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Do Ballet Dads have unique perspectives?

Guest BilboBaggins

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Guest BilboBaggins

I had originally posted the message below in a reply to another thread and the moderator suggested this might be a good topic for a separate thread, so ... here goes ...


Ballet moms and their daughters seem to share their love of ballet as performers ... in many cases, ballet moms are seeing their daughters love the same art and do the same things (and share similar challenges) as they did as a child ... but ballet dads rarely can share that love in the same way ... how does the relationship and support of a ballet dad differ from that of a ballet mom? Do we see things differently, do we express them differently, do we approach them differently?


For now, I'm asking the question on the assumption of a dad/daughter circumstance ... I would expect the dad/son circumstance, for boys/men interested in ballet, brings even more issues to the floor.


I'd also be curious how many "ballet dads" there are on this website ... my sense is that there are precious few, compared to ballet moms. My reason for asking is the observation of one of the moms that she has opportunities to talk with other moms at class drop-off, pick-up, and other events, as well as the support of sites like this ... my sense is being a ballet dad is a much more isolated experience, and web sites like this are our major source of information and encouragement. What are your thoughts and experiences?





[Original Message]


Gee ... I hope there's room for "ballet dads" here as well as "ballet moms"!! Just kidding, from my time here, I know this is one of the most welcoming places for parents, whatever gender ... and frankly, while ballet moms may meet and talk as a group at drop-off and pick-up times, ballet dads often have no community other than the on-line community ... it's nice to have that resource to turn to ...


Actually, curious question for the moderator and/or participants: I know there are a lot of Ballet moms (or for the Brits, Ballet mums!!) ... any idea how many ballet dads? Are there different issues for dads supporting their daughters in ballet (won't even raise the Billy Elliott situation -- or the tap version -- has anyone seen Andy Garcia in "Bootmen"?)? Is that worth a thread and/or forum?

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Interesting question, Bilbo. I've seen a lot of different environments at ballet schools including the nearly parent-free outer office and waiting room. There have been some where the parents lobby has been exclusively female, some where men were spottily represented, and some places where it was "just parents" pretty evenly balanced. I'm starting to see more of the last-named now, as flex-time and cybercommuting make jobtime more at the disposal of the employee and less a routine based in one fixed place. I'm seeing more dads involved now than was common in the sixties, and I think that's a good trend.

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...since my husband rarely, if ever, uses the computer, I will try to give some perspective in his place!

Between the 2 of us, I have had more direct involvement with my daughter's dancing over the years. However, he has become more and more active in planning her training, and learning about the art form.

In the early years, ballet was just another activity that Mom drove her to, with a recital to watch in the spring, Nutcracker in the winter, and pictures each year. But as she moves closer toward a potential career, he sees more and more importance in the choices we make and the family committment necessary to help get her there. A few things have helped get him involved.


Since my Sundays in winter are usually spent performing (opera, not dance-LOL) Daddy has often been the one to make the rounds of auditions with her. Watching the other dancers and meeting parents helped him learn and made him all the more proud of her successes. Two years ago, he was recruited as a "party Dad" in our local company's Nutcracker. Getting him up on the stage has given him a whole new appreciation for her talent and committment to what she does. I know she was very proud of his involvement, and it was great watching them together.


So now, in the day to day grind, we share more of the driving responsibilities, with Dad usually picking up at our local studio. There he hangs with the Moms for a bit, says hello to the teachers, and in general is much more visible than before.

He's even come home from work with advice from a customer of his (also a Dad!) who has two dancing daughters.


And most recently, we were introduced to relatives of his, with whom the family has not had much contact for years, and discovered (to our amazement) that our daughter is 3rd cousin to a member of a major company. Dad and daughter saw her perform recently, and Dad got to see the whole picture...what ballet is all about, and what an accomplishment it is to be a participant!


