Tag Archives: work

Back where it all begins…

A picture of my from High School...(photo cred-Jenny Turner)
A picture of my from High School…(photo cred-Jenny Turner)

Back Where It All Begins by the Allman Brothers Band

I delved deep into my own past over the weekend.

I won’t go into graphic detail, but was asked to write a letter to some students at my former high school.  The reasons and the ideas are not worth repeating, I don’t suppose, except that I had to work very hard to pull the little, minute details needed to write an intelligent and inspirational letter.  Unfortunately, the successive years I’ve endured have purged many of the memories that I hadn’t really thought I’d need again.

But like so many of my thought here, a friend asked me what it was like thinking back to being the age my own daughter is now.  What did I think?

The reality is, it didn’t bother me as much as I guess it should have.

There are a couple reasons for this: first, I can look back on those days now with a legitimate amount of fondness.  At the time I was – to quote a classic rock song – an angry young man.  I felt misunderstood.  I felt I didn’t fit in with the norm.  I wanted to break out, not feel stifled.  Yet through all that I kept close ties to home and my family.  I also could very well have closed off some very good people who very truly made an impact on my life.

I was lucky, though, that I met a woman in college who basically looked at me and said “so what?!”  So what if you feel that way, it’s your life.  And by the way . . . are you really that way, or are you just being closed-minded?  What’s stopping you from being the person you want to be, certainly not other people . . . the only person preventing you from doing that is you.  Get some confidence, for God’s sake.  That’s what it was, too, a lack of confidence…in myself and the abilities I already knew I had.

In my youth...in the years I dated Andrea
In my youth…in the years I dated Andrea

It’s like lifting a curtain from in front of you.  I was married to her for eighteen years until she passed.  She helped me to see that I had a great foundation, something that really shouldn’t weigh my mind like I’d been letting it do.

And by the way, take a look at what those high school years propelled me toward: I became a journalist.  I’ve seen amazing things.  I have met presidents. . . world leaders . . . I saw the Pentagon with the gaping hole left by terrorists; I uncovered a loophole in the FDA’s regulations; I found pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia that fell to the ground after it crashed; I climbed a waterfall in Jamaica; I repelled down a cliff to get to a story in Arizona; I met BB King; I met Kenny Burrell; I’ve been to Afghanistan and seen wounded soldiers rescued.  I also started my own band, opened for and got stiffed by Foghat; played multiple music festivals; I recorded two CD’s and one of them is still selling copies on iTunes.  All those things are possible because I propelled myself to greater heights.  I wasn’t stifled by my youth, I was encouraged by it.  I just needed to understand that.

But back to my initial thoughts . . . so what is my thought about having been that age and my daughter at that age now?  I’m proud.  I can look back at those years and actually see that those years propelled me to where I am.  Sure, I’m the only parent in my household now, but I am strong, solid, and knowledgeable enough to handle that.  My daughter doesn’t have that chip on her shoulder, she’s a smart, funny, quirky and talented kid.  She knows it.  We all – the five of us in this house – faced adversity.  Now we walk another road.

But I can look at what I did and see my daughter doing better.  Isn’t that the path we all want?  She’s going off – with my encouragement – to do her passion in life.  Each of my kids have different talents, but I make sure they are confident in those talents.  I was encouraged but for whatever reason I never thought I had the strength to handle it all.

I faced a tragedy.  So did my kids.  But we are not defined by tragedy.  We build on our lives looking back at that experience.  I lost my wife . . . but I have gotten closer to others in the successive 20 months since.  I’ve walked my own road and done things differently that I did the last 18.  That’s okay.

I look at my kids and see them making their own paths as well.  It’s interesting to see my own past and think about what I might have thought my life was going to be.

No, my life’s not what I thought it would be at this point.  But in many, many ways . . . it’s been much better.

During the buildup to the Iraq War
During the buildup to the Iraq War

 

Absence makes the heart pump faster…

Noah on "Tip Your Hat Day"
Have a Little Faith in Me by John Hiatt from “The A&M Years”

I am sure you noticed how I’ve not posted since a couple days ago.  Stress will do that to you, as will running around crazy.  It was Open House at school one day, bills due, sweeps approaching, then it hit.  The petri dish that is grade school, and by proxy, my household (have five people in a confined space in the winter and wonder how you DIDN’T get sick, I say!).

Yesterday I sat at work and went into an interview with someone who wished to remain anonymous, skittish, not wanting to be imposing, I shut off my phone.

You see where this is going, I’m sure.

Mere minutes after shutting it off, at 10:30am, the phone blew up, calls coming in every few minutes from the school.  Sam, you see, was in the office.  Running a fever.  Needing to be picked up.  This is just after having to call the high school so my oldest, Abbi, could stay home as well.  I wasn’t there to answer, so by the time I got the voicemails and the random text message I realized I had all this and it was nearly noon.  I was absent for less than two hours and I was in a panic.  I saw my son, in the office, burning up with fever, coughing, and wondering why his Dad didn’t come to get him because he feels so awful.  I need those four kids to have faith in me, but I feel constantly like I am finding ways for that faith to slowly whittle away.

