You know what they say about assumption/getting around the law …(third in a series about the problems facing American education)

January 21, 2014

Let’s jump in the WABAC machine and travel to the late 60s and early 70s.

If you were a suburban white  kid, you were receiving (for the time) what could be considered the education experience that was exceptional for its time.  You memorized the poop out of everything, and you could repeat it on command.  If you had a good set of science teachers, you might even be doing rudimentary problem solving.  Those who weren’t too smart were getting some degree of industrial training *I remember seeing schools with auto shops and woodworking and metal working and jewelry design, clothing design, and food preparation).  Troublemakers could be more or less summarily expelled at which point they became the problem of the police (or the neighborhood they were likely breaking and entering into).  If you weren’t particularly smart, you could drop out at age 17, and you hopefully found a job and made a decent (or even good) honest living.  If you were a minority … well, you could get a basic education, and there were likely a lot of drop outs and expulsions to keep the school relatively calm for learning (though as hte murder rates of the era will attest, the neighborhood was not too safe after that).  The lucky ones made it out and got to college.

What changed …?

It wasn’t long before someone realized that minorities were getting a raw deal … minorities here aren’t just ethnic minorities, but include kids with a variety of learning disabilities.  Schools had more or less absolute power to deal with troublemakers and kids who wouldn’t/couldn’t learn.  For kids who wanted to learn, it was great, but for a lot of kids, they were being condemned to not getting their education.  Needless to say, crime rose quite a bit.  A lot of people refuse to believe this but the murder rate today compared to 40 years ago is quite low.  Busing was supposed to bring an end to the minority gap, but a lot of whites simply moved out of areas where minorities were being bused to, or took out a second mortgage and sent their kids to a private school … in other words, busing never worked because when minority kids arrived at the new school, the cycle of needing to lower expectations to prevent massive failure, behavior, performance and such that came with chronic poverty continued.

Then a bunch of folks realized the problem: if only we could educate those kids getting kicked out of school, they would be less likely to commit crimes and more likely to do something positive with their lives.  One of the most powerful and dangerous philosophies in education was born:

Every child can learn.

Suddenly, the push became (and continues through to today) to do everything in society’s power to keep kids in school as long as possible.

The results were rather staggering, and in many ways, schools have absolutely been unable to adjust to them.  Expulsion cannot happen at the drop of a hat, and for long suspensions, due process must be followed.  When a child has a learning disability, the school must hire specialists and therapists and must develop an individualized plan for that student in which parents have a great deal of power, and the school has very little power.  Students were given the right of freedom of speech and expression, so the look of students went down hill quite a bit, leading to problems with dress codes.  Order gave way to a great deal of chaos.  It seemed that learning was lost in a maelstrom.  To be sure, some of the kids who would have been kicked to the curb in the past got real learning opportunities … but it did come at a cost to other students.  This cost was not simply lost opportunities to learn, but it has put schools and communities under intense financial burden as well, especially in regards to lawsuits (some genuine, others not) and special education.

One “positive” outcome:  dropout rates are at an all-time low.  The negative side to that is that all of those kids who were more or less unwilling ot work at school are still in school taking up time, money, teacher and administrative attention, etc.

It really goes back to:  Every child can learn.  This is a philosophy that is not embraced in most parts of the world.  I’m not sure I have ever heard it connected to any other country.  It is possible that we Americans are unique in this philosophy.  This philosophy has been ingrained in our laws.  Schools have been stripped of a great many of their powers, and our students who are the most needy and the most troublesome are given extraordinary power over what goes on.  In some ways, this is good:  there certainly were schools, administrators, and teachers who abused their powers.  However, I think (and I think more and more people agree with this sentiment), the law has gone too far … and more and more people are tying to find ways around the laws that keep chronic troublemakers in school.

Which brings us to today …

I think we have reached a tipping point where people are just sick and tired of this.  They don’t like that the classes are forced to go slower to accommodate students with learning disabilities, or that nearly a quarter of a district’s budget is set aside to deal with 10% of the population.  They don’t like that students who clearly want no part of learning, and are there to simply disrupt the day and demand that everything be catered to them are allowed to continue doing this because the law restricts schools from acting further.  But how do you get around the law?

