Tag Archives: fathers and sons

The truth and Legos (Good Things Come in Small Pieces)

You can make anything with Legos.   They are a digitized dream machine spawning infinite variety from a small set of mainly similar little pieces.  These plastic bricks stoke the imagination and allow minds—young and old alike—to turn ideas into things. Playing with Legos, one has a sense of creative power that is rare in my experience.  Hours and even days can pass just building, building, building—then tearing down and building again.

I don’t remember when I got my first set of Legos.  Nor do I recall when I stopped playing with them.  What I do remember is that Legos were always part of my childhood and then quite absent from my young adulthood.  That’s how it was for a long, long time, until I had my own child and, around the time he was two or three, I started playing with Legos again.

I noticed that Legos had changed a little in the thirty-or-so years since I’d last played with them.  The basic Lego blocks in all their bright colors were still the main pieces, 1x1s, 1x2s, 2x2s, 2x3s, 2x4s, 2x8s, 2x10s, in regular height and the one-third flats.  But they were packaged differently.  Now there were commercial tie-ins to Star Wars, Spongebob, Harry Potter, and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as special theme sets of cities, oceans, or ancient Egypt.  Specialty pieces proliferated—hinges, odd shapes, and other pieces that gave Lego creations operational abilities (like flapping wings) and a verisimilitude that mainly existed in our minds when I was young.

Now, at 47 years of age, I look forward to each birthday (my son’s, that is) and Christmas for the Legos we’ll (I mean he’ll) get.  On quiet evenings when we can make the time, he asks me to “play Legos” with him, and we sit there in the living or in his room just making up new stuff.  We always make the items in the packages first, but these are torn apart immediately to build more interesting things and rarely do we redo them a second time (though we have all the directions in a folder, just in case we’d want to).

My favorite objects to build are houses—Legos are about dreaming and we all have different ways of dealing with the New York housing market.  My son embraces greater variety—everything from dinosaurs to kitties, houses, spaceships, cars, and even cities.  If I get busy, I’ll return to his room hours (or a day) later and find an entire theme park.  He’ll explain me the rules and characters, and these will remain for days or weeks.

Perhaps the best thing about Legos, however, is the moment when I tuck him in to bed after we’ve created a jumble of buildings and other things and he says to me, “Daddy, it was fun playing Legos with you.”  One day he’ll grow out of these Legos, but I’ll pack them away and keep them for my next turn at Legos in another twenty years.

Notes and Credits

Thank you, Noel.

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Filed under fathers, ideas, life, playing, sons, toys, truth, youth

The truth and moonshadows, 4: Coda, from friends

After I published the essays, “The truth and moonshadows, 1-3,” a couple of my friends shared their own stories with me.  The essays prompted them to think of their own fathers.  They are two very dear friends, whose associations go back many years.  This gave me an idea, and on this, my 47th birthday, I ask …

The Ask

What I seek from this posting is any email or correspondence concerning other fathers and sons. I’d like to collect some of our stories and figure out what they mean.  Send me stories and photos and I will work with you to craft something that we can share.  After you read this, post this to other websites, or email it to friends who are themselves fathers, whether of sons or daughters.

Peter

I met Peter in 1996 when I walked on to the campus of Augustana College as a newly minted Ph.D. with an office in a former closet next to his own office, which was small but had spectacular windows.  Peter was my epitome of an academic, walls of books surrounding a neat desk from which he produced a steady stream of books and articles, all the while teaching a full spate of classes for dozens of undergrads who came through Augustana every year.

John,

I just finished reading the third installment of your look at fathers and sons, and maybe because I did so in the ancestral land of my own father—Finland (a place he never saw)—I thought back on our relationship.  The summer after my first year at Michigan was the last time I lived at home.  I got a job working for the mining company, the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. (“do or die for the CCI” was the old refrain in Ishpeming).  My Dad had just retired from teaching and I think [he] was at something of a loss, trying to figure out what’s next and seeing his son giving indications that whatever his future was, it wasn’t going to be in the UP.  Most days after work, we went fishing, something we really hadn’t done while I was growing up.  He sought out all of the old small streams where you used to be able to catch brown trout.  It would appear that by the summer of 1967 those streams were all fished out because I don’t recall catching anything, while being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  The experience was, however, a moment of silent bonding that I never forgot.

When my son, while studying for his PhD at Tennessee, and I decided on a road trip that would take us from Nashville through to his place in Knoxville for a few days (including his treat: a John Hiatt concert as a replay of the first concert I took him to when he took up the guitar—John Hiatt and the Tennessee Queens at the Col Ballroom in Davenport), and then on to Ashville.  We called it the “-ville tour” and decided then and there that we would do a comparable road trip each year.  In fact, we had plotted out a trip that started in Memphis and headed south from there.  Before that happened, Aaron proposed to Katie, they got married in Virginia last summer and thus Memphis wasn’t going to happen.  I did help him with the move into New Jersey last summer and will do the same in July when they move to Providence, RI. I am really happy that Aaron got married, but I realized what my father was thinking about back in ’67.

