I’ve said it before. It’s one thing to have your brain believe something. It’s another level of belief and appreciation to have your gut believe it.
I want to put things in context, and it will take me awhile to get there. Please excuse the wordiness today. I wanted to tell 2 brief stories about my father, and give him credit for making a salient point a decade ago that I’ve reflected upon a lot over the last year.
My parents were and are very kind to me. They were always firm with us, and manners and appropriate behavior were a must. I’ve stolen the line, on occasion, to use on my own kids, when they would misbehave, “You’re a Kesselring. We expect more out of you.” It’s not meant to be hierarchical, but rather, sometimes doing the minimum just isn’t good enough. There are standards after all.
My Dad’s name is Irving Kesselring, but he goes by Skip. My uncle Warren calls him Snag after an old cartoon, but that’s another story. My mom tells a story that when I was a toddler, my Dad was mowing the lawn one day. I tried to call him in the house. “Skip!!! Skip!!!” My mom laughed, my Dad didn’t hear me, and that apparently was the first and only time I called him something other than “dad”.
We aren’t polar opposites, but we aren’t 100% carbon copies either. We both love BBQ; he makes better chuck roast and ribs than I do, but I probably have him on brisket. We are both methodical, and we both love sports. Both of us have a dark sense of humor.
There are differences. He’s more literary than I am; he’s the only one I know that enjoys a few good hours of Dostoevsky. He’s a runner, but I probably have him on the athletic end of things (but he was the best hitting coach I ever had in baseball). He’s more introverted than I am, and he’s certainly more propper. Put it this way; had he been a doctor, no one would have called him a “potty mouthed pediatrician” like me. And when he does swear, he does so with perfect diction. It doesn’t just slip out; he makes sure you hear every syllable with the correct pronunciation.
My Dad will do things or say things that stand out. Much like in Ocean’s Eleven, he’s a “don’t give me seven words when five will do” sort of guy. But when he does or says something, pay attention, it’s worth your while.
My Dad would frequently pick me up for breaks when I was at Knox College. If it was just me and Sonia coming down for a week and we didn’t have much stuff, he’d drive up in his Ford Festiva. For those of you that don’t know how small that is, think of something Smart Car sized or Fiat sized before those existed. It was like a roller skate on wheels, and my Dad loved that car.
The main drag near the college had a town square that was actually a roundabout with four buildings at the NE, SE, SW, and NW positions. Anyway, it’s a quiet Saturday afternoon, Sonia is riding shotgun, and I’m in the back. This had to be March 1999.
My dad announces, “I’ve always wanted to do this!” He then proceeded to do donuts in the town square. With me and my future wife in the car. In a Festiva. It was pretty cool.
Another time, I think this was a year or two before the donut episode, he picked me up from Knox for a break. If you haven’t driven the route between Galesburg, IL and St. Louis, MO, it’s pretty simple. Take I-74 out of Galesburg, then either take I-74 through Peoria or I-474 around Peoria (of note, my dad ALWAYS goes around a city and not through it. We argue about the 255/270 belt around St. Louis vs. taking I-55 through downtown all the time. Yes, this is what my life is like, I argue about directions through midwestern cities with my father). Take I-155 south, then hit I-55 south in Lincoln. It’s a straight shot to St. Louis from there (unless you take 255 around to get to my parent’s house, which my Dad does. I’d go straight through on I-55, but nevermind…)
We did that drive enough that we knew where all the rest stops were in both the to and fro directions. We knew where to park at each rest stops, which ones had a coffee machine and which ones didn’t. It really wasn’t much more than a long commute. We liked those drives; we would talk about typical father and son stuff. Politics, his time in the marines, music, sports, and more politics. Typical light, Kesselring fare.
It had to be spring on this occasion, because the weather wasn’t completely crap (for those who don’t know, that part of Illinois was none to pleasant during winter months). I think we pulled into some rest area north of Springfield, but at this point, I can’t remember how close to Springfield we were.
Anyway, we get out of the car, use the loo, walk around a bit, and are getting ready to head back to the car.
A man, clearly from India by his accent (and later by his own revelation) dressed like a priest (in full clerical collar) walks up to us. He states that he’s visiting from India, and he has several speaking engagements across southern Illinois. He has borrowed a friend’s car (that friend is from Chicago) to travel to several parishes across Illinois over the next few days. The car has broken down, and a tow truck won’t be there for hours. He, however, needs to be in Auburn, IL (population around 5,000) in the next hour and a half to deliver a talk and a mass there. Would we mind giving him a lift to Auburn, IL?
It just so happens that I knew exactly where Auburn, IL was, as one of my good friends from Knox was from that town. I had even visited the town once. It was south of Springfield, IL, just a few miles west of the interstate. Theoretically, we could get him there, and only add 10 or 15 minutes on our day. BUT….
