Obituary

Dad with Eric

James Kauffman, formerly of Dunedin (FL), Billerica (MA), and Altoona (PA), died on July 16th. He passed quietly with family at his side. Among those who remain behind to morn his loss: his wife Kathryn, his son John, his daughters Christine and Lisa, his sister Suzanne, a nephew Glenn, as well as four grandchildren. He takes with him his dry wit, an affinity for outdoor activities (bicycling, boating, etc) that you might not guess of someone who spent his life working indoors, and devotion to a woman he could not leave behind on a Massachusetts beach – more than fifty years ago. He was 78 years old.

Jim – as he was known to family and friends – earned degrees at Penn State University and Ohio State University, concluding with a master’s degree in Physics. He went on to work as an engineer for three different employers before he retired: Block Engineering, Honeywell, and Brunswick. However, he spent the bulk of his career at Honeywell, in Clearwater, FL.

Although he could be cagey about the specifics of his job (he once got into trouble for bringing his young son to the office on the weekend), he took pride in working on various projects over the years involving manned and unmanned spaceflight. Additionally, more than one creation bears his name at the U.S. Patent Office.

He rarely missed a week of Church at his long-time parish: Lutheran Church of the Palms (Palm Harbor, FL), held a number of offices on the governing council (including president), and seldom said no when asked to serve in any capacity.

Jim leaves this life much as he lived it. He spent much of his time savoring the quiet joy of a good book or taking the quiet satisfaction of solving puzzles – in many forms – both designed and spun from life’s exquisite chaos. Through it all, he always gave much more than he received.

A private memorial service will be held in the near future.

In lieu of flowers – in line with what his family believes would be his wishes – please consider either a gift to your local church or your local NPR Station.

James William Kauffman (1942 – 2021)

Dad slipped away quietly yesterday afternoon. Christy and I held his hands as he went.
He left with much more dignity than life afforded him in these last twelve months. His inability to find the right words for speech largely became an inability to speak. He went from walking to walker to wheelchair seemingly with haste. Six months ago he still fought the limitations which both grew in number and remained undefeated. He couldn’t tell us explicitly, but he seemed resigned… ready to go. So when an infection quickly began to overwhelm yesterday…

We let him.

There are moments when I find comfort in this. My mind tells me it was the right thing to do, but my heart feels pulped, and I struggle to accept I now live in a world that no longer has my father in it.

That’s Twenty-One!

Sorry to disappoint but this is not a gambling post.

This IS an open letter to my daughter on her birthday.

Why open? If I’m honest with myself, it’s mostly for selfish reasons. Bragging about a child is feels like bragging about yourself, regardless of how much (or little) you actually had to do with the outcome.

I’m going to say something that may sound like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not meant to be: you exceed expectations. THAT has as much to do with me as you. You see, if we switched places, I don’t think I’d be where you are. You may not believe it, but you’re more self-assured and self confident than I was at your age. I don’t tell you this enough, but I’m proud of how you’ve grow into yourself in college – setting goals and working towards them with resolve. I stumbled through majors like a lost hungry lion on LSD, in a field of red meat growing like wheat.

You’ve cultivated a network of college friends, acquaintances, and advisors to lean on when you need help. I wouldn’t have known the registrar’s office from a dentist’s office, if I hadn’t gone to college with 90% of my high school friends.

You’ve dealt with money shortages and the anxiety it brings, in addition to the challenges of a tough course of study, and excelled. I stopped going to a French class after only a week because I thought the professor was a dick. To be fair, I think I could have convinced a jury he deserved my scorn.

You have done these things. YOU. You’re yet another reason I’ve been extremely lucky in life. In the moment I didn’t always see things as easy, but with the benefit of hindsight I know they could have been much harder, and that’s because you were a good kid. You ARE a good person. Instinct (to some degree) leads us to love our children. We cherish you, our oldest child, because you have such a good heart.

Happy Birthday kid!

Love, Dad

Kuro is a cat

Have you seen a black cat around these parts? Have you heard me, Cheryl, or Adam mention the name Kuro? Well, I’ve burried the lede – but we got a cat.

Not very interesting, eh?

Maybe this part will pique your interest.

Our kids have been asking for a pet for years. Beth wanted one, and she never got one. Adam wanted one and we consistently told him he couldn’t have one. We had a good reason: Cheryl and I have a history of allergies… pet allergies.

So no pets.

Then Beth left home. I can’t speak for Cheryl, but I felt bad for Adam. Beth was his best friend. He’s got friends at school but no one close to home. And he’s shown a love of animals. He wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. I did too until I found out it was harder to get into vet school than medical school.

This summer Cheryl was around a lot of cats on vacation, and decided it might be something she could live with. I was around cats for most of my childhood, so I knew I could live with ‘em. What’s a little hay fever between loved ones?

