talking to Granite

I never thought I would be the guy to sit in a cemetery and talk to a piece of granite. I have lost many, too many, friends and family and I always make my visits to their places of rest. But I don’t sit and talk. That changed when I lost my Dad.

Yesterday was the 5th anniversary of his death. I wasn’t in the mood to write yesterday, it’s a tough day for me. Living in a house that he built doesn’t help. I see his touch everywhere in the woodworking, design, and collectibles. As I write this I’m sitting in his favorite chair with his beloved dog sleeping at my feet.

5 years later I still tear up when I think of him and when I attempt to talk about him I invariably choke up. I have been fortunate to have been asked to speak at some events I am a part of and have foolishly attempted to speak of my father and consequently blubbered in front of packed rooms. Historically, I am not a crier. But when it comes to Dad I can’t control it.

As a guy with a long family tradition of “sucking it up and moving on” I am puzzled why it is not getting easier as the years pass. Time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t fill all voids. His loss occurred at a time in my life I probably needed him the most. I was finally coming around to understanding the things he said. Things that I rejected in my youth that I later learned he was dead on about. I had just started to appreciate his simplistic approach to life; be nice to people, tell the truth and work hard and the rest will come. I had just started to recognize that people with his value system and work ethic were slowly vanishing and his presence was a treasure. I was at a point when I needed his eternal optimism to fuel me as I entered the worst chapter of my life. He was minimalism at its finest…less is more. Less showboating, less ego, less drama, and aggravation.

I miss him. The world was a better place with him in it. He deserved better. He worked so hard for so many years to provide for his family and build a retirement. He retired early because his co-workers were all dying young. He enjoyed about 3 years before Parkinson’s reared its ugly head. It reduced a strong, proud man to a mere shell in a long 8 years. Those years took more than his mobility, they took his pride and his independence. Death was a relief for him, I saw his face when he took his last breath.

My life has been especially challenging lately. I am trying to maintain the family optimism and positivity. It’s getting harder. I wish I still had him telling me that everything is going to work out. I suppose while I’m wishing for things I wish that he could have enjoyed his retirement. I wish that he could have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary. I wish I could tell him how many things he was right about.

I wish that I didn’t have to tell a granite slab things that I wanted to tell him to his face.

Tell the people in your life how you feel about them today, don’t wait. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. You may find yourself sitting in a cemetery talking to granite also. If you’re reading this it’s because I chose to share it with you. Because I care about you and I won’t wait until it’s too late to tell you. Regret is as eternal as granite.

Dating in the modern world…

I’m an old-fashioned guy. In short, I look to a previous time for guidance in how I conduct myself. I have an eclectic approach, I’m not stuck in the past, but I do believe that previous generations possessed a code of conduct that worked and is lost on younger generations. I keep it alive because I’ve seen it in action, I believe in it and I do believe it is ingrained in me.

I suspect that I’m much older than most of my readers and I may be talking about an unfamiliar topic. For the sake of this writing, the old-fashioned values I cherish are as follows:

  • respect for elders
  • honoring your word
  • a firm handshake and direct eye contact
  • be tolerant and accepting of other’s viewpoints
  • holding the door for a lady

Did you double-take on the last one? Yes, I am a guy who holds a door for a lady. Not for a chick, a broad, a ho, bae, some strange or a side-bitch. A lady. And I will not apologize for this. I am fully aware that a woman can open her own door and I make no assumptions of dominance nor intend a lack of respect when I do it. It’s a nice gesture and I do it. I believe there are women, and a lot of them, that long for an old-fashioned guy. If they’ve never met one it’s about time they did.

Last night my mother opened a video sent her by one of her dating site connections. It was titled “Does this turn you on?” She opened it, it was a 74-year-old man jerking off for the camera. Facepalm…I thought an older man would be better than that. Mom does too.

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Dating has always been a game. Even though I’ve been in an exclusive, faithful relationship for 25 years I know that the game has changed. Dating is very casual. The conventional “relationship” has changed on both sides. Monogamy is considered an almost outdated construct. Sex is much easily obtained with a lot less effort and commitment. The way I knew it was a lot of work and few guaranteed results. Now, a man has to put in a bare-bones effort and is almost guaranteed to score. Women like hounds apparently.

I get it, it’s a by-product of the times. We live in a time where we are entitled to everything, hard work is not valued and instant gratification is awesome. We talk to each other through screens; we use text messaging to avoid conversation; we compromise our own integrity in the interest of cheap pleasure. There has to be something between my Grandfather’s day when a man “went a’ courting” his best gal and today’s man texting “‘sup bitch, wanna hook up?”