So, over-all the experience is much different than working with my son in the Boy Scouts, but I think he'd agree that he fits into the ballet world quite nicely after all. Periodically, he tries to convince my son how beneficial ballet might be for him, and encourages him to try it. (no luck yet- sort of Billy Elliot in reverse LOL)


I think Dad does see things differently. He really can remain more detatched emotionally when things get difficult. He's clearly not living vicariously through his daughter, since his reaction is more to protect her than to identify with her. For this reason, I think he's viewed differently as well- advocating for his daughter or even being at the studio make him less vulnerable to a labels like "pushy parent" or "stage mom/dad".

Do you find this to be true?

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I don't know if I'm supposed to post here, but I wanted to say how important ballet Dads can be! My Dad has always been interested in dancing, and now he even takes ballet a little himself! I love my Mom, but there are just some things in ballet that she can't understand. Dad on the other hand understands me very well, and has a little ballet knowlege on top of that, so he's a great ballet Dad! And he is very involved in my performing stuff, in that he's often recruited to be in some performances himself!


So, Bilbo, Dads may have a different relationship and support, but that doesn't mean it's not as good.


I really hopoe it's ok to post on the parents board. Really sorry if it's not!

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  • Administrators

Blackbird, it is generally not encouraged for students to post on the parents' forum. They don't seem to like it too much, probably because they can't post on the YD forums ;) Anyway, I have left your post because I think it is good, and shows a nice perspective on the topic. If any parents object, I will remove it, but for now, it stays :)


*Parents, this is not exactly a double standard. While we encourage people to post on "their own" forums, the parents board does not have a hard and fast rule about non-parents posting. The Young Dancers forums do have a rule. That is the difference :cool:

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Guest BilboBaggins

Hi BlackBird Ballerina:


I'm happy to have you post here, but the moderator will have to tell us if there are any rules about it. I think it would be useful to hear the opinions of the dancers themselves on whether ballet moms and dads have different roles and perspectives.


Moderator ... what do you think?







Hi MissMommy:


First, thanks for posting on behalf of your daughter's ballet dad (your ballet spouse :) )-- I never meant to imply this was a "dad's only" post, it certainly isn't!! All views, from all genders (and all ages, if any dancers want to talk about their dads), appreciated ....


My perspective and involvement certainly have changed over time as well ... but for a different reason. I've gone from dad (within a marriage) to dad (divorced, but geographically close) to dad (geographically distant). That alone would give me different perspectives. In the first two cases, clearly there was much more opportunity for frequent, direct contact with teachers, other parents (I saw mostly moms on the daily runs; dads mostly at recitals), and sometimes other students. As my daughter grew older (she's now 13), I began to have more concerns, not about ballet per se (something I've loved and which I introduced her to), but about the absence of other activities in her life. Summer camp, with art, swimming, archery, etc., gave way to summer intensives. Saturdays, instead of being playing, shopping, outings, family time, religious time, became a full day of ballet. My concern was that my daughter's childhood was being short-changed, simply because while ballet is wonderful, it's not everything ... and she was consciously leaving other important things out of her life. It's a cruel fact of reality -- only 24 hours per day and 7 days per week ... sometimes you have to curtail one thing to leave room for something else. Youth is about exploring the options ... making choices after you know what the alternatives are.


My own interest in ballet had never been as a performer, but as a member of the audience. My knowledge of ballet as a career was fraught with the rarity of top-quality professional positions, the idiosyncracies of ballet masters over female body types, the harm the adolescent girls would do to themselves to stay "fit", the tales of injury, early career terminations, etc. As a parent, I wanted my daughter to understand, appreciate, and participate in dance as an art form and a way of expression, but I feared the choice of dance as a professional career. Obviously, that choice is one she will make, but as a parent I was torn between "of course, dear, you can do anything you want to" ... and having to fulfil the role of caring parent advising "... but this may not be the wisest choice". Divorce (and parental disagreement) did not help in this role.


Nowadays, when I'm back in the states (every 6 weeks or so), I have the opportunity to take my daughter to classes, speak with her teachers, etc. She and I share other ballet activities vicariously: she tells me about the ballet she's seen or what she's doing in class; I tell her about what I've seen (mostly, at the Royal Ballet).


