At age 17, my grandfather went with his parents to the local recruiting office
and signed up for World War II
To save his country, to save his family,
To do the right thing.

He wanted to be a pilot.
But the Navy didn’t need pilots, so he sailed away on a transport ship
Down the mighty Mississippi, through the Canal,
and into the endless blue of the Pacific
Not knowing whether he would ever see his family again,
The family he intended to save.

After the war ended, the much older 18-year old
Sailed on LST 652 into a Japanese harbor, the first Allied ship to enter the port
after the surrender
the start of the occupation
White cloths tied to the greenery onshore waved in the sea breeze
A massive aircraft carrier was under construction but no longer needed
Hundreds of Japanese sailors lined the edge of the ship in full dress uniform
waiting for them
On command, every man on the carrier bowed to the waist in unison
My grandfather stood at the helm.

Finally, he returned to his family in east Texas,
Earned a college degree,
Met and married the love of his life,
Raised my mother and uncle in Wichita Falls,
Got a good job at the air force base
and even got to fly a little.

Years passed, and grandchildren appeared
He and his wife built a big house so all of us could visit,
A warm house with heated blankets, delicious food, laughter,
and almost more love than you could handle
Jerome Hines thundered “The Holy City” through their hi-fi system at Christmastime
And taught me what a bass voice could sound like
My grandfather retired while I was young,
So he had plenty of time to take us out for roller skating, putt-putt golf, movies,
Bowling, arcade games, underage driving lessons at the stadium,
and Japanese hibachi lunches
Plus they could drive down to see our recitals, plays, matches, and concerts
which was a treat once I began singing bass myself.

We often sat at the kitchen table, the whole family, and talked for hours –
Books, sports, war stories, history, politics, the goings-on of the family
Perhaps a bit odd for a shy kid like me,
But if I talked, he listened like I was the most important person in the world…
so maybe what little I had to say mattered more than I thought.

My senior year in college, when I got my first real job offer, I called my mom
and then my grandparents – always both of them –
because they genuinely wanted to know.
They had proven that my entire life.

A few years later, they moved to Irving to be closer to my mom and uncle
and all of the grandkids
We started getting married, raising our own kids.
When my wife went into labor with their first great-grandchild,
we were at their house
The house was different, but their kitchen table stayed the same
We sat at that table and talked for hours over lunch –
Books, sports, war stories, history, politics, the goings-on of the family…
and flying
He still listened like I was the most important person in the world.

Next summer, my wife and teenage sons will cross the Pacific
And sail around Japan, nearly 80 years after my grandfather did
Not for war, but to enjoy the freedom that my grandfather won for us
as a teenage boy who wanted to do the right thing.
As we pull into port, I’ll remember him standing at the helm of his ship,
barely older than my sons,
giving thanks that the war was over, that he’ll get to see his family again.
As we sail, I’ll give thanks as well
For one of the greatest men I’ve ever known
For the James Michener recommendation
For always sounding happy whenever I called or stopped by
For waving to us until we drove out of sight
For building us a fire on cold winter nights and letting us roast marshmallows
For teaching us to never stop reading and learning
For listening patiently without judgment
For the amazing prayers
For learning the Internet
For being humble, patient, and diplomatic no matter what
For loving Grandmother so well for their entire life together
For loving all of us more than we’ll ever know

Tailwinds and clear skies, Granddaddy. You finally got your wings.

10 Weird Things About the Day Shift

As I mentioned recently, I’m now working the day shift for the next several weeks for a special writing project. Today we began the project with a kickoff meeting and some initial planning. My partner is a very sharp guy and will be a huge asset. I must admit, though, that switching back to an office job after more than six years is a bit odd. Here are the ten weirdest parts:

  1. There’s this strange girl in my bed all the time.
  2. An alarm clock wakes me up at the time I’m normally starting to send my flight releases. I arise, take a shower, and drink coffee like a normal person.
  3. I attend meetings and use Microsoft Outlook to keep track of them.
  4. Soon I’ll have a real work phone number instead of a generic one shared by 150 people.
  5. I already have my own computer to work on instead of rotating among 35 different ones. When I left today, I meant to lock it but accidentally logged out by habit.
  6. It’s already light outside when I arrive at work.
  7. Someone oversees my work and has opinions about how I do it.
  8. I actually see the managers.
  9. I’m in the office during Southwesty events like blood drives and silent auctions.
  10. My son is confused because I’m working during the day instead of sleeping. He must think I’m a bum who sleeps 18 hours a day.

