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Ten Years in Texas

1 Sep

September marks my tenth year in Texas. The actual arrival by rental truck came on Sunday September 16, 2001. I had never been to Texas, although 2 years earlier the news director at KVIA in El Paso interviewed me by phone for an opening in the weather department. I began thinking I was destined to live here when, in the summer of 2001, Houston became a place for possible relocation.

At the time I was married and my radio news anchor wife interviewed for a job at KTRH. We didn’t tell many people about it. We had already moved so many times in the five years prior.

Ogdensburg to Watertown

Watertown to Rome

Rome to New Hartford

New Hartford to Albany

So we did our research of Houston, and didn’t make it known to most people that we could be leaving New York State soon. When the actual job offer came, and she accepted, then we shared the news. Some people we knew were happy for us. Others thought we were just moving on a whim.

In between her accepting the job and us moving, some significant things occurred. My grandfather passed away. Her mother’s health began noticeably failing. And then there was 9/11. The timing of our departure suddenly seemed horribly inconvenient, but there was no looking back.

Okay, there was some looking back after we arrived. On numerous occasions, my wife applied for radio jobs in cities such as Boston, New York and Chicago. I also applied for jobs that would have brought us closer to home again. She and I even developed a pitch for a TV show that would be shot in her hometown of Alexandria Bay, New York. So we weren’t exactly settled here instantly and planning to stay forever. But the move out of Texas never happened, although a move within Texas did occur—first by her and then by me.

Ten years later, I can look back and examine my choice to move to Texas. I wanted a change, a big one. I was not satisfied with where I was, working as a noon news producer at a local TV station. It wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t even my chosen profession. It just happened.

Houston seemed promising in 2001. In many ways, the promise paid off. Opportunities that previously appeared out of reach were realistic in Houston. I discovered new professional challenges and creative endeavors. I stepped away from TV news, except for one part-time stint that lasted a year, and produced TV shows. I wrote my first TV commercials, and began acting in commercials and films. I even started writing books, which may turn into a lifelong pursuit.

My time in Texas has also provided me with another life-altering experience. The birth of my daughter in 2005 is the most memorable moment of my life, and the joy of raising her overpowers any other experience, personal or professional, in my life. As the family’s only native Texan, she is in a class all by herself.  For her, Texas will always be home.

There is also one more valuable aspect of my Texas experience that I must acknowledge. Since arriving here a decade ago, I have met some of the most inspirational and supportive individuals in my life. Some have served as role models and mentors—even without knowing it. Others have provided support in the form of kindness, praise, friendship, even transportation. Their devotion to bettering their own lives and the lives of those around them underscores an important point for me to reflect on as I celebrate ten years in Texas. In the words attributed to Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, whose controversial and comical works as a playwright and theatre director are popular in Italy: “know how to live the time that is given you.”

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Houston Is (Almost) Over

17 May

This post was originally written May 10, although it wasn’t published for another week.

My time in Houston is almost over. While I’ve been living in Lewisville officially since November, I return to the Bayou City this week to move the rest of my stuff there into storage and help my brother move into an apartment.  The house we shared since June 2008 will be empty by Friday night.

Aidan got one more visit to the house in March during her Spring Break. She’s spent very little time there since she started school last August, but her attachments to specific things run deep. When I mentioned her uncle’s upcoming move, she expressed concern about the computer she uses to play her games, and the cable channel (Nick Jr.) she watches a lot when she’s there. She also wanted to make sure I wasn’t throwing away (or giving away) her toys.

Listening to her reactions to the move reminded me that we’re always present and absent in different places. When I leave Lewisville this week to go to Houston, I will be absent here for a few days but present there. My life here will continue without me, but I will certainly miss spending time with Aidan, taking her to school, packing her lunch, walking her dog, etc.

For the last several months while I’ve been in North Texas, my life in Houston continued despite my absence there. Many of my clothes still occupied a closet.  Tapes from my work in radio, TV news, producing and acting filled multiple shelves.  A poster of the Subway Series of 2000 adorned a wall in the living room.  Memories of happy times and sad times lingered as well.

The most profoundly sad time was the loss of our beloved dog Emma. Our sweet and cheerful Thai Ridgeback was taken from the yard in July 2009 while I was in Florida for work. Despite making every effort to find her, she never came home. We can only hope that someone kind and loving has her now.

It’s also the house we lived in during Hurricane Ike. Thankfully, the house sustained no damage even th0ugh two trees on the property came down. We weren’t home to see that happen because we were staying with a good friend in another part of town.

On a happier note, it’s also the place my brother, Aidan and I watched countless movies and TV shows, including the Monsters vs Aliens Halloween special. Thanks to permanently saving it on DVR, we not only watched it when it debuted in October 2009, but we also watched it well into 2010. It was like Halloween was always a current event when Aidan was at the house, even in the midst of the hottest weather that  Texas offers.

I started transitioning to life away from the house last summer, spending the bulk of my time in Lewisville to be close to Aidan. When she started school, I became a long-term guest at my ex-wife’s apartment before moving into a place of my own in November. But that meant trying to balance life in two places, which frankly I wasn’t doing effectively.

Soon the ongoing absence there will be over. I won’t feel divided. But even as I move forward, the connection to Houston will remain strong. My brother will still be there. I’ll return for work whenever an opportunity comes up. And most importantly, it will always be the birthplace of my daughter, a place she will feel attached to for the rest of her life. I imagine returning to Houston with Aidan once she’s all grown up and taking her to the places she saw and experienced as a child.

We could make it a long weekend and visit St. Luke’s Hospital, watch an Astros game and go to the zoo. Here’s hoping Katz’s Deli is still open when we make that trip. That’s the first restaurant we brought her to as a baby, and it would be a special stop in 2027 when she’s 22.

