Crossing the bridge, becoming a cultural translator

Protesters gather near Saint Louis University as demonstrations over Michael Brown's death and other police shootings in Missouri spread.

Protesters gather near Saint Louis University as demonstrations over Michael Brown’s death and other police shootings in Missouri spread.

It’s been nearly three months since a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, shot an unarmed black teenager under circumstances that even now remain muddled. The fire hose of news out of that St. Louis suburb has gushed almost non-stop with reports about rallies and protests, autopsy findings, a U.S. Justice Department investigation and much, much more.

As I write this, I see where CNN is reporting that the Ferguson police chief is expected to step down as part of the effort by city officials to reform the Police Department.

Under the proposed plan after the chief leaves, city leadership would ask the St. Louis County police chief to take over management of Ferguson’s police force.

‘It would be one step in what local officials hope will help reduce tensions in the city as the public awaits a decision on whether the St. Louis County grand jury will bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown,” according to CNN.

***

Parfait Bassale

Parfait Bassale

In the days following the August 9 shooting, when national interest in Ferguson was surging, my friend Parfait Bassale wrote an exquisite post about the events in Missouri. I had the good fortune to share his piece — “Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant” — as part of my annual Voices of August guest blog project.

“As more facts about the incident in Ferguson surface, passions will rise, opinions will form and positions will polarize,” Parfait wrote. “My question to everyone is the following: How can my neighbor not fear me when he or she does not know nor understand my story, my hurt, my triggers and my fears? How can the police who are supposed to look after me, protect me when they are programmed to be suspicious of me, my language, my walk and my expressions?

“What I am arguing for is a need for White America (anyone with the complex of racial privilege) to cross over into the Black American experience.  Maybe then, she would think twice before holding tight to her purse because a black man stepped into an elevator. Maybe then, she would verbally discipline a derailed teenager rather than criminalize him. Maybe then, she would not use lethal force as a last resort when dealing with an unarmed teenager.”

***

One of the best things about Voices of August is that other contributors react in the comments, with honesty, humility and grace — and I was gratified to see that Parfait’s piece triggered so many responses. Generally speaking, people thanked Parfait for sharing his perspective while admitting they felt at a loss to truly deeply understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of a black American.

One commenter, Lynn, said in part: “As a white American, I simply cannot have that crossover experience. It is not possible. My skin is white. I do not think it matters in what class of white Americans I was raised … my skin is white and my experience is as a white American.”

Tammy, another commenter, wrote: “Parfait, this resonates with me on several levels. As a white woman, I hope you won’t think less of me when I admit to having at one time or another been that gal who holds their purse closer, or locks their doors – but it happens no matter the color of the man approaching – it’s a different fear that women live with sadly that makes men seem potentially menacing in certain circumstances. Also, it would be dishonest of me to say that I could remotely feel the same fear and anxiety about what my son will encounter in the world as a white child.”

Parfait has been doing quite a bit of traveling lately, so it was only recently that he had a chance to dive back in and address each and every one of the comments left on his original post. Reading them all again, three weeks after we had our VOA 4.0 meetup, I was struck by the honesty of the comments and the wisdom of his responses.

I encourage everyone reading this post to set aside 5 minutes to read Parfait’s piece (“Ferguson…”) and then scroll down to the comments.

I do so with the hope we can all find something to take away from this important conversation about race and how we might — just might — gain a better understanding of ourselves and of each other. In turn, maybe we can help others see the big picture and grasp the nuances too.

***

As one example, this is what I’m talking about:

Lynn:

“An African American couple is one of my family’s closest friends (Fred, a pastor, refers to my family as his white family) and he and his lovely wife, Evelyn, have one child, a son. They fear for their son’s life solely because of the color of his dark skin, in spite of his higher education, based on their daily experience as black Americans.

