our new home, finding her spots, always purring. But age — she was over 100 in human terms — was taking its toll.
Self-grooming was an after-thought; the litter box was as well. She developed an abscess that the vet said was likely cancerous, and it became obvious the end was near.
Last night, Jill and I made the decision. We let the kids know, and Emma and Ben called via FaceTime to say goodbye; Kate came to the vet's office to do so in person. We talked to Nicholas as well.
Victoria's passing is as huge a shift for them as it is for us. Like any family pet who survives to see kids leave home, she represented a link to the day-to-day of childhood.
For us, it's a reminder that our nest is truly empty. Any steps we make going forward are part of the next generation, one that I'm looking forward to while mourning the past in the present.
Jill posted this photo — one of my favorites — in honor of Father’s Day. I love these four with all my heart and feel blessed that I had the chance to see three of them (along with the McFarlands) this weekend. Added bonus: For once, I didn’t have to get in the car to do it.
As they were coming off stage at the Tony Awards, Ben photobombed Amy Schumer and Carey Mulligan with a "Hi, Mom" on our wedding anniversary. Surreal.
Happy anniversary to Jill, the love of my life. Had brunch at a winery and then have some appointment TV viewing this evening. It’s a little show called the Tony Awards.
Speaking of which, Mean Girls posted this video today about the show’s journey. Love it.
Four more photos from a remarkable weekend. Clockwise from bottom left: Ben at Sunday morning's rehearsal; Ben and Emma at the Tony Awards after-party; the Mean Girls performance; and with friends from Northern Virginia before the after-party.
I had the chance to watch the Tony Award nominations announcement with Ben and a group of his friends this morning in New York, where I spent the day doing a shoot. Leaving just before the show started, you could signage already being prepared to go up on the marquee. Congratulations to the cast and crew on this wonderful achievement!
With Jill, Nicholas, Conner, and Kate at The Bullpen after today's Nationals game.
And things just keep getting more surreal. Congrats, son!
And in other family-related news, Jill co-hosted a Facebook live discussion today on the second season of "13 Reasons Why" for the American School Counselor Association. To see the video, go here.
I'm beginning to think "Our Reality Show" is a good name for this blog...
I’ve always said Emma is the best writer in the family, and her storytelling skills are in evidence both in this beautiful video and in the short blurb she posted tonight about her year as a resident educator (RE) at Point Park. Congratulations, sweetheart! Your mom and I are so proud of you!
“Transitions R Us” has long been a family phrase, one set in motion when Jill and I had three kids in one calendar year and during an era when then-beloved Toys ‘R Us was a staple in our lives.
The past several months have brought a bunch of transitions, even by our count. Kate moved out in December, shortly before turning 21. Nick and Conner got engaged in October and are moving to a new apartment in Durham after he finishes grad school in a couple of weeks. Jill and I bought a house in Alexandria the same week Ben — now gainfully employed — agreed on a lease on a new apartment in New York.
This past Monday, we closed on the sale of our house in Lorton, putting the exclamation point on a thrilling era in our lives.(That exclamation point involved helping my niece Margaret take some furniture off our hands last weekend as she too moves into an apartment in D.C.)
That leads me to the other bookend of this week: Emma. After two years in the dorms, the past nine months of that as a RE (resident educator), Emma and I moved her today into her first official apartment with three roommates in Pittsburgh.
So the final family move out tally includes two parents, four children (plus daughter-in-law to be), and a niece. That doesn’t include two moves that I had little or nothing to do with: an apartment switch for Julie’s daughter Calliope in Texas and my mom’s move of my only surviving aunt (Scooter, also in Texas).
No wonder U-haul is sending discount coupons on a weekly basis and giving me platinum status weekly updates. After today, I hope, U-haul and I won’t be seeing each other on such a regular basis, and that’s fine with me.
I am beyond grateful to have had the time and flexibility to help and assist with all of these changes in ways large and small.But I’ve gotta say I’m glad this developmental life belch is almost over.
At least for this week, that is.
It's later in the day, but not too late to give a shout out to the two best moms I know: My wife and my own mom. I don't know where I would be without these two women in my life, but that place would not be nearly as full or fulfilling. Jill and Mom, I love you with all of my heart and soul.
Nicholas’ seven-year tenure at Elon University came to an end this week as our oldest son received his master’s degree in Interactive Media on Thursday evening. Nick received his bachelor’s from Elon and worked in the admissions office for two years before enrolling in the intensive 10-month graduate program.
On hand for the ceremony, in addition to his fiancée Conner, were the Cook and Elder families, including Nick’s three grandmothers. Conner’s parents also were in attendance to show support. Congratulations again to our oldest child on this great achievement!
So proud of Nicholas for the work he displayed tonight at the Elon iMedia Program’s 2018 Capstone Exhibition. His project is an interactive report about the impact of a wish granted Make-A-Wish Central and Western North Carolina. You can see the report, which was inspired by his sister Bella and her Make-A-Wish experience, at www.powerofawish.org.
Nick has been enrolled fulltime in the graduate program for the past 10 months and will receive his master’s degree in Interactive Media at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Congratulations, son!
Congratulations to the Mean Girls ensemble, which tied with Carousel for best on Broadway at last night's Chita Rivera Awards! We are so thrilled that all of you received this special recognition for your hard work.
In that vein, The Ensemblist, an online advocate for Broadway ensemble actors, is working with the Actors’ Equity Association’s #EveryoneOnStage campaign to petition for two new categories for the 2019 season: Best Chorus in a Musical or Play, and Best Ensemble in a Musical or Play.
Last week, Mo Brady posted The Ensemblist’s nominees for “Best Actors Not Eligible for a Tony Award This Season." And a certain child of ours was one of them.
“Nobody on Broadway moves with as much unbridled energy as Ben Cook,” Brady writes. “When he dances, it’s us if every limb is working in harmony, transmitting the choreographic intention not only from his core but from his guts. In what has become his calling card, Cook flawlessly executes the high-octane choreography of Mean Girls with reliability, slaying from ‘It Roars’ to ‘Apex Predator.’”
April 6: Very proud of Emma and her fellow dancers who performed at the Point Park Connections show last night. Our youngest daughter was great!
April 7: “Paterno” airs at 8 p.m. EST tonight on HBO (with repeats throughout the month). It's a NY Times Critic's Pick with a certain young man name checked in the lead of the review, which you can see here.
April 8: At some point, I'll stop, but this weekend has been a little overwhelming as the "Mean Girls" opening approaches. For example, check out this interview with Tina Fey on CBS Sunday morning. You can see the boy in some of the “behind the scenes” clips toward the end.
