Fives and Zeros: Significant Markers, Remembering My Dad and Why I Can Never Forget D-Day


Dad, right front, with his younger brother and parents, about 1942.

We memorialize significant events with numbers ending in five or zero. The 30th anniversary. The 15th birthday. The 40th year of service. Not a 23rd birthday or a 7th anniversary or an 8th year.

This year, we mark 50 years since The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and a half-century since Thurgood Marshall was confirmed to the Supreme Court, but we probably won’t pay much attention to the 33rd anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye or the 186th birthday of “Lemonade Lucy” Hayes, U.S. first lady and wife of President Rutherford B.

On June 6, if it is a slow news day, some commentator will note in a 15-second piece that it’s the 73rd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by the Allied troops in World War II, an event commonly referred to as D-Day, even though there are, militarily speaking, lots of D-Days. This D-Day is the one we remember.

I remember D-Day because twenty years ago on June 6, 1997, I got a frantic long-distance phone call from my sister telling me that our father had died.


Age 21. Dad loved the navy.

This was not something I was expecting. He was 67 years old. The doctor had just given him a physical and pronounced him in perfect health. I had a long conversation with him on my birthday just 10 days prior where he described in detail the painting he had just completed for me. He was planning a trip to a reunion of sailors from the ship he served on in the Korean War. He told me a story about taking my four-year-old nephew Colin to the soda fountain at the drug store. I told him about the show that we had just extended at the theatre where I was working. He thought it sounded like fun. He wished me happy birthday and told me he loved me. I said thanks and that I loved him, too.

I never spoke to him again.

Twenty years.


Dad and me.

I’ve thought about him on every single one of the 7,300 days that have made up those two decades. I wasn’t ready to have my father die when I was barely in my 30s. I still had too many questions to ask. I still had too many hours to while away listening to stories of his childhood. I still had so many experiences that I would want to tell him about.

I wanted him to share in my successes. I wanted him to tell me that whatever may have failed or whatever terrible experience I might have had wasn’t the end of the world. I wanted to talk politics with him. I wanted to watch him get frustrated at building something once more because that was the best. He was a funny man, but he was at his funniest when he was cursing at an inanimate object that wouldn’t bend to his will.

I wanted him to paint me more paintings and make me more goofy birthday cards and take photographs of random things and mail them to me with a little note because he thought I would like to see them. Most of all, I wanted to introduce him to the man I fell in love with and married.


Self portrait.

I suppose I came into my own as a human being after he died. I didn’t have a choice, really. I had to figure a lot out on my own. I wasn’t too thrilled by that, I have to say. Still, a few years later, I met Lee and after falling in love with him, I had the opportunity to fall in love with his parents, too, so I promptly did that, because I could. And because I got lucky. And because you rarely get a second chance at great parents. And you should never discount the value of luck.

My dad, like all of us, had lots of flaws. Often we tend to look at the dead through rose-colored spectacles, but I try not to do that. He was far from perfect. He made choices that I never would have made. He sometimes did things that left me scratching my head in bafflement. I’ve often wondered how I could be so different from him in so many ways. And I wondered how we could also share so many interests.

The only thing I do know, 20 years on, is that he loved me and I still love him. And that’s about the best gift a parent can give a child.

Here’s to D-Day, Daddy. Wish you were here.

Back to 1910: This Congress is Eerily Similar to Those from the Past

Fifty years ago, the Chad Mitchell Trio sang these lyrics:

We’re the bright young men
Who wanna go back to 1910
We’re Barry’s boys
We’re the kids with a cause
Yes a government like grandmama’s
We’re Barry’s boys
We’re the new kind of youth at your Alma Mater
Back to silver standard and solid Goldwater
Back to when the poor were poor and rich were rich
And you felt so damn secure just knowing which were which

I was reminded of this 1964 folk era ditty when I was reading a great editorial by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post the other day. I was acquainted with Gene a million years ago when he was editing the Style section of the Post and I was a theatre flack in town. I’m not sure that editing the arts was his bailiwick, but he’s one of my very favorite columnists. Not just me: he won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary a few years back.

But, I digress. This particular editorial he takes the Republicans in Congress to task for moronically assuming that they can tell the American people they are there to protect the middle class and then, the first chance they get to actually do something meaningful, the House passes utterly and completely unsustainable legislation regarding rape and abortion. Yet another example of extremists in the party controlling the agenda. These bills won’t pass the Senate — and even if they did because everyone in the Senate was drugged and in a stupor and had their minds controlled by a cartoon super villain — the President would never sign such a thing.

