On wisdom…a Father and son chat

He took a deep drag, slowly exhaled and asked me,
“How’s the cigar?”
I sat back in my chair, smiled contentedly at my youngest boy and replied,
“Perfect.”
“You could have had any cigar, Dad. Why did you pick the cheapie?”
“Because it’s good enough.”
“I love that about you, Dad. You’re so easily satisfied.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Wherever you are, that’s the place to be. Whatever you’re drinking is good enough. Whatever you are eating is good enough. It’s awesome and I try to do it.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes. We puffed on our cigars, watched the smoke wisp into the late afternoon sky and savored the moment.

Finally, I broke the silence.
“I haven’t always been like this. It’s the result of a lot of hard lessons that I, fortunately, learned from. From trying to be something I’m not, from ignoring my better judgment, from trying too hard. I found myself after taking the most indirect, rocky, hilly and winding road you could ever imagine.”
“So what, or who are you now?”
“I’m simple. I’m grateful. I’m not greedy and I’m not always looking for something better.”

He studied his cigar for a while as he absorbed my words. I studied him. 6 foot tall, broad shoulders, a kind bearded face, sitting in his chair supremely confident and present in the moment. I was beaming with pride.

Once, he was my most difficult child. We just didn’t click. He was surly, argued with me about everything, we had nothing in common. I went to bed so many nights feeling a failure as his father. I dedicated myself to fixing it, finding common ground. It seemed like it was overnight, of course it wasn’t, that we suddenly clicked. We listened to the same music, binged the same shows and movies on Netflix, we started to have the most amazing conversations. Like this one.

“Dad, how old do you have to be before you have wisdom?”
“It depends on how much you’ve lived your life, I guess.” I paused to hit off the cigar. “Live hard, make mistakes, crash and burn a few times, take a few risks and you will learn enough to earn wisdom. If you don’t live your life, you won’t . But, if you’re open to it, you can benefit from the wisdom of others.”
“So wisdom is earned. I’m only 19 but I feel that I have wisdom.”
“You know life lessons by watching me fuck up a million times. It’s a cautionary tale, not wisdom.”
“ I think I have it. But ok.”
“Kid, it’s not an insult and I’m not disagreeing with you. There’s a saying,’youth is wasted on the young.’”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that when you are young, you don’t know how great it is to be at that stage of your life. Free, unencumbered with good health and opportunities ahead of you. It is only when you are older when you appreciate those things. Some of those mistakes you made when young taught you how to be a good adult”.
“Examples?”

I explained to him that I learned to take whatever beer someone offers you after I insulted my father’s friend by complaining about the beer he gave me. My father was so pissed I never did it again.
I learned to not look over the fence for greener grass after I walked on my neighbor’s ultra-green patch of grass only to sink ankle-deep into a leaking septic system.I learned fidelity after trying to date two girls at one time. I lost a girl that may have been the one.
I learned that a 20 dollar cigar tasted no better to me than a 2 dollar cigar. I don’t have a refined pallet and I shouldn’t pretend to.
I learned to value friendship when I became sick and most of my friends stopped calling me. I made new friends that were always there for me. They made me a better friend also.
I learned generosity and charity by hitting rock bottom, losing everything. I began to see everyone on the same level.
I learned gratitude when someone saved my life by donating an organ.
I learned to be a better father by crying myself to sleep in fear of my someday adult kids hating me.
I learned to be a better husband when I realized my wife no longer loved me.I learned not to kick the can down the road when I realized that I tried to save my marriage too late.
I learned that it is more important to seek respect than admiration.
I learned that telling the truth is always better after being caught in a lie.
I learned to appreciate each sunset after almost dying.
By the time I was done talking our cigars had burned down to a nub. He had sat and listened silently the whole time. His only response was,
“Wow.”
“Kid, I could go on forever but I won’t. You get the idea.”
“Not really, there was a lot of ideas there.”
“The idea is, you will learn some things by heeding the advice of one who knows. And you will learn other things by charging forward and living your life. Either way, you will learn how to be and how not to be. It’s a blueprint, not a prediction.”
“It’s complicated I guess” he said.
“Not really,” I said. “One day it will all become clear.”
“If you say so.”
“There’s one more thing I forgot to mention.”
“What’s that?”
“Make the most of each moment because you might not get another.” I stubbed my finished cigar in the ashtray. “I want to make the most of this one so get us another cigar. And grab a couple of beers while you’re in there.”
He smiled and pulled his lanky frame out of the low chair. “I’m 19, are you sure.”
“Carpe fuckin’ Diem, kid. I’m sure.”

I love this kid. He gets it. Isn’t that what we all want to say about our kids?

Home sweet home…conclusion A Mike Valentine tale

Mike got up, his swollen legs screaming in protest, and moved to the sofa to sit beside his son. Lady dutifully followed and plopped down at his feet. He wrapped his arm around the boy and they watched TV. It wasn’t long before his wife appeared in the doorway and told D that it was bedtime. Mike looked at his watch. It was 9 already. He reminded himself that that’s what happens when you sit in a bar, dreading coming home. He told his wife that he would take care of bedtime. She gave him a sarcastic “thanks” and went back to the kitchen. He forced himself off of the sofa and motioned for D to follow him, told him to brush his teeth and put his pajamas on. He didn’t put up a fuss, he was a great kid.

He went upstairs with the boy, poking his head in his oldest daughter’s room. She was lost in a book. He went into her room, leaned in and gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“I didn’t hear you come home” she said.
“Next time I’ll make more noise” he joked. He kissed her again. She gave him one of her famous smiles, the gap between her front teeth front and center. He loved that gap, it was cute and reminded him of her as a toddler, mugging for the camera. She was such a happy child. He also observed that she would need braces soon.
“Good job on your report card” he offered. “I’m proud of you.”
“Mom went ape on the boys.”
Mike could only imagine. Yet she took them out to dinner? It must have been her friend Lisa’s idea. Lisa’s kids probably got shitty report cards as well but she didn’t believe in disciplining her kids. She wanted to be their friends. Mark hated that she and his wife were so close. He thought Lisa was a terrible influence, but his wife fucking loved her. Almost to the point that he wondered if she switched teams. He chased all of that out of his head and returned his attention to his daughter.
“Jeez” he said. You couldn’t have saved the old man a chicken finger?”
She laughed. He kissed her again on the forehead and walked down the hall to the boy’s room where he found R at his desk, furiously scribbling on a notebook. He looked miserable.
“Hey bud” he said. “That’s enough for today, nothing will change overnight.”
“Mom is pretty mad.”
“I know. I already bumped into her. See the burn marks?” he said as he showed his bare forearm. It was a bad joke but Ry laughed. He wasn’t trying to denigrate his wife. He just wanted to cheer the kid up. It seemed to work. He sat with the boys as they went through their nightly routine of procrastination. Fearful of his wife getting angry at the time, he went to the banister and listened for signs of life. She was talking to Lisa, the toxic friend. No doubt talking about what an asshole she married.

He went back into the boy’s room and said goodnight. He made a couple of silly faces, drew a laugh and turned the light off. He went downstairs looking for his youngest daughter. He poked his head in her room, she was fast asleep. Shit, he thought. I didn’t see her at all today. He sat on the edge of her bed and just watched her breathe for a while. She looked so peaceful. She was the unplanned one but immediately shot up to I can’t imagine my life without her status. She was cuter than a duck wearing a hat. His heart welled. He got up and closed the door behind him and headed for his comfortable chair. He had to walk through the kitchen in order to get there and he ignored the glare of contempt his wife shot at him as she babbled into the phone.

As he sat down. Britt appeared in the doorway.
“My asthma is acting up. Can I do a treatment?”
Mike got up, went to the closet for the Nebulizer and a capsule of albuterol. He set it up, placed the mask on his daughter’s face and sat down beside her. The hum of the machine soothed him as he watched her, glued to the TV as the mist gently wafted from her breathing treatment. He had changed the channel to Nickelodeon and had found Spongebob. Perfect.

He let her stay with him for about 15 minutes after the treatment was done. He didn’t want the moment to end. He knew, whether she knew he did or not, that she wasn’t really having an asthma attack. It was her sneaky way of getting an extra half hour with her dad.

This, Mike Valentine thought to himself, this is the good stuff. The rest of it doesn’t matter. He squeezed his daughter tight and waited for her to fall asleep.

the watcher

Today was a really beautiful day at the lake. June has been a bit of a disappointment this year in the Lakes Region. Many cool, overcast days, and the ones that were sunny weren’t very warm. The wind has been persistent as it has taken a hot sunny day and morphed it into sweatshirt weather. If I was a weekend-only resident I would be pretty discouraged, every weekend has been awful but one. I guess I’ve found one advantage to being an unemployed, quasi-homeless piece of shit. If a Tuesday is nice I can enjoy it.

Today I sat lakeside and stared at the magnificent view from our beach. Our housing community offers beach rights to a really nice spot on the lake and it is as close to a sacred spot as I have. I have been enjoying this view for almost 37 years. Previous to that I enjoyed the “Main Lake” section when we were seasonal campers from the time I was 6 years old.

The sun was out in full, there was barely a cloud in the sky. The breeze, true to form, cooled me off every time it gusted. I sat transfixed by the view as if it was new to me.  Light waves, the only remnant of the passing of the many boats entering and exiting the Marina to our right lightly slapped at the shore. I can never get enough of the boats. Big boats and small boats, expensive Cabin Cruisers to Kayaks to row boats with hand-operated motors went back and forth, full of happy passengers. Most of the boats, as well as the elegant houses that lined the evergreen shores as far as the eye can see proudly waved American Flags. I almost felt out of place, for if one didn’t know better it would be easy to assume that this is a place only for those of affluence. Yet here I am.

I look to the raft for the hundredth time to check on the girls. They haven’t moved. My precious 16-year-old daughter, let’s call her B, and her friend Alex, who is like a daughter to me also, haven’t moved. They might even be asleep. They don’t look cold. Good for them I think to myself as I put on my sweatshirt. Billy Mac, I scold myself, I know it’s not your fault, but what is wrong with you?

Fuck you, I’m cold.

 

I have decades of memories of fun times on this lake. I was outside all of the time, usually on or in the lake. I learned to swim on this lake. I learned to scuba dive. I learned to waterski, dropping that one ski and skiing slalom was one of the biggest moments of my life. When I was a teenager I brought my friends up here and we swam and water skied until we were told to get out.

When I became a Dad, I had my kids up here as often as possible. The memories of them as toddlers excitedly splashing in 6 inches of water as we held them, belly-laughing as only a toddler can with smiles as wide as the universe itself, dance in my mind. As they got older, the four of them played together in the water, threw each other off of the raft and begged to stay when I told them to come out. Of course, I was in there with them at that point and it was my wife making me wrap it up. It didn’t matter, we would then play frisbee, throw the baseball and have the time of our lives. The expressions on their sleeping faces in the car on the way home said it all. Of course, I was tired as well, I was active with them.

After a long hiatus, the kids began coming up here again last year. They are all grown, the oldest 3 have jobs and coming up is difficult to schedule. I get it, it was like that for me also at that age. Now that their mother and father are separated, they come up to see me. And we go to the beach whenever possible.

The difference is, I can no longer throw the ball or the frisbee for hours. I can no longer water ski. I barely go in the water because it needs to be 90 with no breeze for me to get wet and not shiver and quake after like a junkie in need of a fix. Despite the repeated calls of “Dad, come on in!” or “Dad, let’s play catch” or “Dad, let’s throw the frisbee” I find myself saying no. I just can’t.

I just fucking sit there.

The fatigue is just too much. And it’s getting worse.

The very idea of walking up the hill to get the truck. so that I may drive down again and load all of the gear is intimidating enough. I have distinct parameters on how much energy I can expend at one time. So. to their repeated inquiries for me to join them I find myself saying “No, I’ll just watch you for now” and then endure the disappointed faces. They know, they understand, they hate how it reminds them that their father is sick. What they don’t realize is that I don’t want to watch, I have to.

The “used-to’s” that this disease has made me embrace are harder to deal with than the symptoms.

38,325 days…a life truly lived. Cont’d

If you missed the first 2 installments of my tribute to my amazing Grandmother you can catch up here and here,

If having a normal childhood and maintaining friendships was possible to this point was challenging for my mother, it would prove to be a walk in the park after Mom’s recovery. This only suffered in comparison to when Mom started dating. When a young man “came-a-courtin” as my Grandfather so eloquently phrased it, he was subjected to a grilling that made the Spanish Inquisition look like a job interview. Marion wanted to know the entire family tree and required notarized copies of financials, in triplicate, before anyone would date her daughter. My grandfather thankfully balanced it out and usually managed to reassure the hapless young men that their testicles were safe…at least for the moment. Needless to say, Mom didn’t go on many dates, at least ones Marion knew about. It was just too much work for her and the poor guy. Of course, no man ever worried about his future reproductive viability than my Dad.

Mom was raised “middle middle-class” despite Marion’s attempts to present otherwise. Marion believed that if you carried yourself according to your aspirations then it would happen. Due to a lack of savings, Grandpa’s penchant for a new car every few years and a couple of failed business ventures they never graduated from that small but very nice, and homey, house North of Boston. Unfazed, Marion remained proper, well-dressed and impeccable of reputation.

I can only imagine her reaction when Mom brought home the handsome, hard-working boy from the “other side of the tracks” to meet the parents.

It wasn’t long before she found out that he wasn’t just from a poor family, but had come from a long line of poor families. When I say poor, I mean dirt floors and plastic on the windows poor. She did not approve of the pedigree at all. But Mom put her foot down, continued to date him and Marion would soon realize that her daughter was growing up despite her efforts to the contrary and that Billy Mac senior was not the type to be underestimated. He wasn’t going anywhere.

My dad may have been from the other side of town but he was by no means a typical resident. While raised in abject poverty, he was determined to break the cycle. He worked several jobs, earned and saved and most importantly treated my mother like a Princess. Marion eventually came to respect him. Mel really liked my Dad from day one, of course, he loved everyone. He would end up being the only one in his family to really make anything of himself, Marion either saw that or just had faith…as unlikely as that scenario is. In 1964, my dad on leave from Army training stateside at Fort Sam Houston, Texas they were married. In the wedding pictures, I can see a slight look of approval on Marion’s face.

She may not have had she known that I was in the picture as well, hidden neatly under the wedding dress.

Mom had to break the news to Marion that she was pregnant eventually, but if my understanding of the events is correct, no one really did the math after I was born. I was technically a “preemie.” In the summer of 1965, my very pregnant mother worried every day about my dad being sent overseas to Vietnam, His unit was notified in June that they would be called. Marion was doing everything in her power to keep mom away from all media. With regards to Vietnam, the news was all bad, She was unsuccessful and out of nervousness or panic, mom went into labor. When I entered the world, my dad was reassigned stateside where he would serve out the remainder of his enlistment. He visited us as often as he could.

Marion would become the backbone of her entire family until Dad came home. A role she was born to play.

to be continued

38,325 days… installment 2

As I stated in the last installment, my Grandparents’ marriage was not without tragedy.

In 1948, on a typical late fall afternoon, my Grandmother had just finished making dinner. A fresh pot of coffee was percolating in the kitchen and my Grandmother had just asked Charles to run into the living room and tell my Grandfather that dinner was ready. The distance from the kitchen to the living room was not even 15 feet but Grandpa’s game was to ignore her until she yelled then he would come into the kitchen with a big smirk on his face. Marion didn’t want to deal with the game. Charles did as he was told, and dutifully ran down the short corridor to call his dad. As he did, he accidentally tripped the power cord to the ancient coffeemaker. As if in slow motion, my Grandmother watched helplessly as the pot tipped and the scalding hot coffee poured down his back. He screamed, immediately went into shock and was dead moments later. My mother tells me that a team of doctors, with today’s technology, could not have saved him. My grandparents were completely crushed. My grandfather would retreat into himself, my grandmother would deal by completely, and I say this without exaggeration, smothering my mother, her only remaining child.

Not the grieving types, life went on. The UK in them sustained them. Grandpa was from Scotland, Grandma was from England, they were built of sturdy stock. My grandfather found work as an Oil Burner repairman and worked several side jobs. My grandmother busied herself immersing herself in her daughter’s life. She would find fault, in as matronly a manner as possible, with her friends, their parents, their houses, and their clothes. No one or nothing was good enough for her daughter. It wasn’t snobbery, although it looked an awful lot like it, it was merely overprotection. My mother somehow managed to maintain a small circle of friends, she simply coached them to look past the interrogations and disapproving looks and see the nice, battle-worn woman within. She managed to have a fairly normal childhood. At least for a while.

As it would turn out, tragedy would unfold again. After going upstairs during her 7th birthday party because she didn’t feel well, my mother would be found unconscious in her room. The diagnosis would be Viral Spinal Meningitis. In 1952, this disease had no cure. She would languish in a coma for a week until a young doctor approached Mel and Marion with a glimmer of hope. He told them of an experimental serum that had shown promise but was not approved by the government yet. With little to nothing to lose. they agreed to try it. It would save her life. It would take a year of recovery, including learning how to walk again, but my mother made a full recovery. I only wish the same could be said about Marion. The smothering would escalate to epic proportions.

to be continued…

Day 2 of the 3 day challenge

Now that I know what I’m doing, here are the rules:

1. Thank the person that nominated you.

2. Write one quote each day for three consecutive days (3 quotes total)

3. Explain why the quote is meaningful for you.

4. Nominate three bloggers each day to participate in the challenge

Thanks again to Steve at MSich Chronicles for the nod. Steve is a great writer and a goddamn warrior in the Chronic Illness community.

Here is my quote for Day 2.

I thought about quitting. But then I noticed who was watching
–author unknown
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This quote moved me so much when I first saw it and I was reminded of it today. I have been in the hospital since Thursday. I have had far too much time to think and I’m in a bad place. I have been consistently sick and I have been dwelling on the whole “quality of life thing. Having once crossed the threshold once already I am not scared of death and my thoughts are darker than I care to acknowledge. And then I get the call from my youngest daughter, the concern in her voice so omnipresent, her concern so unabashed, her love for her father so sincere…I was floored.

She is watching me, looking to me for inspiration, to tell her that everything is going to be ok. If anything was to happen to me she would be completely crushed. All of my children love me, but this one is special. I’ll keep fighting, for her.

I would like to nominate the following three bloggers to offer up their fave nuggets of wisdom.

1)The incurable dreamer. I love this blog. Self-effacing, funny as all hell, brutally honest and thought-provoking she really is a must-read. She had me at this post. Check it out, if you don’t laugh I’ll eat a bug. I would love to hear a few nuggets of wisdom from her.

2)Cage Dunn. This is a great blog. A storyteller, a published author and an extremely grounded writer who tells it like it is. I was hooked at this post. Check this blog out, you won’t be disappointed. I’m sure she has some nuggets of wisdom to share with us.

3) Biff Sock Pow. Biff is a favorite of mine. He has a great mastery of the nuances of absurdity. He can make a boring Tuesday into a funny as hell post. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Check him out, you won’t be disappointed. He had me hooked with this post.

Check out these blogs and we’ll do this again tomorrow…

People Watching

Hey there, I see you. Don’t think strangely of me if we make eye contact. Yes, I know it’s Saturday night and I am indeed in a booth alone. I’m not staring at you, I promise. I’m just people watching. It’s what I do. For a brief moment in time, you won’t even notice, I will simply absorb, perhaps steal a tiny portion of this moment from you. If you let me do my thing, I will move on to someone else in their room and I will steal moments from them.

It’s just one dinner, one cocktail or appetizer on one day of your life. It’s just one moment. But to me it’s more, I’m incredibly invested in it. You may not think of it as I do, but once this moment is gone all you will have is a memory. You may underestimate how precious that memory will be, but I don’t. See, I am not old enough to say that I will never be happy again, but I know that I am old enough that certain moments are forever past, others beyond my reach.  Vicariously is the only way I will experience them again.

I see you, sir. The young guy with the pretty wife and 2 young children. You are having dinner. Your daughter is trying to get your attention for approval on the puzzle she just completed on her placemat. You’re on your phone. I would trade a thousand tomorrows to have one like you are having. Moments when I was a giant to them and my approval was everything. What you don’t know is a lot of the time I also was too wrapped up in what I was doing to pay attention to them. I want them back, all of them. Please, put the phone down. The text can wait. That disappointed look on her face…you can change that. If you don’t appreciate this moment, may I?
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I turn my attention to the young couple in the corner booth, barely able to keep their hands off of each other. Don’t mind me for staring, I’m not a creep I swear. It’s just that I can’t get over the way you are looking at each other. As if one would simply melt if the other left the table. It must be wonderful to be in love…would you tell me about it? You see, I don’t think that I have ever looked into someone’s eyes as you two are now. I want to but I doubt it now. I think we skipped that part and went right to bitterness and resentment. If it pleases you, could you do better than we did? Regardless, can I just enjoy yours for a while?
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I catch the eye of Mr. Successful businessman at the bar. We nod and we then both look away. I see your $1000.00 suit, your Presidential Rolex and the drink that was poured from the top shelf. You clearly are doing great for yourself. Perhaps you are celebrating a promotion, a big close or merger. To your credit, you look like a guy with it all together. I’m happy for you. I struggled with money and success for my whole career. When I finally got close to wearing a smile like yours, I had to stop working. I hope you have something else in your life that makes you happy besides money. She’s a cruel mistress. But still, cheers. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous.
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I take a sip of my drink and I zoom in on the happy couple at the other end of the bar. Older, smiling, looking at each other fondly as they speak. You are a couple that has been together for a long time. Your love has stood the test of time. Maybe you had it easy, but maybe you struggled with the marriage-crushing burdens of children, finances and work. If you did or didn’t you look like you made it through. I always wanted a love like yours. I hoped to someday say, in a crowded banquet hall, the words “I have been married to this beautiful woman, my best friend for 50 years” and soak in the applause.  It just didn’t work out that way. I am about to be, on Monday, the first member of my family ever to get divorced. It’s too late for me, but I’m really happy for you. If you look my way I’m not staring, I’m simply thinking about my three favorite things…

Could’ve
Should’ve
Would’ve

Who am I you ask? What am I doing here? I’m harmless I swear. You see, I am the petty thief of your moments. My satchel is full for now and I must go home.