The cool dad

The one thing I will never get used to is not seeing my children as often as I used to. I went from every day to a few times a month in one fell swoop. I keep my complaining to a minimum, it’s been hard for all of us. When it all collapsed, we went separate directions, no one’s situation was ideal. My problem was that I never felt right with the world once I was deprived of my nightly conversations with them.

When they were younger I would famously extend bedtime by telling extra stories or watching another show. I was complicit, if not the architect. of some serious bedtime schemes. My oldest daughter came up with her famous “asthma-scam” when she was 7. She has asthma so she would fake a raspy cough, I would get the nebulizer and give her a breathing treatment. Mom never figured it out that she was getting an extra 20 minutes with Dad on the sofa. I had something like this with all of them. I wasn’t home a lot of nights until almost bedtime so, selfish as it was, I found ways to get more. As the kids got older, the books and TV shows became nightly talks. Each kid had that one thing that they liked to discuss with me. Occasionally these talks morphed into conversations that most parents dread, but they happened so organically that it became easy. My kids talked often of their “Dad time” to their friends. We often had a yard full of neighborhood kids. I was the “cool dad”. Even as they got older my kids would tell me how much their friends liked me, that I was different than their own Dads. I was just being me. It wasn’t that difficult, I listened to them. I let them make their mistakes and I gave reasonable advice, not guilt trips. I fostered open communication and a friendly relationship without compromising my role as a father.
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After the collapse, I found myself 100 miles from them. I make the trip down as often as I can but when I do it is a long, carefully planned ordeal because they are all over the place. Two here, one there, one I need to see at his or her work, etc. It sucks but it isn’t going to change anytime soon. I make the most of the time I have with them.

Saturday I got a call from my oldest, asking me when I was going to meet her new boyfriend, who she is apparently semi-living with, and my new Grand-dog Coda. a six-month-old Husky. I told her I would come down Sunday morning. I then called my youngest 2 and found that one was available and one was at a sleepover. I told him when I would pick him up. I then reached out to my oldest son to see if he was working. He was moving into his new apartment that day so he would be available. I called my oldest and informed her that her boyfriend was going to meet all of us except our youngest and my wife, who was working. Her reaction was “John is going to freak out”. I assured her it would be alright. And don’t forget to bring the Dog.

We met at the restaurant at noon. Just by meeting him in the lobby I knew that the boyfriend was exactly as nice as my daughter had described. We got a table for 5 and sat down. John and I got along great. My daughter seemed happy. I caught them smiling at each other and heard her whisper I told you you’d like him. Dinner was great, probably because the one that would have stressed everyone out was at work. I picked up the tab, despite great resistance from John and we parted ways. I would not get to meet the dog that day but I was now off with my oldest boy to see his new apartment.

When we got to the new bachelor pad I parked and told him to lead the way. I grabbed the 30 pack of Bud that was in my trunk and we went in. When we got to the top of the stairs, I handed the 30 pack to them and said “Housewarming gift. I thought of giving you food but I knew you needed this more”. They were pumped. I did my tour and I left.

I dropped the younger boy at his house, bid goodbye and began my 2 hour ride home. I turned my Spotify on and ignored my phone the entire ride. When I pulled into my driveway I opened my text messages. There were 2, one from the oldest daughter and one from my oldest son. They read, respectively.

“John can’t believe how cool you are!”

“Dad, my friends said that I have the coolest dad ever”.

How about that? I’ve still got it!
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the Genie in the bottle

You know the story. You’re walking on the beach, you stumble on something in the sand, you look down and you see what appears to be a vase. You unearth it and instinctively know to rub it. Suddenly a wisp of smoke escapes from the uncertainly secured cap. You drop it and POOF, before you stands a Genie.

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He offers you 3 wishes. There is a time limit and once a wish is made it can’t be reversed. What do you wish for?

I often toss silly situations like this around in my mind. The what-if is a harmless exercise to entertain different scenarios. Middle-aged guys often joke about harmless stuff like “if I wasn’t married I could probably shag that hot waitress at the Tilted Kilt”. In reality, unless she has “Daddy issues” and you were lucky enough to be wearing his favorite cologne he would likely be rebuffed with great prejudice. The what-if is also dangerous if you are like me and spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The 3 wishes scenario is a fun one based purely on its implausibility. Considering that it’s already implausible, why don’t I make it more interesting by doing a then and now?

First of all, do I take care of myself first or do I think of others? 20 year old me would jump at the prospect of free wishes and would immediately think of himself and ask for a large sum of money. After all, isn’t life all about money? Cars, electronics, a big house and nice clothes make the man. Even 30 year old me would have bought into that to some degree and 40 years old me would sure want the house if nothing else.

The current me would also think of me first. I have to. Before I can help others I need to secure my own mask. But the current me is not all about money. It took losing everything that I have to take away the allure of the glimmering pile of gold. 25 years of keeping up with the Jones’, and living check to check in jobs that paid well but robbed me of my soul has taught me the concept of enough. I did enough to give the children the childhood they deserved and held on as long as I could. A bankruptcy, a foreclosure and most of my kidney function later I am embracing enough. Maintaining wealth is too much work. I want a  house with lots of wood and animals lying on the many sofas with sunlight streaming in. I want a nice truck that will tow a boat and a couple of snowmobiles. Enough in the bank to not worry about money anymore, but not enough to consume me.

