Category Archives: Family

Family Values

People have been talking a lot about Family Values the last few years.  Mostly it’s been the the far Right Tea Party.  The only problem with that is what they have decided Family Values are – Mom (female), Dad (male), 2.3 kids and everyone the same color.  Nice enough if you’re homophobic or racist or some other flavor of scared-ass hater.  But for everyone else there are other possibilities.

Maybe your family is Mom and Mom or Dad and Dad plus 2.3 kids.  Maybe your family is non-monochromatic.  Maybe your family is Grandma and Grandpa and 2.3 grandkids.  Think about all the possibilities that Robin Williams gave us in Mrs. Doubtfire…then multiply that by a gazillion.

You see, family isn’t some Polly Purebred, sanitized for your protection definition of a family.  Family is the people who love you and who you love.  As I write this I’m sitting at the kitchen table at a yearly family get-together.  I’m here with people who’s opinions I disagree with, people who I argue with, people who argue and disagree with me. But they’re all people I love and who love me in turn.  They’re all family.

What the far-right Family Values crowd doesn’t understand is that life is proof that they are wrong.  Everywhere they turn there are people who are members of families that don’t fit their view.  So they respond by saying that if you’re not in one of their approved types of families you’re morally bankrupt or anti-Christian or anti-American.  But the truth is that they’re the ones who are morally bankrupt and anti-Christian and anti-American.

Moral people are not threatened by people with other views.  Good Christians are open and accepting.  Good Americans support other people’s freedoms…like the freedom to love whoever you love.

At present, my immediate family is my wife and me and our two sons.  At some point I’m sure the boys will find people to share their lives with.  I’m equally sure that there will be some personality quirk of those people that will irritate me or maybe even totally piss me off.  People being people, it’s totally unreasonable to assume that they won’t.  But that’s OK as long as they meet one condition.

The only thing Tami and I want is for those people to love our boys as much as they deserve to be loved.  Beyond that we don’t care what color they are or what creed they are or what anything else they are.  Because if they love my sons as much as my sons deserve to be loved it just won’t matter.  They’ll be family.

Achieving immortality

It seems like a lot of people these days are very concerned about leaving their mark on the world.  They want to make sure that when their time is done they’ll have LIVED!!!  They’ll have made a difference and the world will be a better place for them having been here.  Certainly, no one wants to shuffle off this mortal coil without leaving some evidence that they’ve existed.

Personally, I applaud this attitude.  It encourages people to push their boundaries and explore and experience new things…which hopefully has the added benefit of opening their minds and souls to the wonder around them.  Too many people don’t open themselves up to new experiences and ideas – often through fear or apathy.  The end result is that they don’t expand their minds, don’t see new things, don’t think new thoughts and end up living worthless, pre-packaged lives circling the drain of their own fears and prejudices.

The thing is, everyone wants to be the next George Washington…or Sally Ride…or Leif Eriksson or <insert name of your personal hero here>.  They want to live life bigger and grander and have adventures and become someone who will be a household name.  Someone who will be remembered.  Someone who made a difference.

But living your life with that attitude is completely forgetting (or ignoring) the fact that fame and historical significance was not necessarily something those people sought out.  In many cases it was something that they didn’t want but that was thrust upon them by a world hungry for the next big thing…or person.

It also ignores the fact that fame is fleeting and a very fickle bitch.  It’s actually not that hard to be famous.  It’s much more difficult to be famous for something good.  And it’s even more difficult to stay famous for something good.  Today’s  great adventurer is tomorrow’s mass murderer and slaver.  Today’s great athlete is tomorrow’s cheating drug user.  Today’s TV Star is tomorrow’s washed up loser.  Then there’s all the people who go out to leave their mark and vanish without a trace.  I can’t tell you about them because the only evidence they ever existed is the shattered lives of the family they leave behind.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should never go out and do something adventurous or even dangerous or that you shouldn’t try to leave your mark on the world.  But go do it for the right reasons.  It should be an accent to your life, not a substitute for it – the cherry on top of the cake, not the cake itself.

Let’s say you enjoy rock climbing.  You’re out every weekend climbing bigger, more difficult rock faces.  You decide that you want to climb El Capitan.  Go for it!  Practice, expand your skills, push yourself and when you’re ready, go climb it!  But if you’ve never climbed anything harder than the stairs in your house, deciding to climb El Capitan is at best, stupid…at worst, suicidal.

Of course, there’s another way you can leave your mark, achieve immortality and never be forgotten.  It’s very simple, absolutely fool-proof and anyone can do it.  One catch most simple things it’s very difficult.  All you have to do is be the best you that you can be.

I know what you’re thinking, “But that’s so boring!  I want to explore, climb, fly, do…exciting things!  I don’t want to just be another <insert job title here>!”  Yeah, right.  You and everybody else.  But everybody can’t be the best exciting thing doer.  There can only be one “Best”.  That’s kinda what Best means.

