10 Things I Learned from My Dad

None of the doctors ever told me my Dad was dying. Not the surgeon at Maine Med who first went in to do the biopsy of the lung. Not the surgeon at Mass General who did the biopsy of a lymph node. Not the oncologist at Maine Cancer Care the first few chemo treatments, which were also the only ones I could attend thanks to COVID. None of them.

But they didn’t have to. Mesothelioma is hard to Google, because the search results are heavily polluted by law firms in search of riches from ignorant or irresponsible manufacturers, but you can get the gist. And the gist is that it’s not good.

Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor that is caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. How my father, who spent his career on Wall Street theoretically well removed from the material that used to be common in building materials, firefighting gear and the like ended up with these fibers in his lung is an open question. We’ll never know for sure, but the evidence strongly suggests that it’s a consequence of my father going back to work downtown shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Per WikiPedia:

As New York City’s World Trade Center collapsed following the September 11 attacks, Lower Manhattan was blanketed in a mixture of building debris and combustible materials. This complex mixture gave rise to the concern that thousands of residents and workers in the area would be exposed to known hazards in the air and in the dust, such as asbestos, lead, glass fibers, and pulverized concrete. More than 1,000 tons of asbestos are thought to have been released into the air following the buildings’ destruction.

As an aside, before someone mentions the 9/11 victims fund, he was aware of it. Given the limited pool of funds, however, this was a non-starter for him because he would never have been willing to take money away from the first responders or their families.

Anyway, my father’s commute for four decades had him walk off the Path trains into the Trade Center en route to the Exchange every day. I know this because I did it with him one summer. He was fortunate enough to be on vacation up here in Maine not just for the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 but for 9/11 as well. It would be as tragic as it would be ironic if he survived the attack in 2001 by not being there but the air he breathed when he returned to work ended up killing him twenty years later.

Pragmatist that he was, however, he’d have taken that trade.

It’s a similar trade, in fact, to the one he took when he was first diagnosed with cancer while at Harvard Business School in the early seventies. Cancer treatments were a little less sophisticated all those years ago, and to attack the cancer that he had the doctors irradiated large swaths of his body. Today, they can apparently target areas smaller than a dime. He was told that he had an 8% chance of dying within six weeks, and a 92% chance of living out most of the rest of a normal lifespan – albeit with some side effects.

Side effects that he accepted without complaint. His immune system went haywire, for one, and he developed allergies, the worst of which was poison ivy. If that so much as touched him, it was in his blood stream and off to the races. My childhood memories are always a little hazy, but I remember that. The side effects changed his hair color and density, and it left him permanently immuno-compromised. It’s weird when you’re a kid and your Dad’s mustache randomly grows in bright red.

Not that any of that mattered much: I don’t remember him missing a single day of work, ever.

For fifty years, the deal that he’d accepted was a good deal. Despite a few scares along the way, the cancer never came back until he noticed being short of breath and developed a chronic cough two years ago. Never one to visit a doctor unnecessarily, and probably for good reason given his history, he nevertheless went and ended up on the track that led to the diagnosis and the year that was 2020.

Christmas 2019 was a sad affair. My Dad had been diagnosed merely days before, and his weight loss left him gaunt and weary. When shown pictures of the dinner later, he replied with typical bleak humor, “shit, I look dead.” Still, we tried to take an optimistic tack with 2020. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about cancer today, it’s that your primary goal if they can’t cure you immediately is to buy time, because they might be able to in future.

So that is what my Dad set out to do. Always goal oriented, his assessment was that based on trajectory at the time, he was unlikely to make it until the Fourth of July. Thus his goal was to make it beyond that date. To that end, he promised his oncologist one thing: that as long as they would agree to treat him, he would show up. At times, this meant employing some gamesmanship, no stranger to the lifelong athlete. As he continued to bleed weight he couldn’t afford to lose, he slyly wore heavier and heavier shoes to his weigh-in’s so they wouldn’t remove him from treatment.

So intent was he on continuing treatment, in fact, that he literally broke himself out of the hospital to get the toxic substance injected into his body. He’d fallen and shattered his femur – in retrospect, likely due to the fact that his heart had begun to stop unpredictably due either to a bad valve, arrhythmia’s or both.

