when the student becomes the master

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“What are you talking about?” I said to my son. “I’m nice as can be.”

“Dad, all I’m saying is you seem different. Less patient. You’re not the same. Just pointing it out.” This came out of left field to me. My youngest son and I were in a Wal-Mart checking out car stereos, having a great time and he drops this on me. Apparently, I had made quite the facial expression when a toddler in the next aisle let out a blood-curdling shriek. I explained to him that it wasn’t that I was angry at the child, or the parent for that matter, I just have a very low tolerance for loud noises.

“It’s not just that.” He informed me. “You were wicked inpatient in the supermarket and hardware store today. It’s not like you. You’ve always been the guy that smiled at people and let little things go.”

He was right. Well, mostly correct. I suppose that in my transition from a fast-paced area to a relaxed community I have not yet adapted to the difference in pace. I still walk fast and when shopping, for example, I am all business. People up here tend to move slowly, stand obliviously in your way and I guess it shows on my face. It’s not that I’m not nice to people, I just get annoyed at the aloofness of people. I can see how it would look otherwise. Annoyed at first, I quickly realized that this was a teachable moment. Even for this old dog. The kid is sharp and I admire the hell out of his ability to just speak his mind.

The student becomes the master.

I suppose I could take this opportunity to call this a parenting victory. But it’s not. He’s just a very smart, observant and very chill young man. He was up visiting me for the long weekend. His 18th birthday was the day after Thanksgiving and I was getting him some speakers for his car. Because we don’t spend much time together anymore, we are not as used to each other as we were. He saw a change in my behavior and he called me on it. I could be angry but I’m not. I needed it.

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I have taken some hits lately and I’m really trying to be that positive guy that everyone counts on to be in a good mood. But it’s become a job. He reminded me to be the person that he apparently looked up to.

As we were leaving the store he told me to meet him at the front of the store, he was going to use the bathroom. I sat on a bench and waited for him. When he came out, I stood up and looked him in the eye and said “You’re right.”

“About what?” He asked.

“About me not being as nice as I used to be. I’ll work on it.”

“Good ’nuff” he said and turned and started walking towards the door. I watched the handsome, 6-foot tall young man with the hat turned backward and confident yet easy-going gait and thought to myself I did something right with that one.

 

 

 

 

Day 17… a letter to my friends as a whole

I have really gotten off track on the whole 30 letters in 30 days but it is still very therapeutic to write these.

Dear Friends:

There are 3 types of friends. The Facebook friend: a friend who you keep in contact with after you or they leave a job and their life interests you enough to follow them. This category also includes the high school classmate because us Baby Boomers (I’m the last year but it counts) didn’t have social media back then and we, of course, we lost touch. We follow each other to see what each other is doing and to know when one of us dies.

The second type of friend is the actual friend. Someone who has been to your house, met your family, has answered the phone and been there for you when you needed something. You all share some type of memory with me.

The third type of friend is the “3 AM friend”. Just as it sounds, if we called each other at 3 AM and needed anything it was just done. This is a short but important list. If you are on mine then you are special.

To all of you, I want to ask you to bear with me. I have moved much farther away and getting together is more difficult. Driving to get-togethers is simply too much driving for me. I won’t be seeing you much.

But that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten about you. I am still here for you and if it is within my ability I will help you in any way that I can. Even just to talk.

If you are indeed my friend, you will know that my theory of friendship is no matter how much time elapses, we pick up where we left off. I plan on letting all of you know just how much you mean to me. Just give me time.

pass the papers…I mean stuffing

Thanksgiving is always a difficult day for me. I love the day itself, having the family together for a big meal and quality time with the kids. Relatives and friends visiting. Turkey coma and football. The reality of Thanksgiving in my house has always been a wife who hates all holidays and her anxiety and misery would infect the entire house. Relatives stopped coming over, family stayed away and I found myself barely getting through the day without the help of a good Irish Whiskey. This year I was expecting the worst ever when I found out that my wife had told the kids we were divorcing.

My mom and I arrived at my wife’s new place around 12. I took great strides to make this holiday easier for everyone. I made the turkey and stuffing, all she had to cook was a couple of sides, some dinner rolls, and an appetizer. There would be no alcohol because I had a long drive ahead of me. Everyone was there already.

The day couldn’t have gone better. We got the table ready, we all sat and had a great meal with great conversation. Completely unlike every Thanksgiving before.

At the end of dinner as the Tryptophan set in and conversation slowed a bit my wife came in from the kitchen and sat down, a pile of papers in her hand. “When do you want to come down next week and take care of this?” The papers were divorce paperwork. I looked around the table and the expressions on everyone’s faces suggested that this was just no big deal. I was shocked. She might as well have asked me to pass the stuffing.

