Episode 015 - Survival of the Collaborators

Will Taylor and Strings Attached shows have been a semi-regular part of my post-divorce life, and it was at one of their shows when Flora and I first held hands. We even had our first kiss that night. They are a wonderful part of the Austin live music world, and their skills with every instrument and every style of music, plus their improv and collaborative abilities, make them a joy to watch and to hear.

You can find info about their upcoming shows at StringsAttached.org, and you can find out more about their community service and outreach work at StringsAttachedCares.org. And if you're looking for a curated Spotify or Pandora playlist of local Austin music, and want to help these artists keep generating income from their work, go to WePlayAustinMusic.com.

Thank you so much to Will Taylor for sitting down with me. 

Our theme music is "Start Again" by Monk Turner + Fascinoma. I made our outro music on Soundation. All other music in this episode is from Will Taylor and Strings Attached:

2:06    "Brand New Me"

8:43    "Feel Again"

12:27    "My Name Is Truth"

20:24    "God Only Knows"

24:50    "Overjoyed"

28:38    "Secret of Life"

33:29    "Tigris"

Transcript:

If I think of my past as a child growing up, I enjoyed the process of play with music. Playing. That’s why we’re called players. Musicians are players. We play.

Yeah, I got into music through elementary school, it being presented as an option, and just fell in love with it. But so you’re spending time, like there’s a piano over here right now. I’m looking at that piano, and I remember as a kid, I would just disappear into that world of sounds and try to make things happen just because it was fun, because it was enjoyable, and that whole culture around creating something that didn’t exist before, in the air. So yeah, I started very early, and I can remember just disappearing in the activity so much. Even by myself.

You spend a lot of time by yourself if you’re doing traditional, like let’s say classical music or jazz. A lot of time alone, so you have to get used to being alone, solitary, you know? And then you get rewarded, because you can take that skill and then bring people together, play with others with that skill on a high level, collaborative level. It’s not like painting where you’re just, that’s it, you’re alone. Fell in love with playing with other kids in orchestra and string quartets, and just everything around that, like I said, the whole culture, the conversations, the meeting people that are passionate about that. You just connect, so it’s an activity that can fuel you for a lifetime, easily, if not several lifetimes.

And now I realize it even more than then how much of a practice it is for things that you need to know to just enjoy life and communicate with others. There’s so many lessons built into it. When I say music, I mean the study of music and the activity of doing it with others. So I enjoyed that solitary process and then also the process of working with musicians. It’s a natural high like none other.

I love rehearsing, too. Just getting people together and … Something might sound like crap, and then working through the difficulties. So that’s the other opportunity that music can provide to people that are willing to study it is how to navigate problem solving, how to navigate communicating with people that don’t communicate the way you do, and they are not understanding how you’re trying to explain a musical idea with words. And sometimes it helps to not even talk about it. You just play, and you find your way. And it can bring up a lot of, it can trigger people. It can get people angry, you know, if … So you have this opportunity on how to learn how to communicate non-violently in a way. A lot of musicians don’t learn it. 

And there’s just so much behind the scenes that has nothing to do with playing your instrument to make that music happen, psychologically speaking. Navigating personalities and making people feel treasured or loved or appreciated that then will contribute to the group dynamic. And just by picking the correct words, Joni Mitchell talked about this a lot. She’s like, it’s just this so delicate, paper-thin thing that you’re always aware of when you’re producing an album or you’re working with your band. Just the wrong choice of words, and then it’s ruined, or it’s tainted, and then you’re … there’s no getting back from that.

So that’s one of the things that the music journey can bring. There’s so many things. And then just the act of performing can be a meditation in itself. You are practicing, when you perform, being in the present moment. The more that you can be in the present moment when you’re performing with your musicians, generally the more joyful it will be. And then you’re given the opportunity to just accept things as they are. So a lot of musicians don’t get that. They’re so focused on perfection, and I was this way too for a long time. I would get upset on stage. I would make faces. And it’s only in like the last 4 years, maybe 5 years, I’ve started to try another way, just to smile if a mistake, or something goes wrong. We just smile. I still, I’m not perfect. I still might get triggered. “We rehearsed that! What the heck? What are we doing?”

But it really, music, because you’re in rhythm, it’s different than regular life. When you’re playing in a band, and you start playing, there’s a commitment that happens. You just, “OK. We’re on this. We’re going. And everybody’s on board until this piece is over.” You know? So, what other areas of life are like that? If you’re talking to somebody, you can stop and think about what you’re going to say. But in music, you’ve got to stay in the rhythm. You’ve got to stay in the flow. Not “got to,” but you have the opportunity to really be in the present moment. But most of life is not like that.

It can just be fun, too. It can be just playful. The whole playful aspect of it, when you lose yourself and you forget, you kind of lose your identity. You’re just playing and hearing sounds. So I’ve been playing music for, been a musician since I was 10. So that’s 39 years. And it’s one of the things where, yeah, I can, my thoughts will stop, or they’ll just focus on that one thing, and sometimes I won’t remember maybe a song go by. Sometimes I’ll find I don’t remember what happened during that time. You just sort of disappear. It’s what meditators go for, or they’re hoping that might come up is that your brain activity starts to calm down a little bit.

There’s a magic spot that occurs. So when you’re practicing, you’re really pushing. You’re pushing your comfort zone. You’re continually trying to raise the bar in little incremental, just teeny little bits. And then when you perform, you back off into a comfort zone where then that’s where the magic occurs. You don’t want to be on stage, “I’m going to go for it. Risk!” Like that. It’s just a little bit back behind that. You still might have this playful, like, “Let’s go! Let’s do it!” But it’s … the stuff you really know well, that’s where you’re like watching your hands and you’re, “Wow! What’s going on there?” You know, the magic.

And the songs that you know really well, too, this is the ironic thing, too. I used to be like, when I was a kid, “Ah, I don’t want to play that song again. We’ve played it so many times.” Or like, say, James Brown’s “I Feel Good” or something. But then I notice later on, “Hmm.” With the band. Some of those songs that we’ve played a million times, those are the ones where the kind of the little magical things start happening. There’s familiarity, where everybody’s just sort of watching and observing, and then it moves into that playful zone.

So yeah, it’s a two-step process. Practice, and then perform. The performance zone is where you get to let go, hopefully. And you hopefully find musicians or attract musicians who can do that. And some of them you find that you don’t even have to talk about it, just, that’s what happens. So it’s really cool. And those ones you stay with a long time. I have a few that I’ve played with a long time, and constantly just new people coming in. That’s what makes it, that’s the uncertainty piece again that makes it not boring, that makes it interesting and challenging and juicy is when I find new musicians to collaborate with and try to meet them wherever they are, find their unique gift to the project.

There’s no destination. It’s always, it’s change. You know? That’s the thing. The one thing you can count is change, so it’s never, for me, it’s never an arrival. I used to have this fixation with, if I speak about my music career, “One day, I’ll have enough time to do what I want to do and spend a lot of time being in the creative mode, and I just need to get all my financial stuff in order and all that. I’ll have a platform where I can, one day I’ll get there.”

In our culture, western culture, we’re taught to strive, to push hard, that struggle is necessary to get there, to get to the other side where you can do what you really are here to do, what is your calling. “We’re going to make it happen. We’re going to strive. We’re going to work hard.” That’s what I did for a long time. And I still see some beauty in that, actually. Because you don’t just accidentally write a symphony. But some people might say you do, I don’t know. Some people might. I don’t think Beethoven accidentally wrote a symphony. I don’t think Mozart. I think that tradition of writing music, or like the Sistene Chapel. There’s the tradition of study, of studying with a master, studying, going to school, learning the basics. And it’s not easy. So there’s a struggle there that results in something.

OK, so that’s transformative. Creating something that is left behind. This is another thing that’s been coming up for me, is we humans want to leave stuff behind. We want to leave things or creations. And for me, what has been coming up is at my current age, almost 50, it’s really becoming important. “What do I want to leave behind, and what can I do that is beyond just me?” You’re creating something from nothing. It’s just thought turning into things. And left some things behind. Left some arrangements, left some new works of music that some people might enjoy. 

This relates back to that, again, like one day, if I work hard enough, I’ll be able to relax and just do music. Because I’ve been just working for 30 years to get to that point. Do I want to keep up this push, push kind of, strive, push the envelope? How much of it do I want to keep, and how much of it do I want to relax and enjoy witnessing life? Observing life a little more. Enjoying my relationships. Enjoying getting to know people. So there’s this question mark. Why do I want to spend a lot of time writing music and pushing the envelope at this point in my life right now? It’s kind of there.

And there’s so many different genres and flavors, and you get to … I try to see the worth in all of them. And I used to be, as a kid, I was very opinionated. Classical music was the best thing. Or straight ahead jazz was the best thing. Only the music that had the tradition of study. Folk music, eh. Rock and roll, no. But later on, I definitely learned to appreciate fiddle music and folk music, so it’s great. It’s been a great ride. It still is. It’s just ongoing. It’s an ongoing transformation. It does not let you down. It throws uncertainty at you all the time. So you have an opportunity to take that lesson and then go, “Well, what other areas of my life am I being thrown uncertainty? So I could take it over there, too.” With a relationship, or … It takes you down those roads, if you want to.