I no longer play a significant role in her choice of school or choice of summer intensives -- not by my choice. There has been more tension as she's grown up and transitioned from ballet as a very enjoyable after-school activity to ballet with the intent of a professional career. Summer intensives are particularly tricky, because the European approach to SIs and the nature of the training here is so different ... but summertime is the major time she can spend with me, so it becomes a choice of summer intensive ... or time with dad ... I've offered the SI at the Royal Ballet ("... but it's only a week!!") and I've offered the Vaganova Conference in St. Petersburg ("... but it's in Russia!!"). So what's a dad to do?


So, I have a very difficult perspective ... I want what's best for my daughter. She loves ballet and so do I ... but in different ways. I desperately want us to agree, but as a parent, I want her to hear and acknowledge my fears and my reasons ... so we can talk about it together.


Sorry for the long post ... but I guess I had a lot to say ... thanks for listening.


So ... how about other dads?



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Guest Watermill

Great question Bilbo:

One of the joys of being a Ballet parent (not just Dad or Mom) here in Portland is the community one feels with the other parents. One comes across groups of Dads standing in the lobby chatting about audition or summer intensive logistics. There's a sense of shared adventure and pride in our daughter's and son's accomplishments. And then to sit all together in an audience and just beam...followed, of course, by the genuine encouragement and compliments we are constantly bestowing on eachother's young dancers! The fellowship among parents here is one of the sustaining factors in the struggle to keep the kids dancing.


There are some Dads caught up a bit in their own macho who tend to be a bit alienated from the artistic spirit of ballet. But I've yet to meet one who didn't at least admire the athleticism of the dance. Get them counting fouettes and they'll cross over.


And for the serious ballet family shelling out six to fifteen thousand a year, you better believe the Dad is involved. That kind of investment has a way of getting one's attention!


As for emotional investment...now there's the rub. I wish more Dads would understand that their approval and encouragement is like water to a young person. We are patterned from birth to look to our parents for not just a roof and three square meals a day, but for that other necessity: Unconditional Positive Regard.

Some of us call it love.


I remember a Dad of a young star frowning at his daughter (who had just given an amazing, near professional performance at age 13) because she "came down (off pointe) a little sooner than she should have". I remember how crestfallen the girl seemed. Less than six feet away, another Dad was giving a bear hug to and heaping unqualified praise upon his little ballerina (who never really got UP on pointe, never mind coming down too soon). I found the contrast breathtaking. I wish I could show Dad #1 how damaging that type A drive for perfection is coming from a parent. That's the Ballet teacher's job. We need to give hugs and praise, and support.


If the ballet student is in the top level of the school, they're already pushing themselves far beyond what most young people are asked to do. We shouldn't add to the stress, we should lessen it.


So, as a Ballet Dad, I must say my struggle (besides writing an appalling number of ever larger checks!) is to find the right balance between "Come on, you can do it!" and "I love you no matter how wobbly that pirouette was."



Dad of a 14 year old Ballerina

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Guest balletmama

BB, obviously I'm not a dad, but I can connect with what you're talking about. The concerns you raise -- that your daughter is becoming too one-dimensional, that her summers are not the traditional kind of fun, that her childhood is being eroded -- have all been voiced on these boards by moms and dads at various times. And at the same time we speak of the joy our young dancers experience, the discipline they hone, the strength and grace of their bodies, and the wonder of the opportunity to immerse themselves in a performing art. I think often in a marriage -- and especially in a divorce situation -- parents can polarize so that one partner holds onto one set of truths and the other holds onto the the other set. Actually, it's in the tension between the two that the truth lies. I'm not sure we ever strike the perfect balance between outside activities/fun and ballet; we are just constantly assessing the state of things and seeking to raise a young dancer who is a whole person. Whether or not they become professional dancers, that is essential.


In the psychologist Martin Seligman's recent, award-winning book, Authentic Happiness, the author contrasts "low-flow" kids he calls "mall rats" with "high-flow kids" who are involved deeply in a passion. He finds the latter group happier and ultimately more successful. Now, obviously, this is a bit simplistic; there are more than two kinds of kids! But his study is something to keep in mind when we worry that intense dedication equals weirdness or misery. Can't speak for the UK, but here in the States I think we hold up a model of "normality" that is often rather shallow.


