Tag Archives: Single Father

The Control Issues

Control key

It felt like I died.

I was depressed. Not like “oh, I’m feeling a little emo and wish more people liked me.”

I was a version of myself I’d never known and that’s a scary place to be when you didn’t even know it was possible.

When you can’t find a way to be comfortable in your own skin, there is very little pleasantness in the human experience. If you don’t numb it with chemicals or find a way to fall asleep, every part of you just feels… bad.

Not uncomfortable. Fucking bad. Like you kind of want to chop something off you so it stops hurting or maybe die in a fiery explosion because this.is.bad.

That’s when I realized for the first time how little control I really had over my life.

I was out of control.

Life was out of control.

You have a decision to make: Stay afloat until you feel strong enough to start swimming toward where you want to be. Or drown.

The Loss of Control After Divorce

My son was gone. GONE. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Shocks your system. Like the jump into ice-cold water. It’s hard to breathe. You panic a little. Frantically looking for a way out.

Because the world isn’t big enough, I found out where he was and who he was with sometimes when he wasn’t with me.

Someone bad.

Not necessarily dangerous.

Just… bad.

And as that child’s parent, you’re now helpless. Because you no longer get to say what happens to your child 50-percent of his life. You lose control. Even the ability to influence what happens, depending on the other parent’s choices.

Sometimes, I’d get so upset that I would sob and vomit and say bad words in between the heaving.

A New Kind of Prison

Each day. Each new experience. You get a little closer to coming to terms with your new reality.

Your new prison.

Because if you’re a divorced parent, that’s what your new life is. You no longer get to make choices like everyone else, UNLESS you’re willing to abandon your child, and if you’re that kind of person, you have bigger problems to work out than a failed marriage.

When she left, all I wanted to do was run away. Run!

I had these fantasies of getting a copywriting gig in New Orleans or the Pacific Northwest or some other undetermined place to try to find the reset button. To get a fresh start. To get away from everything in my life that represented sadness and anger and my failed life.

To run away for a couple years just to prove I’ve never been free.

It’s not possible.

Until your child is AT LEAST 18, and probably longer than that, they can use all the love and support we as parents can muster during the final stages of their transition from child to adult.

Our most-important job with our children is helping them develop into someone who doesn’t need us anymore.

I couldn’t run.

I was here. Am here. Stuck. No escape.

And your first lesson: Everything’s different now. I have to let some things go.

Including the illusion of control.

Motherfucker, I’ll Be Back From the Dead Soon

The best thing that happens after you get all that crying and puking and swearing out of your system is that you start living again.

You start having new experiences and making new memories with new people.

You can’t know you’re not going to stay dead until you finally stop being dead. It’s liberating when other people can make you smile and laugh and feel good. New people in your new life, proving to you that there is one on the other side.

People who used to have a death grip on your emotions lose that grip.

Not because they let go.

But because you’re strong enough to remove it yourself.

When you’re angry and immature and yelling: “You’re not my fucking mom. No one tells me what to do!” it’s a really ineffective way to establish boundaries and demonstrate that you are in control of your own life.

That’s what I used to do and it should come as little surprise that it was a highly ineffective strategy that probably played a pretty major role in my marriage’s eventual demise or establishing healthy boundaries in other relationships.

Self-reflection and self-awareness helps you recognize all your own bullshit and start owning it. I am a hot-headed, defensive, sarcastic, impulsive, immature sonofabitch when I get really fired up about something. And it has taken me all 36 of these years to get to a place where I could finally learn how to breathe, and pray, and exercise the kind of patience necessary to avoid escalating normal conflict into war.

The Thing About Control

Attempts to control are typically a reaction to the fear of losing control. GoodTherapy.org and virtually every credible source of information on control issues all say the same thing: “The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”

People who struggle with control issues fear being at the mercy of others, and the fear typically stems from some past traumatic event that left them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

“As a result, they may crave control in disproportionate and unhealthy ways.”

Empathy and patience is in order when you come across people with control issues. It’s not as if they want to be controlling and domineering. They might not even know they’re doing it. Demonstration of controlling behavior is usually a direct result of traumatic life experiences, a lack of trust, anxiety, fears of abandonment, damaged self-esteem, personal beliefs, perfectionism, or fear of experiencing emotional pain, writes Jeffrey Kaplan, a licensed therapist at GoodTherapy.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize you can’t control what other people do.