So for Adam’s last birthday we threw him a curve. We hit him with a whopper of a surprise – something he wasn’t expecting. We got him his pet.

He named him Kuro.

Kuro is a cat.

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Happy Birthday!

Our oldest child turns 20 today. I’m tempted to get all reflective and tell you what this means to me. But you know what? It’s not about me so much anymore. She’s a strong, smart young woman. It’s gratifying to think I may have had a role in her growth but she’s been opening her own doors for a while now.

Have a Happy Birthday kid! You deserve it!

(Don’t mind the old man getting a little weepy over here)

Me and Beth

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Shared experience

As we were leaving the stadium last night, bouncing along with the jubilant chants of: It’s GREAT to BE a Florida GATOR, I bent over and said into Adam’s ear, “you could go to a hundred more games and not see another one like this one.”

He didn’t hear me. I couldn’t hear myself.

“WHAT?”

“I SAID,” now yelling into his ear, “YOU COULD GO TO A HUNDRED MORE GAMES AND NOT SEE ONE LIKE THIS.”

His big smile told me what I’ve known a time or two myself. So what? This is awesome right now! This almost eleven year old boy pumped his fist in the air, chanting along with the crowd in the tunnel leading out of the stadium.

It’s GREAT to BE a Florida GATOR!

I’m hours removed but the electricity of that moment still gives me chills. If the past is a guide, it will for a long time.

There are moments in life that seem hard-wired into your brain. Life’s current passes through and the moment is reborn – the sights, sounds, smells, feelings… even the monumental headache you had – it all comes rushing back. Yesterday evening might have been pretty normal for you, but I was having one of those rewiring moments.

Cheryl and I took Adam to see the Gators play Tennessee yesterday evening. For those of you who may not already know, it was a college football game.

Yes, I know. It seems a bit shallow to attribute so much meaning to a violent game. I generally accept that it is just a game, except when it’s not. When you’re there, you’re a small part of ninety thousand loosely connected souls, pooling their collective hope, fear, elation, and despair. My sense of connection to a place of unique significance in my life tangled among these shared emotions. Before the game we walked around campus, soaking in the game day atmosphere and memories. We walked down paths last walked when Cheryl and I were two kids newly in love, living on our own for the first time in our lives.

We watched the band warming up in groups by Turlington Hall and around the music building. We weaved around the tailgaters who had taken over campus. We did it as adults, all the more special because we were making new memories with our son.

The game was a classic. Down by what seemed like too many points at the end of three quarters, we thought about leaving. It had been a hot afternoon, thunderstorms looked to be heading our way, and I had that headache. But we stayed. We saw the Gators win by one as the clock expired. Hope grew from a string of unlikely plays and some good fortune. As low as the crowd was with about seven minutes left, it was electric the rest of the way. We flipped between hope, elation, disappointment, and back again (in those seven minutes) more times than I might in several months. I forgot about my headache for a little while.

When another desperation play on fourth and long turned into the go ahead score with a minute left, the crowd lost its mind like few times I can remember. Strangers yelled, high-fived technically high-tens (with two hands), and hugged. Jumping and screaming ourselves horse, Adam I and I turned to high-ten. We exchanged some skin on our palms several times until I remembered I’m twice as tall as Adam, and he might not appreciate the pile driving I was giving him sometime later. We hugged and jumped with the crowd, using free hands to keep slapping strangers around us in the mindless celebration. When UT missed the second of two long field goal tries by inches (the second only possible because UF called time out right before the first – much to the crowd’s dread), we did it all again.

It’s just a game, except when it’s not.

We were all still awake late last night. Adam and I made crowd noises at each other, stopped, and just grinned. Yep, the chills were still there. They may be for a long time. Doing it with my kid, treating him to the same (shared) experience made it a hundred times better.

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Moving Day

Today is a right of passage, as much for the parents as the child.

Beth is moving out today. I drove down from Gainesville last night and we’re moving Beth’s stuff out of the home we made at Christy and Mike’s big house in Orlando (my sister and brother-in-law), across town to her dorm on campus at UCF.

Jesus, is it THAT day already?

I have a number of colorful metaphors swirling around in my head, but this is a family web site so I’ll spare you. A number of cliches, tropes, and banal phrases accompany these metaphors, but they seem WAY more profound than they did even a day ago. I might have explored some of these feelings in this post, but I’m suddenly pressed for time. As Beth might say, “I’m, like, LITERALLY minutes away from needing to get ready to go.”

Alright, maybe just a couple, to sate appetite for schmaltz. My oldest child… for many years my only child… is striking out on her own today. She’s leaving the nest. The daily interactions with my child we can easily take for granted – morning and evening routines, etc – are at an end (for the foreseeable future). I will still have some impact/influence on her life, but in some ways my job is done. No, it will never be done. I’m not that naive. But it suddenly seems overwhelming – it seems there are so many ways in which we either did our jobs as parents or didn’t, and this is the beginning of our Final Exam. Will she be prepared or won’t she? Dear Lord, I hope we did enough.

I hope she’s ready.

I hope she’ll be happy.

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Waiting in the car line

I’ve been picking Adam up after school for the last six weeks, give or take a few days. Before that, Beth was picking him up when he got out. They both go to private schools, but Beth was only doing half days. Her school didn’t offer all of the classes she wanted/needed, so she got out early to take her remaining courses online. She had a car and her online courses were pretty flexible, so she could save us money by picking up Adam when he got out of school a little later. She was more than willing to make this sacrifice if there was a little something in it for her – like a car. (Yes, aftercare is that expensive.)

Beth started riding the train to school (which opened after we moved here) after the accident, so it meant Adam had to go to aftercare until I got off work.

If none of this sounds particularly interesting, that’s because it isn’t, but here’s where it gets fun.

I was picking up Adam the other day, and although he was standing right in front of me, they couldn’t find him. They weren’t physically looking for him, they were trying to find him in the books so I could sign him out.

“Why don’t I have Adam on my list?” One woman asked.

“Well, he came over from the car line and…” I stopped listening.

Me: “Adam, I’ve been picking you up for weeks now. You knew no one was coming right after school, so why would you wait in the car line?”

I was sure I was going to hear about someone picking on him in aftercare. I could feel it coming. I was ready to go through all of the emotions. I might have even turned towards the woman looking through her books, assuming they were giving her some cover for what she knew was coming too.

Adam (in a hushed tone): “Can I tell you in the car?”

Something was up. I knew it. I shrugged my shoulders, signed him out, and we left.

Me: “Okay, let me have it.”

Adam: “Well, I knew they were charging by the hour and I figured if I waited in the car line for thirty minutes every day it would save you and mom some money.”

You’ve been waiting in the car line every day?

“Yes.”

No is making you, are they?

“No, why would they?”

No one is picking on you in aftercare?

“No.”

You’re just waiting in line. Every day. Even though you know you don’t have to, because you chose to… to save money?

“Yes, why? Is that bad?”

No, I don’t think so. It’s just… unexpected.

So Adam is working the angles of fourth grade, to save a few bucks.

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The Call

The Call has many forms. There may be as many versions as there are people, but I suspect there are a lot of similarities.

Look at your life. Pick a spot where you are vulnerable, where life has you by the fucking balls. Pardon the colorful metaphor. Now imagine a phone ringing. That’s The Call – in your life. It’s a wily bastard. It changes as your life does, adapting to your weaknesses. For me it changed (again) when my daughter got her driver’s license. When I imagine it, it’s better when it starts with her voice, but my imagination can be a bastard too – so it’s not always much better.

I got The Call Thursday morning at work.

  • “Dad?“ she said with tears in her voice, ”I’VEBEENINANACCIDENTANDIDONTKNOWWHAT….”

  • Beth, stop. Take a breath and start over, but slower this time.

  • “I’ve been in accident and it was my fault and it was so bad and the car spun around and I thought there was enough room but there wasn’t and I’m so scared and it was so bad…”

You’re on dad.

Where to start? It’s easy and freaky hard at the same time, or it is for me. I wanted to know that she was o.k., but in situations like this time slows down. I’m listening to what she’s saying, processing how she’s saying it, and considering not only what I’m going to ask but how I should ask it. I want – NO – I NEED to know if she’s hurt. But at the same time I know she desperately needs something from me too. What I say and how I say it will be parsed in a similar way, though probably not as efficiently given her state of mind. Even a simple question will communicate how I feel. Am I concerned? Mad? Am I panicked, and if so does that mean she should be more worried than she already is? All of this is going through my mind in the span of her single, run-on sentence.

My heart is pounding but concern carves it’s way through my own panic, forcing a slow, measured tone: my loving, calm but concerned, father voice.

  • Beth. Beth. Elizabeth.
  • “Um, yeah?”

  • I just want to know if you’re o.k. Are you hurt?

  • “I think I’m o.k. but I’m scared because I’ve neverbeeninanaccidentbeforeandhaveyoubeenin….”

  • Beth. Beth. Has anyone called for help?

  • “Yes there’s a man here who saw it and he said he was calling and….”

  • Beth. Where are you? Can you tell me where you are?

  • “I was just trying to pull out from our street and I thought I had time but the cars were coming faster than I thought and I tried to stop and….”

  • O.K. Beth. You’re near the house?

  • “Yes. I was just trying to pull out….”

