Steel City

I admit this is a travelogue, but I’ll make a point. Long, well long long ago, I was given the dare by a college friend on an all too many libations evening, to drive home for the weekend with him and another friend. No big deal except that we were in Wisconsin and he lived in Connecticut. We would leave late Thursday night and be back in time for our Monday classes. I took the dare and immediately started to worry about how my parents would feel if something happened and they would not have even known I had gone. The morning before we were set to leave, I caved in and called my dad. Totally expecting him to shoot down the idea as crazy, ill formed, and paid for how?, I awaited the big NO! To my utter surprise, my conservative, sensible father said, “I have given up so many things in my life and travel was one, you should travel every time you get the opportunity.”

I took the dare and we were off late that Thursday night, snow bound on the Ohio Turnpike at 2:00 in the morning, stranded in a truck stop till dawn and one whole day of driving, but we made it to Connecticut. Two days later and another all night drive and we were back at UW Oshkosh for my 10:00 am class. To this day, this opportunity remains an incredible memory.

A month or so ago, we were invited to the wedding of my next door neighbor’s son. The catch was that it was in Pittsburgh and I am sure the thought was would they really come? If my Connecticut trip all those years ago taught me anything, it was never pass up an opportunity to visit a city for the first time. I had never been to Pittsburgh so there really never was a hesitation, we were going and we would travel by car. Travel by car, as I have written about in other blogs, is the best way to really experience a trip. We split this trip in half, spent a day in Sandusky, Ohio and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania early on Thursday afternoon.

Lake Erie sunset from the Sandusky Pier Park
Tunnel view of the Point Park Fountain in Pittsburgh

My opinion of Pittsburgh, as my title states, was one of steel mills, heavily industrial, and well, likely poor. Granted we stayed in the downtown, but my opinion changed immediately. The city has been working very hard on regentrification and the impact is everywhere in the downtown area. Pittsburgh sits on the confluence of three rivers, the Alleghany, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Their meeting point is marked by a beautiful park surrounded by the bluffs on either side. Just across the river sits the Pittsburgh Steelers football stadium and just down the river the Pittsburgh Pirates ball park. The bike trails run everywhere and food, entertainment, and sports bars dot the area. In short, so much to do and see and in my case not much time to get it done. But I have two more days and I am confident I will leave here with not only new memories, but another city added to my completion list and an opinion changed.

Fountain at Point Park where the three rivers meet
Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Duquesne Incline at Pittsburgh on Mt Washington
Night view of the Incline from the Ft. Pitt Bridge

Travel can never be discounted due to what it does for the traveler. If one travels with an open mind and a good dose of curiosity, you will come home with better understanding of how our uniqueness is in our differences and that our common bond is found in our humanity.

Becoming a Dad

I became a father on April 21, 1984. Bailey was born that morning after a long previous day and night of waiting for her. We had to make a decision that morning to continue trying or to consider a C Section delivery. That decision was taken away when it became clear we had to do an emergency surgery to bring Bailey into our world.

At the time, becoming a father was a scary thing. I was worried that I would not be a good father. I thought I might be ill prepared for the role and thus not able to do what was needed to be the father Bailey would need. This was a huge responsibility I was about to take on and was I willing to make the life style changes that it would require. As I look back on that fear, I realize how selfish that was. I was more concerned about me than what I actually needed to be concerned about.

The surgery was successful and within moments of the delivery, Bailey was in my arms and my world and my worries changed. In that moment, as her tiny hand found my finger, my world became her world and I transitioned from worried father to fully engaged dad. It now all made sense. To be a father simply took the act, but being a dad was a gift that was bestowed upon you by that moment you connected with the life you had helped create. Of course my life would change. I had a whole new person to share it with. That fear of responsibility was replaced by the excitement of being part of a whole new journey.

I spent the next several hours bonding with and falling in love with our little baby girl as my wife recovered from the surgery. These were precious moments that shaped the rest of my relationship, moments where I learned the difference between being a father and being a dad. By the time my wife was able to hold our child, her life was all ready being mapped out. She would be given adventures to make her strong. She would be given opportunities to grow in every possible way.  She would be given support in whatever choices she made. She would be loved.

Seven years later, my wife and I would welcome the birth of our second child, this time by natural delivery but no less dramatic. I would be given a chance to do it all again and this time to help my older daughter become the big sister. Kathryn was welcomed into our world on April 26, 1991 and just as her sister became part of our plans, so too did Kathryn become part of our family plans. Like her sister before her, she would be encouraged to find her own space, to be part of our adventures, to be loved for who she was and would become. To be honest, I think Kathryn took her role to be the one who would make the adventures bigger.

It is with purpose that I have recounted this story on Father’s Day. It was and will always be my greatest honor to have been a father who understands what it takes to be a dad.

Divide and Conquer …. or?

The title refers to a military tactic. If you want the upper hand in a battle, you divide the enemy, militarily or culturally. We have become a nation, thanks to an election and a pandemic, that is ideologically divided. My question is, are we willing to work on a repair or will we accept being divided and conquered?

Over the past decade, our government has become fractured. As of the last several years, it has been reduced to you are a conservative or you are a liberal. The result of this fracturing is a two party system that for the most part does not represent the general population that elected them and at the very least has become an ineffective governing body. Now some may argue that Congress still passes legislation, but the legislation is along party and unfortunately, money lines. The art of compromise for the good of the nation seems absent.

Meanwhile, we as citizens and voters, are becoming polarized. Thanks to social media, we get our news from everywhere and anywhere and we feel free to verbalize our opinions as beliefs we expect others to adopt. We are losing our civility at a time when it is needed more than ever. The pandemic taught us what isolation felt like. Some embraced it while others grew angry, looking for someone to blame. The election embroiled us in a nasty national conversation, further fueling our anger and grief. The end result, is a division that grows wider with each angry social media confrontation and every too hastily shared meme or post. We are divided and ready to be conquered. In this battle, the enemy is not always obvious, not even some other country or ideology. The enemy is us. How wide do we leave this division grow before the distance between is too far to ever cross.

We must get back to spending more time listening TO each other than the amount of time we spend talking AT each other. The vast majority of Americans are not simply one side or the other. We hold some beliefs that are conservative while we hold others that are liberal. The truth is we are moderates caught in a struggle to make us one or the other, leaving us no ground in the middle. But the solution is simple, we begin to listen. We get back to respecting our differences. We stop claiming that everything is political. It is only political when we use arguing our causes as an excuse for not listening. Politicians make issues political, we do not have to. I fear that if we leave party politicians to steer us, we will not be able to get back to any kind of normal.

Let’s put the election behind us. Let’s leave the pandemic to history. Let’s get back to civilized discussions about what comes next and what positive role we can play. We must seek to choose leaders at all levels, who recognize the need for rational discussions on what they as leaders and we as a people can do to solve the litany of problems that face our nation. We must make our decisions based on humanity and not politics. Choose to listen for our commonalities so that we can respect our differences. Let us choose unified and stronger over divided and conquered.