Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Lost Followers

Are you not entertained?

Are you not entertained?

I lost readers—at least three—after disclosing that this place has been compromised.

My place.

To write. To opine. To emote.

Maybe they decided I’m a fraud and jumped ship.

Maybe they’re people in my ex’s and I’s personal lives that no longer felt comfortable playing voyeur now that she’s in the loop.

Maybe they were among the many new followers picked up when a post I wrote about Clean Copy was widely circulated by WordPress, and they quickly discovered my personal stories weren’t their particular cup of tea.

Maybe I offended them with all of my bad language in the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde post.

Or maybe they think I’ll stop being honest now since my ex might be reading. Maybe they think I already have. Maybe they think I never was.

On Rejection

I don’t take it well.

Never have.

While I was never the most-popular kid in school, I was also never the kid getting picked on, or the last to be picked in a playground football game.

I’ve always fared reasonably well socially.

I always had predominantly good luck getting jobs. I interview well because I’m nice and I think interviewers can tell I care and have genuine passion.

But then I was laid off. Living on The Unemployment Line for a year and a half before finally finding the job I have now.

My editors at the paper assured me it was a financial decision. I had to be the one because I had the least seniority on the editorial staff. That it had nothing to do with my value.

But, you know what?

That can’t be true.

If I had been an all-star-caliber employee? A magnificent reporter and writer? There’s no way in hell they send me packing.

I failed to make myself indispensible.

So, when the economic crunch happened and employers had to make tough choices, I was tossed on the other side of the line upon further evaluation. With the group of people they could manage without.

I’ve had plenty of girls not want to go out with me. But I never had my heart broke by one until my marriage failed.

There was so much at stake. Nine years. A child. Family ties. Mutual friends.

And in the final analysis, I was deemed the worse option. Divorce was the lesser of two evils.

I am so much more sensitive to rejection now than I used to be.

Girls that might not have even been real people not writing me back on online-dating sites felt like needles.

Friends withdrawing post-divorce has felt even worse.

Somewhere in the middle are people who once decided: Yeah, I want to read more from this guy. Only to read more and decide it was a nuisance. Bullshit. A waste of their time.

I can only think of that great scene in Gladiator where Maximus violently ruins a few dudes in the gladiator arena to the horror and astonishment of a crowd that was blood-thirsty just moments before. He screams at them: “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?”

Own It

Then.

Pause.

Get a grip, Matt.

Breathe.

You have to own your shit.

Or, in mature-speak, you must accept responsibility for your actions. In each and every situation in which you find yourself.

Life cannot be a series of unfortunate events happening to you. You’ll be a victim you’re entire life if that’s how you think about things.

Life must be a series of choices you make to control the action. To dictate the outcomes you want. With courage. And faith. And fortitude.

You know why girls on Match didn’t write me back? Because I wrote them suck-ass emails. Because I haven’t made my body something they want to touch. Because I don’t represent the type of successful and confident and bold and brave and strong person they find attractive. Maybe even because I have a son. And that beautiful little man is a choice I’ll make over and over and over again at the expense of my dating life forever.

Own your shit.

You know why I lost my job?

Because I didn’t make myself indispensible. I didn’t work harder than every other person. I didn’t write the most stories. Or the best. I wasn’t the best journalist in the newsroom. All the best ones got to keep their jobs. There’s a lesson here about how it’s in our best interest to give our jobs—if we value them—the very best we have each and every day. To take nothing for granted. Because it’s on us to be the best we can be. No one is responsible for us having jobs. Or money. Or job satisfaction. Or long-term career success. We’re responsible. Make the choice every day to be great.

Own your shit.

You know why I lost my wife?

Because I was a shitty husband. I’m not going to rehash it. We all fall short. We all mess up. We all do things to hurt others. We all sin.

But is there any doubt that I could be blissfully married with an amazing job and my happy wife and child—or possibly more children—if I’d chose every single day to be great? To love unselfishly? To be kind even when it was inconvenient?

I don’t get to be married anymore in large part because of me.

Our lives are the sum of our choices.

Don’t point fingers.

Look in the mirror.

And be strong.

And love yourself.

And forgive yourself.

And commit to giving your all today in every endeavor that truly matters to you.

Be indispensible in life and love.

Do it for the people who write your paychecks.

Do it for your partners.

Do it for your children.

But mostly, do it for yourself.

The world doesn’t owe me a thing. Nothing. But I owe the world.

I’m sad I lost those followers. Those readers. But they don’t owe me.

I owe them.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Marmot and the Cynic

A sleepy marmot.

A sleepy marmot.

A fellow blogger and kindred spirit has a crush on MBTTTR.

Don’t take my word for it.

He wrote a ridiculously kind and flattering post about it yesterday.

Then, ANOTHER blogger friend and I were talking about the challenge of accepting compliments gracefully.

It’s a tricky thing.

  1. No one likes egotism.
  2. Everyone likes humility. (Unless its fake.)
  3. People don’t see themselves as others do. 

Because of my writing here, and the open lines of communication with the outside world, I’ve been absolutely flooded with kindness. With people saying very nice and very flattering things about the words I type here.

My ex-wife wasn’t big on compliments. That wasn’t one of the ways in which she would show support, if being supportive was even on her agenda that day.

Losing my job on Dec. 31, 2009 was the first crushing blow I took as an adult.

Husband, father, unemployed.

For 18 months.

What kind of a man can’t find a job for 18 months?

Maybe I’m not as smart, likable, capable or skilled as I thought I was.

Then, my first crushing death.

What did we do to deserve all this bad stuff? Why is all this happening to us?

Then, my second crushing death. My marriage. On life support. Waiting to be put down. I was screaming at the lifeless comatose vegetable. Pleading for a response. But life had exited stage right before the second act begun.

As David, the author of The Marmot in My Head knows all too well, the end of a relationship is draining.

It saps energy. Happiness. Life. Confidence.

David has been though divorce, too. And then he came out of it. And then more relationships. With their own stories. With their own endings. With their own flavor of heartache.

