Personal

Graduation day

When my older son graduated college two years ago, the ceremony was in a giant auditorium. I tried to photograph my son walking across the stage to collect his degree, but even with my lens zoomed out as far as it would go I wasn’t able to get photographs worth a darn. We were just too far away.

The pandemic has put a stop to ceremonies like that. My younger son’s school did something innovative for their graduation ceremony on Saturday: a car parade around campus. There were stops along the way for photographs, as well as a stop where students got to cross the stage to collect their degrees.

The school did a wonderful job making this fun. Thank heavens the skies were clear! This would have been miserable in the rain.

At one stop, students had the opportunity to have their portrait made. A large, gray backdrop had been set up, and a professional photographer was on hand. Because I had my 70-300mm zoom on my Nikon Df, I was able to make my own portrait from afar.

Garrett was so happy on Saturday! He was all in for whatever the ceremony had to offer.

He received an empty folder when he walked across the stage — he’s a few credits short. He’s taking a class in his school’s “May semester” that he believes will put him over the top. Then he’ll start looking for work. He’s eager to live on his own and build his life.

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Tug of war

Tug of war at Field Day
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

When my older son was in the fifth grade, I think it was, his school held a Field Day and invited parents to come watch. I took the day off and went with a camera.

That’s my boy there in the orange shirt. That’s such a normal look on his face, when he was doing fun things with groups of kids — happy as a clam to be a part of the crowd! When he was smaller, I’d take him and his younger brother to the park to play. He was a surprising kind of leader at the park — he’d gather all of the other kids who happened to be there and get them to figure out a group activity, which he would then participate in as an equal with everybody else. He didn’t particularly want to lead the group, he just wanted there to be something fun to do with everyone and he could see it would be up to him to organize it!

He grew up to be as introverted as his dad; his favorite place to be is at home. But he still plays in groups, just online in MMOs and D&D games.

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Personal, Photography

single frame: Tug of war at Field Day

Tug of war on school grounds.

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Snowman

Olaf?
Agfa Clack
Ilford FP4 Plus
LegacyPro L110, Dilution B

2021

I seldom have nice things to say about living in this vinyl village. Here’s one nice thing: plenty of families here do fun things together, like build snowmen.

I suppose families are the whole point of neighborhoods like this. For far less than anywhere else in this surprisingly wealthy town, you can get your kids into good schools. This neighborhood overflows with children. In nice weather, lots of them play in their yards and sometimes in the streets. One family down the street wheels a portable basketball goal to the curb, and the kids shoot hoops for hours. Another family on my block rents a bounce house at least once a summer, which brings in kids from far and wide.

It reminds me a little of the neighborhood I grew up in. There were so many kids, the parents took to calling it Rabbit Hill. Families on Rabbit Hill weren’t nearly as well off as families in this neighborhood, so we didn’t have bounce houses or portable basketball goals. But we still made plenty of fun together. Those houses were cheaply built, as are these. It didn’t matter to us. It was grand to have so many kids to play with. I’m sure the kids here feel the same.

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Film Photography

single frame: Olaf?

A snowman in a neighbor’s yard.

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Bee rider

Bee rider
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

What are your thoughts about photographing children on the street?

Before I moved out of Indianapolis, I went to the State Fair every summer. I enjoyed it in its own right, but I also enjoyed practicing street photography there. Lots of people bring cameras to the State Fair, so I never stood out. I prefer not to be noticed when I make photographs in public.

The midway rides offer good opportunities to catch faces full of emotion. Most of those people are children. I didn’t used to think anything of photographing children, but I’ve since changed my mind. I finally realized that if someone had photographed my children on the street when they were small, I wouldn’t have liked it one bit.

It comes from a fatherly feeling of needing to protect my children. But protect them from what? Someone on the street with a camera probably has positive intentions and is harmless — like me, by the way, if you ever see me on the street with a camera! I suppose some creeps might photograph children on the street for their own sick purposes, but I can’t imagine it’s the common case.

As an adult, if some stranger photographs me on the street and I don’t want to be photographed, I can do something about it. I can ask them to stop, or leave. I suppose I could tell them off, or punch them in the mouth, or call the police on them — probably not the best responses, but you get my point: there are things I can do.

