Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ascent of Man

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved.

However old I age or whatever career goals I pursue, it seems, I still remain a little boy watching for Daddy to come home.

My father was a working man of the 1960s, responsible for the gross household income, and for him that meant days and weeks on the road selling heating and air conditioning equipment. His father and his father's father were raised on family farms and orchards where the day's work ended at a communal dinner table. He was the first father in his line to take his dinners alone at motel restaurants in far-off cities while his family ate at home before his empty chair.

No one told us this was unusual. No one warned us how we would miss him then, and for years and years to come.

Mom was essential to my physical well-being, fixing meals and attending wounds, but Dad's attention had a direct line to my soul. Mom's praise and encouragement were important, but Dad's approval was a gift of grace.

I see this same hunger for acceptance in my own son, now just a toddler with a handful of words and a fragile understanding of the world. I see him glancing at me from his play, gauging my moods and opinions.

He follows my movements. He memorizes my words and intonations. He smiles when I smile, frowns when I frown, and takes an interest in whatever I do with my hands. It is still a shock to see my thoughts and actions reflected in a one-year-old's behavior.

There are tougher jobs than parenting. Longshoremen lift far heavier weights and ocean-going fishermen endure much greater discomfort. City police on night patrol face more stress and emergency medical teams have to deal with more terrible traumas. But no man's job is more dangerous to him on a personal level than fatherhood. No other occupation threatens as much heartbreak or deeper wounds. The loss of no other livelihood can cost a man not only his life, but his place in eternity.

For my little boy's well-being, I realized early on, there is little I would not suffer. His hurts pain me ten times more than my own. His laughter makes me happier than my own.

If I could spare my son the bumps and bruises and senseless injustices of life then I could save myself the grief of having to see his disillusion. If his spirit survives intact then my heart can go on unbroken.

When I call him to my arms or cheer his first steps I hear the voice of my father and my father's father. In his eyes I catch a glimpse of myself looking back at Dad. In his fingers I feel tomorrow grasping at the present.

My immortality breathes inside that little chest. The only afterlife I can be sure of watches for my return. Coming home, I bring back all the fathers before me.

Ascent of Man
Michael Hofferber
Photo: Time by Jean Monti

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Own Stories

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1996. All rights reserved.

My little boy stops me in the middle of a story I am reading.

"I don't want this story; I want your story," he says.

"My story?" I ask.

"About when you were a little boy."

I pause, trying to figure out where this is coming from.

"You were once a little boy, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was a little boy a long time ago."

"Well, what happened?" he demands."

"Give me a moment. Let me think." I say, struggling to peel away the layers of time that have grown over those childhood memories. Where was I at his age? What was I doing? What did I think about?

I remember a steel bucket so large I couldn't get my hands all the way around. And I remember this big tank of water deeper than I was tall. For some reason, I was determined to fill that bucket and dipped it into the tank. As the water poured inside, the pail grew heavier. Standing on the tips of my toes, I held on tightly with both hands but the pail pulled harder and harder. I felt my feet leave the ground and the lip of the water tank slipping down my chest.

Just as I was about to topple into the tank, two strong arms lifted me and my bucket up in the air. Safely on the ground, I look up at my tall, weathered grandfather. He gave me no scolding and no shame, just a slight smile. He knew I'd learned my lesson.

"That's a good story. Tell me another one."

We lived on a small farm with a menagerie of animals. We had ducks and chickens and horses and even a pair of squirrel monkeys for a time. One winter, as I remember, it was a rabbit that I was most fond of, and when he turned up missing from his pen I was in tears. The neighbor dogs were sure to kill him, if they hadn't already.

My father and a hired hand went out searching for that rabbit and caught sight of gray fur bounding for one of the outbuildings. Like two Labradors, they ran from one side of the building to the other, shouting and clapping their hands. While my father slithered into the crawl space after the rabbit, the help stood guard with a blanket to toss onto the fugitive.

That was about when I found my rabbit in my room, where I had stolen him away the afternoon before, determined that he and I should sleep together. By morning, I had forgotten he was there. And as I held him in my arms, stroking his gray fur, I watched the two men outside and wondered what they had caught.

My boy is quiet now, his breathing soft and steady. I was going to tell him about the time at school when the girls captured me, tied me to a basketball pole with their jump ropes, and kissed me. Or the time I was lost in the woods. Or how my best friend and I played cowboys and Indians.

He's asleep and I am still a little boy. It's been so long since I've visited these memories, all but forgotten I'm afraid. Were it not for this child, I might never have found them again.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Against All Odds

by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved.

Folks went a little berzerk in Florida last year when the state's lottery jackpot climbed to $94 million. One fellow, nicknamed "The Phantom," bought 80,000 tickets at a bar called Smitty's Place in Jacksonville and still didn't hold a winning ticket when numbers were drawn. Those who did win are collecting about $15 million paid out over the next 20 years.

Lottery officials just love those big jackpots. The bigger the prize the more participants and the more dollars for state budgets, and yet the payoff to individual winners stays about the same. This is because the likelihood of multiple winners rises with each ticket sold and the prize money in the big pots usually gets split two, three or six ways, as was the case in Florida.

The odds of selecting all the numbers in a Pick 6 type game, of course, are awfully slim: 7 million to 1 at best.

Compare the odds of being struck by lightning (9,100 to 1) or dying in a plane crash (4.6 million to 1). It would be much easier to draw an
opening hand royal flush in poker (649,739 to 1) or receive a fatal dose of natural radiation (50,000 to 1).

Snow in July would be a better bet. A bumper crop of winter wheat would be a lot more likely.

Everyone has a system for improving their lottery chances. Mine is to play the birthdates and ages of family members. Those numbers, I figure, will be drawn at least once in the next 250,000 years. Hopefully, I won't forget to buy a ticket that week.

Another tip I've heard is to pick "unusual" numbers that someone else is unlikely to select. That way, if you win you won't have to share the jackpot like those six unfortunate people in Florida. But which numbers are unusual? 1 through 6? 49 through 54? Oops! Not anymore....

There's also the "hot numbers" system of former commodities trader Gail Howard who charts the winning numbers in recent lotteries and forecasts them like futures. Half of all winning numbers, she claims, have hit within the previous three games.

This is bunk, mathematicians insist. "Runs" or "clusters" of the same winning number are a natural part of random selection, and noticing their presence in past drawings makes them no more likely to appear in the next lottery.

The only way to be sure of winning a 49-number lottery like Florida's is to spend about $15 million buying all the possible number combinations. But then if five or six other people also draw winners you'll just barely break even.

An international investment group apparently used this method to win a $27 million jackpot in Virginia's 44-number lottery earlier this year, buying at least 5 million out of 7 million possible number combinations. Luckily for them, they drew the only winner.

For those of us without millions of dollars to risk, there's only one sure way of doubling our money: fold once and return to the wallet.

Against All Odds
Michael Hofferber
Photo caption: Jewish Agricultural workers from the Jewish Autonomous Region in Birobidjan, Siberia encourage people to join Birobidjan Lottery
Lottery Winning Systems by Gail Howard