Tag Archives: anger

When the News Hits Home

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When the News Hits Home

“Well…guess we’re not going back there this year,” was the line out of my son’s mouth.

He stated it, rather matter-of-factly, as the news reported the latest in a series of measles cases.  The outbreak, many of whose victims can be traced to exposure at Disneyland, suddenly brought home news events from the world.

Every year, usually, we tend to take off in the last week of March.  The kids have no desire, nor do I, to get the sympathetic ramblings of people around us who are reminded that their mother, my wife, passed away on this day.  It’s not to be mean, they mean well, but often it’s a reminder for them on one time during the year that Andrea is gone.  For us . . . it’s the biggest reminder, but we have reminders all the time.

Disney 1

The first year, 2012, we went to Disneyland.

I took a stand about vaccination writing for Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother almost two years ago and boy . . . did I get lambasted for it.  The anti-vaccine parents came out en masse to express their dissatisfaction with my view.  I get that…it’s my view and I made no bones about the fact that it was my opinion.  I don’t foist it on my children, though they all got their vaccinations.

I never once, though, thought they should not get their vaccinations.

When my middle daughter came down with whooping cough some pointed to that as the fact that “the vaccines don’t work!”  They were wrong, though.  I knew, was told, and had read that she needed a booster at age 10.  She wasn’t quite 10 when she got it.  Had the community had what they called “herd immunity” there would have been no issue.  The number of people around vaccinated would have prevented her or the number of her classmates from getting sick.

We get flu shots every year, too, since I have asthma . . . and since my daughter’s lungs are now hurt permanently by her bout with whooping cough.  That means any chest cold can turn into pneumonia very quickly.  That, in turn, freaks her and her siblings out since pneumonia was the main cause of their mother’s death.

Disney 3

So as the kids saw case after case come down from Disneyland – not the park’s fault, but there you go…the name’s out there – they resigned, all by themselves, that we weren’t going.  Even they, seeing their father try to get healthier, their sister eating better, the house filled with homemade treats and little bought stuff…they don’t think the risk is worth taking.

“Well…you’ve have your vaccinations.  I would bet by March they’ve sterilized everything,” was my response.
“Yeah…but there are things we haven’t done.  Maybe we’ll do something else.”

They couldn’t have been more sincere, either.  They were also quite angry.  You see, the pictures up there show how happy they were.  The anniversary of their Mom passing away could have easily been the most difficult day to contend with but instead they had fun.  They ran around to exhaustion.  They waited in lines, rode rockets, accidentally went on a roller coaster and scared the hell out of their brother – whom they told would not be jostled around.  The more they thought about it the angrier they got that they couldn’t go . . . because some people brought measles to the park.  I can’t pretend I don’t influence their thinking, they know my position and they know I believe that vaccination, no matter how you spread it out, helps more than hurts.  They’re seeing the result of that firsthand.

“I don’t think it’s their fault,” I told them.  “If they had it, I’m pretty sure they didn’t want to get it.”
“But we don’t want to go now.  That’s just not fair!  Why are the measles coming back?”
What do I tell them?  It’s an accident?  That it’s a freak of nature?
No…I tell them the truth.  Measles has hit a lot of people and areas because a lack of vaccinations has made even more people vulnerable because measles is just that contagious.

Still, the secondary lesson they have begun to understand is that I’ve gotten myself and everyone else healthier for a reason.  This just drives the point home.  They grumble a little less when I say “no more cookies” and help more when I say we need to clean up the house.  They hate shots…but now they accept they should get them.

Still…when the news cycle’s over…they’ll complain again.

 

 

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The Last Word

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The Last Word

There have always been things about my kids – things every parent experiences, I know – that confound me.  I know I likely did them.  I know my parents probably did them, too.  Doesn’t stop them from being frustrating nonetheless.

You know of which I speak.

I can be in the bathroom for anything from the call of nature to showering…and my children will wait until the most inopportune moment to want to have a conversation.  This being moments after they wanted nothing to do with me, by the way.

If I need to ask my daughter something – and she’s 15, by the way – and need to go through the closed door to do it I have to knock.  I do that, by the way.  When she had a major cut on her leg and wanted me to look at it she wouldn’t just show me she had to shut the door for 10 minutes while she changed into shorts because – God forbid – I see any part of her that I likely cleaned, bathed and wiped in some form when she was an infant.  For her, however…if she wants to have a conversation she just barrels into my room.  I could be in my underwear changing clothes and she has no shame standing there while I’m naked – literally – to the world and acts as if it’s no big deal.

“Stop that,” I can say when my son is having a moment of stubbornness and shouting at his brother.  This is usually followed by just one more attempt at said argument.  “Did I not say stop?”
“I did!”
“No, you didn’t, you did it one more time.  Why did you do it one more time?  You know that by the time it gets to me losing my cool there isn’t room for one more attempt, right?!”

Silence usually follows.

This can be the said argument, bouncing a ball in the house, turning up the volume on his handheld video game system or just being flat out obnoxious.  They always have to try for just…one…more…attempt.  It never works, always makes me angrier and always results in punishment of some type.

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The last two days this has happened regarding a toothbrush.

That’s right.  Not a video game, not a sweater or a puzzle or a book . . . a toothbrush.

