Archive for the ‘FAMILIES’ Category

LAUGHING WITH CANCER

Michelle Holstein’s family had no history of cancer until 2003. At age 40, Michelle, raised in San Antonio and a longtime Bay Area resident, was diagnosed with Stage IIb breast cancer. Multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation followed. She expected a full recovery. One of her oncologists described her experience as a “bump in the road.” The bump turned into a mountain. She’s turned it into another bump.

In 2010, Michelle’s cancer came back. By 2011, it was Stage IV, spread to her brain and liver. Doctors gave her 6 to 12 months. Michelle could have become bitter and withdrawn. She took the opposite approach.

Michelle’s 2011 prognosis prompted her to ask questions: What do you do with that news? How do you live your life? What’s important? “Suddenly,” she says, “there’s a lot that’s not important.”

Her work was important, so Michelle continued as a quality-assurance specialist at Genentech. She’s still there. She also stayed close with her support team—people she deems positive and strong with a wicked, irreverent, sometimes black sense of humor. They make a difference she says. “They treat me normally.”

Radiation and medications granted a “reprieve.” The side effects weren’t pleasant. Hair loss was the least of it. Taxotere made Michelle feel like she was walking through a swarm of fireflies. “Wherever one hit me, it would burn like an ember then fade.” Xeloda made her hands and feet turn red, tender and blister. A radiation treatment required her to wear a Hannibal Lecter-type mask with only small holes for her nose and mouth. She couldn’t open her eyes or speak. Recently, fluid was removed from around her heart.

But there’s a bright—let me say dazzling—side to Michelle’s story. “Cancer is not the death sentence it once was,” she says. “It’s becoming more of a chronic illness to be managed.” Michelle manages her cancer with a very positive outlook. “What you have to go through will be the same, but if you smile, are pleasant, can have fun with it, even laugh and take it in stride, things go much easier.”

When Michelle lost her hair, she walked around bald to demystify the disease. “You can still be strong and beautiful and out in the world.” She takes strength from “an amazing family and friends” while serving as the “go-to cancer lady” at work—someone people can talk to about loved ones’ encounters with the disease.

Diving headfirst into life, Michelle indulges in random acts of kindness while taking greater joy in dancing, the beach, sunshine, laughing kids and babies, gardening, quiet time and “simple beauty.” She also cites a wonderful development: “Pre-cancer I was very guarded and stingy with the word love. Cancer brought down that wall. I’ve learned to love and be loved.”

Michelle has learned much about dealing with doctors and people who mean well but say foolish things. However, her best advice resonates for all of us: “Seek out things that make you laugh, make you happy, make you feel comfortable and secure.” To which we can all say, “Amen!”

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Read a review of my new novel The Boy Walker. Then order soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or iUniverse.com. Check out my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review.

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard an appeal against California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. If the arguments for Prop 8 hold weight, the court’s decision—if it doesn’t dismiss the case and renders one in June—may force my wife and I to divorce.

First, a disclosure. We have a gay son. A married gay son. Last August, he and our son-in-law exchanged vows in Vermont—one of nine states along with the District of Columbia that permits same-sex marriage. Now, according to conservative thinkers, same-sex marriage poses a grave threat to American families and thus the nation. Sadly, they’ve missed the point. The real villains are straight married couples, who underhandedly subvert family values.

Ask Charles J. Cooper, representing the opponents of same-sex marriage at the court. The purpose of marriage, he said, is procreation. Same-sex marriage, Mr. Cooper declared, “will refocus the purpose of marriage and the definition of marriage away from the raising of children and to the emotional needs and desires of adults, of adult couples.” Evidently, Mr. Cooper has not heard of birth control and its widespread employment. Or that same-sex couples raise well-adjusted children.

Most important, he hasn’t factored in the “straight-couple factor.” Based on Mr. Cooper’s views about marriage and procreation, it’s only logical—not to mention moral—that my wife and I divorce. Our 43-year-old marriage is a sham. We’re in our sixties now. Our three kids range from almost 37 to almost 30. We’re empty nesters and not about to have another child. So these days, our marriage consists of nothing more than a very satisfying focus on what Mr. Cooper dismisses as our “emotional needs and desires.”

Should California tolerate our flaunting the purpose of marriage? And what about young straight married couples concerned only with their own “emotional needs and desires?” Should Sacramento demand that straights declare their intention to have at least one child within five years of their wedding to obtain a marriage license? Should the state abrogate their marriages if they fail to become parents? Likewise, should the state terminate marriages that produced children when said offspring reach the age of independence?

