47 years and counting…

A few years ago, I wrote a post on my birthday called Reflections on 44. It remains one the most popular posts I’ve ever written.

I know that many, if not most posts I write are dark. I don’t know why that is, other than for some strange reason, the darkness rouses the Muse and words flow more freely. In case you were wondering, I don’t spend my days in some sort of gothic state of depression. Quite the contrary, I am happy most of the time. But it isn’t those moments when I am driven to the keyboard.

So today, on this auspicious 47th anniversary of my entering this world, I decided to reflect on the good in my life.

The first thing that I want to mention is you. Knowing that you take precious time out of your day to scan these words brings me hope…hope that one day, I might turn this habit of verbal doodling might become my life’s work. That’s there still value in these thoughts that bubble up in my brain. That one day, I may truly become a writer, complete with paycheck. Thank you for your presence, the words of encouragement that you leave me and for the gift of your time.

I thank the gods for my friends. You know who you are. The trials of the past year would have been unbearable without you.

Happiness is not a state of being, I’ve come to realize. Happiness is in enjoying the moments that fill our every day and being fully present within them. My own are the simplest: that first cup of coffee in the morning quiet of my front porch, smoking and watching the hummingbirds zip and dive around my neighbor’s feeder. When my newly adopted cat jumps up on the couch and onto my lap, hesitantly craning her neck out to touch her nose to mine. When I have my kids on the couch next to me, their presence (even though they are enraptured by their phones/tablets) brings me peace and joy.
Singing along (badly) with a favorite song while I drive. Flopping down and watching an episode of “Longmire” at the end of a long day. An unexpected message from someone. Watching the sun go down. Listening to the night sounds while I smoke the last cigarette of the day before bed.

That is happiness to me. And my days are filled with those moments.

Surprisingly, these days I have an abundance of hope. I can’t explain why, but I have a concrete sense that no matter what, everything will turn out ok.

Cheers to 47 years. I don’t know if I have 47 more, but I will make the most of those I do have. I plan on making changes for the better in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Thank you for your birthday wishes. Thank you for continuing to read. Thank you for being you. My wish for you is health, happiness and hope in the coming year.

What you think about, you bring about. Never forget that.

“Walk tall, kick ass and take no guff from those swine.” – HST

24 hours in Heaven and Hell

jeepYou know, the past 24 hours have been such a whirlwind, I really don’t know where to begin…

So I guess that I will just begin at the beginning.

I was about to have dinner with a friend, when she got the call that every parent dreads.

A phone number that she didn’t recognize.

A frightened voice telling her that her daughter had been in a car accident.

As the fates would have it, the accident was a mere 100 yards from her front door.  We ran to the car and we could hear the sirens howling in the distance.  Panic crossed her face, as it would any parent hurling themselves headlong into this sort of surreal nightmare.

If we weren’t on the scene in less than a minute after hanging up the phone, we were pretty damn close.  And the scene that greeted us was nothing less than the very picture of what haunts parental dreams.  Brilliant flashing red and blue lights.  Smashed and twisted steel.  Concrete strewn with debris and moonshine diamonds of shattered glass.  Emergency vehicles racing up the road.  Screams of pain.  Glowing red road flares.

We dashed across the traffic lanes and were blocked by police until she heard her daughter screaming for her and she damn near lost it.  The officer relented, let her through and she fell to her knees next to her daughter who was being carefully tended to by the first paramedics that had arrived.  She was crying out in pain, the heart rending sound that makes a person feel so helpless.  Her mom was overcome and had to take a moment to gather herself so I knelt by the girl, holding her hand like the most fragile, delicate piece of glass I could imagine, saying every comforting and soothing word I could think of.  Kind hands on my shoulders as a fireman said “It’s ok, dad.  We are taking good care of her.”  I didn’t bother to correct him or clarify my status.  At that moment it seemed trivial.  Those same kind hands purposefully guided me away, giving them the space they needed to work.

I turned to the teenage boys that were with her in the car and who were pacing nervously, almost as if lost.  The story was coming in bits and pieces, but we managed to gather the basics but the penultimate detail was that the girl was ejected from the vehicle through a back window.  That was about all we had the chance to gather before the girl and her mom were loaded into an ambulance and fired off.

I stayed behind and tried to wrap my mind around what had happened.  I spied a shoe that the girl had been wearing left on the street.  I picked it up and searched for the other.   It wasn’t the only item missing from my sight.  As I looked at the car she had been in, I noticed that the right rear wheel was gone.  As was the tailgate of the car.  Not just flat, bent or damaged.  Fucking gone.  I looked all around and could not see them anywhere.  I wrenched open the battered driver’s door, grabbed the girl’s purse and found her other shoe still inside the car.

Incredible.  Surreal.  I was stunned as my mind pictured the immense impact and I couldn’t shake the horrible image of the girl flying out of the window in a glittering explosion of glass and winced as I pictured her body thumping against the pavement and coming to rest.  I dropped into the front seat of my car and lit a cigarette.  I closed my eyes and took a few moments  before I did the impossibly long (at least it seemed) drive to the hospital without the benefit of lights and siren or even a visual of the ambulance, but wasted no time nonetheless.

I parked the car and hustled into the ER Entrance.  As I approached the trauma room I saw swirl of scrubs and white lab coats.  Machines and monitors beeped, ticked and blinked.  Her clothes had been cut off and lay in a dejected pile on the floor.  I put my arm around my friend and did my best to keep her calm.  She described the ambulance ride as we stood just outside the room, as no space for even a single other person was available in the bustle of that room.

Minutes turned to hours to hours as staff gradually trickled out, their roles complete.  The girl seemed pitifully small on the hospital bed.  We took turns gently talking to her, delicately stroking her hair and reassuring her that we were still there and were not going anywhere while they rolled her to CT scans and paced until she was brought back.

Finally, around midnight, a relieved looking surgeon cataloged her injuries, a concussion, bruised bones and pulled muscles, cut and bruises and an ugly patch or two of road rash but nothing broken.  Nothing serious nor life-threatening.  She would spend the night in the hospital for observation purposes, but could go home in the morning.

Which in my humble opinion, is nothing short of amazing.

A few weeks ago, my youngest asked me if I still believed in God.  It brought to mind a scene from a movie where a fallen angel asks a man who once studied to be priest;  “Do you still believe?  Any of it?”  And the priest didn’t.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth, that life had battered that out of me over the past few years.  I didn’t want to break his little heart, so I told him that I still did.

I don’t know what to believe anymore, but dear reader I can tell you this I surely believe in miracles.  And when that girl shyly and hesitantly walked up to me (after I brought them home from the hospital) and wrapped her arms around me in one of the sweetest hugs that I had ever received, I knew that I was holding a living miracle at that moment.

In the midst of all of this,  I get contacted by a high school friend.  After texts back and forth, he tells me that his mother is dying.  A woman who was a second mom to me in those terrible awkward years of my life.  A woman who I had shared countless hours, cigarettes and RC colas with.

I pondered this crazy life of mine.  One moment joy and relief, and the next, sorrow.

And a few hours later, a simply worded text.  His mom had passed.  And all of the breezes that had filled my sails earlier vanished.  In a matter of hours I shall be sitting with my friend, doing my best to be the person that I need to be for them.  I will give them the gift of my time and my love and friendship.  The longer I live, the more I believe that those simple gifts are the only currency that don’t devalue.

And some day, I hope that this life will make some sense to me.  In the closing scene of the movie “Tombstone” Wyatt Earp is visiting Doc Holliday as Doc lay dying and Wyatt is lamenting his inability to live a normal life.  To which Doc replies:

“There’s no normal life, Wyatt.  There’s just life.  You’ll get on with it.”

Truer words seldom spoken.

I guess I’ll just get on with it.

 

High Anxiety (Blogger advisory ~ lots of vulgarity in this post)

Well, it happened.

I sent the kids off to the bus stop.  Alone.  For the first time.  To their second day at a new school.  Did I mention that they were alone?  AND they will have to walk home (1/3 of a mile) from the bus stop and let themselves in the house.  For the first time.  Alone.

And I was/am a damned wreck.  It was everything that I could do to not park somewhere and watch them while they waited.

The DadStalker.

You see kids, I suffer from anxiety.

Most days it’s manageable.  Some days, it’s paralyzing.

Lately, it’s been a fresh hell.

Aside from everyday life stresses and my crazy, fucked up occupation, I’ve been compounded by a move to a new house, worrying about my dad (with whom we spent 9 months living after the death of his wife), the kids & their new school, money (can I really afford this freakin’ house?), et cetera…

Oh, and I turned 45 a couple of weeks ago.  Birthdays almost always jack up my anxiety as I analyze my life over the previous year(s) and try to decide if I am keeping my shit together in a manner befitting someone of my age and station in life.