“I can feel empathy about this, but I cannot share this experience in my worries about my adult daughter. These worries are different and something perhaps others do not understand as you argue that we (white Americans) cannot understand your experience. My daughter experiences discrimination as well solely because she is very obese. She suffers daily from the thin among us glaring at her with no respect for her as a human, but merely disdain for her fat. In the end, they suffer by missing the chance to know this amazingly kind, gentle soul.

“It makes me terribly sad that we live in a world where people are still judged by factors other than their character, whether it be race, gender, age, sexual preference, etc. As a woman, I have experienced issues associated with my gender (first as a young woman dealing with daily unwanted harassment in the form of catcalls, etc., and now as an older woman, dealing with becoming invisible as elderly people do)…”

Parfait:

“Sister Lynn, thanks for your comments. They are pertinent on many points. I could not agree more that one’s experience will never be identical to someone else’s experience. However, let me try to address your statement “As a white American, I simply cannot have that crossover experience. It is not possible.” I think the key is how we unpack the construct “crossing over into another person’s experience.”

brooklyn-bridge-green-md“I like to use the analogy of a bridge. A bridge allows a pathway between two spaces which otherwise would remain separated. By crossing over, we are not claiming to become someone else (it would be arrogant to pretend so). Instead we are getting access to the other space and therefore hearing, seeing and smelling what it is like on the other side of the bridge. As a result of crossing over regularly, one becomes familiar with both spaces and become a guide for others. Some have referred to it as becoming a cultural translator.

“I am sorry about your daughter’s story. That is a very hard place to be. I wish her strength and lots of love from family and community to hold her spine through this.

“Despite man’s ability to be cruel, I do believe that the human race is a special race because of its God given potential to love a degree higher than any other race. Unfortunately, such potential has not yet been realized. Hence, we are operating from a purely reptilian and carnal mind.”

Photograph: Charles Rex Arbogast, Associated Press

Clip art: ciker.com

Blazer basketball

Center Robin Lopez is a fan favorite in Portland with his distinctive hairdo, Stanford pedigree and a genuine love for comic books..

Center Robin Lopez is a fan favorite in Portland with his distinctive hairdo, Stanford pedigree and a genuine love for comic books..

The 2014-15 National Basketball Association season gets underway tonight with a game between the Dallas Mavericks and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. Tomorrow, it will be Portland’s turn, when the Trail Blazers debut at home against Oklahoma City.

The franchise has won only one NBA championship — way back in 1977, when Bill Walton was healthy and playing at a level worthy of being named the league’s Moat Valuable Player — but that doesn’t mean Blazer fans are any less fervent.

Count me among those who root for this group of high-energy, high-character guys who knocked out the Houston Rockets  from last season’s playoffs on an unbelievable last-second shot by Damian Lilliard — and who this year hope to advance beyond the Western Conference semifinals.

I’m more excited than usual because, thanks to a well-connected friend, I was able to buy a one-third share of a 21-game season ticket package for the 2014-15 season. Translation: 7 home games.

We gathered Sunday and took turns choosing which games we wanted to attend. I came out with a great mix of games spanning the months of November to March, starting with Dallas on Nov. 6 and ending with Houston on March 11. In between, I’m set up to see Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington and San Antonio.

Like everyone else here in Rip City — the nickname bestowed by former play-by-play announcer Bill Schonely — I have high hopes for this season. With All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard still improving and complementary starters Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez providing additional scoring, rebounding and defense, the Blazers ought to be able to improve on their No. 5 seed finish from a year before.

If they stay injury-free and catch fire at season’s end, who knows? Maybe they can make it to the conference finals.

Can’t wait to see these guys play.

Photograph: Craig Mitchelldyer, USA TODAY Sports  

Santa Barbara, The Sequel

One post wasn’t quite enough to contain all the images I wanted to share from our recent trip to Santa Barbara. So, with a nod to our friends, Al and Elizabeth, for inviting us to the wedding of their daughter Nicole, here’s another quick look at some of the sights of this California beach town.

