When I was young, my parents gave me a Dr. Seuss book entitled My Book About Me. In typical Seussian fashion, the book pairs simple rhyming patterns with some fill-in-the-blanks, enabling the book’s owner to create a sort of time capsule, revealing the likes, dislikes, and insights of a six-year-old mind.
I still have the book, and I recently pulled it out of my collected effects to do a little reminiscing. There weren’t any major revelations—I was a serious football fan (alas, I still am); my eating habits were apparently more porcine than avian (hopefully that has improved); my “best friend” was Essex Johnson (read here for that sad tale); and apparently I had a severe aversion to salad that I have largely overcome.* Oh, and I wanted a bear as a pet.
The following is a continuation of an ongoing email discussion between my cousin Mark (semi-reluctant Trump supporter) and me (unabashed Trump basher). (For part one of the discourse, click here.) In this week’s installment, we delve deeper into the repetition of past failures of the Republican Party, and the general competence of one Donald Trump to serve as chief executive of the United States.
Mark (via email, 6/29/16)
Where to begin? Well, let me start here. I’m just happy that I can have this discussion with you, and that we can share our viewpoints. It rarely happens anymore. In fact, I think it is part of the reason for the fractures we are seeing in races around the globe, elections around the globe, and in the two major parties here. Let’s start with that.
As we approach the presidential elections, much (okay, pretty much all) of the conversation has centered on the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Conservatives in particular have struggled with their opinions about and obligation to their party’s candidate. Some of us (and I am on record as being a part of this camp) find the candidate so reprehensible that we cannot and will not, with good conscience, cast a vote on his behalf. Others, while less than enthralled with the idea of a Trump presidency, see the alternative of President Hilary Clinton as significantly worse, and are willing to hold their nose and vote along the party line. Still others are excited about having an outsider candidate crashing the party and shaking things up a bit, and are looking forward to voting for Trump in November.
Recently, I started a conversation with my cousin Mark (technically, second cousin, but we’re all family) about the merits and demerits of Donald Trump, with Mark voicing the “pro” side (with significant reservation) and me the “con.” This started on Facebook (in the comments of another family member’s post), migrated to email, and now—with Mark’s permission—is being shared here for the world to see. I thank Mark for his willingness to share this conversation, and for proving that there is still room for discourse even when opinions diverge.
I want to offer a short tribute to my wife’s grandfather, Ralph Friedrich, who passed away last week at the age of 97.
My remembrances of Grandpa Friedrich are limited, having come into the family at such a late point in time. My earliest memories are of a man much younger than his accrued years, who drove himself from Michigan to DC at the age of 90 to attend his beloved granddaughter’s wedding. A man with a quick wit and a sparkle in his eye, always with a smile on his face and a story to tell.
Shortly after that wedding, Grandpa suffered a stroke that took away much of his independence. Yet while his ability to move around was reduced and his speech became more and more labored, the twinkle never left his eye.
Three years ago, we were blessed to be able to take the kids (well, the three of them that were around at the time) out to Michigan to introduce them to their great grandfather. And while Grandpa struggled to speak, his eyes told the story of a man content with a life well lived, and a legacy that would continue well after he had left this world for the next.
The month of March is truly a special time here in the mid-Atlantic region. Warmer temperatures are beginning to arrive, the gray skies are giving way to blue, and the dirty snow that has long lingered on the curbside is finally starting to dissipate. The sun makes a much-anticipated return. Daffodils and crocuses begin their annual emergence from the cold, winter soil, and the grass returns to a dark shade of green that was almost forgotten over the last six months. Songbirds reappear in the trees. The neighborhood once again becomes a hub of activity, as people leave their seasonal cocoons to enjoy the great outdoors, free of layers of personal insulation.
