Regrouping After Dad

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Dad in DC 2014Three weeks ago today I wrote “Father Died Today.” I haven’t posted on this site since then as it didn’t seem right without first writing a follow up, sort of a closure, post. But then how does one reach closure? I’m still open.

I haven’t attended many funerals. As my parents’ large contingent of siblings slowly passed away (and yet probably 8 or more remain) I was too far away to make it there for the services. Sometimes I was in other countries, although I did fly back from Brussels to attend my grandmother’s funeral. At 102, she had been the sole matriarch for many decades and I had to be there. Needless to say, I made the trip for my father.

Unlike my mother, my father wasn’t a particularly religious man so it seemed a bit incongruent to have a minister reading psalms during the service. And yet, it helped. After my older brother eulogized our father with words showing the depth of our family’s ardor, I was asked to speak a few words of my own. I told the story of us fishing together (mentioned in my previous post), and another I haven’t written about on these pages yet. We all considered him a great man. The attendees agreed.

After writing my previous post I hadn’t followed my usual routine of posting the piece to my social media platforms. Instead I simply posted a photo of my Dad from a few years ago onto my personal Facebook page. I said nothing other than to put his birth and death dates in the caption. This was to be my personal tribute. I was surprised, however, to receive over a hundred comments from friends and family. Most had never met my father but sensed his importance to me. Those who had met him said nice things. Those who knew him best expressed their love and affection. This pattern continued at the funeral service as friends and family repeatedly said he was a special man. It was nice to know that he was well loved by all.

My older brother lived a bit closer than me and was able to be there for Dad’s final labored hours. His presence helped my mother through the initial flood of excruciating grief, and he was there for her to lean on through the necessary funeral arrangements. After a long drive, I arrived the day after he passed away and spent the next 10 days with my family. After the funeral my brother had to return home; he had taken a sudden week off as President/CEO of a non-profit organization, and duty called. I stayed on to help my mother with the long list of other paperwork to be handled, and simply offer the further support of my presence. The following week was Independence Day and the traditional gathering at my grandmother’s former house (now my Aunt’s) for the parade and luncheon. It was helpful to have Mom there with dozens of friends and family.

At one point that day an uncle, Mom’s youngest brother, told me to remind my mother she could call him anytime. As he moved to walk away he suddenly stopped, turned, and said: “You can call me anytime too, you know.”

It was then I realized I hadn’t allowed my own emotions to surface during all this time. Sure, I broke down into an embarrassing blubber when I first heard the news, alone in my house hundreds of miles away, but my focus during those 10 days was on Mom. Only at that moment, when my uncle offered his emotional support for me, did it hit me that not only had my mother lost her husband of 66 years, I had lost my father of a lifetime. I managed to avoid of repeat of my earlier blubbering, but my eyes did well up and my breathing labored. [As they did just now typing this]

The next day I made the long drive back home. Since then I’ve periodically felt the loss slap me in the face. Reading a novel in which the main character visits his father with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home slapped me. Random thoughts slap me. Writing this piece has slapped me several times. Ru, who lost her own father to cancer at a much younger age, has helped me keep perspective.

To be honest, I feel a little silly expressing this, especially when many around me had lost their fathers or mothers or both long before I was faced with the situation. In a way, their experience with loss has helped me learn that while the memories and pain never quite go away, all of us gets through it and lives the lives our lost loved ones would have wanted us to continue living. Meanwhile, my mother again is my primary focus. My older brother and I, who both always called routinely anyway, have taken to calling more frequently. While I was still in my home town I helped my mother sign up for a day-long bus tour with the local Council of Aging. She will continue living. Several of her siblings are still around and all live locally. Add in both old and new friends and there is plenty of support to help get her through these initial stages without my father.

So is this closure? Probably not. But I need to refocus, regroup, renew, just as I’ve been encouraging my mother to do. It’s been difficult getting back into writing mode after all the recent travel and Dad’s passing, but I must. Today I took the first step in getting a routine going again. Tonight I’m writing this divulgence. Tomorrow I’ll set a timetable. I miss him, but I also know he would want me to continue.

Pater mortuus est, vivat filius.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

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Father Died Today

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Dad in DC 2014Alas, I wish this was some faulty translation of Albert Camus’ famous opening line, but my father did indeed die today. Right now the loss feels overwhelming, but somehow I felt the need to offer tribute to him in my writing.

In fact, I’ve written about Dad quite a few times before on this venue. There were his favorite stories (and his other favorite stories). There was the time the two of us went fishing together. One can’t forget how he told of the time my Uncle complained that Dad “had more shrimp than me” , or when I got to join him and three of his dozen siblings at the Rowley Diner (which isn’t actually named the Rowley Diner).

And then there are the jokes. He was always joking; the kind of corny jokes that were punnier than heck (and always clean). Whether it be saving us the donut hole or the old Dalmatian on the fire truck joke, we could always count on Dad to keep us in good humor.

One of my favorite posts about Dad was called “Leader of the Band” after the Dan Fogelberg song. The refrain of the song takes me on a metaphorical journey:

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old

But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul

My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man

I’m just the living legacy
To the leader of the band

I know in many ways I’ve failed to live up to his example, but I hope I at least succeeded in living a life of honesty and integrity, the way Dad always lived his life. As I read through my tears the comments from friends and family about his passing, I see that he had a lasting affect on so many people’s lives. He was well loved by everyone who met him. He will be missed.

My thoughts now turn to my Mom, who has been lovingly caring for my father through his physical trials these last few years. His passing is two weeks short of his 92nd birthday, which coincides with my parents’ 66th wedding anniversary. [Dad always joked that he got married on his birthday so he would never forget his anniversary.] My mother is surrounded by our large family and network of friends during this difficult time. At 87 herself, she is still self-sufficient and energetic, but feels the loss of the love of her life more deeply than any of us can imagine. As Lincoln might have said, it is for us the living to ensure that we honor Dad’s legacy by honoring and supporting our mother’s continuing life.

I’ve written this both as a tribute to my father and as a sort of therapy; I’m still not sure if I should post it. It seems both too personal and not personal enough. If you’re reading it, obviously the decision was made in the positive.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

 

Writing Reset

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Overseeing EdinburghI’ve been traveling again, and as so often happens it takes a while to reset my writing schedule. The distractions are multitudinous: backlogged emails, to-do lists that grow rather than shrink, and the seemingly never-ending jet lag (or driving lag after road trips).

It seems this is a recurring problem. As I glance back through my “On Writing” posts I see a lot more about not writing than writing. Some of this is to be expected; after all, one can’t write too much about what you are writing as you’re writing it, right? But it does appear that I have some difficulty getting back into a writing rhythm after travels. Given that I travel a lot (see Science Traveler), losing rhythm quickly leads to cacophony.

It’s not writer’s block so much as it is writer’s overextension. I’m just trying to do too much. Unlike those who miraculously appear to be in a perpetual state of flow, where productivity is maximum at all times, I’m one of those whose distraction levels keep me constantly reigning myself back into the project at hand. Or projects, which is a good part of the problem.

In the last couple of months my “flow” has been interrupted by a road trip to Charleston (SC), a people-to-people tour of Cuba (returning home just days before such tours were banned), and an even longer road trip Chasing Abraham Lincoln through nine states. Time between trips largely sunk into many Lincoln-related meetings, symposia, and plans. Writing was squeezed into this torrid careening from hour to hour.

So once again I’m trying to get back on track. While the “Stephen King Rules for Writing” goal of 2000-words a day works well for fiction, it’s completely unworkable for non-fiction writing. Some days I can spend hours pulling information only to see a few hundred words appear on the page. Other days a thousand words can flow like lava. The inability to tote voluminous resource material onto planes, trains, and automobiles means non-fiction writing on the road (air, sea) is relegated to travel memoir. So my trip writing adds to the WIPs (works in progress) already on my laptop. At some point, something has to be finished.

And how do I do that? First, finish writing this piece, turn off Facebook and other social media, and crack open the laptop.

Oh, and head into town for that Lincoln lecture. Yeah, right after that.

[Photo: David J. Kent, Overseeing Edinburgh]

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Cuba in the Nick of Time

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IMG_9899Just a few days ago I returned from a “people-to-people” trip to Cuba. This morning, the current US administration banned such trips. This not only hurts the Cuban people, it hurts the American people. And as with everything else this administration does, it also boosts Russian power.

The United States imposed an embargo on American trade with Cuba in 1962. They expanded the embargo in 1996 with the Helms-Burton Act to penalize foreign companies trading with Cuba. In other words, not only do we block our own companies from trade, we effectively block foreign companies from trade. Combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, this has had a devastating effect on the Cuban economy. It did nothing, however, to change the political structure – our stated goal.

As the aging Fidel Castro turned over control to his brother Raul, the United States had an opportunity to change a policy that for more than half a century had essentially no impact on global relations. President Obama restored diplomatic links and even visited Cuba in 2016. These actions provided some hope that the United States could become a world leader in bringing Cuba into a 21st century economy and lead to a modernized political structure. These hopes were dashed, however, when the current administration reversed all the gains made under Obama.

And now they are banning the one option most Americans had to visit and learn about Cuba. “People-to-people” programs, which includes the Road Scholar tour I just returned from, allow personal interactions with the Cuban people. We met artists in their homes, talked with the owners of paladars (family-owned small restaurants), and saw performances of dance and music. In every case, the Cuban people were welcoming and friendly. There was no personal animosity against the American people. We saw first hand the hardships Cubans must endure (lack of supplies, long lines waiting for basic commodities like chicken, eggs, and rice), and learned that “all Cubans are mechanics” by necessity, as they must use inventiveness and innovation to make up for non-availability of basic parts to keep machinery and cars running (only 1 in 167,000 Cubans has a car because of shortages). The embargo, and this expansion, hurts the Cuban people greatly.

It also hurts Americans. Americans wanting to travel abroad are now blocked from doing so even more than the severe restrictions that were already imposed. American companies can’t expand their markets. American allies are blocked from independent trading because of the penalties we impose. The rationales offered for such restrictions are pathetically dishonest as we willingly trade with multiple countries that sponsor terrorism and even use our own weapon sales against us and our allies (neither of which Cuba does). The ban is purely political and highly punitive.

Who the increased ban does help is Vladimir Putin. With every attack the current administration makes on our allies and our American norms, the administration strengthens the global power of Russian and the Putin-led Russian oligarchy. As the current administration weakens US influence and power in the world and spits on our allies, it is China and Russia that benefit the most.

Elections have consequences. While most Americans might not care about what happens to the Cuban people, they should care about what happens to the American people. The current administration has intentionally dismissed American norms, American intelligence, and the American people. It’s time to remove this disgrace from office.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

B+ for A Work – The Lesson

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GradesI received “A” grades on our mid-term and final exam, and an “A+” on my final paper, the only scores enumerated in the class. The professor gave me a “B+” for the course. I was in shock. After speaking with him, I learned a valuable lesson.

I’ve written a few stories about various incidents in my scholastic life, including memories of making my French teacher cry in high school, the trauma of first grade, and “The Punch” heard round the world. There are many more of these stories in a lifetime of schooling that some may think privileged, others think mundane, but to me feels like constant trauma. But in the one case I opened with, at least I learned something.

I took the class about a third of the way into my doctoral studies. The professor was renowned on campus, a septuagenarian emeritus still teaching the occasional course. He had been to over 130 countries in the world by this time, with more still to come. He was a legend (and still is, last I’ve heard). I enjoyed the class, and as noted, did very well on the tests and class paper. Then I got my grades.

Surely there must be some mistake, I thought. So I wrote a carefully worded email to the professor, something slightly more tactful than: “What the H…?”

He reminded me the syllabus for the course clearly specified that 20% of the grade was based on “class participation.” Over the years this has most often been interpreted as showing up for class and doing all the assignments. At least this has been true in my mind and in practice I’ve never lost a grade due to my hesitancy to speak up in class. [As an aside, this hesitancy became acute in high school during the “Let them eat cake” incident I’ve yet to write about.] But here the professor was being literal. I rarely spoke up in class. I would not get my grade increased. My “A” work resulted in a “B+” on my transcript and GPA.

Mind still boggled, I asked him why this speaking up in class was so critical. Since I was pursing the degree while working as a full time professional in my field with many years of experience, the young college bucks weren’t offering much insight with their often-mundane questions for me to learn much. Besides, speaking in class had always been the bane of my scholastic existence.

Because, said the staid and wise professor, those younger students can learn from YOU. Your work experience, your life experience, your views help them. They gain from your participation. They gain from your insights.

Okay, I admit the flattery was nice, but his comment struck home. While I could surely learn from them (despite my earlier pronouncement), I could also offer valuable insight from which they could learn. I could help others. I could help students see different viewpoints, myriads of which I had been exposed to during my working, not just academic, career. I could be useful.

That thought stayed with me. I could be useful.

A year later I eagerly took a second course with this professor. This time my “A” grades resulted in an “A+” for the course because I spoke up during class.

I’ve since become much more open discussing issues and offering my viewpoints. Some appreciate it; some wish I would keep my mouth shut. For the last several years I’ve been part of the Lincoln Book Study Group, a subset of the Lincoln Group of DC. We meet monthly to discuss whatever Lincoln book we are reading, parsing it chapter by chapter. Sometimes the discussions get passionate, but always we respect each others insights arising from our varied backgrounds bound by our interest in Lincoln. I’ve learned a lot from these amazing men and women, including that I’m sometimes wrong.

Now when I’m in a group I do try to listen better (still not my strongest point), but I’m also less hesitant to offer my own views. We all learn when we all participate.

And it all started with that one time I got a “B+” instead of an “A.”

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!

Last Confession

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confessionBless me father for I have sinned. It has been four weeks since my last confession.

I mean, post on this blog.

Isn’t the writing life funny? This morning, as I have every morning for the last few weeks, I’ve told myself I need to write on this Hot White Snow blog. I last posted on April 10th, a couple of days short of four weeks. Seriously, I’ve had nothing to write about for a month?

Just the opposite is true. I’ve been writing a lot lately, just not here. Besides my author’s website Science Traveler, I’ve been writing for the Lincoln Group of DC newsletter and other venues. I’ve also been focused more on my magnum opus in recent weeks, a book that I’ve been researching for way too long and putting down on paper way too little. A writer’s curse.

But I digress. As I was contemplating what to write this morning I thought about time. Time is precious. Time for writing is my precioussssss. But then I realized I’ve written about making time for writing before, as well as my proclivity to procrastinate, and my tendency to stretch myself so thin it feels overwhelming. To be honest, it all seems like a lot of whining in retrospect.

As these thoughts ran through my mind I had an epiphany. Since my last post was four weeks ago my mind took a leap of faith, as it were, a memory of going to confession as a young man confirmed in the Catholic Church (long before its more disturbing revelations). Like everything else Catholic, we recited the script rehearsed for these occasions, cued by the opening of the listening door in the confession booth.

“Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been four weeks since my last confession.”

This was the easy part, the mindless mantra one regurgitates without engaging a thought process. The actual enumeration of sins was tougher.

Not that I was without sin, mind you. But seriously, how much sin could a bookworm teenager get into? It was a struggle to concoct something to confess to (in retrospect, the act of concocting may have been my greatest sin). I was way too straight-laced for my age given what I’ve learned about my classmates in the uncountable years since we were in high school. They were, either individually or in groups I wasn’t invited, into a little bit of everything – drug use, drinking, carousing, pregnancies, abortions, partying with teachers after school. I was shocked to later find out the kinds of things an altar boy friend did at that time (and since). I don’t know if I was naïve, boring, or wise beyond my years, but apparently my weekly cataloguing of trivialities gave the priest a respite from my fellow parishioners more biblically in need of counseling and repentance.

These days my confessions are more public, for better or worse. I’m still introverted, prone to procrastination, and busy beyond all get out (this latter a favorite phrase of a college professor; the first time he said it I thought he was literally telling me to get out of his office), but writing allows me, and all of us, to bare our souls more openly than some of us should. Hot White Snow, perhaps ironically (or fittingly?) given its genesis, has occasionally given me a medium for confessing my lifetime of transgressions, however humdrum or inaccurate they may seem to others.

In any case, my little confessional has produced the first post in a month. So there is that.  😉

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

Check out my Goodreads author page. While you’re at it, “Like” my Facebook author page for more updates!