the Rainbow Bridge

I didn’t really start believing in an actual higher power until I lost a parent. Many others that I know say the same thing. The notion of a magical place in the clouds that houses our loved ones after they shed their mortal shell, where they look as they did in their prime before sickness or age took them away from their pain is a far fetched notion in this day of science and reason. But it sounds like a hell of an idea and if it gives you comfort, then go for it. It did for me. We all grieve differently.

Grief is a powerful thing. When someone suffers a loss we want to say something, we want to do something. The bitch of it is that there is nothing we can say or do, it’s a personal process that really never ends it only gets less difficult over time. If you are lucky. It is a matter of patching the giant hole that the loss of a loved one leaves in us.

Our human vanity challenges the notion that the loss of a pet can be as traumatic as the loss of a human. They’re only animals after all, right?
Wrong.
I won’t go so far as to say that an animal is on the scale of a human but I will tell you that to many, most(?), our furry friends are not just pets. They occupy our hearts and minds and command a level of love and companionship that comes in a photo finish second.

I lost my first dog when I was in High School. We adopted a Brittany Springer Spaniel from a shelter when I was 4. He was a hunting dog that was trained too early and was gun shy, rendering him useless to hunters. He was my absolute best friend in the world. To call him a loyal companion would be the understatement of the century. He was by my side everywhere I went. He saved my life once. I was crossing our street and a school bus was barreling down the hill. He ran across the street and tackled me. The bus missed us by inches. He wasn’t just a pet. When I drove to NH one summer day over Summer Vacation I was met with the dour faces of my parents, who told me that he was put down. I was crushed and remained that way for a long time. There was a hole in my life. It was at that time that I saw the poem “the Rainbow Bridge.”

We have had a series of dogs since then. I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to my first but I loved them so very much and losing them was never easy. Recently we put down our Laso Apso of 14 years. That was a tough one for my mother and I, he was an amazing companion. Smart, loyal and goofy and a constant presence. His loss crushed my mother. This time she said “no more dogs. It’s too hard to lose them.”

I agreed with her on the “hard to lose” them part. But I didn’t agree with the no more dogs thing. The one thing about animals that differs from humans is that, while you can’t replace them, you can fill the hole left by a pet. The mistake we make is that we don’t want to do them a dishonor by “replacing” them and in the process we forget that we have an opportunity to at least fill the empty place in our lives.

Having said that, six months after putting down our beloved Laso, we got another dog. A beautiful Cocker Spaniel named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel).

My mother’s frown turned upside down from the first day that we got him and I have to say that her life is better with him in it. He is loyal, friendly, funny, goofy and absolutely full of love for her. He has chosen her as his favorite and I’m fine with it, it was her hole to fill more than mine.

If you are a person who doesn’t want a dog because you feel that their lives are too short and the pain is too much, please focus on the wonderful times you are missing out on. Having something that is always happy to see you, missed you like you had been lost at sea, adores you unconditionally and can comfort you without having to know what’s bothering you is a treasure in and of itself.

If you are a person who doesn’t want to get another to fill the hole, remember that it is not about replacing, it is about mending the massive void in your life. Once you’ve known the unconditional friendship and admiration of a pet you really can’t go without it. As you sit on a park bench worrying about everything, your dog is sitting next to you thinking that you are their entire world.

How many people can you say that about?

I’m more likely to believe in heaven if I were to have all of the wonderful dogs I have been blessed to know waiting for me to walk by my side once again as I cross over.

more on being a man

This is the third installment in my series on being a man. If you have been following this series, you will know that it is a reaction to the attack on masculinity. Being a man has become taboo and traits formerly known as “masculine” are under attack as toxic. I have detailed and acknowledged a few that are indeed toxic and have tried to outline “good” masculinity and the traits that define a good man. So far I have listed Honest, Accountability, Integrity and Humility.

Let me continue.

Work Ethic.
There is an old saying. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life.”
Why is this significant today? Hard work is under fire in this country. Young people are told that they have to go to college and consequently the trades are suffering. They are told that the dirty hands of the working man is somehow crude and beneath societal standards. Consequently, the unemployed guy with the Philosophy major and 100k in student loan debt is having his power shut off by the guy who went to work for the power company right out of High School, did an apprenticeship, has no debt and is earning 80k a year. Hard work is not a bad thing. Would you rather wear a suit and earn 50k or overalls and make 100k?