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I had agonized over getting a divorce for years and it turns out everyone is fine with it. The fact that we are not fighting over assets and custody is a blessing. It’s just so surreal.

Driving home that afternoon it occurred to me that all it took to finally have a good holiday without stress was to get a divorce. How about that?

Not what I expected

I remember it like it was yesterday. But it was 7 years ago. We had just had a terrible argument, in front of the kids of course, and I had stormed out of the house to go to work mad as I had done so many times. I could hear the coffee mug smash against the other side of the door a second after I had slammed it. It was going to be a great day for sure.

My first call was to my mother. She was always my go-to when this shit happened. I called her to talk, and while I was at it I asked her if I could stay in my Grandmother’s house for a while. She was maintaining a nice house one town over that was in probate. My Grandmother would never live there again. It made sense for me. She gladly agreed to let me stay there.

My next call was to my wife. I stepped outside after the morning meeting at work and told her, in no uncertain terms, that I was done. No more fighting in front of the family, it was too much for all of us. Her first reaction, to my absolute dismay, was to tell me that I was not to expect to “just waltz in any fucking time you want to see your kids because that’s not happening”. I always suspected that she was that type but there was my proof. I just told her that I would be by later to grab some of my stuff. She would be at work so it would be fairly easy. Except of course for the kids. They would by this time have already heard my wife’s version of our conversation.

When I got home that night, the wife was at work as expected. What I did not expect was my 4 kids sitting me down. Intervention style. My oldest daughter, then 16 led the charge.

“Dad, you can’t leave. It will be so much worse for us without you here.” I was very taken back. She went on to tell me that I’m the glue that keeps the family together. How I offset the toxic influence of their mother. That their lives would be much more difficult if I didn’t live there. That I needed to stay. For them. I knew what I had to do right then and I told them that I wasn’t going anywhere.

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One big takeaway was to wonder what my wife would have thought if she was to hear that! She would have been crushed and pissed off at the same time. What a cocktail of doom for all involved. I never betrayed my daughter for saying that.

Fast forward 7 years. My wife and I just had a conversation about finally getting a divorce. We have the papers and have agreed to terms. I am confused by my own reaction, I should be doing cartwheels but I’m sad about it. I was especially worried about the reaction of the kids. Especially my youngest. She is now 15 and she has always been very hopeful that she would see her parents be happy together.

Yesterday I texted my wife and asked her when we should talk to the kids about the divorce. We were going to be together for Thanksgiving and I wanted to gauge how awkward it was going to be. She replied that she already told all of them. Last week. I was floored. So many things pissed me off and I couldn’t finger what bothered me the most. That she told them without me?  That she didn’t tell me that she told them? Or that none of my kids, who have known for a week, said a single word to me about it? What are my expectations here?

I suppose it is possible that they can be uncomfortable and not surprised at the same time. They’re not going to give me a cookie for my staying in a horrible marriage for those extra years. It was the right thing to do and I’m glad I did it.

It’s funny that after all of the years of wanting this moment to come, I wasn’t ready when it did.

Quality of life

“February?” I asked incredulously.

“Yup, that’s what they told my wife. They didn’t think I could handle it. She told me though”. He ripped open another box of frozen turkeys and moved them closer to the tailgate of his truck.”They was wrong. I can handle it.”

“I don’t suppose I should point out that it’s late November huh?”. Pete looked at me and shook his head. ‘Nuff said. This guy had stage 4 lung cancer, had less than three months to live and here he was; out in the cold at the local food bank handing out frozen turkeys with me to the less fortunate in our community.

After spending 10 minutes with Pete I felt that I was destined to have met him. He is the walking example of how I want to be when I have less than 3 months to live. He is aware, he is doing what he wants to do, he is following his doctor’s orders and keeping his house in order. He has focused on quality of life.

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With the exception of a few low points, I am not the feel sorry for myself type. I don’t believe in it. I continue to believe that if I take care of myself and do what the Dr’s tell me I may live long enough for a cure. And if one doesn’t come around, I will have inevitably added years to my life by not thinking negatively. I only have one caveat, I insist on having a quality of life. Until the day that I am not strapped to a dialysis machine 7 days a week, I will strive to have a quality of life.

I spent the entire 4 hours of the food drive with Pete. He told me his story in bits and pieces as we opened boxes and carried food to people’s cars. He never smoked, he was exposed to asbestos while in the military. He is a life-long member of the community. He is an avid game hunter and fisherman. He told stories of hunting in his backyard when he was 14  before all of the houses were built. He went hunting as recently as last week with his grandson. He still works in his yard. He hopes to take his motorcycle out for one last ride but it’s too cold. He’s taking a ton of medications that make sleep difficult but he doesn’t mind because he can “sleep all he wants when he is dead”.

