for my father

Helmut Georg Waltrapp with his cousin in Germany (1942)

He was born Helmut Georg Waltrapp in Germany in 1939 as the world around him was burning, and several years later, his mother grabbed him and rushed him off to the forests around Bamberg to hide from the coming Americans. The rumors were such, they knew they could expect no mercy. Yet it was a wonderful American military family—the Ellingtons—who would befriend my father, and eventually bring him to the US as their adopted son, George Ellington—the name he would later bestow upon me.

With his beloved wife, my dear mother, Dora (2007)

In America, my father moved to California when his father was stationed at Fort Ord near Monterey. And when the Ellingtons moved back to Virginia, Papa stayed in Salinas, where he had met my mother, Dora. He adored her. He still does, years after her passing. He still blows a kiss to a picture of my mother every night before going to bed. Together they created such a joyful, nurturing home, and made sure I believed in myself. Their love and their faith in me enabled me to grow up excited for life and love, to be the first to attend college, to become a teacher, and to travel back to Germany and to Scotland, from which the two sides of my family derived.

Papa and I in Utah (2001)

Throughout my life I have known him to be nothing but strong and clever and caring and infinitely kind. A manual laborer all his life, he proved himself to be the smartest man I have ever known, always eager to learn new things and to share his happiness and laughter with others. If I have any skill at all in parenting—I would even argue that if I have managed to achieve anything of value at all with my own life—it is because he was my role model. And he still is. Happy Father’s Day, Helmut Georg Waltrapp. Happy Father’s Day, George Elwood Ellington. You are my hero. This is a wee verse I wrote for my father some years ago.

Father and son together again at my wedding (2015)

never have i known
a man who so deftly
blends the honest love
of his noble heart
with the potent vigor
of his indomitable frame

a man who composes
with sweetest care
tales of vibrant life
and fantastical creatures
striving to tend those
trembling in need

i have passed a lifetime
struggling to elevate
myself beyond my dull
and common being
so that i might find
peace in who i am

yet my greatest feats
pale in comparison
to the life he has given
for those he loves
and for his ever eager
and child-like voice

my highest honor—
my dear and beloved
father, George—
lies in the fact that
i am and will always be
your adoring son

The Sentinel’s Reign

I just wanted to share with you all that my newest audiobook has been released on Audible: THE SENTINEL’S REIGN, Book 2 in the wonderful series SILENT SEA CHRONICLES, written by the talented Suzanne Rogerson. I hope you’ll give it a listen. In fact, we have codes for a free download for those who are interested in listening and reviewing our audiobooks. Just let me know. Cheers.

I do still have free download codes for a number of my other audiobooks if anyone is interested. In between writing poetry and teaching English, narrating audiobooks is how I find a chance to express myself. And to perform, and for a man who was always too shy to step out onto a stage, narrating audiobooks is ideal. Just search for “George Ellington” on Audible. I am always happy to share:

for my father

never have i known
a man who so deftly
blends the honest love
of his noble heart
with the potent vigor
of his indomitable frame

a man who composes
with sweetest care
tales of vibrant life
and fantastical creatures
striving to tend those
trembling in need

i have passed a lifetime
struggling to elevate
myself beyond my dull
and common being
so that i might find
peace in who i am

yet my greatest feats
pale in comparison
to the life he has given
for those he loves
and for his ever eager
and child-like voice

my highest honor—
my dear and beloved
father, George—
lies in the fact that
i am and always will be
your adoring son

2015.06.06 Wedding.03

Playing with the Wind

Not been easy, finding the right place to play my ney since coming back here to Turkey (especially here in Çeşme, such a windy location). Which is funny, since this is the homeland of my ney. In which case, what possessed me to play the ney in something like a Celtic lament? Ah, the mysteries of travelling. It’s not so much that you never know what you’ll find when you get there. Rather, you never quite know what you’ll find in YOU once you get there. That’s one of the things I love most about travelling. How it teaches you about yourself.

The importance of…

Asena and George breakfasting at Oasis Cafe in Salt Lake City (5 May 2012)

No, the anomaly here is not the missing hair. Please, at my age? Simple rule–hair in winter to keep me warm, shave it off as summer approaches to help cool me down. I have long since passed the age when hair served any other purpose. A fashion statement, perhaps? God forbid! No, look closer. On the table. … Who else would bring his own tea into a cafe? A man with access to GOOD tea, that’s who! (With all due respect to the good, tolerant folks at Oasis.)

