Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Excerpt from my book, "For What It's Worth, Love Dad"

How Did I Get Here?

Sitting here, I am painfully aware of just how much of a cliché I’ve become. You could accurately describe me as several gray hairs past middle-aged, warily viewing my midlife crisis through my Coke-bottle bifocals, lamenting my thinning hair and a growing paunch that often blocks my limited view of my large and rather unattractive feet.

 In short, I’m a babe-magnet!

Actually, I think I may be morphing into one of those blue-haired pear-shaped people I used to laugh about. The only possible way I could be more ridiculous would be to buy a ’70s muscle car and take up with a young bimbo. But one requires too much energy, and they both cost way too much money to maintain.  

Not to mention, your mom would want to drive the car, and she’d expect the bimbo to help with the housecleaning.

But I can handle getting older. It’s that other cliché that hurts the most, the one that describes me as an “empty-nester.”

As I look around my home, I can see remnants of you kids everywhere. The house has weathered into a testimony of our time here, and the yard is landscaped with memories. With every day that passes now, I find I spend more of my time remembering our past, which leaves less time for envisioning the future.

Yes, all of you fledglings have long since flown. And to the untrained eye, it might appear that this nest is vacant. But I can assure you, any nest that has had you in it can never really be empty.  

If you look carefully, under several coats of paint, you can still make out the pencil marks on the door frame in the kitchen where we measured your height from year to year. Each of you would stand your tallest, stretching your necks to gain that extra half inch. And Jen, you’d bemoan the unfairness of life as your younger brother Richard began to catch up. 

Behind the garage is a small plot of land, where you guys used to help me garden, and where, later, we played baseball, horseshoes and badminton.

Over by the rock wall planter is where Richard’s Cub Scout troop assembled scarecrows for a merit badge, and it was also there that we would place the arbor for Cathy’s wedding.

In the grove behind the house I can show you where we built a clubhouse with a rope bridge and where you and friends had your race track set up to run your toy cars. The other day, I came across an unexploded paintball from a free-for-all you had when you were about fourteen. Apparently, paintballs aren’t very biodegradable.  

Also in the grove was a dogwood tree that you used to climb. Sadly, the tree got diseased and had to come down. But the stump is still there. I can show you…

And there in the grove, not far from that dogwood stump, is where Jen eventually said her “I do’s” with her new husband. And here in Cathy’s room , which then became Jen’s room and is now my office, I can still make out a few of Jen’s damned self-adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling…I thought I’d gotten them all off, but they keep showing up. Wanna see…?

There in the enclosed porch is where you discovered that the dead bat you’d brought home wasn’t dead, but just sleeping. And then you had to capture it before your grandmother came home. It was on that same porch where you first got a look at the German Shepherd puppy I brought home and you named him Champ.

I wasn’t always this way. I mean, as much as you kids have been my life, I had another life before you came along. Back then I was Peter Pan, a loveable flake with no intention of ever growing up and certainly no plans for ever growing old. I was a kite, driven by the wind and in love with the exhilaration of it all. It didn’t matter then that the winds sometimes dashed me to the ground. I’d pick myself up again and throw myself into the next gust, anxious for the thrill of the flight. Never worrying about where or how I might land next time. There were places to go and things to do and I was mid-stride in my step to take on the world.

And then I met the woman who would become my world.

I met your mom...

And somehow, looking into those green eyes of hers, I saw a future that I hadn’t envisioned before.

Now, this book is not about my love life. (You kids couldn’t handle it.) If it were, I’m sure you’d have found something else at the bookstore with a red-hot cover and a lot more pizzazz in it, something with a photograph of a bare-chested Adonis and tempestuous beauty with a significant chest of her own. But, in deference to your mom I feel obliged to digress for a moment here.

There have been countless descriptions of women penned by the men who loved them. And I am not so accomplished an author as to compete with the millennia of those artful phrases. Let’s just say that all the things that have ever been written by men in love, about the women they loved, are all very true and accurate.

And they all describe my Deb.  

I shudder to think where I might have ended up without her by my side. Remarkably, she never seriously tried to change who I was and let me remain my kite-like self. In fact, she has almost always celebrated my occasional flights of fancy. The only difference for me, now, was she held the string that guided me, and helped keep me aloft so I didn’t come crashing to earth as much. And on those infrequent times when I did crash, she was always there to pick me, dust me off and launch me back into the sky. It’s a rare woman who can do that for a man and continue to do it time and time again for a lifetime. I had, to quote yet another cliché, found my soul mate. But, she’s more than that. Your mom completes me. She’s the yin to my yang, the night to my day, and somehow she manages to accomplish all this and still be the pain in my neck.  

She says much the same about me, by the way, but she describes her pain at a much lower point on the body.

Okay, so enough about that! The point is, I wasn’t always “Dad.” Like most dads, I started out as a kid. And like some of the luckier dads, I stayed a kid, at least on the inside, anyway. The problem I have now is that all my kids grew up and left me here with no one to play with anymore! (You ungrateful wretches.)

So it’s up to me, I guess, to try to figure out: do I resurrect my Peter Pan self and coerce my wife into playing Wendy? Or do I accept the inevitable and do as so many men do…fading away into obscurity, spending my time in rocking chairs and gardening? Not much of a choice, really. 


Next stop, third star from the left and straight on till morning!

Something I Always Meant to Tell You:

The secret to a happy life is…

Choose something you love and dedicate your life to making it the best it can be.

I chose you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Finding Willoughby

In one of his signature "Twilight Zone" episodes, writer Rod Serling gave us a glimpse of Willoughby, a small Ohio town where a man could slow down and "live life its full measure". In the story, Dan Daly plays Gart Williams, a harried advertising executive who struggles daily with the battles of the cutthroat Madison Avenue ad business, but all the while longing for a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn existence.

I believe we are all Gart Williams. We all want the same things… love, peace, security, a family, Sunday Frisbee tournaments with the kids at the park or the beach. But we don't do that, do we?

Instead, we join the vast buffalo herd and stampede ahead, never really sure where we're going or when we're going to get there. And never being really sure just where "There" is.

It’s a uniquely American phenomenon, this herd behavior. And in many cases, maybe we’re not buffaloes. Perhaps lemmings would be a better comparison. After all, aren’t they the ones who are notorious for running off cliffs? I’ve been to Scotland, England, Thailand, Mexico, and my favorite place, my Willoughby, is the little village of Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania in Australia. The people there seem to have it figured out. They work, of course. But they work to live. Nobody lives to work. And everyday they go about their business, the business of living. We Americans, we can-do types, scoff at the Aussies and the Europeans because they really don’t “have any ambition”. But the sad truth is, we’re the ones that aren’t getting it. If you don’t believe me, just look at the stats on anti-anxiety drug sales in America, the divorce rate, the number of troubled kids.

If you’ve been struggling to “get ahead”, stop and consider if “ahead’ is where you really want to be. Look at your boss, your supervisor, your manager. Do they really look happy? Probably not. They’re saddled with a job that demands too much of their time, energy and integrity. And because they bought into that philosophy, they can’t really understand why anyone else would choose not to. They started out just like you, though….wanting more. Do you really need that promotion? Will working more hours for what will ultimately be less pay and less time with your loved ones really make you happy?

Of course, you don’t have to travel the world to find Willoughby. It’s right there. Right where you are now. All you have to do is stop running around trying to get more so you can enjoy life, when all you really need to do is enjoy life more.