“Two cheesecake shakes, please.”

Heaven and Hell

3 Apr

We’re not church-going people. I’m not ashamed to admit it. But I see how my childhood ritual of going to church every weekend is a foreign concept for my daughter.

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and enjoyed some benefts of that upbringing, but didn’t commit myself as an adult to remain Catholic. I also didn’t choose to raise my daughter Catholic. The closest I’ve come to the Catholic Church recently was playing a priest in a short film called “Pearls of Illusion” last year.

For years I’ve visited churches in the Houston area and then in North Texas. My daughter knows the routine. The visit usually consists of the following: we show up, park, walk in tentatively, meet a few friendly people, find a place to sit, enjoy the service, feel better on the way out, and never return.

I’m not sure why going back to the same church seems so difficult to commit to, but it does. I have been moved by the words spoken in numerous churches only to never hear those voices again. So I can’t say it’s a lack of good content that drives me away. If it’s a church with a program or play area for children, that’s even better. But again, all the kid bells and whistles don’t move me to return.

As you might imagine, I try to avoid religious conversations whenever possible while remaining open to spiritual ones. Those types of chats come up with my girl every once in awhile, even without a regular Sunday church visit.

I’m realizing that committing to a return to church involves actually stopping long enough to think about my beliefs. Lately, the only time I actually think about my beliefs is when my daughter asks questions that prompt a conversation about Heaven and Hell. Last night, the chat started with explaining who Satan is and where he dwells.

My daughter was curious about what it takes to end up in Hell. I satisfied her curiosity with a list of specific actions that could lead to someone going to Hell. I’ll let you imagine what those might be. I’m sure you and I may have some of the same acts on our lists.

She has a sense of the environment in Hell: fire everywhere! She explained that she wouldn’t want to be surrounded by fire forever. I assured her that it’s not a place she would be visiting.

I recall a conversation with had about Heaven several months ago. She wanted me to ask her questions about God, and the exchange went something like this:

Aidan: Ask me anything.
Me: What does God look like?
Aidan: He looks like a giant, friendly human.
Me: What does he like to wear?
Aidan: A t-shirt, pants and Skechers.
Me: What does he like to eat?
Aidan: Green vegetables.
Me: If God ate a hamburger, what would be put on it?
Aidan: Mustard, ketchup and bacon.
Marc: French fries or tater tots?
Aidan: Tater tots.
Marc: If God had to watch one show for an entire year, what would it be?
Aidan (whispering): Dora, because he likes Dora.
Me: If God had to choose a bus, a car or a plane to take somewhere, which would he choose?
Aidan: Is he going to school?
Me: No, he’s going on a trip. Maybe a vacation.
Aidan: Then he would choose a plane because it’s easier.

Her desire to understand why someone might go to Hell or have an image of  what God looks like is natural for her age. I can continue to try to answer her questions in my own words or I can choose to expand her spiritual education with help from others. This month, I decided to look for help.

So I think it’s time for another visit to church. While her interest in the subject matter is fresh, and while we’re in the midst of the Easter season, starting a new ritual of Sunday church feels right to me. Then, if I can commit to one place for the next 3 weeks, I might have a shot at becoming a regular.

Long Distance Relationships

7 Mar

She’s only five years old, but my daughter is already in several long distance relationships. They’re not the romantic kind, of course, although her long-time “boyfriend” lives 4 hours away.  The two of them have known each other since they were babies and have a special connection. She even talks about them getting married when they’re grown up. For now, they only see each other on rare occasions, which seems to be typical of most familial relationships in my daughter’s life.

When her mother and I moved from New York to Texas in 2001, we understood the distance between us and family members would make seeing our loved ones on a regular basis more difficult. Four years later, I thought the birth of our baby girl would change that. I assumed we’d have visitors every year. I was wrong.

My mother, older brother and two sisters visited just weeks after my daughter was born. A year later, my older brother returned for another visit, and soon after, he moved in with us. No one else came back to visit us in Texas. Almost six years later, my daughter hasn’t spent a moment in Texas with a single grandparent, aunt or uncle—except for Uncle Will—since she was less than a month old. Even Uncle Will is no longer close by, separated by 4 hours of driving between Houston and the suburbs of Dallas.

When I was growing up, spending time with relatives was a constant. We shared holidays, reunions, Saturday night visits at my grandparents’ house and frequent Sunday visits to the homes of aunts, uncles and cousins. While we were creating wonderful memories together, the relatives who lived in other states were often missing those experiences. Now I’m raising a child who is missing many family experiences as she grows up, and I don’t like it. Some may argue that we choose to live far away and that’s part of the consequences of a long distance relationship. They have a point. But I still don’t like it.

The distance between my daughter and most of her relatives is overcome at times by phone chats with her grandparents and the Christmas gifts that arrive for her every year. But she’s starting to realize what she’s missing, and my response to the situation is changing.

I used to focus more on wanting her to see these people, to interact with them as much as possible. Now I realize that it’s more important to help her cultivate good relationships regardless of whether it’s a person in her daily life or a person she rarely sees. I no longer perceive the long distance relationship people as “absent” from her life. While they’re not present, they’re still a part of who she is, and she deserves to learn about them and love them no matter what. We’ll look at pictures together and I’ll talk about an interesting quality of each person or share a fun story about something that person did or said. She’s naturally inquisitive so she’ll ask a lot of questions, and that helps me understand what interests her most.

Moving closer isn’t an option right now. Neither is traveling to see everyone. But what is within my reach is finding ways to help my daughter feel close to her grandparents, aunt and uncles and create new ways to connect them with regularly. I also want her to realize that while I’m facilitating the development of those relationships, it will eventually be her responsibility to help them grow and flourish in the years to come.

I admit, it’s all a work in progress. But that’s what defines any good relationship, right?