Twenty-Five Years or so in the Making

Good morning from Kraków,

Let me offer a bit of a spoiler alert on this post: while I am pretty open or transparent in what I post, this blog will probably push that limit of openness as it will reveal to a greater degree than perhaps ever with how I struggle just being human. While we all have frailties, insecurities, and baggage, we are taught too often to stuff it and keep the proverbial stiff upper lip, to suck it up and manage, or quit feeling sorry for ourselves. I know how to do this so well because I have spent most of life trying to prove to others and, most importantly, to myself that I am worthy or that I deserve to be loved and cared for. Certainly, I know from where those demons come and I have been pretty honest about that origin both in this blog and through the therapy I have been involved in through much of my adult life. Undoubtedly, I know logically that my adoption and growing up with an abusive parent was not my own fault, but I also know too completely how it has created a struggle in how I view, and how I wish I might view, others. I give others the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them because I grew up with a person who refused to see the good in me, and only pretended to do so when it served her own purpose, which was to make her look like a loving parent. I try, sometimes desperately or unrealistically, to see the positive in another, ignoring the truth that is staring me in the face. As a result there is a different kind of abuse I am subjected to, that of being used or taken advantage of. This is particularly the case with younger people, probably because I never had my own children. I still logically understand their need to make mistakes and grow, but do I make ridiculous excuses in my own mind about their failings, again allowing them to escape accountability for their misdeeds? I think there is more truth to this than I often avow to. Yet there is a more difficult admission in this reality. I often allow it because I am afraid I will be discarded if I speak out.

I was abandoned, on some level, by parents, who believed my sister and I were not worth taking care of. That would necessitate living with grandparents. I do not remember that time (with my parents) in my life, but I do remember living at my grandparents’ house. Death, alcoholism, and managing a business would require a move for Kris, my sister, and me again. I was on my third home before I turned 5. While that move was ultimately needed at the time, it resulted in a different circumstance, one that produced extended pain for both my grandmother (she did the best she could at that time) as well as my sister and me. I believe with every fiber of my being that the abuse my sister endured led to a life of struggle and a death that occurred much too early. For me, it has resulted in trying to please or accept others regardless their actions, often to my own detriment. Generally I am able to manage the hurt and the inherent loneliness this has generated in my life, but as of late that ability has seemed to recede, to dissipate, sometimes to completely fail me, and the pain of that coping mechanism has bubbled up like the former well in my yard which has once again found the light of day.

The more important question is what to do? Yesterday was excruciating for me. It was a day unlike anything I have experienced for over 20 years. It was a day that I questioned the reason I have lived this long. It was a day that being in Poland probably saved my life. The conflict of my most basic existence caused me to consider buying a ticket, leaving Poland, and flying home two days before my class; the overwhelming emotion of my being alone in Poland, and honestly in a place I usually love, caused more tears than I have cried since I was a small boy. Yet, from where did it all come? I do not have a good or complete answer for my own question, but I know it was the consequence of feeling incapable or stupid. I know it was the result of wishing for a different life while being conscious of the many blessings I have. So was or am I conflicted? Undoubtedly, I am. It was reflecting on all the things I have going on both professionally and personally and hearing a mother’s voice that I am undeserving and that I will never amount to anything, and logically disagreeing while emotionally accepting her edict of doom. It is coming to terms with these two little people inside of me that are connected to and simultaneously detest the other. Somehow the concept of doctor heal thyself rings in my ears. Too often I subscribe to this adage and even the very writing of this blog merely contributes to it. I was asked to consider that very issue in a conversation yesterday. Ultimately, through text and conversation I was able to smile and see beyond the incredible storm of the day.

In addition to the extended conversation and video, others responded. A person, whom I have known for over 15 years, reached out yesterday and was incredibly accurate in their assessment of my current struggle. Their questions and concern were one of the things that made yesterday manageable. As noted a series of FB messages and an eventual Facebook video was also of profound and extreme importance. The simple messages from others, including those from one end of the states to the other, reminded me that I am not alone. To all of you, thank you. More importantly, what to do next? What are the changes or things I might do to better protect myself as well as to face my life-long nemesis, that of believing my mother?