The story sounds strange, at least to me. Catholic priest? From India? Yeah, right. Car broken down in central Illinois? Going to some small town that most people in central Illinois, let alone all of Illinois, can’t find on a map? I’m sorry, I had watched enough “Unsolved Mysteries” in my teenage years. This never ends well for the do-gooders. I was about to open my mouth, when I looked over at my Dad.
He’s says “Sure! Hop in.” Not what I was expecting. I needed a little help picking my jaw off the ground.
I thought this was out of character for my father. I think I let the priest sit in the front next to my Dad. I sat in the back, directly behind my Dad so I could watch everything that the good Father was doing. To this day, I’m not so sure what I was paranoid about. Maybe the crucifix around his neck was really a dagger he was going to kidnap us. He was packing heat for all I knew, and his goal was to leave us dead in a corn field and Robert Stack would be talking about our case in six months. My Dad clearly knew more about world than I did and was quite comfortable with the situation. I hadn’t yet learned about Goa and any sort of catholic presence in India other than Mother Teresa. I’m glad he didn’t have eyes on the back of his head, because I didn’t take my eyes off of him the entire time.
He had to be with us for around an hour. He and my father talked, but I don’t remember much else. I do remember being able to find the Catholic church in Auburn quite easily without a map (and this is the pre-GPS era). We dropped him off, quite literally by the front door of the church. To this day, I don’t know how he got to his next engagement, if he ever got his friend’s car towed from the rest stop, if he decided to move to Auburn, IL, or if he walked to his next several engagements. I don’t think he even thanked us all that much, which surprised me. We just picked your butt off the side of the interstate, a little “thank you and I’ll pray for you” would have been nice. He was just gone. Poof.
That was it. It was a very surreal experience. My Dad and I still laugh about it to this day. It has to be one of the strangest hitch-hiking requests ever. And like a Monty Python sketch, the story just ends. There’s no big conclusion.
My Dad rarely gets himself into interesting situations, but when he does, he sure can pick ‘em.
The same thing with advice. He doesn’t offer advice much. In fact, I think he shies away from it. But when he does speak, listen. It’s worth your time, even if he doesn’t telegraph that he’s making a point.
During my career transition/ending my career as a pediatrician and starting as a teacher, my Dad never asked much about any specifics of the process. We’re guys. He’d ask me how I was, and if I was alright, that was good enough for him. We had more important things to turn our attention to, like discussing BBQ or figuring out which SEC town has the best food – and I seriously would like an answer to that one. I know El Paso did well with the Sun Bowl, but I’m getting off topic.
It’s not always the “what” of what’s said, but the who, the how, and then when.
My parents have a small-ish 3 bedroom ranch house about 1.5 miles from where we live. They still live in the house in which I was born. They have the typical decorations – family pictures, my Dad’s certificate from his first and only half-marathon victory in his career, and other such items. My Mom has a few knick-knacks, but that’s about it. (Funny aside, when I was a teenager, I had an OCD tendency and would position her decorations at perfect 90 degree angles with the edge from wherever they were resting. It was a problem, and check out this old Conan O’Brien sketch; sadly, it makes sense to me. To be clear, I used to do this BEFORE Conan was ever on the air.)
When Andrew was around 3 years old, my Dad got on a creative kick. He was an English major in college, and has always been a very good writer (and editor, I might add). But he got a creative bug for a 9-12 month window around the middle of Andrew’s toddler years. He composed 3 poems, and Sonia illustrated them for him. It was a very nice collaboration; Sonia has an artsy gene and my father definitely seemed to enjoy on working with her for this project.
The first poem they had formally bound into a book – “The Ballad of One-Eyed Jake the Pirate.” Andrew’s middle name is Jacob, and when he was a baby from about 6 weeks to four months of age, he would go into unGodly long crying fits. Every night. From 7 PM to 10 PM. The only thing that soothed him was if we bounced with him on one of those huge exercise balls. I’d hold him and bounce for 15 minutes. When my quads needed a break, it was Sonia’s turn. And back and forth.
When he cried, he always seemed to have one eye open, and one eye squeezed shut, like a pirate missing an eye-patch. So, we called “happy” Andrew, just that, “Andrew.” Angry Andrew was “One-Eyed Jake.” Hence the inspiration for the poem. It was a cute, sweet, and earnest project, and they both had fun doing it.
The second poem my Dad wrote was “The Jibboo”. Andrew was strangely drawn to the Dr. Seuss story, Oh, The Thinks You Can Think. Specifically, there’s a line of “What would you do if you met a Jibboo?” There’s some sort of shadowy character, so it’s left to your imagination what the Jibboo actually is.
Andrew would want you to hurry up to get to the Jibboo part, and then get really scared and almost cry when you actually read about the Jibboo. So then you’d have to quickly turn the page and move on. Except when the story was over, all Andrew would do is talk about the damn Jibboo.
I can’t summarize the poem here and do it justice, so I’ll add it as an addendum. Again, it showed my Dad’s creative side and Sonia hit the illustration out of the park.