A fun weekend, complete with a several state tour is ahead to watch our twins in their natural habitat: The stage.
Today, we drive from VIrginia to Pittsburgh to watch Emma dance in a show at Point Park. Then, tomorrow, we head to Manhattan, where we'll see HBO's "Paterno" with Ben and his friends, and then stick around Sunday for the "Mean Girls" opening night show/activities.
Looking forward to it!!
The promotional ramp up to the Mean Girls opening has been in full swing this week with the release of production photos as well as the video "B-roll" for the show. (Shhh... I think it’s gonna be a hit.)
First, here is one of the promotional photos, given the boy’s attested love for math during his K-12 years, is proof that he’s a fine actor. The photo, by Joan Marcus, appeared on Playbill.com today.
And here is the B-roll. Hope you enjoy it.
In the midst of a crazy busy month, I managed to take a few days and recharge with my oldest son, Nicholas. During his spring break — he’s getting a master’s degree from Elon — we traveled to Pittsburgh so he could see Emma at her college. We then went to New York, where we met up with Jill and Ben and saw a preview of Mean Girls.
Of course, my camera was my constant companion. Here are a few shots I took while Nick and Jill saw another show, the wonderful Come from Away.
I've been in charge of magazine covers, have had photos I've taken on a couple, but never have I seen one of my kids on a cover — until now. Congratulations to Ben and the “Mean Girls” cast. You all deserve it!
Back to School: First day of rehearsals yesterday for Mean Girls. Previews begin March 12; show opens on April 8. Tickets selling fast. Very proud of the boy and his newest Broadway family.
Dance Spirit magazine is featuring ensemble members from the cast of Mean Girls in its current issue. In addition to the photos above, they also interviewed each cast member, including Ben. Here is what was published:
His dancing in three emojis: 🙆🕺🏿 🤸
Hidden talent: "I've loved photography since I was a little kid. My dad is a dance photographer himself, and he inspired me to pick up a camera when I was 10 years old. It's been one of my favorite hidden hobbies ever since."
If he were a superhero, his power would be: "Flying! Mainly so I wouldn't have to worry about the trains into midtown."
Dance idol: "Bob Fosse. I was initially inspired by the alley dance he did with Jack Lemmon in My Sister Eileen."
Weirdest thing in his dance bag: "My cupping set! It's a contraption designed to release the fascia around your muscles."
Favorite iconic Mean Girls quote: " 'She doesn't even go here!' "
Mean Girls character he most relates to: "Damian, because he's outgoing and positive and so genuine. I'd like to think I have some of those qualities, and I think we could all learn from Damian's positivity and open-mindedness."
Best cheese fries he's ever eaten: "I'd never eaten cheese fries until a press event we did last fall. I really liked them!"
Advice for kids dealing with bullying by their own "mean girls": "Know that whatever those bullies are saying to you is coming from their own insecurities. They feel the need to put others down because they're not comfortable in their own skin. Take whatever they say with a grain of salt and continue to be the beautiful person you are."
Also here's a behind-the-scenes video from the shoot.
Wow. "Paterno" premieres on HBO on April 7 and the Mean Girls formal Broadway opening is on April 8. The boy’s gonna have a big week. Check out this trailer.
Catch a brief glimpse of the boy in this trailer for HBO’s “Paterno,” and see him in a featured role when the movie airs this spring.
RIP to Cairo, the cat who never lacked opinions and was not shy about stating them to anyone within earshot. In our family, you fit right in.
Mother-daughter twins at a nice adult dinner. I’m lucky to have these beautiful women in my life.
Start of something new — Washington, D.C., October 2017
Unexpected surprise: Ben scored two extra tickets to last night’s "Mean Girls" premiere, so I get to see it with Emma — who is on break from Point Park — as my seat partner and all of my girls here in D.C.
A memorable Thanksgiving with the family, including an incredible meal cooked by Jill, time with my mom and the kids, including our newest addition to the family, Conner, and Kate's roommate to be. #THATfamily
Oh, and a significant number of family members also participated in an early morning Turkey Trot in Fairfax on Thursday. Wisely, I provided “tech support.”
As part of the ongoing family saga known as “birthday month,” today brings us to another milestone: No more teenagers! Ben and Emma (or Emma and Ben, if you want to go by birth order) are 20 today.
That’s almost as difficult to imagine as Nicholas turning 25 or Kate being 21 in a matter of 16 days. (Yep, that makes it three 20-year-olds for two plus weeks.) And it all happens so much faster than you could ever think.
I remember holding the two in the hospital and smiling. If a photo can say 1,000 words, this would have told a story involving flop sweat, fear, and the all-encompassing “What have we gotten ourselves into?!?” Little did we know…
I can clearly see them at their 13th birthday party In New York, having toted the Cake Boss cake on foot for blocks, first from the apartment to dinner and then back to the Imperial Theater. I remember marveling then that we had four teenagers, and wishing then that time would slow down.
And then there’s this photo from Thanksgiving, when you could start to see the adults they’ve become.
Thanks you two, for greatly enriching our lives.
On this day last year, I surprised my oldest son Nicholas on his birthday in Durham. Unfortunately I’m away in Nashville and can’t do so again as he turns 25.
25? How did that happen? I’m not sure, but I know how grateful I am to have developed such a solid, loving give-and-take relationship with this terrific young man. He’s undertaken a lot of changes over the past 365 days (engagement, working on a master’s degree, reclaiming his muse) and we have bonded in this past year like never before.
I love you, my son, and am so proud of you.
An early Christmas present from the kids resulted in a great dinner and 4th row seats to "Dear Evan Hansen" on Broadway!
Since 2002, the year after we moved into our house, I've taken an annual Christmas morning photo of the kids. In the early years, the rule was we had to get it taken before they could make the run at the stockings and the tree. When they got older and started sleeping in the basement on Christmas Eve, we took it on those stairs.
So we have two photos to share, one from the first year and one from this morning. In the first, the kids were 10, 5, 5, and 5. (For those doing the math, Kate's birthday is on Wednesday, giving her the leg up on Ben and Emma again.) The second is of our three 20-year-olds; Nicholas and Conner will be here later this week.
Here's to celebrating with family and friends on this most blessed of holidays, plus the holiday card we (barely) sent out this year.
And so we've come to December 27, two days after Christmas and a few days before the end of another calendar year.
December 27 is a big day in our house, because it officially marks the end of "birthday month" with a celebration for our daughter, Kate,, who reaches another milestone this year as she turns 21 (!).
Kate is out on her own, working two jobs, and living in Woodbridge with a high school friend. She has made great strides over the past year in becoming an independent adult, as much as "adulting" sucks at times.