It requires simply getting stronger. And demonstrating more courage.

Because that’s the one thing it turns out you can control: How you’re going to react to unpleasantness in this new world where everything feels upside-down.

I know how I’m going to react.

I’m going to clearly state my boundaries and intentions. I’m going to mean exactly what I say.

Because I control me.

No one else does.

Attempts to circumvent my boundaries will be met with unpleasantness.

That’s where freedom lives.

Even when you feel trapped.

You make everything new by changing on the inside.

Because it turns out you’re still alive.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

“Dad! I Have to Show You Something.”

Growth. It's a process.

Growth. It’s a process.

Uh-oh.

That can mean so many things.

“Daaaad! I have to show you something,” my five-year-old yelled from down the hall.

It can mean something was broken. Ugh.

Or just that he wants to show me a cool scene in whatever show he’s watching.

“Da-da! Daaaddddddd! Daddy! I have to show you something.”

It can mean a huge mess was made. Grrr.

Or that he created something fantastic and imaginative with his toys and craves my approval.

“Dad. Dad. Dad. Hey dadddddddddddddddd! I’m calling you. Can you hear me? I have to show you something.”

It can mean there’s a pukey or poopy mess. Gross.

I can usually tell whether the thing he wants to show me is good or bad based on his tone of voice.

But it was late. I hadn’t been able to sleep. Everything was surreal. Confusing.

I looked over at the clock. “It’s 3:29 a.m., asshole,” the clock said. “It doesn’t matter that you’re tired. It doesn’t matter that you have to get up in less than three hours. It doesn’t matter that you’re alone and there’s no one to help you. Get up. Take care of your child. He needs you.”

Shit. The clock’s right.

In the months leading up to our son being born, I spent a lot of time in our nursery which had previously served as our home office.

I would just sit there, in a comfortable old recliner from college—our baby’s in-room rocking chair.

That was such an exciting time. Such a hopeful time.

The walls were already a soft yellow. Gender-neutral. So we left it alone.

We never learned the baby’s gender during the pregnancy. Surprises have merit.

My crafty wife made some curtains. Our very first baby item was a mobile for the crib. I think we bought it with a gift card at Pottery Barn Kids because it was literally the only thing we could afford there.

I’d glance at the crib, picturing a little person standing inside, waiting for mommy or daddy to pull them out of bed.

For some reason, I thought we were having a girl. But I was guilty of slightly favoring a boy. Because of all of the fond memories I had with my dad and stepdad. I was excited to share in those types of father-son adventures.

Gender didn’t matter, though.

The love was swelling. As I visualized the child. Rocking him or her in that chair. Playing with him or her in the backyard. All of the future games the three of us would play. And maybe four, as at that point, I still hoped there would be one more joining the family, too.

Mom and dad. Hopefully son and daughter.

My little family fantasy.

Babies are Hard

They are.

It’s hard to take care of everything that needs taken care of in a day for yourself AND for another little otherwise-helpless human being. They don’t care that you’re in a hurry. They’ll puke on your shirt.

They don’t care that you just stopped a few minutes ago on your long road trip. They shit in their diapers. Really foul, awful shit, too.

They cry a lot. It’s really the only way they know how to tell you what’s going on.

If they cry, it means they’re hungry. Or they’re tired. Or they’re uncomfortable. It’s always one of the three.

Which is good because it doesn’t take long to solve. Universal problems. Universal solutions.

It’s funny that I wanted another child.

Because I was a bad father. Check that. I wasn’t a bad father. I was a bad husband to a brand-new mother.

Yes. That.

My wife got two children right away. Or at least, that’s how she felt. Because she had to take care of all of us.

When you have a baby, everything changes. And you have to make radical adjustments. Solve problems.

Two loving adults pulling in the same direction can figure out how to solve those problems together.

But when one parent doesn’t give as much as they take?

That’s how you make a new mother feel alone. That’s how you make a woman resent a man. That’s how you lose her respect. And eventually, her love.

She did it all. She really did.