This is all new stuff to be sure. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who may cast the deciding vote, noted that, “We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more.” Yet studies of children raised by gay and lesbian unions indicate positive outcomes. And let’s be honest. Cases of children abused and neglected by straight parents fill our courts. Many, many more never see a courtroom.

So Justice Kennedy’s observation doesn’t ring true to me. It almost suggests that Abraham Lincoln should have accommodated the United States’ 300-year tradition of slavery and never pushed the Thirteenth Amendment.

Be that as it may, my wife and I will hold our breath until June. Because, giving full credit to the late Walt Kelly’s Pogo, we have met the enemy of family stability and America’s enduring foundations—and they are us.

Again, Happy Passover and Happy Easter. May freedom and love guide us.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

BUDDY

Something odd is going on in San Francisco. The vast majority of upwardly mobile young parents seem to have given their sons the same name. It’s spooky.

With all the names available—from Adam, Bob and Charles to Xavier, Yoel and Zachary—almost every small boy answers to Buddy. I first thought parents were honoring old-time celebrities. There’s the drummer Buddy Rich. The guitarist/singer Buddy Guy. The rocker Buddy Holly. The comic Buddy Hackett. TV’s Buddy Ebsen (“Davy Crockett” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”) Maybe they remember the character Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) on the old “Dick Van Dyke Show.” Or even the former big-league shortstop and manager, Bud Harrelson.

But I fear something darker is happening. These parents want to be their children’s friends.

The problem? A toddler can’t reach maturity without adhering to nature’s demanding physical, mental and emotional schedule. (Except for the kid on the E*Trade TV commercials.) So I suspect that these young dads and moms, choosing to be as much peer as parent, are clinging to their own childhoods.

Americans love youth and disdain “old age.” In the ‘60’s, Baby Boomers’ proclaimed, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Many hyped living fast and dying young (although not in Vietnam). Now, they’ve reached or are nearing eligibility for Medicare and Social Security. Yet they still think they’re relevant.

And they are! People have something to contribute at every age. Each stage of life brings new knowledge and perspective. Parenthood doesn’t disqualify someone from being in touch with all that’s right and good. And the age of grandparenthood provides additional perspective. We rightly take with a grain of salt the supposed innocence of children, the rebellious wisdom displayed by adolescents and the smug youthfulness of twenty-somethings clinging to high school or college memories. We know human nature for what it is. We know, too, that we never stop learning and growing—as long as we’re willing.

So my advice to upscale new parents is: Honor childhood, but be every bit the adult. Fulfill your role as protector, teacher and guide.

That’s not to say that parents can’t and shouldn’t have fun with their children and even rediscover the delights of their own childhood through them. But our children don’t need our friendship. They have their own friends. Teens in particular make this abundantly clear. What they need from us is role modeling along with the creation and honoring of positive family histories and relationships—a sense of emotional connection.

Given all the nicknames I had and still have for my three kids, Buddy has never been one. As for me, I’m Dad, never David. I’ve taken pride in that title and the responsibility it entails for going on thirty-seven years.

True, I won’t find the Fountain of Youth. Then again, I’m not looking. But a little bit of eternity lies within my grasp. Like my own parents, I believe that my willingness to be the adult in the room will enable me to live on in my children’s memories long after I’m gone.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

E PLURIBUS ECHAD

At President Obama’s public inauguration last Monday, Richard Blanco read his poem, “One Today.” Blanco’s theme of unity really resonated. “One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores.” We are a single people joined together. “My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors.”

Each inauguration prompts good feelings roused by America’s tradition of peacefully passing on the presidency every four years. Regrettably, those good feelings often quickly dissolve as partisan disagreements resume. But if we focus on Blanco’s words and some earlier words that perhaps inspired them, we might hold our more negative passions in check and find ways to break through the bipartisan deadlock that so afflicts the nation.

I cite Deuteronomy 6:4: “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” We are instructed that God is one and indivisible. So too, Genesis 1 reveals that the created world, complex as it is, is a single entity following on from a single Creator. We see Adam and Eve as humanity’s common parents, and Noah and his unnamed wife as our post-Flood ancestors. Diverse we may be, but ultimately we are all one family.

In this regard, the Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5) provides a quite beautiful teaching. A person can stamp out many coins with one die, and all the coins look alike, whereas God created humans from a single set of parents yet each of us is unique. We know from our own experiences that members of a family remain individuals yet are bound together.

I appreciated as well Blanco’s choice of greeting that Americans use as the morning sun rises—“hello, shalom,/buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días.” By all means, add additional favorites. All are valid, because all reflect the many ethnicities, which form and reform the complex America nationality.

So where might this take us? Let’s play off the Mishna’s coin analogy. Every coin has two sides. Yet each is a single object with a single recognized value. So, too, our public debates have two sides. Often more. Yet those debates consider the wellbeing of a single nation. More than one way exists to legitimately approach a particular problem.

At the end of the day, Blanco writes, we head home “always under one sky, our sky.” We are a diverse lot to be sure. But diversity offers us many experiences and points of view—and more opportunities for meeting our challenges. We do better to listen to each other and seek common ground than exploit differences in the certitude that we, and we alone, have the answers.

Blanco concludes that hope awaits us—“ a new constellation/waiting for us to map it,/waiting for us to name it—together.” My thoughts return to the Sh’ma then drift to the nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.

A mash-up of words strikes me. E Pluribus Echad. By meshing basic truths both religious and civic, and adding a reasonable measure of humility, we can give the American Dream more than lip service. We can give it new life.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

OLD

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye the milkman in Anatevka declares, “It’s no shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor, either.” In America, however, poverty often is viewed as shameful. And poor or rich, so is growing older. The old—however you define them/us—are made irrelevant. Popular culture offers many examples. Of late, three caught my eye.

— In a TV commercial for Captain Morgan Rum set in a 17th-century Caribbean palace, a beautiful twenty-something woman dances at a formal reception with an older, bewigged and obviously lecherous man. Her face expresses disgust. His age definitely is a factor. He’s way too old—and way not cool. A dashing young Captain Morgan rescues her and takes her down to the basement and a hip party.

— A Samsung TV spot features young adults lined up for an Apple iPhone 5. One young man, a Samsung user, holds a spot in line. His parents show up to claim it. Dismay and revulsion sweep across the young people’s faces. How can an iPhone have any real worth if people fifty or older use it?

— In the last episode of the first TV season of Louie, the Emmy-winning comedian Louis C.K. hangs out with younger Black comics, who easily pick up three beautiful women. The women learn that Louis is forty—forty-two, he confesses. Their faces express horror. Louis has no shot. Wonderfully, the episode ends with Louis and his two young daughters enjoying a pancake breakfast at four in the morning. Yes, it’s late. Or early. But Louis has his priorities straight.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I too believed that my parents thought and acted old. They couldn’t possibly know what really mattered because I was in the process of discovering just what was and wasn’t important as defined by my generation. They’d lost touch—if they’d ever been in touch. In my thirties and a parent myself, I saw my parents as much more human. Wherever I was going in terms of the basic aspects of life—making a living, caring for a family, finding a place in society—I realized they’d blazed a trail before me.

I love the energy of youth. I had it once. But growing older generally means transitioning to a more settled life. I can’t stay out until three in the morning. I’m beat the next day if I’m up until midnight. Yet age often brings more wisdom and self-awareness. Not to mention humility. Having gone around the block a few times, we have fewer answers and more questions.

I was a much happier, more grounded person at fifty than at twenty. I’ve even made more progress towards becoming a reasonable human being in the eighteen years since I hit the half-century mark. No question, I still retain many weaknesses. Some I’ll never overcome. To a degree, I’ve learned how to cope. But I don’t delude myself that I’ll ever become a model for humanity. And I don’t worry about it. That’s the gift of growing older.

I certainly don’t encourage the young to embrace old age. There will be time for that. But I do encourage them to embrace their elders. And there’s no time like now.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and a coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

I AM MY MOTHER—KIND OF

In mid-June, I wrote about having become my father, Morris. Yet we all have two genetic parents. As it happens, my mother, Blanche Finkle Perlstein, died thirteen years ago on August 1, 1999. I’ll say Kaddish for her tonight. And I’ll carry some of her with me—only not as much as I’d like.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m glad to resemble my father. Yet I’m also different, which I attribute to my mother. She was a woman of incredible emotional intelligence with an uncanny ability to charm even strangers—and even under challenging circumstances. Yet she never dominated a conversation. She asked questions and let others speak while sharing her own experiences and feelings with uncommon tact and diplomacy.