(Sorry to report that, even in your 50s, adulting still sucks on occasion.)
We love you, Kate, and are so glad we get to celebrate with you later today. We also hope you know that we could not be prouder of you.
Two post-Christmas photos I've been meaning to post. I miss these goofballs.
I believe in the First Amendment, with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I believe government should work for the people, not in spite of the people. I believe responsible citizens should have the right to bear arms if they so choose. And I believe in honest, forthright debate on platforms such as this one.
I don’t believe in hate. And I’m exhausted by the vitriol.
No more swastikas. No more torches. No more violence. No more trotting out the same old, same old statements about “the other side” who may be your neighbor, or God forbid, someone you call your friend. It’s not OK.
Sadly, our leader thinks our fragile democracy is some kind of a schoolyard game, casting himself as chief bully in charge. He acts like a 2-year-old and screams at the top of his lungs (or fingertips) every time he doesn’t get what he wants, when he wants it.
It’s what he knows how to do best. And a significant portion of the population, a portion that has been overlooked and ignored by politicians on both sides of the aisle for decades, is frothing at the mouth to join him.
They rally behind him when he calls you:
• “Damned dishonest” — the news media
• “Obstructionists” — Democrats
• “Weak” — the two GOP senators from Arizona, one of whom has brain cancer.
• “Animals” — illegal immigrants
All these quotes came occurred during a rally in Phoenix, when Trump went off script and on to a 75-minute rant that was all “us” (his base) vs. “them” (the rest of us). When the base was at its most boisterous, he used a familiar refrain to describe those in favor of removing Confederate monuments: “They are trying to take away our history and our heritage.”
I get history and heritage. Members of my family have used language that would be considered racist or insensitive now.
Were they products of their time? Yes.
Should we overlook the fact that they had flaws, just like we all do? No.
If they were living today, would the language they used 50 or 60 years ago be acceptable? Absolutely not.
I have tried to teach my children about their history and their family heritage, both good and bad and always in context. I have tried to explain that the views of others are valid, even if you disagree with them.
Hate is not valid.
Does that level of sensitivity make me “politically correct”? Does the fact that I don’t want to go back to the days of coal, separate but equal schools, and the persecution of others simply because of their religion or skin color make me a “wimp,” an “obstructionist,” or “weak”?
I don’t think so. You may think differently. And that’s what democracy is all about, even though the mess caused by the freedoms we have can show our worst sides.
Two more thoughts from the ensuing discussion on Facebook:
• Regarding Antifa (an alt-left group): I'm not in favor of political nihilism under any circumstances. My problem is that the elected leader of our country is failing to demonstrate leadership in any way, shape or form, and extremists are filling the void.
• On the media’s reporting (or lack thereof) about Antifa: Extremists filling the void applies to news media as well. Fox News perfected that, and our country suffers for it because we can self select news according to our values and beliefs. (And BTW, my definition of a progressive is one who eschews violence.)
Big weekend on the family front: Jill and I went to Pittsburgh for the second weekend in a row to see Emma perform in her first show at Point Park. She was wonderful, as was the number.
And on the way home, we got some even bigger news: Nicholas and his life partner, Conner, are engaged! In many respects, you could tell this was a matter of when, not if, from the beginning. We love them both so much and could not be happier.
This is one of my favorite photos for a number of reasons, but the reason I'm reposting it today is to wish my mom, Olivia Cook, the happiest of birthdays. She is a feisty, fiery person who cares deeply about her family, including each (now numbering in the double digits) of her "grands."
We love you, Mom/Grandmom!
Spent some quality time with my boy and his girl this weekend in Durham.
Brunch with three of my four favorite women in the morning in Pittsburgh, then back to D.C. for game 2 of the National League Division Series between the Nationals and Cubs. #gonats #ppufamilyweekend
A few random thoughts from the past week:
• Line of the day: Treat others how you'd like to be treated and we'll all live happily ever after.
• RIP to Sam Shepard, a renaissance man and true artist, in many more ways than one.
• Beyond proud of Nicholas as he starts grad school in Elon's iMedia program, and grateful for the time we've had together during his "funemployment" tour.
• My life's hashtag should be: #justcan'twaittogetontheroadagain. This week, I drove to Norfolk for a dance conference, then turned around and went to Pittsburgh to move Emma into school, where she is working as a "resident educator" — most of us call them RAs — this year. Look at how much our girl has grown up since the far left picture was taken at the start of her freshman year last August.
On the political front…
• This is life at the White House:
• Breaking "news": Revolving doors with gold plated T's belatedly installed in West Wing at cost of $1.2 billion. Trump blames media.
• And one more on the subject courtesy of Bloom County.
And in other news, this announcement also came out today. Very proud of Ben, who has been cast in the Broadway-bound "Mean Girls," written by Tina Fey and produced by Lorne Michaels. The show opens on Oct. 31 at The National Theatre in Washington, D.C., with a run planned for New York in the spring.
Ten years ago today, I wasn't there. I'd left Texas City the day before and returned to Virginia, hours after my father waved goodbye to us and slipped into a coma.
Losing my dad, without question, was one of the most difficult things I've gone through in this life. I viscerally remember the multiple flights back and forth from Virginia to Houston after his final diagnosis. Falling behind at work, I remember working on a piece for a magazine while staying with him one weekend in the hospital. I remember the nights he was in such pain, as I simultaneously wished for it to end while selfishly hoping he wouldn't leave us.
I didn't make promises to higher powers about changing my life forever if he could be spared. I walked around the hospital after that final goodbye, playing Alejandro Escovedo's "The End" on my iPod as loud as I could bear. I started working on a slideshow of dad and his grandchildren that I would show at his funeral. And I started thinking about the future, not knowing what it would hold.
Often I've said I became a better father when my dad died, having recognized belatedly that life is finite. I started paying more attention to family instead of career, and began to chase after that elusive creative muse. What I learned most is that life is not about the things you have. It's about what you experience with those you love.
I love you, Dad.
It's been a memorable Fourth of July weekend, in part because we've been home, a rarity given schedules, conferences, and summer travel. Nick and Conner joined us on Friday and we went to see Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit at Merriweather Post Pavilion, then went to the Workhouse Arts Center for their annual Fourth fest and fireworks show.
Despite my long association with the Workhouse and the Arches Gallery Artists, we've never attended the celebration. To see more photos of the fireworks, go to my Facebook album here.
Hope you have a happy 4th!
Hard to believe, but it's been five years since Ben made his debut as Billy Elliot in the sweltering Louisville, Ky. Here he is after the show with Nicholas and Ginno.
