Happy Birthday, Dad

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If you’ve met him, then you know that my dad, Frank Zane, is the funniest guy on the planet. But that’s not all…

In addition to being hilarious, he’s also raw, honest and smart. He’s a natural storyteller. A hard worker. He’s never boring. Fun to be around. The life of the party. He’s strong yet sensitive. A family man. He loves with his whole heart. He can teach you a thing or two about everything. But you’d better listen carefully because when he gets to talking, he talks fast and his stories tend to go on for a while and they go off in many directions.

He reminds me of me. Or maybe I remind me of him?

When it comes to my dad, you either love being around him or you simply can’t stand him. I’ve found that if the latter describes you, then you’re probably pretty uptight because I swear he can make anyone laugh. But, at times, you have to be willing and able to laugh at yourself in order to get the joke. If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you and my dad will probably not get along.

Sure there’s no denying that he’s funny, but my dad also has a very serious side. He cares deeply. He loves intensely. He wants you to listen and get to know him and he needs to make you smile. He will hold your hand when you’re sick and never leave your side when you’re struggling or in pain. If you want to talk politics, take a stroll through a museum, if your GPS breaks down or you need a good punch line, he’s the guy to call.

He’s an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum disguised as a dirty joke.

But if you think you have him all figured out, you don’t. Just when you think he’ll say or do one thing, guess again. He will shock and surprise you. He tells the best stories and some of the worst jokes (most of which I can’t repeat here). He drives slower than anyone I know and, yet, he always arrives first. All these years and I still haven’t been able to figure out that last part.

There are a million stories I could tell about my dad to convey who he is and how important he is to me. This one comes to mind:

When I was in high school, I started taking flying lessons. I’d wanted to learn to fly planes ever since I was a child when my dad would take me and my brother to Philly Int’l Airport to watch the planes take off and land. It was cheap and effective entertainment. Because I loved the thought of flying so much, before I was even old enough to get my driver’s permit, my dad pushed me to take flying lessons (he also taught me to drive but that’s another story).

One day, while learning emergency procedures of all things, the small single engine Tomahawk I was piloting suddenly began to fall apart. My instructor and I were flying at about 2000 feet and he had just asked me if I spotted a suitable place to land in the event of an emergency when some wind got under the engine cover causing it to come unhinged. It tore off and flew over the plane, shattering the windshield. We were forced to land in a blueberry field in Hammonton, NJ. For the record, that wasn’t the spot I’d picked.

When my dad came to pick me up that day, the representative from the FAA said, “Your daughter’s very lucky because had that piece come loose, she would have been decapitated.” Lovely. Apparently he was pointing to a small piece of windshield that was still intact. A two inch piece of fiberglass (and my instructor’s quick thinking) saved my life.

My dad turned to me and said, “Don’t you dare tell your mother.” Then, the next day, when I was considering giving up my aviation aspirations, he gave me his version of the classic “when you fall off your bike” pep talk and urged me to get back up in the air ASAP and keep on trying.

I get my stubborn streak from my dad. I guess you could blame him for my temper and lack of patience, too. But you have to take the bad with the good, right? Well, he also taught me a lot of very important things.

He taught me that hard work and commitment pay off. He taught me to be fearless even when I’m scared to death. He is the reason I laugh at funerals and say the most inappropriate things every chance I get. He taught me how to be strong and sensitive at the same time, to stand up for myself and the people I love and to fight for what is right–even when everyone else says it’s wrong. Because of him I believe that life is an adventure. And that no one is the boss of me but me! He taught me that I am in complete control of my life and if I fuck it up, well that’s OK because I can always get back up, brush myself off and start over. He taught me to reach for the sky and never stop reaching.

And, perhaps most importantly, he taught me that it’s OK to laugh at myself. And it’s a good thing because these days, I find myself doing that a lot.

I love my dad. He’s the greatest, sweetest, craziest man I know.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Light and Love

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK, Jr.

This is one of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, of which there are many. But this one, to me, transcends all issues, big and small.

Even though tomorrow is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the Unites States, today is his birthday. As a tribute to an amazing man who worked hard to teach us so many amazing lessons, let’s continue spreading his message of light and love. And just like you make resolutions at the turn of the New Year; why not resolve right now to be the change you want to see in the world? We’ve all heard that saying. Well, it’s time to live it.

What can I say about MLK, Jr. that hasn’t already been said? Arguably one of the most profound prophets the world has ever seen, his words are forever poignant. He was an amazing leader and teacher as well as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, implementers of positive change.

You may not agree. You might even say, “But, Val, there have been so many awesome implementers of positive change, how can you possibly pick a #1?” True. And while I’m sure there will eventually be a  VH1 Greatest Implementers of Positive Change Countdown, I’m not sure who’d make the #1 spot on the list, or if I’d even agree with whomever got picked (I sure as hell haven’t agreed with all their #1s), BUT there is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. made our world a better place. I’m sure we can all agree on that.

But we can’t simply rest on his laurels, no matter how awesome those laurels may have been. Our lives and our world are ever changing. And I believe (no pun intended) that if we keep King’s positive message in our minds and in our hearts, the changes we experience and implement will be positive, too.

While challenging at times, change is good. It’s healthy. It’s necessary. It teaches us that even though we are humans who make mistakes, we do not have to live and die by those mistakes or by the errors of our ancestors. We can always correct mistakes of the past, make adjustments to the present and fix our future.

Each of us, at times, fears change. And that’s natural, or so I’ve heard. But in order to succeed, whether that success is competitive or creative, some sort of change must take place to achieve it. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re changing, but we are. Other times, we have to work really hard to see even the slightest progress. But whenever we implement change or simply embrace the changes that are taking place in our lives and in the world around us, we become stronger and that, in and of itself, is progress.

