Happy 86th Birthday, Dad

My Dad, who turns 86 in a few days, published a book in January. My last blog post was celebrating still being creative, and creating, at age 85. But the beauty of creating at this late stage is that all the years’ of joy and sadness of life are also layered into the art. This is also true of my Dad’s book.

My parents were married for 58 years. And all the events described in Dads book were also a tribute to and love song for my Mom, who passed in 2013. She helped him start the book, but she didn’t see Dad finish it and get it published. Most times that I talk with Dad about his book, he comments that he wished Mom could have seen it published.

So I decided to create an art piece that visually demonstrates The physicality of Moms presence in Dads story. I took my favorite photo of them and created a piece of strip book art on the pages of Dads book. The picture is literally cut into strips and glued to the edge of the pages.

Mom and Dad circa 2005 (?)

I had to use two copies of the book in order to have enough pages to fully incorporate the image and to have enough strength and stability to hold the piece together. But I like to think I needed two books just like they needed each other to have the strength and wisdom to make it through their life together.

The gold button on the ribbon is a reference to old family stories. Though Mom and Dad grew up in the same town, they didn’t start dating until Dad was at West Point. Mom always claimed he was too much of a cut up in high school for her. Dad always said she was attracted to the gold buttons on his cadet uniform.

This is a deeply personal piece. On the surface, it’s a lovely, but perhaps more crafted than artistic, representation of an old photo. It’s when I explain the interconnected meanings of the parts that the depth of the whole comes into perspective. Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope you like it.

When I’m 85 . . .

. . . If I reach that magic number. I’ll be 60 this year, so 65 (cue the Beatles) is a bit too close at hand to be aspirational. My Mom passed at the age of 76, so I also realize that 85 is not guaranteed. But both my Dad, and my mother’s best friend from grade school, have both reached that grand age. And they are each inspirational examples to me of what I could be doing when I’m 85. They are both still creating and putting their creations out in the world. I want to be doing that too when I’m 85.

My Dad has just published his second book. Mind you, my Dad had a first career as a US Military officer. He had a second career as a Human Resources manager. He had a third career as a university professor teaching English literature and business communications. I guess he’s had a fourth occupation as a hay farmer over his last 30+ years in Montana. And he’s an author. Dad wrote his first book, “Ringed in Steel: Armored Cavalry, Vietnam 1967–68” while he was still on active duty and working full time. I remember him closing himself in his study and working on that book evenings and weekends. The first book was published in 1986, four years after he retired in 1982. Now, 36 years later, he’s got a second book out, one that took an equal amount of dedication and passion. He’s been working on this one for over 10 years — he started it before my mother passed. Now in a world of digital media, he’s editing online and writing promotional blog posts.

Roe (Halper) is an artist ( https://www.roehalperart.com ). I believe she has a degree in art education and, perhaps, taught in public schools for a few years. Then, as women did in that era, she stayed home with her children and created her art “on the side.” She’s been teaching art again now out of her home studio for many years and her art has evolved so much over the years. Originally, Roe’s work was very realistic. Powerful, focussed on the human form, on social justice, and on Jewish tradition.

Gradually, her art has simplified movement of the human form down to the most basic lines. The following image is an abstraction of a photograph of a dancer from the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.

Roe has an exhibit opening at the Westport Library in Connecticut this month, “Orange.” And the work is an explosion of energy and color and sweeping lines. The work is not representational, but it is as powerful and as full of emotions and energy as her work has always been.

It’s tempting to compare myself to them. To count how many careers I’ve had; how many books I’ve written; how many exhibitions have featured my work. I’m going to try not to do that to myself. What I want to focus on is how age has just been a number for these two. They’ve continued to be true to themselves, to embrace their passions, and to share their gifts with the world. They’ve been persistent. So even when it seemed like the world didn’t want to hear them — they continue to insist that we listen.

“What do you do when. . . ” Love and Resilience in the Era of Climate Change

I started this blog explaining that one way I had chosen to deal with difficult times was to start folding origami cranes. In fact, those cranes were originally made from the paper liners of sanitary pads . . . symbolic of a Mother’s fears, worries, and tears. Life continues, through unplanned pregnancies, hurricanes, Covid pandemics, oil price crashes and job insecurity. Sometimes we laugh. And sometimes folding a crane just isn’t enough.

What do you do when your adult child’s gender-fluid partner has top surgery to remove their breasts? We sent chicken soup.

What do you do when your autistic adult (step)son calls, not your husband, but you, to ask if he can come to live with you, because his mom is kicking him out? While you’ve got 6 people living in a 3 bed/2 bath rental house and are repairing your own home post Hurricane Harvey. You tell him “of course,” buy a sleeper sofa and crochet a soft blanket for him to let him know he is ‘home.’

What do you do when that same son hands you his sex toy because it’s broken, and asks for help fixing it? I got out the super glue.

What do you do when your son develops his first relationship with a girl, but thinks he might have STD’s from cleaning toilets at Walmart? Take him to his doctor for testing and education on STD transmittal.

What do you say when he then inadvertently texts you instead of the girlfriend asking “so, ultra thin or bearskin (condoms)?” Tell him, “I don’t have a preference, Love Mom.”

What do you do when your daughter’s fiancé walks away one week after going down on his knee in front of her family and his to propose . . . . and she won’t sleep in her own bed because it still smells of ‘him.’ You change her sheets for her.

What do you do when your daughter and her new baby daddy call up to say they’ve arranged to be on the Maury Povich show to talk about said baby daddy’s sexting incident — just to get an all expense paid baby-moon in New York? Well, that response was kind of unprintable . . .

What do you say when that same daughter, now with two kids, for whom you have just bought a gorgeous white wedding dress, calls to say the only job she can find is as a sales clerk at an adult lingerie and sex toy shop? Tell her “Call your Dad!”