In less than two weeks the Brohammas corporate headquarters will be relocating. I’m typing this now at my office desk, surrounded by boxes. The Company logo has been taken off the wall and I’m avoiding cleaning out the drawers in the kitchen.
On February 1st, 1960, four freshman from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College College went to Woolworth in downtown Greensboro. They were all wearing slacks and dress shoes, two were wearing ties, one even wore his ROTC uniform.
This “sit-in” which lasted till July of that year, spread throughout the South and resulted in the changing of Woolworth’s policy. The event, and these four, are now famous, but this wasn’t the first sit-in by any stretch of the imagination. But these four freshmen knew that. They were smart. They knew what they were doing. They were NC A&T students.
The school was once housed together with Shaw in Raleigh, but in 1893 they moved to Greensboro. Jesse Jackson graduated in 1965. They became a state University in 1967.
In 1969 a neighboring high school, the black high school, held student elections. Claude Barnes, an honors student, won by a landslide but the administration refused to allow him to join the student council. He was too into Black Power. The students protested and were ignored. The students went and asked the neighboring black college, A&T, for help and BOOM! No more ignored.
Picketing and rallying led to the eventual invasion of A&T’s dorms by the National Guard. Not figurative, but actual, invasion. In fear of the danger posed by unruly black college students troops invaded with tear gas and arrested 300 students. After ransacking the dormitory they eventually found 3 guns.
All in all several were hurt, one died. A young black man.
When I visited there were no militia, no unrest, just some kids going to school. Black kids and white ones too. Today the school is not known for its activism but rather its engineers. I traveled there from Philly because their engineers are good enough to justify the trip.
Providence Rhode Island may be the coolest town you never hear about. At least I never hear anything about it. I visited Providence College having never heard a thing about it before. that was some time ago and I haven’t heard a thing about it since.
Our modern TMZ society would assume that this lack of buzz means there is nothing there worth knowing about. I would just ask that anyone who may think this way should please explain to me the details about how the internet actually works.
How does what I clickety-clack on my keyboard wherever I am, get to your eyes in wherever you are? I never hear anything about that but I am glad someone knows how to make it happen.
You probably haven’t heard of the “Friars”, because the student body is mostly local. They are so local in fact that the Princeton Review deemed Providence the most homogeneous student body in the country. What this means is that unless you fit a specific description, you likely don’t know anyone who went there.
Providence College requires all students to take an expanded program in the development of western civilization. This is two years, 5 days a week, and everyone takes it. The courses are all taught by full professors and the program has its own dedicated building.
What I may not have liked is the school’s national number one ranking in consumption of hard liquor.
So the school, unlike the city, is not for everyone, but if you are the right specific someone, it is fantastic.
Fast forward to the 1990’s and the school has begun admitting boys. Interesting that when the doors were opened wider, people stopped going in the door. The school was dwindling, going, going, then gone. But not in the way you might think.
In the year 2000 Glade Knight and his associates were handed the reigns as a completely new board of trustees. They were new, had energy, had money (at least compared to the old board), and what set them apart above all else, was that they were Mormons. Maybe I should say they are Mormons.
Now note I did not say the Mormon church assumed control of the school, just that those who took control were Latter-Day Saints. This is an important distinction.
Today the school remains small, less than 1,000 students, but it is vibrant. It has the look, feel, and in reality is, a small liberal arts college with all that that entails or infers. Small class, lots of personal attention, broad educational focus with emphasis on arts and sciences. And it also has church.
Some locals where I live, and even sometimes those at SVU itself, might say Southern Virginia is a sort of BYU East Coast. It isn’t. They should be proud of this.
Now what they mean when they say this is that the two schools share a religo-cultural tie. The two schools both require students to sign the same honor code. A code that strictly forbids any use of alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, and of course it requires strict academic integrity. Religion classes, taught from the same texts as BYU are part of the general curriculum. All the markers of a Mormon educational experience are well entrenched in the Virginia hills. If that is what you want, school and personal development devoid of debauchery and keg stands, both schools have that.
But BYU also has 34,000 students. It is a well entrenched research institution in the “heart of the beast” if you will. There are a lot of cracks in which an 18 year old can slip through. Sports are a glorified professional institution, not a general participatory student experience.
SVU has something different. It has romance.
Personal attention that leads to academic exploration and opportunity. It has that. A community of young scholars who can participate in a DIII athletic team, that too. A first class choir? A student advisor who knows not just your name but your aspirations and dreams? Yes, they have that.
They call it the beauty of small. I have been there and they are right.
Drexel might care. I can’t really blame a school whose campus butts right up against an Ivy League school ranked in the top ten nationwide. You can be a great school, which it is, but top 100 doesn’t look as hot in such company. It is rather unfair.
I have always thought their boathouse on boathouse row was better than Penn’s. But the competition is on the water not the shore. I have no idea if that saying is true, I just made it up.
But I didn’t make up the fact that one of my classmates did her undergrad at Drexel and she loves the place. I can attest that this classmate of mine was and is much smarter than me. I think we can trust her.
Another one of my former classmates works there, actually, quite a few of my former classmates work there. If the folks running the place mean anything this might just be the best school ever.
Except for the school I work for of course.
There is this kid I know. In our house he is referred too as “Boy Genius”. Boy genius entered undergraduate studies at the age of 13 out west. He turned 18 this September and has just wrapped up his second year of PhD studies in neuroscience at Drexel.
If you scroll down on the blog a little ways you will see a picture of a guy holding a knife making sandwiches. You will also see a picture of this same guy shouting “I defy you,” while standing on a mountaintop.
He also picked Drexel.
But don’t hold that against the school.
When I visited the place was quiet. It was Spring break so I assume the few kids still hanging around were either extra smart (the kind I was looking for) or had no social life. I am in no position to judge anyone’s social life.
We drove down America’s Cup Avenue looking out at the marina and the rows of shops. We went down Bellevue past the Breakers, Elms, and the Marble house. We took the road till it ended and looked for a place to park. There are no places to park. We parked anyways.
Newport is salty aired luxury. Money with a splash of sea-foam. It is beautiful. Gilded, but beautiful. We climbed over the rocks with waves in front of us and mansions behind us, and we did… nothing.
Kaleo and I sat in this metaphor, adventure before us, wealth, responsibility and stability behind us, and we waver in between with no parking. This is what we do. We flirt with risk, dip our feet in the water, but cannot abandon the safety of the shore. We cannot inhabit the mansion, we not only can’t afford it but we have no idea who owns it. So we scamper about the lawn peaking in windows and talking to the grounds crew. We will likely never gain entry, and I think in some way we are fine with that. Envy is so much easier than ambition and we have convinced ourselves that the salt of the earth tends to lose its savor when placed on the top shelf.
But not Preston. Preston scampered over rocks like he had a plan. He has always had a plan and in so doing he will soon not need a parking space because he will have a garage. Kaleo and I will one day trespass his property and he will allow it. We will all be fine with this.
We had forgotten breakfast. It was our last day and we had still not finished off our cooler full of bacon. We set up shop by the old fort, cooking bacon while the holiday crowd launched their boats. Kaleo and I sat, eating greasy things, looking stoic. We are good at looking stoic. This fog of thought and sleep was interrupted by a pasty streak that came shooting from behind the car, over the rocks, and into the water with a splash.
Preston’s head came back up for air, and quickly the rest of him clamored over to hug a rock. His chest was bright red and he gasped with only marginal success for air. “C… huuuh… O.. huuuu… L…. huuuu… D!
Kaleo and I watched him soggily gasp for air, looked at each other, and we both sighed in disappointment.
I did not feel like swimming. I am a grown man who makes his own decisions. No one was telling me to do anything. No one had spoken a single syllable and here I was, Kaleo too, grumpily digging our trunks out of our bags. We are those special kinds of idiots called men. Preston knew what he was doing when he dove in the water. He threw down the gauntlet without warning and we had no choice.
Cold water challenges are great for the soul. We were all happy as we attempted to dry off and clean up the scraps of our breakfast. Nothing kills happiness like a ten year old.
“So have you guys been swimming?” the pudgy little guy asked as he walked past us, snorkel and mask in hand.
“We jumped in. It’s cold but we are manly.”
“I don’t mind cold. If you want something even mannisher… manner… manliest, there is a hole in the middle of the bay that no one has found the bottom of. My dad dove in it. That’s our boat over there.”
With that our manliness was trumped by a ten year old with a yacht.
Smelling a bit like a salty camp fire we sat in the car and drove south. Back toward the Bronx, the turnpike, and on to home. The conversation was mostly exhausted, we were tired, but mostly we were happy.
Above all else, happy.
Let me first state that the first order of good fatherhood, and the only one on which I can claim expertise, is finding and keeping the best woman possible. In my experience this is best achieved through dumb luck, hard work, and a belief in miracles. You see, fatherhood is a series of miracles.
I realized the second miracle approximately three months after the birth of my first child. It was late one evening, I was holding this small person in my arms, looking into her deep brown eyes, and I realized that this child was in fact, alive. It was true. I watched as she breathed in, then out, then in again. She spit up on my shirt. She was definitely still alive; a miracle.
The child was very expected. Say what you will, it is very hard for the birth of a child to sneak up on anyone. We had two years of time to become a good team, then nine months of incubation, all followed by a very dramatic episode that resulted in a very small, very alive, little girl. Thousands of years and billions of births came before us, so none of these things were unexpected. These were very natural, very intentional, very, yes, expected. They were also very external.
The miracle I did not expect was so unexpected, and here is the strange part, that it never actually happened. That is right. The unexpected miracle was realized when the miracle I did expect didn’t happen.
Sitting there, looking at this beautiful little life, I realized I was still just me. I wasn’t different. Inside I still felt like I did three months, nine months, Two years ago. I did not feel more loving, think I was any smarter, no cosmic shift, I was still me. Just-me.
And after three months, she was still alive.
That was nine years and another kid ago. The miracles keep coming.
Watching kid number one at the bar in ballet class I see an unmistakable, undeniable grace. Her mother, despite being the best woman I should have never caught, does not have that grace, and I am still just me. Watching kid number two sit on the naughty step after throwing a shoe, I see a sort of bravery, the sort that looks a person ten times her size directly, unflinchingly, in the eye. She does not cringe, she does not shrink; she is absolutely not me. But I am still me.
That is the unexpected miracle.
After all these years I still feel like me and they are not just OK, they are great.
Now sure, I have changed, I have grown, but nothing miraculous. It has all been very labored, very progressive. A natural growth that comes from repetitive actions and climatization. Remember miracle number one?
A large part of what makes her great is that she does not do everything. Parenting is meant to be a team sport and she is the John Stockton of motherhood. She can shoot just fine but she is great at passing. Thanks to her ability I can change any diaper at any time. I know all the words to Good Night Gorilla, can make a pony tail, and have an arguably miraculous ability to leave the house five minutes late for school yet still drop the kids off ten minutes early. All the while I am still just me and she knows it.
That is the miracle of fatherhood.
We are not granted magical powers. We do not rise in esteem through our skill or our innate qualities. We are not transformed from without, nor do we experience this huge flash from within. Most of the time I experience a sort of nothing. A sameness. Normality.
But if I try. If I show up and then show up again. I get to see miracles.
Not some form of super me. Just me.
2 slices wheat bread, well buttered
generous amount of brie’
1 slice grilled ham
2 slices wheat bread well buttered
generous amount of brie
crème and peach infused stilton
The woods gave way to Boston, which then faded into clap board cottages and crab shacks.
Having established an Americana theme of sorts we had to stop where it all started.
Having seen the rock and while walking along the main strip, Kaleo and Preston looked at each other and one of them said, “I thought there would be, I don’t know, something better.” everyone agreed Plymouth was a bit of a dissapointment.
Hyannis Port seemed as good as anywhere else so we pulled past the sign that announced opening day was tomorrow. We sat in the sand and pulled out a maple seltzer, Vermont root beer, and some other concoction brewed in no where Vermont. Whatever that “other” soda was, it was better than the others, but we still drank it all.
While sitting doing nothing three wise man can solve all the world’s problems, upset each other over political issues, and solve that too. We did all of that and still accomplished nothing. That was our intent. I think that makes us the same as congress. Except Kaleo has a cool beard. Congress hasn’t had those for decades.
It is a pity.
We woke Sunday morning having slept in the car at a highway rest stop. The night before we attempted to get a spot at Camp Joseph. I knocked on the door of a cabin and a confused gentleman explained it was after hours and reservations must be made in advance. He wished us luck and we drove off looking for an inconspicuous place to sleep. We were tired.
This same man saw us parked in the church parking lot early the next morning. He strolled past, paused, then came back and inquired how we were. We said we were great. He asked where we spent the night. As Kaleo answered him, the man’s face fell. Kaleo ensured him we were fine, but the man entered the church building with newly slumped shoulders.
Having guessed at the start time of services, we arrived more than an hour early. This was fine with us, church wasn’t the only reason we were here.
Sharon Vermont is the birthplace of the prophet Joseph Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has constructed a visitors center and a sort of memorial on the site of the Smith’s ancestral home. It wasn’t yet open that morning but a grey haired man wearing a missionary name tag, neck tie in hand, emerged from a side door as we crossed the lot.
With an honest smile he waved us over, fishing in his pocket for a set of keys. “Come on, come on. Let me open things up for you. I was headed to choir practice but I think they can wait a minute or two.” The man, without asking us our religious affiliation, pulled us in and commenced to giving us the tour complete with explanations of the roots of Mormonism. Half way through he paused and asked us how much we already knew about the church. Learning our answer he paused, chuckled a little, then launched right back into his explanations. The man was sincere, informative, and in an incredibly good mood for having opened up shop more than four hours early. After giving us the lay of the land, he headed off for choir practice, and we headed off into the woods.
The woods where Joseph was born 208 years ago are green and rocky. The family had 100 acres that sat alongside a ‘highway’, complete with babbling brook. The moss growing over the stone foundations of a home long gone was reminiscent of a Tolkien novel and we half expected to meet a hobbit, or maybe a talking lion. We met none of those things, but once we made it to church we did meet possibly the coolest guy ever.
Wearing the same clothes from yesterday we sat near the back of a crowded chapel. A voice from the row behind us loudly asked, “Where did you get that tan?” directing his question toward Kaleo.
The voice came from a grey haired man with a chiseled jaw. He wore a tweed jacket, sported bushy eyebrows rivaling the infomercial juicer guy, and spoke a little too loudly. Hard of hearing perhaps.
“I used to own a hundred acres on the big island; worked as a ranch hand. I was a pilot flying the one plane that used to go between the big island and Oahu.”
“You should have held on to that. Its probably worth a lot of money now.”
“People used to try to get me to sell that property all the time. There was this one guy from Japan, he bought up all the acres on the coast and I sold to him. He built a resort there and every day he flies in a plane full of people from Tokyo. I had put into the contract that I would have a free room in the resort for the rest of my life. I’ve never used it.”
With these two paragraphs our aged friend cemented his place as forever cooler than any of the three of us will ever be.
Preston’s curiosity was piqued and he asked when he started flying.
“Flew in the navy in World War 2, but I don’t talk about the navy.”
Preston offered that his grandfather-in-law flew in the navy. “I do not talk about the navy.” was his direct reply.
With that the services began. As the prelude music started up, our new friend began belting out an unintended solo, unaware that the chorister up front had not yet waved in the congregation. The old man did not care and we added a couple more cool points to his ledger.
Kaleo fell asleep during sacrament meeting.
As we left our tour guide from earlier ran to catch us. “I have to tell you how happy it made me when I saw you three waltz in to the services in your street clothes. You looked completely comfortable.” He has obviously never been to my home church in Philly.
We loaded back up.
“So where exactly is Cape Cod?”
“I’m not sure,” Preston answered, “…but that’s where we are headed.”