But there’s only one of you.  And if you resolve to be the best you possible, you can do great things.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.”  He succeeded.  But you don’t even have to be Abraham Lincoln.  You just have to be you.  The best you.

My Father-in-Law was a meat cutter.  Not a Butcher.  A meat cutter.  Butcher was too fancy a word for him.  He worked almost every day of his life.  He married, had two kids, supported his family, paid his bills, raised his kids, worked more, paid more bills, lost his vision to glaucoma and still worked and finally died, just as he had lived, with quite, uncomplaining dignity.

Oh, he didn’t do it alone.  His wife was there by his side the entire way, sticking with him through thick and thicker.  But those few lines describes his life.  Except that they don’t.  Not.  Even.  Close.  There is so much more there than I could ever write down.  But he was at heart just a simple meat cutter from West Virginia.  A simple man from a small town…who was so respected that his funeral was almost standing room only.  Who was so loved that his family still talks about him and thinks about him almost daily.  So much so that sometimes it feels like he’s just stepped out of the room and will be back any minute.  That is achieving immortality.

And you can do it, too…from the comfort of your own living room.  Just be the best you possible.  Live, don’t exist.  Find someone to share your life with that loves you as much as you love them.  Do your job the best way you know how.  Have children.  Raise them to be better people than you are.  Don’t expect them to be clones or follow in your footsteps.  Expect them to be the best them that they can be and to find their own path.  And, most importantly, love.  Love your partner, love your children, love your life…and don’t forget to love yourself.

See, it’s simple.  And the hardest, most difficult, most challenging, most rewarding, most fun thing you can ever do.  But if you do it, you’ll make a mark.  You’ll make a difference and you’ll be remembered after you’re gone.  Do it and you’ll be immortal.

Livin’ the Life

Wow!  Almost three years gone since the last time I posted anything.  It’s been a busy time.  Nothing earth-shattering has happened.  Just life.  Kinda keeps you busy if you’re not careful to keep on top of it.

And it has been busy.  Sean graduated college and moved to Pittsburgh.  James has started his Senior year of college and has moved out for all intents and purposes.  At this point, Tami and I can consider ourselves empty nesters…and we’re OK with that.

We’ve raised our sons and done a fairly good job of it – especially when you consider how unprepared we were for the whole parenthood thing.  Anyway, the boys aren’t boys anymore.  They’re men.  And pretty damn fine men if I do say so myself.  That’s not paternal pride talking by the way.  That’s a cold, balanced analysis of the facts completely unbiased by any hint of fatherly affection…and if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.  Yes, I’m so proud of them it hurts sometimes.

But where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Empy nesters.  The fact is, Tami and I are really looking forward to it.  We love seeing the boys and having them visit (did I mention I was proud of them?) but we’re just fine when it’s just the two of us.  I think one of the smartest things we did was wait to have kids until we were a bit older.  It meant we were a bit more mature and better able to handle the stress of new parenthood (HAH!  see my earlier comments on belief and bridges).  It also meant that we had a chance to get to know each other and live as just us two for a while.

There’s an old saying that you marry a stranger.  And like a lot of old sayings, it’s survived because it’s true.  Tami and I have known each other since High School.  We met up again through a mutual friend a few years after graduation (Thanks, Jeff.  We owe you big!), started dating, got engaged and got married.  And neither of us had any frickin’ clue who the other person was.  Waiting a few years before we had kids helped us get over that and it’s paying off big time now.

I know couples who got married and had kids nine months later…sometimes eight or seven months.  Regardless, they jumped or were pushed right into parenthood and never got a chance to know who their partner was one-on-one.  When the kids grew up and moved out some of them were just fine.  Other got a big surprise when they found out that they didn’t have a lot in common with their partner.  It’s not an insurmountable problem but Tami and I got it out of the way years ago.  We’re just going back to how it used to be, not figuring out something new when we’re in our fifties.

So now here we are, Livin’ La Vida … whatever you call it … and enjoying the hell out of it.  We still have jobs and bills and all that but we also have each other to lean against, worry with, laugh with (and at) and most especially to love.  Life is good.

Endings, Beginnings and Lessons Learned

As I write this, it’s a little after 11:00 PM, December 31st, 2009. In about another 40 minutes this year will be over. Like a lot of people, New Years Eve makes me think about everything that’s happened this past year and everything I hope (or dread) will happen next year.

One year ago today I was in Tennessee arranging my Mother’s funeral – technically, that was 2008 but that just means that I started 2009 off by burying my Mom. This is not one of my more pleasant memories. Three months later my work contract ran out and I was unemployed. Another low spot for this year. Three months after that I started a new job with a company of VERY good repute and things were looking up. A few weeks later my wife was in Cardiac Care five hours from home and I was asking my new boss for time off. Again, not a high point. Since then, I’ve been struggling to get the bills back on an even track while paying for Sean’s current semester at College and keeping the cars running (over $1500.00 in repair bills in the last 6 months). And did I mention that our savings were gone because my work contract had been for about 40% less than I had been making and I had to pay for the bulk of Mom’s funeral?