All in all in 2020, he dealt with the cancer, a bad valve in his heart, a congenital heart murmur gone rogue, five surgeries, and the broken leg. To add insult to injury, his access to the thing that made him most happy – his grandchildren, and to a lesser extent his children – was drawn down to a trickle thanks to the pandemic.

Insult, injury or otherwise, he fought to the last. Every time he seemed to take a hard won step forward, some new fresh hell would drop him back ten steps, or even twenty. But he was a fighter, and every time he got knocked down, he picked himself up off the mat and waded back in.

He died as a fighter, Monday morning. And despite the terminal prognosis, the cancer never won. His body may have ultimately failed him, but his spirit never did. It was his heart, or maybe his brain, it’s not clear which, that killed him. Not the cancer.

That terrible endurance was something I never wanted to learn from my Dad, but I did. He taught me many other things, some of which I wrote down in an admittedly lengthy letter to my then unborn daughter. Here are ten that I’ve thought about this week.

Have Priorities

My Dad grew up with very little. What wealth his family on one side had had at one point had largely petered out, and while his father always worked, you don’t become a minister for the money. Still, the family prioritized education, and so he went to Williams like his father and brother before him, and from there it was on to Harvard Business School. That provided him with access to jobs that featured, let’s just call it, high income potential. For the first time in his life, he had money. And but for his kids, that could have been his life.

Instead, he eventually came to a fork in the road. Down one path lay wealth and comfort; the other was precarious, stressful self-employment as an independent floor broker – the upside of which was predictable hours that allowed him to get home in time to coach my brother and I, first in soccer, later adding lacrosse in the spring.

Every family has different choices to make, and I can’t imagine the financial stress both of my parents bore. But I think I can speak for my brother when I say that I’m glad he chose us.

You Do What You Have To

When my Dad enlisted in the army, he and my mother were dirt poor and living in a trailer in Georgia. Every dollar, therefore, was precious. As a semi-related aside, if you get the chance, ask my Mom what it was like to work at a K-Mart in the deep south with a wicked Boston accent.

Anyway, after finding out that paratroopers got an extra pittance per month, my Dad signed up for jump school. The only problem with this transaction was that my Dad was terrified of heights. Every morning he had to jump, then, he’d get up and vomit because he was scared. But dollars were precious, so he got his wings.

Later, in business school, he had to go in regularly to get blasted with high doses of radiation. This had the intended effect of killing off the cancer and the unintended effect of giving him nearly full time nausea. He didn’t intend to miss class, however, so he merely requested a seat on the aisle so he could get to the bathroom quickly. All professors but one complied; the hold out required an appeal to the dean. He had no such impediments while competing in tennis tournaments during treatment, however; he’d merely vomit in between sets.

My Dad never really sat us down to talk about working through fear, sickness or injury. We just watched him.

Be Yourself

All the years my Dad worked on the various exchanges, he dressed – in general – as comfortably as the dress code permitted. He had nice suits and ties when they were needed, but his normal uniform was LL Bean chinos, a plain white shirt, his trading jacket and one of a couple of ties kept in his desk. That was who he was. My Dad paid no more attention to NYC fashion then he did to bars after work or coke in the bathrooms. His worst vice was coke, the soda.

It never occurred to me that this was in some way different or unique until I moved to New York City after college. Some friends had Armani suits and Gucci loafers. I was much more likely to be the one who kept us from getting into a bar because I was dressed like a 1930’s rail-riding hobo.

Like my Dad, for better or for worse, I knew who I was, and I never worried too much about what everyone else was up to.

Let Your Kids Be Who They Are

My Dad was an athlete all his life, and a very good one. Great, even. My brother and I grew up on stories of his freak athleticism, how he started on his college teams as a freshman, all of that. So naturally what I wanted more than anything else as a kid was to be like my Dad. But it was apparent pretty early that I was not going to be like my Dad.

I wasn’t a total loss on the field. I managed to start for teams in high school and college eventually, but particularly when I was a young kid and my height outpaced my coordination, I was a far cry from what my Dad might have reasonably expected of his progeny. Some, maybe most, former athlete Dads would have been embarassed by a kid like me. Others disappointed. Maybe both.