There is a push in this country towards Socialism under the guise of Democratic Socialism. I get it, our system is not perfect. There is inequality in all areas of society; income, gender, the list goes on. In many ways it is unfair. Our system is based on free markets and industry which are driven by the workers. At the heart of any booming economy is the drive of the workers to succeed. Because men inherently want to earn, to succeed, to achieve, to accomplish and to win. Not to win against each other, but to collectively win over complacency and the need for a handout. A real man will always choose to work for his paycheck over having one handed to him. The best beer is the one that is placed on a sweaty forehead and then twisted open with dirty hands.

Do more than the bare minimum. Someone will almost always appreciate the extra effort. Don’t just show up, make your mark while you are there. Be a great worker and a greater co-worker. At my Dad’s funeral, several of his co-workers showed up to pay their respects. I asked them one question,
“Was my Dad a good co-worker?” The unanimous response was that he was the best.

The thing about work ethic is that it tends to be learned early on, usually from the father. Myself, I was raised by a man with a tremendous work ethic and I would like to think that I grew up with a similar one. I always wanted to be the best, to be valuable. My dad always said “be the guy that when he calls in sick, people notice”. But you don’t need to learn it from your dad, some people are born with it and others develop it out of necessity. But it is definitely generational. If you come from a long line of dependency, it is much more difficult to develop a killer work ethic. But it is possible.Which brings me to my next, related topic.

Grounded.
A good man is grounded, feet firmly planted on the ground. The best way to get somewhere in life is to know where you come from.

It is said that the best father can come from two things. A great father or a terrible father. Either way, the tools are there to do a great job. You just have to know your roots. Humility, work ethic, the entire way you carry yourself comes from having a healthy knowledge of who your family are and where they came from. Heredity motivates us to either maintain the good or change the bad and a good man is capable of both.

My father had a terrible upbringing. His family was very poor. Welfare and alcoholism were prevalent. Instead of falling into the same trap, his upbringing motivated him to do better. Consequently, I was raised with a better life and I was motivated to do the same for my children.

A man with a healthy goal for the future must have a solid appreciation and understanding of his past.

more to come…


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…

What is a man?

One of the hardest things to be in today’s society is a man. As we have strived for equality of the sexes, the thin black line between the sexes is now a thick grey one. In many, if not most, ways it has been refreshing and long overdue. Good riddance to the notion that men belong in the workplace and the “little woman” belongs barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Good riddance to gender pay gaps (yes I know we’re not there yet but we’re making progress). And good riddance to the notion that women are objects to be leered at and objectified. We’ve made tremendous progress in righting the scales in so many areas, but unfortunately in the process we’ve made it somewhat difficult for men to be men. It goes beyond eliminating bad behavior, society is pushing for the de-masculinization of men, and that will not end well. In the process of rehabilitating bad men we are destroying the good ones.

So what is a good man? This may be just my opinion but a good man has old-fashioned values, values that the men who built this great country possessed. Men with resolve, vision and a strong work ethic. Good men still exist today, despite the active marginalization, but they don’t thunder across the tundra in the numbers they once did. The ones that still exist possess the following qualities.

Honesty
Let’s face it, at the core of everything is honesty because the antithesis is dishonesty which is the root of all bad behavior. A good man is almost entirely defined by the trait of honesty. Without the reputation of being an honest man, one will not be trusted and his services and company will not be sought. Honesty is displayed through our words and our actions. If a promise is made verbally, the honest man considers it a binding contract that is iron clad. Consequently, failure to live up to the promise makes you a liar. Once you’ve earned that moniker, there is no turning back.

I was raised by two honest men, my father and my grandfather. Both showed me at an early age the value and virtue of honesty. My grandfather started me off at a young age with telling me,
“Nobody likes a liar”, and “In order to be a good liar you had better have a great memory.”
I watched my dad and grandfather in their professional and personal dealings and it became evident early on that they placed a lot of emphasis on a handshake, eye contact and keeping their word. A handshake was the measure of a man and dads spent great time and effort teaching their boys both the technique and the importance. Combined with a promise, the handshake solidified a verbal contract, one that was meant to be kept and honored.

