Monday, June 29, 2015

Homeward bound

When Casey and I were first married, our plan was to live on the East Coast for about a year and a half and then move back to California where we’re both originally from.  However, as we got closer to that timeframe, I got a feeling inside me that we should stay put.  Because the impression persisted, I approached my sweet wife and shared it with her – we were a partnership and would decide all things together.

With love in her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Oh, I’ve been thinking that for weeks.  I was just waiting for you to say something.”

And that’s how it typically works in our family, Casey figures things out and then waits patiently for me to catch up!

Well, we did stay on the East Coast, and 12 years later we’ve built a beautiful life together with two wonderful daughters, two rascally dogs and a slew of great friends. 

And just when we thought we had it all figured out, life did what life always seems to do whenever you’ve got a firm grip on it – it changed everything.

The long and short of what happened next is, for the first time in a long time, we found ourselves uncertain about where our hearts told us we needed to be.  So, we did what has always worked best, we counseled together, prayed together and asked our friends to do the same for us.  We did.  They did.  And the answer came.

It came in the form of an opportunity.

Richard Devylder, a pioneer in the disabled community, retired from his position as Chief for the Office of Access and Functional Needs (OAFN) at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.  Despite the long title, the position read like a dream job for me as it centers on integrating the needs of the disabled within California’s emergency management planning systems. 

The more I learned about the job, the more excited I became.  So, I took a chance, followed my heart and with Casey’s support, tossed my hat in the ring.  What followed was months of emails, letters, interviews and waiting until last week when my phone rang...

Guess who’s moving to California!

I’m proud to inform you that Governor Jerry Brown has appointed me to serve as the new Chief to carry on the legacy of Richard Devylder.

And so it is that, once again, my heart and mind, along with Casey’s and the girls, know exactly where we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to be doing.

After more than a decade, it’s time to go home.

The only thing better than that is knowing that we’ll be packing up all the joy and happiness we experienced here and taking it with us.

That, and water.  We’re taking lots of water.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

More than just a day

I woke up this morning to the sounds of quarreling children, nothing big, but definitely arguing.  And while that would normally bother me, today it didn’t.  After all, today is Father’s Day and those are my kids, my angels, my heart’s sweet delight.  And because they’re mine, and I’m their father, I’m the luckiest guy alive.

But, for me, Father’s Day was not always a day to celebrate.  In fact, it was often a reminder of a day I would have much preferred to forget.

I was seven-years-old and had only recently been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.  My mom, sisters and I arrived home late from an all-day series of medical appointments.  It had been dark for hours and we were exhausted.  I entered my house through the front door, looked down to my right, saw suitcases and knew something was wrong.

The mood became tense and heavy; my exhaustion was replaced by a nearly palpable sense of concern that no child should ever experience.  Things went from bad to worse and ended with my father driving his car down the street and out of our lives.

His car had a noisy engine and that night it roared particularly loud.  Listening to the thunderous sound of his engine fading into the night, I knew he wasn’t coming back.

We were on our own.

And so, on days like this, my life sometimes feels as though it would read like a Dickens novel, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Interestingly though, as more time passes, the good days have proven to far outweigh the bad.

Take today for instance.

As soon as I got up, the girls stopped bickering and got busy wishing me a happy Father’s Day – hugs and kisses galore!  I got cards, gifts and bacon and eggs (big ups to mama bear).  At church the girls sung me a song and when we got home, Casey cooked me the best steak I ever ate and Sammy made me pecan pie (that kid has serious culinary game).


But even more than all that, they showered me with love, appreciation and kindness.

In thinking about their goodness, I couldn’t help but let my mind drift to the days when each of them was born.  To holding them, kissing them and telling them I loved them for the first times.  I thought about reading books with one on my lap and the other on my feet, seeing them crawl, walk, run and ride bikes.  Helping them read, write and do math – and, of course, the endless hours I’ve spent singing, laughing and dancing with them on my wheelchair.

And in so doing, my heart filled with the unending joy I call fatherhood.

