prostate cancer, kites, spring break in panama city, and the male…


when it comes to writing a letter in anger…it is best to re read it three days later before you send it……..

The Kite Incident

When I was in high school in LaGrange, Georgia the place you went for spring break was Panama City, Florida. The stories about what happened there are legend and often times revolved around the things that happened to my three older brothers going there. More on that later, but suffice it to say that they did all the stuff that high schoolers did on spring break and often times as my mother would say, ” They danced to the music they paid to the piper.” Anyway I went to Panama City Beach two times and trust me despite trying to get in trouble I did not have the where with all to do it. The best I could muster was playing pin ball baseball at a souvenir store and sipping on “Something berry wine.” Man I tried but I was with the wrong crowd and had glasses with “coke bottle” lens.  The most interesting thing that happened to me the second time I went on spring break was a sunburn I got in the first three hours I was there laying out on the beach under an overcast sky, yes you can get a sunburn from the ultra violet rays like they say. Trust me, I suffered for four days in agony for that initial transgression and not heeding my mother’s admonitions. So anyway the story I promised to the nurses I work with in our Ambulatory Surgery Center…

Flashback to spring break events at a time when I am now a “responsible” board certified urologic surgeon.  Our youngest son Sam is now about nine and our family, except Clay who was at a soccer tournament,  has elected to go to St. Simons for spring break.Growing up, our family never went anywhere on spring break.  We kids did the Panama City thing, but no family thing. I am not sure if Karen’s family did a spring break.  But when we got to Gainesville, every year the issue of where or if we should go somewhere came up. It became very complicated.

Our children wanted to go where their friends were going, the friends’ parents weren’t always friends of ours, so it got tricky trying to make everyone happy. Sometimes the parents of the friends who were better friends of a child’s parents than we were had the inside scoop on where to go and the arrangements made for the trip. We might hear secondhand that Sam’s friend so and so was going to St. Simon, and he wanted to go there, but the parents of the friend had not opened that invitation to us. So what to do?   Do we call the parents and ask where they are staying and if there would be any problem with the McHugh’s staying in the same area?  It was an awkward situation and it occurred every year with every child during the spring break years.

It was easiest with Bess, because with her network of friends, we were always in the mix. The boys had a smaller group of friends, and coordinating with the parents of their friends was always a hassle, always feeling as if  we were adding on, not really part of the original nucleus.  But what were we to do?  Don’t do spring break, go somewhere else alone?   We always defaulted to go where their friends went, never being in the “real crowd.”

Of course we’d get there, our kids and their friends  would be okay during the day, but then came the issue of where everybody was going to eat.  “ Why haven’t they asked us?  Do we go anyway?   Maybe they want a smaller group without us.”  It made me wish we had gone with our family only, the kids with us and each other, and none of the friends and all this trying to figure out their parents and how we all are supposed to interact.

The concept that I come back to in almost everything regarding our children is  wishing I did not have the money to go on spring break.  Then I could simply say, “We can’t afford it.”  What a godsend that would be, what a great out, what a great answer, what a great way to avoid everything. It’s like telling a patient, “ I don’t know.”  What do you say to that?

On this particular spring break, we are at a condo in St. Simons, and are drawing on Bess’s  connections. All the major parent factions are parents of Bess’s friends. If those parents and the others in the know,  i.e., their friends ( which were never us) decide to eat at a particular restaurant, then that means their children will be there, so that is where Bess will want to be.

Now we as parents have to negotiate the part where we show up at the restaurant in such a fashion that we appear to be included. A lot of this is done through Bess.  “Mrs. so and so said we are all meeting at so and so to go out to eat.”   But Mrs. so and so never called us, so that when we arrive there is always a little something in the back of our heads that we are not supposed to be there or they may be thinking ,  “Why do the McHugh’s always have to show up?”   I am not insecure or paranoid, but if you are not close friends with the parents in control of the popular kids, you are on the outside looking in. It is not so simple just to not go because the issue is your children wanting to be in the group.   So you are stuck doing something for them to be happy or be included when, if it were left to you alone,  you’d not participate under these circumstances.  Oh, to have been in the inner circle of the popular child and the popular parent. We rarely hit on both of those cylinders.

