As individual as fingerprints, the words and gestures people use make up part of their portrait.  People don't often realize what phrases they are known by family and friends to say regularly.  To hear  that one's words are memorable can be a treat.  My siblings and I compiled a list of our Dad's "Dad-isms" last year for Father's Day and below is a small sampling.  Even if you don't know my Dad, you can glean a little idea of what kind of person he is just by these few sentences, which he often delivers with his teasing half-smile.

     Who's gonna have fun, gonna have fun, gonna have fun?  We're gonna have fun, gonna have 
     fun, gonna have fun!  Who's gonna have fun?  We're gonna have fun!  Alright!

     It's not what you know, it's not who you know, it's who your Dad knows.

     Nothing is too good for us Burnses.

     What's the worst thing that could happen?

     It is always good to refresh your wardrobe.

     How about writing a pro and con list to help you make a decision?

     Everyone needs something to believe in, I believe I'll have another beer.

     I think we should go to bed so these nice people can leave.

     Let me give you a round [gesturing] of applause.

     You are going to grow up to be a genius.

Happy Father's Day Weekend and a special shout-out to my very own Dad, aka The Fun Master.  And for every father, I wanted to share this poem to take you back to that time when you were dreaming of meeting your child.  It's a good one.

Upon Seeing an Ultrasound Photo of an Unborn Child
Tadpole, it's not time yet to nag you about college (though I have some thoughts on that), baseball (ditto), or abstract principles. Enjoy your delicious, soupy womb-warmth, do some rolls and saults (it'll be too crowded soon), delight in your early dreams — which no one will attempt to analyze. For now: may your toes blossom, your fingers lengthen, your sexual organs grow (too soon to tell which yet) sensitive, your teeth form their buds in their forming jawbone, your already booming heart expand (literally now, metaphorically later); O your spine, eyebrows, nape, knees, fibulae, lungs, lips... But your soul, dear child: I don't see it here, when does that come in, whence? Perhaps God, and your mother, and even I — we'll all contribute and you'll learn yourself to coax it from wherever: your soul, which holds your bones together and lets you live on earth. — Fingerling, sidecar, nubbin, I'm waiting, it's me, Dad, I'm out here. You already know where Mom is. I'll see you more directly upon arrival. You'll recognize me — I'll be the tall-seeming, delighted blond guy, and I'll have your nose.
    ~Thomas Lux


Sentimental, in the Very Best Sense

My mother-in-law Jane is sentimental, in the very best sense of the word.  She and I have that in common, among other things, which is surely part of the reason her son fell in love with me.  Jane saved the outfit Christian wore when they brought him home from the hospital forty-some years ago along with the exquisite ivory knit Hudson Bay baby blanket and matching booties he was swaddled in.  Just before Xavier was born, she sent them to us to wrap up her grandson when he came home from the hospital, which we did.

She also saved Christian's teddy bear, in mint condition minus his voice, which she brought as a gift when she came to meet Xavier two weeks later.

We've just returned from visiting Jane in Toronto where she lives in the same condominium complex where she brought up her two children (she moved away once briefly but moved back as she missed the neighborhood).  She pulled out family photo albums where she looks as glamorous as ever in miniskirts while Christian toddles about in sailor suits in Hyde Park in London and Stanley Park in Vancouver.  She told stories of her father's pet lion, her pet tortoise Aldolphus, life at her convent school and the ship voyage when she emigrated to Canada from England as a young bride in the 60's.  I can't get enough of the stories and she has an amazing recall of dates and details.  She's promising a memoir.

Wanting to show me more of Ontario, Jane planned a weekend in the pretty and historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake with a stop at Niagara Falls.  She insisted on taking us to dinner at the superb Oban Inn, a place she'd dined with her parents in 1977, with Christian and his sister when they were younger and recently with her bachelor friend Colin, who shares her taste in theater, film and the arts.  The inn is an institution, so naturally she wanted to take her grandson to the same place to knit together the generations through more associations and good memories - and the food is still amazing.

She bought tickets for the Saturday opening night of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windemere's Fan" at the Shaw Festival for Christian and I to enjoy a rare date.  This was a lovely gift for us but really her ulterior motive was simply to have her grandson all to herself for a few hours.  We were happy to oblige.  The play was excellent and while the actors tossed many witticisms across the stage, this one struck a chord with me: 

     LORD DARLINGTON. What cynics you fellows are!

     CECIL GRAHAM. What is a cynic?

     LORD DARLINGTON. A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
     CECIL GRAHAM. And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd
     value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing.

We had a good chuckle as Oscar intended, but some of us know there is great sentimental value in certain everyday objects, family keepsakes and places which trigger happy memories.  I will always be sentimental about these treasures and stories from Jane.  And I will carefully and lovingly save the little dress, blanket and teddy bear for Xavier's future child.  Perhaps many years from now, we'll take him and his family to dine at the Oban Inn, and I'll send him off for an evening so I can play with my own grandchild.


Humanitarian Awards All Around

Anne, my best friend from my home town, was in Seattle recently and as we caught up over a glass of wine she reminded me of a conversation we'd had as teens about our futures.  Apparently I'd announced I would become a philanthropist.  I must have imagined glittering parties where I would hobnob with big-hearted celebrities while debating which auction item to buy for the good of the world.  Where or how I might come by my millions to donate was merely a detail.  I smile fondly at my young self but realize now how fortunate I was to have family "philanthropists" as role models.  My maternal grandfather was a volunteer fireman, my paternal grandfather was a fundraising powerhouse for school athletic programs, my mother has raised money with her PEO club (and countless other women’s groups) and my father has given time and money through his Rotary Club.  At my Catholic high school, all seniors had to choose a personal volunteer project for a class called Christian Service so I chose to walk dogs at the Humane Society, which ended up being a healthy dose of animal therapy for an angst-y teenager.

Fast forward a few years and guess what?  I have attended many charity auctions and black-tie fundraising galas but rather than accepting awards for my humanitarian largesse, I've usually been in the wings printing name badges, directing a parade of servers, making sure the speakers had water bottles and checking microphones.  And while these events can raise a lot of money, the truth is that glitzy fundraisers are a dime a dozen and are becoming passe.  The cost to put on those swanky events could instead be going directly to the cause itself.  PONCHO, the venerable Seattle institution which spent 50 years raising $35 million dollars to distribute to local arts organizations decided to close down recently as they realized the fundraising model is changing.  Donors want transparency to make sure their money is maximized.  With today's technology, grassroots fundraising is becoming more and more powerful as social networking and websites like Catapult spread the word, raise money and keep organizational costs down.

Better than spending time in stuffy conference centers with lukewarm dinners and cheap champagne, I now prefer community action fundraising events.  Yesterday I helped raise over $10,000 by walking 15 miles with the Seattle Ladies Underground Giving, affectionately know as the SLUGS.  The collaborative effort involved 25 women gathering $25 from 25 people to build a pre- and post-natal clinic in Malawi through Partners in Health.  Since becoming a mother myself and learning that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death for 15-19 year old women and adolescent girls in developing countries, maternal health is my banner cause.  The event raised a pile of money and we all enjoyed a sunny day out in Green Lake Park exercising with our families and friends.  Margaret Mead's words ring ever true:  "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Photo courtesy of Julie Myers

As he grows older, I want to teach my own son to be a caring and generous community supporter. I like the idea of giving a child $25 (or whatever amount is appropriate) and sitting down together each year to create a giving plan for causes that are important to him.  Perhaps he'll want to adopt an endangered animal, donate toys and clothes to a homeless shelter or serve dinner at a soup kitchen.  Everyone has different causes that tug on their heartstrings.

What causes do you care about deeply?  What charities make you pull out your pocketbook?  Not only money, but time and advocacy too are important drivers for changing the world.  It is possible that you may not even realize that you are a philanthropist.  If you volunteer at your child's school, buy Girl Scout Cookies or offer a dollar to the down-on-his-luck-veteran outside the grocery store, you too are a philanthropist.  Vigorous applause please as we hand out humanitarian awards all around.  My fellow SLUGS and all our supporters get an extra gold star.  Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place.