BOOK COVERS AND HAVING CHILDREN
This post describes my feelings about becoming a father, first with our daughter and then with our son. I remain intrigued about how different our kids have become. What I appreciate about both are two qualities they hold in common. Both have built strong marriages and are devoted to their children. At the same time both understand the need to be active in their communities; Emily with her work in Eagle Rock Elementary and Peter in sports both football and little league.
NOTE - The original draft for these posts is in response to a series of questions that my daughter asked me in 2019. Thus, the references are to her (as in Before you were born)
First things first. Presented on either side are two alternative covers for the book. I actually like both. If you have a preference, shoot me a note.
But now back to the blog - This week are comments about what it was like to become a father to Emily and Peter. One initial comment, I think it can be said, without hesitation that becoming a grandfather is much easier.
4) Describe what it felt like to become a father? What do you remember from my birth or infancy?
There are a jumble of thoughts. Before you were born, we were in LA visiting Albert and he gave me a book called “How to Raise an Independent Daughter” - it was a compilation of psychobabble with some Zen like phrases thrown in. I was polite but thought the way you raise independent children is to give them responsibility and love. I read at least part of the book. In the end it was thoroughly forgettable new age crap. I understood the intention (which was a goal I shared) but thoroughly useless. The night before you were born Jerry and Suzy Cook visited and Suzy laughed at mom (in a nice way) because mom was huge - by that time she was wearing my sandals because those were the only shoes that fit.
The day you were born was a busy time in the end of the legislative session. Mom gave me a pager (Those times are called BC - Before Cellular). On that morning I was walking up to testify on a bill by Joe Montoya in the Senate Education Committee. The pager went off and Senator Rodda said from his chair’s position, “Mr. Brown, I think you have more important things to do than testifying on Mr. Montoya’s bill. “ Montoya gratuitously added, “Yeah and your testimony probably would not have made much of a difference.” I walked out of the hearing and into Assemblywoman Teresa Hughes office to see what was going on - for a couple of years after that we celebrated your birthday in her office. When Mom was ready to go into the delivery room - I waited. I have a negative reaction to the stuff the scrubbed down the operating rooms and at that time a C-section prevented the dad from being present. I was able to hold you first in the recovery room. In some ways that was exhilarating but in others I realized that even more than mom I had a responsibility for the rest of my life.
That night, mom had to stay in the hospital for one night, I went to a Buffalo Chips run and then called Mom pretty blitzed and told her how excited I was.
Dawn came to help out a couple of days after you were born to help out.
When Peter was born it was a planned C-Section - so everything was very orderly. We played backgammon while waiting, although your mom claimed she was distracted, I still collected on our bet.
I went into the recovery room and started to talk to the nurse about how she had learned her technique. She was marvelous – professional and yet caring. I asked her about her training and then we talked about an issue I was working on in the legislature (the use of pound animals as models) and I actually recruited her to testify against the “Dog Bill”. Finally, mom looked up and said, Who is the patient here?”
Your mom had never had a brother and I was unfamiliar with how to deal with sisters. (Nancy was old enough so I never dealt with her as a peer until I was an adult.). So in one sense you were unique. That paid off later because my mother, who had all male grandchildren, kept getting you dresses made by Florence Eisman. Many of those were velvet with appliqués which made them quite impractical for even a toddler. But mom did not seem to care.
I wrote a simple song for Emily when she was about 1 -
Emily Bemily Booglie Brown, she’s the funniest (prettiest, sunniest) lady in town
She laughs and she giggles and she makes her sound;
That’s Emily Bemily Booglie Brown
I did a song about Peter when he was about the same age - but I cannot for the life of me remember either the fetching tune or the words. Such is the case of second children - I should know I was fourth! But Peter’s assertion of having a birth announcement done on the back of a napkin, is totally false. And after a lot of effort I have found visual proof (in the book).
For both you and Pete we tried to read to you both each night at bedtime - your two favorite books were Green Eggs and Ham and A Chocolate Moose for Dinner. Both of you liked to listen to banjo music which I played almost every night. You heard a lot of traditional bluegrass - but the constant song you heard was John Henry. In one sense I have always liked the message in the song because John Henry strives. His boss says you can’t beat the machine and yet he does.
Before Pete was born we were at a summer meeting in Victoria BC. We were going to Butchart Gardens with a bunch of nuns and you told the “bunny farts” joke. (What is invisible and smells like carrots?) Luckily the nuns thought it was charming. That night we got back and you threw a fit right before we were going to a very fancy restaurant - we should have given you a nap. I finally, in great frustration, sat you down on the bed and said “Young lady, this behavior is unacceptable. If you make one peep out of order at dinner I will immediately bring you back to the room, find a baby sitter and you will stay in the room.” We then got you into your Florence Eisman dress (mom kept buying these expensive dresses that were velvet and lovely but not practical - after all you were her only grand-daughter) and we went to dinner. Your comportment at dinner was exceptional. When the waiter came for dessert I looked at you and said “What would you like?” You said “What do they have?” The waiter then described the choices including Cherries Jubilee - you asked what was that - and when he finished his description - you said “that would be wonderful and I think my father would like that too.”
When Pete was born my mother came - she was very excited because he was the first grandchild where she had a chance to care for the mom.
We also started a tradition called the “God Dammit Mile.” When we would go on a trip with both kids, one would eventually start to frack off. (Note the distribution of fracks was about equal!) Because I believe in incentives, I began to offer an incentive for potty training - it was a trip to Disneyland. When we were driving to the Magic Kingdom for Peter’s reward, you guys started yammering before we had left Sacramento. I stopped the car on the side of the freeway and brought both of you to the side. I said “If I hear one more peep out of either of you before we get to LA I will turn around and we will not go to Disneyland.” I then asked “Do you understand what I have said?” Emily sort of blubbered “Yes.” I then added “Do you have any questions?” She said “No” I looked at Peter and asked him. He waited a minute and said something like “Yes I do. Why did the chicken cross the road?” (Or some similar non sequitur) I nearly bit through my lip but the rest of the trip was less fracky.
When you were about 2 I decided to take you on a business trip to Denver with me. About 30 minutes into the flight you decided to throw a fit. Every woman near me wanted to comfort you - you were passed around a lot. I was proud to bring you along. Mom took care of you during the day and when we flew back your behavior was perfect.
Pete was more likely, especially with his friend Kyle, to get into mischief than you were, at least as I knew about it.
When Emily was ready for kindergarten we spent a fair amount of time thinking about alternatives. The local public school was a mess, although several families in the neighborhood said we should support it. We finally decided with Emily that she would go to the Sacrament equivalent of what Quinlan went to for her entire K-12 experience, Sacramento Country Day School. It was a stretch to support but we thought that of all the things you can buy a child, this is one of the few things that cannot be taken away.
Both kids had some excellent teachers at SCDS. I served on the board for six years. Peter was definitely a less diligent student - that may have been in part because the SCDS model for all its talk about meeting the individual needs of the student, seemed to be unable to deal with alternative learning styles. When Peter was in Kindergarten we went to one back to school night and kids exhibited self portraits. Peter’s was all blue. Quinlan asked Peter about his painting and he said, “It is a self portrait. It is in a pool and I am under the water.”
When Peter was in fourth grade he had a particular inept teacher. On one assignment he chose to work very hard. When he brought it in the teacher questioned whether he had done his own work. I called the director of the lower school and said I wanted a meeting. We went in and I vented my frustrations and argued that this was a chance to encourage Peter because he had worked so hard on this particular project. The director of the lower school said to me (in classic eduspeak “Jon I can hear your anger”. At that I broke up and said “This is not an auditory test, I am sure you can hear my words but are you actually going to doing something about this problem?”
Two high school stories about Emily. When she was a senior she was late in getting acceptance offers to college. One of her teachers, who thought a lot of himself, kidded her about it. He thought of himself highly, always touting his Stanford degree (he got in through the Menlo option because he did not qualify as a first year student!). So Emily and I talked about it and created a fictitious acceptance letter from the Joe Bob School of Automotive Design - we designed a logo and all. (The teacher also thought he was a real gearhead.). It said
We are pleased to offer you admission to the Joe Bob School of Automotive Design. We are especially excited because you came highly recommended from one of our most prominent graduates, who graduated with honors with a certificate in advanced tuck and roll. XXX XXXXXXX claims he actually went to Stanford, but we know better. We also are glad to admit you because it will mean we will have two babes in the entering class.
Emily brought it into his class and the guy did not even realize he was being made the butt of a joke. In Emily’s senior year each student had to obtain an internship. She got one with a State Senator, completely without my help. The same teacher monitored the internships and made two inappropriate comments. He first said when Emily described her experience “Isn’t it nice that Dads can help their kids get these opportunities. He then asked each if they had experienced sexual harassment. When I heard about that exchange, I called the teacher and bawled him out for about 30 minutes. I then called the headmaster and spent another 30 minutes with him. That night was a potluck for the seniors and their families. I soon noticed something fun. Every time I entered a room where the teacher was he would scurry out. I got Emily and demonstrated the principle. We both laughed.
Evaluating the value of private K-12 schools is hard. In the case of SCDS they did a lot of extra things for kids who fit their model. But they were also woefully bereft of recognition that every kid has unique educational needs. In Peter’s case we did not recognize that soon enough. In Emily’s case even the college counseling function was inadequate. The counselor who doubled as an English teacher and college counselor knew Emily was interested in a smaller selective college. But the counselor, when Emily expressed at least preliminary interest in a place in the South recommended that she look at UNC.
Pete left Country Day at Eighth grade - their methods were not matched well to boys who were a bit less compliant. He wanted to play football and so went to Christian Brothers. Unfortunately, in one of his games he nailed a knee. We had been on a short trip and when we came back he was lying on our couch with a blanket. When we came in he exposed the brace he had on his leg. It was one of those special moments.
I am especially proud that both of our kids have taken an active role in helping to shape the school experience for their kids. They also seem to work better than we did in sharing responsibilities for raising kids. Quinlan and I had much more traditional roles.
Finally, I should offer some comments on our kids parenting skills. Between Emily and Michael and Peter and Jessica they have very different assumptions about raising kids; both from the way we did it and the way that each works with their own children. But the proof of parenthood is not in whether they follow our methods but in whether each of our five grandchildren are growing up to be independent contributing members of their communities. All five have distinct personalities. But each has developed a good sense of values.
The next post is about my involvement with running and Loma Prieta (Not related topics)