A Father’s Day Contemplation

Pop1957

This photo of my father was taken in Blue Island, Illinois roughly four years before I was born. Ermelindo D’Aversa was born in 1922 in Montella, a small town in the mountains of southern Italy. My mother, Teresa Iuliano, had been born there, too, in the same year. My mother came to the United States as a young teenager. She married the man who would become my father in 1948, during a lengthy visit with family in Italy. Teresa then went home to America, as scheduled, and Ermelindo followed later, after he obtained the necessary funding and approvals.

In 1949, this man flew to the United States, arriving as he described it, “$200 in debt and with nothing but the clothes on my back and the suitcase in my hand.” While growing up in Italy, he had completed the then-required five years of formal education, but spoke little to no English, other than what he might have picked up while assigned to a company of British soldiers after the end of World War II. His role, as they moved from village to village across Italy, was to inform the frightened citizens that the war was over and that these English soldiers were not going to kill them. Go ahead, try to imagine what that job must have been like.

Prior to the war, my dad had been a policeman, a member of the Carabinieri. When the war broke out, he immediately became what can best be described in our understanding as military police. He spent most of his time patrolling an island where political prisoners, at least those who were not killed outright, were sent. The residents of that island could pretty much come and go as they pleased, but they were confined to that island.

My dad did not talk about the war much, not until the final years of his life, which is when I learned most of what I am sharing here. He had nothing good to say about war and he absolutely despised any movies or television shows that glamorized war, but it wasn’t until near the very end of his life that he spoke to me about why. In terms of all the carnage and destruction, he summed it up saying, “You can’t come back from that and be the same young, innocent man you were before you went.” He was in his late eighties and dying when we finally had these conversations. Until then, he had just kept it all inside.

Pop+Son

My father was not a highly educated man, but he made the most of what he had been given. He had a very keen sense of right and wrong, which he considered fundamental and irrefutable. Indeed, he would laugh out loud at arguments that actions that were wrong yesterday could somehow be okay now. “Two and two cannot become five,” he would offer, shaking his head in amusement. He also possessed a very strong sense of respect for age and experience, even before he became the oldest… and even if the elder person were wrong. Once during a heated discussion about his own father, who had been very strict in raising his seven children, my father assured me, “Back then, if our father said two and two are six, we said yes!” Then I was the one shaking my head.

In 1992 I became a father myself. Not understanding what I was getting myself into, I did it again in 1993. Even then I think I understood that I could never be the same father to my children that my father had been to me, no more than my dad could have copied his father. It just doesn’t work that way. Still, I wish I could have done better. And when I look back at how much my father accomplished with so little, I feel downright ashamed.

  • Despite never having achieved a higher role than that of a non-union laborer, he put his three children through parochial grade schools, me through a Catholic high school, and darned near paid for all three of us to complete at least four years of college.
  • I’m guessing that he never made more than $30,000 a year, if that much, yet at his passing, following twenty years of retirement, one-third (my share) of his savings was still far more than my wife’s and my savings at the time, despite our dual incomes (and we couldn’t maintain the level of savings we had taken on).
  • Despite having been far less educated and far less articulate than me, he demanded more from his wife and children than I ever could—and he got it, period.

Yeah, so in view of all that and more, I tend to get a little down on myself as a dad. I’ve always been softer on my kids, more lenient, more willing to let them go see what they can accomplish rather than attach values to their desires. But I’ve also always been more of a free spender, a pleasure seeker, more willing to have fun today than put away for tomorrow. And my children, who are now adults themselves, have both examples to consider.

In the end, we reap what we sow. While there can be no doubt that I am my father’s son, I have clearly taken things in a different direction than he would have. That’s on me and while I may have some regrets, I make no apologies for the choices I have made. Those choices were mine to make.

And I’ll go you one better. I am grateful to my father for having made those choices possible for me, good or bad. I am proud of my parents, proud of my Italian heritage. And as a dad myself, I am proud of my children. Despite our own shortcomings, somehow my wife and I have given them a decent foundation upon which to build. The chapters they will write going forward hold many possibilities. Wait and see.

Advertisements

My Kids Aren’t Kids Anymore

Babies

How did this happen? Just a few short years ago, I was standing in an operating room at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, scared shitless as I heard my newborn daughter utter her first cry. At that moment, my entry into parenthood had felt an awful lot like falling from the sky—a feeling of which I have never been fond. It was a girl! I looked down at my wife, who was still adjusting to the effects of the anesthesia—still not convinced that she wasn’t about to freeze to death or slide right off the table—and confirmed, “We have a Teresa!”

