Tag Archives: money

The man with all the answers . . .

I am going to warn you in advance . . . this will be a bit of an angry post.

I’m going to start by saying the headline up there again . . . I’m not the man with all the answers, even though Tennessee Tuxedo may have said so.

It’s best to start with what was the original intent of my coming to the interwebs to write a blog and put thoughts to screen on a daily basis.  The only things I knew for sure were that I would try to be honest – or as honest as the information brewing in my brain – and that I’d take Saturday and Sunday off so that the weekends are reserved for my family.  My family – the new version of which I was thoroughly unprepared to face and angry to address.

I say unprepared.  Not unwilling.  Not Unable.  Unprepared.

In the last two weeks I’ve gotten a number of comments and emails about what I’ve written.  I’ll admit, with full honesty, that I’ve not always gotten it right.  I’ll admit, with horror and sincere apology if I’ve gotten my interpretation of facts incorrect.

Never, in the nigh on a year I’ve been writing, here, though, have I pretended to have all the answers.  On top of all that, I have never, ever, asked anyone to feel sorry for me.  Telling you that raising my four children is a privilege and an honor would be falling far short of the mark by hundreds of yards.

In the last couple weeks I’ve been criticized by others – most women, but some men – with the mistaken impression that I’m bemoaning my situation.  There’s two things wrong with that.  My situation, no matter how hard, is actually better than it was when my late wife was around.  While that’s a truth it’s a hard truth to face.  The other is that it really doesn’t do any good to bemoan my situation.  It happened.  My wife, the beautiful woman who I spent more than half my life, is gone and there’s no bringing her back.

The funny thing is, the very things I thought would make people angry elicited no remarks.  When I say grief is unique to the individual; when I’ve say unless you’ve lost you don’t know so don’t say so; when I say a Dad can love and care and cook; when I say that I’m nota single parent but sole parent and that the phrase “single parent” has been commandeered by others implying there’s some sort of choice in the matter . . . none of those things seemed to rankle many people.  But the most random things did, like I was calling into question their ability to be a single parent.

There’s a contingent that seems to say parenting alone is fine.  You don’t need both parents, stop complaining.

I’m not, for the love of God.

But I’m going to upset all of you even more when I say . . . it is better to have both parents.  There’s a reason you have them.  Face it: you got to Mom for some things.  You go to Dad for others.  Can I do it?  Sure.  Is it easy?  NO!  The ones saying it is are kidding themselves or have never had a spouse for help.  It’s tremendously beneficial to have that other person – that calming personality – that you can bounce ideas off.  When my son had behavioral problems I would talk to my wife and she’d have ideas.  She’d talk to me and I’d have ideas.  That’s what it’s about, the give and take.  When you’re facing this alone you have to be the sole authority.

You have to act, even if you don’t know, like you know the answers.  Your kids want you to be calm and supportive and – let’s face it – immortal.  You shake off that mantle of immortality when they have their own kids and they begin to realize that you didn’t have all the answers.  It’s like Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.  Really, you’re making it up as you go, because like every family, every kid and every situation is different.

I applaud the single parents who make it look easy.  I try to make it look easy but admit that it’s not.

I started writing because after the events of the day: breakfast and getting the kids to school; work for 8-9 hours; home and dinner, bedtime, planning tomorrow, making lunches and breakfast . . . I sit on the couch and it’s deadly quiet.  The time of the night when I talked to my wife is now silent.  I look at the bed when I go up and it’s a lengthy expanse.  There’s a contingent that thinks I need anybody to be there to fill the void.  They’re wrong.  My kids had my wife for too short a time, but they had her for awhile.  That’s a good thing.  I write about our love story, our problems, and it makes me happy to remember her.

But I don’t write about it being easy.  This is about why it’s hard . . . for me.  If it helps others, I’m thrilled.  If it offends you, it shouldn’t.  It’s not about your ability to parent.  It’s about mine.

A Question of Finances

Over the weekend I had to inform my oldest daughter how we had to tighten our belts for a couple weeks as money came out of the account for the atypical bills in our household.   I should break here and preface this post with the fact that I realize I’m not particularly good with the household finances.  I’m better than I was but nowhere near close what I should be.  Part of the situation, though, is the fact that I’d blown through any savings we had in a fruitless attempt to keep our home.