With my own daughter, I have come to understand that she is a passionate person. If her primary passion had not been dance it might have been science or art or politics, and I have no doubt that if she were not dancing she would pour herself into one of these other pursuits with equal abandon and intensity.


It sounds as though you are involved with your daughter's ballet in some wonderful ways, but you also end up feeling you are competing with ballet for your precious time with your daughter. That is hard. In a few years, though, that may change, since dancers here are not infrequently attracted to jobs in Europe...


I am guessing that your doubts and questions could be helpful to your daughter if you find the right way to approach her. My husband continuously asks my daughter and me challenging questions to be sure she is making choices about SIs, teachers, etc. that will truly help her grow as a dancer. In other words, rather than saying, "This is a crazy career to even be thinking about!" (not that we don't all have these thoughts at times), he says, "Let's go about this in a strategic way, just the way you would any other career."

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Some really fine posts here, Dads! Watermill, I have seen exactly that type of parent you speak about, and find it totally horrifying and frustrating. The parents who demand perfection in everything, and who withhold their praise and love and support when it is not there, are, I think, doing serious damage to their children. Doing their very best is all we can ask of them, and while it is okay to be realistic about their true talent and potential, it's not okay to do what that parent did to a 13 year old! Some parents go so far in their lack of support that they actually work overtime at discouraging the child from pursuing their dreams. We have a young dancer on the board right now who has been accepted to a good SI program, after going through all sorts of trauma with her parents just to be allowed to audition, and now the parents are refusing to support her in attending the program. The child is trying to figure out how to raise the money to do it herself. (I don't think it's a financial problem with the parents, but one of disagreement that she should be allowed to pursue ballet beyond a few lessons in her home town. I have to wonder why they even allow that, if they won't let her go further. She is 16, and very mature and ready to go away for a Summer Intensive.)

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Bilbo, I'm so sorry to hear of the distress you feel at the increasing tension between you and your former spouse, and the limits your daughter's choices have placed on her ability to spend time with you. :)

Balletmama raised some very important points about polarizing truths; between parents, whether distant or not, and within the family. Sometimes when one is striving for a goal, or as a parent, trying to support that effort, we lose our sense of balance and get caught up in the practical necessities that come with the territory. Being so involved on a daily basis, we become immersed by necessity. For a young dancer, the pull to "step away from the plate" (to borrow from baseball) sometimes, needs to come from somewhere. Your unique situation is that functioning from a distance, your objectivity is kept intact and you are far more likely to see the forest through the trees. Loving and understanding ballet as you do lends much credibility to your voice when you express concern. Your daughter knows this. Your unconditional love (as Watermill brought up) is crystal

clear to her. She knows you see her as your daughter, who happens to love ballet, rather than as a dancer who happens to be your daughter.


You're clearly a Dad, with or without ballet!

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Guest rgbisme

What makes the perspective of a Ballet Dad unique?


Straight Men with an Interest in the Arts

Isn't that what Ballet Dads are generally assumed to be? Are we treated much more differently than male ballet dancers in the sense that we are seen as odd or special for showing an interest in the arts?


As a young man, I attended a 2 year-intensive art institute for my college education. I dealt with what it was like to have people, including my family, think I was wasting my time pursuing a career in a field that some consider frivolous. Young ladies have to deal with the same attitudes regarding education in the arts, but I believe reactions are even more strongly magnified for a young man pursuing an education or job in the same field. With such attitudes also comes the questioning of a young man's sexual orientation.


As adults, there is still the attitude that men are wasting their time when involved in the arts. Women are more easily allowed leisure "crafts" and artistic outside interests. It is frequently assumed that a man's presence at the ballet is not that we want to be there but that we have an obligation to be there. Many men have a difficult time explaining to coworkers why they support their children dance and music. Some go so far as battling with their children to get them to drop the activities so that they can pursue something that will "get them somewhere in life."


"No Boys Allowed"

• Who are ballet schools advertising to? I don't really feel like getting into the reason so many schools paint their lobbies pink but this does have an effect on who, as a customer, feels comfortable in their establishment.

