My youngest is going camping with his friends this weekend. We’ve amassed quite the collection of camping gear over the years, so of course, we spent Thursday evening setting up numerous tents in the living room to determine which one would be best suited for the adventure. Sounds of nylon against carbon fiber filled the room as tent poles slid through support loops and various forms of portable housing took shape.
Somehow Game of Thrones came up. Amidst the racket, I heard my eldest ask,
“Is Peter Dinklage an elf?”
“No,” I responded, “he’s a dwarf. There are no such things as elves.”
My son gave me that look; you know the one teenagers give you when they realize you’re going deaf, or crazy, or whatever.
“No Dad, was Peter Dinklage ‘in’ Elf ? You know, the movie?”
Laughter joined the sound of rustling nylon, filling the room.
The luckiest person in the world? Perhaps it’s the guy who parachuted from space and lived to tell (Felix Baumgartner), or the one lottery winner who didn’t destroy his life with his winnings. Maybe it’s the girl who against all odds married the perfect man, the happy soul who put everything he had on Apple stock at $14 back in the day, or you, or me for that matter?
Hard work is well known to set the odds in one’s favor. However, sayings are “sayings” for a reason, and I appreciate the expression “It’s better to be lucky than good” for the sheer cheek it waves in one’s face. Some say that luck can be defined as the moment “when opportunity meets preparedness,” which I believe to be the best explanation I’ve heard to date, but that definition doesn’t account for the inherent cruelties of life.
In the last four weeks, the engine computer on my car died, relegating it to the role of the world’s largest paperweight. I wrecked hard on my mountain bike, cracking the rear axle and destroying my front forks. My employer of twenty-four years put the entire staff on notice that things were, to say the least, not looking rosy. Two friends of mine perished in freak car accidents, and my father and best friend both find themselves in the late stage throes of leukemia, options dwindling. Unluck seems to abound. Challenging, heartbreaking, costly, income free times have presented themselves. Lady Luck, are you listening? There are people out there who could use your assistance.
It’s not me who needs the gift of luck. Those grieving needed the luck. Those besieged by disease need the luck. My trivial trials can still be wrestled into submission by hard work, by preparedness, and a dash of opportunity…for now. In spite of the rather steep downturn that’s befallen this house in the last month light still shines; dimmed a bit by recent events but glimmering none the less. Glass half empty, glass half full, glass accidentally dropped after too many glasses, whatever. Isn’t it all an elaborate brocade featuring equal parts whim of fate and the choices we make? A bittersweet symphony.
I’ve jumped from an airplane 57 times, but never from space. I’ve purchased a lottery ticket, or two hundred, and once won $3.00. I married for love, but no amount of effort proved adequate to hold the union in place. I bought Apple stock at $200, after the split, and have no profit to show for it. On the other hand, I have a loving family, two amazing young men who I am honored to assist on their journey to adulthood. They light up the world as though every day is a fusion of the fourth of July and the summer solstice. Based on this fact alone, I consider myself, through no doing of my own, to be in the running for the title of, “Luckiest person in the world!”
My dream home came up for sale today. It is not a house to which many would ascribe that moniker. However, It is the very place where my sons did much of their growing up. As it happened, our home was sacrificed, like so many, on the altar of marital dissolution.
The boys and I have spoken often of the dream of one day buying it back, of reclaiming our ‘home.’ Sure the brick facade has been painted over and someone else has imprinted it with their concept of ‘home,’ but with some blood, sweat, and tears, we would make it ours again.
After hours on the phone with bankers, it appears those hopes have been dashed by the advent of ‘market appreciation’ relative to my income. Dreams are fickle things. My heart, though full with the bounty of my good fortune, is a bit heavy today.
I have nothing to say… Oh wait, that can’t be right.The voice in my head never stops yammering, so perhaps I should just share a bit of that monkey din.Let’s see, I was super uptight with my kids this morning in response to their less than “militarily precise” approach to preparing for the first day of school.My fluster-faced antics were unnecessary and as it turns out, super unproductive.They watched me rant with bemused looks of teenage indifference.Suddenly it dawned on me that I was “choosing” to be an ass. “Thank god,” I thought, and just like that, I chose to change my choice.I decided that I no longer wished to be a “that dad,” so I stopped my foolishness, and apologized to my sons.Breakfast and the ride to school were lighthearted and fun.So that’s all I have to say…
Wait, I do want to mention that while I was acting like a child, they were keeping their distance, staying emotionally clear of the bad mojo vortex.They had decided it seems, to give me the space to work through whatever ass clown hair shirt I was knitting without engaging.Well done boys.
I have nothing to say, that needs to be said, at the moment.That said or said thrice perhaps, I like saying stuff.When I was a young boy I had, as some parents might say “a lot of energy.”My father was a man of few words.Of those few words, the ones I often heard were “stop babbling.”What?Not enrich the world with my eight-year-old prattle?You can’t be serious? Poor guy’s ears must have been near bleeding!
I have a couple talkers in my house.The suspects are male, ages 13 and 16.While they both can go on serious verbal tears, the 13-year-old is exceptionally gifted.He can speak incessantly for such extended periods that we’ve actually coined terms to describe his gift.When he’s been thinking out loud at the speed of sound for some interminable period, we call it ‘streaming’…he calls it “broadcast mode.”I used to talk, or “babble” like that when I was a boy, ha!It doesn’t hurt anyone, so I just let him blow that horn.
Some folks don’t talk much. Some folks do.Some are great listeners while others don’t seem to have the ability to give two stray shits about what anyone says, even as they pretend to listen. What?Ha, just kidding.
So it seems I have nothing important to say, but I’m damn happy to be here, to have another day on this planet with opportunities in front of me and most of the “learning the hard way” behind me.Babblers, quite folk, grumpsters, and joy monkeys, may you find wildflowers and spring water along your path as you walk to the beat of your own personal expression drums.
Parents! If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent! If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking. If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.
For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.Humanity, consisting primarily of me.Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.Ugh, so embarrassing!Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.
We all do our best right?No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.However, if we do our best, well done us!That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole? You decide.
These days I am a parent.Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.Attitude is everything!
Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.Ego talk? Probably. Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.As for my misread on the choice of life partners?Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.
I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?Could we have done better? Certainly.The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.No blaming or finger pointing here.
Back to my parents. They worked hard, or at least my pops did. On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included. Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect. To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics. Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps. My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life. The intensity must have been nearly unbearable. Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure. No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.
My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs. We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood. It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled. In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt. We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together. So it goes.
In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown. I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.“Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.Phew!
By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.Distance allows perspective.Perspective provides the chance for healing.Healing allows courage to blossom.Courage creates the possibility of change.Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.Forgiveness is a universal gift.
Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.
I love you, mom and dad!I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
The patience cat came to stay on an unusually warm Saturday in late July. She was accompanied by two siblings who clearly regarded her as the least significant of their clan. The serial cat rescuers we acquired these new family members from defined her as the runt of the litter. Funny word for living things, “litter!” Kittens come into the world in one, cats relieve themselves in it, and humans prone to indiscretion cast it from the windows of speeding cars along the highways of America as a malevolent gift to society at large. Anyway, the three kittens, two silver tabby girls and one-half tabby, half polished polar bear boy crawled tentatively over the edge of their cardboard limo to explore the new world. “Ugh, linoleum,” thought the patience cat at first touch, what have we gotten ourselves into?
Interestingly that was also one of my first thoughts when I bought the place. That said, Linoleum is an amazing substance, tackiness notwithstanding. No offense meant to lovers of the flooring option. It (linoleum) is an amazingly forgiving, and down-the-road money-saving choice. For instance, when the 1970’s fridge that came with this fossilized house offers up a couple of quarts of “where the hell did that water come from” around its base, or one of the cats yacks their morning kibble and half the lawn on it, its cool. Linoleum saves the day via its impermeable countenance. A few rags or paper towels solve the problem, and no one has to lose sleep over absorbency. Excellent! The fact that someone actually gets paid to create the god-awful designs featured on most plastic flooring products must rank high among god’s jokes, but I digress?
As human children grow up their personalities being to emerge, or if their ways of being have been made clear early on, they magnify. The Patience Cat was no exception. Being a firstborn myself, by many years actually, (only child until I was six), I can’t imagine what it must be like to be the weakest among seven born within twenty minutes. In the litter arena, I imagine getting food, let alone parental nurturing has a gladiatorial survival essence about it. So yes, she was slight of build, to put it mildly. In fact, she looked like a bobblehead. That said, unlike many of her kind, she survived. In her little cat way, she found footing in a loving home and made a place for herself, possibly due to the three, well-distanced food bowl placement strategy employed at our place.
So it was that the Patience Cat became a teenager. The intersection of safety with dependable continuity from day to day allows one to spread their wings. The Patience Cat found this to be true for her. The unruliness and demands of a teenager manifested in her every action. The quirks this girl displays make for regular conversation fodder around the house. Which for context I must say is a house inhabited by three men two teenagers and yours truly.
This kitty girl, with all her issues, is a gift to us. For one thing she is a lovely little soul. On top of that, her style of interaction provides a constant reminder that patience is a choice. Patience was in short supply in the halls where I dwelled during my early years. So it is I imagine in most households featuring young, busy parents and challenging offspring. Though I was first born, and therefore not classified as a runt by traditional definition, I was not remotely familiar with golden child status, nor accustomed to patience as a guiding hand during my assent to adulthood, (an assent which I’m not sure I’ve completed). The apple, as they say, does not fall far from the tree, unless a benevolent tornado has been involved in logistical reassignment proceedings. As a result, the expression “patience is a virtue” comes to mind in no small way on a daily basis for me. The Patience Cat then has become something of a guide, a guardian angel if you will, to remind me of my choice to be accepting of others. In particular, she has reminded me to make space for those who, by no fault, or choosing of their own, do shit that makes me want to go volcanic!
Do you remember that kid in school who tried way too hard to get attention? Everybody shunned that poor desperate bastard or bastardette right? That’s the Patience Cat! Working at the laptop, perched on the couch with a cocktail, I’ll be intensely focused on a project. Then here she comes, sliding her dripping, enthusiastic nose across my arm, ensuring a typo as she works her way toward obscuring my view of the screen. Even now as I am typing this piece, she has been nudging and nuzzling my arm with that running nose to the damp tune of a multitude of “red underlined” typos. Ugh! But wait, she just wants connection. That’s not a crime. So I have to take a breath and chill, in lieu of my automatic response which would be to escort her from the couch physically, possibly to a neighboring county. Yes, I can be an insensitive ass. The boys, who have had similar experiences, find her to be equally intrusive and disruptive. We discuss it, regularly. Good for her though, we ultimately decide, grudgingly. She goes for what she wants. Plenty of humans never find the courage to quest for the fulfillment of their needs. Again, the Patience Cat is a guide, a role model even.
Though she can be trying on multiple levels, she is family. The name Patience Cat, which I might add, is her most flattering nickname to date, arose from her curious behavior at the threshold of our patio door. It was late December, the temperature hovering at 7º. She wanted to go outside, sort of. She meowed at the door; I opened it wide offering unobstructed passage. She backed up, timid, uncertain. Confused, I closed the door. She again meowed and approached the door. Once more I pulled the door open allowing the winter chill to wither the already wilting kitchen. Again she backed up and declined the offer. This time I Thought, “well what the fuck cat?” Then it dawned on me; she has an issue with crossing the threshold. Perhaps she’d been hit in the ass by that door at some point on her proverbial “way out.” Not on my watch, but we have had cat sitters while on vacation. Hmmm? I mustered a patience flame from deep within. Standing there freezing my ass off, while hundreds of dollars of central heat poured into the leafless, frigid backyard I waited.
I spoke gently to her, assuring her that she could exit safely, and would be let back in should she change her mind. She looked at me as if to say, “I don’t speak English, you silly fuck!” I stood still, recognizing at that moment the opportunity to undo a lifetime of patience-less perspective. Slowly she moved, one tiny, cautious step at a time across that insanely hideous greenish plaid-ish linoleum toward the doorway. Minutes passed, hours, days, lifetimes. Suddenly she rushed the door. As she approached the threshold, she leaped several feet in the air kicking her hide quarters to the side like a freestyle motocross rider and flew out into the winter night.