“She’s using my toothbrush!”
“So put it someplace else.”
“But she finds it!”
“So get another one.”
“I want that one!”

Yes…it’s an item that will, inevitably, run its course and be thrown away.  Yet you’d think it’s that little gold idol Indiana Jones grabs at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark the way they’re acting.

This morning it came to “NOW MY TOOTHBRUSH IS JUST GONE!”

I have spares.  Don’t ask me why, I just do.  I took it out of the package, threw it to him, and said – in full volume – “there, problem solved.  I don’t want to hear any more about it.”

This all happened when I was in my underwear having just gotten out of the shower, by the way.  It was followed by ten full minutes of arguments about a toothbrush with his sister.

“It’s not yours!”
“Yes it is!”
“Mine said ‘Gentle Dental’ on it!”
“THEY ALL SAY GENTLE DENTAL ON THEM!”
“Why are you using my toothbrush!”
“I’m not, you were using mine!”

You get the picture.

“I gave you a new toothbrush the problem is solved.  KNOCK IT OFF!”

This, by the way, was at 6:45 in the morning.  It was followed by
“But…”
“No buts, it’s over.  I’ve ended this argument!”

Five minutes later . . .
“I mean, come on, look it’s wet, it’s my toothbrush.”
Which was followed, of course, by my own teenage eye roll and
“Oh, for the love of God…are you really going down this rabbit hole again?  I ended this argument…he has a new toothbrush.  Enough already!!!”

I get the psychology some would say: there’s four of you in the house, five in total minus the college kid.  So they have to vie for position to be heard.  Heard is one thing.

They’re vying for the last word.

At the end of the day, like a scene out of Austin Powers, I hold up my hand, tell them to zip it and inform them, sounding so much like my mother and father it’s driving me crazy:

“Mine is the last word on this, so enough already!”

Which is usually followed by five more minutes of trying, desperately, just to get in one more.

I’d go change into comfortable clothes…but then I’ll just be naked and hearing the argument, which is even more awkward than fighting over toothbrushes.

“A Scotch Sounds Good…”

IMG_4172“A Scotch Sounds Good…”

As little as three years ago my emotions were far more understandable.  I wasn’t cold, no, but I wasn’t moved in quite the same ways.  My wife would watch a sad movie and I could fathom and dissect the motivation in its scripting, acting and direction.  Now, I get wrapped up in the same emotions my oldest daughter has when, say, Bilbo Baggins loses it after his friend dies in The Hobbit.  (There’s no spoilers here . . . the book’s been out since last century!)

I’d say my brain went a little haywire, which could be the case, I suppose, but I don’t think that’s the case.  I wasn’t the grinch, my small heart didn’t “grow three sizes that day.”  I just didn’t indulge in those kinds of emotions.  Men were men, we didn’t emote that much and we didn’t lose it at random things.

This brings me to the reminiscence of the bottle you see up there.  I use the title for a couple reasons.

It might sound very cliche’d for me, a journalist, a man whose heroes are Murrow and Brinkley along with Schieffer and others, to like Scotch.  That very phrase, by the way, in quotes, is the last line of the film Good Night and Good Luck.  Even Will Ferrell lampooned it in Anchorman as the drink of choice for all real newsmen.

That would be an easy assumption, but you’d be wrong.  In fact it’s quite an acquired taste.  I didn’t normally drink it as I had not acquired the taste for the hard liquor.

No . . . Murrow and Bradley did not bring me a taste for the drink.

My wife did.  She seemed to think that the fact her mother, in an effort to stop her from crying when she was a teething infant, put a splash of Scotch on my wife’s gums.  That, she theorized, gave her a taste for the whiskey itself.

This isn’t a celebration of alcohol or its effects.  I am careful not to be driving if I have more than a glass and even then . . . I wait some time before I even contemplate going for my keys.

I can remember the very day that the drink seemed to magically sink in with me.  I had gotten two tickets to the Omaha Auto Show – a preview compliments of the sales department.  Also complimentary?  Drinks.  Andrea and I were married and she was working, her sister, I believe, watching our daughter.  I wandered the place and, feeling entitled, asked for Scotch.  It was the most expensive drink on the menu.  I had one glass . . . then another . . . and came to realize it was expensive, single-malt Scotch, making it far smoother.  It also gave my stomach no problems which, unfortunately, beer and wine did.

This particular bottle, though, is the end of a few things.

About two years before Andrea passed away her parents wanted to give me a very nice gift.  It was an 18-year-old bottle of Glenfiddich single-malt.  It’s an expensive bottle of aged Whiskey and it…was…smooth.

I kept the bottle for a very long time.  My wife and I would indulge when things were particularly stressful, and the last couple years of her life things were really very stressful.  So when Andrea passed away I had more than a few glasses, you can be assured.

That bottle wasn’t touched much after that.  In fact, there was enough for two glasses sitting in the bottle for the last year.  That would push the age to somewhere near 25, I think.  Not that it got better the longer it was open.

Last night, the kids – all four of them – asked me to play Wii with them.  Bear in mind, as they were little, I used to kick their little behinds on games.  I knew Super Mario Brothers better and blew through them with ease.

Last night I found myself pining for my old Atari 2600 or a Nintendo NES as they pounded me in Mario Smash Brothers or Mario World.  The screams and shouts from them exacerbated a headache I’d seen coming for some time.

