Sending E-mails To My Late Father

A few years back, my father suddenly passed away.  Compared to other father/son relationships we had a typical bond but we were certainly two completely different minded individuals.  Despite this slight disconnect and as I found out later a lack of transparency, Dad and I always had great conversations about the day-to-day activities in our lives.  In those moments, Dad gave me great advice and peace of mind even though he struggled finding his own peace of mind for most of his life.

In the first year after his death, I often found myself talking out loud to Dad about many different events that occurred in my life since I lost him.  I found it very therapeutic when I sought his advice even though I knew I wasn’t going to receive a straightforward answer from beyond.

Shortly after Dad died, my wife gave birth to our son, which would have been his first grandchild.  I always brought my son up in the conversations with the air around me, hoping somehow that Dad could listen to what I was saying.  Life became busier and tiresome when constantly attending to a newborn baby, so my conversations aimed at Dad waned.

Two years ago this month on the day which would have been his 71st birthday, I decided to send an e-mail to Dad’s old America Online account.  I loved how he hung on to that account years after we all had those ubiquitous AOL addresses in the middle of the 1990’s.  With an e-mail address like that one would think Dad had no idea how to transition into the digital age.  He shall not be judged; Dad was a “Napster Master” at the age of 56 and later in life he loved his fantasy football online.  Dad drove my mom nuts with his hours of roster moves every week during the NFL season.

In the e-mail I talked about how I love my family, that I was proud to be his son and a few personal family details that Dad and I could only have a conversation about.  When I sent the e-mail, I could still hear his voice offering advice on the phone or when I used to visit home more often.  It turned out the e-mail address was still active because I did not get a delivery failure message.  I’d like to think he still checked his e-mail somewhere close to my presence.

Since that first e-mail I’ve sent four more in the last two years.  They’ve all kicked back to me so it seems Dad’s AOL account has been taken off of the grid.  Unless ALL of AOL is off of the grid!  But it doesn’t matter to me if Dad can’t read the messages I intended for him, what’s important to me is the peace I get in composing those e-mails.  Collecting my thoughts and sending them to Dad remind me of the nights we talked in my bedroom about the challenges of growing up while watching the old 12:30 Late Night With David Letterman show on NBC.  They remind me of the phone conversations we had when I first moved out on my own.  They remind me of the time when he found out he was going to be a grandfather.  Tangible words on the screen that I would have said to Dad in person.  Words that were fading from my consciousness due to a lack of sleep, an increase in children’s television viewing and the inability to simply find time to relax.

I miss Dad, but I was blessed to have him in my life all of these years.  Occasionally I will get a hint that Dad is watching me from afar but at the same time close by.  Other times I don’t.  I assume he’s downloading free music somewhere when he’s not around.  Pretty soon I’ll send him another e-mail since his grandson is going to turn 3 in less than a month.  I’ll talk about a variety of topics and ask him a few questions about the problems I’m facing in 2016.

If I don’t get a reply to my questions I understand.  It’s the start of fantasy football season.

The Fuel Pump: A sign from God in 2008

In April of 2008, my wife finished up the classroom portion of her doctorate in physical therapy.  We moved about 60 miles away from Pittsburgh for her to go to school while I found a job in the local town to help pay the bills.  When it was time for us to move back home, I had problems finding a full-time job.  This was due to the economy being sour at this time and my resume still having an address from 60 miles away.

I held on to my job far from home until I took a position with a fire protection company in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh.  I was just happy to find something local after driving 110 miles round-trip each time I had to work back in the town we temporarily moved to.  Gas prices at the time were an astonishing $4.00 a gallon and I put on a year’s worth of miles on my car in three months.  After paying bills, my net savings per month averaged a loss of $70.  I was putting $300 to $350 of gasoline into my car per month, so I was looking forward to saving money again.

An acquaintance named Tom was responsible for me landing this job.  He installed, repaired and replaced Ansul fire suppression systems that are attached to kitchen hoods.  I never held a job where I had to be capable of using a variety of tools, but in a few months I was able to complete tasks without too much supervision.  I was even allowed to take a work van home with me after 60 days of employment.

During the interview process I was told that the job would have a variety of hours since the company had to work around the needs of the client.  I was fine with that since I didn’t have any family obligations yet.  It was to be a standard 40-hour work week with occasional overtime, and 90% of the work would be within a 75-mile radius of Pittsburgh.