So, after 21 years, our marriage is officially an adult. Four children, including three within the first two years of marriage, are enough to challenge anyone. But we've made it this far and now get to enjoy some precious time with each other, such as today's Nats game. It's wonderful to go through this life with someone you consider your best friend. I love you, Jill!
I really don’t believe in ghosts. But I do believe in spirits, both of the adult and ghostly variety.
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of my father’s death, unbelievable because of what has happened over the past decade and because I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s also remarkable because it has been almost 10 years since my oldest child, Nicholas, was last in Texas.
Nicholas, now 24, and I have bonded greatly over the past couple of years, developing the type of father-son relationship I always hoped and prayed we’d have during his long childhood absences marked by distance and divorce. Thankfully, circumstances lined up for him to join me this week as I trek from New Orleans to Texas to San Francisco, part of a 14-day jaunt that includes shooting two conferences on both ends, with a trip through my home state in between.
With a month between leaving his job and starting grad school, Nick met me in New Orleans and came to Texas. The purpose of this part of the trip, determined long in advance, was to help my aunt — my dad’s sister and the last link to his side of the family — get ready to move from Pottsboro to her hometown of Longview.
I’ve long wanted my kids, who’ve spent most of their lives on the East Coast, to come back to Texas with me to see and hopefully gain some understanding of my roots that run across this entire state. Being the oldest, and the one somewhat suddenly with time on his hands, it was logical for Nicholas to be part of this trip with my mom.
After Nick spent two days in New Orleans, his first trip there, we flew to Houston on Thursday night and left in mom’s van for Pottsboro on Friday. My mom has separated all the photos from her nine grandchildren into boxes. Nicholas’ box, which she gave him, included many photos from when he was a baby/toddler and included my dad. Many he had never seen.
As we made the trek up Interstate 45, Nicholas held the box in his lap, thumbing through the pictures on occasion. When we stopped at a gas station/convenience store in Ennis, one of the many small towns you pass on the long trek, the ghost/spirit made his first appearance.
My dad was a huge fan of both superheroes and James Dean, and when we trekked into this kitschy store with its knickknacks, cheap souvenirs, and single beers iced in the open air, I spotted two metal signs above the cooler. One was the Superman insignia; the other was a photo of James Dean.
We went to my aunt’s house and packed some of her things in the van. Nick and I made a mad dash to the Oklahoma border so he could claim he'd been to the state, then stayed up until 3 a.m. talking about life, childhood, relationships and adulting. (Yes, adulting.) The two of us and Mom left Saturday afternoon for Longview, where we stayed at the homes of my dad’s first cousins. Much reminiscing ensued.
Yesterday, on Father’s Day, we drove around Longview, visiting the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. There, I realized something I had never thought of before: My dad was 52 — my age now — the year that Nicholas was born.
After driving by the childhood homes of my parents, we then went to Kilgore, where I had my first chance to see the campus where my mom and dad first got together. (She was a Rangerette; he was the squad’s manager. Not a bad gig for a then 19-year-old.) We then drove back to Houston.
In many respects, even though Jill and my other three kids weren’t with us, it was the perfect way to spend Father’s Day. Throughout the day, I received texts and calls from Ben, Emma, Kate, and Ginno (“adopted” child). Jill posted a beautiful, sweet message as well.
Today, the last day Nicholas and I are together, real life is intervening. We are sitting in a Starbucks. I’m writing a freelance story (after processing all of this, of course); he is advertising furniture he and his girlfriend are trying to sell. We are, in many ways, adulting.
When I started going through some of the pictures I’ve taken over the course of these past few days, I zoomed in on the one I took in that convenience store in Ennis. I knew the photo had a James Dean quote on it, but I hadn’t really paid it much attention. When I read it, however, tears came to my eyes.
“If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, and if he can live on after he’s dead, then maybe he was a great man.”
One challenging week: Computer craps out, Internet goes down (not related), and this year's post-50 doctoral round robin continues with with a hernia repair. So I'm behind, sore (not in the behind, fortunately), and frustrated.
On the good news front, the Internet is back up and the hernia is fixed, which means I can start (gingerly for the next day or so) to catch back up. My twins are loving their time together in NYC, Nick saw Oprah yesterday and Kate has a variety of exciting things coming over the next week. Oh, and my wife is a rock star.
All in all, despite the frustrations, it could be much worse.
In the summer of 1973, I split my time between my parents' house in Texas City and my grandparents' home in Longview. Most of that time was spent with my beloved grandmother, who sat glued to the television every day.
These were the days before cable/satellite/streaming, so daytime viewing options were largely limited to soap operas, game shows, and reruns of old black and white sitcoms and Westerns on the UHF channels. My grandparents' Zenith TV was noteworthy because it had a remote control, so you didn't have to get up and down to turn the channel, although the unreliable antenna meant you sometimes had to stand on one leg and hold your arm at a certain angle to watch a show.
Instead of the ubiquitous "I Love Lucy," "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Little Rascals" reruns, my 8-year-old self was decidedly bored watching a bunch of men in suits speaking into microphones. I asked my grandmother a bunch of questions about the presidents, which had become a fascination for me because my elementary school was named after not one, but two of our country's former leaders (FDR and Woodrow Wilson). She patiently answered and said we always have to respect the office, no matter whether we respect the person occupying the top seat at the time.
As my interest grew in the presidents, I took a minute to write a letter that summer to the White House. Normally I don't write fan letters, and my timing likely could not have been worse. But hey, I was 8 after all.
Soon after, I received a form letter and a black and white photograph of the White House. Not surprisingly, a photo of our then-president was not enclosed.
I thought about those summer days again this morning and wondered whether it's a case of history repeating itself. One thing is for sure, there will be no fan letters sent from my address anytime soon.
The six Cook-McFarland cousins have not all been together in more than four years, so it was great to have everyone (including Conner, Nick's significant other) in the same place this past weekend in Boone for Jill's family reunion. These pics show they were quick to pick up where they left off...
To see more photos, go to my Facebook album here.
The Hodges-Love family reunion drew about 50 people to Oak Grove Baptist Church in Boone over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. It brought together family members from Jill's maternal grandparents, many of whom we haven't seen in years. Here are a few photos; the rest can be seen in my Facebook album here.
Meanwhile, as part of the event, I took a series of shots of old family photos to display in the room. Below is one; you can see the rest by going to this link in the VIsual Storytelling section of the website.
I've had the kids on the brain this morning, particularly thinking about the pyramid picture I took of the six first cousins in Boone over Memorial Day. I wanted to recreate the pyramids the kids did in their youth and (after much cajoling/negotiation) managed to get them to recreate this one from Memorial Day weekend nine years earlier.
This is Emma's birthday tribute to her mom. There is no disputing who the best writer in the family is...
Back in the beginning of December, I was a few months into my freshmen year of college. While I love Point Park, some things were inevitably hard to cope with. Throughout my time here I have received care packages from my parents, always accompanied by an encouraging message (which I could tell my mom had written). These packages are sent out through the school, with all of the notes prewritten back in August.
It was during this time in which I was struggling with a few things that I decided to get a tattoo with the quote "This too shall pass." I told my mom about this idea, and she loved it. A few days later, I received another care package. When I opened it the first words on it were "This too shall pass."
My dad has always said that my mom and I are very similar, but it wasn't until reading that message that I truly knew how much. I'm beginning to realize that she probably understands me better than I understand myself. Everything she does is to protect and support the people she loves. She is so hardworking and strong, and it inspires me to do the same and always work to be a better person.
As I grow up I'm more and more grateful for my parents, and everything they have provided for my siblings and me. I love you so much mom. I hope you and dad have an amazing time in Venice. Happy Birthday.
So, in addition to this being Valentine's Day, we are marking the official kickoff of "Ben Cook Week" in the family. Last night started with Emma accompanying the boy to the Newsies movie premiere in New York.
Tomorrow it's Law & Order: SVU (check local listings) and then Newsies opens in movie theaters. Jill, Kate and I will see the movie with a bunch of family, extended family and friends at the Regal Springfield Town Center. Nick and Conner will see it in Durham and the Cook/Ghirardi clan are going in Clear Lake.
The movie, which received great reviews from those who saw the New York premiere, also is showing on Saturday and next Wednesday. Hope you get to see it!
My son, Ben, is performing tonight and Saturday as "Older Billy" in a special guest appearance as part of Wheelock Family Theatre's regional production of "Billy Elliot: The Musical."
I went to Boston during Thursday's blizzard to spend time with my 19-year-old and took a few shots at this morning's rehearsal with Seth Judice, who is playing the title role.
With appearances in "Law & Order: SVU" and the "Newsies" movie next week, the boy is well on his way to an adult career. But for a brief time at least, it's nice to see Ben return to the show that dominated much of his childhood.
Bonus photos: I took the photo below of Ben and Salma Hayek after she saw the show in Boston during the national tour in 2012. Right: Caught this picture of the boy with the “Newsies” poster during a lunch break today in Boston.
Jill has long kidded that Ben would be a legitimate actor when he appears on an episode of "Law and Order." Well, at the end of tonight's episode, we finally got confirmation that next Wednesday is the date. (Check your local listings for air times.)
From Little Boy to the Big Screen: I was thrilled to be at the taping of the Newsies movie with my mom in Hollywood last September. Tonight, as #BenCookWeek — Nick gave him the hashtag — continues, I'm going with Jill, Kate, and a bunch of our extended family and friends to see it on the big screen. Congrats, son!
I distinctly remember the first time I heard the “F” word. We were driving from Texas City to Longview on the dreaded U.S. 59 in my mom’s white, two-door Oldsmobile Cutlass. I was 9, maybe 10. My dad, his head on the 90-degree turn thanks to dysplasia/spasmodic tordicollis, was in the passenger seat and mom was driving. These were the days when the speed limit had just been lowered and mom, never wanting to break the law, kept the needle neatly positioned between the 5 and the 5.
As frequently happens on long trips on divided four-lane highways, we played a slight game of tag with another car. We passed it, it passed us, and so on. I’m sure the driver in the other car had to be a little freaked out by the fact that, every time we passed, my dad was staring at him — involuntarily — through the passenger side window.
Suddenly and without warning, I heard my dad explode with a resounding “F-U too, buddy!”
I asked my mom what the “f” word meant, and she said it was a word that only adults use, and even then only infrequently. (Little did she know...) Giving my dad the stare down while somehow simultaneously looking at the road and in the rearview mirror, she proceeded to explain that it was a word I shouldn’t ever choose, especially in anger.
“We’ve taught you to have a better vocabulary than that.”
The lesson I took from this experience was that the word itself is not what’s important, but the tone of your voice is what really matters. What I didn’t understand at the time, but do today, was that my dad was hurt and lashed out. The other driver had no idea the kind of pain that he was in, no idea how embarrassed/emasculated he might have felt thanks to an insidious disease that would affect him for the rest of his life.
Over the years, since becoming a writer/editor in my own right, I’ve learned to love and respect the power words have. But more important, I’ve tried to dissect and learned to appreciate the tone my voice has when I choose to use words in a certain way.
Now, if I’m truly angry, I don’t use profanity. I don’t want people to get hung up on a particular word choice and use that as an excuse to not listen to what I have to say. Deep in my heart, I wish that others would choose words as carefully and listen when others with dissenting opinions are talking. My fear is that listening is becoming a lost art.
Kate last night at her 20th birthday party — she has to work on her actual birthday, which is today — and with her siblings at the Escape Room Live in Alexandria. Plus, as a bonus, a flashback photo to 3-day-old Kate and her mom on the living room couch. (It's still one of my all-time favorites.)
To quote Jill, "Our son found a way to deal with his post-election angst."
11:33 p.m., December 31, 2016
Well, if all goes well in the next half hour or so, I can say we survived. And then some. (Given the rash of creative talent that has passed away this year, "and then some" seemed like a proper qualifier.)
It's truly been a year of great highs, lows and transitions: 20th wedding anniversary, high school graduations, moving kids in and out of new homes, Broadway, a movie, First Lady shout outs, college, new jobs, travel to 18 different states (some multiple times), Paris, Zurich, new business, old business, stressful business, deepening friendships, learning opportunities, missed opportunities, sinus infections, the flu, global uncertainty, and the love of family.
As my kids move into rapidly into adulthood, I've tried to be a better father, in as much as my role is shifting from professional schlepper/caregiver to advisor, helper and confidant. As our home moves to a (mostly) empty nest, Jill and I have gone on a series of adventures that I hope will continue for many many years to come. It's nice when you can do that with someone who is both your best friend and the great love of your life.
I'm increasingly aware of how the traits that our parents passed on to us are being forwarded to subsequent generations, and how a seemingly innocuous incident that occurred decades ago can have long-term effects on your life. (Spoiler alert: This is not a new revelation caused by binge-watching "This is Us," although the show is highly recommended.)
And, I'm increasingly aware of how fragile life really is. How short it is in the grand scheme. How much we need to live it for as long as we can in a truthful, caring, and loving manner as possible.