Once offered the second wish, the former me would request Time. Time to work, time to drink after, time to party and not need sleep. A 36 hour day. He had places to go, people to meet and booze to drink. If it was possible to wish to never need sleep, he would have wished for that.

The current me would also ask for time. Not to party, not to drink, not to work. I’ve done that. I want lost time. The time that I spent working late for ungrateful assholes that dangled the carrot of career advancement in front of my nose. The time that I spent stuck in traffic on the way home. The time that I spent on my ass with swollen legs, cramping, and fatigue, drinking beer and watching television. Instead I want all that time back in the form of bedtime stories, tossing the football in the yard, Saturday morning Soccer games, family dinners that I never made it home for. Time spent patiently listening to the rambling stories of an excited child glad to see his/her father. Time to recognize the signs that my wife was struggling and that I was losing her. If possible I want to go back in time, but that’s truly a fantasy.

Now comes the third wish. I know the younger me still had a heart for those around him. He would broadly wish for world peace. He was a good, if not misguided soul. He tried to hide it for many years but for those few that he showed his true self to, he cared.

The current me would also make a wish for the betterment of others. As my third wish I would ask for the validation of Karma, that there be a bus dedicated to it and that I get to be the driver. I would love to personally ensure that all of the good people that put such positive energy into the universe receive it back tenfold. That the kind, the generous, the selfless and the humble are rewarded. And as for the killers, the liars, the cheaters and the greedy…well that’s why the Karma bus has reverse. I need to know, if only for one day that there is some justice in the world.
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It’s a nice fantasy, but I know that no matter how many times I walk on the beach barefoot there is 100% chance that I will step on a stingray or HIV infected needle before I do a bottle.

Still, it’a cool to think about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Knight at Grandpa’s

Oh my God, it’s like my father is here in this kitchen!” my mother half-laughed and half-yelled as she searched around to see what other mischiefs I had caused while she was out.

I’m a big kid, I love to mess with her OCD. When she goes out I move things around in her kitchen. Sometimes it’s subtle, like moving her snowman candles an inch or so. She notices it. Other times I will switch her containers around. If they were in ascending order shortest to tallest, left to right, I would reverse it. I do a little every day just to keep things interesting. Mom has come to expect something when she walks in. I outdid myself today, I messed with everything. Cookie jar turned around to face the wall. K cups, once color-coded by row on a rack with no empty spaces now rearranged hodge-podge with a pyramid of them on top and many empty slots. The Coffee-maker swapped with the food processor. My best work to date. And the reference to her father was not lost on me, it’s not the first time she’s said it. I act like him, I quote him frequently. I talk about him all the time. I am my Grandfather in so many ways.

My father and grandfather were dual role models in my life. I was very fortunate to have two honest, hard-working family-oriented men in my life. I idolized them both. But I had very different relationships with them. As could be expected, my father had to be the teacher, the establisher of rules and disciplinarian when required. My grandfather got to be the good guy. He always supported what my father told me and never went against him, but he put his own folksy and humorous spin on it. He made everything better. And funny.

I had a tough childhood in many ways. I was a bit mixed up, I lived too much in my own head. But one wonderful childhood memory is the Friday night sleepover at the Grandparents. My mom and dad had a nice social life and it was common to drop me off at the Grandparents house in lieu of a babysitter. I loved it. From as early as I can remember I would walk up the old brick steps. shopping bag of clothes and blanket in tow, where I would be greeted by my doting grandmother at the door. Behind her would be my grandfather smiling wickedly. His eyes, barely noticeable beneath his trademark bushy eyebrows suggesting we were in for some fun. The night would consist of TV and popcorn, playing with their little rat poodle, watching them playfully bicker, root beer floats in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter and going to bed just a little later than I did at home. The fun that my grandfather had in store would come the next morning at breakfast. He would put on a show, and he never disappointed.

Fun, as defined by my grandfather, was causing trouble. My mother had told me stories of the breakfast table when she was growing up. When I was there, my grandmother was the target and I was the eager audience. The game was to drive her crazy, the winning moment was when she yelled at him. It would start as soon as we got up. I woke up early for the show. Grandma would be making breakfast and grandpa and I would be in the small living room, a mere 2 rooms away. She would call him to breakfast and he would ignore her. He would make eye contact with me as if to say “be quiet and watch this.” Grandma would call again and he would yell “Whaaaaat?” Exasperated, my poor grandmother would come down the hall and literally yell “breakfast is ready!” He would calmly say something like “oh, why didn’t you say so.” That was only the beginning. Once seated, the real fun began. She would put eggs in front of him and if they were scrambled he would complain that he wanted over easy. If there was cream on the table he would reach to the refrigerator, sneakily put it away and then ask her where the cream was. He would stack cups on the table to see how high they would go, occasionally knocking something over. All the while he was doing this, smiling wickedly at me, he was watching her carefully to see just how far he could push her. Eventually, she would yell at him to “knock the crap off” and he would be so visibly proud of himself. Amazingly, antics like that happened for years and she never figured out that he was doing it on purpose.

After the shenanigans of breakfast, I would dutifully follow him downstairs. He had a big sink with a mirror and he would shave with a straight razor. After he brushed his face with shaving cream he would catch me admiring him in the mirror and he would wink at me, make a crazy face and pretend he was about to slash his throat with the razor. It didn’t traumatize me, I loved it. I would recap all of his antics, and my poor grandmother’s suffering, to my mother when she picked me up Saturday afternoon. We would compare notes, she would tell me of similar breakfasts, lunches and dinners just like them.