I called the sick Abbi in a panic and asked her to run and get Sam.  I sat struggling how to figure out picking up the other two and avoid the inevitable scariness that was there with the fact Abbi was going to practice for her high school play at 3pm, sick or no.  I stared at the clock and the phone.  Then I got a text from my Sister-in-law.

“The school called, don’t worry, I’m on my way to get Sam!”

I tried to inform her Abbi had him, that I could figure it out, not to inconvenience her.  But she had already left work and told me there was no place she was going to be but at the house to help me today.  Nothing.  She got in, took care of the kids, forced Hannah to do her chores, even cooked dinner!  I kept thanking her and she kept telling me to knock it off.

I can’t help it.  I know the biggest lesson I learned from all this is I cannot do this alone.  It doesn’t change the fact that I feel that Midwestern Catholic guilt for having to ask for the help anyway.  I just feel so much like it’s an inconvenience to the people involved that I don’t want them to feel like I’m taking advantage.  I know they don’t feel that way, but it’s my own fault.  I feel it anyway.

Then today Hannah and Sam are both sick.  Abbi, too.  Yet they stayed home and I was forced to let Noah go to the school Extended Day Program, or EDP, for the rest of the afternoon.  After a bunch of legal wrangling over a particularly sticky script, I’ve been forced to call family friends to pick him up!  The EDP room closes at 6pm, after all!  Again, they tell me not to thank them, they do it all the time, it’s no big deal, come get him at our house.

But my absence from the house bothers me.  It bothers me a lot.  Nothing would bother me more than my kids thinking they can’t count on me; that they think I put my work before their livelihood.  But I DO think about it.  I debate it a lot.  Sure, they come first, without question.  But what happens if I can’t work?  If I can’t do my job?  What do I do then?  I have been going through this since Andrea was here, debating the idea of whether or not there was something I could do about the fact sometimes I have to work late at a moment’s notice.  That and the fact I’m 40 miles from home when I do work.  The advantage of my job is that it gives me flexibility to be able to get to appointments, school events, and other necessities.  But it can’t only be give with no take.  I have to do the job I’m paid for or the kids cannot stay here in California, I couldn’t afford it.  Sure, I’d love nothing more than to stay home and take care of the kids, I’d love to make that my only task in life.  I cannot do it, though, not and survive.

So I lean on family, friends, Andrea’s family, and feel my heart racing.  My stomach is growling.  My head is killing me from the stress of trying to get this to balance.  Problem is, sometimes the weights balancing my life fall off, sending me plunging and carrying more weight on my end.

What’s the solution?  Asking for help.  Problem is I have to ask at a moment’s notice.  The other problem it makes me miss Andrea that much more.  I look and think “I’d at least have someone who could help me to juggle all this” but instead I’m juggling with one hand.  I look at how she’d figure out the schedules and the disagreements and be able to help me figure it out.  I had that person who could help me to breathe.  But now she’s gone and I can’t figure out what to do when my daily life gets out of control crazy.

Fortunately, I have been blessed with people who help me.

Blessed, because help was given, once without my even asking, another time when I asked and there was no reservation, no thought, no discussion.  Just “what do you need me to do?” and it was done.

You may think this is no big deal, that you ask for help all the time, that you do this kind of thing yourself or help people all the time and it’s no big deal.

Being the man that has to ask for and receive the help: it is.  Believe me, when I come to you and say how much I appreciate the amazing help, it’s not an empty state ment.

Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it also makes mine pump that much faster.  And all I want is for them to have a little faith in me.

A Dad by Definition . . .

"Dave" in an early definition: pre-war photographer

Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant (This is for all you who think I only have songs made before 1980 on my playlist!  Plus it’s appropriate for the subject matter . . . )

I am going to make a lot of people very angry, just to let you know, when I criticize the following statement:

“I am my kids’ Mom/Dad”.

I don’t dispute its accuracy, I am my kids’ Dad.  It’s a fact, a statement, a truth.  But what bothers me is the use of that phrase as if it’s the end-all be-all of a person’s life.

Now, don’t hang me up on the cross yet.  I don’t say this to offend nor do I say it in order to belittle parenting, single-parenting, parenting alone by necessity (that would be me) or life as a stay-at-home Mom or Dad.  What bothers me is the fact that some people make this statement as the only definition of themselves.  I think it does a disservice to any child when they believe that they are the center of the universe, that they are the definition of their parents.  I wasn’t.  In fact, if I had been, I’d have been spoiled rotten.  (OK, maybe I was a little spoiled, but I wasn’t mean, I don’t think)  I had chores.  My two brothers and I did the dishes every night.  EVERY night.  Not just loading them into the dishwasher and leaving, but cleaning up the table, wiping everything down, cleaning the pans, running the dishwasher and then unloading it when it was finished.  If it was on the fritz, which happened, we had to wash it all by hand.  I mowed the lawn, trimmed the trees, watered the garden, watered the lawn and trees, used a weed eater on the areas around the hedges, pulled weeds, all of it.  In winter I shoveled the sidewalk and driveway.  I salted the drive.  It was my responsibility to make sure that the block heaters in the car (if you don’t live in a cold climate, nevermind, will take too long to explain).  We cleaned our own bathrooms, folded laundry, vacuumed the carpets, all of that.

This, my friends, is not unusual nor is it an inordinate amount of work.  I lived, I survived, and I never tell my kids I walked to school in the snow uphill both ways.  I just drove in the ice and shoveled the walk.

My Mom stayed at home.  It was her and my Dad’s choice, but at no point did I think that she was defined solely by the fact that she was our Mom.  We were never ignored, it was like it was her job, but they lived in a beautiful harmony that I only hoped I’d get a piece of.

My kids don’t do near as much as I did.  It’s not a complaint . . . well, yes it is, but not my point . . . it’s just to say that we have to survive through working together.  As much adjustment as I’ve had to make, some of the kids still have to accept their own adjustment, and I know it’s not easy.  They don’t have my Mom, staying home, making sure they’re on track.  But it’s not the quantity of the time, it’s the quality.  (I can’t believe I wrote that, I know, it’s cheesy, but it’s so damn correct I can’t find a better phrase!)

Here’s the thing, I came home yesterday, and after being at work for a mere 8 hours, they home after a half-day of school, the house looked like a bomb had gone off.  The main room, the place with the dining room table, the Christmas tree, my office and gear . . . was a mess.  The kitchen is full of dishes.  (yeah, yeah, smart ass, it’s supposed to be full, of dishes, these are DIRTY dishes)  The boys and Hannah’s rooms look like demilitarized zones.  All in less than a few days’ time.

Now, I have a hard time changing those roles.  During the morning hours, I’m Dad.  I’m cook, breakfast maker, barrista, juicer, clothier and sock darner.  I am parental and sign the homework folders.  In-between I find my laptop and gear for work, check the emails in case I need to go somewhere before heading to the office or have a source I need to meet to get a story.  Then I turn into chauffeur or taxi driver (the real kind, not DeNiro).  I spend the day as reporter, producer, legal expert, kind ear, shoulder to cry on, philosopher, writer, desk associate, and investigative journalist.  I come home and have to take those hats off again, turning into massage therapist (for the daughter who’s started exercising again) drill sergeant – because NONE of the chores are done – laundress, mathematician, uncle, brother-in-law, Santa’s helper, cook, chef, baker, lunch lady, bartender (for the lunch drinks), boy scout, fire pit fire starter, listener, and both Mom and Dad.  I take on both those roles, and it’s not easy changing from one to the other.  I don’t know how my parents did it individually.  If I’m lucky, at insanely low volume, in the depth of night, I become musician for a few, playing and writing a bit more of my songs I’ve started, and then go back to writer for this blog . . . and then coma patient.  I wouldn’t call what I get sleep.

I’m not alone in this, by the way.  My Dad wasn’t just my Dad.  He was a Pharmacist.  He was a boss.  He was funny, Persian, tall, bearded, classy, smart, a collector of old cars, a restorer of the Austin Healey he owns, a carpenter, a lover of music and my Dad.  None of those was higher on the totem pole than Dad, for sure, but he was Dad.  Mom was a genealogist, researcher, census searcher, cemetery surveyor, historical society president, historian, baker, chef, cook, tailor, and also Mom.

To use that silly, singular, “cute” phrase: “I am my kids’ Dad” is so limiting.  My definition of myself is ever-changing.  When I left O’Neill, Nebraska for college, I was not a confident person.  I was gangly, scared, lacked confidence, geeky, lanky, and probably a little mean without wanting to be.  Then I met Andrea, and my definition changed.  I was none of those things any more (well, geeky, I still had to love my Doctor Who and Clapton records).  I was so out of my depth, a geek who deserved far less and ended up with the pretty, California sun-drenched blonde.  I was her boyfriend.  I was her fiance.  I was . . . her husband, and all that came with it: love, shoulder to cry on, pillar of strength, weak in the knees, infatuated schoolboy, enamored lover, best friend . . . and heartbroken widower.

You see, our definitions change.  If I’m defined only by being Dad, what does that say to my kids?  Parenting is the greatest, most noble and wonderful thing I do.  I do it alone because it’s worth it! But it’s not all I do, and I want my kids to know they are the sum-total of what they become, not the singular things they do.  If I was only Andrea’s husband, my life would be over, the kids would suffer, and I’d either have died from the wound in my heart that is still bleeding or I’d wish for the end to come.  There are days I’m there, but most days I see those four amazing kids and I strive to be better in everything else.

So sure, I’m “my kids’ Dad.”  I’m also musician, journalist, baker, chef, researcher, genealogist, Jeff and Kathy’s son, Mike and Adam’s brother, Amy and Amy’s brother-in-law, angry son-in-law, tenacious muckraker, scared home renter, kid project co-artist, pie maker, butcher, baker, sometime candlestick maker . . .

I am who I’m meant to be today.  I am the writer of my story.

I’m not perfect nor am I meant to be.  I’m Dave.  I don’t fail if I try to be more than I am now.  I only fail if I try to be someone else.