• School administration addressing students' parental concerns specifically to moms. "Make sure to tell your moms that there is no class next week because of Spring Break."

• Changing rooms are usually not set up for Dads to help change their daughters into their ballet clothes.

• Other moms comment on how awkward the dads seem when they are waiting for their kids at ballet studio or how their husbands would never wait for their dancing child.

• Moms make comments on how, "Men just don't understand ..." while they are chaperoning at summer intensives, volunteering for performance related jobs, etc. I could really expound here; I was a chaperone parent during the first week of my son's first SI away from home, and the attitudes about my son, eating healthfully as well as shopping for nutritious food and snacks, driving the children 2 blocks to class rather than let them walk, let alone why I was there was a sad comment on some ballet mom's "diva-center-of-the-universe" mentality.

• Dads are sometimes treated like the heavy artillery (see "Ballet Dads are Listened To" below) and avoided. Dads waiting at auditions for summer programs are few and far between and not really included in the circles of conversation.


Ignored or Fawned Over

Ignored -- left out of general announcement when addressed to "moms", treated like an outsider when waiting for students who are in class, having others assume that they just wouldn't be interested or are ignorant about their own child's dance experiences.


Given unnatural positive attention -- told what a wonderful man you are for bringing your child something to eat during a rehearsals that ran long, called on as a volunteer much too frequently because you have volunteered in the past; hefted set piece because you are a "man", been a "Dad in the Nutcracker Party Scene", worked backstage as a wrangler in the boys dressing room, helped paint the new studio walls.


Ballet Dads are Listened To

It may not seem fair but if there are issues that need to be addressed at a ballet school, moms can be more quickly dismissed than dads. If a dad addresses his concerns to a teacher or administrator, they tend to be listened to more carefully and have more time taken to clearly explain to them the school's perspective. Issues get resolved more quickly when this happens. As "Miss Mommy" points out, a dad is not as quickly labeled as a "pushy parent" and our concerns are dealt with in a more business like manner. I am sure it's not true with all schools but I am aware of many times with quite a few different families across the USA who have gotten clear answers more quickly when Dad calls the ballet school.


Being a Ballet Dad

As a dad, I have always been one to watch where my son's interests lie. I have learned not to take away hope when he started projects that I felt were too much for a someone his age to take on. I have not been a passive nor permissive parent; I have offered guidance that he has not always accepted easily. I have tried to teach him the tools for gaining advice or information that I can not provide for him. I have learned a lot about how a determined child can overcome unbelievable obstacles and know that what they have accomplished has been well deserved. I am proud to know that he still cherishes his time off and guards it to reserve as "family time."


Ballet Dads are only special if they can be open enough to recognize that what their children are accomplishing is not frivolous. Ballet dancers are hardworking, high achievers who have a real sense of focus. They need their dads' and moms' emotional, intellectual, and financial support as much as Martin Seligman's "mall rats".

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rgbisme, thank you !


Bilbo, I'm so glad you started this new thread. Everyone's posts are very thought provoking and much appreciated.

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Guest novamom

BW If I might add to your comment.... and BEAUTIFULLY expressed!

I would love to add my experiences with the various Dads at our studio, but could never write with the depth of feeling and passion as what has been written thus far. Thank you Bilbo from starting an obviously thought-provoking thread. I've enjoyed reading the responses very much.

I feel very sad that you must spend so much time away from your daughter. I cannot even guess at how that must feel to a dad who so obviously loves his child and wants the very best for her.

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These are all really thoughtful comments.


I just wanted to add that I don't think the specific activity has much to do with why we see more ballet Moms than Dads. I think it has more to do with the fact that, in US culture at least, moms are Keepers of the Kids. Ballet, soccer, piano, tutoring -- in general, moms are the ones who knows who goes where, when.


In our community, we see three types of dads at the studio: 1) primary caregivers, 2) regular transporters, and 3) emergency back-ups.

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Guest BilboBaggins

It's wonderful to see a thread take on a life of its own ... and know that there is a shared concern, and individuals willing to discuss and offer perspectives and solutions ... thank you all.


