F + 2 Days Furlough Report

First, why do this?  Several reasons: 1. I’ve got the time.  2. If I can’t laugh at myself or the absurdity of this situation, then it’ll be a more depressing situation than it actually is.  3. Show what work isn’t getting done because of this impasse.  4. It’s good to have an outlet.

With that out of the way…

Furlough beard 2

Just a few more days before I look like unshaven Justin Timberlake. Or maybe not…

Duration of Furlough: 2 days

Work not done: Yesterday, I would have been given the monthly status of each group’s progress in completing our wildly important goals. The first Wednesday of every month, each group lead for the four groups in my branch reports on the progress we’re making in reaching those goals.  We discuss any potential obstacles, potential solutions, and what progress we expect to make in the next month.  These goals are usually centered around improvements we need to make – our ISE and ISO flight controllers are both working to try and improve the training flow required for certification to work in mission control.  Our Crew On-Orbit Support System software development lab is currently putting together their strategic software development plan for the next 1-2 years.  Our PLUTO flight controllers, responsible for ISS computer networks, is preparing for a major software update to the ISS LANs that’s supposed to be released in early 2014.  Work on these projects will continue to an extent as our contractor teams are forward-funded for the next couple months, but progress on these will be slowed without some key contributors.

In addition, we were also slated to continue discussion on improving proficiency training for all of our certified flight controllers and instructors.  Proficiency training is refresher training for controllers who are already certified.  We’re currently revamping that training to ensure that certified personnel are always ready to ensure the safety of the crew on ISS, ensure the safety of the vehicle, and successfully complete our mission.  We’re comparing plans across our groups to see where we can share resources, ensure we’re being consistent, and ensure we don’t miss anything.  Most of this work is just not getting done.

Outlook for Continuing Resolution passage by Congress: Still poor.

Yesterday showed little if any signs of progress.  There’s talk of a grand bargain in the works, but I’m skeptical that Democrats will agree to anything that further reduces spending.  More on that in the liberal thoughts section below; I’ll spare my conservative friends from me getting into that here.

Have I showered today? Yes!  Rationale below.

Chores done: None. Dishes pending.

Wife-requested tasks: Take youngest daughter to preschool since my wife had to be in to work early (hence the shower to not scare off the preschool teachers). Submit forms for Texas Unclaimed Property (Done! $200 comin’ my way). Write something (I’m not sure this counts).

Video games played: Injustice: Gods Among Us, The Simpson: Tapped Out

I’ve never been much for fighter games as I mostly just mash buttons. I’m also not up to speed on my comic superheroes – my knowledge stops at the core characters – but it’s satisfying to pound away in this game.

Mood: Resigned.

This is going to take a while.  It’s hard to tell how much urgency both sides have in this discussion.  The last time this occurred the shutdown lasted 21 days. Comments saying that the shutdown was wanted make me incredibly unsympathetic to your view.

Furlough Fun Fact: It is illegal for a federal worker on furlough to check his or her work email.

Movie of the day: Deep Impact

God, this movie is depressing.  But fairly realistic!

*** Warning: Liberal Views Ahead***

If you think a liberal is inherently a bad person, you’ve probably already stopped reading or never ventured here in the first place.  If you can consider that 2 people can look at a problem and come up with 2 different solutions and not think they’re terrible people because of those views, then you may be open-minded enough to read on.

I thought I’d spend a few minutes answering a question from an old friend:

When did I become such a Democrat?

First, I’m not a registered Democrat.  I’m still an independent because I don’t have a lot of trust in the career politicians on either side.  I will admit to being very liberal.  Did I used to be more moderate?  In some ways, but over the last 6 years, my worldview has definitely shifted more to the left; though I also wonder how much the right shifted away from me.

So what’s important to me?  The following is in rough priority order.

Environmentalism

This isn’t about save the Earth, because the Earth existed just fine millions of years before we came along and will continue to be here long after we’re gone.  I do believe though that we need to protect our environment as much as possible.  Pollution, be it air, water, light, or other, destroys our environment and the environment of the plants and animals we share the planet with.  We require biodiversity among those other planets and animals in order to survive.  Lack of biodiversity puts humanity’s food chain at risk.  Extinction of species, like say the honey bee, could also be devastating to our food supply. We release more pollution every day in many different ways.  In my view we need to curb that as much as possible.