My love for my grandparents would always be strong. They were supportive of me and I made as much time as I could to see them. My grandmother was a strong, willful and sweet woman but she was a tough, off the Mayflower Yankee and was often humorless. She would die at 104 of old age. Her only medical condition was Scottish Alzheimer’s. A condition where you forget everything except who you don’t like. My Grandfather would only see 92. Pneumonia would release some long dormant asbestos he inhaled in the Navy in WWII and take him from us.

He lived a good life. He was a hard-working kid who married his high school sweetheart. Enlisted in the Navy Seabees and fought in the Pacific. He returned home to build a house and start a family with the bride that waited for his return. He would help his wife through 2 miscarriages, the untimely death of his 4-year-old son Charles in the very kitchen that so many happy memories occurred. He carried his family through my mother being in a coma and nearly dying of spinal meningitis when she was 9. Through all of this he smiled, deflected life’s bullets, cracked wise with lines such as “don’t take any wooden nickels”, “see you in the funny papers”, and the classic “I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a goddamn train.”

He’s always with me. My bed is a family heirloom, he was born in it. I carry his pocket watch. I have all of his watches on my nightstand, I also have all of the letters that he sent to my grandmother during WWII. Letters describing his daily life as a sailor, written nearly every day. If not, there was an apology and an explanation. In these letters he tells my grandmother what kind of life he wants to lead with her when, not if, he made it home. He affectionately called her “kid” and he would do so until his final goodbye. They were married 65 years. He was her Knight. http://lindaghill.com/2018/01/28/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-28th-2018/  Honest, strong, committed to keeping her safe. He would cross the world and slay dragons for her

His humor, his loyalty, his simple approach to life are things that I aspire to have always. I am happy that I still quote him, pull pranks, push people to the edge and do things like openly complain that the brownie pan is defective because it only generated 4 corner pieces. I made that joke last night as I stole the last corner, my mother slapped my wrist and said, “you’re just like your grandfather.” Yup, I’ll take it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#What if…installment 2. If I could do High School over again?

I was chatting with a friend on messenger last night. She is yet another addition to the growing list of people I have reconnected with from High School via FB. She is also on a shorter list; people who I have become close friends with that I thought didn’t know I existed in HS. Nancy and I have become great friends through our chats. We talk at least 3 nights per week about our lives now and flashing back to HS. The problem is that I don’t remember being friends with her in HS. I knew her, but don’t remember her ever giving me the time of day. She vividly recalls memories of us, of my offbeat sense of humor and comical antics. I don’t remember any of it. Until last night, I hadn’t brought myself to tell her that. I reluctantly told her that I don’t remember most of it, that I have largely blocked HS out of my mind, that I was an emotional mess and very mixed up. She said, “I never would have guessed that.” I was stunned.  How could she not know? I thought everybody knew!

My memories of High School are as pleasant to me as Church in the 80’s is to former Altar Boys in Boston. It makes my ass hurt. I remember HS as a blur of being bullied, cliques, being nonexistent to the fairer sex, having very few friends, an average student, a sullen misfit who longed for school holidays and vacations. I hated getting out of bed in the morning, I truly dreaded going to school. So why do so many people remember me as a fun, independent kid?

The only explanation is that I got it wrong. I clearly didn’t maximize my opportunities. I didn’t see what other people saw. I have accepted my life for what it is and I don’t dwell on the past and I don’t want a do-over, High School was hard enough the first time. But I can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if I were able to correct some critical errors I made in my younger, foolish years.

I carried the weight of HS well into adulthood. I declined invitations to my 10th, 15th, 20th, and 25th HS Reunions. When I declined the 25th, I was asked by the coordinator to give a little quote about what I had been doing. I wrote,

“For years I tried to find myself, then I realized I was me all along.”

I was surprised at how fast I came up with that, it just flowed off the tongue. I stored it for later. Maybe it was a sign that I was beginning to let it go. Inspired by my new clarity, I dug a little deeper and found myself finally able to ask the big question, Is it possible that it was me and not everyone else? That is one of those questions that, even if asked of yourself, is a pretty big Matzo ball if you’re not ready for it. But Bingo, it was me. My entire HS experience sucked because I let it. So what did I learn?

Fight back. Against your situation, against your bullies, against your fears. I was a passive kid. I was an artist, a reader, a lover of music. I didn’t get mad, I retreated to my safe world of drawing album covers and reading books. Had I just once pushed, shoved or punched one of my tormentors I would have at least been left alone. Bullies want it easy. If you make them work for it they back off.

Stick with sports. When I think of it, I dropped off of the baseball team before tryouts were over because of the shit I took from some of the kids. But I was a pretty good baseball player. Now I’ll never know. I dropped out of Soccer because I was being made fun of by guys that I hated. They made fun of my cleats, they were cheap because we didn’t have much money. Instead of fighting back, or just ignoring them I quit. I wasn’t a bad player. I ended up running track. Chalk lines can’t mock you and you’re basically competing with yourself.

Embrace what I was good at. I was a good artist. It got me into college. But it wasn’t cool to be an art major. I was in the band. I love music and I was a good Trumpet player. But like art, being in the band wasn’t cool. What my dumbass former self didn’t realize was that I wasn’t cool either. Who am I trying to impress? And who cares about cool?

