Sunday, December 14, 2014

A whimper, not a bang

My father-in-law died yesterday morning.  After more than a week in the intensive care unit of a local hospital, his systems began to shut down and his heart ceased its rhythmic beating at 98 years of age.

An irascible and difficult man, he lived by his own standards, not caring much for what others thought or said. His opinion was the only one that counted and he moved through life with the ease of a lava flow, alternately wreaking emotional havoc wherever he went as often as spreading joy.

Despite his cantankerous nature and his outward contempt for others, he could be a very charming individual, a man who bred within his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren a deep love for family and the arts.

It was his love of family that may have brought about his demise. Despite an ongoing battle with scoliosis and a bout with prostrate cancer 30 years ago, he was in excellent health up until a few years ago, when his health began to fade slowly. His demise was sudden and unexpected. He had caught the flu while visiting with family members on Thanksgiving Day. His fragile immune system was unable to recover and he began to experience a combination of respiratory, renal and cardiac failures. Because of claustrophobia, he was reluctant to permit the use of feeding tubes and breathing masks, medical devices that probably would have elongated his already long life span.

He was a man full of life - an accomplished pianist and painter -  and it seemed like nothing could ever diminish his zest for living and his larger-than-life personality. He demanded loyalty even if he did not return it. His children felt his brusque reproach at times when he was displeased with them and his grandchildren, similarly, received stern admonitions from him were they did not live up to his expectations. But as difficult as he proved to be, almost everyone loved him dearly.

Everyone that is, except me.

After my wife died nearly 20 years ago, my father-in-law talked directly to me less and less, despite the fact I had done nothing derogatory or unsavory to him save marry and love his daughter. He did dote on my son - his  grandson - as he grew up without a mother and the truth is that I had lost my own father just prior to my wife's passing. I could have used a strong shoulder for support during that time, but he rebuked me by turning away from me and ignoring me when I would offer him greetings. Nevertheless, I encouraged my son to spend time with his grandfather.

I endeavored to be better than him in approaching this awkward situation, but after more than a decade of the cold shoulder treatment, I decided to return ill favor with ill favor. I ceased saying hello or acknowledging him at family gatherings, because I saw no value in striving to take the high road when he insisted on taking the road less traveled.

So, it was in a strange place I found myself this week. There I was, inside his ICU room wearing medical gloves and donning a surgical mask that covered my nose and mouth. I spoke to him through the mask and he responded with a weak and frail voice. I told him I was sorry and that I hoped he would be getting better. For a moment there was no longer a contemptible reprobate in front of me, but a sickly old man, who was preparing to leave this world and enter the next.

I didn't feel joy at his dilemma, only pity. Somehow, the rancor between us was like a veil that was lifted. My antipathy towards him no longer existed and all that remained was regret. Yes, regret. There was regret that had he acted more favorably toward me, we might have shared the joy of life and been close friends and buddies for, lo, these past two decades.

And, yet, I knew it was too late, that time was running out, making this newborn truce between two stubborn forces just a temporary respite.

When his struggles ceased, it was peaceful. There was release and then genuine sorrow. In my lifetime I have lost a great-grandfather, two grandfathers, my own father and now my father-in-law. There are no father figures left in my life, a fact I contemplate as I prepare to become a grandfather myself for the very first time.

And so I mourn for what might have been. I wish our relationship had been closer before death forever separated us. I now join compassionately with my family members in missing and memorializing him.

It is essential, though, I keep inviolate in me the valuable lesson I have learned here: Always strive to open my heart and be of a kindhearted spirit or else risk squandering an opportunity to love completely and be loved in return.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Blog Action Day - Inequality

When the topic of inequality usually rears its head around my house, there's no one to lord over me. I am, if you Seinfeld people will allow me the decency of using a formerly harmless expression, the master of my own domain.

But inequality exists in many quarters in many nations and is accepted as a matter of course by many societies. It is a fact of Nature observed by Darwin and noted by other eminent scientists in studies regarding survival, pecking orders and those who occupy various levels of the food chain.

Why is it that there still are "untouchables" in India, the largest democracy in the world? Does the caste system there make sense in a modern world? Can we make sense of Bollywood? In both cases, probably not, yet there they are. Too often inequality is tied to wealth or lack thereof. But wealth is not the only determinant. Were Brad Pitt penniless or Jennifer Laurence homeless, I am certain they would not be lonely.

Inequality exists in social settings due to prejudice and the norms of a polite society. To be homeless, for example, carries with it a stigma that many cannot overcome easily. To be hungry is not a choice any rational person would make. But for many who have a roof over their heads and whose stomachs are full, there is an inbred resentment at those who seek assistance. "Get a job!" they think or mutter under their breaths. One time I wish the subject at hand would answer: "I've got a job and I'm happy. I'm my own boss and set my own hours. You, on the other hand, have to answer to a boss, whom you may not like, and have to punch a clock. So, just how happy are you?"

Many times these people have just fallen on hard times or are fighting the insidious disease of addiction and have yet to reach their bottom or find their higher power. That doesn't make it right that they ask for help, but it doesn't excuse them from asking for it either. I remember reading that one of the richest women in Great Britain, J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, was on assistance from the state about 17 years ago. She saw her first million only 12 years ago. She had divorced and lost her mother, but she had the resolve and purpose to pull herself out of the financial mire in which she lived. She came back better than Harry did at Vold...uh...Volde...uh...Voldm...uh...the one whose name dare not be uttered.

Inequality exists because it is part of the structure of society. It is overtly simplistic, but true. Some must be relegated to do the jobs that few want to do. Others make or are given the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of a charmed, affluent life. Most of us fall in between those two extremes. Sometimes we are the engineers and designers of the waste control systems. Other times we are the sewer workers.

Education can be a leveler of inequality, but not always. With today's rising costs of higher education and the staggering cost associated with K-12 private school education, the middle class is finding itself priced out of the best educational opportunities. Student loans at colleges carry with them unforgivable burdens that can take decades to pay back. Students paying back college loans may not be able to afford buying a home for at least a decade. That can't be good for housing starts or loans being taken out. Of course, we shouldn't be too worried about the banks. They're gaining advantage from fewer mortgages being taken out that are being paid back as well as those loans that carry high rates as well. If a student were to take a hint, become a banker.

A student who has a K-12 or college scholarship has an unequal leg up on his more affluent classmates. That can counter some - but not all - of the inequality associated with higher education.

On the other side of the equation, the concept of affirmative action to counter the past wrongs of colleges in admissions and acceptance to graduate and professional schools, may have been appropriate three or four decades ago. Nevertheless, its continued practice today raises a question that some may find hard to swallow.  Does it make sense to maintain a system of giving advantage to a group who no longer requires or should take assistance? Inequality for the sake of equality doesn't make sense when the playing field has been leveled and everyone is on par with another.

Think about it in sports terms. In Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees' big pocketbook allows it to build teams of superstars only wished for by others. That is inequality of teams gone awry. In the National Football League, the draft and salary caps help bring parity to all the teams. I guess that makes the NFL - recently criticized for its handling of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases - the undisputed champion of equality, even though it's among those rich franchise owners.

#BAD2014, #Inequality and #BlogAction

Monday, October 13, 2014

My mistress

I am in love. There is no doubt about it. I am hopelessly, helplessly, unabashedly trapped in a relationship that is, at best, unrequited and, at worst, toxic. My mistress is a constant flirt, shamelessly bestowing her ample charms on anyone who stares in her direction. She cares not whom she seduces - men, women - even mere children - have all given in to her wily ways.

I introduce a new friend to her and she takes him as her new lover, making him smile and giving him joy that I had hoped she would keep just for me. I am furious. I am jealous. I am miserable knowing how easily she can be another's. I vow I must leave her for trifling so with my affections.

But no. My mistress kisses me broadly and smiles, knowing I can never leave her, that my heart is hers for the keeping and no matter how sullied her reputation may be or how gaudy she may be seen by outsiders, she will always have me in her firm grasp.

She does a little pirouette in front of me, promising me that she will be faithful, but it's always the same. She is off entreating others to sample of her charms, her beautiful curves, the savory food she offers to unsuspecting strangers and the hot music that is her very own.

Yes, I am just another victim of this harlot, who will never know the meaning of the word fidelity. She will forever torture me with her lewd and lascivious manner and spread her arms out to bring others to her bosom who, like me, become her powerless victims.

There is no doubt: she is hot. She is sassy. She is steamy. She is my one and true love and I acknowledge I will never escape my mistress. I resign myself to my destiny for I know that even were I to move to the far ends of the Earth, I would be drawn back, siren-like, to be with her again.

I give in to her, my cruel, uncaring and wonderful love. I surrender to her again and again. There is no one else like her and there will never be another to rival her.

Yes, you are my greatest love and inspiration: my hometown, New Orleans!

Monday, May 12, 2014

My friends, my mentors, my loves

As April was about to make its exit, my very close friend Cheryl Baraty, a woman of enormous charm and wit and a brilliant attorney, also made her exit from this earthly plane. Almost as if to not bring attention to herself, Cheryl's departure was quiet and as dignified as possible. She had made peace with the inevitable some time ago, even as relatives, friends, clients and associates hoped a miracle might be found to save her.

The last week of Cheryl's life was hardly anything that could be remotely considered as quality. From reports I received, she was so heavily medicated that the best she could do was sleep and feebly attempt to communicate through those still sparkling eyes.

While I was not there at the end, I had seen her several months ago in December, just as the ravages of the inoperable and terminal cancer began to take its toll on her frail frame. I talked to her over the phone in smidgens and jots of time. She was brave. She was courageous. She was never bitter, but kept a stiff upper lip as she began to deal with excruciating pain. The medication brought her relief, but the cost was to descend into a cloudy existence that dulled her and deadened her mind.

She stopped eating several days before her final passage. She had dropped a tremendous amount of weight and had no strength left in her. I had seen the same thing happen only a few months before in October when my other close Scouting friend, Gene von Rosenberg, went from being mobile and using a walker to having so little strength in his emaciated body that he was confined to a bed for the remainder of his few days. Gene, like Cheryl, was only 57.

Cheryl was old enough to have been a mother and raised a son, yet never would enjoy the plaintive sound of her grandchildren's laughter.

Gene never heard the sound of his own children, but reveled in hearing the sound of others' children, including my own son David. Like his father Dale, Gene was both an Eagle Scout and a Scoutmaster, a position he held for 30 years. All the Von Rosenberg men: Dale, Gene and his two other brothers, were Eagle Scouts.

Because she was a woman, Cheryl never had a youth spent in Boy Scouting, but enjoyed a long period as an established Cubmaster in Milwaukee and later became the local chair of the Jewish Committee on Scouting and the Central Region chair of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting. She considered being a Cubmaster as among the most satisfying of her pursuits. In her own way, she thought that connecting the local Jewish Scouts to their own religion might stem the tide of those who saw no relevance to their faith and practice and were tempted towards intermarriage and, possibly, divorce. Through her clients, Cheryl had seen what becomes of divorce and she wanted to alleviate their distress.

As a family lawyer, it was ironic to her that she and her husband had one of the most acrimonious of divorces and that she was unable to prevent years of abusive behavior and disrespect. Even while dealing with her own recalcitrant son, Cheryl reached out to others to push the Jewish Scouting program and help others.

She was a tireless fighter and possessed an indomitable spirit. As she sunk deeper and deeper into a drug-induced fog, she began to lose her most precious of gifts: her ability to communicate. She found she couldn't speak well and eventually used her eyes to indicate her approval or disapproval. Her ability to even hold small objects became a challenge. Yet, there she was hanging tough and persevering, holding on with every ounce of strength within her.

Her colleagues in the northern region at Market America and, a firm for which she had been working for the past four years in her spare time, presented her with a special award they established in her honor last April. They named it the Cheryl Baraty Perseverance Award and have made it an annual honor.

Perseverance was a trait both Cheryl and Gene shared. They both fought as best they could before they gave themselves over to God. As always after death, we remember not how they died, but how they lived. The world is a little less interesting without Cheryl and Gene in it. Scouting has lost two of its best illustrations of selfless leaders. While they are gone now, the reasons they became involved with Scouting remain as true today as they were when they first began their associations.

I honor their name by continuing my work to the advancement of Scouting and to improve its image as best I can. They showed me the way to do it correctly and proudly and I salute them and thank the Great Scoutmaster that I had the opportunity to learn from them and work side by side with them. They were among my truest friends, my greatest of mentors and my deepest of pure loves.