The food:

We could have eaten at any of a dozen restaurants that caught our eye. Fortunately, we noticed Arigato Sushi, where a Portland friend had just eaten recently and proclaimed it “sushi to die for.” We got two seats at the end of the sushi bar and had a marvelous meal.

Sushi chefs doing their magic.

Sushi chefs doing their magic.

Pretty in Pink is a featured menu item, made with smoked salmon, crab, avocado, burdock root, daikon sprouts, smelt roe and cucumber wrapped in pink soybean paper.

Pretty in Pink is a featured menu item, made with smoked salmon, crab, avocado, burdock root, daikon sprouts, smelt roe and cucumber wrapped in pink soybean paper.

 

The arts:

Unquestionably, Santa Barbara is a magnet for the arts. Walking toward downtown the first night, we saw posters promoting upcoming shows by Hall and Oates and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, among others. Once we got to the main drag, we saw a theater marquee on one side of the street advertising a talk that evening by cartoonists Lynda Barry and Matt Groening (creator of “The Simpsons). On the other side, another marquee for Tony Bennett.

We were also charmed by the presence of a dozen or more brightly colored pianos on both sides of State Street. “Pianos on State” is an annual happening sponsored by several local organizations that brings together amateur and professional musicians for impromptu or scheduled performances. The event also gives a boost to donation drives held to collect instruments for Santa Barbara youth.

Walk along State Street and you'll see plenty of scenes like this one.

Walk along State Street and you’ll see plenty of scenes like this one.

The beach:
No visit would be complete with walking in the sand, dipping your toes in the water and taking in the panoramic view of the Pacific. We had only enough time for about 90 minutes at the Santa Barbara Harbor.


The family:

It was great seeing Al Rodriguez  — my lifelong best friend and best man at our wedding — and his wife Elizabeth Lee in the role of parents of the bride. I guessed we might see a sibling or two on the Rodriguez side, given that there are four boys and five girls in the family. At the wedding reception, we were seated for dinner with brothers Alex and Ernie and sisters Alice and Cynthia.
I hadn’t seen them since we were all teenagers in Fremont, California. All four of them still live in the Golden State. It was great catching up and having them meet Lori.

Alex, left, and Ernie are the two younger brothers of my compadre Albert Rodriguez.

 

Photograph of Pianos on State via Facebook.

 

A New England sex scandal

There is a scene in the book “Testimony” where one character tells another, “I’ve liked you from the first moment I saw you.”

The quote could just as well apply to my fondness for Anita Shreve’s fiction. I’ve liked her writing from the first moment I read the opening pages of one of her early books.

Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve

Shreve is a prolific author, with 12 previously published novels. I’ve read a handful of them and “Testimony” (2008) makes six. I picked it up outside a house in the neighborhood, where the residents left a pile of books for the taking one summer night, and I found it a quick and gripping read of 305 pages.

It’s the story of a New England boarding school, an elite institution tucked away in rural Vermont. A scandal triggered by the discovery of a videotape showing students having sex in a dorm room turns the school upside down and inside out.

The headmaster tries to get the students implicated in the tape to confess, with the hope that internal disciplinary measures, including expulsion, will keep the scandal out of the news. That one of the participants is a 14-year-old freshman girl – willing or unwilling, he cannot tell – raises the stakes of what he believes to be a sexual assault.

The headmaster’s best laid plans go off the rails and Shreve expertly recounts the implosion that follows through a chorus of voices that includes students, parents, administrators, classified staff, the local police chief and a newspaper reporter, among others.

testimonyThe technique is a familiar one: Devote alternating chapters to characters who give their take on the events leading up to and following the scandal. The result is a multilayered narrative with plenty of room for interpretation, misinterpretation and speculation about what someone said or did – or didn’t say or do.

Shreve has few peers who can match her crisp, lean prose and ear for dialogue. She excels at creating characters who are prone to self-examination and driven by a search for meaning.

