The calling

I’ve been interested in Social Work since college (many, many, many moons ago). I was a Psychology major in college. I studied the whole gamut but I was most interested in personality theory. Freud, Jung, Adler, Eriksen, and even the controversial but fascinating B.F. Skinner. I started Grad School but had to stop when our first little bundle of joy arrived. I was studying Counseling with the hopes of being an HS Guidance Counselor. That never materialized. While I never actually used my degree professionally, I found that my education in conjunction with my strong people skills (sounds cocky but it’s not an opinion it’s a fact) allowed me an advantage in every job I’ve held. I know people.

Imagine my happiness when I recently learned of an opportunity in Recovery Case Management. It occurred as do many things lately, it just fell in my lap. The Universe has been very good to me of late. I have opened myself to the possibilities and I have found them everywhere, in fact, they seem to find me. Funny story.
I have been detailing cars to make extra money for years. I had a customer in town. She paid me with a check and a twenty for a tip. As I was driving home I noticed that there 2 twenties stuck together. I turned around and asked her if she meant to give my 40 dollars. She had not. I gave it back to her. She was so moved by such a simple gesture of honesty (not a big deal I really can’t imagine doing it any other way) that she promised she would spread the word about me. Well, a referral, who I had never met and may not have, casually mentioned that I would be a good Case Manager at the Rehab she worked at. 2 weeks later, thank you Karma.

The timing and circumstances were perfect. I was just coming off of Disability after reclaiming my health and my financial needs are very different now. I could never have survived on the wages when I had the financial obligations of Homeownership and family. Now, my needs have changed. I want to do something that doesn’t feel like work. I have found such an opportunity and it has been the best move I have ever made. It is a natural fit for me. I get to talk to people, work with them, and do something that is bigger than a paycheck: help people. Call me corny, call me sappy, call me over the top but I swear on my new Kidney that I am all about that at this point of my life and I have found my happiness.

A year and a half ago I was sad, sick, and longing for something to be hopeful about. Today I spring out of bed and I go to a place where I work hard at something that doesn’t feel like work. It feels like a calling. I get humbled every day by how fortunate I am and have been; some of the people I work with have been to Hell and back. I get uplifted every day when I recognize their progress and am thankful for my small role in it. While I want to save the world, it’s just how I’m wired, I can take comfort in the small victories and not take the ones that don’t make it as a personal failure.

I may still be broke, but I’ve never felt more useful. In my many recent conversations about identity and self-worth I have delved into the connection, and the disconnect between our vocation and our actual selves. I am one of the lucky ones where my identity closely aligns with how I pay the bill

Who are you?

Who are you sounds like a simple question upon first consideration. Actually, it’s anything but. You may think you are one thing but you may be entirely another. Many spend their entire lives as a walking, breathing dichotomy; never really knowing who they are. Or worse, they refuse or don’t have the courage to embrace it. To me, there is nothing more pathetic than the one that is many things to many people.

I am a walking testament to this. For decades I tried to be something I wasn’t. I cut myself a small break for this in hindsight because I truly didn’t know who I was. Then I discovered a bit about myself but came to realize that I wasn’t going to be allowed, by the confines of my job and life in general, to show who I was. Then came the day, finally, that I realized my true self and just embraced it. I’ve never been happier.

It took me actual decades to come to grips with the fact that I am a gentle, friendly, and nice guy. I was raised by a tough man. A man that showed his kind side sparingly and felt obligated, perhaps from the influence of his father, that manhood is a construct that requires a mask. This was not atypical of his generation. Thus I grew up with such outdated notions as “don’t ever let someone see weakness”, “nice guys finish last”, and “toughen up or I’ll give you something to cry about.” The list sadly goes on. My older cousins and uncles gave me dating advice of “women want jerks”, that dating is a “numbers game”, and that women were “notches on the ol’ belt”.
At 18 I was 6 foot, weighed 195 pounds, had a fair amount of muscle, a confident walk, a high tolerance for alcohol, an outwardly tough demeanor, and a decent record of getting consistent sex. It only made sense that I forge an identity consistent with my appearance. So I tried to act like a tough, hard-partying ladies man. So that’s what I put out.
But it wasn’t me. But I thought that’s what people wanted and I was too immature to recognize it. The only true part of that identity was the hard-drinking part. That remained true for some time. Otherwise, I was a ludicrous and senseless combination of confident and insecure.
Eventually, I had to embrace that I hate fighting and I’ve only had a few. But my posture and strong chin ensure that no one ever starts with me. So I’m not a tough guy.
I’ve tried to be a womanizer but I actually hate casual sex and am a fairly romantic, loving and loyal guy (If I ever let anyone have my heart again). So I’m not a player.
I tried to be a party animal for many years but the truth is I’m much more comfortable with a small circle at a house than with hordes of strangers at a club. I don’t think I’m shy, if there’s a thing called an extroverted introvert then that’s me. I can talk to a room of 1000 people but at a party, I often find myself standing by myself people-watching. So I’m not a party animal.
So who the fuck am I?
I’m me. I finally, after all these years know that I’m awkward but competent. I know that I love the ladies but I only want one to love. I know that I can handle myself but I have no interest in violence. I can be serious and I can be woefully silly. I have a huge heart and I don’t care who knows it. I’m me, take me or leave me.
That’s who I am.

Legacy

Here’s an intense topic for Tuesday.
Legacy.
What will people say about me when I’m gone is something I think about often. Now, before I continue, it needs to be said that I don’t care how many people show up and how many “likes” the inevitable FB post about my passing may get. I just want to be a fly on the wall and see if five words are used in conversation:
“He was a good guy.”
That’s it, that’s all that I want. It seems that after all of those years of keeping up with the Jones’s, trying to climb the corporate ladder and make obscene amounts of money, and being a high-profile member of the many fraternities and groups that I belong to, it seems that my only goal now is to be a good person.
OK, so where is this going you ask? It is an extension of my earlier conversation on identity. I have come to realize that your identity is not a singular entity. It has many components:
Who are you?
What is your purpose?
What are you doing to achieve that purpose?
What do you stand for?
How did you make people feel?

If you can be consistent with all of these concepts, you will have achieved a legacy to be proud of. You will be remembered well.
Be someone that is remembered for the right reasons.
Be someone that is known for accomplishment, and serving a purpose.
Be remembered as a person that risked something to serve that purpose.
Stand for something so meaningful that you may have died for it.
Be someone who is not only remembered, but someone who will be missed.

As a fly on the wall of my own funeral, if I don’t hear the words, “he was a good guy”, then at least I hope I don’t hear, “he was a useless asshole”. There, I have opened up what may end up being a very big can of worms.
Brace yourselves.

Good enough

I have struggled with the notion of “good enough” for most of my life. I cannot tell you how many of my nearly 60 trips around the sun have been spent in a state of self-imposed feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Now, I acknowledge the hyperbole in the previous statement, it’s not as if it consumed me. But it was always there. I’ve never felt good enough.

Then, one day I asked myself a question that changed my entire outlook.
“Who told me that I wasn’t good enough?”

Nobody. That’s who. Except for me of course. And I have absolutely no damn idea why. Maybe by my peers? I will admit that, despite boldly and loudly stating the contrary, I care what people think of me.
Not my co-workers. I have always been very focused in my work, regardless of the vocation. I always worked hard and, while I have been not so good at some things and received mixed reviews I have also received accolades for things that I am really good at. The accolades were fine. I liked them as much as anyone I suppose. I was raised to not only be a good worker but to also be the top guy, the irreplaceable one. So anytime my boat would sail anywhere close to that point, I enjoyed the moment. But it was fleeting for me at best. In my heart, I am really about accomplishment. So to me, an accolade is worth a tablespoon of dog shit if said deed or situation doesn’t end up with a meaningful outcome. I am an old-fashioned guy, I like to see results. Therefore, at work, I was always, at the very goddamn least, good enough.
My father certainly didn’t tell me that I wasn’t good enough. Dad, with whom I had a complicated relationship, would never, in a million years have said something as toxic to me. The worst thing he ever said to me was,
“I’m disappointed in you.”
That stung like a bitch in and of itself. But that made me want to do better. Because I have always, even after his death, sought his approval.

Looking at that last sentence, reading it again and again, I realize that I may have just answered my own question. I do seek approval, maybe validation is a better word, and I hate it. I really didn’t make the (perhaps apparent to everyone else) connection between that and the omnipresent feelings of inadequacy I have been plagued with for so long until now. It may be as small as wanting to be liked, or as deep as a fear of dying in obscurity.
I don’t want to be famous. I don’t care about money. I want to leave every place I go and everything I touch a little better than I found it. That’s it.

Am I comparing myself to the person I want to be?

I hope that’s it. Definitely something to explore further.

The unlikeliest of sources

I have always rejected therapy (this from a Psych major lol) because I believe that there is no one more self-aware than I. To my credit, my Social Worker at the Transplant Clinic supports that notion as well. Why do I need therapy? I am blessed with a circle of friends that I can always talk to and I can count on them to tell me the truth. Yet, with all of the resources available to me, and despite my manifest blessings, I was continuously spinning down a Rabbithole of negative thought. It is my understanding that I have a fairly significant case of General Anxiety, this revelation can be neatly filed in the “No Shit Sherlock” column. One of the symptoms impacting me is called Rumination, in which I constantly dwell on negative associations. Even the happiness of memories, camping, for example, would immediately trigger the most negative experience I ever had while camping. Such a thought will send me down the drain of feelings of inadequacy and doubting my self-worth. This had become a constant behavior and I can’t believe that it took as long as it did to recognize how bad it was holding me back.

One event that I had been ruminating about is my recent breakup. Months after the end of an intense, yet brief relationship I had been unable to move on. I was hurt, I felt rejected, and I had so many questions because to this day, I really don’t know what happened as it went from great to nothing quickly and in a way that I can’t make sense of. It should be mentioned that I very characteristically assumed that it was my own fault. Because when you are insecure everything is your fault.
Talking to friends wasn’t working. I continued to dwell in despair despite so many good things happening in other areas of my life. So I tried something I had yet to venture into, Podcasts. I searched out Ted talks on grieving, moving on, sadness, rejection, you name it. What I stumbled upon was Mr. Big feet and hands himself…Tony Robbins. He did a series of podcasts dedicated to changing your thinking. I listened to hours of it. I know, to any reader I may have left out there this may be comical because a lot of people think that he is pop fluff. I did as well but the man makes sense.

The takeaways are many but the overall theme is so simple and I can’t believe that I couldn’t do this before. When you experience an emotion, find out where it is coming from and put it into a category in which you can work on it. Find a solution, a new approach, look at it in a different way. Consequently, I took the break-up and asked myself what was really bothering me.
Do I miss her? Not really.
Do I miss the feelings I had when I was with her? Definitely.
Would I take her back if she called tomorrow (unlikely)? Absolutely not, I’m better off without her.
So what is it? I want to know what happened! what did I do?
BOOM!

I realized that I hate not knowing and the harsh reality is that I probably never will. The category to shift that whole series of events to is the category of CONTROL. I am frustrated that I have no control over this. But in a new context, I am able to do just that. I accepted that I cannot control it and told myself to move on.
Because it doesn’t matter. It’s done and can’t be changed.

I then took this mindset and applied it to many other areas of my life in which I have been struggling and it’s always the same thing. By changing my thinking, by diagnosing from where it was coming, and by asking what can actually be done about it I had a further and significantly more powerful revelation; that I am spending way too much energy, at the risk of my own emotional health, on things that I can’t control. Isolating those things that are within my control became easier and I now have sufficient energy to do so.

This happened about 30 years too late but I am excited to see where this takes me.

Entitlement

Nothing screams hypocrisy more than a tiktok video generated by a white woman in a car with leather seats, wearing a designer sweatshirt, with expensive sunglasses adorning her head screaming into a $1000.00 iPhone about “entitled Americans.”

I shouldn’t have to say this, and I probably shouldn’t, but here goes…all Americans are entitled. You can see it everywhere if you look for it. It starts with the sayings we hear all the time.
“I’m going to get what’s mine!”
Excuse me, but what exactly is yours? Is there a locker at the local bus station containing a box labeled yours? Are the contents a bag of cash and guaranteed happiness? No, nothing is yours. You have to earn it. Through hard work, dedication, and sacrifice. Even then there are no guarantees, just opportunities.
“I deserve it.”
The three words I will never, ever say. I deserved to get my ass kicked in High School when I shot my stupid mouth off to the wrong guy. I don’t deserve anything else. Nor does anyone else. If you’re fortunate, life will repay you for what you put into it. If you work, you get a check. If you help someone they may help you back. Any other expectations might as well come from rubbing a bottle. Nobody deserves a damn thing.
“The Constitution guarantees my happiness.” No, it guarantees the pursuit of it, not the actual happiness.

That’s the point here after all, when did we start believing that we are supposed to be happy and something is wrong and worse, that it is somehow due to a failure on someone else’s part?

We’ve been sold the American Dream, which is a bill of goods that basically says that we are exceptional and are not vulnerable to the same perils as every other country. So we feel comfortable in the future so we don’t save money; we don’t think about consequences because we believe everything will work out. We’re entitled to it, or a bailout when it doesn’t happen. And when it doesn’t, we expect it to even itself out. And there is no guarantee. Life is not fair, nor is it always fun, and in a lot of cases it just plain sucks. People have problems, bad ones, and it is often due to no fault of their own. Life can be brutal yet we, as entitled Americans, expect happiness. I am of the opinion that happiness is a subjective notion. It is based on expectations and those expectations must be modified for the times we live in. With all of the stressors of the world today, even those with a relatively problem-free life consider happiness what you can experience in your free time. After work, weekends if you’re lucky enough to have them off is the time that we do what makes us happy. Spending time with our families or friends or indulging in activities or hobbies, you get the point. If we get enough of that to balance out the effect of what sucks in our lives, we can say that to a point, we are happy. But thrilled is questionable, ecstatic unlikely, and euphoric is just not happening.
Because life is hard.


I don’t mean it as an insult. It’s just a fact. Americans are entitled. Even the lowest among us has a life that any of the millions of people trying to get into this country would call happy.

A walk down “the Ave”

I’ve been thinking about my Dad quite a bit lately. Much more than usual. It occurred to me recently that I am finally becoming, after many years of disappointing him, the person he wanted me to be. He never actually said it in words, but through various conversations that come to me in the middle of the night, I pieced together the causes behind his relentless criticisms (it can be argued that they were warranted) of my overall character. He had a clear vision of what he wanted me to be, not do, in life that he would be proud of. He wasn’t interested in wealth or status. He had a different vision for my continuation of the family legacy, and that is to do better than those that preceded us. That is what he did, and all of the times that he verbally chastised me for goofing off, being foolish with money, acting badly, and not showing ambition or looking to the future was out of fear that I would take the family name backward. He single-handedly rewrote the family story. And in the process, he created a wonderful legacy for himself. He will forever be known as a kind, humble, hard-working, honest man to all that knew him. I am sad to admit that for some time, I wasn’t all of those things. I always worked hard and I always tried to be kind and honest and humble but I could have done better. At this point in my life, I make it a priority to commit to all of those things as if my very life depended on them. I believe my father is with me and he needs to see that. It was important to him that his only son didn’t squander or discredit his good name.

My father did not have it easy as a boy. His parents would have had to get two raises to just be poor. They lived on Railroad Ave, a small, dead-end dirt road that contained the most decrepit houses in town, oddly not in the worst part of town. My grandfather had a steady job but it didn’t seem to go far. He was knocked out of the workforce early due to Emphysema and that certainly made matters worse. I never saw the house my father grew up in, it was torn down before I could, but two houses down was the house my Aunt and Uncle raised my 6 cousins. I spent a good portion of my childhood in that house and it was a mess. Sadly, it wasn’t even warm with love. The Husband made sure of that.