She read all the books. She baby-proofed the house. She created his schedule. She managed all of his medical care. She organized his clothes and baby needs and always had the baby bag packed and ready to go.

She made all of his homemade baby food. It was an awesome system.

She found the daycare family who, to this day, still cares for our son.

I’ve failed many things in my life. Many things.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever failed anyone harder than I did my wife during the first year of our son’s life. I was lost. And so was she.

But she figured it out.

And I didn’t.

Not until later. Not until the day we were both sitting on our deck one afternoon having a beer in the sunshine and I asked the question: “Am I the reason you didn’t want to have more kids?”

“Yes,” she said. “That is a big part of it.”

Growing. Always Growing.

Both of us.

Father and son. Twenty-nine years separating us.

But still. Growing. Every day.

The weather has been terrible. Absolutely frigid temperatures. We got six inches of snow overnight two nights ago. But right now, it’s in the mid-40s. It will be 50 tomorrow.

Those temperature swings make people sick.

My son developed a cough from sinus congestion. He coughed so hard, he vomited right when he got home yesterday.

I cancelled my plans for the evening to focus on him.

We watched a couple shows. Had dinner. Had his nightly bath.

We practiced his “sight” words. Little flash cards. His writing is improving. His ability to figure out what a word is based on the letters is really impressing me. He’s learning so much in kindergarten. I feel immense pride when he shows an ability to problem solve. Hell. I feel immense pride all the time.

And here we are, six years later. Only he’s here now. All those visions dancing in my head turned into a real flesh-and-blood person. A sweet one. A funny one. A smart one. A loving one.

One capable of the stubbornness of his parents. Of the irresponsibility of his father. Of the antics of many small children.

But still.

My son.

Everything I could have hoped for sitting on that recliner late into the night six years ago, daydreaming about fatherhood.

And now it really is fatherhood. It’s not just me leaning on my wife (now ex) for direction, even though she still gets a lot more right than I do.

I’m here. Really doing it. Really being a dad.

“White.”

“Blue.”

“Three.”

He rattled off his sight words as I flipped through the handwritten flash cards.

“Is.”

“The…

“Hey dad! Did you know ‘the’ is the most-important word of all the words? It is. I know it.”

I flipped to another.

“I don’t know this one, dad. You say it.”

“You can figure it out, bud,” I said.

“Wa. Ah. Te. What!”

I love when he figures things out on his own.

“Very good! Yes! That spells ‘what’!”

We read a book. He spotted the word “lion.”

“Hey dad! I know a secret code.”

“You know a secret code?”

“Yes. He pointed to ‘lion.’ If you take out the ‘L’ and the ‘I,’ it spells ‘on.’”

I laughed.

“Yes it does. Very good!”

It’s such a joy seeing their little minds work. Grow. Morph.

Little miracles.

He was coughing really hard. Even after the cough syrup.

He’d rolled off his propped-up sleeping position. Laying flat, the coughing frequency and severity increased.

“Dad! I need more water!”

I still use his last remaining spill-proof sippy cup for his nighttime water cup. I’m not sure whether that’s bad, given his age. I don’t like cleaning up spills.

I had fallen asleep around 9 p.m. and woke up at midnight just in time to catch the second night of the excellent and hilarious Jimmy Fallon rocking The Tonight Show.

I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Tossing. Turning. My son coughing down the hall.

Hot. Cold. Busy mind. More coughing.

“Dad. I need to show you something.”

It was 3:29 a.m.

I walked down the hall. He was sitting up. Wide-awake.

“Hey man. Why aren’t you sleeping? What do you want to show me?”

He climbed out of bed and walked to the hallway closet and opened it.

He pointed inside.

There was a humidifier sitting there.

A device that hadn’t left the closet since the last time my ex-wife used it.

I smiled. I have no idea how he even remembered that was in there.

Smart kid.

“Okay. You get back in bed. I’ll take care of this for you.”

I put the basin in the sink to fill up.

I ran downstairs to grab salt—the crappy iodized table salt—not my delicious Kosher salt I use for all my food prep.

I salted the water, not bothering to measure.

A couple minutes later, the humidifier was sending hot steam into the air. Relieving my son’s congestion.

My little man.

