Sunday, May 4, 2014


I've never been the kind of person who writes about personal subjects on the Internet well, especially subjects I would consider Shared Human Experiences.  Lots of people have kids, lots of people gain and lose jobs, lots of people gain and lose loved ones, and I feel excessively narcissistic when I try to express thoughts on those things -- like I'm some kind of authority to whom people should listen when it comes to things we'll all do eventually.

But it occurs to me such writing requires a level of bravery I don't possess.  My cousin has a blog on which she describes her personal triumphs and challenges in an absolutely brilliant manner, and more than once while reading it I've regretted not having that sense of purpose in my writings.

Maybe it's time I got it.  After all, Alan Shore never was shy about sharing his thoughts on matters when he thought it important.  While there's a fine line between educational and overbearing, you'll never find out where it is unless you walk up to (but hopefully not over) it.

It was just about a year ago mom decided to forego further treatment for the metastasized lung cancer in her brain and spinal cord and went into hospice.  The four months that followed were a roller coaster of moments both good (her appearance at my cousin's wedding, probably the last time she left the house in her life) and awful (the final days as she faded away both physically and mentally).  While she's never far from my thoughts, she's even more present now with Mother's Day coming up, and I've been thinking about the ways my life is different now that she's gone.

I was reminded of one of those ways the other day on the train downtown, as I was thumbing through the Trib and happened across the obituary page.  At the very top was a story of an older gentleman who, according to the headline, had succumbed to "complications from prostate cancer".

"Complications".  The usage here is almost meta.  A single word describing so so so many things ... things I have much more of an appreciation for today than I did a year ago.

It's also what George Carlin would deride as a euphemism.  To describe what mom went through as "complications" is an injustice.  For me, the experience was equal parts gratifying and horrifying, swinging more from the former to the latter as time went on.  In the final days, it took everything I had just to walk through the door of 9139, and I envied the strength of my brother (who was living there at ground zero) and my sister (who was in charge of the medical decisions) as they endured something I probably could not have.  As hard as I thought I had it, they had it much much worse.

Reading about "complications of cancer" brings those days back to me in sharp relief, and sometimes I bristle at what I see as the insufficiency of that single word.  But while it's insufficient for me, it's probably sufficient for public consumption, so I resolve to say a little extra prayer for the loved ones and their likely "complicated" lives in the time leading up to the person's passing.  Because sometimes when they say "it's complicated", it really is.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


I spent yesterday saying goodbye to a great man. I've spent the time since wondering how I can be more like him.

Thomas "Tod" McGrath was my grandmother's brother. As the youngest of six, Tod was the prototypical "fun loving" member of the family. He didn't stand on ceremony or take himself or other people too seriously. His father died when Tod was young, so he learned the value of hard work quickly and developed a self-sufficiency which served him well his whole life. When his brothers also died at relatively young ages, he was an emotional support to their children as well as his own. When his sisters tried to "mother" him, he'd laugh and (very politely and respectfully) wave them off. He had a fullness of spirit that was joyfully infectious, and was someone you just wanted to be around.

The best part of Tod, though, was his leadership. It wasn't the Patton-type of leadership that you'd feel beaten over the head with. It was a quiet, matter-of-fact leadership that seemed much more attainable, even though it was so ingrained in everything he did he made it look effortless. Whether being a dad to his five kids, having employees while running his own truck stop, being an employee working for his nephews' business, or volunteering at his church and in other communities, he was the example you wanted to follow. If he was set a task, you never for a second thought it wouldn't be done and done well. So if he set you a task, you wanted to meet that same standard ... not because of fear of what would happen if you didn't, but because you didn't want to disappoint him. He inspired a loyalty in you that remained strong even if circumstance moved him out of your immediate orbit.

Tod had a great sense of humor perfectly balanced against a zero tolerance for bullshit. His "confessional" in his office at Kean Brothers was a place for people to get much-needed friendly advice and well-deserved calling outs, sometimes within the same minute. But whichever you received, you always knew it was being delivered with your best interest at heart. There was no CYA in Tod's life, personal or professional. He was more interested in others than he was in himself, and it showed every minute you spent with him.

In my 43 years, Tod was a great-uncle, boss, co-worker, and back again, and in that time he taught me a number of lessons about responsibility to self and others, priorities, and faith. Lately, I've been bad at putting those lessons into practice. I've gotten lazy about some things. I've let events influence me rather than the other way around. I've gotten better at using excuses than using what God's given me.

In earlier days, I'd be in the "confessional" getting straightened out. But it's not earlier days, and it's up to me to put what he taught me into practice, just as it is for everyone else whose lives he touched. When you lose someone like Tod, your life is poorer only if you allow the influence he had on you to wane. The "confessional" in his office is closed. The ones in our minds and hearts remain open, and you're a fool if you don't use it.