Whether I played well, and I usually didn’t as a kid, was not relevant to him. The only thing my Dad ever cared about was my effort. It could be five minutes of garbage time at the end of the game, and all my Dad asked was whether I had fun and tried my best. If I had done the best I could, he’d tell me how proud he was.

I used to take that for granted. Looking back, I wonder if it was ever hard for him to watch me struggle. If it was, he never showed it.

Help Those Less Fortunate

He never used the word, as far as I’m aware, but my Dad had an innate understanding of his privilege, his humble socioeconomic origins notwithstanding. He came by it honestly, to be fair. As my Mom tells the story, their engagement party in Michigan was an interesting event because in the days prior my Dad’s father had been publicly excoriated for supporting women’s access to birth control and his mother had been arrested in Detroit after being part of a non-violent sit-in to protest an urban renewal effort that, no surprise, was slated to replace low income housing.

When he returned to Williams after his military service, he and my Mom ran the ABC House in Williamstown, which brought inner city kids out to a different life in the Berkshires. One of the kids that lived with them, Ted Ferris, became a lifelong friend, and quarantined himself for two weeks to be able to visit my Dad in Maine from New York this fall.

He also believed in gender diversity within the workplace, and I can’t articulate that any better than the following snippet which was taken from an email I received from one of his former employees.

Your dad is one of the gruffest people I know but has the absolute best twinkle in his eye and biggest heart underneath the gruffness. I was living on my brother’s couch/floor for the first month in NYC and your dad continually was checking in on my apartment hunt and making sure I was doing ok in my transient state. No one else was doing that. I also loved what a big effort he made to hire women into a predominantly male industry and ensure we were all treated equally. Granted “equally” meant he treated us all like crap and made us haul waters from the main office blocks away down to the floor of the Amex, but to this day I’ll maintain that I was treated better at [REDACTED] than any other job I ever had in NYC. He made so many ridiculous jokes, but he always made sure we were in on the jokes instead of being the unaware butt of the joke. I always felt like part of the team / one of the guys / however you want to say it. It was just a great environment thanks to him, and a pretty unique situation for a 22 year old girl on a trading floor.

He used to talk to me about the importance of hiring people from different backgrounds when I was younger, and I didn’t fully appreciate its importance, or how unusual it was for an old white guy to appreciate it. I do now.

Principles Matter

My Dad was, first and foremost, a man of principle. He was rigidly, and at times, uncomfortably, honest. His moral code did not encompass shades of gray; for better and for worse, he was a man of black and white. There was right and there was wrong, and he never struggled much to tell one from another.

This was the moral compass that led him to enlist in the army. His number would probably have him drafted anyway, but his feeling was that if his country called him to serve, it was his duty to answer that call. Whether or not he approved of the Vietnam war was immaterial. He did not, he was simply of the opinion that it would not be appropriate for him to pick and choose when to serve.

This was also the moral compass that gave him a respect and appreciation for those who refused to serve. This is something he wrote almost a decade ago.

I recently heard from an old friend from grade school (in Switzerland). He attended Stanford and was in the ROTC program. Upon graduation, he turned down his commission as an Army Officer and refused to be drafted. He did not hide in Canada. Ultimately he was arrested and convicted as he should have been (later pardoned). He asked me if that was a problem for me. My answer was that he did what he believed in – very openly and suffered the consequences. I respect him for that.

In an era of fluid and ambiguous morals, my Dad was something of an anachronism. I don’t think I ever appreciated that enough.

You’re Not Better Than Anyone

My Dad was never a people person, exactly. My Mom, in fact, likes to say that my Dad was always better with children than adults, though arguably that’s more because he was so good with kids than deficient with adults. In any event, whatever his people skills, there is one thing my Dad positively excelled at, and that was extracting people’s life stories.

There’s a truism that everyone wants to talk about themselves. What my Dad wanted to talk about was the person he was talking to. Where were they from? Where did they go to school? What did they do for a living? How was business? You’d go to dinner and by the time the check came anyone at the table could have written a thousand page biography on the server.

This made for some very long dinners, and a lot of “Dad, you can’t ask that.” It also meant that my Dad stood out, and often connected with people in his life that no one had ever asked about.