At the end I pulled out the Scotch, not thinking, and drank the last glass.

This brings my post here full circle.  In years past I’d have drank the amber liquid and given it not a thought.  However . . . this is the last big gift I got from Andrea’s parents.  Her father passed away shortly after last Christmas.  Her mother passed away earlier this year.  It was a rough 365 this round and it’s been filled with a lot of losses.

So I stared at the bottle, the empty glass, and realized that I was more than a little harsh to Andrea’s father in the last few years of his life.  We had disagreements, I had my grudges, and like times in my own past I held onto it for a long time.  It wasn’t right, I know that, but grief has a way of holding onto things that maybe it shouldn’t.  As I took the last swallow I felt some guilt but a twinge of happiness that I had at least shed the last of that anger shortly before he passed away.

So at the end of the night, I took the last of my glass, raised it to my father-in-law and thought very fondly of the woman who gave me a taste of the whiskey.

It may just be a bottle of Scotch…but it held a lot of memories.

Panic! At the Airport.

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Panic! At the Airport.

(Yeah, yeah, it’s a current pop culture reference . . . )

You plan, you purchase, you do everything you can and then in the end it’s in the hands of an airline and Mother Nature.

That’s what happened this weekend for me.

I did my best to get a flight home for my four children that would hopefully give them time to sleep a normal eight hours, let my parents drive them to the airport nearly four hours away, and get them home a little late but not horribly.

That meant a Southwest flight.  For those parents doing the whole pay for your kids to travel thing . . . here’s my biggest piece of advice for you: when you purchase your tickets online, call the airline and inform them that yes . . . even though your children’s birthdates are on their tickets, they are, indeed, children!

I bought the tickets online, put their ages on the tickets, but the hiccup was the fact that they were traveling with their 19-year-old sister.  That made me feel comfortable with the fact they had a layover in Phoenix.  What I hadn’t counted on was the fact that, even though they were landing in a hot, desert climate there might be a weather issue.

Yep . . . a thunderstorm and the hilariously named “haboob” sandstorm hit Phoenix just as my children, perched in their seats on Southwest flight 3421 were attempting to land.  My phone rang at about nine in the evening and my oldest daughter informed me she was in Tucson.  They had attempted to land the plane twice, bouncing through turbulence, and the captain – rightly – decided it wasn’t safe to land and skirted to the nearest airport.  There they sat, waiting for the aforementioned “haboob” to pass and leave.

Here is why I say you need to call the airline and “inform” them that you have actual children on their plane.

As I sat there, just after getting off the phone with my daughter a text alert for their connecting flight announced a delay.  That was fine . . . good, in fact, since they were sitting in Tucson.  This would allow them to make their connector.

Then came another alert . . . their flight was taking off in ten minutes at 10:10pm.  But I’d just heard from my daughter that they hadn’t left Tucson yet.  This, by the way, was the last flight leaving Phoenix for our Sacramento home.  It wasn’t boding well.

I picked up the phone just then and called Southwest, more than a bit concerned that there was a plane with at least four individuals who needed to go to Sacramento who had no plane.
“That flight has already left” I was informed after sitting on hold for ten minutes.
“I’m aware of that, but I have four kids on that plane in Tucson, two of whom are eleven and they’re totally freaked out!”

They were, by the way.  The turbulence had taken my already anxiety-ridden son and twisted his insides into knots.  I spent about ten minutes calming him down on the phone.

So there, on the phone with Southwest, I asked why the Sacramento flight couldn’t have waited, I don’t know, the 15 minutes (and that’s literal flight time . . . I asked the Southwest agent) for the plane with connecting passengers to get to Phoenix.
“We didn’t know they were kids on the plane, with a 19-year-old it’s assumed they’re with an adult.”
“She’s 19, not necessarily equipped to handle 3 kids at an airport for nine more hours waiting for your next plane.”
The agent said something about the inability to control the weather and I informed them I understood that . . . but it didn’t allay the fears and anxieties of my four children sitting on their plane about to land in Phoenix with no way to get home for another 9 hours.

“Well I don’t know what to say,” says the agent, “the plane they are on is the last plane out.  It’s going to San Francisco.”
The light bulb went off above my head as the agent asked “are you close to there?”
“Close enough,” I informed her.  Until she said the flight was sold out.
“Well so was the damn plane you didn’t hold for my kids!”
It’s here she tells me . . . “if we had known they were traveling with just their 19-year-old sister we would have held the plane.”  I was incredulous.  “It wasn’t on their tickets.”
“I could have gone all night without you telling me that,” I said through grinding teeth.
“Oh…sorry about that,” she says.
“Let me check and see if we can get them on the flight.  But bear in mind they’re on the plane.”
“So you don’t have a way to inform them when they land to stay on the plane?!”
“Well . . . yes, we can do that.”

So I get the flight arranged.  They tell me the bags won’t be in San Francisco, as if I cared.  I’d pick them up in Sacramento the next day.

After all is arranged I’m attempting to text my daughter and tell her to stay on the plane when I get a text myself . . . from her . . . angry because they’ve missed the connecting flight and she doesn’t know how they’ll spend the next nine hours without killing each other.