The last time Tod was at our house, he told me what a wonderful family I had and what a lucky person I was. While I thanked him for saying so, inside, I didn't feel very lucky. But as I see now, I was, and I am, and I need to be a lot better at recognizing it. The only way I'm unlucky is I can't thank him in person today for not only imparting the lessons in the first place but reminding me about the need to put them into practice.

So I'll say it here. Thanks for everything, Uncle T. I'll miss you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Go Back in Time

A while back on the NDN Back Room, there was a discussion regarding time travel. To wit: If you could travel back in time to influence a decision point in history, what would it be? The usual suspects like killing so-and-so or preventing whats-his-name from being killed were explicitly excluded, and you could assume that you had the wherewithal to actually make a difference.

I gave the matter much prayerful meditation. At first, I wanted to go back and convince Henry VIII not to split with the Catholic Church over Ann Boelyn, but that seemed a little too esoteric for me (not to mention not a guarantee that a Protestant church wouldn't have formed in England anyway). Talking President Nixon out of doing Watergate seemed to be a waste of time -- if he didn't get caught for that, he would've been caught for something.

Then it came to me, and I knew exactly where I'd set my Wayback Machine: New York City, January, 1975. I'd sit down with John Lennon and convince him he should stay with May Pang rather than meet with Yoko Ono, a meeting resulting in the end of Lennon's "Lost Weekend" and his relationship with Pang.

May Pang was good for John Lennon. While with her, he rekindled a number of relationships, not the least of which were those with his former Beatles bandmates. Near the end of 1974, there was talk of some musical collaboration and healing of hurts. If that had continued, I can only imagine the kind of music produced. Or maybe I can't, because it would boggle the mind.

But in January of 1975, Lennon ended up back with Ono, and everything went back to square one. Lennon created more music, but remained estranged from his fellow Beatles. And six years later, he was still in NYC when Mark David Chapman walked up to him in front of the Dakota. If he'd still been with Pang, they'd likely have been in California instead.

Perhaps not earth-shattering, but that's where I'd choose to go.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Not Have Affairs

Every now and then, I'm reminded how little I understand the concept of marital infidelity.  Such an occasion afforded itself this afternoon, when I read this article on baby boomers getting divorced.

As I said, I really don't understand why people have affairs.  But what boggles my mind further is why people of advanced ages do it.  Note one of the opening paragraphs in the linked article:

A few weeks ago we learned friends of ours who had been married for 32 years were heading to divorce court; he was having an affair with his secretary and his wife had no idea.

I just don't get it. Some guy in his mid to late 50s had an affair with his secretary? Why would you do that at this point in your life? More importantly, what led the secretary to look at this 50-something married doofus and think, "Yeah, gotta get me some of that".  She obviously envisioned some kind of end-game, but damned if I can figure out what it might be.

When you get married, it's supposed to be forever.  I know sometimes events transpire that can affect things, but all else equal, you're supposed to be in it for the long haul.  People complain about celebrity "marriages" and goofy relationships, but as with politics, what we see simply represents the extreme edge of what the general population has brewing in it.

I could never have an affair.  Even if my rule of thumb above didn't trump all, at the bare minimum I lack the necessary legerdemain to pull it off.  At the end of most days, I'm lucky if I can remember what I actually did.  The thought of maintaining both an actual and virtual life, each with its own itinerary and cast of characters to keep straight and separate, gives me a facial tic.

Besides, as I noted above, what's the end-game of an affair?  If it's meaningless sex, there's no point.  You're banging around with no purpose, and neither your state-sanctioned relationship nor its illicit counterpart will grow in any meaningful way.  It's like masturbation with a partner.

If it's meaningful sex, that creates a skiff full of problems all its own.  Do you think your fellow conspirator is going to leave the marriage for you?  Forget the myriad complications of doing that in the first place, why do you want to hitch your wagon to a person who is that much of a shit?  Why go through all that only to end up on the other side of the coin in a couple years?

There are a fair share of people who shouldn't get married in the first place.  If you like sowing your wild oats, better to rent yourself out to the field owners than waste everyone's time and money buying the property.  Marriage these days is viewed as a commodity, something to be "had" rather than something to be embraced.  Witness all the ridiculous weddings out there, the trappings of which get more mind-boggling by the year.  If you're thinking more about the checkbook than anything else, you're doing it wrong, and that's how you end up getting Kardashianed.

That's why I don't have a big problem with people who choose to cohabit.  Marriage is something you need to be serious about, and if for whatever reason it doesn't work for you, no worries.  Shoehorning yourself into one to satisfy someone else's weird notion of propriety does no one any favors.

So if you are married, and you either are stepping out or are thinking about it, pull your head out of your ass.  You stood up and took vows.  Strap up and take them seriously.  If you're being stepped out on, you have my sympathies, along with the promise if I'm on your jury, I'll never vote to convict.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Resolve to blog more

Yes, it's been almost a year since the last entry.  No excuses, health or no.

But I want to make writing more of a thing for 2012, for reasons that hopefully will become more evident as the year progresses.  So watch this space.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I've discovered podcasts.

Well, that's not entirely accurate.  I've known they exist for a long time ... heck, I've appeared on more than a few Power Hours and Dome and Domers.  But I've never been much of a podcast listener.  I never took the time to set the subscriptions up or keep them updated.  With a reduction in the number of business-related trips I had to take, there wasn't much demand in my mind for it.

But over time, that's changed.  I've gotten sick of listening to the same music over and over on iTunes and the phone, and talk radio is getting more excruciating than anything else.  So in search of novelty, I decided to give the podcasts a try again, and it's worked out great.

So what am I listening to? A bunch of free stuff:

Official ND Athletics Podcast.  Great way to hear the various radio shows and interviews.

Irish Sports Daily Power Hour.  Mike Frank has been a friend for a long time, and while I may be biased, I think he's the best in the business.  Always good guests and info.

Dome and Domer.  Wish we did shows more often, they usually generate good discussion.

The Adam Carolla Show.  I'm listening to it as I type, as a matter of fact.  I like his take on things, and he's always very entertaining.  Good guests, with Dr. Drew making the occasional appearance.

The BBQ Central Radio Show, The BBQ Central Show, and Grate TV.  Nothing gets me through the cold winter like thinking about grilling and smoking.  It's like watching golf matches in January, except it works for more than one sense (especially the Grate TV entries, which are more than worth the extra download time).  If Steven Raichlen had a podcast, I'd be all over it.

The Poker Edge (ESPN).  I'm a known ESPN antagonist, believing their virtual monopoly on broadcasts is bad for college athletics.  But I'm also a Hold 'Em buff, and Phil Gordon is one of my favorite players.

Jay & Silent Bob Get Old.  Kevin Smith can be an acquired taste for some, and there are parts of the show I usually skip.  But they're still entertaining.

The Dennis Miller Show.  Miller already was one of my favorite comedians before I realized he (unlike so many of his compatriots) approaches things from a conservative point of view.  I don't subscribe to the paid version of the show, just the stuff that gets podcasted.

NPR Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.  You can thank my dear wife for my interest in the show, which usually makes me laugh.

So what else is out there I should sample?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Destroy the Tape

This is one of those very few times that Alan Shore might find himself in exactly the situation I'm writing about.  I'm sure some lawyer is going to, anyway.

The death of Declan Sullivan has hit the Notre Dame community rather hard, as you would expect.  A young man in the prime of his life lost that life in an absolutely senseless and ridiculous circumstance.  He was on a portable scissor-lift platform videotaping football practice during high winds.  A gust measured at over 50 miles per hour knocked over the platform, and Sullivan fell over 30 feet to his death, landing on a paved road.

This entire situation is ugly and pointless, as you would expect the death of a 20-year-old to be.  Questions about who put him in such a dangerous situation will be asked and answered over the course of the various investigations into the accident.  No doubt as some point there will be litigation on the matter, and even more and better answers may come out of that process.

The trouble with litigation, though, is oftentimes you get more answers than you really need or even want.  That reality leads me to what will likely be an unpopular (and possibly illegal) opinion, but I'm going to write about it because not only is it something I would do were I a lawyer involved, I also think it's something Alan would do.

The only way this situation can get even more horrifying is if the video tape from that young man's machine becomes public property.  Based on his well-publicized Twitter entry, he was filming for a good 20 minutes before the accident, and I would imagine the tape was running right up to (if not during) the wind gust that claimed his life.  Even if the video does not contain the plummet to his death (which I would hope to God it does not), no doubt any audio on the tape would capture exclamations or other expressions of the fear he endured up on that platform in the minutes prior.

So what would I do if I were in ND's athletic or legal departments?  If the fall didn't do it, I would ensure whatever video was captured by that camera was destroyed beyond recovery immediately.  If the fall didn't do it, some combination of a hammer or magnet or scissors in my hand would.

Yes, the video may be considered probative by whatever legal entitles hold sway, and such an action might result in punishment.  No, it's not at all my intention to allow the people responsible for Sullivan's death to escape justice -- all I want, to paraphrase Sally Brown, is what they have coming to them.

But as I can tell you from experience, the probative value can be far outweighed by the damage it may do to Declan's family.  And that damage can last a long time.  Four years ago, my aunt was killed in an automobile crash, and the knowledge that she saw the other car coming and reacted to it still haunts me to this day.  It's one thing to wonder about the last moments of your loved one's life.  It's quite another to have them thrown into sharp relief via a deposition or People's exhibit A, especially when the person likely can be convicted without it.

Yes, they'd probably throw me (or Alan or whoever else) in jail.  But it'd be worth it to spare the Sullivan family a modicum more of pain than what they're probably already experiencing.  As the father of two kids, I can't fathom having to bury one of them, and wouldn't wish it on anyone.  Let's not make it worse.

Do the smart thing, guys.  If you haven't already.