I’ll never forget the time that I was attending a client analyst day held at the New York Stock Exchange. This being well after 9/11, security was high and thorough. After looking over my license, one of the guards looked up at me and said, “are you related to that Steve O’Grady?” After hearing that I was his son, he shouted down the line that I was “Steve O’Grady’s kid.” I got the most cursory of wand treatments, and they sent me on with “say hi to your Dad for us.” All because he’d taken the time to get to know the guards.

My Dad came from nothing, and whatever he became in the world, he never forgot that.

Focus on What You Have

Growing up, I don’t remember any of my friends’ parents going through a stereotypical mid-life crisis, but that’s also not really the kind of thing a parent would discuss with their kids. What I do know is that my Dad didn’t spend much if any time focused on what he didn’t have. Part of that might have been that he didn’t have the time to worry about that between working full time and coaching the rest of it. But my Dad was also someone who focused on what was in front of him, not what anyone else had.

When he got sick, we talked about the prior bouts with cancer, and his view was that at a minimum, science had bought him fifty years. If they couldn’t give him another ten or five or two, well, at least he’d banked the fifty.

We also talked about his classmates at the Officer’s Candidate School, the ones whose names are etched into the black granite of the Vietnam Memorial. He got to live his life, they did not.

Whatever else he was, my Dad was not an ungrateful man.

How You Measure Your Life

Best known for his work on the business theory of disruption, Clayton Christensen’s most significant insight might have come in terms of how one thinks about their life. This was his advice:

The only [metric] that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people.

If we accept this metric, my Dad’s life was a massively under-appreciated success.

Since he died, work has trickled out widely in spite of our best efforts to inform those closest to him personally. Here is a random sampling of quotes I’ve gotten from people who knew my Dad. Kids he coached, grown ups he hired, all of whom got the full, sarcastic Steve O’Grady experience.

I’m very sorry to hear about your Dad. Wanted to send my condolences to you and your family. He left me with great memories coaching us when we were kids.

Your dad was a big influence on me and I recall many of the valuable lessons he imparted as our coach growing up. He will be missed.

I actually heard about his passing from a…colleague…a little earlier today. He started a chain with about 15 of us who were all hired by Steve around the same time and the consensus is clear, he impacted all of us in such a positive way and really helped us all get our foot in the door with our first “real jobs”. I’m sure this has been a really hard week, but I hope you can take a little bit of comfort in knowing your dad was loved and respected by so many of us, and will not be forgotten.

I was so sorry to hear about your dad. I have great memories of him and his time with and impact on all of us.

I have fond memories of spending time with your father in our younger years and also later in life as we became “adults”. He loved and supported your brother and you, your interests and of course your Mom. Obviously, your Dad sometimes gave us all tough love. It makes me smile and laugh to think back on his firm and sometimes joking delivery. He will be missed.

I’m sure when word gets out more publicly, there will be many, many more of these, because if there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s that my Dad touched a great many lives. So many more than I ever understood.

My Dad was at heart a metrics person. I don’t think it ever occurred to him, however, to think about his life in terms to the raw number of lives he impacted. If he had, I think he would have been pleased at the numbers if eager to be dimissive of his actual impact.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

COVID has made things more complicated for everyone, but I managed to keep most of the impact at arm’s distance until May 20th. After he got sick, my Dad felt it was important to remain as active as he could, and to keep busy. On that particular day, his job was to get gas for the ride on mower. Late that morning I got a frantic call from my Mom telling me that my Dad had fallen and shattered his leg.

What we didn’t know at that time was that his heart had begun to stop irregularly, and he wasn’t lucky in his timing. Toppling over in the parking lot of a gas station, he’d annihilated his femur. It was bad enough that he passed out and fallen without an ability to break his fall, but he’d lost so much of his athletic muscle mass due to the disease that there was nothing to cushion the blow.

The ambulance came, and my Mom couldn’t ride with him. He got to the hospital and none of us could go see him. He went under the knife with no one by his side, and trying to piece together his condition by phone after the fact when he was on painkillers with no one there to advocate for him was a literal nightmare.