The phone rings . . . it’s the Phoenix airport asking why I want to keep my kids on the flight.  “Because you sent their connector out without them!” I inform the gate agent.
I had thanked the customer service rep, but the gate agent was trying my patience.  I told them yes . . . I’m verifying I want them to stay on the plane . . . and immediately called my daughter and told her not to leave the freaking plane no matter what.

I jumped in the car and drove the two hours from my house to SFO.  My daughter was almost crying she was so happy it was fixed.

I was just relieved.

It was a lesson . . . a lesson for me that you should always, always call the airline and make sure they know these are kids on the plane.

Most, though . . . this was a lesson for my kids: even when I’m not there with them, I’ll do everything I can to make sure they are home . . . safe.

Give the Dads a Break . . .

My and Kids

Give the Dads a Break

The title here is less a precursor to Fathers Day (which it is) and more a criticism of sorts.

I’ve gone on, being a Dad now for almost twenty years, and I’ve heard and seen all the criticisms.  Yes, I’ll admit, we had our oldest child, Abbi, young.  We’d been married a year, we probably weren’t ready, we even were more than a little freaked out.  But still . . . we had her and there wasn’t anything going to change that.  Fight parenthood or embrace it.  Those really are your choices.

So I’ve quietly grumbled and raised my hackles privately for twenty years.  Now, being my third year as a single father . . . I just felt I had to write something about this.

It’s time to give Dads a break!

I say this with the utmost and unequivocal respect and love for mothers of the world.  No . . . I did not try to squeeze a small human being out of any orifice in my body.  No . . . I did not become a human incubator, carry pounds and pounds in my stomach for nine months and did not have that joined heartbeat inside my body.  When my wife carried my twin boys for 37 weeks (37 WEEKS!) and they were 7 pounds 6 ounces and 7 pounds 2 ounces, respectively, I told everyone I met that my wife was a saint.  She was the bravest, most amazing woman to have accomplished that with very few problems.  I loved her and she was amazing.

But this is about Dads . . . so here goes.

From almost the moment I became a Dad I noticed it.  First it was acquaintances (not close friends) who would see me with a stroller, alone, on my day off and think there must be something wrong.
“Oh…is your wife sick?”  Ummm…no.  She was at school, for eight hours, learning to be a pharmacist.
“So…you have the baby all by yourself?!”  Ummm…yes.  I think I can manage without killing her.

The average Dad on a television sitcom is stupefied by dirty diapers.  He’s got the stereotypical Bill Cosby confused stare of a Dad who had no clue what was going on.  (If you’ve seen Bill Cosby: Himself, you know what I’m talking about)  Television commercials show Dad making a complete disaster of the house: the kitchen covered in crap and pancake batter on the walls if they try to make breakfast.  The plumbing messed up.  The garbage bag falling apart or the wash all pink.  All of it because, let’s face it, Dads just don’t know what they’re doing, right?

Wrong.

From the moment my first child was born I was a Dad.  That’s fact and emotional connection.  Abbi had horrible gastrointestinal problems as an infant.  She was allergic to everything: formula; soy formula; Alimentum even made her throw up like a character from The Exorcist.  When, as a 2-month-old baby, she had to have a GI scope, her mother couldn’t handle seeing the distress and hearing Abbi cry.  So guess who had to be there for her?  Her Mom suffered for her . . . I had to go up to her, so tiny she couldn’t go on the table, they laid her over a chair, and hold back tears as my newborn daughter screamed because they had to put a scope inside her.  It tore me apart, but I had my hand on her back and knelt in front of her telling her I knew it was awful…but I loved her and it would be over soon.

I had to make her formula – a pre-digested dirty lemonade with iron drops, vegetable oil, powder and distilled water that smelled, looked and tasted god-awful.  I made it, not my wife, because I wanted to do it.

I changed diapers.  I woke up every two to three hours for feedings.  When Hannah, my middle, was born she had RSV.  My wife still could barely stand from the C-section healing and a post-op infection.  Every hour I had to get up and give Hannah an albuterol treatment, change her, feed her, then try to catch an hour’s sleep.  I did it, complained a lot, and did it some more.  That’s what you do, you’re a Dad, you buck up and face the fact that you’re the only thing helping this tiny helpless person stay here on earth.

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I made…nearly…every…meal for us.  Even when my wife wasn’t working, I came home from work and made dinners.

When my wife passed away, when I was in trouble, guess who was there for me?  My Dad.  (My Mom, too, let’s face it, but it’s a fathers day post) He’s always been there when I needed him, and I never asked.  He just was.

For the last three years I’ve done laundry and ruined only a couple items of clothing here and there.  Let’s face it, your Mom ruined your favorite jeans or concert shirt once in awhile, too.  NOBODY is perfect.  I have cooked nearly every meal.  I have made homemade treats nearly every day for the kids’ lunches.  When they suffer I feel it.  I – am – connected.  I am involved.

Look, I understand.  For so long we had such a dichotomy and an expectation that set a glass ceiling that still crushes women and Moms too far down.  But in the process we set the expectation that Dad comes home, plops on the couch and watches Sport Center all night and barely registers the chaos around him.