Stunned, I watched her dash across the frozen grass, then realizing my shiver along with the icicles forming on my eyelashes, closed the door. Click went the latch. There in that dark, cold, horribly neglected 1950’s kitchen I stood stone still. Moments passed. A smile slowly crossed my lips; then laughter burst from me. The Patience Cat, the smallest and least likely to survive had delivered a late Christmas present. Patience grew where once there was none. It is a choice that can manifest, a gift, a survivable option for one to whom it had formerly been no more than a myth. Who knew?
If you’re still stuck on the 7º bit, fear not. I did a lap or two around the house turning off lights and saying good nights, returned to the kitchen, and called the little girl in.
Apologies. I’m guessing I haven’t offered enough of them in my lifetime. Neither I’m sure, have I received some that might have been deserved, but that bit is beyond my control. “Deserve’s got nothing to do with,” or so I’ve heard Clint Eastwood say, and so I’ll leave that be for now.Apologizing is the most potent acts of healing in the human relational inventory.A heartfelt apology can repair seemingly permanent damage. The act can even spark the rebuilding of ostensibly terminal relationships.Apologizing is a two-way wonder drug.So why is it that when it’s needed most this seemingly simple choice can appear so utterly unavailable to us?
Hello Ego!The pride-o-meter sits pinned at eleven.“Sorry?” I spit.“Ha, I’m not sorry, I’m fucking pissed!”Sound familiar?“It’s they, not I who should be asking for forgiveness.”Here I am once again, facing a barricade I’ve built obstructing the pathway to reconciliation and so created the need for the other person’s permission to move forward.Waiting for an apology is just that, waiting.Waiting in lieu of acting, of taking the chance, of creating an opportunity for resolution.
Pride is a fickle mistress.It can afford us the intense bravado needed to inflate our personal myth of invincibility, which in a fight or flight situation can be useful.However, when the peak intensity of such an engagement subsides, we are left with the stance we took based on pride, not on love.“Love,” where did that come from?Hmmm, from the idea that if we truly want peace, we have to choose it.Peace is my favorite, but clearly not a universal choice for ‘state of being.’Have you ever apologized to someone only to find that the words had no effect on them?Come to understand that your act of contrition bore no fruit in your effort to create healing?Me too!Some people thrive on conflict, and that is either a nature, nurture or both thing, over which we have no power other than a heartfelt, “ugh!”
Sometimes offering an apology is not a practical option.In such downward spiraling relationships, we may find the right answer to be ‘cut and run.’Sometimes we have to let things go.The real challenge lies in determining, and owning the difference between circumstances beyond our control, i.e., dealing with an ‘unreasonable’ person, and situations in which we have been party to the wrongs that might well be righted by a diminishment of our own ego posturing.Difficult yes, but not insurmountable. It is painful to think about lost friendships or loves that might have been saved by an apology. Could they still be?
These days I find myself apologizing rather frequently; though I’m sure I still miss some prime opportunities to take responsibility. I say “I’m sorry” to my sons when I’ve wrapped up a solid performance of being less than the father I’d like to be. I can see in their eyes that it lands, and moves them. Perhaps, more importantly, it may someday help them with the task of owing their own spells of less than stellar behavior. Hopefully, it will instill in them the notion that choosing to initiate the making of amends is not an act of weakness. Rather, it is an act of strength, or so I believe, survivable and often enriching.
Heartfelt apologies spring from a bottomless well within us. They are an infinitely renewable resource. The courage to make the first move of reparations may be buried deep. At times it may seem utterly impossible to grasp. Even so, I believe it is always worth the reach.
This random thought began as a journal note in 2014.
Table manners. Ah yes! A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.
My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously! I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him. Ha, that’s my boy. Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night. It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!” I could force him to sit…but why? Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so? Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?” Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table? Probably not. However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.
“Can’t you control that kid?”
“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”
“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”
As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.
As a nod to Emily Post and her followers, I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends. He gets it. He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc. When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control. Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context. Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience? If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations. Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant? The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught. Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?
With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions. I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day. Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish? I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me. I’m not advocating mannerlessness. I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned. They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will. Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.
Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them. Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.” That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time. And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family. Even I have my limits. There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending. Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules. How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later. The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame. I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world. I bet you do too.
Do you have a similar experience to relate? Please comment. Life is bigger and better with shared experience!