When the rent for our current home increased – even though it’s not that big an increase – I still have to look at what we’re paying and where the money’s going.  Cell phones are a necessity for myself and Abbi as I need to be able to talk with her and help if she needs it.  I live on that phone . . . but I talked with Abbi about the fact we had to decrease the data plan.  The fact was, Abbi wasn’t using that much data at all.  It was me.  I changed my habits to fall in line with hers – using wireless whenever safely possible and then decreased our bill.

I have AT&T cable.  I love their system, but I have too many channels.  I got the big package for free and now it’s not.  So I’m going to decrease the number of channels so it’s manageable.

The uncomfortable part over the weekend was looking at Abbi as I was realizing that rent, tuition, phone bills, cable . . . after all that we were tighter than normal.  Down to the wire.  When Abbi asked about transferring some of the Social Security money into the account I had to look at her like she hadn’t understood anything I’d just told her.  I pointed to a rather miniscule dollar figure on my bank account and said “that’s what’s left of the social security for this month.  We ate, paid some of the rent . . . went to New York for your college visit . . . all that costs, kiddo, and most my paycheck goes to rent, tuition, and other bills.”

Abbi is getting a lesson in what it’s like to really have to tighten things.  We’re not wealthy, but we eat.  We have a roof.  We have our phones.  Life isn’t a struggle, not like it was in the past.  It’s kind of a hard thing to know you are able to survive and not struggle – that it’s easier – without my wife/Abbi’s Mom around.  I loved Andrea more than anyone, but I had this horrible problem: I couldn’t tell her “no.”  She wanted a new wedding ring, something with a big diamond.  I tried to say “no” but we ended up with one.  The next many months were horrible struggles as a result.  I know, I know, a ring is important to most women.  But I loved her . . . and didn’t understand how, when things were really hard and I was struggling, too, that wasn’t enough.  I get that’s a very “guy” thing to think, but it’s still how I looked at the world.

I also understand that savings is something I should be growing but have not been able to accomplish.  I know . . . 10% of your paycheck should go in.  I know . . . you should have at least three months or preferably a year’s salary in savings just as a safety net.  I know . . . my kids are all going to go to college and cost me an arm and a leg one by one.  It’s all weighed on my mind very heavily.

I know all these things but cannot simply make them appear.  I wish I could.  But staying in California, paying for rent, tuition, clothes . . . all the things that they need to be stable cost money.  I’m not showering them with myriad of gifts.  The days where we see a new toy train and have to buy it because it’s shiny, new, and we always did are over.  They know that.  But just to survive in a state that has governmental deficits higher than the GDP of many small nations and a cost of living that makes people in other states faint is a reality that makes savings and life much harder.

I have to admit a bit of pride, though.  We are surviving, not struggling.  Abbi got herself a job to pay for some of her college – something she got all on her own.

It’s good to know that you can teach a solid lesson, even if you are struggling with that lesson yourself.

Seeing the Signs

The kids and their Mom . . . not long before she passed away

I don’t normally preach or talk about seeing and hearing signs all around me.  Faith, spirituality, all those things in my life I feel are very personal.  That said, it’s not that I don’t believe in them or a higher power or whatever you want to call it.  You might think I’d toy with atheism after losing my wife so suddenly and terribly, but I guess we all react differently.  I don’t want to convert anyone.  I just cannot bring myself to think that is the case.  I guess part of me thinks that she’s finally at peace, happy, and maybe – just maybe – living the way she did when we met and happier than she was when she left.  If it took leaving me and the kids to give her some peace then so be it.

But until tonight there really were no signs pointing to that peace or secondary plane of existence, I guess.  Oh, I got everyone else’s signs and signals.  They were more than too happy to send them my way and make me hear about them.  Even slight acquaintances, people Andrea wasn’t even particularly fond of would come to me with their “sightings” of my wife.  One had a dream and told me how happy and peaceful she was.  Another told me they were overwhelmed with her presence.  I know they all wanted me to feel better and they were all very excited to tell me about their experiences and I took them all with a smile and a nod and a “that’s wonderful” kind of pleasantry and moved on.

Why?