But I always did was take a bunch of stuff that you would expect to take to the beach: paddle ball, frisbees, water boards, bikes, and kites. I would buy interesting kites with the high tech material, interesting tails, and sometimes ones with two control strings that you could control the motion and flight. Weeks before the trip, I’d get out all the old and new kites and organize them into flyable groups.  Of all the things I took on beach trips, I took the most care with the kites, because at the beach there is always wind– and it is something I can do with one of my children. Usually by the time I got it all together to fly, the wind and my child, whichever one was unfortunate to take the challenge of “do you want to fly this kite?” would be gone.

On this occasion it was Sam, my youngest, who was with me. As I said before, he was around nine. Sam loves music, and although I don’t remember the exact year, it would have be the year that Oasis was big. He had all their cd’s and that is all we listened to during that visit.

Before I forget, I’ll tell a little side story.  I got a haircut across the street from where we stayed.  I always like doing things on vacation to take up time that I don’t want to do at home.  This time, the lady cut my eyebrows with the buzz thing. When I get back to the room, my wife starts laughing and says, “Where are your eyebrows?”  I look in the mirror and see I only have about a fourth of my eyebrows.   Just gone, one fourth of the inner aspect on both sides left, the rest shaved off. “What was she thinking, John, did you tell her to do that?”  Karen asks. “No, she just did it,”  I blurt as I am looking at myself realizing that my eyebrows look like Hitler’s mustache, but I have two of them. Plastic surgeons say that if there is a laceration of the eyebrow, you sew it up without shaving the hair, because regrowth of eyebrow hair is erratic. I am thinking about this as I ponder the future of my eyebrows.

Well, in the midst of this eyebrow dilemma, Sam and I and my kite de jour make it to the beach. There are lots families, predominantly on the sandy portion of the beach. Sam and I are on the hard part at low tide to begin the kite flying.  Karen and Bess and some of Bess’s friends are on the sandy portion of the beach as well, watching my attempt at making the kite airborne. Clay is not on this trip; he is with a friend somewhere else.  I remember this as we were constantly calling to check on him and coordinating the timing for our getting home before he does.  I tell Sam to stretch out the tail of the kite and hold it up, wait for the wind, then I’ll run with it, and. once it’s up , I’ll give it to him. He could have run with it himself, but over the years , when the wind is suspect, it has usually worked better for me to do the running.

Off I go with the string and the kite gaining altitude but never getting to that point where it soars, just almost where it needed to be. Instead of running on and on down the beach,  I  make U-turns so that I stay in the general area of Karen and Sam. The kite just will not break free into that special place where kites go when they are on their own and it becomes effortless for the kite flyer.  It would start to dart up, but then come back down. Using the technique of raising and lowering my arm dramatically, I was able to best use the wind to keep it afloat. I did this for about ten minutes with the last few minutes with me just standing in the same spot but manipulating my arms to keep it up.  It was almost there, but would go up, then dive, go up, then dive. I was thinking,  just a little bit of wind and this baby will hit that little plane of air where a kite takes off.  Breaking though gravity so to speak.  As with so many things, the breakthrough point.  Struggle, struggle, struggle, and if you are persistent and patient, it starts to work from geometrically to exponentially.

I became mesmerized by the kite and in my mind it began to break through to the plane I had so hoped for and worked toward; then at once it began a quick, jerky descent. This popped me out of my “kite daze” and I noted that the tail was no longer fluttering to and fro, but was a straight line to the ground. I noticed the kite was being pulled to earth. Puzzled, I looked at the kite almost stationary in the sky, followed the tail ever so slowly downward only to find that a man had the tail of my kite and was reeling it in to him and the earth. Reeling it in as if pulling up an anchor of a boat, he bore a horrible grimaced expression and obviously was very angry.

