Bonus Story - The Veil Drops in Squaw Valley

I couldn’t resist another story from Steve Birch, one I cut from the last episode in the interest of time. I learned a new word from Steve in this one: Kenshō. For this story, recall that Steve is writing a book on discovering his family roots, a discovery that started with a family friend finding a photograph in a magazine of Steve’s great grandfather, a circus contortionist, which lead to discovering Steve’s long lost grandfather, Joe, and connecting with an entire branch of his family tree that he had never known.

Thanks again, Steve!

Music for this episode comes from Free Music Archive, including:

“Negentropy” by Chad Crouch at 00:00

“Superconnected sleep” by Soft and Furious at 03:50

“Multiverse” by Ketsa at 06:37

“Dream Catchers” by Lobo Loco at 09:35

Additional audio came from YouTube:

“Tibetan Monks Practice Multiphonic Chanting” by Wilderness Films India, Ltd. at 02:54

Here’s the transcript:

OK. I had finished maybe the fifth writing of the book, and I have all kinds of marked up copies of the book, and I was feeling like I was getting close, and I met with a friend of mine, she worked with authors, she put together book tours, and stuff like that. And she did a lot of marketing. And I went to meet with her just to share what I’d been doing and to kind of pick her brain. And what I didn’t know was that she had also done some channeling and stuff, and it had become just too disturbing for her, so she put that aside.

But we’re having lunch, and we finish talking about the book and possibilities of how we might market it, because it’s not… it doesn’t fit in a typical niche. So she says, “So what are you doing? You have some kind of practice or something you’re doing these days to get clear and to stay connected?” And I say, “I’m not that guy. I don’t meditate. I don’t put much weight in that.” And then I said, “But there was one time when I was in Squaw Valley, and I had this experience where my grandfather had taken me through a series of steps, the spirit grandfather. It was like he was taking me by the hand, and he gave me a Kenshō experience, which is a spontaneous, sweeping, life-changing vision.

I was leaving the valley, I was going to go into town to do some more writing at a cafe there that I had found. The Olympic rings are still there from when the Winter Olympics were there in the ‘60s. And I looked over, and there was just like a mist over this clearing, and I saw a grid start to form. It was about this high off the ground. and then it started to separate out and turned into like multicolors, stuff. And I started hearing, if you’ve ever heard the sound of the multiphonic voices of Tibetan monks. I’m hearing that, and it’s blowing me away. I pull over to the side of the road. I’m in tears.

And then the next thing that happens is the veil drops. I was looking at the mountains, the sky, and all of a sudden, it just rolled away, like the backdrop in a theater, and all I saw was energy, bursts of energy. And it was like I’m sitting here, with the sensation… It’s hard to… It’s the hardest thing to describe, but the sensation was like I was at the center of a lotus blossom. And I saw ley lines going up the side of the mountains, once I could see the mountains again, there were ley lines going from me up the sides of the, I mean the middle of this mountain pass. And I’m just broken up. I’m just sitting there in this rental car, and I look up to the rearview mirror, and there’s my grandfather just with a wide open smile, laughing.

And that was the experience. It was something that changed everything. After that, I started seeing auras. I started seeing rainbow rings around the moon. And then I started tuning into it, and I started seeing rainbow rings around all light sources when I was in that zone.

So, I begin to tell her about this story, and at that moment, I felt my grandfather come down through me, like to the base of my spine, just this electric energy. And I tightened up, and she dropped her fork and said, “Did you feel that?” I said, “Yeah.” But she gets disturbed by it, because my grandfather is coming through to her. We’re sitting at the table. and she says, “What is this?” And she was going, “I don’t know this, but it’s clear, and he’s saying that you need to finish this book. He doesn’t even want you to rest. He doesn’t even want you to sleep. You have to finish this.” It’s like, this has to be done. And so, and then she apologizes, so I said, “That’s OK, I understand. I understand you don’t want to be in that zone anymore, but do you know someone who I could go to who could help me complete the picture?”

So I get booked, we go through this whole thing. I talk to all my relatives who are gone who were part of that nuclear family and the extended family, and filling gaps about, that I’m later able to go and verify about what happened through those years. And she’s trying to shut down the session. It’s coming close to the end. She wants to do some healing on me and clear my chakras.

So she’s trying to bring the thing down to an end, and I said, “So, are they still here?” And she said, “Oh yeah, they’re here to witness the healing.” I said, “I want to do one more thing.” And then my dad bursts in, because my dad’s gone at this point. And so she said, “Your dad, he has a thing he wanted to tell you. He said it’s really important that you know this. And he said you need to know that when he was a little boy, he used to love the circus.” I was writing this book all with circus themes throughout. I had the manuscript in my computer bag next to me. I had never mentioned anything about it to her.

And then before we go into the healing, I asked her, “So, is Joe still here?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Ask him what is it that I saw in Squaw Valley?” And she, so she’s doing her pendulum and she’s talking to him and getting messages, and she says, “No, no, no. Don’t show me. Don’t show me. Tell me so I can relay it.” And so they start arguing and stuff. It’s like she’s arguing with this person she’s channeling. And he’s saying, “I can’t explain it in words! That’s his spiritual experience. And there’s no way you can understand his spiritual experience.” And she’s pressing him more for words and stuff, and one of the things he had said a couple times was, “Receive the message in the book you’ll receive.” OK, what do I do with that? And then it came up again. And she pressed him on that a little bit, and he drew a circle of energy. She said, “I’ve never seen this, but he drew this circle.” And she said, “I don’t know what that means.” But then he said again, “Receive the message in the book you’ll receive.”

So I went home. I slept through the night and then woke up about 4 o’clock, you know, lucid dream state, was encased in this like blanket of energy. But I started seeing these images. I wanted to stay in that state, so I closed my eyes, and I started seeing images flying by, and then they slow down and stop. And Cathy’s, she is like a sister from another life. She used to be the manager of the bookstore at the church. It was a picture of her just standing in the bookstore smiling with the stacks of books behind her. And then it stopped, and I woke up.

