I Am My Own Uncle

wp-1525652296590.jpgMy uncle used to swing me onto his shoulders and fly me around the sidewalk like I was an airplane. It wasn’t piggyback for us. It was real aeronautics, complete with propeller sound effects and a touchdown landing when we were done. I remember giggling for days over something so silly, my imagination ran wild with so many possibilities for our next game, it would carry me through for weeks. Which was, coincidentally, how long it would be until I saw my uncle again.

I think back on it, and realize I was craving a father figure back then, someone who would lift me onto his shoulders every day and give me the love and affection I needed. Don’t get me wrong. My dad was at all the “big” things, like my baptism, and my high school graduation, but those were the only things he really attended. He wasn’t there when I was crying after skinning my knee playing ball in the street. He wasn’t there when I wanted someone to talk to about all the feelings I had during puberty. He just wasn’t there.

And it was easy to blame him because my uncle was so cool. He was the man I would have picked out if someone had asked what my version of a father would look like, even

wp-1525652049158..jpgthough he had no biological kids of his own. At times I even hoped that he would be around more, not that my dad would, because my uncle was undeniably cool. That was back in the days when cool was good, and everything else was bad. Cool meant he was awesome in an ’80s kind of way, which was the kind of way I needed.

My uncle bought me my first bike when I was ten, or nine, or whatever age it was. I fell down so many times I would forget I was supposed to be up on it, riding against the wind. But he was there with me, to help me balance even when I felt unbalanced, to get me back up on the horse when there wasn’t a horse to be seen. My uncle stayed there until I got it right, until I was riding around like I hadn’t a care in the world, and I loved him for it. Then he was gone, and I missed him again.

You see, I was a boy, and growing up it was hard to explain these kinds of boy ideas and feelings with my mom. My dad was hardly around, but he was more a stern disciplinarian anyway, and I felt like he was inaccessible in a way that my uncle never was. If my dad was a part of speech he would be a preposition — before, after, or apart. And my uncle was a verb — always active. I wanted to be just like him, to carry with me even just a small part of his essence, so that one day I would be cool too.

IMG95201805059511012093495HDR.jpgWell, that day was yesterday. I don’t even know how to describe my feelings while writing this. Maybe I’m cool, and maybe I’m not. I’m not sure how the adjective would apply these days, in this world of hashtags and virtuality. But I am sure of one thing — I am past the age now that my uncle was when he watched me graduate from high school, when he patted me on the back and told me he was proud of me. And yesterday, my nephew graduated from college. I clapped him on the back and told him I was proud of him. I’m sure it meant just as much to him as my uncle telling me the same thing so long ago meant for me.

As I stood there on that immaculate lawn, watching the boy I saw come into this world enter into adulthood, it was so surreal. He was the boy I helped learn how to read, the boy who spent his summers with us, the boy I put on my own shoulders and pretended he was an airplane. He was the boy who didn’t know if he was going to make it through 20180505_101905.jpgschool, the boy who I gave emotional and mental support to for all of those years. But he was more than that. He was a man, and I was just so proud of him for reaching that destination, for getting done with this one stage of his life, ready to move on to what awaits in the wide world.

And it was real for both of us. While he was no longer that boy, neither was I. I wasn’t just the fun uncle who helped him fly. I wasn’t just the one who took him to the Baseball Hall of Fame, or the one who told him he could when he didn’t think it was possible. I was my own uncle, just twenty years removed, giving him the best of what was in me, just as I had always gotten the best of my uncle. I hope he sees that, after all this time. I hope he realizes that I’ve always had his best intentions at heart. I know he saw the tears in my eyes, tears of joy at him realizing this step of his journey.

Because he is now a man, as I became one so long ago, and I know he needed me as that figure to look up to for so long. But he doesn’t need me for that anymore. I will always be there for him, but I was serious. He is his own man now, just as I arrived at that stage before him, and just as my uncle was there for me then, I am here for him now. I am my own uncle, but not because my nephew is me all over again. He isn’t. I am my own uncle because I see now from the other side of the glass, and while it’s surreal, it’s only natural.