The book jacket says it better than I ever could:

No one more compellingly explores the dark impulses that sway the lives of seeming innocents, the needs and fears that drive ordinary men and women into intolerable dilemmas, and the ways in which our best intentions can lead to our worst transgressions.”

Shreve lives in Massachusetts and she writes masterfully about the people and places of that region of the country. Every book of hers that I’ve read has drawn me in and caused me to ponder how I would act and what I would feel in certain situations involving ethics, morals and relationships.

If you’ve never read her, “Testimony” just might be a place to start. Then again, maybe not, judging by the mixed reviews:

Shawn Stufflebeam in contemporary lit.com

Kamila Shamsie in The Guardian

Erika Schickel in the Los Angeles Times

Photograph: startribune.com

One year later

With my mom, Theresa Flores, in Gonzales, California, in 2011.

With my mom, Theresa Flores, in Gonzales, California, in 2011.

A year ago today, Mom died. She came within a day of making it to her 86th birthday.

I don’t know that extending her life another 24 hours would have accomplished anything, given that her kidneys were failing, she’d suffered a stroke, and was on a morphine drip.

When the end comes, all you can is embrace it with the understanding that the frail woman before you has led a long life, filled with joy, heartache and ample challenges, and now deserves to be in a place free from pain.

Mom lived for her family – not just us three kids, but her grandkids, great-grandkids, nieces and nephews and the last three of her eight siblings. She carried with her the heartache of losing three babies, all born before me, when they were one or two days old.

As one of nine children in a Mexican American family that worked the crops, she overcame childhood polio, poverty, discrimination and lack of opportunity to attend high school.

She married and divorced twice, worked in a variety of blue- and pink-collar jobs, found solace in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and lived on her own – proudly, stubbornly independent – until one too many falls forced her into a group home and then assisted living.

The last few months of her life were difficult, to be sure. Away from the comfort of home, forced to adapt to someone’s else schedule, unable to prepare her own meals, and living hundreds of miles away from her children and grandchildren, she found much to complain about.

I have nothing but admiration for the many doctors, nurses, aides and other caregivers who tended to her myriad health issues. And I have nothing but gratitude for cousins, neighbors and friends who also stepped forward to offer companionship and/or help cleaning out her house once it became clear she would never return to it.

It was touching and humbling to go through 50 years of accumulated possessions – cards, letters, photos, report cards, religious icons, newspaper clippings, Oakland A’s souvenirs – and relive the world through my mother’s eyes.

When the end came, it could not have been more peaceful. She passed quietly, surrounded by my sisters and me, plus an uncle, aunt and cousin who had come up from Salinas. I know it took enormous willpower to hang in there long enough for the three of us to arrive from Oregon, Alaska and southern California to be together with her at her bedside.

She died in hospice care in the quiet of a darkened room in the assisted living facility where she’d moved in just months earlier. She had tried to make it her “home” with a statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe in one corner and family photos on every available surface.

We held a funeral for her in November, buried her next to her brother Joe, sold her home in December and made donations in her name to her parish and three favorite charities.

Twelve months have passed quickly. Like any son, I loved, admired and clashed with my mother. She lived life on her own terms, whether it was dressing up in bright primary colors, painting her house lavender or giving grief to anyone who she felt had wronged her.

Through it all, she never put anything or anyone above her extended family, displaying an unmatched ability to memorize the birthday of every single relative spanning four generations.

Had she made it this far, she’d be 87 years old tomorrow.

Rest in Peace, Mom.

VOA 4.0 meetup

From left: Sue Wilcox, Eric Wilcox, Aki Mori, Raghu xxx, Lakshmi Jagannathan

From left: Sue Wilcox, Eric Wilcox, Aki Mori, Raghu Raghavan and Lakshmi Jagannathan

My guest blog project, Voices of August, is now four years old and running. What began as a tentative experiment inviting friends, co-workers and a few online acquaintances to contribute to a month-long collection of essays has evolved into a robust community.