I was born 17 days after the Baby Boom era ended, which means I was part of the Generation X transition plan. This year, more so than any other, we saw the loss of so many people who were part of the fabric of my life from birth.
A partial list of those we’ve lost in 2016: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Gary Shandling, Patty Duke, Doris Roberts, Prince, Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the new “Star Treks”), Gary Marshall, Marni Nixon (voice of Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn in three classic musicals), Gene Wilder, Curtis Hanson (director of “The Wonder Boys”), Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds.
Hell, even Nancy Reagan didn’t want to stick around for the possibility of a Trump administration.
And tonight, scanning the last-minute headlines to make sure Betty White was still safe, I saw that we lost William Christopher, who played the loving, bumbling Father Mulcahey on M*A*S*H.
Say what you will, but I'm glad to see this turbulent year gone. Like many, I'm concerned about what the future holds, not just here but around the world. I'm also concerned about the lack of empathy our society — not everyone, I swear it's not that blanket of a statement — shows toward traditionally marginalized populations.
So if you're lucky enough to give a significant other that kiss in a couple of minutes, take a second to think about love, what it means, and what you can do to spread it around.
Thanks for reading my latest rant. Here's to a better year in 2017. Let's live it up...
The annual Christmas morning photo: Same staircase, 14 years apart.
Going to see a Christmas Day movie with the four, who suddenly regret that Jill and I got rid of the minivan. (BTW: La La Land was great!)
When the kids were, well, kids, they loved going to the Lincoln Memorial at night. For several years, every trip Nicholas made to Virginia had to include a trip to see the tribute to Honest Abe.
Sometimes everyone made the pilgrimage, but often we were missing one. That was true again this year — Kate couldn't make it due to another obligation — but this time we added a new member, Nick's girlfriend Conner.
One of these days, we'll have everyone with us, and another addition or two would mean we have to take two cars. I look forward to that day...
It's December (aka "birthday month") at our house, so here's a flashback to one of my favorite photos of the four kids holding hands in a brief moment of solidarity. Every time I see this photo, it makes me smile.
Surprised the oldest on his birthday yesterday in Durham. It's the first birthday we've spent together since 2009.
Birthday Month, Parts 2 & 3: Wishing the happiest 19th to Ben and Emma, separated by distance in body but always together in spirit. We love you both so much!
We're having a quiet Thanksgiving at home, quite the contrast to years past. Feeling nostalgic with Ben, Emma, and Kate here together for the first time in months, I started going through old photos of past Thanksgivings.
A few things I noticed during our visual time travel:
• Over the last 20 years, we've had Thanksgiving dinner in at least 7 different cities in four states.
• Only two years (2001 and 2014) are not represented in this album. We were just moving into our home in Lorton in November 2001 and in 2014 we had just the girls here for a low-key Thanksgiving.
• After 2003, we didn't have Thanksgiving at home until 2013. Since then, we've been at home for three of the last four years.
• The last Thanksgiving all six McFarland/Cook first cousins were together was in 2012. They've only all been together a handful of times since. The last time all of the Cook/Ghirardi cousins were together was at my dad's funeral in 2007.
Going back through these photos was fun experience. Some years were easier than others — no surprise given that December is the month of birthdays. At times we were celebrating new opportunities; at others we were mourning those we had lost.
But all it takes is one quick look, and you can see why I give thanks every day for the life we have together.
Last week, while taking a break from photographing a conference in Las Vegas, a news story from my hometown caught my attention: A high school senior had committed suicide in front of her parents. She had been the victim of relentless cyberbullying over her weight and her appearance.
Immediately, I flashed back to Blocker Middle School and the late 1970s. When you've been bullied, your emotions are on constant standby for time travel.
I was bullied as a child. What people thought were innocent pranks about my appearance, lack of style, poor social graces, and general athletic ineptitude left scars that have taken decades to heal.
Then, when you see something like this, something that happened in the hometown you left long ago, those scars are exposed again. You time travel back to the days when you were that fat child, that pimply, awkward, uncoordinated teenager who liked books, movies, drama, and writing. It comes back like it was yesterday.
You are thankful for your loving parents, who were dealing with boatloads of crap of their own. You are thankful for your few close friends who accepted you for who you were. You are thankful for teachers like John C. Martin, for neighbors who became your extended family. You are thankful for those who, even if they didn't understand you, didn't judge. You are thankful that, no matter how bad things got at times, you had the inner strength to go on.
You hope that your children did not have to endure the same things you did, knowing that bullies now hide behind their thumbs and their glare-free screens. You try to treat people with kindness, holding on to the manners you were taught. You try to look at issues and events from both sides — and there are two sides to every story — and respect others' right to their opinions, no matter how different they may be from yours.
I appreciate the steps Texas City ISD took (making counselors available, sending a letter home to parents with other resources) in the wake of the girl’s suicide and pray that no copycat incidents — always a risk with this age group — occur.
But don’t bury your head in the sand. The temptation some have to prey on others because of their own insecurity and inadequacy has never gone away. It's part of our history that, despite twists like social media, repeats itself again and again.
When something like this happens, we feel the need to take action, but it always seems to be too little, too late. In Texas, two state legislators filed a bill last month that would require school districts to have cyberbullying policies. The law would require schools to notify parents when children are bullied. Anyone who electronically harasses or bullies another person under the age of 18 would face misdemeanor charges.
Why these types of policies are not already in place in every school district in America boggles my mind. Why bullying is tolerated, by adults and children alike, simply makes no sense. And yet it is.
The wounds heal. But the scars remain. #SuicideAwareness — 1-800-273-8255.
The essay above, posted to Facebook on Friday, generated a series of heartfelt, thoughtful, and affirming responses. A number of friends shared it, more than 70 (and counting) took the time to comment publicly, and a few sent private messages. (Read the thread here.)
Here are some of my thoughts, based on what others had to say:
• 2016, more than any other, has been the "Year of the Trolls." I spend a lot of time on the Internet and try my best to keep things positive, but I've noticed repeatedly that people pick up on a single word you say and use it as an excuse to rip. That is terrible for us as a society.
• School districts and state legislators have hesitated to push policies and laws through on this topic out of fear of liability. I understand why, but a policy that requires schools to notify parents when they receive a report of bullying should be a responsibility that districts are willing to take on. In the grand scheme, doing everything you can to keep parents in the loop and invested in the well-being of their children is a baby step.
• We’ve got to stop looking for simple, knee jerk answers (zero tolerance policies, banning all cellphones) to these types of problems. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this type of behavior, which has been perpetuated for generations.
