The Face of Cancer

It is going to be a year in August that my mom died and with every passing month since then, I have had to see my father deal with both the loss of his wife and his own progression into cancer. It is hard to describe what cancer really means to people, yet every week I see it first hand in the Cancer Center when I take my father for his treatments. There is a hopelessness that takes hold of family and friends, while the actual patient tries to maintain a fragile spirit about themselves. In many ways, cancer is a shared disease. When your wife has cancer, you have it too, your kids have it, and so the nurses and doctors end up talking about treatments and test results, and they look at everyone in the room as patients, cause they know everyone is suffering. Months into the diagnosis, you learn everyone’s names, you see the same people, the same nurses, the same office people, and everyone knows you are dying. There are polite conversations every time, but in between there is always silences that stay with you. Food doesn’t taste the same. How can it, you are taking more medication now, more pills, more treatment, more of everything. The body tires of the blood tests, the analysis, the probing, the indignity of what seems unnatural. It is only the mind that continues to fight, to think and search of escape. Maybe this is why, I don’t have the patience for any serious films anymore. I don’t want to be serious, I want to be irresponsible, I want to laugh and return to silliness, to run back into childhood imagination, where I did not have to decide anything, live up to anything, be responsible. However, you are already on the other side of it. You already made some arrangements, you have looked down at a patch of ground, where the body will be laid, you have made compromises and you are satisfied with material things, but not your feelings. There still lingers the hope of a possibility, of life dragging on, but how and to where you don’t know. What is tangible is the earth, not the sky. Clouds you can see but never touch. The ground is beneath you, you tell yourself, it is here and you can dig into it and feel it for yourself. You want to believe in something, as you close your eyes every now and then and let the vision fade, breathe out this one life.

Man Date Rules

Seems like an eternity since I have sat down and blogged anything, but after seeing the movie, I Love You Man, I had to sit down and jot a few lines as to how men relate to one another.

I seem to remember the Summer of 1989 as being the last time that my male friends and I really had great times. We were all about 16 or 15 and it was right before our Junior year in High School. The Summer days were spent driving around in an old beater car and playing basketball till dark and then going to a quickstop for some sort of Slurpee and then the usual talk about what girls we liked and which ones we hated. We were consumed by the dream of having a girlfriend and maybe a better car. The Summer days were long and the conversation was always interesting. Then came the heartache of Junior year in the Fall, and the relationships we had were tested by the very thing that consumed us, namely the opposite sex. It was no longer cool to just hang out, cause his girlfriend didn’t like my girlfriend, or worse, I didn’t have a girlfriend, or the girlfriend didn’t like me, or half a million reasons that did not make sense. The ordeal of Junior year was that women cause wars, and much like the Trojan War, mere boys waged battle and held animosity for each other for the sake of a girlfriend. Senior year followed and it was too late we could never go back to that Summer of ’89 and be just boys. We were men with girlfriends and lives, and even responsibilities. Then Prom came and went and all of a sudden we saw each other and did the one thing we thought we could never do, we forgave each other and put away our grudges and walked away forgetting the wars and battles and the time of peace had come. At the same time, some of us walked away and felt a terrible loneliness. I left Chicago and came to Iowa and my world got a little bigger and a lot different.

In Iowa, I met lots of other guys and made friends. I even mentored a few freshmen, my sophomore year. College seemed more about having shared experiences, than about maintaining strong best-friend relationships. Given that the Internet revolution happened while I was in college, I can see how technology can be isolating for many men, instead of helpful in establishing friendship. Now the Internet is incredibly intricate and it is perplexing to me that as men we all communicate every day, yet have devoted very little of our time to actually becoming better communicators. Yes, we may think it is funny that women have brunch and talk for hours about unimportant events and matters, but in truth women are better communicators. But this rant is not about women, it is about men and how we go about the business of life, outside of work.

The Rules?

The hardest thing about dating in general is that you have to put yourself out there and ask someone else to spend time with you. This can be awkward and uncomfortable for most of us. However, you have to think about it this way, the idea is to have a good time, so it is not about any thing else. Men don’t sit around and talk about feelings, but at the same time, men need to be open and ask for what they want. If you want to go see that new action movie and want someone to tag along with you, say so.

Whatever you do, don’t be pushy or annoying. Men don’t like guys who constantly bother them or ask them for stuff. As my girlfriend reminds me all the time, personal space for men is about ten times larger in radius than it is for women. So don’t tread on me!

Be interesting. It is that simple. No one likes the typical Cheers character that bombards you with useless trivia, but worse is the guy who just wants to be your friend and who happens to bore you to death. You have to bring something to the table. If you are the sports guy, the politics guy, or just the typical comedian, be that guy, just don’t go overboard. With age, comes temperance, you should know a little about everything. Even if you hate sports, you still need to know who The Lakers are.

Man dates are all about the experience. It needs to be fun and somewhat memorable. The hard part is that most men hate lots of things. For example, I use to play golf in my teens. I know the game well, because I had a good golf coach, yet I have not touched a club in more than ten years and if someone asks me to golf, I will always turn them down. It does not interest me. Hate it! Sometimes it just doesn’t work, so be prepared to know that before your date.

Politics and the right conversation. Men can take politics a little too far and let the conversation go downhill before you even realize it. Don’t let political opinions kill your mood. You have to let some things slide. Politics can also be a bad sign that you really can’t be friends too, so before your date you might want to make sure you can even be comfortable if the subject of politics comes up.

We Choose Obama!

I had been meaning to write something on the 2008 election of Obama, but I just could not put my thoughts into words after the election. Seeing how the country is still in a downward spiral of negativity when it comes to our economic future, I wanted to publish some notes about the man who we as a nation have elected to lead us through some of our most turbulent times of my generation.

Growing Up In SouthEast Chicago

In the eighties, I was a young kid growing up near 95th street on the southeast side of Chicago. There was lots of garbage and unemployment. The Reagan years were not kind on our neighborhood and I got to see it firsthand as a kid. Wisconsin Steel closed its doors and put many proud fathers out of a job. This led to lots of drinking and divorce in the community. All of a sudden some of my school classmates found themselves without a father or in tense family situations. During those years, schools did not offer grief counseling or any help. I remember standing outside of the elementary school waiting for the doors to open and worrying that my brother and I would get picked on by older teenage boys that pushed drugs and gang culture.

In Chicago neighborhoods are divided by the many railroad tracks that the city is known for. This was pretty evident, because there were always railroad tracks that once crossed, meant consequences. I remember one time in 7th grade, my friend and I were asked to take this young black boy home because he was sick. When we got him to his apartment building, we found the apartment empty, no parent and the whole place was a mess and smelled bad. Regardless we had to leave him there. Pretty much, by this time, I knew that no one cared about anyone else. The system was cruel and it was worse to the kids that had to live in it. If ever you needed a sign of how bad things were, all you had to do was point at the housing projects, which most of us referred to as The Projects. These were the poor that no one wanted to look at and so you kind of just pushed them into city run apartment complexes and forgot about them.

This was how Chicago was for me. As a kid I got the sense that the whites, blacks, and latinos, all hated each other and did everything they could to never agree on anything. For their inaction, the children were the ones that ended up paying for it. Adults talked about the many problems of drugs and violent gang crime, but they fostered a perfect environment for letting these social ills escalate further. By the time I was leaving high school, the violence was up! By 5th grade I has seen another classmate have his head smashed into a car windshield. By 8th grade, a fellow classmate stabbed a 7th grader and almost killed him for no reason. In high school, the gangs started using guns and so knives and metal spikes no longer were the weapons of choice for settling disagreements. After I left Chicago in 1991, kids had been slain at point blank gunshot in the back of a church and dragged onto Commercial Avenue where their blood stains appeared in the morning after. The community was shocked!

Washington’s Example

There was only one time when I remembered that the city actually worked, when people tried to get along and solve real problems. It was during the election of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first Black Mayor. All of a sudden, the Black community had somehow managed to do something unbelievable. They had asked a lawyer to run for office against his own judgment and they had gotten enough to people to come out and actually support him. Washington was this huge Black man that commanded respect and spoke like he knew what he was doing. Eventually the city changed and under his command, things got done. The most evident one I remember is that he got rid of all the metal garbage drums and replaced them with plastic garbage containers that helped the city get rid of its rodent problems. It was also his example of governance, that made whites, blacks, and latinos sit down at the table and actually work together. All of a sudden school councils and other community groups started to compromise and implement policies instead of playing political games. People got it into their heads, that maybe, you didn’t have to like your neighbor but you could definitely talk to him and make things work. This attitude is something, which I see in Obama’s trademark “Yes We Can!” slogan.

Of all events, other than 911, I remember two. The most recent one, when I heard on the radio that Princess Diana was dead and the other in high school when I heard over the loud speaker that Mayor Harold Washington had died. With Washington’s death, the mandate for political change ended and the commanding example of Washington’s political voice could not be matched. The city declined and went back to ineffective politics.

Obama in 2008

Now in 2008, I witnessed the rise of Obama the politician. A man that grew up in the age of Washington’s political example and who understands the downfalls of ineffective politics. Obama is a different man than Washington, but in him I do see some political resemblances. He is committed to helping people much like Washington and I think this is why America has chosen him. Unlike his political counterparts, one gets the sense that Obama is not about himself but more about public service as a social responsibility.