Both my father and grandfather did side work to supplement their incomes and my grandfather once under-quoted a roofing job. He completed the job, on time, and stuck to his original quote even though he made almost no money. My father told me about it, as an example of what an honest man does.

Today the handshake means almost nothing. Eye contact has been replaced by staring at screens and the verbal contract thing? That is also a thing of the past. Entire professions are dedicated to finding ways to get out of written, signed and notarized documents. Is it any surprise that in our dealings with others we find ourselves at the least cautious and at the least fearful of being lied to? The good men among us still value the handshake and the word of an honest man.

Accountability
I have chosen Accountability as the second virtue due to its close affiliation with that of honesty. While honesty speaks of our dealings with others, accountability is about being honest with ourselves.

How many of us have taken a deep, hard look at events and realized that we made a mistake. How many of us have taken a hard look at our entire lives and realized that who we are and who we think we are to be two different entities? They’re both bitter pills to swallow regardless of age. From being in a leadership position, to analyzing a particular incident or realizing you’ve been living a lie for decades, to reach the point where blame can be put on yourself is extremely difficult. It is also cathartic and the beginning of the road to self-improvement. If only we were all capable of it and spent more energy rectifying and improving the behavior than we do denying our involvement and shifting blame.

3 months ago I took a motorcycle safety course. I failed the skills test and I was furious at myself. My first reaction was to blame the instructors, the course itself, the bike I was riding. But I quickly realized that the course was about low-speed handling and I, despite having ridden a motorcycle before, never learned those maneuvers. It was my fault, no one else’s. My next step was to set up cones in my driveway and to spend hours learning them. I then took my road test and passed. I needed to be accountable and when I did, things worked out.

From learning from a single incident to re-evaluating ones entire life, you cannot be a good man without being accountable. Your light shines from within and, as Harry Truman famously said…”the buck stops here.”

to be continued…

Be a man!

“you can start by being a man!”

It’s a famous movie scene. Johnny Fontaine is sobbing to the Godfather on the day of his daughter’s wedding. He tearfully exclaims “What am I gonna do?” To which the Godfather loudly and angrily yells, “You can start by being a man!”

Be a man! Every boy and a few grown men have heard it. One problem as I see it is that, historically, few have known what that expression means and it would have benefitted them to ask for clarification. The second problem as I see it is that it no longer matters. All masculinity, toxic or otherwise has become marginalized and now sits firmly in the taboo section.

I fear for the boys coming up today. They are fighting so many forces. A historic lack of nuclear families is leaving many boys without a male influence (yes, boys need a father). A thick grey line in gender roles, and gender itself, is confusing our boys. Most importantly, society is condemning traditional male behavior as toxic, aggressive and dangerous.

In fairness, some traditional “male” behaviors should be condemned. For example, when flirtation, a natural instinct, crosses over into the realm of misogyny then it needs to be controlled. Flirting is perfectly natural and it is part of the mating process of all mammals. Catcalling is not flirting, it is insulting and degrading to women and in today’s day and age should be a thing of the past. However, there was a time when a woman could handle a flirt gone bad with a snazzy retort or to simply ignore it. Women are not helpless and any strong woman can easily shoot down a man who gets (verbally) out of line.

“Boys will be boys” is not just a saying or a luxury. All boys need to be boys before they can become men. Boys need to chase windmills to feed their imagination. Boys need to slay dragons to grow confidence. Boys need to fight to learn how a victory and a beating feel. Boys need to do the flirtation dance with girls to teach them how to treat a woman. Boys need to play games with winners and without participation trophies because winning is a thing and it is just as important that they know what losing feels like. Boys need to be boys, but they aren’t allowed to anymore. Masculinity is not toxic. It’s in the DNA.

This is a complex subject that needs to be treated carefully and with dignity. It is something that, if not addressed, we will be cursed with a future filled with men whose pheromones could easily be mistaken for perfume. We need to acknowledge that it is not a bad thing to “be a man”, that to be a man is impossible if the boy is stifled, and that women will someday crave a “real man” only to find that the species as we know it has gone extinct.