You mean, I have to be scared of the end of even more relationships? I might have to do this again? More than once?

It’s petrifying.

And I’m messy now. This is all so new. From age 29 to now at 34. So much has changed.

A son. Unemployment. A career change. Death. A divorce.

I still barely recognize myself sometimes.

And now there’s this new me.

This digital me. This collection of words and sentences and random thoughts spewed onto the screen.

In some ways, it’s more me than the guy everyone knows in real life. Because I tell you things that stay behind the mask at the masquerade party that is my life.

And in other ways, this isn’t like the real me.

Because in this place, I am bombarded with positivity. With kindness. With appreciation. With encouragement.

Some of you even think I know what I’m doing. That I’m not just some scared, insecure guy embarrassed about my life circumstances and wishing I wasn’t spending so much time alone.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m, quite literally, making all this up as a go along.

Just hoping it will matter to enough people so that something good can come from it. For you. For me. For the people we know in our real lives.

But then something nice happens. Something really nice.

Someone reaches out to you privately, and you make a connection, and you grow and encourage one another.

WordPress editors decide what you’re doing matters, and they give you a nice attaboy.

A fellow writer and all-around perfectly flawed, kind, smart and well-intentioned human being and kindred spirit takes a moment to be kind.

I appreciate so much all of the kindness being sent my way.

I appreciate so much all of the compliments offered.

And I apologize, sincerely, if my self-deprecating nature has left any of you feeling like your niceties were falling on unappreciative, deaf ears.

They were not.

Yesterday was an absolutely wonderful day because of a bunch of people I’ve never even met before.

Thank you.

The Cynical Philanthropist

Actually, I can’t be sure he’s a philanthropist at all.

The only thing I do know is that I’m more sensitive than I should be about what people think of me.

And yesterday evening, I got my most-negative comment to date.

It made me sad. Legitimately sad for maybe 20 minutes.

But then a bunch of new commenters said a bunch of new nice things and all the ugly went away.

I wrote a post not long ago called, uncreatively, Pay it Forward, which told the story of a stranger paying for my lunch at a drive-thru window, prompting me to write about generosity and random acts of kindness.

Within the post, I wrote something that I thought was one of the more-important things I’ve ever written on this blog.

I wrote: “Cynicism never made much sense to me. Because every cynic in the world could prove themselves wrong simply by displaying unconditional generosity just one time.”

I’m right about that.

Each cynic is one unselfishly kind act away from delegitimizing their entire way of life.

The cynical commenter suggested that drive-thru charity is bullshit.

He wrote this: “Drive-though kindness is very misguided. People who are rich enough to own a car, too lazy to cook their own food, and too lazy to even get out of that car don’t need or deserve anyone’s help.

“If you want to really help people then find some poor, starving, desperate and maybe even homeless person who is really suffering and help that person.”

Really? That’s the key takeaway?, I thought.

I replied: “A cynic! How fun!

“Kindness discrimination? Based on relative wealth? Some young mother of three with a terminally ill father, an unexpected automotive bill to keep her car running and the stress of living in a brand new city with no friends doesn’t deserve the pick-me-up of a random act of kindness?

“Or worse… You want to tell people motivated to perform such an act that their generosity is bullshit? Unworthy? Not good enough? Because someone else gave more to some other thing?

“Sorry, sir. Can’t co-sign.

“Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone deserves lifted up. Everyone, regardless of means, can benefit from love.”

I drive a pretty nice car. My house is far from extravagant, but compared to homeless people and those living in impoverished or third-world conditions, it’s the Taj Mahal. Especially for a guy living alone half the time. I hardly have any extra cash laying around, but I’m paid pretty respectable wages. Well above the median household income in my area.

But, you know what?

I’m kind of a mess. My life has never, ever been worse.

I’m frequently sad. Frequently lonely. Frequently wondering if, when, and how this will ever change.

But then it happens.

A random act of kindness.

A sweet note from a stranger.

An encouraging text message from an old friend.

A hug from my son.

An unbelievably kind and flattering gesture from a fellow writer.

And then, for a moment…

Balance.

The world is right.

A little less ugly.

A little more beautiful.

Cynicism is a scourge on humanity.

And kindness is the weapon of choice to combat it.

Join the fight.

A Great Marmot-Related Moment in Cinematic History

Right around the 40-second mark.

Tagged , , , , ,

Chauncey Billups Isn’t Real

As a child, I feared nothing. And I was going to be anything I wanted. No limits.

As a child, I feared nothing. And I was going to be anything I wanted. No limits.

I wanted to go to outer space.

Fly in space shuttles. Eat shitty space ice cream. Play on the moon. Colonize Mars.

I wanted to be an astronaut.

I grew up very close to the hometown of Neil Armstrong where they have an air and space museum named in honor of the first human being to set foot on the moon.

I had a lot of space books. I was always fascinated by the size and scope of Saturn. Jupiter. The Sun.

Our solar system is ridiculously awesome. And I wanted to see it all. I read a lot of little-kid space books growing up. I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger explode live on national television with a bunch of other kids in an elementary school gymnasium in first grade.

And STILL, I wanted to go out there. Unfazed.

I was young. Hopeful. Ambitious.

There were no limits. No restrictions on my dreams.

I was fearless.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t genius enough to know astrophysics.

It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anything about aviation. Or engineering. Or advanced mathematics.

I was too ignorant to be scared of the dangers of shuttle launches. About how harsh and unpleasant the environments of every known non-terrestrial place actually is. To concern myself with the amount of time necessary to traverse the solar system.

Being a kid is amazing.

Who cares that I was never actually going to be an astronaut?

I wanted to be one. I believed I could be one. And I was happy.

Isn’t that all we really want? Happiness?

Of course it is.

Kids are our role models.

The ones that don’t know ANYTHING about limitations. Like my five-year-old son.

There are some lessons to be learned from their unbridled belief in what we might call the impossible.

The Death of a Basketball Star 

There’s only one problem with the mind of a five-year-old to whom facts don’t matter.

