Entries Tagged 'My father' ↓

Grandparent Gratitude

Remember how you got shipped off to your grandparents when you were a kid? Maybe you were kind of excited but also not so sure about how fun it could really be. Because the toys were different, the food was different and the rules were very different. And maybe home with Mom and Dad wasn’t so bad after all. But, without any say in the matter, you went and trusted that these people had to be OK because they are kind of your parents, too. Then, as the days passed, and you bumped along in their musty sedan and stopped at their favorite donut shop and stared up at those crinkly, familiar faces, you found a new kind of love and routine and comfort. They became your home, too.

The time I spent with my grandparents was such a gift and, as much as I hated the mystery jello salad and ran into my mother’s arms, grateful to go home, after the weeks had passed — they wove themselves into my heart and my history.

My grandparents were parents at a different depth and breadth. They were my parents to the next degree. They stood one step above the pedestal my parents existed on and their opinion had a certain weight because, well, they were the boss of my parents. And THAT was cool.

Since I’ve gone back to work, my father has graciously offered to come down for a week at a time when I’ve needed help with childcare. We call that time “Camp Gramp” and I hand over the keys to my car, my pool pass, my two children and all of my trust. And off they go.

I know how lucky they are for grandparent time. Grandparents don’t always live right nearby. And sometimes they leave us far, far too early.

(I can’t help but think about all I need to catch my mother up on. I suspect she knows in some way but she is still missing so much. And it breaks my heart.)

So back to Camp Gramp. This Spring Break, they took Tampa by storm. They revisited the SS American Victory, spent an entire day at The Florida Aquarium, splashed their afternoons away at the pool, leapt waves the beach, spotted animals at the zoo, got haircuts, watched Harry Potter movies over and over and, well, snuggled a whole lot.

I keep thinking (hoping) that they are relearning the world a little differently from the way I have taught them during those short periods of time. And maybe they are learning to love my dad the way I do. I want my boys to KNOW him and get him. And build their own kind of relationship that is different to theirs and mine. I want theirs to be the kind that gets Skittles at the gas station but also knows how the sound my father’s voice can get if one of them pitches a fit at the zoo.

It makes me wish all of my family were closer. The other grandparents and all the various aunts and uncles they have scattered here and there. But that’s OK. Because when they DO see them, those relationships solidify a little more with every visit and those routines develop in a matter of days because kids LOVE routines and predictability and the constant of those people that are the boss of their parents and so so familiar.

I’ll take what I can get and cherish every second they get together and hope the memories are making themselves without me even really realizing it.

Thanks for Camp Gramp, Dad. I know how much work that was. But I love you and, even if they probably won’t ever love your New York Yankees, they sure do love you, too.

There’s No Gift Receipt For This

My father travels a lot. I’ve never sat him down and counted exactly how many countries and continents he’s been to because I’m not sure that we could do it. There are far too many. However. As one of his many family members, we have all grown used to receiving all varieties of fascinating gifts upon his return. Tapestries, woven baskets, carved chests, coral jewelry, endless unusual things.

Cool right?

Not so fast.

This year he out did himself. He spent 6 months in the Philippines this past year and, amongst a few lovely items, he brought home some… other things… for his grandsons.

I almost feel bad posting what they are. It may be very offensive for some. For real. It is pretty damned disturbing. But of course the boys LOVED them, the oldest planning to store his tooth fairy money in them from now on.

But then again, they are too insane NOT to post. So here I go. But brace yourself. And yes. They are “real”. With googly-eyes.


My apologies.

But you only have to live with this post. I HAVE TO LIVE WITH TWO OF THEM IN MY HOUSE. EVERYDAY. And my children TOSSING them at me, because they think my reaction is FUNNY.

Thanks Dad. Love them. Yay.

Experiencing A Mother’s Burqa

burqa1In the final week of Women’s History Month, I have decided to tackle a topic that has been on my mind for awhile. It is not so much a topic actually but rather an item of clothing. A few years back, my father returned from his time in Afghanistan with a gift. He brought his westernized, feminist, know it all daughter something extraordinary and like nothing I owned. He brought me a burqa. I want to share this burqa with you and try to respectfully encourage some awareness about the experience of wearing this article of clothing in a country very different from our own.

