Remembering The Man Who Made It Look Easy

 

Today is Father’s Day, I know this because for the past few weeks, my email accounts and social media feeds have been clogged with gift ideas for Dad, everything from Omaha Steaks, to tech toys, and an assortment of supplies from the Art of Shaving.  Thank you Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s my fourth Father’s Day as a dad but my mind isn’t on the latest Cool Base baseball jersey or another pair of running shoes, it’s on my Dad.

Growing up my parents hosted a Father’s Day cookout in their backyard that was both simple and excessive – especially after joining Costco.  Year after year my Mom and Dad produced elaborated spreads of all sorts of mouth-watering grilled foods, sardines and shrimp, Italian sausages, pork chops, and steaks, paired with beer, or pitchers of homemade wine and sangria.

This family tradition wasn’t always elaborate — it grew over the years.  I remember when the four of us sat in the yard around a picnic table Dad built, as he grilled on a stone barbeque grill he built with my uncle.  As the family grew to include daughters-in law, grandchildren and others, so did the menu.  Besides the food, the other thing I remember about Father’s Day was never seeing Dad wear or use any gift we gave him, he put them into a draw of the back of the closet, never to be seen again.

Sadly, I never enjoyed this event as a father, we spent my First Father’s Day in a nursing home as Dad battled Pancreatic Cancer during his last days.

My Dad was a craftsman, one of a lost generation of finish carpenters, brought in to add a special touch to the corner offices and corporate boardrooms for Wall Street investment houses and Fortune 500 companies, and sometimes the homes of their top executives. I remember him being sent to work to in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco for a week of two.  Although he hated being away, it was the best way he knew to provide for his wife and family.

As a kid, I remember he had already left for work before my brother Bob and I had gotten up for school.  After work, he was always working around the house or planning the next home improvement.  When Mom asked if he could put a stove next to the playroom Bob and I played had in the basement, so she could keep an eye on us as she prepared dinner, he built her a kitchen.

Now that I’m a father one thought keeps coming back to me, he made it look easier than I do.  He worked full time, raised two sons, and maintained a house without breaking a sweat. Working full time and sharing the parenting duties of one three-year old and takes up most of my time and energy.  These days I barely get to sit at a keyboard and write.

A few months ago Cristian and I were out walking through the neighborhood when we saw Mrs. D.  She’s known me since I was a little older than Cristian is now, I grew up playing with her kids.  After catching up on how everyone has been and how old her grandkids are, we talked about my Dad.  I remember telling her, “I don’t know how he was able to do it, he made parenting look so easy. He raised two sons, I have my hands full with one.”

Shaking her head, she smiled and said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing more than you think.  You grew up in a different time and things are different now.”  She nodded at Cristian saying, “When you were his age, parents had defined roles and one paycheck supported a family, nowadays both parents have to work and need to share handling the responsibilities.”

Mrs. D gave me a lot to think about and I kept coming back to the advice a friend gave me when my better half was pregnant.  He said, “Do what your parents did and fill in what’s missing.”  That’s a tall order.

Dad wasn’t a big speech guy—his actions spoke more clearly than his words did.  If he made a promise, he kept it.  He was an old-school father—he didn’t tolerate tantrums—he ignored them.  He seemed aloof when my brother Bob and I argued back and forth, but he wasn’t.  He was letting work things out on our own.

Another lesson he taught took me years to figure out. It drove the family nuts when Dad ignored the polo shirts, cologne, and power tools we gave him through the years.  In fact, he used to tell us, “Don’t waste your money on gifts, I don’t need anything.”  I used to think he was being proud, but he wasn’t.  For him spending the day with his children and grandchildren was the gift he wanted most.

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A 5K Run to Honor Lola’s Memory

Lola's children, Esther, Rose Marie and Bobby will be back in Prospect Park tomorrow morning to honor Mami's memory.
Lola’s children, Esther, Rose Marie and Bobby will be back in Prospect Park tomorrow morning to honor Mami’s memory.