Try a little harder. After I was stuffed into my locker for the 100th time in 9th grade I was pretty much done. I became shy and withdrawn. It would affect more than my social life, it also affected my academic life. I didn’t participate in class. I began to be called stupid. I began to believe it. With the exception of classes that I really enjoyed I was a C student. Had I really applied myself I may have done a lot better.

Look at people as people, not at the groups they run with. Cliques, the eternal divider. I now know that the best kids in HS were the ones that got along with everybody. There are “jocks” that hung out with the “computer geeks” and there were “band fags” that played sports and there were “burnouts” that partied with the “jocks”. Life shouldn’t have been so compartmentalized. You can be the same person across multiple groups. I want to believe that the Breakfast Club could be real, that those kids somehow leaped an insurmountable hurdle and would walk into school Monday morning as cross-clique friends.

As I said, it was me. I can’t go back. I don’t want to. What’s in the past is in the past. It doesn’t matter now, only the lessons are intact. They served me well raising my children. I was able to give them sage advice through hard experience and I am so happy that their HS experiences were much better than mine. Had they endured what I had, it would have been much harder for me to make peace with my past.

I did attend my 30th reunion. I walked into this one relatively comfortable in my own skin but extremely nervous. Despite having a kidney transplant 8 months earlier I had been working out a lot and I actually looked in half decent shape but inside I still felt like that awkward, gangly teenager that walked down the halls not making eye contact with the same people that I was about to come face to face with. I walked up to the registration table and was greeted by multiple people who I barely recognized. Apparently, the news of my surgery had gotten around and I was a story. I exchanged pleasantries and went inside. The first person I ran into was my longtime friend Marc. My “sitting in the basement listening to music” buddy. I hadn’t talked to him in 28 years. He was genuinely happy to see me. We went inside and hit the bar. I talked to a few people, other than that the same people who didn’t talk to me in HS didn’t talk to me then as well. But it didn’t matter because the final lesson had occurred to me as I raised a glass with Marc…

It doesn’t matter how many friends you have, it’s the quality of the friendships. Less can be more. Quality over quantity. Seeing Marc made the whole reunion worth it. The rest of it was just facing a dragon. I emerged unscathed.

My Dad, the thief Part 2 of 2

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It was a horrible time for me. I lost my best friend, I felt terrible for my father and I worried for our family’s safety. The man was truly unstable. Dark days indeed.

One thing my uncle couldn’t control was that Mike and I went to school together. We managed to hang out at school and occasionally would play basketball at the church near Mike’s house. The get-togethers were rare. It was very frightening for both of us and the opportunities didn’t come up often. I found out many years later that his dad found out about one of our sneaky rendezvous’s and, as promised, beat Mike pretty badly.

Fortunately, and I sound like a really bad person here, 4 years after the infamous 4th of July incident, the bastard came home drunk, attempted to beat his wife, fell on the kitchen floor and died of an aneurysm. I shed zero tears.

Now 14, I was hopeful that it was finally over. I naively thought that both families would come together, the wedge now gone and pick up where we left off. That was not to be. Mike and I resumed our friendship in that we openly spent time together but the rest of the family, with the exception of my aunt, still believed it happened and treated me like the son of the guy who stole from them.

Several years passed and I began to believe that it would likely never get better. Mike and I remained close but just didn’t talk about it. My father resumed his relationship with his sister, who in turn told her children to be respectful. It was still painful for him, I could see him struggling to be comfortable around them. In the house that he grew up in, he felt like a villain. But he was glad to have his sister back.

I would not speak to anyone in that house, other than Mike for years. I didn’t hate them but I was extremely offended that they, anyone for that matter, would really think my father was a thief. So many years after the incident, my father had proved over and over what a decent, honest hard-working man he was. I was offended for him and I resented them. Despite my anger, not seeing them on a regular basis allowed me to keep a lid on it. Out of sight, out of mind.

When I was 22, Mike and I were both still living with our families in town. I had been working a lot of overtime and had finally bought my dream car. A 1988 Mustang GT Convertible. Mike and I loved Mustang’s so I was eager to show it to him. It was a hot August day and I navigated my shiny new car, top down, around the potholes to Mike’s house. I pulled up and one of my older cousins was outside. I asked for Mike, he told me he wasn’t home. “Nice car,” he said flatly. I thanked him and rolled forward to turn around in the driveway. As I did, 2 more of my cousins came out of the house and watched me. As I passed them, slowly to avoid dust, I heard one of them say “there goes the rich kid.” I slammed my brakes and threw it into reverse. Fuck the dust.

I rolled up, put it in Park and got out. “Excuse me, did someone say Rich kid?” They just looked at me. I wasn’t the same scrawny kid they used to toss around. I was now 6 ft and 250 pounds and I was pissed. I asked again. Nothing but contemptuous stares met my fury. That’s when it all became crystal clear to me. It wasn’t just over a coin, they resented my father’s success. I let them have it. I unleashed and showed them a side of me they didn’t know existed. I tore into them for not understanding that my father worked his ass off to not live on this street anymore. He got a job, got into a union, put in overtime, worked side jobs and missed almost every holiday working on broken oil burners for people with no heat. All to buy a house and give his family what he didn’t have growing up. I went on to give them hell about that stupid comment about my car. The car I worked 60 hours a week to buy. Who the fuck did they think they were to call me the “rich kid?” To say that I read them the riot act is an understatement. I flipped them off and got back in my car.