Because it just pissed me off.  There’s no fancy or prosaic way of saying it better.  I am here, every day, struggling, fighting and working to the point of collapse, making lunches, cooking dinners, trying to get by on the smallest amount of money that’s left when the money runs out — and don’t kid yourself.  The money runs out every single check very quickly.  When my oldest daughter came to me asking how much of her social security checks was in savings for her college education I nearly sprayed milk out of my nose trying not to choke on it.  (We had a very long talk about finances and how not to handle things like her papa after that)

Some people get sincerely honest help from her, at least it seems they do.  Andrea’s sister does.  A lot.  She was in the middle of a half marathon and couldn’t keep going, asked for Andrea’s help and one of Andrea’s good friends – someone I’m now pretty close with who lost her husband – appeared out of nowhere to encourage her during the race.  It’s amazing, and I have no answer for it other than Andrea was watching and listening to her sister.  I mean, she runs, exercises, and pays tribute to her sister all the time.  Maybe that’s what I should be doing, but my daily life is so crazy it’s not tribute so much as tribulation.

Plus, I think about her all the time!  She was the love of my life.  I’m not sure anyone else could ever compare and I stare at the empty pages of my life ahead of me and they seem just that – a little emptier – when I try to write our story.  I have four amazing kids and they’ve kept me grounded, but I see my future being emptier and emptier as they leave and forge their own way.  The plan to grow old together, see the world, spoil our grandchildren, those are gone.  I don’t know what to do next.  So when everyone has a story about Andrea appearing or helping or being present I just get pissed off because I’ve needed her, and still need her, and she’s not here.  Now, before you all say “you’re doing such a great job” or “she knows you’ll handle it” just keep those comments to yourself.  I’m not.  I’m struggling, every day, and just a touch or a word or even a moment of peace would make my world seem so much more worthwhile.  I don’t get that, but apparently others do – including others who hardly knew her.

And I believe in these signs.  On New Year’s Eve 2002, I was in Israel on assignment.  In a terribly difficult week my mother-in-law had cancelled watching the kids for us while I was out of the country and I called my folks in a panic.  My Dad just drove my Mom, a week later, down to Dallas to help us.  He had been sick, thinking he had the flu, but drove me to the airport on the day before and sent me off.  I landed in Tel Aviv and hit the ground working.  We shot something like 2 or 3 interviews right there and headed straight to Jerusalem from there.  Next day, New Year’s, we did the same.  I spent the day trying to call my parents and Andrea to say Happy New Year and find out what was going and couldn’t get hold of anyone.  I was in a quandary because getting no one on the phone was a bit confounding.  The reporter I was with said it would be fine.

But that next morning – which was a day later than in Dallas where I was – the phone rang at 5:30 in the morning.  It was my wife, Andrea.
“Dave, I’ve been trying to track you down for a day and a half!”
“What is it?” I must have sounded rude and angry because it was so early.
“Your Dad’s had a heart attack, Dave, he’s in the hospital.  It’s not good.”

Andrea had convinced my father and mother to go to the doctor, they just figured he had the flu.  But She pushed and pushed.  She drove my Mom to the hospital behind the ambulance.  She found neighbors to help with the kids while she stayed with my Mom.  She cleaned up and organized the house so my brother could drive up from Houston to help.  My wife more or less took over and may have helped save my Dad’s life.  She has a deep spot in all their hearts for just that reason.

For me, I had to cancel our interviews.  An amazing woman we were supposed to interview in Bethlehem called me up and said even though we weren’t coming she wanted my Dad’s father and mother’s names.  She was going to temple to pray for him.  I got home a few hours earlier than I left (love the international dateline) and when I got to the hospital – straight from the airport – the doctors walked into the room, looking a bit white and confused.
“We looked at your heart.  For the life of us we can’t believe this.  You should have had an attack years ago.  Your heart started growing its own bypass . . . and though it’s that clogged, you have no visible damage to your heart.  It happens, but I’ve never really seen it.  You’re a lucky man.”

Now, it could all be coincidence, but when people in other countries I don’t know from other religions are working for him I figure that amount of human consciousness or prayer, whatever, were signs that were slapping us all in the face.  He wasn’t out of the woods, but today he’s more active than ever and the man who helped me through all my problems.

So that brings me back to last night.  I was particularly angry.  I’d booked all the acoutrements for the prom and the Black Keys concert and the motel room because I was anticipating a big tax refund.  It has yet to arrive.  I’ve paid for that bad planning the last two weeks.  I had scrimped, pushed, and spent nothing for the last week.  My daughter wanted to go out to eat to celebrate passing a major test and I had to tell her we couldn’t – I had $1.50 in the bank.  I got to the car from my train and saw I had enough gas to drive 8 miles.  I had a gallon of gas in the car.  I scoured the house looking for anything – spare change, money I’d forgotten in a suit coat pocket or a rain coat, anything.  I have meals and lunches for the week.  I’d planned that far.