The last poem was “Mitty Ditty”, and it specifically states that it’s for Andrew and Auntie Alyx. That poem is now close to a decade old, and it’s framed on my parent’s wall. It’s silly and funny, and seems irreverant, until you get to the last stanza.
It has occurred to me not to infrequently over the last 17 months how important it is to have something to follow and chase. Call it a dream or a goal (I know in business that a goal is a dream with a plan, and we aren’t supposed to have too many dreams because they are directionless, to whit I say BS, but the argument over that distinction is for another day). Call it a “big idea” or a “central organizing principle”. It doesn’t matter.
Here’s the facts. Most of us don’t hit our goals, at least not in the strictest definition of the word. And sometimes, it seems like our dreams get further from us rather than closer. I don’t know if that’s real or not, but it certainly appears that way at times, and it’s beyond frustrating and disheartening. But if you take a step back, a lot of the time, those dreams/goals/ideas are really important. You need to have something to chase, something to aspire to. And if you take your life’s path collectively, those fuzzy, not-completely defined plans frequently guide you. You think they are taking you down the route to your “ideal situation” and then you wind up elsewhere. And frequently, that elsewhere is just as (if not more) rewarding than the initial idea.
I found that last paragraph of the poem to be very helpful during my sabbatical and career transition. I think it explains the lack of regret I have over anything that I’ve done since I started at Knox, and then did the medical, residency, pediatrician process before winding up where I am. I’ve openly written about whether or not I could have found a more direct approach to get where I am now. I think, when I leave it to my father’s words, it will explain why I’m glad I’ve taken the long way. (And he again, he said better in one poem what I did in 2500 word blog post, so give credit where credit is due!) Have goals and dreams, and don’t worry if you hit them or not. With a little luck, they will take you some place even more interesting. It’s the trip AND the destination…
By Skip Kesselring
(For Andy and Aunite Alyx)
You’ve heard of Jake the Rattlesnake,
Who lived in rocks by Crater Lake?
A playsnake he felt born to be,
He’d date chic vipers in Paris.
Then take a train to St. Tropez,
To bask in Riviera rays.
And hit the nightspots on the strand,
To shake his rattle with the band.
Cool felines laughed at Diva Pat,
The Operatic Alley Cat.
And her dream: singing soprano
At La Scala in Milano.
From backyard fences, she’d give free
Recitals to the ‘hood nightly.
“Uncultured churl!” The kitty’d mew.
Ducking another hard-chucked shoe.
While Gus the Hippopotamus
And Rhonda the Rhinoceros
Would practice at their pas de duex
Inside the Moscow City Zoo.
Their very best friend, Boris Bear
Lept grand jetes into midair.
All three believed there’d come a day
They’d dance in the Bolshoi Ballet.
Ms. Mary Lou the Kangaroo
Thought she’d should trek to Katmandu.
Mount Everest was where she’d find
Tranquility and peace of mind.
She wanted to depart Nepal
An enlightened marsupial.
She’d carry nothing on her back.
With your own pouch, who needs a pack?
Jake just set sail for St. Tropez
Aboard a cruise he stowed away.
Pat’s job’s the best a cat could get,
Official Mouser at the Met.
Though hippo, rhino, and the bear
Still play at the zoo, what do they care?
Ms. Mary finds serenity
Beach hopping by the Tasman Sea.
Do fondest dreams ever come true?
Most times they don’t, sometimes they do.
But when they don’t, it seems that they
Guide dreamers as they find their way.
All those who dare to dream shall hear
From those who sneer to mask their fear.
Pay no mind what naysayers say
Keep dreaming boldly anyway!
(First bulldog pillow pets and now heartfelt poetry. Did I mention that he’s a Marine?)
*Here’s the 2nd poem, I won’t post the first one because it’s too long, and without the drawings, I wouldn’t do it justice.
By Skip Kesselring
(A poem for Andy)
“What would you do if you met a Jibboo?” –Dr. Seuss
Have you seen the mean Djibou,
Who terrorizes Timbuktu?
The Berbers fear his fierce attack
He eats whole camels for a snack.
All in Mali agree it’s true.
A shrieking spirit, the Shih Bhu
Spreads fright at night through Katmandu.
Her horrid howls make Nepalese
Chant prayers to Buddha on their knees.
Aunt Edna said she read it’s true.
This film crew flew down to Peru
To find the fabled lost Chibu.
The searching party found them dead
A dozen bodies – not one head!
A million Incas think it’s true.
The sneaky homme, Pierre Gibbieu
Slinks unseen through the dark bayou.
They say he sinks men’s fishing boats
And snatches ladies’ petticoats.
The Cajuns rage and swear it’s true.
Well, I have met the real Jibboo.
He eats pizza and barbecue.
He watches lots of Cardinals games
And calls those Cubbies naughty names.
He seems to be like me or you.
I’ve talked with him. I know it’s true!