From the bald listing of events in that last paragraph it looks like 2009 was a bad year for me and my family…and in some ways it was. But in a lot of ways it was a very good year.

Mom’s funeral was not pleasant but traveling to Tennessee allowed me to reconnect with relatives that I hadn’t seen in years. Over the years, I’ve kept moving North and my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins kept getting further and further away. Nobody’s fault really but I feel like I should have made more of an effort to go see them. The trip down for Mom’s funeral gave me that chance. I also got to drive through the town I lived in as a little kid and show my wife and sons where I had started school, learned to swim, gone to church, etc. They were very kind and showed absolutely NO indications of boredom during my trip down memory lane. I think I may have mentioned before how much I love all of them. However much I’ve said, it’s more. They were wonderful during that miserable couple of weeks and I wouldn’t have made it without them. I didn’t think it was possible but we’re closer now because of that bad time.

Having my contract run out and being unemployed wasn’t fun but did give me a short vacation (unpaid, I admit). It also ended up with me getting hired at Cutco which is a definite “Good Thing”.

Being scared out of our collective wits because of the blood clots in Tami’s lungs was terrible but again, we’re closer because of it. Plus, Tami and I have a whole new appreciation of the old phrase, “Carpe Diem”. You really learn to sieze the days you’ve got when you find out you were within 24 to 48 hours of not having any more days at all.

Even getting the bills back in order has an up side. In trimming the fat from our budget, we’ve had to re-examine the choices we make for a lot of the little things in our lives. It’s truly amazing how much cruft can sneak its way into your life (and budget) when your attention is elsewhere.

Now we’re here at the beginning of a new year. I truly hope it goes smoother than the last one. I’d like to not lose any family members. I’d like to not lose my job. I’d like to not have to visit any member of my family in a hospital. I’d like to continue to watch my sons grow into strong young men. I’d like to continue to hold my wife in my arms in the morning before I get out of bed. I’d like to continue to have epic conversations with my family on long car trips.

Right now, though, it’s time to go downstairs to the living room, tune in Dick Clark and count down the old year with my family. That way, I can start the new year hugging them and telling them how much I love them. Because of all the good and bad things that came out of 2009, of all the lessons learned, the most important one was the one I already knew…and got to learn all over again. When everything is said and done, when all the problems are solved, when all the pains are soothed, when all the joys are shared, the only thing that’s important is the people we love.

Tami, Sean, James. I love you.

Thing change

It’s Christmas evening. The presents are all open. The traditional Christmas movies have been watched (once again, Ralphie managed to not shoot his eye out) and all is at peace in our world. Tomorrow we’ll all pile in the car and drive 5 hours to have Christmas all over again with our extended family – my sister, Tami’s Mother and Brother and his family – same as we do every year. And it’s good that we do it every year. It helps keep our family close when the miles keep us apart.

But some things are different than they used to be. The family is smaller this year. A year ago tomorrow, when we were making the same trip that we’ll be making tomorrow, we were about half way there when my cell phone rang. It was the nursing home calling to tell me that my mother had died. This was not as big or as painful a shock as you might think. Because of a head injury, Mom had been declining slowly for years. She hadn’t spoken in at least 4 years. For a couple of years before that, she didn’t know who I was. So, in a sense, I had lost my mother several years earlier. I was just waiting for her body to catch up with the part of her that made her Mom.

Sorry if I sound callous there but we all have our little coping mechanisms. That was mine. The quiet, Southern Lady that I grew up with died years ago. All I’ve had left these past years was her was her beautiful corn-flower blue eyes and a smile that was…wonderful.

Dad has been gone since just after Tami and I got married so now the family is just my sister and I. I remember Dad telling Sue and I when we were fighting as kids, “One day you’ll only have each other.” Right again, Dad. And, in true father/son fashion, I’ve used the same line on my boys. And that’s another thing that’s changing.

Sean is home from college for Christmas break. He’s 20 years old now and we’re not going to have him around much longer. James is 16 and chasing hard on his big brother’s footsteps. A few more years and it’ll be just Tami and me around the house. We’ve talked about it and we’re both OK with it. Intellectually, we know that it’s all a part of the “Great circle of Life” (TM Disney). Emotionally, we know it’s gonna hurt to see them both go out and start their lives even as we’re bursting with pride as they go out and start their lives. And even though we’ll not see them as often as we might want, we’ll have a chance to do things together, just the two of us, that we’ve not had in a long time. That part we’re actively looking forward to.

Things change. And change, in and of itself, isn’t good or bad. What you make of it determines whether it’s good or bad. Tami and I have always tried to make changes work for us…for the good. And we’ve pretty much been able to do it, through layoffs, moves, loss of family…and we’ll do the same with this. And we’ve raised the boys to face change the same way (hope we did that right). It’s a change we’ll accept. But not yet.