Jennifer Brennock and Lakshmi Jagannathan

Jennifer Brennock and Lakshmi Jagannathan

The annual exercise is something that we all look forward to — in the same way that a sprawling family comes together at the holidays. The comparison is apt because when we come together physically, as we did two weeks ago, it’s an occasion to renew friendships and welcome first-time attendees into the fold.

I hesitate to say that we are a collection of professional and amateur writers because it’s not that simple. VOA is defined more by the friendships that have taken root amongst people who range in age from their 20s to their 60s, whose professions vary widely (a pastor, an architect, a nonprofit executive, an app developer) and whose politics mostly lean left but also tilt right in some cases.

We mostly live in Oregon, but others reside in Washington, California, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. This year, we added friends and a couple of relatives from Alaska, Texas, Slovenia and France. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Starr Flavin, Michael Granberry, Natasa Kocevar Gabric and Patricia Conover.)

David Quisenberry and George Rede

David Quisenberry and George Rede

We write about anything and everything. Travel, exercise, joy, despair, music, technology, life and death. Whatever moves us.

As the blog coordinator and comments moderator, I am doubly fortunate as am I the first to lay eyes on each person’s contribution and to view the feedback each post generates. It’s so gratifying to see expressions of support for someone going through a hard time or embarking on a new adventure. It’s also satisfying to see a person view things in a different light upon reading someone else’s piece.

Most of all, it’s just fun to see these online connections come alive in person.

And so it was that 19 of us, including spouses, gathered Oct. 3 at Kern’s Kitchen, the same place as last year, with new ownership and the same great menu. It was a summery Saturday night and we sat at picnic tables under strings of light as darkness fell.

Jason and Alana Cox

Jason and Alana Cox

As always, we took time to recognize those whose essays we voted as our favorites, simply because they resonated with us. Last year, four women swept the honors. This year, it was five men and one woman, including two first-time contributors. Each received a gift to a bookstore or coffee shop, though only two of them could attend.

The VOA favorites, in no particular order:

Jennifer Brennock, “Baby Shower.”

Parfait Bassale, “Ferguson through the eyes of an African immigrant.”

David Quisenberry, “The dance.”

John Knapp, “They call me dime-bag.

Jacob Quinn Sanders, “Almost the bad guy.”

Tim Akimoff, “Chicago’s mind-numbing numbers.”

Nike Bentley with husband Jason and daughter Remington.

Nike and Jason Bentley with daughter Remington.

Already, I’m looking forward to next year. As of this post, there are only 287 days until 8/1/15 and the start of Voices of August 5.0.

In case you missed any posts, here’s the VOA 4.0 index page. (Never too late to add a comment on any of them.)

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara shoreline with iconic palm trees.

Santa Barbara shoreline with iconic palm trees.

What do you do when you have roughly 48 hours to spend in Santa Barbara?

It’s a city of palm trees, sandy beaches, luxury oceanfront and hillside homes, a glitzy shopping district, trendy restaurants, college students and international tourists – all brought together by the lure of the Pacific Ocean and gorgeous Spanish architecture.

Clearly, there are many options in a city with an international reputation for fun and sun — and a nickname of “The American Riviera.”

Well, if you know you’ll be at a wedding from late afternoon into the late evening Saturday, you squeeze in what you can around it, taking care not to overdo. After all, quality trumps quantity, right?

Which explains why we started out at Goodwill.

Doesn’t it?

I forgot to pack my newest, most comfortable shoes, so rather than hit the streets in dress loafers, we made a quick pit stop and I bought some casual lace-up shoes that I knew would be up to the task of a single Friday evening.

They were. And here’s how things went down.

We rented the unit on the right for two nights. A nice getaway near downtown.

We rented the unit on the right for two nights. A nice getaway near downtown.