So I’m at the church, and Cathy is working in the bookstore. So I go, and tell her the whole story about everything, tell her about “you’ll receive the message in the book you’ll receive,” and I’m talking about all the family and all the pain in the family and finding these relatives, and the whole thing. And I mentioned… I said, “So let me know if that book appears.” And she said, “I know exactly what the book is.” So she went into the back room and came out with a book, and it’s called Remembering Wholeness. And she got this sly little smile on her face and said, “I’ve been holding this book in the back room for months. I keep forgetting to send it back to the publisher.” She said, “It came to us, and half of the book is bound upside down.” She said, “It’s contorted.”

And she went on to say, “There’s an exercise she does in the book where she has you draw a circle of energy in your imagination on the floor” I said, “Woah.” And she said the underlying message in the book is that there comes a time in people’s life, in some family’s life, some very broken families, there will be opportunities will arise where someone can step in and heal for themselves, for future generations, and also for the generations that came before. She said it’s a rare occurrence, but it sounds like that’s what happened.

So that was… But it was so cool, you know? And it’s just… It’s all very pedestrian. It just happens in my life. People sit down next to me in Starbucks or something and strike up a conversation. The next thing, we’re, God, we’re in another world. It’s like we’ve known each other. You know? That’s what lights me up. That’s what lights me up.

Episode 022 - Earthly Angels Bring Me Puzzle Pieces

Today we have Steve Birch, who is chock full of stories about sneaking into shows as a teenager and tracking down musicians at their hotels. He has been a musician, a producer, a songwriter, an author, and played many other roles on his journey through this world, and he shares a couple of those stories about the beautiful people who turned up in his life at the right time and in the right way to really make an impact on him. Here is my favorite quote, because it’s just what I need to hear at this point in my life, “That’s the key, moving in a direction but not being rigid about it, releasing expectations of the destination but move in the direction of where you think you want to go. And then that’s when the surprises happen. That’s when those doors swing open.”

My deep gratitude to Steve for spending the time and sharing himself and his experiences with me. I can’t wait to read his book.

My loving thanks to Flora Folgar for her help with the editing.

Music for this episode comes from Free Music Archive which, at the time of publication of this episode, has been acquired by Tribe of Noise and is not currently linkable. Our opening theme is “Start Again” by Monk Turner and Fascinoma. Other music that appears in this episode:

“Trio for Piano, Violin, and Viola” by Kevin MacLeod at 6:49

“Kelli’s Number” by U.S. Army Blues at 12:51

“The Edge of Nowhere” by Scott Holmes at 16:17

““Driven to Success” by Scott Holmes at 20:14

“Sweet Spot” by Scanglobe at 27:12

“Bells and Vibes” by Michael Brückner at 35:23

“I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside” by John H. Glover-Kind at 41:41

“Deep Dual Love” by Jared C. Balogh at 44:32

Here’s the transcript:

As a kid, I remember my earliest memory, my earliest really vivid memory is being in a basket under my mother’s grand piano in our living room. And she was like the president of the chamber music society, and she was always having chamber music rehearsals and everything. So I was in this basket, and I looked over to my right, and there were my mom’s bare feet working the pedals, and I could hear the dampers on the strings above me thunking on the strings, and I looked out, and there were the string musicians, like a cellist and a violist, in their folding chairs swaying with the music, and I could smell the resin from the bows.

So music was, it was just always there. It wasn’t, “Do you want to play an instrument?” It was, “Which instrument do you want to play?” So I picked up the flute. It looked like an easy thing to carry. And I liked the way it sounded. Because I saw these other kids lugging tubas and euphoniums and stuff around.

I was pretty resolved that I was going to be in the music business. I didn’t know how, but I was just so drawn to it. And at 13, I started working in this college radio station. They were in the midst of an inventory, and I asked how I could help, and they gave me a broom and put me to work doing things that no one wanted to do, just helping them with inventory and emptying the waste baskets and stuff. But that changed really quickly. If someone didn’t show up for their show, I was on the air, and before I knew it, I was doing radio shows and teaching the new college students coming in how to run the equipment.

And then when I got older, I got into junior high and high school, and I was not working at the radio station anymore, but I still wanted to meet all these people that were coming through town. First, I would cold call all the hotels in town and ask for their rooms. One of the people I wanted to get was Chick Corea when he was in town doing a concert, and so I called around and just asked for his room at the Hyatt or whatever hotel it was, and his manager picked up, and he figured out what this was. I was just a kid who wanted to meet Chick. He gave the phone to Chick, and so we talked for a minute, and he said, “So are you coming to the concert tonight?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well just, why don’t you just come backstage?” I said, “Ok.” 

It’s almost like these footprints were laid out in front of me, and I was just as nervous and scared and ill-prepared as I was, I just put one foot in front of the other.

And so I went to this concert, and when it was over, I went backstage, and there was just this crowd of people there, and they were all getting autographs and taking pictures, and people bringing him flowers and all kinds of things. I’m pressed against the back wall, and the people started to part, and he points at me and says, “Steve?” I say, “Yeah.” And he calls me in, so I go in the dressing room, and we sit on the backs of these folding chairs next to a fruit bowl, and we just, I started… He was so open with me, so giving. He just says, “So, what’s going on? I heard that you wanted to go to New York. What do you want to… Is there anything that you wanted to ask me about?” And we just had this probably half an hour conversation. Me and Chick Corea, in his dressing room, sitting on the backs of the folding chairs, and it was expanding my world to know that this person who I had been listening to and studying and admiring was just a guy, and he was accessible.

And you know, when it didn’t work, when I couldn’t reach them at a hotel, I’d call around, call everyone, and no one would have them staying, they’re probably under a different name or under someone else’s name, so what I would do in those cases is I would go to, the afternoon of the concert, I would go to the venue to the stage door, knowing that they would be off-loading equipment onto the stage from the trucks. And I walked up to the stage door, and there’s a stage manager there and everything, and just walked over and grabbed a mic stand off the back of the truck and walked it in and went back out, grabbed a little box of mic cords or something, and did that like 3 or 4 times, and then I was in. And it worked. It worked so many times. It worked time after time after time.

So that was my bridge from this small town in Michigan to getting up the nerve to say, “OK, yeah. I’m going to go and immerse myself in this world.” And so that’s what I did. L.A., when I was 20.