Sometimes we just have one or two rehearsals, and then it’s “Boom. Go.” Jazz musicians are used to doing that a lot. Classical musicians as well, but especially jazz musicians. They’re used to playing on the spur of the moment, playing something they just heard off the top of their head, just going for it. So there’s that creative alchemy that occurs when things are on the edge. So I try to get musicians that are comfortable with that space, comfortable being on the edge, comfortable being pushed a little bit.

They also, musicians I have, that I work with, they have to be able to work fast. They have to think on their feet, because stuff just happens. You can’t stop, again. So a lot of times, I’ll be in rehearsal, and a couple of the musicians I work with, have worked with for like 25 years, 20 years, will say stuff, and the new people will, they can’t follow it. They’re like, “What are we talking about?” So it’ll just go like right over their heads. So I’ll say something to them, “Why don’t we go back to that chord, and … ?” So you got to be quick on your feet with the musical language.

There are so many choices now for an audience member, for somebody who is a music lover, that it’s really hard to keep regulars coming. It just requires an immense amount of push, immense amount of marketing, which I resent. I hate it. I’m still doing it because people show up. 

So, 20 years ago, that was easier. I’m making peace with that, but I’m thinking about it all the time. I don’t want to have two jobs. I don’t want to have marketing and music. I want to get back to just music. Look, I don’t think Beethoven was, not that I’m Beethoven or anything, but was dealing with marketing. He probably had somebody that was helping him with that, his benefactor. So I’m trying to at least get toward that, where I have hired help. And I do. I have hired help right now, but it’s still not enough. I’m still having to do most of the marketing myself. That’s what modern … it bothers me all the time. 

If I was just spending five hours of my day writing music, practicing, what would my music look like? But on the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, like the Buddhist way of looking at it, it doesn’t matter. Who cares? There’s a million other people. Why should you get to do it? Because I want to! Because I’m here! What makes you … ? So then I go back to, “Well, I have a community, so maybe I do deserve it, because I … or maybe it is worthwhile, because I do have, built a community, and they enjoy it, and so I’m bringing something that’s greater than myself to a community. So then I should do it. I should spend more time on the music, less time on the marketing.” I mean, it’s ridiculous. 

With music, you have two worlds. You have the music business, and then music. And they are completely different things. Completely. Here’s an interesting thing. I’ve actually gotten pretty good at the music business because of necessity. You know the mother of invention thing again. I’ve gotten to the point where I have a club in Austin that want to bring me in as a partner, and I was pretty excited about that because we have an opportunity to build something that you could duplicate and take it to other cities or … and it could become an asset. That’s the first time in my music career that somebody has seen my worth as a businessman and is willing to … So it’s pretty exciting, but again, it’s not what I wanted to create. But it’s fine. I’ll take it. Santana owns shopping malls. That’s one of his … he invests in those strip centers. He’s been doing that for years so that he can do music. Anyway, that’s the new world of modern music making, making it. Willie Nelson, Dale Watson has a couple bars.

I guess I’m struggling now with deciding how I want to, what do I want to do? Again, because I’ve got more time coming up after raising kids for … How long have I been raising kids? 22 years, 23 years. What do I want to create next? But I do feel like, again, looking back, when I’m most happiest is when I’m on a mission that involves a lot more people than just me. If I’m raising money, or if I’m doing a music project that’s a benefit, I have all of a sudden this endless well of energy. So I was listening to this podcast recently, and the guy said, he said, “Nature’s way of punishing humans that are just doing things for themselves is depression or pain, anxiety, or whatever.” If you’re out there working toward a mission, working with a mission that is about something that’s just huger than you, just gigantic, then Nature rewards you with energy and passion and all this. I’ve noticed, just looking back, that that’s true. Some of the projects that I have exhausted myself on are free ones. And as long as there are people there with me, and I’m not alone, have collaborators, the energy just appears. The universe rewards you.

So I’m thinking, “Well, what can I do next musically?” And I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire for that, to bring people together. So one of the things that I’m, one of the many projects, is there’s right now in the world we live in, cover music, taking very popular music that people are familiar with and redoing it is very popular now. It’s a very popular way for artists to get known and make a lot of money. So I thought, “Well, why don’t we harness the power of covers and give all the money to somebody, or give all the money to a good cause?” And I’ve got the relationships with Strings musicians and play with musicians in town, and I can bring all that together. So that’s something I’m really excited about. And that’s something that’s totally within my skill set. So one of the things I’m doing is I want to do that one by one. I want to talk to all my musicians about that mission. Instead of sending out like a blanket email, I want to meet or talk to each one on the phone and see how they resonate with that and build an orchestra of musicians that will do this for good, for no pay. For nothing. And I’ve already got a few that are willing to contribute arrangements and scoring and the recording. I mean, everybody just starts coming together.

There’s nothing that’s completely selfless out there. Right? I mean, we enjoy helping others because it makes us feel good. But if you’re going to feel good, you might as well bring some people along with you, then why not? Then you have more to give. You have a well to give from. If you’re just struggling and in survival mode all the time, then you don’t have anything to, you don’t have any resources to then help others.

But I really feel like this could be the time when people wake up, more and more people wake up. People are waking up in the time of where we are with the current things that are going on in our American climate. In other words, instead of operating from the survival of the fittest mode, which Darwin taught us. What does that mean? Is it everyone for themselves? And everyone making a little pile to then at the end of life they have some pile they can live off of? That was the old model that my parents followed. What’s the new model going to be? Could be helping each other and living off the simplest way that you can live, and really survival of the collaborators. So, that project which I’m talking about, bringing the orchestra together, where I know every musician, and I get to know, talk to them one at a time, that’s an example, people coming together and doing it for just for the love of it and to give it away.

But it’s all about we have only so much time, so I want to just be writing music and then going on walks, spending time with family. But right now, the whole day is split between marketing and barely writing music ever. Barely ever. And I’m actually mastering and mixing an album right now. Because I don’t have the money to pay somebody $100 an hour. I can do it. I know how to do it. A lot of musicians have that skill as well. But it’s in the back of my mind. Maybe it’ll happen. Or do I need to push and make it happen?

But one thing that I’ve found that really works is house concerts. So there’s an endless supply of venues when you connect with people one-on-one and bring their family and friends together for a house concert. So I don’t do much with clubs in Austin. I have one show a month at a club, and that’s it. And then the house concerts are just amazing. There an amazing way to connect with people in an independent environment. We did two this weekend, and I don’t have to worry about the turnout, because the host is doing that. For a house concert, a lot of people ask, “Well, how much space do I need?” Enough for 20 people. 20 folks or more, and it can be inside or outside, either one. We did one last Saturday, it was outside. We had 80 people, right by a pool. I brought a little P.A. system and some lights. It was magical. The sun went down. It was gorgeous. But we require a minimum of 20, and that may go up as the years move on. I’ve got another friend who requires 30. And so you just go out, and you enroll or get your friends excited about it. It can be like a potluck, you can bring food, or you can provide hors d'oeuvres and drinks, and everybody has a great time. We usually have a meet and greet for an hour, and then we do an hour concert, and then people hang out afterwards. And we’re all friends at the end. We’re strangers at the beginning, and at the end of the show, we’re all friends. I encourage you to check that out. You can find out about Strings Attached house concerts, just Google “Strings Attached house concerts,” and it’ll take you to a landing page with information on how to sign up for that. We travel all over the world, not just Austin. Working on one for New York City right now. So it’s a lot of fun. So it’s a great model that seems to replenish itself. It seems sustainable. Whereas the club model in Austin is soul sucking. I have the responsibility. This one club I play at, I fill it up, but let’s say if I was playing two or three of those a week, it’d be ridiculous. There’s no way to sustain that in Austin. It’s done. The way Austin used to be in the ‘70s, it’s gone. It’s gone. There may be other communities in America where it’s like Austin was in the ‘70s, so I encourage musicians to not give up and maybe find places like that.

I use every opportunity, every time I’m performing, to put it out there. I plant the seed. I’ll say it once at every show. I try to, at every show, just as an invitation. If you see a concert like this, if you see us playing in your living room or your backyard, if that’s something that seems exciting to you, come up and say hello to me. And then people will just come right up to me, and then we’ll actually even, sometimes I’ll say, “Let’s pick a date,” right there, and make it happen. And then I have mailing list cards that people fill out so I can follow up. And then that just grows, every show. It just grows and grows and grows, new people, new people, new people, all the time. And you’re just following up, following up. There’s endless number of people.

So I’m excited. There is plenty of opportunity. We’re in a great time. But the big question mark is, how to get back to just doing mainly music. That is my big question mark. I think it’s learning to live as simple as possible. I’m willing to live out of a trailer if I have to. I don’t need a house. And start from there.