As natural as can be.

Sam

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When I Grow Up

“Now I’ve got a confession. When I was young I wanted attention. And I promised myself that I’d do anything, anything at all for them to notice me… when I grow up I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star, I wanna be in movies…” ~The Pussycat Dolls

When-I-grow-up.0011When I grow up I want to be a comedian. That’s what I said when I was first asked that question in third grade. I thought it had to be a wonderful life getting to laugh and make people laugh all the time. It seemed like the perfect job because it didn’t seem like a job at all. Fun was of course the only order of the day in third grade in the early 80s, not the strict enterprise it has become these days. Maybe if I was growing up now I would say something like a CPA with all this new math and the possibilities that come along with it.

I had a friend who had his heart set on being a SEPTA bus driver when he grew up. He wanted to drive that bus from stop to stop, letting on and letting off passengers who would pretend he didn’t exist. They would slide their change into the box up front and he would fantasize about what he would do with all that money if it were his. I guess it would be powerful, having so many people’s lives in your hands, such a powerful vehicle under your control, but it just never was for me. Last I heard he was driving 18-wheelers from Maine to Florida, which I guess isn’t too far off from his dream.

Often we don’t end up doing the things we said we would do when we got older. For one reason or another it’s rare for people to make up their minds in that impressionable phase of youth and never change it throughout the years. I met someone a few years back who told me she had been dead set on being a meteorologist from the moment she was able to form memories, and amazingly enough that’s what she does now, and she called it “the perfect job.” For her there was never a moment of wavering, and that’s about as surprising to see as a dodo bird in New York.

11pryor_83What usually happens is that our world expands, we see more occupations and are exposed to different things, so we change our minds, which is fine. Since third grade I went through no fewer than 8 careers I just “knew” I wanted to have when I grew up. Until I finally did grow up and I was still no closer to knowing what it was I truly wanted to do. Maybe that’s the secret no one told us when we were busy growing up — that growing up doesn’t mean everything becomes clear. So we gravitate to transitional jobs, menial jobs, jobs that give us time and space to keep on thinking, even while we’re already technically grownups. It would be funny if it weren’t all so serious.

Could I still be a comedian? Sure, if I wanted to go that route this late in life. I’m good in front of crowds. I think quickly on my feet. I like the spotlight. But I don’t take rejection well. So I guess that’s out. When I grow up I want to be happy. Because that’s the one I can control more than anything else. Well, isn’t it?

Sam

300 Writing Prompts: #38

4c6cb904a2d15966297029f7e41e58dc“What are you recovering from right now?”

It was twenty years ago, and I was just testing out my sea legs, except I wasn’t on water. But you know what I mean. Any person who’s ever been 18 knows what I mean. I was an adult but I wasn’t an adult. I thought I knew what life had in store because I had always known what was going to happen. I was going to finish college with a phenomenal degree, get a phenomenal job straightaway, get married to the most phenomenal woman ever, and live the perfect life. Most 18-year-olds thinks this way, open-ended and free. But as 18-year-olds we fail to take into consideration that this world doesn’t just hand out “phenomenal.” It likes to take something from us as payment for a dream that may still never become reality. It takes our innocence.

I was confident back then, a well-read young man with well-read friends and a small penchant for the dramatic. College was free, and most things I wanted to pay for weren’t expensive either. Even if they were, I had a job for that, a job where I got to interact with people on a daily basis, one that kept me fluent in the language of youth but at the same time trained me for how to be when I really did grow up. But I wasn’t grown then, not by a long shot. I was probably the youngest 18-year-old ever, and what’s sad is that I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that I had a sense of freedom I had never known before, and I abused that sense of freedom as often as I possibly could.

t-shirt-about-drinkingYes, I was drunk more often than I wasn’t. I went to every party that was anywhere near, and when one wasn’t near I sketched and painted one in on the spur of the moment. People said I was the life of the party, which I figured out later meant I was a good caricature for them to point at and laugh, and I was too drunk to notice that they were laughing at me, not laughing with me. Even though I was laughing, and I kept laughing even after I got kicked out of school. They called it being put on probation, but I knew what it was. And they weren’t wrong. I had no business being in classes, not in my condition. I hated them for it then, but they did me a great service.