I haven’t even touched on global climate change which climate scientists are now 95% certain is caused by humans.  I believe the science, but I’ll admit there’s a small chance it could be wrong.  I look at it this way – What if climate scientists are wrong?  We may waste money on renewable energy sources, jobs may disappear from coal and oil industries, but then we would have an energy supply not dependent on foreign assets and jobs would likely spring up in other areas.  Now, what if climate scientists are right and we don’t do anything?  Well, the potential consequences are fairly dire.  I’d rather make changes and have them not be needed, then not make changes and have the situation get worse.  Good businessman will find other ways to make money.

Women’s Issues

I have 3 girls.  I want them to have the same opportunities and same rewards as anyone else – man or woman.  I support fair pay laws and equal opportunity laws that will allow them to get opportunities in male-dominated industries.  I also support anti-discrimination laws that protect the from any institutional sexism.  Don’t think that exists anymore?  Talk to women in the video game industry or IT industry.

I also don’t want any of them to get pregnant before they are emotionally, financially, and physically ready for it.  However, I’m not naive enough to believe they will abstain from sex before they get married in their mid-to-late twenties or later.  They need to be educated on how to protect themselves and what contraception they should use to avoid unplanned pregnancies.  And God forbid they ever get raped and get pregnant from that, but if one of them ever were, I would want them to make whatever decision they feel is necessary for that pregnancy and for them to have the right medical care when making that decision.  I would want the same if that pregnancy threatened their well-being.

Science

I’ve already talked about climate change. I would also site the controversy over teaching creationism as science as something that drives me to the left.  The Theory of Evolution is not just some supposition; it’s well-supported by scientific evidence.  That’s the definition of a scientific theory. As long as the religious right pushes to teach creationism as science, as they’re currently doing with Texas science textbooks, I will vehemently oppose those efforts.

Economic Recovery

I fully admit this is not an area where I have a thorough understanding of the principles of the system.  I’ve learned a lot from reading sites like baselinescenario.com.  I don’t believe that focusing on the deficit and cutting government funding is what this country needs right now.  Fiscal conservatism has its place and time, but I don’t believe that time is now.  My view is that the government needs to spend more on infrastructure, science and medical research, and education in order to improve the foundations of the country, better prepare Americans to succeed in the real-world and create more jobs.

The lack of jobs is the most important issue that I believe our government should be addressing.  When taxes are low, the rich save more money rather than spend more.  Building and improving infrastructure creates jobs, research and development of new technologies creates jobs and a better education allows people to get better jobs.  Employers will continue to seek ways to lower their costs through automating tasks or finding cheaper labor.  This will continue to move manufacturing jobs out of the country and eliminate other jobs.  We either need to find other ways for people to work or change the expectation that everyone has to have a job.

I’m going to stop here.  I could also discuss pushing religion on government, gun control, military spending, government lobbying and several other issues, but I’ve probably either agitated or bored you enough already.  None of this is to say I love the current Democratic leadership – Obama seems to not really value NASA, both sides are too beholden to corporate interests – but in the current environment, I do support more of what they’re after.  In the past, pragmatic environmentalism, prudent government spending, trusting science, and equal treatment for people would not have made me a liberal.  Today, it does.

If you missed it:

F + 1 Day Furlough Report

F+1 Day Furlough Report

Debut of Furlough Beard!

Debut of Furlough Beard!

Duration of Furlough: 1 day

Work not done: Yesterday was supposed to be the Operations Division review of inputs to the Increment 38 Flight Readiness Review.  This review is in preparation for the Directorate and Agency-level Flight Readiness Reviews.  Each technical discipline in the division reports on their readiness to support Increment 38.  We review things like the certification status of everyone supporting the mission, readiness of ground facilities, and readiness to support all planned activities during this increment.  All of this is done to ensure the safety of the mission.  Assuming a short furlough, this will be rescheduled for the near future.

We were also supposed to preview a new photo storage utility that helps the ISS astronauts store photos taken on ISS in the correct folders for downlink.  This will help both the crew and ops team with some  minor hassle as this is relatively unimportant information for the crew but they  need it all the time with the volume of pictures taken.

Secondary impacts: Cancelled the after school babysitter since I was home.  Didn’t go to a lunch with my group leads as planned.

