Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank You, Mr. Williams

I was on the way to the movie theater with my mom and dad to see "Mrs. Doubtfire" when they started fighting in the car. This was nothing new. I can no longer remember what the fight was about, but I'm sure it was over something trivial and stupid.

My parents bickered and fought a lot (still do), and as a sensitive 14 year old going through his own share of emotional shit, each one of the skirmishes and fights adversely affected my psyche.

About five minutes into the car ride, I lost the desire to go, but we pressed on anyway (based on the insistence of my mother, I assume). Within the first three minutes of the movie, I was laughing so hard I couldn't even remember what my parents' names were.

This is the gift Robin Williams gave to us. In that short, incredibly hairy frame of his lived the power to make us cry, to laugh uncontrollably, to give us respite from the tribulations in our lives. "Mrs. Doubtfire" gave me a much appreciated two-hour break from thinking about the fight. It was bliss.

Had I been lucky enough to have met Mr. Williams when he was alive, I would have told him that story. I wish I could have told him that story.

I'm willing to bet good money that millions and millions of people have similar Robin Williams stories, and this, compounded with the fact that we lost him to something completely treatable, is why so many of us are having more difficulty processing his death over the deaths of other celebrities.

My sister said this is the first death of someone famous that has her fighting back tears. I'm fighting them back as I write this. I told her that Mr. Williams possessed arguably the greatest comedic mind ever created; that his death equates to losing a mind like Albert Einstein's 10 years too early.

His death is yet another reminder that depression can extinguish even the brightest of lights, and it's unfortunate that it takes the passing of someone like Mr. Williams for us to be able to talk openly (and most likely, briefly) about it.

I find that the most exhausting part of living with depression is the constant effort it takes to give the impression that you're not crumbling internally; to hide your sadness from other people. Not only did Mr. Williams struggle with this for years, but he took his battle one step further and expelled an extraordinary amount of energy to ensure we never felt like he felt. This is his tortured genius, the tears of a clown.

Depression and addiction, the two diseases with which Mr. Williams struggled so mightily, make it difficult to perceive that there are people in your life who love you, who appreciate you, who view you differently than how you view yourself. Unquestionably, the world was a better place with Robin Williams in it. I hope there were days when he was remotely cognizant of this, even if he could never get himself to fully believe it.

Thank you so much, Mr. Williams. I'll miss you.

(photo courtesy of Shaikh Irfan, everystockphoto.com)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

If You Trip Over a Toy and Die, Will Your Kids Devour You?

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I have no idea, I'm not Socrates. But I can tell you this with absolute certainty: If I trip over a toy and fall down in the living room with my sons around, I make a sound like this:


Last night, I was flying solo with the boys so my wife could have dinner with some friends. After she left, I closed the front door behind her, and started walking toward the boys in the living room with my head up high thinking of all the evening's possibilities ahead.

Except when you're looking up, you fail to notice the huge plastic excavator in your path. I stepped on that badboy square with my right foot, flew through the air like an untouched soccer player, and landed hard on my left hip. It knocked the wind out of me, and the herniated disc in my back didn't soften the blow any.

Public Enemy #1

Judging by their hysterical laughter, I can only assume the kids must not have realized I hurt myself, but instead thought I was pulling a Mike Wazowski - beating myself up for their amusement. But in reality, I was less like Mike Wazowski and more like the poor old bitty from the infamous LifeCall commercial. Do you know how pathetic it is to fall and actually have to ask yourself, "Can I get up?"

I took comfort knowing that E, my quick-thinking 3 year old, learned about emergencies in preschool, and I knew I could depend on him to dial 911 if absolutely necessary. But that comfort evaporated quickly when the first thing out of his mouth after my fall was, "Dada, you broke my excavator. You need to say sorry!"

It's a bitter pill to swallow: My sociopath sons were leaving me to die on my living room floor with PBS Kids blaring loudly in the background, and in all likelihood, would devour my cold, lifeless body once they figured out their lifeline to Welch's Fruit Snacks was gone until Mom got home.

A few minutes and several Aleve later, I was back to normal, and I had a great night playing outside, reading books and eating dinner with the boys. It was touch-and-go for a while, but my kids are such picky damn eaters that they probably would've rejected my flesh, anyway.

Hopefully you'll be so lucky should this ever happen to you...

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(photo credits: freedigitalphotos.net)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Barkhad Abdi May be Broke, But...

Captain Phillips, the first (and thus far only) movie in Barkhad Abdi's young career, has grossed over $200 million worldwide.

But it doesn't matter.

For his portrayal of a destitute Somali hijacker, Abdi won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award, and earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, as well as a heap of praise from critics.

But it doesn't matter.

In his debut film, he not only got to work under the tutelage of Paul Greengrass, a successful director known for bringing such harrowing stories as United 93 and Bloody Sunday to life on the big screen, but he also went toe-to-toe with Tom Hanks, one of the most talented, successful and beloved film actors of his generation.

But it doesn't matter, because accolades, admiration and awards don't pay the bills, and according to recent reports, Abdi is broke.

It's a sad story, because Abdi is the type of person we all cheer for - the exact embodiment of the person for whom the benefits of the "American Dream" is intended. He escaped war-torn Somalia at an early age, and eventually settled down with his family in Minnesota, where they joined many other Somalis on the same search for a better life.

But then again, there is so much more to Abdi's story than what is currently in his bank statement. Given where he comes from, and the struggles he had to endure to make it to America, the fact that Abdi even made it to the set of Captain Phillips is mind-boggling.

From just one film, Barkhad Abdi has had way more success as an actor than I've had (or probably will ever have) as a writer or musician, and even though he doesn't have much financially to show for it right now, he has accomplished things that many people in the film industry have never done. 