Interestingly, on January 7, the Obama administration published a set of guidelines advising schools to reconsider harsh discipline for students.  Part of the issue is that race has become a factor in discipline:  kids who commit the same acts often get treated differently depending on their race.  It is not clear if this treatment occurs in the same school or different schools.  It is very believable to me that poorer areas attract more poorly trained administrators who are more willing to overreact, while in richer areas, better administrators are less likely to overreact.  The report notes that out of school suspensions are out of date, which is patently naive.  While they should not be used freely, out of school suspensions are generally used to safeguard the learning of students left in the school, or to allow for a cooling down period if violence is involved.  I firmly believe that a great many people see the administration guidelines as well intentioned but naive and counterproductive.  While the administration makes it seem like this is widespread, I firmly beelive that this is not, and is fairly restricted to areas of poverty and areas where there are significant socio-economic problems.

Private schools are one option, if you can afford it.  If you can’t afford it, you embrace charter schools:  public schools freed to move around the laws.  This is what we have today.  The problem with charter schools is that you are replacing an elected board with a corporation which is not in anyway required to listen to parents, and has a free hand, legally, to teach what they want.  It is no coincidence that charter schools have finally taken hold in an era when parents are looking for ways around the laws that are dragging our public school down, at the same time such a huge percentage of our population is on a fixed income and are therefore generally opposed to public school taking their money.

It is a massive conundrum that does not have nice, neat solutions (no matter how people clamor for them).  If charter schools do catch on (they are in some places, not in others), you run into kids being kicked out at the whim of the corporation, and sent back to the public schools, leaving the public schools in even more dire shape than ever before.  Eventually, the public school is bound to close, and the charter schools are left with the ability to get rid of who they want ,and making them the problem of the police and community (in short, the 1950s, 60s, and 70s all over again — this is a bit of an absurdist conclusion, but nothing says it can’t happen).  This is great for good students in those areas trying to learn, but not so good for the long term stability of the community which now has a lot of unemployable people, generally causing more trouble than help, especially when there are not a lot of high paying jobs for people who lack a high school diploma, and can’t afford to get training in a trade.  In solving one problem, another is greatly exacerbated.

To make matters worse, charter schools, depending on where you live, arr really no better from an educational standpoint than the public school.  Teacher morale ends up being quite low, there is huge turnover of teachers and students which disrupts the continuity of instruction, there is often times limited opportunity (many charters don’t offer arts and physical education or advanced classes).  Most of the research that simply compares test scores, show no significant difference.

Another continuing theme:  Teacher tenure and pay … tenure is thought by many to be a protection for poor teachers.  I would argue tenure only protects poor teachers as long as an administrator fails in due diligence.  Since no one was able to get rid of tenure laws in states that had them, they went around them by enacting laws that tie teacher retention to test scores.  In states that adopted the Core Curriculum as a part of the Race to the Top circus, states had to start including student test scores as a part of the retention of teachers.  The theory is that if you are a good teacher, the students score well, and if you are bad, they don’t.  Keep in mind:  I am a science teacher.  The test that will decide my fate is a test the students will take one year before I have them and one year after I have them, and will only slightly have anything to do with physics.  Yet, my career will stand to end on how these students do.  In the race to eliminate tenure and improve accountability, the state created a system that removes accountability while doing nothing to eliminate poor teachers.  According to the US Economic Policy Institute (cited in this US Dept. of Education paper), the pay for public school teachers has fallen (compared to similarly educated and experienced workers) just over 13% since 1979.  This flies in the face of the assumption that unions have gotten huge windfalls of cash for public school teachers.

When it comes to pay … at least some people supporting charter schools could care less about education … they only know that the company is going to use less tax payer money, and that is fine with them. So what happens?  Across the country, the number of people choosing to prepare to be teachers is dropping, and dropping fast.  In California alone, the  number of applicants to teacher preparation programs dropped 25% … in one year, and that was after a series of smaller declines over the past decade.  In Albany, New York, people choosing teaching as a career is down over 25% from 2009-2012.  Keep in mind, during a bad economy, teaching is usually the one profession people run to when they are unemployed.  People have seen what is happening, and are throwing up their arms and walking away.  If you focus on math and science (middle and high school) the situation is grim … while the number of people teaching math and science has gone up since the early 1990s, the rate of these teachers leaving the profession (retirement, changing careers, performance) is quite high.  You might think that this is all limited to public schools, but keep in mind:  private and public schools largely draw from the same pool of talent.  Looking at most private schools, you will tend to find quite a few new teachers with little experience, which means there is a degree of turnover.  There may be some older staff there, but how up to date are they on the best ways to teach kids?  Some undoubtedly are.  Others, possibly not so much.  In short:  private schools, in terms of teaching talent, are likely behind the curve of their public school peers, or are about the same.  Certainly they outscore their public school counterparts, but given that they can recruit and handpick their talent, they should be blowing away their competition, and often times they are not.  While certainly there are some talented teachers who will more-or-less exclusively work in a private school setting because they cannot easily work in a diverse setting, generally, the talent seeks out the money.