They sometimes use their no-limit superpowers to challenge truth. Conventional wisdom. Irrefutable proof.

My son’s godfather is one of my dearest childhood friends. An attorney who took care of all the legal work for my divorce hearing.

He has three daughters. They all have very pretty, relatively typical girl names.

But he doesn’t always call them by their names.

He calls them Frank. Or Rick. Or G.S. (an abbreviation for ‘gutter slut’).

It sounds approximately like this:

Daughter: “Daddy?”

Her father: “Yes, Rick?”

Daughter: “[Sister’s name] is taking all the dresses and doing something bad to them.”

Her father: “Hey! Frank! Stop being a little G.S.!”

This sort of thing makes me laugh and is consistent with the types of immature things we’ve been laughing about for close to 30 years.

Over the past few years or so, I’ve taken to calling people Chauncey. Or Chauncey Billups.

Billups is a five-time NBA All-Star point guard who has literally played for 25 percent of the NBA teams, but is most well-known for playing with the Detroit Pistons who he led to an NBA championship in 2004, winning MVP of the NBA Finals.

I like his name. Calling someone a Chauncey just feels so… organic. I do it a lot. I did it this morning to a driver who didn’t use his turn signal right after displaying total suckage at all other facets of motor-vehicle operation.

I call my son “Chauncey” or “Chauncey Billups” several times per week.

About a month ago, my son started saying “Chauncey Billups isn’t real!” every time I called him that.

I tried in vain to explain that, yes, Chauncey Billups is actually real. He’s a basketball player. In his prime, a pretty darn good one. And that he is a very real person. I showed him photos.

Doesn’t matter.

He’s five.

Facts don’t matter.

He can be anyone. Do anything. Create any reality.

Chauncey Billups isn’t real.

And Sometimes They’re Just Cute

I spent the past week writing down all of the things that kid said to me that made me laugh, just because.

Here are the highlights:

Me: “Good God, you smell like poop.”

Him: “That’s because I just went poop, dude.”

He grabbed a little toy. A little robot guy that can transform into a ball. He named him “Bowler” a couple years ago, and the name stuck.

“Hey Dad! Watch how fast Bowler is!” *does some rad fly-by move with Bowler and makes a whooshing noise* “He’s so fast he can fly through metal. He can fly through iron. NOTHING can cut through iron. Not even a pick ax. Right, Dad?”

We were eating Cleveland Indians peanuts on the deck off the back of the house. He loves cracking the shells as opposed to eating peanuts from a jar.

He said, “These are the best nuts. Are they the best nuts in your life, Dad?”

Then we were discussing our favorite sports teams. Basically all of the Cleveland sports teams because we hate happiness, apparently. The Browns in football. The Cavaliers in basketball. The Indians in baseball.

“You know who my favorite soccer team is?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Tommy’s.”

“Tommy’s? Your friend at school?”

“Yeah. He’s the fastest runner in the whole school. I promise. He told me.”

He and I were practicing letters and reading one morning last week before work and school. Picking out words we could find on various objects. I have a fitness ball in my bedroom that I don’t spend enough time on. The brand is PURE.

“Hey, dude. Do you know what this says?” I said.

“P-U-R-E. That spells ‘exercise,’” he said.

He and I were watching a National Geographic special about dangerous reptiles. There was a segment about crocodiles.

“Hey, Dad. Saltwater crocs are cool. They can go in saltwater AND regular water.

“They can go in hot water AND cold water.

“They can go in any kind of water.”

He brought home a book from his school library titled Why Do Snakes Hiss?.

He pointed to the question mark in the title.

“Look, Dad! A mystery mark.”

“You mean, a question mark?”

“No. It’s a mystery mark.”

“Oh. You guys must call them that at school. That’s cool. But sometimes it’s called a question mark, buddy. It’s the symbol you write when you’re asking a question.”

He looked at me like I was the biggest dipshit on Earth.

“It’s a mystery mark.”

“Daddy’s a writer. I know about things like this.”

“Oh yeah? Well I can spell every color,” he said.

“Fine. Call it a mystery mark. You don’t have to be a little Chauncey about it.”

“Chauncey Billups isn’t real.”

Totally real.

Totally real.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Pay It Forward

Give without expecting anything in return. Then everything starts to change.

Give without expecting anything in return. Then everything starts to change.

“There are two ways to live your life. One, as though nothing is a miracle. The other, as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Someone I don’t know and can’t thank bought me lunch yesterday.

My friend and co-worker was kind enough to bring lunch to me at the office when I had work piled up and couldn’t get away. The driver in the car in front of her at the drive-through pickup window paid for one of our meals.

She should have accepted the generous act for herself. But she chose to let my order be the gift.

So, I kind of felt like two people bought me lunch when she brought me food and returned all my money.

So many little good things like this have been happening to me lately.

And they serve as an important reminder to care about others.

To focus on the good and beauty of humanity, instead of all the horribleness.

It’s so easy to find and focus on the shit.

Newspapers, magazines and television practically scream it at us.

The miracles are more subtle. All the good.

But it’s there.

If you just look closer.

Listen harder.

Shhhhhhh.

See it?

Hear it?

Actually, There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Cynicism never made much sense to me.

Because every cynic could prove themselves wrong simply by displaying unconditional generosity just one time.

During my first summer interning at a daily newspaper, I was asked to cover a Zig Ziglar talk. Ziglar died last year after years of motivational speaking and training and writing bestsellers.

When I was 20, I wasn’t ready for what he had to say.

I just didn’t get it.

“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want,” Ziglar said. Over and over again, he said it.

That wasn’t registering with me 14 years ago. I wasn’t ready.

Remember when you were a little kid, experiencing the magic of Christmas morning? Gifts, gifts, and more gifts? And you just celebrated the greed and excess because you were a little heathen child narcissist shithead like me?

And you’d hear some well-meaning adult—maybe one of your parents—say something like: “It’s so much better to give than receive.”

And you’d nod in agreement, but in your head, you were like: Yeah, right, dipshit. I got a Lite-Brite and a Nintendo and a new bike. Santa hooked me up. Because I was so freaking good this year. Have fun giving shit away, though!

