Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A Special Day for Me

As I write this (at last!) the clock has ticked from April 25 on into April 26.

I had a great weekend; I covered the NFL Draft for Raiderfans, and wrote a series of columns and news items over two days that reminded me how much I enjoyed sports writing.

I started writing sports for my hometown paper when I was 16 years old. Based on compliments I got, I think I was pretty good at it. Or at least, I was a good writer. I've often said reporters fall into four categories: the great writers, who tell a great story; the great reporters, who dig deep and get information others can't; the lucky ones who can do both; and the unfortunates who can do neither. (Or perhaps they're the lucky ones, if they can't write or report, and still have a job.)

At the least, I'd say, I was a good writer. I think I'm a decent reporter. I have my moments.

I got tired of sports writing toward the end. I accidentally got a coach fired because of a meaningless phrase in an unexceptional story. I ratted on a college pitcher who'd broken NCAA rules by taking money to teach a high-schooler how to pitch. I had to call a guy who got thrown out of a church softball league for attacking an umpire. I covered the great Midget Football Cheerleading Controversy -- then found myself sitting next to the advisers I'd villified at a game. I had to ask a star high school ballplayer what it was like to have his mother die of cancer -- on Mother's Day. Some questions, no matter how cathartic for the subject, some stories, no matter how righteous, some roads to hell, no matter how good the intentions -- they take a piece out of your soul. And sometimes, in the dark of night, I wonder if I'll ever get it back.

College was better in some ways, more of the same in others. I learned to cover a beat. I learned that objectivity isn't the best thing to have when covering your own team. I learned how to be an assistant editor, and how to be an editor. I learned I liked being an assistant better.

And every now and then, I got to cover the pros. And thanks to Raiderfans, I still do from time to time. I couldn't do it for a living -- nine months in hell on a sports desk is proof -- but I enjoy doing it on the side. I had a good weekend. Probably even a great one.

What does this have to do with April 26, you may ask.

Nothing, and everything.

See, April 26 is the day I was adopted. Thirty years ago today, some stranger put me into my mother's arms. She has the picture, holding a tiny bundle with a little face peering out at the world. I've had plenty of lucky breaks in my life. None luckier than that day. I barely made it out of Vietnam. At 10 weeks old, I was probably too young to fly. Still, the Baby Lift took me, and so many others. At least one plane taking orphans out crashed on takeoff; it wasn't mine. A couple of weeks after I was safely in my new mother's arms, Saigon fell. The city I was born in was wiped off the map, at least in name. If I'd been born a month later, I couldn't have been taken; I never would have gotten out. I'm not entirely Asian, I'm sure of that, on looks alone (I have no proof). And by reputation, Asians are not always so kind to mixed-breeds.

I don't know what I would have done this weekend. Farmed rice. Whored myself out. Worked for menial wages in a factory somewhere, making Nikes instead of wearing them. Who knows? I don't even know enough about Vietnam to guess.

I'm too scared to learn more.

There, I said it. Big, tough me. Afraid of nothing in this world, except maybe spiders and heights. But have you ever heard a child say to his or her mother, "Someday my real mother will come! And she'll take me away!"

I must have said that once. And then thought about it.

I've known I was adopted for as long as I can remember; I was a curious child, I'd guess I asked my parents why I didn't look like them. But it was later that I realized what I was. Call it lucky, call it blessed, call it what you will.

But the last thing I ever wanted was for my "real mother" to take me away.

Someone asked me in college where my parents were from. Without really thinking about it, I said "Bloomsburg." They asked, no, I mean your real parents. I thought about it for a second, and said, "Bloomsburg."

I like to crack jokes about it. I don't play the lottery, I say, because I figure if I win, every middle-aged Asian for a dozen counties will be on my front porch, demanding a blood test and telling me how they never wanted to give me up. When asked by an ethno-centric peer in college if I'd studied my ethic history, I responded that, sure, I'd seen "Platoon," "Hamburger Hill" AND "Full Metal Jacket." Never seen a jaw drop quite so quickly.

But deep down inside, I'm scared. And I guess I'm old enough to admit it now. People ask me from time to time if I want to go back to Vietnam.

Hell no.

I'm afraid they wouldn't let me leave. I can picture myself running for the embassy, waving my passport, screaming "Let me in! I'm an American!"

I don't even know if America has an embassy in Vietnam. And before you accuse me of ignorance or apathy, hey, I'd be willing to bet our intellectually-challenged, non-reading president doesn't know, either. At least I've got an excuse for not knowing: I actually DON'T WANT TO KNOW.

Maybe, if I'd had bad parents, things would be different. Maybe I'd care more about my heritage. (I think of myself as Jewish before Asian, even if I was eating a Hebrew National hot dog at the NFL Draft on Passover.) Maybe I really would wish my "real mother" would take me away.

But I have great parents. The best in the world. If you could see what a screw-up I can be, if you could see the hell I put the most loving, devoted people I've known through in my worst moments, you'd understand that when I say I have the best parents in the world, I mean no offense to yours. It's just that mine are better.

My parents drove my car 250 miles to college so I could see my girlfriend, despite her jackass parents (talk about bad parents! they were mine, I'd have gone back to Vietnam) pulling her out of school to try and break us up. When they left, she'd told me her parents would let her see me. By the time they arrived six hours later, her father had called to tell me I'd never see her again, I'd gotten shitfaced drunk, trashed my room, bawled like a baby, tried lamely to cut my wrists, given up and cut my mattress open instead, and resumed drinking. I probably should have known I was in trouble when I got to the door, my father asked if I'd been drinking and I cheerfully said "Yup!"

This is the kind of hell with which I repaid their love sometimes. Not really times I'm proud of, which makes this more of a confession than anything else. But it's in the moments when our loved ones are at their worst that we can best show how much we love them. And I've had plenty of those moments. And my parents have never let me down.

My parents told me, years after my engagement broke off, that they never thought it would last (possibly because of incidents like the one above). It didn't amaze me that they were right. They're always right. What amazed me was that they knew it wouldn't work - and still helped me pay for an engagement ring.

Because they knew I believed in my heart it would work, and loved me enough to hope I was right, for once, and they were wrong.

(By the way, anyone who doesn't think father knows best, has never met my father. The man is always right. It's frightening. And aggravating. And really impressive.)

I don't know what I'd have done if things had gone differently in the first two months of my life. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been finishing my series of writeups on covering the NFL Draft. I could list all the things I have, that wouldn't be mine. I've already listed all the things I've done (in an earlier post) that I would have missed.

But the most important thing I have is love.

And, despite my general lack of religion, the most important thing I do is realize, every damn day, just how close I came to having nothing.

And I'm grateful. Every day. Every day, I thank God for my mother and father and for my safe delivery into their arms. Everything good I am is because of them; everything bad I've done is on me.

I didn't see them at Passover, because it was better for my career to go to the draft. And let's face it, even sitting in a stuffy basement for 12 hours beats eating raw horseradish. But I've made plans to see them next weekend, and I intend to buy them a nice dinner, because I couldn't go home for their anniversary a few weeks ago and I couldn't think of anything to buy the people who have everything. Again.

Even worse, after a whole spring making a movie, I needed my first truly free weekend in ages off. In fact, I was so wiped out, I slept about 17 hours through the day and night, and wound up calling to wish them a happy anniversary a day late, because I wanted to call them after dinner and woke up from an hour nap six hours later, almost midnight. It was like the "Gilligan's Island" of sleeping. But I digress.

Point is, this is the kind of crap they put up with, and they answer it with unrequited love.

Do you know what the difference is between a Jew and a Catholic? A Catholic feels guilty for the things he does ("Bless me father, for I have sinned..."). A Jew feels guilty for things he doesn't do ("You never call... You never write...").

Want another one?

What's the difference between a Jewish woman and a Catholic woman? When a Catholic woman hears Pfizer invented Viagra, she tells her husband, "Buy Viagra! Buy Viagra!" When a Jewish woman hears Pfizer invented Viagra, she tells her husband, "Buy Pfizer! Buy Pfizer!"

See, humor is a defense mechanism, and rather than continue to confess my flaws and think about how much parents love me and try not to cry even though I'm here all by myself, I tell jokes.

But all the corny jokes in the world won't change one thing: Today is April 26. The anniversary of the best thing that ever happened to me. I've got a degree in creative writing, and I don't have the words.

My HorrorTalk buddies' blogs (see earlier post, and there are more now... everybody's doing it!) are often bitch-fests. Mine probably is, too, sometimes.

But not today.

Today's the kind of day to make a pessimist think of nothing but good fortune, to make an irreligious man thank God with every breath.

I've said over and over again that I have a good life. I mean, this weekend I got to cover the NFL Draft. Don told us today that he's edited seven minutes of the movie. I bought the "Blade" trilogy on DVD. I'm almost done with another Civil War book. My Strat hockey team is playing badly and I've got a half-dozen DVDs to review. Wait, maybe that shouldn't go on the list of "good things."

But the fact is, I have a good life. Maybe even a great one.

And if things had gone differently 30 years ago today, I might not have had anything. I might have had something. I know damn sure I wouldn't have had better.

Thank you, Lady Luck, for smiling on me when I needed you most.
Thank you, God, for blessing my life when I need You most.

And thank you, Mom and Dad, for guiding me through 30 years that can't always have been easy for you, and never wavering in your love and support.

I can't think of anything more egotistical than quoting myself, but I wrote something in my valedictory speech in high school, and I've never thought of a better way to say it. At the end of my speech (two minutes flat, thank you very much), I thanked my Mom and Dad. I said, without their love and patience and understanding, I wouldn't be standing before you today.

Thirteen years later, that hasn't changed.

And every April 26, I could quote someone else: "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

I dare anyone to tell me I'm not.

I know that quote because my father, a Yankee fan, taught me about baseball, shared his love for the game. If for nothing else than the Great American Game, that makes the quote true. And what seals the deal is he and Mom have taught me, shared with me, so much more.

It shouldn't take an anniversary for even an absent-minded son like me to tell such wonderous parents that he loves them. It's just, today, I won't really think about much else. It's April 26, and once upon a time, on this day, a tiny baby without a real name, without a real birthday, without anything but some questionable paperwork and a failed medical test, on this day, that baby was given the world.

The least I can do is say thank you. I love you, Mom and Dad. And now the whole world, or at least the part of the world that reads this blog, knows why. I may not be the best of sons, I don't know, I do try, but if I'm not, it's on me and not on them. Nothing I do wrong (and that's plenty) is ever on them. But everything I do right, that, they have a hand in. Always.

So, world, take a minute today and think about the good things in your life. Think about how easily they could have gone differently. And think about how your parents made sure they didn't. Do that for me, if you read this blog and enjoy it. Find a way to tell your parents you love them. Call. E-mail. Hire one of those planes with the banner. If you don't have any other way, you can post a comment right here. If there's something I've learned from having the best parents in the world AND having some serious mental health issues, it's that you can never have too much love, can never be told too many times that someone loves you.

I'm going to say it again. I love you, Mom and Dad. Today, and every day.

The NFL Draft
Raiderfans.net, home of "After Further Review"
The Babylift, Wikipedia style
"Blade: Trinity," out on DVD today.

No, I don't know if "Blade: Trinity" is any good. It was a blind buy. I liked the other two, mostly, and I'm in love with Jessica Biel, so I'm hoping.

Bonus link: Jessica Biel


Freak Magnet said...

You made me cry.


I gotta go make a phone call.

UK Redsox said...

Just catching up with your blogging.

Very thought provoking post.

Regards from England