Children lack that agency. When I aim my camera at them, they are at my mercy. So I don’t do it anymore. I will photograph scenes where children happen to be in it, along with adults. But I don’t make photographs like this one anymore.

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Essay, Photography

single frame: Bee rider

A girl riding at the State Fair.

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Personal, Stories Told

Monopoly money: A story from my new book, A Place to Start

This story is in my book, A Place to Start

I don’t naturally see the bright side. I have to work at it.

Blogging has given me a way to work at it. As I push through challenging things in life, I write about it looking for the silver lining, the lesson learned, the happy ending.

What you tell me in the comments is that you find my stories to be encouraging. I find that to be encouraging!

Today I’m launching my book, A Place to Start. It collects the best stories and essays from this blog’s first two years. I was recovering from a divorce, trying to build a new life, working to be a good dad to my sons. I worked very hard to find the good in everything — it helped me keep my head together.

If you’d like a copy of my book, here’s how you can get it:

This story is in the book. It first appeared here on August 30, 2008.


I was feeling good about my financial situation as I headed into the summer. I was rapidly paying down debt and had built up some savings. But then August was unexpectedly expensive. I replaced my car’s transmission (and rented a car for two weeks while it was in the shop), replaced my refrigerator when it conked out, and had some medical and veterinary bills. Bam! Within a few weeks, my savings was gone and I had even gone a little more into debt.

I know that everything that cost me was just a matter of chance. Cars break down, 20-year-old fridges die, dogs and people get sick. It was better to spend savings on these things than to have borrowed to pay for it all. You might even say that God took care of me, providing for me through these misfortunes. But I’ve been angry about it just the same. It really hurt to get a little bit ahead only to lose it almost all at once.

On Wednesday, the boys and I broke out the Monopoly board. My youngest is starting to understand trading and can now stick with a long game, and so our play is starting to become vigorous. We’d made some trades and we all had monopolies — my older son had the violets, my youngest son had the neighboring oranges, and I was just around the corner with the reds. When we started improving our properties, it became hard to move along that side of the board without somebody collecting.

My youngest son landed on my Kentucky Avenue. With two houses, the rent wasn’t terrible, but having spent all his cash on houses he hocked most of his property to pay me. He weathered that with good humor, but he next landed on Go To Jail and so would make another trip down Death Row. His next roll put him on Community Chest, but then he landed on Indiana Avenue, which by then had four houses and was much more expensive to visit. Cash-strapped and hocked to the hilt, he had no choice but to sell most of houses. He was ticked. And then a few tears ran down his face. And then he buried his face in my shoulder.

The irony did not escape me as I hugged him and told him it’s bound to hurt when you build things up and get a little ahead only to have bad luck take it all away.

When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t feel so bad anymore.

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Stories Told

Memories from before my family came apart

My first wife made the photos I shared earlier today of my sons when they were small. She had been a professional photographer, and she was very good at drawing out her subjects’ personality and then, at the perfect moment, pressing the shutter button. If only I could be half as good at portraits and candid people photos!

I have precious few photos from my sons’ early years. My ex wouldn’t allow me to have copies of our family photos when we divorced, and my attorney and I couldn’t convince the judge to order it. The handful of photos I do have, my ex mailed to my mom when they were new. Mom let me scan them. Garrett was 1 and 2, and Damion was 3 and 4, in these photos.

My first marriage was always challenging, but in these early years with our boys we both tried our best. At least the photos I have show our boys happy, having good times.

Around the time Damion entered Kindergarten, our marriage took a solid turn for the worse and never recovered. My mom has few photos from those years; my ex must have stopped sending them. I have mixed feelings about not having those photos. On the one hand, I have no idea anymore what my sons looked like then, and little memory of family events from those years. Without getting into details I’ll say that the last couple years of our marriage were genuinely traumatic for me, leading to spotty memory. I call those “the lost years.” Seeing photos from those years might put me in contact with bad memories I don’t want to revisit.

Garrett entered Kindergarten in 2004. The photo above is the boys on Garrett’s first day of school. About six weeks later my wife would ask me to move out.

The next few years were the hardest of my life. It took almost two years for the divorce to be final, and it was a fistfight the whole way. I moved three times in three years. I grieved the very serious loss of not seeing my sons every day.

But eventually life settled down. The boys and I began to make new memories, which I photographed like crazy. They were our best years, and there’s no way I can forget them.

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