But then you got older.

And Santa stopped bringing you toys because you weren’t so good this year.

But then you gave a gift to someone else.

Your spouse.

Your children.

Your parents.

Your friends.

And all the sudden your parents don’t sound so silly anymore. Ziglar’s message starts to seem a little less crazy.

That feeling inside of you, telling you all you need to know about the power of giving.

The power of helping people. Even in the smallest of ways.

Listen. Smile. Care. Try.

You’ll change the world if you do.

The Drive-Thru Difference

So apparently this is a thing.

A quick Google search taught me that many radio stations encourage listeners to be part of the Drive-Thru Difference, both to give, and to call or write the radio station with stories just like this one.

Where someone—without agenda—performed an intentional act of kindness.

Driver A pulls into Starbucks. Buys her coffee and pays for the driver behind her as well.

Driver B gets to the window. Learns that the stranger in front of him paid for his coffee this morning. He smiles. His day just started off beautifully. He doesn’t hesitate to pay for the order for Driver C behind him.

It’s a chain reaction of smiles. Of positivity. Of good deeds. And it sometimes goes on and on and on.

And it only took one. Just one thoughtful person at a drive-through window.

The miracle of generosity.

When my friend got back to the office with lunch, she handed me a piece of paper the checkout window person had handed her.

It was a note from the person I wish I could thank.

It read:

“You don’t know me, but I’ve just paid for your order. Paying for someone’s order is a simple way to brighten someone’s day. Hopefully it brightens yours. Maybe you’ll feel like doing it for someone else.

Hope you have a great day!

—   The stranger in the car ahead of you.”

What do you mean one person can’t make a difference?

What do you mean you can’t?

It’s out there. The good.

If we only look closer.

Only listen harder.

Shhhhhhh.

See it?

Hear it?

I do.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Giving Tree

You don't notice my favorite tree. Because it's unremarkable. Right up until it turns a brilliant red, makes the world a better place, and reminds us that we all have something special that isn't always obvious at first glance.

You don’t notice my favorite tree. Because it’s unremarkable. Right up until it turns a brilliant red, makes the world a better place, and reminds us that we all have something special that isn’t always obvious at first glance.

It just stands there.

Quiet, steady and stoic.

The ultimate wallflower.

I rarely notice it. It looks just like thousands of others. Millions, even.

But then the calendar turns.

And autumn’s annual pilgrimage begins once again, delivering the deft touch of Mother Nature’s paintbrush.

The Ohio countryside, her canvas.

The magnificent trees, a spectacular display of her talents.

I forget every year. The breathtaking beauty of it all. But then the sun shines just right—causing fiery reds and oranges and yellows to burst from the green.

And my favorite tree stands out from them all.

It’s neither tall nor short. Neither big nor small. Neither insignificant nor particularly noteworthy.

Not most of the time, anyway.

But then fall happens. Abscission. The death of the phoenix.

Almost every day I see this tree.

And it’s always just a tree.

Only yesterday it was more.

The sunlight danced with it, showcasing vibrant reds and purples as the green slowly concedes that winter marches forth.

Unrivaled beauty in a sea of arboreal competition.

I stopped and stared at it several times.

And that’s when it dawned on me how much that tree was like us.

Like people.

People like me.

People like you.

Just a Number

My stepdad taught me many wonderful life lessons.

He’s the man who taught me how important wisdom was. Sometimes we humans spend a lot of time focusing on intelligence, wealth, and our eternal pursuit of happiness—whatever that is—and don’t think much about being wise, perhaps at the expense of other things we want.

It’s almost never wrong to err on the side of wisdom.

But he once told me something I wasn’t wise enough to disagree with at the time.

We were discussing my college plans over dinner. He, my mother and I. I was enrolled in a small, Catholic high school. There were just 75 kids in my graduating class. Just under 400 in the entire school.

And I liked it. It’s what I knew. I liked knowing almost everyone. Having almost everyone know me.

But for college, I was thinking about bigger, public universities. My parents wanted me to go to a small, private school.

“At a big school, you’re just a number, Matt,” my stepdad said.

The implication being, it’s hard to succeed. To be somebody. To make a difference.

I only nodded, not necessarily disagreeing.

Of course it’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond.

But I don’t really care about being a big fish.

I want to be a bright light.

And one bright light can illuminate a whole bunch of darkness.

More Than Just a Number

That’s what you are. More than just a number.

And that’s what that person over there is. That person you don’t know and aren’t paying attention to. They’re someone who matters, too.

We’re not just numbers.

But we blend in, though. Just like my favorite tree.

We’re easy to miss, sometimes.

People buzz along in their cars and trucks passing this tree every day. And most of the time it looks just like the rest. Green leaves. Typical. And in the winter, no leaves at all. Hardly worth a second look.

They don’t pay attention. Why would they?

The tree just sits there, contributing silently. Doing its small part to pump oxygen into the air. To support life.

Growing. Maturing. Just a little more every day.

But still, we don’t pay attention.

The bare, leafless tree looks just like the people I pass on my morning commutes in other cars who are paying equally little attention to me.

Just another thing taking up space. In a vast sea of seemingly forgettable things.

There’s nothing remarkable about any of it most of the time.

The tree can even look sad, shrouded in the gray of winter.

But the clocks keep ticking.

The planet keeps spinning and pirouetting around the sun.

And then light. And warmth.

New life.

And like that phoenix, it rises from its own ashes, giving birth to color and beauty once again.

And it sits. Fitting in. Looking pretty, but unexceptional. Not calling attention to itself at all.

Only the tree is not unexceptional.

It’s special. And unique.

It’s perfect in its simple, everyman form.

Quiet, steady and stoic.

Waiting patiently for that next moment to shine on another exquisite, future autumn day.

Capturing our awe.

Being more than just a number.

Filling us with gratitude.

And giving us hope.

Photo courtesy of Yazhang Photography

Photo courtesy of Yazhang Photography

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Almost Stepdad

There are multiple ways to lose a child. To lose a parent. None of them are good.