Sure . . . that happens.  But Dads, for the most part, love their kids.  I guarantee it.  Sure, there are those that are just stupid bastards and you know what?  There will always be those.  But it’s time we stopped thinking that the Dad walking with a stroller and a baby has no clue what he’s doing.  Don’t think the kid’s tied in there correctly because Mom put her in before they left.

Dads can be loving, involved, and caring.  They always have been.  You just had to know where and how to look.

Nobody’s Perfect

IMG_0105Nobody’s Perfect

I’ve made no claim, throughout my adventures in parenting, to be even close to perfection.  This weekend was proof positive in that . . . well, in a lot of ways.

The Saturday had all the indications of being problematic, from the moment my eyes opened.  I don’t know if any of you get headaches, particularly migraines.  I get a cousin to that kind of headache called a cluster headache.  I wish I could say always can sense these coming but it’s not always the case.  The problem is that I woke up with the pain already starting to creep into the veins and nerves in my head.

The thing with being a single parent is the fact that you don’t get to make excuses.  I woke up, having slept about an hour  beyond my normal time, and had to get breakfast going.  I got coffee going and prayed that the medicine I hate taking wasn’t necessary.  It was.  The problem with that medication is that it also tears my stomach up so you tend to trade pain relief for stomach problems.  One problem for another.

The other side-effects are what you’d think: haze at the edges of my vision; sensitivity to light; nausea; and blinding, searing pain in the forehead.

The tangential effects are that I’m scatterbrained, lethargic, unable to stand the light . . . and I am short-tempered.  I try very hard to keep that last one under control.

But as the pain seeped into my head, even with the stomach-killing medication, I lie down on the couch in the hopes of sloughing off some of the pain.  As I started to thankfully drift off to sleep . . . the boys turned on our X-Box system.
“Turn it down,” I told them.
“Okaaaaaayyyyyy.”

It wasn’t the X-Box, it was the noise from the children that did me in.  I’d ask them politely to keep their arguments with each other to a minimum.  That worked for about two minutes.  Soon one was yelling at another . . . while the third sand Christmas Carols while shooting the other in the game.  You’re not supposed to do that, I guess.  Each time I’d get close to nodding off the volume would exponentially increase.

I lost it.  That’s not an excuse, I felt horrible.  After yelling at the kids I told them to keep playing and headed upstairs.

The farther I got from their volume, the louder they became, it seems in an attempt to ensure that I heard them not getting along.

I got up.  After wasting about half an hour in an unsuccessful attempt at trying to avoid the sounds I put another load of laundry in the washer.  I headed downstairs and in the middle of the game, pain and anger infusing my mood, I turned off the Xbox in the middle of some Lego-oriented scene.

“Awww…Daaaad!”

I abruptly shoved them all into the backyard.  I took my Prilosec to try and stave it all off . . .

And then I ushered them together, grabbed my camera, and we went on a walk.

That picture you see up there is from the walk.  We headed out the door, down a dirt trail, and found this rock wall next to a creek.  While they rolled their eyes and bemoaned their technological loss for the day the three of them as we headed down by the creek it was like Huck Finn had invaded their minds.  They had sticks in their hands and were leaping across the creek (unsuccessfully, in on instance, but I let it slide).

I make no claim to perfection.  I am far from that.  My temper was short on Saturday.  My head hurt quite a bit.  As we walked up the hill and back into a far part of our neighborhood I was calm.  My head still hurt, I wore sunglasses for part of it . . . but when we got home and I sat rubbing my temples, the boys grabbed their sister.  They went upstairs, unbidden, and folded the laundry I’d done and more than once I heard a “shhh…Dad’s still not feeling very good.”

At that I got up, went upstairs, rubbed their heads and put another load into the washer.  After they got it all put away we went downstairs.  I got dinner started.

Then I sat down and turned on the Xbox . . . and told them it was my turn to start shooting at them.

Talking About Their Futures

It’d be easy with a title like the one above to think I’m talking about college or jobs or what have you.

But I wasn’t.

This was a discussion with my two girls, on separate occasions, about relationships.  The latest discussion came with my middle daughter, who’s now fourteen, filled with hormones and had her first trip to the movies with just a boy.  He’s apparently “just a friend” but the Dad who has lots of power tools and an unfinished guitar neck in his closet still comes out once in awhile.

It was a chance to talk about what the ups and downs of my own relationships were and how they can and should learn from my lessons.  Some of those lessons aren’t too easy to listen to, particularly when the lessons are about their mother and me.

Andrea, when we were dating
Andrea, when we were dating

When I met my wife, some twenty-odd years before she passed away, I was in the same profession as she was, working at a tiny television station that doesn’t exist any more.  I had split from my first band, a cover-band that had quite a bit of internal strife, some legal problems I won’t recount with our light guy and the fact that I thought, at times, our set lists were schizophrenic.  So at this point in time, after Andrea and I were together nearly every day, I wasn’t playing live music any more.  In my mind that was going to change and I still had intense and passionate dreams of going on tour and making it as a musician.

My wife had other plans.

Me with "Dot", my green Clapton Strat
Me with “Dot”, my green Clapton Strat

I have had to have the discussion with my kids about how difficult it was for us in those early years.  As compatible as we were on other levels, there were a couple major hurdles we just couldn’t seem to jump.  Music was one of them.  When I’d play a gig, with a band she convinced me would be a healthier atmosphere for me – one I built from the ground up myself – in her mind when she walked into the club my entire focus should be on her.  My focus when playing, however, was always on the playing.  I could never explain to her how when I strapped on the guitar and played my entire mind went somewhere else.  It would lead, inevitably to major arguments at home.

