It’s been many, many years since I did the kind of personal blogging I started out with back when this was a blogspot site in 2003, but this year has been anything but normal and I want to document a few things, mostly for myself, so if you usually come here for rants about marketing and publishing, this ain’t it.
2020 got off to a pretty normal start, all things considered, and it was going to be filled with both professional and personal travel as several key events and personal milestones were on the calendar—including my wife and daughter’s PhD and High School graduation ceremonies, respectively, and a summer vacation celebrating the latter in northern California.
What obviously wasn’t on the agenda was a global pandemic that would not only disrupt all of our plans, big and small, it also claimed my 69-year-old father as one of its 100,000+ victims during the peak of New Jersey’s surge back in April.
Now, with Father’s Day looming, I get to experience the bittersweet side of the day—being celebrated by my kids while figuring out how to mourn a man I didn’t always have the strongest of relationships with over the years, and didn’t get to see nor speak to even once while he faded away alone in a hospital in Hoboken. In some ways, his death still doesn’t feel real, even though his ashes sit in my sister’s house waiting for us all to be able to gather again in Puerto Rico and give him a proper sendoff.
The one moment that really sticks with me is when I paid half of the funeral expenses over the phone and got the receipt as a text and email via Square with its default message, “How was your experience?”
2020’s got fucking jokes.
Humans Planned, COVID-19 Laughed
A couple of weeks after his death we were supposed to be in Phoenix for my wife’s hooding ceremony celebrating the completion of her PhD, but instead we were in our living room with a bunch of friends and family on a Zoom call. I conducted a personalized version of the ceremony using text transcribed from a YouTube video of the previous year’s event. As a bonus, I got her a doctoral sword, too!
Our daughter’s high school graduation was supposed to be next week, an event that 16 years ago we were told might not be a realistic expectation after she was diagnosed as being on the spectrum. Her success is partly thanks to my wife leaving the corporate world to go into teaching, ensuring we were always in a position to be our own best advocates.
The sad truth about kids with special needs of any kind is that most get left behind thanks to a combination of benign and systemic neglect. Rather than supporting all parents every step of the way and doing what’s best for every kid, the system is designed to put a variety of obstacles in the way that keep most parents from even knowing what they’re being denied.*
Even with our support, her accomplishments are fully her own. She embraced the pros and cons of being on the spectrum, learned how to advocate for herself, and is leaving high school with a stellar record of academic success, and a clear vision of what she wants to do next. She defied the bleak predictions every step of the way, and will be going to college in the Fall—fully online for at least the first semester, regardless what “re-opening” plans they decide to implement—on a full Presidential Scholarship to study clinical laboratory science.
Unfortunately, she probably won’t be walking the stage in her cap and gown to celebrate her achievement, although our town is still exploring safe options for holding a smaller ceremony next month, and we’ll be doing a makeshift car parade this weekend.
My son, two years older, is traveling a path closer to mine at his age but doing a better job of avoiding the many ditches I drove into, exploring a passion for music by getting his hands dirty and going after it. He and a group of friends have self-produced two EPs—or whatever you call a digital collection of songs these days—and they’ve steadily improved with each release.
A couple of weeks before NJ drifted into full lockdown, he’d started working at our local supermarket and ended up becoming essential personnel, getting a front-line view of our community at its best and worst. Now, as NJ takes several awkward steps towards returning to some illusory version of normal, his group is recording in an open garage instead of our basement, and I can’t help but wonder how this whole experience will impact their music, their views of the world, and the eventual paths they choose.
Our kids’ generation has grown up in a world where the U.S. has constantly been at low-key war somewhere in the world, under two dramatically different presidents, and are now living through a global pandemic, economic recession, and resurgent civil rights movement all at once—all of which they’re effectively being asked to solve on their own because previous generations have fucked everything up.
I alternate between being comforted by that thought and violently rejecting its entire unfair premise.
Between being “productive” and wanting to burn everything down.
Between being tired and really fucking tired.
*Defund the police. Invest in public education and social services. Wear a mask.