First, I believe I must come to terms with the breadth and the extreme of the ramifications her proclamation has had. Thinking of that is quite frightening for me. I probably have a better understanding of some aspects of this than I care to admit. It is another way I find indescribable irony in my growing up Lutheran and how Luther’s dialectic of paradox so parallels my life. It is a comprehension of the phrase Simul Justus et Peccator that goes beyond what I wish possible. It is both loving and hating my feelings toward something(s) or someone(s) – which might be more accurately somebody – but suffice it to say it is grammatically what it is in this context. It is wanting to be around others and afraid of such, to the point it is easier to push them away. Sometimes I inadvertently do so without realizing or intending it.

My need to control my life out of my own fear of failure creates a disparity that I sometimes cannot manage and as a consequence I lose the very control I so try to maintain. Yesterday was such a day, and for the first time in decades it crushed me. For the first time in eons, I had no where to hide. The struggle with wanting a level of health, both physically and emotionally, was beyond what I could figure out and my ability to cope failed me. Tears flowed in ways I did not anticipate. I was not angry, like sometimes happens; I was forlorn, despondent, and perhaps even broken-hearted. The rejection or perceived rejection of a variety of individuals, which is one is my most extreme frailties, was in every direction, from relatives to seemingly ordinary individuals, from people from my early life to people even here in Poland (or those Polish). Again this rejection or perceived rejection can paralyze me. Why? It is because I believe it simply proves what my mother prophesied, and makes it true. It is me accepting blame for things that are probably not my fault (there is that word again). I know that I am certainly more fragile to some than others, but I wish I could get rid of this fear of rejection across the board. It occurs regardless of the age of the person, the position of the person and perhaps, most profoundly, the gender of the person. The latter of these being the most problematic. Maybe that is exacerbated by age at this point, but it is unfortunately once again the repercussions of my mother. I know my grandmother, as noted, bore the guilt of not being able to care for us to her dying day. I know the pain she felt because she believed her actions were to blame for our abuse. As I have noted on a blog posted almost 5 years ago, I do not blame my mother, nor am I angry, but I continue to struggle with the fallout of her actions. If I could overcome this how different my life night be.

Yet, I do not write out of a sense of needing pity. We all have our demons, and we struggle to improve our own life as well as the lives of those around us. To those I have pushed away, offended, or mistreated, it was probably done out of fear, and my own inability to do the best I could in the given situation. To those I have failed or hurt out of my own anger, forgive me for not doing better. I do not wish to mistreat nor do I wish to create a sense of disregard. I am flawed and frail at times, and while I might seem to seldom get upset or worried, it is a facade I have worked on since I was small. I am simply another fragile human trying to make my way. Thanks to my niece, whom I admire and appreciate beyond words, for the initial image in this blog posting.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

So Much More Than a Memory

Good early morning,

It seems to be that no matter the time I choose to call it a day, I will find myself awake at 2:30 a.m., pondering more than Trump’s tweets. Perhaps that is because he’ll soon be up composing the latest 140 character blasphemy or alt reality, while casting accusations of fakery at everyone else. Perhaps, at least tonight, it is because my modified GI tract has decided to work in warp speed. Perhaps, and even more likely, it is because I am feeling the loss of a mentor and the passing of a giant influence, to my very core, on whom I have become as a professor and colleague. Dan Riordan was the chair of the committee who hired me at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It was his unique and indescribably affable voice that first reached out on the phone and asked me to come to a little town in West Central Wisconsin in April of 2003. It was Mary and he who welcomed me into their home for a Sunday evening dinner with Bruce Maylath, and it was Dan, who excitedly pointed out a pair of bald eagles in a giant nest over their bank, caring for the eaglets, whose squawking and less-than-majestic looks stunned me beyond words. Dan’s welcoming and kindly smile, his ability to make you feel comfortable from the first moment, made my first foray into tenure-track academia a comfortable experience versus another John Belushi lying on the floor in Animal House reprisal, lamenting the loss of 14 years of college. Dan and Mary graciously hosted me in their home that spring and summer as I moved my life from the U.P. to Wisconsin, and it was Dan who gave Maggie a reference so I could rent my first apartment. Dan even gave me a temporary job working on the latest edition of his textbook, providing me both experience and cash as a still struggling new faculty person.

