Home for Christmas 2000: Mom and Dad Suckow, and my brother Timothy. He's single and recently retired from his duties as a Navy Air Traffic Controller. Congratulations, TIM.
My early life.
Born March 1, 1962, I grew up in Carrolton, just north of my birthplace in Saginaw, MI until age 7, then moved to the rustbelt-era Muskegon, MI where I graduated from North Muskegon High School in 1980, having been voted the most musical male. I then entered university beginning with Concordia College in Ann Arbor, MI. In 1982 I graduated with an Associates in Arts with honors, and was accepted into the professional program in Architecture at the University of Michigan's School of Architecture and Urban Planning.
I gained a Bachelor in Science in 1984 and a Master of Architecture with concentration in Urban Design in 1986. Though I sometimes wonder if it was a wise decision, I decided against adding one additional year for a dual Masters degree in Urban Planning. I wanted so very much to join the workforce and prove myself out in the real world.
During my last year at the University of Michigan I was privileged to join the U-M Replacement Hospital Program as a part-time Research Assistant to the Equipment Manager, Kip Edwards. I helped to resolve equipment/building conflicts, initiating hundreds of change orders in the final year of a ten-year construction sequence.
At the Hospital completion celebration I partied all night with various CAD operators from the architects office, consuming bottles of wine until one of the (by then) stunningly cute girls ended up wearing my prized slooped cap home and I, barely conscious, stumbled back into my apartment only to clutch the toilet the rest of the night. When I finally awoke Saturday, I found that my good friend and loyal roommate in our Washington Ave. apartment, Tim Sanborn, had cleaned up my mess in the bathroom and stuffed me into bed the night before. I certainly learned my lesson and never again drank as heavily as I did that night in May of 1986.
After college, I lived in Huntington Woods across the street from the parents of one of my school friends, Cindy Kochensparger, a Public Health School graduate. She had hooked me up with a dear 86-year-old named Ardis Wisner. We'd cook for one another once in a while, she passing me the secret of delicious poached eggs while I taught her how to broil inexpensive petit steaks in her toaster oven. One day, Ardis invited me along to visit the cabin she and her sisters had shared when they were alive. It was still immaculate, like stepping directly back to 1920. Wires ran along the inside walls to antique fixtures, a steep wooden ladder led to a sleeping loft, and everything a vacationer could need was pristinely stored away in trunks and chests. After our visit, she wrote me a surprisingly moving and formal love letter that I treasure in my memory to this day, noting how my "fine features stood out in the evening sunlight as [I] looked out over the lake." Ardis died just a few years later; her family was so kind to remember me with a personal note.
My routine by mid-1986 was to work in downtown Detroit at the Penobscott Building in the offices of McKenna Associates, Inc., a newly-formed urban planning and design firm with ambitions to become the largest planning consultant in the Michigan midwest. After work, I'd do my shopping and chores and retire to my room in Ardis Wisner's home for a rousing night of playing computer games like the Microsoft flight simulator 3.0 on my new 16-color mostly-IBM compatible 1986 Tandy 1000!
One day, after grocery shopping on Nine-Mile Road in Oak Park, MI, I happened to be driving home to Ardis' place near 10-Mile, when a street name suddenly stood out that I instantly recognized from a list Intervarsity members I had known at school. I dug out a crumpled list from behind the seat, and there was the address: just a half-mile down the cross street. As I had with little success pursued other former University girl chums in the Detroit area like prim Alicia and delightful Nazanine, on a wing and a prayer I stopped in for a visit at this girl's home on Parklawn Avenue in Oak Park: Donna was home.
It was a well-made small 1950's brick ranch-style formerly-Jewish home in the middle of the long block, under a mile from her schools, bakery, drug store, book store, notorious 8-Mile Road and of course KFC. Donna Diao lived there with her strict Christian parents and her young brother Joey. She called him "butthead" but when he came out of his room to show off his transformer robots and rap for me, old-school, I knew that I liked this warm and gracious Filipino family. Donna went back to school at U-M Ann Arbor as a softmore later that year, and I fell in love with a strong, determined, very young but vital woman.
