Sisters

I was born and raised in a home at the address of 1014 N. Evergreen Street, Burbank, CA.

With my two sisters.

Today it went up for sale.

Of course any house can be sold to anyone with the necessary funds, though the memories will always be owned by those of us who resided within it.

There were many wonderful memories of 1014 to be sure, far too many to count, yet certainly many memories that were far from idyllic. In fact, I wish I could put some of those memories on the multiple listing service as well, as, one might say, I enjoyed the safe haven and reprieve of functional family enclaves…amidst a vast sea of dysfunction throughout my childhood.

Those memories would be nice to sell with no contingencies.

I never had any doubt for a second that both my mother and father loved me very deeply. Yet as every child eventually figures out, parents are just regular kids who had some fun and together created a younger kid. Not a lot of skill needed. They are not trained professionals, nor necessarily adequate at the job of parenting. Raising children is an occupation that all must learn on the fly- you learn the art of parenting as you go.

We all start as novices. You just go with the best you can with what you know. We may need an official license for constructing pools or building houses, yet nothing required for building human beings. And, I get it, that would be weird, not to mention highly impractical.

My dad was a good dad yet far from a perfect one, a novice to be sure. Though to understand any person one must understand the novices from which they came.

By all accounts, my father’s father (my grandfather) was an abusive, mean, angry, tyrannical bastard who did horrible things to his family, or so I have been told –I never met the man myself. How horrible was he? Legend has it that, so horrible, my grandmother and her family fled across the country, from Buffalo, New York to Southern California- as far as one could go in any one country- to escape the horrors of this supposed monster.

To illustrate, apparently he died in the mid-1960’s and his grown children literally threw a party to celebrate his passing. I would say that is fairly credible evidence of horrible. My entire life I have not heard one redeeming word about this man.

So, when I can recount a handful of my horrible childhood memories, and dozens of wonderful ones, I do so acknowledging the history my father endured from his childhood and the nightmare he had to live day in and day out. We all feel sorry for the man with no shoes until we meet the man with no feet…I may be shoeless though my father had no feet. I could only imagine the failing novice of my father’s grandfather. Oh shit, no legs?

I can recall on a couple of occasions when me and my two older sisters, Marybeth and Julie, only a few years apart, youngest to oldest, would watch as the only stability we had on a drunken Friday evening, my mother, would uncharacteristically imbibe and become part of the problem as she and my dad fought to the verge of physical aggression.

I distinctly recall me and my sisters huddling in a darkened corner of the room hugging each other and crying, having no idea what was going to happen next as we heard the screams and crashes in the other room. We were scared little children who only knew we had each other, all nearly preschoolers, to depend on and have any confidence in.

At these times, we had no one but each other, as our parents were busy bowing to the gods of alcohol and the immature outbursts of aggression.

Thankfully these episodes were very few and, somewhat, far between – and would be followed the next day with grand remorse by both parents.

Why do I write of such dysfunction? I do not write this to solicit pity or elicit sympathy. Hell no. I know many people who had it far worse than I as their childhood makes mine look like the Brady Bunch on steroidal whole milk and extra sweetened cookies. I’m now an old ass man who has done just fine with his life. I write this because this helpless and fearful feeling is now coming back to me…granted in a more stable and refined kind of way.

My rarely imbibed mom passed away October 18, 2017, and my dad is still hanging in there as he clings to life at a 24-hour healthcare hospice facility in Northridge, California.

Me and my sisters, Marybeth and Julie, are once again huddled in the corner as we, together, navigate the unfamiliar waters of caring for and losing parents.

We, fortunately, all have wonderful and loving support structures- solid partners, friends and children. We are not alone by any stretch. Yet there is something that all the support structures in the world cannot provide what we siblings can provide each other: the history we share of knowing what it feels like to be scared, terrified in fact, and without parental protection…and now never doubting we are there for each other.

We, through meetings, phone calls and text messages, are huddling and crying in the corner once again. Not as many tears this time around and not a literal huddle, though we can look into each other’s eyes and detect that all too familiar gleam of childhood vulnerability once again. Regardless of age, some vulnerabilities are just really hard to shake.

Sibling relationships can be very complicated. My sisters and I have had some very difficult and elongated rough patches over the years. Very rough in fact.

Though nothing as rough as knowing we children are closely becoming the only ones left of our nuclear family.

Eventually, it will be just each one of us alone. We all die alone. I’ve never heard of a casket built for two.