• No place is immune from bullying, whether you’re in an industrial town in Texas, a rural community in North Carolina, or the hallowed suburbs of Washington, D.C. It won’t go away without a concentrated effort on everyone’s part, and that means support from schools, parents, classmates, community leaders, and politicians who have the chutzpah to stand up for changes. The problem sits in all our laps.
• For many young people, compassion is not innate; if anything, the exact opposite is, especially when you're trying to find your way. It truly is heartbreaking to see a kid who's obviously struggling socially, because you know how others have the capacity to be so cruel in those types of situations.
• Late elementary school and middle school is where so much of this damaging behavior begins. (Middle school was my personal “American Horror Story.”) Like many kids, I thought I could handle it myself, not knowing the damage I was doing to my psyche. I wish I had felt comfortable enough to talk to someone; I would have been much better off.
• As an average, run-of-the-mill teenage boy who was a barking seal when it came to girls, the power they had was fierce. For the most part, I saw it for what it was and didn't let it bother me. But there were a couple of cruel heartbreaks along the way, where I thought, hoped and prayed that someone was different and was severely disappointed. That's why so much of this cuts so deep and so hard. I realize how much of my life I wasted trying to get the approval of people who didn't give a shit.
• At times, I feel like we’ve thrown bullying into the same category as poverty — “Can’t do anything about it. Those people just need to step up.” We all need to step up.
Reunions that include all four kids are far too rare these days, so it was great to come together briefly in New York this past weekend. Ostensibly, the reason was to formally (and belatedly) celebrate Ben’s high school graduation, which we did with a small gathering of family (biological, extended, extensions of extended) on Saturday evening.
Nick and Conner came from Durham on Thursday night and, given that she had only visited the city a couple of times, we hit the sites hard on Friday. Nick took Conner to her first Broadway show (“Waitress”) and a friend gave them a backstage tour. Once the day was done, we had walked more than 10 miles.
On Saturday, Jill and Kate came in by train from Virginia and Emma flew in from Pittsburgh. At that point, we had all four children together for the first time since Emma’s graduation in July. Thanks to Ginno, Casey, Bernadette, and everyone else who took the time to stop by, say hello, give a hug, and catch up. It was great seeing all of you.
On Sunday, Emma and I stuck around and went to The Newsboys Variety Show at 54 Below to see Ben perform a song (“Unemployed”) with his roommate Josh. Again, I was struck by how kind and (obviously) talented the cast of this show is, and by how warm and friendly they are. They are a family unto themselves.
Before you knew it, the long weekend was over and it will be Christmas before the four are together again. But it was nice — very nice — while it lasted.
I recoiled the first time I saw the video of Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away.”
One of the best songs off of one of the best albums I’ve heard in years, the video tells the story of a couple who becomes entangled in the throes of the woman’s mental illness. It ends, as do too many of these stories, tragically, leaving the survivors to cope with unspeakable grief.
“The song is about loving someone unconditionally through not so easy times. The concept of the video came to me as that would be the hardest possible space in which to love somebody,” Stapleton says in an interview on the Campaign to Change Direction website.
Stapleton’s debut album, “Traveller,” has sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. It won two Grammys and drew attention for its mix of old-school country and Southern rock. The video for “Fire Away” has been viewed almost 15 million times, creating awareness around an issue — mental illness — that is too rarely mentioned or not seen at all.
Until it’s too late.
I’m a lucky man.
I’ve known two people — one a close friend; the other the daughter of family friends — who have died by suicide. I have a daughter who is ADHD/bipolar and struggles to maintain her equilibrium at times. An uncle and an aunt also have suffered from severe mental illness.
Their experiences have helped shape me as a person and as a father. I feel fortunate to have known these people, and lucky to have a daughter as kind at heart as Kate is. And I’m committed to sharing our family’s struggles in an effort to draw some attention to mental health issues.
Hearing that Stapleton would be performing in D.C., I noted the show was scheduled during an intense period of travel and was unsure if I could make it on a Sunday night after returning from a second trip to Pittsburgh in two weeks. Then, when I went to buy a ticket, all that was left was a single seat in the upper nosebleed section.
Jill had a dinner to attend that night, so she told me to go ahead. The cause is the right one, and that’s what’s most important.
The Campaign to Change Direction is a national initiative designed “change the culture of mental health in America.” Its goal is to get people to learn and share the five signs of emotional suffering — change in personality; agitation; withdrawal; decline in personal care; and hopelessness — so that we can prevent tragedies and help others to heal.
When Stapleton had the idea for the video, he didn’t work with a specific charity on mental health issues. Actor Ben Foster, who is in the video, suggested the campaign, which has received the support of Prince William, First Lady Michelle Obama, and actor Richard Gere, among others.
Stapleton agreed to work with the organization, although he had no idea about the video’s potential impact on his audience. He also had to get his record company to buy into the project, noting that label executives “looked at me like I had three heads” when he told them the idea.
“I didn’t want to be in the video. I wanted to make it with these actors because it felt more artful and meaningful,” Stapleton says. “It was just a notion, but then we made it and it became real and useful and something that hopefully can make the world a better place. … That notion became a good thing.”
The DAR Constitution Hall is a great place to hear a show, but a tough venue to maneuver. The lines are long. The bathrooms are in inconvenient places. The seats, especially in the upper reaches, have extremely limited legroom.
Having driven more than 500 miles over the previous two days, I had to get up midway through the show and walk around a bit, so I went down to the restroom and saw an usher I had talked to while waiting in line earlier. Listening to the music, we made momentary small talk about the show and I mentioned my connections to the cause, then told him I had to go back up. I didn’t want to miss “Fire Away.”
At that point, the usher opened the door and said, “Go on in,” pointing me to an empty seat in the orchestra section. “Wait a few minutes,” this random stranger said, “and I’ll take you up a little further if I can.”
After standing in the back of the orchestra for a few minutes — by this point no one was sitting — the usher tapped me on the arm and escorted me up toward the front, just five rows from the stage. “Stand here,” he said. “You won’t have a problem.”
And then he left without a trace. Two minutes later, Stapleton started playing “Fire Away,” just in time for me to pull out my phone and record it. At the end, he asked the boisterous crowd to repeat the last chorus, holding up their phones to shine a light on issues that are underreported and often unseen.
The audience complied. Here is the video I took of the performance.
On Saturday, Lindsay’s family will participate — as they do every year — in one of the Out of the Darkness walks sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you would like to help, go to the team page here.
Pay it forward. It's the least we can do.
I've been sitting in the Denver airport all night because of a cancelled flight, which prompted this sleep-deprived diatribe. Read on if you choose...