Truth be told, this is my second burqa. When I was a child, my father went to Afghanistan and brought me back a smaller burqa, one that actually fit on one of my Barbie’s perfectly. This burqa seemed part of another world, a piece of clothing I didn’t exactly understand but my Barbie wore from time to time while she went about her very important Barbie business.

While I was pregnant with my second child, my father brought me my second burqa. This time is was large enough for me to wear. I couldn‘t thank him enough, I was grateful to finally own one myself.

Why would that be?

First let me explain the burqa – or try to. The burka is worn by women in Afghanistan. Traditionally, it has been expected that women cover themselves entirely in a burqa whenever in public. It is said to be a matter of honor and one both men and women have upheld respectfully. And while this tradition has given way to western influences and fashion trends in recent years – perhaps with simple head coverings rather than a full length burqa – the Taliban do enforce the burka. In fact, in the eyes of the Taliban, it has meant a woman’s death if she doesn’t wear one in public. Regardless, enforced or not, women in provinces all over Afghanistan wear these coverings. (Please note that women cover themselves in many Islamic countries also, each garment having different names and social expectations.)

Are you a mother? If so, imagine yourself doing what you do: working, chasing down children, doing errands, cleaning, cooking, caring for your families entirely covered head to toe in a burka while in public. It is an awesome feat. Whether a cultural choice or not, I truly respect the women who wear them.

But you see this is all I understand about the burqa. I know what my father tells me and what I have read in books. So what do I really know or truly understand about its history or its meaning – positive or otherwise? I don’t. All that I do know now is what it feels like to wear one – and that has only been briefly.

(Oh yes, here I am. A privileged, American woman – annoyed when she has to wear a bra in public – and now I have a burqa and I want to see what its like. Groan. How condescending that sounds. But I don’t mean it that way. I am simply wanting to learn, to get it, to share this experience, if only for a moment.)

burqa2So I have tried on my burqa many times and here is what this western woman experienced. First of all, the burqa is hot. I guess they used to be made of more breathable cotton but newer ones are made with synthetic material so that they keep their color and their creases. And it is very hard to see through the burqa, but maybe I’m just not used to it. Also I initially thought my head was really big because the top of the burqa did not fit on my head well, it was constricting. After doing further research, I have learned this is typical for most women wearing one and it is not comfortable at all. And finally, its not at all easy to breathe in. There is no vent for the nose or mouth. I just can’t breathe in it for long. That’s why I always take it right off. I can’t breathe. I feel claustrophobic and closed in. So chasing children? Carrying food back from the store? I can’t imagine.

Now I am sure there are readers ready to discuss the matter of women’s repression in Afghanistan. And I am sure there are readers who feel offended by any lack of respect for the burqa and its place in Afghanistan tradition. While I certainly have my views, my post is not meant to judge the purpose behind the burqa. I am simply sharing the experience of a burqa, an experience many women have daily and I don’t. If you ever have the chance to try one on, please do if only to honor a woman’s lifestyle someplace far from our streets of Main Street, U.S.A.

burqa3And finally, a quick note. Do you know where I keep my burqa? It is kept in my closet, draped over the box which contains my carefully preserved wedding dress. It just seems fitting. After all, we too wear constricting garments which are expected of us. It’s just what women do here.

Cross posted at Type A Moms.

From My Father’s Perspective: Everything’s A-O.K. on Sisimpur.


(Part three of a posting series about my father.)

A few weeks ago at BlogHer, I was lucky enough to meet the wonderful and furry Grover monster from Sesame Street. Big wig Hollywood stars, step aside. Brangelina? Whatever. I met Grover and I was so honored. I thought about what an affect Sesame Street had on my life growing up and, now, my children’s lives. You can moan all you want about how children shouldn’t be watching television but Sesame Street is a time-honored, educational family tradition in this household.

But after I met Grover, I go to thinking about my father. Over a year ago, he had found himself working with the USAID team in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. There are endless issues in this country that USAID has been working to address (bird flu, flood and disaster management, over-population). But there was one program that particularly caught my attention, of course. USAID was (and still is) funding the Bangladesh version of Sesame Street or alternately known there as Sisimpur.