Early on those first arguments would lead to Andrea throwing out, just to be mean, that she’s just divorce me and move on.  Not occasionally, but during every knock-down, drag-out argument.  It could be money, could be music, could be her wanting to change professions on a dime and go back to college.  She’d shout it at me.

“Don’t ever say that to your future husband unless things are really that dire that you’re thinking it,” was my line to my girls.  I will tell it to my boys, too.  Andrea, you see, didn’t mean it.  We did love each other and there were days, sure, we weren’t sure that was enough.  But I grew up in a household that had two people who truly loved each other and had so much in common they were the litmus test, for me, of a good marriage.  One day, after she threw out the “d” word, I turned a bit cold and stern and looked her, at very close proximity, in the eye.
“That hurts, you know.  Do you mean that, you’re going to divorce me?”
“No,” she said.  “Why would you think that?”
“Because you keep saying it.  That hurts because I’m trying, really hard.  One day you’re going to say that and I’ll take you up on it so be careful of the words you choose.”

That one day, those couple sentences, stick in my mind because she turned very pale.  I remember it.  It dawned on her this wasn’t a throwaway sentence.  She’d heard her mother use that threat all the time and yell it at her father.  Difference was her father never believed it and her mother never had any intention of it.  I, however, didn’t grow up in that household.  Divorce – and I told my children this – is a court of last resort.  It shouldn’t be a decision you take lightly.  Nor should marriage.  When you marry someone it should be because you truly see your life better with them.  I grew up, raised in an area of the country where divorce wasn’t a dirty word, but you didn’t do it unless things were truly irreconcilable, not the Hollywood version of “irreconcilable.”  So to throw the word around hurt.

Today I wouldn’t have the same views as the woman to whom I was married.  When you say “people don’t change” I actually vehemently disagree.  I’ve become far more responsible in some ways, far more innovative and free-spirited in others.  Andrea, at least the Andrea I knew when I dated her and even the softer, more understanding to whom I was married still a few years ago, would be the same.  She’ll be that forever young woman in my mind now, but I’m not that person any more.  It’s not a bad thing, I’ve made some great improvements.

Noah, Sam and HannahSo my advice to my girls was always this: you’re worth the effort.  Changing yourself just to convince a guy (or a girl) you’re worth it just isn’t going to work.  Necessary change – change like I’ve had to make lately – those are things you cannot avoid.  Trying to be someone you’re not so that you can be with someone will inevitably lead to failure.  Find someone you can spend your time with, was my response.  Sitting by a fire tonight and staring at the flames I told my daughter “I’m not sure who could put up with me.  Your Mom couldn’t even handle it sometimes,” I said admitting my own failures.  I have, you see, a mind that goes a thousand directions at once.  I still, unrealistic as it sounds, think I’ll hit the road as a musician one day.  I love reading quirky scientific articles and watching Doctor Who with the kids on Saturday and cooking and making cookies.  I want to see the world still and don’t really see myself still in California after the kids leave home.

Hannah looked at me and said there was enough that I loved about her Mom that it was okay, though, right?  And of course there was.  But my point to her, to all the kids, is that the blueprint I’ve followed, the one I strive for, was in my house every day.  What they should want is that person who they didn’t think existed . . . that sees the world just like they do and loves the ideas they have and supports them because they’re sure my daughters and sons can take on the world and win.

That may seem impossible, but I’ve seen the impossible happen.

A Tomboy and a Dad

Hannah at the Who
Hannah at the Who

When my middle child, Hannah, was born, there’s no doubting the fact that she was almost like the son we’d never had.  She was persnickety.  She hated having her hair braided, bowed, cut, or even tampered with in any way shape or form.  Hannah hated being held unless it was by her mother . . . and her mother alone.  It’s funny, too, because when she was hurt she’d run straight to me – and I wasn’t the pharmacist or medical expert in the family – only to return to her mother after she felt better.  The only thing missing was the proverbial sticking out of her tongue at me to signify that I was good for what was necessary and that’s all.

After her mother passed away just about 2 1/2 years ago, Hannah got a lot closer to me.  Don’t get me wrong, as she got older she sat on my lap and hugged me and all that.  Still . . . she fought me at every turn.  The only times she’d calm down – and I’m not kidding – was when I’d hold her as a baby or toddler and sing Desperado by the Eagles to her.  The song and its cadence along with the simplicity, I suppose, just made her relax.  She actually liked it so I sang it whenever she was crying or whenever she asked.  It was a good opportunity to get closer to her in any way I could.

Today, though, the tomboy returned.  I had to take her brothers shopping for suits and ties and everything they needed for a funeral.  I needed a new white dress shirt . . . and I asked Hannah what she needed.

“I already have black pants and a blazer but I can’t find my dress shirt,” she informed me.
“You mean blouse?” I corrected her.
“Sure, Dad, my blouse.  I don’t know what happened to it.  Did you take it, or one of the boys?”

