Tag Archives: Christmas

On a Personal Note

handwriting a letter

(Image/Corcianonline)

Hey.

I felt like writing to you, instead of another new version of the things I almost always write.

I’m sitting here debating spending $50 on a Wu-Tang Clan ugly Christmas sweater to wear to my friends’ annual (and irreverent) ugly Christmas sweater-themed party. $50 does cross my I-don’t-like-wasting-it financial threshold, and I’m currently thinking about all of the little kids who won’t receive presents or possibly even food on Christmas Day, and thinking that if I drop $50 on a Wu sweater, Jesus will send me a very disappointed text message with a stern emoji face, and my mother will zap me with lightning bolts from the sky.

I might have that backward.

Dolla dolla bills, y’all.

Okay. Moving on.

That Awkward Moment – A Divorce Story

There are probably some cool customers out there who handle every post-divorce life situation with enviable skill and grace.

I’m not one of them.

On the heels of divorce, you experience a bunch of things for the first time, with varying degrees of unpleasantness and/or emotional impact.

It’s awkward when you and your recently separated ex are both godparents to a baby girl at her baptism.

It’s awkward when you hang out with your friends without her.

It’s awkward when you see your friends hanging out with her without you on Facebook before you block the feed for self-preservation reasons.

It’s awkward when you go to parent-teacher conferences together for the first time.

It’s awkward when your little boy cries for his mother when he’s with you, or cries for you when he’s with mom.

It’s awkward when you travel alone for the first time.

It’s awkward when you go on a date for the first time.

It’s awkward when you take a date to a wedding, and your ex-wife’s aunt and uncle you were shocked to bump into are ironically seated at the table next to you.

It’s awkward when you first visit your extended family for holidays as a single adult.

It’s awkward when your ex-wife comes over that first Christmas Eve so you can both watch your son open gifts from his parents.

It’s awkward when you’re driving around town with your mom in the passenger seat who is visiting from out of town, and you randomly see your ex-wife’s vehicle, but a guy you know is driving it at 10 a.m. on a weekend morning.

It’s awkward when your son goes on vacation with his mom’s family and you discover that guy is going too.

It’s awkward when you pick up or drop off your son at his mom’s house and that guy’s shoes are by the door even though he’s not there.

It’s awkward when you pick up or drop off your son at his mom’s house and that guy is there, clearly totally at-home.

It’s awkward when you hear him call her “Babe.”

And it’s a little-bit awkward when the three of you start attending your child’s extracurriculars together.

I arrived at the gym about 10 minutes before tip-off for my son’s weekend basketball game. His mom and her boyfriend were already sitting there. As the people were positioned around them, sitting next to him and not my ex-wife was the sensible move.

Aside from that regretful and/or jealous tinge we bury way down deep, I don’t have any problem sitting next to him. He’s an excellent guy and I have no reason to treat him with anything other than kindness and respect. He’s good to my son and his mom. He’s smart. Polite. Treats people around him well.

Those things matter.

At some point during the game, I caught out of my peripheral his hand reaching over to caress hers. I was surprised to discover it made me want to set myself on fire.

After the game, a bunch of parents were milling around the hall outside the locker rooms waiting for the kids to come out.

That’s when a dad whose son played for the opposing team randomly approached my ex-wife’s boyfriend because they’d gone to high school together.

I wasn’t at all surprised to discover wanting to set myself on fire when everyone was meeting each other and exchanging small-world pleasantries while I stepped a few extra feet away before being miraculously saved seconds later by a hug from a little boy happy to see his dad. Like magic—the I-don’t-really-matter feeling disappeared.

We bleed and scar and heal. We grow—wiser, tougher.

We become okay. Not fake-okay, but actually okay.

But the sucker punches and awkward moments don’t stop ‘til they stop.

Maybe they will someday.

The Importance of Mattering

I’ve spent the past three and a half years writing about divorce and marriage and relationships. I did it at the beginning because I needed to get the emotional vomit out of my system. And then I kept doing it because it appeared to be helping some people. That was a big deal to me.

You know? A reason for existing?

A husband and father has purpose.

But some divorced asshole is just another cliché statistic most people don’t want to hang out with lest they contract the Divorce AIDS by proxy.

I’m half-joking.

My little boy remains my purpose. But let’s be honest—mom is the better parent by every measurable standard outside of my genetic advantage in the Involved Fathers Help Children Thrive space.

I know this isn’t unique to me. When she walked out that door, so did a bunch of the purpose I had—without being mindful of it—felt throughout our relationship and marriage.

This is something I didn’t learn as a child—but quickly realized once I was the last person living at home: Our lives MUST be lived for things greater than ourselves.

I was a well-documented shitty husband.

But I loved the woman and cared about many things simply because I was married to her. When good things happened, or I experienced successes, or I received good news or learned something interesting, only a small part of the experience felt good on its own. The good part was sharing the good thing with her.

The craving—something damn close to need—for her respect, her validation, her pleasure, her praise, her love was strong.

I think most husbands feel that in profound ways.

Which does a couple of things:

  1. Helps explain why we feel so mind- and heart-fucked when she moves out and starts seeing someone else.
  2. Makes us incredibly dense assholes for all of the times we blatantly disregard our wives’ expressed wishes because—hell, I don’t even know why—because it’s inconvenient in the 20 minutes we’re living in right that moment?

We’re going on four straight years of self-reflection on all this, and I still can’t explain it.

This Has Given Me Purpose

This has given me a thing to do. A thing that provides value for some people. Where people sometimes say: “Matt. You’re doing something special and important and you matter.”

I want to be doing it for all of the selfless reasons that matter to humanity-at-large, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the selfish desire I have to feel like something I do matters.

Everyone has varying degrees of psychological and emotional needs. Super-healthy, functional people with great relationships manage them effectively.

The rest of us just fumble about in the dark, unfairly mother-effing all of the innocent inanimate objects when we hurt ourselves tripping over them.

The Two Ways to Help People

I’ve struggled for a long time with the idea that I didn’t know how to help people in struggling marriages or just trying to get through the day while going through a divorce.

I watched my parents split and grew up with divorced parents as my life narrative.

Then, about 30 years later, after a lifetime of assuring everyone around me I’d never get divorced, I got divorced.

You know the expression “eat crow”? Well, it’s not crow. It’s a giant feces pile composed of digested crow. A big pile that’s not all the way gone.

