22 December, 2023

I have a daughter.

I have a daughter.

It's such a benign statement, especially coming from someone my age. Typical of my peers in myriad categories. Yet, for me, on a personal level, this just feels different. I've spent most of my life thinking of myself as a childfree individual. Sure, I've always been cognizant of the teenage pregnancy that caused me to drop out of school and derail most of my plans for early adulthood, but she was gone — taken away by her mother to someplace far away, and I was instructed to never contact them again. My daughter existed, but for most of my life she has been a phantom, a being existing in the abstract, but never in a palpable way.

I don't know why I took what I was told at face value. Part of me now suspects that this was a cached decision that I made early on in life that I just never really reconsidered. In my mind, she was living well elsewhere without me, and it would be wholly inappropriate for me to butt in, regardless of how many years had passed. This way of thinking stayed true even when what otherwise would have been an appropriate time would pass: I stayed away when she finished primary school; I stayed away when she became an adult. After all, I was not a true father, just merely a sperm donor who had stayed out of things for decades.

Then, a couple of months ago on November 9, I saw a message she had sent me. It was the first time I had been asked to reconsider that cached decision to give her space to become her own person. She wrote to see who I was; to learn about her birth father that had been absent for the majority of her life. This unexpected request turned into an extended conversation where I did my best to represent myself honestly and to give her the knowledge she desired.

I have a daughter.

It's more than just an idle fact now. This is a person who is now, after all these years, a part of my life. While it would be inappropriate to consider myself a father in the sense of being a parent, being the biological father of a person who actually wants me in their life is a title I should be proud of. I suppose I just always imagined that she would desire nothing to do with me, and I allowed the status quo to persist. Yet now I have direct evidence that I am wanted as a "bio-dad", whatever that relationship may mean. And so I am trying to do the best that I can.

I have a daughter, and her name is Adrianah Celes Herboso. I'm only just now getting to know her, yet it's clearly one of the biggest changes to my life in decades. I'm not sure how things will proceed from here, but, whatever happens, I am glad to have her in my life.

13 September, 2023

The Perils of Teaching

This week, we installed a ramp to the front door of the house. We purchased a wheelchair that was far more expensive than I thought wheelchairs would reasonably cost. And we've had multiple doctor's visits dealing with the mobility issues we've had this past year. Next week, Katherine will finally be able to teach in-school again from her new wheelchair.

Katherine's extended absence from school at the beginning of this school year eye-opening. Even though she's been officially on leave, she's been working six hour days just to take care of the learning materials that students will need while the substitute teacher is in the class. I am in awe at how hard Katherine works to help her students learn even while she's stuck at home and not able to see them in the school. I keep thinking back to all the times I took off from work because of being sick, or needing a mental health day… I certainly never spent 75% of that work day doing the work anyway. Katherine's dedication and hard work is laudable, but also scary: according to her, every teacher that takes off from school has to do their lesson plan anyway, so this isn't at all unusual for people in her profession. The more I learn about teaching, the more I am concerned with how schools are organized in this country. I still remember when I first met Katherine and realized that even though she has entire summers off, she still works more than the average number of hours per year that someone who works 52 weeks/year will work. I recall just how flabbergasted I was when I first learned that Katherine spends many multiple thousands of dollars each year of her own money to subsidize her art classroom with supplies. She actually spends much more than this — this is just the portion of it that isn't reimbursed by the school. And now, here I am, watching her take the first extended absence of her multiple decade career, and seeing her work six hour days to provide the substitute teachers with the materials they need for their eight hour days.

I don't think I ever fully appreciated the teachers I had when I was young. Most of the time, I thought very little about them. The first time I connected with a teacher was in the second college I attended, and that didn't turn into an extended relationship because he died shortly after I bonded with him. I've mostly been an autodidact throughout my life. I remember going through Feynman's Lectures on Physics as a teen, thoroughly enjoying the first few sections, and then realizing that in order to appreciate the later sections I'd need to learn quite a bit more mathematics. I went to the library, found the appropriate books, and taught myself calculus, the basics of linear algebra, etc., just so that I could keep reading Feynman. I never thought to speak to a teacher about it. That just wasn't my relationship with teachers at the time. They were little more than minders of my time. Rarely did they ever talk about anything new. By the time a teacher talked about a thing, it was generally something that had exhausted my attention years previous. This held true until college, so I just never bonded with any of them.

