My father at 100

If you are lucky in life, blessed might be the better word, you’ll have the experience of someone loving you completely simply because you are you. Someone with whom you can be yourself safely all the time. My father was that someone for me. He was and is the greatest gift my life has ever given me. If ever a human deserved a long life, it was my father. He died Saturday, August 16, 1969, at age 55; I was 15. When he died my ability to feel safe in the world died with him. It did not return until a few years of sobriety were tucked under my belt. I’d give up the rest of my life in the blink of an eye to hug him one more time.

My father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann, was born Friday, February 20, 1914, in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Next Thursday would have been his 100th birthday.  I had hoped to drive the 400-mile round-trip next Thursday to visit his grave in Graceland Memorial Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey, but my financial realities will not let me do so. He would be the first to tell me not to worry about it. He is, however, always with me. Some years after his death it occurred to me that death does not take the all of someone away from us. My father is with me all the time. His presence in my life is alive and well.

And there’s more. There is a large tree next to his grave. Some years after he’d died I was standing by his grave. It occurred to me that his body had begun to feed the soil and the soil feeds the tree and so the scattered of small twigs and branches the tree shed took on special meaning for me. I gather some up twigs and gather more every time I go. By having the twigs near me or on my person my soul says part of my father is with me. On very rare occasions over the years I’ve given one of these twigs to someone I love who has, because they are who they are, arrived at a sacred place in my heart.

My father taught English at Columbia University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He was a veteran of World War II, serving in the Army’s 20th Armored Division, one of three U.S. Army divisions to take part in the liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp located about 10 miles from Munich. I did not learn about this until after he died. He never talked about it.

He was also my best friend. We built a tree house together, stayed in a cabin on Stokes Forest, New Jersey together, read books together. Once, at my pleading, he agreed to accept the non-dancing part of Herr Drosselmeyer in the Orange County Ballet Theatre’s production of the Nutcracker in which I danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince. He did beautifully and received wonderful reviews. One said his Drosselmeyer was the suave master of legerdemain. My mother gave him a box of matchbooks with those words embossed on the cover. He was little-boy happy handing them out to his colleagues.

My father also gave me the gift of reading. When I was about nine or 10 I went into his room. He was sitting behind his desk working on something. Behind him was a wall full of books. I said, “I’m not a reader like you and Mommy.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I can’t finish any of the books I start.”

“What makes you think you have to finish them”?” I was surprised by his response and it showed. “You’re thinking of school assignments. We’re talking about reading. Let me ask you, don’t you think the author has something to do with keeping you interested?”

I nodded.

“Okay then. Tell you what. Grab 10 books that perk your interest, forget page numbers, and read them until they don’t interest you anymore.”

Suddenly and gloriously the world of reading was mine. The first adult book I ever read was The Folded Leaf, by William Maxwell. I still have the copy from my father’s library on my shelf. To this day reading is one of my greatest loves and, when times get tough, refuges in life.

I loved and love my father my whole wide world. He loved and I suspect loves me the same.

Happy Birthday, Daddy. I miss you.

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You can come out now

*

You can come out of the woods now child you don’t need to hide anymore

You can come out now you don’t need mother’s leafed canopy to shelter you

Or the solid trunks of power she gives you to hide behind

You can come home now sweet wounded boy because you don’t have to hide

*

You can come off the streets young man sheets and blankets wait for you

You can rest your head in the quiet now and sleep with peaceful smile

Or sit in the soft chair by the window and sing your heart song

You can come in from the cold now and live home safe warm

*

You can come out of the house now man your long walks are waiting

You can rise up now brother and step out strong once again

Or skip to your heart’s delight under the rise of the cresting sun

You can come home now son  because I’ve loved you all along

*

You can come out now sweet boy child though so many are gone

You can sit at the table now and know you’re not alone

Or you can dance through the day and sing any old song

You come out in the world now because it’s your home too

*

 

When it comes to equal rights, it is personal

I can think of no better time than now, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to say a few words to all, including those who, if they abide by the requirements of their respective roles, are bound to the notion that people with disabilities deserve equal rights meaning, they deserve their freedom. There can be no freedom without equal rights. My disability is a brain injury as a result of being held-up and shot in the head in 1984.

In my state  of New York the struggle for equal rights for people with disabilities (and seniors) often finds itself confronting those who are seeking to save money at the expense of those rights which includes the right to live as independently as possible. In some cases this means having access to the services they deserve to make this possible. The struggle is, at times, with some of those who loudly pronounce their support for those of us with disabilities, but, when the forces that seek to deny us our rights raise their heads, they fall silent.

Over the years I have made friends and lost friends because I hold people, companies, agencies, councils, committees, and governments accountable for their actions. There are some who think that I start out holding these folks accountable publicly. Not true. In many instances, and, in some cases, for significant periods of time, I have held the aforementioned accountable in conversations behind the scenes. But when that fails, the dysfunction and the glaring disloyalty to their professed cause must be brought into the light of day. There is no doubt I have angered some and there is no doubt some have taken my actions personally.

I don’t advocate for equal rights to make people angry and I don’t advocate for equal rights to wound someone personally. Has it ever occurred to anyone that having your equal rights denied might make you angry? Has it ever occurred to anyone that having your equal rights denied is personal? When you lose your equal rights, you lose your freedom. For some of us with disabilities, losing our freedom includes losing our freedom to remain in the community! Our freedom to choose where we live, what we eat, what we wear, when we sleep, when we get up, where we go during the day, what we hear, what we see…   This is no exaggeration. I wish it was, but it isn’t. Just imagine losing your freedom in any or all of the ways just mentioned and then ask yourself if it wouldn’t make you angry. Ask yourself if maybe just maybe you might take the loss of your freedom personally.

There are some groups in New York who truly do practice what they preach. The Center for Disability Rights  headed up by Bruce Darling, a man I genuinely love and respect, comes to mind. On the CDR homepage, Mr. Darling writes, “Some people say we are never satisfied. Others try to portray us as complainers. I feel we just call it as we see it.” Thank God they do.  And what is it they do? They hold everyone accountable and, at times,  they do so publically. After all, sunshine is the best disinfectant.

And then too there is the extraordinary group, ADAPT, whose battle cry is, accurately and not surprisingly, Free Our People!  And, in my state, we have NYSILC, the New York State Independent Living Council, along with some  Independent Living Centers across the state who are indeed remarkable. But we need more groups like this. The fledgling Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition has, in a very short time, taken the role as the largest grassroots advocacy group for people with brain injuries in the state. Why? Because it was a huge void that needed (and deserved) to be filled.

If all that’s been said here and other places about the need for public advocacy for equal rights has not swayed you, then perhaps the words of the man whose day this is might help. Perhaps his words might help those who remain silent when the rights of any people are being denied to change their ways and speak out.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:

  • “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
  • "A right delayed is a right denied.”
  • “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
  • “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  • “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
  • “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

Let us also remember that the reason this day belongs to Dr. King, and therefore all of us, is because, like CDR, ADAPT, the NAACP and more, he called it the way he saw it, and he did so in a way we all heard, understood and believed.

We shall overcome.

     

BIANYS ignores its members rights & more

The Brain Injury Association of NY State will not support the rights of brain-injured New Yorkers to be informed of the results of the complaints they file through the joint BIANYS-NYS Department of Health TBI Waiver Complaint line. The DOH refuses to tell complainants the results of their complaints. BIANYS President Marie Cavallo and BIANYS Executive Director Judith Avner have chosen to ignore a September 14 email sent to them by this writer on behalf of the Kahrmann Advocacy Coalition, the largest advocacy group for brain injury survivors in the state, which read exactly as follows:

Please note that many are copied and blind-copied on this email, including quite a few BIANYS members who are told by you that BIANYS is the leading advocacy organization in the state.

We have one specific question and would like a direct answer to this specific question. Anything less and we will continue to conclude BIANYS does not believe TBI Waiver complainants should be given the full results of their complaints.

Does BIANYS believe TBI Waiver complainants should be given the full results of the complaints they file through the TBI Waiver complaint line current answered by BIANYS staff? Yes or NO

Keep in mind, a large number of people, including your members, are watching this email and awaiting your answer.

Peter Kahrmann, KAC Founder

Last I knew BIANYS had less than 400 members, however, a significant number of those members also belong to KAC, including me. So, it is a statement of fact to say BIANYS refusal to even answer the email is, once again, another example of BIANYS (which falsely claims to be the leading advocacy organization in the state) ignoring  the rights its own members and the rights of all brain-injured New Yorkers and their families.

So far, the BIANYS board of directors has done nothing to address this.

Complete Where I Am

I am complete where I am; loss does not incomplete me.

While loss does not incomplete me, I’m tired of it, though my weariness has no bearing on life; life happens to us whether we like it or not. It is how we react that makes a difference, or, if we are not paying attention, makes no difference at all, and leaves us trapped in sameness, an unpleasant cell if ever there was one.

We are, each of us, whole and complete, simply because we are. Voices, experiences, messages, losses, all these things can lead us to believe that without something outside ourselves we are not whole, not worthy, that somehow without the presence of another, of something, we barely exist, if, in fact, we exist at all.

I am complete where I am; so are you. Loss does not incomplete me, nor does it incomplete you.

Be you. You’re already there.

Live.