Ney: Empty Nest

Video

I’ve been watching the nest of sparrows outside the kitchen window, observing how quickly they grow. They were gone this morning. Which made me think of my daughter, and how quickly she is growing. How quickly time is passing. So I started playing. The beginning of this I adopted from a Rast Makamı, but then for the rest I just sort of … played whatever I felt like.

Did you say … “prawny”?

“Prawny” is a word, isn’t it? … It should be, don’t you think? Prawny. Praaaawwwny. And yet, Bill Gates in absentia is underlining that word as I type it with a squiggly red line. Piss off, Mr. Gates! I like it and I am an English teacher, so I declare that henceforth “prawny” shall forever more be enshrined in the Dictionary of George!!! On sale now in any dusty bookstore somewhere in the back of your mind. Don’t miss it—it’s a veritable whirlwind of lexical fun and games!

“What in God’s name is he babbling about now?” I hear you muttering under your breath. … Speaking of which, how can anyone do anything under their own breath? That really does not make sense, does it? Okay, declaration number two on this 19th day of the 2nd month of the 46th year of my life—in the Dictionary of George, no one shall be allowed to evoke any language that involves anything happening under one’s breath. Nor above it, around it, before it, behind it, or beyond it. “Breath” shall be neither derided nor anthropomorphized in any way. Breath simply is. So live with it! (Try living without it and see how far you get.)

But getting back to your “what is he babbling about now” comment (that was rather rude of you to mutter, by the way, but you’re forgiven). I was just sitting here in the midst of a highly professional and incredibly productive … word game. I selected P R A W N Y, and the bloody iPad app would not accept it as a real word. And so I put it to you, whoever you may be—imagine, you are at a restaurant—not the finest of restaurants mind you, but that type that readily recycle pans and oil and God only knows what! Probably bits of salad and those poor untouched veggies that are so oft neglected. That wilting sprig of parsley at the very least.

And while all this unspeakable horror is happening in the kitchen, you sit at your table in light dimmed just enough to ensure that you cannot spot the evidence on your plate of what was really happening behind the swinging doors. When your orange roughy arrives at the table, your eyes widen a bit as you imagine just how yummy this will taste—a thought that inexplicably crosses your mind despite the obvious fact that you have chosen to order orange roughy at a so-so restaurant in a so-so quarter of town. Which town, you ask? Ooohhh, let’s say … Frankfurt. How you managed to order the orange roughy in a restaurant in Frankfurt when you don’t even know how to say “orange roughy” in German is beyond me, but well done to you! Now stop interrupting me with silly questions!

Anyway, you take a bit on your fork, that nice, gently steaming orange roughy with a buttery sauce, bit of dill sprinkled in for good measure, and pop it in your mouth while your dinner companion is sitting there wondering why you are taking so long to take your first bite. Little does he know that your actions are timed to coincide with my narration of this story, and that therefore you have no choice but to bow before the dictates of me, the Grand Timekeeper and woefully uncelebrated Author of the Dictionary of George. Still collecting dust on that lower bookshelf two aisles down towards the back of that bookshop in your mind. You know, you really need to get someone in there to spruce the place up a bit. Hoover it at least, maybe hang a plant or two in that corner—the one below the window. That window you never seem to get around to opening. Yes, airing the place out a bit might be a good idea as well.

So you do finally manage to take that first bite of orange roughy, rolling it about on your tongue a bit, hoping for a sweet, sensual experience, one you shall remember at least until the end of this evening, and—depending on the quality of the sexual encounter you anticipate afterwards—possibly for the next day or two to come. Delicious details of which you could eagerly share with your friends—about the orange roughy, I mean, not the sex. Although God willing that too will be worth reporting on. You know, to certain friends. Not all of them. Certainly not Penelope, who can’t seem to keep her mouth shut no matter how many times you have begged her, “Please don’t tell anyone about this. Pleeaaassseee.” And in the end, you know it is not Penelope you should be criticizing, but yourself for continuing to share intimate details with a friend whose notion of privacy encompasses half of California. Easily.

So there it is at long last—that flaky, tender bit of fish, caressing your taste buds. Although … not quite. No, caressing is not the word. Hmm, “roughly handling” might be more to the point. A rather rough roughy assaulting your senses despite the fact that you never said a harsh word to that bloody fish before it ended up on your plate. But don’t blame the poor fish (who’s no more at fault than is poor Penelope). Nor can you say anything to your dinner companion, who was so eager to please you with this choice of a so-so restaurant in Frankfurt (cut him some slack—he’s a poor university student!). So you decide to keep this experience to yourself rather than hurt his feelings and impede the prospect of sexual congress about two hours and sixteen minutes later. (Don’t forget to floss. And use a bit of mouthwash. This is a seafood restaurant, after all.)