I got angry.  I had this amazing picture of Andrea and me on my night stand and I just looked at her and got mad.
“Why can’t you ever help us!   You’ve helped the most random people and we NEED you.  Why can’t you ever just help us?!”
It was rude, silly, and just me being angry.  But I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get to Friday when I got paid.  I had to get to work, the kids had to get to and from school, I had taken everything but filling up my gas guzzling SUV into account.  I went to my desk and as I walked through the kitchen there was a pile of mail I’d sorted but avoided going through because there was nothing much worthwhile in it.  Something told me to look at it but I was so angry and panicked I skipped it.  I was snapping at the kids.  I told Hannah I didn’t have time to give her a hug – which is just awful, I know – and was scouring through my files in my office for anything – a leftover gift card, anything.

After that I headed back to the kitchen and that nagging feeling hit me again.  I started opening the mail.  A college recruitment form for some college Abbi isn’t considering.  An EOB for an insurance claim.  I found another insurance letter and figured it was the same.  But when I opened it . . .  inside was a check.  A refund from my Flexible Spending Account.  Enough for gas to get me through the majority of the week.

Now, again, I’m not trying to convert anyone.  It may very well be I am just reading too much into this.  After all, that letter had been there for days.  I just avoided it.  So why did I look at it now?

Maybe she’s been here all along.  Maybe she hasn’t.  Maybe it just took me losing it and pleading with her.  I mean, I talk to herall the time,even though I even think that’s a bit crazy.  But I miss her, more than ever.  It’s been a year, sure, but that doesn’t make her lack of presence seem less painful.  If anything it hurts worse to have all these things just keep sinking in to my soul.  I can’t count on her help for everything, and I don’t.  Hell, she doesn’t help much anyway it seems.

But just one time . . . one day, finally, I got a sign.  Maybe it was a sign of my own stupidity or lack of faith.

But I’m in bed with my heart at a bit of peace, knowing we’ll make the week.  I finally got my own little sign, even if it wasn’t her, to cling to.  And I think for the first night in awhile, I may get a decent night’s sleep.

Like the Walls of Jericho

My gorgeous girl . . .

The Walls of Jericho: by NPR’s Radiolab.  Worth a listen for nothing more than the fun of the science . . .

OK, it’s a bit of a strong title.  But there are days, particularly this next few, where I feel like the walls are tumbling down around me.  I don’t need the bleating of a ram’s horn to do it, I’m perfectly capable of wreaking havoc on my own house, thank you very much.  The consequences of splurging on your children – helping your oldest get the perfect prom; buying concert tickets and spending the night in San Francisco; hell, even seeing the Avengers in 3D with all four kids in tow is enough to take what is, in all seriousness, a balancing act.

The analogy of a wall here – the proverbial (funny how that adjective is apropo, isn’t it?) financial and emotional wall of our lives – is the one I use.  The whole balancing act wouldn’t have been a balance at all when I planned this all out.  In fact, it had been there simply to strengthen the whole thing, not watch it crumble.  You see, at the end of March I had done my taxes.  We never had them so complicated that I couldn’t just buy Turbo Tax and do them myself.  This year was no exception.  I bought the program sometime in February, actually, and spent over a week putting them together because, no surprise, we had crap everywhere.  I had to track down all the W2’s and paperwork.

But I’d made the decision not to claim all four kids as dependents when I started at my new job, just in case I had to offset some sort of issue with the loss.  The result was that taxes I’d normally have paid in capital gains were offset, and the loss of my wife led to being able to write off those gains to pay for burial expenses, tombstone, all of it.  (And why do they still call it a tombstone?  There’s no tomb, it’s not Turin here.  There’s no stone archway or rock closing the opening in a cave.  It’s a grave marker.  That’s the most apt description)

The reason I bring this all up is the fact that I saw the refund I was getting and it was more than enough to pay back-bills and still have the movies, prom, and hotel room at Fisherman’s Wharf that had already been booked.  But where my wall was crumbling, the IRS wall was stronger than ever.  The “latest” I was to receive a refund was 3 weeks after e-filing.  Then I got a refund date: April 11th.  They then changed it: April 20th.  Then when I called a day past the “estimated refund date” they inform me that even though I’d filed at the end of March, they didn’t really even open the file until something like April 6th.  So, yeah, even though I filed more than on-time, some pencil-neck at the IRS waited forever to open the file.

