September 30, 2012

Life Changes

Every now and again my ring finger feels naked. I absentmindedly reach for my wedding band with my thumb, as I’ve done probably thousands of times before, and realize that it’s no longer there. That symbol of eternity, as the priest described it over 12 years ago, now sits in my overnight bag, tucked unceremoniously under the bathroom sink.

What led to this life change is complicated and, yet, simple. While I’m not inclined to air my laundry in such a public forum, I am at peace with the decision. For too long I gave and, in my mind, received little. Or, at least, not enough. I’m not sure if blame is to be cast – it just is. And while I am mindful that the person I will no longer be married to will always, and hopefully, be in my life as we continue to parent our beautiful children, I am also mindful that my life can be mine again.

Again, this is not to place blame. Blame implies anger and resentment and that’s something that I don’t have. Not anymore. Sometimes I feel a melancholy sadness that mostly percolates to the surface when a childhood milestone is missed as the family we once knew – but I am also filled with hope for the future and a sense of peace that the decision is the right one.

And as I look at the faces of my children, I hope they will one day understand that this decision was made, in part, because I want something better for them. I want them to learn what a healthy, strong relationship looks like and I feared they wouldn’t learn that with the status quo. Perhaps they can see what two loving parents can do for their children – even if it’s done in two separate households.

As for me, my life feels at ease for the first time in a long time. The irony is that there are many reasons to feel differently but I feel, for the first time in a long time, a sense of optimism that I thought had died long ago. I know who I want to be. I know what I want for myself. I know that I can take the lessons I learned from my marriage and apply it to my next relationship. I am a work in progress but the final chapter hasn’t been written. In fact, this middle chapter might be the defining time of my life – as a father, lover, friend.

Here’s to the next journey. One where the symbol of eternity won’t be a ring of precious metal but a resolve to give and receive and love and be loved.

May 26, 2012

You say potato, she says nuts.

It is a rare moment in time.  I’m playing with all three kids at once and as I playfully lift GirlyGirl over my head, Swee’Pea and TheMonk, jump around me shrieking in joy, kinda like a scene out of Lord of the Flies, only without the pigs blood.

I’m enjoying the laughter and the shouts of glee, particularly from GirlyGirl who is reveling in the moment as three of her four favorite people are having fun around her.  I swing GirlyGirl low, between my legs and then high, over my head.  I repeat this motion several times until I’m forced to change direction as Swee’Pea steps into the line of fire.

Unfortunately, the change of directions has placed GirlyGirl’s kicking feet right in line with a part of my anatomy that is near and dear to me.  She swings her feet hard and meets with a part of my body that rhymes with besticles, and suddenly, the world stops as I inhale deeply and make some guttural sound that only men in my situation can appreciate.

Everyone stops what they are doing.  Me, Swee’Pea, TheMonk and even Mommy over on the couch.  I make eye contact with the lovely wife and her look tells me she understands what just happened.  Apparently, Swee’Pea understood as well.

“What happened?” She asks. “Did GirlyGirl kick you in the nuts?”

The next 10 years are gonna kill me, I think.

February 20, 2012

Cancer Sucks

Almost a year ago, I shared with you that my Father-in-Law was fighting cancer. Today, I am sad to say, that Mike passed away.

I am grateful that I was able to see him in early November when he was tired from treatments but not yet beaten. I am saddened that such a great man had to leave us before any of us were ready. I pray that he is at peace and that my mother-in-law is at peace knowing that Mike is no longer in pain and we were all so blessed to have known him.

Thank you, Mike for all that you have done for my family and for me, personally. I will never forget it and I will never forget you.

Rest in Peace, good sir. Rest in peace.

March 6, 2011

Father Figure

As most of you know, my father died when I was young. It remains the biggest influence on my life. Hardly a day goes by that I’m not reminded or make decisions based on my experience of growing up without a father. One of my biggest concerns when getting married and then having children was the fact that I didn’t have a positive role model to pattern myself after when it came to marriage or fatherhood.

How would I know what to do? What are my responsibilities when it comes to running a household?

Then, after I met my wife, I took a trip with her to meet her family. My wife’s family was very kind and welcomed me with open arms. I’m sure it was more about my personality and how I treated Andrea than it was that I was Catholic (a definite plus) and I’m sure if I’d been allowed to wear my earring on that first visit, that would have been okay too.

