Closure

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I haven’t written in a week because it’s been a conglomeration of emotions around here. Several times last week I opened the laptop and I couldn’t peck out a simple thought. All I thought was what happened on June 12th, 2010. PTSD was rearing it’s ugly head.

June 11th is for me the real anniversary date. Saturday June 11th, 2011 vs Saturday June 12, 2010.

June 12th, 2010 was the final day of baseball season for Douglas and I. We had already finished the season in second place . We were looking forward to receiving our 2nd place awards that day in front of hundreds of our peers during Closing Ceremonies. We were set to play a fun consolation game.

Janet never liked Baseball. She didn’t know the game. I didn’t let her have any say in how the team was being managed. When I selected someone else to be the Team Mom, that drove her over the edge. She wanted that control. And there was hell to pay.

Janet wanted to take Douglas away on the very last day of the season. I pleaded with her to delay her trip back East by one day. Let Douglas go to the Closing Ceremony so he could receive his second-place trophy. So he could enjoy the camaraderie of his team mates and friends. Janet wouldn’t hear none of it. She denied Doug and I that last day. She purposely hurt me.

This year things were different. We had been on a six-game winning streak until the “first” Championship game June 9th. We lost by one run. Because it was a double-elimination format, we were set to play a rematch – on June 11th. Exactly one year after Janet passed.

That morning I was nervous as all heck. Never in my life did I feel the need to win something so bad as this game. Yet it was tempered by the realization that I was responsible for other children’s memories. Their parents entrusted me to be their coach. I was paranoid about me projecting my own interests upon the players. I had done an excellent job so far in the season segregating my emotions from the team’s goals. And I wasn’t going to cross that threshold this day.

Savannah had left earlier to help out at a fundraiser for her X-Country team. Courtney had spent the night at a friend’s house. It was just Doug and I. After I made breakfast it came time to dress. The previous evening I had laid out his uniform but we couldn’t find his jersey. I spent 10 minutes of sheer panic looking for it, knowing that a player couldn’t take the field if he didn’t have a full uniform. It turns out that one of the girls had grabbed the jersey and put it into the dirty wash. I then go to print out the Player Awards and find that my damn HP printer was out of color ink. I search frantically for a USB stick, find it, download the docs onto it and hope that their was a printer at the Parent’s house where we were having the season-ending party that afternoon. We rush out of the house and to the field 10 minutes late. I get the team settled in, warmed up and ready to play.

We flip a coin and the Dodgers win the toss and pick home. They will bat last.

We end the first inning giving up 5 runs to the Dodgers. The second through the fourth inning I put Douglas on the mound. I see my son out there on the mound playing his heart out. He’s getting outs, and making plays. And the thing is, I don’t need to tell him a thing. He’s doing it all himself. He knows what to do. He walks a few batters and a few more get hits on him. But he doesn’t get flustered. My little son is in his own zone. He holds the Dodgers team to only 5 more runs over the next three innings. We end the fourth down 9-10.

The Umpire declares the fifth inn the last one. It’s do or die time. We manage to squeeze one run in at the top to tie it.

We’re now into the bottom of the fifth. The Dodgers get a runner on third, no outs. My emotions start to get the better of me, and I leave the dugout and start pacing behind the bleachers. It’s all in the hands of my players. All the work we put in over the season – 34 games and practices – were on the line.

Things got surreal. I looked around and realized for the first time that there were hundreds of spectators. People were arriving for the Closing Day Awards Ceremonies. The Little League Board Members were there. Most of the other Team Managers were watching, guys who I’ve played against all season. Other players were watching. Parents were watching our game, many who I knew. The scoreboard loomed large – showing 0 outs, bottom of the fifth, 10-10 score. The sky was cloudless, the wind was blowing softly, and all I could think about was damn – I need this win. I need this more that anything else in the whole world. I need it to prove to myself that we did it. To prove that my kids, all three of them, are thriving and succeeding and laying down good memories. Tears welled up in my eyes, thinking how disappointed Douglas would feel if we lost. He worked so hard all season long, and I wanted this for him, for me.

One of my Assistant Coaches came up to me and asked if the players realized the winning run was on third. I know he wanted me to yell out some directive to the players. I simply said “they know”. He said “are you sure they know”? I said “Yes, they know”. I told him to keep quite and not bark instructions to the players. He knew not to object. And I told my other Assistant Coach to keep quite. I was putting my trust into my players.