And he performed in close proximity to Tom Hanks' Boston accent and survived! That has to be worth something!

He may be struggling now, and that is unfortunate given the critical and commercial success of Captain Phillips, but I think Abdi is going to be just fine. With the buzz he has generated and the connections he surely made during and after filming, Abdi has the potential to make more money in Hollywood than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes doing what we do. Yes, I'm sure he continues to dream of a comfortable living for his family, but I bet Abdi would be quite happy simply to continue working in front of the camera in some capacity.

I believe there will be other roles for Abdi, and if the movies aren't where he is supposed to make his long-term mark, I think he will find another way to express his talents, because he clearly has something special to offer the world.

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(photo credits: Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Persistence of Memory

I have a pretty sharp memory. I admit, I'm no Marilu Henner, but I can recall experiences and things that happened to me as early as age 3, like visiting my dying grandfather in the hospital. It's a faint image that gets murkier as I get older, him lying in the hospital bed, but it still manages to occupy a specific space in the recesses of my brain.

The mix of other shit floating around in my head is quite eclectic: Failed kindergarten art projects, the old family Datsun, the names of long-lost neighbors, fights between my parents that seemingly happened while I was in a wet diaper.

My son, E, recently turned 3, and my other boy, G, will be 2 in a month, and I'm starting to wonder: At what point will they begin storing memories like these that they will carry throughout their lives like I have?

This question was prompted by something that happened the other night. While getting E ready for bed, I told him if went to the potty like a good boy, I'd give him an extra couple of minutes to play before bedtime. This extra playtime was more for my benefit, as we were in the middle of playing with his Hot Wheels when it started getting late, and he finally, finally, let me be the sweet-ass DeLorean for once, and I wasn't about to squander an opportunity to recreate the climax of Back to the Future on our living room floor.

Anyway, he successfully sat for a #1 and a #2, so naturally, we celebrated as if the Bengals won the Super Bowl. Sometimes, when E gets so excited about something, he acts out in a way that indicates he doesn't quite know how to express and process quick bursts of joy. I used to do something similar when I was his age. Episodes of excitement would throw me into mini-spasms where I would flail my arms around like one of those weird inflatables you see at car lots.

After I told him he could have five more minutes to play, he got so excited that he threw his arms around me and bit me. Hard. But because he's only so tall that his head comes up to my middle, he ended up biting me right on the ol' nutsack.

I screamed out in pain. I was incensed, and the only thing I could think of to break the vice grip on my junk was to give him a light-but-swift pop on the behind, which I absolutely hate doing. I told him to stand in the corner and think about the several cardinal rules he broke with his action:

     1. He went near someone's private parts.
     2. He bit.
     3. He hurt Daddy.
     4. He made Daddy scream like Roger Daltrey in his prime.

But I don't think he really understood what he did. He wasn't being malicious or trying to hurt me with his bite, he was just really excited to play a little extra before going to sleep and the bite was how he expressed that. But I sent him to bed anyway without the extra playtime or our usual song-singing night ritual because I told him he had to deal with the consequences of his actions.

But damn, did I feel like utter scum for popping his rear, and this is what got me thinking about the persistence of memory. What are the types of things that will forever imprint themselves on my children's brains, and at what age will they start storing this data? Is this butt-popping incident going to resurface during E's Psych 101 class in college, which will lead him down a path of selling meth, or worse, cause him to join the College Republican National Committee?

I know that as a father, every action I take and every decision I make is going to affect my children somehow, and now that I'm paranoid about my kids' abilities to not only store information, but to retrieve it at a later date, I feel the need to be extra thoughtful in everything I do and say around them.

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(photo credits: Wikimedia Commons/freedigitalphotos.net)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Youngest Springsteen Supplants Dad as Pride of New Jersey, For Now

It was recently announced that Sam Springsteen, the youngest son of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, is now a full member of the Colts Neck, N.J., fire department.

There are a lot of reasons to like this story. Allow me to share a few:

1.  With the money and resources available to him, Sam could have done anything he wanted with his life, and he chose a profession which requires putting his life at risk every day for others. I can't think of anything more noble than that.

Sam Springsteen, on the "Thunder Road" to becoming a firefighter.
OK, that was terrible.

2.  In many cases, the children of famous people try to break into the same profession as their parents (Colin Hanks, Jake Hoffman, Sean and Julian Lennon, Christopher Buckley, etc.).

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this practice, my first thought upon seeing this story was, "Huh. How refreshing to hear that the son of "The Boss" is stepping out of his father's shadow, and not struggling every night in an Asbury Park dive bar just to become "The Middle Manager."

3.  Patti Scialfa has been a member of the E Street Band since 1984. She and Bruce were on the road for 10 years together (though not married the entire time) before Sam was born in 1994. Even though Bruce and Patti spent a lot of time touring during Sam's formidable years, he still seems to be much more grounded and well-adjusted than many other children of famous people. 

4.  Sam graduated from the Monmouth County Fire Academy, where he completed "188 hours of instruction in areas that include rescue, fire extinguishment, hazardous materials response, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, electrical safety and the care of hoses, ladders and equipment." Sounds like incredibly difficult and strenuous work to me.

I have the utmost respect for any person who completes this type of rigorous training in order to serve, whether it be boot camp, basic training, fire academy, SEAL training, etc. But I have to say, I also have a tremendous amount of respect for the parents who support their kids in these endeavors. If one of my boys expressed an interest in becoming a firefighter, I'm afraid my reaction would be to shove a guitar in his hands and tell him that if he practices long enough, he might become the next Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce's recent album, "High Hopes," went No. 1 on the Billboard album charts this week, and he remains the only act to have achieved No. 1 albums in each of the last four decades. That's something to hang your hat on, but I bet Bruce is too proud of his son to even notice or care about something like that.

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