Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Dinner with Jefferson Donald Keith II

Had dinner with J tonight. Having a big brother like him is a blessing beyond words. I guess there actually is only one word that fits him. Love. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Wedge

This post may be a little different. A memory mostly just about me. My Freshman year at Miami is as big a blur as my whole college experience, but a significant experience has resently resurfaced in conscience memory and I wish to capture it while I still can. It was a miracle I was able to report for football on August 1st to begin with. Thanks to a month long hospital stay I showed up twenty pounds lighter than I was when recruited the year before as a defensive tackle. I had a limp and a horseshoe of scar tissue around my right kneecap from the surgeries and staph infection from months earlier in the Spring. Even with the limp I was able to make my 800 and 400 track times that first morning and avoided dawn patrol knowing it would've ended my career at Miami before it even started. If you didn't make your times you had to report for dawn patrol at the track until you made your times, quit or died trying. Rose's weeder class for those unfit, unable or too fat to make the team. 

Because I showed up too skinny for coach Hat's defensive line or for him to even look at me or acknowledge my presence, the quick decision was made to make me a tight end. I was told I was too skinny to be a long snapper too, but during special team drills I was tied for first string long snapper. Me and another true freshman where the only two who could consistently toss a dart between our legs, no one else was even close. To everyone's surprise I could catch and stone people cold with my blocking. So by the end of that miserable first summer camp as a skinny little true freshman I had made third string tight end and second snapper. Which meant I made the traveling team. I made varsity as a freshman. I say miserable because it was. Not just because of the grueling physicality of the whole thing, but mostly because of the homesickness and heartbreak. I had broken up with my girlfriend before leaving thinking it was unfair for her to stay for her senior year of high school while I was  most likely off at college being unfaithful. 

I can safely say that that first week of camp was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. The level of physical, emotional and psychological pain was higher than anything I have experienced to this day. And I have not lived an easy life. In that first week at least twenty guys much tougher than I had quit, walked, or disappeared in the night. At the start of the second week a few miricles happened. My limp went away. I think the pain in my knee was drown out by the pain in the rest of my body. My dad said it was OK to quit, in fact he and my mom started to encourage it. And my ex-girlfriend started calling me. Tina said it was OK if I wanted to breakup and all, but she missed me and wanted to talk. Honestly, without her I would have never made it. 

That brings me to the moment or event that has inspired this post. Against all odds, at our home opener, as the 3rd TE (we had a three TE set for short yardage and goal line making me the starting wing back in those situations) and starting Long Snapper and Center Wedgeman on kick-off returns I was slated to get considerable play time in the first game of my freshman year. This being the case my parents decided to make the 500 mile drive to come see me play and they brought Tina! They would get there late Friday night and I wouldn't get to see them until Saturday afternoon after the game. I must have seen them before that, but my memory of that is unclear. I do remember seeing them in the stands stands during warm ups. And looking and waving to them just prior to heading out for the kick-off.

If you're not familiar with the position of Center Wedgeman it's because it no longer exists. The Wedge has been banned. The NCAA has made setting wedges for kickoff returns illegal. The job of the Center Wedgman was to judge where the return man was going catch the kickoff and as the ball was in the air set up five yards in front of him. Two other Wedgmen would swing in and lock arms on either side of the center man. When the ball was caught I would start up field with my arms locked with teammates on either side forming a wedge and at first contact with the defense the return man would break either right or left of the wedge.

For every great offensive plan or strategy there is an equally great defensive plan or strategy to counter it. In this case for every kickoff return team who sets a wedge there is a kickoff team who has a Wedge Buster, or Bomber, or Hammer to bust the wedge. 

I don't remember who we were playing. I don't remember if we won or lost (probably lost because we sucked until my junior year). I don't rember much. I do rember it being a beautiful day. I rember taking the field. It was the first home opener in Miami's brand new stadium. The field was in perfect condition. Deep plush green Kentucky Blue Grass, perfectly groomed, freshly painted gridiron on a perfectly clear Fall day in Oxford, Ohio. Literally a perfect day for a football game. As the Center Wedgman I also set the huddle on the 50 yard line just inside the sideline. I called the break, such an honor for a freshman, and we sprinted out to our positions for the kick-off return. I was positioned in the middle of the 15 yard line. It was a high, rolling, kick that came down around the 5 near the right hash mark. I had done the hardest part perfectly positioning myself 7 yards in front return man just prior to the catch and locking arms with my teammates just as the catch was made. We were moving up field just as we heard the go go go call, a perfect wedge, 600 pounds of bodies moving, a giant arrow head, I was the tip of the spear, a formidable mass, an irresistible force, invincible. This is what I remember. Being Locked arm in arm with my teammates accelerating. With every stride forward I was pulled further into an upright position. Every step forward my arms were pulled outward and I stood further upright. Crucified. I saw him coming and I was completely defencivless as the Hammer came down. Helmet to helmet. An immense explosion of sound and a brilliant flash of white light and nothing. Out. Down. Being Unconscience really isn't so bad. It's the waking up that sucks. 