By the way, you really do look like your father.

Best,

Peter

Jeff

Jeff and I met in 1986.  In that year, I began the Master’s program in Latin American Studies at Tulane.  Jeff had started in ’85, and so he was a veteran.  He lived with a bunch of hippies and Dead-heads up off Broadway in the coolest house I’d ever seen.  A year later I met my first wife in that house.  I was a neophyte from New Orleans, going to school in New Orleans, who had never left New Orleans (save for a 1984 summer in Mexico City to study).  I was a social justice oriented quasi-Marxist, inspired in equal doses by Liberation theologians and Sandinistas (who were sometimes the same people).  What I said in seminars made sense in some ways; in others, however, it was inchoate and in need of focus.  Jeff gave me a nickname I didn’t become aware of for many months:  “Raw Material.”  It was an affectionate nickname, meaning I would be capable of some very good things when I got more shape and maturity to my view.  Of course, he was right.  The summer before I left New Orleans for good, I lived in that house, subletting Jeff’s room while he was off somewhere in Colombia or Baltimore.

Nice read, John. It was challenging for me to focus on because M is on the phone in the kitchen, and for some reason is being really loud with her parents this morning. I started with part 1 and read all 3. The 3 generations of your family seem to share high emotional intelligence, which is usually repressed in our gender and looked down upon. My friends (especially those from work) look at me askance whenever I emote, unless it’s sarcasm, anger, or drunken boisterousness. I’ve always said that my dad has almost no affect—though he has a good sense of humor—and his only 2 emotions are love and anger. He’s never held back on the affection, but he doesn’t seem to be as insightful as you and your dad both seem to be. Noel is lucky that way. I’m also impressed that you can trace your family back to the 17th century!

Jeff

Notes and Credits

The photos are by the author.  The first is of me and Noel and Duke, taken in the summer of 2006 in front of our home at 50 Sterling Place.  Duke departed us in April 2009.

The “UP” to which Peter refers is Michigan’s “upper peninsula,” the triangular nose of land north of Wisconsin that sits between Lake Superior’s southern shore and Lake Michigan’s western shore.  People from the UP are called “Yoopers,” and it was an area historically known for its iron mines, independent spirit, and Finnish settlers.  In Marquette, there is Northern Michigan University, where another old friend from Augustana now teaches.  Ishpeming, where Peter was from, is a few miles west of Marquette on Hwy 28.

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E/F – The Glass of New Orleans: a tale of sons, fathers, Mannings, my mother, and a bunch of Superbowls

E.  All the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to realize that you’ll never appreciate winning unless you know how to lose.

F.  The resilience of the forgotten, the underdogs, the left-behind, and the lost in time, whose story one day becomes everyone’s, making all of us just a little bit better than we were before.

Oh – and the smell of garlic bread and fried oysters, creamy red beans, and my grandmother’s tomato-colored jambalaya.  Ernie K-Doe’s mother-in-law.  Po-boys at Domilise’s.  And above all, the New Orleans Saints.

The Glasses

Half-time, February 7, 2010.  Superbowl 44.  New Orleans Saints 6, Indianapolis Colts, 10.  The glasses aren’t so full.  The Maker’s Manhattan was just ordered by a New Orleanian wanting to soothe his anxiety.  The next beer, at half mast, was being nursed by a lawyer from New Jersey who wasn’t so deeply invested in the game but nonetheless wanted us all to be happy.  The last glass, beer again, belonged to an office administrator from New Jersey who discovered an unforeseen attachment to the Saints as her emotions boiled up and over during the course of this back-and-forth duel between an intrepid underdog and a (s)lumbering giant.  Our locale:  The Village Pourhouse (64 3rd Ave at 11th Street, Manhattan).  An hour and a half later, the game was over:  New Orleans Saints 31, Indianapolis Colts 17.  Who dat say they gonna beat them Saints?

The Story

When I was little, we used to listen to the Saints games on the radio while doing chores around the house – cleaning the garage, trimming the lawn, weeding the gardens, and so on.  The games were called on WWL-AM by Wayne Mack and Danny Abramowicz.  Mack had achieved fame as “The Great McNutt,” a local radio and television personality who ran Three Stooges shorts on Channel 6.  Abramowicz was the Saints’ leading receiver from 1967 (their first season) to 1972.

Whenever I could, I wore my #8 Archie Manning jersey to school beneath my khaki uniform.  I used to hide the jersey from my mother to keep it out the wash and continue wearing it.  Archie was incarnation of our city, a would-be superstar hobbled by a supporting cast that never allowed him to shine like we all knew he could.  Archie’s 35 wins, 101 losses, and 3 ties is the worst winning percentage (26.3) among NFL quarterbacks with more than 100 starts.  But you wouldn’t know that from the way we still talk about him.  Archie eventually joined Danny and Wayne to call the games on WWL.