There are multiple ways to lose a child. To lose a parent. None of them are good.

One of my best friends just lost two children.

Two little boys. The oldest, 5, and his younger brother, 3.

The kids are still alive.

They weren’t kidnapped.

But he lost them just the same. Because his adult relationship with their mother broke. Because of disagreements and friction and differences and misunderstandings that had absolutely nothing to do with them.

One day, a man had sons. Boys had a father figure.

The next day, they did not.

The five-year-old and my friend Randy were particularly close. The three boys—3, 5, and 34—would pile into bed together at the end of a long day and watch a football game. Or a race. Or a cartoon.

The boys’ mother owned a house adjacent to a golf course. Randy would take the five-year-old out to the 150-yard marker on the hole nearest the house each night, and the two would hit approach shots into the green and putt out, practicing, trying different shots, working on their swings and ball striking.

“He’s a little stud,” Randy told me over breakfast this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio. He beamed with pride talking about how awesome this five-year-old boy could hit a golf ball.

“His dad taught him well.”

How it’s Supposed to Be

I have a stepdad. A good man. A guy that did these EXACT same things with me.

Taught me to read. Taught me to ride a bike. Taught me to swim. Taught me how to kick, punt and catch a football. Taught me how to use follow through on my free throw shots in basketball.

He was the man I sat next to throughout most of my childhood, watching all those ballgames.

My biological father who I wrote about in The Champion is a fan of Chicago sports teams. The Bears. The Bulls. The Cubs.

But I grew up in Ohio since before my fifth birthday. With my mom. And eventually, my stepdad.

And when I was five and six and seven I was sitting on the couch watching the Cleveland Browns—the sports team I still love today above all others.

That was my stepdad’s influence. His doing.

My father probably felt a little knife twist anytime I’d mention my affinity for the Cleveland Browns. He had to know it was because of my stepdad.

I know I wanted to light myself on fire anytime my son mentioned Rich Guy’s name—the man my wife was sleeping with.

But my father respected my stepdad. Because he knew he was a good man. And that he genuinely cared about his son. His only child. Me.

In return, my stepdad never said an unkind word about my father, even though my mother wasn’t afraid to verbalize all of her frustrations with him in front of me.

In their own, unspoken way, these two men—my two fathers—had one another’s backs. On my behalf.

I recognized that same dynamic when my friend Randy spoke fondly of the boys he had spent so much time with, forming that special stepdad-child bond even though he and the mother had yet to make it official.

Life has a way of delivering really important people to us during critical times.

Like angels.

And while these friends, mentors, spiritual guides, guardians play invaluable roles in our life journeys, the end of those relationships can sometimes be a little messy.

Things always get a little messy whenever humans are involved.

The Loss No One Talks About

Divorce and broken homes are more common than ever. And there are more people on Planet Earth today than ever.

Which means this loss is being experienced by more and more people all the time.

I won’t insult the all-important biological bond that binds parents and children. My stepdad is one of the most-important people in my life. But he can’t replace my father.

On the flip side, I believe strongly that we choose our families. That some people are so important and special and spiritually connected to us that a new kind of family relationship is born.

You see it in relationships between adopted children and their new parents.

You see it in best friends.

You see it between coaches and players. Teachers and students. Soldiers. People united in crisis or tragedy.

Losing children this way must be horrible.

My home is broken. And I miss my son every day he’s not here. And I didn’t deserve to lose him. But I still get to see him. Half the time.

And, I must feel gratitude for that. No matter how bitter that pill is to swallow. No matter how screwed over I feel from my wife’s exodus the day after Easter just a little more than six months ago. I need to maintain perspective.

Because my friend Randy loved two children. Unselfishly embracing the role of stepfather. And doing a great job.

And now he lives alone again. No warm body in his bed. No children to tuck in at night or greet in the morning.

I stood on the deck behind Randy’s townhome last weekend. The one he had to take off the market and move back into after vacating the house where his ex-girlfriend and two sons live. A bunch of people were at Randy’s with me, drinking beer, eating delicious food, telling jokes.

A lady named Molly and I were talking. She’s good friends with both Randy and his ex-girlfriend. On the wall of the little boys’ home hang photos of their little league teams.

Randy coached those teams and is in all the photos.

“There’s Randy! There’s Randy!” the boys always say, excitedly when they spot him in the photos.

“Those boys miss him so much,” Molly said to me in a quiet moment. “They love him.”

“We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to,” I said to Randy over breakfast. “Believe me, I know how unpleasant rehashing everything can be.”

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “You know, it’s funny. Not being with her isn’t nearly as hard as not getting to see those boys.

“I really miss them. They’re the best.”

“Do you think there’s any chance for reconciliation?” I asked Molly outside Randy’s house.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But there’s always hope.”

Author’s Note: A special thank you to any stepparents who might be reading. You’re doing God’s work. And I appreciate you. And for those of you who have lost children you love because of broken relationships with the kids’ biological parents, my heart breaks for you. God bless all of you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Pottymouth Training

This is not my son. I'm exploiting someone else's son in addition to mine.

This is not my son. I’m exploiting someone else’s child in addition to my own.

It must have been between songs, because I tend to play music loudly, even with my five-year-old son in the Jeep.

But I know what I heard.

“Dammit,” muttered my little kindergartner while playing a handheld video game.

What the… !?!?

“Hey! What’d you just say?” I asked him over my shoulder.

He didn’t answer.

Maybe I was just hearing things. He’s only five. He doesn’t know what he’s saying half the time. And where would he learn to talk like that anyway?

Suddenly, a driver switched lanes in front of me without using a turn signal, forcing me to tap my brakes, move my steering wheel maybe an inch, and go insane for three seconds. I involuntarily screamed: “WHAT’S YOUR FUCKING PROBLEM, DIPSHIT!?!?”

I cringed and braved a glance toward the backseat to make sure my kindergartner was still blissfully wrapped up in his video game.

2012-07-13_6307_Gilligan
Nope.

