Monday, June 17, 2013

Being a Dad

Build me a cabin in Utah
Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout
Have a bunch of kids who call me “Pa”
That must be what it’s all about
That must be what it’s all about
-Bob Dylan, "Sign on a Window," New Morning 

As of May 10th, I'm a dad. Yesterday was Fathers' Day, and I suppose I'm behind deadline if I'm going to write a Dad piece. But I've been meaning to jot down some thoughts. I started this blog as a way to catalog life in Wisconsin, starting with the protests in the capital. Those seem as if they happened nearly a generation ago now.

They say that life completely changes when you have a kid. I'm not exactly sure about that, but I can tell you that my focus has certainly changed over the course of the last two years. I started a metamorphosis back in December of 2011, when my wife became pregnant for the first time. Even in the first weeks of her pregnancy, I underwent an indescribable internal change. My friends remember how excited I was. Unfortunately that all fell down, and it fell hard. Sara lost the baby in week six of her pregnancy. I'll go out on a limb and call December 19, 2011 our worst Christmas present ever.

The politics of healthcare quickly became personal. We were on a high deductible health plan, and because of the nature of the plan, all of our charges fell on both sides of the calendar year. It cost us nearly $7,000 to go through the most painful experience of our adult lives. I still get a gut-level feeling of anger when I hear a politician talking about how those plans help us make "educated decisions" as healthcare consumers, thinking back to my fearful drive to the emergency department. In that moment of crisis, there was not really any sort of impulse to shop around. Save my baby and save my wife - that's it.

Sara lost her mother when she was only four years old. Motherhood was an elusive dream, one that she only remembers from her side in bits and pieces, as her mother struggled with a fight against cancer. Her father raised her and her sister against uphill battles of the Eau Claire Uniroyal plant closing and a body that left him incapable of finding work after, with no one else to pull in the bread and no one to lean on for his own troubles. At times it seemed like there was no way to get ahead, and our first loss was another painful reminder.

Within that crisis, though, we found each other. Sitting in the emergency room together, fearing the worst, and having only ourselves, we found a bond that I didn't know existed. After seven years of marriage, I realized what it means to love someone. In the months that followed, we went through the additional trauma of bill after bill arriving in the mail, and the complete surrender to no one in particular. With services already incurred and no one at the hospital side to fight, we again sat together, alone as a couple in despair as our savings evaporated before our eyes. Sara would eventually succumb to the sadness and spend a summer night in the hospital for treatment of an exhausted depression.

On the morning of May 10th, after 16 long hours of hard labor, a lot of lost blood, and emergency surgery for Sara on the delivery table, we were finally able to sit together. Looking at our daughter, we wept. Words do no justice to our happiness. We can't (and don't) talk about it, beyond a few stammered sentences of cliches that point to the deep feelings we hold together -now as a family, and not a couple anymore.

I am a dad now, and it's simple. As simple as being a husband has been. Love her, keep your head, and everything else follows. I love you Sara, and I love you Melissa. I'm so happy to be the dad in this family.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Endorsing Christine Hambuch-Boyle for School Board

So far I've used this page to express my support for two members of our community that I know personally. I'd like to make a final post endorsing a third school board candidate, after watching the community forum, hearing great reports from friends, and seeing this interview with Christine Hambuch-Boyle. I also know members of our community who highly respect Christine for her ambition, her passion, and her knowledge of our district.

When I listened to Christine's responses at this year's school board forum, I was impressed with her candor, her willingness to look deeply into the issues, and her experience as an educator. She is also great at connecting with community members via facebook. For example: I'm deeply opposed to privatizing education in Wisconsin, and, via her facebook page, I've been happy to see that Christine casts a skeptical eye at voucher programs.It's nice to know where someone stands on an issue, but Christine makes it easy using social media.

Please take the time to watch this interview with Christine here on Chippewa Valley community television. She's thoughtful, she's careful, and she's acutely aware of the role our school system has in our community. I'm impressed with her desire for community involvement in school board decisions.

Please, remember to vote tomorrow. These local elections can be extremely important, and I hope to see high turnout and a great new cast of school board members when I wake up on Wednesday!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Endorsing Rich Spindler for School Board

My second endorsement for school board - and these are in no particular order! - is my good friend Rich Spindler.

I've known Rich for many years, from out and around Eau Claire's vibrant social scene. He's one of those people that you know through friends of friends - you're not exactly sure how you met, but you recognize each other everywhere. The movies, the farmers' market, concerts in the park, holiday parades - Rich has been here pretty much since I started paying attention. Over the course of years, you start talking to each other. You talk about the weather, or the game, or the presidential race.

Rich and I share several interests, including snowshoeing, camping in the Boundary Waters, and quite a bit on the political side. I have a lot of friends who are interested in politics - if you and I hang out together it's going to go into politics at some point. But my sense is that Rich is not simply interested in politics for politics' sake.

I have friends in several camps. There are friends who are angry, and when they see injustice, they rant. They can go all night. And hey, I love to rant. Don't get me wrong - I love reading, writing, and listening to a good rant. Give me your best melt. That's just what happens when those friends and I get together.

I don't always agree with my ranting friends either. Two ranters with opposing viewpoints can get into some great arguments. But you never really get anywhere. If you do, it's on some trivial point, and you're tired of disagreeing. You eventually let bygones be bygones and change the subject.