Right before he went under, one of the nurses asked him if we was scared. His reply might be the best summary of his life I can think of. He told her, “You’re going to put me out. I’ll hope to wake up, and we’ll go from there.”


There was no waking up this time, not for any lack of fight on his part. Now my family has to go on from here.

I miss you, Dad. Wherever you are, I hope they have the Coke made from the Mexican sugar cane.

My 2020 in Pictures

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but mostly it was the worst of times. The English language doesn’t really have vocabulary capable of articulating what it was like to live through 2020, and while pictures may be worth a thousand words the ones that follow won’t do it justice either. Historically awful and unprecedented is about the best I can do.

This year was bad enough, in fact, that I debated whether to abandon this traditional post entirely for a year.

But that idea didn’t sit well for several reasons. Most obviously, while this was a genuinely terrible year for me, my experience was a cake walk next to that of millions of Americans. Unlike actually essential workers, I was able to seamlessly transition to working from home full time. Unlike restaurant owners and staff, the impact on my industry was relatively light, and my employment was unaffected. And with a few notable exceptions, most of my friends, coworkers and loved ones were likewise not part of the 384,000 and counting Americans that lost their lives at least in part due to a complete and unmitigated failure on the part of the federal government to protect its citizens. What was a bad year for me, then, was a living hell for far too many.

Stupidly, not posting my annual year in pictures also felt like surrender, and a lack of gratitude for the few good – even great – things that happened to me this year. The more I thought about it, the more posting seemed mandatory rather than optional.

So here we are.

As always, these are the moments – significant or mostly not – that characterized my year personally. Blessedly, there’s basically no politics in here because I don’t have any images of that horror. Before we get to the pictures, however, a quick check-in on travel.

Travel

Normally this is the part where I mine openflights.org and TripIt for travel stats like miles flown, number of airports, etc that make me sad, lamenting both the time spent in flying metal tubes and the time away from my family. This year’s travel update is easy, because there was no travel. I have not been on an aircraft since December of 2019, which is very likely my longest stretch without a flight since high school.

I never left the country, obviously, and with the exception of a quick hop down to Boston in January, I never even left the state. I’ve spent the balance of the year hunkered down, rarely straying more than a twenty minute drive from home – and then only for curbside pickups. This unprecedented time at home, along with a growing kid, led to space issues that led to a move, but I’ll get to that.

The question for me, sitting here in January 2021, still under lockdown conditions, is what happens when we’re on the other side of the global pandemic. Do things snap back to normal? Or has my industry proven that travel is less necessity than luxury, and my time away is scaled way back from its one time heights.

As a Dad who cherishes doing bedtime with my kid every night, including our ritual of looking at shark pictures, I know what I hope for in that regard. I was not taught to blindly expect the best outcome, however, but to prepare for the worst. If I’m writing this a year from today, then, I’ll be very curious what I have to say about my travel and any return to normalcy.

The one trip I do want to make when it’s safe is out to Colorado. 2020 was the first year since 1993 that I didn’t see my best friend at least once. I hope not to repeat that.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 1

The year opened innocently enough with a day of good sledding.

January 12

Went to a local concert, which is hard to imagine now.

January 21

Man I had no idea.

January 23

It took some doing, but I snagged Pearl Jam tickets for Denver, and we planned a four day weekend out there for the family to go see the band with my best friend and his wife. This would have been Eleanor’s first time on a plane, and she was very excited for it.

Alas.

January 23

After the high of scoring Pearl Jam tickets it was off to the low of heading with my parents to my Dad’s first chemotherapy appointment (I have not been able to go with them since March). I haven’t talked about this publicly before, and I’ll save the details for another time, but 2020 has been a roller coaster for my poor father, who’s endured cancer, a badly shattered femur and a heart that began stopping for five to ten seconds at a time, not to mention a hospital stay in which none of us were allowed in to be with him or even see him and five surgeries – a record for him, as he pointed out.

Through it all, my parents have handled the situation exactly as anyone who knows my parents would expect: by focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, and by relying on each other. Before he went in for surgery on his leg, one of the nurses asked my Dad if he was scared to be going under with no family or friends around to lean on. He replied, “What good would that do? You’re going to put me out, I’ll hope to wake up and we’ll go from there.”

When chemo began, my Dad promised his oncologist that as long as they would treat him, he would show up no matter how terrible he felt. The average number of treatments most patients who have what he has can endure is a tick under four. My Dad had eight – and he had to break himself out of the hospital while in a wheelchair to get to one of those – before they transitioned him to his current regimen, which brings the total up to 22 and counting. All of which is not particularly surprising, of course, because this is the same man who, during his first bout with cancer fifty years ago, played in tennis tournaments and attended classes at Harvard Business School while having to vomit every twenty minutes from the massive doses of radiation that were the standard treatment at that time.

My Mom, meanwhile, took on her new role as caregiver with the same indomitable outlook and unflinching sense of responsibility that she inherited from her father. She pivoted from an active role on I’ve lost track of how many different local committees and boards to being a full time nurse, cook and patient advocate overnight. The next complaint I hear from her about this abrupt and unexpected turn her life took will be the first. When I talk to her every day, she’s cheerful, focused on what she controls and always more interested in hearing about what’s going on with our little family than in her own struggles.

These are the two toughest people I know.

If there is one thing I’m thankful for in 2020 it’s that my Dad was not taken away from me. My parents are, each in their own way, an inspiration and a standard that I will never live up to. Here’s hoping 2021 is kinder to the both of them than 2020 was.

February 21

Got out for a quiet birthday lunch at Slab. That’s not in the cards this year, but I look forward to the day when it’s possible again.

February 22

We had no idea at the time what a train wreck of a season the Red Sox, the sport and the country were about to have, but we enjoyed the first game of Spring Training anyway.

March 11

Things that had been gradually deteriorating in February finally fell apart during the second week of March. The suspension of the NBA season was perhaps the most shocking indication of how truly unprecedented the events were, but it was merely the beginning. Within a week lockdowns were spreading, we pulled Eleanor from daycare – permanently, as it turned out – and transitioned into bunker mode becoming part time schoolteachers in the process.

March 13

Shortages didn’t take long. It was probably four or five months before we could reliably get toilet paper, as but one example.

March 14

Having decided in late February to potentially list our house, we started preparing for a sale by getting a storage unit. We knew that the spread of the virus was a wildcard, but we thought at the time that it would be a couple of months at most.

Oops.

March 16

We pulled Eleanor out of daycare the Monday after the lockdowns began. Kate’s work schedule exploded given the unprecedented challenges the virus posed to higher education, so I was mostly on duty in those early days. I thought I was doing pretty well until discovering at the end of literally the first day that Eleanor had cut off huge hunks of her own hair.

March 18

Didn’t take long for everyday experiences like going to the dump to get weird.

March 19

As so many educational and non-profit organizations did, bless them, the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy spun up educational videos virtually overnight. A couple of days a week, then, Eleanor and I would watch virtual shark classes as part of general enrichment activities with her out of school.

March 20

With curbside experiences a little rough around the edges in the opening stages of the pandemic, buying beer in bulk became a no brainer. Credit to Maine Beer Company for running a great contactless setup.

March 21

As we pondered moving in the wake of the outbreak, one of the decisions we made was to upgrade from shitty old foam core doors to newer, solid core doors. The idea was that if we moved, they’d show better, and if we didn’t, they’d offer some noise reduction while we were all crammed into a small house for months on end. The doors were picked up curbside, of course.

And while I always endeavor not to get injured, it’s amazing how much more careful you can be on a project if you know going to the ER might mean getting infected with a potentially deadly pathogen.

March 21

In the face of a global pandemic, we all had to make adjustments. Zoom’s not the same as in person, but we made do.

March 25

At the first hint that masks might be an effective deterrent – long before they were officially approved as such – my Mom leveraged her skills with a sewing machine and launched into action making cloth masks for the entire oncology unit at Maine Med where my Dad was being treated.

Per a text from one of the doctors, the masks plus the giant batch of chocolate chip cookies she baked and brought to the office, “put a smile on the face of everyone in here, one that was needed.” Many of the nurses apparently liked them so much they chose to wear the cloth masks over their issued N95’s.

Later, my Mom made masks for all of our local friends. When I relayed their thanks and appreciation, my Mom’s reply was “thank them all from us for helping to keep your father and I safe.”

