Let’s Hurt Tonight

“Oh, I know that this love is pain, but we can’t cut it from out these veins, no.” ~OneRepublic

im-just-trying-to-avoid-being-hurt-again-quote-1I’m in pain. I guess it’s time I admit that to myself after all this time. Because I’ve been in pain for a very long time. Because I channel it differently, though, it wouldn’t have been easy for you to see it. So I don’t blame you for not noticing. I blame me for being that good of an actor. But every actor has to leave the stage at some point, and this is my time. Because I’m in pain, and I need another outlet.

My father had a stroke a few days ago, and the news of it hit me like a sledgehammer, but that is not the pain I spoke of before. That pain came a long time ago, when he disappeared from my life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exclusively blaming him — far from it. I’m taking responsibility for my own part after the fact. It cut me to the very core when he left, when he took off, first emotionally, and then physically. But I smiled. I said I would see him soon, that I would visit often, and he said the same.

That didn’t happen, for many reasons. Then my life happened. It exploded into many different offshoots, and I was able to bury myself in all of that, to hold my breath while he did whatever he was doing. I don’t think any of it would have mattered, because it was obvious he too had moved on, that the mantle of father was a coat he wore twice a year. It was like the act of moving on physically was the dividing line. There were no longer any excuses to pretend a relationship.

And I hurt. I hurt because I depended on him to make those things right, because to me it was a two-person effort and my mother was straining at the seams doing everything for us, as she had always done. I hurt because it seemed like no matter how many times I called him, how many plans he made for coming up, that nothing mattered. Because there were always the excuses, the other things that materialized that were more important than me, that were more important than us.

All this while I burned inside. Not a white hot anger, but a slow burn, a crackling and withering heat that turned that part of my heart to ashes.

“I know you’re feeling insane. Tell me something that I can explain.”

What hurt the most were all the promises. Perhaps if he had just left it alone, if he had allowed me to stop missing him the wound would have been cauterized, cut off from that part of me that mattered. But he couldn’t bring himself to go that way, to allow me to stop hoping, which was so much worse. And I guess I was always a glutton for punishment because I would put my misplaced faith in him time and again. I opened the door time and again, just to have it closed once more in my face.

So this stroke, the call that told me the news, it hit me just as hard as if I had seen him yesterday. Because even now I can’t close off that part of myself. Even now I see a reunion where he will realize how much he misses me, where he will become that perfect father I always wanted him to be, or at least a reasonable facsimile of such. Even now I have these pie in the sky ideas of what my father should be and could be, those old wounds once scabbed over bleeding again.

992ccde83c279b535e65281153600837Someone asked me how I feel, and the word that keeps coming back to me is confused. I guess I didn’t realize how much I still want those things, how much I felt I had closed myself off but I really hadn’t. When I thought in that moment that he could have died, that he could still die, it hit me hard like concrete. And this pain, I realize it will always be with me. I will always hurt when I think of those wasted years, all those missed opportunities, all the excuses and misplaced trust.

Because I love my father. After all of this, after all this time, I love him. Maybe it’s because I’ve been conditioned by society to love him, or maybe it’s just that’s part of my nature, or maybe it’s even as simple as biology. I don’t know, and I guess in the end it doesn’t even matter. My heart broke when I got the news, which says something more profound than words and contrivance ever could.

So this pain, this hurt that I’ve lived with for three quarters of my life, it’s here to stay. It means that I’m still alive, that I have a lot to be thankful for, but that my life is not securely mine, that it belongs to this heart of mine too, and to the people who fill it, for better or worse. He’s hopefully coming home from the hospital today, and I will be trying to find a flight to get down there, because that’s who I am.

And life is too short. So let’s hurt tonight.




Every day I return to this place, and I exhale as I round the final curve and drive down the hill. I crane my head to the left to catch my first glimpse of our house, lonely out there in the field, waiting for us to move in. But there is still time remaining to get it ready, even though the outside is intact. Most days there are subtle changes that give me renewed hope that it will be our home soon.