I wouldn’t speak to them again until my father’s funeral 25 years later. I wrote my father’s eulogy. It may be the best thing I’ve ever written. I spoke passionately about how much I admired my dad, what an honest man he was, how he had been hurt by those close to him but always retained his dignity. I stressed his work ethic and his big heart. I wrote of his great success through hard work despite his humble upbringing. I wasn’t able to deliver it myself, I knew that I would be a blubbering mess. I had a hard time listening to the minister read it even though I wrote it. As he read it, I made eye contact with the few cousins that bothered to show up. They were squirming in their seats. I don’t think even I knew until that moment that parts of that eulogy were scathing, brutal truth bombs aimed at them for how they treated him.

 

At the cemetery, as I knelt on the frozen ground at my father’s grave, one of my cousins patted me on the shoulder and said “I’m glad I came today. “

“I’m glad as well.” As I thought to myself Glad that I will likely never see you again.   

My Mom disagrees with me on a lot of what I am talking about. She claims that the cousins were friendly after my Uncle’s death. I’m glad they were to her but I never saw it. Mike himself, on one of the rare occasions that we talked of his father, said that his siblings all believed that my father stole from them.

I’m privileged to still be close to Mike. He annoys the hell out of me sometimes, we have very little in common, but he is a solid guy with a very big heart. The only problem I have with him is that he is a walking reminder of an indignity perpetrated against my father. Normally a forgiving person, on this one the bitterness is still on my tongue. My father lived a great life, despite the headwinds he had to trudge through in his earlier years. He didn’t get the time on earth that he deserved for the work that he invested. To think that so many of those years were spent feeling hurt and wrongly accused angers me to no end. As in so many other aspects of his life…he deserved so much better.

My Dad, the thief

The following post is my most candid to date. I don’t apologize for my language, my anger or my lack of empathy. It is a story that in large part formed the person I am today but it might not be what you are used to seeing from me.

 

While writing about my cousin Mike yesterday, therapeutic as it was, I triggered myself AGAIN. It seems that whenever I write of family, another incident bubbles to the surface and I have to write about it.

Mike is very important to me, I hope I did him justice in yesterday’s post. He was a major part of my life for many years and I will always have a soft spot for him. He, 1 of my 6 cousins, is the only one I talk to.

Railroad Ave was the street in town that everyone spoke of but rarely walked down. It could have been taken directly out of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. A small dirt road, littered with giant potholes that resembled small ponds after a rainfall, occupied by the poorest residents of my hometown. The street consisted of some people with menial jobs, and some multiple generations of poverty dwellings. It was not uncommon to see barefoot, filthy children playing on the street with makeshift toys as adults who should be working looked on and drank beers from a dirty cooler parked next to a lawn chair. It wasn’t uncommon to see me there either, on that street was the same house my father grew up in. My aunt and cousins now lived there, 8 of them in a small house with dirt floors and plastic on the windows.

I didn’t care if it was poor, I didn’t even know. I was young and just happy to be with family. My father’s sister and her drunk-ass beater of a husband and my 6 cousins were family. I never thought to compare our houses, I was just a child. Mike was the youngest, he was my best friend. I learned how to play baseball, horseshoes, and basketball on that street. I first rode a bike with no trainers on that street, with Mike, wobbly and barely in control as I averted the massive water-filled potholes. It was a magical time for me until my drunk-ass uncle took it all away from me.

I was ten years old. Our family, per tradition, was spending the 4th of July on Railroad Ave. The cousins and I were doing our thing. Lighting off firecrackers, eating hot dogs, sneaking a peek at cousin John’s dirty books while playing Lynyrd Skynyrd records. Soon we heard yelling and we all ran to the picnic area. I was speechless, my uncle was shoving my father, yelling belligerently at him as my 100-pound mother and aunt tried to separate them. My uncle, spitting mad, screamed at my father to get the hell off of his property or he would get his shotgun. Nor knowing what had happened but not wanting to stick around for the shotgun, I ran to the car behind my mother and father. Of all the things I didn’t know at that moment, I definitely didn’t know what a formative moment that would be in my life.

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I would find out that night that my Uncle had accused my father of stealing a rare gold coin from his house. This coin would end up being the focus of much speculation for many years because no one, including his wife, knew of it and it didn’t make sense because he was a nasty drunk who would have sold it for beer money. But all that mattered was that he believed it, and I refused to believe it. My father was an honest man, someone had to believe in him.

My family was reeling from this event. My father, ever the honest man was dumbfounded and, perhaps most importantly, he was hurt. My mother was deeply concerned for him and for me. We would soon find out that my uncle had issued a fatwa of sorts against my Dad. Apparently, his drunk friends swore to kick my father’s ass if they saw him. His family was forbidden to speak with mine and Mike was told specifically that if he and I were seen together he would get a beating. It was so bad at one point that my father had a restraining order against my uncle.

It was a horrible time for me. I lost my best friend, I felt terrible for my father and I worried for our family’s safety. The man was truly unstable. Dark days indeed.

 

 

to be continued…

on Communication

I fondly remember sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was a young boy, watching her do her letters. She was extremely structured and she always made sure to make time for the highlight of her day, the mail. When she heard the stuttering engine of the mail truck driving away she would hurry to the mailbox, eagerly hoping for a letter from a relative in California or a friend from High School. More often than not, she would get one. She would then sit down at the little round table in her tiny kitchen, with a steaming cup of tea and excitedly read her mail. She loved to relay to me the adventures of this uncle or aunt or friend or friend of a friend and give me the backstory. I didn’t know any of these people but it was nice to listen to her stories. She would then break out her stationary box, select the proper letter and matching envelope and write a response. That response would be in her mailbox that night, with the flag raised for the mailman to pick up the next day. On average it would take 8-10 days to get a response. This was the way she communicated, if she couldn’t see them in person then it was a letter. She hated the phone. She liked letters, and cards, she could keep them and reread them at a later date. When she died I recovered thousands of letters in her attic. Along with hundreds of letters from my grandfather to her when he was in the Pacific during WWII.

To look back on this now, it is a fond memory but seems as technologically advanced as loading a wooden ship with mail and then sitting in the Widow’s Walk waiting to see sails on the horizon. I can’t imagine the patience it required, but I can relate to the excitement when it arrived.

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We have lost that in today’s lightning fast world. This is obviously good and bad. It is good because we need to get certain information quickly and efficiently. But with regards to interpersonal communication, we have lost the excitement and have zero patience. In all of the rush to “shoot a text. fire off an email. Leave me a voicemail, Facebook me, Inbox me, Face-time or Snap Chat each other we have created a culture of immediate gratification. We call it “Ghosting” if someone doesn’t respond immediately as if there is malice or wrongdoing behind it. We misread intentions and tones behind texts which lead to massive misunderstandings and try to express complex emotions with emoji’s. In addition, and perhaps most tragic, is that in all of the abbreviations and cutesy shortcuts we take we’ve lost the ability to actually talk to each other. We are killing our language. It is perhaps fortuitous that our President speaks at a 4th-grade level and in short sentences. Many of us can’t understand a higher level and if we can we lack the attention span and patience to comprehend it.

I fear for those who never learn the complexities and benefits of language skills. Of eye contact. Of the handshake. I cringe for the job applicant that is unable to properly state his worthiness because of a lack of language skills, the knowledge of body language and posture. Things that someone who spends time talking to actual people, not screens, would know about.

My Grandmother read a letter 3 times before she took pen to paper. Her response required careful contemplation. (https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/16/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-16th-2018/) To not be misread or misunderstood meant as much to her on paper as it did if they were in front of her in her cozy kitchen, at her small table, drinking tea and eating Lorna Doone’s.

At this moment I have 1,129 unread emails in my inbox. I just heard my phone ping repeatedly so I likely have some texts. I hope that there is something in there that will motivate me to make a cup of tea, sit and really contemplate the contents, inspire me to share it with my family, print it out and store it in the attic for enjoyment at a later date. It really is doubtful. I swear, the farther we advance the farther we fall behind.

the danger of “if”

 

You hear it every day, all day. If, if, if. If I was only rich. If I was only beautiful. If I was only younger. Cher had one of her biggest hits with If I could turn back time. It is unfortunate how many people are so fundamentally unhappy that they have a little gremlin whispering “what if” or “if only” in their ear.

Many people truly live a hard life. It could be refreshing to think of an alternative situation in which their unhappiness could be cured. I’m guilty of it as well. Unlike most, however, I don’t wish for a bag of gold. It would be nice, money is a big part of life. But it won’t make me happy. I will only find true happiness when I am comfortable in my own skin.

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I often say to myself, if I could only go back. To high school, for example, and apply some of what I know now that I could have used then. From making friends to learning to pick up cues that a pretty girl is into me (as opposed to finding out 30 years later on FB). Or to my first job interview to answer a critical question better. The examples are endless and all seem to point to regret. This is paradoxical for me because I generally don’t dwell on regret. I thought about this very intently and this is what I came up with. I don’t have general regrets, but instead, I have “period” regrets in which some “what if’s” come to mind at different phases of my life. In other words, if I was to dwell on the “if I was younger” narrative, the regrets would be different for each phase, decades for the sake of conversation, of my life.

In my twenties, I would have wished I was younger because I found out that for all of the years that I wished to be an adult and away from the “stifling rule” of my parents, being an adult sucks. Other than being able to drink legally, it’s all “have to” and very little “want to”.

In my thirties, I would have wished to be younger because I spent most of my twenties aimless and shitfaced. Reeling from a couple of bad relationships, working nights in a restaurant, trying to set a record for sleeping with waitresses. I was largely drunk, absent of goals and living day to day. I would like a lot of those days back.

In my forties, I would have wished to be younger because I didn’t do enough catch-up in my thirties. I would remain 8-10 years behind in my career, my 401k, my savings and my resume as an adult.I tried for years to pretend those years didn’t happen but they did.

Now, in my fifties, my “if I was younger” would be to relive and undo. Relive the moments of wonder when the children were young. I loved being a dad so much, although I will go to my grave fearing that I didn’t show it enough at the time. The sleepless nights, diapers and ear infections were so minor compared to the belly laughs at story time, the endless ploys to avoid going to bed, wrestling in the yard and jumping in leaves. The smiles from ear to ear as they discovered beautiful new things that are old hat to me but left them in wonder. The “just because” hugs and the “Hey Dad can I talk to you” are all things that I miss terribly. I fear that I didn’t get enough out of them and sadly, I worry that I didn’t say “I love you” enough.

I wish, but I can’t, undo being sick. To undo those times I was short-tempered when my blood pressure was out of control and my life was crashing around me. To undo the terrible fights with my wife that we stupidly had in front of the kids. To undo the disappointed looks on their faces when I was too sick to get off the sofa, or too busy to stop and make a memory.