Outlook for Continuing Resolution passage by Congress: Poor

An article on CNN yesterday (which I can’t currently find to link to), stated  that the Republicans would use the shutdown as leverage to get what they want during the upcoming debt ceiling fight.  The problem? We’re not expected to reach the debt ceiling until October 17th.  That’s a long time from now and would mean I miss out on at least half a paycheck.

Have I showered today? Soon.

Chores done: Dishes. Vacuumed laundry room.

Wife-requested tasks: Go to Post Office and drop off a package (I get off easy today!).  Do something productive.

Video games played: Injustice: Gods Among Us, The Simpson: Tapped Out (Hooray for the Halloween update!)

Mood: Aggravated.

This whole situation is absurd.  I love how Congress gets paid while it’s there fault that there is not a budget and I am out of work.

Yesterday, Rep. John Culberson of Texas said this about the effort to continue to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA):

“The whole room [shouted] ‘Let’s vote!’ And I said, you know like 9/11, ‘Let’s roll!'” Culberson said.

Rep. Culberson what you’re doing is not in any way heroic and is in no way like what the brave folks on Flight 93 did when they took a plane back from terrorists and crashed it into a field in Pennsylvania.  In my opinion, the extremism you’re displaying in this fight against ACA is closer to the actions of the bad guys in that scenario than it is to the heroes. The goals of the ACA – fewer uninsured Americans, control health care costs –  are admirable even if the solution is imperfect and needs improvement.  I’d be more inclined to be sympathetic to the Republican view if they offered any viable solutions or alternatives.  And since the Heritage Foundation,a conservative think tank, drew up the foundation of the ACA, it really makes no sense that conservatives don’t support it.  The only response so far, though, is to stomp your feet and refuse to play even though the ACA is law and the Supreme Court upheld it.

Furlough Fun Fact: It is illegal for federal workers to volunteer to work during a furlough.

Song of the day: Sometime Around Midnight – The Airborne Toxic Event

The Technological Innovation I was Reluctant to Feature in Dust

Part of the premise of Dust is that the human race has grown beyond its means and as a result many colonies across the Republic  are struggling to adequately feed their populations.  When Nick, our protagonist, travels to Dust, he expects to find a local population filled with the emaciated and destitute, with people begging for scraps and the whole of the colony struggling to survive.

Much to his surprise, that’s not what he finds.  Instead he finds a population that is having no trouble supporting itself.  He finds his plate is filled everyday with strange but scrumptious meals that leave him more than satisfied.  This delicious bounty is the result of Dust’s top mind, the old geneticist Doctor Aldous Sinclair.  Doctor Sinclair used his scientific gifts to modify crops so that they could thrive in the harsh environment of Dust, thereby guaranteeing the colony’s survival.

The people of Dust rely on genetically-modified foods for survival.

My reluctance to include genetically-modified food in Dust doesn’t stem from any fear of genetic modification itself.  There is nothing inherently wrong with something that is genetically modified.  In fact, human-made modifications can potentially be very beneficial, but that doesn’t excuse the shameful way genetically-modified foods have been handled in the United States.

Just under a year ago, I stumbled across this TEDx talk from Robyn O’Brien.  Robyn does an excellent job laying out the case against the dangers and risks that have been introduced into the U.S. food supply through the introduction of unregulated genetically-modified foods. In the presentation, she reviews the data that shows an increase in food allergies, cancer rates, and other issues that have occurred since genetically-modified foods started showing up in our food supply.  She does note that correlation does not equal causation.  There are times though, when better safe than sorry or caveat emptor should be our underlying approach.

As I sat at my kitchen table with my three little girls, I realized just how much I agreed with Robyn’s approach.  We’ve made wholesale changes to our food buying habits, buying as many organic, natural, and chemical-free food products as we can.  These days, you’re much more apt to find foods from Cascadian Farms, Annie’s, Kashi, or Mom’s Best then you are to find Kellogg’s, Nabisco, or Kraft.  That’s not to say we’re perfect as the need for quick snacks and fast meals with our little girls sometimes makes processed foods necessary.  However, we have made substantial changes.

Frankly, I think it’s fairly shameful how governments in other developed countries around the world have seen fit to protect their citizens from the inherent dangers that could be resulting from their foods and yet the government “by the people, for the people’ has not.  I find the mindset that many people seem to have, that food or chemicals are okay until they are proven harmful, to be perplexing.

When a new medication is introduced to the public, it is required to be tested to ensure that it is reasonably safe (there are problems with biased studies here, but the approach is reasonable).  Side effects must be identified and if a medication proves to be too detrimental, it is not approved.  Yet, medication is not required for consumption everyday by every person in this country.

Everyone, man, woman, or child has to eat.  Yet for the food we put on our plates, we seem to have put the bottom-line of corporations ahead of the safety of the people.

Until this situation is rectified, grocery shopping truly requires a ‘buyer beware’ approach.  I know too many people with cancer to want to put my family at risk by eating food that is ultimately unsafe.

So, as I said, I was reluctant to include this technological innovation in Dust.  I considered adding an exchange that would show how Sinclair tested his modifications to ensure that they were safe, but I couldn’t find any way to naturally blend it in with the story.  I considered not having genetically-modified organisms, but they were important to establishing Sinclair’s abilities.  In the end, I left them in the book with the rationalization that genetic modification is not inherently bad, but I knew I’d be writing a post to express my reservations with the approach the United States has taken.

You can follow Robyn on twitter @unhealthytruth.

Fatherhood is the Engine that Drives Dust

***MINOR STORY SPOILERS AHEAD***

I’ve written a bit on the technological backbone of Dust and the evolution of technology that enables the story, but I haven’t yet written much on what Dust is really about. The story for Dust came to me when I asked myself one question:

What would society be like if you were only allowed to have one child?

Growing up, I never really envisioned myself as much of a family man.  I had no dreams or aspirations of having kids and having a family.  I never thought about it.  I thought a helluva lot more about getting a chance to walk on alien worlds and travelling through the stars then I ever did about family.  My own experiences with my parents were different  with a biological father who abandoned my mother and I when I was 2 years old and an adoptive father with his own struggles.

When my wife and I first discussed having kids, I didn’t really have an answer to how many children I wanted.  My wife, seeing me as the responsible-yet-calculating engineer that I was, figured I would be a solid provider for the family, but I would probably be fairly distant with the kids.  I was awkward around other people’s kids, not really able to interact with them in a way that suggested I would be any good with my own kids.

When my firstborn arrived, my change in perspective was profound. Yes, I felt naturally protective which is no surprise.  Not only did I fulfill my obligation to take care and provide for my girls, but I also played with them.  I became involved.  I help with their development.  I read them stories every night, take them to movies and sporting events, and try to teach them about the world around them.  I love them.

There is a 1988 apocalyptic movie, The Seventh Sign, that ultimately asks a young mother if she will die to save the soul of her newborn baby and in so doing she saves the world.  That willingness to give your life for your child is a cliched statement, but the roots of that cliche come from absolute truth.

Now back to the question I asked myself, what would society be like if you could only have one child?  How protective would you be of that child?  What would you think of someone who clearly didn’t love their child?  What would you do if you lost your child?

This brings us to the two main characters – Nick and Max – and their respective relationships.

Nick is a young man whose relationship with his father is broken.  Nick has been raised a good Catholic boy; he is well versed on what is right and what is wrong in the eyes of the Church and the government of the Republic.  He understands that families are limited to one child because of rampant poverty because humanity cannot support the size of the current population.  He understands that everyone has a moral and legal obligation to conserve so that everyone may have at least a small piece of the pie.

In reality, it’s not quite that easy to draw the lines between right and wrong.  A year before the events of the novel, Nick stumbled on some information about his father’s job that opened his eyes and set him down a path that would ultimately lead to Nick leaving home in the middle of the night, setting out to making a life of his own.

Admittedly, Nick’s father is a one-dimensional, bit character; he is the boogeyman who haunts Nick’s dreams.  He is the aloof, distant father who puts career and wealth above family.  His pursuit of the brass ring leads him down a path that Nick finds utterly repugnant.  In the months following Nick’s initial discovery, his relationship with his father sours quickly.  Arguments between the two of them are frequent and Nick’s father withdraws from his son as he learns that their values are in conflict.  While his father is on a business trip, Nick tries to run away for the first time, but his mother talks him out of it.  She holds the family together with every ounce of her strength.  She knows what is at stake and she fights to keep them together.  Ultimately, she cannot stop her son from setting off on his own path.