I silently stood there and watched everything around me. I saw the nervous faces of my players. I saw anticipation in the faces of the Dodger parents. I saw the lush green infield and the California blue sky. And I thought about what happened last year. Me finding Janet in the shower. Me doing CPR. The Paramedics coming over. The shock of it all. And somehow all those thoughts morphed into this one big game I was witnessing.

My pitcher threw the next pitch past the catcher and the runner started to run in. My catcher swiveled around, tore his mask off, ran to the ball, picked it up and flipped it to the pitcher. He caught it and made the tag on the runner and got him out. My Team Parents go absolutely berserk. I kept quite, emotionless. I watched my pitcher dominate the next two batters and strike them out.

We then go into extra innings needing at least one run. We get one in, just like we did the top of the fifth. Now it’s bottom of the sixth, and we’re holding a slim one-run lead. Somehow my pitcher has to repeat what he did the last inning. He strikes the first batter out. The Dodgers get the next two batters on base. Runners on first and second. One out.

Time is moving slow. I watch each pitch. The count goes up. Next pitch, it’s a solid hit, and my shortstop makes a great catch to record the second out. The runners stick on first and second base. Next batter is up. It happens to be their cleanup hitter. A big, strong kid. My outfield instinctively drops into deep field. The count goes up, balls and strikes. A pitch is thrown, the batter makes solid contact. It’s a line drive towards second base. My second baseman makes a phenomenal catch to end the game. We won!

I run out into the field whooping and yelling “we did it, we did it”! I pick up Douglas and give him a big, long hug. Waves of relief and joy swept me. Several parents remarked to me afterwards that they were touched when they saw Douglas and I in that big hug. It was a father-son moment that neither one of us will ever forget.

Janet’s funeral didn’t give me closure. I think back and I realized it opened up more wounds that it healed. It was a very confusing time for all of us, as we hadn’t know what happened to Janet.

I knew weeks ago that winning this game would give me closure. And I was right.

I look in the rear view mirror and I see my marriage receding in the past. It’s done and over with. Time to move on. It’s a whole new game.

The Jared Tyler Cunningham Memorial Award

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Jared was an Atascadero Junior High student who died several years ago in a car accident, the result of a young, reckless driver who was speeding. His family presents the award at tonight’s Atascadero Junior High’s Top Dog Awards Ceremony to a student that exemplifies the qualities of Jared: intelligent, athletic and kind. A panel of Teachers and peers select the winner from a select pool of candidates. This year, Courtney is one of the Award Finalists.

It is a special award because it recognizes a student who exemplifies academics, athletics and most importantly – good citizenship. There is a small Scholarship stipend that goes along with the award, but that’s not what makes it special. The Cunningham Family’s support and recognition is what makes it prestigious.

Savannah won the award when she graduated from Eight Grade a few years ago. It meant a lot to the McCarthys back then. It’s great to get recognition from the community that says “Yes, you’re doing a great job. Your child is thriving and all of us honor that.”

I hope Courtney wins tonight. It would mean so much to her and the McCarthys to see her receive the award. Courtney has worked so hard this year. Being considered for the award is a honor in itself. In a way Courtney has already won. I’m so proud of her.

Surfing Sundays

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One of our Good Memories was Surfing Sundays. During the winter months we’d pack up our gear and food and head down to Shell Beach. Shell Beach is a secluded beach that sees a decent swell in the winter months. We’d meet up with my friend Bill and his family. Other families often joined in on our little beach party. It was a regular crowd of cool people.

It is here that Bill got me out on the surfboard. The first time I got beyond the surf break I sat up and less that 10 yards away a seal poked his head up and stared at me with those big black eyes of theirs. It was then and there that I transformed from an Ohio boy to a Californian.

My Kids and I had fun playing and hanging out with everyone. Besides surfing, there was boogie boards, bodysurfing, digging sand forts, frisbee, bocce ball, and beach combing. We all shared our food and drink. By late afternoon we’d pack up and head home, tired but rejuvenated for the week ahead.

Over time Janet started making up excuses for not going. She would tell the kids Shell Beach was too rocky, there was too much seaweed, that it was unsafe for them to swim there. She’d tell me that the girls shouldn’t be hanging out with them, implying that they were not “good enough”. I was like “what the hell are you talking about? The girls always have fun together.”