I was so ill-prepared. I had been there for maybe a week, and I decided, “OK, I have to go down to the Hollywood Musicians Union and see what this is all about, see if I can make some connections and stuff.” I remember, I went downstairs into the basement, and there was a big band rehearsal going on. They have the door open because it’s blazing hot down there, and they’re just doing this rehearsal, and there’s this guy with this tenor sax on a stand, and he’s just slumping in a chair smoking a pipe while this rehearsal is going on. And I’m listening. The band is kicking. And he takes his pipe and puts it on the music stand at one point and reaches over and picks up the sax and straps it on, and still laying back slumped in his chair just blew the most blazing sax solo I had ever heard, effortlessly. And I remember being just awestruck and defeated at the same time realizing that no, these were world class players. I had stepped into something that I was absolutely not prepared for.

But I was picking up whatever I could, and there just wasn’t any work. And it got to a point where I just had to make a living, just to be able to stay there and not move back to Michigan and lose face. You know? Because I was the one who got out.

Talk about transformational moments. Sometimes they’re nice and perfectly laid out, as if planned. And sometimes they’re trainwrecks. And this was my trainwreck, this was my bottom. I was driving a delivery vehicle in Skid Row and the Jewelry District and the Garment District, and just all over L.A., and I was doing a lot of drinking, and so I would drink to put myself to sleep at night, and I’d get up in the morning and take little white pills and stuff to get me going, sometimes like a handful. And drinking coffee and taking these pills. And I remember, I was in this frenetic state, and so I would rush through everything, and I was driving very recklessly and everything. I came around a corner and realized as I swung around the corner that there was like a shadow of a person in front of me, and I just brushed past them, and I looked over as they fell away from my truck. I could see this horror on their face, this terror. And I still see that face today. I will always see that face. And as I continued to drive, I looked in the rearview mirror, and he’s cursing me. He’s OK, and he was just one of the guys on Skid Row. You know? But in a way, he’s the guy who saved my life because almost running this guy over, almost killing this guy, was the thing that made me say, “I can’t. I can’t keep going like this.”

And so, I drove the truck to my therapist’s office and just sat in the waiting room until she would see me. And she came to see me, and I gave her the keys to the truck and said, “I’m done.” And that afternoon, I was checked into a hospital, and I was there for about 10 months. I was having suicidal feelings. I was having even homicidal feelings at times. I just had all this rage inside that was unresolved, and so I had to take that time. And fortunately, I had insurance that allowed me that time. I just stopped my life and said, “No, I have to fix this.” And I had this sense that, if I didn’t fix it, I wouldn’t be able to live out my purpose or even find what that purpose was.

And I had a boss who kept my job for all that time and in fact welcomed me back when I left. I was so blessed with just wonderful people. There were these angels that just kept appearing that were just wonderful. That’s a theme for me, is these angels who pop up. And sometimes it’s a very mystical thing, and other times it’s like that guy I almost killed. To me, in my memory, this is the guy who helped me turn that metaphorical corner in my life as I almost killed him turning the corner with the truck. And I imagine, in my musings I imagine, maybe I had the same effect on him. I don’t know.

I got back on my feet. And I was at this for a long time. I mean, I was getting my act together for the good part of a decade, and I got to a point where I was feeling really grounded and assessing my life and saying, you know, there were problems. Some of that stuff I did with music, I did for the wrong reasons and all that, but I still loved music, and there was still a big part of me that wanted to be there because those are my people. That is my tribe, you know?

So I decided I’m going to go for it again. And at that point in time, I was pretty clear that, yeah, it wasn’t going to be as a musician. I just wasn’t that good. So I decided that I still liked putting music together. I liked the studio aspect of it, putting the pieces of a song together and working with musicians. So I thought, yeah, OK, I could be like an engineer or producer or something. So I took a bunch of classes at Cal State L.A. and UCLA. And I met this guy, he was one of my teachers, he was a Record Production teacher, and he was a serious working musician. This guy was a monster player. And we hit it off, and he helped me put together my production demo so I could show my skills as a producer, and I decided, OK, now I need to find somewhere where I can work my way into the business and do this record producing thing. And again, I had no idea what I was doing, but I just went for it anyway. And I remembered that there was this guy who I had met a couple times in passing back in Kalamazoo.

So I figured, if I could get this tape to him, since he had become a producer, a really hot pop producer, then maybe there could be some work there. But I didn’t know how to reach him. But I knew he had a studio in San Francisco, and I knew he was from Kalamazoo. And I figured he’s gotta still have some family there. So I went back to my old childhood ways, my tricks, and started cold calling. 

So I called and called and called, and then I got his mother, and I said, “I’m going to be in San Francisco on business, and I was really hoping to connect while I was up there, but I don’t have any of his current contact information or anything.” And so she just assumed I was an old friend. She said, “Oh, baby, just a minute, let me get it.” So she gave me the address to his studio and the telephone number to the studio. So I drove up. I rented a car, booked a hotel room, spending all kinds of money I didn’t have. I was going to take this tape, I was going to get in that door somehow.

So I drove up there, found the studio, it was just around the corner from San Quentin, found a phone booth, and called the number. Now this guy, he was huge at the time, and he was just in this incredible zone as a producer. So I called him, and he had like 10 people working for him in the studio, but for some reason when I called, he picked up the phone. So I just went to work. I just started to talk my behind off. He said, “So where are you now? What are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’m just up the street in a phone booth.” He’s like, “Here? In San Rafael?” So he reluctantly asked me if I wanted to come down. I said, “Yeah, be there in a minute!”

So I drove down to the studio, and he met me at the door, and the first words out of his mouth as I was walking through the door, he said, “So what do you have for me?” So I reached in my pocket, and I hand him this cassette tape of my 3 little musical pieces, and he put it immediately into a boombox there in the lobby and listened to, oh, I don’t know, maybe 20, 25 seconds of it, turned it off, and handed it back to me. Oh man. OK. So is this how it’s all going to end? All this stuff, all the classes, all the studio time, all this stuff, he was my best bet to get in with a production team. And he was clearly not interested. He knew that I wasn’t up to their level.

But he was nice, and he said, “Hey, look, you want to come back and see what we’re doing?” So I followed him down this dark hallway to the control room, and there was this little guy hunched over a piano in one of the booths, and he walked over to that room. He slid the door open, and he stuck his head in and said to the guy inside, he says, “I want you to meet Steve. He’s from Kalamazoo. He’s a writer. You guys talk.” And then he turned to me, and he said, “This guy is the songwriter of the ‘90s. You guys need to work it out.” And then he left.