When Nick’s vindictive father learns that Nick has run off, he strips away all of Nick’s money.  This is what brings Nick to Max and sets into motion a series of events that will dramatically alter both of their lives.  Max lost his only child ten years prior  to meeting Nick.  His days and nights are haunted by the memories of the accident that took her life.  Max knows what he lost and that makes him a little more receptive to taking on a young man who has no real experience and no real place to turn.  It makes him a little more patient with a rebellious kid whose only direction has been provided by the loathing he feels for his father.

It is this connection that propels Nick and Max through the events of the story.  On the backwater colony of Dust, both men will face the consequences of their failed relationships.  Both men will be pushed to the brink of their capabilities until they are forced to come face-to-face with their troubled pasts.

Lego Friends Will Not Force Your Daughter into a Life of Domestic Servitude

Lego Friends is a new line of Lego toys introduced this year aimed at girls.  Google it  and on the first page of search results is a link to an article about a petition decries the creation of these toys because of how they are marketed and targeted at little girls.  The article starts with a great quote from a little girl on how she and her friends like to play:

“Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses, some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?” she asked.

What they say next, really caught my eye:

“But, after Sarah heard about LEGO Friends — shapely mini-figures that lock into pink, purple and pastel green settings, such as a dream house, a splash pool and a beauty shop — she posted the video on Facebook fan pages for Princess Free Zone and Pigtail Pals, companies that sell only gender-neutral products and stand up for girl’s rights.” (emphasis mine)

I read this statement and the desire for “gender neutral products” and can’t help but wonder if we’re trying to win a cultural battle against gender stereotypes by losing the war.  I am the father of three little girls and I’ve written before about how I don’t want my girls to be forced into society’s niche for girls and they should have the freedom to play with whatever they want.  That doesn’t mean that there’s something inherently wrong with buying something that is “made for girls” or that it’s bad for a product to be “designed for girls.”  Gender equality  does not equal gender neutrality.

I don’t want my girls to ignore that they are in fact girls.  I want them to  have the same opportunities as any other kid, boy or girl, but that doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with things designed specifically for their preferences.  Let me put it another way: I’m left-handed and I love it when I find products made for left-handed people.  There are times when I have to hand the scissors to my right-handed wife so that she could cut something.  I’ve learned to hate spiral notebooks because of having to rest my wrist on the spiral.  If I could shop in a Leftorium, I would.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from my wife while I was at work.  My oldest daughter was home after school and playing with a little boy in her class.  They were playing Star Wars.  My daughter wanted Yoda to make tea;  the other little boy yelled at her, “Yoda doesn’t make tea!”  He wanted Yoda to fight.  I told my wife to tell them that Yoda makes stew.  The point is, even though they wanted to play with the same things, they wanted to play differently.  Girls and boys have differences.  It’s okay for some things to be made for girls and some things to be made for boys.   Just because something is designed for girls, doesn’t automatically make it a bad product.  It may even be a very good product.

When I’m picking out a toy for them, I’m generally concerned about three things:

  1. Is it overly sexual?
  2. Is it demeaning or degrading?
  3. Is it fun?
Let’s look at those.
1. Is it overly sexual?

The skirt's a little short there, missy...

In a word, no.

Yes, the tiny little plastic figure is a bit more anatomically accurate than the regular, traditional, blocky, mini-figure.  But this is not a scintillating, suggestive, inappropriate hunk of plastic that will encourage my girls to don leopard print, skin tight pants in the next year.

2. Is it demeaning or degrading?

One of the criticisms in the linked article is that the Lego Friends sets promote some stereotypical girls interests.

“I have no problem with them making pink LEGOs, but I really hate the message they send. [Riley] doesn’t need to be building a hot tub and serving drinks. I want her to build whatever she wants. We want her to be herself.”

The parents quoted cite the fact that there’s a hot tub set and a beauty salon set.  Yes, that’s true, but let’s look at the full gamut of sets.  This is what’s currently available:

  • City Park Cafe
  • Olivia’s Tree House
  • Stephanie’s Cool Convertible
  • Butterfly Beauty Shop
  • Heartlake Vet
  • Olivia’s House
  • Stephanie’s Outdoor Bakery
  • Emma’s Splash Pool
  • Andrea’s Stage
  • Olivia’s Invention Workshop
  • Mia’s Puppy House
  • Stephanie’s Pet Patrol
  • Emma’s Fashion Design Studio
  • Heartlake Dog Show

Again, yes, there’s a Beauty Shop and a “Splash Pool.”  Am I supposed to be upset that there’s a set with a veterinarian or an invention studio with a little robot?  I’m also not going to mind that there’s a music themed set or several sets centered around animals.  Is the Fashion Design Studio a negative?  Is that not a respectable profession for a man or  woman?  Sure, instead of the Beauty Shop, they could have developed an architect’s studio or computer lab.  Give it time.  The line just came out  and I’m sure those sets are in work.  Frankly, I think this is a pretty diverse set of offerings for a new toy line launch.

In my opinion, if you want to complain  to Lego, complain about the diversity of offerings in the Lego City line.  Last time I checked, there’s a heckuva lot more in a city than cops, robbers, and firemen.  Those items seem to dominate the City line every year.

I have a giant tub full of Lego, which also includes a healthy amount of space Lego, and the color pallet is definitely dominated by  grays, whites, dark blues, reds, and yellows.  Those colors are okay and my girls have liked some of those sets, but they are far from their favorite colors.  My oldest daughter’s room is painted turquoise at her request.  My middle daughter’s room is painted pink at her request.  Before Lego Friends was released, I could hold all the turquoise and pink Lego bricks we owned in the palm of one hand.  Now, not so much…

Hey look - colors!

Is this demeaning or degrading?  I’m not seeing it.  Does it give my girls a choice of what set they want to buy?  Absolutely and that’s not a bad thing.

3. Is it fun?

My girls love animals, specifically dogs.  My oldest has already made us promise that she gets a dog at the next opportunity.  Guess what?  We bought both the Vet and Dog Show sets.  Below is a picture of the dog included in these sets compared to the dog included in the Lego City sets.

Which one of these toys would be pictured next to "personality" in the dictionary?

Which one of these would you rather play with?  It’s not just the animals that are a bit more fun.  The sets themselves come with quite a few play features.  The Vet set includes an X-ray stand, examination table, horse stable, cart for the animals and several other fun play features.

In addition to the play value, the sets are just as complicated and intricate as other Lego sets.  These aren’t dumbed-down because they’re for designed for girls.  They’re fun and my girls like to play with them just as much, if not more than, other Lego sets.

The bottom-line for me is that these are good toys and they are not going to give my girls negative ideals to live up to or limit what they strive to be.  They’re toys, bright and colorful toys.  The next time I go to the toy aisle of my local megamart, we’ll look at all the Lego sets – Lego City, Lego Friends, Lego Star Wars, Lego Harry Potter – and I’ll let them pick out what they want.  Though I won’t be surprised if they pick a Friends set because it was actually made for girls.

More importantly, or even most importantly, we’ll take it home and play with it together… even if it is pink and turquoise.

The Price a Veteran Pays

The impact of war is often measured by the number of lives lost or dollars spent, but those measures don’t tell the whole story.  The three months my father spent in Vietnam altered the course of his life and have affected the lives of everyone he has known since that time.

In the late 1960s, my father was a troubled teenager.  He had been expelled from Northeast Catholic High School in Philadelphia months before he was supposed to graduate.  His father had to intervene and beg the school to let him get his degree.  Following this, in an effort to make his family proud, he volunteered to join the U.S. Army and go to Vietnam.  He volunteered at a time when many men his age were drafted involuntarily and when some felt it was more honorable to flee the country than fight in the war.  He did it because he felt he could redeem himself in the eyes of his family.

In Vietnam, he served in a mobile infantry unit.  He was part of a small 3-4 man crew that operated a Track, a small armored vehicle out of which he would fire mortar rounds to attack the enemy.*  One day during an exercise, my father was accidentally shot three times by the gun mounted atop the Track.  The three bullets entered his body about midway up the left side of his torso.  Two of the bullets passed all the way through him.  The third bullet did not.  It ricocheted off bone, tore through his intestines and testicles and ultimately lodged in his right hip.

He was not expected to live.

The Army flew his father out to the hospital in Japan where he had been transported.  His father was flown out because he was not expected to survive.  This would not be the last time my father beat the odds.  His was eventually transferred to a military hospital in New Jersey; his days in combat were now over.

He's wounded in Vietnam and the paper can't even bother to get his name right, but hey, he got to meet Miss New Jersey.

Sadly, the Army would not award my father a Purple Heart because his wounds were suffered in a friendly fire incident.

From that day forward, my father’s life was altered by the horrors he experienced and the pain he dealt with every day.  The bullet that lodged in his hip would remain there until the early 1980s.  The bullet caused him to develop osteomyelitis, a bone infection, in his right hip joint.  The only solution he was offered was to entirely remove the hip joint.  The entire ball and socket that comprise the joint were removed.  His right leg was now several inches shorter than the left with the top of the femur now just rubbing against his pelvic bone stabilized only by scar tissue.  He was not expected to walk again, let alone walk without crutches.

For the majority of my life, he walked with only the support of a cane.

Every day of his life was now filled with pain.  His hip hurt.  His knees hurt.  His back hurt.  For the rest of his life, he would take pain pills, not Tylenol, but Tylenol #3 with Codiene or Darvocet or other equivalent medications.  Eventually, he built up such a tolerance to the medications that he would take them by the handful, 5-6 at a time, every 4 hours.

The wounds he had would cause him to be medically retired when he was in his early 30s.  He was considered 100% medically disabled and would not work full time.  It was too painful for him to sit at a desk all day.  With this, he would now spend everyday at home alone while my mom would work and I was off at school.  He was isolated.

He tried to pass the time with hobbies – he built models of clipper ships, fished, collected stamps, and several other pursuits – but he was isolated with only his thoughts and memories of war for company.  Before he had been medically retired, he turned to vices, cigarettes and alcohol, to help him forget his physical and mental pain.  The loneliness he now felt due to his retirement only exacerbated his troubles with those vices.

My father tried to reach out to a veteran’s organization in order to connect with others in his situation.  At that time, Vietnam Veterans were not respected, they were still considered baby killers and murderers, not soldiers, and the World War II vets would not except him.  The loneliness he experienced would turn into depression and with that he sunk into the grips of alcoholism.

He lived his life through a haze of strong pain medications and alcohol and it caused strain on the entire family.  He had already had one failed marriage after his experience in the war and his relationship with my mom would be a constant test of perseverance for both of them as they fought through his struggles.

The alcoholism caused several incidents that I remember vividly.  The most memorable of which was one Christmas Eve, when I had to have been about ten or twelve years old.  He started drinking wine early in the evening while wrapping presents and at one point left to pick up my step brother and sister from his ex-wife’s house.  I went out to the car with him and he asked me to go back and get something for him.  I remember having him promise me that he would wait for me, but of course he didn’t.  Hours passed and he didn’t come back.  I was sent to bed and my mom called her sisters asking for help.  I remember sitting in the window of my second floor bedroom, waiting for him.  Eventually, my uncles found him passed out on the side of the road and I remember coming out of my room, very late that night, to see them dragging him in.  He needed help.

He would be in and out of rehab several times.  Those programs addressed the alcoholism, but they never addressed what really drove it.  It wasn’t until the late 80s/early 90s that Vietnam veterans were more socially accepted.  My father started opening up about his experiences in the war.  He would start sharing his war experiences with my grandfather, a World War II veteran himself.  He was also finally awarded a Purple Heart by the Army and he joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  He found friends and enjoyed the camaraderie of people who had been through similar events.  He was able to quit drinking.

For several years, he led as normal a life as he would ever have.  For those years, he felt like a person again.

Always the charmer.

Once my mom died, he fell back into bad habits.  After decades of smoking and drinking, he developed cancer.  Two years ago after several rounds of treatments, trying to once again beat the odds, his heart gave out.  He died weeks before his 60th birthday.

A couple of months before he died, I asked him why he had volunteered to go to Vietnam.  That’s when he told me the story of wanting to make his family proud.

I told him he did.

And in doing so he paid a heavy price.  My father is now buried in Arlington National Cemetery with my mother.

I don’t tell this story looking for sympathy.  I have long ago come to grips with the effect his alcoholism had on our family and on me personally.  I want people to recognize those veterans who return from war are dealing with more than most will ever understand.  They need to be thanked and some need to be helped.

*-My apologies for any inaccurate terminology.  All of this is remembered from the stories my father told me before he passed away two years ago.

