Rolling on the Metra. #chicago #publictransportation #trainspotting (Taken with Instagram at Chicago Union Station)
I don’t know what conversations my dad had with his father when he decided to move across the pond to Europe.
I know my grandfathers always enjoyed having family around them, in close proximity. The more the merrier.
In fact, I’m often envious of my cousins, aunts and uncles who got to enjoy so much more of my grandparents’ time than I did.
My dad had a calling, and you don’t mess with callings. Somewhere deep down, my grandfather must have understood that.
Perhaps that’s what helped him deal with the grief of having a son many thousands of miles away at a time before communications technology shortened that distance.
I remember the times we’d visit their home in Pacifica, California. After so much food and fun, we’d hop in the car for the long ride back to Oregon. We’d all look back at Deda and wave at him as his eyes filled with tears. He’d stand in the driveway long after we were gone, and my grandmother would tell us that Deda wouldn’t eat for days after we were gone. He’d just mope around with no appetite for anything.
It’s a strange relationship between dads and sons. You spend half a life raising them, growing them, praying that they will turn out better than you, do bigger things than you accomplished and reach further than you were able. You spend the other half lamenting the fact that they accomplished all of that so far away from you.
At least that’s how it goes in my mind.
I don’t know if my dad and his father ever had a conversation about why he had to live so far away or if there was a mutual understanding for the necessity of distance in their lives.
My grandfather always had family near him. He had grandkids to keep him company and a table-full of people when he wanted.
My dad has grandkids to keep him company, when he’s not traipsing around some mysterious former Soviet Republic that ends in stan. He’s got children near him to keep him company and help with the heavy lifting when necessarily.
And yet I still feel the pang of regret at the fact that this career has taken me so far away.
Of the cluster of Akimoffs that set up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area many years ago after stepping off a boat from the Philippines after a journey across the length of China after a grueling trek from their home in the Soviet Union, you can imagine it would be desirable to settle down. And settle down they did.
At first one or two made their way north of the city to settle in Santa Rosa. But at a little over an hour’s drive, this was not much of a barrier to a tight-knit family.
It wasn’t until the 3rd generation came of age that the family began to spread out. My dad being the lone exception. With the Akimoffs spread from Santa Rosa, California to Salem, Oregon, the cousins ventured out. Some went back east for a time, others went north or south but stayed on the West Coast.
My wife and I bounced around in Hawaii for a while, did a stint in New Zealand and ventured as far east as the Rocky Mountains of Montana. Then it was back to the West Coast, albeit Alaska. The Ring of Fire has some hold over us, at least until recently.
In this great adventure, one spends an awful lot of time looking forward. Even now as I plan a crazy 4,000-mile move from Alaska to Chicago, I’m looking that direction.
I haven’t spent a lot of time, until today, thinking about what this move means for my extended family. What it means for my dad.
We haven’t had a lot of conversations about that. And perhaps you don’t. Maybe the way life works is just one experience built on top of another, formed, in a way, by the random nature of human beings. Perhaps it’s not always as purposeful as we think it is.
At any given moment, I desire to be sitting around the big oak table in my parents’ house. I loved being only 5 minutes away from them and showing up for dinners and Father’s Day celebrations.
In that confusing desire to have your sons eclipse you, it’s sometimes difficult to remember in so doing, they may have to go to the far corners of the earth.
I doubt very much that my grandfathers or my own father hesitated in their support for their sons. If they worried, they kept it deep inside. If they felt the painful separation keenly, they did not burden their sons with that knowledge.
Even as I embark on another journey that will carry us to a different part of the country, one that the Akimoffs have not staked out nor called home before, I think about my own sons and their journeys only starting to form in their minds.
What will I do when they go away for college and do not return to whatever nest they left? What will my thoughts be when my grandchildren are growing up 3,000 miles away from me.
Therein lies the hight cost of raising a family. Never mind the financial obligations, which are huge today. What about the emotional costs like these? There is no stock broker, no financial analyst or counselor who can prepare you or save you from these events.