Am I good enough? That’s come up. Definitely. A lot. It still comes up. You know, the questionable voices in your head. Absolutely. But then when you see what people that aren’t even close to your level are doing out there, then you get that answer right away. Because I’ve spent so much time doing it. It goes back to my 9 years old, I was playing professionally at age 16 or 17, so I was already good enough to play in the symphony. I got into the Austin Lyric Opera at age 20. So there are jobs available if I want to do that model, be a highly trained musician, I was already doing that. 

I do definitely come from that tradition of people that have teachers. They aren’t just stumbling into this. This is a craft. This is a mastery that takes 10,000 hours. I do struggle with seeing people that don’t follow that. I struggle with it. I have some judgement about it. But there’s a lot, like in this culture of endless shelf space, digital shelf space, anybody can do anything. Throw some words up, it’s a song. Yeah, I struggle with that. I struggle sometimes, but then I feel the feelings and go, “That’s a waste of time. Why do I need to do that? It’s going to happen anyway. So just go back to your thing. Do your thing. Have fun with it. Connect with your people.” 
But gosh, the environment that we’re in is, everybody can do it now, so then we’re flooded. Everybody’s trying to do it. I’m competing with a lawyer who is doing this on the weekends, you know? But it’s all good. Everybody can find their tribe. There’s enough people on the earth.

I feel like I’m on a good path. I feel like I’m really onto something. I really feel fulfilled in the relationships I’m building with musicians, with volunteers, with fans. Because if I get more people involved with me that really see the mission, and then that can reverberate out even more. It’s like an amplifier. I would love to get more people on board that get it and feel a strong love for it, and that I don’t need to explain a lot. I would love to see that, that kind of quick transformation, because it can happen quick. I’m just speaking to the music right now.

I like for things to be exciting, and sometimes I don’t know what to do about boredom. You know, there’s boredom. There’s this drive, and this must’ve been from childhood. You know, drive. Be in an adventure. Life’s an adventure. Yeah, let’s go! Let’s do it! You know? That’s part of being a musician, pushing yourself. But there’s a lot of boredom in life, and being kind of like trapped. It’s like, no matter how hard you try, there’s still an element of life, you’re just trapped. Sometimes you can’t make shit happen. You’re just there. So I’m sitting with that idea. This was how I was feeling before the podcast. I’m excited about the podcast, because see, that’s uncertainty. I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s a thrill to it. That’s great. But then, what about after the podcast? You know?

And Stevie Wonder said it, I want to be free. I’m really working on being free. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it. But then I’ve seen Stevie Wonder, age 68, 69, or whatever, and he’s touring these big arenas. He’s got a big machine behind him. And I don’t know if that’s free. He’s got people taking him around. Maybe it is. Maybe he’s giving all that money to a good cause. Probably is. What does it look like for him to be free?

I don’t know what a rut is. I’ve known boredom. I’d rather get in the car and go to Barton Creek, or go meet up with some people, meet some people. If there’s any rut, that’s the rut I feel in my life is I want to connect more with people and meet new people, because studying music is such a solitary activity. So at this point in my life, I love connecting with people. I love meeting new people and finding out about them. That’s exciting. So that’s one way that I get out of a rut if I’m in a rut, or I feel bored. But at the same time, I want to challenge myself. “Well, maybe you’re supposed to be sitting here today not doing anything, not driving downtown and trying to meet somebody and hear music. And maybe you need to sit with that for a bit.” I don’t know.

The chase, you know? A lot of it’s a chase. Chasing uncertainty. But isn’t it funny? Because there are some people that are happy to just sit in their chair at the end of the day and watch TV. And that seems like death to me, sitting and watching a TV, or being on a screen for a long period of time. I mean, watching a work of art, that’s great. Movie can be a work of art. But coming back and doing the same thing every day? Ah, no. I don’t want to do that. But yeah. We’ll see. We’ll see what comes next. That’s what’s exciting about life.

Well, I’ve got this project called WePlayAustinMusic.com, which is two playlists I’m curating, and the idea is, what if thousands of businesses, restaurants, bars, coworking spaces, if they were playing Austin music all day long, day after day, and that multiplied across, like I said, thousands of people, thousands of business in Austin, celebrating the diversity of Austin music, and all those plays through Pandora and Spotify generated interest in Austin musicians and music, and generated some income? Wouldn’t that be cool? And it could work that way. Again it’s called, “WePlayAustinMusic.com.” All the information’s there.

And all our shows are at StringsAttached.org. We do house concerts on the weekends. We play once a month at the Townsend. And I encourage you to follow us on Pandora and Spotify. Just look up Will Taylor and Strings Attached. There’s a lot going on.

You can check out the outreach work we do, which is StringsAttachedCares.org, where we go to places around Austin and bring vibrant musicians and get people to sing along and play with us, memory care centers, retirement homes, schools. We get kids that have never seen a violin or a viola to get to see that and touch it firsthand in elementary schools.That’s StringsAttachedCares.org.

Episode 014 - Invisible Baseball

We're back for more! Our season 2 opener is a special story to me. My brother first told me a version of this story when we were on a more-or-less annual road trip across the state to watch some football. We live about 25 miles apart, but we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like. Busy work and family lives often get in the way of adult relationships. But when we find ourselves in the car together for hours at a time, we do a lot of talking and catching up. When he told me about invisible baseball, we both knew that it was a story that should be captured in some way. So over the next several months, I asked him now and then if he'd be willing to sit down and record it with me. We finally made that happen, and I really like the result. I think you'll like it, too.

Thank you so much to Rik Haden for sharing this story, for being so open and willing to share his memories, his emotions, and his perspective on the impact of aging on an entire family.

Music in this episode includes:

"Nasty" by David Szesztay

"Keep It In Your Heart" and "Saturday Afternoon" by Lobo Loco

"Sals Piano Solo" and "Sals Place" by Blue Dot Sessions

"Something (Bonus Track)" by Kai Engel

Baseball audio from August 16, 1958, New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox.

Transcript:

Meg’s father was living in Springfield, Missouri, and we as a family had gone to visit him there on his 80th birthday with the intent of talking with him for the first time about moving to Texas so that we could be closer to him. But the unfortunate thing that happened is, on that trip he became very ill and had a health emergency that landed him in the hospital there and was, proved to be life threatening at the time and ultimately resulted in emergency medical intervention and surgery. And so at the end of that summer then he moved to Austin, but he disembarked the plane on a stretcher and then was immediately transferred to a true nursing home. I think his first year living here was in 3 or 4 different rehab facilities just in dealing with certain things to get them back to that level of independence.

I think it was maybe in the fall of that year when Hayley was in 2nd grade and Gage was in kindergarten that then he recovered to the point where he could move to Beckett Meadows. I’d call it an assisted living facility, but it was most definitely not a nursing home. There’s a nursing home component to it, but… Feels a little bit like a hospital because it's full of sounds and smells and things that you might associate with a hospital. But on the whole, it felt more like apartments, but specifically designed to the purpose that they're supposed to serve. They took good care to make it a very livable place at this particular place. There was a central courtyard where all of those rooms that are along those corridors either had a window to the exterior of the property, looked out over the parking lot and grounds to the outside, or they looked back in on the central courtyard. And that interior courtyard was a really well-kept, beautiful place. There were always fresh flowers planted there in pots. There was a gazebo there where somebody could go and sit in a protected space to the interior building, but open to the sky and fresh air and all of that. 

We didn't always go as, entirely as, a family necessarily, but Meg would at least see Ed at least once a week. But it was more often than that most of the time, and surprisingly the kids wanted to go most of the time. And so there was an Activities Director there that would arrange a Valentine's Day concert and 4th of July concert. Those sort of things were happening in the evenings and we were regulars at, because the kids loved it so much and it also made, it was an interesting break in routine, or whatever.
 
I think they both were a very bright light in his life, in the last stages of his life where there wasn't a lot going on for him except for, for Meg and his daughters and his grandkids came to see him. But I think they also were very much so for a lot of people that we just got to know, got to meet there. It was, it got to the point where any time we brought our kids, there were a seeming dozen or more people who would all be clearly happy to see them, talk to them about what was going on with them at school and whatever. And then most to the point I guess, this community of older men that were living in this facility that would, that had a history in baseball that exactly dovetailed with Gage’s newly developing passion and love for baseball.

One of the big mysteries about Gage is where his just absolute devoted love and passion for that sport came from. We weren’t a baseball family by any means, and most players now that I encounter now, Gage has known thousands of baseball players at this point in his life or played against that many at least, there's always a dad that played baseball or uncle at a high level in college or double A ball or something, or at least it was father and son grew up going to games together. And there’s just none of that in our history or his history or even in his mother's family history to explain why as a 5 year old, he was already asking his Mom, “Can I play tee ball? When can I start playing tee ball?” It’s like it was something that he always knew was in his future and at the center of everything he did for the rest of his life. We had no idea at the time how central to our whole family's life baseball was going to become and how many weekends we were going to be driving all over the state of Texas and sometimes all over the country just to take this kid places to give him the opportunity to play the game for the thousandth time or two thousandth time.

