Honoring my Father

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Hello after a day in Harrisburg,

While the state capitol of Pennsylvania is certainly different than most capitol cities I have wandered around, I enjoy it as the political junkie I am and because of the faculty union of which I am proud to be a member. It has been a sort of change for me because, in spite of growing up in a union family ~my father was a strong and adamant supporter of the union movement in the United States and a member of @IBEW231, I understood the reasons for labor unions, but I had a relatively benign attitude. There were times when I struggled to understand his commitment to this labor movement. I remember while in high school, there was a pretty violent strike in my town between the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and Iowa Beef Processors (IBP) packing plant, which was the largest beef meat packing plant in the country at the time. This included brick throwing, fire bombing and other serious harassment. I remember asking him why supporting the union and standing up was such an important thing. He was passionate about those who would have crossed a picket line. I had never really witnessed an angry tone, but it was clearly there in what he had to say at that time.

What I know now, some 43 years later was that he had a reason to stand up for the fairness and appropriateness of a contract and what it meant to be treated with equity and fairness. While I certainly understand that there are two sides to every argument, and there are certainly two positions from which to begin when viewing this argument about our teaching contract (or perhaps there are five -the state system, who desire to be known as the SS, the faculty, including both permanent and adjunct, the students, including current, future, and former, parents of said students, and tax payers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). I am sort of stunned by some of what is happening, but that is because I still believe in logic and the collective good will of people. This is no longer unfettered idealism, but the simple believe that when people sit and speak appropriately and respectfully, things can be accomplished. However, I guess you need to begin from a place where there is some logic for that to happen. When I look at all of the pieces of our current labor situation, there are certainly some illogical pieces. This is why my father was so unwavering about the need for union protection. When management has power, the purse strings, and sees everything in terms of the bottom-line, there is an unequitable situation from the outset. I have been accused of having a problem with authority in the past, and those of you who have read this blog know that has been a statement that I have noted more than once. However, as I have continued to age, what I realize is that I have a problem with the abuse of power. This is what is happening in our current situation, that abuse and what seems to be an unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, as is easily argued. Today as I sit and write this, we are actually 10 days from going on strike and there have been no negotiation for the last 10 days, and none currently scheduled for at least four more. Yet administrators have received their yearly raises. All of this is while the faculty have worked for almost 16 months without a current contract. The state system negotiating team has refused to come to the table during the last 10 days. Yet we have a Chancellor who is willing to readily take his $8,000.00+ raise, and when asked by students about that raise this past week, standing face-to-face with these students, had little he could provide in response, but in a FB live meeting with students claims to be working diligently to avoid a strike.

This is the same Chancellor who has done work within the Florida system to create a business model of education. On the surface it seems to be a good plan, but when little is done to promote faculty leadership or support advancement in building that enhances life in the classroom, there is an issue. He is a 5th grade teacher who, from all the research I have done, has done little or no teaching since he became an administrator and has never been in the college classroom as an actual professor. Yet, he seems to be able to understand what it means to be a college professor. The foolishness of such a possibility is unconscionable. It is stunning to me that he can in good conscious argue some of the things he has about our work or our classrooms. Again, I understand the need to be fiscally responsible, but for him to fail to ask the state legislature for any additional money, especially when we were gutted by the previous administration, is beyond wrong. I did not know that I could be so passionate about all  of this, but I am infuriated by the smugness with which he faced us this past week. There as so much more I wanted to say, but I wanted to be appropriate and professional as I stood in front of the Board of Governors, the Chancellor, the University Presidents, and my own provost. I will say that I have a significant amount of respect for those offices, and in the case of my two administrators, in spite of being turned down for sabbatical this past week, I still believe in their integrity. I know that some of my colleagues will shake their heads by my stating this, but I will try to stand up and yet be respectful. I would like to believe that is age and a sense of growing wisdom. I will say that the sabbatical rejection was a bit of a shock and a sort of kick in the teeth, but there are certainly worse things. To the President’s credit, he has asked me to sit up and appointment with him, and, for that, I am grateful. . . .

It is a week later and I am just getting back to this I had not saved it on my tablet and I did not want to begin again. I am in Jim Thorpe and grading, which I have been doing for about the last 5-6 hours, but I need to let the other computer charge a bit, so I am back to the blog, and, as is usually the case, that might be a good think to clear my head out before I get to the next task. I should note that we are now four days from a strike and there is little progress in our negotiations. I should also note  that both sides have declared a moratorium on commenting about the effectiveness or where they are in the process as of later today. This was because there was little accomplished in yesterday’s negotiations, and in the 16 day hiatus since the last bargaining, the state merely returned with the same offer we had turned down. I will leave up to you as a reader to ascertain what such a move might indicate. I will admit that I am concerned in ways I have never been because of the ominous tone of a system and their seeming total disregard for students. I cannot imagine how the very university president, of whom I spoke appreciatively, can be a major player in this position. If it is merely because he does not need to worry about the consequences because he is going to retire, I would be deeply disappointed.