So what is the point?

As Robinson points out:

People, we are in an economic recovery whose fruits are not reaching the middle class. We have a crucial need to address U.S. infrastructure and competitiveness. We face myriad challenges abroad, including Islamic terrorism and global warming.

If a renewal of the culture wars is your answer, Republicans, you totally misheard the question.

Yes. Yes they have. But, then again, haven’t they been mishearing the question for at least a half-century?

Back to silver standard and solid Goldwater…. *sigh*

Sing Out … For Charlie

At work yesterday I was supposed to write a pithy essay. You know, one of those one-pagers — 400 or 500 words — that appear at the end of a magazine. It’s something that I excel at — the pithy essay that starts out funny, goes all warm and fuzzy, then goes back to funny so you are smiling when you close the magazine. It’s my stock in trade.

Only it wouldn’t congeal.

And I think it’s because I was trying to write it while the terrible events unfolded at the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris.


Image: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Satire, as it is presented by Charlie Hebdo, is a very French idea; an essential part of the society that does not always translate seamlessly to the United States. We have all, I am sure, at one time or another, looked at a European satirical cartoon and said, “I just don’t get it.”

And yet, as Joe Randazzo, former editor of The Onion, pointed out, “Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.”

More importantly, this tragedy tells us that we must redouble our efforts to protect not just satire but all self-expression, which is, of course, the very bedrock that a free society is built on. We must protect it throughout the world. And whenever it is threatened we need to speak out, speak up and put pen to paper and tell the rest of the world that we will not allow those who seek to reduce our freedoms to win.

Many times, a former colleague of mine and I found ourselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum. We would have vigorous debates, railing against the other’s position, before heading out to lunch together. Someone once asked how such a thing was possible. I shrugged by shoulders and said, “I like a good debate. Besides, we’re American. That’s what we do.”

It’s what we should all do, most assuredly. We do it after every election in the United States. We may not like the outcome, but we accept it. We do not always win, but we will keep speaking out, keep challenging, making sure that a vigorous debate remains central to our form of government, to our way of life.


This image, originally thought to be by Banksy, is now believed to be the work of Lucille Clerc. |Image:

A hashtag trending today is #JeSuisCharlie, meaning “I am Charlie” or “I stand for free expression.” I hope it’s not a social media fluke that goes away. I hope it opens up a dialogue about hate. And sharing ideas. And education. I’ve always had the notion that the more we know of difference, the less we hate.

Redouble your efforts, gentle readers, to educate yourselves and embrace differences. If this type of terrible, inane terrorist attack can happen in Paris — the same place that gave the world Abelard and Heloise and the university and the great Renaissance expansion of human knowledge — it can happen anywhere.

I am also thinking today about someone else whom we lost recently: the incomparable Pete Seeger. Pete and Lee Hay wrote the song “If I Had A Hammer” in 1949, the final chorus of which ends,

“It’s a hammer of justice, it’s a bell of freedom
It’s a song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.”

When Pete sang this song, he often accompanied himself on a banjo that had, written across its head, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

We should join our voices together and sing out — in music, in words, in pictures, in all things. The more we do that, the closer we are to forcing the surrender of hate. It is the first step.


Pasadena’s Oscar-Winning Problem

Questions plague Pasadena college over Dustin Lance Black debacle –

Here’s the thing: I have spent the better part of my career in media relations work. And most of the last decade or so on media relations work in colleges and universities. I have been a spokesperson during tragedies, I have answered questions when good things have happened, I have stood up in front of God and the New York Times and punted like a son-of-a-bitch over and over and over again and managed to look like I knew what in the hell I was saying.

And I know one thing about Pasadena City College and Dustin Lance Black: there is something bad, bad wrong here. And I will guarantee you — I will absolutely back it up with money that I do not have — that somebody at Pasadena City College is lying through their damn teeth and it probably has nothing to do with Mr. Black.

This is an object lesson in how to do public relations wrong. This is how stupid people get institutions in hot water. And this is about how when you are the stupid party and the other party is whip smart, you will look like an even larger dumbass. And that bit of ‘dumbassery’ imprints.

Dustin Lance Black won the friggin’ Oscar. He’s one of our finest writers. He’s a great activist. He has a compelling story about community college helping him to get to the top. And you don’t embrace that for everything that it’s worth?

I had never heard of Pasadena City College before this. Now, whenever I hear the name, I’ll think, “Oh, yeah. That’s the place that fucked over Dustin Lance Black.” Morons.