Archives For Family

A Brother’s Farewell

November 10, 2016 — 1 Comment

The plan is to have a Celebration of Life event for Matthew. Since I’m far away, the extended family is point for the arrangements. Hopefully, they do what’s right and respect the wishes of the entire family. Anything short of that dishonors Matt – as a former Marine, honor is fundamental to my worldview.  But I have to say I’m not encouraged by their efforts. So, as I’m sitting here, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be able to eulogize my brother, at least in the traditional sense.

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But I’m writing one anyway … warming up in the bullpen just in case I’m called in to deliver. If not, at least it will be out in the cosmos.

You see, there’s nothing else I can do for Matt other than share memories for those that loved him – or would have had they met him. In the scheme of my life, it is a very important job and I want to do it.

As I begin this, it’s been two weeks exactly since that dreadful bike ride in Ojai. The healing process has sputtered along, but I’ve been startled by those quiet and alone moments in my otherwise busy days. Matt crashes through the normalcy, I see his face, grief pours over me as if from a cloudburst, and I cry. And then the sorrow quickly retreats as though my subconscious – or God’s grace – yanks it back to spare me the pain. I’m left with red swollen eyes as a searing reminder that my brother is gone.

I remember 1991 when our mother died. The Steele boys managed to get through that first week dealing with her affairs, concerned friends and the logistics of death. We laughed, reminisced, cried, took pills, drank beer and playfully split up her treasures – not the material stuff like lamps and couches, but the cherished things in her life; family pictures, letters from Dad, her sons’ baby shoes and report cards, her silly tools, her favorite ice breaker. In fairness, the pill popping, beer drinking and wailing like a newborn may have been all me but those seven days were an absolute blur.

The brothers didn’t argue that week, but we might have been tempted when it came to the expense for Mom’s funeral. We were sitting around a conference table, the typecast funeral director mumbling something quasi consoling, he looked like Lurch, and he placed the invoice on the table. As an aside, for you young mortuary entrepreneurs, hire grief counselors that look like Hooters waitresses; you’ll have bodies stacked like books in the prep room as the bereaved jockey for facetime.  Continue Reading…

I have been asked to write the obituary for my younger brother Matthew. I just checked my bucket list and confirmed that this particular item was not in the top 42,000. But, I can’t punt this away. I have to do this for Matt.

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The usual obit methodology – or death notice to be precise – is a placement in the local newspaper, and we’ll do that. That will be the formal one. In that case, the writer is on a mission with limited time, a broken heart, pure motives and a checklist of obituary do’s and don’ts. One might be inclined to write a biography but buying a Tesla would be cheaper (death notices cost money).

But I think we also need an informal, unpretentious one. A similar mission but with a bit of a twist, and less constraint. One that mirrors Matthew’s personae and one he would encourage me to write.

And I might as well combine both here.

Matthew Raymond Steele, 59, died unexpectedly on October 22, 2016 while riding his cherished mountain bike near Ojai, California with a friend. Not far from his home in Ventura, he was able to spend his last moments experiencing two of his great passions, the splendor of nature and the exhilaration of working out.

Obit mistake #1 – Writing about the loss rather than writing about the deceased. Well, Miss Manners, your point is well taken but maybe we shouldn’t be so strict. Matt is absolutely my focus here but acknowledging our broken hearts is not just stating the obvious. I just wrote “MATTHEW…DIED…UNEXPECTEDLY.” Three words that are usually harmless but taken together are devastating. Continue Reading…

My brother Matthew is the handsome man in the middle – it was his wedding day. He’s younger than me so he’s my kid brother whether he likes it or not. Our oldest brother is Greg who would rather not be getting his picture taken.

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I once coerced Matt to get on a sled when he was six and dared him to make it to the bottom of the hill without falling off. Of course, the challenge lay in the path we had selected. We had pounded down the snow, created little snow banks to help maneuver in and around the minefield of trees, and it was definitely going to be a speedy run. He climbed on, looked at me, trusting as always, and away he went. A little dude in a puffy winter coat screaming down the hill.

He did a great job on the first turn, a real pro, probably a thirty degree change of direction to the left. I was really impressed as I ran and skidded after him to see how he would manage the next corner. Yep, you heard it right. Corner. I think it’s safe to say I did not do a good job in setting up the course. I was twelve for god’s sake! Ninety degrees to the right was a bit much – okay, impossible. But how did I know he would be breaking the land speed record as he hit that next turn.

So, since the laws of motion are what they are, he and the sled parted company. The sled did okay as it turned out, but my baby brother slammed into a rather large tree trunk. He was definitely airborne when he hit and as I got to him, his little burrhead exposed, his snow cap beanie ten feet away, he was holding his arm.

I told him he was fine, you can’t just walk away after a crash, you gotta stare that demon right in the face and get back on the horse. Even a pained six-year-old can roll his eyes at trite clichés, so back up the hill he trudged. Two hours later he’s wearing a cast.

Mom and Dad were not happy.

About fifteen or sixteen years ago, for no real reason that I can remember, we spent a weekend together. We went hiking and as the endorphins kicked in, Matthew asked me if I was proud of him, again trusting me in what I might say. I won’t share why he felt compelled to ask me that. But none of our lives are straight tranquil lines; events and choices – good and bad – that characterize the human experience always create a succession of peaks and valleys unique to every one of us.

Here’s what I didn’t say, but I should have.

Matthew, of all the people I’ve known in my life, no one has a more magnificent heart. A soul is our greatest treasure and God blessed you with a remarkable one. Unfortunately, like so many blessings – and you are a cherished one – they get lost in the fog of life, such as mine I’m disheartened to say. But please know that I’m not only proud of you, I’m in awe. You’re a very good man.

Lord help me. Our Matthew died today. No warning, he was mountain biking. His glorious heart gave out – mine is broken.

Mom and Dad, he’s yours now. He’s going to need all your comfort. Brother, I know you’re watching. We love you.

Dead Baby Talking

July 5, 2013 — 10 Comments

A poem. A song. A scream toward heaven. Anything, something. A way for me to communicate the sorrow and shame I feel for the monumental regret of my life.

Dear child, if only I could sacrifice the god of I to the God of Mercy who is blessedly with you, comforting you. To bring you back. On behalf of all those who killed innocence in the womb.

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You are my father and you abandoned me. Why?

“You weren’t important. I had other priorities. Hell, you weren’t even a ‘you’.”

But I am, you know. We all are. It’s undeniable.

“That, dear love, was an inconvenient truth that I couldn’t handle.”

I was inconvenient?

“You were responsibility, commitment, disruption, expensive, awkward, burdensome, enslaving. Unwanted things.”

And my mother felt the same way?

Silence.

Father?

“I don’t know what your mother was thinking. I’m only assuming. I barely knew her.”

I don’t understand.

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A Father’s Outrage

April 13, 2013 — 1 Comment

I’m still in the process of getting used to a new job, new city and new life. So my blogging life has slowed considerably. But I expect to be able to pick it up in earnest soon. I have so much to be thankful for and my gratitude is primarily directed toward God. As well as some folks who are in my prayers.

A friend of mine shared a letter with me that no doubt represents the concerns of many fathers. I’d like to share parts of it. His anguish is real and heartfelt but very well articulated. He’s clearly identified one of America’s many problems that are emblematic of our decline.

He wrote the letter to the president of USC.

I am a Trojan (BS Business ’86), a self-made entrepreneur, father of four children and a freedom loving American who employs 50 people in California and Arizona, who earned his way through USC on the way to earning an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In our polarized world of real-time politics streaming from every digital means, I could not help but to read the news story (see weblink below) concerning political science Professor Sragow from my alma mater.

On a busy day at the office where we are struggling to find productive investments in a slow growth economy in the least competitive State in the United States in order to provide opportunity for our teammates and positive returns for ourselves and our investors, I wish I had not read and heard what I did but I encourage you to do the same. My love of liberty, freedom of thought and expression and my heartfelt desire for my children to have the opportunity that I did to get a phenomenal education and become great citizens and independent thinkers motivates me to write to you today. What I heard from the mouth of a professor and a military veteran (for which I have great respect) was nothing short of stupefying and endemic of our no-holds-barred world of unchecked temerity, devoid of intellectual curiosity.

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The Heroes Among Us

February 6, 2013 — 2 Comments

reedThursday.

Great Mexican food, three darling little girls crawling over me like I was their favorite uncle, Chuck’s beautiful wife pulling out the stops to make me feel welcome–the unexpected benefits of being the new guy in the squadron. It was a memorable family night and I loved being included. I also wondered whether I would ever be so fortunate to find such happiness.

Chuck was Capt. Charles G. Reed and he and I were going to take two Harriers on a cross-country trip over the weekend. Standard fare, we’d log some instrument time, maybe play a bit over the desert–aerial combat maneuvering–and since we didn’t have to pay for gas, there was absolutely no downside.

Friday.

Chuck and I left Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, mid-afternoon. Destination? Miramar Naval Air Station Officer’s Club—the best Happy Hour on the planet. Beautiful San Diego. My request, by the way. Tom Cruise would eventually memorialize a typical Friday night in Top Gun. He got it mostly right but I never remember singing anything—too busy whispering ridiculous nothings to the famously abundant ladies. It was a target rich environment in the vernacular of fighter pilots.

Since we were going to depart Saturday morning for Las Vegas and then Seattle, we respectfully declined to drink to excess and just enjoyed ourselves as Marine pilots always do among a sea of star-struck Navy jocks.

Saturday.

We stopped at Nellis AFB in Nevada for gas and then headed for the environs of Seattle. Chuck had been a football player at the University of Washington and wanted to attend some big game. I had other designs. I had met a girl on an earlier trip and well, I was a heterosexual in my prime and my Cro-Magnon self had not yet succumbed to the mercy and love of our Lord.

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The Walk for Life is this weekend in San Francisco. In thinking about the holocaust of babies, I came across a picture of four doctors posing together at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival; Doctors LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella.

unbornThree out of the four seem to be having a nice time. They were the subjects of the documentary After Tiller. (Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider, was murdered in 2009.) The doctors were most likely standing on a red carpet, a place of honor. Dubious distinction I would suggest.

They are the only four physicians in the U.S. who perform third-trimester abortions.

Please take a moment and look at the faces in the picture. If you’re like me, a flood of thoughts and emotions will pour over mind and body. Clearly, they are dedicated. They know the personal risks. Is care or even love for their pregnant patient their overriding concern? Or something else? I don’t know these people but I would like to—so that we could talk. Individually would be best. I would listen with as much compassion as I could muster then I’d pray that the Holy Spirit guide me. So that I could convince them to stop.

Dr. Robinson, who worked with Dr. Tiller, said, “We learned at his knee. Kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect are the hallmarks of a good doctor-patient relationship.”

The irony of that statement doesn’t need my amplification.

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At the outset, foryourmarriage.org is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The website discusses dating, marriage, parenting and much more. The dating information, in particular, reminds me of how misguided my romantic modus operandi used to be. Need evidence? Think of the following as a Public Service Announcement on the folly of superficial romance.

DatingValentine’s Day will be here in a few weeks so I should probably start planning my annual no-date. It will take six seconds. Since I’m not taking myself to dinner or giving myself expensive gifts or writing myself a poem to be memorialized in the Cupidic hall of fame, not much to do.

You see, at the present time I’m flying solo. Apparently, I’ve been given some cooling off time in the romantic fridge. It also seems that I’m living in a figurative desert. Since I’m not being rained upon by romantic possibilities, an umbrella is the last thing I need. God, is all this your doing? Was I really that bad at love? Can I assume this respite won’t last forty years?

Where do I begin?

I’ve loved six women in my life (fortunately, it wasn’t at the same time). Ultimately, I was not the man they wanted me to be so we quietly parted ways. My life was privileged having known them but I was too stupid to know it.

Any one of them would have been a great wife and mother (although I will say that religion was rarely part of the conversation since I was an atheist). They were smart, giving, beautiful and fun. Some of the relationships lasted a short time but one lasted for more than a decade. Nevertheless, when the time came to commit, I couldn’t do it.

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