Tag Archives: memoir

Looking Back At Me

img_5002When did those show up? Those points. My skin is falling, my face is aged and aging and now I have points. Hanging on either side, mid chin. They are not shocking, until you notice them. Staring blankly in your mirror shaving. You see them. They are just there.

I don’t remember how old I was when my dad told me that it was mildly haunting to look in the mirror one day and for a second see your father staring back at you. It sounded like it could certainly be freaky. To know that you are looking out of your own eyes, possessing your own body, studying a face that is yours, you know, but doesn’t look anymore like it feels. It feels like that face you had in high school. That young, narrow, strong, perfectly fitting face you had. The one you stared at and inspected for laughs when you were little. Searched for blemishes when you got older. Ignored entirely for what appears to have been 20 years now as you got on making a life.

It was a utilitarian face. One that was being used to see the world, eat the food, drink the drinks, make the jokes, scream the pains, howl with laughter, bare to the elements and wear through it all. You hadn’t considered it for years. And years. And there it was. A face wholly your own but weathered and worn by time.

The first reaction for me was to recoil a tad. How did this happen? Why did this happen? The answers are obvious but the reactions are cascading. Shock, worry, awareness, fear, love and wonder. Reflexively I recall my own father sharing this moment with me, a young boy unaware of how this must have felt. I’m aware now and the moment, the memory of that brief conversation in a room long ago left for others to live in is reformed. Some new meaning, some heavier weight.

I’d never noticed anyone other than me looking back at me in the mirror until recently. I’ve played with faces when I was little, trying to see if I could make myself laugh or be angry or scary or silly. I’ve tried to pull faces, to see what others saw as I came into my own and was desperate to figure out who I was and thought the answer might lay somewhere on my appearance. I tried to hide the emotions I felt that my face betrayed. I’m embarrassed by that now, but shouldn’t be. It was some strange form of embarrassment that compelled me to try so hard to not show anything but anger for some early man years there.

Now I see a hint of my father in that face, but just a hint. There’s some of my mother there to. It’s not what I want it to look like. I want it to have so much more left to find. At least that’s the first thought. I want it to look like me. Like the memory I’ll have of my face whenever I can’t see it. The one that had no cause for lines and no time for sag. The me that was stupid but pretty. The energetic, unknowing eyes. The vibrant and taut skin. The me that wondered what it would feel like to see the years looking back at me from the past.

What Writing Does and Doesn’t Do For Me

Writing. I write to express myself. Sometimes it brings a smile of recognition to those that have known me or shared a portion of the same paths I’ve traveled. Other times in sparks interest of a sort that is more intriguing. Revealing of a self I may never have thought to share or may even have been hugely ¬†invested in hiding. For me writing sublimates rage, actualizes vulnerability and exposes fear. It’s lessened the load considerably.

Sometimes I write merely to impress. To give myself and hopefully some others a few laughs. I like the feeling of making people laugh. I like the feeling of people thinking I’m funny even more. I like them telling me I made them laugh and that I’m funny most. I’m as easily wooed by flattery as anyone. Moreso than many, I’m sure. External validations are sweeter than the internal ones. Not as long lasting, but at least theres a button to push. Can’t always find it, but at least I know its there, waiting to be pressed.

It’s amongst my healthiest coping tools, writing. It’s creative and productive and a tool for reflection that has served me well. I fear the times when I’m uninspired and don’t write for a few weeks. I spent twenty years scrawling incoherent ramblings of rage and confusion into manic and crazy looking notebooks and journals wanting desperately to be a ‘writer’ only to learn it took others reading to make me one.

After that I learned that a facility for words merely means you meet the minimum requirements. What became apparent quickly to me was that I had to start getting naked. I had to start writing down the truths of me and not just the flattering ones. I wrote about rage and failings and experiences I buried deep. I shared my scariest moments and my more vulnerable ones. I have not fully cleaned out the closet as yet, but I’ve made space so when I look in I can make some sense of what’s left in there. I can see it all. I don’t just crumble under the sheer mass of emotional detritus. It’s been a very healing and healthy exercise. One I’m proud of.

If you are one of the few that has read a good deal of my work you’re aware of this. To one degree or another you’ve seen the praise seeking showoff, the vulnerable human and the emotional rager. I’ve kind of put it all out there. What’s not so present is the view you might have of me if you were actually looking at me with your own eyes. Every day.

Writing. It’s the best tool I’ve had to cope. With the pressure of being a dad and a husband. The pressure of working in a field where we are caring for people and their loved ones. Having what feels like a lot of responsibility on me a lot of the time due to both those things. Not to mention the inherrent guilt I seem to have been born with. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t there. It’s the best tool. But it’s not the only tool. Just the best.