According to a recent Monster.com survey, secondary school teachers were third (after cashier and mechanic) as the job with the highest number of people having regretted their career decision, with a whopping 43% of respondents saying they wish they could start over in a new career.  Bureaucracy and politics are cited high on what is causing trouble.  While it is true that there are a lot of people out there who want to teach, the attrition rate is enormous.  In 2006, the Washington Post cited a study by the NEA that 50% of teachers leave within the first five years of teaching.  The US Department of Education noted in 2012 noted that the attrition rate for teachers was not only about 50% within the first five years, and that since 2009, the number of teachers who were looking to move into new professions had jumped from 17% to 29%.

What happens when there is a shortage of workers for a particular profession, and there is a need to attract more people to work for you?  I think the simplistic answer is you raise salaries and benefits …. but since districts are increasingly strapped for cash, they can’t (and private schools and charter schools either can’t or won’t).  This leads to a conundrum that we are starting to see:  you strip a profession of some of its strengths and benefits, and you anticipate that there will be a constant stream of replacements to take the place of the older, tired, under-performing greedy ones you are trying to remove.  In this case, this may not only not work, but may be backfiring.

There’s additional evidence that school reform is backfiring and driving out teachers (and not necessarily the bad ones).  According to National Center for Educational Statistics, 52% of our teaching force has ten or fewer years of experience … but this is based on pre-Race to the Top information, which means this accounts for the large layoffs which occurred when the economy tanked, and a large number of young teachers were let go …. despite that, the ranks of teachers remain young.  Why?  This is likely because of the increased turnover from teachers entering and leaving the profession, and doing so in larger numbers fairly quickly.  In short, the number of teachers surviving to “veteranhood” are starting to fall a bit.  When this happens, schools will report what is called “a lack of continuity” … which means that schools need to accept that they will have more young teachers on a learning curve, and that students achievement will bear the brunt of not having experienced teachers there.   This affects tests scores, but more importantly, it hurts the overall educational experience of students.

So what do we do?  The law doesn’t appear to be helping, and going around it isn’t helping?  How do we deal with this dying humpback sitting in the middle of our collective living room.

Despite what politicians and software tycoons in Seattle will tell you, the solution isn’t simple.  This is very much a complex problem that does not have a single solution.  It will require a lot of negotiation and give and take.  I hope to talk about this a bit in Part IV.

Before departing I want to leave you with this:

Anton Ego (voiced by the sadly now late Peter O’Toole in the film Ratatouille) understood the real meaning of “anyone can learn”.

For those not familiar, this film is the story of a common rat, who just so happens to be a world-class chef.  He befriends a talent-less wannabe chef, and directs him in making culinary masterpieces.  The climax of the story is when Paris’ toughest critic (Anton Ego) learns the truth, and has an epiphany.

… it isn’t that everyone can learn everything …. it simply can’t happen no matter how much we wish it were true … but those who can learn can come from anywhere … not just the privileged suburbs, but from the worst parts of the inner city, the mountains of Appalachia, or the fields of the high plains.

Perhaps our first duty should be in learning about our students … what are their talents and weaknesses …. and their dreams … and based on this helping them find a path.  Wouldn’t this be better than shoving a multiple choice in their face and saying “this will decide the success of you, your teacher, or your school, and maybe all three but possibly none of them”.  Maybe that is where we must start in our negotiation, and come to realize that our overarching philosophy is based on a misinterpretation of something that was very good, but must nonetheless change if we are to move forward.


Hall bound

January 15, 2014

It has been a while since I have gotten out of town (I keep reading stories about teachers kicking it back on summer vacation, but most teacher I know don’t seem to know these teachers that spend 2 months on a beach).  And after the events of the last year, I was pretty sure that I would be leaving town for a while this summer.

Being a baseball fan, I am required, if I am able, to at least once in my life journey to a small town in central New York to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It has been on my list of things to do for a long time.  I have also wanted to be in Cooperstown on an induction weekend and take in the spectacle of tens of thousands of baseball fans in one place at one time.  With the election of Frank Thomas, possibly the last member of the White Sox to be elected to the Hall for many, many years to come, it seemed like a perfect storm of events coming together.