I don’t just want a woman that I can respect, I want a woman that respects herself. Sex is not a true victory, it’s just her letting a man into her pants. A true victory is when she respects you for how you treat her and she then lets you into her heart. Sex is great, but what are you going to talk about after?

I’ll continue to hold the door for a woman. I’m pretty sure when she’s done being offended she’ll find herself just a little turned on.

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.

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?
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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.
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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.

Dad would love this

“Your father would love this,” my mother remarked as she nodded to the craziness occurring in the dining room. I nodded in agreement. We were cleaning dishes and listening to my oldest son, youngest daughter and her best friend abuse each other. It was a perfect night. Cold, windy and snow-covered outside; music playing, wood-stove burning hot and laughter galore inside. The house smelled great and our bellies were full. My Taco Tuesday feast (a day late) of Tacos, Quesadillas, homemade Spanish Rice, and Guacamole was a hit.

Mom was right, Dad would have enjoyed seeing this. He worked his whole life to build a home like this to retire in, entertain his friends and spoil his 6 Grandchildren. It is a true goddamn shame that he would not see this come true. We didn’t get together nearly as often as he, and I, would have liked. Shit happens and time flies. My situation did not allow me to come up. A difficult work schedule, a young family and a wife who resisted coming up (too buggy, too far, too much time in the car, I can’t sleep up there, and I’m too much of a rigid bitch to give you what you want) caused time to slip away far too fast. By the time our schedules freed up a little, Dad was sick and visits became difficult. By difficult, I mean it was hard to watch. I barely held it together, but the children had a visibly hard time with it. The once virile, humorous and incredibly active man was transforming into a shell of his former self. It was not unlike seeing the air escape a balloon in slow motion. It became increasingly difficult for him to go out of the house, he had a hard time getting in and out of cars, and once he couldn’t drive, any optimism he had was out the window.

The good and bad memories of my father surround me. His influence is everywhere. Pictures on the mantle, the flag handed to me at his funeral by a grateful nation, the hand made furniture are good ones. The safety rails in the bathroom and the disassembled handicap ramp in the back yard are not. I remember once, when he had a caretaker at the house, I walked by the bathroom and Dad was on the toilet. He needed to be wiped. I asked him if he wanted my help even as I realized that I had never thought of wiping my father’s ass for him. I also never envisioned a day he would need me to. Dad couldn’t talk but he mouthed the name “Arthur” (the caretaker) and I went to get him. I knew then that the last thing Dad wanted was for me to wipe him, he was embarrassed that I saw him like that. That was a tough day.

Still, I remember the few times that we did get together as a family. Fond memories of him manning the grill, making a campfire, toasting marshmallows, playing with the grandkids, having dinner and playing phase 10 after, these are all great memories.

Yes, he would have loved to be here tonight. I would love for him to be here as well. He really left us too soon. I really want to believe that he is here, somewhere in this house, enjoying the laughter and keeping a careful eye on us.

Miss you big guy

 

 

 

the reason for the season

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about” Charlie Brown famously lamented.

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Fortunately, Linus bailed him out.

The Holiday season. I’m in the midst of my 52nd one and I still don’t know how I feel about it. It is so many things to so many people.

It is the celebration of the birth of a savior who I have always grappled with my belief in. It is also the source of division between people of different faiths and non-believers.

It is a time to show our love for each other in the form of giving gifts. But due to rampant commercialism and consumerism, the presumed spirit of love, generosity, and peace are replaced by excess, greed, and stress.

It is a time for parents to live up to expectations and give their children the “in” toy or gadget, to see the smile on the face of their children. It is also a time when struggling families are unable to provide any good gifts, because life is hard, and they have to endure the disappointed looks on their children’s faces.

It is a time to gather with friends and family, eat and drink and enjoy each other. It is also a time of year that is depressing for many who are alone, grieving, suffering or struggling who only want the season to pass.

Fortunately, underneath it all, it is still the one time of year when people can be counted on to be their most generous, loving, aware of others in their community and just plain nicer. You don’t need to believe in a loving God to appreciate the importance of kindness, the value of charity, and the rewards of giving.

My hope is that this year, happiness is not measured by the size of the box or the price on the tag, but by the love behind it. We need to be giving each other kindness, acceptance, tolerance, a cup of soup, a coffee, a sandwich, an ear or an encouraging word. Things that cannot be bought in a store and have no expiration date. That is to say, they should last all year.

 

Integrity and $2.25 will get you a coffee

I have been on a nice, even emotional ground lately. I have rolled with adversity and conflict without anger and frustration. The only good thing to come out of recent events is that I have reconciled my past, forgiven myself for past mistakes, and tried to approach my future as positively as possible. I was doing great until yesterday when I saw my wife.

As part of the divorce proceedings, we are required, as parents of a minor child, to take a class on the impact of divorce on children. Our youngest is 15 and she is fine with everything so the course would be a piece of cake. Sit through it, sign your certificate of completion and head home. I would drive her home, I would head back up and we would not see each other until Christmas.

When my wife initially proposed that we get divorced, she put it out there as completely amicable. There was no money to argue about so alimony was out of the question, no assets to bicker over, and an agreement that I would give whatever I could towards supporting the family. No court mandates required. Completely civil. She just wanted to move on and I agreed.

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In the ten-minute ride to her house, she completely changed her tune and started talking about what would happen once I started receiving my disability checks. I didn’t know how to answer that, particularly because I still have no guarantee that I will actually get approved. She began to talk about how much she would need for the youngest two children in the way of clothing, food etc.,. I explained to her that if I am approved I will do whatever I can for my family, reminding her of our previous conversation. She pushed on further, speculating again on a check that I can’t guarantee. Finally, I asked her to just give me a number. She wouldn’t. She refused. Apparently, her monthly expenses are private. They always were I suspect. She handled the finances and despite how well we did we were always broke. Exasperated, I told her she was unaccountable and it was unfair. She replied that I was trying to walk away from this marriage without consequence. Are you absolutely kidding me?

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This is a direct affront to my character. My character is all that I have left in this world and it is not in question. I am committed to always doing the right thing, especially with regards to the children I love so much. I have shown her my ass, figuratively speaking, by disclosing everything and offering it all if needed and she thinks that I would let my family go without anything when it is within my means to prevent it? All I ask for is some transparency, something I have never had in the time we have been together. I may have to have an agreement drawn up after all. I can’t believe that my integrity is on the line after the sacrifices I have made to do right by her. I never say this but I’m offended.

As my dad, a very honorable man often said…”sometimes, it’s just the point that matters.”

Because it’s all I have

I was heading to the market this morning to grab some necessities. I take any opportunity I have to drive through the center of this little town and admire the old buildings. I have never spent a winter up here so it is still all new to me. It’s a beautiful town but it is very divided between old money and crushing poverty. For every restored farmhouse with smoke from the wood stove drifting lazily from chimneys, there is also one dilapidated house with one or more broken down cars in the driveway, also occupied by children without a proper winter coat.

As I drove by AD Auto Body I was prompted to turn around and say hi to Dave. Dave is another MA transplant who moved up here for a simpler life and eventual retirement. Dave is a friend of my mom and a close friend of my mom’s deceased second husband Frank. When I moved up here in August I had damage on my car that I needed to be fixed but couldn’t go through insurance. Mom brought me to Dave who said he would take care of it. He repaired over $1500.00 in damages for $286.00. I was amazed at this gesture, which he apparently does for everyone. “Never mind what the insurance estimate says, I will do it for what it really costs,” he told her. I was very grateful and thanked him repeatedly. Today. I felt compelled to stop in and say hi.

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I walked into the old, dusty shop and saw that Dave was with a customer. I waited patiently for him to finish (he is long-winded). When the customer walked out he looked at me and said “What’s up Bill? Crash your car again?” I laughed.

“I just stopped in to say Merry Christmas and acknowledge again how grateful I am for helping me out this year. You’re a real nice guy and I hope someone tells you that once in a while.”

He was touched,  but tried not to show it. A man like Dave deserves a thank you but doesn’t need it. And at this point in my life, I am unable to give him anything else but what is in my heart. It’s all I have.

Dave and I talked for a while, I shook his hand and left. “Say hi to your mom for me,” he said. I assured him that I would. I got in my car and felt whole. I could have committed to stopping in after I went shopping, on the way back. Or maybe later. But I might not have. I may have put it off. I’m glad I recognized that the time is now to say what is on my mind and acted on it. If all I have to offer is what is in my heart it is going to have to be enough. It can’t be bought in a store, and it can be given by many.

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No returns, please.