The others I won’t get into. I won’t lay them at your feet and wait for some unearned praise, though that needy part desperately wants to. He wants to share all he does from midnight to three, wants to watch the little numbers crawl up. He wants your manipulated respect and even the tender feelings you have and share for a person being truthful about the lesser parts. But they would only validate me and make me more prone to continuing the other things. The ones I won’t share. Not with you or anyone. The parts I don’t want to let go of. That meet me in the middle of the night and stay primary no matter how much I squeeze in to distract me.

Writing is my best tool for coping. I just wish it was enough.

Do You Believe In Miracles

‘Do you believe in miracles!’

¬†Al Michaels iconic cry as time expired in the semi-final game of the Olympic Hockey tournament in 1980 in tiny little Lake Placid, NY. The feelings this can stir in me are notable. They run the gamut from patriotism to belief to hope to astonishment. There was no way we were going to win. They were the best of the best of the Evil Empire, men driven by personal and professional and patriotic duty of their own against our upstart group of ragamuffins. A team of college stars in a sport, Division 1 Mens Hockey, that didn’t make stars. We didn’t even have all the stars. Get me on the topic for too long and I might start to tell you we even had some high schoolers getting valuable minutes. While not technically accurate, as far as narrative goes it would be true enough. We were a nation ready to believe, looking for a miracle and this team, this makeshift team did it. They gave us our miracle.

It’s a thrilling and stirring tale. One capable of inspiring tears and long bouts of sentimental nostalgia. Which is shocking and possibly troubling as I didn’t watch the game. I didn’t even know it was happening. I doubt I learned about it until perhaps 8-10 years later. As best I can tell, we didn’t have it on our radar at my house. I learned of the story by learning about it.

Still the story is worthy of everything it gets and at times I think it’s worth so much more.

I grew up in the height of the Cold War. Russian equaled bad. They were the big bad wolf out to get us, I guess. I mean I remember fearing the idea of that nuclear weapons were in the mix, but that was the extent of my analysis. I was a kid. I saw War Games and I cheered when Rocky beat Ivan Drago (the sonofabitch who killed Apollo Creed). I knew that they were the enemy. My mind and sights were clear, but really I was just a kid. As much as I’ve heard about the tensions of the time I have to say, they didn’t filter down to me.

I grew up in the heartland, really. It’s New York State, but it’s the Great Lakes part of the state. I loved and hated where I grew up. Had nothing to do with where I grew up, I’d have felt that way anywhere. But it was a GREAT place to be a kid. A stupid, oblivious kid. A great place to get your first real kiss while playing truth or dare. A place to get caught by kindly neighbors telling on you that they saw you buying cigarettes at the diner cigarette machine. A great place to fall in love for the first time and to lose your mind when you saw that girl making out with the cool guy who you could never compete with because he was two years older than you and he had not only a license but a car. It was a great place to play basketball, sun up to sundown in playgrounds where other kids were playing. It was a great place to ride your bikes uptown and get pizza or tacos or see a movie or just hang out with all the other kids that lived near, ‘uptown.’ It was a great place to walk to the neighborhood doctor who knew you since you were new. Or to catch crayfish walking barefoot through the crick. It was a great place. Still is.

It wasn’t a place for me to process the Cold War, despite all of it happening, apparently, the whole time I was doing all that other stuff. It wasn’t a place that was nervous or palpably anxious. It wasn’t a place that was out of step and it wasn’t a place that was in line. It was my American experience. I suppose the seeds of what has happened since were around. Factories closed. Our local economy had for generations been underpinned by Kodak and I did see that diminish a ton while I was growing up. Hard not to notice as it was kids parents you went to school with. Other things popped up, but nothing, no amount of things popping up could make up for losing jobs by the tens of thousands, seemingly every year for a couple decades there. Good jobs too. Union jobs for a labor force that often had only needed a high school degree. Just gone. I saw that. Didn’t know it would be such a harbinger of things to come for a pretty big stretch of the country. I imagine my elders did see it coming. Imagine those that stayed saw it coming and to some degree perhaps even got caught standing on the path.

I don’t know what my kids lives will be 30 years from now. My parents weren’t locals to where I’m from and their parents aren’t local to where they’re from. I suspect that trend will continue, but who’s to say. Perhaps my kids will love it here so much that they stay. I would be happy. I would be happy to know that they not only loved where we raised them and found a community of kind and caring friends and neighbors here, but also if they were inclined to stay because the opportunities look like staying was a good decision. I’d like them to have options.