Look folks, I'm not perfect. Never have professed that. I have flaws as a husband, father, son and human being.
I think the fact that I can and do acknowledge those flaws makes me imminently qualified to say this: There is no way in hell I'm voting for a Mr. in this election.
I realize this comes as no shock to anyone who knows me well, but understand that I know and recognize that both candidates have flaws. However, if there was any margin for error, it has been erased permanently by the most vitriolic, distasteful, and abusive campaign in U.S. history.
As a husband, father and son, I can't in good conscience vote for someone whose systemic manipulation of women (and other, equally important things from a governance perspective) is a centerpiece of his very existence. And I don't understand how anyone else can do the same.
I have friends on all sides of the spectrum. Some of you have chosen to unfollow or unfriend me because my views don't march in lockstep with yours. Others are quick to note the flaws and peccadilloes of previous politicians for the umpteenth time.
Some will not take the time or energy to read this because one more word about this election is just too much. And that's OK. That's your right.
Come November 9, I hope our nation can get treatment for the collective PTSD that this election has caused (at least for those who believe such a thing exists). But between now and then, I hope everyone will carefully and prayerfully (if you so choose) consider the type of person you want to represent our nation.
Either way, please exercise your right to vote. That's one thing we can all do together, even if we disagree.
This story is about life lessons, not giving up, the kindness of strangers, and a purse.
Yes, a purse.
Earlier this month, Jill, Emma and I were fortunate to attend the Pittsburgh Steelers-Kansas City Chiefs game at Heinz Field. Chris Ballard, who grew up across the street from my family in Texas City, now works for the Chiefs and arranged the tickets, complete with a pregame pass to stand on the sidelines.
Things started smoothly. Traffic was light for once on the trip from Virginia to Pittsburgh — a rare occasion indeed — and we had a nice time with Emma, who we had not seen since she started her freshman year at Point Park University. Emma gathered a group of her friends — new and old — for an Art & Dance shoot at Point State Park.
All in all, a very nice day leading up to the main event — a nationally televised Sunday Night Football game.
I hoped to bring my camera to the game, but Chris told me to look at the venue rules beforehand to make sure, and professional cameras were on the don’t list. Security crackdowns have been in force at major events around the country for the past several years, so it came as no surprise. We’ve been to several games at Nationals Park, and know the search-before-entry drill all too well.
But we didn’t realize that purses were on the banned list, too. Only small clear bags are allowed in the stadium and even if you dump your purse’s contents into an accepted clear bag, you can’t carry the purse in.
“Sorry, those are the rules,” the security guard said, pointing to a number of purses and bags residing in a nearby trash can.
Suddenly the nice day was turning almost as dark as the skies above.
I always tell my kids, "Don't be afraid to ask for something worthwhile, no matter how outlandish the request may seem." The worst thing a person can say is “no,” and rejection is part of life.
Occasionally, if you’re courteous and polite, people will surprise you with the same in return.
We didn’t have much time, but I decided to embark on a “Save the Purse” quest. I went to the box office and the customer service desk, asking if someone could hold on to it until after the game, but I was summarily rebuffed.
Finally, I walked over to the Don’s Appliances truck. Not being from the area, I didn’t know that Don’s is a luxury manufacturer of fancy kitchens, or that the gentleman handing out free samples of food is actually a master chef named Anthony Marino.
I explained the situation about the purse, the fact we were from out of town, in Pittsburgh to see our daughter, meeting a friend at the game, etc. Could I stash the purse with them and pick it up later?
Unfortunately, the truck left at kickoff, so that was out of the question.
Fortunately, Chef Marino is also married — “I understand,” he said with a smile when I told him my story — and an extremely nice person. He offered to ship the purse to us when he went to work the next day.
Three days later, the package arrived via UPS. All we had to do was mail a check to Don’s Appliances for the shipping.
So there’s your happy ending, affirmation that even in these most contentious of times, there are still some kind people in this world. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask, and when things work out in your favor, offer a grateful thank you.
Remember, you never know unless you try.
Less than a month out, here are a few more random thoughts about baseball, politics and other things…
• Is it flu season? Or is this feeling coming because I'm a Nationals fan during the playoffs? At least I can get a shot for the latter by walking to a nearby cabinet.
• In case you’re wondering what my qualifications are for that last statement, remember that my childhood was spent in the Houston area, where the playoffs and Rolaids marched in solidarity every fall.
• Dear Mr. Stump: Thank you for proving yet again that misogyny and vitriol are alive and well. I've never seen such anger and hatred in my life as I’m seeing in the days leading up to this election.
The GOP on November 9.
• On a somewhat related note, Mr. Obama’s approval rating is higher at this point in his term than any president since Ronald Reagan. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a turnaround.
• Having been to Pittsburgh twice in the past two weeks, I’m beginning to think Pennsylvania is one of those states where the red light and the orange cone should just hook up and call it a night.
• Speaking of travel, here’s an on-the-road question: Why do hotels that charge $200 a night leave you with single-ply toilet paper?
• Twitter is the new People Magazine. You can read all you need while sitting on the can.
• And the best news yet …. The boy has a job for the next couple of weeks!
It's been a while since I've taken headshots of Kate, and she needed some new ones, so it was a pleasure to take these. Here are four takes on my beautiful daughter, who turns 20 (!) in December.
In a post earlier this week, I mentioned our crazy travel schedule and how thankful I am to have so many friends and family (biological and extended) willing to spend a little time with us on this journey.
So here's a small photo summary of the last five weeks. (Roadmap not included.)
A huge thanks to the staff, students, and parents at Sonya's Dance Academy who took part in a weekend-long series of photo shoots, master classes, and workshops recently in Hickory, N.C.
My son, Ben, taught two hour-long dance classes and talked to the students about his evolution from child to adult actor/performer. Meanwhile, I scheduled a series of mini-sessions with students for headshots, and spent more than an hour with parents talking about raising a young professional in the performing arts. Finally, we did a series of "Art & Dance" shoots, for which the photos will be coming shortly.
If your studio or group is interested in putting together this type of package, please contact me via Facebook message or by email at email@example.com.
Flying home yesterday from LA, with a brief stop to drop off my mom in Houston, I realized yet again how wonderful it is to have so many special friends and extended family members as a result of the boy's adventures. I saw people who have been part of our lives for the past eight or nine years and just shook my head in wonder at the community that surrounds him and us.
Watching the filming of "Newsies" could have been better only if Jill was there. It truly was a remarkable evening filled with memories and hope. Now, after a frenetic past few weeks of work and wonder, things briefly slow down to "normal."
Whatever that is.