When he started playing tee ball, we thought we were like any other family. We were just trying different things out with their kid. He was taking kung fu. He’d taken a few ballet classes. But through all of the things that he was kind of trying out at the time, he was like, “Baseball is my thing.” Or tee ball at the time at least. And when he started asking us about it, he was too young to play most places. Meg, always faced with a challenge like that, just finds an answer. And so she started checking around every little league in town that offered tee ball and found out what age they would take him, and finally she got in contact with somebody who was actually at the little league that was appropriate for our neighborhood, said, “Well, we don't take kids ‘til 6, but bring him in and let's see if he has the basic aptitude and just fundamental physical build and attention span to be able to participate with the older kids.” And so she went and did that, and he started playing tee ball at 5 with 6 year olds.

It's a silly enterprise to begin with, you know? It’s putting a bunch of kids out on a baseball field, mostly more for the entertainment of the parents than the actual kids, because half of them don’t want to be there, the second half want to be there, but they don't have the attention span last beyond the first general moments of the game and then it's all just after that about the coaches and the parents trying to corral and continue to make the game happen. And it so it becomes this sort of bizarre, scripted enterprise where it’s like, “OK, we can get from action to cut if we can just corral these kids and keep them focused long enough to...”

The thing is, at the time, I didn't recognize that Gage didn't fit that paradigm exactly. Every tee ball game that he played in, took him from beginning to end of the game. And he's kind of a math kid, because from the very beginning, the thing that for him that the game was all about was like that there's just a logic to it, and the beauty that he appreciates, and that it's a numbers game and it's a mental game and everything. And even from that age of 5, he was totally invested in the idea that it was one, two, three strikes, you're out, one, two, three outs the inning changes, and then the seven innings, and it's all this thing that builds up, and it's always what he’s been interested about.

And so that stage of his life, when I look back and remember it, was just, it was so electric and intense because there was just so much to learn. Just to be entering the game, and for me to be entering it too, because not coming from a baseball family, really, the way that the whole first years of him playing the sport, for me was learning everything that he was learning. There is so much more to it than I ever knew at the time. Like I had no idea at that time how much Gage and I both had out there ahead of us to learn together, just about this thing that was going to become the absolute central passion in his life.

He left little league very early. I'm just not sure exactly how it happened. We were totally conventional tee ball parents and little league parents and had no background whatsoever or any knowledge about select baseball and club baseball, which is apparently something that everybody in Texas or any baseball state knows about, but we didn't know about at the time. Somehow Gage found out about it, that there was this other stream for playing baseball that was much more serious and there were professional coaches and professional coaches who played at the collegiate or professional level teaching kids to play baseball in essentially academies. He found out about that, and he realized that they were approaching the game the way he wanted to approach the game. He didn't want to play with a bunch of kids who half cared about it. He wanted to play with a bunch of kids that were serious. And so somehow, I still to this day don't know where it came from, but he learned about tryouts for a club baseball program that wasn't even in our area. He found out about tryouts for an 8U coach pitch team and convinced his, convinced me pretty easily I guess, but then convinced his mother somehow, which is still astonishing to me how he pulled that off as a 7 year old to go to those tryouts. And we didn't understand at the time, even the age rankings. I didn’t have any idea at the time that when I took, I think he was like barely 7 when he went and participated in these tryouts, that I was bringing probably the youngest kid they’d ever seen to their tryouts. And so I just sent him out there and didn't realize, I had no idea that I was sending him out to actually try out with a bunch of 9 year olds. And so ultimately, Gage did, went through that tryout process, was selected to play on this competitive 8U team, convinced his mom with an earnestness that I think is beyond most 8 year olds I’ve ever known, that it was important to him and important enough for us to support him in it and at least consider it. 

And then for Gage, that was, absolutely he took to it right away, loved it, but it was being dropped out of the frying pan into the fire. So he went from that little league, to being coached by a coach who was a semi-pro baseball player in New Jersey. So it was like, New Jersey coach, serious, competitive baseball and Gage just dropped right into the middle of that. And just immediately committed to it and committed to doing the absolute best he can from the beginning.

And so then, suddenly in that period of life, like every minute with him was, “Can we practice? Can we throw? Dad, can we play catch? Dad, can we play catch?” And we spent like all this time, like if we went to the mall, he wouldn't want to go into the mall. He would try right away to convince me that Meg and Hayley should go in and take care of whatever business we had to take care of and that he and I should play catch in the parking lot. Because he's just learning to handle a glove and throw a ball and throw it well. Already at that age, they're telling him, “No, not rainbows. We want you to throw it on a rope.” And so here's this 7 year old trying to learn all that to fit in and be competitive with these other boys who had been doing exactly that since they were, probably the moment they were able to walk, their dads were teaching them how to throw a ball on a rope, you know? 

It's interesting because Meg, has, when Hayley was young, Meg started a practice of writing letters to the kids that she keeps in books. Her ability to see the future and see the value that certain things will have in the future and kind of anticipating that present is remarkable. And you know, she's a very much “stop and smell the roses” kind of person. I'm always like, “Let's keep moving. There's a schedule. There's a goal. Let's go.” And she's like, “Well let's stop for 2 seconds and look at this tree.” And so in that sort of wisdom that she has, she started writing letters to the kids from, I think, Hayley maybe at the age of four. So for Gage, that's an even younger age. And in Gage’s book, she has the first, his first mention of baseball sort of captured in a letter that she wrote to him and she even wrote at the time that she didn't really know where it was coming from and that it was just his, it’s just completely internal and from his own place.  Tied up into it is the two things that have, have seemingly always been present for Gage and are still totally present in his life now as a 17 year old are his just love and what he calls respect for the game of baseball. And then his, secondly, his love and respect and just comfort, like remarkable comfort level with senior citizens or the elderly, just older folks in general from the, from this same age.

We visited all of their grandparents, and so he had a relationship with all of his grandparents. And both of our kids have always had a very deep love for their grandparents. Gage has just always had a sort of unexplainable different connection with grandparents, though. But not just grandparents. Also the friends of grandparents. We would often go to spend a weekend with Meg’s mom and stepdad at the, we just always refer to it as the lake, and it’s a community where it was a lot of like-minded older people who were spending whatever time they could there, fishing, boating, that kind of thing. And there’d be a ton of kids and grandkids, cousins, you know, all of that. There would always be tons of children around to play with, and Gage was always, always, always more interested in being with the grandparents, the older people. Whether it was playing cards or frying fish or fishing itself, it was just, he was always more interested in being with the older folks than kids his own age.

And I think that that's, I mean that's just the way that he lives his life now. That's even more true now than it ever was. But it's always been there. And it’s just a comfort in conversation. It's funny, I remember times just looking back on him just sitting in a lawn chair next to Grandpa, or his Papa Ed, or his Papa Jack, and especially Papa Jack and one of his friends, sitting in a chair between them, and just looking at him and going, you know, he looks, it just looks the same. That looks like three old guys there, sitting there talking about their childhoods fishing where one of them is actually six years old. There's been many instances in my life where you could look at Gage sitting with a couple of old guys like that and just think that's an old man that got put in a young man's body.

So he had, I think that that may partly play a role in these relationships that he developed with seniors at these facilities is, it was a place that he could go where he got a lot of positive feedback for the stuff that he was interested in and wanted to talk about. And guys wanted to talk to him about stuff that he was interested in.

And he just had this group of guys who wanted to know how he was doing, and interested in what he was learning as he got past tee ball into the coach pitch and then eventually started playing club baseball, they’d want to know where he was playing and always had stories to tell him about Shoeless Joe and I mean, players that played so long ago that Gage really should have no interest in them. And most young players still like, you know, even the high school players that he plays with now, I would bet that half of them had no idea who Shoeless Joe Jackson was or you know, they might know the big names, but they wouldn't know what... But Gage can tell you Babe Ruth's shoe size. And the reason that he can tell you that is that when he was 6 years old, he had a conversation with one of his Papa Ed’s neighbors who told him, “Hey, you know the remarkable thing about Babe Ruth? He had tiny feet.” And that's something that Gage has remembered his entire life since and has become something that it's somehow part of who he’s become. And it’s something he can tell you right now. So he can tell you things about the game and the history of the game that he has no business really knowing. I think all of that goes back to that time in his life and those old guys that he used to sit and chat with at Beckett Meadows.