Our starting point: A studio apartment, with a balcony, that we rented for two nights through airbnb, the San Francisco-based online rental service that’s planning to open a Portland office later this year to serve as its North American headquarters.

The studio was located about four blocks from State Street, a pristine boulevard teeming with high-end retail shops and local restaurants that made me think of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and similar shopping districts in places like Pasadena, Los Gatos and Santa Cruz.

We walked from one end to another, partly dazzled and partly dazed, at the sheer volume of merchandise available in clothing stores, department stores and boutiques. We were charmed by the placement of brightly colored pianos set up on several street corners for passersby and locals to play a song or two. Turns out it’s an annual event, Music on State, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Education Foundation and other groups.

We had a refreshing margarita at Carlitos, walked for a long while, then circled back to Arigato Sushi, which had been touted by a friend as “the best sushi ever.” I can’t disagree. Sitting at the bar and watching the sushi chefs work their magic made the experience even better.

A pre-dinner margarita with Lori.

A pre-dinner margarita with Lori.

Saturday morning, we slept in. Lori fixed us breakfast and we ate at a table for two on the balcony, thinking back to when we did the same during our fabulous Italian vacation two years earlier.

We hit the shops again so Lori could buy some clothes, then we hopped into the rental car and drove to the harbor to spend some time getting our feet wet and sandy and taking in the ocean view. We strolled along the pier, watching fishermen cast their lines, and catching bits of conversation in various languages around us.

A brown pelican on the pier.

A brown pelican on the pier.

We paused to admire a brown pelican that found itself surrounded by camera-toting tourists. Poor guy. He waddled to the edge of the pier, gazing longingly at a local who was gutting a fish and then peering into the water for possible prey.

We hopped back in the car, picked up a lunch to go and headed back to the apartment to get ready for the wedding of Nicole and Andrew (described at length in an earlier post).

Sunday morning, I went out for a run past State Street and into the nearby residential neighborhoods. On my way back, an Indian couple who were on the sidewalk poring over a map looked up to ask me – an obvious local – for directions. It just so happened I knew the street they were talking about. Go figure.

An hour later, we were on the road. First, a pit stop at Goodwill so I could donate the shoes I’d just bought. Then, a short drive to the south end of town, where we joined a group of family and friends invited to a post-wedding brunch hosted by the parents of the bride, our dear friends, Al and Elizabeth.

Mimosas, Bloody Marys, Eggs Benedict. Who doesn’t like that?

Especially when they’re served up at a quaint bistro and you’ve got an opportunity to reconnect with folks from the night before.

Los amigos: George, Lori, Elizabeth and Al.

Los amigos: George, Lori, Elizabeth and Al.

We said our goodbyes, went back to the apartment to pack up, then took a scenic drive in the hills above the city, marveling at the circumstances that draw people to one place versus another. I understand the appeal of southern California in general – and of Santa Barbara in particular – but I would never trade what we have in Portland for either.

Finally, we drove out a few miles north of the city to see the UC Santa Barbara campus. It’s a huge place, built so close to the water that waves crash on the shore beneath a campus parking lot. Several of the dorms face the water and I wondered if GPAs suffer as a result.

George in the Santa Barbara Harbor.

George in the Santa Barbara Harbor.

Our time was well spent, I think. Santa Barbara is one of those places I’m happy to visit but difficult to imagine myself. It’s got a lot to offer, obviously, and the Spanish influence is everywhere. But there’s nothing like looking out the plane window and seeing those familiar lights of the Portland metro area. I was born and raised in California, but Oregon is definitely my home.

California wedding

The newlyweds: Andrew and Nicole

The newlyweds: Andrew and Nicole

After a two-year engagement, the date finally arrived for my lifelong best friend to give his daughter away in marriage.

The big day was Saturday, Oct. 11, and so Lori and I flew down to Santa Barbara to witness the union of Nicole Lee-Rodriguez and Andrew Acosta.

Nicole is my friend Al’s only child. And to say they have a close relationship is like saying water is wet.