Spending time with the family and staying as a guest in my future in-laws house allowed me to watch my future Father-in-law Mike as he went about his day to day responsibilities. It didn’t take long to see how he shouldered responsibility. He went about his day taking out the trash, refilling the humidifiers, shoveling snow and even winding the giant clock in the living room – generally working hard to make sure the house was nice and that things were running smoothly.

He would exercise regularly – often early in the morning, attend church and choir practice with my mother-in-law and generally be her support whenever he was needed. I noticed that he was a hard worker but had a sharp sense of humor. He favored dropping puns whenever it was warranted (or perhaps, some would say, even when it wasn’t) and he was warm and caring and not once did I ever hear him complain.

I have spent many vacations both at my in-laws place and here at my house with Mike and he has always been someone that I could look up to. In fact, I often find myself saying to myself when I don’t want to do something around the house, “WWMD?” What would Mike do? And it doesn’t take me long to get up and do it – because I know Mike would do it without complaint. I cannot tell you how helpful it’s been for me to have someone like Mike to look up to and, even at this late date in my life, have as a role model.

Recently, Mike was diagnosed with a tumor in his abdomen. The family gets frequent updates via email from my mother-in-law. They often talk more about how well Mike has dealt with the treatments – maintaining most of his normal activities, continuing to go to work every day, etc. – than the actual treatments itself. This doesn’t surprise me. Even as Mike goes through this, he is who he is. They say you can truly judge someone by how they react to difficult circumstances and as I watch from afar it’s more apparent than ever that Mike is someone who I should aspire to be.

May I ask you, as you read this, to say a prayer or send good thoughts to my father-in-law Mike. He’s a good man and he deserves better. Even if he wouldn’t tell you that.

December 24, 2009

Gathered Around the Tumbleweed

We live in suburbia but we are the definition of suburban sprawl. A handful of years ago, our house was desert landscape complete with coyotes, rabbits and tumbleweed.

We still see an occasional bunny and coyotes have been known to roam the outskirts of our neighborhood but we don’t get too many tumbleweeds anymore. So, imagine our surprise when, after a recent windy storm blew through, we found a tumbleweed sitting in our driveway.

The twins were excited to see the tumbleweed so I did what any father would have done. I put it on our front porch, wrapped it in lights and bows and proclaimed it out Christmas Tumbleweed.

As we gather around our tumbleweed, we want to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas (if you celebrate it) and a kick butt 2010. You deserve it.

Christmas Card 2009

August 16, 2009

When Elvis Left the Building

Thirty-two years ago. A lifetime. But not even a lifetime. Thirty-two years ago today my father died. He left behind a young wife and two young sons and a lifetime of “what ifs.”

And thirty-two years ago, my mother had the presence of mind to write down the details in my brother’s baby book. It reads:

“Aug. 16, 1977 Benjamins and Matt’s daddy died tonight at about 7:30 p.m. He had bought a 1942 dump truck. He was going to start his own hauling business to make extra money for his family. He picked up the truck about 5:30 p.m. at Rancho Lynn in Corralitos. He drove it back to Aromas and took it up to Seely Ave to have Rick and Pam Fischer look at it. He knew the breaks were bad. But he thought he could make it in 1st gear down their driveway. Well he couldn’t. He tried to jump out and I’m not sure what caused his death. He died enroute to the hospital. Elvis Presley died the same day. I loved him. Sept. 1st would have been our 9th anniversary.”

Since this is my de-facto baby book, I wanted to write to my own children about this significant event in my life.

Dear Swee’Pea and TheMonk,

This week, for some interesting reason, you began asking me about my father. Especially you, Monk, and I could tell that the questions were being asked for more than general knowledge. You asked how he died. You asked why he died. You asked what happened to him after he died. And in the back of your mind, as you digested my answers (which I tried to do in an honest, yet gentle, way), I could tell that what you were really asking was, “Daddy, are you going to die?”

And that, my son, is my greatest fear. You are too young to explain how my entire life has been shaped by my father dying. You are too young to understand that the reason I am so devoted to you and your sister is that I want every. moment. to. count. I want you to know that, even if I were to die tomorrow, being your Daddy is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have written about this topic a few times and once even wrote a letter to my own father but when it comes to explaining death and looking into your eyes and seeing the confusion and the fear that you won’t be with me anymore makes my heart ache for you… and for me.

And as I told you this week, yes, I will die. But my fervent hope is that I will die someday in the future when you are confident enough to travel on this journey without needing the guidance of your father. I don’t want you, Monkey, to grow up wondering what it means to be a man. I don’t want you growing up having to figure out how to hold a hammer or how to shave your face or how to ask a girl out on a date. And, Swee’Pea, I don’t want you growing up wanting something from a man and searching in vain because you didn’t get it from me. I pray that by the time I die you will both miss me but not really need me.

I want to tell you how much I love you. I want to tell you that when I look down at your face as you are looking up at mine, I see your future and how very much I want to be a part of that. And I think of my own father and how much he missed and I am sad for him while my own heart aches from a hurt that never really goes away. I am reminded that my father wasn’t there to see my first hit in baseball. He wasn’t there to hear about my first crush. He wasn’t the one to teach me to drive or celebrate my running victories. He wasn’t there to see me graduate from high school or college or graduate school. He wasn’t there to see me get married or to see your beautiful faces for the first time. He missed so, so much. And my worst fear in the world is that I will miss those too.

And as tears stream down my face as I type this and the words are blurred as they appear on my screen, all I can tell myself, and tell you, is that I will do my best to be here for you. I will do everything I can to make sure that I wake up to be with you and share your life with you and guide you in ways that I never had. I want to teach you the joy of love and the comfort of humor and the mystery of the infield fly rule. I want to watch over you and help you grow into confident adults who know their father loves them and is their biggest fan. I want that for you. And I want that for me.

Death is the one certainty of life, my little ones. We don’t know when we will go and that makes it so much more important to embrace each day as the gift it is. I try not to forget that. It is why I am an optimist. It is why I will dance with you when you take the lead and it is why I probably say yes too often and no not enough. But it’s also why I say no when I really want to say yes and I say yes when I really want to say no. I want you to have what I lost thirty-two years ago today. I want you to have the comfort of knowing your father and knowing that he will love you and cherish you forever.


My brother and I both wrote on this topic today. Please read his post as well.

August 5, 2009

Family Vacation Reality Check

Back in the day, when my kids were brand new and I was still in that “Wow, I’m a father, I’m totally going to make a difference in my kids life” stage of fatherhood (rather than the current, “Let’s just not fuck this up too bad” stage), I envisioned great quality time with my kids. I envisioned idyllic Christmas scenes, playing catch in the back yard and long, wonderful family road trips that bonded us together in a way that wasn’t as creepy as it sounds. (Kinda like Clark Griswold only with a better car and less Christie Brinkley.)

We would take these long road trips, stopping off at places of historical interests, like the California missions, Hearst Castle or that rest stop on I-5 just outside of Buttonwillow. These trips would include captivating games of “I spy” and searching for letters of the Alphabet on road signs. We would sing “She’s Coming Around The Mountain” over and over again and we’d eat healthy snacks in between healthy meals at sit-down restaurants and at the end of the trip we’d all sit around and laugh about the great times we’d had together as a family.

But then, I stopped smoking all that crack and reality came crashing down on me like a ton of Paula Abduls. This past weekend, for example, we did take a road trip. We drove 487 miles to visit dear old Grandmother and this is how it went down…

8:35 a.m. We leave to gas up, eat at the local Panera and head off on our trip.
9:25 a.m. Return to the house to get forgotten items, including small toilet seat for the kids and High School Reunion Parking pass for me.
9:40 a.m. Backing out of the driveway TheMonk asks for the first time, “Are we there yet?” This might be some sort of record.
11:10 a.m. DVD player in back no longer works. I cry a little inside. TheMonk cries a little outside.
11:25 a.m. Come to a screeching halt outside of the Hell Hole otherwise known as L.A.
12:35 p.m. Finally get through L.A. traffic and start thinking of food. Wife feeds kids cookies to buy us more time.
1:40 p.m. Settle on McDonalds that is attached to a mini-mart. Due to long line for women’s restroom, I take both TheMonk, then Swee’Pea, then TheMonk again to the bathroom. The sign says “Free Mocha Mondays” but the man tells me they are out of mochas. I consider stabbing him with a petrified french fry but think better of it. On a similar note, petrified McDonald’s french fries that have been sitting under a warmer for quite some time should not be consumed.
2:20 p.m. Back on the road. I attempt to distract kids from long drive by asking them to count trucks. I assign red trucks to Monk and Blue trucks to Swee’Pea. This is a mistake as Swee’Pea wants to count Red Trucks too. I am seeing red but it isn’t from trucks.
2:30 p.m. I am asked for the 4,597th time, “Are we there yet?”
2:31 p.m. I am asked for the 4,598th time, “Are we there yet?”
2:45 p.m. The gods smile upon me as the kids fall asleep. Although I swear TheMonk asks me if we’re there yet in his sleep.
3:45 p.m. Awakened kids are treated to ice cream at the most run-down, dirty, Foster’s Freeze restaurant on the planet.
4:30 p.m. Swee’Pea tries a variant of the old “Are we there yet?” by whining aloud, “Is it going to take a long time?” I answer, “Yes. Yes it is!”
5:00 p.m. I am driving that car faster than I should but all I want is for that road to get behind me. TheMonk notices and says, “Daddy’s car can go fast!”
6:00 p.m. We are close. The coastal fog has rolled in and Swee’Pea is genuinely concerned that it is going to rain. Also, she asks, “Are we there yet?”
6:30 p.m. We arrive in my home town. We drive down Hwy 1 towards my mother’s house. The entire way they ask “Are we almost there?!” They also remark about how many trees there are. Note to self: Get the kids out of the suburbs more.
6:40 p.m. We arrive at Grandmother’s door. TheMonk tells his “knock knock” joke. (Knock Knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you gonna give me a smooch?!) And she does.

Only 85 hours til we do it again! Woo Hoo! (Are we there yet?)

December 25, 2008

Family Photo: Christmas 2008

Family Photo

December 23, 2008

Hey, isn’t there a holiday coming up?

I apologize for the dearth of posts lately but I’ve been searching high and low for my muse here at the ol’ blog.

Turns out, I just needed to spend some time with my kids.

Have a very Merry Christmas my wonderful readers. May visions of sugar plums dance in your head.

Christmas Card

March 13, 2008

It’s for the kids

Dear Beautiful Wife,

As you know, the car that I drive most days is the same car you bought for yourself when you were much, much younger – long before I swooped in and stole your heart and even longer before you spawned matching offspring. That period of time, when you first bought the car, is what we now call “the olden days.” As you may have noticed from the much newer car that you drive now, a lot has changed since you bought the car. For instance, cars nowadays don’t have antennas. They are built into the car. This is notable only because the antenna on my car, which once automatically went up or down when you turned the radio on or off, is now stuck in the “up” position for eternity. Cars nowadays also have radios with all of the knobs on them. They also have something called a CD player. Luckily, I found an old tape in your glove compartment that I can play on my fancy tape deck/radio but one can only listen to Neneh Cherry so often before going crazy.

But today, I found one more reason why we really need to get a new car. You see, it’s not for me. Yes, I’m the only Executive Director in the Y who who drives a car with two hub caps missing, but I can live with the laughter. I’m tough. But today, our little boy, the same little boy that begs to give you kisses and hugs when you leave in the morning, stopped short of the car as I was about to hoist him up and into his car seat (which, by the way, lacks the much safer LATCH system – it’s a death trap really). As I bent down to pick him up, he quickly put both hands on the top of his head and ducked while saying… “Watch my head, Daddy! No hit my head!”

Of course, I tried to calm his fears. “I’m not going to hit your head, Buddy.” I told him reassuringly.

Then, as I hoisted him up, I bonked his head on the top of the interior car door.

Apparently not for the first time. The car, it seems, is too small for our growing kids to fit inside.

So, honey, forget about everything else I’ve said about the car. If you have any compassion and motherly love you’ll let me march right down to the car dealer this weekend and purchase a safe vehicle made in the current millennium.

It’s for the kids.

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