Thinking for himself.

Solving problems.

Helping himself.

And helping me, too.

Growing.

Always growing.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Art of Dating Discrimination

Image courtesy of nana-eddy.blogspot.com

Image courtesy of nana-eddy.blogspot.com

I’ve only had three girlfriends ever make it past the get-to-know-you phase.

It’s because both my mom and dad had gone through divorce, and both preached “playing the field” and to not be in a hurry to get married.

Spend time with lots of different girls, they said. Figure out what you like. Figure out why.

Not every girl approved of my way of thinking, but I didn’t particularly care. The thinking was: As soon as you know there’s no chance of this ending in marriage, why be in a committed relationship with one another?

I didn’t believe in having a girlfriend simply for the sake of having one.

That was an easy choice to make back then. I was young. With a hard stomach. And constantly surrounded by young, single women.

I’m sure I wasn’t as honest as I should have been. But I also wasn’t a lying, sneaky prick.

As far as I know, I didn’t leave very many hurt feelings in my wake as I navigated my youth.

Everything’s Different Now

It’s a much more-difficult choice to make now. Being discriminatory. But I choose it anyway.

I am no longer the most-important person in my life.

The day my son was born changed everything.

From that moment on, my decision making revolved entirely around the fact that I was his father.

Divorce hasn’t changed that.

But that has also come with a cost. It means I spend a great deal of time sleeping alone, dining alone, watching television alone. It means, for the first time in my life, I do most things alone.

I’m still adjusting to that.

It hasn’t been easy.

When my wife left, it was as if someone hit the reset button in the middle of my game.

I was on high alert. I knew it was possible. But the reaction was still: “WHAT THE… !?!?”

Then, after the dust settled, it hit me: A fresh start.

Kind of a do-over.

There are certainly geographic and financial limitations due to the shared custody of my son. But it’s not as if I’d trade him for anything, so I don’t see the point in lamenting his wonderful existence.

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

My mom always used to say that.

But, guess what?

I’m not begging.

I wrote a post about an encounter with a girl at a bar on Valentine’s Day. It was a nice moment, I thought, and wanted to write about it.

There were more than a few people who told me both online and offline that they thought I was doing it wrong. There are probably several more who agree with them but didn’t bother to tell me about it.

One lady wrote:  “I just happened upon your blog and I sorta agree with elbrookman (who was very disappointed with my choices). I understand not wanting to get involved with someone not geographically close, however, asking for her number is not a marriage proposal!…

“Maybe your inability to connect has more to do with your idea that you don’t measure up vs others thinking that you don’t! And connecting with someone doesn’t mean sleeping with them right out the gate! You have a lot of soul-searching to do my friend!”

She did a pretty good job of summing up my entire life and every word I’ve ever written in one comment.

But I dabble in the honesty business now. More than I ever have. So, let me just come out and say it:

I was pretty annoyed with everyone who suggested they knew better than I did what the best play was while meeting a strange girl at a bar. I was there. I was having the actual conversation. I was minutes away from picking up my five-year-old son to take him home and get him in pajamas and tuck him into bed.

It was suggested I made a mistake not trying to “romance” her. Perhaps a stroll under the full moon.

I’m not opposed to such things, I guess.

When I don’t have a sleeping five-year-old at home.

When it’s not 10 degrees outside with a shit-ton of ice and snow everywhere.

Whatever. Totally beside the point.

Why didn’t I try harder with the pretty stranger at the bar? Let’s discuss.

I only want to date women who live close to me. That stranger in the bar? She lives 2,380 miles away.

That’s a 34-hour drive, if you don’t stop for gas and food and sleep and bathroom breaks.

I only want to date women who live close for the same reasons I didn’t waste a lot of time in committed relationships in my youth I knew to be doomed for failure.

What’s the point?

I don’t want to date a woman I can’t see.

I don’t want to like a woman who I’m going to miss because she lives far away.

I’m really confused about why people don’t see the wisdom in that.

And I don’t care if this makes it hard for me to find people to date. I’m not going to suddenly change all my criteria, just to increase my odds of finding someone who meets my dating criteria.

My standards are my standards. I put thought into formulating them.