Not even two years later, I was there again, holding my wife’s hand as my son’s first cry filled the room. I’ll never forget the exchange that took place between the doctor and me as my son was born. I was standing behind the “blue field” which I had been warned not to cross, holding Karen’s hand, waiting. Maybe not quite as scared as I’d been the first time, but still pretty wired. Then just before that initial cry, the doc exclaimed, “It’s a boy!”

Dumbfounded, I jumped up to see over the little blue screen, looked at the doctor and inquired, “Really?”

The doctor looked at me with raised eyebrows and immediately pointed to the evidence, which irrefutably identified my offspring as having been born male. “Oh, yeah,” was all I could muster in reply. The doctor shook his head and, satisfied that he had convinced me, went back to work on putting my wife back together.

That was well over twenty years ago. My wife, my calendar, the old guy in my bathroom mirror, and my quite empty bank account all assure me that this is the case. And I vaguely recall all the years that have passed. Infancy. Toddlerhood. The terrible twos. The you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet threes. Preschool. Kindergarten. Grade school. Middle school. High school. College (my bank account is still in denial). Yes, I was there for all of it, but looking back, somehow all those years seem more like months now.

Tre at Work

Offspring number one graduated from college some three years ago. She parlayed her undergrad psych degree into a position with an outfit called Clearbrook, a provider of home-based services for individuals with disabilities (and their families). Teresa’s subject is an autistic teen—and not the first whom with she has ever dealt because she served an internship that involved caring for an autistic young adult.

At the same time, she enrolled at The Nail Inn & School of Cosmetology, intending to eventually pay her way through grad school by making others beautiful. She has also toyed with the idea of combining her two professions—simultaneously working on the interior and exterior of her clients’ heads—a concept that may still be brought to fruition. Tre at Work 2

I was quite proud when she completed her cosmetology classes, obtained her license, and got her own chair at a local salon where she has worked since her high school days. I soon became a regular client. That’s right, I trust my daughter to work on and about my head while wielding precision sharpened hair cutting implements. We have evolved through long and short hairstyles, trying different methods, products, etc. And I must admit she does nice work.

But it doesn’t end there. Teresa was recently accepted into a grad program at Aurora University. And so possibilities she has imagined are gradually becoming possibilities realized. Who knows, maybe someday my daughter will be able to figure out what’s wrong with me. This has been a running joke for a few years between Teresa, myself, and a few of my biker friends. Hey, if she can figure out what’s wrong with any of us, she’ll be up for a Nobel prize in no time at all.

JEGD Head ShotOffspring number two went in a different direction and graduated from college with a double major—Asian Studies and Theater Arts—and was accepted by the Portland Actors Conservatory in Portland, Oregon. Now in addition to being able to converse in Mandarin Chinese, in just two short years, my son has learned firsthand the plight of the starving artist.

Yes, I’m kidding. Sort of. I have no doubt that John has learned the inherent value of sufficient funding and what it takes just to achieve that plateau. But more than that, he recently completed his course of study at the conservatory. He has already earned paid assignments doing tech work (i.e. lighting and sound design and operation) for Portland-area theater groups and has already signed on with the Mississippi Bend Players in Rock Island, Illinois to do tech work on three of their productions this summer and he will also perform in one of these productions.

When people would ask me about my kids—after having told me about their doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants—I would tell them that Teresa was doing hair, “in preparation for graduate studies in psychology” and that John was enrolled at the Portland Actors Conservatory. Then we would all smile and nod as if I had just shown them my zero-balance checkbook.

Well to hell with them, to say nothing of the horses upon which they rode in!

The reality of it all is that my daughter Teresa really is about to embark on a learning journey that will in large part be funded by her own blood, sweat, tears and sheer talent as a licensed cosmetologist whose services have been in ever-increasing demand ever since she obtained her chair at Sharp Designs in Plainfield, Illinois. And who knows, maybe someday she really will figure out what’s up with my riding buddies and me.

The reality of it all is that my son John works in theater. That’s right, he gets paid to design and operate lighting and sound systems for theatrical productions and he also gets paid to perform, professionally. This means that if you want to see my son perform in the theatrical production of Wait Until Dark, you will have to buy a ticket. Wow!

Riding BuddiesMy son is also my closest riding buddy. When he took his motorcycle out to Portland, I accompanied him, along with another riding buddy of ours, and followed by our chase vehicle, headed up by my wife, Karen. When he rides from Portland to the Quad Cities this summer, I shall ride out and meet him halfway, along with two of our closest riding buddies and no chase vehicle. It will be epic—and it will be documented here on mgdaversa.com.

Am I proud of my kids? Yes, very much so. Do I agree with everything they’ve done or might do? Hell no!

Am I okay with this? Well… Sometimes. I cannot lie.

On the one hand, I want so badly to be able to protect my children as I did… well, when they were children. On the other hand, they aren’t children anymore. Now it seems to me that’s a harsh reality for any parent to accept.