She’s a lovely young woman at age 28 and it was great to meet her husband, who goes by Drew. They strike me as a solid couple, destined for good things in life. Both are native Californians. She works for the Santa Barbara County District Attorney; he works for a local nonprofit.

The wedding and reception were held at the Rockwood Woman’s Club in the hills above Mission Santa Barbara and the rest of the city. It was an outdoor service, with bridesmaids and groomsmen galore, followed by dinner and dancing inside.

Along with seeing Al and his wife, Elizabeth, bask in the joy of their daughter’s special day, we enjoyed meeting many of their friends and sitting with four of Al’s siblings, who came from different parts of California to be there.

Part of the Rodriguez clan: From left, Ernie, Alice, Cynthia, Albert, Alex.

Part of the Rodriguez clan: From left, Ernie, Alice, Cynthia, Albert, Alex.

We shared a table with sisters Alice and Cynthia and brothers Alex and Ernie – just four of the nine Rodriguez siblings, including Al. I hadn’t seen these four in probably 30 years, but it was great reconnecting, inasmuch as I knew them from high school and visiting Al’s home.

This was the third wedding in three months for us, spaced about four to five weeks apart, that took us from Washington to Oregon to California.

This one most definitely had a laidback vibe, accented by sunshine and clear skies. The good karma continued the next morning at a scrumptious brunch hosted by Al and Elizabeth for family and close friends.

Having experienced the bottomless pride and joy of seeing my daughter marry her partner in early August, I could imagine what Al was feeling as the day unfolded.

Seated just a few feet away from your baby girl as she recites her vows makes you elated that someone loves and appreciates her as much as you do.

Father of the bride: Looking good, sounding good in a toast to the newlyweds.

Father of the bride: Looking good in a toast to the newlyweds.

Later, as father of the bride, you feel privileged to stand before everyone as you welcome your assembled guests and offer a toast to the newlyweds.

And, when the night is done and the music is silenced, you wonder where the time went and realize you now have a son-in-law – or, in my case, a daughter-in-law – to formally welcome into your family.

Weddings are a big deal and it’s great to see how today’s young couples make them their own, adapting customs and traditions to their own tastes.

This summer’s brides – Simone and Kyndall, Alexandra and Nicole – are as different as they can be. And yet their commitment to their respective partners and to the institution of marriage is something to celebrate. May they all live long, healthy and happy lives with their spouse.

Bookends

Patty Chang Anker signs a book for one of many admirers in Portland.

Patty Chang Anker signs a book for one of many admirers in Portland.

Thursday began and ended with presentations by two authors, on wildly different topics, in venues that could not have been more different.

That I know both authors personally is pretty cool.

Patty Chang Anker was in town Thursday morning to give a keynote talk at the 11th annual World Aquatic Health Conference at the Doubletree Hotel near Lloyd Center. She spoke before hundreds of attendees in a hotel ballroom, pacing the stage and clicking through numerous images that illustrated her talk.

She’s the author of “Some Nerve,” a book about facing your fears, and she skillfully blended stories of overcoming her own water phobias with an appeal to attendees to get personally involved in helping more Americans, young and old, get past their anxieties and learn how to swim.

I met Patty when she was a wisp of a young woman, an earnest Ivy Leaguer who was among a select group of college students chosen to work on a newspaper chronicling activities of the annual Asian American Journalists Association.

The convention was held that summer in Seattle. I was among the editors and Patty was among the reporters assigned to me. She did a fine job and I remember a heart-to-talk with her about journalism and how or whether it fit into her career aspirations.

We reconnected a couple years ago via social media and I was delighted to learn Patty had built a successful career in public relations, had become a prolific blogger, married an attorney and was raising two daughters just outside New York City.

She went on to write “Some Nerve,” which has not only been a critical success but also opened the door to many speaking engagements.

On Thursday, Patty was the picture of professionalism, projecting excitement, knowledge and humor as she only occasionally referred to a notecard. Afterward, people stood in line for an hour or more as she signed copies of her book.

Alice Hardesty reads an excerpt from her just-released book at Broadway Books.

Alice Hardesty reads an excerpt from her just-released book at Broadway Books.

That evening, Lori and I hustled down to Broadway Books, our neighborhood indie bookstore, to hear our neighbor give a reading from her just-released book.

Alice Hardesty lives two doors away from us in our townhouse development. We see each other regularly, often just out walking our dogs, taking care of each other’s cat or at a neighborhood gathering.

It was great to see her in another context, as the author of “An Uncommon Cancer Journey: The Cosmic Kick That Healed Our Lives.”

It’s the story of Alice’s husband Jack’s healing from esophageal cancer in the 1980s, despite two “terminal” diagnoses.

“After conventional medicine failed to provide a cure, Jack tried every alternative and complementary treatment he could, including vitamins and enzymes, bodywork, spiritual healing, and intensive psychotherapy,” asays the blurb on Alice’s website. “Alice accompanied and supported him throughout this journey, and found that along with the physical healing came the healing of their marriage.”

Jack died some years later, before we had a chance to meet him, but I imagine reading the book will give us a sense of his character and the challenges he and Alice faced.

Seated there Thursday among our neighbors and friends of Alice, I could detect a sense of accomplishment on Alice’s part for completing and publishing a book on such a personal subject, as well as the gratitude for those gathered to hear her read excerpts from the book.

The wisdom of boys

Esquire's Tom Chiarella , right, with his six mentors.

Esquire’s Tom Chiarella, right, with his six mentors.

“Give up your grudges.”

“Climb for ten minutes everyday at the playground.”

“Organize. Start with your wallet. Build from there.”

“Play more.”

“Try. Fail. Who cares?

Mentoring may be one of the few things people can agree on these days as worthwhile.

It’s a two-way street, right? You may be the one who learns the ways of the world from a person you respect. Or you may the one who shares your wisdom with someone else.

Either way, the advice and role modeling come free as we grab a chance to pay it forward.

In its October issue, Esquire devotes a lot of space to mentors and mentoring. It’s the latest in the magazine’s efforts to shine a light on challenges that face today’s boys and young men in a world far different from the one we inhabited just a generation ago.

The topic is an important one, to be sure, and there are lots of features to explore – men of all ages sharing the best advice they ever received; a comprehensive list of the best mentoring programs across the country; and a marvelous compilation of the behaviors and attributes we most want to see in our sons as they become men.

Three examples:

“We want them to know that contrary to what people say, chivalry and feminism are reconcilable. It’s called holding the door for everyone, giving a hand to whomever needs it, lightening the load.”

“We want them to be mindful – to be driven by their hearts but not recklessly so. To be men who, when presented with a number of choices, do the best thing. Men who recognize the grace of luck. Men who express gratitude.”

“We want them to know that in the end, there’s nothing that will make you behave like a man more than being someone’s father.”

***

Wise guys.

Wise guys.

But the most surprising and endearing piece in the package is an essay by Tom Chiarella entitled “The Wisdom of Boys.”

Chiarella flips the question upside down by asking what can a few smart kids teach a man about being a man?

With the help of friends and co-workers, Chiarella enlists five boys, ages 8 to 16, and one 22-year-old as his personal mentors. The one thing they have in common? They all live with their mom.

I was skeptical of where the writer was going, but was charmed – and delighted – to see him glean so much from the relationships.

What seems whimsical is actually practical.

What seems superficial is actually deep.

What seems simple is actually profound.

The best example?

Chiarella confides to his youngest mentor that he misses hearing from his two adult sons.

Eight-year-old Cam ponders the situation, then says:

“You should call them. Make them want to call you.”

Wonderful nugget. And one that I hope piques your interest enough to read the article. It will give you hope.

 Photographs: Ryan Lowry