If I end up liking someone enough to be in a relationship with them, I want to be able to see them. You know, so we can have dinner and drinks and go to concerts and the movies and make out on the couch. This can’t seem weird to very many people. Right?

I only want to date women who could theoretically be a potential stepmom to my son. Even if this pretty photographer didn’t live in California, I can assure you—beyond all doubt—she wasn’t looking to spend all her time in the Ohio suburbs with a divorced guy and his kid.

She was awesome. Very funny. Very smart. Enjoyed her company immensely and would have had a great time with her for as long as the night allowed had I not been on parenting duty.

But even if my son hadn’t required my care?

There was still no happy ending to that story, from a “dating” or “relationship” standpoint.

So, I fail to see the wisdom in treating the encounter as anything more than it was. A nice moment that made me smile.

If people care enough about my personal life—and I realize I invite this commentary by publishing stories about my personal life—to offer criticism of my conversations with strangers at bars, I’d love for them to get on board with the idea that I actually think about this stuff (probably too much, actually) and have reasons for the choices I make—even the bad ones.

They are not accidents.

They are thoughtful and deliberate.

So, Yeah. I’m Picky.

Fastidious.

Discriminating.

Particular.

I am.

And I’m not sorry, either. I have all kinds of personal rules about the kind of women I’m willing to hitch my wagon to. And, yes. I’m totally smart enough to realize just how challenging that’s going to make this next chapter of my life from a dating standpoint.

I’ve written about just how frustrating I consider it several times.

But I don’t think the answer to one of the most-important life decisions one can ever make is to all the sudden lower ones standards in the interest of increasing the candidate pool. That’s how the Cleveland Browns hire all of their head coaches, and anyone paying attention to American football can appreciate just how well that works out for them.

I want to meet someone who lives close to me. Period. Because if I like her, I want to see her.

I want to date someone who is mostly on the same philosophical wavelength as me. Because if it were to ever morph into a long-term thing, and she’s going to serve as a part-time parent to my son? I need her to be supportive of the values I want to instill in my child.

I want to date someone in my relative age range.

I want to think she’s beautiful in all the ways I evaluate beauty, both inside and out.

I want her to like me. To want to be here in Ohio where I must live for the next 13 years, minimum, until my son graduates from high school.

And I want the two of us to have lots of common goals and interests. On superficial things, and on all the stuff that really matters in relationships—all the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual components required to make it work.

I do not want to sleep with random strangers in bars.

I would not want to casually hang out with a random stranger in a bar UNLESS I wanted to sleep with her.

I have a million rules. All of them matter. Every single one.

And sure, it makes my life more difficult. More frustrating. More lonely.

But I’m not compromising my values.

And I’m not setting myself up for emotionally devastating long-term failure.

I think back to my first crack at dating. How I would never even start down the path with someone when I knew it couldn’t last.

And in many ways since, everything has changed.

But in some ways?

Nothing has.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

A Girl at a Bar

Kind of like this. Only next to me.

Kind of like this. Only next to me.

It was to be a different kind of Valentine’s Day.

I was okay with that.

My five-year-old son had a special event scheduled at his karate dojo. Something just for kids.

Maybe I’ll meet some other parents.

I had been looking forward to it. It’s fun to be a parent at little-kid things.

But as I signed a permission slip for my son to take part in the evening’s scheduled activities, it dawned on me that this wasn’t something parents would be attending.

I thought it was curious they would schedule something on Valentine’s Day. But when I realized they did it intentionally to give adults some time to do adult stuff while the kids had fun together in a safe location, it all made sense.

Well, shit.

I decided right away I’d go have dinner somewhere. The dojo is located in a strip mall a couple suburban towns away. There were a couple pubs and restaurants nearby.

So, I parked the Jeep and walked into an Irish pub I’d never been in before.

The Bar Crowd

It was an interesting crowd.

I’m like Jason Bourne when I’m sitting alone, only instead of being a badass prepared for anything, I’m really just creepily digesting everyone’s conversations and making judgments about them based on very little information.

The bar was U-shaped.

To my left was a couple I assumed to be meeting for the first time. They seemed an odd pair. Like they’d decided to meet for drinks on an online dating site.