Life on Railroad Ave was a tough existence. For everyone but my father, it didn’t change much financially. My Aunt never caught a break financially, saddled with an abusive and underachieving husband and not much money. Fortunately, he died young and she was able to marry a nice man. He was wonderful to her but didn’t add much to the finances. My father’s other sister had a mild disability that she nursed for everything it was worth and never worked a day in her life. Her only accomplishment was caring for my very ill Grandfather in their squalid apartment until he passed. My Father affectionately referred to her as “useless”. His brother died in prison. I never met him and I’m glad. From what I understand he was a tremendous bully and very cruel to my father. My father hated him, so badly that he refused to go to his funeral. My father was committed to getting off of Railroad Ave as fast as he could and he worked his ass off to do so. He worked many jobs and took any opportunity to move up. He joined the Army and gained the necessary skills to further himself.
Fast forward to my birth in 1965. While in the National Guard he was married, owned a house, and had a Union job.

My dad loved his family and my childhood is full of memories of time spent on Railroad Ave. He was fine to visit there, but he was proud to have moved out. I’m sure that the Ave, with its dirt road riddled with potholes and crumbling houses, was a bittersweet reminder that he had done a little better than those before him. One thing I can say with all the confidence in the world is that his days on the Ave would forever influence him in every way. Those influences are also a huge part of who I am today.


Dahmer

“Jeffrey, please stop having your friends over for dinner. They’re tasteless.”

Last night I completed the Netflix series Dahmer. It was worth the watch.
I will watch anything that Ryan Murphy is part of. The casting of the phenomenal Evan Murphy of American Horror Story fame was spot on. He nailed the character. It was a nuanced performance, if not a factually flawed interpretation of a story that gripped and horrified a nation, and possibly the world from the day of his arrest to his violent demise several years later. I am unfazed by the inconsistencies, someone who knows the case as well as I will naturally catch it, most would not. And at the end of the day hey, it’s Netflix, not Ken Burns, it’s to be expected.

I suppose that I may as well get it out there, not unlike a staggering amount of people nationwide, I am an avid fan of anything to do with Serial Killers.

I was pleased to see this morning that it was the # 1 rated show on Netflix. I was also not surprised to see that Fox News ran a sequence on the controversy surrounding its popularity. I was expecting this. Whenever a dramatization or documentary about Bundy, Gacy, Kemper, etc., is released, and Netflix is guilty of a lot of content recently, it always generates a visceral reaction. The same questions/dilemmas are always posed,

Are we glorifying the killer?

Are we being unfair to the families of the victims?

And is it appropriate to continue making such content as opposed to letting the lore die a much-deserved rest?

All I can say is that yes, sometimes the Killers are painted in a sympathetic light. That can be merely a matter of perspective or in some cases a fact. In the case of Dahmer, I do not believe that he was painted as a sympathetic figure. I found him quite repulsive and very ill. Yet as a human being and a student of behavior the backstory that caused the man to perform the truly unspeakable acts that he committed is fascinating and from a research perspective invaluable. That is the appeal of Serial killers…what made them do it? Is it any different than questioning how Hitler was able to get an entire country to sit and watch as he extinguished millions of lives? It’s not the gore, it’s the why. So if you think it’s wrong on many levels then ask yourself is it as wrong as the people who send fan letters to these animals, offering their undying support and devotion? There are WAY more of those people than any decent person wants to think about.

It can also be argued that it is unfair to the families of the victims. I can only imagine that they don’t appreciate the rehashing of the most heartbreaking event of their lives. But let’s not pretend that they’ve forgotten it only to be reminded when Netflix releases a special. To its credit, the series did a respectable job of portraying the victims in a tragic light. In fact, almost half of one episode was dedicated to just one of the 17 victims, a very nice, bright young man with a promising future. His death was an absolute tragedy, as were the rest. His family was also discussed at length and the result was to tastefully illustrate how senseless and horrific the taking of his, and the others, lives really was. By delving into the families, it powerfully drove home the magnitude of their loss. Much consideration was given to the profound and devastating effect that Dahmer had on their futures. I think everyone, myself included, needed to see that. These were not just numbers, they were people.

As for the appropriateness of making such content…it will never go away. People want to see it. People want to know the Why’s, the How’s, and the Who. It is our nature to be curious. I can only speak for myself, but I’m not fascinated because I am an aspiring serial killer. I watch it because I don’t get it and I want to.

I’m sure that the motivations vary but I do know that we are fascinated by monsters. All serial killers are monsters and Dahmer was one of the worst. It was Scooby Doo that taught us that in the end, the real monsters are people.

Childhood and money

Have you ever been asked the question, “Would your childhood have been different (is that to say that you would be different?) if you had more money as a kid?”
Now, those of you that were raised in a wealthy family you can sit this one out. Myself, and everyone in my neighborhood, definitely were not. But here’s my answer.
I don’t know.
Well that was anticlimactic…
All I can say is that I never felt like I was in need of anything. As I stated in a earlier blog, I wouldn’t change my parents or my childhood at all, for anything.

I naturally led myself down this road of thought when I wrote about the varied and positive influences of my childhood, courtesy of 4 great role models; my mother and father and my grandparents on my mother’s side. I feel terrible saying this, but my fathers parents didn’t play a large role in my upbringing. But the rest of his family sure did, while they weren’t influencers they sure had an impact on my childhood and it was mostly a negative one.

Let’s look at the players and tie it in to the subject at hand.

My Grandparents on my mother’s side were born during WWI, graduated High School during the Great Depression, met during the booming ’30s only to go through WWII; money was never a major factor in their lives, nor were they fazed by the constant lack of it. They were conditioned to make do with very little. I knew them, from the earliest memory, to live a simple lifestyle and had few indulgences. My grandmother wanted little more than a decent home to live in. My grandfather liked a new car (never too fancy) every few years and he liked watches, also never too fancy. Oddly, despite their small home and frugal lifestyle they saved very little money. I was surprised to learn this, considering my grandfather was always working. Perhaps it is because my grandmother never worked after he came home from WW2.
Consequently my mother was very much like her mother when it came to money. She made her own clothes, even as an adult and liked to live simply.
She taught me well not to waste even though I thought it was a bit overboard to sew holes in socks and put patches on jeans. Fortunately for me patches became a fashion trend in the 70’s.



Generations

I am Generation X. I was born one year after the Baby Boomers. Gen X was followed of course by the much-maligned Gen Y, or Millennials. Without painting broad strokes about future generations, the reason for the generational mention is to paint the picture of the people I spent my formative years around. In addition to being fortunate enough to absorb the values of their generations, respectively (which I will delve into shortly), but my parents and grandparents were strong even for their generations.

I was raised during an era of political and societal upheaval. The late 60’s and early 70’s were marked by war, political scandal, youth finding their own voice, and a clash of generations. My family was very tight and traditional, and my Grandparents were around quite a bit and their old-school ways greatly impacted my earliest memories.
My Grandfather was a WW2 Veteran, a Navy SeaBee. He saw a lot of action. As many of his eras did, he dutifully volunteered to serve.. He was a lover of God and Country. His values defined him. Beneath his jovial appearance was a fiercely protective and serious man.
My Grandmother was as rigid as a soldier as she held down the household in his absence. They were both young adults during the Great Depression and “waste not want not” was the rule of the day. While my Grandfather had had a fairly normal upbringing, not rich but not poor, my Grandmother lost her parents very young as was raised by her Grandparents. They were strict and frugal and very tough on her and her siblings. The harsh childhood emanated from every pore.
My Father was also Military. He served during the Vietnam conflict but as he was to be sent to Southeast Asia I was born and kept him Stateside. He was a very hard-working and decent man whose upbringing, as was my Grandmother’s, emanated from every pore.
My mother, God bless her, was half a hippie. She never went to San Francisco or did mind-expanding drugs, but she was all about the empowerment of women, youth, and rejecting the Patriarchy.

What’s the point you may ask…well look at the influences I was exposed to. Patriotism, frugality, family, gratitude, simplicity, living within your means, and resiliency. Add to the mix 4 backstories that would make anyone take pause and you have a cocktail for a great childhood. To this day I thank God for the values I was taught and for the wisdom I was blessed to be on the receiving end of. The fact that I didn’t appreciate it then is an oft-regretted thought.

As they say, wisdom is wasted on the young, and I didn’t apply what I was taught as I tried to find my own way. Now, on the Back Nine, I recognize the greatness of their stories and work relentlessly to incorporate them into my life.