Many years ago, in an age that still is romantic to me, men built castles and fought wars to protect their families and to insure that their name would carry on. The ambitious ones carved out large swaths of land for their childrens’ children to govern and to profit from one day.
Today our castles are investment portfolios and real estate markets that fluctuate on a fossil fuel economy.
Our profitable lands belong to global holding companies, and there is no longer thought given to succession.
Today we push out kids from the nest and tell them to fly further, do better, build more, have bigger ideas and accomplish more than we did.
They are flush with knowledge at their fingertips. There is more information available to them than to all the world combined before them.
I cannot carve a life out for them with the strength of my sword. Like the sometimes cold and unfriendly animal kingdom, I can only let them go and hope they fly straight. I can pick them up from time to time when they fall, but I’ll mostly watch until they’re out of sight and wonder how they did. Much like my grandfather did, and much like my father probably does.
They say the world’s longest journey is about 18 inches. It is the journey between a man’s mind and his heart. There are no maps, no lighted pathways and the only voice of guidance is often mistaken for our own.
But it’s a journey every man who has ever breathed has taken on his own.
It all started last summer. I walked off a plane at O’Hare and into a sultry, hazy Chicago afternoon.
I made my way to the “L,” and passed through the suburbs and into the heart of the big city teeming with life.
It was such a contrast from Alaska. The clothes people wore flowed and billowed in the heated breeze. Glasses clinked and sweated on the outdoor tables.
The smells of food wafting through the air, the tall buildings soaring up into the deep blue, the life going on in small spaces. I had forgotten how much I love big cities.
When I moved my family to Alaska in 2010, I promised them that if they could do one year in Alaska, and if after that they were not happy, I would do my best to move them along to something more their speed.
They far exceeded my expectations. Two winters later, and I could tell that the glue that bonds you to a place was not setting up for us.
It’s not that you get tired of waking up to the sun rising over the Chugach Mountains or the ebb and flow of the tides on Cook Inlet. Alaska offers so much to the lifelong dreamer, the isolationist, the rugged individualist, the hunter, the fisherman and the adventurer.
There has always been a price to pay for coming to Alaska. The cold, the loneliness, the cost of living, each taxes you individually. If Alaska is your dream, your end of the road, you pay those taxes willingly, knowing exactly what they extract and making up for it in whatever way you are gifted.
After surviving a winter that saw record-breaking snowfall in Anchorage, I could see the signs of weariness on their faces on the weekends during breakup when we couldn’t do anything until the ice melted and the mud dissolved back into dust.
The view from Alaska is amazing. While you have to go to Wales to see Russia, you can get a pretty amazing view of the Lower 48. So it wasn’t difficult to look around the country at the opportunities starting to open up.
Home to Oregon, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. We’ve been there, done that.
The mountain west. Boise, Salt Lake, Colorado Springs.
I have a list of favorite cities. Kyiv, San Francisco, Portland, Budapest, Vienna, Copenhagen. These places are magical for various reasons. But something about Chicago intrigued me. The food, the culture, the mess of life, the architecture, the wealth of stories inherent in a city of that size.
Trying to mix your passions with the needs of your family is not easy. Nothing blends particularly well.
I have worked at newspapers, but I know very well how tough the world is for the newsman these days.
Television news is thriving and struggling with tides of behavioral and technology change.
Aside from writing stories about people, my love for journalism resides in the place where it fits into our modern lives. The chance to explore the different platforms and financial systems that support great journalism has been a side bar and now a focus in my career.
The confluence of Chicago, WBEZ and great journalism is still a little hard to believe.
You start with an application. You proceed to a phone call. Many phone calls. Visits, Skype, emails. And then you commit to going. To driving 3,000 miles in a U-Haul to set up all over again.
It’s simultaneously slow and blazingly fast.
This is just the beginning of it. All that goes into the beginning of a story is too much for a prologue.
It’s time to turn the page and see what the rest of this story holds.