Thus, I have finalized arrangements to travel with John Cosgrove and his father to Cooperstown in late July for the induction day weekend.  I’ve spent some time researching what goes on, and while a bit pricey, I think that I have found away to navigate the pitfalls of almost 100,000 people cramming themselves into a charming, quaint, artsy town that is home to less than 2,000 people.


Signs the Cubs are sinking faster than lead in water

January 13, 2014

The one thing you have to admit about the Cubs, they are staunch traditionalists.  It has kept them in business for at least the past 35 years as people from all over cram in to the world’s biggest block party, a few even stopping to wonder who is playing baseball in the middle.

Which is why it is extremely odd that the Cubs have chucked tradition and employed  a mascot for the first time since 1916.

bear_attackAfter losing their third left fielder of the 1916 season to the injured reserve list, the Cubs abandoned their mascot.

The move is an attempt to make Wrigley Field more fan friendly, because having to explain to your two year old what a beer bong is when the frat boys two rows down start chugging, or to your daughter that while you don’t encourage public urination at home, Wrigleyville residents like how it fertilizes the lawns, was only a little fan friendly.

So, here’s the new mascot.  Meet Clark, the Bear:

Cub_mascot

Clark is not (as many have suspected) named for fictional Chicago resident and lovable loser Clark W. Griswold of National Lampoon’s Vacation fame.  Clark is named for one of the historic streets that form the intersection where Wrigley Field is located.

In keeping with being family friendly, note that this mascot wears no pants.  Try taking your niece to a game while trying to convince her parents that everything will be fine.  Go on, try it!

Also, in keeping with Cubs tradition, Clark is completely non-threatening.  Look at that face … you can almost hear Clark saying “Gee folks, we really are trying!”  If Clark were any more nonthreatening, he would be the #2 starter for the team.

The Cubs have announced that Clark will not be found in the actual field area … instead, he will greet fans outside the park, and welcome fans to the Cubs “First Timers Club (I thought this was some kind of a virgins only thing, but it is apparently where people making their first trip to he Friendly Confines are hazed).  He will then invite fans into his own “clubhouse” just inside the park to take pictures.  So, if your idea of family fun time is to hand over your 4 year old to a pants-less guy in a furry costume, Cubs Baseball is for you!

With Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary right around the corner, visitors to the ball park will finally have something to talk about other than “that time we almost made the playoffs” or “that game we almost won”.


He who laughs last … the ballad of Frank Thomas

January 8, 2014

A couple of months ago, a friend and I were at an autograph show.  White Sox slugger Frank Thomas was going to be there signing autographs, and my friend wanted to get his signature.  I recommended that he get a baseball with the Hall of Fame logo on it because we all knew that in January, Frank was going to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

When we got up in line, Frank took a look at that ball … he got a smile on his face and looked up at my friend “Sorry, I can’t sign that.”

We cajoled him a bit “Frank, its a sure thing … in January …”

He smiled and shook his head “I hope, but I can’t sign that now.  Go get something else, I ‘ll wait for you.”  My friend ran and got a regular baseball, and Frank happily signed it.  In retrospect, I should never have advised my friend to do this … and throughout what must have been an uncomfortable moment for him, Frank Thomas handled the situation with warmth and class.

The first thing about Frank Thomas is that White Sox fans look at him as our guy.  Cubs fans have always had guys:  Back in the 50s and 60s they had Ernie Banks and Billy Williams.  In the 80s it was Ryne Sandberg.  In the 90s it was Mark Grace.  These were guys who spent a long time with the club, at least most of a long career, and became readily identifiable with the team;  usually a Hall of Famer or a near Hall of Famer.  My dad’s generation of Sox fans had some great guys … Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Minnie Miñoso, and Billy Pierce … I love those guys still today, but I never got to see them play except on black-and-white film.  In the 1980s, we sort of had a guy … “The Commander”, Carlton Fisk who was both an excellent catcher, and a staunch defender of all that was good about baseball tradition.    He spent more than half his career with the White Sox, and he is beloved there still, but when he went into the Hall of Fame, his plaque depicted him in a Red Sox cap.  Absolutely no one blamed him … he grew up in Vermont as a rabid Red Sox fan.  Fisk is one of our guys, but we have to share him with the chowdah lovers in Boston.  We still didn’t have a guy of our own.