That fall, knowing her parents, I asked her what was necessary to ask her out on a date. Her defensive answer to all comers was, "talk to my Dad," which she knew would scare off any less than completely sincere person. I made an arrangement to meet with the family on my own. The dinner was delicious as ever, the conversation mesmerizing:
how mom and dad Diao had met at Silliman University in Dumaguette, R.P.,
how their parents were prominent in respective churches in Cebu and Davao,
their minority standing as Chinese-descended protestant worshippers in a Catholic colonial country,
the cause of liberation from the Spanish led by , celebrated on Rizal Day each year in communities of Filipinos everywhere
their hard childhoods as a farmgirl in Cotobato and a sickly refugee child struggling in the Japanese occupation of WWII in Leyte
Mr. Diao's excellent command and diction of both the English and the native language of Cebu, a dialect referred to alternatively as Cebuano and Vissayan or Bissayan.
Atty. Diao's triumphant attainment of the bar in Manila and revolutionary zeal for Filipino welfare and good governance that kept him at odds with the monied class and dictatorship of Marcos
The witty and biting presentation that brought down the house and won Mr. Diao a prize for oratory excellence at Silliman U., "I am sick, you are sick, we are all sick with a malady known to the medical sciences as Schizophrenia, while in the house of Mr. Businessman, a Revelry is going on."
Mrs. Diao's rise to administrative rankings from nursing in area hospitals, her dream of American success fulfilled, and his working as necessary to support his primary mission of uniting the fractured groups of Filipinos in the Detroit area, hoping ultimately to return home after the threats of retaliation from the Marcos regime abated. Mr. Diao's family became fully naturalized with Donna's 16th birthday three years before, and the return to live in the Philippines was not to be.
They showed me sad old color pictures of the Diao's departure from the Phillipines under heavy-hearted community banners that wished them luck and hailed their arrival in America, where they arrived as blacklisted refugees from the Marcos regime in December 1972. Donna's childhood and schooling at Einstein School, then her middle and stellar high school performance at Oak Park High School, took turns with snippets about my family, education, and work. At midnight, as I finally stood by the door to leave, I felt a little embarrased I had forgotten to present my three-page list of progressively ambitious dates on which I proposed to take their daughter, beginning with a walk and movie in Ann Arbor and ending with a trip to Paris. Her father happily reassured me that I needn't present my list, that I was indeed welcome to date "my only daughter, in whom I am well pleased." By the way, Dad Diao's last words to me in 1996 meant a lot when he quietly spoke, "you're a great son-in-law, in whom I'm well pleased."
I married Donna in 1990 after a serious three-year courtship in a huge church wedding attended by over 500 of the Detroit Filipino community and the extended family from across the U.S. (oh, plus a small tribe of white folks from my side of the family) that welcomed us with a shower of wedding gifts. We returned no less than six crock pots, keeping only the seventh, to raise funding for the rest of our honeymoon in Acupulco, Mexico in a beachfront time-share donated by Uncle Rito, one of, to my white-man's perspective, suddenly countless relations. Marrying Donna provided a huge expansion of my worldview, travel potential, and backdrop to my spiritual, educational and cultural journey.
Me, Donna, Brother-in-law Joey D.
Donna and I have been together for sixteen years now, know each other well, and have had no children together. We've accomplished many of our goals of international travel, advanced education and careers, church-work, and even built a house during the dot-com boom in a nationally-prominent community together. We are now at a point in our marriage, philosophical and career development that strains. I am sure I will always love Donna, less sure that I can successfully negotiate the changes necessary to maintain our household. We both have entire lives yet ahead of us, and in this time of creative cultural upheaval, the results will prove an intriguing endeavor to uncover. She and I reached a decision point this year, and as a result resolved to continue working on our sixteen-year-old union, making whatever adjustments are necessary to allow fire to live with water and thrive. I plan to continue to pursue my Ph.D. at TSU.
Trips to the Philippines.
Donna and I made three trips "back home" together to the Philippines, the first in grief upon the death of my father-in-law Rolando Mondragon Diao, who wanted to be buried in his home soil on Cebu Island.
That trip was a blur of tears and pasalubung, the American-bought gifts of foods, housewares and toys that we would distribute to those thousands that would come to pay their respects to that dynamic man now so still and remote under the glass of his coffin, surrounded by garland banners and flowering esplanades. The second was to remove the bitterness of the first, when my mom-in-law's entire clan met in Davao for a great family reunion and recognition for the lives of the patri- and matriarch of the large Young family clan. Countless cousins descended upon us, too many to number, all of them so unassumingly sweet, proud in their Visayan and precise in their English. Hard-drinking uncles shared their best scotch with me before I swallowed the 22-day Balut, beak and feathers whole, that signified my acceptance into the clan.