This past week it seems that every day brings out something in our political landscape that can only create more disillusionment and a pondering that is summed up by the acronym of “what the French toast?” I have said more than once this past week that it causes me embarrassment to be an American. I find myself agreeing with people on both sides of the aisle at time. However as I noted in a Facebook posting earlier this today, yesterday, or I have no clue as it seems that everything is crashing in at once.  The New York Times has some amazing columnists and op/ed writers. Their ability to get to the core of a situation and say some of the things most are thinking, but seem incapable of verbalizing, or writing, astounds me. In two different pieces today, For my colleagues, friends, former students, and present students who struggle with Hillary Clinton, I can understand some of that struggle, but the issue is more complex than you might know without some serious consideration. Amy Chozick has an outstanding piece in today’s NYT laying out some of this as well as any piece I have read. In another article, Ezra Klein, writing for Vox, does a fantastic job of asking what the consequences of ignoring the stories about Donald Trump say about us as a nation. I should note that both pieces are implicated related and worth your consideration. If you have an Apply phone you can find them easily on your news feed.

This coming week it will be difficult for a number of reasons. There is the issue of a potential labor action and what the consequence of actually having that a reality does to all involved. Yet, there is a time to stand up, this is what my father told me back in high school when I questioned the labor situation as noted in the early part of this post. There is standing up for something more important than myself. This past week I had the opportunity to sit down with someone I have taken to task more than once in this blog. I had the opportunity to meet with Mr. James Sachetti at the Fog and Flame. He agreed to an invitation to have coffee and I must say that my understanding and perception of him has been wrong. That is not to say that we do not see some important things in the same way, but my conversation and interaction with him was completely cordial and enjoyable. He was attentive to what I shared and willing to share his viewpoint and his background. I walked away from that hour-plus conversation with a  respect and appreciation that has been before missing. While I will not agree with everything he might write, nor will he with me, I can say that I respect and appreciate his position in ways I would not have imagined before our meeting. I am grateful that he took the time. It is another place where I believe I have made my father proud. He often said, “Speak to the person rather than about them.” He, as usual, was (and continues to be) correct. On another front, I will be standing up for myself in a manner that is hard for me. I am generally a giving and generous person, but too many have taken advantage of that generosity. It is time for me to stand up and ask them to be accountable. That is difficult, but it needs to be done.

As we move toward Wednesday, I am uncertain of what will occur. As we move toward an election, I am unsure of what will occur, and even when we have spoken at the ballot box, I am unsure what will happen. We have become a nation of whiners, of selfish and self-centered idiots. We fail to think critically and analyze thoroughly. We are content to allow others to think for us. The consequence has been devastating. Those with money and power have taken over our country and the average person seems powerless to make a difference. We have abdicated our responsibility because of our unwillingness to think. We have allowed those like the recently retired CEO of Wells Fargo to make decisions that affect so many of the common folk while they line their own pockets. This is just one example of how the powerful screw the other 99%. In spite of my background as a former Lutheran pastor, I am more universalist than some might find comfortable, but there is something to be said for respecting others and living a tolerant lifestyle. I do not think this is a far reach from the Biblical words that admonish us to love God with our heart and soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves. And on that note, I think there is enough to ponder for this posting. If you are reading this or found it because of a tag or handle, please share it to those who stand up for quality education in this Commonwealth.

To all who take the time to read my thoughts, please know I am grateful. Thank you, Dad, for teaching me so well.

Your grateful son,

Michael

 

 

 

Being Worthy

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Good morning from the airport in Charlotte, NC,

First, thank you for the texts, the comments, the tweets and the other ways in which so many of you have reached out and shared your kindness and concerns over these past days. I actually stopped to see Lydia one last time before I left Menomonie at 1:15 this morning. She was sleeping and yet seemed to be leaving this life at the same time. It was snowing steadily as I drove the 70 miles to the airport, and it was nice that it was 2:00 a.m. so there was little to no traffic on an interstate yet to be plowed. I listened to music that comforted me and allowed me to ponder as I crawled my way, figuratively speaking, to MSP.

What is abundantly clear to me is the simple fact that I have been, yet again, given two amazing gifts from Lydia. The first was to have 8 days with her and to be with her as she prepared all of us, both the staff of COH, who have been her family for three and a half years, and me, who became the son she never had, and has spent the last ten years with each other, to let her go. To say there were poignant moments during these past days comes no where near explaining the words, the expressions, and the tears that have been shed in the last room on the left at the end of the hall. The second gift, because in spite of the fact she told me that ” I had a shit temper”, she also knew that I would be an emotional wreck should I be in the room when she passed. Therefore, I believe, and I was told by both the caregivers, the nurse, and the administrator (and now by Melissa and Maria, through José) that she waited for me to leave. I never told her I had to leave on a particular day, but she held out. What people did not realize about Lydia, unless they were blessed enough and therefore allowed to get close to her was that she was an incredibly loving person. I wrote about her compassionate nature in other blogs, but whenever anyone was hurting, it affected her to the very core of her being. Her eyes would well up in tears and her voice would tremble as spoke in her Austrian accent, “Michael, it is just terrible.” And she always rolled those Rs. Kevin, her painter, tells of the time she took a large amount of food to the food pantry in Menomonie. As she saw the people waiting for basic staples, she cried and wanted to go buy more food to take back to the pantry.