I don’t write about it much anymore for the same reason most people only share positive-storytelling things on social media. I’m ashamed of it. I don’t want you to know. I don’t want my family to know. I don’t want my friends to know.

Divorce is the dominant theme of my entire life story.

It begs the question: “What does this moron know about how to have healthy relationships and good marriages?”

I get it. I’d wonder the same thing.

I want very much to be able to offer specific actions a person could take to fix his or her marriage.

But I don’t know what to do either. And even if I did, the you-love-another-totally-unpredictable-human-being X-factor will always rule out the possibility for relationship instruction manuals.

I mostly just know what NOT to do. Sometimes that helps people.

“There are two ways to help people in this world: 1) give them specific, tangible advice on what they should do to fix their problems, and 2) normalize their suffering to simply remind them that they are not as alone or as hopeless as they think they are,” wrote Mark Manson in his latest post “6 Books That Make You Less of a Horrible Person.”

“Often what we need the most is not more ‘tools’ and ‘tips’ to get through our hardest hours. What we need is someone who simply understands our pain, and is able to clearly and beautifully articulate that it will one day be OK again.”

I am embarrassed about the basketball-game story I shared. It seems immature and petty to feel as I did. I don’t like that I felt those things. And I don’t like you knowing that after all of this time, things can still cut. I can still bleed.

I think everybody bleeds.

And I think the reason to talk about it is so other people who also are bleeding or feeling shitty or feeling afraid or sad or ashamed can feel: “That happens to me too. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one.”

In the end, I think that’s how I might be able to help someone. I think that’s how I might be able to help myself.

I don’t really know anything. I can’t provide great wisdom or teach any valuable life skills.

But I think—sometimes—I can help a person feel like they’re not the only one.

I hope that can be enough.

Looking Toward 2017 and New Things

Holy shit, right?

2017.

That’s insane. I’ll turn 38 in March. Maybe other things will happen also. We’ll find out.

This blog will need to evolve.

I would like to convert it into a multi-contributor platform with other writers willing to bleed on the page a little.

I’d also like to introduce a new feature of some kind, and audio and/or video content seems like the obvious evolution.

Because I’m occasionally shy, I’m going to ease my way into it by doing simple blog-post readings of posts new and old using Facebook’s new Facebook Audio feature. (You can follow the Facebook page here.)

That might be fun.

I’m looking forward to trying it out and seeing what you think.

In the meantime, it’s Christmas again. They come so fast anymore. For the first time in my life, Hanukkah coincides with Christmas. I’m not sure why that’s cool, but it seems so.

No matter what you celebrate, I hope you have a very happy and blessed holiday season, and to my Christmas compadres, a very merry and beautiful and connection-building and relationship-healing Christmas with loved ones.

Thank you so much for giving your valuable time and attention to this place. It means the world.

We have another opportunity to light up the darkness. Please do.

Do good things.

Cheers, you.

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8 Christmas Gift Ideas That Can Save Your Marriage

christmas gift

If you’re a married man, celebrate Christmas and don’t already know what gift you’re giving your wife, I’m inclined to make two assumptions about you:

  1. You can benefit from this blog post because you are probably a me-focused shitty husband like I was; and,
  2. You probably don’t know (and maybe even actively deny) there’s a problem with your marriage.

This post is my gift to you.

Because if you’re the kind of guy totally bewildered as to why your wife gets upset with you OR are the kind of guy who secretly knows he’s shortchanging his marriage and would like to step up his efforts to be a better man, these eight gifts to your wife will change your entire life. In a good way.

“What’s the catch?” You got me, smarty! There’s always a catch.

You might think of gifts as something you give your wife Christmas morning, and then move on, not thinking about them again. These are not those kinds of gifts.

These gifts require you to change yourself, perhaps radically so, every day for the rest of your life. And maybe that scares you because it sounds hard, you don’t like change, and you already have enough difficulty in your life.

Here’s my promise to you: Divorce is more difficult and introduces more life change than these behavior changes will. The substantial reward you feel inside you because you stepped up as a better husband and father—a better man—and the reward you feel when your wife begins treating you differently in return (with genuine admiration, appreciation, and sexual desire), will more than compensate for whatever you might feel you’re giving up in the process.

All wives want thoughtful, meaningful gifts from their husbands.

All wives who are mothers crave attention from adults (especially from their husbands), and also quality time for themselves.

In a way, these gifts are just as much for you as they are for her. Because when you give these gifts from a place of unselfish love and sincerity, she will regularly feel as if you’re providing the thoughtfulness and meaningfulness she seeks. She will feel like you are paying attention to her and she will have more time to herself. Afterward, your wife will love you, respect you, trust you, appreciate you, and want you more than you’ve ever felt before.

I promise it’s true.

8 Christmas Gifts For Your Wife That Will Change Your Lives Forever

1. Six-Second Hugs

Yale Law graduate and former U.S. Supreme Court clerk Gretchen Rubin figured out what every smart person does sooner or later: Feeling happy is a human being’s top priority. You might not think so. You might think making money or having sex or achieving goals or having fun is. But stop and think for a second. What you actually like is how it feels when you have fun, get money, orgasm, or achieve goals.

Chemicals produced by your brain are what make people feel good. The three linked to feelings of happiness are: oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. There are many ways to naturally (and artificially) get your brain to release these “happy chemicals.” One of the easiest ways is to simply prolong your hugs for a few seconds. Hugging for six seconds (not four, not five—SIX!) releases these chemicals in your body, and that of the person you’re hugging. Make that person your wife. Six-second hugs. Every day.

2. Don’t Be a Dick

You are sometimes a dick to your buddies. It’s cool because they give it right back to you. It’s a cultural male-bonding ritual, and by giving one another shit, we show our friends they are accepted into our tribe. Once in a while, we stumble on a girl who likes this too. Often, she grew up with all brothers, has mostly male friends, or is naturally wired for “tomboy”-ish interests. We like to call these women the “cool girls,” and we wonder why more women aren’t like that.

The answer is the same reason some people have brown skin while others have light skin, or why some people have different hair and eye color: Human beings have naturally occurring chemical and genetic differences outside of our control. So. STOP PUNISHING YOUR WIFE FOR BEING DIFFERENT THAN YOU.

When you make snide, critical, biting remarks, or call her names, you likely make her feel really shitty. This might confuse you because it’s cool when you do it with your friends, and she should totally understand that by now!

Read this, and NEVER forget it: Your wife, through no fault of her own—just like people with different skin and eye color—feels TOTALLY different than your buddies on the golf course, in your fantasy league, or at the office, do when you crack on them.

Use positive, kind, loving language toward your wife. Always. Especially when she’s upset and you really have to man up and swallow your pride to do so.

That’s what heroes do. The right thing, even when it’s challenging and inconvenient.

3. Prolonged Eye Contact for Compliments and Saying “I Love You”

I have a son in second grade. Maybe you have kids also. Sometimes, when you talk to them, they don’t hear what you’re saying because they’re playing a video game or building something with Legos and thinking: Maybe if I don’t answer and just keep doing this, mom and dad will shut up and go away! You know? Just like you do when you’re playing Call of Duty or watching football, and your wife interrupts from the other room.

It really pisses you off when your kid isn’t listening, so you give them the Dad Voice® or put their face between your two hands and sort of force them to hold your gaze. You do this so that you can be confident they are fully hearing and understanding what you’re saying.

You need to do that same thing (minus Dad Voice®) when you say “I love you” to your wife, or pay her a compliment.

Maybe you can take her hands in yours, or put your hands on her shoulders while you hold her gaze. It’s IMPORTANT that she knows you really mean the words coming out of your mouth.

“No. I don’t think you’re hearing me. Please. Hear this. Feel this. Know that I mean it: You are [insert special thing about your wife here], and I love so much that you [insert special things she does here]. You’re awesome. You’re beautiful. I couldn’t love or appreciate you more,” you say, in your own authentic and sincere way while maintaining eye contact.

Every day. EVERY day. When you say something kind and meaningful to her meant to convey your love and appreciation, make the extra effort to make sure your message is being properly received.

4. Send Flirty Texts

There are a million reasons your wife might not feel sexy or desirable. And some of those things are NOT your fault. But as a man who vowed to faithfully love her forever, in good times and bad, it IS your responsibility (and hopefully, your pleasure) to make your wife feel good. Remember the “Your wife is different than you” speech from before? That applies equally to her sexual chemistry, and your life will be INFINITELY better sexually if you figure this out. (This book, even though it’s largely about dating, will be a great resource for you, but make DAMN SURE you openly communicate with your wife about why you want to read it.)

One of the ways your wife isn’t different from you sexually is that she likes feeling pursued. Desired. Wanted.

When you get one of those random and inconvenient Tuesday-afternoon erections at work because of the lunar cycle or whatever? That’s an excellent time to let her know you’re thinking about her, physically.

She likes knowing that, instead of working diligently, you’re hard and achy at the office thinking about her. Tell her: “Babe. I’m seriously trying to work here, but I can’t stop thinking about that noise you make when my tongue slides up your inner thigh. I’ll understand (and behave like an adult, even though I’ll secretly want to die) if it doesn’t work for you tonight. But I’d really, really, really like to hear you make that noise later. And maybe do a few other things.”

While I’d never insult you by suggesting I know how to make your wife feel good physically, I might be able to help you with the text-flirting part. If you want to talk about it, fire me a note.

5. The Next-Best Thing to “I Got This”

“I got this,” followed by you completely taking care of something big or small so that your wife doesn’t have to, is the sexiest thing you can possibly do for her.

But you’re a guy, and your energy levels can swing wildly, and it’s really hard to be sexy 100-percent of the time, so here’s the next-best thing you can do: Ask your wife every morning (or every weekend about the entire week): “What can I do today that will be the biggest help to you?”

It’s VERY IMPORTANT that you recognize how bullshit it is that you’re asking this in the first place, so you might want to apologize while doing so. Simply asking this question demonstrates to your wife that you mentally default to a position of believing life management for your entire household falls to her. That you expect her to be “in charge” of organizing everyone’s lives—from keeping the schedule, maintaining the calendar, running errands, to making sure your kids have what they need for school, or your pets are properly cared for.

It’s an unfair burden your wife inherited by virtue of both of you being raised by mothers who did this without openly questioning the unfairness of that responsibility balance.

Maybe next year, you can graduate to “I got this,” and begin anticipating your wife and family’s needs without someone telling you what needs done next. In the meantime, asking your wife with heartfelt sincerity and appreciation for all she does, how you can be most helpful to her will enhance the bond between the two of you in ways that will reward your marriage, and all those connected to it, for the rest of your lives. Also, when she says “please vacuum the living room” or “fold the laundry” or “put the dishes away,” you actually do those things as well as you possibly can without complaining about it.

6. Listen to Her Without Trying to Fix Anything Unless She Asks For Your Help

This is VERY hard for me. I don’t know if it’s because of my ADHD brain, or my Y chromosome. But I have a very, very, very difficult time silently and patiently listening to someone tell me a story I didn’t ask to hear because I’m naturally disinterested in the subject matter, or because it has no impact on my life and seems pointless, or because I feel like I have an easy solution for the storyteller that will both end the discussion AND solve their problem.

This goes back to that whole she’s-totally-different-than-you stuff. Your brain and body are telling you that you don’t care. She’s talking to you about something. And, no matter what, you can’t care about it. You don’t choose to be disinterested. You just are. You can’t help it.

But THIS is your gift to your wife.

And the only thing you need to do? Look her in the eye and pay attention to what she’s saying. Here’s the reason to care about her otherwise-mundane story: Because she cares. This MATTERS to her. Maybe the story does, maybe it doesn’t. But the physical act of sharing the story, and having someone respect her enough—especially you—to pay attention without judgment or invalidating her feelings or opinions, is an activity that really matters to her. Being present with her and listening to her while she discusses these things you don’t care about makes her feel good in ways you can never understand because you are not like her. But so long as you understand that it DOES make her feel good, and that you like to make her feel good, you can practice patient, attentive listening with your wife.

As a nice bonus, doing so will make her want to play with your penis much more, and divorce you much less.

7. Unleash Adventurous Intimacy

This one’s tricky.

You might not understand this, because you might not understand (or believe) that your wife is unhappy. Maybe you don’t ask her about it, and you don’t make her feel safe enough to tell you. So you both just wear masks all the time, pretending in your own house and to the outside world that everything in your marriage is great, even when it’s not.

You might already have an adventurous sex life, not realizing your wife doesn’t feel comfortable, safe, trusting, or emotionally connected to you. If your wife feels alone in her marriage—the most-common marriage crime men make without realizing it—she starts questioning whether you love her, wondering whether you’re still attracted to her, and whether she can trust you (with life’s responsibilities as well as sexual faithfulness). These insecurities make her feel afraid. When she feels alone and afraid, she loses her sexual interest in you. If you want to give her the gift of sexual adventures, I hope you’ll trust me when I tell you that the path to uniquely adventurous orgasms begins with her emotional wellbeing.

But maybe you’re already an awesomely thoughtful guy. Maybe you were raised in a totally conservative, traditional, small-town environment like me. And maybe you just naturally feel uncomfortable having unfiltered and totally honest conversations with your wife about sex.

That’s fine. Just be brave enough to ask her about it. To assure her that you will not judge her no matter what she says.

And devote your attention to those things.

There is almost no limit to the depths this can go, and everyone’s psychological bent is going to dictate their particular interests. The only thing I know for sure is that if you’re completely honest with one another (and it’s the first time you have been), you WILL discover something new and exciting that can turn a random Wednesday night into a mind-blowing adventure.

Can we have too many of those?

Exactly.

8. Eliminate Behavior That Makes Her Feel Inadequate

Comedian Louis C.K. has a hilarious bit about how being behind the wheel of a car brings out the very worst of his personality. That’s when he’s the worst version of himself, he says.

To illustrate the point, he tells a common story of someone on the highway merging into traffic in front of him, and him yelling from inside his car with the windows up: “Hey! Fuck you! You worthless piece of shit!” Which he points out is a horrible thing to say to another person. “That’s someone’s son!” he says, before describing how that same thing would be much less likely to happen in an elevator. If someone cracks their elbow into yours while getting on an elevator, Louis C.K. says exactly zero people would ever put their face right up to the other person’s and say: “Hey! Fuck you! Worthless piece of shit!”

It’s funny because it’s true.

It’s important because this applies to your marriage.

No matter how “cool” you think your wife is RE: your physical attraction to other women you see on TV or at a restaurant or wherever, I promise you, she never wants to feel feelings of inadequacy.

Pornography is psychologically damaging to your mind and your marriage in ways you don’t fully understand and will likely deny. Someday, we can discuss those things.

Meanwhile, pornography and even just your ogling of women, or careless comments to your friends when you didn’t think she could hear you about how much you desire some woman that’s not your wife, WILL give her feelings of inadequacy. That her physical beauty and overall sexuality is not good enough to satisfy her husband. It will make her feel bad. When your wife feels bad, your relationship suffers. (And also, your wife feels bad! It’s healthy to want to fix that.)

Stop jerking off at your family computer or with your phone in the bathroom. Direct that sexual energy toward the actual human being who, if you treat her right and make her feel good, will provide an actual vagina for you to enjoy.

Also?

Stop saying things around her suggesting you wish you could have sex with other women. That a stranger you know nothing about somehow appeals more to you than the person who sacrifices daily for you. It’s a dickhead thing to do.

Besides, she probably watched Magic Mike and wanted Channing Tatum and/or Matthew McConaughey and/or both at the same time a lot more than she does, you, and thoughtfully never mentioned it.

But if you start giving these gifts to your wife? Every day?

Generously? With authentic, heartfelt sincerity?

Tatum and McConaughey wouldn’t have a chance.

Because you will be all she could ever want or need.

And since you already promised her to be just that, why not get started right now?

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Everything’s Going to be Okay

christmas-beautiful-tree “I’m struggling today,” she said.

Her kids are 500 miles away. The mandatory waiting period for her state to finalize her divorce will end in 2015. This is her first Christmas where everything’s broken.

“It’s amazing what you can get used to,” I said.

From now on our troubles will be out of sight.

I waxed philosophically about how in the grand scheme of our lives this really doesn’t matter and everything’s going to be okay and don’t let your emotions ruin an otherwise beautiful occasion. She gets me and claimed it helped.

But I bet it didn’t. I bet it didn’t help at all.

 …

I was in the store earlier. So much life. Everyone moving this way and that buying drinks and snacks and last-minute ingredients for Christmas parties and dinners with friends and family.

That’s when you feel the most alone after divorce.

That’s why divorced people don’t enjoy the holidays as much as they used to. That’s when it can still hurt.

I was trying to make her feel better, but maybe I was being a bad friend by not acknowledging how perfectly normal it is to feel loss during the holidays, especially when your two young children are so far away.

You see a pretty girl with a guy. What’s he have that I don’t?, you wonder. And you feel more alone.

You see a child with his mom or dad. I wonder what my son’s doing now.  And you feel more alone.

You see an old couple. The patriarch and matriarch of a large family and you know you can never be that. And you feel more alone.

Because I’m semi-smart, I know I won’t feel bad about it next month, or even next week. I know that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of my life. But right in that moment, there’s hurt.

And maybe it’s okay to acknowledge it and not pretend to be tougher than we are. Maybe it’s okay to just own it even though I’ve been trying not to, wanting to believe I’m impervious to pain from something I’ve “gotten over.”

We sat there, the three of us. Father, mother, son. Like Christmas magic.

Our six-year-old opened a bunch of presents. Around the tree, in a room, in a house, all that used to be ours but is no more.

Other than that child, there is no “ours.”

But then it was time for them to go. I held him tight. His life, my gift.

And then a “see you later, dad.”

And then a wave from the car window.

And then driving away.

And then a tear.

And then a deep breath.

What am I more sad about?, I wondered. That I can’t be with the person I love most? Or because I was feeling sorry for myself and I’m a little too good at that sometimes. Another Christmas alone. How many more might there be?

I know so many people recovering from, or going through, a divorce. Everything changes.

But everything always changes.

And maybe I just need to keep my mouth shut when my friends are hurting and let them hurt because I can’t fix anything because I can’t even fix myself.

I think maybe it’s okay to hurt because that’s what’s true and real right now, but it won’t always be. Maybe the only way to get to the place where it never hurts is to acknowledge it and not pretend it isn’t happening. Because it is happening. And next year? Everything will change again.

From now on our troubles will be miles away.

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem: I’m struggling today.

But maybe not tomorrow.

Everything’s going to be okay. I know it.

Wishing you and yours a very happy and blessed Christmas and holiday season.