I was born and raised in a home at the address of 1014 N. Evergreen Street, Burbank, CA.

With my two sisters.

Today it went up for sale.

(images are of 1014)

 

Family Values

Individuality. Responsibility. Tolerance. Sense of humor. Creativity. And what do each of these wonderful virtues have in common?

All are the central values that we desired to impart to our children as they were growing up.

Values are strange things in that everyone, yes, everyone, has them yet most have not stopped to identify and critically evaluate them.Family_ValuesF

When our eldest children were still very small, Rene’ and I adopted the idea of imparting “family values” to our children.  Perhaps some are unaware that the term “family values” was a conservative, right-leaning buzzphrase about 25 years ago (perhaps still is?? Not sure) that translated into adopting a rather conservative spin on one’s politics. I felt this to be unfortunate as, politically, I am fairly middle-of-the-road and really did not want to identify with any political branding. Yet I am a strong believer in both family and values while believing it is very important to impart discretion and wisdom to our young (or at least attempt to…I still surprise myself that at my age I am quite capable of lacking both…but I digress).

The political right used the idea of family values to provide the primary pathos of their party…as if they have corner on family values that the left sorely lacks. I would argue both parties have values -just fundamentally different ones to be sure. There is a lot of, “if your values are not my values they are not values” thinking going on. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the issue of gay rights -as both sides accuse the other of lacking values. I believe both sides have values…just radically different ones, generated from different places with different moral mindsets. Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, is, in my opinion, a 4 time married, law breaking, hypocrite who should quit her position or go to prison. That said, I do believe she has values…just radically different ones from my own.

We adopted the term “family values” NOT in the sense of imparting conservative, right wing SHtuff to our children, rather the adopting values we felt to be important. Have our values changed in the past 25 years? In a word, yes. For example, personally, I would not have selected the value of tolerance -as it suggests to “put up with” something/someone. I would replace tolerance with a phrase that goes much further… love, for example. I am still very cool with responsibility, sense of humor and creativity….perhaps even moreso today than 25 years ago.

Taking responsibility for your own actions -not blaming others when things do not go your way, owning up to mistakes, etc… is a central tenet of the Urb clan. Rene’ has grown to believe creativity is the root of all humanity and I tend to agree. And a sense of humor? Life would not be worth living without it…to take ANYTHING, yourself included, too seriously is a serious Urb offense. Even at our most serious, we have learned to seriously laugh at ourselves and each other. I seriously love that.

I am very pleased to report that I believe we have accomplished imparting these values to our now adult children. Each child embodies these 5 values, with each child seeming to strongly emphasize one value in particular. For those of you know my family, I believe you can guess which one matches which value.

HOWEVER, if we were to change one of our original values, perhaps a value we wish we could take back, it most certainly would be that of individuality.  I do believe a healthy dose of being a very strong individual is a good thing, yet, like any good thing in abundance, it can go south….quickly.

To be a strong individual has a tremendous upside, particularly as you are growing up. To be strong in the face of peer pressure, to not allow others to determine your happiness, to stand up to wrongs and indifference, to fully develop your own unique voice and use it without apology, to question authority and, well, question everything, are all wonderful attributes -so what’s the problem?

As I think about it, strong individuality is a lot like drinking- the best part is concurrently the worst part. The worst part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions -the best part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions.

As I age, I realize the immense value and importance of community. Terrifically strong individuals typically make for poor members of a community. There is a time to give and a time to take; a time to sacrifice and a time to be a bit selfish; there is a place for “me” time yet I now realize there is a much more prominent place for “we” time.

Rene’ is much more collectivist in her thinking than I am. While I tend to be “looking out for number one,” Rene’ is too busy helping numbers two and three to be concerned with her number one status -and that is a beautiful thing. If I could go back and alter the Urb family values, I would try to find a value that balances the concern for self with the concern for others. That, or just eliminate it altogether. As I think about it, if one is tolerant, responsible, creative, and has a sense of humor, the idea of individuality is somewhat redundant at that point.

So what do we got? We have a family, even counting Rene’ in a strange sort of way, of fierce individuals. They are who they are with no apologies. Whatever they want in life they attack it…with a vengeance.

This December, when my daughter Rose and her man, Nathan, come for their long awaited visit for a few weeks, the house will once again be stuffed full of strong creative and individualistic energy. Oh sure we will fight over where to eat, what time to go to a certain place, what meal to cook, what temperature to set the thermostat, the volume and movie choice on Netflix, to put the accordion and trumpet away, and even who gets the front seat.