During my first year, the adjustment to becoming a faculty member was difficult. What I know now was coming out ABD created more than a difficulty of time management. It created a difficulty, perhaps crisis, of identity. While I was still a student, I needed to transform into a professor, a respected faculty person. Simply put, I failed in a rather epic way. I was working hard to figure it out, or so I thought, but during that first semester, my Internet Writing class was, and perhaps still is, the most complete failure in any classroom situation I had ever experienced. There were some outstanding students in that class, and not only did I fail them (and there were mitigating circumstances), but my response for that failure was to blame them and take little blame myself. It was not a good rhetorical strategy, but more importantly, I created a dilemma for myself, one from which I would never really recover. If not for one specific Technical Communication student, who was a single mother with a young daughter, whose moral support meant more than she ever realized, I might’ve quit at the end of that first year. There was another student who begged to get into my first year composition course. She too was a wonderful student and someone with whom I am still fortunate enough to be connected. They helped me survive. However, at the end of the first semester, it was Dan who sat down with me in the Acoustic Café and offered insight and comfort as I reeled from the serious ass kicking that semester provided. While the second semester went marginally better, I made some foolish mistakes outside the classroom. Most of those mistakes and downfalls were the consequence of alcohol, both in Menomonie and back in Houghton. To this day I probably have not apologized as completely as I should for a stupid voice message I left during Winter Carnival. This is where my being the student in one place and a faculty in another created a predicament that would have long-term consequences. In the infamous words of Dean Wormer, “drunk and stupid is no way to spend one’s life.” This is not an exact quote, but truer words have never been spoken. Ironically, one of those students would become part of our advisement board, and rightly so, because she had been a brilliant student, was certainly an outstanding employee, and one who had actually helped me in the business place. I treated her unfairly when I said something in front of that very board, somewhat calling her out. She had every right to dismiss me as unfair and rude. I am sure to this very day, she is as brilliant and as valuable an employee was she was a student. She is a phenomenal person, and a person to whom I will never be able to make amends as well as I wish I could. Indeed, my first year in Wisconsin should be deemed a serious learning-lesson. And while I did recover on a number of fronts, somehow getting an outstanding teaching award 5 years later, there are still things I regret deeply.

The group of students Dan had created through his commitment to each and his superior ability in the classroom is still something to remember. As your  former student, Priscilla Fugar, also one of that amazing group who rightly took me to task, noted so aptly, you had this way of listening and hearing them (and us your colleagues) and then smiling and responding, “yeah, right.” I can hear it as clearly as if you were here speaking it. As we continued to develop programs, internships, and other ideas, you continued to look for new ways to learn, but also so teach, always giving back, not only to your students, but also to all of us, your colleagues. Through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), I got to know other faculty, some who became my most valued colleagues and friends. Dan, your insight of the Stout history and culture was unprecedented, but your willingness to help others understand it was invaluable. You understood the struggles of new faculty and unselfishly gave to so many. I not only watched it, I experienced it. Your desire to keep achieving and then bring it back for others is a rare gift and one I try to now emulate here in Pennsylvania. As you never “siloed” what you knew, you taught me the value of cooperation/collaboration and it is something that has influenced everything I have done here at Bloomsburg. Yet, that brings me to your influence and help, both in getting me here, 998.6 miles from Menomonie, but also how you supported me in these last eight years.