Yet, to be fair, she was not always easy; she could be incredibly tough. She expected a lot from people, but nothing more than she expected of herself. She worked tremendously hard at creating a life for herself in this country and in 29 years of work took only two sick days. I think, in spite of her independence, after George passed away, she was unbelievably lonely. I did not know her for about 10 years, but I have a pretty good handle on who she was. I think Dennis, who spent 13 years in the carriage house, was important in that transitional time. I think Shelley , who probably treated Lydia better than Lydia treated her, was also important. I think the hard work and companionship that Shelley gave was important to Lydia in the time following George’s passing. I think Lydia was continually reaching out to people and simultaneously pushing them away. Somehow, and for some reason, she did not do that to me. The other three (technically four) people who managed to keep Lydia’s companionship and she never pushed away were Bill and Maryann (Bill and Lydia were colleagues at Stout and actually started at the same time.), Becky (Lydia’s department secretary), and Elaine (her next door neighbor). For some reason, and I am not sure she would use this term, but we somehow demonstrated a worthiness and as such, she trusted us. When she trusted someone, by extension, she loved them. In spite of the fact she never weighed more than 100 pounds until the last couple years of her life, and ended her life under 5’0″ tall, her heart must have taken up most of that space because it was incredibly large and strong. I also think it is what kept her alive these last days.

While I have noted this to people before, I am not sure I wrote it publicly. I do believe there are events that occur in our lives that we do not really understand until much later. I think my coming to UW-Stout is such an event. What I know or believe now is that Stout merely served as a vehicle to create other possibilities. First, while I learned important things at Stout, both positive and not so much, the learning I achieved was significant. It afforded me the opportunity to meet Mark and Gayle Decker and prepared me for coming to Bloomsburg, where I would be with the Deckers (although more of them) again. It prepared me, albeit primarily through observing others, about how I might develop and support a program. However, perhaps the most important and unexpected event was a chance conversation with Elaine that led me to Lydia. As I noted in a recent blog, I had no inkling that we would become a family. I think, and not meant inappropriately, I became her caretaker, her child, her spouse, all in one. It was both a blessing and a curse of sorts. I think of the morning I woke up and she was standing at the side of my bed staring at me and asking if I were awake. I think of driving her around town (much like driving Ms. Daisy) on her errands. I think of fixing her breakfast every morning or mowing, or walking along the roof with the blower, cleaning out the gutters so she wouldn’t. I think of raking leaves or snow blowing and shoveling to try to keep her from doing it and freezing. I remember going to her house for a glass of sherry or fixing dinner so she would eat more than grapes or bananas. I remember taking her out for rides in her 1977 Oldsmobile Ninety-eight and her patting the robin-egg blue dash and exclaiming, “Michael, it’s a beautiful car.” I now believe that Lydia was, and is, the real reason I came to Menomonie. Indeed, epitomized in the last 8 days, it was in sitting by Lydia’s side that the event of 11 1/2 years ago finally became crystal clear to me. Menomonie=Lydia. Regardless her penchant for independence, God knew she needed someone to be there consistently. For God to believe I was worthy of this calling is humbling to me because I am not extraordinary and seldom do I think about any kind of worthiness.

It is now the 28th of December and I am back in Bloomsburg and Nate has taken over the vigil. I am not sure how he will manage things as the family is with him and they have relatives in the area. I called COH a couple times yesterday and I spoke with Nate also. When I called this morning there was no substantive change. Lydia is Lydia; there is nothing more that can be said. I think she will wait Nate out also. The idea of being there is much difference than merely physical presence. That is what I believe. Lydia inside her deteriorating cognitive capacity is as sharp and determined to manage her life as always. Perhaps our worthiness is the actual witnessing of an amazing lady who will live her life completely and also completely on her terms. Perhaps it is that she allows us to participate in such an extraordinary event that offers us something of worth. She is not in pain and she rest comfortably; she is still lucid at moments and even poignant and witty, though that comes primarily through her eyes and her smiles, frowns or other body language at this point. Yet, as I noted in her comments like “no kidding” or “I know” or her patting my head lovingly as I cried on her shoulder demonstrate the worth our relationship has to both of us.

As I got up this morning, it was also a Sunday 17 years ago that I received the phone call that my father had passed away. He had dementia also, but actually succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I have wondered if today will be Lydia’s day and it would merely connect us in yet one more ironic way. Today I will try to focus my energies here and organize some things before I am on the go again tomorrow. I need to manage a half dozen things specifically first thing in the morning. I have appreciated all of your comments, your prayers, and the various ways you have made me feel worthy of your gifts and friendship. I will be communicating through FB and this blog over the next week. I will have photos of my researching and working on more of Lydia’s story in the next days. May we all find our places and things that give us a sense of worth. Sometimes, probably usually, they come when we least expect it.

Thank you for reading.

Michael