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Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

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The Holidays One Year Later

happy-christmas

When you’re co-dependent and have never truly been on your own and you haven’t had sex in more than a year and then your wife leaves you, it feels like your life is over because you’re 34 and every second it’s: Now what?

You cry a lot and feel shitty and lack confidence and no women in the history of the universe have ever been attracted to that.

So much of your identity was wrapped up in your marriage and essentially all of your purpose was.

And when that identity and purpose go away, you don’t even know who you are anymore or what you’re supposed to do and it’s terrifying.

You have a lot of choices to make.

About who you want to be. And about how to get there.

But you’re still having trouble breathing. You’re still having trouble moving. You still don’t recognize the reflection in the mirror.

Being an adult is hard. And life is not always fair. And the choices we make are predominantly responsible for wherever we are in life.

If we can accept those three facts and make peace with them, we have a chance to move forward.

Especially that last one.

Because the choices we make moving forward will be predominantly responsible for wherever we are five years from now.

Something important happens during all that suffering. You get tougher.

And you figure out what really matters.

So instead of trying to win a pointless fight with your future girlfriend or spouse for no reason, you’ll act like an adult and exercise patience and kindness and sensibility.

Think of the last really awful fight you had with your spouse or partner. You probably wanted to punch them in their stupid face, because: Ugh—they’re so dumb and stubborn and mean and unfair sometimes!!!

I get it.

Now imagine a drunk driver runs a red light and crashes into their driver’s-side door at 50 miles per hour and now they’re not with us anymore. And the last thing you wanted to do was punch their face.

And you cry because you loved them more than you’ve ever loved anything. And you cry because you feel guilt and shame for feeling that way.

Perspective is a beautiful thing.

Figure out what matters. Fight for it. The stuff that doesn’t? Maybe let it go because car accidents happen and we’re not guaranteed anything because life isn’t fair, and being an adult is hard, but we should still be adults, even when it’s inconvenient.

Something else important happens.

Time passes.

You stop crying.

You stop feeling broken.

You stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Maybe you start making better lifestyle choices.

Maybe you start working out and taking care of yourself again.

Maybe you start laughing again. Laughing is important. Kids do it constantly and they’re happy and healthy. Adults rarely do and they’re sad and miserable.

And maybe you smile and laugh and are attractive again, and people like you because everyone likes smiles more than scowls and then you get some confidence back because all isn’t lost.

A year ago, I played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat while decorating the house for the holidays because it’s my favorite Christmas song, and I got sad over and over and over again as I kept pulling Christmas décor and ornaments out of boxes that belonged to my ex-wife, all with a different story attached.

I was obsessed with the idea that I would never find a girl to like me because I was mid-thirties and had a little boy and who could possibly want some loser castaway who probably deserved everything he got?

I spent the vast majority of Christmas Day alone, eating Chinese food and watching TV. It felt exactly how it sounded.

But then another year passed.

And I’m so far beyond the brokenness of yesteryear that I sometimes forget to be amazed by it all. To feel the gratitude the miracle deserves.

I felt like dying because the whole world ended.

But I just kept waking up anyway.

Just kept smiling at the people who lifted me up.

Just kept my sense of humor which has always kept me younger than my chronological age.

And now we’ve circled the sun another time. That was fast.

I’m going to break out the Christmas tree tonight and set it up for my little son who is the most-precious thing I have ever known.

I might still listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat because it kicks ass, but I won’t be sad over and over and over again and cry like a wimp.

I’ll be hopeful. Maybe I’ll even watch Elf or Christmas Vacation and laugh some more. I’ll probably smile, even if I’m alone.

Because I don’t want to die. Because some girls will like me. Because I’m actually alive again.

Because it’s just about Christmastime and sometimes magic happens.

Because 2015 could change everything even though we don’t have all the cool stuff Back to the Future 2 promised us.

Because I recognize the guy in the mirror.

And despite all the flaws and immaturity and bad decisions?

He’s really not so bad.

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The Yule Log

advent_yule_log (18)

Which is to say Christmas. As in Yule. Yule log. Not a log. I don’t have a log. I mean, you know. If I had a log, not in the sense that you think I said I did.

 7:23 a.m.

Ohhh. That last Christmas ale wasn’t the best idea. What’s that horrible taste in my mouth? Oh yeah. I smoked a cigarette last night like a moron.

*Looks at clock*

Well. This is it. Christmas. Sweet.

*Grabs phone*

*Responds to blog comments*

I should get out of bed and do something productive.

*Plays Tetris for 45 minutes*

8:16 a.m.

*Gets out of bed, walks downstairs*

Shit. I still have to wrap my son’s presents.

I’m a little hungry. I want to go out to breakfast. Nothing is open. Swell.

*Eats brownies and drinks coffee*

*Lays on couch, stares out window*

8:58 a.m.

My first “Merry Christmas” text. From one of my best friends who got a little irritated with me the night before after I called him a negative scrooge for disliking It’s a Wonderful Life.

9:05 a.m.

I can either go to church in a half hour, or at 11:30…

*Plays Tetris for an hour with the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas playing in the background*

9:55 a.m.

The jewelry store girl texted me a Merry Christmas note. She doesn’t write me very often, so it was unexpected.

That was nice.

10:01 a.m.

*Pacing around my house I notice footprints in the snow on the deck behind my house*

Creepy.

*Texts two friends who might have left them*

The first one says it wasn’t him.

The second one says: “Merry Christmas! Must have been Santa!”

“Footprints back there. Makes me nervous, actually,” I typed back.

He confirmed it was him.

Whew.

(That was the second-most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

I started thinking about getting ready for church. In my experience, the church gets REALLY busy on Christmas Day because of all the people who only show up on Christmas and Easter. My ex-wife calls them “Chreasters,” which is a pretty cool name. With mass beginning at 11:30 a.m., I figured a bunch of families will be there after opening gifts in the morning. I wanted to get there 45 minutes early to find a parking spot.

10:46 a.m.

I pulled into the church parking lot. There were, literally, only two other cars there.

*Plays Tetris*

I’m sure all the other cars will start pulling in any second.

11:05 a.m.

Three more cars showed up. I saw an attractive twenty-something blonde frantically typing onto her phone, muttering to herself, and looking as if she had been crying. She was walking down the sidewalk toward where I was parked.

She was wearing pajama pants. She wasn’t there for church.

I was having the internal debate about whether to offer help when a gold Ford Edge with a dented rear-driver’s-side quarter panel, pulled up behind me. The blonde got in and they took off.

(That was the third-most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

11:20 a.m.

I walked into church. I was shocked at how empty it was. Glad I got here 45 minutes early! But it’s not like I had anything to do anyway.

Everyone must go to Christmas Eve mass, or the earlier one, because I had never seen it like this. Really sparse. A little sad.

I knelt down in my favorite pew, next to my favorite stained-glass window. It’s the one that reads “Fortitude.”

11:28 a.m.

I spot a couple I’ve been seeing at church for as long as I’ve been attending (more than seven years)—but hadn’t seen for at least a year or more. They’re Indian. They often sat behind us on Sundays past. My ex-wife and I always talked about trying to be friends with them, but both of us were always too shy to say anything to them.

They have a little girl now. She’s beautiful. I don’t know any of their names. But seeing them—seeing that little girl, who I hadn’t seen since she was a tiny infant—made me almost tear up, similar to when I walked into my former brother-in-law’s place a couple days after Thanksgiving and spotted my niece I hadn’t seen all year.

Mass began. And I tried so hard to be in the moment. To keep my mind focused on the spiritual significance of the holiday. But it was virtually impossible.

The opening hymn was “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It’s one of the most-magnificent songs ever written. It was one of the songs played at my wedding as guests arrived and were being seated. One of my few contributions to the ceremony. It was impossible for me to not think about that even though we weren’t married in the church I now attend.

11:50 a.m.

One of the ushers came by and asked if I could be one of the guys who helps with the collection baskets. Some churches pass around baskets. Ours uses long-handled baskets. I was nervous that I might mess up somehow, but there’s really not a lot to it. I did a good job and even managed to smile at everyone as I passed each row.

(That was the fourth-most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

12:31 p.m.

I started Googling different variations of “What’s open on Christmas?”

There’s a Denny’s-like place called Eat’n Park that’s generally open 24 hours per day. I checked their Facebook page to see if they were open on Christmas. They weren’t.

I altered my Google search query.

Hallelujah! My local Chinese joint was open. I laughed to myself as I thought about the Chinese restaurant scene in A Christmas Story. Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra!

I spotted the gold Ford Edge with the dented quarter panel on my short drive to the Chinese restaurant. Weird.

I ordered sweet and sour chicken with white rice because that’s what I always order when I’m not craving anything in particular.

The Chinese ladies behind the counter were grumpy and no-nonsense as they always are. They never smile. One of them is super-hot, too. There was one old lady waiting for food before me. They handed her her food. The grumpy Chinese lady said “Merry Christmas.” That surprised me. The old lady said nothing.

The song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” started playing. The entire situation was hilarious. I wish I’d been happy enough to laugh.

A few minutes later, they called my order, handed me my food, wished me a smile-less “Merry Christmas,” which I returned, but with a smile, and headed home.

I turned on Home Alone 2, because I couldn’t think of anything better to do.

I ate all of the sweet and sour chicken and rice. There was a lot of it. It gave me a stomachache.

I opened the fortune cookie.

I was hoping for the most-profound fortune cookie message of all time…

“A focused mind is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.” (In bed.)

Mehhhhh.

1:33 p.m.

I called my father. I talked to him, my stepmom and my 15-year-old step-niece for an hour and 12 minutes.

2:47 p.m.

*Wraps son’s gifts. Poorly.*

I should go volunteer. Seriously.

3:15-ish p.m.

*Falls asleep*

I’m such a fraud sometimes. Honestly.

4:33 p.m.

*Wakes up*

My ex-wife texted that she’d be bringing our son over after dinner so he could open all the gifts at my house.

I spruced up the kitchen and cleaned off the bar from the night before.

6:05 p.m.

My son and ex-wife arrive.

Within a few minutes, he’s opening all the gifts under my tree. My ex-wife, for the third-consecutive visit to my house, sits on an old chair rather than the new couches, making me wonder for the third time whether she does that because I once wrote on this blog: “Don’t even think about sitting on my new couches.”

I kind of feel bad about that now, but didn’t want to bring it up on Christmas.

The boy mowed through the presents because he’s five years old.

Toy snakes, because he’s really into reptiles right now.

Books.

Beyblade and Pokemon items, because he’s really into the Japanese stuff for reasons I don’t understand.

A Nintendo 3DS and a few games.

And other odds and ends.

Then we all sat around playing with his stuff for a while. Just the three of us.

The family that isn’t.

But it wasn’t as bad as I expected. When my ex decided to leave, I hugged her. Kissed her cheek. Said “Merry Christmas.” And meant it.

I felt sorry for her heading home to be by herself, if that’s what she even did. I wouldn’t know. We don’t know what one another does anymore.

Because I’m a dad, I’m going to miss a lot of parties over the next week. One on Saturday, and at least two New Year’s parties.

I wonder if that will be as depressing as Christmas was?

Probably not.

8:40 p.m.

I put my son to bed. I laid with him for a while. He assured me he had a nice Christmas. That he was happy. I hoped he was telling me the truth. He’s old enough now to fib a little while trying to be sensitive to our feelings.

(That was the most-exciting thing that happened all day.)

He fell asleep a little after 9 p.m.

I walked downstairs. Looked around.

So this is Christmas.

I ate a little of the cranberry-jalapeño-cilantro dip I’d made the night before. My stomach still hurt, but the dip is so good, I didn’t care.

I played a little Mario Kart 7 on my son’s new 3DS hand-held video game system. Fun game.

Then I went to bed around 10 p.m. I arbitrarily decided to watch Groundhog Day and laugh at Bill Murray.

I fell asleep during his third time reliving Groundhog Day.

I didn’t cry, though I felt like it.

And I didn’t die.

I’m here.

Still alive.

With every opportunity to make today better than yesterday.

And next year, better than this one.

Watch out for that first step. It’s a doozy.

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

 With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and I was at home, totally alone, and writing a poem. The house is a mess. I don’t really care. My friends coming over, can lick my…

Christmas balls, brownies and cranberry dips! The beer tastes so good when the head hits your lips! There will be shots of tequila! Rum and eggnog! Ensuring this night that we’ll sleep like Yule logs.

The house has a chimney where squirrels once nested, baby squirrels rained down, and my patience was tested. So I installed a cage to keep the rats out, a cage that’s likely to make Santa shout.

“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT?!?!” the old man might yell, frightening the reindeer who will jingle their bells, before flying away and stranding St. Nick, who will stand there dumbfounded, feeling like a dick.

With the chimney shut tight, and the reindeer aflight, Santa will sneak like a thief in the night, to my back door and let himself in, and that’s when he’ll hear it: The sounds of our sins:

Laughter and swearing and off-color joking. Eating and drinking and probably smoking. The Mowgli’s, Cake, Of Monsters and Men. Walk the Moon, Volbeat, and Radiohead. Imagine Dragons, Beck, and Lana Del Ray. Childish Gambino and then Hot Chelle Rae.

“Holy shit, Hot Chelle Rae!” Santa will say. “This song’s gayer than Freddie Mercury’s pants!” before involuntarily starting to dance.

He’ll stomp down the stairs to my basement bar, but no one will notice; we’re not seeing far.

Faster than magic reindeer, his angry voice will come, and he’ll scowl and he’ll point and make us feel dumb: “Now, Scott! Now, Angel! Now, David and Connie! On, Joel! On, Mindy! On, Pam and on Johnny!”

He’ll flash a quick smile, do a quick whirl, point right at me, and wink at the jewelry store girl.

“The idiot reindeer left and now I’m in trouble, please pour me a drink, in fact, make that a double!”

Obliging the man, I’ll pour a tall glass. “I can control time! I’m getting drunk off my ass!”

His eyes will not twinkle though his dimples will be merry. His cheeks—like roses. His nose? Like a cherry.

We’ll party. We’ll laugh. We’ll dance and we’ll sing. Only God knows what the evening will bring.

“Sonofabitch! Would you look at the time! Lord, where are my reindeer? Please show me a sign.”

And just then on the stereo—Bullet for my Valentine.

Santa will slam down his drink with a thunderous THRAP. “Happy birthday, Jesus! I hope you like crap!”

He’ll stand up and stumble—a drunken Kriss Kringle. Scott will leave early; his keys, he will jingle.

The noise will draw reindeer back to my home; and here I thought I’d spend this evening alone.

We’ll laugh and we’ll hug and become Facebook friends, then he’ll climb in his sleigh where the time always bends.

He’ll put his hands on my shoulders: “Thanks for the shots. You’ve been naughty this year. But when have you not?”

I’ll shrug and I’ll nod because that’s what I do.

“Look under your tree. I left you a few.”

The magic is back, this Christmas, you see, with the promise of treasures in 2014.

If the presents are late or the gifts too confusing, I apologize, sincerely, for adult-drink abusing.

A visit from Santa. A visit from friends. An abundance of blessings where fun never ends.

Be thankful for fun and for laughs and for life. Be thankful for friends, your family, your wife. Be thankful for children, for adventure—live free. Be thankful for wine and barrel-aged whiskey.

I’m thankful for you. You give my life light.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Please have a fun night.

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So This is Christmas

I'll just keep walking forward. Waiting for the snow to melt. The flowers to bloom. The sun to rise. Because those things will happen.

I’ll just keep walking forward. Waiting for the snow to melt. The flowers to bloom. The sun to rise. Because those things will happen.

Christmas is less than two days away.

The most-beloved holiday on the Christian calendar. It’s so popular, most of the Jewish people I know celebrate it, too.

I don’t think we should wield the word “magic” too lightly, but that is precisely what so many of us experienced on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning throughout our childhoods.

Do you remember that first Christmas where the magic went away?

Maybe it was whenever you stopped believing in St. Nick’s Christmas Eve rounds. Maybe it was a holiday season spent away from your family. Maybe it was after a great personal loss. Maybe it was after your family went away.

I remember my first one. It was during my last year of college, and I lived far enough away from my family where I had to leave early Christmas Eve to head back to school. On Christmas Day, my job working with special needs people required that I be at a house with mostly strangers helping to prepare Christmas dinner.

It was my first Christmas dating my ex-wife. She was home with her family. I spent Christmas Eve night alone, assembling a large DVD cabinet my parents had given to me.

I spent the day with strangers. We ate turkey and watched The Goonies. We made the best of it.

But Christmas came and went without any of the magic I’d felt my entire life.

By next Christmas, I was living in Florida. That decision murdered Christmas.

I spent that Christmas Day with a handful of new friends I’d met at the newspaper. None of us could afford to fly home to be with our families—or we were on call at the paper in case of a major news event. As the lowest members on the totem pole, some of us had to be available.

I didn’t have a Christmas tree.

We played basketball in 80-degree temperatures.

The magic was gone.

It Found Me Again

Moving back to Ohio returned a bit of magic to the season. While it was my wife’s family and not my own with whom we would celebrate, it was still family. When our son came along five years ago, it further enhanced the holidays.

Even last year, with my marriage on the rocks, Christmas brought us all together. It was—literally—the last time it felt like family with my ex-wife, son and I together.

Then, poof.

Gone.

Everything.

Normalcy. Peace. Routine. Tradition. Love. Happiness.

The ever-hopeful voice that lives inside my head still whispered the possibility of unexpected Christmas blessings.

And perhaps they’ll come. I always like to say that there’s no reason to believe today won’t be the day that the best thing that ever happened to you, happens.

But as I sit here staring at the calendar, wondering where all that time went between spring when my life fell apart, and now, when I’m still firmly in wake-up-and-just-try-not-to-die mode, I feel… I’m not sure what.

Not joy. Not peace. Not magic.

But I also don’t feel horrible things.

Not despair. Not dread. Not hopeless.

I’m somewhere in between.

I’ll wake up with my son on Christmas Eve. We’ll have breakfast and I’ll take him to his mom’s.

I’ll spend the day wrapping gifts. Buying odds and ends for a small gathering of friends Christmas Eve night. Once again, a rogue group of people, away from their families, making the best of it.

Things can never be the same.

I don’t get to wake up an excited little boy on Christmas morning ever again. It’s all part of that hourglass sand moving from top to bottom.

I don’t get to wake up with my family. Drinking coffee. Eating pastries. Opening gifts. Watching A Christmas Story or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

There’s a fair chance Christmas morning brings with it a slight hangover from too many Christmas ales.

I’ll attend church alone.

I’ll spend the day picking up the pieces from the night before.

Perhaps I’ll listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat for a while, because it’s my favorite Christmas song.

Maybe I’ll watch Elf because laughing is healthy.

Maybe I’ll volunteer at a local shelter.

Maybe I’ll drink alone.

Maybe I’ll cry.

I don’t know.

I just know this is it. My new life.

And I must accept whatever comes. And just… deal.

So this is Christmas.

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The Lottery Tickets

Photo by Robert Donovan

Photo by Robert Donovan

They peek from my wallet.

Two small pieces of paper with random number sequences printed on them.

They’re most likely worthless. Like all of their predecessors. Banished to the landfill with my junk mail, banana peels and empty Golden Grahams boxes.

But there’s a one in 176 million chance that my having them puts me in the 1%.

I never check the numbers right away.

I let them marinate. Let the dream linger.

A fool’s hope.

I pull them from my wallet. They’re dated 11/03/2013. I even procrastinate at lottery tickets.

I bought eight picks. That was probably all the cash I had on me.

If such a large jackpot had hit in my town a month ago with no one coming forward, I would have heard about it. So I already know I’m not a millionaire.

But there are still $250,000 and $10,000 prizes to be won if the stars align.

A fool can always hope.

I Can Never Win

One of my high school friends and I had this conversation a couple months ago—we can never win.

Why?

Because we graduated with 75 kids in a small-town Catholic high school. And one of those 75 won. Her husband and a group of others split a Mega Millions jackpot sometime in the past five or six years.

If winning is already impossible at one in 176 million, how long are the odds of two people from the same small-town high school class hitting?

Longer than my… you know. Pretty long.

Checking the Numbers

I find the Mega Millions winning number archives on the lottery site. The jackpot for the November 5 drawing was $99 million. That’s $40 million after taxes and taking the one-time cash payout.

I could make $40 million last, I bet.

The Mega ball was 02.

I check the last digit on all eight picks. No 02. That rules out the jackpot and the $10,000 prize.

Whew. I was so nervous trying to figure out how to shove $40 million under my mattress.

I check the rest: 02-11-42-64-74.

One of the picks hit the 02, but no more.

Worthless.

Eighty-sixed. Where dreams go to die. With the junk mail. The banana peel. The old cereal box.

I crack a half smile.

Outside, darkness falls. Everything is covered in snow.

The glow of the computer screen highlights the stack of bills in front of me.

I’m going to order some Christmas presents for my five-year-old son.

Watch football.

Feel thankful. For the light from the Christmas tree. For the warmth from my furnace. For being alive.

I want more than simple cash can buy.

You know what the odds of being a person on planet Earth are?

According to Business Insider, the odds of you and I being alive are the same as two million different people rolling a TRILLION-sided dice and all rolling the exact same number.

The odds of us being here are pretty much zero.

Yet, here we are.

Bask in the impossibility of it all.

You’ve already won the lottery.

Just like me.

Once in a lifetime.

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How to Feel Proud of Your Child

Learning-is-Fun

I’m hard on my son sometimes.

To the point where I make him angry. Because I want him to be the best person he can be even if that means he has to be upset with me for correcting him.

It’s like a dangerous high-stakes game. Risking his affection in exchange for his good behavior and character development.

I made him cry last night after scolding him for making a mess because he wasn’t following directions.

“You’re never nice to me,” he said.

We talked about that for about 15 minutes. I think he actually understood when I explained how I’m his father first, and his friend, second. And that my job is to help him learn lessons and be the best person he can be. That I must hold him accountable when he doesn’t follow rules.

He’s a good boy.

And I’m often very nice to him. And he knows it, too.

They Grow Fast

Too fast, most parents will tell you.

His loose tooth finally came out Sunday. So the tooth fairy visited for the first time overnight.

He was as surprised as some of my disapproving co-workers to discover $5 under his pillow.

I was brushing my teeth as he counted the single bills on the floor outside the bathroom.

“Dad, I can’t believe I got five dollars for one little tooth!” he said.

“What would you like to do with your money?” I said.

He thought for just a minute.

“I want to put it in my piggy bank,” he said.

“You do? What do you want to save your money for?”

“I want to save it so you can buy me presents for Christmas and my birthday,” he said.

I smiled.

“Buddy, you are so thoughtful. But that’s your money. Mom and dad will use our money to buy you Christmas and birthday presents. This money is for you,” I said.

“Okay. I still want to save it,” he said.

Good boy.

Little boys like to pull their pants down to their ankles when they first learn to potty standing up. It’s not a big deal at home. But it’s not the kind of thing you want them doing in public restrooms or at school.

This morning, he went potty while I was still finishing getting ready for the day. He did so without pulling his pants all the way down.

“Look dad! This is how I potty now!”

“You’re getting so big, buddy. I’m very proud of you,” I said.

Big boy.

We were running ahead of schedule this morning. So we took a few minutes to work on some at-home learning activities for school. He knew what the Mayflower was, the ship our early settlers used to come to America. Well, at least the version of the story they tell American children. I was just impressed he’d heard of the ship and could rattle off some history about it.

He told me all of the months in the calendar year, in the correct order. It was the first time I’d heard him do that.

Smart boy.

He stuck a large yellow smiley face sticker to my shirt this morning.
“So you remember to feel happy,” he said. “Every time you see it, I want you to feel happy.”

I haven’t taken it off.

Sweet boy.

He does this thing where he always wants to race me. Because it’s winter and he hasn’t learned to be careful yet, he slipped on a sheet of ice while sprinting toward the day care family’s house this morning. He fell pretty hard. Cried a little.

“Hey. You’re okay, bud. You’re tough,” I said.

He continued whimpering.

“You remember what we’re going to do after I pick you up after work?” I said.

“Get Christmas lights and marshmallows for hot chocolate,” he said.

And cracked my favorite smile.

“That’s right. Christmas lights and marshmallows. Now you go have a good day at school. I’m so proud of you.”

And off he ran to tackle his day.

Brave boy.

This morning my son displayed innocence. Delighted by the wonder of the Tooth Fairy’s overnight visit.

He displayed kindness and generosity. Wanting to contribute to the family Christmas fund.

He displayed wisdom by choosing to save his money rather than spend it.

He displayed maturity. Going potty in a more-thoughtful, more-grownup way. By demonstrating new things he’s learned at school and home.

He displayed resiliency. Falling. Being hurt. And getting up and shaking off the pain.

Finding his smile as he looked forward to the good times that lie ahead.

That’s my little man. My beautiful child.

Growing, growing, growing.

Thank you for being you, son. Every choice led me to you.

No regrets.

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