The answer this year was an echoing “hellz noooooooooo.”

And I am trying to decide if that is a good thing/bad thing.  My writing friends Hemingway, Thompson, Bukowski and good ol’ Hank Moody are all varying degrees of trainwreck.

Is this something inherent in my animal?  Literary DNA?

I wish I knew.  The past few months my hands shake noticeably.  Now the legs have picked up the beat as well.  If I stop typing, my hands will involuntarily tap the keyboard.

ajjdhohehoieh  (See what I mean?)

At least, I hope it’s anxiety.  A little voice in the back office of my brain’s Health Concerns Department keeps whispering “Parkinson’s” over and over again.

And to answer all three of you that read this blog, no.  I don’t take anxiety meds or have any treatment other than smoking and the occasional indulgence in drink.

I am a fan of self-medication.  An enthusiast, really.

But lately, neither tobacco nor fermentation has been working particularly well.

What to do, what to do.

As I write this, I get a text from the girl telling me that they are home from school.

The weight lifts ever so slightly.

My apologies for the lack of entertainment value in this post.  It was therapy for me to put this out there.

Thanks for reading.

Musings on Scooters and Frogs…

Years ago, I can remember the young, stupid, single & childless me boring some poor soul with ruminations of my ambivalence towards children and fatherhood.
But secretly, I was/am a baby FREAK.
My wife calls me out when she catches me mugging silly faces to coax a smile from an infant. Calls me a baby creeper.
My stepsister gave me the honorable moniker of “The Baby Whisperer.”

I do love me the little ones.

When my daughter (now a presumptuous 12 year old) was born, I made a quick run to buy a warmer for her diaper wipes. I was mocked by the wife, who asked if my daughter was too fragile for cold diaper wipes.
And she was.

I loved every diaper change. Every bottle. Every bath. Every Baby Einstein video. Every 2 am session in the rocking chair to put her back to sleep.

Her bright eyes and easy smile made her a dream baby. I would give her the bedtime bottle and rock away hours with her asleep on my ample belly, listening to Delilah on the radio, a silly smile on my face.
My Scooter. We wanted to be surprised, so we made everyone’s baby shower shopping a unisex pain in the ass. My father-in-law dubbed the baby in utero as “Scooter.”

It stuck. I still call her Scooter on those increasingly rare occasions that she wants me to hold her.
Scooter is now 5’7. Not quite as easy as when she was born (9lbs 5oz and 21 1/2 inches).
I never imagined that I would feel the love that I felt for her. I now know what some older guy meant when he said “I would hurt someone for my wife, but I would kill for my kids.”

A beautiful girl. A natural athlete. Neither of which she got from her old man.

Nineteen months after Scooter made the scene, a giggly baby boy showed up. Judging solely from his date of birth, my best guess is that he was a birthday present that I gave the wife. Yeah baby, the best gifts don’t cost money.

He was a surprise.
Actually, he was a gift. The souls of Chris Farley & Carl Sagan in a tiny package. He would walk into wall on purpose and just laugh.

He picked his own name. I wanted to name him Grant Preston. Wife wanted Samuel Joseph. We argued good naturedly for several months prior and several hours after his arrival. Finally I walked over to the hospital bassinet where he was chilling out and said, “OK pal, are you Grant Preston or are you Samuel Joseph?”
When I said “Samuel Joseph” he turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and told the wife that she won.

I love that little guy. We do guy stuff, and some of the best days of my life have been spent riding trains, building campfires, and philosophizing with this tender-hearted little oddball Buddha.

But that boy also has a pretty wide ornery streak in him. There were times during his toddler years that he would be so infuriatingly stubborn. I’d get so mad I would yell “You little FROG!”

It was strangely satisfying. All the benefits of cursing and none of the guilt. For those of you with kids, I highly recommend this method.

Except when he was learning to talk. I asked him what his name was. He looked up at me proudly and said “FROG!”

I scaled back my amphibious invective after that.

I fear the kind of world they are growing up in and especially the world that they will face alone as adults. It seems that every day, people invest immense energy to find new and better ways to be ugly and vile to each other. My heaviest burden is trying to teach them to love and respect others when “others” seem to be unresponsive or unworthy of it.

And, as one might imagine, I think of another child of mine. One that I never got to hold. One who died before he was born. Buried in a lonely grave in the shadows of the mountains that captured my heart and soul many years ago.
A little part of me died with him. He would have been 25 this October.

On this Father’s Day, I hope to forgo ugly ties and “World’s Best Dad” coffee mugs for some moments. Moments that I will carry along in the magical wagon that holds the jumbled up memories of their whirlwind infancy, toddlerdom, and early childhood.

My Scooter. My Frog. One girl. One boy.

One proud, worried and occasionally cranky dad. Looking to grab all of the moments that I can.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there.

Let your Freak Flag fly!

“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” – Hunter S. Thompson

I am weird.

You all know that. If you’ve read any number of the posts here, you’ve already formed that conclusion.

And you would be correct.

My entire life has felt like being the one small piece of a very large puzzle that doesn’t fit in anywhere. No matter how hard or how many times I try.

My personal brand of weirdness reminds me of its existence regularly. For example, while going through an unmarked manila file folder in my desk, I found several examples which make me wonder about myself sometimes.

A copy of Wyatt Earp’s death certificate. Sam Kinison’s autopsy report and funeral bill. A handbill detailing Doc Holliday’s funeral service (most likely fake, but bitchin’ nonetheless).

As if my dream car (mentioned in the post titled “The Secret”) wasn’t proof enough. Nor my unconventional occupations that I’ve enjoyed.

And now, I have a weird kid.

I love him more that I ever thought I would love a child. He is a wonderful, loving, tender-hearted little guy. He’s a Mini-Me (I raise my pinky to my lip in my best Dr. Evil imitation).

And he’s weird. Exasperatingly so.

As a dad who was a weird kid and who knows the pain that can be inflicted on weird kids from so-called “normal” kids, I want to spare him from that if at all possible.

I’m not sure that I can. And after a little chat that he and I had a short time ago, I’m not sure that I want to.

In my quest to father this lad, I spend a few minutes of almost every evening lying next to him before he goes to bed and we talk about whatever is on his little mind.

This particular evening, I was questioning him on the necessity of his stuffed animals in his room. I swept my arm across the room in a grand gesture.

“Aren’t you getting a little old for these?”

“No Dad. I like them.”

I protested. And he floored me with a simple sentence.

“Dad,” he said softly. “I’m just different. I’m not like other kids.”

And my heart broke just a little. Because I knew exactly what he was speaking of.

He and I had a very serious conversation back in the fall, during a Dad/son day trip to some nerdy destination that we were both excited about.

He was very quiet during the ride. He usually never shuts up.

He confided in me that kids at school were mean to him. Just for being himself.

And then he stuck a verbal dagger in me by saying:

“Sometimes, I think that God made me a mistake.” And he wept.

I parked the car and held him while he cried. Fresh in my mind was the family of a young man who must have had similar feelings about himself, just before he stepped in front of an 18-wheeler on the highway.

His words hit home. Hard.

I never, ever want my son to feel this way. I have spent way too much time feeling the same way myself. As a weird adult, I’ve made peace with the fact that I will never have a lot of people who get me or want to hang out with me. (It took me a long time to do so.) As a single guy, women never wanted anything to do with me (or so it seemed. Lucky for me I found an attractive wife who has weird taste in men.) And my god, did it ever suck being an un-athletic kid at a sports-crazed high school. Seeing my son already start to experience this kind of rejection makes me worry about what difficult days may come in his future.

When he finished crying and gathered himself, I tried to make a very clear point to him. I needed to let him know that it was okay to be different. That he was still a human being worthy of love and life.

So I told that I loved him. That I would always love him, no matter if he was weird or not. As long as he was a good person, I would love him as long as there was breath in my body and blood in my veins. And that his mom felt the same. And as long as you have people who love you, no matter if it is one or one hundred, then you have a reason to keep living and enjoying your life.

I wished I would have heard those words when I was growing up. Even though I am sure the sentiment and feelings were there, it sure would have helped to here the words on those darker days.

Back to the night of the Great Stuffed Animal Debate, I decided that I need to let him be him. That he needs to be himself. I will counsel and advise him if asked to, but I will not force him to be something that he is not. And if my memory serves me, being like the “normal” kids isn’t an improvement.

I consider it a courtesy to him, from one weird kid to another. A courtesy that I extend to any of you out there who might fall into the same abyss with he and I. I’m always glad to hear from my fellow Weird. It’s okay to be different. As long as one person loves you for who you are, keep living and keep loving.

We’re here. We’re weird. Let your freak flag fly. Let it fly!