Category Archives: Responsibility

Weekends with Dad

For the first three years after our mom and dad divorced our dad continued to live in Ann Arbor. Though he was no longer in the house he made the effort to be very much a part of our lives, taking us to the Food & Drug lunch counter for school day lunches and having us spend the classic divorce two weekends a month with him. He was not just going through the motions of the non-custodial parent, he really enjoyed having us with him and it gave him and he always thought up fun things for us to do together.

His first place was on Henry Street, just off State Street a mile south of the University of Michigan campus and a half mile east of the stadium. He lived with two UofM graduate students in a three bedroom apartment. Being near the stadium and basketball arena and the whole University athletic complex there were plenty of practice fields close by where we could play baseball, football or basketball together. Continue reading →

Have Bike Will Travel

At about age eight, when I had pretty much mastered riding my bicycle, my mom and dad let me go out on my own on that bicycle, as long as I headed home when the street lights came on, which was either in the late afternoon or the early evening depending on what time of year it was. My parents judged the town to be pretty safe, and me to be a smart, verbal kid who knew his way around this larger neighborhood and was basically cautious enough to not do anything foolish.

With downtown Ann Arbor a little more than a mile away, there were a lot of places within easy bicycle distance of my house. Bach school (my elementary school, pronounced ‘bah’), the public library and my favorite toy, hobby and dime stores and most of my friends were all within a couple miles of our house on Prescott Street. They all were no more than a ten to fifteen minute bike ride for a kid like me. The routes took me mainly down residential streets lined with big maple trees. Continue reading →

Becoming Your Genuine Self

A few months ago, I heard my 23-year-old son Eric say that he used to lie regularly in his early teens (including at times to his parents), but that in recent years he had made the decision to stop and be more genuine in his interactions with people. That caught my attention, and since it was too much to go into at the time, and Eric had too much on his plate (with his struggling new business) to write about it himself, I asked him if maybe I could interview him on the subject. He agreed, and last Sunday I finally did that interview.

In the raw interview my questions and his answers are kind of rambling at times. I have tightened them up here for brevity. Continue reading →

Driver’s Education

driver-licenseWhen I was a kid growing up in my low-crime, friendly, moderately sized hometown of Ann Arbor, my main means of transport as a youth was by bicycle, and it was the main vehicle of my liberty, starting at about age eleven or twelve, to go where and when I wanted. For my kids, growing up in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles (perhaps America’s most traditional and iconic suburb), in a greater urban area with millions of people and the local news just often enough with stories to freak parents out, they were not given that liberty, and depended on their parents to be their chauffeurs. Or at least until that wondrous future day when they could get their own driver’s license and be able to drive a car themselves. Continue reading →

Burnt Out in Brussels

My passport photo right around my 15th birthday
My passport photo right around my 15th birthday
It’s funny sometimes the things that motivate you. Like many teenagers so shaky as to their own self-esteem and therefore so easily embarrassed when they are with a parent in public, my discomfort with my mom’s breakdown in a hotel in Brussels during our 1970 trip to Europe inspired me to step up and assert the ability to lead my family when necessary. It was a milestone in my relationship with my mom and her transition from iconic parental authority figure to fellow human being and more of a peer. I was perfectly capable of asserting my own personal authority when the situation called for it.

It would be five years later (see “The Five AM Conversation”) when I would realize that the transition of our relationship was complete and that she would no longer set the context and tone of my life or be a necessary “star” in my personal cosmos (though she would continue to be dear to me and an asset in my life). Continue reading →

Baby Steps toward Democratic Education: Advice if not Consent

In advocating for more democratic schools in a recent post as a way of identifying problems as they are emerging rather than after the fact, I realize that the concept of democratically run schools, whether run solely by adults or in conjunction with student youths, is a radical concept. As I understand the typical conventional school model today, the governance is much more hierarchical, starting at the state level where basic school structure and policy is set. Continue reading →

Democracy: A Solution for Off Track Educational Systems?

I saw the following Boston Globe article highlighted in the Public Education Network’s “Weekly NewsBlast”. The item, titled “English-only instruction rule doubles the dropout rate” with the synopsis given as follows…

A new report profiled in The Boston Globe has found that in the wake of a voter-approved law change six years ago that requires all students be taught in English, the high school dropout rate has nearly doubled for English language learners in Boston. The study, from the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts and analyzed data between 2003 and 2006, and portrays a school system ill-prepared to serve nonnative English speakers, about 38 percent of the Boston’s 56,000 students. In many cases, the district fails to evaluate properly and subsequently identify hundreds of students for special language instruction, and doesn’t give parents information on program options. Overall, the data show that the law, intended to accelerate English fluency, hasn’t helped English language learners to catch up with their English-speaking peers, in many cases leaving them further behind. Carol R. Johnson, superintendent of Boston schools, said the district will revamp the way it tests students for services, expand programs, and provide more comprehensive information to parents. “I think everybody recognizes we need to move with a sense of urgency,” she said. “Children need help and we need to help them now.”

Continue reading →

Bills on the Bed

My mother, Jane Roberts in our living room around 1968
My mother, Jane Roberts in our living room around 1968
After my mom and dad divorced in 1965 (when I was 10, see “Jane & Eric Get Divorced”), and as I advanced into adolescence, I became more and more my mom’s closest confidante, not always totally willingly. She would invite me into her room and I would sit on the rocking chair opposite her, she sitting on her bed, often with all the family bills spread out on the comforter, triaging what to pay and what could be put off until the next month. I think trying to pay the bills with too little money was particularly traumatic for her and having someone else in the room to vent to made it somewhat more bearable.

She shared with me her residual anger with my dad. He had promised her that once he got his PhD and his teaching position that she would be able to continue her education and find a good career position for her self, but now, in her state of anxiety and single-parenthood, this was very difficult. She shared her understanding of some of the sexual details of his affair with their mutual acquaintance, and her continuing anger at his conduct, much to my discomfort. Continue reading →

Jane & Eric Get Divorced

Jane & Eric in happier times in 1960 when my dad received his PhD
Jane & Eric in happier times in 1960 when my dad received his PhD
In 1965 when I was ten years old, my mom and dad got divorced. It was a family cataclysm that had been a long time coming, a severe emotional trauma in many ways, and a relief in others.

Now at age 53 I look back at the years leading up to my parents’ breakup – old pictures, my memories and my brother’s, and recalling things my mom shared with me later. I have pictures of my parents standing together (for the picture presumably) with happy smiles on their faces. I remember them together in the front seat of the car when we took trips to visit family or vacation back east, or taking us out to dinner at some local restaurant.

But in the years leading to their divorce in 1965, I also remember my mom’s angry words to my dad that there was not enough money, that she felt like a drudge, and that she needed the opportunity to pursue her own development as my dad was working for his PhD and later as a college professor. My dad would not say so much in response except to express his hurt at her anger and that he was doing the best that he could. Often later, after one of their verbal “fights”, he would share privately with me how frustrating she was. Continue reading →

Taking Out the Trash

Why are some things so simple to explain but so hard to understand? So often I stood in my own way so I failed to see the truth. Something as mundane as being a twelve-year-old tasked by my mother with emptying the kitchen trash can when it was full.

My mom clearly explained the job to me. I should keep an eye on the kitchen trash can, and when it was full I should take it out and dump it in the trash can outside. Pretty simple stuff, right? But invariably the trash in the kitchen would build up to overflowing and my mom would have to remind me to take it out, which I would immediately do. “So what’s the problem?” I thought. Continue reading →