March 26

Twelve degrees above freezing is apparently warm enough to pull the roof off if you’re in need of a smile.

March 29

Got some help stacking wood.

March 30

Even amidst the misery, it’s worth noting that 2020 featured its share of heroes as well.

April 1

Well before Eleanor was born, I’d jotted down a long list of potential life lessons for her. The pandemic and more particularly its accelerating death toll was, among other things, incentive enough to finally complete this stalled project. The result was thisistheway.us.

Unexpectedly for what was literally a labor of love, some people actually read it. People not related to me. Some even had good things to say. Tough to say which was more of a surprise. The site even did more traffic than redmonk.com did for one day.

April 10

Kate, as usual, was way ahead of me in demonstrating our appreciation for some of the essential workers that kept our house supplied.

April 12

We did our first official socially distanced outing with friends out of the back of the Jeep in a driveway.

April 14

Among the limited benefits to the pandemic was vastly more time at home, spent doing things like watching Eleanor get more confident on her bike by the day.

April 14

Can’t even imagine how bad the past year has been for restaurants, those who own them and those who work for them. This was not a typical night at the River Grill.

April 20

It’s a sign of how bad things have been this year that this iconic image barely registers.

April 25

I am no foodie and as such am generally not snobby about food. But having grown up outside of NYC, I’m very particular about my sandwiches. For all of its other culinary talents, Maine’s sandwich game has, for most of the time I’ve been here, been woeful. That all changed when Ramona’s opened. The place is legit.

May 3

It may not be true that there “ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws,” but the pandemic did certainly cause people to rethink what was strictly legal about open containers versus what was more, say, a guideline.

May 10

The good news was that I put together a swing. The bad news was that it broke with her on it. Twice.

May 16

Got my first, but far from last, pandemic haircut thanks to Kate. Eleanor, predictably, spent the entire time looking for opportunities to spray me in the face with cold water.

May 23

I’d actually never had a margarita pre-pandemic.

May 24

If you need a break from everything that’s going on, there’s nothing quite like putting on a seventy year old ballgame – replete with seventy year old ads and news bulletins – and loading a woodshed.

May 24

Kate’s birthday present – an Ooni woodfired pizza oven – made its debut. Cooks a small 9″ pie in around ninety seconds, so we’re looking forward to the days when we can once again have people over.

June 2

Would that we could have been there.

June 7

After my Dad broke his leg, my parents were in need of a temporary wheelchair ramp, so I put my meager skills to work on one. For the curious, this how I built it. It’s not actually that difficult.

June 20

We missed a great many things in 2020, but not the annual First Day of Summer Jaws viewing.

June 21

It being summer finally, it was time for the doors to come off. And put a pin in that garage comment.

June 21

As part of our “we might sell the house” plan, we wanted to fix the railing on the deck. The good news was that while there were huge shortages on PT lumber due to the pandemic I managed to score the last few sections from Lowe’s. The bad news was that it fell out of the truck and all over the road on the way home.

I was able to jump out quickly to grab it thanks to not having any doors, at least.

June 28

Historically, we haven’t bothered with air conditioning given that there just aren’t that many hot weeks in Maine and we’ve all been out of the house during the hottest part of the day, whether at work or daycare. Between climate change and the pandemic-driven working-from-home situation, however, we invested in the only AC units we could find. Which turned out to need more clearance than we had, so I had to shoehorn them into the windows and build a false sill. Anyway, they went in eventually.

July 4

Did the only kind of fireworks we could – socially distant fireworks.

July 12

If I had to do it all over, I would just rip the entire deck off and rebuild it. Or maybe just burn it down and salt the earth so that nothing could ever grow there again. But instead we opted to sand it and refinish it. It was about as fun as you might imagine.

July 14

With our dishwasher already down, it was the stove’s turn. And while it’s next to impossible to get anyone to service appliances that they didn’t sell here, it is literally impossible during a pandemic. Off to YouTube I went.

July 24

I was not of the opinion that MLB should have been playing, but seeing as they were we had tradition to hold up. This was us on the much delayed Opening Day.

July 27

Having eventually wrestled all that PT lumber home, I finally got the railings replaced, a job that whoever built the deck originally made nearly impossible by using railroad spike-sized nails.