I am so glad that I met him. He reminded me never to get sucked into the bottomless pit of self-pity. He won’t let his illness define him. He is doing what makes him happy for as long as he can. He is exactly how I want to be when I get to that stage.

It’s not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 16…a letter to my family

To my Family:

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite holidays. It was always one of the three days of the year that we sat down as a family for a meal. Because of your mother and I’s career choices, the family dinner was never a part of our family routine.

Every Thanksgiving in recent memory has typically been a stressful letdown in some fashion. Mom would decline her mother’s invite to her beautiful condo and an amazing spread because her mother “stresses her out”. The end result would be you not seeing your grandmother on a holiday. I would wake up early and get the bird in the oven and prep everything else for the meal. Mom could be counted on to yell instructions that I didn’t need from the bedroom without getting out of bed. Once she did get up she would criticize the way I did everything.  Kids, you would be in the living room trying not to notice the rising tensions in the kitchen as I simply tried to be a good dad and make a nice meal. You knew Mom was aggravating me but you don’t dare to say anything for fear of setting her off. Thankfully, the guests still willing to come to our house will arrive and everyone will act cordial.

Appetizers would be served, I would pour the first of many cocktails that I would consume that day. Mom would be busy trying to be nice to my mother, who has never been anything but nice to Mom. I would poke my head into the living room periodically to see how everyone is doing while the meal progressed. When the turkey came out of the oven, we would gather everyone to the table and sit.

You kids would start eating until I remind you to wait. We never ate together as a family, and never said Grace so it’s not your fault. You just forgot that your mother would insist that we all go around the table and say what we are thankful for. When it is my turn, you will all make fun in anticipation of mine because one year I made the mistake of being sincere and loving and was mercilessly teased about it.

We would all eat too fast and run out of awkward conversation too soon. You kids would leave the table before I wanted you to, my fault for wanting to savor the rare moment of having all of you together and in front of me. Mom would have a panic attack on dishes and start cleaning the kitchen. The remaining of us would nurse our cocktails or coffees then retire to watch football.

If I was able to get this far without Mom telling me to “go fuck myself” about something then I was in the clear. She was full and content and it would be at least an hour before she started complaining about how fat she was.

The rest of the day would be smooth. Our guests would leave and we would all go our separate ways.

That is how most Thanksgivings went. Incredibly, I wish this year will be the same.

This year we will be at a restaurant because we don’t have a home together anymore. We haven’t been together as a family in almost a year. We will get a big table. Mom and I will pretend to get along and awkwardly smile over our wine glasses knowing that we just talked about divorce but we aren’t going to tell you kids about it yet. We will have a great meal and then go off in three different directions.

This is our life now. Everyday life is hard enough. Holidays just suck.

I wish more than anything that things were different. That we were the happy family that I always wanted. I am thankful that I have such a wonderful relationship with you, my children even though our family dynamic stinks. Maybe you know, maybe you don’t but I stayed for 10 more years, and holiday seasons, than I ever thought possible just to extract as much joy as I could from them.

My happiness will never matter as much to me as yours. I hope that your memories of our time together will include some happy ones, that your idea of family is a healthy one despite your own experiences. If you have good memories then I will have succeeded as a husband and father.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

buy me dinner first at least

Haven’t been on for a few days. I haven’t been feeling it. Some events last week have consumed me to the point where even writing wasn’t a welcome release.

I have been grappling with my wife’s bombshell announcement that she wants a divorce. I really can’t explain why I’m so upset, I have wanted one for a long time. If anyone has read my posts it is a pretty common theme that we have been separated for almost a year but I really believed that she had expectations that we would eventually recover financially and get another place together. I never thought that would happen but I didn’t want to broach the subject of the “Big D” for fear of hurting her. To find out that she was actually thinking the same way was shocking. For some reason, I wasn’t prepared. Now it seems real, and it makes me sad. I really wish it could have turned out differently.

At the same time last week I got a call from Social Security Disability. I was told to expect a decision on my claim this morning. I patiently crossed my fingers and hoped for the best all weekend. I am not working and all of the best minds in my circle, doctors included, pushed me to apply. I received a denial letter this morning.

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I have an advocate working my claim for me. In return for a very large fee they take my fight to SSDI and try to get it done. I called them this morning and asked about the next step, the appeal process. There is a 12 to 18 month waiting period for an appeal hearing. I am screwed, without income for the next 12-18 months because of court backlogs all because they hope that I will drop my claim. I am a year away from dialysis, my blood pressure is astronomically high and my overall kidney function is in the toilet. But I am not eligible.

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It’s been a long time but if memory serves the last time I got fucked I remember having a nice dinner and getting kissed first.