Waking from the dead is definitely better than the alternative, but not by much. It wasn't the first time I had been knocked out. In fact I was good at shaking something like that off. It was different back then. Being able to function after your bell was rung was anexpecation. I walked off the field, but could tell by everyone's faces and the applause from the stands that it was really bad. I remember being on the bench and being examined by the team doctor when the call for the punt team was made and I struggled to grab my helmet to run out there to long snapp. The training staff had to practically wrestle me back onto the bench. I would be the second string snapper for the remainder of my career. Concussions are crazy. As the adrenalin starts to ware off and the symptoms start to set in its a little scary. The tunnel vision. The ringing in the ears. The vomitting. The pounding in your skull. The inability to think straight. All these things start to wear on your resolve to keep those who love you from worrying so much. Eventually you start thinking you may die. Usually I would start wishing that I would.

My parent had had my whole life to get used to me destroying myself and my near death experiences. My girlfriend had only a couple years. I remember all three of them being really shaken when I came out of the locker room after the game. As the evening wore on their unease and my suffering would only get worse. 

I played the rest of the year and three more after that. I wonder sometimes about the toll that was taken. The price I paid for my college education. It's thirty years later and I still think I got my money's worth. But, I wonder. Still I wonder. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Unexpected Gift

Played golf with Kayla and Suzy today. More like I played golf with Kayla and then Suzy. Played the first 13 holes with Kayla and when we reached Suzy's parent's new house on the 13th fairway Suzy came out and took Kayla's place to finish the round. Quite a special day. While we were walking down the 18th fairway at dusk a little old man came through his gate shuffling out in front of us with a couple of clubs and handful of balls, but when he saw us he turned and hurried back into his yard. Amused, I waited until he turned back around and I waved to him and then waved for him to come out and join us. He suffled back out a little embarrassed and said he thought he had the course to himself it being so late in the day. I told him to join us and he said he hadn't played in a while and has to play in a tournement tomorrow and just wanted to chip a few to see how'd he do. I told him to go right ahead. He chipped three near the front fringe and Suzy and I played our balls. He chip his on the green and my ball got mixed up in his three and he picked mine up by mistake. He started to get a little flustered and I assured him it was nothing to worry about. As we were sorting through his three balls to trade out mine I felt a huge change in his demeanor and emotion. He was turning over one of the golf balls and it was marked with initials for tourney play. He took a deep breath and said It's funny. I just grabbed a few balls out of an old bag and who'd a figured I pull out this one. As he rubbed his thumb over the hand written initials I asked who's they were. He said my wife. She died in August. I asked her name and he told me. He said her named with such love and tenderness. Said her name twice, like he hadn't heard her name in a while. Tears welled up in his eyes and took another deep breath and let out a sigh. Then said, wow. We smiled at each other and he patted me on the back. Suzy walked up and he wished us a good evening. We wished him good luck in his tournement tomorrow as he was walking away. I sunk my put and as we were walking off the green Suzy asked me what that was all about. It took me a few minutes to be able to talk without crying, but eventually was able to tell her about his wife and what an incredible moment it was to share with a complete stranger, a very special moment. As I was walking off the course with my wife I knew what a special gift that little old man had just given me. He gave me the gift of appreciation. I was so grateful for my wife. So grateful for my life. So grateful for our kids and our family and that we still had so much life left to live. So much golf left to play together. So grateful. Amen.


Mary (9) on her grandparent's new back patio. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Dear Dad,

Today was Super Bowl Sunday. Football always makes me think of you.  I still remember the Raiders Vikings Super Bowl you took us to. In CA in the Rose Bowl, I remember meeting Ray Ninski and getting his autographed book, "Mean on Sunday" I remember rooting for Fran Tarkington and the Vikes because it was maybe his last chance to win one, but they lost. We went to Disneyland and one of the days you had the whole park rented out so there were no lines and we ran from ride to ride. Oh well, good times, we had a lot of them.

So I remember writing in a post not so long ago about the futility of trying to be happy. I think I said something like I finally stopped trying and have found a way to allow happiness to happen. Or some such nonsense as that, this weekend, Suzy said she had heard a Podcast (don't ask) that made the point that Happiness doesn't just happen, you need to work at it! I have learned the futility of arguing with my brilliant wife so I asked her how one would go about this work. She downloaded the Podcast on my phone, Ten Ways to Work at Being Happy (something like that). She said, first, "you do things that make you happy." Second, "you try new things that may make you happy." She asked me what are the things I do that make me happy? I said being home. Being with you. Doing stuff with the girls. Cooking for the family. Playing my guitar. Good movies. I don't know what makes you happy? I asked. She said Traveling, accomplishing things, reading, walking, traveling. I then said I knew what makes me really happy is making you happy, but that's not so easy. She knew I meant no offense. Just is. I think it goes both ways. 

Makes me think it's important for your happiness to not be contingent upon the happiness of someone else, but when it's your wife or children easier thought than done. 

I told her a friend had recently written me on LinkedIn and said he remembered I always had the biggest smile and was such a joyful person and from what he sees on social media I still am. She said that's why she fell in love with me. That's why she married me. I apologized for letting life wear me down as I don't feel like the joyful guy I used to be. She said something like it's OK, he's still in there somewhere. You're not to old to change back into the guy I married. Maybe I am, but at least I'm willing to try.

Makes me think maybe Joyful is something you are and Happy is something you do. Anyway I want to be both and for the most part I just have to get myself out of the way and let them happen. Suzy's right too, she always is, so I'll try to do more things that make me happy. What could be the harm in that? Maybe if I do happy I will once again become joyful. Sounds like a plan. Well, sorta anyway. Love you Pops. Miss you and wish you were here. Love, Bitty-Buddy

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sorry Dad

Looks like this is my 200th post and I still don't know what I am trying to say. I'm sorry, the last couple letters to you have been a little unfair as you died nearly thirteen years ago. It's unfair because as I write them I sort of intuit your response to my prose and tho I look like you I know I will never be you. You never were predicable. In fact, you surprised me all the time with your reactions and responses to me and my situations and actions. I always thought I knew how you were going to react or respond, but rarely was I right. 

I see a lot of me in Kayla. She is always harder on herself than I would ever be. I think that was the way it was with you and me too. I always wanted to be great for you. I always wanted to win. To be the best. And now as I look back and hear what you were saying to me and see how you were when with me, you only wanted me to be me. The me I wanted to be. I wish now that I knew this then, but I didn't know who I was. I know more than anything you and mom just wanted me to be happy, so that is the one thing I always tried to show you I was. Unfortunately, it's the one thing that never came easy to me. To this day I struggle with being happy. I'm really good at looking really happy, but the people who really get to know me always seam to worry about me. Fortunately I've figured it out. 

You cannot try to be happy. You cannot seek happiness. If you do you will never find it. It's a lot like love. You have to learn to let it happen. You have to be good with yourself when it doesn't. You must learn to be OK when it isn't. You must give love when you are not getting it. You must allow joy to follow sorrow. You must welcome happiness even when you are sad. I have learned to get out of the way and let it happen. I forgive myself more easily and when I do I accept my apologies and live on. Life. Thank you for mine.

As this is my 200th post I may be taking some time before I post again. I promised myself a long time ago that if I ever got here I would take the time to go back and clean this puppy up. It's a little scary, but I plan to go back to the beginning and edit DDD. I hope it to be a labor of love. I'll let you know when I am done. I'll let you know when I am happy happy!


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hi Dad,

Thought you'd enjoy this picture. If Mary isn't a chip off the old block then I don't know what one is. This was at my birthday brunch this past Spring. Mary busting out the old rabbit ears on her old man is classic DDD. 


Here are a few more of the fam.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Dear Pops, 

I miss you. I wish you were here. I started a new blog. It's called I pray to God my soul to keep. Been kind of magical what this blog has done for me. Hard to explain, but let's just say it's been good for me. One of my posts started out with Dear Dad, figured you'd understand as he's your dad too. It helped me talk with God more comfortably as my love for you makes it easier to understand His love for me. It also made me wonder about grandpa Keith, if you and him have reconciled. I hope you have forgiven him. I hope grandma has forgiven him too. You two deserve to be free and someday when I join you maybe you could introduce us. I think there is a lot of him in me and I think those are the parts of me I find hard to love. But, without him, neither of us would be who we are today. So do me a favor and send him my regards and tell him you love him. Send my regards to grandpa Penrose and Grace, and your mother too. Of course give Carol and Karen my love and let them know I think of each of them every single day. I am the luckiest  man alive to have had them as big sisters and look forward to seeing them again some day. Having three daughters I get to see parts of them in their eyes and looks and ways. I know they know all this, but tell them anyways and hug them for me. So I'm getting a little sleepy so I'll close while I still have the energy to get up and turn off the Christmas lights before I fall asleep. Sure thought a lot about you as I was putting them up. Someday I'll do it like you used to. I remember you doing all the blue and green lights and using a staple gun to hang them all. I'm surprised I haven't done a DDD post about you and Christmas. Or about back in Cleveland when you would always build a big ice skating rink in the back yard. Guess there's still time for all of that, but not tonight. 