But it gets better.  “Call back on the 27th” they say.  I do, get no human being, and there’s no new estimated date.  Just a “sorry, we got your return and are processing it.”  It was maddening.

Just a week ago I get a letter, one that’s not particularly delicate or simple.  It’s addressed to “David Manoucheri, taxpayer and Andrea Manoucheri, Deceased.”  Not that being delicate is the IRS’ forte.  As hard as it is to see our lives summed up so bluntly, the interior of the letter informed me that there’d been a mistake in my tax return and they had processed it.

A mistake in my favor.

Apparently having my spouse “deceased” helps.  A lot.  They increased the refund by several hundred dollars, some typo that the software or maybe the IRS made in the form, and then they would process it.  That’s all it said.  I sit here now, weeks after the “27th deadline” and finally called.  Apparently, since my wife passed away, something that was clearly stated and dealt with on the tax forms themselves, the IRS decided it would be better to issue a paper check, not an electronic deposit like I’d asked for.

It also lets them delay my refund another 2-3 weeks, because after all that computer is apparently as bulky and clunky as “Hal” from the movie 2001, a Space Oddesey.  You know, some guy has to punch holes in the card and hope to God that the big red light doesn’t ask “Dave . . . why do you want that money, Dave . . . you don’t need to have a normal life, Dave, we the robotic overseers at the IRS will help you to assimilate . . . ”

Today, in frustration, I called the IRS again and got this same excuse.  “Paper checks take longer to process, and since we had to do that because we had to make adjustments due to your wife’s death (again, love the delicacy of the government worker) it was necessary to issue a paper check.”  The result?  “Could be 2-3 weeks before it shows up, but it’s probably closer to two.”

So here we are, nearly two months beyond when I filed, more than a month beyond when I was supposed to get my money, and I’m scraping change together because I’d spent my money.  It’s important to me that the kids never think I’m going to break my promises to them.  We don’t spend a lot of money, it’s not really that we need much.  But to give them all a nice weekend – the prom, the sleepover with their Aunt, the movies, all of it, I felt I couldn’t renig on those promises.  So I didn’t.

And now, thanks to the seemingly semi-permanent loan to the US Government that I’ve given, that promise is coming back to bite me in the ass.  The hotel was expensive . . . really expensive . . . and the movies are never cheap.  Taking 4 kids and myself, even to a matine showing of a 3D movie, is an expensive prospect.

Then today the announcements for Emmy awards came out and people asked if I’d been nominated.  I hadn’t really looked, but then I hadn’t entered anything, either.  Sure, I could have.  I know the station entered a couple, but for me there is well-spent money and poorly-spent.  I’m the Susan Lucci of local news Emmy awards.  I have probably 15 “nomination certificates”.  I gave up looking for the win.  If it comes, I’m happy.

But when I snapped the photos of my daughter.  When I looked at her in her prom dress we’d worked so hard to get and alter and everything.  When I saw the excitement on the kids’ faces when we went to the theater and saw a superhero movie . . . that was a reward.

Abbi posted on her Facebook page at the end of Sunday: “Black Keys, fancy hotel, plus prom and then the Avengers = best weekend of my life!”

So when I sit on the light rail, doing the math of the gas mileage in my head to see how far I can get and what meals I can muster each night until a week from Friday – when I get paid again – it’s easy to miss the forest looking at the bark of that tree in front of me.  It’s easy to miss the smiles and the hugs when you’re frantically looking through the mail for the IRS check that you should give up hoping is coming.

Then you get a text or an email from a friend who saw your daughter in her prom dress, and you suddenly realize it.  The rent’s paid.  You can eat.  (OK, maybe Ramen noodles for a night or so) You have a good job.

And then you see your daughter’s words and the smile radiating her Mom’s brilliant, warmth and you realize it.  We’re OK.  The walls of Jericho withstood Joshua’s horns, this time.  Doesn’t mean he won’t try again, but the walls didn’t come tumbling down.  In fact, they’re holding steady.  Few cracks.  Some mortar patches that don’t match (but Andrea’s not here to complain about the change in spackle colors anyway) but still upright.

That smile – hell, those smiles, all four of them – made it worthwhile . . . and the walls hold because they have a good foundation.