And I can, it's another one of just the beautiful memories I have of Beckett Meadows that there was one of those times where I think Meg had gone up to get her dad and prep him to bring him down. And I happened to look over at the end of the porte cochère, the entrance to this place where they always kept rows of rocking chairs on the other side where you’d see residents sitting sometimes. And I think it was new that year too, they’d also got a dog for the residents. So there was this yellow golden retriever, old, slow-moving dog that lived at the place But that dog was often sitting at the rocking chairs just looking for anybody to pet him for a minute. I mean, he just lived for that. It’s like going back to him with Papa Jack at the lake. I looked over and he's sitting in a middle rocking chair between two other old guys in rocking chairs on either side of him, just rocking with the same cadence and petting this old dog. And I walked over, and sure as shit, the 3 of them were sitting there in their rocking chairs just talking about baseball.

But you know, so Gage was an extremely active kid that required a ton of space, loved going to this place, was always energized when we went there. His sister, the same thing: always happy to go visit, liked the place, but the difference between the two of them is that she had a personality that allows her to sit down in a small space and carry on conversations. And she could do that. Gage, you had like maybe 10 minutes of that with him. And then he was just, as he always did most places, he was sprawled out on the floor and like flopping and kicking things over. He's just always been a boy that required a good amount of clear space to be in or something was going to get knocked over or broken. And as parents at the time for Meg and I, it was like almost always a constant stress in our lives. By the time we get to Beckett Meadows and he's starting to play baseball and all of all of that is kind of going on around it, that's just a little bit more of a window into what it was like to try to manage him at the time.

And so the way that that segues into Beckett Meadows and Ed was that the place to be able to do that was in that courtyard that I described, this sort of carefully landscaped, delicate, full of beautiful flowers and flower pots and elderly people sitting, watching in the gazebo. And Gage unable to sit beyond the first 15 minutes in Ed’s room while Meg took care of just like regular business. And so it was just always, “Hey, can we go throw? Can we go throw? Can we go throw?” And so that became a part of the routine there was, visit Papa Ed, throw a little, visit a little more, throw a little, visit a little bit more. But the only place that we had to really go, because the parking lot  wasn't conducive. And so we just, we needed a way to be close but for him to blow off some steam and then go back to the sitting and visiting and then go exercise, and then go back to sitting and visiting.

And so what I tried for, I don't know, 3 weeks or a month or whatever, was to go into that courtyard and throw with him. And in the beginning when he wasn't, when he couldn't throw that hard, it was like, even if a ball was a little bit errant, it wasn't going to cause too much damage. But then even in the course of the first few weeks, he was learning and developing so fast it, right way, “OK, now this kid’s throwing harder, and if he does go wild or something, it's going through a window, or it’s breaking a flower pot or something.” And it became such a stressful thing for me because, and because  it’s also a very quiet environment too. So you don't want to be, like I’m trying to contain this kid but also allow him to spend time with his grandpa, but also not be disturbing to residents who might be sleeping or whatever. It just, it became a very stressful thing for me to play catch with him in this courtyard to the point where it was just like, what started out as fun wasn't fun anymore because I would just spend the whole time every time he threw the ball going, “Man, there’s, what are we going to break, or is anybody upset?” You know, like every minute waiting for somebody in administration to say, “Hey, you can't freaking do that here. It’s a confined space.”

And so somewhere along the way, and honestly I have no idea of where the, what put this thought in my head other than on top of all the rest of it, Gage has always been very imaginative kid. He’d play a lot of, especially when he was a toddler, he’d play a lot of imagination games, having to imagine whatever. And so I knew he was perfectly capable of role-playing and imagination games, and I think that I had read something where it was like athletes talking about the power of visualization in the sports that they play. And it's always fascinated me because there's certain athletes that will, who write a lot about that like mental practice is almost effective as actual physical practice. Which is like a fascinating idea, right? And I think that I may have read something about that at the time, and I thought, you know, well if we could just like visualize this, if we could imaginary practice playing catch, maybe he's still getting something out of it and then I don't have to worry about the damn ball and all of then stress, and then we'll go to the park later, and we'll throw a real ball, but at least maybe while we're here at Beckett Meadows, we could just imagine playing catch. And thinking that there was no way he was going to buy it, a kid that's like so interested in throwing a real ball, I figured he'd just blow me off. But I suggested it one time, explained to him why, you know I was concerned about breaking a window or something, and he totally bought it. It was just like, “Oh, sure.” And so we started. I just put the ball off to the side, and we started playing catch with an imaginary ball. And I mean, it sounds so silly, but it actually works. It makes me think now more about the idea of the visualization to train in sports, because once you stop, and if you take it seriously and you stop, and you imagine like a real timing and a real, you're going through the real motion and you’re not just, it's just, it's not that much different I guess because your brain can make it up.

Real glove. Everything but the ball. He had a coach that said, “If you set,” I mean said this, even to 7 year olds that, “You're not going to set a foot on my ballfield unless you're wearing a ballcap. You're not a ballplayer if you're not wearing a baseball cap,” was one of the many tenets that his first coach had, and man, Gage took that serious as a heart attack. Still does. I don't think you will ever see him throwing a baseball without a baseball cap on. And so, both of us in baseball caps, gloves. Sometimes, if he'd had a practice or a game or something, he’d be in his full-blown uniform out there playing catch with no ball. But it was surprising to me how convincing an experience it was even for me because even like when you're playing imaginary catch, you'd even snap your glove closed on the ball when you imagine that it came into, because you don't want the imaginary ball to fall out of your real glove, so you've got to close on it.

And so that is like sort of, that's the innocent beginning of it was just me trying to manage my young son in this field, not have something disastrous happen, not cause something embarrassing for my wife, not get ourselves banned from this facility. You know, all this stuff in my mind, we just started playing imaginary catch. And then that's where for me, the, you know I may get choked up going forward from here, because that's, following this point in the story is when this grows into what for me is still one of the most beautiful experiences, beautiful memories, of my entire adult life, I think that maybe this is a story that's more transformative for me than Gage, because I think it was just such a natural part of his whole life. But I do think what happens after this, with imaginary catch, changed me maybe in a way that I don’t even have an understanding of now. Like I can’t say how it changed me, but it’s such a present memory in my mind that I know that it had as much affect on me as any of the other major events in my life.

So, we got in the habit of playing imaginary catch, and I think that there were, probably happened 1 or 2 weekends where there happened to be some residents sitting in the courtyard just enjoying some sunshine while we're playing it. And there’s 2 men that I, I can’t name them. I dont’ think we knew them. But there was a couple of guys that took an interest, enough so that I started to notice that when we started to play imaginary catch, they would turn up. And so then, it was never anything that we thought of. There was no plan to it. There was just particular sunny Saturday where we were out there doing that, and these guys came out where they could look on while we were playing imaginary catch, and then Gage made a pretend throw to me, and this was the first time it happened. One of the old guys just out of the blue all of a sudden said, “Whoa! Boy, he really hummed that one in there!” And so suddenly somebody else was seeing the invisible ball, somebody had seen it. So then he responded to that and started imaginary throwing the ball harder. And so then I imaginary started catching the ball as if it were thrown harder. So now I'm like, “Oh whoa, jeez, that one stung!” That kind of thing. Which of course feeds it even more with a 7 year old. And so then it just started growing from there and was just amazing. Other people would begin to participate, and it went from being a game of catch to a full-blown game. I'm not sure how it happened, but it was like we set up in a catcher and a pitcher position, and Gage would then be pitching to an invisible batter, and the residents would be the one that determined what happened with a particular pitch. I’d set up to catch for Gage, he’d get up there and he’d fake pitch, and it'd be like, “Oh, that was just outside!” And we would take those cues, and different of the residents would say different things. Like it just, it was just this amazing, unplanned, organic thing. And then, of course, it caught Hayley's interest. She wanted to participate. So she would come out and join us, and then we'd have a batter too. And then once you have like a real batter, not imaginary batter. It got so wild. It was so fun, and so… And so pure and beautiful.

And it just, that is what now what I'm talking about when I say, “Yeah, well, when Gage was little, he used to play invisible baseball.” My 7 year old son pitching an invisible ball to my 9 year old daughter, and these old guys who had loved the game and understood it well enough that they would call out in sort of an old fashioned play-by-play like you were listening to an old game on the radio. “Oh, she hit that one deep!”  And Hayley would run the bases, and as she was running the bases, rounding second, somebody would call out, “Oh! Held up on a triple!” And then she would know to stop at third base. And then, we put in an imaginary runner for her at third, and she'd go back and hit again, and her brother would pitch.

And that, I don't know how long that lasted. I think the end of it was just sort of as organic as its beginning. I don't know if a couple of the key spectators just got to a point in that stage of their life where they just couldn’t come out anymore, and that took some of the magic out of it, or if it just got routine enough for everybody that that took some out of magic out of it. There was no definitive end to it. There was no day where it was like, “OK, no more invisible baseball.” It just sort of, like most things in life, just sort of petered out without a real moment of closure. But it’s absolutely something that obviously affected me in an emotional way. Still does. That just is absolutely one of the most magical things that I’ve experienced.