The Troublemaker

I’ve worked my current job for two and a half years.

In that short time, I’ve been called into my boss’ office at least four times and asked to watch my language and to refrain from using large, inanimate objects as huge, fake penises. (For the record, he swears every bit as much as I do. He’s just more discerning in his timing. Or as I like to say, less honest.)

I like to goof off.

I don’t care what you think about it. I’m going to die someday. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in three minutes.

And a bunch of terrible shit is always happening to me, you and everyone else.

Adrian Peterson’s little two-year-old son was beaten to death by one of the world’s worst human beings last week. Our federal government is shut down and it barely matters to the average American because we’re too busy playing on our iPhones OR trying to cope with whatever horrible thing is happening in our personal lives.

I’m just not going to sit around being serious all the time. I’m not.

If that makes me immature, then fine. I’m immature.

If that makes me irresponsible, then fine. I’m irresponsible.

If that makes me an inadequate, asshole father, then fine. Tell me something I don’t know.

I’ve written this once before, and it was super-true, so I’m going to again: I’ve never been particularly bad. But I’ve always been pretty mischievous.

And I can’t stop.

Won’t stop.

You’re welcome.

And you know what else I’m not (part of the time)?

A hypocrite.

So, when my son is mischievous once in a while, what am I supposed to do? Give him the old “Do as I say, not as I do” speech? That speech is bullshit. And I have a feeling he’s already smart enough to know that.

Because he’s my little man. 

You Stupid Bastard

Because my son is me and I am my father and my father was a troublemaker, he let me watch movies he probably shouldn’t have when I was young.

Not like hardcore pornography and serial killer documentaries or anything, but PG-13 stuff where they said bad words here and there. Like Teen Wolf and Back to the Future when I was only six or seven years old. Actually, they were PG. But it was PG-13, by today’s standards.

It was watching those movies where I learned every bad word except “Fuck,” the black mamba of swear words, and one I wish I used much less than I do.

One time, when I was six or seven, I was riding in the backseat of my dad’s white early 80s Chevy Caprice Classic, probably listening to REO Speedwagon or Prince. My aunt was in the front passenger seat.

My dad said something that prompted me to bust out some of my newly learned vocab words.

“You stupid bastard!” I verbally jabbed from the backseat.

My dad and aunt looked at one another, pausing for a beat, then burst out laughing.

“Where did you learn the word ‘bastard’?” Dad asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Did you know that was a bad word?” he asked.

“No.”

“It’s a bad word, son. And one children should not say or hear,” he said.

My aunt chimed in.

“Do you know what a bastard is, Matt?”

“No.”

“It’s a mean name for someone you don’t like,” she said. “Do you want to call your dad mean things?”

“No.”

“Good. It’s not nice to call people bastards,” she said.

And I never did that again until I was old enough to mean it.

Dammit, the Delivery is Perfect

Since that day in the Jeep, I’ve heard Owen say “Dammit” three separate times.

But here’s the thing.

He kills it. He’s five! I’m proud of him when he does big-boy stuff.

And busting a perfectly timed “Dammit” IS a big-boy thing.

Owen: “Hey Dad! Watch me yo-yo!”

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *flubs it* “Dammit!”

Owen: “Hey Dad! Check out this cool tower I built!”

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *knocks it over* “Dammit!”

Owen: “Hey Dad! Can I watch a show after my bath?”

Me: “Sorry, babe. It’s too close to bedtime. Just books tonight.”

Owen: “Dammit!”

And when I say, it’s perfect, I mean it. It’s perfect. Just the right tone. Not angry. Just sort of mock disappointment.

I laugh every time he does it. Bad dad!

But I always calmly explain why we don’t say that word in terms he can understand. How it’s only for adults. Like beer and caffeine and heroin. (I’m kidding about the caffeine.)

I remind him that if he ever says it at school, he’ll immediately have a “red day.” They have color-coded behavior charts. He’s been doing REALLY well lately. Lots and lots of green days. The day he took out his penis and showed it to other kids was a red day.

I don’t want my five-year-old son to use swear words. I don’t condone it. And I don’t celebrate it. And I wish I used nicer words myself.

But I’m also not going to lie to you about this.

I ONLY care because society cares. I sort of don’t. I get morally outraged about all kinds of things. I want to protect my son from all of the horrors in this world.

But a well-timed “Dammit”? Totally not one of them.

I’m not even kidding. The kid kills it.

I mean, it’s almost as if he learned it from someone.

fresh prince aint even mad

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Maybe I’m Dumb

What if the creator of this meme... meant to misspell "paid"?

What if the creator of this meme… meant to misspell “paid”?

I move the mouse to the Publish button and click.

Sometimes, my stomach hurts right then.

It hurt when I published the virginity post. It hurts whenever I admit to crying. It hurt when I told you I’m a liar.

Other times, I think I nailed it.

I liked my underdog post. I liked my Sure, Marriage Sucks; But Does it Have To? post. I liked my post about The Secret.

When I’m in love with a music album, I almost never agree with the singles the artists choose to release.

My favorite movies often don’t jibe with public opinion.

I don’t particularly enjoy Pablo Picasso’s work. But several of his paintings have sold for more than $100 million each.

Freshly Pressed

Yay me?

I don’t know.

A WordPress editor emailed me a couple days ago, notifying me that my Clean Copy post had been chosen as an Editors’ Pick for Freshly Pressed.

I have no idea what kind of traffic that will generate. Maybe a little. Maybe a lot.

But I do know how I feel about that Clean Copy post.

I think it’s a big, fat wanker festival.

I want to tell stories here. I want to explain to you who I am and why. I want to talk about my failings as a husband and father and human being so that others might benefit in some way by avoiding my sins.

I want to make you feel something, when possible. And God-willing, entertain you.

All the while, my neurosis remains. And more and more, I was seeing my mistakes and typos, and realizing that people were seeing them, each time thinking: What a suck-ass writer this guy is!

My old classmates see it and think: That’s why he was a B student!

