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Watershed

Posted by Dutchman Tuesday, May 6, 2014 0 comments


When you are backpacking, canoeing, or back-country skiing, your trips sometimes take you to a divide that marks the boundary between watersheds. When you are right there at the apex, a short distance in any direction can lead you down a path that is completely different and separate from any other. Your decision can mean the difference between heading downstream towards the Pacific Ocean or to the Mississippi River. You could end up in Canada or Minnesota. Whichever way you go will probably be downhill or downstream.  You can’t easily turn back, at least not without a lot of effort.  You are committed. It is a defining moment.
The same thing happens in your life.  You don’t always know it at the time, but a single decision or event can have you heading into a watershed that changes everything about your destination, who you are, and what you will become.
I’ve reached a few of these watershed moments.  One occurred when I was 10. I was diagnosed with Legg-Perthes disease which for the short term, 18 months, left me on crutches and in the long term meant years of pain, loss of mobility, and will eventually mean a hip replacement. Along that path, I learned a love for reading as well as swimming, as many other activities were out of the question. When I graduated from high school, I opted out of attending college. That decision was partly due to anger but mostly to stupidity. It took 13 years of drudgery in factories and the destruction of a marriage to figure out just how stupid it was.
When you head down a certain watershed, you often find things along the trail you like and other things you don’t. It was that way in 1992, when I headed to Park City, Utah for a job. On that trail I found a second wife.  It was however, a serpentine trail that led me back to the Midwest. The good things were the birth of 2 sons. The “not so good”, was discovering your wife was, in her own words, “not cut out to be a mother”.
That brings me to my latest watershed. For the last 12 years I’ve been in the valley of “single parenthood”. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a parent before Zachary came along. It seemed like a lot of work, mess, and trouble. But sometimes, when you end up in a particularly rough watershed, you learn something you didn’t know about yourself. I learned I was good at being a father and liked it.
When you have a full time salaried career, and suddenly find yourself forced into dealing with that job and the responsibilities of parenting 2 young boys, along with maintaining a home and good environment all alone, it puts you in a cold sweat. Your life suddenly becomes getting 3 individuals up for breakfast and ready for school/work, stop by the daycare on your way home, make dinner, homework assistance, getting them to bed, and repeat. You become a scheduler, taxi driver, house cleaner, yard worker, cook, nurse, and coach. Your bank account looks like a rollercoaster at Cedar Point with ever diminishing peaks between the valleys of each month.
Sometimes your path takes you away from the stream and into dark woods. When my manager asked if I could travel, I said “no I have 2 boys which I must take to and from daycare each day and at night there is nobody else”. A day later, I was laid off. Other times the trail brings you back to a sunny sparkling stream. After 2 months without a job, my new manager told me I could flex my hours and work from home when it was necessary to meet the demands of being a single parent. There was the time Zach spent the night with stomach pain in the emergency room and the time when Tyler tore a growth plate and was told he might never throw a baseball again and might live with a deformed arm. There were the ever escalating day care costs when you could see no way to pay the bills at the end of the month. But there were also the baseball tournaments where Tyler built a collection of trophies and the first goal Zach made playing soccer. We experienced trips to swim with the dolphins and watched Yellowstone bison trundle by 10 feet away from our car. I attended band concerts and academic award ceremonies.
Twelve years ago, I was greatly concerned. You read and hear about a lot of bad outcomes for children of broken homes. Most are adversely affected. So, I asked a very wise person how I could protect Zach and Tyler. She said “They will be fine as long as they have a parent who truly loves them. But you have to always demonstrate with your actions, that they are the first priority in your life.” So I attended over 400 baseball games (missing only one because I thought I had a broken arm), a couple dozen band concerts, dozens of soccer games, and 2 middle school and 4 high school seasons of basketball games. I went to 12 years of parent teacher conferences, school open houses, and award nights. I drove my boys to practices, school, day care, friend’s parties, play days, over-nighters, and study groups. To do that, I flexed my work hours, left work early, skipped work, took sick days, used vacations, sneaked out early, arrived late, lied, omitted, and quit, so that they were always number one. No excuses were given about having to work for a living, not feeling well, being tired, bored, stressed, wanting to relax in front of the TV, or having a date.
So, am I looking for a metal? Well, I already got it. I have one son, now a young man, who is one of the most gentle, kind hearted fellows you could ever want to meet. He graduated from high school and is now attending the local community college. He never used drugs, drank alcohol, smoked, got suspended from school, bullied or beat up another student, or was arrested for any reason. He is fun to be around, with a happy go-lucky attitude, often making goofy sounds and joking around. He is a great buddy to have along for a sci-fi movie. Another son, Tyler, is the rare combination of talented athlete and gifted academic. He has played baseball since age 5, always being one of the better hitters on his team. He has innumerable trophies for placing in tournaments. He made it through 6 years of basketball tryouts and was a varsity team captain this last year in which they one their league (the first time in 34 years). At the same time, he has maintained a 4.0 grade point average for 4 years of high school and is ranked number 3 in a class of 390. Last year he was elected to the Michigan Baseball Coaches Association 1st All State Academic Team. He just enrolled at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s College of Engineering where he received a Presidential Scholarship and grants totaling over $80,000.