Before I knew it, though, I realized my life was in a holding pattern. I was as confident as ever, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Then the job was gone and the money started to run out. College was on hold, and I was listless. Literally without a list of anything to do or anyone to do it with. I was no longer the life of any party, and I didn’t know even how I was going to get to and from the places I wanted to go. So I took what I needed from people who didn’t deserve the way I treated them. I begged, borrowed, and stole to try and make myself feel better about myself, to make an impression on others. And the only thing I ended up doing was ostracizing those who cared about me, setting them in a corner and turning my back on them. I was completely lost.

I could have become a statistic, too, this kid who had the whole world in front of him and disdained it, who took it for granted, this Peter Pan wannabe who never found out how to grow up. It was the greatest sickness, taking youth for granted, taking people for granted, obsessed with this idea that the world somehow owed me. For what? Then it was all over, and I was all alone, and life kept moving forward while I stood still. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. It was what I had prepared for, the listless nature of my existence, the pain of self-imposed loss. And it’s 20 years later but I don’t think I’ve ever really looked in that mirror of time and examined the 18-year-old version of me, the kid who was fresh-faced and blazing with confidence. I don’t think I’ve ever really recovered from the blow I dealt myself by getting caught up with myself, by loving this idea of me that never came to fruition.

Am I in recovery? Well, I think the first step is recognizing the problem, identifying the disease, and I might be 20 years late, but better late than never.

Sam

Parasol Days

image“These are parasol days, when young ladies learn to be young ladies and young gentlemen are afraid to tip their hats for fear of engagement.” ~Anonymous

“They grow up so fast, don’t they?” I hear that from just about everyone I come in contact with who asks about my daughters. And I know they’re right because just yesterday they were 4 and 1, and the most I was worried about was a temper tantrum because the binky got dirty, or the cat was lying on the doll baby, or dinner included strained peas and strained peas were definitely OUT. But that wasn’t yesterday — not even close — and I would give just about anything to go back to those problems.

Because these are definitely parasol days, the days of posturing for posturing’s sake, of being a girl without being too girly, and of discovering more about who their adult selves will be. And those adult selves are not as far away as I thought they were, or as I’d like them to be. Each day I’m reminded of it, if not by the calendar days going by then by the things they do and say that constantly amaze me.

“Daddy, I want a baby,” Lexi told me out of the blue one day, and I did a double-take to make sure I had heard my 8-year old correctly. It was quickly cleared up, though, when she showed me a catalog with American Girl doll “babies” prominently featured. Still more girl than young lady, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

Maddie stood on the porch twirling her umbrella on another day, and she was doing it in perfect rhythm. I looked at her under the rim of the umbrella and I swear I saw her as a teenager coming in from the rain to shake that parasol out and complain about the bottom of her jeans getting wet. My little girl, but not so little anymore.

And I see it in their clothes too, these swiftly approaching parasol days, when I’m doing laundry and I’m flummoxed at a pair of jeans that couldn’t possibly fit anyone in this house. But they do, and they’re Lexi’s, and they are hung up on adult hangers instead of the toddler ones we’ve used for all of her life. Until now. Then there’s Maddie’s pajamas that look way too long when I fold them up, but that barely fit her once they’re on. She’s not this big. It can’t be true. They grow up so fast, don’t they?

Those are the times, when I’ve realized just how big they’re getting, when they remind me that it’s still a while away when they throw a fit, or when they want to just snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie, or when they run around like the wind during play dates, secure in their innocence, and that makes me smile. Because too soon it will be over, and these memories will be all that remain.

Sam

Still Got Love

LOVE-Philadelphia-rs
Still

“I’m representing for them gangstas all across the world. Hitting them corners on the low-lows, girl. Still taking my time to perfect the beat, and I still got love for the streets.” ~Dr. Dre – Still D.R.E.

We all come from somewhere. I have a saying I learned a long time ago. You either love the place you’re from or you hate it. There is no middle ground. Now, loving it doesn’t mean you love everything about it, and hating it doesn’t mean there weren’t some bright spots, but it’s the place that helped make you the person you are today, for better or for worse.

For example: I am from Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection (hey, it’s a moniker). I lived the first 21 years of my life there, and I have about a million memories surrounding it. In fact, every single time I go back “home” I am reminded of a plethora of firsts, places I went, people I went there with, and times spent in those places with those people. I went from sheltered child growing up in Southwest Philly, to Temple University student in North Philly, to everywhere and everything in between.

I remember Chester Ave and the barbershop on the corner where I almost passed out on one hot summer day in the late ’80s. I remember getting lost on the first day of school at John Bartram High because the building was just so big. I remember taking the subway late at night after having a little too much fun at a party I wasn’t even supposed to attend. I remember sitting on a wall smoking because it seemed like the cool thing to do once. I remember seeing one too many drug deals and pretending I hadn’t. I remember the public library with its graffiti that was supposed to be there, and its graffiti that wasn’t.

And amidst all those memories were the streets themselves, cracked and bleeding water, and beer, and whatever other fluids happened to make their way onto them. And the people on those streets would have made a carnival very happy and very rich with their unique traits and memorable antics.

I always felt like I fit in there, too, even when I was living the sheltered life, and even when I walked through rotten out tenements where people were still living like animals, shut up in the dark. I had my first job on those streets, quite literally, walking miles each week for what amounted to essentially pennies. I bought my first hat on those streets, from brotherman on the street corner outside of the Thriftway. I had my first kiss on those streets, and my first soft pretzel, and my first breakup.

If it’s the streets that define a place then the streets I grew up on defined not only that place but also that time period, and, ultimately me as well.

…and I still got love for the streets.

Sam

Girl Meets World

Girl-Meets-World-PosterI had of course heard about it for nearly a year, this idea of a show that would take two of my favorite characters and bring them into a new era. You see, for those of us in Generation X there are benchmarks that we can all share, at least the ones born after 1975, because for us the ’90s were a more influential decade than the ’80s. The years between 1990 and 1999 helped to define us more than any years before and since, so we wax nostalgic about them. That’s why “Girl Meets World,” a new show on the Disney Channel speaks to us, even now.

That’s why I set the series to copy on my DVR, because I wanted to see Cory and Topanga again. They are like old friends. We grew up together and I want to see what’s happening with them now. Just as they are, I am also a parent struggling with the idea that I’m the adult now, and dealing with the idea of discipline and structure in the house. But the glory of it being a sitcom is that I can also laugh at the parts where the parents don’t always get it right, and they always have a chance to change and adapt to each situation as it comes. As a parent, I also have the chance to adapt, and sometimes I can even laugh at myself for getting it wrong.

In the series premiere, Riley (Cory and Topanga’s daughter) has a best friend, Mya, who is a bit of a bad girl. It gives us a chance to see right off the bat how her parents deal with the idea of a bad influence on their daughter, and instead of judging Mya harshly they help both girls understand that it’s okay for them to be different, that they both have qualities that are wonderful and they can motivate and help each other *without being the same.* Yes, these are age old lessons, but they’re ones Cory and Topanga learned themselves right on the air for all of us to see so long ago.

That’s what really hits home, the feeling that it all comes full circle, that we can go back again and feel what we felt while simultaneously using what we’ve learned in the meantime to grow and move forward from the other side of things. Shows like “Boy Meets World,” were good for their value lessons, but they were also positive reinforcements for kids like me who were dorky but who still enjoyed that time period for what it was. Now “Girl Meets World” shows me that while Cory and Topanga are still dorky, the influences they had growing up helped them to be good parents, and I feel the same way in my own life.

And to top it all off, Mr. Feenie, the old, wise teacher/principal makes a guest appearance at the very end of the series premiere, further expanding the theme of going back to move forward, one we could all learn from.

Sam

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