I visited their smoky mountains, watched very young boys burning tires to recycle the rubber in small pots, followed three days of progress while a man made two boards using a cross-cut handsaw to make a long slice down the middle of a coconut timber. I saw the glorious transformation of the village center at dusk when the lights were lit and throngs of villagers crowded to buy their dinners. I discovered that "public space" in the R.P. inevitably equated to the ubiquitous handmade shacks and compounds of the destitute. I donned moistened "face-cloths" to avoid the dusts of streets full of jostling vehicles careening without traffic controls toward their various destinations.
I was sickened by the long live swipe of blood on the roadway where a mangled moped and a broken helmet demarcated the mercy killing under a truck's wheels of a young man that had just been badly injured in an accident among the dangerous weaving traffic. Our driver Jun would remark stoicly about the value of a human life in the Philippines, and later demonstrate how to restart a stalled truck with a screwdriver. I smelled the constant sea-borne humidity in the mall air conditioning, and frolicked in our T-shirts and swimsuits among manicured coconut and banana palms at the sandy-gravel beach edge resort. I rounded a shore to find softball- and soccerball-sized globs of crude floating near a Shell Oil tanker offloading at a bamboo dockside.
I rode the super-cat[amrans] at thirty knots between the islands, and walked into the wooden-slatted building that once served as a hospital where Donna was born in Dumaguette. I bought clothing at the Silliman book store, and a crude map of Davao. I sketched and watercolored beautiful drawings of native residential stylings, pervasive images of Mount Apo and, on a Hong Kong side-trip, a hillside Chinese cemetary in my sketchbook 12, later to be lost and sadly never recovered at a Detroit bank.
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My Dad is now a locally well-known in western Michigan. He and Mom met at Concordia College, River Forest, IL while each, born in 1937, pursued a Bachelors in teaching. Dad told me that he always expected to have to go to work in one of the factories that pervaded Buffalo, NY during his childhood, but an influential person in his life broadened his horizons and guided him toward more fundamental creation of the future as a school teacher.
I remember his first classrooms in Saginaw, MI had these great displays of cardboard rockets and astronauts in the early sixties. I remember how he built from lumber a red-painted sit-in "flight trainer" to let children understand how the control stick of an airplane moved the control surfaces on the wings and tail. He made a fine representation of the Wright Flyer from a Monogram 1:48 styrene model kit, and later made model Gemini and Apollo capsules, commendably trying with little success to interest me in the tedious contruction process.
With his encouragement and plenty of his help, I was able to document the "space race" with newspaper clippings in scrap books, which I still have. I just found the scrapbook I made about Apollo 13 with original newspaper clippings, which narrowly avoided the landfill. I loved playing "astronaut" in the cramped space under my crib, using the springs overhead as buttons and dials, having totally swaddled myself in white t-shirts, long johns, tube socks (one over each arm) and wearing the foil-covered cardboard "space helmet" my Dad had made for me. It was especially fun when he would join in the play as the disembodied voice of the "space controller from Houston." Prepare for liftoff!
His early interactions encouraged my slightly younger sister and I to build stuff from construction paper, modeling clay, paper mache, and cardboard that let us begin to draw and color and paint before we knew how to spell words. My sister Diana and I would entertain each other by building a construction-paper city that grew (sloppily, because it was hard not to rush on to make the next building) to a size befitting my collection of tootsie-toy vehicles and the small set of cool matchbox cars I possessed. We'd make little 1/8" modeling clay "people" to walk around in our colorful city, and create adventures for them, usually relating to horrible tragedies consisting of plane crashes and fires with policecars and ambulances rushing around town and solemn hearses trudging to the cemetary. Later, when we could draw better, we'd spend happy hours designing floor plans for dream homes (more on this below) where our play characters could live, work and get really, really rich.
Having been raised and educated in a Lutheran church setting, my Dad initially attempted to teach within the dominant Lutheran congregation's elementary school, Bethlehem Elementary. I would not be able to explain Dad's frustrations during that time until I, as a college-age adult leading a Concordia College (now University), Ann Arbor, band recruiting tour, reached that same congregation in Saginaw. There, after our band concert, I was approached by a very old man I didn't know. He fervently told me, that what the church board had done to my father back when he was teaching there was wrong, and he wanted me to know it. Finally, in a call to my Dad for explanation, I learned of his attempts to integrate black church kids and white church kids into the same Sunday School classrooms, which ultimately resulted in his dismissal from his first teaching job in the early 1960's.