Seeing how much work Katherine puts into her career really makes me regret how I spent my youth ignoring teachers of all kinds. I wish I had had a mentor other than the library. At the time, the main branch of the Mobile Public Library had only a single section of shelves dedicated to Dewey Decimal 530; I literally read every single book on physics in the main public library of a city of half a million people within a single month, and it wasn't because I was a fast reader: it was because they just didn't have all that many books. I was so disenamored with other people at the time. I didn't like living in Alabama. I didn't think of any of my teachers as a source of furthering my education. I was such a stupid child.

If I could go back, I would talk more to those teachers. I would find out what their interests were, and I would learn from them on the things they knew best. I would use them to learn how better to learn, rather than to just sit and read. I would have properly appreciated all the teachers I had.

I wonder how many students appreciate all the effort Katherine puts into her job every day, even on days when she's technically on leave. It's probably not very many.

02 May, 2023


My partner is a high school art teacher. She’s very good at her job, having earned the state-wide Art Teacher of the Year award in Maryland. Unfortunately, she has a mobility disability — she can still walk, but only just, and the current plan is to switch her to a wheelchair starting this summer.

Yesterday, after getting ready for school and heading out the front door, she had a sudden panic attack. It was only a few minutes before school was to start, but she felt completely unable to even get to the car in that moment. After trying repeatedly for ~five minutes (an eternity when you keep trying and failing to move the way you want to), she called in to work. This is the first time such a panic attack has come along so suddenly. Sure, she’s missed work before because of mobility issues, but it was always because it was raining heavily and she was afraid of slipping, or she ran out of energy on the previous day and so knew in advance she wouldn’t be able to teach and so scheduled a substitute teacher. This was the first time she had to call out merely a few minutes before class was scheduled to start. This scared both of us immensely.

We had thought to get the wheelchair during the summer because it comes along with so many other tasks: installing a ramp in front of the house (and getting permission from the HOA ahead of time), installing some kind of device on the van so that she can drive by herself even while using a wheelchair, and modifying the house a bit to accommodate it as well. This process may well take weeks or even a couple of months, so we didn’t want it to interfere with the constant school schedule from here to the end of the school year. But now, with the problem she had yesterday morning, we were afraid that maybe getting a wheelchair was instead an emergency that she had to do immediately, and maybe she’d even have to take off the from her school children in order to do it.

So we were both surprised and amazed today when getting to school this morning ended up easier than it has been in literally months. The process of getting to the car, which usually took ~10 minutes total with her disability, only took ~two minutes today. The look of her face when she realized how much easier things were made my heart leap for joy — she was so very happy to realize she could do it so quickly. And all it took was a small device that helped her to be steady as she got to the car.

Every day, small things happen to people all over the world; some are good, some are bad. This small story from our household isn’t that momentous. We still have to switch to a wheelchair in the summer. She still has mobility issues. But the fear we felt yesterday morning when she was completely unable to get to the car compared to the joy we felt when using a mobility device made things extraordinarily easier this morning is something that I think is worth remarking upon.

It’s a good day today.

09 March, 2023

Denise Saladyga

Today is the funeral of Denise Saladyga. It is also what would have been her 71st birthday. Her loss is felt by many today, but I wanted to take a moment to share that particular slice of her life that intersected with my own. Others will be sharing stories of how completely and utterly stoked she was to be a grandparent; of how her personal experience with breast cancer became a driving need for her to become an advocate for fellow breast cancer diagnosis recipients, especially in the educator community; of her infectious love of drama she shared with her students; of how she worked tirelessly to educate some of the least privileged students with severe learning disabilities and help them to become true participating members of our shared society; and of how she was a true and close friend of my partner, Katherine Hess, being there for her many times in her hours of need.

I didn't know Denise in most of these capacities, except in stories. I first met Denise through my partner, who introduced her as a friend. The stories they would share when they got together were wonderful to experience second-hand. Some of them were great positive stories about students and what they went through to turn those lives around. Denise also had a few horror stories about particular administrators and staff in Montgomery County Public Schools, some of whom apparently didn't act very appropriately with Denise at particular points in her career. However, the most memorable moments for me, having only met her in the last decade of her life, are the games we would play.

Each year, I would drive from Maryland to Florida for Dice Tower Con (now Dice Tower East), a board game convention where lots of games are played over the course of a week. On our way back, we would often stop at Denise and Joe's place in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. They had a wonderful place. I would sleep in the spare bedroom and partake of their amazing and generous breakfast. And, each night, we would play board games.