I’m anxious. I’m scared about the direction of so many things. The economy. The hostility that seems to be so prevalent in so many. The rising social issues, some we considered if not resolved, heading inevitably in that direction in the America I grew up in. The role of America in a world in upheaval, without the terrifying order the Cold War provided. I’m hoping this anxiety that seems to be floating free in the world is resolved and my children grow up as I did. Happily oblivious to all that they will one day read about and wonder how they didn’t see it all. Nostalgic for that miracle that is awaiting us just around the corner.

Spies and Rocket Ships

Last night after dinner, before bed we were engaged in the ‘wind down.’ This is what we’ve come to call that time of night that was ‘the witching hour’, when they were younger. Now it’s ‘wind down time.’ I prefer to think that this is not an entirely misleading name for this time, but rather an aspirational one. As is the custom during this time, the boys were running wildly between floors, screaming and laughing and we were in the kitchen, ignoring them as much as we could.

Ignoring a couple of hyped up little boys is impossible, so we ignore them merely as best we can. This is quite the change over a relatively short period of time and frankly, there’s some serious growth that is to be admired in it. After all it wasn’t 4 years ago where we were so scared of anything happening to them that we lived as volunteer shut-ins. I know. It’s hard hearted to invoke the word ‘shut-in’ for the purposes of humor. Fine. We were new parent nut bags so engrossed in over parenting our little ones that we never slept, pulled the alarms for every cough and acted as spotters for the first 10-22 months that they were walking. And I mean every minute of them walking.

So, to be at a place where we can pay only minimal attention to them, to be able to hear patterns of speech without engaging other than to recognize where our required, ‘Sure, buddy.’, or ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’, were needed, well, that’s like Will Hunting fleeing all he knew to pursue his dream and his dream girl at the end of the movie, without so much as a note for Chucky and the rest of the gang knowing damn well they were family and would not only understand but be damn proud of him level of growth we’re talking about.

Well, like all good things this one too had to end, so we jumped back in at some point when we knew we really couldn’t hope to ignore them any longer. Notably, this usually occurs when one punches the other or the other grabs something they want from the other and they bite them instead of relinquishing something of such a precious nature as a tiny, long forgotten instruction booklet from a tiny Lego set we may or may not have ever had, or a found rubber band or some other precious booty they salvage from the flotsam and jetsam of our lives here on this pioneer outpost. But not tonight. Tonight it went the way it should. We ignored, they entertained each other, we re-engaged and voila, this is how you start the bedtime process a mere 2-3 hours later than you always swear you will tomorrow.

‘Did you sign up? Wait, are you signing up tomorrow?’ Charlie asks as I settle in to the couch and start to brush his teeth ten feet from a sink where he could do it himself, but instead we act as servants to these boys who pay only in affection and dependence. Granted, we make out on the deal, still, we may coddle a bit too much.

‘Oh, I’m signing up tomorrow.’ I say and tense up ever so slightly.

‘Okay’ he says.

Phew. I haven’t felt this good about faking my way through since telling my doctor, ‘yeah, I don’t know. I guess I have 2-3 drinks a week.’ Felt pretty good.

‘Remind me again what I’m signing up for?’ You can absolutely be this transparent. THEY DON’T KNOW ANY OF THE TRICKS YET!

‘Spies.’

‘Okay, spies. Sounds like fun. What is it?’ Seriously, you can be this blunt in your blatant disavowing of knowledge you ‘yeah buddy’d’ not 5 minutes earlier.

‘It’s a game.’ Charlie says.

‘Yeah, we are spies and we run around the house.’, said Teddy. He’s even less sure and more confident than me. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one.

‘That sounds fun.’ I say

‘Yeah and tomorrow we’re going to build a real rocket ship.’

‘What!’ I exclaim. This is really taking a turn.

‘Do spies fly rocket ships?’ I ask.

‘Yeah. We’re going to build a real one. A real rocket ship.’, says Charlie. He’s pretty insistent. This is a new and serious tone. They recently saw the Wallace and Gromit short where they build a rocket in the basement and spend the day on the moon, so I’m pretty sure this is real.

‘I believe you.’, I say. ‘What else do spies do.’

‘They fly to space and do experiments and build rocket ships.’ The ‘duh’ was implied.

‘Okay. When are sign ups?’ I ask.

‘Tomorrow. We’re signing up and so are you and mommy.’

Done.

Turns out Spies is a pretty great game. If you ever have the chance I highly recommend signing up.

‘I Like That I’m Weird’

‘Tell me something you love about yourself. What is something about you that you really like.’ his mommy asked.

‘I like that I’m weird. I like ‘small potatoes’. I know it’s supposed to be for little kids, but I like it anyways. I like that I’m weird like that.’ Charlie said.

img_4893img_4891When Karen came down from putting him to bed she could barely contain how excited she was to tell me about this little conversation. She was right to be excited. I couldn’t have been happier to hear it.

‘I like that I’m weird.’ How great is that?

Getting comfortable with my weirdness is something that’s taken me a lifetime. First step for me was seeing that I was weird and trying with all my might to deny/hide it. Since then, since getting to a place where I passed as a normal I’ve been working like nobody’s business to try to unburden myself of my various insecurities and collected disguises. I needed to conform, emotionally. I needed to fit in first. It left me safe and sad. Once there I needed to get back out, which was harder. It was definitely harder to reclaim my ‘weird’ than it was to fit in.

So to hear this news, well, I just wanted to wake him up and tell him how proud I was of him. I wanted to tell him he’d discovered the secret to happiness. I wanted to tell him that loving things you aren’t ‘supposed to’ is something it took me forever to learn to do and longer to be comfortable saying I loved those things. I was so impressed with him. I wanted to open YouTube and start playing endless episodes of ‘Small Potatoes’ with him.

Furthermore I wanted to tell him that his life would forever be better as long as he is true to himself. If you like sports and that’s not weird, so what, it’s true. I guess that’s it. I felt shame around my weirdness. Still do from time to time. Then I come here, I tell on myself and I learn to get comfortable being me. My weird self. My journey is as much about meeting me as it is about meeting the world and he has a moment now, one he can call back on and know, being weird, feeling different, it can be a huge gift!

I love my little weirdos so damn much.

Surviving My Kids Friends Birthday Parties

I was sitting in a room full of 5 and 6 year old’s and their parents this past weekend. We were at one of Charlie’s friends birthday parties. It’s remarkable how much a 6 year old’s birthday has changed since I was a kid. Perhaps I went to one at a McDonald’s once. I don’t think I went to all that many kindergarten birthday parties. If I went to 5 that would seem to be a lot. Now we’re busy like I was during the summers of my late 20’s when I was  traveling every weekend to weddings of friends and family.

17022102_1224967080954027_8283132131191062470_nThis was our second birthday party in as many days from this one kindergarten class and it was at the same location as the first. It was one of those former retail spots made over as a kid-party factory, complete with monstrous bounce houses and inflatable slides. This one was particularly cool as it also had scooters and floor projected interactive video games. Ultimately a perfect place for a couple hours of fun. He loved it.

I also, of course, loved that he loved it and was super appreciative of the family hosting it for giving such a fun experience to our boy. But it’s an awkward place for me. I’ll write more about that in a short while, I’m sure. It’s really worthy of milking for some laughs when you see me, a 43 year old dad to two, so socially petrified that I’m stuck staring at my phone trying hard not to look creepy to all the other, seemingly more socially gifted parents sitting in small groups chatting away. It’s just strange. And I’m not the only dad to end up this way at these things. So UNCOMFORTABLE. But like I said, you’ll get some laughs out of this in a future post, I hope.

Back to the room of kids, eating pizza and drinking juice. They sit there so confident. I recognize this confidence. It’s not social confidence. By 5 or 6 you start to see some self awareness and self consciousness start to sneak in as they observe there classmates and occasionally wonder if they are doing it right. Whatever ‘it’ is. No. This is the confidence in exactly what is shaky inside me. Confidence that those grown ups, as present and attended to as the muffled and ignored teachers and parents in the old Charlie Brown cartoons, are all knowing, never wavering, able to know exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s a blind confidence. Never questioned or examined by the kids. Its exactly the opposite of what I feel at the moment.

Should I sit down? I should sit? Shit, did I make the mom sitting next to me uncomfortable? I should introduce myself. Shit. Of course I just introduced myself to the woman I exchange pleasantries with everyday and of course we know each other. I should stand up. Shit. Did she take that the wrong way? Do I, do we have an enemy now? I’m not eating. Damn it. Should I stand by the wall or hang by the door. I just don’t want to look like a creep and everything is making me look that way. These are my thoughts while my child sits there, assured and confident because I, who knows all and controls all, is present.

I don’t know how all the other parents feel but I have to imagine I’m not the only one that has these moments where it all becomes so clear. We are all doing the best we can. It’s a blend of planning and reacting. It’s a combo of following in footsteps and improvising. It’s intuitive and learned. We all want to do well. There’s never really a time when you know whether or not you are. You win moments, sure you handled something perfectly. Those moments are followed by other moments and that goes on forever.

As much as anything this makes me realize how much of my own life was and to some degree, will always remain a fabrication of my own misunderstanding of what my parents were and what they were doing. And there parents and there parents for as far back as we go. Structures we rely on make it possible and we’ve been fortunate enough in recent generations to have stable structures. It’s hard not to feel a little off balance when so much seems so fragile.

Before I know it Charlie’s asking the nice lady in the party factory uniform for seconds of ice cream cake. Some folks are leaving, getting gift bags, saying thank yous and finding coats. I’ve actually had a nice conversation with another parent, a mom of one of Charlie’s good friends. Everything is back to normal. I know my script and am ready to dad.

‘Yep, time to go, buddy. Did you say thank you? Don’t forget to say Happy Birthday.’

More Than Life Itself

ILYMTLI. I love you more than life itself.

Real people have real tragedy. Sometimes unique and awful. Other times universal and awful. So when Michael ‘positivity’ Davies, he of the Men In Blazers podcast, thanked the many GFOP’s (fans of the podcast) who’d reached out through email and social media to send their condolences for the recent passing of his mother, I could feel his pain, even if he wasn’t sharing it. He remained positive, remained grateful. But in there I could hear the sadness and in the sadness I could see the love he had for the woman he credited with making him a football fan.

In wrapping up the discussion, before moving on to the weeks events in the Premier League, he noted that he loved how his mother always signed off on everything she wrote to him with ILYMTLI. It stood for ‘I love you more than life itself’, which both hosts agreed was practically a gushing paean to the love of a mother for her child for a woman of her generation in England. What with their stiff upper lip defiance of the decimating effects of the war. He knew he was loved and felt lucky to have been told so. He was made more aware of how appreciative he was when she passed.

I think love, in addition to all it’s other benefits, is a tool we have to understand life. At the moment while I’m in the middle, little ones to one side and wise old heads to the other, I’m starting to understand the scope of my life because I can see the most of it that I ever will. I am lucky that the bonds I have reflect what Mrs Davies so clearly felt and what was so clearly perceived by her son. My mother and my father loved and love their children more than life itself. I love my children the same way. I love them far more than I ever knew I could love anyone. Maybe love, the type that stretches out looking to connect, to understand, maybe that is running a deficit these days. Maybe our seeming lack of empathy, however it has come to be is creating negative spaces for unexpected and unrecognized compassion to grow.

There is love in the relief. Amidst the unwavering anxiety and stress is a love and empathy that is unmistakeable. I write often emotionally attached, perspective driven, heartwarming stories that satisfy fully ones need for warmth, my need for it. But if I’m being honest there is often a shadow energy of fear and sorrow and worry. It may be unspoken, or it may be hinted at but most times its there and it allows for my evocations of love and hope to have more impact. I’m not suffusing the stories or anything, that’s just the reality for me right now. All of this, life itself has only become something I can truly appreciate now that I am able to see that I can’t hold it forever. Now that I know that the stories I’m most intrigued by, most invested in, most in love with, my sons, are stories that must outlast my time here. That’s if I’m lucky. I won’t dare entertain other outcomes. But the slippery nature of life, the dawning understanding of my own mortality at the same time as I learn my purpose can lend an underlying air of sadness that is often the impetus to live more fully and more in the moment and can result in great joy and peace and love.

Love does important work when it is hiding in the background, allowing space for fear and anger and envy and anxiety. Love is smart and sees the long game. Love knows survival wins in the end and is content to wait quietly in the background for her moment while her more eager and urgent compatriots burn themselves out. Those other emotions for all their bluster are unsustainable. She stays steady in the air we breathe and finds just the moment to engage again.

Love, empathy, compassion. These are things that disguise themselves as wonderful frivolities but they are not frivolous. They are the ultimate payoff for our toils. Without them all of this, all of life, so grand and connected, is for nothing.

There is a lot of love that is going to be needed someday when all the anger and fear that are so ubiquitous in the air right now burns out. I hope it does so before it grows and causes irrevocable tragedy. I hope that we are able to correct our course before the whole world is set aflame. I’m doing my best to protect the spaces that are safe for tenderness and caring. But those spaces that feel safe are getting smaller and smaller.

I hope for an equal swing to love and empathy and kindness and understanding that will arise as the pendulum swings back the other way, whenever that my be.