Rich is not a ranter, at all. There's a basic pragmatism to his approach. Rich will agree (or disagree) with a position, but unlike the ranter, he comes at it with a healthy hesitation. It's not a hesitation of doubt. Rich has conviction, in spades. It's a hesitation borne in Midwestern practicality. He knows what to needs to be done, but he also looks for consensus. If he's going to weigh the impact of a decision, he knows he has a responsibility to maintain empathy with every party being affected.

Rich reminds me of my uncle. If the truck is stuck, and we need to improvise, my uncle will say, "I s'pose a guy could..." and then insert a practical and expedient solution. He says it with a hesitation, because this is a time where healthy debate matters. If you try something that's going to take a lot of hard work, it's a good idea to talk it through so you're all relatively sure about it. Because a guy can be wrong sometimes. He might not think it all out by himself. He wants to get the truck out of the ditch, just like you. He's not pretending he's always got the answer, but this time he thinks he knows. To be safe, he checks things out first, before acting.

Rich Spindler embodies this. I trust Rich's drive. It's not politics on a national scale, although I would guess he has opinions. This is going to be grunt work, on the local scale. What can he do, in his position, to help the school district? Rich is really into the details on policy side. Watching the school board forum was pretty amazing. He's a geek about this, like I'm a geek about the '91 Twins team. I'm not going to fight someone as pragmatic as Rich, with this level of drive, if he wants to get going.  He's willing to get after it, for the betterment of the school district. I trust his  stewardship, his integrity, his practicality, and his commitment.  That's why I'm voting for Rich Spindler on April 2nd: so we can get a guy after it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Endorsing Chue Xiong for School Board

I've had the pleasure of getting to know several excellent candidates for Eau Claire's local races. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be writing about a few of those that really stick out to me. I'm endorsing Chue Xiong for Eau Claire's School Board race.

Last week, Chue Xiong and I chatted across a kitchen table over a beer, Wisconsin-style, in a long and winding conversation. We drifted everywhere, it seems....from his early childhood experience in a Thai refugee camp, to his time in high school, to the time he served in Iraq as a Marine.

Chue moved to America at age 9 from a Thai refugee camp, not knowing a word of English. He was born into poverty, and has a clear identification with the poor in our community. Chue joined the Marines out of high school to serve his country, and volunteered for combat on his second assignment. At age 22 he was leading 72 Marines in a combat theatre, making difficult decisions in times of high stress. He now serves professionally as a cultural liaison between the Hmong community and area schools and businesses.

Chue embodies everything we hope America can be for everyone. Over the course of our conversation, he demonstrated broad empathy, patience, humility, and a youthful exuberance for bringing people together to solve problems. There are no cookie-cutter solutions available for every community - if there were, we wouldn't need to elect anyone to school board at all. We need people who can bring an open mind, a commitment to the community, and a willingness to learn from past mistakes. Chue brings all of these things.  I'll be voting for Chue Xiong on April 2nd to help ensure a well-rounded education for all of our students, for the benefit of our entire community.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Endorsements Coming for Local Races

It's been a long time!

An update, and why I didn't post much in the past year:

A year ago this morning I sat in a meeting that resulted in the loss of my job. While it wasn't a surprise, it was the end of ten years of employment at the same place. I still treasure my time there, the people, and the things we accomplished. I landed on my feet - I had an interview a week later, and a job offer in three weeks - but the interim period was a scary, emotional time. Thankfully, the friends I've made in this community lifted me up at the very time I needed help. It's impossible to repay everyone, but the beauty of my friends in that moment was their genuine generosity. Those that helped me the most honestly did it out of love, with no expectation of an equivalent return. My commitment to them is a commitment to live a life of equivalent generosity and love for my community of friends.

In the intervening period between jobs, I booked gigs all summer with my band in order to make ends meet. I was blessed with a busy summer, great experiences in local watering holes, and a renewed appreciation for the working class in rural Wisconsin. Yes, most people still love to hear Mustang Sally on a Friday, and no, I really don't mind playing it either. My musicianship probably improved somewhere in there, but like all things, I realized just how much is controlled from within you - how well I played on a given night, how we interacted with the patrons, and how much I enjoyed myself were all up to me and my friends in the band.

Also, if I'm being honest, the results of the recall disappointed me. I met a lot of friends, and yes, we worked hard, but I think I became insular. It's fine to stick with your political group when you've got the numbers on your side. When you don't, you've got to change strategies, or you're going to lose. I really didn't think we'd lose. The good thing is, in November, I actually felt a sense of familiarity on the national level with the Karl Roves. He didn't think he'd lose either, and there he was. Because, like me, he only spoke with people who agreed with him, with no clue about how the other half of the electorate felt, or what they wanted.

Finally, the best news of all: My wife is due with a baby girl in May. We're really excited. We've even been doing the nesting thing, complete with a new house. We moved to the place we looked at for eight years, right across the street. Right now it's paradise, and both of us are overjoyed thinking about the new addition to the family. We're deciding what songs to sing to her and where the playhouse is going to be in the back yard. Our weekends are full with baby showers, the final gigs with the band before the big change, and the preparation of a new bathroom downstairs.

Anyway...enough about me! 

In the coming weeks I'll be using this blog to endorse some candidates for local races. This isn't as official as a newspaper endorsement. These are friends of mine I've met over the years, or friends of friends, or community members that I know. It's really what I love most about local politics - beyond views on the national level, you want people who can think with a level head, who will make tough decisions based on the information available to them. I want people I can trust with my kids' education, or the tax levies, or the new projects in Eau Claire. I meet with one candidate tonight, and I've already met with several others. Expect to see base-level stories about trust, character, and shared philosophy.

Stay tuned!