On December 9, 1973, I went to my first Saints game at what was then Tulane (or Sugar Bowl) Stadium.  I was all of 9.  We drove up and parked somewhere uptown, and then we walked to the stadium on the “neutral ground” (what folks in New Orleans called the median) of South Claiborne Avenue – my brother, my father, me, Uncle Howard, and cousin Brett.  The Saints played the San Francisco 49ers that day and won, 16 to 10.  The odds of catching a winning game at that point in the team’s history were about 1 in 3.

Later, in high school, our band joined 3 other Catholic High Schools to form a mega-marching band when the Saints played Philadelphia on September 16, 1979.  Conley, the tuba player, ran into to Archie coming out of the tunnel and reported the encounter to all of us like one who had run into a Titan.  The Saints’ first touchdown was a 52 yard bomb from Archie to Wes Chandler.  Our guys lost, but it didn’t matter.  They were our heroes and we got to march on the greatest field in the world in front of all the fans.  It was the highlight of our marching band season.

The next year, the Saints went 1 and 15 and the fans began coming to the games with paper bags over their faces – mimicking the then-famous Unknown Comic of Gong Show fame and calling the team The New Orleans Ain’ts.  The agony of what it was to be a Saints fan can be summed up, Harper’s Index-like, by reviewing their stats over the team’s 44 years of history, including the Superbowl season of 2009.

First season:  1967

First season to break-even: 1979

First winning season:  1987

First playoff victory:  2000

Total winning seasons:  9 (of 44)

Total break-even seasons:  7

Total losing seasons:  27

Number of seasons with double-digit losses:  14

I was of course elated and ecstatic on February 7 when Tracy Porter intercepted Peyton Manning, Archie’s hall-of-fame son, toward the end of Superbowl 44 and returned the pic for a touchdown, all but sealing the Saints’ victory.  As they shouted “who dat” here in New York, I remembered when they first started saying “Who Dat?” back in the day when winning 2 games in a row resulted in shouts of “The Saints are going to the Superbowl!”  Now here it was.  Finally.  And they actually won the game.  The Bible itself holds no words to describe such an event.

From my perch at The Village Pourhouse on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, I called my father, who was at my brother’s house in Nacogdoches, Texas.  Over the background din in both of our respective locales, I choked up a bit and said, “Mom would have loved to see this.  She must be smiling up in heaven.”

Mom’s First Big Superbowl

The Saints victory brought me back in time, to 1975, when the Pittsburgh Steelers won their first Superbowl.  It was a family event that had us all together around the television, breathless, excited, and cheering.  My mother grew up in Monessen, Pennsylvania, a steeltown on the Monongahela River about an hour outside of Pittsburgh. In 1969, her mother left Pennsylvania and moved in with us in Louisiana.  I remember them talking about it after the game – “after 40 years, finally!  It’s about time!”  The Steelers were apparently as hapless as the Saints for most of their history to that point.  It took the mighty Steelers, who now own 6 Superbowl titles (more than any other team) 42 years to get it done.  The Steelers pre-Superbowl stats:

First season:  1933

First season to break even:  1936

Mom is born, Monessen, Pennsylvania:  1940

First winning season:  1942

Total winning seasons, of first 42:  10

Total break-even seasons:  5

Total losing seasons:  25

Number of seasons with double-digit losses:  4

Superbowl:  1974 (season)

Of Fathers and Sons

Nowadays in my Brooklyn apartment, I sometimes listen to the Giants games on 660 WFAN.  Archie’s youngest son, Eli, calls the signals for Big Blue.  “Manning drops back and fires one over the middle . . .” and I am right there in 1978, cleaning the garage, growing up, wearing my Archie Manning jersey.  Only I’m not.  I’m 46 and my 7-year old son is listening to the Giants game with me.  He’s got his own Manning jersey, big and blue #10, for Eli.

Drew, Brittany, and Baylen in the glow of victory

One of the beautiful things about life is its circularity, and that’s how it felt on February 7.  The great wheel goes round again and again, and with it our memories and lives lived, yet alive again.  Archie Manning never played in a Superbowl, much less a winning season, but his sons Peyton and Eli each quarterbacked Superbowl victories in 2007 and 2008, and each was named MVP for the game.  In the moments after drew Brees won his Superbowl MVP in 2010, he lifted his own baby boy up in the blaring lights.  Father to son, and father to son, so it goes.

Of all this, my mom, mother to two sons, would be proud.

Notes and Credits

The opening photo of glasses on the bar at the Village Pourhouse is from the author’s personal collection.

The photo of Drew Brees with his son, Baylen, and wife Brittany, was taken by David Bergman and is used here with permission.  The photo made the cover of Sports Illustrated – Bergman’s 8th SI cover – the week after the game.  David’s site has much more about his work, and you can watch the slides roll past of photo after wonderful photo.

The New Jersey office administrator whose quarter-filled beer is in the lead photo is hereby forgiven for her devotion to the Boston Red Sox.

On a personal note, I began writing this post the day after the Superbowl, but it took a while to finish.  The main reason was that I recently took a regular paying job and had a bottleneck of work to complete that is finally playing out.  The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be growing, with new essays and a number of E/F postings in the weeks to come.

In Memoriam

Mary Krupa Guidry, 1940-2007

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