Unfortunately, your companion won’t allow you to maintain your silence on this point. No hiding behind constitutional rights for you, I’m afraid. Besides, you’re in Frankfurt—the U.S. Constitution ain’t gonna help none here, little missy! Not when your anonymous companion puts down his own fork, looks you square in the eye, a look of immense hope and imminent desire, and asks you, “So? How is it?” You swallow (took you long enough, but that was my fault), strive to maintain eye contact and a steady voice full of promise as you compose just the right lie. And yet, when you open your mouth to speak, what statement should emerge (not under your breath, but with it!), but this: “Tastes a bit prawny.”

Take that, Mr. Bill Bloody Gates!!!

Fatherhood, Failure, and Hope

I have lived long enough to know this: the greatest obstacle in my life preventing me from exploring my fullest potential has ever been an enduring conviction that what I say, make, sing, create, produce, promote … will never find an audience.

When I began teaching long, long ago in San Francisco, I was encouraged to see myself as if from the outside, from the perspective of another. And what I saw was a young man, quite eager, yet debilitatingly insecure, who tended to begin lessons, get his class working on a task, and then shuffle his way quietly to the back of the room where he might more easily avoid the gaze of his students. … Considering that this is how it all began for me as an educator, I am amazed that I survived in this profession.

However ill-received the theories of psychoanalysis may be by many today, it is—or should be—indisputable that one’s early experience may have more than simply a residual impact on one’s future. The past might easily shade in the tones of the present if not stitch the very lines onto the canvas within which we will be expected to remain ensconced while we timidly test the colors of the palette that someone else—or some other time—has provided us with.

There is a sense of freedom that is juridically determined. Yet more significantly, there is the freedom that we grant or deny ourselves. The freedom to do, to explore, to believe. And most relevant, to believe in ourselves and what we are capable of.

I never counted on fatherhood playing a significant role in my life. And yet others have remarked on how close I am to my daughter, how precious it is to see a father spending so much time with his child, adoring his child, nurturing her. And I appreciate every one of these comments. I find it appalling that any man would accept the role of father and then turn his back on his children, seek to escape into loathsome self-indulgence.

I was reading a report on BBC yesterday, an analysis of statistics that indicates that more children are abused and even killed or allowed to die of neglect within their own families—their OWN families—in the United States than in any other industrialized nation. I was not terribly surprised by this report. Just saddened. And deeply angered.

If you have not the commitment to stay with the child you help to bring into this world, to protect her, play with her, guide her, direct her, laugh and cry with her, encourage her own journey of self-exploration—then why in God’s name did you become a father, you miserable cretin?

Is it easy? Of course not. It is easy to love my daughter, yes. It is easy to find joy in the time I spend with her, certainly. However, the hardest thing I have found in being a father has been my own inhibiting sense of self. My own fear that I will … how should I put this? … screw up! That I will fail her. That I will teach her unwittingly to think and behave as I do, including my many faults. Raising a child is a demanding and profoundly vulnerable investigation into yourself.

When I published my novel, I was sure no one would read it. I hesitated from committing myself to a book signing, because I was sure no one would come. When my latest textbook came out, my wife offered to arrange a talk at the local library or to set up a table at a teacher’s convention to promote it. And I have declined each suggestion, because that dark voice clinging cruelly to the back of my mind chants over and over again, “Why would anyone want to listen to you? Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are? Who do you…”

The very voice that I struggle to silence in the presence of my daughter. But how can I? How can I avoid the questions that plague me, asking me, Will my daughter learn my faults? Will she grow to doubt herself, just as I doubt myself? Will she hold back from expressing herself publicly because she fears what others will think of her?

When my mother passed away, I found my memories drawn more and more to my father, who has always been as much a friend to me as a paternal authority. And what amazes me is that, however intelligent I may seem to be, however capable I am of critical thinking and historical analysis, I cannot for the life of me remember a time when my father failed me. Rationally thinking, I must assume that he made mistakes. He is a man, after all. But what mistakes? What am I missing?

And in that apparent failure of my intellect, I find some solace. Perhaps, I tell myself, the mistakes didn’t matter so much. Perhaps that is why I cannot remember any of them. And perhaps—just perhaps—my daughter, once she is grown to womanhood, will feel the same way about me. Maybe all the things I see myself doing wrong now … will not matter to her in the years to come. Maybe she will, God willing, go on to embrace her memories of me, when I am gone, as a good man. And a loving father. And somebody she truly loved. Just as I love her.