I suppose that is the price to pay for four children who could all potentially change over the world.

So, like them or not, for better or for worse, we have identified our values and have attempted to consistently enforce them for about 25 years now.

And remember, there is no “i” in values. It only took a mere quarter century to figure that one out.

The Lovely Trickles Of Life

There are some major challenges many of us take on in life.  In my experience none has been so daunting as taking on the challenge of parenthood some 26 year ago.  I suppose it would not be quite as daunting for those who care little for wanting to be a present parent who strives for excellence, yet this is not the case for neither Rene’ nor I: We wanted to be as good as we could be…still do.  This is not to say we were excellent parents, it is only to say we tried to be excellent parents, it was important to us –and I suppose our children’s therapists will have the final say about that.

Now, 4 adult children later, we are starting to see trickle in, ever so slowly, the fruits of our labor, the product of our efforts. These trickles generate from a circular and flowing life spring, identified by many a philosophy or religion as karma, cosmic justice, or simply reaping what you sow.

I have heard it said that you can determine  -in the majority of cases- whether a parent was good or bad parent based on whether their adult children like them or not (key word being ADULT as every 13 year old girl on the planet is obliged to hate their parents for a sizable amount of time).  Chances are if your adult children want to either avoid or even do physical damage to you, well, probably not such a good job in the nurturing department. If, on the other hand, your adult children still want to hang with you and even serve you, job well done. And, of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this.

That being said, as I share the following it is in no way presented as a self-aggrandizing means of arrogance or boasting in the parental department -quite the opposite. It is shared with my readers from a man who is not getting any younger, not getting any stronger (though, dammit, I am still gonna try!) and finds himself more dependent on life’s little crutches, be it reading glasses or hand rails, while starkly realizing his dependence upon the assistance of others is only going to increase in the upcoming years.

It comes from a humble and thankful place. It comes from a needy place. It comes from a place where trickles of love, kindness and assurance are not wanted, they are truly needed.

So last night when my daughter Rose, who is “babysitting” me during my nearly 3 month stay in London, observed that it was a ridiculous £4 to do a load of laundry at the local launderette, continued to promptly fling a 10 lb. sack of my sweaty socks and underwear on her back to take on her 30 minute bus ride home, where she could more inexpensively do my laundry herself, well, I felt a trickle of family love and kindness.

When I received the following short and sweet Viber message yesterday from my daughter Tess who is currently studying in New Zealand: Dad, thanks for quizzing me on every book I finished reading when I was little. Short, sweet, and touching -and I felt an oh-so-slight, yet ironically strong, trickle of love and appreciation.

When my son Jordan recently recognized me in a social media update another trickle of assurance was felt: Jimmy is on his way to live abroad in London for a few months and to potentially follow in his sons footsteps by doing some continental hitchhiking afterwards. He gets to step out of his comfort zone and meet a new part of himself, maybe even get to a Rainbow Gathering. At the same time he’s got a cool blog and podcast he has been consistent with updating for well over a year now, something I have been trying to do since the seventh grade.

Of course, I must mention, that the cool blog and podcasts would have never have been possible without his brilliant technological trickles of assistance.

And, of course, when my youngest Stevie says he want to be rich by age 30 and he  will be able to take care of his mom and dad with no worries, even though I will not hold my breath -I still feel the trickle of happiness and love.

These observations are written by a man who is watching his 81 year-old father, hardly able to get out of bed anymore, negotiate his final time on this earth. Observing his growing frailty acts as a mirror for my own life as this may be my fate and destiny as well – should I have the good fortune of many years on this earth.  I consider that perhaps enduring the suffering of growing old is an equitable trade off for a mere few more breaths.

Why? The trickles make it worth it.

My observations are written by a humbled man who is still desperately searching for his own identity in his post parenting days. It is written by a man whose affinity for the good things in life –travel, dance, good food and good wine- does not mask the realities of what awaits each of us in the long haul.

And, in the end, it is the family and friends we all love that hold it all together for us and with us. May I be so fortunate as to feel the trickles for many years to come.

The trickles are far worth the daunting challenge of parenthood.

photoJordan, Rene’, Stevie, my 83 year old Uncle Les, Rosie, her man Nathan, Tessa, and me.