Tag Archives: father

This world and that world, or how my father made me pay attention

We have some business in Thailand, so current events there always register on the radar, particularly when they sound like this:

Thai troops fired tear gas and bullets at protesters, who responded with stones, slingshots and homemade rockets, turning parts of downtown Bangkok into a battlefield on Friday as the military moved to seal off a broad area where the protesters, known as red shirts, have camped for weeks.

Most (but not all) of our operations are in the benign middle of the country — not far enough south where there are Islamic-related tensions, not far enough north to risk involvement in the periodic counter-insurgency and coup events that seem a norm in Thai history.

(Thailand is a very long north-to-south country, in case you’ve never taken a good look at the map. If you go to Bangkok, you’re still south of the vast majority of the country, yet you’re still well north of a lot of the beach resorts you might hear about on the peninsula.)

An international relations expert here put something on our discussion list to share some thoughts. He’s not an Asia expert, but he is a comparativist well-versed in Third World patterns. And he always has interesting observations.

One of the variables commonly ascribed to Thailand is that they have a culture that discourages violent upheaval — that a coup there is different from a coup elsewhere; it happens often, but with little bloodshed. Something about those Buddhists and their zen-like demeanor, the thinking goes.

(And Thai Buddhism is indeed its own unique brand, influenced in part by the land’s cultural history and in part by all those oh-so-helpful Christian missionaries who have historically found Thailand’s beaches nice for relaxing people ripe for converting. I know that not because I know stuff, but because I get to interview professors from time to time in my work.)

Anyway, I’m sharing here some of what the expert wrote about the current events, because it’s an interesting non-news-article take on things. (Names obscured/text plagiarized to protect my own half-anonymity): Continue reading This world and that world, or how my father made me pay attention

Chronicles in Sounding Like Your Parents, incident 37

I’ve been fighting this sinus infection for two-plus weeks. I’ve had more sinus infections in my life than sexual encounters, or so it seems in the throes of it. (The throes of the infection, not the throes of … okay-stop-now).

So I don’t run out for antibiotics every time. I mean, they say that’s bad, and most of them go away in a few days (ha!) anyway, so don’t dumb down the world’s resistance and your own immunity, and don’t encourage the bugs to evolve resistance to antibiotics unless you absolutely need them.

(Just the fact that I’m talking about being sick makes me sound like my dad, but that’s not the point here.)

Without getting into gross details, this bug’s aftermath is working its way through. Which means I’m coughing a fair amount — it’s not contagious! — but I can’t exactly stay home from work for five days to let it pass. So I try to cough discreetly by doing it outside or running to the (sadly) thin-walled bathroom at the office.

The other day I was about to leave work, so I “held” a cough until I could get out by the car. Well, holding it made it one hell of a whopper. Once I got going, turns out there was a lot to get out. And as I’m standing there, hacking out what feels like a lung next to my car, that wave of stomach/cough spasms hit me and the sound of my cough hit a new, higher, desperate frequency. A crescendo, before a final, disgusted-yet-relaxed hack of yuck.

THAT’S when it struck me: Good god, that cough sounded JUST like my dad’s. Really.

I got this wave of flashbacks of being a little kid, seeing him in winter in his long smoke-smelly coat, scarf around his neck, tissues coming out of every pocket, cough drops in the car ashtray (because the world is thy ashtray, not the plastic trough in the car — I mean yuck, who wants to have ashes in their car?), as he’d hack out a spasmic, high-squeak desperation cough that surely must have included a bit of lung. Sometimes I wondered if he was going to die by nightfall.

So it sounded just like that.

I guess there’s no avoiding it: You end up being/sounding like your parents in stunning ways that sneak up on you and whack you over the head. No kids for me, but come to think of it, when I’m hacking at home, the dogs do come up and stare at me from a safe distance with a curious look of concern, as if they wonder whether their provider is going to die by nightfall. Shit.

Fleeting conceptions of non-living beings

I’m standing there raking and mulching and towing, the monotonous seasonal work that comes with having three leaf-showering trees each twice the size of your house … When the thought of my dad comes to mind. (Ironic, as I’m doing a chore I can’t imagine him ever doing.)