Then Frank Thomas arrived.  The South Side had never had a player like him.  Ever.  Not even close!  Between 1991 and 1997, Thomas put up seven consecutive seasons of at least 100 runs scored, 100 RBI, 100 walks, 20 home runs, while batting at least 0.300 in those seasons.  Who was the last player in Major League history to accomplish this?  NO ONE!  Not Hank Aaron, not Willie Mays, not Lou Gehrig, not Ty Cobb, not even George Herman Ruth himself.  Most power hitters sacrifice average for power, and most hitters for average lack power.  Thomas got both, and scarified nothing, unless he was actually hitting a sacrifice fly (his 121 career sacrifice flies are the fourth most in the history of the game … the only other players with 500 home runs and 120 sacrifice flies are Eddie Murray and Babe Ruth).  When you look at his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) which measures his power and ability to get on base, he ranks 14th all-time (and at least two of those ahead of him are linked heavily to performance enhancing drugs).  The others ahead of him:  Ruth, Williams, Foxx, Mays, Greenberg, Hornsby, Mantle, DiMaggio, and Musial.  In other words, it is not an elite club, it is a club of the game’s immortals.

Fans loved him because he was so damn efficient!  So many power hitters like Mantle and Jackson would go to the plate swinging at everything, striking out to end rallies or shorten innings.  Thomas was patient enough to force pitchers to pitch to him, and he walked a great deal.  In the end, this likely lowered his home run total, but it meant he was helping the team!  The players in MLB history with 500 home runs and 1600 career walks: Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, and Frank Thomas.  Patience and power are a rare combination of skills in the game.

Frank had an Achilles heal: he played before the fans of White Sox Township:  not the rich fans or nationwide mob of Cubs, Cardinal, Yankee, or Red Sox Nation.  Had he played there, he would have gotten press coverage to beat the band, and several small temples to his honor would have been built.  Instead, he saw others like McGwire, Bonds, and Sosa surge ahead with gaudy power numbers while the fans drooled … Thomas and others suspected that this was a charade, and history has proven him right.  While Thomas trudged along playing the game right, others mocked it by turning to chemistry for an edge which violated the spirit, if not the rules of the game and the laws of the nation.

In 2005, the stars of the game were subpoenaed to appear before Congress in a circus atmosphere.  Some dodged questions while others seemed to outright lie.  Frank Thomas wasn’t there, but instead met with the Congressional committee behind closed doors.  To him, this wasn’t about publicity or so much outing names, as it was going on the record about how these drugs were changing the game.  Thomas was the only active player to voluntarily testify before the Congressional committee.  When drug testing was put into the collective bargaining agreement, random testing wasn’t invoked until a certain number of players refused testing or tested positive.  Thomas tried to get other players to refuse testing in order to get the random testing part of the contract invoked.  Thomas demonstrated a need for the game to have its integrity restored while so many were denying that a problem even existed.

Which takes us to today.

Today the fabulously conservative Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) released the results of their Hall of Fame balloting.  There were a few stars who didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame because of the whirling of accusations against them regarding steroids.  Some voters adamantly refused to vote for any player from the steroids era of baseball.   Others looked down their nose at any player who had played predominantly as a designated hitter.  Yet, the voters elected the first hitter from that era into the Hall of Fame, and elected the first player to play more than half his career as a designated hitter.  Most of the voters reflected on a player who not only reached rare pinnacles and set new bars for future stars to strive for, but who respected the game, and played it with integrity in an era when others turned their backs on that integrity.  While others (some deserving, some not so deserving) must wait another year to learn their Hall of Fame fate, Frank Thomas was, today, elected to the Hall of Fame.  Today we saw the good guy get the win.  Today, Frank Thomas was vindicated by the gatekeepers of Baseball’s Valhalla.  Today, Frank Thomas is having the last laugh;  a symbol that doing what is right doesn’t necessarily cheat you from a just reward.

Thomas_election_picFrank Thomas: A man relieved and rewarded, moments after being told that he was elected to the Hall of Fame

(photo credit: Chuck Garfien)

To our guy, the Big Hurt, thank you and congratulations!


Old technology wasn’t that long ago …

January 7, 2014

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/01/dc-9-retires/

 

I came across this article about Delta Airlines getting ready to retire its last DC-9 aircraft.  The article notes that the DC-9 was produced from 1965 to 1982 (I hope this last one was from 1982).  Interestingly, the DC-10 was finally put out to final pasture just last month in Bangladesh (though a few are apparently still used in freight service).