In the first two months, the job description stayed true to what I was told from the beginning.  I would work with Tom each day and on longer runs we would meet at a location and drive to a site in Tom’s work van.  I worked 40 hours a week and the only location that was beyond 75 miles was a diner in Moundsville, West Virginia.  If we completed a job out in the field, our boss “Steve” would inform us of our new job for the next day by 5 p.m. via cell phone.

Around the second week of September, the job took a drastic turn.  Steve would occasionally call me after 5 p.m. to inform me that there was no work for the next day.  The jobs that were supposed to be local became further away from Pittsburgh.  Four job sites were over 200 miles away.  One was outside of Philadelphia in West Grove, another site was north of Baltimore in Rising Sun, Maryland.  West Grove was 262 miles from my home, a six hour drive one way, five hours if I didn’t hit traffic or construction delays.  When Tom and I would take his work van on long runs like this, he had satellite radio.  When one of us would sleep in the passenger seat the driver always had something to listen to in the desolate Pennsylvania mountains.  We would drive out to the site, work four hours and drive back home.  The company would pay us both 16 hours a day each time we made these long trips, so we tried to work fast just so we could get back home at a reasonable time.

Since I was the new guy, I got the oldest work van.  It had all the basic accessories for a common work vehicle including the radio.  It had no compact disc player so when I got away from civilization, I had nothing to listen to while driving.  Using earbuds wasn’t an option since the van was very loud when driving on the highways.  I needed to hear traffic around me, especially when large trucks were recklessly speeding everywhere.

Occasionally Tom and I had to take both vans on long runs because we couldn’t smash all of our materials into one vehicle.  When driving in rural areas for long periods of time, I was alone with my thoughts while growing more frustrated with how this job was evolving.  At this point I started doing something that I never did before: I started talking out loud to nobody!

What I was actually doing was praying to God in the form of a normal (!) conversation.  I expressed my fears, hopes, gratitude and anger about what I was doing in that time of my life.  It became a form of meditation and it allowed for some self-analysis when cutting across the Appalachian Mountains.  My biggest fear concerning work was breaking down far away from home and not obtaining support from the home office.  After months of observing the lines of communication between different departments, I was sure to fend for myself if I encountered a problem on the road.

In the first week of November Tom and I had a job at a school cafeteria renovation in a town called Homer City.  It was a two day job and on the second day we completed everything by lunch, so we decided to head back to the main warehouse and re-stock our vans while we had some time to do it.  We got back to headquarters around 2 p.m., parked our vans and started refilling our supplies.

At about 3 p.m., we were ready to head home and I went to start my van…it wouldn’t kick over.  I tried a few more times and it wouldn’t start.  When I informed Steve of what was going on he told me to swap out my supplies and put them into a pickup truck they had sitting at the shop.  Steve accused me of not keeping enough fuel in the vehicle and causing the stall out.  I knew I kept enough fuel in that van, and I thought his finger-pointing was childish and what I call a “very dick move”.

When my van was towed to the repair shop the shop manager informed Steve that my fuel pump was shot.  In pure Steve form, he never apologized for placing the blame on me for the van failure when it was purely due to the age of the vehicle.  It had 113,000 miles on it at the time and most fuel pumps can freeze up at around 100,000 to 125,000 miles.

When fuel pumps die, they provide no warning of an impending failure.  After all of the long runs I took in that van at all hours of the day, for it to die RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE MAIN WAREHOUSE is remarkable.  I announced to God my fear of being stranded on the side of the road a few weeks prior, and at this moment in time the inevitable van failure occurred at home base.  It was God’s way of saying, “Hey Larry, I hear your concerns about the organizational structure at your current employer and I agree with you.  They will leave you stranded, but I will not.  I’ll make sure their ineptitude doesn’t affect your life in a negative way.”  I left that job in December for an office job.

Many people pray in a ritualistic manner but I prefer to keep my conversations with God informal.  Whatever angelic forces that are assigned to my case file, I thank you for listening to my one person talks over the last eight years.  I never intended to creep out all of you.

Living In World #26,734,378,450

In our early years other people decide our direction in life.  What to eat, what to wear, where to go to school and many other choices are made for us without a lot of input from us.  As we grow older, most of us gain the responsibility to make decisions for ourselves.  The outcome of these decisions can be both good and bad, which shapes our being going forward.  According to one interpretation of quantum mechanics, all of our outcomes still exist in alternate or parallel universes that are equal in reality but do not come into contact with one another.

Hugh Everett (1930-1982) was an American physicist who first proposed what he called the many-worlds interpretation.  He grew up in Catholic school and received his undergraduate degree from Catholic University of America before moving on to Princeton.  He is the father of indie rocker Mark Oliver Everett, who is known as the lead singer for the band Eels.  Everett enjoyed reading science fiction and he actually read Dianetics before the church of Scientology was formed into what it is today (Everett did not become a follower).  Later on in life Everett became a devout atheist, which is an awesome oxymoron.

Since this is a schmoey blog and not The New Yorker, I will explain Everett’s theory quickly before jumping into the more entertaining stuff.  When Everett measured a particle, there were two possible outcomes: It was either measured as a particle or a wave.  The universe is actually duplicated, splitting one outcome (particle) into one universe and the other outcome (wave) into its own distinctive but parallel universe.  When this theory is applied to our everyday lives, Everett states that even before we carry out (or not carry out) a decision, two outcomes have already been determined.

As for our outcomes, scientists have many different interpretations on Everett’s theory but I feel the most entertaining and easiest way to chart outcomes is with a Bell curve.  The first Bell curve in 1994 was a chart that reflected the correlation between class structure and intelligence in the United States, but many different disciplines have generated data that produced a chart like a Bell curve, which, yes, is shaped like a bell (or almost like the Snapchat logo).  So let’s make an X-Y axis and chart what I’m up to in my other 26,734,378,449 universes.

In 10% of my universes, I’m either dead or infamous.  At age 10, I got hit by that speeding car through the alley instead of narrowly escaping injury.  At age 34, I didn’t notice that truck blowing through a red light and I turned left into the path of it.  In college I got hooked on heroin and never recovered.  Growing up in a broken home I was subject to many forms of abuse and I evolved into a violent criminal.  The first two sentences I wrote were based on real experiences I remember.  The last two sentences are fiction but if I experienced different outcomes during the course of my life, these events could have happened.

In 20% of my universes, I’m worse off than my current self.  My wife realized she was married to a schmo, so she divorced me.  I have involuntarily lived at my parent’s house all my life, so I’m the real life 40-year-old virgin.  I married the wrong woman and we live in poverty.  I can’t find meaningful employment because of my past criminal record.

In 40% of my universes, I’m living about the same.  My wife and I bought the house that we viewed prior to the one we live in now.  We had a daughter instead of a son.  I’m typing this post on Blogspot.  I graduated from a different college but with the same degree.

In 20% of my universes, I’m better off than my current self.  I landed a great job when my wife and I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2008, which evolved into two promotions and a vice president position in 2014.  We didn’t do the “lease to buy” option on our Nissan.  I paid off my college loans instead of refinancing them twice.  Dad is still alive, and I get along with my side of the family.

In 10% of my universes, I am famous and I have great influence on the masses.  I was the first rap/hip-hop artist from Pittsburgh to make it big on a national and/or world stage, Wiz Khalifa came along years later.  You follow me on Twitter and I tweet WAY more than Kayne West.  Last year I was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after an accomplished college and professional career.  There is one particular universe that has an absurd but beneficial outcome.

In universe 18,326,817,904 famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hates my guts.  In 2011 I convinced the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to reinstate Pluto as the ninth planet, and during this time I discovered planets ten, eleven and twelve in our solar system. I also convinced the IAU that they should allow any business or individual to submit a bid request for naming rights to one of the planets.  The proceeds would go to a charitable endowment fund which would benefit children around the globe.  The bids generated $2 billion.  The tenth planet is called Nike, the eleventh Sir Richard Branson and the twelfth iPlanet.  Sir Richard Branson is on the board of directors for the endowment.

One life.  That’s life as we know it.  Some of us believe when we die, nothing happens.  Some believe we go to Heaven or hell.  Everett’s interpretation of life sounds absurd, but what I believe as a current Methodist and former Roman Catholic sounds absurd to a few billion people around the world as well.  Everett’s theory states there are two outcomes to each decision.  If we all make good choices that benefit others, maybe all of us can experience more peace than pain in this universe that we all share.  That’s something we should all believe in.