Today was Tyler’s last day of high school. How is it that when he was in 1st grade it seems like an age ago, yet the time flew by so quickly. And now I’ve reached another watershed moment. Which way to turn now? Which path to take?

A Different Spring

Posted by Dutchman Friday, May 2, 2014 0 comments


For the first time in 14 years, I'm not sitting in the cold, sleet, or rain watching my son play baseball. There are no score-sheets to fill out, no statistics to calculate, and no walks through mud and wet grass to get to the field. I'm not sitting in 40 mph winds in the cold on one day, and roasting in heat and humidity the next. There is no racing home from work and grabbing fast-food on the way to the field for a practice or game. I don't have to hear parents complaining about their son not playing short-stop, or sitting the bench, or being asked for a bunt or "hit and run" when they could be swinging away. Nobody argues that their son should have a hit recorded instead of an error, because the ball bounced off 2 blades of grass and was traveling over X miles per hour causing the short stop to drop it from his glove.
Tyler put of lot of hours into being a good baseball player. He went to hundreds of practices and games. He attended hitting and pitching lessons. He discovered that talent only goes so far and then you must work. For a while Tyler worked very hard. He was a pretty good ball player. He played short-stop, out field and pitched. His junior year of high school, he pitched more innings than anyone on the varsity team. His ERA was 2.3.  He received the "Most Improved Player" award and was elected to the Michigan Baseball Coaches Association First Academic Team.
One day, during his junior year, his team was playing Rochester High School. He had a hit and was on 1st base.  I could see he was thinking about something and then he started talking to the 1st baseman. After the game, I asked him what they were talking about. He said, he was calculating the effect that the hit would have on his batting average. The 1st baseman heard him talking to himself and asked why he was doing calculations during a game. Tyler explained that "Everything that happened in a baseball game could be represented by mathematical equations. For example, you could calculate the speed and trajectory of the next pitch and then figure out that based on the contact point and bat swing, that the ball would be a hard grounder passing between the short-stop and 2nd base."  The conversation ended at that point because that is exactly what happened and Tyler was off to 2nd base, leaving a befuddled 1st baseman.
Tyler chose not to play baseball his senior year of high school. It wasn't because of disgruntled parents. It wasn't because of a coach who wanted to marginalize his talent over other favored players and it wasn't because he injured his pitching hand during the basketball season. It was because of numbers. There is another calculation one can do. It's result is the ratio of successful engineering/math students to college athletes. It is a very low number. It is low because it is very hard to work out, train, and play a sport that takes a minimum of 40 hours per week, take 16 credit hours of STEM courses, and study enough to keep a decent GPA.
Tyler opted to devote his time to studying for 3 Advanced Placement tests, a summer internship, and computer programming. At the moment, he is in Indianapolis at the Business Professionals of America National Leadership Conference. As the 1st place finisher at the Michigan competition in Computer Concepts, he qualified to go to "Nationals".  There he will also take a number of certification tests.
So, no more spring baseball.  What to do?  What to do?
You know, there is a calculation for where in a stream your dry fly will land if you apply the right back-cast, trajectory and speed to a Cortland double tapered floating tip line with a 3 foot 4X tippet.

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I'm a middle aged divorced father living with my two sons. We like to canoe, bicycle, fish, camp, play baseball, and spend money when we want and where we want, without permission from anybody. HA!

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