Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chapter 2 - You Can Call Me Dad

Here's the second chapter of my memories of my dad for my readers who knew the old man.
Dad was scarce in our lives when we were young. My mom used to fret that she would do all the hard work and, when we were old enough to become interesting to our dad, he would show up and seduce us with his wealth and charm and she would lose us. Clearly, there were some hard feelings on her side about my father.

Dad did indeed show up on occasion, when he was in town “for business,” meaning he had just been in Las Vegas gambling. It was easy to hop a commuter flight to Southern California to see his parents in Newport Beach and drop in to see how his gene pool was doing.  When he showed up, he seemed neither alien nor genuinely familiar, more like a character in a family story--or a cartoon strip.  As quickly as he appeared, he would be off again, often for years at a time. 

Fast forward to September of 1976: my mom, brothers, and I were living in a small house in Santa Monica, just south of Pico Boulevard. My mom and I got into it for some reason. Anyway, she said, “You’re just like your father.” I replied, “I’ve heard that all my life.” Going for a little more drama, she said, “I’m going to send you to live with your father.”  In a classic roll-the-eyes teenage fashion, I replied, “I’ve heard that all of my life too.”

I don’t remember what it was that made my mom so mad, but I’ll always remember her leaving my room abruptly and placing that fateful call to my dad.  She complained that I was “unmanageable” and asked my dad to take me. It didn’t really sink in that night though.  

I was almost 16. My friends were everything to me, and I was being sent away to live with my dad, a man I really didn't know, who lived on the other side of the country in Florida--he rather liked that Florida didn’t have income taxes and the year-round tennis weather sweetened the deal.  I had moved all my life, so change did not phase me. I was excited by a new adventure and the prospect of getting to know my dad finally.

Dad picked me up at the then small West Palm Beach airport in Levis and a Superman t-shirt. He was all smiles, blue eyes twinkling, gray hair standing out against his tan skin. He was handsome, and he was disarmingly funny.

Dad carried my suitcase to his brown Mercedes Benz, a car that I grew to associate with him and his life in Florida. He was newly single and seemed happy to have company. 

After a short drive from the airport, we arrived at his condominium complex, the Phoenix Towers, in Singer Island. When my dad opened his front door, I stepped into a small living room with some antiques he had bought at auctions and a view overlooking tennis courts below and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. 

Since, I showed up rather unexpectedly, his second bedroom was a mess of a ham radio room and the first priority was to get a bed for me (he found a Drexel bedroom set at, you guessed it, an auction that week). The second priority was for me to get my driver’s license and a car, so my dad wouldn’t have to cart me around. Third priority was to get me a checking account, so Dad wouldn’t have to take me shopping. I went from being one of three kids with a working mom who took care of all these things to being more like my dad’s roommate. 

My dad was always an entrepreneur, an ideas guy, and he didn’t have much patience for details. Before giving me a set of "wheels," he gave me a couple of driving lessons and a driver's education booklet to study. After giving me a day to memorize answers, he took me to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my driver's license. To him, driving wasn’t rocket science and any kid of his should be coordinated enough to drive an automatic transmission car.  No driving supervised for 6 months. No practice with parallel parking or backing out of narrow spots. Just go do it and learn from your mistakes. That was his philosophy about new things. He bought me a used white Vega (circa early '70's) and I was driving within days, fortunately not back in L.A. traffic. 

After three weeks in Florida, my dad turned to me with a grin, saying, “I have noticed you have never called me ‘Dad.’ You can call me ‘Dad.’ You can call me ‘Stewart.’ You can call me anything you want, but you have to call me something.”  My dad was raised in Texas and greetings were important to him, even if the small talk that followed was not. I started calling him “Dad” and a new bridge was built in our relationship.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Early Memories of My Dad in Chapters

I've spent a lifetime with a conflicted relationship with my father. I adored him and thought he was one of the smartest, funniest people ever. And...I also found him difficult in oh so many ways as well. 

Many of our members remember the old man, so I decided to share some memories with everyone. Summer was my dad's favorite season, and he died in the middle of summer, and so I think of him when the days are still long and until we head into October, his birthday month. So, here goes, some early memories of my dad, in chapters.

Chapter One - Cucamonga, California

Light filtered through the opaque windows in the back of my condo at the Broadway Lofts, where I had my first office in Utah and where I made that fateful decision to join with my brother, Stephen, to buy our dad’s supplement business in early 2002. I had never joined any of my dad’s businesses, as my brothers had, and had some strong opinions about any business my dad was involved in, namely that he had to be totally “out” for me to be “in.” In his late 60’s and “ready to retire,” I decided to partner with Stephen, and ultimately Teri as well, to buy what was then called “The Generic Co-op.”