But none of that is what makes March special to me.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. Sure, I love being able to get outside again (and, perhaps more importantly, the kids can get outside again), and the thought of not having to shovel anything off my driveway for many more months is definitely appealing. But for me, the real harbinger of spring is the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament (a/k/a “March Madness”; a/k/a “The Big Dance”; a/k/a “The Biggest Drain on Workplace Productivity Next to Facebook”). Nothing proclaims the end of winter quite like watching a bunch of 18-22 year-old boys run around on highly polished wood courts, dreaming of immortality.
When it comes to announcing the arrival of spring, watching the tourney is the swallows returning to the mission at San Juan Capistrano with less poop. It’s the first real car wash of the year, except it can be done sitting on your couch with a frosty beverage in hand. It’s the first mowing of the lawn, save all that annoying manual labor and grass stains on your shoes.
Regular followers of this blog know that there are few things the author finds more appealing than road trips and family reunions. Last summer, the Rempes (one member less than the current contingent) embarked upon a trek across the Midwest to visit family members of both clans. We went to zoos, stayed with a great aunt, visited a great grandfather, and took a ferry across Lake Michigan before even arriving at our ultimate destination – our family reunion in Wisconsin.* Despite long hours in the (somewhat funky smelling) car, nights spent together in single rooms not designed for families of five, and stops at restaurants still waiting to receive their first Michelin star, the journey was quite delightful.
Beth and I are both blessed with the rarest of gifts – families that we love and with whom we enjoy spending time. Knowing so many friends who have strained family ties, and who shudder at the thought of prolonged contact with relatives, we do not take such a blessing for granted. Rather, we embrace the strong family ties that do exist, and take all the opportunities we can to make sure that our kids are building the same close relationships that we have with our siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
The recent Labor Day weekend provided just such an opportunity for family building. A friend suggested that all the Rempes – Mama Rempe included – attend the family camp at Young Life’s Rockbridge Alum Springs camp in western Virginia. Realizing that this would be a great chance to a) hang out with some old friends whom I haven’t seen in close to 20 years; b) introduce our newest arrival to some of his cousins, aunts, and uncles; and c) do it on a Young Life property, I quickly made the reservations. Doing so required Beth to move her regular weekend shifts at the hospital to mid-week to accommodate it, and for me to take some time off for the week to accommodate that, but I figured the long weekend would be worth it.
I know, I know … it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything to this blog, and many of you have been wondering, ” So Steve, why aren’t we hearing more from you about your newly expanded family and those sweet, cherubic children of yours? When are we going to see more pictures and hear more about their humorous escapades?” My typical response to this is, “I’m getting around to it, mom – be patient.”
The truth is, the reason I haven’t written more about the madhouse I share with four children four and under is … well, I live in a madhouse that I share with four children four and under. That is to say, waking moments at home tend to be spent (a) getting the kids to do something they don’t want to do; (b) getting the kids to stop doing something I don’t want them to do; (c) cleaning up after the kids following my failure to accomplish (b); or (d) recovering from my efforts on points (a), (b), and (c).
Yes, this is an exhausting stage in life, and one that doesn’t lend itself to evenings of quiet reflection in the parlor while sipping on a spot of Earl Grey and typing out thoughts on the ol’ Smith Corona. At this point, the closest thing to a private study is my little cubicle at the office, where – if I’m lucky – I’m able to squeeze out a few moments a week to write once the day’s work is done, fueled by sugary beverages that allow me to ignore the lack of sleep I had the previous night.
This is not to complain, though. Sleep deprivation aside, I love the life and challenges that come with being a dad of four. And I readily acknowledge that when it comes to the challenges of parenting, my wife deals with much, much more than I do, and for longer periods of time. (Although, in my defense, most of my friends of similar age have long since seen this effort-intensive period of child rearing fade from the rear-view mirror. To which Beth would probably respond, “Well, stop giving me children.” Fair point.)
Indeed, flying in the face of that old axiom, this old dog has actually learned some new tricks when it comes to parenting small children. So, should any of you find yourselves raising a pack of little ones, here are few life lessons learned from this daddy of four.