I don't share this story often, and I’ve never, I don't think I've ever shared it in this much depth, but from time to time, where, when I talk about it just anecdotally, usually it’s to make the argument against accepting the perception that these are just depressing, stress-filled, dark places. Usually if I'm bringing this story out for any reason it’s to convince somebody that even though when you walk into an assisted living facility like that or even a rehab facility, although it's is a little more difficult to find the beauty in those places, it’s still there. That's what I came to know from that experience is that you got to get over the hump. You got to get over your discomfort. You got to get over your perception that what you're seeing is, because of the filter you're running through it, that it's automatically depressing. Look past all that. Because it would've been very easy, a very easy mistake for us to make based on the first days of those visits to say, “This is going to be hard on our kids.” Right? And I think that probably a lot of parents do that. It’s a very natural parenting instinct to say, “I need to protect my kids from seeing older folks in pain, seeing some of the indignities that happen in those kind of places.” It would be a very natural thing to say, “I need to shield my kids from this.” But that was one where we did sit down and have a conversation with one another about, “Should we or should we not involve our kids in this experience that we know that we are going to have to go through? Do we involve them or not?”  And we decided, “Yes, we do.” And that's probably the best parenting decision we’ve ever made, because there is vibrant, real life still going on there that can be participated in. I've had this conversation a number of times with Mom and Dad too, because now that they've moved here, they're often saying, “We just don't want to be a burden.” But because of that experience and because of invisible baseball and so many other wonderful things that happened to us in that stage of our kids’ lives, I know, and I tell her all the time, that it's, you’re not a burden at all. You're having a difficult time appreciating how much value you still bring to all of our lives. And you know, it’s understandable. I understand her point of view because I think that I would feel the same way in her shoes. But the thing that I know is that all of these people that we've met and kind of struggled through that last stage of human life along with have brought so much more value to our lives and to our kids’ lives than any effort it took to participate in the last stages of their lives, that I hope that our own parents can begin to be convinced of that. I believe that Mom and Dad are starting to hear it, but I also hope that anybody who's proudly made it beyond the age of 70 in our lives or in anybody's lives know that it's just the beginning, and every day they wake up and spend time with their grandkids is valuable and appreciated. I've got 2 kids that feel it 10 times beyond even what I feel it. So there it is. “Invisible Baseball.”
 

Episode 004 - The Quiet Man

Rod Haden

I hope you're all having a wonderful holiday season! I certainly am. Time is flying and my days are packed. This week we have a conversation with my father, Rudy Haden, a man who has fascinated me ever since I was a wee lad. He's that special kind of quiet that invites others to project onto him whatever they want him to be. Getting him to open up about his past, present, and future, and what he thinks and feels about all 3 was a very special treat for me. I've known the man for 45 years and heard some stories when we talked that I have never heard before. He is my role model for what it means to be a man, a father, and husband, and though we are very different from each other, I couldn't have asked for a better teacher. Thanks, Dad!

Transcript:

I don’t move around very good. I’m in pain quite a bit. It comes and goes. It comes and goes. Some days it’s worse; some days it’s not. It doesn’t seem to depend on how much exercise I get. Some days it’s painful to exercise; sometimes it’s not.

I sit and try to meditate, and it does nothing for me, but when I’m really quiet, or when I’m just totally listening to music, it’s like somebody plants knowledge into my head. I know and I understand things, which I had no idea before. So my meditation is basically checking out and listening to music.

Early on in our marriage, I was in an apprenticeship program, tool and die maker. I had to really concentrate at work. And it’s not easy for me to relate to other people, but I really worked on the journeymen. I would constantly hang around them, and ask them questions, and ask them the best way to do stuff, and I got in as I guess a favorite pupil with about 3 or 4 of them.

So that when I’d come home, I was exhausted, and I would lay down on the floor and play a Beethoven record or something with earphones on, and Robbie would get so pissed off at me because she was making dinner and taking care of the kids, and I was checked out. She didn’t understand that that’s the way I did my meditation.

I’ve been in and out of a lot of churches. My parents were married in a… I can’t think of the religion right now. Reverend Grace. I remember the name of the preacher that married them, and that was there. The guy wore a collar, but he wasn’t a Catholic. But he was deaf. He ministered to the deaf people. He was deaf himself.

He was in the deaf community, and in the basement of his church is where they held all the deaf fraternity meetings.It was based on the Masons. Only it was all deaf men. It was called the Frat. That was what my mom and dad called it. The Frat. We’re going to the Frat. When they went to Frat, the women all sat outside in the waiting room. The kids played on the floor. And when the big meeting was over, they’d throw the doors open, and everybody would go in and have a big social event.

And then my mother’s side of the family was deep into the Reform Christian Church, and I went to a lot of Bible schools and Sunday schools and stuff in that until I was about 3rd or 4th grade. And then I felt like I needed to get hooked up with different churches, so I went to a Methodist church, I went to a holy roller church with a friend, and I went to a couple of Catholic services. As a teen. None of that stuff stuck with me. 

Just because there was so much religion on my mother’s side of the family, I don’t know, I just felt like I was supposed to do it. In order to be accepted by them, I should have a church, but I never could find one. And I came away from it having no respect for organized religion because the main thing they wanted, no matter what it was, they wanted money up front. Seemed like everything was driven by the collection plate. If you were a big donor, you got a lot of attention. If you weren’t, you didn’t get much. And that’s what really turned me off. 

My dad was born on the farm in Kansas, and he was sent to the Kansas State Home for the Deaf and Blind. My dad was born deaf, they think because in the early days when they had the traveling doctors going around the frontier and the farms and stuff, my grandmother evidently had a lot of morning sickness, and the doctor prescribed quinine. Well, later on they found that quinine did stuff to the unborn child. 

My mom came over on the boat from Holland witH her mother. And my mother, we don’t know if she was born that way, or it was some kind of sickness or something that she got in Holland or on the boat or what, but ever since she was a baby, she was deaf. Then my mother was, because she was deaf mute, she was sent off to the school in Colorado Springs.

The strange thing is that the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind insisted that deaf people learn to lip read and speak, and so my mother was pretty good at lip reading and speaking. And they were discouraged from using sign language, so if you compare the deaf people now that use sign language to the old people that use sign language, now it’s all really broad and all over the place, and the older people, their signs are all close in and secretive about it, where now they’re just flamboyant about it. Their signs are all over the place. 

And my dad, the Kansas School for the Deaf and Blind weren’t that way. They were teaching them to do stuff and sign language and be able to be self-sufficient. 

See, in my dad’s side of the family, all the people learned sign language, the hearing and the non-hearing. So I had no idea whether they were hearing, any memory of whether they were hearing or not. On my mom’s side of the family, I had one uncle that learned the deaf sign language, learned the deaf alphabet, and he could do that. He was the only one that made any effort to sign to my mother. All her other brothers and sisters didn’t because she had been sent to school, and they were told that she was to learn to lip read, and so they would talk to her. But the thing of it is, it’s really easy to ignore somebody like that, because all you do is turn away. Turn around, they can’t see your signs. They can’t read your lips. So, whenever there was an argument or something, it was easy just to walk away from that.

My dad’s family had a big get-together once every summer. They came from all over the place. They were Kansas, Nebraska, western Colorado, and they’d have these big, long picnics on the weekend, and there were aunts and uncles and cousins. I didn’t even know all the cousins I had. But I never just seemed to fit in.

He worked in a factory. He started out in a printing shop, a paper cutter. Cutting stuff for the print shop. Then ended up in Shwayder Bros./Samsonite, cutting stuff for the suitcases and plastic tops of card tables and chairs. And my mom worked there on the assembly line putting stuff together. And my Uncle Jim and Aunt Julia also worked in the same factory. Shwayder Bros. hired a lot of, I guess what they called the handicapped people. 

Clarence, he was a rancher. He raised horses, and at one time he had a riding stable up on Lookout Mountain just above Denver. And they had 2 boys, and the youngest one, John, he had a pinto pony named Ruben. And they taught me how to ride. And I could put the bridle on Ruben, lead him over to the fence, they had a rail fence, and I’d climb up the rail fence and get on him. And I was, what, 5 years old.

John would go off hunting. He’d go out, he had a rifle, and he’d go out shooting magpies. I had no idea what magpies were. I was determined I was going to follow him one day and see where he was going, and I’d see these cow patties in various places, you know. So I thought cow patties were magpies, and cousin John shot them. I couldn’t have been 4 or 5 years old. And then he, one time he put his rifle in, we had a, there was a kind of a mud room entrance to the farmhouse, and he left his rifle leaned up against the thing, and he had a thing in the chamber, and I went up there and was messing with it, and I inadvertently pulled the trigger. And it shot a hole in the roof. My Uncle Clarence was really pissed off at John for doing that.

My bed was in this big room where the radio was. There was no TV in those days. It was during the war. World War II. I remember there was a big old tree in the backyard. When I wanted to get away, I’d just climb up in that tree and sit up there all by myself. Could see the whole neighborhood. 