We need to keep moving forward by actively seeking new ways to strengthen our minds, our bodies and our souls. The knowledge and strength we nurture now is the foundation on which we build our future. Positive change takes commitment, drive and determination. It takes work. Positive change promotes prosperity and we all want that. So look to the positive.

Even when that feels like an unbearable burden, when the weight of the world is pressing down upon our shoulders and we feel alone, there is still hope. We just need to open our eyes and be willing to see it and share it. When hope is not so easy to see, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In those times, we need to believe–in ourselves and in each other.

Maybe we’re not looking hard enough or in the right place. Maybe we need to alter our perspective or open our minds. Or maybe we need the love and support of a friend to help us see it. Or perhaps it is our destiny to create it.

We need to embrace change. Not only because it’s healthy and because it helps us to grow, but because it is necessary and inevitable. The world is going to continue to change with or without us. We might as well find our niche and be a part of it. Live. Love. Learn. Right?

You and I are the light and the love that Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about. We can promote hope and positive change by thinking with our hearts. We should be doing something every day to help those around us and lift each other up. It won’t take long for that positive energy to spread. We all know that even the smallest gesture can start a chain reaction. A smile. A hug. A kiss. A handshake. A kind word. These things may seem insignificant. But they’re not.

How often are you affected by such simple things? Unfortunately it works both ways, on the positive and negative sides of the spectrum. Just as a smile is contagious, so is a frown. A gesture of gratitude can make your morning, the same as an insult or rude remark can ruin your whole day.

Why not make a conscious effort to promote the positive?

Do something positive — big or small. But do something!

I can’t think of a better way to honor the life of a man who gave so much to the good of humanity. Our humanity. Even though he is gone, his legacy lives on and his words and actions continue to make a difference.

Your spirit, your words and your actions can make a difference, too. They already do – every day. Maybe you don’t see it. But it’s true. And just like hope and change, the world needs you. You are here for a reason. You may not have it all figured out yet. Then again, who does? But you and I are more than just cogs in a machine. We are crucial. Our purpose is palpable.

Let’s work together to change the world.

Light and love.

Another Thing About PKD

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I recently caught a pretty gnarly case of the Flu. My whole family had it. Your whole family probably had it, too. Unfortunately, it’s been going around. In my house, my husband had it first and then I made the mistake of wishing it upon myself.

I said, “I wish I could take it away from you.”

I was being sincere, too. I really love him and if one of us had to be sick, I’d want it to be me. But the problem with wishing is that if you’re not specific enough, the funny little wish fairies like to play practical jokes. Sure, I got the Flu from him precisely as requested. But I got it after he was already done with it. That’s obviously not what I meant! Effing wish fairies! Oh well. No use crying over spilt wishes. But be careful what you wish for… alright?

The worst part, for me, wasn’t the Flu itself. Don’t get me wrong; that part sucked. Is it just me or does it seem like the Flu gets worse year after year? Bigger. Meaner. Stronger. Faster. It’s like the Flu is on steroids. Or maybe it’s being produced by Nike… or perhaps Gatorade would make more sense. I don’t know. But, like I said, the Flu wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was the kidney infection that the Flu caused.

All that vomiting and diarrhea (Yay! Nothing says Happy New Year like some quality toilet time) took its toll. I’d become pretty dehydrated. And the dehydration negatively affected my kidneys, possibly rupturing one or more of my cysts in the process. When kidneys lack water, they contract. For people with PKD, this causes the cysts to run out of space and press into one another, causing more cysts to form and rupturing some of the cysts which already exist. This causes blood to form in the kidneys, in turn, causing the kidney infection.

Ugh. Kidney infections, if you’ve never had one, are very painful. And they can be difficult to diagnose because the pain doesn’t always originate where you might expect. For example, while I regularly have some level of pain in my lower back and flank areas, where the kidneys are located, when the infections come on, I tend to get a severe pain in my upper stomach area. It’s an awful, debilitating pain that comes and goes and it has a childbirth-contractions-like quality. And much like the Flu, it arrives bearing gifts such as fever, chills and body aches.

At first, I just thought this was some sort of Super Flu (picture regular Flu but with a cape and tights). But soon, I couldn’t stand up. It didn’t take me long to realize what was happening. This isn’t my first PKD rodeo.

I can’t complain. It’s been awhile since I’d had an infection like this. But I’ve been through this before and I know the routine. During my kidney infection sabbatical, if you will, I started feeling invincible. I’ve almost allowed myself to forget altogether that I have this disease. Even though I’ve been drinking my gallon of water a day, as prescribed by my super awesome nephrologist, and I’ve been doing my best to stick to the rules and manage the situation through holistic methods, like yoga and positive energy, I’d somehow forgotten that there are times, like now, when a tougher, more hands-on approach is required.

Hands-down the most effective hands-on treatment for a kidney infection is the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin (AKA: Cipro). It gets into the kidneys and really kicks some kidney infection ass. So I’ve started my 14 days. It’s only a matter of time. Cipro comes with its own sucky side effects, but at least it gets rid of the kidney infection.

While I admit that this sucks (and oh boy does it suck!), I also know there are far worse things and far greater struggles. It’s just another one of those things in life that, while painful, eventually pass (much like gas or kidney stones or bad hair days). This is just a blip in the overall scheme of things. I say that to my friends and family when they’re having bad days or are dealing with issues, mistakes or crappy circumstances which are out of their control. It always seems to make them feel better. And it’s true.

So now I’m saying the same thing to myself.

This is just a blip. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s all. This too shall pass.

And would you look at that? I’m already starting to feel better.