The Blind Date That Almost Never Happened

I felt a little like this by the end of this saga.

Ten years ago today, in the midst of the hellacious Tropical Storm Allison, my wife and I got married; however, our little adventure came very close to never happening.  I had been on blind dates before and wasn’t exactly one to turn up my nose at a chance at a night out.  So a coworker and cubemate of mine, took it upon herself to set me up on a blind date with an old high school friend of hers.

I knew absolutely nothing about the girl I was being set up with; my friend refused to show me her picture, thinking that I would judge her just by her looks.  I was told she was a school librarian.  I thought this was a strange coincidence as the last blind date I had been on was also with a school librarian.  This blind date, arranged by the commander of the Naval outpost where I worked, was with a quiet, mousey, stereotypical school librarian.  She was perfectly nice, but fairly bland, and when my car broke down in the middle of the date and I had to have us taken home by a tow truck driver, I decided that there wasn’t going to be a second date.

Back to this situation and I didn’t have too high of hopes.  But, as I often do, I said what the hell and went for it.  The girl I was to go out on a date with lived in Dallas (another black mark given my Philadelphia roots) and would be visiting her family for Thanksgiving.  My friend arranged for us to go out the Friday after Thanksgiving.  She gave me her phone number and I was supposed to call her before Friday to confirm that we were on for that night.  My friend who set us up was also going out-of-town for the week, spending time in Florida with her family.

So I call the number I was given on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  Their phone rings and an answering machine picks up.  A woman’s voice is on the recording saying that “they” weren’t home right now.  The woman answering does not say what her name is on the recording.  I leave a message, but something seems strange about the whole situation.  I have a feeling that I didn’t call the right number.  There was something about how the woman said “they” that made me think she wasn’t talking about a roommate.  I dialed again and got the same message.  I don’t leave a message, but hang up when the same answering machine picks up.

Then, I wait.

Monday passes.

Tuesday passes.

It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I call the number I was given one more time.  The same answering machine picks up.  I leave another short message.  Again, I feel like something is not right with this situation.  At this point, I talk about the situation with my roommate, an old fraternity brother of mine, and we both agree that it’s fairly unusual to get stood up on a blind date like this, though it was definitely within the realm of possibility.  Again, the friend who set me up was out-of-town and this was before the cellphone was ubiquitous.  I had no way to get in touch with her.  The only information I had beengiven was my date’s first and last name and the town she lived in.  I didn’t have an address.

So my roommate and I did the only thing we could do, we pulled out the phone book and starting looking up her last name.  Unfortunately, since this girl I’m being setup with lived in Dallas, I didn’t know if she’d be listed or if her parents were listed.  The other unfortunate part is that her last name was Magee.  Now that’s not Jones or Smith, but it’s not exactly uncommon.  As we’re flipping through the phone book, I remark to my roommate that this is pretty desperate, isn’t it?  He shrugs, gives me a what’ve you got to lose remark, and we picked out the first number in the list that has the right last name and is in the right Houston suburb.

The phone rings, I ask for the woman I’m supposed to go out with and, lo and behold, we called the right house.  My friend from work had given me the wrong number.  The number in the phonebook was a second line in the house that her father had not yet bothered to shut off.  Victory!  Almost.  She gave me her address, directions to her house, and of course the right phone number.

Friday rolls around.  I head out in my sporty, leased Toyota Corolla.  At this point, I’ve lived in the area for six months, and I’m driving through a neighborhood I’ve never been in.  My directions say to take a left right after the fire station.  I pass a municipal building and wonder, was that it?  I turn, I take another right and then another left and I’m lost.  Again, I have no cell phone and I don’t know where I am.  I pull over and an old couple pulls up to the house where I had parked.  I do something completely out of character and ask if I can borrow their phone.  They let me and I call and get directions, again.

I do finally find the house, we do finally go out on a date, and we buck tradition and decide to go out again the next night.  Three months later, we were engaged.  Eighteen months later, we were married and ten years after that, we have three little girls who are very glad my roommate and I decided to flip through a phone book and take an extra step for a chance to go on a blind date.

For the record, my friend from work accidentally gave me her sister’s phone number, who was married, hence the “they” in the message, and who was with her on vacation in Florida.

My kids will probably think this picture was taken before the advent of color photography.