It is imperative that, in order to handle this topic in a fair and balanced manner the reader must understand that this is, at the end of the day, my opinion. I will attempt to differentiate good masculinity from “toxic” masculinity and give examples of what a “good” and “real man” is.

Lord knows someone needs to get to the bottom of this issue while there is still time.

Stay tuned. I hope you enjoy.

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.

the words left unsaid

I love my dialysis nurses. I think they do God’s work and I appreciate them. They do more than stick needles in my arm, they monitor my welfare and genuinely care about me and make a very difficult transition for their patients easier. Of course, I can only speak for myself but the nurses have a special place in my heart.

One nurse I am particularly fond of is Jesse. Jesse is one of the youngest nurses at the clinic and I have felt a special chemistry with her since the day I met her. We share a devilish sense of humor which is tampered by her strict codes of conduct in the clinic regarding patient interaction. Still, we manage to have flirty and somewhat sexy conversations in sneaky ways, even the exchange of glances or funny faces. I love it when she’s there, it makes the time pass a little better. It’s safe to say that if there wasn’t a clinic policy against dating patients, we would be a couple. Just one more example of how my life is.

C’est La vie.

I have gotten to know her over the last year and she tells me a bit about her personal life. I know she doesn’t share with many patients, we have a special connection. I know that she has 2 very cute daughters, aged 5 and 3. I know that their father used to live with them and watch the girls while Jesse was at work. I know that he recently moved out and she is single (not that I can do anything with that knowledge). I also know that Jesse hasn’t spoken to her father in years. She has revealed enough for me to know that her relationship with her dad was less than stellar. Let’s call it what it is, she hated him.

Last Tuesday Jesse was in a terrible mood. She was quiet and frequently teared up. She wasn’t speaking to anyone with the exception of the communication necessary to get someone set up on the dialysis machine. It bothered me a bit to not have our usual back and forth but it had nothing to do with me and I figured whatever it is will work out and she will be in a better mood next time. Unfortunately, the next time I saw her she was no better.

I decided to engage her. I remarked to her that she was in a bad mood again. She then came over and said “I’ll tell you, but you’re one of two people I’m telling. I haven’t told anyone else. She paused and said, “My father was killed in an accident last week.”

I was stunned. Of course I had no words to offer. I offered her a hug and half-joked that maybe I can give her some of my strength. She teared up. She wasn’t working that day so she soon left. I had several hours left and most of them were spent thinking of her.

She had a difficult road ahead. She has lost her father. In addition she had the burden of knowing that they had a terrible relationship. On top of it all, I know that she had to be torn by those words. You know those words…the ones unsaid. I’m sure there are regrets. I’m sure there are unresolved issues. I’m sure that she was right in how she felt about him but never had the one thing we all crave in the end. Closure. She has a long road ahead of her and there is nothing that I can do that will help her reach closure. I wish I could in the worst way.

See, she’s not the only one with unresolved issues and things unsaid. I wanted to tell her how I feel about her. That I have been pining for her for a very long time. Hopeful that there is a way around the clinic’s policy against patients fraternizing/dating staff. I wish she knew that I would ask her out in a New York minute if I could. I want to be with her so very badly. And I can’t until I am no longer a patient of the clinic or if she leaves the company. Neither seems viable right now, I need a transplant, it’s the only answer. Until that unlikely event, it’s just not going to happen.

I went to a local fair today and it wasn’t 5 minutes before I ran into her. She met my daughter and my friend Eric. It felt naughty to be talking to her because it was forbidden on so many levels. But we talked for a few minutes and it was really nice. Not to mention that she looked beautiful in the early afternoon sunshine. As we parted ways, I hugged Jesse and bluntly said “We need to find a way around that company policy because I want to be with you.” I amazed myself at how bold that statement was. But I felt better for saying it. They were no longer words unsaid. I said them. It was the truth after all and now it was out there. I think she knows that I’m into her, now it’s confirmed.

When we parted ways and walked away my daughter, who already knew my feelings for Jesse said, with her usual candor, “ You need to marry her. She’s beautiful, she’s awesome and she’s into you.”
“You think so?”
“Oh yeah.”
“Well, a lot has to happen before that happens.” I said. “But I think she is worth waiting for.”