So we talk, these 2 socially awkward musical geeks trying to carry on a conversation, and it’s going nowhere. And so, in my head, I’m tallying up all the money I’ve spent and saying, well, I’m just going to have to write this whole thing off as an experience. And so I’m starting to say my goodbyes, and I get one foot out the door, literally, and he says, “So do you write lyrics?” I say, “Yeah.” I had never written a lyric in my life. So he reaches over to his desk and picks up this cassette tape, and he’s going, “I have these 3 songs. I need lyrics. I need these things done. I was like, “Cool.” So yeah, I took the cassette, I said, “So when do you need them?” And he said, “Tape rolls tomorrow at noon.”

So here I am, with the opportunity to write the first 3 songs of my life, and I have about 18 hours to do it. So I drove up and parked under a streetlight in front of an all-night diner so I could keep the coffee flowing, stay awake while I hammer out these songs. Now, I had no idea how to write a song. I never paid attention to lyrics because I was so into the music, but here I am being asked to write the lyrics to these songs. And they were completed songs. They were studio-quality with a la-la melody over the top and a song title. So I had to create these stories around a song title to match the melody. I didn’t know what to do, so I just went by the seat of my pants and said, “What would a writer do? How logically would they go about it?”

So I just wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote, until I fell asleep. Woke up the next morning. The lyrics are crumpled at my feet, and I pick them up, flatten them out. The sun is high in the sky, and I still have 2 verses to write. So I crank them out really quick and hit the road. I get there about 20 after 12. They’ve been there, they’re just waiting for me. The music is up on the monitors. The vocalist is all warmed up waiting in the vocal booth, and this writer is across the room nervously, I’m sure, imagining the extra money he’s going to have to pay for the studio time because he doesn’t have lyrics for these songs.

And he sees me walk through the door. “So you have it? Do you have it?” And I just raised up this legal pad, this crumpled legal pad with the lyrics, just cooler than I had any business being. And he rushed over and took it from me and read through the first one, then flipped the page real quick and started reading through the second song and started to slow down, and slowly turned the page and read the third and just sat there for a second and then turned to me and said, “Cool.” Walked out into the studio, put this pad on the music stand and taught this singer the melody to show her how the words would go with the song. So those 3 songs ended up being the first 3 of over 200 songs we wrote together. And that was what launched me into this career that consumed the next 10 or 15 years of my life. Never had I set my sights on being a lyricist. I’d never imagined that. But I found that it was the perfect thing for what I had been prepared for in life.

I set the intention, but when you set the intention, one of the tricks to that is that you can’t be rigid about it. You set your intention, and you release it to the universe to whatever is going to happen, whatever door swings open for you. I was on this journey to reawaken this childhood dream of being in the music business, and I thought I knew where I was going, but I didn’t. And that’s happened to me so many times in life that I’ve come to really trust it. That’s the key, moving in a direction but not being rigid about it, releasing expectations of the destination but move in the direction of where you think you want to go. And then that’s when the surprises happen. That’s when those doors swing open. 

I have to go back a little bit. My immediate family, my father and us kids, we were like black sheep in the family. We were really different. But it always bothered me that I didn’t know why we were so different. And then we had a grandfather who I did not connect with at all. He was this beloved doctor. He delivered me, and I never connected with him. 

When I was probably 16 years old, my dad pulled me aside and explained to me that my grandpa was not his birth father, that he was his stepfather and that my father had been adopted when his stepfather married my grandmother. It was apparently very serious for my dad. And “Don’t bring it up because it really upsets your grandmother” and all this subterfuge, all this stuff. It was apparently a chapter in her life that she just wanted to bury.  I knew that my dad was really, he was really wounded when his father left him. He was 9 years old. His dad left, and he was never heard from again.

But I wanted to help my dad find what happened to this guy, and I imagine from the way my grandmother tightened up and got angry whenever the subject would come up, I just assumed that this guy probably just died homeless under a bridge somewhere. But I continued to help my dad look. And his name was Joe Miller. We didn’t know what state he was in. But years into this, after helping my dad search every 5 years or so, I’m grown. And I’m on the phone with my brother, we’re having this conversation, and we’re finishing up the conversation, he said, “Oh yeah,” he said, “Did you hear about the circus picture?” It’s like, “Huh?” He said, “Yeah, yeah, there’s… Larry found a circus picture.” And Larry was a guy who was my parents’ best friend. He introduced them to each other and everything.

So what happened was, he was down in Florida, and he was going through a local yard sale. He came across a stack of New Yorker magazines for a nickel apiece, so he bought the whole stack to have something to read while he was down there. And he opens up one of these New Yorker magazines to see this picture, a class picture of the sideshow from the Barnum & Bailey Ringling Brothers Combined Circus. And there’s a guy down in the corner who my dad’s best friend said looked just like my dad looked when he met him in college. And he was doing a contortion that my dad used to do when he was in college. It’s like when they met, when these 2 guys met, my dad and his roommate, they’re getting to know each other, and my dad says, “Yeah, they tell me that my grandfather was a contortionist in the circus, and look, I can do some tricks too!” And he disjointed his shoulders and crossed his arms behind his head, with his arms sticking out straight the wrong way. And there’s this picture of this guy looking like my dad doing that same contortion in this picture from Madison Square Garden in 1929. It’s entitled “The Congress of Freaks.”

And I’m doing Google searches to try and find something. Boom, there’s a posting from a circus genealogy bulletin board where people are looking for their relatives from the circus. There are no responses to this posting that was posted like 6 years prior to my seeing it. It’s just sitting out there. And this woman is looking for, I think her great uncle Lan, or her uncle Lan, or something, who was double-jointed.

So I write to her, and it’s after midnight, and the house was totally asleep. And there’s this email from a woman who says, “I can’t believe it. Seems like every year at Christmas, another relative finds me.” She was in her early 70s. She had been a lifelong genealogist who had done the whole family tree, but it had run cold at her uncle Lan, my great grandfather, that leg of the tree.

So she writes this letter back to me, tells me what she knows, and I’m starting to close this thing down, and I notice that there’s an attachment to the email. So I open it back up, click on the attachment. It opens up, and there’s this picture, this sepia tone picture of a little boy, probably 4 years old, who looks exactly like I looked at that age. And written in calligraphy underneath the image, it says Master Joseph Dustin Miller. This was the first picture I ever saw of my grandfather, and I’m at this point, I’m well into my 40s when I see this for the first time.