Tomorrow morning Esther, Cristian and I are running a 5K race in Prospect Park, okay Cristian will be riding in his stroller while I push him, but he’ll be participating.  Although we are no strangers to 5K races or Prospect Park’s notorious hill tomorrow’s race isn’t about goal times or P.R.s—this one’s personal—we’ll be honoring Esther’s Mom’s memory.

10298777In 2013, Maria Hernandez, Lola to her friends, lost her battle with Pancreatic Cancer so for a third-straight year her three children will be participating in the PanCan Purple Stride 5K Run/Walk to honor her memory.

Pancreatic Cancer is a brutal disease with an extremely low survival rate.  Besides taking the lives of celebrities like Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti, it’s affected the lives of many non-celebrity families as well.   Last year my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.  Dad was lucky, if you can say that for any cancer patient, he died of pneumonia before the cancer fully took hold, Lola wasn’t so fortunate.

17171717Long-distance runners are no strangers to pain—it’s who we are.  I’ve run a 60K race, just over nine four-mile loops in Central Park on a cranky knee.  Esther started a marathon on a badly-injured ankle that got worse with every step taken—both were minor twinges compared to Lola’s battle.  She fought a tough fight, the worse things got, the harder she fought, but no one beats Pancreatic Cancer.

Since tomorrow morning’s weather forecast calls for windy conditions with a chance of snow I’m expecting less than the fifty people who came out last year.  Cold weather does that, but Esther, Bobby, Rose Marie, Cristian and I will be there regardless of the conditions.  This ugly disease took Robert, Lucas, and Justin’s grandmother.  Cristian will never know his La La Maria because of it, it’s our biggest regret.

If you know anyone suffering or lost someone to Pancreatic Cancer or are interested in donating to a good cause click here.

This entry is being posted to both of my blogs North Queens Runner and I’m Not Grandpa.

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For Dad

Preface – This is one of my favorite posts.  I wrote this as a new father reflecting on childhood memories of my Dad.  I’m reposting it on what would have been his 90th birthday.

My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.
My Grandmother holding my Dad when he was 3-years old.

Becoming a father has made me a think a lot about my Dad. In my mind’s eye I relived memories of him seen through the eyes of a small child, teenager, and newly-minted Dad. He turns 89 tomorrow so I decided to write this post about him.

In his prime Dad was a small energetic man whose childhood was so much different than mine.  Born in 1926 the youngest of five children in El Freijo, a small town in rural Spain.  Since they were able to grow what they ate the family survived.

Dad and his older brothers Manuel and Francisco became carpenters out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats enabled the family to buy food and other necessities to survive. Through this difficult time my grandmother Mama Maria fed as many hungry children from other families as she could.

In 1936 a Civil War broke out in Spain taking an estimated 500.000 lives, including both brothers, I was named after Francisco.  His father died a few years later, apparently of a broken heart.

Twenty years old with little opportunity or future in post-World War II Europe Dad joined the Merchant Marine. When he left my grandmother told him, go and try find a better life for yourself but remember if things don’t work out you always have a home to come back to.

My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I'm the little guy on the right.
My Brother Bob and I during our 1970 family vacation in Spain. I’m the little guy on the right.

In 1956, after ten years of travelling the world on merchant ships Dad settled in Camden New Jersey.  I remember the colorful stories of his experiences shared with family sitting around a table usually with a glass of wine or cognac after holiday dinners. It took a few years and some of our own life experiences until my brother Bob and I truly appreciated Dad’s stories of Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina the day after Juan Peron was overthrown.

Dad moved from Camden to Spanish Harlem, and then to Brooklyn where he married.  After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house I grew up in and where he still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations.

Working hard to provide for his family, he rarely took a vacation, but when he did he made them count.   We took us to Puerto Rico or Spain for six or eight weeks.  If you asked him he would say his favorite was taking us to Spain in 1970.

I was six-years old so most of my memories consist of my brother and I running through corn fields, feeding chickens, and riding in an oxcart El Carro de las Vacas with my aunts.  I also remember meeting my grandmother, Mama Maria and how much she spoiled us.  He always said bringing his kids to Spain so his mother could get to know them was the best gift he ever gave her.

Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.
Dad blowing with his three grandchildren getting ready to blow out a pre-birthday candle.

Dad became a grandpa when my niece Katie was born, he waited 74 years.  Two years later a second granddaughter, Jenny was born.  Bob and I immediately noticed he was different as a grandfather than he was as a father.  This wasn’t our strict old-school father, he was a doting grandpa.  He adored his granddaughters spoiling them like our grandmother spoiled us but one thing was missing—a grandson.

Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.
Dad holding Cristian. He was the best gift I could have given him.

Collecting thoughts for this post I realized we have more in common than I originally thought.  Besides being engaging storytellers, we are both the youngest child, share a sarcastic sense of humor and posses a stubborn streak.  Don’t believe me ask my Mom or Esther.  We also are the child who moved the family name forward another generation.

Dad doesn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day—his response is always the same.  Why did you have to get me that?  So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate, I told him, the grandchild we were expecting was a boy.  Words weren’t necessary, the Kool-Aid grin on his face spoke volumes.

That memory is special but it’s no longer my most precious, it was replaced when I placed Cristian in his arms the first time.  Seeing his smiling face I truly understood how special a gift it was.

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I’m Nominated for a Liebster Award

liebster

I’m Not Grandpa was nominated for a Liebster Award by Jeremy Atkins of Go Ask Your Daddy. Thank you Jeremy!  Please take a few minutes and check out Go Ask Your Daddy.

Accepting this award is a great honor, passing it along to other bloggers is an even bigger one.  The Liebster Award is passed to newer bloggers from more experienced ones as a way of acknowledging the work put into producing and maintaining an exciting blog.

I’m Not Grandpa is written from the perspective of a 50-Something First-Time Dad.   The tales of this Stay at Home Dad are written with a mix of sarcasm and sentiment.

I started I’m Not Grandpa as a way of documenting the excitement fatherhood and have been surprised at how it’s been received.  Along the way I’ve enjoyed reading the work of many Mommy and Daddy bloggers as well as many well-written blogs covering a vast array of topics.  Facebook and Twitter allowed me to meet some amazing writers through various blogging groups and even more amazing people as we perfect our craft.

Here’s what Jeremy said about I’m Not Grandpa in his nomination:

 You definitely don’t see many first time dads at the age of 50, but Frank’s blog chronicles just that.  This is one blog that I will definitely follow and look for new posts about his adventures.  I became a first time dad 10 years ago.  I can’t imaging becoming a dad in my 50s.  An enjoyable blog!

Liebster Award Winner Rules:

1 – Thank the person/blog who nominated you and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2 – Display the award on your blog. This can be done by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a widget (note: the best way to do this is to save the image to your own

3 – Answer the 10 questions about yourself that your nominating blogger chooses for you (see my questions above).

4 – Nominate 10 blogs that you feel deserve the award. These must be new bloggers (less than two years blogging) who have fewer than 1000 followers.

5 – Create a list of questions for your nominated bloggers to answer.

6 – List these rules in your post (feel free to cut & paste!)

7 – Inform the blogs that you nominated that they have been awarded the award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

The rules of accepting the Liebster Award ask me to answer a few questions and post them to my blog.  Here they are!

1 – What inspired you to start your blog?

I’ve been blogging for about five years, mainly about running, my running blog is North Queens Runner.  During my wife’s pregnancy I read a few parenting books, although they were helpful, they were written mainly for by women for women.  As a sarcastic person, my mind went to the races and I thought this would make a great blog.

2 – What blogging goal are you currently striving for? 

Trying to post quality work on a consistent schedule, it’s not as easy as it sounds, while balancing work and caring for a 16-month old son.

3 – What activities do you enjoy outside of blogging?

I enjoy running I’ve run 12 marathons and two ultramarathons and am an avid cyclist.  I love movies, all periods and genres.  I’m a big New York Mets and Dallas Cowboys fan.  I enjoy spending quality time with my wife, which is harder to do since the baby was born.

4 – What tactics do you employ on those days when blogging is hard & frustrating? 

A writing teacher taught me, there are two parts to a writer, the Generator and the Editor.  The Generator takes the raw material from your head and gets it onto paper, a computer screen or whatever medium one uses for the process.  The Editor takes this raw material and crafts it into a finished piece.  On those days when I’m blocked I just write, not attempt to make every sentence perfect, just generate raw material, it can usually be cleaned up in future drafts.

5 – If you could have lunch with any famous person, who would you choose?  Willie Mays, probably the best centerfielder ever.

6 – What are your three favorite blogs to follow?

Pavement Runner, Dad and Buried, and Life as a Rambling Redhead.

7 – What piece of blogging advice have you found to be most helpful?

Write for yourself.  Don’t write with an eye towards monetizing your blog towards a mass market, focus instead on writing quality work.  If you consistently do this the rest will take care of itself.

8 – Are you a full-time blogger or do you also hold down a day job? 

I work from home as a consultant, it lets take care of the baby as I work.

9 – What is your favorite post on your blog thus far?

My favorite post is What’s in a Name.  It’s one of my first posts where I write about my wife and I picking our son’s name.  I got the sarcasm just right in that one.

10 – What social media platforms do you use and which one is most effective for you?

I’m on several, Facebook. Twitter, Instagram and I just created a Pintrist profile.  Facebook and Twitter allow me to promote new posts on my blog, they have allowed me to network with other bloggers and learn from them.

Here are my nominees for the Liebster Award.  You may accept if you like, it’s completely up to you

Syreeta @ Pecan Momma Tales  Syreeta is a wife and mother in a blended family.  Her blog is a support system for mothers and parents taken from her own experiences, offering encouragement, parenting, marriage and relationship advice.  Her posts are inspiring.

Suzanne @ maQ + Suz BlogA lifestyle blog by Suzanne Spiegoski, a freelance portrait and lifestyle photographer, as well as writer and published author.  Her posts are a mix of photography, fashion, food and recipes, health and fitness in addition to her day to day adventures.  Her posts combine text and images with such synergy, everything from NYC Street Art to the recent blizzard.  Great stuff!

Tanya and Nara @ Motherly AdventuresWritten by a pair of thirty-something friends who met a decade ago while backpacking through Europe.  Flash forward to present day where they are wives and mothers blogging about topics such as pregnancy, making life easier for new mothers and juggling family and career.  A good read.

Kirstie @ TEFL Teaching AbroadKirstie is a qualified TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Teacher from Leiscester England currently living and teaching in Chiang Mai Thailand.  She writes about her experiences living in a new land and traveling through and exploring neighboring countries.

Michelle @ Hello Peachy Skin – Looking young and healthy has never been more confusing.  The cosmetic companies tell you their anti-aging creams have magical powers.  Doctors say Botox is the answer and every other week a new diet goes mainstream offering the answer.  Who do you believe?  Michelle investigates; her posts are based on what scientists have proven to be true.  Are they?  Follow her blog to find out.

Jeff @ Daddy is Best – Jeff is a blogger, writer, aspiring speaker, humorist, husband and father of two children.  I was drawn to this site because like me Jeff became a Dad is in 50s.   His posts are insightful real-life depictions of day-to-day life—he doesn’t sugarcoat things—he tells things like they are.  His posts keep me coming back for more.

Susan @ Skirt in the Kitchen  This lifestyle blog merges many things, food and music, and modern and vintage.  Susan makes it all work the way an excellent cook combines ingredients in just the right proportions creating an unforgettable meal.  Reading this blog makes me feel like I’m having a slice of homemade pie with a good cup of coffee at her vintage kitchen table.

Aly @ Small HopperThe parents of a blended family, Aly Stuckart and her husband are a combo of West Coast ease and Southern flair and hospitality all rolled into this crazy package.  This blog finds the humor in day-to-day life  There’s also a gallery where one is able to see family pictures.

Sam @ Raising my mini meSam blogs about life as a new mom. starting with the pregnancy. She gives pulls no punches as she writes about motherhood, gives product reviews and recently adding receipes.  All this from someone who doesn’t have a clue.

Now, for all of the 9 awardees above, it’s your turn to answer the questions below and post your answers!

1.) What inspired you to start your blog?

2.) What blogging goal are you currently striving for?

3.) What activities to you enjoy outside of blogging?

4.) What tactics do you employ on those days when blogging is hard & frustrating?

5.) If you could have lunch with any famous person, who would you choose?

6.) What are your three favorite blogs to follow?

7.) What piece of blogging advice have you found to be most helpful?

8.) Are you a full-time blogger or do you also hold down a day job?

9.) What is your favorite post on your blog thus far?

10.) What social media platforms do you use and which one is most effective for you?

 

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The Social Media Baby

Social Media Baby

Another time-honored part of parenting is showing the latest pictures of their son or daughter to friends, family and anyone else who look at them.  Bringing stacks of pictures to summer cookouts, Thanksgiving dinner and cornering coworkers in the company break room is part of the tradition.

It’s been this way throughout history—you can trace it back to the caveman.  The paintings on the Lascaux Cave walls were primitive baby pictures.  Visiting guests endured an hour or so of the latest images of Junior before settling down to a meal of sautéed wolf paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.  White wine served with red meat—now that was primitive.

My parents were guilty too. Christmas Eve 1969. I'm the little guy on the right.
My parents were guilty too. Christmas Eve 1969. I’m the little guy on the right.

Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock, brandished selfies and baby pictures taken aboard the Mayflower, sharing them with members of the local tribes during the first Thanksgiving Dinner and a tradition was started.

Technology improved over the years, film was replaced by digital cameras and Al Gore invented the internet.  Then came the iPhone, turning everyone a photographer.  Before you can say selfie stick a new phenomenon was born—social media.

It started with MySpace, the social media equivalent of the cave painting.   Before long it was replaced by Facebook and Twitter.  Soon distant relatives and complete strangers were posting, tweeting and pinning the most intimate details of their lives with reckless abandon for all to see.

Talk about building a better mousetrap, Facebook and Instagram gives users a virtual means of cornering family, friends and virtual friends, with the latest family pictures that are draining the storage from their iPhones.  It’s found a home for all those blurry, underexposed iPhone images of today’s lunch, the latest pictures of their dogs or cats, and their children’s everything.

I always said I’d never be one of those parents whipping out and showing off baby pictures to anyone within site, whether they wanted to see them or not, before I became a parent.  According to (multiple) family members that ship sailed long ago.  So far there’s been no intervention, yet    

Cristian is a Social Media Baby—he was born in the Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/You Tube era.  His birth announcement was posted on Facebook and Twitter.  Since we have family and friends (real and virtual) all across the Americas and Europe, it was the best way to get the word out.  He’s had iPhones or digital cameras in his face literally since birth.   

Used for Cristian's Baby Announcement
The Image used for Cristian’s Baby Announcement

I’m a Stay at Home Dad who blogs—sites like Facebook and Twitter is essential for promoting I’m Not Grandpa.  Blog posts and social media posts are made with an eye towards not embarrassing the baby.  Cheesy pictures of him could have repercussions, he’ll probably be taking care of me in my golden years and payback is a bitch.

Many fellow bloggers are careful regarding their children.   Pseudonyms replace their children’s names and some are careful regarding how much they share because you never know.

The flip side of the argument is this. Facebook has allowed me to keep distant relatives in Spain and not so distant ones on Long Island posted on all things Cristian.  Esther and I are amazed at how many follow our posts.  In November she took the baby to Puerto Rico, giving family members a chance to meet our newest addition.  She was surprised how many told her they checked their feeds daily looking for new pictures and updates.          

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