A good friend of mine, who is also older and wiser than me, once advised me as follows.
“Michael, we spend all of their lives preparing them for adulthood. At some point, it has to be up to them.” Then he just looked at me and smiled. Oh, how I wanted so badly to punch him right in the mouth… but he was right.

Along those same lines, my father used to say, “I’ll give you my opinion if you want to hear it, but then it’s up to you.” It took me quite a few years to understand what he meant, and possibly how he felt. God, how I miss my father.

My kids aren’t kids anymore. Even though they are still my babies and always will be, I can no longer treat them as if they are still little kids. I’ve done my part. Besides, I’m old(er) and tired.

I am so proud of my children.

Why I Choose to Ride in the 2017 Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run

IMFR2017

The Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run is something that has become important to me over the years. In terms of numbers, this is the biggest fundraiser run I do each year, with thousands of bikes, all riding together for a common cause, in support of the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial.

IMFR06

Whether you ride a motorcycle or not, if you have never visited the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois, I urge you to do so. That wall memorial is most unusual for several reasons. For openers, this memorial was made possible not by any branch of our federal, state, or local government—believe me, if that were the case, we would still be waiting—but by the Illinois motorcycle community. That’s right. As I understand it, the concept was hatched by a couple of bikers named Tony Cutrano and Jerry Kuczera. Made possible by donations of material, labor, and funds, this memorial was dedicated on June 19th, 2004. As the result, the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial became the first of its kind, a memorial honoring our fallen, by name, while a conflict is still ongoing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Each year, on the third Saturday in June, members of the motorcycle community gather in numbers—think four figures minimum, sometimes five—to raise funds for the memorial wall, which unfortunately continues to grow as more names are added each year, and to show their support for the fallen as well as for their families, some of whom are also in attendance that day (these are called Gold Star Families).

I want to talk to you about these families for a moment. You’ll notice them as you approach the wall, no matter if it’s during the day of the Freedom Run or any other day. They are usually very quiet and are usually focused on one of the many names now engraved on that wall. As often as not, some are crying while others are consoling—and sometimes they are all doing both at once. You know, it’s one thing to come thundering into Marseilles with a few thousand casual acquaintances, but once the kickstands are down, the closer everyone gets to the site of that memorial, the quieter things get.

And there you are, a badass biker, standing there looking at all those names engraved in the granite. You can see and hear the Illinois River flowing just beyond the memorial site. Then you hear another sound and you look over to see a mother, a father, a wife, a brother or sister, a child… sobbing uncontrollably. You look upon a scene like that and it changes the way you think about the Wall Memorial and the event that has made it possible through the years. It changed me, anyway.

Some years ago, I think it was 2005 or 2006, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the co-founders of the wall memorial, the late Tony “Greaseball” Cutrano. At the time, I had been president of the Illini Free Spirit Riders motorcycle club, and we had arranged to meet Tony at the Wall Memorial and present him with a small donation during the off-season. After we presented the check and took our pictures (I wish I had one to share with you here), we spent some time talking. Of all the things we discussed, there was one thing Tony said that made everything click with regard to the scene I described earlier. He explained that for some families, that Wall Memorial is the closest thing they will ever have to a cemetery because sometimes, there is no body to be recovered. I never felt the same way again about the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run, about the Wall memorial, about the big after party, about any of this gig.

I also have never missed this event in more than ten years.

27727660336_1662304faf_o

This year we will carry on the tradition that began in 2004, but without the “festival” support of the City of Marseilles. I could speculate on the reasons, but to what end? Listen to me: Times change, people change, events change. But our cause has not changed. Get it?

This year the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run returns to its roots by renaming its after-party the Celebration of Freedom. As you will see on the flier, this part of the event will take place at Fat Daddyz in nearby Seneca. It’s a great venue, I am told, but is obviously smaller than the City of Marseilles, so if parking becomes a bit of a hassle, please exercise a bit of patience and cooperation.

IMFR Last Point

Just one last point. I know some riders are gravely disappointed in the City of Marseilles for their decision to discontinue their municipal Freedom Fest this year. Yeah, me, too. But their municipal event was NEVER the focal point of the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run! Sure, some people stayed in town and partied while the solemn ceremony took place at the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial site. Now wouldn’t it be a dirty shame if those brothers and sisters didn’t participate this year because the city wasn’t hosting a party?

Yes, that would be a dirty shame. Do we really want to buckle under a bad decision made by some lame politicians? This year, just like every year before, the Freedom Run itself and the solemn ceremony at the Wall Memorial are still the collective centerpiece of our day and they are still as important and alive and vibrant as they were in 2004. So please, do come out on June 17 and show your continued support for this cause. Come June 17, let’s ride!

The Dehumanized Condition

Capture Quartz

I saw this Quartz article—More and more Indian IT engineers are under-skilled, unwanted, and unemployed— earlier today and although it involves a bunch of people I’ll probably never meet, in a country I’ll probably never visit, this piece bothered me on a fundamental level. It reminded me of something that I learned decades ago about an inevitable consequence of economic evolution, a consequence that renders large groups of people irrelevant, invisible, and forgotten.

I first entered college, sometime after the earth cooled, as a student of economics. That changed quickly enough, but not before I had completed several seriously enlightening courses in that discipline. At least some of what I learned from my esteemed professors, for better or worse, has stuck with me to this day. The above-linked article reminded me of this. Let me explain.

Economic evolution/revolution has always opened doors for some and slammed them shut for others. Consider the transitions from agriculture to industry, from industry to service, from service to information, and from information to (smart) automation. That last transition is still unfolding. In fact plenty of people either don’t know about it yet or are in denial—but that’s a topic for another time. My point is this: with every turn of the wheel, opportunities have opened and opportunities have closed. Each and every time, while traditionally understood job opportunities shrunk, new and exciting job opportunities expanded, albeit not always at the same rate. Maybe never at the same rate.

What happens when the only job role you’ve ever known becomes obsolete? On a purely academic level, the answer is simple: people must be retrained.

But even the citizens of academia will readily admit that not everyone can be retrained and funneled into the revised economy. Why? For openers, there will likely be fewer new jobs created than old ones eliminated. Second, who is going to pay for all this retraining? Finally, consider also that some individuals may be too close to retirement to start over—but not close enough to be able to retire.

If you haven’t already done so, please take a few minutes to read the article to which I referred earlier. Check out the prediction that “3.9 million employees of Indian IT services companies would become ‘irrelevant’ within the next four years” due to automation. And don’t overlook the prediction that 65% of the displaced workforce cannot be retrained.

That seems like an awful lot of people to disregard as irrelevant. Irrelevant! We aren’t talking about an obsolete screw that will no longer be used to manufacture a product. We aren’t talking about a line of code in a software program that is no longer needed. These are people! Human beings! When they disappear on paper, when they drop from the statistics, when they are no longer visible in the economic model, what do you imagine happens to them?

I am reminded of a 1993 movie called Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas. There is a scene in which Douglas’ character encounters a man protesting in front of a bank, raving about having become “not economically viable.” During this scene, the raving man is arrested and taken away by law enforcement officers. What is often lost on the audience is the fact that the man carted off by police is dressed identically to the anti-hero of this story.

Of course it doesn’t take an economic revolution to cause this condition. We see the same thing happen on a smaller scale whenever an economic downturn occurs. Or smaller yet when a specific industry falters. Or smaller yet, when this or that company is forced to “downsize” in order to remain viable.

This happens every day. I have witnessed it firsthand, on varying scales, for decades. As an educated man, I am capable of understanding and explaining the whole cause-and-effect episode. As a wordsmith, I can spin things toward a specific desired outcome.

Just remember one thing. No matter how we slice, dice, or spin a given situation, these are human beings we are talking about. Okay?

How would you like to be called irrelevant? I thought so.

I know this post has been a bit of a departure from the things about which I usually write. With that in mind, if you are still reading, thanks all the more for hanging with me.

 

Only Our Conflicts Are Real

Today I came to a realization regarding our moral, ethical and political ideologies.

Recall the poem “The Blind men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe. Six blind men are examining an elephant and each is adamant of his experiential findings. The last verse says it all.

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong.
Though each was partly in the right,
They all were in the wrong!

Now before you go any further, examine this bit of reflection from—of all places— a 1966 western movie, The Professionals.

“Maybe there’s only one revolution, since the beginning, the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?”

And therein lies the rub. Aside from the fact that we each approach the current situation in Washington wearing the filters of our respective human experience, we also approach one another with conflicting understandings of good versus evil. From this perspective, we come to debate and argue, each with the intent of winning over the other guy. And for the most part, each will fail.

We can’t even agree on right from wrong! And in our efforts to win each other over through seemingly benevolent discussion, we vehemently entrench ourselves ever deeper into our private realities, ever bending our arguments to protect what is ours, rather than admit it might not be entirely accurate. Nice going.

I knew we were in trouble when I saw the exact same news story concerning President Trump being shared on Facebook by both a pro-Trump advocate and an anti-Trump detractor. The same story! And when I realized they couldn’t both be right, it occurred to me that the only sure thing in this equation was the conflict itself. That was real.

Wake up. You cannot win with the arguments you are making. In this regard, you are no better than one of the blind men in that poem. In fact, you are worse because at least the blind men were all of a like mindset.