Eventually we stopped going to Surfing Sundays. Occasionally I’d suggest it to the kids but Janet wouldn’t hear of it. I didn’t have anything to tell Bill why we stopped going. But as it turned out, I didn’t need to tell them why.

One day Janet ran into Bill’s wife and accused her of trying to start an affair with me. Heated words were exchanged. Bill’s wife, of course, vehemently denied it. Running into Bill or his wife suddenly became very awkward. And I had no clue why.

Once I asked Janet if we could do something with Bill’s family. She became unreasonable and we got into an argument over her obstinate behavior. It was during that heated exchanged when she told me about her accusing Bill’s wife of hitting on me. Janet didn’t directly accuse me because she knew she made the entire thing up.

I stuck with this woman out of love and morality, even when she was hurting me. Don’t believe anyone who says I didn’t care enough, or love enough. I’m getting my life back. I focus on the present, and don’t dwell on the bad times because that’s not healthy.

But it’s hard to carry those good memories like Surfing Sundays, when they are tainted with the realization that Janet was pushing away my friends, my activities, and my kids.

Good Memories

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Yesterday morning Douglas and I were walking to school and saw a group of Parents milling around the front schoolyard. It was the 6th Grade promotion Ceremony being set up.

Graduating from 6th Grade is a milestone for these kids. It’s off to Junior High School and a whole new experience. The girls wore their pretty dresses and the boys, well let’s just say they made an effort to dress in slacks and button shirts instead of the usual shorts & tees. The Parents were buzzing around the kids, taking pictures, hugging their kids and posing with the teachers. You could sense the excitement in the air. A big, exciting time for all.

This past year has been about laying down good memories for my three kids. Children need to feel safe and trusted. And trust others around them. It’s been going well for them. For me it has been getting better each day until this week.

June 12th is coming next week. If it was only that it’d be enough. But there has been a confluence of events in the children’s lives. All of them milestones in their own right. Savannah’s Prom Night several weekends ago. Courtney going to her first school dance tonight. Douglas and his Baseball team gunning for the league championship next week. Courtney as a finalist for the prestigious Student of the Year Award. I feel sad and lonely knowing that their Mom isn’t here to see all of this. Janet would be so proud of her kids.

Children are remarkably resilient. They have a lifetime in front of them. Adults, on the other hand, hold a lifetime of memories. Some of it good and some of it bad. I need to do what I’ve been doing all along. Forget the bad memories of Janet’s manipulation and remember the good times we all had. Yes, there were plenty of good times. And let my kids enjoy the next several weeks as themselves.

Children deserve good memories.

It’s Huge

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I thought things would be quiet and calm going into the 1-year anniversary of Janet’s passing. The kids and I have worked so hard this past year.

But here it is. 10 days before June 12th and it’s looming large. I’m very unsettled. I hope to write a lot over the next week, and get things unraveled. It’s been salvation writing about stuff. Thanks for reading. Peace.

It’s Complicated

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Several years ago while in Junior High, Savannah injured her left knee while playing Club Soccer. The ACL and ICL were nearly torn. It took months of expensive rehabilitation before she could play again. That Spring she wanted to run some events in Track including the High Jump. I was fine with her running but I didn’t think it was a good ideal for her to do the High Jump so soon after a serious injury. I talked to her Track Coach, her Soccer Coach and her Rehab Specialist. They agreed with me that Savannah should play it safe and not run the risk of re-injuring her knee by jumping.

Janet didn’t see it that way at all. She was insisting that Savannah was going to jump despite my protestations. We had our very first heated argument in front of our kids over this. The next day I stopped by the Junior High and talked with the Track Coach and he agreed to not let Savannah jump. Several week later at the first Track Meet I find out that Savannah was jumping that day in the meet. Janet had gone to the Track Coach behind my back, and over-ruled my wishes. This was Janet’s illness manifesting itself through controlling behavior. And Savannah was unfortunately caught up in it.

For the last several weeks Savannah has had trouble waking up early on weekends. More so that the normal teenage girl. Last Sunday we went to the beach, and she sunbathed for the entire day. I’ve never seen her just lay around like that. She’s always playing ball, swimming, body surfing, digging sand, frisbee, exploring tidal pools, whatever. She’s been through a long, hard year with soccer, track, and cross-country. Pretty much non-stop since last August. She’s exhausted.

Monday she asked if she could start up this week with training with the X-Country team. I said no. I told her a week off would do her body good. Give it time to heal and recover. And she could use time to prepare for her finals. Savannah is mighty pissed off at me. She sees me as controlling. Not I’m not. I’m looking out for her best interest. This shouldn’t be this complicated.

ARVD

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Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia is an inherited heart disease. ARVD is a progressive disease. It’s the most common cause of sudden cardiac death. Unfortunately, sudden death may be the first manifestation of disease.

Janet’s death shocked all of us. No one expected this could ever happen. She was a cancer survivor. She was only 44 years old.

Cancer had nothing to do with her death. Her high blood pressure, hypertension and thyroid imbalance were not contributing factors. It was ARVD that took her away.

My wife’s passing on the morning of her flight was the worst bad luck. You have no idea what I have gone through.

Moral Realism

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There’s a little movie that came out about 10 years ago called K-Pax. In it Kevin Spacey plays an Alien disguised as a Human. When he’s asked to define morality he says “Every Living Creature In the Universe Knows the Difference Between Right and Wrong.”

That’s been my mantra for teaching morality to my children. I tell my kids to use their best judgement. And you know what? They nearly always make the right choice. Their instinct tells tham what’s right and wrong. What they still have trouble with is finding the courage to stand up for their beliefs.

That’s when I come in. They need to feel safe at home. They need to know I will always be there for them. To know that I will always stand up for them no mater what. My kids need to believe in themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I set boundaries. I expect them to learn and practice proper etiquette. Beyond that, I don’t prescribe a code of conduct. The world is too complex and dynamic to codify a precise set of behavioral standards.

Their moral courage is growing. They are learning to stand up for what is right. They are learning to trust themselves. They are learning to once again trust me.

This child-rearing philosophy is where Janet and I had our biggest disagreement. She believed she could control their behavior. I didn’t see it that way.

Trust

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You’ve seen those motivational posters, purportedly enriching our lives. Here’s one popular quote – “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours. If they don’t they never were.” Whoever wrote this couldn’t be more wrong about everything. It’s not about controlling others. It’s about Trust.

Trust allows deep relationships to form. We learn to depend on others for different reasons – love, companionship, support, advice, help or what have you. It could be as complex as honoring our wedding vows, or as simple as picking someone up after practice. The principle is the same. When others trust us, they believe we’re competent to do what we promise, and that we’re committed to seeing it through. Trust underlies every bond we have with our children, spouses, family, friends, co-workers. All of society.

I hear all the time “Trust is earned”. No it’s not. It’s given. You have to make an emotional investment. You have to open up yourself to that person. You have to expose a part of you that you otherwise wouldn’t to a stranger. What you risk losing is your self-respect. And yet that’s what makes it so rewarding.

You can’t “make” someone trust you by “earning” it. That’s controlling behavior.

Prom Night

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Savannah has grown into a beautiful young woman since this picture was taken four years ago. Kids morph right before your eyes. It happens so quick.

Tonight is a special occasion for Savannah. She and her boyfriend are going to the Senior Prom with three other couples. This is a special group of kids. I know most of them. All excellent student athletes.

The girls have their day planned out. Savannah will go to one of her girlfriend’s and spend a few hours getting dressed and ready. Then everyone rendezvous at another house. The Parents will be there, taking pictures and fussing over their kids – handsome boys in their tuxes and pretty girls in their dresses. The happy couples will pile into a Chevy Suburban, enjoy a meal at Chili’s, then go to the Prom.

I’m not going to be there for Savannah this afternoon because Douglas has a Baseball game. It’s a game that was postponed earlier this week. It’s the last game of the regular season and it counts towards our Tournament Seeding. So I will be at the game managing.

I wish I could be there for Savannah. I wish I could help her get ready. I wish I was with the parents when they send our kids off. I wish I could just say how pretty she looks.

I feel guilty for not being there. Savannah understands that I have an important game to play with Douglas and she’s telling me that its OK. Yet it pulls me apart knowing she misses her Mother today. I’m not going to help her with her makeup or comb her hair or manicure her hands. Lord knows I tried. Last week Savannah and Courtney asked to go shopping for prom dresses. I asked if I could take them. The look they gave me was “Dad go shopping for dresses? You gotta be kidding, right?”

I totally get it that I can’t replace Mom on a day like this. But still, it hurts not being there for her. I hope Savannah enjoys a special time with great friends.

I think I’ll just go out this afternoon and win a Baseball Game.