Until then, of course, we are still here, in a place that can at once be both hostile and welcoming, depending on who’s home at the time. And I hold my breath after that exhale because in only moments after seeing our new house taking shape I can see this driveway, and I turn in. I have no idea what will await me here, but this is not home. We merely live here.

Someone once said that home isn’t a place, that it’s the people we love, and I find that to be partially true. My heart is with my family, so wherever they are is where my heart resides. But home is not as simple as heart. A home is an amalgamation of the two: heart and place. A physical place is necessary because it provides a context for interaction between family members. Because it gives a hearth, somewhere to come back to, a common ground that welcomes with open arms.

That’s why this is not home, and why this will never be home, even though my family lives here right now. That’s why I exhale when I round that last corner and drive down that hill, because they are doing so much more than just building a house out in that field. They are creating a home where we can grow as a family, where we can return after our long days and feel whole again.


Fathering the Nest

pop_Birds_Nest_Minnesota_1When I first found out I was going to be a father I had a ton of questions. Unlike motherhood, impending fatherhood doesn’t come with a training manual (or a dozen), so it’s easier to freak out for incoming fathers. I know I freaked out, but after the initial daze that came with getting the good news I knew I had to figure out what kind of father I wanted to be. Then I had to dig deep and determine what kind of father I was predetermined to be.

You see, this thing called fatherhood is just another nebulous term that we can treat any way we want. For some it means being heavily involved in their children’s lives, while others think it’s meaningless, those kids just a few in an endless assembly line of kids they don’t plan on being anything to or doing anything for. The vast majority of guys out there are somewhere in the middle, trying to figure things out as they go.

So, getting back to this whole predetermination thing. There’s something about nature vs. nurture, and how we turn out being one, the other, or some mix of both. I knew that my father wasn’t there for me when I felt like I needed him, and I knew I wanted to be different with my own kids. Did my father’s absence mean I was already destined to be an absent father? Or was it up to me to remember what he did and use it as a guideline of what not to be?

Then I asked myself “Can I do this?” Which means, could I be a solid father? Could I be someone they would look to down the line and say, “Yeah, that’s my dad. He helped raise me right. He was always there for me.” A friend of mine lost her father a couple of years ago, and the first thing everyone said who posted on her Facebook page when they found out was that he was not just a decent man, but a devoted husband, and a wonderful father. If I died tomorrow I would want that to be my epitaph. A decent man, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father.

And the answer was YES. YES, I can do this fatherhood thing. No, I won’t turn out like my father was. I can be my own man, and even though I have my own demons to fight, I will keep fighting them so that I can┬ábe there for my children. Now it’s 10 years into this thing called fatherhood for me, and while I know I haven’t been perfect, I have definitely been what my children need, what I expect from myself as a father, and a helpmate for my wife in this parenting gig we created for ourselves.

But it’s not all about reflecting on what’s gone on so far. It’s also about dealing with each issue one day at a time. It’s about having fun with my kids, but also about teaching them life lessons, sometimes hard lessons, that they’ll remember. I want them to grow to be independent young ladies who will look back on this as the crucible from which their lives sprung like flame, touching many lives with their own.

Maybe it’s true what my mother said so long ago when I asked her what it was like to have kids. She told me it’s the most amazing and the most petrifying thing at the same time. And I agree now. I’m so worried I’m making the wrong decisions sometimes, but I do my best for them always, and I hope that’s enough. That’s all we can do, right?


In Love With Love

love-08I’m in love with love. In fact, I’ve always been in love with love. When my parents told me they were getting a divorce I thought, “There’s the death of love.” I wanted to crawl into a hole because my whole belief system had been shattered as surely as if I had in fact died. It was the worst time, too, because I had just begun to believe.

There’s something about being 10 years old that resonates with me, because when I was 10 I was introduced to the death of love. No, it wasn’t the kind of fairy tale love that features a magical kiss, but it was the best kind of love in a kid’s eyes: the solid kind. It was the kind that meant my father was out there working hard for the family, and so was my mom. They were striving separately, but together.