Now again, some of you nay-sayers might comment that maybe bringing television to children in Bangladesh is not such a good idea. Perhaps it has a “westernized” bias and we are just putting our values on another country’s children. Well, here’s the fascinating thing about Sisimpur. Sure, it covers educational concepts aimed at children in their pre-school years. But it also covers issues, Bangladeshi-specific issues, far beyond just your ABCs and 123s. Asarul Islam Chowdhury is an economics professor at Jahangirnagar University and North South University, also a writer for the Forum, a publication of The Daily Star. Chowdhury says the following (please read the rest of this article here ):

Sisimpur provides children with basic education on health, hygiene, nutrition, and safety. Children appreciate the importance of brushing their teeth and washing their hands. They discover how physical exercise is important, but so is also getting enough rest. Children find out the importance of vitamins, proteins and other food components and their sources in common and affordable fruits, vegetables, fish and meat. Diversity points towards tolerance and respect to others. Children are exposed to urban and rural communities across different occupations. Children come to know we live in a society where racial, religious and ethnic traditions and values of families are different. Accepting and appreciating these differences is one area where Sisimpur places special emphasis. Art, culture and heritage of Bangladesh and the outside world are the “final frontiers” of Sisimpur’s educational goals. Children are exposed to both Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi forms of art and culture. They are also exposed to music, song, dances. The imaginary world of Sisimpur is the platform for children. The whole world is their stage.

During his time there, my father noted that when it is time for Sisumpur, every television in Dhaka is tuned in. Work and play come to a halt, adults and children gather and watch the entire episode. Unlike our country where Sesame Street is something to throw the kids in front of while you get the dishes done, Sisimpur is serious must-see TV, educating entire communities; not only do pre-school aged children benefit but so do their entire families.

(Sidebar: Shoot, what stops our country in it’s tracks to watch TV? American Idol. Too bad we, as an entire nation, couldn’t think to care about watching something that might actually be educational.)

And let’s not also forget the fact there is a large majority of children without access to schools or even television. Sisumpur, when they can see it, might be the only education they recieve. I couldn’t help but appreciate this story noted on the USAID website:

In an effort to reach children in remote areas, USAID-Bangladesh has partnered with Save the Children USA to produce and deploy a small fleet of flatbed cycle rickshaws that carry a TV, a DVD player, and a generator to villages that are not serviced by power lines or are otherwise limited in their ability to access Sisimpur. The rickshaw goes to each location once a week and draws a remarkable amount of viewers, sometimes with as many as 200 people gathering to watch the show.

There is certainly a part of me cringing. Yikes. The U.S. is carting in television to remote villages? God, what if they put on the wrong DVD and play Sponge Bob Square Pants – gag – let the brain-numbing affects of american television begin.

But no. That’s not what this is about. These kids hardly have the never-ending access to TV that ours do. Or the wealth of schools, money, books, libraries, resources, you name it. Sisimpur is bringing an important blend of education and cultural awareness to communities in Bangladesh. Sisimpur is doing exactly what public television strives to do in our own country by offering “the full spectrum of media to build knowledge and critical thinking; to empower children as citizens of their communities, nation and world.”

Clearly, I’ve drunk the PBS/USAID kool-aid on this one. So be it. This is an excellent program affecting families in Bangladesh so much more than our own Sesame street ever has or ever will.

To wrap this post up, I’ll just add that my father was lucky enough to visit the Sisimpur set (see pics above). He’s the ruddy faced, jolly looking guy in the glasses in the middle. (Full credit to my mother for taking these pictures also.) The puppeteers are extraordinarily talented and committed to their work. I think this statement from their producer says so much about the true efforts of this program. Please take a sec to read it, I was very impressed.

Sisimpur is not the only international version of Sesame Street. Check out other country’s programs here.

Can you tell me how to get to Sisumpur?


From my father’s perspective: Vietnam today


I just got an email from my father yesterday and thought this might be a good time to write my second post about him and his adventures. So, if this topic interests you, read along and learn a little bit about Vietnam today.

Since April, my father has been the acting director of USAID in the Vietnam Program Office in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam remains a communist country (we lost, remember?) and Hanoi is in the northern regions of this country. So far, my father has found it fascinating there, living in a town he never would have dared visit 35 years ago during the war. His apartment is just down the road from a very interesting memorial. On the shores of Truc Bach lake, there is a little statue commemorating the capture of a certain solider during the Vietnam war – a man we know now as Senator John McCain. My dad said it is not paid much attention, it’s a bit overgrown and covered with bird droppings. The fact that my father can take a walk on a day off to see this memorial absolutely fascinates me. This city was extremely dangerous at one time, and a man currently running to be the president of our own country was captured and almost killed there. Wow. And now, Hanoi is like any other developing Asian city, and this memorial stands there, and its really no big deal. (We are no different; we have our own war memorials, commemorating something big and now standing ignored, collecting bird droppings – the dates, battles and people inscribed rarely even acknowledged anymore.)

There is no doubt that Vietnam has been through a great deal over the past 35 years. However, one fact remains: this country suffered enormous losses, just as we did, during the Vietnam war. When my father arrived in April, his first time back to Vietnam since the war, he could not help but feel conspicuous. He was in Hanoi. And his country was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people with relatives in that very city. He expected a cool reception at the very least. This was not the case. In fact, he found that as he spoke with Vietnamese citizens and co-workers, and they would compare war stories, a knowing look would pass between them as if to say: “you were there, you knew it was bad, we both suffered, it was a horrible time, and we are forever bonded”. It was as if they had an immediate connection and understanding of one another. The Vietnam people are wonderful and strong, they have made peace, forgiven and moved on. I know I have mentioned this story before, but it is a lesson I can’t help but be overwhelmed by.

So my father sent me a batch of pictures along with his email and I am posting two here. A little while back, his crew visited the Cu Chi Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon). Interested in what USAID is doing there? Well you can read lots of details here about the program but, in a nutshell, USAID is working in areas with a high prevalence of AIDS to educate men and women about AIDS prevention, deliver safe and effective anti-retroviral treatments, and provide testing services. As the website notes: “By March 2008, the USG Emergency Plan Vietnam team will collaborate with partners to prevent 660,000 new HIV infections; provide treatment to 22,000 HIV-infected people; and provide care to 110,000 people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children.” So yeah, that’s what he was doing at this orphanage.

When I talked to my dad about his experience at the orphanage, he could not help but be extraordinarily moved by the children he met. It is run by a sister (seen on the left of second picture) and all but one of the girls in this picture are HIV+ or have AIDS. Most of these children have already lost their parents to AIDS or they are in the process of dying and can’t care for their children any longer. If the children live long enough, the sister tries to enroll them at a local high school. However, these children are usually shunned and pushed out of their communities; their futures are short lived and extremely bleak. Nevertheless, the kids my father met were full of life and hope and fun. They took turns trying on my father’s shoes and clomping around. They also gathered at his feet, poking at him and petting his arm – very hairy arms are not all that common amongst grown Vietnamese men. My father must have seemed like this enormous, pink, smiley, sweaty, laughing giant. I can only imagine him playing and swinging those kids around like he does with his grandsons. He said his work in Hanoi has not been easy but this moment gave him perspective and renewed energy. The little girl he is holding in the first picture was wonderful he said, but also suffering from full blown AIDS (as you can see by the legions on her hands – nope, that’s not magic marker folks). She does not have a chance to live very much longer. But let’s hope, with increased education, medications and care, orphaned children like her will have a chance to live longer in the future. It could happen. My dad sure does seem to think so. 

So what can I carry away from this story? Things are tough right now in the U.S. But we have some sort of health care, we have education and we have support for our HIV+ citizens. Most of our children have parents and hope. Let’s remember what we’ve got and keep our perspectives in check. And then, let’s educate one another about what our global citizens don’t have. Remember our privileges folks – don’t feel guilty about it, just keep yourself informed and count those blessings with an open heart. Now excuse me as I shut this silly, over heating, time consuming computer down and go play with my kids.

Introducing: My Dad

(My dad, in Afghanistan, a bit road weary after riding in a Hum-V all afternoon.)

I have decided to finally try to tackle a subject very near and dear to me – my dad. The whole topic of my father has been a daunting one but one I have been itching to blog about for some time. There is no way I could possibly explain all that he does or the adventures he has in one measly post. But he is kind of a fascinating guy. And there is no doubt about this fact: he is absolutely “blogworthy”. (Mom, you are too and will play a prominent role in many of these stories, I am sure.) So let me take a brief moment here – appropriately on Father’s Day – to introduce him to you.