As noted, my first year’s missteps created an exigency from which there was no reasonable escape, and the position of a dean made any such consideration moot. As I went through the summer of 2008, again you were there in ways no one else would even consider. You listened and even in your amazement of what the dean had done, you reached out, noting that we should meet on a regular basis or schedule. You listened carefully and your responses were always measured and thoughtful. That year could have ruined me both professionally and personally because of the stress, but you were my sounding board, you were a life jacket for me. You helped me see beyond the immediacy of the circumstance. You helped me walk a tight rope and you provided a quite stellar recommendation for my eventual position here at Bloomsburg. When I left Wisconsin, you did not leave me. You were always kind in taking my phone calls, of reviewing my abstracts, and sharing your wise counsel, offering insight and support from the inexhaustible wealth of knowledge and experience, yet always in a folksy and unassuming manner that delighted in helping another. You took time to fly to Bloomsburg and offered yet again your valuable and unparalleled advice, serving as an expert evaluator of our nascent program. You were kind enough to stay at my house and share both your expertise and joyful company. While I did get the Dean’s office to foot some of the bill, and you made me promise to get reimbursed, I never kept the promise. The investment in the program and the chance to bring you to my new world was repayment enough. As you worked through the process of seeing and building a program, your willingness to speak with my  colleagues, being with my students, as you had done so many times at Stout, meeting with my Dean all made more difference than you could have ever known, but I was so proud to tell you when we had completed what we had and send you the emails. In some ways you became my experiential post-doctoral father. That is no simple thing. When I came back to Menomonie to manage issues, either visiting Lydia and then finishing up things after she passed, again you were always there. You cheered me on and the last time I drove back in January, within hours of returning from Europe, even as you faded, you welcomed me into your home (both of you). It became a sort of inclusio. It was an opportunity to bring something full-circle. I remember standing in your driveway after our wonderful two hour visit and I held my hands in front of me across the driveway as tears filled my eyes and I told you thank you and that I loved you. You told me you loved me back. What a gift of words, a gift of colleagues, but more importantly a gift of mentor to student and, if I can be so bold, a gift of wonderful friendship. It was followed up by the most wonderful email in which you complimented my spirit and humor. I believe I still have that email.

Dan, you are so much more than a memory, you have nurtured and created someone who has come far since that fall in 2003 when I was a fledgling and failing first year tenure-track ABDed professor. When I imagine possibilities, indeed, even now I will ask myself what I would imagine you offering as wise counsel? What are the insightful, piercing, probing, but important questions you would ask in your supportive and visionary manner? I was once told that if you profoundly touch 5 people in your life, you are a successful person. What happens with the number of students, colleagues, friends, and professionals is profoundly larger, exponential of the mere handful (and that is not hyperbole) What is the term we might use appropriately? I know how you would respond. It would be self-depricating, a sort of “shucks, how kind of you to say so . . .” I can see you tilting you head and smiling, but being as gracious and gentlemanly as always. As you have touched my life, as you have transformed me, you are so much more than a memory. If I can somehow even begin to be noted, to pattern my life within the classroom after you, I will be honored. I know that there are times I have considered assignments, and in fact, I have bounced some of those off you. You always smiled and again noted, “how neat; tell me more about that.” Again, the interest, the support, the willingness to push me in perception and pedagogy. Your work with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning would come shining through, once again helping us to imagine the consequences of what we did to make our students better, more prepared, more thoughtful.