Now the only way I get her clothes is if, by some miracle from above, she puts them in the laundry when they’re actually dirty.  (Sometimes when they’re not and she’s “cleaning” her room)  Then came the blame that it ended up in the boys’ room.  After that, it was just one thing after another.

I found a pretty blouse that made her grouse in the store.
“It had this weird hole in the back,” she informed me.
“You mean it was ripped?”
“No, it had this weird hole, like a circle.”
I stared at her, informing her, as politely as I could, that women’s clothing have things like that.  The back would button shut but there’s a little loop that exists that is also like a decoration.  Not everything is a comfy old t-shirt.

“Okay,” I informed her, “we’ll get this one, a white blouse that would go well under a black blazer with pants.”

Bear in mind that this is for her grandmother’s funeral and she’s giving a reading at the church.

“Your blazer is a nice one, right?  Pants too?”  I got the obligatory eye-roll after I said this.
“Yes, Dad, I have nice stuff.  The sleeves I usually roll up but I will put them down and it looks nice!”  That should have been my first clue.

When we got home I had her try on her outfit.  It was too late to go back out, by the way, and after she came out and showed me . . . she was sloppy to say the least.
“You can’t wear that,” I informed her.  “That would work for school, or a speech tournament, but not a funeral.”  Her blouse was too casual (my fault) and the blazer was like a sweatshirt material.  The pants were the only workable item.
“Yeah, I kinda thought so,” she informed me.
“You know, Hannah, you should probably wear a dress.”
Her eyes already narrowed and she started to formulate her redress of her father.
“I know,” I told her, “that it’s not fair.  Women should wear what they want, guys wear whatever, whole nine yards, but it’s your grandma’s funeral.  You should dress nice.”
“Daaaad!” She said it in her best teenage timbre.  “I’m a tomboy, and no offense, but you’re a guy.  You’re not Mom or Abbi.  You know how hard it is to find a dress with a guy?!”
I stared at her, calmed myself, and then asked: “who helped your sister find her homecoming dress?”
“you.”
“How long do you remember I was married to your Mom?”
“18 years.”
“I started, Hannah, by telling your Mom she looked good in everything.  Then the one time I was wrong she never forgave me.  From that point on I told her if something looked bad.  You’re built almost exactly like your Mom was when she was your age, so I know what stuff looked like on her.  I’m not going to make you wear something that looks bad.”
“I know, but . . . ”
“Hannah, I went to the Emmy awards, and you know what?  I hate ties and stiff shoes and being uncomfortable, just like you, but I wore a tux.  Sometimes it’s good and builds up your confidence if you dress up and look nice.  It certainly helped me.”
“Dad, this is a funeral!”  She had a point.
“I’m not trying to make you sexy, Hannah.  I’m trying to make you presentable for the occasion.  I know this sounds weird coming from your Dad, but a basic, pretty, nice black dress is a staple.  Not a trendy black dress.  Not a sexy black dress.  I mean a nice, standard, Audrey Hepburn, “every girl should have a little black dress” black dress.  I may not be a fashion designer, but I know what looks nice and I know what will look nice on you!”

She looked at me and resigned herself to the fact that tomorrow after work we’re shopping.  Sometimes being the only parent isn’t just victim of others’ stereotypes it’s your own children’s . . . or yours.  I don’t pretend to know if something’s amazing, but I know the basics.  That’s what she needs: a nice, simple, black dress that she can keep and wear when she needs it.

By the evening’s end she had calmed down.  She actually referenced the song up above: Desperado.
“Did you ever play it on the guitar for us,” she asked?  I hadn’t.  I always had one of them in my arms, her, Abbi, the boys . . . no free arms.

Then Hannah informed me she’d learned it.
“I love that song.  I always remember that you sang it to me.  So I learned it.”
We spent the rest of the evening on the floor of the office with her showing me and by the night’s end we were singing it together, playing it, and she was the happy, smiling little girl on my lap again.

She’s a tomboy . . . and I’m still her Dad.

 

Involved Parents

Working in the media I get to see and read a lot of “studies” that purport to have meaning to our lives.

The latest one I read came over the weekend from the Brookings institute, a well-known and respected institution.  Their paper was simply titled “The Parenting Gap.”

In it, the gist of the research, was that the kids whose parents cared, talked, read, and were more loving and responsive to their kids had more successful and well-adjusted children.  Those who were in large families or adoptive environments where criminal behavior existed or other factors were involved the children were less educated, ended up in criminal behavior, and – if you’ll pardon my interpretation here – were pretty much doomed to failure.

Their premise was whether or not intervention in parenting could or should make a difference.  The first part of the paper brings into account the need and importance of parents in the equation and then they simply seem to talk like the initial foregone conclusion is then obsolete and tries to factor parents out of the equation.

But that’s not my biggest pet peeve with the study.

A couple things crossed my mind: first, when they started talking about income and responsibility and family size…I grew up as a very young child at formative age without a lot.  I never knew we didn’t have a lot.  I grew up a block or two from the railroad tracks.  I ate fried baloney sandwiches and loved them.  Nothing in that entire setup had me feeling like I was missing out.  Why?  Because, to put it bluntly, my folks were there.  My Dad worked, a whole lot, but when he was home, he was home.  We spent time with them both.  They read to me.  They played with me.  When I had horrible asthma attacks they took care of me and the worry on their faces never belied the fact that they were working their hardest to make me get better.