My dad grew up in a regular home in the regular town of Watertown, Connecticut. Up until the age of 18, he had never flown on a plane. (This is a crazy concept considering what he does now, but I will get to that in a moment.) He is the oldest of four; 7 years separated him and the next sibling, 18 years separate him and his youngest sibling. His mother, my name sake, adored my father. In fact, while my grandfather fought in World War II, my father and his very loving however “June Ward-esque” mother were the only ones at home for many years. My father remembers “meeting” his father for the first time and …ahem… not being as “welcome” in his parents bedroom in the days following. Nevertheless, growing up, my father was the second man in charge. While he looked to his father as a strong example in his life, innately, he seemed to carry the trait of a leader all on his own.

Soon after my father turned 30, my grandmother passed away very suddenly. My grandfather went into a deep period of mourning and struggled to care for the remaining children at home. My dad, solidifing his role as the family leader, stepped in and brought my younger aunt and uncle (still very young children at the time) home to live with us for a few years while my older uncle attended college. My dad became as much of a parent as he was a brother to all three of his siblings.

Having the charm of his father and diplomacy skills of his mother, my dad has a personality people seem to be attracted to. He tells great stories, he’s smart, he’s got a wonderful laugh and a deep rich voice. My father is an excellent public speaker, a very talented writer and an annoyingly accurate editor (ugh, high school essays always got exceedingly red-penned if I dared ask for his advice). He is highly skilled at listening and discerning an issue, while being respectful of those he works with or meets in the field. People ask him for advice, people want his approval, people really really like him – I know I do.

But he is hardly perfect. Scatterbrained might be the first thing to leap to the minds of those who love him as much as I do. I would bet if you asked him right now where his glasses, his wallet, his keys and his cell phone were…. it would take some hemming and hawing and frustrated grumblings until they were tracked down. He mixes his sibling’s names up with his children and his children’s are often confused with his grandchildren’s. My grandmother was a tad doting and, as a result, I am still not sure he knows how to wash his own shirts; I would hardly describe him as domestic. At all. Bills? Paperwork? Dates of important events? Forget it. And if you ever plan to get out the door somewhere with him, best of luck to you my friend. Maybe he procrastinates, yes, but I just don’t think he thoroughly “gets” the concept of time or how long it takes to actually do something. If there were EVER a man who needed one of those very cool, collected, one-step-ahead-of-the-game personal celebrity assistants – oh please, yes, for all our sanities – it would be him.

Dad, I love you. But you KNOW I’m right on this.

So anyway, back to the blogworthy stuff. Now, what is it that my father chose to do with his life? Well, as early as twelve years old he knew – and he did it. He decided he wanted to go into the foreign service. He had never even been on a plane but he knew that he wanted to learn about other cultures, speak different languages, discover the adventures of travel and adopt a service oriented career and lifestyle. And after attending a prominent boys prep school, followed by a little ol’ college named Harvard, he began his career in the Peace Corps. From there, the road is long, winding and filled with “Indiana Jones” like experiences all over the globe.

Did I mention to you that his work feeds him? It keeps him passionate and fans the fire within. He absolutely adores his work. But as a result, he is always somewhere else – and never here. All of his siblings, his wife, his children – well, we miss him and that is a constant. But he is a man on the move, he loves what he does, it keeps him young and, I can honestly say, he is changing the world one job post at a time.

He always tells the story about some crotchety old aunt of his who said to him for many years “Oh Roger, when are you going to stop all this traveling nonsense and come home to get a ‘real’ job?” What a laugh we have. His job is as “real” as it gets.

I haven’t left you much to go on regarding my father’s adventures, have I? Well, there’s too much to talk about. And that’s the point of this post. I have decided that, now and again, I am going to post a little story about what he’s done or what he’s doing. And yes, while he is technically considered retired, my father has spent these “retirement” years as an independent contractor in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Yemen and he is currently in Hanoi, Vietnam… just to name a few. There is much to tell and more stories to come. All of it, I can assure you, is guaranteed to be blogworthy. So please, humor me, and read along when you can.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Where ever the heck you are.