It was only later that I found out they were more separate than I thought, even back when they were maintaining the facade. Perhaps that’s why I was so shocked when they sat us down and told us. It was one of those surreal moments in my life that I look back on and wonder what I was really thinking. I recall thinking I must have been dreaming, that there was no way I was going to become one of “those kids” who spent time at both places but never really knew a home anymore.

Of course it doesn’t always work like that, and it didn’t in our case either. We stayed with my mom, and we discovered the real meaning of love. Love wasn’t pretending you’re happy so that the kids stay happy. Love wasn’t cards and candy on a special day. Love was every single day grinding so that we could have the necessities of life. Love was believing in our potential, and fostering that belief in ourselves. Love was sitting with us when we were sick, making us soup, and reading to us until we fell asleep.

I rediscovered a love that isn’t talked about in fairy tales, a love that had no business being pushed aside for all that romantic nonsense. Because romance isn’t anything unless there is understanding, unless all those basic needs are met, unless we appreciate ourselves for who we are and we let each other know it. Love is in deeds. It’s in the time we spend. It’s all around us if we look up from our own footsteps every once in a while.

I worry about my own children, that they’ll get caught up in the commerciality of love, in the deification of money as a substitute for love that has become pervasive in this society. My wife and I both try to instill in them the intrinsic nature of love, so that they can love themselves and love others as well. We fret about it, for sure, but we want to make sure they feel it from us every single second of every single day, even when they do something wrong. We never stop loving them, even when it turns to tough love.

I’m in love with love. Not the frills that characterize love today, but in the bare bones love that my mother showed me when I was 10 and adrift on a sea of shattered beliefs. And the love that she still shows me every single day, the same love that I strive to show to my own little family every single day. I hope it shows.


I Am Not An Only Child

warning-Only-ChildI talked to my sister on the phone tonight. She is in Grand Rapids for the night, but she will be someplace else tomorrow. I am where I am going to be for the foreseeable future. And that’s okay. She is one of those fly-by-night sorts that I envy but that I could never be (and I mean that in the most literal of ways, I assure you). Don’t get me wrong, I used to be one of those people who packed up at a moment’s notice and headed elsewhere, but I think I’ve mellowed as I’ve aged. I know my hair has certainly mellowed. When I was younger I could grow an afro like nobody’s business, and now, after a year’s growth, it still doesn’t look like much more than I missed a couple weeks’ worth of cuts at the barber shop.

But anyway, I talked to my sister on the phone tonight for the first time in over a month, and while that’s unacceptable it’s certainly understandable given our crazy schedules, and our attempts to reconcile them with each other. Luckily we hit on it tonight, or at least she did, because I was just sitting here exhausted, writing, and she called my cell. Because I have a new phone it kept vibrating and I had no clue what was going on (now I know), but I called her back and we had a wonderful conversation. We were able to do that because I am not an only child.

Only children are odd, but not in an odd way. They’re odd because I don’t understand them, how they operate. My wife is an only child, and I tease her about it often, but it’s real, the struggle of only children. They will never know the joy of riding on a long trip with their siblings and playing the license plate game, sharing Twizzlers, or saying, “Are we THERE yet?!” at the top of their lungs trying to outscream each other. Only children spent all of their time either being spoiled or being told to appreciate what they have. There were no hand-me-downs, no arguments about who gets to sit in the front seat, no plethora of birthdays to remember, and no getting jealous over nonequivalent Christmas gifts.

Which is funny, because for some reason I’ve always been attracted to only children. Maybe it’s that I’ve always felt it was a challenge because their parents have invested so much in them and only them ,that the vetting process would be worth the hassle in order to say that, “yes, I’m the ONE who your ONLY daughter wants to be with.” And just reading that out loud I can see where that would seem incredibly shallow, but that’s now how it’s meant. You see, I’m not an only child, so I don’t know how the other side thinks, and I do my best to figure it out on a daily basis.

Oh, and it’s my oldest brother’s birthday today but for the life of me I don’t know how old he actually is, so I’m feeling a bit inadequate as a brother, even though we didn’t grow up together so maybe I shouldn’t know. Perhaps it’s just the expectations of society that make me feel so inadequate, but I did wish him a happy birthday. Maybe I’m covered. That’s the other thing about having siblings, though, that there are more expectations, more nieces and nephews, even more birthdays to remember, the pressures of being the best brother, uncle, cousin, and everything else that comes along with not being an only child. But I don’t think I would trade in all of that for the chance at being the only one, because I love my siblings, and I wouldn’t even know what to do if I didn’t have them.