There are too many “if’s to discuss in this one post. Maybe I will write a series of blogs about it (feedback welcome). The key message is that I don’t have the luxury of “if’s”, I don’t get to redo and I don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression. Those moments are past but not gone. They are now part of me, at this moment in time, and can’t be changed. Knowing they happened may serve me in the future in the form of wisdom, should a similar situation arise. But it is up to me to live the life that I have, not the one I could have had. My regrets have made me a better, kinder and humble person. I know who I am and I can look the man in the mirror in the eye. I only have one skin and I am almost comfortable in it.

My mistakes and regrets have served me. I have some great stories to tell and I am even considered wise by some. My life has changed greatly of late, but I’m adapting. I feel like I know things that elude others, like I have a secret. It’s really no secret. I want to live a life of fulfillment, no matter how many years I have left. And in my sixties, may I look back and be more comfortable with what I did in the ten years before.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do

“Hey, I need to talk to you, it’s important. Got a minute?” It was Jay, one of my best customers. Normally a pretty light-hearted guy, he sounded pretty serious.

“Sure, what’s up. Everything OK with the account?” I asked

“Yeah, we’re great. You’re great. Your rep Tracy…not so much.” Tracy, my renegade sales rep from Hell. My Achilles heel, the Red-headed Satan, the turd in my punch bowl. What did she do now? I composed myself and asked what happened with Tracy.

“She just gave me a lengthy seminar on how to beat you out of fees and get a better deal. I feel dirty. You treat me great and my account isn’t in danger. Why did she do that?” He proceeded to tell me how my sales rep, working an account that I brought with me, given to her to maintain it and paid her on it when she didn’t really earn it, had decided to “boost” the account by undermining me and offering him a “better deal” which he didn’t need, didn’t ask for and she wasn’t authorized to offer. I listened intently as he wrapped it up and asked me to see that she never goes into his store again. I agreed and let him get off of the phone. I was beside myself.

Tracy was always a problem. When this auction had recruited me they were interested in my book of business, my proven ability to grow sales and to lead their sales team. What they did not tell me, until my first day, that I was chiefly responsible for reigning in a “renegade” employee who had been dancing on the brink of insubordination for years but they did not have enough to fire her. Tracy. So it was up to me to control her or find a way to cleanly get rid of her. Of course, the Superman in me wanted to save the day so I tried working with her. I was her manager, she would answer to me, but I would give her every opportunity to present her ideas.

For a while, it worked well. She seemed to accept me and followed my direction. As a hands-on manager we would speak several times per day and before long she was calling me with the results of a sales call or for advice. We butted heads a little bit but I was helping her make money. I threw her a few accounts to maintain. They were free money for her. I had brought the accounts with me but I didn’t have time to work on them. It made sense. Then I caught her in her first lie.

After the sale one day she submitted her commission report. I saw that she was submitting to be paid on an account that I knew for a fact she had not earned. This customer had called me the previous Monday asking to do business with me. So I asked her for some backup; notes in the system, the nature of the conversation in which he committed business, his name, and title. She could provide none of it. I drew a line through it on her sheet and warned her to never try that again. She stormed out. It was on. I wrote her up the next day. At this company, three offenses for the same thing and you are out.

I would get her one more time for the same type of infraction. She was so greedy her judgment was compromised. Customers began to complain to me about her, her inability to take no for an answer, her constant visits and phone calls and her poor service. I spent more time with her, to try to help her, to make her see what she was doing wrong. She pushed me away. She was losing customers and the ones she did keep she squeezed for more. Enter Jay, remember Jay?

Jay was the 3rd generation owner of a small Chevy dealer in Central Massachusetts. His family had never used auctions. I visited Jay often, convinced him to try it, took great care of his needs and he became a regular. When I left that auction for another, his business followed me. He was a loyal customer, a solid account, and a friend. What would motivate her, knowing this story because I told her, to take it upon herself and undermine me? Her offer of lower fees was negligible, he was getting a great deal and had no problem with us making a small margin. He was also an old-fashioned guy, he couldn’t understand how my employee would do such a thing. It was a very big deal. It was also the third strike. I wrote her up again.

The next morning I called her to review her game plan but she didn’t answer. When I walked in I saw her in the GM’s office. She made eye contact through the window then looked away. She was in there for a while. I knew something was up but I waited. Not long after, I was summoned to the GM’s office. She was nowhere to be seen. The GM and AGM asked me to sit down.

I was told that Tracy had called corporate HR and filed a harassment claim against mejjj-2018. Professional Harassment. By writing her up, completely by the book I might add, she claimed that I had created a hostile work environment for her. I asked my managers if they read my report. They had. I asked them if they remembered hiring me to do just that…control or get rid of her? They had. I slumped in my chair, exasperated, and asked what is happening.

They were not as committed to the task at hand as I was. I did my job, I cleaned up the department and made everything equitable and honest. And they were bowing down to her. She had demanded that she does not have to interact with me at all, that I was to have no input on her performance. I vehemently objected. I’m her manager, how is that supposed to work? They were firm in their chickenshit resolve, I was given an ultimatum (#JusJoJan)https://lindaghill.com/2017/12/27/what-is-just-jot-it-january-2018-rules/. Accept those terms or resign, turn in my company phone, laptop and car and I will get 6 months salary.

“You mean hush money right?”

“Don’t be like that” said my manager

“You know this is bullshit right?” He tried to keep a stern look, but I knew he agreed.

“We’ll give you an hour to decide.”

“I’ve already decided. Shove your phone, laptop, and car up her ass because I won’t work like that. You may have lost your balls but mine work just fine. I’m going to clean out my office. Which one of you is driving me home?” I walked out.

In many ways, I made a big mistake that day. I would struggle financially for a while and my wife was less than pleased. She didn’t share my righteous indignation and didn’t recognize how hard it is to look wrong in the face every day. It wasn’t about pride. I took a stand. For better or for worse I did what I felt was right.

It took her ten more years, but Tracy was finally caught stealing and was fired. They actually asked me to come back. They even admitted that I was railroaded. I told them that I was not interested in working for people that failed to support me when I needed them the most.

After all, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

 

Sarcasm and Dad Jokes

I’m not a conventional person. In fact, I go significantly far out of my way not to be. I always joke that I don’t think before I speak, I prefer to be as shocked as everyone else by what I will say. When someone says “I think I know you” it’s not uncommon for me to reply:

“Oh, do you watch porn?” or “Ever see Cops?”

Most people can handle it, I’m big enough to avoid problems if they can’t. Sarcasm is a wonderful thing but it can be lost on the weak-minded. More than one person has walked away from me shaking their head in confusion or disbelief. It’s harmless fun for me, I amuse myself while exposing the lack of sense of humor in others.

Today I volunteered at the local food pantry. I committed to the director when I moved here that I would do it every week for at least the winter and as often as I could the rest of the year. I am one of the only volunteers that work every week, the other volunteers have schedules like the 2nd and 4th week etc. Long story short, I meet new volunteers every week. Nice people, all townsfolk, all of them knew my father. Today I was with 4 complete strangers, and I was the only male. One of the nice ladies said, “you look familiar”. Without hesitation, I replied,

“you probably saw me on America’s Most Wanted.” She wanted to laugh, but couldn’t. Until another woman, who apparently knew who I was said to her

“This is ____ ___________’s son.” The startled woman said “Oh, I see. Well, that explains it. Your Dad was a smartass as well. Nice man though.” She was smiling so it was ok.

Sarcasm, tough love, finding humor in inappropriate situations, it’s a long family legacy that I embrace. I come from a long line of smartasses and it’s a proud tradition. We’re also a rugged bunch. We don’t grieve for long. We adapt to whatever happens. We can take a hit, get up and wipe the blood from our chins and move on to the next fight. My wife, on the other hand, is not at all like this, nor is her family. When we had children I knew that our parenting styles would be a constant source of disagreement. Fortunately, we found balance.

My sarcasm and inappropriate sense of humor would prove to be a dominant family trait. Despite my wife’s best efforts to suppress it, my children have warped senses of humor and are hopeless wiseasses. It really infuriates my wife. When my oldest daughter was in third grade her teacher said to her “Oh, I see you speak sarcasm young lady.” My daughter replied

“It’s my second language.”

Her teacher was not amused, based on the hot stare she gave us at the parent-teacher conference. My wife gave me the hairy eyeball.

My oldest son had a parent-teacher conference soon after. The teacher remarked that when she would tell a joke that was of a more adult nature in class, only my son would be snickering in the back row. She wanted to know what kind of household we were providing for our children. I immediately shot back, asking her what kind of jokes she was telling in class. Once again my wife gave me the hairy eyeball.

It wasn’t as if our children were raised at an Eddie Murphy concert. It was just our way of preparing them for the world. I believed in taking away the stigma of things by talking about them instead of sheltering them from it. I would make concessions to my wife and make sure to emphasize caution and be ready for the worst in people but at the end of the day, they knew what the world was even if it was through bad jokes.

One incident comes to mind, because I will never live it down, was when my youngest daughter (# 4) was 7 years old. We lived in a massive apartment complex and my wife and I was outside talking to a new resident. A very reserved woman with an obnoxious little dog. We were being neighborly, making small talk when my youngest ran up and said “Dad, can I go to the playground and meet Cassie?” The playground was well beyond our sight but she was a trustworthy kid so I said’

“Ok, but tell me what you do if a man pulls up in a white van.”

“Hold out for the big Snickers” she replied.

“Right. Have fun.”

I looked over and my wife was livid. Our new friend’s jaw was on the ground. I said, “Say what you want, she gets it.”

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There are so many more examples but I won’t bore you. The point is that my kids have grown to be self-sufficient and strong people. And they are good citizens with solid values. They had the misfortune of seeing their parents struggle with money, go through a foreclosure and a bankruptcy, and their father seriously ill. But they learned from it and they make me so proud. I will help them with anything, but they don’t need it.

The other night a friend of mine asked me how my oldest was doing. I told him how well things were going for her. Graduated top of her class, new job, boyfriend and a new puppy… He cut me off. “Boyfriend?” What’s that like for him? I can’t imagine how scared he is of you.”

“You would think”, I replied, “but if he fucks up he should be more scared of her.” She is strong and tough and doesn’t need me unless her car breaks down. That’s how I want her to be. That’s how she was raised.

Last night she called while walking her dog. She had been fighting with her boyfriend lately so I asked her how they are getting along. She explained that it was fine, she wasn’t happy with how he’s acting but she’s being grown up about it. She told me if need be she’d take her puppy and move back in with her Grandmother. I told her that I was proud of her, that she didn’t turn out like the Disney Princesses she grew up with, helpless damsels waiting for a man on a horse to rescue her. Her reply was priceless.

“Nope, I’d tell him to get the hell off of my new horse.”

God, I love her. Even if she is just like me.