  • Listen to me Beth. I’m coming right now, o.k.? I’m going to be there soon. You know my office is pretty close right? I’m going to be there really soon. You’re not alone.

Fuck that calm crap. Fuck the bad neck. Fuck what anyone else thinks. I ran down the stairs, across the elevated walkway connecting my building to the parking garage, juked a few late arrivals walking the other way, jumped in my car, then took a quick moment to gather myself. I needed to drive there safely. I needed to actually get there.

When I did my eyes ignored everything about the scene, save one thing: my firstborn child, my only daughter, standing on the sidewalk. Looking at me. Crying. But most importantly: standing.

  • Are you o.k. Beth? Does anything hurt?
  • “Nothing hurts but I’m really scared dad.”

We hugged and I looked around, relieved. Her car was pointed in the wrong direction, 180 degrees from the right direction. The SUV that hit her was driving away, driven by the other driver’s spouse. The other driver, an adult, had a small entourage gathered around, twenty yards up the street. The officer on the scene seemed to be camped out with the other adults. Beth, a 17 year old kid, shoulders slumped with shame and shock, had stood alone on the sidewalk on this rainy, overcast morning. Waiting for someone, anyone, to stand with her. For her. Waiting for anything in the world to tilt her way, though fearing she didn’t deserve it, knowing the accident was ultimately her fault, and feeling overrun with guilt.

I knew it could have been much worse. No one seemed to be hurt. The other car was being driven away. But seeing my daughter there, alone, so vulnerable, the weight of the world on her shoulders and feeling as if it was leaning against her – it broke my heart.

I gently took her head in my hands.

  • Beth. Close your eyes and listen to me. Just listen to my voice. Only hear my voice. You are the only thing that matters to me. You didn’t hurt anyone. It was an accident. They happen all of the time. You made a mistake and I can tell you learned something from it. Everyone has accidents. You got to learn from one where no one was hurt.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • It was just a car.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • You’re just as special to me as you were two hours ago.
  • It can be replaced.
  • You can’t.
  • I love you.
  • This changes nothing that’s important to me.
  • I’m here with you.
  • I love you.

I want to protect my kids but I know I can’t protect them from everything. I know they shouldn’t always be protected from everything. Childhood is the opportunity to make mistakes in life when the stakes often aren’t so high, to learn by trial and error in a (somewhat) controlled environment.

But of course, we gradually and steadily lose that control as the years pass, until suddenly we realize we’ve lost it altogether – or perhaps was an allusion all along. It’s another one of those things I alluded to in my last post. You can read about it and think you understand. “Yeah, yeah. I get it.”

Then your hysterical child calls you in the morning, when you thought she was safely at school. In a single moment of carelessness, your gifted child pulled out into heavy morning traffic at the wrong moment, the collision spinning her car like a toy. You see the point of impact, the bent axel of the driver’s side front wheel forced back into the ruined transmission. You see the untouched, driver’s side door and you know: a couple of feet was the difference between her standing on the sidewalk crying… and not standing.

There’s nothing like standing there and realizing you didn’t get it at all, but you sure as fuck do now.

**Note: this post was approved for posting by Beth.

Beth Grows Up

The site lost something when the kids got older. When kids get into trouble as an infant, it’s much more amusing than when they’re a teen. Plus, somewhere in between they learn how to read, become aware of the world around them, and don’t find it amusing when they lose control of their own narrative.

I’m making an exception with this post because it’s really about me – and that’s not my ego talking. I’ve been ego impaired since a tragic incident early in my childhood.

Something hit me the other day.

F—! It hit me again! Agh! Damn it! Stop that!

Beth is graduating from High School this year.

I’ve know this for a long time… like some people know they’ll have kids one day. After your first is born (and sometime between the grand entrance and your first all-nighter on the first night home) it hits you. Your life is never going to be the same.

I can’t help but wonder if the same is true when they leave home (the first time). They’re born and BANG – you have a child. Twenty odd years of experience and conditioning, of taking care of yourself and worrying over your own life, (milage will vary) all of it is thrown out the window. Then they leave and BANG – you have a child out in the world. Eighteen years of experience and conditioning, of being responsible for the care and safety of a person in progress, much of it becomes obsolete. I wonder if you can really prepare for either one, or if they both sneak up and shatter your worldview in an instant.

It didn’t hit me when Beth started her senior year, took her SATs, or even when she got her first college acceptance letter. I knew there was no way in this lifetime any of us could pay for it – that or I was in some serious denial. It hit me when she got her second. It hit me again when she scheduled a tour of the campus, and once more when she left for it this morning with Cheryl.

Holy shit. She really is going to go.

Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna be fine. I’m the one you should worry about. One day soon she’s going to leave for college.

For better or worse, I’ll finally know what it’s like to have a child out in the world.

My loss will be your gain.

You’re welcome.