I was shocked.  What in the hell is going on?  Who is this guy?  What is he doing?  I was furious. I forgot Sam, Bess, Karen, and the hundreds of people on the beach, half of whom, in that area of the beach, were from Gainesville. As my kite is being pulled toward this guy, I am reeling in the string, having the effect of him pulling one way and me the other, and, as the slack diminished on both ends, we began pacing towards each other. This continued as I would look toward my kite, then down at him pulling my tail, then a step closer to him.  The the process again and again until we were face to face. What  I did not realize was that, in my attempts to keep the kite up and to stay in the general area of my family, yet keeping all my attention solely on the kite, the tail had been waving and fluttering in the faces of  the man’s family for ten minutes. From his perspective I was an inconsiderate kite guy.  He thought  I was knowingly allowing the tail to aggravate his family here trying to enjoy the beach to the point that he felt compelled to protect the honor of his family and do the manly thing– put a stop to it. I wish I could have seen the tail beating up his family, all of them slapping it away, dodging it, almost like a Saturday Night Live episode of the out-of-touch beach comber who is aggravating everyone but not realizing it.  I was obliviously trying to get the kite up and was not in tune with what was happening with the tail.

We are now face to face and he says in a thick British accent, “Your kite tail is in my family’s face.”  Red faced and seething, I state, “Let go of my tail,” peering intensely into his eyes. “You are ruining the beach for us,” he replies.  All the while my family is watching in disbelief my behavior, and Sam is at my side during this interchange.  The Brit’s accent did not help matters.  It came across as condescending , and I am somewhat defensive about foreigners and northerners being as I am from the South.  Anyway, I say, “ I said let go of my kite,” restraining the use of profanity and abruptly yanking my kite and tail out of his hands. We look at each other for what seemed minutes but in actuality was probably seconds, our noses literally inches apart. I envisioned how I’d fight him since I wrestled in high school.  I would get him to the ground first, gain the advantage and then begin pummeling him.  But, amazingly, he turned and walked away.

At that moment it dawned on me what had transpired and how it must have appeared to Karen and then Sam. I could see me on the ground fighting the Brit with beach sand flying, other men breaking us up, me possibly losing the fight and having a bloody nose or blackened eye and people familiar and strange looking at me. And my son, looking up at me, never even having had a chance to hold the kite string. I turned the opposite way and slowly walked away toward the condo. My heart was pounding, in my head I had been prepared to fight if  he did not give up the kite. The arrogance of pulling the tail.  Obviously he had no fear of me showed it was clearly a male thing of dominance, and I sensed it . That was exactly what it was about and all my male chemicals flared. I looked back at him and his family about ten times over a distance of about fifty yards as I walked away, each look indicating to him how close he had come to a second revolutionary battle and also making the point that he had gotten away with an unacceptable way of handling an unintended situation.

Back in the condo for thirty minutes my heart raced and would not stop. It was a combination of my rage as well as well as what could have been. Oh, if I had had a fight, the rumors, the parents, the stories back in Gainesville, my face, my career, my children, all of what did not happen petrified me.  “John, what on earth were you doing out there?  That was pretty bad, pretty embarrassing.  Bess and I and all of her friends witnessed the whole thing,” says my wife. “Did you not notice what the kite tail was doing to his family?  It was dragging across them for 15 minutes.  Why did you do that?”

My heart eventually stopped beating so fast and I survived the week. I never saw the fellow again. The next day after the incident a neighbor of ours comes up to Karen and me and asks if he can take our picture.  “You look like such an attractive happy couple.”  I did not feel cute,  nor were we a happy couple at that time, but we posed.

Looking back, I see that it could have been very bad and reputation altering. I can see a class mate of Bess’s asking her to be in a school play. “We want you to play your father. You dress up like a doctor.  We’ll have beach balls all around, sand all over you with ketchup coming from your nose, and you’ll say, “Every time I ask other parents if their kids want to go on spring break with the McHugh family, they tell me, “why don’t you go fly a kite? and start laughing.”  I am more like the kids on spring break in Panama City than I thought.

2 Replies to “prostate cancer, kites, spring break in panama city, and the male…”

  1. Doctor John, I needed to laugh and you always provide it – you could do stand up comedy (Steve Martin) Your always so hard on yourself – I know your family and wife must just love you so much and your so brillant sharing your stories and health with us – all of us- you are so blessed – always keep the faith and your stories, Thank you! I still can’t comment on my husband as I will cry again – but your laughter has lightening my heavy heart – Thank You Doris


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