I can’t say for certain why my father chose to bail on me, but I can tell you with absolute surety, having experienced the jubilation of raising my girls (and I’m not even done yet!) that in ditching out on his kids, my old man left an eternity’s worth of happiness on the table.

And seeing that, I am hit with the awesome realization that, more and more, when it comes to my own experience as a father, there is no such thing as the worst of times.

Indeed, for me, life as a daddy has, and continues to be, nothing but the best of times.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A New York state of mind

New York means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  Some see it as a melting pot, others as a financial capital and others still as the bright lights of Times Square, but for me, New York is all about one thing; love.

When Casey and I met, she lived with my sister right across the river from Manhattan on Roosevelt Island.  Because I lived and worked in DC we almost never got to see each other during the week.  Instead we spent weekdays talking on the phone until all hours of the night and looking forward to the weekend when we’d get to spend a precious couple of days together.  Because it worked out better for me to travel to NYC then for her to make it to DC, I logged a whole lot of miles cruising up and down I-95.

A typical trip consisted of me leaving my office around 5pm(ish) on Friday and with my care attendant, heading North for 5 or 6 hours until I made it to her apartment, usually close to midnight.  Upon arriving, we’d make out (I mean hang out) for a while before retiring to our separate quarters for the evening, spending Saturday together and then driving back to DC on Sunday.  Week after week it was the same routine and, week after week, I fell more and more in love with her, which meant it was always harder and harder for me to leave.   And just when it felt like I couldn’t muster the strength to tear myself from her side one more time, we got married and never had to say goodbye again.

12 years have passed since then and while we’ve gone back a few times to visit, it’s only until recently that we took the girls now that they’re old enough to see where the story of us started.

We were only in the city for a day so we couldn’t pack it all in, but here are a few of the highlights:

Central Park

The Roosevelt Island Tram


As much fun as it was getting to show the girls our old stomping ground, for me, the best part of the trip, ironically, came on the drive home.  It happened about 30-minutes in when I looked at the overhead mirror and saw the girls reading books sweetly in the back seat and then gazed to my left and saw Casey navigating us through traffic with the cautious, deliberate care of a mother hen protecting her brood.  And it hit me, we were going home together, there were no goodbyes, there was no sadness, no painful waiting until we could reunite again in a week’s time.

We were together.  For then, for now and forever.

How grateful I am for what NYC gave me.  It's something I can never repay.  Skyscrapers, parks, trams - yes, yes and yes.  But love, my friends, always love.

And if that’s a New York state of mind, then I'm it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A messy glimpse at the future

It’s been said that if you want to see tomorrow, you need look no further than the youth of today.  And while there are plenty of people out there who will tell you that, based on the Millennials, we have much to fear; I disagree.  In fact, my experience interacting with the upcoming generation leads me to believe they are smart and capable.  What’s more, they are good and should be celebrated, which is exactly what I did.

A few weeks ago, Casey and I hosted a party for the students from the youth Sunday School class I used to teach.  And guess what?  Not only did they show up, some even brought their parents.  That’s right, instead of ditching us to text one another at the mall or lose themselves in the angst of the moment, these teens came and hung out at our house.

So how do you entertain a group of teenagers in a world of Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram?  Simple, all you need are some eggs and water! 

Let me explain...

You’ve heard the expression that there’s no need to recreate the wheel?  Well, when it comes to having fun, that’s exactly how I feel, which is why, when trying to come up with some fun activities to do, I ripped off Jimmy Fallon.

On the Tonight Show, Jimmy plays a game called “egg roulette” and another one called “water war.”  Both are messy and both are fun.

Egg roulette is when you put six eggs in a box and take turns smashing them on one another’s head.  Did I mention that while three eggs are boiled, three are raw? 

Water war is when you take a deck of cards and play “war,” where each player flips over a card and the highest one wins.  Did I mention the loser gets a cup of water thrown in their face?  First one to douse their opponent four times wins.

As you can see, all had a good time.  And isn’t that what being young is all about?

After all, they’ll be busy saving tomorrow soon enough.