I am not an only child, but it’s okay if you are. I don’t judge only children. They’re just different from me, and that’s okay. But I’ve never been an only child, so if you are, please bear with me. I’m a work in progress.


Chatting With Lexi: On Respect

got-respectToday was an exercise in patience, and not like forcing my brain to control my mouth, but like lifting heavy objects to keep myself occupied, to thwart my anger. I don’t know what’s been happening lately, but little by little I’ve been losing my little girl and gaining a premature teenager, with all the angst and agita that comes with it. It all came to a head today.

We were at the hairdresser’s, who also happens to be a friend of mine, and all my ladies were there to get their hair washed and cut. Of course that means there are in-between times, when two out of the three are sitting there waiting. And you know how it is; the waiting turns to restlessness, the iPad gets taken away, and the real fun starts.

Lexi: But how come I’m the only one who gets my iPad taken?

Me: Because you’re the one who wouldn’t listen to your mother when she said it was your turn to get your hair cut.

Lexi: I was almost done!

Me: It doesn’t matter. It’s not about “almost.” It’s about doing what she says when she says it.

Lexi: I shouldn’t have to do what she said, what you say. I should be able to do what I want.

Me: We’re the adults. We’re in charge of you. You should listen to us when we tell you something.

Lexi: Why should I have to listen? I’m allowed to stand up for myself.

Heidi: This is not standing up for yourself. This is being rude and disrespectful. We’re your parents. When you get a job and pay your own way in this world then go ahead and make your own rules. These are our rules, and you will follow them.

Lexi: Hmmmmph.

Me: And you can cut it with the attitude. You’re not getting your iPad back right now. Be lucky your mother is letting you earn it back through good behavior. If it were up to me I would take it for the whole day.

Lexi: But it’s myyyyy iPad.

Heidi: Actually, Alexa, did your money pay for it? Are you the one who worked hard all week to get a paycheck to purchase it?

Me: This is not about you being allowed to stand up for yourself. This is about us doing what’s best for you, as your parents. If you’re disrespectful you should have a loss of privilege. And you’re not making anything better for yourself with the way you’re acting right now.

Lexi: I just want to be able to make the decisions for myself.

Me: You’re nine years old. Maybe you think you’re going on 30, but you don’t want to force that time to pass. You want to enjoy being young because it only happens once. Do you know how many children don’t have what you have? And you’re so ungrateful for it that you’re going to pout because we took away your iPad?

Lexi: Well I can’t wait to be an adult so I don’t have to listen to anybody else.

Me: You always have to listen to other people, Lexi. That’s how your mother and I make decisions that are best for you and your sister. We listen to each other and we make decisions together… for your own good. And all we ask for in return is some appreciation for what we do for you. You’re being incredibly ungrateful right now.

Heidi: Take time and think about why what you did today was wrong, how it was disrespectful to your father and me, and to Miss Debbie and her hair salon. You won’t get your iPad back for the rest of the day, but be lucky you even have one to lose.

Lexi: Hmmmmph.

Me: You’ll understand one day. But until then you’ll have to work harder on being grateful and appreciating what you have. Otherwise you just won’t have as much anymore. There are so many things you have that you don’t need, that we give you because we’re kind and generous, because we want you to have opportunities to express yourself. But they’re not necessities, and if you don’t appreciate them you won’t keep getting them.

Heidi: And Lexi, if you act like that ever again we won’t go to the nice hairdresser who does a great job on your hair and doesn’t hurt you while doing it. I’ll keep bringing Madeline here and I can take you to someplace where somebody isn’t nice like that. Is that what you want?

Lexi: No.

Me: So how are you going to be?

Lexi: I’m going to be respectful of other people and their stuff.

Me: And you’re going to say it less sarcastically?

Lexi: Huh?

Me: I’ll take it.


Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: