Lessons unlearned

I came home today to be greeted by the sounds of Circular Saws and Hammers. The Contractors are finally finishing work on our Farmer’s Porch that they started in October. On the way into the house I paused to watch in fascination as they measured, cut and nailed with such precision and skill. And, as often happens, I triggered myself. Again.

I can’t hear a saw, a hammer or a drill without thinking about how much I didn’t learn from my father despite the many offers and opportunities. My dad was beyond handy, he could do almost anything with his hands. My earliest memories were of my dad rebuilding our house as we lived in it. He would work from 5 AM to 6 PM or later, slam down a quick dinner and then go to work until at least 10. The saw and hammer were sounds I knew at a very early age.

As I got older Dad tried to enlist my assistance, not because he necessarily needed help but instead to teach me. I was eager to help him but not very interested in learning anything new. This was odd for me because I was an eager student in every other aspect of life. I would pull nails from a pile he created, I could swing a hammer fairly well but offers of learning to measure, use woodworking tools and such were dropped due to lack of interest. Even offers of car maintenance were met with tepid enthusiasm despite our shared love of everything to do with cars.

One incident really stands out in my mind. One evening when I was in my late teens Dad offered to show me how to change the oil on my car. He had it already in the garage, the drive up lifts set up and all. The house phone rang (cell phones weren’t invented yet) and it was my girlfriend (she was goddamn gorgeous if that is relevant at all here) and she was imploring me to come over her house. I told her I was doing something with my Dad that was important and she insisted that it was very important. I had to make a decision and I can honestly say that I made the wrong one. I blew off my Dad.

The look of disappointment on his face was tangible. In my feeble defense, I really thought my girlfriend needed me. That almost helped me pull out of the garage feeling good about myself. Almost.

I arrived at my girlfriend’s house 20 minutes later and knocked on her door. She yelled for me to come up. I went upstairs, asking as I climbed the steps if she was ok, still very curious as to what the emergency was. As I entered her room and saw her lying there buck naked with a rose between her teeth I knew that I had been suckered. It was merely a sexual emergency. I somehow managed to get through it but soon after I began to feel bad.

I apologized profusely to my Dad the next day. He was curt and brief with me. He wasn’t mad, he was disappointed and that was always so much worse. He told me that he had offered to show me something for the last time. It was a pivotal moment in my relationship with my father and one of many regrets that I have from my childhood with regards to my dad. If I could talk to him for only five minutes it would be a priority in the conversation. He was such a hard-working and self-taught man. I admired him so. I take some comfort in many other things that I did learn from him that have made me the person I am but there is still a lot of regret.

Sorry Dad, how’s it go…If I knew now what I didn’t know then?

On Grief

She cared for her husband when he was sick and dying. He was a veteran with a pension and Medicare but he couldn’t secure a spot in a Nursing Home. For six long years she was Nurse and Caretaker until the day he left us. I never saw her cry. She claimed that she grieved his loss while he was alive.

A short six months after her beloved husband died she met another man. A man that adored her. It was a second chance for both of them and they were happy. They moved in together until they decided that their upbringings demanded that they get married. They did. 3 short months after he was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. He died 10 days from diagnosis. I never saw her cry.

She went on an online dating site 2 months after he died and began dating a man soon after.

She put her beloved dog down last Friday. I saw her cry for a brief moment. That’s it. She’s already talking about getting another dog.

She is my mother, and she does not Grieve.

I have grappled with and marveled at this for many years. I am no closer to understanding it now than before. If she was a closed-off person by nature it would make more sense. But she’s a warm, caring person. She is outgoing, friendly and kind. She had a caring, if not somewhat overbearing mother who showered her with love. Her father was, in my opinion one of the nicest men ever to walk the planet. But something or someone critical in her formative years taught her that women, not just men, don’t cry.

I tried talking to her about it the other day. I asked if she grieves in private or not at all. She revealed that she has her moments when she thinks about my dad and her second husband Frank. The memories are all over the house in the form of pictures and the fact that my Dad essentially built the house we live in. T0here are the triggers, the songs and smells and random nuggets that make us think of that one special person. They make her cry…a little. But not for long, no sense wasting time on what’s already happened.

This can only be the inherited toughness from her mother. Mom’s family cab be faithfully traced back to the ages of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower and they were solid, steadfast people that frowned on weakness. Her mother was a stalwart example of that bloodline. I’m sure her mother taught her to “suck it up” and not dwell on that which is beyond our control. It worked for her when she was orphaned at a young age and was raised by her brow-beating Grandmother. I’m not sure she did her daughter right by passing this on to her.

I have no pretense of trying to change her. It simply cannot be done. I also inherited, or learned, toughness as one of our family traditions. It has served me well as my life’s buffet has been a seemingly endless supply of Shitburgers. But I do know how to let things go properly.

I wish my mother would just, for once, let it out. Grief is like a lungful of air after a deep inhale. If you let it out slowly it hurts. If you open up and let it go it leaves the body quickly and painlessly. I admire her toughness and her ability to trudge forward no matter how strong the wind is. But toughness at the risk of emotional health is the wrong way to go.

Yes, those of you that know me know that I admire and exemplify a high level of toughness and it is no exception with her. But before I tell something to Fuck Off from my life permanently I deal with it properly. I forgive once I decide that it’s good for me to do so. I cry occasionally because it’s too hard keeping it in. I admit when I’m wrong because it’s the right thing to do. I also know how to grieve, too well unfortunately. I’ve had lots of practice. My mother, on the other hand doesn’t deal with things, she just plays the waiting game in hopes that it will go away on its own. And she always wins. It’s not healthy.

Yes, let it go, but only after you have made proper peace with it.

Goodbye faithful friend

You’ve been struggling for a while. The spring in your step wasn’t quite there. Your deep brown eyes lost a bit of their sparkle. Your playfulness had begun to wane.

We tried to call it a phase. We woke each day hoping that we would see that spark. Occasionally you showed us glimpses of your old self. But you were tired. You were in pain. Life wasn’t fun for you anymore. It eventually began clear to us that you were never going to come out of this.

This last week you provided us with no glimpses of former you. You moved slowly. Your pain was obvious. When you fell on the stairs and needed help to get up we knew that a terrible but necessary decision was made.

It was time to put you to sleep.

For 13 years you were the loyal family dog. You weren’t a pet, my heart can only be this broken for a family member or a dear friend. You were always happy to see me, even when no one else was. You were always by my side so that I never felt alone. When the house was empty, I had wonderful companionship sleeping at my feet. As only a dog could do, your friendship was omnipresent and unconditional. I was one of your pack.

As one of your pack, I vowed that when your time of need came that I would be by your side, tirelessly and unconditionally. That promise was called in today as we woke to find you listless on the kitchen floor. Your sad brown eyes said it all. You were done, you needed relief from your pain and we had to do what was right for you despite how hard it would be for us. We called the veterinarian and asked to bring you in.

I carried you in to the office. You never let me pick you up until today. The waiting room full of people knew why you were there. They avoided eye contact out of respect and the knowledge of what we were there to do. They let us right in and we placed you on a cold metal table. I put your favorite blanket under you. They gave you a sedative and fed you treats until you put your head down. We patted your head and told you what a good boy you are, and have always been. The Dr. asked us if we were ready. Mom was sobbing. I teared up a little. But I held your little paw and stroked your ears in your favorite spot as they shaved a small section of your leg and gave you an injection.

As you stood by me in life, I stood by you at the end of yours.

“He’s gone”, the Dr. gingerly uttered a few moments later. We were asked if we wanted a private moment. I left my mother alone with him. I had said my goodbyes.

He leaves a hole that can never be filled for reasons that can never be explained. I will cherish the memories, for that is all that remains of my loyal, silly, loveable little furry friend. He is in a better place, at peace and free of pain. Somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge.

Unlike those of us who wish he was still here.

Maybe it was me

I recently posted about the wedding I went to last weekend. You can check it out here if you missed it.