My experience of the "European (U.K., really) ballet school scene" is very limited ... mostly to comments from Ballet Alert parents when I asked about the relative lack of European SIs compared to the U.S. It seems that given the UK school schedule and the specialized performing arts schools, summer really is defined as a time when students are expected to relax and be with thier families, not pouring on additional time in the studio. It's not unique to ballet, either -- look at sailing, soccer, rugby, archery, tennis camps -- they all assume that the month of August will be "family relaxation time". Granted, the summer holiday is shorter than it is in the U.S., but still, the underlying philosophy seems to be that a short period of absence allows you to come back with greater focus, a cleared mind, and a relaxed body ...


I've been in the UK for about 15 months and am still amazed at the different roles moms and dads have here compared to in the U.S. If mom isn't working, the role of "chauffer" does fall to her, but many of my colleagues are in two working adult families and mom and dad share the responsibilities ... picking up, dropping off ... school, after school activities, weekends. Seems far more egalitarian (and far lower key about it) than in the U.S. But then, the children still amaze me, as well ... polite, respectful ... I sometimes can't believe it's real (their parents assure me it's all a show for the foreign visitor)!!


rgbisme, you're right about some ballet schools subconsciously sending a "for women/girls" message ... I haven't seen pink walls, but certainly "no men in the dressing room" signs (and to be honest, as a daughter grows from 6 to 13, she wouldn't want dad there, even if the sign weren't there!), comments like "would all the moms remember to ...", and a distinct sense, when I came to watch a class, that it was unusual for a dad to do this. Whether the student is male or female, the message isn't comfortable for dad and has to be felt by a ballet son as well. On the other hand, I must admit, most of the behind the scenes work I have seen has been by moms -- sewing costumes, most notably. It's hard to separate what is a natural affinity for mom and daughter from what is encouraged/discouraged behaviour.


I'm not sure I'd agree with your statement about men and the performing arts. When I was in medical school, theatre was a mental saviour for me -- I was able to get $2 student tickets to watch the Drama School performances, and get to free concerts ... later, when I became a faculty member at a medical school, I would buy subscription seats to the theatre company or to the chorale society and then, every month, take a resident (and partner/S.O.) to dinner, followed by a night of art ... it was my way of saying "you (and your partner) may not be able to afford it, or have the time to think about it, but you are both human beings in a stressful time and deserve a nice night out, and an opportunity for relaxation and contemplation." No one ever suggested I drop the theatre and get basketball seats instead!!


Miss Mommy, you're right, sometimes, it's hard to separate what disagreements reflect the nature of the divorce (very much a personal issue) and what is "natural" as a child grows up and tries to develop, exert, or challenge thier individual independence. Certainly, both factors are present. I remember my own childhood and know there were times when my parents and I disagreed -- sometimes I got my own way (and it was their way of helping me learn ... and be responsible for my actions!) and sometimes I didn't, either because what I wanted was out of our reach or because the risk of letting me find out was too great ... today, as an adult, with children of my own, I appreciate what I put them through and how they handled it ... and I remember what I thought at the time! The clear message they sent me and the message I send my daughter is that I love her, respect her, and want her to succeed and to keep her safe. Sometimes, I think 13 year olds, whether ballerinas or not, boys or girls, just hear the "no" and miss what follows (or precedes it).


The key thing, as you've all pointed out, is to make certain your child knows that you love them, you love what they're doing ... and whether you're saying "yes" to something or "no" (and we all have to say "no" at some time to some thing), it's not to be mean ... it's because we DO care for them.


Novamom, thanks for your empathy ... being distant from my kids (there's also a boy, into basketball, archery, soccer ...) is the only downside to being here... and if I had had any realistic alternative, I would have almost certainly stayed in the U.S. My daughter's first pointe shoes are in my bedroom, along with a picture of the two of them, so they are the first thing I see every day and the last thing at night. Telephone and email go a long way, but they're not the same as being there. ... and with the possibility of politics eliminating trans-Atlantic travel ... well, let's not even go there!!


Anyway, again, thank you all ... and let's see what other thoughts are out there ...



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