I am sitting in Fog and Flame, one of the coffee shops that has appeared since you were here. You would like it. I can see you at the table helping yet another person, taking time out of whatever you might need to do, putting another person first. Yet, there was that other side of you, the father and husband. The way your eyes would light up when you spoke of your children, your grandchildren, or Mary, your wonderful wife and partner of 50 years. You were more of a model there too than you realized. Your class as a father, grandfather, and husband taught us more than you know. As I have sat here and reflected, there have been smiles and tears, but most of all there is gratitude, an overwhelming sense of humility because I know I learned from one of the best. I hope to share with my students, with others who might follow me. While there was barely a decade difference in age, it seems that I found a master who belied his age. I found a friend who supported me in ways too many to count. I found a mentor and doctoral father who was able to meliorate this struggling, but well-intended beginning academic. Well done good and faithful friend . . .  I promise to keep working to take all you have so graciously given and become even better. I am so blessed that you called me to come to Menomonie and UW-Stout that April 14 years ago. While it is hard to let you go as we once again were in the month of April, it was time for you to finish your amazing journey. As I looked at that last picture of you and Mary, my heart was breaking, but her face said it all so well. We all struggle to let you go, but in my case, those are  moments of my own selfishness. We love you deeply and that will not change. You are much more than a memory because you did so much to change of us all. Not because you wanted to change anyone, you merely wanted to be supportive of us, regardless of our place in life. No person was unimportant, you listened and you cared. In the process, you not only changed us, you became part of us and we are better for it. Bless you, Dan; I love you. You were an amazing leader and you created a band of many who carry on for you.

Thank you to everyone for reading this.

Michael

Farewell my Friend

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Good Sunday morning,

It is very early and I am awake. I left town yesterday because of the yearly block party (I refuse to use it as a proper noun – pun intended). It was a wonderful day in Jim Thorpe and a beautiful day to be walking around. Early yesterday morning, I got a call from Stephanie informing me that Peter, the life-long friend whom I have noted as of late, had passed away earlier Saturday morning, ending his battle with ALS. It is a bitter-sweet thing to say I am both relieved that he no longer needs to suffer, but I am so profoundly at a loss because someone who has been my friend since the beginning of my life, and someone even younger (albeit only a year, almost exactly), has left this earth. As I noted a few posts ago, this is a very different feeling than the feeling I had with Lydia. While losing Lydia is still part of my daily thoughts, she was 90 and had lived an amazing life. Peter was 58 years old. At one point I might have considered that old. That is undoubtably not my reality now.

When I went to see Peter three weeks ago, he noted that he never really expected to grow old. That statement caught me off guard, but I noted that he probably did not expect to have to battle such a vicious and uncaring disease as ALS. I want to talk about the memories of this most amazing, yet profoundly human, friend of mine. Our mothers were best friends all of our lives and our families did most everything together. Peter, James, and John (Biblical sounding) were the three Goede boys and Robert, Michael, and Kris (I am the Michael, not trying to state the obvious) were the Martin children. Peter’s mother was our church organist and our two father’s, Jake and Harry, pretty much ran Riverside Lutheran Church when we were small. To walk into my house and see Marge, Peter’s mother, at the kitchen table having iced tea with my mother was as common as breathing. To see our fathers working on something at church was a common as listening to Pastor Anderson or Ofstedal, our two pastors from childhood through high school preach every Sunday. If it was the 4th of July, we were at McCook Lake and the Ike’s Club to celebrate with fireworks and picnics. When I was 17 years old, Peter saved my life when I almost drown in that lake. If he had not swum across that lake, I am am quite sure I would not be writing this post and he would be joining me rather than I being one of the many who has lost him.  His older brother, John, was instrumental in really creating a strong church youth group  and that youth group was a significant part of my growing up. I remember when the famous Beatles song, “Let it Be” was the theme of our homecoming growing up. It was that song and Pete’s singing of it that got his voice noticed and began a life-long gig with the garage band, The Establishment, who were eventual inductees into the Iowa Rock -n-Roll Hall of Fame, that would in someways identify Peter for the rest of his life. Whether it was their gigs or his grandmother meticulously braiding his almost waist-length hair; whether it was traveling to another high school homecoming dance or a weekend in Spencer, Iowa, where we spent hours listening to the latest 45 trying to figure out the lyrics to “Rocky Mountain Way”, his voice was in the process of becoming legendary. Growing up I walked beans on their farm; I spent moments driving around in our cars; hanging out wherever we might decide like the Runza Drive-in on Riverside Blvd. When I left for the Marine Corps after graduation, our actual time together was significantly less than our childhood years, but eventually, I was best man in his wedding and he was the same in mine. When I ended up in seminary, Whitney, their daughter was born and I sang at her baptism. He would sing at my ordination and he sang at my sister’s funeral. Our fathers passed away within two months of each other.