Love always,

A

Thursday, December 7, 2017

There ain't no cure for stupid

This is something my DDD would say after he did something stupid. He'd tell us to call him Dumbdumbdaddyo if he did something dumb, but if he did something really stupid he'd come out with, "Well there you go. Guess there ain't no cure for stupid!"

I was talking with my wife the other day trying to explain how I felt at work. Seemed like, lately, I couldn't do anything right. I had been feeling really down and said, "I don't know. Guess there ain't no cure for stupid." She got really upset. In fact, she got a little angry. Said, "You are not stupid!" She said I was one of the smartest people she knows. She really set me straight. I kinda felt bad for insulting her husband. Marrying Suzy is definitely the smartest thing I have ever done. Proves a lot about me.

So I've been thinking a lot about this and I think being stupid is a lot like being crazy. Crazy people don't think they are crazy. So if I actually was stupid would I even know it? Makes me think of Forest Gump, when he's talking to Bubba's mom and says, "Momma always used to tell me, 'Stupid is is stupid does!'" And she agrees with a look that says yes-um. Anyway. If my dad were here and he was to bust out the ole, "Guess there ain't no cure for stupid." I'd set him straight. I'd tell him there may be no cure, but there are many very effective treatments.

First, do smart things. Second, learn from your mistakes. Read a lot. Acquire knowledge and through experience gain wisdom. Earn an education. Explore what interests you. Ask questions. If it takes you more time to learn things than other people, then take more time and learn it well. Hard work is the greatest teacher there is. Play games. Learn how to win. Be humble with your gifts. Be proud of the gifts of those who love you. Endure the brilliance of others. Appreciate the intelligence of your friends. Know that to love and to be loved is the smartest way to live. I know you taught me all these things Dad, but most of all, do not say stupid things. Unless you are trying to be funny.

Guess I'm just a chip off the old Dumbdumbdaddyo after all. Not afraid to sound stupid, but smart enough to own it when you are.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thank you Mary

I woke in a foul mood from a Sunday-afternoon, unplanned cat-nap on the couch. I overheard my nine year old daughter asking my wife if she'd come play on the trampoline with her. My wife, awsome wife that she is, said sure, you go out now and when I'm done straightening and paying bills I'll come out and join you. 

Like I said, I was in a foul mood. My back hurt, chores were still undone, Monday was already looming and the Sunday doldrums were already strangling me. Then I did the unexpected. I joined Mary on the trampoline! She was pleasantly surprised and said dad are you really coming over here to jump with me? We played a couple classics like break the egg, log roll, and dead lady dead lady and before long I was huffing and puffing and played dead man dead man and on the count of five I didn't come alive. As Mary jumped around me it dawned on me how truly lucky I was to be alive. I invited her to lay down with me for a rest and thanked her for getting her old man out here to play a little bit, told her I was in a pretty grumpy mood. She said, "I know." Ouch. 

I asked her if she ever heard of Mindfulness. I told her being mindful was about being present in the moment. About being in the moment. Engaged, aware, and open, while at the same time attentive, focused and able. I asked her if she'd join me in a Mindfulness exercise I had recently learned. As we lay side by side on the trampoline on a brilliant Fall afternoon we closed our eyes and we discussed what each of our five senses were trying to tell us. 

We closed our eyes and started with what we were hearing. Wind chimes way over at the neighbors, birds, a car driving by, a distant dog barking and then it became real quiet and she said I hear the wind blowing in the trees. I asked her what she could smell and she said she could smell the leaves. I asked her what she tasted and she said her mouth. I asked her what a mouth tastes like and she said hers tasted like the Lemmon tea and honey Mom had made her for her sore throat. Yum. Told her I tasted my bad breath, yuck. I asked her what she felt and she said the trampoline pushing up against her. She said they had just done something like this in dance class. We all laid down and the teacher said relax. Feel your feet melt into the ground, now your legs and back-side. Feel them pressing against the floor, now feel them melt into the floor. Now your back, and shoulders let them relax. Now feel your head. Feel the weight of your head against the floor. Now as you relax let the stress flow out of your head and feel it lighten. Feel the muscles in your face and neck loosen and relax. Let the stress flow out of your shoulders and back and feel yourself get lighter. Let your legs and feet become light like a feather. Feel the tension and stress blow away like the breeze. Feel yourself floating on the floor. Now wiggle your toes and feet and flex and stretch the muscles in your legs and back. Open and close your hands and reach up into the sky. Roll your head slowly back and forth and up and down. Take a deep breath in. Let it out and slowly open your eyes. Now what do you feel Dad? I feel wow. I see wow. I opened my eyes and everything looked different. Everything looked brilliant. Crisp. New.

I asked what she saw. She said the sky is so blue and the leaves are so gold and the sun is so bright and the shade is so dark. I see Mom. I see her too babe and she is so beautiful. Suzy said what's going on out here. And I said Mary just made me see better! You have got to try this. So we repeated the Mindfulness Dance Class Relaxation Exercises and to my surprise the sky got even bluer, the leaves got even more golden and the sun even more bright! They started jumping and I went in to get Mary a water bottle, but came back out with her two sisters! All five of us on the tramp and two out of three of the dogs. Tyler would have jumped up too, but he's getting too old for such nonsense. He was witness, however, to what I will always remember as a little heaven on earth. As close to perfect as I will ever be. 


Monday, October 23, 2017

Dear Dad,

Sorry it's been so long since I have written you. I'm sure you'll forgive me, as you know I've been busy with parenting and working and wrestling with life and all its challenges. I used to love getting a letter from you with that beautifully readable script and command of the written language that was always so clear and confident and understandable. I loved how you'd sign it, DDD. 

Come to think of it I don't ever remember writing you. I don't even remember talking with you directly on the phone, that was Mom's department. It makes me wonder how cool it would have been if we had email back then. You would have been a voracious emailer. Even better - text. God I wish I could text you. I wonder if your sarcasm would translate in text. Probably. You were always so painfully good at it. 
Anyway, I am writing to thank you. Thank you for trying so hard with me. I know I was quite difficult growing up. Now that I have three of my own I can't imagine the balls it took to have a fourth. I know there was always that ongoing joke that I was a mistake, but I know sarcasm when I hear it. If I had a fourth kid and he was like me I would be with you by now. Fortunately, your three grand daughters are healthy and so smart and relatively happy most of the time. Kayla is 15 now. A sophomore in HS with a Learners permit and a lead foot (but, don't tell Suzy. Kayla's nervous when driving with her mom, but with me she's a regular Mario Andretti). She got straight A's in all advanced placement classes, she's a captain on the debate team, played JV golf last Fall and was on JV softball this Spring and she worked all summer at her mom's old law firm as a file clerk. It's hard to remember she's only 15 sometimes. Chloe is 12. She's crazy smart too. She just had those achievement tests and scored out on all subjects at 13+. In the 7th grade and is testing out at college level already. It's hard for me to even comprehend (she must have got a whole lot of her branes from Suzy and some bonus smarts from you). She just took a big trip to Italy with Suzy and they were able to hook up with Pat and Mary. Our Mary is 9 already! She's a dancer and a karate kid. She is the sweetest kid. She's happy all the time and friendly and talks and talks and talks. She struggles with her school work a little, but just got her first real report card from the third grade. All A's and a B+ and I couldn't be any more proud of her. I think I learned from you to always compliment and recognize hard work and effort. I think I quoted you the other day when she was crying over her homework saying it was so hard, I said, "If it ain't hard it's hardly worth doing!" I think that was one of yours. I don't think she liked me saying it as much as I didn't like you saying it, but someday she'll probably say it to her kid. I could go on and on about them, but I know you know them. 
I wish you were here and could get to know them in person. I like to think they know you through me, the good parts at least. The playing and the joking and the tickling and the laughing and the hugging parts. Also the tough as nails, protector, provider, lover of mom parts too. 
Well, thanks again for raising me best you could. I know it wasn't easy. And I know you weren't perfect, thank God, but you were a hell of a lot better dad than I ever gave you credit for while here. I am especially grateful for some of the lessons you taught me at the end of your journey. That no matter how rough the road gets, life is worth living. Life is always worth living, considering the alternative. Another one of yours I think.
Well I better sign off as it's getting late and I have work in the morning, Thank God!

Love always,
Bitty-buddy

P.S. Sorry for not mailing this, but you didn't leave a forwarding address. Hopefully Heaven has WiFi and you can read it at dumbdumbdaddyo.blogspot.com or hit the link at andykeith.com if you can't figure it out ask Carol she'll show you.

P.p.s. Facebook OMG you would have loved Facebook. Pictures and home movies all point and click! You'd've loved FB.