It was one of these moments where everything became very surreal. It was very unreal feeling as I’m sitting there looking into the eyes of this child from generations before me. And I get a sense that my wife is coming down the stairs, and I call her name, and she doesn’t answer, and so I look up from the picture, and that’s when I saw the ancestors gathering, gathering like they would around a street performer, with little kids trying to see between legs and between people to see what’s going on as I’m reconnecting with this lost generation in my life. I mean, and it was filmy, and it was just light, but it was clearly people. And they were there for the moment.

So the next morning, I write to the woman. She writes right back, and she introduces me to a couple of people, and they introduce me to a couple people. And I’m doing more and more searches now that I know where he was.

He’d left in Prohibition Chicago. My grandfather, turns out, was an emcee in Vaudeville and burlesque, and he would tell corny jokes. It was like, he would take a piece of bread out, and he’d say, “Now I’m going to sing, ‘A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody’,” and he’d put it in his pocket. He’d come to the end of the song, he’d pull out a piece of toast. It was just really bad, corny Vaudeville stuff. This man who was a Vaudeville burlesque entertainer had had a knock down, drag out fight with my grandmother because he caught her with the grandfather I knew growing up. They had this fight, he disappeared, was never heard from again. Nearly 70 years, never heard from. And she would never help along the way, help us put it together.

So I break the code. The code is broken with this circus picture, you know? That’s the thing that lit me up to search again, and to search with passion. Things started falling into place like... you know, they talk about moving in the direction of your passion, and the universe will conspire to support you. I felt like I was riding a wave and like I was having all these, at the time I would refer to them as rolling epiphanies because it was like everyone I talked to, every turn, every email I received, there were all these people welcoming me to my connection to my family. People who knew my grandfather, people who loved my grandfather.

So there’s all this stuff is emerging, and it’s all emerging, I’m telling you, from the moment I opened the picture in the email, to see that picture of my grandfather, that little 4-year-old boy, to 5 weeks later, I’ve met all these people. And all these people come together to celebrate what would’ve been his hundredth birthday, and I was the guest of honor. All these mystical experiences started coming at me. It was this season of awakening for me that changed everything.

But I learned through this experience and connecting with these aunts and uncles that had no idea that I existed or my dad existed. I was able to bring them all together and find a place for healing those wounds, for reconciliation, for reconnection. And ultimately, I believe, to heal those wounds for those who had long past. There was so much damage through the generations, so much disconnection, so much pain that it needed to be healed. It needed to be healed for all those who are living today who struggled with their strained relationships with their father, you know, this man who abandoned my father, and for all the generations to come.

And that happened very miraculously. It just… It just happened. It fell in my lap, the one person who was best equipped, because it meant so much to me to solve the mysteries for my dad. And also because I was the one who was, who had become now a wordsmith, through my lyric writing and all of that. So I didn’t know how to write a book, but I knew enough to get a start and imagine what a writer would do, just like I did with the lyrics. And so I started doing it, and more things started coming, and I started getting visited by Spirit and by earthly angels who had a piece of the puzzle to bring to me.

And so I’m taking pieces of that, stringing all those experiences together, those things I didn’t feel like I was worthy enough to tackle. Who am I to say I’m a writer, or to suggest that I had anything worthwhile to hear? But I’m at the point now where I’ve had so many experiences and learned so much in life and feel like I’ve been gifted so much that now I’m compelled to get to that place where I can share it, share it out.

But it was so cool, you know? And it’s just… It’s all very pedestrian. It just happens in my life. None of this is sacred. I like to have fun with it all. I don’t take myself that seriously. I’ll tell you, when I hit 50, that’s when I decided that I was going to be honest and speak my mind, and when I hit 60, that’s when I decided I was, if I’m going to share myself, I’m going to share my heart. And I’m not going to do it halfway. I’m going to do the damn thing. You know? My wife says that. Whenever she sees me backing away from something or being cautious, she says, “Just do the damn thing.”

Episode 019 - Nothing Out Here Can Stop Me

Today we have a conversation with Brandon Foster, a coworker of mine. Brandon’s has a charisma and energy that I really like and admire. Despite everything he has been and continues to go through, he keeps a positive attitude and a focus on growth. As he says, he’s always grinding. Thanks for taking the time, Brandon.

As always, please rate and review us in iTunes, and if you have a story you’d like to share with us or you’d like to be interviewed about a transformative experience in you life, let us know! i’m at

Our theme song is “Start Again” by Monk Turner + Fascinoma.

Other music used in this episode:

4:14: “Far From Home (and feeling bad)” by Squire Tuck

8:01: “Home at Last” by John Bartmann

17:47: “Get Out” by Jahzzar

24:55: “Get Out of Dodge” by Frenic

32:38: “Roaming the Streets at Night” by Daniel Birch

35:08: “Back Up The Truck Jam” by Podington Bear

39:45: “Homebound” by Audiobinger

Here’s the transcript:

Rod: So where did you come from? How did you get to Austin?

Brandon: I moved to Austin 6 years ago. Unfortunately, the police of Buffalo, New York killed my father, and my uncle came for the funeral of his brother’s death. We sat for the couple of days that he was there, and we vibed, and we had a chance to talk and everything, and he told me about opportunities out here. So, while I was back home in Buffalo, New York, surviving, I had a chance to get online and look for jobs out here. So the first job that offered me an opportunity to come out here, I explained to them that I had tattoos on my face; would that prevent me from getting a job? And they told me no, no problem, come on in. So I winded up calling my uncle, down, calling him, and let him know that I had got a job offer sooner than what we planned for. So he brought me down here. It was all because of my uncle. I stayed with my uncle for the first 6 months when I moved down here, and by me having the mentality that I have, I was already in the “grind and go get it” mode, be on my own, so within 6 months, I kind of was looking for a place, and he was helping me look for a place. So we found a place, and he helped me co-sign the first lease. He helped pay the rent for the first 2 months, so I was rent-free for the first 2 months. I had to get on my grind and do what I do to keep myself out here, unless I would’ve been back on a plane going home. So here I am. If it wasn’t for my father passing, would I be here? Would I not be here? You know, that’s the question I ask myself.

Rod: Do you want to talk about what happened to your dad?

Brandon: My father, the night before he was in jail, me and my father was together. And he wanted me to go out to the club with him and hang out. My dad was a bar owner. He owned a couple different bars, and that particular night, I didn’t want to hang out, so I winded up going back home. And the following morning, I get a phone call from my grandmother saying my father killed himself. My dad was tied up to a pole on his knees by his t-shirt. And Buffalo, New York, the Erie County facility, you have to do your rounds every 15 minutes to check on the inmates. And it took them 45 minutes to do CPR on my dad.

Rod: Were you living with him at the time?

Brandon: No, I wasn’t. I never lived with my dad. I was always with my mother. Him and my mother had always had their differences, so we’d always go to my dad’s house on the weekends.

Rod: How old were you?

Brandon: When he passed away? I was 23. So they did the 45 minutes CPR and brought him back to life, but he was basically like a vegetable. The hardest thing was sitting at the table with nothing but doctors, and my mother, and my uncle, and all eyes on me. They wanted… I’m the one that has to answer the question of pull the plug or not on my father. And it’s like, do I let him live? Look at him, like he is? Or just let him go? So at the age of 23, that was the most hardest thing for me.

Since I’ve been here, I lost my father. I lost my brother. I lost my sister. I lost my niece. My niece hung herself 2 years ago. She was found in the closet by her mother. When I got that phone call, it was very crazy, very crazy phone call.

After my niece, I buried my other brother. So I lost about 6 people since I’ve been here, in the past 6 years. It’s hard being away because it’s like when you get certain phone calls, and people need help, and you can’t do nothing because you’re so many miles away, and it’s like, what do you do? What do you do? And you try to make phone calls to other people to see if they can get to the situation and handle it for you. I just really hate getting phone calls and not knowing if it’s good or bad or not. In the past 6 years, no matter, I tell myself now, no matter what phone call I get, early morning, I’m always going to think bad, always going to think it’s something bad happening because it’s been going on for the past 6 years, and that’s what haunts me. No matter what, 2 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning, if my phone is ringing, I’m always jumping up thinking something bad is happening back home. It’s crazy that I feel like that, but I do. So I don’t necessarily miss home. There’s nothing there. I miss my family, that’s it. If I could bring them all down, then I feel like I did my job. They still surviving. I’m living.

Rod: Are you the baby?

Brandon: No, I’m the middle child, so I have my oldest brother. He was 32. He passed away, he just turned 33. So he was back home at a club, and a fight led from inside the club, and it led to outside the club. A couple guys left; they came back, and they shot the bar up, and my brother winded up getting hit by a stray bullet in his head, and one in his neck. That was hard as well, getting that phone call at 3 in the morning.

So my sister, I say it’s my sister because my brother’s wife, so my sister-in-law if you want to technically say it like that. So she passed away first, and a couple years, two years later, he passed away. She died at the age of 29. She was fighting cancer all her life. She had her foot amputated at a young age, so all her life, she was going back and forth to the hospital, just treatments and treatments. And it was falling to a point where she knew that she was going to be taking her last breath in a couple months. So we just basically prepared ourselves for it, because she knew that, we knew that she was in those stages. So, you know, you got to prepare. You’re just hoping for the best, but you’re prepared for the worst. It was sad, but I was prepared for it. That’s all I can do.

My second oldest brother was 31, or 30, when he passed away. He was in jail for 25 years to life, and he did 15 before the cancer got the best of him. He was facing cancer for eight years and never told nobody until he was on his deathbed. That was an unexpected death, so that kind of hit hard.

Rod: Do you think him seeing her go through it was why he didn’t tell anybody? Like he didn’t want to put people through what…?

Brandon: Probably, but my brother always been a quiet person. He never really was into the social media kind of things, or he was never into the limelight, but at the same time, my brother spent most of his life in jail, in and out of jail, so he didn’t really have a chance to be on the streets of Buffalo, New York. Probably a year or two, he had a chance to be out, but my brother was in and out of jail his whole life at a young age, I mean literally. When he went to, when he was facing 25 years to life, he was young. He was about, I want to say almost 18, 19 himself. He died in the hospital of cancer, stage 4 cancer, some kind of skin cancer. It was hard. It was hard.

And my little brother is 28. He’s been incarcerated for the past 6 ½ years due to a robbery. He came home for 10 months, and he violated parole, so he’s back in jail now. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to come home, try to do something with his life.

I don’t talk about my problems, or anything like that, so I may tend to shed a tear or what not, but I’m OK. I can talk about it. I just don’t know who, you know, how people are going to take it. And it’s like the things that we talk about, it may be some things that people may not want to hear, or people may be scared, but I don’t want you to take that and make your perspective on that. Just look at me now. The things I’ve been through is what’s making me the man I am today. Every day, I’m trying to change, some way, somehow, shape or form. If that’s helping somebody else, then so be it. So I’m really open to whatever, it’s just how open are you to hear the things that you want to hear?

Rod: Do you ever get down, like “Why me? Why all of this in my family?” Do you get like, “That’s not fair?”

Brandon: I ask that every day. I’m not one of them guys that go to church every Sunday. I didn’t grow up in church. I believe in God, but I don’t believe you have to go to church to be surrounded by colorful windows and hear praises and everything to believe in the Man. So we have our talk. God gives his worst battles to his strongest soldiers. I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still going to go through things in life that’s going to be bad, worse, so I feel like if I can get through the things I’ve been through back home on the streets of Buffalo, New York, then nothing out here can stop me.

Rod: Is it strange to you, like getting older? Getting, like thinking about someday being older than they were? Like you’re the oldest now?

Brandon: Yeah, I’m the oldest now, living. So it’s just me and my little brother left. That’s why I work hard every day and try to better myself, so that way, I could try to get him down here with me.

Rod: That gives you a sort of sense of responsibility being the oldest one now?

Brandon: Yeah, definitely a responsibility. I was always the… not say always, but I was more of always the caretaker, like taking care of everybody back home when I was home. So now it’s like even more hard trying to take care of everybody being so far away. I just try to take it one day at a time and stay focused. I just grind hard every day, trying to come up with a master plan to figure out how can I make more money a positive way.

So it’s just a blessing to be here, having opportunities to sit right here with you and have this conversation, and people get a chance to see a different side of Brandon, not knowing the B Boy. That’s my nickname, B Boy. But I kind of stopped calling myself that because I don’t consider myself B Boy no more. B Boy was somebody who was in the streets heavy, who did a lot of activity that wasn’t right. As I get older, I’m just realizing that that’s not my name, and I don’t want to carry that on no more, so when people would call me that, I’d tell them, “Don’t call me that, because that’s not me.”

Everything happens for a reason, but it’s all about timing. Anything lost can be found again except for time wasted. So I try not to waste time on things that don’t benefit me or what I’m trying to do.

Rod: That’s why you left?

Brandon: I left because I just had a, you know, I had the opportunity to get a better chance at life and to just stop doing the things I was doing and living the lifestyle I was living. I didn’t have a pretty good childhood growing up. My father was around, but he didn’t teach me how to ride a bike. I didn’t learn how to play basketball. I didn’t learn how to do fatherly things with their son. Like when I went to my dad’s house on the weekends, I learned about different kinds of drugs and things that kids shouldn’t learn at a young age.

Rod: When your uncle talked about you coming here, were you already looking to get out, or that hadn’t even occurred to you, or…?

Brandon: Before my uncle talking to me, no, I wasn’t looking to get out. I was, I had a job. I was working for a private security company, and we traveled throughout the United States, so the job can last for a day, it can last for six months, it can last for a year. And we did things such as fire disasters, rural response, strike work, you know, things like that. So I was doing that on and off for like a year or two before I had the opportunity to come out here.

Rod: Wow. My brother worked, when he was in his early 20s, he did clean up after fires and all that kind of stuff. He said that was a horrible job.

Brandon: It was, but you get paid good money, though. I was loving it. I was young. I don’t have no kids now, I didn’t have no kids then. So it was an opportunity to see other things, even though I was stuck in the streets of Buffalo, New York. I had an opportunity to get out and see different things. I wasn’t really fully developed as far as trying to get out what I was in, but it did give me a chance to open my eyes up a little bit more. But at that time, I still wasn’t fully ready to just switch my whole life around.

I mean, I always had goals. I always wanted to be my own contractor, but I never really took the steps in going to that direction. But I’d love to remodel houses and do construction and landscaping and things like that. That was always my goal was to be my own contractor. I’m different in ways of not doing the things I used to do. I don’t hang around the same crowd of friends that I used to have. The friends I have now are amazing. They’re all doing something positive in their life.

My job gave me an opportunity to go on a business trip, and on that business trip, there was over 65 people in that conference, and there was only two black people. And I was the youngest one. And when I went there, I went there with the perception of, how was I going to be able to uphold conversation with some of these big people in high positions? I didn’t really have the qualifications, or it felt like I didn’t meet the criteria to be at this conference. So for the week that I was preparing myself, I was really trying to figure out, was I going to be able to handle it? And when that time came, all I can do is just be myself. So that’s what I did, and within those 72 hours, I took notes. I asked questions. I was being proactive. And a couple of different big people in high positions pulled me to the side, and they didn’t have to do that. So when they pulled me to the side, they’re talking to me about different things in life, and goals, where I want to be, where do I see myself. And it really dawned on me when I got back to my bed, and I asked myself, “Well, Brandon, what do you really want in life? Where do you see yourself?” And the only thing that’s really holding me back is myself, because I’m a young black man with a tattoo on my face. I have no felonies, by the grace of God, or anything like that, so really, it’s really me that’s holding me back. So I said, “You know what, Brandon? You’ve been here for six years. You’ve been closing chapters of your life since you’ve been here. You need to take this step and close this one.” So I just got online one day and looked up Eraser Clinic, and I gave them a call. And I’m taking my steps on getting my tattoo laser removed from my face. So going to that conference really gave me a different perspective on life. So I have 12 treatments altogether. They do my treatments every 6 to 8 weeks to give it time to heal. But hopefully by the end of next year, March, it’ll be completely gone. So it’ll be a whole new Brandon.

Rod: Were you afraid at that conference that that tattoo was shaping how people saw you? Do you think it did?

Brandon: Honestly, yes. I was afraid that people was going to judge me. You know, they say, “Never judge a book by its cover.” But there’s also a saying, “There’s no second chance at a first impression.” So I was going there being myself, but at the same time trying to be distanced because I didn’t want nobody to just stare and look and say, “What is that?” And you know, people asked me. They did. “What is that? What is that?” I tell them, “Everything is for a reason. Some things are just not meant to be talked about.” So I left it as that. And you know, people, at the end of the day, they loved me because I was being myself. I was being very talkative, and I was going around just being proactive and being in the mix of everybody and asking questions and talking and mingling and being very open with everyone. And so when I got back, and I called that tattoo laser removal, I just was ready. I was more eager then than I was last year or four months ago, prior to the conference. Before the conference, I wasn’t even ready to remove it. So within those three days of me being there, it just really gave me a whole outlook on life and said that there is more. You can do more. You can achieve more. The only thing holding you back is yourself, so I’m taking that next step, trying to close that chapter and elevate.

Rod: You having any feelings about it? Like you feel like you’re betraying who you used to be, or betraying people you used to know, or…?

Brandon: Not necessarily. Not at all. At the end of the day, it’s still with me. I know that. But I don’t have to show it, people don’t have to have a second judgement on me, or just figure out what does that mean? Because there’s been times I done walked into places and instead of getting a hello, I’m getting a what does that mean? What does that tattoo mean on your face? I mean literally, the first thing that’s coming out of people’s mouths, so I just don’t want that no more, for them or for myself. I was 17 when I got it. I wasn’t expecting to live, so I really didn’t care about it. I didn’t really care about the consequences. I didn’t care about what people say. I didn’t care about what people anything. I didn’t care about nothing. So now that I’ve had this opportunity to be out here, it’s all about growth. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Just grow day by day, some way, somehow, and I’m taking the steps with that.

Rod: What’s the chapter that you were closing? What does the tattoo represent to you? Like why did you get it?

Brandon: I was young when I got this tattoo. I was about 17. I wasn’t expecting to live past 21 the way I was going. I used to be in a gang. I used to sell drugs. I used to do the whole 9. That’s the way I was going, dead or in jail. I dropped out at 9th grade. I got my GED. And I wasn’t expecting to live past 21, so I didn’t care about nothing. I did some things in my life that I wasn’t, I’m not proud of, but when you come from where I come from, you have no choice but to do what you have to do to survive. So I managed to still get through it, and by the grace of God, I’m still here. Some people don’t get a chance to make it, to see 30. So I’ve done some things in my life that made me who I am now. I’m not the best, but I am a better man I am today than I was six years ago.

Rod: You talk about closing that chapter by having the tattoo removed. What are you taking with you from that chapter, from those days? What are the good things that came out of that that you still carry with you as part of yourself today?

Brandon: It just gives me a chance to look back and say, “Damn. If I can make it, and these young guys made it through the things that they’ve been through, then we all can make it. We all can make it. So just the fact that I can get on social media and look at some of the guys and see them doing positive things in the Air Force and meeting counselors and different lawyers and senates for the New York State, it just gave me a different outlook, like there’s more to it. So I say, “You know what, Brandon? You need to go ahead and close it.” I wasn’t ready then. I wasn’t ready.

Rod: What do you think are your strengths, like the characteristics that are part of who you are that are going to help carry you where you want to go in the world?

Brandon: I want to say everything I’ve been through is my strength. I still go through things to this day. For six years, I’ve been getting phone calls every morning, and it’s always been something bad. Someone has died. So I think that is what scars me, is going to scar me for the rest of my life, getting those early morning phone calls. But at the same time, it’s motivation, because it gets me up to knowing that I have to strive and grind every day to make it better for myself. Having my father in my ear and my brothers on my back. Knowing that I got nieces and nephews to take care of, and a mother to take care of. Knowing that I have a little brother that’s incarcerated that needs to come home one day. Hopefully I can get him a chance to come out here and make a better life for him as well.

I was always born to be a leader, so I kind of take that and try to mold it into my work ethic, and grind hard, and show them that just because I have this tattoo on my face, don’t judge me by that. Let my work ethic speak for itself. I love to work. I’ve always been a working man, no matter how much I was in the streets back home. I always kept a job for myself. It always just kept me going. I love to hustle. I love to work. I like to get my hands dirty. I don’t like just sitting around not doing nothing.

I’ve been through a lot. It makes me the man I am today. I come from a place where it’s a jealous city. It’s a bad place to grow up. There’s no good schooling for kids. There’s no opportunities for jobs out there. I mean, you can’t be doing good and let someone see you doing good, because instead of it being motivation for them, they want to go try to rob you, to take your stuff or what you have and what you’ve been working on. And it’s just sad. It really is sad.

Rod: You said you don’t have any kids, right?

Brandon: No, I just turned 30. No kids, no girlfriend, no wife. Nothing like that. I thought I would.

Rod: Is that important to you?

Brandon: It is important. I do want kids. I do want a wife. I want a family. I’ve been to more funerals than weddings. So I’m definitely not trying to go that route. I want to have kids. They can have different lives. They don’t have to go through the things I go through or deal with the things I deal with or seeing the things I’ve seen or anything like that. I want them to have normal lives, be a normal kid, do what kids do. Kid things. I want a son, so I can show him how to treat a lady by the way I treat his mother. I want a daughter, so I can know what she can look for in a man by the way I treat her mother. Until I have that, I’m just going to continue working and grinding hard and try to secure my bag, until that lady comes.

I don’t know. You know, when I was younger, I was always scared of rejection. I used to always thought I was the ugly fat kid, or being around my friends. So I would never talk to girls. I didn’t go to clubs when I was younger. I wasn’t doing the club scene. I wasn’t going to parties or different things like that, so I just really stayed to myself and my area.

Rod: You just talk to everybody. You’re not shy any more.

Brandon: Yeah, that’s why I am who I am now, because you just, you’re either going to get somewhere, or you’re not. You’re going to gain something, or you’re going to be back where you started. So that’s who I am now, very forward, just straight forward, just trying to get in and get somewhere. So I’m growing. That’s all I’m doing. Growing.

I like to get out and do different things, try different things. Being here in Austin, there’s all kind of things to do. You can do something every day. Where I come from, there was nothing to do. There’s nothing to think about but trying to live. But being out here, you can go… I go tubing. I go water rafting. I go jet skiing. I like to go to the mountains and go hiking. I want to go see the Inner Space caves out here, that they have out here. I like to do indoor skydiving. I’m down for adventures. I like being open to new things.

Rod: You seem like you’re good at making connections and making relationships. It’s always about who you know. It’s always about who you know, who you can help, who can help you, and I think you’ve got the skill.

Brandon: Yeah, you know, that’s crazy, because I was just telling somebody that last night. In this world nowadays, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As long you know the right man or woman in the position, you can get the things that you need to get done. I want to start getting more involved in it. I don’t have to just be secluded in my area. I want to be able to mingle and talk to different people. I used to work at nights when I first started there. I used to work night shift, 10pm to 6:30am, and being on nights, you don’t see nobody in the day, so nobody knows you. By working nights, when you have meetings in the daytime, and you got to go to these meetings, and everybody’s talking to everybody, but you’re stuck at a table with your group of night crew, and nobody’s not mingling to you. So when I had the opportunity to come on days, I made sure that I was going around to different departments, showing my face, talking to them and being open and just showing them I’m here. I made it. Don’t nobody know, didn’t know me or know my story or anything like that. I was just trying to get more open within the company myself, because by me being myself and going around and being proactive.

Just trying to stay positive with the things I’m doing, trying to stay with positive people in my life. So I’m just glad to be here, having an opportunity to come to Austin, Texas and open my doors to people if I can and show them that there is a better way. You know, my dad always told me, “If it’s going to make me mad, don’t do it.” So I still think about that. If it’s going to make him mad, I don’t do it, even though he’s deceased. So I carry that with me throughout my day to day basics or what I do and how I go about it. I’m just trying to better myself at every aspect that I can. Hopefully this will reach out to somebody young, old, who knows? Just get them a different perspective on life as well. There’s more to life than just doing the same thing that you’re used to doing.

Episode 010 - Deep Thoughts: Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Rod Haden

I keep coming back in my mind to WNYC's On the Media and their interview with Mohamedou Ould Slahi. I haven't read his book yet, but I will. Maybe it will answer the question I have. I don't know what he went through, or how long and how much work it took for him to get to where he is now, but I wonder: how can he not blame? How can he not hate? What was done to him was unforgivable, yet he forgives.

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!


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.