What is a man? cont’d

Welcome to the next installment of my impromptu series on what constitutes a “real” or “good” man.

Several weeks ago my son called me to talk about his girlfriend. He was upset and needed an ear and possible some advice. He has been involved in a long-distance relationship for 18 months (she lives 60 miles from him and goes to school 100 miles from him). He loves her and for the longest time felt that the feeling was mutual. Lately, he feels that she isn’t investing as much in their relationship as he is. It is not lost on him that he is doing a lot of driving for very little actual time with her. He described her behavior to me as cold, distant, unaffectionate. His “I love you’s” were met with a nod or a “um hmmm.”
“Dad,” he said, “I need more than that. I’m an affectionate guy. I need to know she’s as invested as I am.”
“So what do you want to do?” I asked him.
“I’m going to break up with her. But I have to wait 6 long days to see her again.”
Fishing for the right answer I asked,
“You can do it over the phone.” (To be clear I wasn’t advocating this, I was testing him).
“No.” He paused. I need to do this face to face.”
The kid has it. The third, not necessarily third in importance but in my blog, trait of a good man. Integrity. He made his ol’ Dad pretty proud right then.

Integrity.
Integrity is a word thrown around a lot, mostly by people who don’t have it. In short layman’s terms, Integrity is doing the right thing. The right thing is often the hardest thing to do. In the case of my son, he knew that a text or a phone call would do the job but it wouldn’t be the right way to do it. Even though he was hurt, upset and annoyed at his girlfriend, consideration for her feelings was paramount. Doing what is right, not expedient or easy is the very definition of integrity.

As a society we have come to rely on what is quick. On what is easy. And sadly, what we can get away with. Only when it is convenient do some ask what the right course of action is. I suspect that deep down inside we all know what the right thing to do is in any situation. It may not be the easiest, cheapest or most convenient but it is right there in the forefront of the mind of any morally virtuous person. A good man always strives to do the right thing…even when no one is looking. A man of integrity makes sure that what he says and does are in alignment. I’m proud to say that my son is a man of integrity.

In order to reconcile the man with the image, one must be able to take a hard and unflinching look at himself and make changes if needed. Therefore the next, and I think related virtue of a good man is that of humility.

Humility.
Humility is the antithesis of hubris and arrogance. A humble man does not take himself too seriously because to be full of oneself you are not allowing room for others. A humble man knows the world around him and exactly where he fits into it. When charitable, he is not concerned about accolades and recognition. He values accomplishment and achievement and satisfying a need, all the while motivated by integrity, his inner desire to do the right thing for the right reasons.

I have known many great and humble men and I strive to be like them. Men who are genuinely more concerned with you then they are with themselves. Men who accept criticism as a means to self improvement yet are slow to criticize others. Men who are involved but want to blend into a crowd, not stand on a mount waving a flag that says “look at me!”

A real, humble man wants everyone to achieve and be happy, not seek an advantage of perceived superiority over others. We need more men of integrity and humility in this age of relative morality and rampant egoism.

to be continued…

Fairness

At what point do you go from being fair to being a sucker?

I have always considered myself a fair man. Actually, let me back up a bit. Not always. I can not claim that I have always been the way I am today. In fact, until too late in life I was a very flawed man. But I did change for the better around the time that I took a real hard look at my life and realized that I was trying to be something I was not and it was then that I made some adjustments. As I told my 25 year HS reunion coordinator looking for a quote in the absence of my attendance,
“I spent so much time and effort in the attempt to find myself only to one day realize that I was me all along.”
As I took stock of my life, one thing I vowed to do was always take a moment to consider the perspective of others before making snap judgments and to always be a fair man. It’s worked for me professionally and in my personal life, in particular in my marriage. Lately, I have begun to think that in my marriage, I have evolved from fair to being a sucker.

Two years ago, when my wife and I finally decided to divorce we sat down and discussed the terms. We were already maintaining separate residences, not even close to being a couple, and I was sick and unemployed. She told me that she wasn’t going to pursue support but asked that in the event that my SSDI application was approved would I give her some of it? I agreed, even though my SSDI application was never guaranteed. I am not the type to leave her hanging because she wasn’t doing much better financially than I.

Fast forward 20 months. I was living with mom and also living off of her. I had no income. My health had further deteriorated and I had been denied SSDI and I was pending a hearing. Additionally, I had just come out of a extended hospital stay that almost ended with my leaving in a bag.

When I came home from the hospital the first thing I did was open my mail. There was good news and bad. The bad news was that my health insurance had been cancelled. Enter the other piece of mail. I had been approved for Disability, to the tune of a 32k back settlement, which was the reason for them cancelling my insurance (apparently I was a rich man at 2100/mo).

Unbeknownst to me, my ex had also received a copy of my approval letter.

She called me the next morning looking for a check. I had already decided that I would honor my word and give her half. But before I could be nice, dare I say magnanimous, she demanded her half and proceeded to tell me how she would not even settle for less than a stipend of 800/mo. I was floored. All of the wind was drained from my sails. I told her so and hung up. A matter of hours passed and I wrote a check for 15,700 and mailed it. I then paid my mother back everything I had borrowed in the past 18 months. I then paid off my credit cards and I had 3k left and I needed tires for my truck. That was 800.

On the next conversation I had with ex-wifey I cautiously told her that there would be a time, in the near future, where we would need to discuss the arrangement. I was paying support for 2 minors despite one of them being almost 20 and the other turning 18 in 3 months. I called it child support and if you’re paying attention that means that I don’t have to do one and I am close to not being required to the other. I’m fair and I have honor. But the time to revisit the arrangement is right now. I have given her over 24k in the last 12 months as I suffer financially.

The catalyst for this conversation occurred last week she called and told me that her boyfriend was going to move in with her. It was part of a giant brouhaha. My youngest daughter, who lives with her completely objected and was beside herself upset. My oldest daughter was in her corner and fighting with her mother. Ex wifey didn’t care that my daughter was upset, she did her usual “I’ll ask for approval and then do whatever the fuck I want to anyway” move. She wanted my approval. I didn’t give it to her. I was never a fan of her new guy, a convicted felon and a very recent user of drugs after failing rehab. Him living with 2 of my kids infuriated me. At am impasse, the conversation ended quickly.

Then it hit me. A guy with no job, no money, a drug problem and a record was going to live with her partially on my dime? No, I say no fucking way. I briefly thought about cutting her off but I do have an obligation to pay her for my youngest for a while. I needed to do something, but what is fair?

I decided that I would cut it in half. The oldest boy is working and makes decent money. He buys his own food so she can’t claim she’s supporting him. The other half is going to be deposited in my youngest daughter’s bank account, which I just set up, where ex-wifey can’t touch it. I then called my ex and told her what I was doing and that her able bodied boyfriend will have to pick up the slack. I told her that any self-respecting person, whether they rent a room or stay at a house, pays rent. Jesus H Tap-dancing Christ, her mother is paying her rent in full!

The best part, my kids suggested that I do this.

Boy, was she pissed! How could I, after all?

My response? For once, I am doing what is fair to me.

A year has passed…conclusion

October 4, 2018
I woke up to a team of Doctors standing at the foot of my bed. It was early. or at least it seemed like it was. I hadn’t slept much the night before. The head doctor began listening to my lungs, feeling my legs, being a general nuisance as the rest of the white smocks scribbled frantically on their notepads.
“You won’t remember me, sir but I’m the doctor that was on duty the night you came in.” He was looking me dead in the eye. “I’m having a hard time believing that I’m looking at you right now. You were that close.”
“That’s what I keep hearing.”I said. “I must have been in bad shape.”
“Bad shape doesn’t begin to cover it. You were on the edge of death. How do you feel now?”
“Grateful.”
“You’ve been given a second chance . Take advantage of it. You may be going home in a couple of days if you feel up to it. You need to walk for me before I sign your release.”

I rolled out of bed, with difficulty of course, struggled to my feet and began to slowly walk out the door. The team followed me out and watched as I walked to the nurses station and back. I was wobbly but I did it.
The doctor asked me when I had mastered that, to his knowledge I had failed the day before.
“Last night while everyone was sleeping.” It was then that I noticed Olivia had joined the group.
“Bill is a determined one” Olivia offered. I smiled at her. The team left my room.
“I want to go home.” I told her.
“A couple more days I think. Your fever is still erratic.”
“I can’t take being in bed anymore.”
Her concession was to sit me up in a chair where I spent almost the entire next two days. I continued to try to put the pieces together.

It was my ex wife that filled in the holes for me. She painted a vivid picture for me of what it was like to see me like that. She had visited me every day, I was impressed. At one point or another all of the kids had come to visit me. Unfortunately they all came when I was sedated. The sight of me with a breathing tube, unconscious was a bit much for my youngest daughter. My oldest son, who was on his way to visit his girl friend, was told to turn around. He asked why he couldn’t come in the morning. He was told “Because your father might not make the night.” Of course he rushed there.

October 6, 2018
I was released in the morning. Mom came to pick me up. When I got home I sat on the deck, enjoying some natural sunlight for the first time in 11 days, and opened my mail. The first letter I opened was from Medicare. My health Insurance had been cancelled. Effective that day. Turns out my SSDI had gotten approved and I was now fucking rich and wasn’t eligible for state assistance anymore. I tore it up and went inside.

I had just fallen asleep in my recliner only to be woken by my mother’s best friend Arlene.
“I didn’t think I would ever see you again, Billy. Welcome home you tough bastard.”
“Was I really that bad?!” I asked. It seemed I was asking that to a lot of people. Her face said it all.
Many more townsfolk would say that very thing to me in the ensuing days. They all thought I was going to die.

There are lot of takeaways from this whole incident. I was grateful and impressed with the Hospital. I was thankful for the support of family and friends. I awoke one morning in the dialysis room only to find one of my 3AM buddies Jeff next to me patiently waiting for me to wake up. He had been there for 45 minutes watching me sleep. Now that’s a friend. Later that night two more great friends and their wives visited me. They sat for hours with me, they walked the halls with me, supporting my weight when I wavered. Of course I’m haunted by the way they were looking at me. The words “Dead Man Walking” came to mind. They were scared and it was disconcerting. But overall I am moved and eternally grateful to them for the visit. It really meant the world to me.

Another takeaway is that I am proud to have been gifted with toughness and a survival instinct. In order to survive, one must have a reason. I must have had plenty of reasons to defy the odds, as I was told so many times that I did just that.

I’m a fighter. I’m stubborn and I never quit. This incident is just more evidence that it wasn’t my time. I’m not ready for a dirt nap. My life is compromised but it is not over. I have weddings to go to and Daughters to give away. I have grandchildren to meet and motorcycle rides with my boys. I believe that in my lifetime there may be a cure down the road for me. I want to be there if it does.

My last takeaway? Even if I wasn’t awake, my ability to fight death is there and it is stron. Even unconscious, I do not fear dying.

I fear not living. And that is a powerful thing.

I’m also grateful to be here to tell this story, and that is also a powerful thing.

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.