My friends see it and think: That’s the Matt I know!

And strangers see it and think: What a stupid turd. Why would I read something this clown wrote ever again?

So, I felt the need to defend myself. I thought that maybe by telling you that I write this stuff in about an hour over my lunch period at work all while trying not to let co-workers see what I’m doing for fear of having to disclose my personal writing to them, that you might forgive my mistakes. That you might think I’m not a moron.

But what does any of that matter?

If you’re going to build a car, build one that doesn’t break.

If you’re going to make a sandwich, make it taste good.

If you’re going to write with the intention of sharing it with others? Make sure your shit is buttoned up. Not your shirt. Your shit.

It’s not that hard for me to take a little extra time to make sure you’re not reading stuff my kindergartener could write. (Just kidding. I’m soooo much better at writing than my five-year-old. We have contests and I always win and then I eat his cookies.)

A portion of everything I just typed is true.

First Impressions Matter

Right?

I think they do.

Who am I?

I’m a divorced guy working my shit out. Trying to raise a son. Trying to grow as a human being. Flailing about and being kind of a dork along the way.

Need proof?

Because I let my laundry pile up like an asshole, I didn’t have a lot of my preferred clothes available to wear this morning.

So today, I’m wearing pleated khaki pants and a shirt that’s too large and not cut properly so it blouses out a little at my waist. I look like a total dick.

I don’t really give a shit when I look like a dick at work. I don’t look unprofessional. I just look like I don’t have any fashion sense. Which may or may not be true.

The reason this matters is because a friend of mine really wants me to come to this business networking event after work today.

I have too many chores to do, but the main reason I didn’t want to go is because of my outfit.

For real. Like the time I almost didn’t go out because of that cut on my face.

So you know what I’m going to do?

I’m going to leave work early today. And I’m going to drive to my house. And I’m going to change my outfit before driving downtown for this networking event.

To quote myself: I may have serious issues.

The Real-Time Blogger

As I type, my post went live on Freshly Pressed. They update it on the hour. And they did so at 1 p.m. EST.

UGH.

This is EXACTLY like this bullshit outfit I’m wearing.

I’m really not an asshole everybody! I know how to dress myself! I just don’t respect my co-workers enough to dress nice for them on a regular basis!

I feel like I need to apologize for what is one of my least-favorite posts—and that it kind of misrepresents the types of stories I prefer to tell.

But that raises the question I started with: What if I’m the idiot with bad taste?

What if my high opinion of my opinions is totally unwarranted?

What if everything that looks white is black, and everything that looks black is white?

What if Conspiracy Keanu really isn’t as hilarious as I think it is?

I just picked up a handful of new followers. Within a few paragraphs here. Whoa.

All these new eyeballs and brains. Watching. Judging. Evaluating whether I warrant their precious time.

It’s a new thing to worry about, everyone. A new thing to trigger my neurosis.

You know what, though?

I don’t really think I have bad taste.

I think maybe these WordPress editors just make mistakes like the rest of us. Like when I let typos slip.

They’re only human, after all.

And I understand how debilitating that ailment can be.

If there’s one thing in this world I’m sure of? It’s that I recognize awesomeness when I see it.

It’s the Good Shit.

And this is good shit. This opportunity to connect with more people.

To exchange ideas.

To grow together.

To make this entire brutal exercise worth the effort.

Not the writing.

The living.

Tagged , , , , ,

Clean Copy

littlethings-614x300

“The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway

Because I’m me, stressing about what I’m going to write here has become close to a daily occurrence.

I just stand in the shower trying to think of different ideas.

Another Open Letter to Shitty Husbands? We’re about due.

Some random, embarrassing story from my past? Those are always fun.

Today? I have to apologize to you for all of the typos and poorly constructed sentences you come across here.

They embarrass me. And I’m sorry.

Virtually everything you read from me is my first draft. Sometimes I write from home. You get a cleaner product when I do.

But most of the time? I’m writing this at my desk at work. Squeezing two hours worth of work into one.

The results are poorly edited, hastily thrown together thoughts and words.

And because I’m hyper-sensitive to what people think of me, I wanted to try to explain why it happens.

I do my best to round up the typos and misspellings, but they inevitably slip through when I first hit ‘Publish.’ If you subscribe via email, that’s the version you get. The very first, shitty one with all the misspellings before I find them and fix them online.

The beauty of the Internet is that I can fix an error anytime I find one. It always hurt more when a mistake was printed in a newspaper story. That just stays there. A non-curable blemish. Of course, at the paper, I always had three, four or five sets of eyeballs on my work, so mistakes rarely were published.

Here? This? It’s just me. Just little old me brainstorming in real-time and hitting that Publish button before I have time to talk myself out of it.

But I need you to know that I care about this from a quality standpoint. That I pride myself on giving you predominantly mistake-free copy, because I know how amateur and non-credible the alternative feels.

But when I proofread my own work, my brain automatically inserts what I meant to write, so a lot of times I don’t immediately see the mistakes others do.

This fact of life means if you’re reading this in your email inbox or are among the first to see whatever I’ve posted next, you end up stumbling on my mistakes.

There were a lot of them in yesterday’s post before I fixed them. And I’m sorry. You deserve better.

Pride in my Work

Everyone wants to be good at something.

I’m not really good at anything.

I’m one of those jack-of-all-trade, master-of-none types.

I’m pretty terrible at some things, I guess. I’m not a good dancer. I’m a wretched singer. I’m a terrible bowler.

But I’m average to decent at the vast majority of things I do.

However, I’m not really great at anything.

Except maybe proofreading and editing. I might be “great” at that. I use the term great loosely here. There are editors out there who are true masters. They’re the ones that turn average writing like this into money-making publishing gold.

I’m not like them.

But in the grand scheme of people? I’m a strong proofreader and a decent editor. I pay attention to detail.

And I take pride in that. Being among the best at something. Even if it isn’t a particularly valuable skill. It’s my skill. It’s what I do.

I know the difference between ‘compliment’ and ‘complement.’