 

What I found really interesting was that the DC-9, when it was originally put into the Delta fleet in 1965, was primarily replacing turboprop passenger planes.

 

I find it almost inconceivable that in 2013 (I’m not counting the lat flight in 2014), you could jump on a regularly scheduled flight and be flying in a model that was replacing prop jobs.

It just goes to show you that in an era where phones are far closer to 1960s science fiction than to anything Alexander Graham Bell could have imagined … that in the era where we are saying our final goodbyes to photographic film and incandescent light bulbs, the first generation of commercial flight isn’t so distant.


It wasn’t the fortress of loneliness …

January 2, 2014

I am reaching the end of Christmas Break, and it has been a different kind of break this year.

Some of it was spent cleaning.  As I have noted to many people, my condo looks like the inside of a storage locker.  Many, many things from mom that has been sitting around for months until I had time to look at it and decide:keep, giveaway, donate, throw out.

Christmas was a new experience.  A few weeks prior, my brother, sister, and I had discussed that they were going to be busy on Christmas Eve at the in-laws, and that my niece and nephew were with their mom on Christmas Day.  We all amicably decided to postpone Christmas (it is this coming weekend).

That meant for the first time, I had no obligation on Christmas.  Keep in mind, in our family, Christmas used to be the bash of the year:  There were often upwards of 30 people crammed into the house or at Gram’s place.  But this year:  nothing.  And I realized that there were going to be years like this from now on.

I had considered traveling.  Because of the cleaning involved, I opted against that … I am saving my travels for the summer or next Christmas (maybe both).

I was, oddly, not the least bit down about this.  I felt it very liberating.  I could do whatever I wanted!

I wasn’t swelling on it, but as the day approached, I decided something simple:  I decided to get back to the movies.  I do like my films, and really hadn’t seen a film in months since Ed dragged me out of the condo for my own good.  I figured it will be a nice quiet Christmas night.  There is an upscale multiplex with VIP balcony seating and a nice restaurant attached.  That was my gift to myself.

First:  I tried taking my VIP pass, but found out that since The Hobbit had been out for several weeks (apparently), it was not being shown in the VIP theaters.  No problem, I bought my ticket and then up to dinner.  I arrived at the desk, and when I informed the hostess that no, I didn’t have a reservation, she said she would try and squeeze me in.  If the place were anymore mobbed the organized crime division would have been needed.  My initial thought was “GO HOME AND CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS AND LEAVE ME IN PEACE!”  I was seated at 7:02, placed my order at 7:05, and got my meal at 7:40 with genuinely profuse apologies from the waitress.  The movie was disappointing.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t feeling sadness or loneliness or such.  I think part of it is that I spend considerable time in solitude already.

One of the deeper moments I had this year occurred toward the end of summer.  My father’s uncle is still alive … he is in his late 70s and still working (he does something with supermarkets and supply, and some of the markets he travels to are in the worst parts of Chicago.  He is a gutsy guy!)  He and I are the last big White Sox fans in the family, and I like to take him to at least one game a year.  I got hold of some really nice seats, and we had a chance to just sit and talk.  He eventually got around to asking me why I never married.  I told him that I really never felt compelled in my adult life to find anyone, and that I really never felt I would make a good father.  He looked at me and said “Good for you … it is far easier to have been alone your whole life then to have to get used to it after being married for so long”.

You need to know that my uncle (I think this is genetic) never talks about his personal life with anyone.  He had been married to a wonderful woman for many years.  She died about 20 years ago.  Given that the males in our family don’t live much past 65, he likely figured that this was something he never had to deal with.  This was the first time (to my knowledge) he had ever opened up with how difficult it had been for him.  I suspect that his views are not predominant.  Being the kind of guy he is, I bet it has been tough.  Losing a spouse has to be enormously tough.  But I know people who have gotten over it and moved on.  I know that it is possible.

Sorry for the long segue there.

I think that what also makes a Christmas like this bearable is that I knew I could have picked up my phone at any moment and talked to any number of friends, and that I could have asked for an invitation to Christmas dinner, and that this would have been welcomed.  I could have likely hopped a plan to Cleveland or Denver or Seattle and been welcomed with open arms (maybe concern that there wasn’t enough turkey), but still, open arms.

I have been ever grateful for my friends and extended family, and without y’all I would not have made it through 2013 as well as I did.

Here is hoping 2014 is better for all of us.