Weirdness aside, we’re off to a good start. Our target completion date is July 1. I am confident we can make it.

Emotional Pornography Revisited

Earlier this week I blogged about “emotional pornography,” the movies, books, and TV shows that seek to replace normal emotions with unrealistic, stylized forms of emotions that create unrealistic expectations. While I thought the idea and the linked article were interesting, I wrestled for a while with my post as I tried to figure out what exactly to say. It didn’t quite seem right. Thanks in part to comments from my mom and grandfather, I think I figured out why: both my article and the one from Relevant are trying to lump two distinct but related issues into a single catchphrase, and it doesn’t quite work. The two issues are:

  1. Do the romance and romantic comedy genres create inappropriate expectations for real relationships, setting us all up for failure?
  2. Is it appropriate for the creators of media in general to intentionally craft their stories to elicit a particular emotional response?

Expectations in Relationships – Sorry, but I don’t see any way to dispute this one. Fire away if I’m wrong. Whether it’s good or bad is a separate question, but to me it’s very clear that romances and rom-coms intentionally create larger-than-life relationships in order to entertain us. They provide enough conflict to make the storyline interesting, but in the end, there’s generally a happy wedding between the two people we’ve been rooting for throughout the movie. They filter out the messy details of relationships unless those details can generate a good laugh.

We (well, some of us!) LOVE this stuff, right? We cheer for the Man in Black and Princess Buttercup, Jack and Rose, Prince Eric and Ariel the mermaid, and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in every movie they do together. We imagine how much fun life would be if our lives could be like theirs. And maybe that’s not all bad. Real life is hard. Escaping it for a bit is fun.

I’m just concerned, based on my own experience and what I’ve read and heard from others, that people can be disappointed when their relationships don’t look like the ones they see in the movies. If you’re a woman who thinks she’s married Sir Lancelot, you might be horrified when he doesn’t bring home flowers every night, he gets scared if you assign him to diaper detail, and he occasionally pees in the shower because it’s more convenient. If you’re a man who thinks he married Charlie from Top Gun, you might be really confused when sometimes she isn’t in the mood because she’s PMSing, she gets mad when you get drunk and embarrass her in public, and she occasionally has to do decidedly unladylike things like taking a dump.

Emotional “Manipulation”?

This, I think, is the more interesting question. As you might have seen in the comments, my grandfather astutely points out that many of our greatest films and books have a huge emotional impact, which is one of the features that make them so great. I’ve seen hundreds of movies, if not thousands, and many of the most memorable got me involved on an emotional level. I cared about the characters, celebrating their triumphs and mourning their losses.

Rudy comes to mind. The cynic might dismiss Rudy as manipulative and even silly. Sure, Rudy’s obsession with playing football for the Irish could be considered foolish and immature. But tell me you didn’t tear up when the crowd started chanting his name in that final game or when he sacked the quarterback on his final play. The filmmakers intentionally changed some historical details, found a perfect actor for the role, and designed the film to make you care about Rudy’s quest as much as possible. You ache for him every time he gets rejected. You cheer for him when he finally gets to suit up and get on the field.

Is it manipulative to craft a story to elicit the maximum emotional response? I’m not sure.

An artist can tell the same story in many, many different ways. I don’t really write much that’s creative anymore, but when I did, I had to make countless decisions about what to include and what to exclude. Every word and every detail in a story, poem, or screenplay needs to contribute somehow – by developing a character, advancing the plot, expressing a theme, or preferably some combination thereof. I definitely tried to involve my readers emotionally as I told my story. I wanted to move them in some way, whether to laughter, fury, or tears.

If you don’t get emotionally involved with a piece of art, and it’s not making you laugh or entertaining you in some other way, then what’s the point? Why bother watching or reading until the end? I hear some critics call certain works “emotionally manipulative” in a negative sense. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m not sure how to make an engaging movie that doesn’t manipulate the viewer’s/reader’s emotions somehow. I suppose a lowbrow comedy could probably succeed, but most other genres need to engage our emotions. Otherwise, we just won’t care.

You Dirty Rat

We have a rat; ’tis sad but true
I’m glad we know just what to do
He stole our seeds for starving birds
At least I haven’t seen rat turds

Somehow they’re cute when in a cage
But in my house, they stir up rage
In me and Mrs. Box alike
At least she hasn’t gone on strike

I saw him first in the garage
Perhaps in search of some fromage (shut up – my options are limited)
Up on a shelf just out of reach
He scurried off – “Can’t touch this, beech!”

Next night I heard a scratching sound
From in the walls – he must be found
Our lazy cat can’t get it done
Is it that hard? There’s only one

So soon he’ll learn that cheese can kill
Forbidden fruit meets manly skill
From then our home will be rat-free
And I’ll have saved my family.


I don’t have as much time to blog these days, as you’ve probably noticed, but I have a chance tonight. Life with two boys under two is about what we had expected: exciting and fun but difficult at times. Since Jonathan is such a well-mannered and healthy baby, it seems a bit easier than I had expected. However, both of us are very tired – Jenny because she gets woken up throughout the night, me because I spend much of my day taking care of Brenden and then insist on staying up too late so I can have some man-cave time.

I got to thinking about babies over the past several days. Although very cute, they are extremely unproductive (except for diapers) and completely dependent on others for survival. Compared to their caretakers, they have very little understanding of the world and how it works. Their world revolves around a few simple needs: milk, sleep, love, clean diapers, and shelter. As a parent, I know so much more about life and have so much to give my newborn son, but he isn’t ready to take it all in yet. For example, I watched the Colts-Jets game with him and tried to tell him about how great Peyton Manning is, and how he might never remember getting to see Manning play, but he had no clue. I have to remember that he and I are on completely different levels, so I must be very patient and try to help him in ways that he can handle.

I’ll bet that to God, I look the same way that my newborn son looks to me. Despite all I’ve seen, learned, and done in my 31 years, I still understand only a tiny fraction of God’s universe. He and I are on completely different levels, so He must be very patient with me as I fumble through my few short years here. Sometimes I do things that seem perfectly reasonable to me but make God shake His head. Maybe He sighs. Maybe He laughs like we do at Brenden every day. He remains patient with me and tries to help me in ways that I can handle. And I love Him for it.

Long before I ever became a father or even married Jenny, I explored these two relationships in a poem called “Helpless”. I included it on my Recent Poetry page, but I’ll repost it here for convenience in case you’re a poetry buff.


I am a baby in your arms
Squishy and fussy and squirming
for my eyes are too small to see.

Helpless I lie on your breast
Having nothing I gained on my own
And yet fighting with every small ounce of my strength
Thinking I could do better alone.
You patiently smile when I kick you
Don’t get mad when I will not obey
When I find I don’t have all the answers
We sit down and you show me the way.
Why do you love when I cry all night
And keep you awake with my screams?
Why do you rock me and kiss my face
And make me believe in my dreams?
Every time I soil myself again
You pick me up and tell me it’s okay
Although it’s always hard on you and me
Somehow you know I’m going to learn someday.
I know not, Daddy, what I do
I spill my milk, I scratch my face
I scribble on my nursery walls
Thick marks I can’t erase.
But somehow Daddy’s love is greater
Than the promise I can’t keep
And still you’re with me, safe and strong
And finally, in your arms, I sleep.

Truth in Advertising?

I dug around online for some writing gigs. One job posting really stood out. The employer wanted someone to write 25 product reviews “as if you have used the products or services. You must write positive reviews for each product or service.” I am not making this up. You can read the posting here.