I notice when people spell advisor with an ‘e.’ Adviser is a perfectly acceptable word, too.

And a million other totally anal-retentive things I won’t bore you with.

Typos Ruin Everything

Usually it’s a missing word. The word “to” or “of.” Sometimes I’ll replace “it” with “if” because the T and F keys are next to one another.

Whatever mistake I make, I’m mortified when I find it. The worst one was on one of my busiest-ever traffic days.

At the urging of others, I shared this blog with some people I know in real life via Facebook. A handful of people that aren’t connected to my ex-wife.

The very first post they would have seen is my Hey Parents, You’re Doing It Wrong post. Just a few paragraphs in, I wrote the word “anecdote” when I had meant to say “antidote.” I didn’t notice it for a couple days. Ugh.

Everyone must have thought I was a stupid moron.

That kind of stuff pains me.

Because I do care about the little things. Because I think the little things are important.

The little things are the difference between As and Bs in school.

The little things over an entire career are the difference between a large retirement account and living off government aid.

The little things are the difference between successful marriages and failed ones.

The greatest advertising campaign in the world is shit if a typo slips through.

The Pulitzer Prize is not awarded to mistake-filled copy.

The bookstores don’t make a habit of displaying novels and self-help books and biographies full of spelling errors and horrible writing.

The Lessons of Editing

Editing is the worst. Writers don’t like to do it.

Yet, all the greats will tell you how important it is.

In cinema, they give Academy Awards for it.

It’s hard. It’s time-consuming.

It requires patience. Thoroughness. And always attention to those little things.

My life’s that way, too.

And I wonder if I wasn’t just rushing through, trying to squeeze in as much crap as possible all the time, how much higher the quality might be.

What if I mastered something?

Got in phenomenal physical condition?

Poured every ounce of energy I could into being the best father I could be?

What if I got financially disciplined?

Never let my laundry pile up?

Never let the kitchen floor get dirty?

Maximized my spiritual potential?

I think a lot of what ails me would go away. If I could just muster up the patience and discipline necessary to comb through the details of my life like I would a proofreading assignment.

And clean them up. Taking pride in it along the way.

Maybe everybody could do that.

Maybe we could all do bigger things if we spend more time focusing on the little things.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

My Son’s Other House

Sometimes, the unexpected makes me happy.

Sometimes, the unexpected makes me happy.

The drive took one and a half songs.

My five-year-old sang along with both because he has good taste like me.

From my door to hers.

I didn’t check the mileage.

I didn’t check the time.

Which are two things I would have done four or five months ago. I would have paid attention to those little details.

My ex-wife texted me the address about 20 minutes before I left the house. She had asked me if I could bring over the lawnmower and a rake.

This is who we are now.

People who swap lawn tools.

I didn’t have any trouble finding the place. It’s a cute little house in a quaint little neighborhood not much different than mine. I suppose some people might say we live in the same neighborhood.

I pulled in the driveway. I was more curious than I was nervous about walking in there.

But I didn’t hurry. I sent our son Owen to the door without me as I pulled the lawnmower out of my Jeep and reattached the upper part of the handle for her, tightening it into place and giving the pull starter a yank to make sure it would turn over easy enough for her.

Old habits, you know.

I rolled it to the corner of her new house, propping one of our old rakes next to it.

Had I given my son a proper goodbye, I might have just left at that point. But I didn’t. So, I knocked on the door. She waved me in.

The place looked nice. Smaller than my house. And far from put together. The telltale signs of moving in were everywhere. Stacks of boxes. Bare walls.

But nice. I was happy for my son.

You enter into the living room. There were my couches.

This might have upset me had I not ordered my new ones yesterday.

One of my flat-screen televisions was sitting atop a cedar chest my grandfather had handcrafted for her as a wedding present a little more than nine years ago.

My ex-wife had painted our son’s new bedroom the day before.

Blue. It’s his favorite.

It was the only room in the house she had painted so far, putting him first. I was happy to see her doing that again.

His bed was made with a cool dinosaur comforter she must have just bought him. He loves dinosaurs.

I wanted to avoid seeing her bedroom, wondering how many men might be in there with her in the coming months. I still don’t like thinking about that.

Old habits, you know.

A mattress had been hastily tossed on the floor with some familiar sheets.

She didn’t have a bedroom set.

Shoe, meet other foot.

I told her the place looked nice and that I was happy for them.

It was sincere.

I was making my way toward the door when she mentioned she was having cable and Internet connectivity issues. The service had just been installed the day before.

Electronic gadgetry and technical troubleshooting was always my job.

“Do you want me to have a look at it?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

“Do you have the password?”

She handed me a sheet of paper.

I looked down at a long handwritten alphanumeric sequence.

“You have any idea what these little giblet characters are supposed to be?”

There were two strange ones.

“I think the first one’s a lowercase ‘g’ and the second one is a lowercase ‘q.’”

“No way. This first one’s an ‘a.’ The guy just sucks at writing. Do you mind if I plug this into my phone and see if it connects so I can come steal free Wi-Fi?”

“Please. Go ahead.”

She said something lighthearted about the thought of me camped out on the street hacking her wireless signal.

We haven’t shared many laughs since late March. I’m still not sure how to feel about it.

I got the password plugged into my phone, replacing her ‘g’ with the correct, albeit poorly scribbled ‘a.’

It connected instantly.

“Yes. It’s an ‘a.’ If you plug it in using that ‘a,’ you’ll be happy with the results,” I said.

She thanked me.

“My pleasure. You still have my Netflix password so you guys can watch that, too, right?”

“I do.”

“Good.”

I kissed my son. Gave him a fist bump. Told him to be extra good for mom and to do a great job in school tomorrow.

“Have a good night, please. Talk to you soon.”

And out the door I went.

No lump in the throat.

No wishing I could stay.

No dreading coming home to my empty house.

Huh. That’s not what I expected. At all.

Delivered our son.

Brought rake and lawnmower.

Solved her wireless Internet problem.

And did so with kindness, to boot.

Old habits, you know.

But maybe some new ones, too.

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: