Spent some quality time with my boy and his girl this weekend in Durham.
Currently showing posts tagged Nicholas
Spent some quality time with my boy and his girl this weekend in Durham.
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.”
Surprised the oldest on his birthday yesterday in Durham. It's the first birthday we've spent together since 2009.
A weekend with my oldest son, Nicholas, and his girlfriend Conner in Durham, N.C. led to a walk around downtown and a series of fun photos of a cute couple. To see more, go to my Facebook album here.
Congratulations to Nick for completing a 28.3 mile walk and raising more than $3,300 as part of the Make-A-Wish Trailblaze Challenge. It took him 13 hours to finish the walk in what was "by far, the most exhilarating and rewarding (and exhausting) experience." Thanks to all who donated.
Wishing Nicholas all the best today as he embarks on a 28.3 mile hike to raise funds for Make-A-Wish in Georgia. In just 5 days, I will be hiking 28.3 miles in a day for Make-A-Wish. Through generous support of family and friends, he has raised more than $3,300, just $200 shy of the $3,500 needed to grant 1/2 of a child's wish). So proud of the oldest for his commitment to this cause and to his younger sister, Bella. To make a donation, go here.
As many of you know, my oldest son Nicholas has a younger sister, Bella, who lives in Greensboro and has Down’s Syndrome. Although she has since received a clean bill of health, Bella fought through a tough cancer battle several years ago. It was during that time that the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave his North Carolina family an opportunity to go to Disney World in 2013.
“It was a long, trying, and emotional two years,” Nick wrote in a Facebook post yesterday. “She pushed through it though and is one of the strongest, most resilient little fighters I know. I couldn’t be prouder and more honored to be the big brother of this little inspiration.”
Nick, kind and gentle soul that he is, has since been a supporter of the Make-A-Wish, including fundraisers with his college acapella group, Vital Signs. On June 3, he will hike 28.3 miles of the Foothills Trail in one day for the Make-A-Wish Central & Western North Carolina. He already has hit his $1,700 fundraising goal, but is still accepting donations to meet a personal goal of $2,500.
“No child should have to go through what Bella's gone through. But for those that do, having their wish granted gives them and the family a break from it all, enriching lives with strength, joy and hope, an opportunity to smile,” Nick wrote.
Our family has made a donation to Nick’s effort. I hope you will consider making one, too. To do so, go to his donation page here. Thank you for your support of our sweet and generous son.
Nicholas is featured in a short video promoting "Elon Day," the university's annual fundraising event. It's good to see he's putting his degree to use, and pretty clever, too...
Nicholas is my first-born child and my first portrait subject. He turned 23 this week, and it was a few short years ago that I nervously took his headshots on a cold, drizzly morning before he started auditioning for colleges.
That shoot, at the Lorton Workhouse, inadvertently led to this business and this page. Today, he's working at his alma mater (Elon University) and still posing for his dad, this time during a Thanksgiving week trip to Wintergreen, Va.
For more, go to my Facebook album here.
In honor of the oldest...
Nicholas performed a solo at his spring Vital Signs concert at Elon University last night, covering "The Cave" by Mumford & Sons. Video is below.
Check out this short film — 4 ½ minutes — that Nicholas appears in with Molly Dougherty. The movie, “Ever After,” looks at whether a couple that has been broken up for three months should try to get back together. Congrats, Nick!
Nicholas and Ben were reunited this week in New York as they prepare to go out on the road for the three weeks leading up to the latter's debut as Billy later this month. It's a good opportunity for the two, who don't get to see each other often, to bond during what surely will be a stressful time of tech work and put ins.
BTW: This one of my favorite pictures of the two of them together...
Congratulations to Nicholas, who has been hired as an admissions counselor serving South Carolina, Tennessee and western North Carolina at his beloved alma mater days after graduating. He has wanted to work in admissions since he started as a tour guide at Elon in 2012. Very proud of you, son!
Vital Signs, the a cappella group my son Nicholas has helped lead during his four years at North Carolina’s Elon University, held its annual spring concert Saturday night. The event was emotional in many ways, as the group performed a dozen songs, including the now traditional gender group numbers and the organization’s “permanent song” — U2’s “A Beautiful Day.”
Nicholas was featured in two duets, and recognized along with the other seniors for his many contributions to the group as he gets ready to graduate in a few weeks. He announced that Vital Signs has raised enough funds for the Make A Wish Foundation to grant a full “wish” to another child. The effort is extremely important to Nicholas after the foundation granted a wish to Bella, his sister in North Carolina, two years ago.
Thoroughly enjoyed Nicholas' final Vital Signs concert tonight at Elon. I'm very proud of how much the oldest has grown as a son, sibling, performer and all-around human being during his time in college.
For more photos from the show, go to my Facebook page here.
Nicholas had a big weekend as his Vital Signs acapella group celebrated its fourth anniversary and performed at the Total Vocal concert Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall. Family members from across the country joined Elon students for an impromptu reception at the Marriott Marquis on Saturday, then braved the early spring cold for a late night concert in Times Square, where most of these pics were taken.
Cameras were not allowed in Carnegie Hall, although all bets were off at the end, and I managed to sneak an iPhone picture of Nicholas being recognized along with the directors from the other groups. Congrats to my oldest son as his senior year in college (!) comes to a close.
For more photos from this, go to my Facebook photo page here.
Our oldest, Nicholas, graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor of fine arts degree Saturday from Elon University. He completed his program in four years while juggling the a capella group Vital Signs, membership in a fraternity, up to three part-time jobs, a long-term girlfriend and two full-time families, who joined with him in the celebration.
The photo above is one of my favorites of my oldest son, Nicholas, performing with Vital Signs in concert at Elon University. Nicholas just was re-elected to a second term as president of the growing a cappella group, which is hosting its first benefit for children with Down's Syndrome in February 2014.
Below is a video of Nicholas' beautiful solo at his fall concert. Here, he performs "Pompeii" by the group Bastille.
“Son, wake up,” my dad said.
It was 3 a.m. on a school night, but the house was not burning down. There was no emergency, nothing that would qualify me for a future made-for-TV movie on Lifetime.
My dad just wanted his third-grade son to watch “Red River.”
In the days before cable, VHS/DVD/Blu-Ray, and video on demand, our local ABC affiliate showed old movies in the middle of the night. My father was nocturnal, especially during that period of my life, and he wanted company. My mother, who woke up as he went to bed so she could get ready to teach all day, would have harmed him — though lovingly — if he rose her out of bed to watch a movie at 3 a.m.
I didn’t know better, so I did as he asked, mumbling the entire way.
"Dad, why did you and mom get a divorce?"
The question, asked earlier this year en route from the airport to the beach, did not come as a surprise. I've been waiting for it for more than 15 years, ever since the day Nicholas’ mom and I split, just after he turned 2.
"I had become someone I wasn't," I told him.
Today, Dec. 9, my first-born son officially becomes an adult, although he still loves to channel his inner third-grader. It’s appropriate that Nicholas’ 18th birthday kicks off our familial holiday parade of candles and chaos, a period in which all four of my children have birthdays in an 18-day period.
His upbringing has been very different from my own, which is what I hoped would happen, though not exactly in the way I thought when he was born.
In my case, I feel like I’ve been an adult since I was 8. That’s when things veered dramatically in my family, when my father’s illness consumed everything, sucking most of the oxygen out of the room. In the afternoons, my sister and I walked around on eggshells, worried that we would wake him up from a long (surely prescription-induced) nap.
If you think the mom threat, “Just you wait until your father gets home…” puts chills down your spine, think about this one: “Do you really want me to wake your father up to deal with this?” That definitely struck terror with my 8 to 12-year-old self, but I’ve got to give mom credit, it was also very effective.
At the time, I didn’t know what to think, but it’s safe to say I harbored a great deal of resentment amid my adolescent hormonal confusion. Or, as I told Emma earlier this week: “What you curse me for now, you will apologize to me for when you’re in your 20s, or at least by the time you become a parent.”
Today, as an adult and as a parent, I look back at what my mom and grandparents did for my father and for our family and think of them as heroes.
Every day, you see bits and pieces of yourself in your children, things that by habit, luck, or genetic predisposition they were bound to replicate.
Emma, in so many ways, reminds me of her mom. She is thoughtful, funny, smart, and beautiful. She and Ben get their blue eyes from me. She has an innate love for learning, which her mom and I share, is loyal to a fault (me, I think), and endlessly curious about things others consider trivial (me). Emma also is not afraid to ask a tough question (me again) but is not naturally assertive (Jill).
Ben can sing, dance, and act (Jill, in spades), but his personality and approach is much closer to my own. I can sit and watch his wheels go ’round and ’round, trying to figure out how to maneuver his way toward the next Nerf gun or Xbox 360 game (definitely me). We love to watch movies together, a trait I’m glad I share with him and with my father. If Ben likes something, he becomes obsessed with it (me again) but he is very good at measuring and planning his time (Jill).
Kate has my stubborn streak and Jill’s kindness, my gift of gab and Jill’s lack of patience when she feels her time is being wasted. She can vacillate dramatically from ambivalent to obsessed (me again) and has to get in the last word (definitely me). At the same time, she has an extremely strong moral code (Jill), great talent at almost anything she tries (Jill), and is extremely beautiful and smart (you guessed it, Jill).
With Nicholas, you would think I had little to no genetic role in his life, but his love for the arts and his alternately introverted/extraverted personality all come from me. It's one of the great ironies of divorce; every time I see him, I see his mom. Every time he appears on stage, she sees me.
Because each thing we experience is unique, memory is a fascinating quilt, especially where family is concerned. My perspective on my upbringing is different from that of my parents, just as I’m sure the perspective of my children will be different from mine.
Things I remember as fact, childhood memories that struck me as funny or terrifying when I was a kid, are mundane, run-of-the-mill moments to others. I call this phenomenon “familial Rashoman,” or in the case of my wife and kids, “The Magnificent Six.”
Other examples of selective memory are the conversations I had with my father. I can count the number of deep talks we had on one hand. In fact, I really can’t count much past the middle finger, although that’s not his fault. Nor really is it mine.
Without question, when I look back at my dad, I can shake my head at his eccentricities, chafe (ever so slightly) at his political views — how a Kennedy Democrat became a Republican is one of the most vexing questions in my life — and marvel at his kindness and absolute love for my mom.
Of the three or four deep conversations we had, at least two were about those latter topics.
For any one of a number of reasons, 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. It's a disturbing statistic under any circumstance, one made even more so when you are playing in the World Series of life and relationships with a whiffle ball and a tiny plastic bat. Separating from your spouse, no matter whether it’s necessary or not, is one of the toughest decisions anyone can ever make.
My parents were married for 43 years and three years after my dad's death, Mom still wears her wedding ring. They survived all sorts of physical strum and drang and managed to make it work, holding hands and looking at each other until the end.
By contrast, my first go-round was a seven-year relationship that flamed out before we reached our fifth anniversary. My sister took a similar path.
That night in the car with Nicholas, I cited my father’s advice as I tried to explain to him the reasons I left his mom. When I was debating whether to end my first marriage, I asked my father how he and mom had remained together.
“Well,” he said, “when I look at your mom, I still see the same person I fell in love with.”
Dad went on to explain that bodies change, that people change over the decades, that no marriage (obviously) is perfect. The difference, he believed, was that the fundamental reason he fell for her in the first place never changed.
“So many people get married for the right reasons, but at the wrong time to the wrong person,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the other person is a bad human being, but that they are just wrong for you. I got lucky.”
I am lucky to have had my dad in my life, fortunate to have memories of him waking me up in the middle of the night to watch “Red River,” fortunate to have listened to his advise, fortunate to have my stories (more of which I will share later). I hope that Nicholas, and my other children, feel the same about me when they are my age.
One of my great regrets is that my father and Nicholas did not know each other as well as I wish they could. When I was growing up, I felt surrounded by grandparents, and I know Nicholas would have benefitted so much from getting to know my father.
Sometimes, I wonder if they would have discussed art, a common talent they shared. At others, I wonder how they would have gotten along, because many of their interests are so disparate. Either way, I know my dad would be proud of his oldest grandchild.
Just as I am tonight… Happy birthday, Nicholas.