What fascinates me is that my mother was as much an extrovert as my father was an introvert. Yet they not only had a forty-seven-year marriage but also a good one. Which adds to the lore that opposites attract—unless we’re talking about genes with opposite traits that tend to do battle on the field of your personality. As they do on mine.

Take cocktail parties. My mother would have a great time. My father? I imagine he felt as I do in such settings—uncomfortable, often miserable. Like my father, I am not a chit-chatter. My mother’s genes try to ease my way. I cheer them on. More often than not, they fail. I remain an introvert.

But here’s the thing: Introverts aren’t necessarily anti-social. In the March 2003 Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch—himself an introvert—wrote an article that offered me great comfort. Rauch pointed out that introverts value and require time alone. Lots of it. But they also can be very social—in small groups (say a dinner party for six) or one-on-one (or -two or -three). Introverts, in fact, can be great conversationalists—when a conversation is focused and specific.

Moreover, introverts can enjoy large events if that same focus exists. Public speaking? I love it. The larger the audience, the more the fun. But remember, I’m focused. I enjoy hosting a big celebration, too. Not simply because I know the guests but because the event focuses (there’s that word again) on the reason for the celebration. When I hosted my launch party for Slick! last November, a crowd filled the house. It was easy to speak with people because the subject was writing in general and my book in particular.

Admittedly, I suffer at most big occasions even when surrounded by people I know. To be honest, I avoid them when possible. I don’t mean to offend. I’m not snubbing anyone. I’m just freeing myself from terrible discomfort.

So at the end of this analysis, I can say that I am like my mother—kind of. She gave me enough of her extroversion to manage—even shine—during certain occasions. Which is why, among many other reasons, I saw the bright flame of her personality in the yarzheit (memorial) candle I lit Wednesday night. And why I will carry my mother with me through the rest of my days not only with love but also with enduring gratitude.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

I AM MY FATHER

There’s an old joke: When I graduated from high school, I thought my parents were ignorant and out of touch. When I graduated from college, I was amazed at how much they had learned.

I write this because Sunday is Father’s Day. My father, Morris, died on June 18, 1983 at eighty. It was a Saturday. We buried him the next day. It was Fathers Day. But after all these years, my father is very much alive. Because as it happens, I am him.

Not that we weren’t different people. My father grew up the son of immigrants. He himself arrived at Ellis Island as two-and-a-half year-old Moishe Chaim Perelstein (an “e” got dropped while he was still a teenager) in February 1906. He didn’t like to talk about his childhood in Manhattan, but he did respond to one of my questions: he thought his parents—Sam (Chaim Shliomah) and Kayleh—were greenhorns.

I grew up in Queens the son of middle-class Americans. My mother, Blanche, was born in New York. During my childhood in the ‘50s, the United States enjoyed incredible economic growth. While my father had to work after high school and needed eleven years of night classes to get a B.S. from NYU’s School of Commerce (’32), I went away to Alfred University, a small private school in Western New York State. My father contentedly wrote checks for each semester’s bill.

I always appreciated how my father built a good life for us. But unlike him, I didn’t smoke cigars. Or take after-dinner naps. Or think like someone who had lived through the Depression that working for Sears would provide valued lifetime security. (After the war, my father took a risk and moved out of the back office to sell springs to bedding and furniture manufacturers; he did extremely well thanks to uncommon integrity and a model work ethic.)

Moreover, the only places my parents ever traveled while I was a kid were to the Catskills and Florida. They added San Antonio, San Francisco and Las Vegas after Carolyn and I married but never left the country. Admittedly, I’m not adventurous. But post-college, I served three years in the Army, settled in Texas and drove with Carolyn across the country from San Antonio to California to New York in 17 days. After which we traversed Western Europe for three months. Moved back to San Antonio. And took vacations in Mexico. In 1974, we moved to San Francisco. I went to work for myself. Different generations. Different opportunities. Different lives.

But here’s the thing. Once Carolyn and I were in Rego Park on one of our many visits. At the time, Seth was our only child. My father and I went for a walk. Outside the apartment building, we started to cross 63rd Drive. A car approached. My father grasped my arm. In the past, I would have taken offense. Now I smiled and offered no resistance. I was a father, too. And at the deepest level, I appreciated that while I was no child, I was and always would be his child.

Tonight, closest to the secular date of my father’s death, I’ll say Kaddish in his memory. On the evening of June 26, coinciding with the date of his death on the Jewish calendar (7 Tammuz), I’ll light a yarzheit candle. And I’ll remember that in so many ways, he and I were very different—just the same.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.