The second . . . and today in particular, it starts to piss me off . . . is how they talk about “parents” and then completely factor out the Dad in all their tables, scales, and research.  Every table in the study mentions “where Mom worked” or “where Mom is a college graduate” or “where Mom cares for or provides a loving environment.”

I totally agree that Mom has to provide all those things or is a factor in all those things.  I get angry because it seems, like so many times before this study, they assume Dad’s just less sympathetic, caring or involved than Mom is.  He must be right?

In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography's Amy Renz-Manoucheri
In Nebraska last year. By Hunny Bee Photography’s Amy Renz-Manoucheri

If you’ve read any of my blog you realize that it’s impossible for me to not be involved.  Today alone I received half a dozen phone calls from my son, freaked out because he left the book for a book report at school.  I helped him, from 30 miles away via telephonic discussion, look for a copy at home.  I ended up buying a new version (because the library was closed) on my way home.  When things go wrong, my kids call me.  That was the case even before the loss of their mother, my wife Andrea.  They absolutely did the same with their mother, but they do it more now with me.

When Abbi, Hannah, Noah and Sam were born, I spoke with them.  Full conversations.  I did some baby talk sure, acting a little silly, being a little crazy, here and there.  But I had conversations with them because they’re little people, smarter than we give them credit for, and there in the room with us!  It’s just common sense.

Drummer Hoff
Drummer Hoff

I read to them.  I still read to them.  Abbi remembers the book Drummer Hoff and how I had a different voice for every character in the book.  Private Parriage, Major Scot, all of them.

I find it a major disservice to Dads who are involved, not looking for credit, but do everything they can, get the phone calls, get the hugs, and have the conversations . . . and then the studies come out and say Mom is the main, key factor.  Mom isn’t here for us…and we’re still doing okay.  Maybe they might want to think about that.

Handling the Words of Others

It’s been a crazy couple days in the house.  I can’t deny it.

I’ve been knee-deep in a major work project.  I have had two different parent meetings.  I’ve had Sam with migraines that have caused him nothing but trauma.  It’s just been crazy.

Then I heard from my middle daughter, Hannah, that Noah had a little bit of an emotional day at school.

It’s worth telling you here that Hannah watches the boys for a couple hours when they get home until I get to the house after work.  She makes sure they do their homework, she does hers (usually with the headphones in her ears.  Like they’re permanently attached to her head…need to talk with her about that) and they get their normal afternoon routine out of the way until I get home.

Now, the home routine is pretty exhausting as it is.  Usually, it starts with all three of the kids inundating me with information about their day.  Tons and tons of aural overload with the weight of their world transferring from their shoulders to mine.  I don’t mind getting the baggage. . . just break it up a little if you could, okay?  Right as I walk in the door, following me as I put down my briefcase, take off my suit coat and take my shirt tails out of my pants . . . following me up the stairs . . . it doesn’t stop, sometimes for a full hour.

Noah
Noah

So imagine my surprise when I have to hear from Hannah that Noah had a bad moment at school.

I asked him about it tonight before bed.  Apparently at his table group at school one of the girls at the table “like totally enjoys the Disney Channel shows…”  Apparently she’s in love with the girly-like shows that Disney has and she asked Noah his opinion of one of them.
“I don’t watch it,” he says he told her.  That got her ire up, apparently and she said he should.  When she asked why, Noah did what both I and his mother always told him to say – the truth.  It’s here I wonder if a little white lie shouldn’t be in line once in awhile.  He said he doesn’t like those kinds of shows.  “I hate those shows,” is likely more what he said.

That got the girl to inform him she was going to “call your Mom and Dad and tell them you said you hate my shows!”  She was poking fun at him, but he apparently looked at her and said. . . “you can call my Dad, but you can’t call my Mom.  My mom died.”

This set her, according to my son, to laughing.  Something even a different girl – one who’d been less than pleasant before – said was mean.  I guess it kept going for awhile and just set the mood for the rest of the day for Noah.  He didn’t react, didn’t hit, didn’t yell, just closed down some more.

I looked at him after he regaled me with his tale and told him “you know that there’s nothing bad about not having Mommy here . . . except the fact she’s not here, of course, right kiddo?”
“Yeah, I know,” he said, rather morosely.
“I mean, lots of people don’t have Moms or don’t have Dads…but we seem to be doing okay, right?”
“Sure!  I mean, it’s fine, Dad.”
“Just because this girl doesn’t understand doesn’t mean you don’t have a Dad who loves you and she just doesn’t know anything about us.  Did she think you were joking?”
“Maybe.  I didn’t say I was.”
“We can’t fix what other say about us, but you have to know that there’s nothing wrong with us, or you, and it’s nobody’s fault that she’s not here.  Sometimes bad and stupid things just happen.  I love you, and that won’t ever change.”

I wished at that moment people could see that he’s imaginative and smart and extremely thoughtful and loving.  But instead a lot of people just see that he’s awkward at first, because he’s shy and apprehensive how people will react to him.  I know how that feels.

But after our small discussion he smiled and hugged me, which seemed to lighten his load.

More baggage to carry, but thing about baggage…it’s easier when there’s someone there to help carry it.