Katherine also owns the special edition Azul Giant.
Joe wasn't as much of a fan, but Denise just adored Azul. It's a board game about laying down tiles of various patterns. She loved the beauty, but also how the puzzle of the game ramped up in difficulty as each round of the game progressed. Denise, Katherine, and I played repeated games of Azul each time we visited, and Denise loved it.

What I remember most about these experiences is the conversation. Katherine and I would talk about the convention we'd just left in Florida, describing the games and the people we'd interacted with. We'd often have to pause mid-sentence because the turns would get so complex. Then, on my turn, I'd get to hear about so-and-so student that both Katherine and Denise had mentored, and I'd inevitably make a mistake that would cost me the game.

The boards would be set up on a circular crocheted piece by Denise. Unlike other games that use a rectangular board, Azul is played with a series of smaller circular boards that surround an empty space in the middle. This made it perfect for the crocheted cover on the table, and the game pieces beautifully adorned the space made by the various colors. At home, we have a rather large blanket crocheted by Denise, lovingly made in identical colors to a painting that Katherine made. It's a wonderful addition to our house, and it makes for something nice (& beautiful!) to cover up in on sadder days. The fact that the blanket matches the colors of Katherine's painting is an amazing bonus. Denise really took a lot of time to think about the things she crocheted for her friends, and it really shows.

The four of us playing Azul.
I last met with Denise and Joe at The Cheesecake Factory last year. It was one of the first times I interacted with someone without my mask post-COVID other than my partners. It was wonderful to get caught up after the COVID years, which really derailed our plans of being able to see them in Myrtle Beach for a while there. The food was especially good that day. We shared an appetizer and talked of all kinds of things. I was inundated with photos that day — Denise was so very, very proud of being a grandparent. We ordered dessert, said our goodbyes, and after too short a time we found ourselves walking back to our respective cars. I never got a chance to speak with her again.

I know that Denise did a lot in this world. She was very well known for her cancer activism in the educator community, standing up for her fellow teachers when they needed it most. Among students she was loved dearly for her dedication to teaching the dramatic arts. She was quite close to her family and undoubtedly has many stories there that should be told. But that small slice of her life that she shared with me was mostly just about board games. I wasn't Denise's closest friend. I certainly wasn't as close as Katherine is. But I really and truly appreciated Denise all the same. She was a tough opponent and won more than her share of the games I played with her.

I'll miss you.

My beloved friend Denise passed away a few weeks ago from her third battle with cancer. Today she would have turned 71,...

Posted by Katherine Hess on Thursday, March 9, 2023

13 January, 2023

A Ten Year Anniversary

I met Katherine ten years ago, on January 13, 2013.

We met online. Before she'd sent her first message to me, she'd already learned quite a bit about me. Back then, OKCupid was not as worthless as it is now. I'd first joined back when it was called TheSpark — it was common to go online there and take personality tests (I think I first found it when I searched for a way to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test online (yes, I realize it's a junk test today, but remember this was the same year google was created and I was just a kid)) — and by this time I had answered thousands of questions on my OKC profile, allowing anyone looking me up there to get to know all kinds of things about me prior to ever having to talk to me. Honestly, I miss that kind of interaction today. All too often when I meet someone new I don't have nearly as much information about them as I did back in the early '10s.

From Randall Munroe's xkcd 2521.
That opening message was about the status games we all inevitably play, and how my veg*nism plays into that. We spoke of McClane's shoelessness in Die Hard; of using syringes to inject toothpaste back into a tube; and of the moniker "bolt" having two contradictory meanings: being loyal in the sense of being bolted to one's closest friends and being skittish in the sense of potentially bolting from them. Katherine felt that both senses of the word applied to her.

Within a few back and forth messages, we had already graduated to sharing made-up-on-the-spot fiction about toothpaste tube refilling and I was seriously impressed by her quick wit and creative mind. She made me laugh from the very start, and perhaps that is what made me fall for her so quickly. A few days later we had a very long phone conversation, and soon we were seeing each other regularly. It was perhaps the most important turning point in my life.

Personally, I prefer prime anniversaries to those considered significant merely because of base ten. But Katherine's preference is for increments of five, so this is the second such anniversary we'll have and I'm especially looking forward to it on that basis. Katherine means the world to me, and I'm so happy to be able to celebrate this anniversary with her. <3