No specific thought in particular; just a flash reminder: HE’S GONE. Almost a confirmation, mixed with a tabloid-y dose of cranial shock.

A few days prior, I’d thought of him while eating sardines, because who in the hell else do I know that ever ate sardines? I don’t even like them. But as with bananas for charlie horses, I force them down for the supposed health benefit. Good fats and all that, perhaps as mercury-free as any fish in our mercurized millennium. (He used to prepare sardines on buttered bread for me, and I suppose a certain kind of son sort of hangs on to any act of love he can catch.)

But this is what was weird: Later in the evening after raking, I’m nodding off on the couch and I get this weird semi-conscious, semi-dream thought of, “Wait! He is gone … isn’t he?” Like my brain is rebooting and confirming more recent information.

It’s been 13 months since his death, and we had the initial round of reactions, then we had the visit abroad to his home and friends this past summer. And I guess I’m realizing that in the final years there was a sort of rhythm to my interactions with him. With his health in and out and he not wanting us to see him in a bad state, nor to hear him on the phone in a weakened state, it could be months in between phone calls or correspondence (unless, of course, he needed me to do some shit with his taxes).

So now, perhaps, I’ve reached the period where the memo has finally circulated to all my levels of consciousness, and some of them are noticing that this rhythm is askew, so they’re pinging back to confirm: “This is for real, isn’t it, and we can move this file to the archives? Please advise.”

Let It Be

Then you have the weird sister — because everyone has the weird sister — who didn’t have much use for him while he was alive (that’s not the weird part, trust me), but now in his death she has sightings or dreams or apparitions where she “knows” he’s been freed or is doing well or is watching or yada yada, playing music and freed from the factors that complicated his terrestrial life.

Which is somewhat offensive to me — if not in its actuality then in its presentation: No one “owns” the authoritative memory of a person, or their history, but it is unsettling to possess one version of my dad while he was actually alive, then have a still-living person, who’d not held much stock in him while alive, give me an authoritative version of who my dad is in the afterlife.

It’s like this: Believe what you believe, if you must (personally, I don’t believe much, thanks to a preponderance of missing evidence), but don’t tell me your version of an unobservable reality as if it’s fact, because you dreamed it or meditated it or shat it out with some hallucinogens. She doesn’t quite mean it that way, I know, but still: I wouldn’t tell you your dead friend I knew is sitting on a cloud playing a harp, trading chess moves with Hockey Jesus, and I’d figure that’s just common courtesy.

Then again, that stance may be why for me, religion didn’t take.

My Czech dad’s reason for opposing the EU totally trumps yours

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a fierce critic of all things related to the European Union, is the only thing standing between Europe’s élite club and its mighty future. Until he signs the Lisbon Treaty — the Czech Republic is the last holdout among E.U. members — the E.U.’s grand reform plan remains in limbo. While politicians across the continent have spent weeks wringing their hands, trying to figure out how to compel Klaus to sign the document, the majority of Czechs are standing behind their leader. “I actually like him. He is an intelligent man who knows what he is talking about,” says Anna Hrubesova, a 17-year-old student…


Vaclav Klaus is a populist — not to be confused with Vaclav Havel, the dissident poet who was jailed under the Communist regime and became president in the modern democratic era. Part of Klaus’s stalling tactic has involved stoking fears that Germans who were ousted after WWII could reclaim their land via EU courts.

As the article later explains:

Havel has blasted the President’s [Klaus] holdout position as “irresponsible and dangerous.” Author Jaroslav Rudis, who has written about the expelled Germans, also questioned Klaus’ motives. “Every time I hear someone play this card I feel like the war has never ended,” he tells TIME. “It’s like it’s from a different planet.”

Different planet? Oh, I can relate. This is the part where I share the Czech/EU experience of my dad — an accomplished political scientist, a Czech expat (and later re-pat), a fervent anti-Communist and general fan of democracy.

No filters on these cancer-immunizing mo-fo's

When he moved back to the Czech Republic, he couldn’t get the filterless Commander, Chesterfield and Lucky Strike cigarettes he’d grown accustomed to in his post-war U.S. salad days.