My earliest memories of my dad include him talking to his glossy black Myna bird, which lived in a cage in our living room and repeated choice words my dad taught it in our two-story home in Cucamonga, California. I remember my dad’s signature gray hair with a bulky set of headphones in a messy ham radio room across from our basement playroom. My dad’s ham radio room was a place my dad escaped from the demands of a sensitive wife and four boisterous young children. In that funny little room, with wires and equipment, my dad seemed happiest, communicating unselfconsciously with sheiks and social outcasts alike from around the world, all in the quite strange-to-a-child’s-ears language of manual Morse.

As a kid, I remember my dad and mom playing bridge with friends around the dining room table, both of them smoking heavily. I remember frozen dinners and a special dinner my dad prepared the night my mom was at the hospital giving birth to Stephen. My dad made a kind of 1960s version of nachos, dumping a whole bag of Fritos on a cookie sheet, ladling out the contents of a can of chili, slicing some Velveeta cheese on top, and heating it all up in the then-novel microwave in our kitchen.

While we lived in Cucamonga, I remember my dad bringing home ducks one day (we had a large property but it was still a suburban development.). Next, he bought two goats, a Billy goat with a beard for my older brother, Jim, and a sleek black and white Nubian goat, ostensibly for me. With a dog named Julie, who gave birth to a ridiculously large litter of puppies under my brothers’ trundle bed, our suburbarn-country life gave us  a lot of room to play and plenty of companionship from four-legged friends, including a Siamese cat (and fabulous mouser) named Fritz and a Persian cat (not such a good mouser) named Pixie. 

Then, suddenly, when I was five years old and Stephen was only a few months old, my mom and dad split, with my mom packing the station wagon up and heading back to Texas, where she grew up (and where she met my dad, incidentally). We landed in Arlington, Texas, where we kids learned to talk with deep southern drawls, did battle with Copperhead nests, fished in a stocked pond with pieces of Oscar Meyer bologna, and, sadly, also where our brother, Joey, drowned at Lake Arlington one tragic April afternoon. My next memory of my dad was at Joey’s funeral, where he brought his second wife, Anne, and did his best to lighten the heavy mood, even though my mom was inconsolable. My dad didn’t do sadness, after all.

There were a couple of brief summer visits to my dad’s new house in Houston and introductions to my Uncle Fred and Aunt Rita and four Fason cousins, consisting similarly of three boys and one girl. It was nice to have cousins, but we really didn’t get to know each other, as our time in Texas was just about over.

My mom’s family was still back in Santa Monica, California. With Texas reminding my mom of the loss of her son and missing her grandmother in particular, she put a fresh coat of champagne white paint on the walls of our little tract house, called Bekins to pack up the house, put a “For Sale” sign in the front yard, and then loaded us up in that same station wagon to move back to California. We stayed in cheap motels as we journeyed west across the fantastic desert, learning about stalagtytes and stalagmites at the Kartchner Caverns in Arizona, taking turns walking our little Cocker-Spaniel mix dog while imagining where dinosaurs had walked, and looking after our three cats, who mostly hid in the car.

     It was to be a long time before I had much contact with my dad again but he lived large, almost mythically, in the family stories. And, my mom never missed an opportunity to say, "You're just like your father."  Hmm. My brother would probably agree that I had the "arguing" gene but I had years to go before I would understand what that less-than-musical refrain of my mom's really meant. I wasn't sure he would ever be back in my life but he would, of course. More in the next "chapter."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Antibiotic-Resistant Staph Bugs + Sweet Honey

A dear friend is on a 35-day course of IV antibiotics because he was exposed to the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) germ (otherwise known as a staph infection). Staph germs live on our skin and in the nasal passages of healthy people. This antiobiotic resistant bug, however, is a particular problem. Death rates soar when this bug gets in and causes pneumonia or invades the bloodstream.

My friend is 58, the picture of health (does yoga, plays tennis and golf, eats healthily, takes supplements), but he scratched a red spot on his skin (an in-grown hair) and was stricken with a deadly explosion of staph germs in his bloodstream. He thought he just needed to rest when he came down with flu-like symptoms but when the chills and shortness of breath became more dramatic, he took a buddy's advice and went to the Emergency Room.

As someone who travels widely, frequently in Latin America, my friend said, "I thought my doctor was joking when he said I could have died. All I can say is that God must have more work for me to do in this life."  Phew. My friend is on the mend and it sounds like he is getting good care.