August 1

It took two tries, but I eventually figured out what was actually wrong with the stove and fixed it. Good times.

August 5

Did not have the same luck with the dishwasher, so after attempting to get our local appliance place out with a new one – they literally laughed at me saying it’d be six weeks best case – I finally gave up and just ordered what was available from the internet and got it installed. Installing it was miserable, but having a working dishwasher for the first time in weeks was so worth it.

August 12

Having tried to stain the deck twice only to have the prior paint show through – honestly, who paints a fucking deck royal blue? – we finally gave up and just painted the whole thing.

August 12

Running out of time to get the house ready to list, took to working nights.

August 27

During a pandemic, there is nothing better than an empty playground.

September 1

When the playground wasn’t empty, we showed adaptability.

September 9

I didn’t get to San Francisco this year, obviously, but it was terrible to see what the wildfires did to it.

September 14

Having not seen him since the previous summer, my brother made a quick strike visit to my parents. He came down one night for a few socially distanced beers out by the fire pit. Have not been able to see him since.

September 18

The closing for our old house was complete, though not without issue. We ended up having to hang a u-turn just out of the parking lot flagging down the buyers in the process because the title company had so badly screwed up the paperwork and check. Our buyers were great about it, however, and we’re very happy to hand the property over to people who clearly valued it the way we did.

September 24

Eleanor may not have been going to school, per se, but I sincerely doubt that she would have learned as much about sharks at daycare.

September 24

As parental roles go, I’m more the one who roughhouses and gets jumped on than does crafts, but she asked me very nicely to make this.

October 1

We held out hope as long as we could, but eventually we conceded to the inevitable and cancelled the Monktoberfest, our beer & tech conference here in the great state of Maine. We held an online toast with alums, and all of us here have our fingers crossed things are better by next fall.

October 14

The process was absolute hell – more on that here – but much as we loved where we used to live, we eventually made the decision to move one town south to a house that gave us much more room to maneuver. Hopefully those of you not in our pod will be able to see it in person at some point, eventually.

October 15

There was no chance I was going to miss the opportunity to vote this year, so first opening in our quarantine window I popped in. I was met by our realtor, in fact, who was working the polls, bless her.

October 16

Hauled the last of our precious cargo out of the old house and down to the new.

October 31

We knew we couldn’t give the kids a normal Halloween, but we all did the best we could.

November 1

We didn’t buy the new house with the intent of setting up a movie theater in the basement, but it didn’t take that long for us to do just that either.

November 7

First faint signs of hope in a long while.

November 9

Some people started baking bread during the pandemic. I tried my hand at hot sauces, several of which rendered my food inedible. One of them is really good, though.

November 10

My non-traditional pre-school curriculum continued.

November 18

We bought the house in part because of its size, which gave us all room to breathe. The downside was that I had to physically run cabling everywhere. Absolute nightmare.

November 30

Spent her birthday at the playground.

December 4

When your ability to work at home depends on having power, generators acquire a new importance. The only problem was that they shipped it to me with a massive dent, so I had to take it apart and “undent” it. Doesn’t look pretty, but works now.

December 5

December 9

In case you were wondering how Eleanor got so good with her shark identification skills, let’s just say she works at it.

December 17

The forecasts originally all said the storm was going to pass south and miss us. Over thirty-six hours or so the predictions went from an inch or two to a foot. We ended up getting something like sixteen inches, and much higher in spots where the snow had drifted.

The good news was that having a garage now meant that a) we could pull our cars in out of the storm, b) I could just roll the snowblower out of the garage rather than pushing it up the hill in the back like at the last house. And as a bonus: c) I now had a place to hang the Jeep’s doors when I took them off (see 21, June).

December 25

Making this was an absolute disaster and I was up until two in the morning – and then got woken up by Eleanor at 5 after she had a nightmare – but we got to have Christmas with Kate’s family who’d quarantined for two weeks for us, bless them. Also great was the fact that all three of us napped that afternoon, a Christmas miracle.

December 28

With the Lego table out of the way, I got to organizing the new shop, which is maybe twice the size of the old shop.

December 31

More socially distant fireworks to close the year.