[Moderate smoking of filterless cigarettes, my zealous and devout smoking father assured me, has “an immunizing effect” against lung cancer. Must be filterless, mind you; filters only filter out the protective stuff. “So I should start smoking them now then?” my 12-year-old self asked him. Him, quickly: “No.”]

So my dad would have us buy cartons of these cigarettes — for some reason, they were plentiful at the Discount Smoke Shop — and ship them over to him in his village abode in the Czech hills. Until one year where the shipment was stopped. He got a notice from the postmaster that he would have to come to Prague (two hours away) to retrieve them and pay a duty, because he was importing essentially a small suitcase load of cigs. The limit was 50 (cigarettes or packs, I can’t remember).

His response? Probably send a relative with a doctor’s note to Prague to say he was physically incapable of retrieving the cigarettes, yet also in medical need of them. But beyond that: He asked us to send him one carton at a time, in different kinds of envelopes, with different handwriting on the address label. (Being something of a font/handwriting zealot myself, I took up the task once just for the fun of it, to see how much I could screw up Czech addresses in oblivious American handwriting.)

After he hatched this plan for us, though, he vented to me: “Now I really wish I’d never voted for joining the EU.”

Storytime classics: Revisiting the throne

Things are falling down on me
Heavy things I could not see
When I finally came around
Something small would pin me down
When I try, to step aside
… I move to where they’d hoped I’d be

>>”Heavy Things,” Phish

This summer, after more than a year of talking, we finally created a writing group. It consists mostly of colleagues from Mrs. Fall of Because’s English department, but I am allowed in because I’m “a writer” and because I’m the coordinator’s husband, so they have to let me. (Joking aside, I’m already mixed in with them socially to the point I’m welcomed as “one of them,” except I don’t have to teach teenagers or grade papers, hallefuckinglujah.)

It. Is. Awesome. I mean, all of the participants (about 7 so far) are already pretty good friends, including me, so it’s not too awkward nor susceptible to annoying participants the way a book club can be. Thankfully, they’re all good writers, and they have something to say. And we have different styles. And impressively, for just two meetings (so far), good constructive feedback is exchanged.

The result is like a wonderful condensed evening/afternoon of great new things to read and fun things to discuss. Everyone should be so lucky to experience this. Each meeting is like someone recommending six new pieces of short-form writing that you know are worth your while. Then add to it thought-provoking feedback and thoughts about the writing process. I sometimes fear I need this more than they do.

Anyway, last time I felt bad that the two poems I had for review were both somewhat existentially depressing. I feared quickly getting the rap of that guy: “Oh, great, another sad story and dark reflection on human behavior and regret.” (Thankfully, it got a positive response and constructive suggestions anyway.) So to avoid laying only Heavy Things on people, I cheated and dug up an archive from my journal, er, blog, that would make people laugh and could use a revision or two.

Incidentally, KayO just blogged a story, introducing it with a fear I identify with: “Have I already written about this?” Unlike with repeated oral stories — and repetition is part of oral tradition, right? … right? — at least on a blog you can go back and search your redundancy “if so inclined.”

So in that spirit, I’ll say hey, read this old story I already told you (if you were here) two years ago, which is the one I just used in the writing group: It’s “Romancing the Throne,” a reflection on my dad’s attachment to his toilet, and wonder at Man’s (and in this case, I do mean Man-not-Woman) affinity for his time on the throne. (You don’t really need to read it; but if you haven’t before, I promise you’ll enjoy it. And it’s not gross, exactly.)

The “reflective” stuff at the end is probably more fit for blogging than a finished piece — but even those are sincere moments of wonder.

And just to “add user value” to this bit, in case you already went there before: When we were going to visit the Czech Republic after my dad died, we first heard (via phone) that he died in his sleep. Later, through email and amid further details, we were told he died in the hallway, on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

But when we actually got to the house of the friends he’d been staying with until his death, they proudly showed us the actual site of his last breath. Want one guess where it was?

Yep … on the toilet.