It was a bittersweet day, being the wedding of the woman who was a major factor in the disintegration of my marriage. While I blame my wife, not the friend, I find it difficult being around the two of them and I was really not looking forward to going. But knowing that my kids would all be there with their dates was exciting for me. Occasions when we are all together are rare and I savor them. All I needed to do was not get annoyed with my ex-wife as she fawned and obsessed over her friend, which proved to be difficult. I was surprised to learn that she would annoy me in an entirely different way that day.

It was an outdoor ceremony. The bride and groom were characteristically late and the crowd was settled restlessly on the row of chairs. I was sitting in the third row, next to my youngest daughter and behind my wife. We were making small talk with the kids and their dates and I was limiting conversation with the ex because that is how we get along best. She was making small talk with my oldest daughter and she blurted out, “Oh, remind me to tell you about my date the other night.”
I did a double take. Date?
I turned to my youngest and she gave me her best “Leave me out of it” look.
When my ex realized my reaction she changed the subject. I was floored.

Now, you may be thinking that I’m crazy, or just wrong to be annoyed. We’ve been divorced for a year, of course she can date. I just can’t believe she is. See, I was told when we divorced that she has no interest in a romantic relationship with anyone. That her friendship with Lisa was all that mattered to her. That made sense to me, after all she completely rejected me for Lisa.

If you think I’m joking, here’s a tidbit for you. Many years ago, when she still had a sex drive, we were getting busy on the sofa one afternoon when we were sans children. I was receiving ummm, oral gratification when the phone rang. It was the special ring tone designated for Lisa and when she heard it she spit me out and grabbed the phone. That’s when I knew it was over. And I was right, it was. To my knowledge, she spends every waking minute that she’s not working with Lisa. Any man that wanted to date her wouldn’t earn a time slot anyway. And with her obsessive issues, any man wouldn’t put up with that friendship any better than I did, it was indeed that bizarre

I was pretty upset most of the day. To my knowledge, she never shared her date story with the group. I kept it to myself but my youngest knew that I was upset and at the reception she and I talked. I reminded her that she once told me that if I was to date, she would be upset with me. So why isn’t she upset with her mother? She assured me that her mother doesn’t want a relationship. Hearing that, I again tried to figure out why it bothered me so much.

If you read the last post, I salvaged the day. I drank a couple of beers, I danced with my kids, I sang Karaoke with my buddies and had a decent time overall. I really enjoyed seeing my grown, wonderful children with their dates being the amazing kids that they are. It wasn’t until the ride home that I started thinking about it again.

It was so much easier when it wasn’t me. When it was only the inability to compete with an obsessive friendship. I have had to deal for the last 2 years with the recognition that I was rejected. It hurt like hell. I was a flawed husband, I did and said things that I regret. But I loved my wife and I would have stayed with her forever because I care deeply for her and feel obligated to care for her, to make good on my wedding vows. But again, I was rejected. The premise that it wasn’t me was small comfort. The fact that she is dating throws that premise to the wind.

Maybe it was me. I failed her. I lost her. I have managed to live without her but the idea of her with someone else disturbs me deeply. The woman who chased me since she was 16 years old, to win me over at 19, has moved on. And I, who thought I wanted a divorce way more than she did, have not.

We weren’t a great couple. But we were all I knew for 25 years of my life.

The Wedding

Saturday I went to the wedding of the woman who destroyed my marriage.

How’s that for an opening line?

I would like to say that I am overstating it. Maybe I am, but not by much. Lisa, the bride, is the best friend that my wife essentially abandoned me for, adopted as her support system and downgraded my role in her life to inferior paycheck and roommate.

It’s a hell of a story and surprisingly, I haven’t touched on it much in my blog. That is because it is a very complex scenario. First, it needs to be stated that it is not Lisa’s fault, she didn’t ask my wife to choose her for all of her emotional needs. I admire her as a person. It further complicates things that her new husband is an old, dear friend that I love like a brother. He has stood beside me all these years, equally perplexed at the bizarre relationship that developed between my wife and his and he has been very supportive of me.

When this longtime couple with 4 children and 3 grandchildren decided to get married for the noblest of reasons, to adopt a special needs baby that has been in their care, I couldn’t help but be happy for them. I tasked myself with sucking up my bitterness, reconciling the bizarre relationship I have with this couple and enjoy the day. I’m glad I approached it as such, because so many beautiful things occurred and some wonderful memories were formed.

The wedding was beautiful. Their grown son was the best man. Their oldest daughter became Certified Ordained in order to perform the service. All of the children and cousins had a role and it was very touching.

My children all had their significant others with them and they did not disappoint. My handsome boys had their beautiful girlfriends on their arm, my gorgeous daughters escorted by handsome and well dressed men. I was in awe of how my boys turned out to be such gentleman, seeking commitment over the player life. My daughters in turn are faithful, loving companions that respect themselves and demand nothing less from their men. It was a magical moment as a father watching my fine young adults laughing, dancing and canoodling with their dates.

At the beginning of the reception my youngest daughter asked me if I would dance with her should there be a Father/daughter dance. I hate dancing, and pictures, and anything that draws attention to me, but I promised her I would. As luck would have it, I was in the men’s room when it happened. My daughter was a bit peeved with me that I missed it, she told me that she wanted to get a preview of what it would be like to dance with me on her wedding day. As she walked away to join her boyfriend I was struck by a powerful realization.

Like it or not…I might not be around for her wedding.

It was at that moment that I decided that the time to be a non-smiling in pictures, hiding in the back of the room, non-dancing introvert was over. I asked myself how many moments like this did I, or anyone, actually have?

The first slow dance, I grabbed my daughter from her boyfriend’s arms and I danced with her. She teared up but smiled through it. She was so amazed and happy. I then requested a country song that the groom and his brother (another amazing friend) loved and dragged them both onto the center of the dance floor and we belted it out together to the joy of the room and the amazement of my family. When that song ended and the applause died down, a Motown classic started up and my kids surrounded me and I, for the first time ever, danced like no one was watching.

After, enjoying a cigar with my boys and friends, I was asked how many beers I had drank. I told them two, that alcohol was not a factor. I had just decided that it was time to show them all a side they had never seen before.

It was unanimous that everyone, including me, really enjoyed that side of me. The amazed looks from my wife pleased me as well.

It was a good day, with the exception of one comment that my wife made that had the potential to ruin my day…and almost did until I chased it off. It is still bothering me even as I write this but it is a topic for another blog entirely.

Little ones

Inspiration, as well as motivation often comes when you are not looking for it. Recently, while catching up with Lisa’s blog I found this beautiful poem on childhood. It’s no wonder I try to keep up with her work. This is brilliant.

I cannot be seen if I cover my face
There are scary beasts hiding under my bed
I cannot fall when my Daddy carries me
The Shadows in my room have horrid faces
I cannot be hurt if teddy is with me
When you turn off the night light terror finds me
I cannot get lost when Mummy takes my hand
Don’t leave me alone, I’ll cry. I can’t see you
I cannot grow up. I’m safe, when I’m not scared.

I’m feeling empty lately. I don’t have a lot to do. I haven’t been sleeping. There has been a lot of open time for the dark forces to attack my defenses.

I miss working, it made me feel productive. I was an important man at my company, always fixing problems and blessed with the opportunity to help people.
I miss having a companion, despite how unhappy we were. When we got along, I liked having a wife, the idea of being married. I’m lonely.
I miss my big, noisy house. I loved the chaos during the day and the closing of the door at night that alerted me that everyone was home and safe for the night. It is so quiet here at night, and I don’t have the luxury of knowing that everyone is home and safe. You don’t stop worrying about children because they are grown.

Where Lisa’s beautiful poem hit me in the feels is that, more than anything, I miss when my children were young.
When they were innocent and untainted by the ugliness of this world.
When a kiss on a boo-boo was a million times more soothing than any medicine.
When Daddy was a force bigger than life itself and could always save the day.
When I was needed.

23 years ago I was cleaning up the kitchen where I worked with my co-worker Tony. We were sipping beers and talking. I took a pull on my beer and said to him, “I need to stop this soon, my daughter will be born soon.”
“Why do you need to stop drinking?”, Tony asked. “You can’t be a father and have a beer?”
“I need to get this right, Tony.”
I hadn’t gotten much right at that point in my life, I needed this one.

I never did quit drinking. But I sure made an effort to get it right. When my beautiful daughter was born, I felt a joy unlike any other. I doted on her. I made sure I changed a lot of diapers because it is the best way for a dad to bond, they have nowhere to look but at your face while you do it. I raced home from work to catch bedtime and when I missed it I camped out on the floor of the nursery listening to her breathe. With 2, 3 and 4 I lightened up a bit but not much. I worried less and enjoyed them more.

There is so much about their younger years that I wish I had a redo on. Not blessed with a particularly strong skill set, I had a string of awful jobs with terrible hours and I missed an awful lot of pivotal moments. But when I was home, I tried to make the most of the time.

I missed a lot of dinner times, but I made a lot of bedtimes. I would come home to smiling babies, toddlers running to see me and an exhausted and grateful wife. I gladly helped with baths, we called them “tubbies”. I loved to read them stories, with my own little twists of course. Daddies “additions” to the story were the best part and if done properly would draw huge ear to ear, toothy (some missing) smiles and a chorus of belly laughs that defied the dimensions of their tiny bodies and still ring beautifully in my memory all these years later.

It was a source of frustration as parents to stay on the same page as parents and not contradict or undermine each other. I was guilty of it when it came to bedtime. Selfishly, I wanted more time, regardless of what the clock, or mommy said. It wasn’t unusual to sneak another show or video in, or have my daughter fake an asthma attack in order to get a Nebulizer treatment and an extra half hour with Dad. The end result was the same, I got to carry a sleeping child to bed, tuck them in and marvel at them as they slept.

For the first ten years of fatherhood, I was not a particularly distinguished career man. I didn’t make a lot of money or drive a nice car. I failed to earn any titles of importance. I didn’t care. Someone called me Dad, and it was the finest of all titles. My favorite job consisted of witnessing an amazing series of “firsts”, making silly faces, causing belly laughs, giving shoulder rides, rolling around in newly mowed grass, leaf piles or fresh snow. I experienced more than any man’s fair share of witnessing wonderment at things that adults are now bored of, like a butterfly or a sunset. I taught them about the world they lived in, answered ten million questions, magically healed boo boos by kissing them and slayed any and all dragons that dared occupy the space under their beds.

I had been minimized in all areas of my life, even my marriage. But in the eyes of my children I was a giant among men and a force to be reckoned with. I could make anything better just by being there and would do anything to protect them.

Sometimes, when in the presence of my children, I find myself staring. Part of me sees the fine adult sitting before me, but another sees the cherubic face of the beautiful baby they once were. After all, they will always be my babies no matter how old they are.

Now, as they are all grown and living their lives, I would give anything to go back to those days. I didn’t know that it would end up being the happiest time of my life.

I wish my friend Tony was still alive. I’d love to tell him, after all these years, that I got this one right.


Tired

I’m tired.

Tired of being misunderstood.

Tired of being uninspired.

Tired of my routine.

Tired of acting ok when I’m not.

Tired of holding myself to an impossible standard.

Tired of believing, in my heart of hearts, that everything is going to be ok. I really have no way of controlling that.

Tired of being let down.

Tired of having nothing to do and nowhere to go.

Tired of harboring anger and resentment even though I convinced myself that I have forgiven it and moved on.

Tired of being tired all day, only to be awake all night, wishing for the morning when I can move about freely
Have my precious coffee
Keep myself busy
Immerse myself in noise
Distract myself from the pending night

where I will stare at my ceiling, with endless, deafeningly silent hours ahead of me, trying to deny just how fucking lonely I really am…