I don’t remember when I realized that there was a hearing world and a deaf world. You never knew. I mean, you could talk to some people, and you had to sign to some people, and some people were talking and signing, and you know, there was no distinguishment. And a lot of the deaf people could read lips. I don’t know when I realized that. I suppose it happened to me some time in high school when, you know how high school gets. How clannish and cliquish it is, and some kids are favored by the teachers, and some aren’t. I realized I was different. During high school, I was really aware of it because people would kind of shy away from me. If I tried to be friendly with somebody, they wouldn’t necessarily because I was a child of dummies. That’s what deaf people were called in those days. They were deaf and dumb. The deaf and dumb part came from deaf and dumb, couldn’t speak. But the dummy part carried on as not being intelligent.

And then in high school, I don’t ever, in junior high or any of those, I don’t ever remember having a parent-teacher conversation. Nobody ever, none of my teachers ever contacted my parents, even when I wouldn’t do my homework or my grades were down. There was nothing. They just passed me along. And in high school, I signed up to take a Spanish class, and I was discouraged. I should take English. I was going to sign up to take some math classes, and I was discouraged. I was to take a general math class where the big thing was to learn how to write a check and keep a bank account and pay your taxes. There was none of that geometry stuff. I didn’t get hooked on that stuff until my senior year in high school. I finally got into an algebra class. 

And I hated high school. I just didn’t fit. Didn’t know how to talk to girls. I had no experience with girls. When friends come over, it was really awkward. If somebody came home with me, it was really, really awkward because of my parents. My parents would try to be friendly with them, but they didn’t know how to deal with it. And so they just dealt with me away from my house.

I really got big into leatherwork because I had an Industrial Arts teacher, Mr. Landon was… he taught Print Shop, Leather Shop, and Woodworking. And I took all those courses. Originally I thought I was going to be an Industrial Arts teacher, then I thought about getting a degree to be able to become a forest ranger, but there was no way. I couldn’t figure out how in the hell I was going to go to college to do that. Although it was a lot easier to go to college in those days than it is now. The costs weren’t so damn much. 

 And I was really into skiing, through the Boy Scouts. Some of us in the neighborhood learned to ski. It was scary in the beginning until I learned to parallel ski. Once I got out of the snowplow thing. I got fairly good at parallel. I never was Olympic quality, but I could do alright. I just loved the freedom. Just felt free. Riding up to the top of the mountain and letting go. And then after I got out of the Navy, I really went into it for a couple of years. In fact, that’s how I met Ruth, my first wife. We met through a friend, and she was really impressed with my skiing. I took her skiing every weekend. She was really into that. And then somehow we ended up getting married.

I really got into skiing, and it was a really good friend that we skied with a lot. And he said he was going to join the Navy. At that time when you turned 18, you were eligible for the draft, so I turned 18 in 1955, and that was right between the Korean War and the Vietnam War, that period. His argument was, “If we join the Navy before we turn 18, we get out on our 21st birthday. Plus the Navy will send us to school.” He laid it out, you know, that we were going to end up getting drafted for 2 years anyway, and there was this opportunity, and I felt, “Yeah, this is a good idea.” It wasn’t all that analytical, it was it felt right. And so I did it. So we joined the Navy. We took tests and everything, and both of us qualified as machinists.

Yeah, I was out in ‘58. I rejoined in ‘61. I was out for 3 years.

I remember going and applying for this one job, and the guy interviewed me and said, “No, you’re too young. You couldn’t do all that.” And then that was the end of the interview. He didn’t believe me. And at the same time, I was going to night school, it was late ‘50s and early ‘60s recession. And you’d work for 3 months, and you’d get laid off. And you’d work for 3 months and get laid off. 

And then when I had such a hard time with all the on again, off again jobs, and I don’t know how I found out the Navy came up with a need for my particular skill. When I got out the first time, I was a second class petty officer, and they… I found out that I could go back in as a second class petty officer, got assigned to a ship in San Diego. We started, originally it was all those old diesel boats, and we worked on those all the time. And then the nuclear subs started to come in. Some of us were cleared to work on the nuclear subs.

So then I was going to make a career out of it. And I just remember getting a call, the piping over the com. And I just remember, “Petty Officer First Class Haden, report to the quarterdeck!” And I thought, “Oh crap! What have I done now?” I go up there, and a guy hands me, you know, he served me with separation papers, and I opened them up and looked at them, and it was, you know, legal language about… I showed the officer, and I said, “I don’t know what to do about this.” And he said, “Well, the first thing you ought to do is get a hold of the chaplain.” 

I knew things weren’t really good with us, but I didn’t think they were that bad. It was a real slap in the face getting served. I was just dumbfounded. “I don’t know what to do now? What?” I had to ask some officer who was probably a lieutenant junior grade or something and was probably 23 years old or something, you know, “What do I do now?”

So I made an appointment with the chaplain and talked to him, and then he got her and me into counseling. And it broke down and went to divorce. It was really traumatic. I had no idea what to do. I was at a loss. And that chaplain gave me options what to do. “Well, you can just not contest it and let her have the kids and stay in the Navy.” And I thought, “Crap, I’ve seen too many of those guys. I ain’t going to be one of them. I want a relationship with my children.” He just gave me all these different options to think about. If it’s something physical, like a computer or a computer program or a piece of machinery or a car or building or something like that, I’m very analytical. But when it comes to feelings and interactions with people, I’m more intuitive. One of my big things that I’ve known over the years is that when a door opens, you look to see whether you want to go through that door or not, whether it feels right or not, and that’s pretty much the way I’ve gone. From being a piecemeal machinist to a maintenance machinist to a tool and die maker to a numerical control programmer to a software developer, and that’s where I was until I retired. But all of those were, a door opened and I went through. There was no analytical thing about it. Did it feel right? Yeah, that felt like it was a good thing to do. 

And then when the divorce happened, I had already... You know, I was committed for another 4 years. And the padre, the chaplain, said, “You know, you could file for custody. If you get custody, you could get an honorable discharge for hardship.” And I just felt like, “Am I good enough to be a father to those kids?” And I just had the feeling, “Yeah, you can do this, but it ain’t going to happen anyway, but what the hell. Go for it.” And I’ll be damned if it didn’t happen. And I thought, “Oh crap. Now what do I do?” At that time, Harold had just gotten a divorce, and he was a single father with 2 kids. He had this big house. And he said, “You could come live with me, and we’ll help each other out.” And so we did. 

And it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. But at the time, more than resistant to it, I was confused by it, scared of it. What am I going to do now? What am I going to do with the kids that I love so much? I had heard so many terrible things about split families, you know, kids bouncing back and forth and back and forth, loyalties, mothers saying bad things about the father and the father saying bad things about the mother, that at one point I thought that if I ever have to get divorced, then I’ll just let go of the kids, not be in their life. Well that was dumb-headed. I realize that now. Just so many things happened there that I had no clue. I had no idea what I was doing. Just taking it a day at a time.

And then when I got out of the Navy the second time, because I worked on nuclear submarines, I had a top, not a Top Secret, but a Secret clearance, so when I came out, I went to Rocky Flats, which was the big nuclear plant. They made triggers for the atomic bomb. And I applied there, and they said, “Well, it’s probably going to take about 6 months to get your clearance through the FBI.” 3 weeks later, I got a call says, “You’re hired.” 

I was a maintenance machinist. We just went around fixing pumps and stuff, generators. And they opened up an apprenticeship, and I was close to 40 years old. The cutoff date was 40. And I took the test, I went into the interviews and took all the tests and everything they gave us, and there were 2 of us that were picked for the apprenticeship, and I went into that. So I went into the tool and die shop, and that’s where they made all the tooling and everything for the equipment, the nuclear stuff. It was all classified stuff.

Well, when I got… finished my apprenticeship, I became a journeyman, and I worked nights. But during that time, they brought in a milling machine that was numerically controlled, and all those old journeymen, they had no clue about that thing, so I really jumped on that, and I learned all about how to manually program it. And so whenever they wanted to put something on there, why, I was assigned to do it. They had other numerically controlled machines all through the plant. Well, there was an opening there for a programmer, and I applied for it and got it. And in the meantime, during that time I had taken some nighttime college courses on FORTRAN and drafting programs through The University of Colorado.

You know, you get out of marriage and everything, and all you’ve got is work and little kids, and you just figure you need something else. That dating thing was not analytical. That was totally gut. I kept seeing it in the paper and throwing it away, seeing it in the paper and throwing it away. And I read it and thought, “Aw, what the hell. I’ll try it.” And I was ready to give up on that because I had 2 or 3 bad dates. I remember going and walking down the steps into her garden level apartment. And opening that door, and thought, “OK, this is a good one.” And we went out, and the rest is history.

It was such a whirlwind. We were going to get married at 6 months or something. I didn’t think it was right to get married right away. The divorce wouldn’t even be final until March. So then we thought, “OK, in the summer. No, let’s get married in June. How about Spring Break?” And I thought, “My God, this is soon!” But I’ve been following her lead for years. I just know that it sure as hell worked out. Here we are, almost 50 years later. 

When Mom and I met, she was determined that she had found me and that I was the guy, and she was going to marry me, and I had just 2 years ago gotten out of a marriage. I didn’t even know who the hell I was. I had 2 little kids, was living with my brother in his basement, and your Mom was determined we were going to get married, and she was going to have 2 kids. And then we got married, and she was determined she was going to have her own kid. And then she had her own kid, and then she determined that she wanted another one. In those days, it was all the hippie thing, you know. You replenish yourself. So I’d already, I was the husband and a wife, and we had a boy and a girl, so when I got married again, I said, “OK. One more, for Robbie.” But then she was Empty Arm Syndrome or something, and she was determined she was going to have you. And so we had you. Best thing in the world.

After I worked at Rocky Flats for 7 years, I got laid off because they were cutting back, cutting back on nuclear bombs and everything. So they had to cut back on the staff, and they ended up closing Rocky Flats because it was so contaminated. For a long time, I had to go in and be monitored by medical once a year because I was exposed to americium and some other chemicals I don’t remember. I’d go in, and they’d take blood. I was exposed, but I was never contaminated, so I was alright. 

I knew that if I was just a piecemeal machinist, I’d be doing that 3 months on, 3 months off thing for the rest of my life and never getting out of debt. And so I just followed the path. I knew that I had, because the layoff from Rocky Flats, the Bomb Factory, I was back in that mode of working in small shops for short periods of time. And I knew that I was going to get into numerical control. I wanted to. But my goal was the eastern boundary of Colorado, anything west, and the southern boundary of Colorado, anything north. And all I kept getting was this crap in Texas! And they kept offering to bring us down here for a weekend, for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and put us up. And I thought, “Well, what the hell. It’s an opportunity to get out and spend the weekend on somebody else’s dime.” And I came down here, and I was interested. They were interested in me.

Because I worked so hard at it. I spent a lot of time self-educating. The computer has been the best damn thing in my life. Although I got a lot of enjoyment out of my kids. Just enjoying watching you do things and try things and being assistant coach for your soccer team and watching Rik at swim meets. I was a timer and a stroke judge, and I also shot the gun. Starter. It was either sit in that stupid tent, or else go out and participate. Mom just really enjoyed sitting there, and I enjoyed watching how the thing worked and keeping track of Rik’s times.

Yeah. I got involved in Scouts because of you. They fill out those papers, and I’d very carefully fill them out so that I didn’t raise any flags to where they’d want me to do something, and then when you guys went into Webelos, I said, “OK, I can do it for a year,” and the next thing I knew, I was a Scoutmaster. I seemed to get all the misfits. We had some strange kids in our troop. 

One of my favorite memories is that Ford Escort you had, when I taught you how to put new brakes on it. We went through one wheel together, and then I showed you how to do it, and then I said, “OK, you’re on your own now.” And then watched you do it on your own. It was big. 

Ruth was a very outgoing person. Early on, her dad was a senior forest ranger, and it entailed being lots of parties and groups and cocktail parties. And it’s pretty much the same with Mom now, Robbie. I’m just also-ran. I just tag along. We go into groups, and she’s willing to talk to anybody, and I have a hard, hard time. Especially with people I don’t know. I can open up like to you. I can have a conversation with you, or I can have a conversation with Rik. You get into a group of people like Rik’s New Years or Christmas when he has people over, I have a hard time talking to those people. Some of them I can talk to because I know them, but I can’t talk very long. I don’t know what to say. My brain just does not work that way. I’m very very shy. I had a hard time in my jobs too. I just never really fit into those kind of groups.

But the thing of it is, my brother Harold went through the same experience, and he didn’t have any trouble. My cousin Jimmy and my cousin Elaine. Man, Elaine was really into it. I mean, she could talk sign language with the fastest of them. And I couldn’t. I could tell that people automatically slowed down when they talked to me, and I would say, “What?” a lot, and they would spell it out, and then I would understand what the sign was. But deaf people don’t like to spell things out. And so, it was easy for me to check out because if you’re not looking at somebody and reading their signs, you’re not conversing with them. So you’re looking over here. They’re signing, and you’re not paying attention. And it’s a cop out, and I realize it now, 70 years later.

If I had nothing in common with, I’m at a loss. Walk up, you know, Robbie can talk to store clerks and have conversations, and I don’t know what the hell to say other than, “Have a good day.” I don’t know how to deal with those kinds of situations.

My mom was good at it. And my dad too, just talking to people. My dad carried a little pad of paper and a pencil in his shirt pocket, and he had no qualms at whipping that sucker out and writing, talking to people. And my mom would talk to them and try to read their lips. Biggest problem she had was that once people learned that she was reading their lips, they would exaggerate everything, and she couldn’t understand it.

Best thing I ever did was get hooked up with your mom. She’s given me so much love and stability. We still have our rough edges. Mostly it’s me not talking to her enough. That’s because she’s lost all her friends in Dallas. It’s become more important to her to be more interactive with me. I have to cope with it. One of the things is, this iPhone here, I couldn’t live without it. See that? 10:30? This one here. 10:30. It’s my alarm clock. It means “Get up and talk.” When I get up out of bed, it’s time to get up out of bed, because I slept in as long as she will tolerate, and I have to talk. Sometimes I just go on down the hall, saying, “I’m walking, and I’m talking. I’m walking, and I’m talking.” And then we’ll get in a conversation, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. This one here says, “Get up for PT” which is physical therapy, “and talk, and have a happy face.” Because she’s convinced that those girls will work harder with me if I have a happy face with them. The therapists. So that’s how I’m learning to cope with that stuff.

Big thing that we have is that she’s the balloon, and I hold onto her string. I keep her grounded. But every now and then, I have to kind of float with her. To keep me in the world. Not let me crawl in a hole. To give me love.  And it works. It works for us.

In Richardson after the stroke, I was pretty much isolated, just me and Robbie and my therapists, and the therapy ran out. Robbie over the years before that had been talking about someday we need to move to Austin to be with our kids and grandkids, you know. And then when I was in in-house rehab, I just realized that maybe that’s what we ought to do. And then it was a whirlwind.

I had nothing more there. She had all her friends and her contacts and her woo woo stuff was all up in that whole area up there. When we came down here, she had a, she’s still having a rough time, but she had a really rough time in the beginning, mostly with the driving thing. Over the years, I’ve had to map things out for her. And I still do that. I map out where she wants to go. I’m really proud of her, because she’s got to where she’s really moving around a lot.

Big events in my week are physical therapy, and now that’s about to stop and I have to do it on my own. I have to force myself to do it. It’s too easy to blow off. Mom will say, “Let’s go to lunch,” and I blow the rest of the afternoon off, which means I don’t do the exercises I should. I’ve got to do it, got to get myself on a regimen. You know the old saying, “Use it or lose it?” With me it’s really true. If I don’t do it, I’ll lose it. My walking is worse than it was 6 months ago. Although I try. I just don’t seem to be able to get the rhythm good enough, fast enough. And Robbie’s really patient with me. She just walks along at a slow crawl, either behind me or by my side.

She does a lot for me. She’s walking a narrow line about doing stuff for me and not doing stuff for me. She has to decide what I really need her to do and what I can do on my own. I try to do my own laundry, but she’s pretty much grabbed a hold of that. When she hears me kicking the bucket down the hall, she runs out and grabs it and does it, but she leaves the shirts and pants for me to hang up, which I can do. I can fold the other stuff, too, but she has a need to do something. So it’s a fine line on what she wants to do and what she wants me to do.

I’ve had a couple of times since I stroked. I thought my family would be better off without me, but then I realized that’s not true. Robbie would not be better off without me, even though she has to do so much of the physical part of it. I still keep track of the finances and when things need to be paid, the mortgage and utilities, and I give her moral support. I keep reminding her that she needs friends, and she needs to make them. She’s found a couple of lady friends that she really likes that she has coffee with on Wednesdays but I really wish she could find a clan. I just have to keep reminding her that she needs to look and not give up on it. So I can’t give up. I still got to hold that string.

The biggest thing is that she got all her talking and communication with all those people she had up north, and now she depends on me to do it, and it’s difficult for me. I try hard to do it, but it doesn’t satisfy her needs. People project onto me that I’m stuck up and antisocial. It’s not true. I just don’t know how to be social. It sounds like a cop out, you don’t know how. Of course you should know how. I read all kinds of books on how to do it. I can’t do it.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint things. It’s just a path. Some of it’s rocky and some of it’s grassy and easy going, and some of it’s a struggle to climb up, but I’m just on this path. Hadens are resilient. I don’t know whether it’s in genes or whatever the hell it is. It’s there. My next goal is make it to 85. Try to talk to my wife whenever I can. Enjoy my kids and grandchildren. I’m satisfied with my life.

 I don’t know how you’ll make sense out of any of that.