Dad taught in public schools from then on, and always in minority school districts. Dad's classrooms variously experienced his folksy attempts to sing and strum the guitar, Sound of Music-style; Super-8 cinematographic humorous subjects, claymation shorts and thinly-veiled anti-war experiments; field trips to interesting workplaces; and emphasis on equality, civility, science, progress, humanities, creativity and good-old patriotic reading, writing, and arithmetic. Dad would tell us whenever he'd receive letters from his former students telling him how they remembered his classroom, and how they had gone on to become attorneys or teachers themselves. Those letters mean the world to him.
Dad took an early retirement when the teaching profession was experiencing that big change from broad education to mere installation (of discipline?), and taught thereafter at the community college level as a professor of humanities in that same hometown (Muskegon) in which I was raised. Recently, he retired also from that work, taking up his caricaturing full-time, and a more relaxed life. Dad is beginning to have less success fighting the onset of Parkinson's disease, and I find myself torn between wanting to spend time with him in Michigan before the disease fades him too greatly, and pursuing my PhD at TSU.
My Boy Kitty
Lucky-Boy was the runt of a litter of kittens that was born on June 9, 2001 to the family of my dear and beautiful friend Alanna. She kept Lucky's brother Travis, who now lives very near the Texas Medical Center, and we drove home a little black furball with a white tuxedo stripe and white boots or spats on every foot but his front left. He bonded with me immediately as if I were his mommy, and I raised him to become the most precious and loving animal I'd ever wish to find. His care is no burden, and even now in his adult years (he's 9 so far) he exhibits an intelligence, playful outlook and a curiosity about the world that keeps me fascinated.
Between about 1970 and 1975, when my sister and I had learned a little more about architecture, we'd design detailed dream homes we called cottages (even though every one was a palace unto itself). Each house was laid out in plan on the back of leftover 8 1/2" by 11" school mimeograph paper, not to scale, with single lines for walls and each room hand-labeled. Our goal was to place one mansion in every state of the nation, replete with servants quarters for the huge numbers of lowly maids, kitchen help, waitstaff and vehicle crews like helicopter pilots and submarine captains (I should tell you that our adopted play names were Bill and Carol Cash, with Bill short for Billionaire, not William, get it?). Sometimes I wonder if the Brady Bunch had as much to do with our initial worldview as the Space Race and the Church Universal.
We'd set the coolest designs in the coolest states, like the offshore concentric ring mansion facility rotating atop an anchored marine pedastal in Florida, obviously inspired by family vacations to Niagara Falls, and featuring a Saarinen-knockoff from his Gateway Arch in St. Louis in form of a rapid elevator through the pedestal that translated to become a subway to the mainland.
Sometimes we'd begin with a theme, like the hot-dog shaped mansion in Wisconsin, or our own, but larger, White House in Washington, DC repleate with an alternative space for the U.S. Congress to meet (just in case they happened to visit). The Alaska and California residences were notable as well, containing, as was our habit, important secret science labs to keep the inventions (and therefore the money) coming, suites of guest rooms, party (ball)rooms, a separate library and law library, a full in-house church with pastor's (and sometimes also assistant pastor's) quarters, courtrooms (and usually a jail cell), meeting rooms, recreation rooms, an open pool and the (larger) private pool for our exclusive use in a natatorium, usually a gift shop to accommodate the (throngs of lucky) tourists, our own labyrinthine museums and workshop spaces, garages for multiple submarines and helicopters. Oh, to be a kid again, right?
We don't seem to have had much use for cars except in either our smallest cottages (most of these plans were at some point marked "SOLD" with crayons) or as internal (in-house) transports within some of our larger designs (air pollution was not much thought of at the time).
There were always rooms for guards, maids, bellboys, telephone staff, cookstaff, etc, and the record shows that their facilities improved in quality as we grew older, until we reached an age capable of satire. Then, though nothing explicitly mentioning black or hispanic people shows on the drawings, our inescapable cruelty toward "the help" set in, displaying some of the racist tendencies we, like all Americans, tended to embody. Surviving plans show that bathrooms were usually split for men and women, unless they were within the extensive private family-only spaces like the living room, family room, master bedroom that were sprinkled with elaborate fountains. When we were younger sometimes even these rooms had genger-specific facilities!
Designs might become so large, they'd need the words "food preparation" in place of "kitchen," and several designs housed self-contained factories to assemble our latest and greatest consumer product ideas, my sister's contribution to the vast family play-income. Today my sister Diana, who is fourteen months younger than I am and a practicing occupational therapist, and I both fondly remember those childhood times when we planned to own such grand real estate.
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