Even though our lives when through a myriad of changes, there was never the need to figure out who the other one was or who they had become. I remember going to Whitney’s high school graduation reception and what he told me that day was a bit shocking, but he was even then taking a sort of inventory of his life and what had happened. Peter was an unequalled when it came to working hard and not giving up on things. In the early days of he band he would buy their PA equipment, taking out loans in his own name to make sure they had what was needed and he and Flood Music became sort of business partners. He was one of the first to get into the hardware/software/networking area and he did very well. Even when it required changing companies and learning a new gig or thing, he was up to the challenge. Yet, he was a human and sometimes the habits we learn early never leave us. There were things he battled and as with many of us, he could be his own worst enemy. I understand this malady all too well. A couple of years ago, I sent him a letter. It was a letter that I had written as I was recovering from complications of yet another surgery and a letter than reflected much as I am now. As I battled yet another serious health crisis, I called and read him the letter before I even sent it. I cried that evening as I cry now. I am now more than grateful that I took the time to write to him and to Stephanie at that time. I am glad that I took the time to visit him three weeks ago. I am grateful for the conversations we had that day and the opportunity I had to speak with Stephanie a few weeks before that. We take so much for granted.

Later today, I will spend time watching a student be inducted into the national honor society. Quite a change from the beginning of their college tenure, but what it demonstrates is someone not taking anything for granted, but realizing it takes work and that no one owes us anything. That is such a difficult lesson. There is no promise of a long life; there is no promise of success, even with hard work. Each day is a gift and coming to terms with that is something that takes most of us a long time to realize, if we ever actually come to that realization. Each time I am shocked or jolted into this reality, there is little that can be said. It is yet another forced realization. To use the word “forced” demonstrates that we are so easily lulled into complacency or a sense of expectation. We have our plans (and heaven knows we need to plan), but we have little comprehension, nor do we want it, that the line between life and death is much more tenuous than we care to consider in any regular manner or given moment. I think some of our occupations require us to do so (medical or health care workers), but generally we make our long-term plans merely believing that those things will happen. I am quite sure that neither Peter nor I expected to incur some of the things that we have in the 40 years since high school. I do think he expected to have Stephanie in his life, and I am grateful to her for being the amazing person she is. I know the last time he and I spoke he talked about how important his children were and how proud he was of them. His daughter and son, while I do not know them as well as I might wish, are certainly incredible people. They are successful, but more importantly, they are also good people. What I know my friend is that as I think about our lives, I would not be the person I am without some of the things we shared and all the ways our lives were intertwined growing up. You have taught me what true friendship is. We remained friends during your entire life. When I told you three weeks ago that I loved you, I meant that from the bottom of my heart. In spite of your fragile condition, you were as gracious as you could be and we had a nice day together. We laughed and we cried. The tears streaming down my face now are tears of relief. They are tears of sadness and also tears of graciousness, for gratefulness, that we had the opportunity for some sense of closure. I promised I would come see you as soon as school was finished for the semester, but that was not to be. Instead, I am honored and humbled for the opportunity I have had to share together with you our lives, sometimes on a daily basis, sometimes at a distance, sometime with a passage of time, but regardless it was a friendship that abided change of time, distance, jobs, and anything else that might have happened.

I am not sure what the schedule will be this coming week, but I know that I am headed back to see you again, sooner than I imagined. This time to be there for your children and for Stephanie and to share with all the people who loved you. As I write this, ironically, I am listening to iTunes and “Dream On” came on. Your voice and your ability to be the show person you were will always amaze me. I hope you have a wonderful stage on which you can share. I know your parents and grandmother are there to welcome you. I am glad you are no longer suffering, but I will miss knowing that you are there in Eagan. I love you, Stephanie, and I love you my friend.

Bless you.

Thanks for reading.

Michael (Peter’s friend)

P.S. I have to add that I have now heard “Let it Be,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Bird”. Thanks for the messages, my friend.