Tag Archives: Holiday

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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A New Year’s Toast

Happy New Year, everyone.

Happy New Year, everyone.

*clinks glass a few times*

Sorry, everybody. Could I have your attention, please? I promise this won’t take long.

Thank you so much for being here tonight.

I would like to propose a toast.

To my son. A big-boy kindergartener now. With two missing teeth. Even in my most-frustrated moments, when you’re behaving like a little demon spawn, I never cease to be moved by just how proud of you I am. You are loved in indescribable ways. And everything I do in this new year will, first and foremost, be rooted in my deepest desire for you to have the best life imaginable. You are my life’s finest achievement and its greatest blessing. I couldn’t love anything more. To 2014, little man.

To my ex-wife. Thank you for everything you do on behalf of our child. Thank you for all of your kindness efforts over the past several weeks. Thank you for walking the walk every day as it pertains to putting our son first. Here’s to 2014 delivering peace and healing and hope in this next chapter. You’ll always matter.

To my friends. In my very worst year, bar none, you saved my life. I may have kept breathing. Walking around. But it’d be an illusion. Because I’d be on life support. But here I am. Alive. I have glimpses of the new normal now. Hope remains. I love you, dearly. Even when it doesn’t feel like it because I’m often so bad at communicating that. I hope to give you a better effort in 2014. May the new year bring you peace where there’s conflict, hope where there’s despair, forgiveness where there’s anger, and laughter where there are tears. I truly could not live without you.

To my family. I am going to come out of this alive because I was blessed with you as my foundation. However fragmented. However dysfunctional. There has always been love. My rock. I love you.

To my fellow writers. Thank you for the joy you bring others by sharing your talents. Your words. Your souls. Thank you for teaching me new ways to think. New questions to ask. New ways to write. To engage. So much wonderful talent out there to admire. Whatever your writing goals may be, I pray that 2014 brings you that much closer to achieving them. And if this tiny, humble slice of the internet can ever help bring you closer to those goals, you need only ask. To 2014, ladies and gentlemen.

To everyone who takes a timeout from their busy lives to pay attention to what’s happening here.

You cannot know what you mean to me.

How honored I feel that people invest their time, their minds, their hearts, in some of the things that are written here.

The words living here are saturated by so many things.

Tears.

Rage.

Love.

Childishness.

And hope. Always, hope.

In my darkest days, you’ve delivered comfort and reassurance. Wisdom and encouragement. Laughter and friendship.

You make me believe, for so many reasons, that my life can matter. That I can be so much more than who and what I am.

I pray that 2014 delivers to you all that you deserve.

Healing for the broken.

Prosperity for the poor.

The fulfillment of whatever it is you set out to do in this next calendar cycle.

Every year, every month, every week, every day is another opportunity for you to experience the best thing that has ever happened to you.

Hope.

Please always choose hope.

*raises glass*

To you and me.

To the pursuit of happiness.

To 2014.

Cheers.

Happy New Year.

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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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From Now On Our Troubles Will Be Miles Away

New_Year_wallpapers_Lonely_decorated_Christmas_tree_in_the_forest_047669_

I know how you feel about all this Christmas business, getting depressed and all that. It happens to me every year. I never get what I really want… real estate.

The stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

Minus one.

The Christmas tree is up. No lights or ornaments yet. I promised my five-year-old son I’d wait for him. He’ll be here later today.

I decorated my house for Christmas alone yesterday. My first holiday season as a single, divorced father.

The most-interesting and occasionally unpleasant thing about my new life is how emotions creep up and surprise me.

I wasn’t so naïve as to believe I’d be unaffected by the experience of going through boxes of holiday décor to see what I would set out versus what I will deliver to my ex-wife this afternoon.

But, damn.

I was really surprised by what my insides did.

Through the Years, We All Will Be Together

I opened a small tin.

There were many ornaments from her childhood. I closed it.

I picked up her stocking, her name stitched across the top. It has an angel on it. She loves angels. Has an entire Christmas tree dedicated to them every year. I folded it and put it back.

I went through a phase as a college student and young adult where I didn’t really make a big deal out of Christmas.

But it truly was a magical time of year for me as a child.

And as an adult—particularly as a father—I found myself softening up and gravitating back toward all of the goodness I’d always associated with the season of Christmas.

I even started listening to Christmas music again after avoiding it for several years.

These changes took place in large part because of my ex-wife. That girl oozes Christmas this time of year.

“This place looks like someone vomited Christmas EVERYWHERE. I love it!” said a former co-worker about my house when attending my ex-wife’s birthday party two years ago.

We had kicked around the idea of starting a new tradition where we had an open house party every Christmas evening. After the presents have been opened. All businesses closed. Maybe people would feel like getting out and drinking eggnog with us.

I always thought that sounded like fun.

If the Fates Allow

My last really nice memory with my ex-wife was this past Christmas.

Just the three of us and her brother’s family of three at her mother’s house.

I knew we were in enormous trouble.

But the spirit of the season poked through. It’s the last time it felt like family.

We had friends at our place for New Year’s. The clock struck midnight. I leaned down and kissed her cheek.

“This is the year everything gets better. 2013’s gonna be the best one yet,” I promised her.

“I hope so,” she said.

Faithful friends who are dear to us, gathered near to us once more.

We celebrated with fake smiles and sparkling wine.

But in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2013, we went to our separate bedrooms, starting the year just as it will end.

Thinking about Christmas paralyzes me. Because it matters again.

But I can’t run from any of it. There’s nowhere to hide.

Opening gifts and eating turkey with my family back in my hometown? Hours away from my son?

Staying home? Alone?

Accept my ex-wife’s Christmas invitation?

I don’t mean to sound overly dramatic (for once) but, shit. No. Right?

All of it sounds horrible. And I’m an optimist!

Is it possible to live vicariously enough through your child to overcome the shock from all the changes between last year and now?

Seems like a lot to ask of an oblivious kindergartener.

He’ll pick up an ornament later today.

“Where do you want to put this one, dad?”

I’ll glance over.

It will be the one with a photo of my ex in her wedding dress. Or the one with the bride and groom figurines. Or the one with a pretty ring jutting out of a red jewelry box. Or one of the dozens of ornaments an aunt or uncle had sent to both of us over the years.

Happy golden days of yore.

“Not that one, kiddo.”

Or.

“We’re going to give that one to mommy, bud.”

Or.

“No, sweetheart. We’re not going to hang that one on the tree this year.”

But we’ll soldier through, my little man and I.

Maybe watch a Christmas movie.

And I’ll hang that shining star up on the highest bough. The one being held by the angel who sits atop the tree, watching over the proceedings between now and early January.

2014.

The calendar flip.

A simple act. Turning that page. But hopefully a meaningful one.

Hopefully one that delivers the good tidings I falsely promised would come this year.

When our troubles will be out of sight.

But first, we tackle December 25. Together.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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