Meanwhile, I did a little research on the MRSA bug. One of the things I found most interesting is the use of a special honey, from the pollen of the Manuka shrub in New Zealand. This amazing pollen creates honey with especially powerful antibiotic properties. In addition to promising results against the pernicious MRSA bug, manuka honey fights other bad bugs, like Eschericihia coli (the food poisoning bug) and Helicobacter pylori (the peptic ulcer bug). Sweet, eh?

And, plain old supermarket honey is being evaluated for use in treating wounds. The ancients used honey to treat wounds and so do third-world country healthcare practitioners (pennies per treatment compared to other more "modern" interventions). Now researchers around the world--from the Waikato Honey Research Unit to the Wisconsin School of Medicine--are studying the use of honey as an antibacterial agent in treating hard-to-heal infections. Others continue to study the use of honey for calming cantankerous coughs. Sweet, indeed!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rigid, Flexible & "Kinky" Fats

It's summer. For some, the fat has melted away with greater time spent outdoors and active. For some, fat is the perennial foe and fat grams in food get counted like carefully evaluated ounces in a backpack on a long, tiring trek. No matter what size or shape we are, we are inundated with information about fats and getting rid of fat.

Here's the scoop on dietary fats:

  • Dietary fats enable absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
  • Fat provides a major source of metabolic energy.
  • Fat creates healthy cellular membranes, the part of the cell involved in regulating what comes in (nutrients) and what goes out (waste) of a cell. 
  • Fats thus are critical to regulating cellular function, including gene expression, inflammation, and cell growth through a process called "signaling" (the instructions for turning cellular functions "on" and "off").
So, fats are vital to health, with a few caveats: (1) know your fats and (2) understand that fat build up in organs like the liver, heart, and pancreas are far more worrisome than those love handles.

Fat Molecules - A Question of "Flexibility"
  • Saturated fats and Trans fats are considered "rigid" molecules, which makes cellular membranes more rigid and less able to self-regulate (similar to rigidity in we humans!).
  • Mono-Unsaturated and Poly-Unsaturated fats are considered more "flexible" molecules and thus support more fluid cellular communications and self-regulation.
My dear friend and pharmacist, Mike Ciell, talks about trans fats (rigid fats) acting like a "Saran wrap" around cell membranes. Not a nice picture (and another good reason for reading labels and avoiding packaged foods whenever possible). 

Interestingly, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond in their molecular structure, which causes a "kink" in their structure that makes them hard to "stack up" on top of one another. The poly-unsaturated fats have multiple double bonds that make them more "kinky" and thus more fluid, even with refrigeration. Omega 3 DHA molecules have six double bonds thus making them extremely fluid ("super kinky"). 

Funny, and most of you probably thought that flavored massage oils were the only "kinky oils." :-)

If you are interested in a few diagrams (and a further discussion on the evils of trans fats), check out this older-but-still-good little article on the Chemical and Physical Structure of Fatty Acids at SupplementQuality.com by Wyn Snow.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cellular Iron Levels & Breast Cancer

A dear friend is worried about having breast cancer. Her doctors had an urgent sound in their voice when advising her to go in for a surgical biopsy. The picture they showed her of a suspicious spot near her armpit scared her. The story in my friend's head was that she had stepped on to the cancer "merry-go-round" and that, once diagnosed, cancer would recur until a traumatizing end, which would be forever in sight. My heart went out to her.

Stories are important. They affect our emotions. They affect neurotransmitters, hormone levels, and immune system cells. Stories affect not only the reactions we experience but also our outcomes in life. 

Last night, I invited my friend to step into a different story. Whatever the diagnosis, she could become educated on alternatives, begin to learn more about what her body needs, and take more proactive next steps with her diet, nutrition, and lifestyle. 

I referred my friend to Patrick Quillin's book "Beating Cancer with Nutrition" and Bill Henderson's books." I asked her to get educated on a half a dozen topics ranging from self care to diet and supplements to improving lymphatic drainage (the waste removal system in the body) to IV vitamin C treatments. 

I also forwarded today's news item on the role of cellular iron levels and cancer.  According to research reported today:

"A new study by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) may soon help to spare some women with breast cancer from having to undergo invasive and toxic treatments for their disease.

Investigators found that low levels of ferroportin, the only known protein to eliminate iron from cells, are associated with the most aggressive and recurring cancers. The finding suggests that testing for ferroportin levels in women with breast cancer may one day help doctors to more accurately predict whether their patients’ cancer will return. It may also help some women with high levels of the protein to avoid invasive or toxic treatments such as chemotherapy."

My friend wrote to me just now that the prospect of getting educated and taking new actions made a huge difference.  She wrote: "Today my outlook is more hopeful and optimistic...I also have a new way to think about this that isn't quite so dark and dismal."

My friend has her surgical biopsy next week. I am holding her in my prayers and heart.