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…

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.

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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?

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.

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.

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?

A Daughter’s love

I received a text from my youngest daughter late last night. We text almost every day and I always light up when I see that it’s her.

She told me that she has an English assignment to write a 20 sentence essay about a powerful moment in her life, and would I mind if she wrote about my last hospitalization. I joked with her, which one? It was a caustic joke, making reference to the many crises I’ve been through in the last couple of years. It wasn’t funny of course, my battles have had a real impact on my kids, one that I wish they never had to deal with. The last one, I’ve heard, was particularly bad. I have to rely on what I’ve heard because I was unconscious for 2 days.

I told her I was fine with it and asked her to email it to me. Here is what I opened.

As I pulled up to the hospital, I did not know what to expect when I walked into his room. My mom and I made it into the hospital, to the elevator, and into the ICU. The nurse led us into the room and my heart dropped to my stomach as I saw my dad. I have never seen someone look so helpless, while he laid there with a tube down his throat and a machine breathing for him. The nurse was talking, but I couldn’t listen. All I could hear was my heart pounding, the machines beeping, and the sound of oxygen being shot into his lungs. The first time I saw his chest rise then fall, tears came to my eyes, but they did not stop. Tears kept pooling in my eyes and falling down my face. I could not breathe. I felt like I needed to have oxygen sent to my lungs, too, because I couldn’t seem to breathe on my own. They told me to talk to him, but what do I say? Would he be able to hear me? All I could do was hold his hand and hope he could hold mine back, but he didn’t. Even if he wanted to, he had gloves on preventing him from ripping the tubes from his mouth, which he had tried to do during the many attempts to wake him up. So I did the best I could and I held his hand and spoke soothing words to him. I told him I loved him. I told him he couldn’t leave me, and he didn’t. He stayed strong for me, for my family, and for himself, like the fighter I know and love. “He’ll be okay,” they told me. He’ll be okay.

She will be reading that in front of her class.

I was floored. I cried. I was so sad for her that she had to go through that, so proud of her ability to express herself so boldly and honestly, and so taken back by her account. Above all, I was blown away by the love this child has for me.

I told her how proud I was, how well-written it was and that I was moved by her words.
“Well, it’s all true”, she matter of factly replied.

I continue to struggle with that episode of my life. I’ve had a couple of medical close calls in my life and I sincerely remember traveling towards a tunnel of some sort before being revived. I know what I experienced and no skeptic will ever talk me out of it. But the last one was the worst. I was inches from the dirt farm, to the point where the Doctors were discussing my DNR.

Through Doctor and family accounts, I’ve been given details of the ordeal. The 2 ambulance rides, the first to a hospital that was ill-equipped to treat me. The 104.9 fever. The medically induced coma. The breathing tube and the bedside dialysis. I don’t remember any of it of course, and there lies the frustration.

The one thing I have never wrapped my head around is what my family went through during that time. The guy who always tried to act strong, through a carefully orchestrated design of denial and lying about my health was, in my daughter’s words, helpless. Helpless is not a word often associated with me.

My mother, my ex-wife (who was amazingly supportive and present throughout the ordeal), and my older children were all deeply concerned. But my youngest, she was beyond herself. We have a special bond.

As all of these thoughts ran through my sleepless mind last night, I texted her:
“That was a scary time.”

“I was more scared that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye.”

Is there anything that would make a guy want to keep plugging on stronger than that? God, I love that kid.