Three stools to my right, in the middle of the U, sat a man by himself who walked in not long after I did. He immediately ordered a pint of Fat Tire—the same beer I was drinking—and a shot of Jägermeister. I was at the bar for nearly three hours. He never took that shot while I was there.

There were two intoxicated couples and one guy who boasted about how he dumped his wife at home to come drinking with his friends. They sat directly across the bar burning money on losing attempts at Keno.

A male gay couple came in and sat in a booth on the other side of the room. A couple guys who looked like they were really into science-fiction and comic books came in and sat between the guy who wouldn’t take his shot and the drunk Keno players.

Those guys LOVED the song “Sail” by AWOLNATION. It’s probably the fifth-best song on the album.

And back to my right sat two couples in a booth. One of the guys was older than my father and was with a girl younger than me. And yes, they were a couple.

What am I doing wrong? Honestly?

Everything, probably.

The bartenders were sweet. Two girls. One was gorgeous. The other was not. The one who wasn’t flirted with me all night.

I didn’t mind.

I left the bar and walked down to the karate place to check on my little man. It was shortly after 8 p.m., and the pizza delivery person was JUST getting there as I walked in. Dinner for the kids. My son is usually in bed at this time.

Whatever. Special occasion.

I chatted with a couple staff members. Everything was under control.

Screw it. I’m going back to the bar.

I sat down in the same stool.

I smiled at the bartender who thought I’d left for the evening.

“Another Fat Tire?” she said.

“Yep.”

A couple minutes later, a pretty blonde girl walked in and sat right next to me.

“A Miller Lite and a Fireball,” she told the bartender.

“Nice work,” I said, holding out my glass.

She clinked it and we drank.

She asked me to do it again when she took her shot.

“I was supposed to be out with my mom,” she said. “She dumped me.”

“Dumped by your mom on Valentine’s Day? Brutal,” I said.

She was only in town visiting.

She lives in Venice Beach, Calif. A self-employed action-sports photographer. A very talented one. I checked out her work.

She just travels around, sometimes internationally, shooting cool stuff.

Very pretty.

Very funny.

Very engaging.

Not quite an hour later, I didn’t want to leave.

But my son always has, and always will, come first.

“Devon, I’d love to stay and get silly with you. But I gotta go be a dad. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

A smile.

“Likewise.”

And I walked out, leaving that lovely stranger to have whatever adventure the night was going to deliver her.

And I smiled.

A chance encounter.

A simple thing, really.

But a big thing.

A reminder that life just happens.

That plans are great. Expectations are fine. But life just happens anyway.

The beautiful stranger chose me to sit next to.

Smile.

And someday, there will be another one.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Pottymouth Training

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

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

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

But I know what I heard.

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

What the… !?!?

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

He didn’t answer.

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

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

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

2012-07-13_6307_Gilligan
Nope.

The Troublemaker

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

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

I like to goof off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can’t stop.

Won’t stop.

You’re welcome.

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

A hypocrite.

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

Because he’s my little man. 

You Stupid Bastard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” I said.

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

“No.”

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

My aunt chimed in.

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

“No.”

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

“No.”

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

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

Dammit, the Delivery is Perfect

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

But here’s the thing.

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

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

Owen: “Hey Dad! Watch me yo-yo!”

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *flubs it* “Dammit!”

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

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *knocks it over* “Dammit!”

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

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

Owen: “Dammit!”

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

I laugh every time he does it. Bad dad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fresh prince aint even mad

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

Grade School Shenanigans

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! It's your time!

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes and have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! This is your time! Just don’t tell your teachers I said so!

I kept my head down.

My first-grade teacher was really letting me have it in front of the entire class.

Our assignment was simple enough: Punch holes all around the periphery of two pieces of construction paper. Then, we were to sew the two pieces of paper together by weaving a strand of yarn in and out of the punched holes.

What a bunch of stupid bullshit, six-year-old me thought, though it was probably closer to: Golly gee, all this sure seems silly!

So, I started to skip a hole here and there.

This is so much faster!

Once I figured out how much more efficient the shortcuts were, I went nuts and started skipping entire corners.

All the other kids’ yarn was perfectly sewn in and out of each hole like they were supposed to.

Mine was a hot freaking mess vying to be among the shittiest child artwork anyone had ever seen.

The teacher was PISSED. Excessively so, I think. And she was making an example of me—the newest kid in the class.

I braved a glance away from the floor. There, peering through a window into the classroom, were two girls watching me get scolded.

I made eye contact with one of them. We held each other’s gaze for a moment.

Then I grinned at her.

Hi, Girl I Don’t Know. We can’t be good all the time!

We’ve been friends ever since.

Oh, Shit. Now I’m the Parent

My five-year-old son started kindergarten less than two weeks ago.

The first week, he was “caught being good”—something that awarded him praise in front of his classmates and a special trip to the principal’s office for recognition and a small prize.

I thought it was adorable. I was really proud of him and told a handful of people about it.

Then this week happened.

He’s had not one, but TWO, notes sent home this week by his teacher because of poor behavior.

“I’m writing to let you know that your child has been making poor choices this week. He talks excessively to other kids and sometimes has trouble keeping his hands to himself,” the note said.

I bought him a new toy after picking him up Tuesday. He had told me he’d been good all day.

A fib, it turns out.

So, I had to take his new toy away. He was pretty upset. Which is the desired effect when you want to teach your children there are consequences to being little shitbags in school and then lying about it.

He earned his toy back by being good in school yesterday.

I enjoy positive reinforcement much more than making him sad.

I wrote his teacher back Tuesday night, so she knew where I stood:

I made it clear that both my ex-wife and I were on the same page as far as reinforcing following directions and respecting the rules of the classroom, and that we would do everything we could to support her efforts. But I did mention that our son is still trying to adjust to a new life without both of his parents at the same place at the same time, which I don’t think she knew about.

I don’t want to make excuses for him. But I also think this has adversely affected him—even more than I’d originally feared. And it’s still pretty fresh.

He has some anger now. Anger previously unseen. Which is why I spend as much time laughing with him as I possibly can.

She ‘Nose’

My friends and I liked to laugh. We liked to have fun. And I don’t regret even one second of that.

There was this one kid who came to our school in fifth grade and moved after eighth grade. But during those four years he was at our school, he was one of my best friends.

He had a massive crush on the girl who was universally considered the most attractive in our class.

One day, we heard a rumor that she knew about his crush on her.

“She KNOWS,” we’d say dramatically, before laughing hysterically.

If we couldn’t speak because class was in session, we’d just mouth the words: “She knows,” while pointing to our noses for effect.

For almost an entire semester, he or I would write the word “NOSE” on the blackboard before class started every day. Sometimes our teacher would erase it. Sometimes he wouldn’t.

That always made me laugh.

I don’t think that I’ve ever been bad.

But I’ve always been mischievous. And I don’t intend to stop.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do?

I try to set a decent example for my son. I do.

But I don’t know how to shut myself off sometimes. I’m kind of a clown. My ability to display maturity as a 34-year-old has been questioned on several occasions—both at home and at work.

Here’s what I tell my son:

  1. Listen to your teachers. They’re in charge. Use your ears. Following directions is important.
  2. Be nice to other kids. You can’t have too many friends.
  3. It’s important to learn. That’s how you make money so you can buy food and toys.

I expect him to have good manners, treat people kindly and respect his teachers.

But just between you and me? Do I really care that he’s inclined to share private jokes with friends and build those social bonds—some of which may last a lifetime—even when the teacher wishes he wouldn’t?

Not particularly.

In fact, I kind of like it.

Because that note from his teacher? That could have been written about me.

And, while I have plenty of things wrong with me, I’m not unhappy with the person I am today.

As his father, I can’t stand by silently if he’s blatantly disrespectful and insubordinate.

But if this life has taught me anything, it’s that there may be no resource more precious than friends.

I’d be nothing without them. As an only child, my friends WERE my family.

And now I’m looking at my young son. A little me. A child of divorce. And at exactly the same age. He’s also an only child.

I have a better sense today of what’s important than I’ve ever had.

And while my son will never hear me encourage him to goof off or be disruptive in class, it is my belief that the most-important life skills we learn in grade school are socialization and how to make friends.

And near as I can tell, he is off to a pretty good start.

Go get ’em, little man.

We can’t be good all the time.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: