Rhyme And Reason

What do you want to do?

That simple question has so many connotations.

It’s asked when making plans with a significant other: “We don’t have the kids tonight. What do you want to do?

While sitting with your high school guidance counselor asking about your future when discussing future colleges: “What do you want to do?

Naked and open with a lover: “What do you want to do?

Depending upon the situation in which the question is asked, it can invite thoughtfulness, stress, happiness, ambivalence, or arousal.

I was recently asked a version of this question at a party. A successful businessman and I were chatting. He told me that he had been hearing good things about my blog from mutual friends. Fellow bloggers know what an incredible feeling that is. I was absolutely thrilled. He asked a few questions about the blog such as, “What is it about?” It’s difficult to describe to casual inquirers. I usually just respond with something akin to “observational pieces.” They nod knowingly as though I answered the question. And I’ve allowed them to walk away if they choose unless they’re genuinely interested in reading it and follow up with more questions. The businessman asked me if I enjoyed it. I told him that, although it was hard work sometimes, I loved every minute of it. So then came the question. “What do you want to do?” I explained that writing was my passion and I want to do something with it. His response: “Okay. What do you want to do that will actually make you money?

The question, asked in this context, with a slight smirk on the gentleman’s face, did not invite happiness. Stress was in there somewhere, mostly brought on by defensive anger. This guy hasn’t even read my blog. He has no idea what kind of writer I am. Because I’m an adult, I kept my mouth shut. I answered with something extremely clever like, “Ha. Yeah…well.” I walked away. That interaction bothered me for the next couple days. Then I remembered a conversation I’d had with a coworker the night before the party. And I felt pity for the businessman and his lack of insight.

A coworker and I were finishing up our shifts. He told me that he was tired of working construction on the side. He was tired of building things so others could make money. He wanted to be the one making the money, having others work for him. My father is a contractor. He used to own his own business building custom decks. He didn’t bring in a lot of money doing it because he wanted to be hands-on in the imagination, design, and construction of his vision, working mostly alone. He was far from rich, but he took immense pride in what he did. My father is a creator.

And there it was for me. Remembering that conversation made me feel proud. There are those who desire money and power, and then there are those who create. The two sides rarely come together in the same person. Those who prefer money and power do not understand the motivations of those who create, and vice versa. The businessman is a partner in businesses. He has money and is amazing at seeing which businesses will be profitable for him. He is a partner in restaurants. But those restaurants would not exist if it weren’t for the brilliant chef who created the recipes in his own home. The same man who envisioned the food and atmosphere…and brought them to life through creation. Does that chef rely on the money from the businessman as well? Of course. Both sides are necessary to thrive when considering a business built on something unique.

I like my place in the cosmos. This laptop on which I type this minute. The fan blowing on me. The light bulb burning in my room. The clothes on my back. The clock ticking away on the wall. Every one of these was imagined, written down, and brought to creation. Without we creators, money men and women would have nothing from which to profit. And here’s the real beauty. Without profit, those money men and women consider themselves failures. Yet a homeless artist can still design exquisite artwork on a sidewalk or wall for the public to appreciate. We creators can work our trades anywhere because the only requirement necessary is passion.

I live in a two-bedroom apartment. I work in a high-stress environment for unpredictable amounts of money. I still wear shirts that I’ve owned for ten years. I haven’t been on a vacation for over eleven years. I will likely never have a summer house. I stress over utility bills and rent. I avoid buying name brand products. Would it be nice to upgrade from all of this? Would it be nice to have disposable income? You’re damn right.

The answer is simple. Find a career that gives me a lot of money in exchange for working hours that take me away from my writing and my daughter. Set passion and inspiration aside to earn a living instead of living a life. For me, that’s how a soul dies.

Will my writing ever earn me enough money to live without financial worry? The odds say it’s impractical to assume that. Is my writing the type of creation that brings electricity into a dark, cold room? No. Does my writing allow someone to fly across country in a matter of hours? No. Can my writing shock a physically dead heart back to life? No. But just maybe my writing can guide one person out of his or her own dark, cold place. Maybe my writing will bring together two people on opposite sides of the nation. Maybe it can spark the smallest amount of hope in someone’s broken heart. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t focus on absolutes. I prefer to envelop myself in what-ifs. I create.

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(It) Feels So Good

When was the last time you felt angry? Sad? Hurt? Embarrassed? These images and emotions are easy to conjure. With very little effort, we can bring them back in our minds. Like cacti, they require minimal nourishment and still thrive. Also like cacti, they can be dangerous when handled. These feelings pierce us and cause us pain.

Now ask yourself another question: When was the last time you felt true joy?

On my way to work the other day, I pulled up to a stop light. The woman in the car next to me didn’t immediately register my presence. She was switching through the radio stations and, for just a moment as I pulled up and glanced over, I saw her face light up and her mouth drop open in unbridled happiness. I have no idea what she had stumbled upon. A favorite song maybe. A stand-up comic on a comedy station perhaps. Hearing her name being said in a news story possibly. Regardless of the cause, it was a second of pure joy. It emitted out of her like a lighthouse beacon. That light shone right into my own car. It actually made me feel better. And then it was gone just as quickly. Her eyes snapped slightly to her right and “reality” set in. She was not alone. Her face deadened and she started bobbing her head with only a hint of a smirk set on her lips. Nope. Flag on the play. Ten yards for exhibiting joy. No public displays of true happiness allowed.

I felt as though I had walked into a bathroom as a strange woman climbed out of the shower, unaware of someone else there. Her instantaneous withdrawal back into herself was like the yanking of a towel to cover her naked soul. It was surreal. And heartbreaking.

I’m left wondering at what point we stop allowing happiness to be all-consuming. Have you ever taken a two-year-old outside to blow bubbles or play in a sprinkler? Elation. Ever made a raspberry-fart on a baby’s belly? Jubilation. Look at the face of a seven-year-old on a bike, flying down the road at break-neck speeds with the wind tossing his hair. Revelry.

We are born with the capacity to experience joy in the simplest things. To be human is to be joyful. It’s only through our own shortcomings that we allow the world around us to take that away. Do bad things happen? Certainly. Is the world a stressful place? Absolutely. Does any of that matter? Only if we let it.

I’m working on opening myself to more unbridled joy. Last night, I made a taco salad that I’d anticipated for two days. I experienced what could only be described as ecstasy while eating it (the fact that I’d had a few cocktails prior should have no bearing). Saturday at work, I laughed with coworkers until I had tears in my eyes. I can’t even remember what we were laughing about, but I’m holding that feeling with me still today. While I drive to my daughter’s softball game tonight, I’m going to put the windows down and sing at the top of my lungs to whatever catches my fancy. Maybe I’ll inspire other car singers to put on their own concerts. Maybe they’ll do the same to even more. And that’s how it should be. When it comes to rapture, may it always be expansive.

Seasons

While I sit here typing this, my daughter is in her room, listening to music. Although our generations have very different ideas on what constitutes “good” music, I forgive her because I recall vividly my own parents looking at me with a somber disappointment when wandering into my room while I had my own tunes cranked. Music is music. If it moves your soul somehow, it’s doing its job. I’m left wondering if any of the songs playing in her room will make it to her own life soundtrack. If the one I’m hearing this moment makes it, my daughter must have a future in rave clubs or Hindu prayer. I’m baffled. And kind of wish I had a glow stick right now.

Having said that, I introduce you to my Life Soundtrack, Volume 2:

Track 1: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong by The Spin Doctors—Before you can drive, finding yourself in your older sibling’s car as a passenger is exciting. Factor in that sibling’s friends, and you aren’t simply riding to the store or another errand. You are taking a journey. You are peeking into the wonderful world of what will be. Taking a short trip out of town in the back of my sister’s white Ford Tempo, observing the interactions between her and her friends Chris (a drummer in a band) and Brian (the singer and a guitar player in the band…and the man who would become my brother in law many years later), I was overwhelmed. What that overwhelming sense was exactly, I couldn’t have told you at the time. As a grown man now, I realize that it was my first glimpse into the magnificence of those friendships we develop in our late teens and early twenties. Those friendships that incorporate our views on how the world affects us through the art around us. The Spin Doctors were thrown into the stereo and Chris went on a rant about how they were completely underrated when it came to their percussion. He slapped out the drum beat on the dash with reverence. Brian tossed out his own air drums while singing along in harmony with my sister. I had not known friendship of that kind yet. Nor was I sure that I would. That would come later. But for those three minutes and fifty seconds, I was involved in something special.

Track 2: Black by Pearl Jam—Most regular karaoke singers can tell you the first song they sang. Mine was included in Volume 1. Karaoke can be a blast when you’re out with friends. Drunken renditions of anything by mediocre or poor singers are the staple of karaoke. Having worked in karaoke bars for a little over a decade, I saw more than my share. I have advocated many times for the possession of special licenses being necessary to sing Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Adele, Whitney, and Journey. Many, many have tried. Most have failed. Horribly. But at least it gets the crowd smiling, even if it’s from overpowering uncomfortableness. On the other end of the spectrum are those singers who take part in competitions. I’ve competed myself. Karaoke competitions can be brutal. They are far from The Voice, but within the community of karaoke singers, there is a feeling of honor to be included on stage with other, incredible vocalists. And the Midwest is filled with those. Thus, when stepping into competition, it can be daunting. I never felt like one of the strongest singers in the group. Judges felt I was good enough to make it to the finals quite a few times, so I believe I’m decent at it. However, competing isn’t my strong suit. My stage presence is awkward, to put it very mildly. I never know where to look—At the judges? The crowd? Over their heads? The stage occasionally so I don’t fall off and die? The screen with words occasionally so I don’t forget where I was and then die? So, I cope with it by drinking a lot of the free beer in the green room prior to going on stage. Obviously, this is the best course of action. It has resulted in me usually making some inappropriate, sexually-connotated joke toward one of the male judges. Once, it resulted in me dropping to my knees for dramatic effect at the end of the song…only to realize there was another run of the chorus through which to make it…now on my knees. In short, I feel like I often fail miserably at the competitions. However, back in 2008, I performed Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett (which involved a lot of pacing back and forth drunkenly across the stage) followed by Pearl Jam’s Black (which many people told me not to do for competition) for round two. For whatever reason, a certain calm came over me as soon as I started singing and I stopped worrying about the judges, the crowd, stage presence, and even my vocals. I just sang. I let a song that I loved take over. I sang it for me. And I won first place. I’ve performed it more times than I can count since then. But I think of that song any time I feel I don’t belong, or I’m in over my head. My own little grunge rock version of “I’ma do me.” Even typing that out made me cringe.

Track 3: Heaven by Warrant—Yes, this dates me a bit. Shut up. In fairness, this song was released when I was ten. It didn’t come into my life significantly until I was thirteen, at which point it would go on to represent the loss of childhood as I knew it. Small town life meant that all the kids in school knew one another and options for romantic relationships were limited. Add a kid being overweight and obnoxious into the equation, and you have a boy who focuses most of his attention on his step-father’s stolen Playboy magazines and practicing how to kiss on My Pet Monster. I’m not proud. But those shared affairs with that furry, plastic-nosed, stuffed son of a bitch prepared me for my shining moment with Emily Corn. Granted, Sarah Dixon was my first kiss (and resulted in a mixed tape), but with Emily, I shared the dance. You know the one. That junior high dance at a home off school grounds. Young hormones were racing. I didn’t have much of a clue as to what to do with those racing hormones, but she didn’t seem to mind the slight poking against her thigh and I certainly didn’t mind that she didn’t mind. All I knew was that I could smell her perfume and her giant hair tickled my neck. And that there was no way I was going to pull away for a second in case she came to her senses. It was with Heaven playing in the background during my most-assuredly stellar slow dance moves that I had that real kiss. Emily, if you read this, I apologize. Your lack of giant, warty nose or elongated plastic teeth probably threw me for a curve. I can only hope you were cheating on your pillow or a random poster on your bedroom wall.

Track 4: Seasons by Chris Cornell—If you haven’t seen the film Singles, do yourself a favor and find it immediately. The storyline is incredible. The actors are brilliant. It’s a fun and heartfelt watch, especially for those in their twenties who are trying to “discover” themselves. The best part about the movie, though, is the phenomenal soundtrack. It encapsulates rock music of that time, especially the Seattle Sound. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, and Pearl Jam have cameos. Throughout the film, Cornell’s Seasons plays periodically. I was in high school when it was released. I didn’t find it until a couple years later. Despite not being in my twenties yet, it spoke volumes to me. Now in my thirties, that hasn’t changed. And Cornell’s brilliant chord structure and amazing vocals still punch me in the heart every time. The song is so well-written that it doesn’t take me back to a specific time or place in my mind. It takes me inside myself. This piece itself represents those seasons of change.

Track 5: Break on Through by The Doors—The 1960s marked a change in the climate of music. Even the Beatles took a turn. In 1967, The Doors attacked the music scene. Jim Morrison saw himself as a poet and the music was background to that poetry. Being well before my time, I didn’t discover The Doors until high school, when I read that a lot of my favorite current bands at the time had been influenced by them. The first song I found was Break on Through. It embraced the angst in me and gave validity to the questions I was asking about “what it all means.” Even the keyboard had the desperate urgency I felt about things I didn’t yet fully understand. It was listening to The Doors that I experimented a lot with hallucinogens in an effort to see the world differently. Whether it worked or not is up for debate. And I’ve chosen to avoid angst as much as possible now. But the music still reminds me to never stop trying to see the world through different eyes.

Track 6: While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles—Todd Griffin was the biggest Beatles fan I’d ever met, and my best friend in high school. While I was listening to both modern and classic rock, The Beatles had just been something I’d disregarded. I knew their stuff. She Loves You and Hold Your Hand just weren’t my bag. They were a little too pop for my taste. They were cute. And they didn’t have that poetry that I wanted. And, so, while riding in Todd’s car (his car, his music, was the rule), he put a cassette in (yes, a cassette) and I found myself listening to a beautiful tune. He’d thrown in The White Album by The Beatles. While My Guitar Gently Weeps blew me away. I’d been duped into enjoying a band I told him I wouldn’t ever like. That summer was spent with us cruising around after work, jamming out to The Beatles from their album Rubber Soul up to Abbey Road. Once, while sitting at a stop light, a couple in their forties pulled up next to us and told us that we were listening to some awesome music. Then we all sang along at the top of our lungs until the light turned green. It’s not often that teenagers blasting stereos at intersections have positive interactions with adults. The Beatles made the world a better place that day.

Track 7: The theme song from Wow, Wow, Wubzy—If you’re a parent, you have at least one of these awful song types stuck in your life soundtrack. This was a cartoon my daughter watched non-stop until the Care Bears snatched her attention during age two. In case you don’t know about Wubzy, he’s yellow with a high-pitched voice and a jagged tail on which he bounces from time to time. Think of a canary-colored rectangular Tigger on crystal meth who has not had the decency to go through puberty. Then give the little bastard a catchy theme song that still sneaks into your brain after a decade. I give you Wubzy. The unfortunate thing is that this annoying song, regardless of its ability to make me consider breaking my television years ago, makes me smile when it attacks my mind like an unwanted musical ninja. It conjures up images of my daughter in her pajamas squeezing up next to me on the couch after an afternoon of chasing bubbles and riding her tricycle outside. In the realm of songs that move your soul, this one is up at the top.

Track 8: Over the Hills and Far Away by Led Zeppelin—I credit my love for Zeppelin to my step-father. When I was young, my relationship with The Step-Dad was typical. He wasn’t my father. He would never be my father. I would make it very clear to him that he was not wanted. This naturally led to us not being BFFs. I thought he was an asshole. He rightfully felt I was the same. Our interactions in my early youth consisted primarily of me being a prick and him punishing me for it. Every year for my birthday, he would buy me one of those small paddles with the elastic band coming out of the middle that attached to a rubber ball. A toy that no normal human being could figure out how to work properly without some contractual aid from Satan. Within a week or two, the elastic band would break. And now he had a new paddle with which to spank me when I was yet again doing something stupid. One day, while in the middle of a spanking I’m sure I deserved much more from, the flimsy paddle broke on my ample butt cheek. Like the moron I was, I laughed. He spent the next two hours in the garage carving The Mother of All Paddles. This thing was a beast. Taped handle. Holes drilled into the center for better aerodynamics. And I’m fairly sure it was partially forged from the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. That was our relationship. I misbehaved and said horrible things to he and my mother. He responded by swatting me on the ass with Sauron’s Wrath. We had an understanding.

In high school, my mom found my weed and hitter in my pants pocket because delinquents are idiots who forget they also expect their mothers to wash their laundry. My step-father volunteered to drive me back to my dad’s house that evening. I slumped in the car, waiting for the lecture that I was going to dismiss. Instead, he broke the silence by telling me that he used to smoke a lot of pot back in his day and he just wanted me to be very careful about the weed I got. “People put all kinds of crap in it these days. Make sure you know what you’re smoking so you don’t end up with something dangerous.” He then went on to regale me with tales of pot-smoking from his early days. We laughed. We bonded. It was on that car ride that he became a person to me. This was parenting that you won’t find in any how-to books. But for me, it was real. Not long after that, I started pouring through some of his music. One of the first songs I found was Over the Hills and Far Away. I can’t listen to a Zeppelin song without thinking about the man who provided tough love and eventual openness to a kid who went out of his way to make it hard. Thank you, Gary.

 

What songs are part of your life soundtrack? Why? I’d love to hear them.

Learn To Fly

I knew a man named Hugh Peck. Hugh, like so many other young men in the first half of the twentieth century, decided to enlist in the military and fight against the rising threat from the Axis Powers. Some were infantry soldiers. Some were mechanics. Some were sailors. Hugh was a pilot. According to his own joking account to me one day, he wouldn’t say he was a very good one. He was shot down more than once. I was young, but that sounded like a pretty amazing pilot to me. I remember falling off my bike and tearing up my elbow and leg one afternoon. I was terrified to go on another ride for a long time. I mean, that fall was a good couple of feet. But Hugh, who had been shot out of the sky, got right back into a plane to do it all over again…and again. That is courage beyond anything I can imagine.

He is one of millions of men and women being honored this Memorial Day. And just like them, he assuredly went by many monikers. Perhaps Huey when he was a boy. Maybe Peck by his school friends. Having personally known many military personnel, I’m sure he had some colorful nicknames that would never be uttered in church, given to him by his fellow pilots. To my mother and her siblings, he was just known as “Dad.”

Hugh Peck the WWII Pilot is not who I remember. Although the man I knew deserves to be honored along with all the other veterans who have since passed, it isn’t about his service to this country for me.

I’m thinking about the man who taught me how to put my bait on my fishing hook without it falling off when I cast it. Sitting next to him on a boat lazing by the shore, I learned that quiet reflection holds unrivaled potency. From him, I learned that the drunken ramblings of Harry Carey calling a baseball game were perfect for a nap in great company. Watching him tenaciously build his model airplanes, I witnessed the elegance of combining hard work and passion. And that the finished product can make you stare in awe when it takes flight. Hugh was a man who wrote his “girl” back home, promising her that, when he came back from the war, he was going to marry her and that they would have children. That they’d be together forever. With the exception of eight months between my grandfather’s passing and my grandmother’s, he stayed true to his word. That’s integrity.

Yes, Hugh Peck was a WWII Pilot. But that is not why I remember him. Happy Memorial Day, Grandpa.

The Greatest Man I Never Knew

Are you ready to hold your little girl?

Eight words that signaled an unprecedented shift in my life. I was no longer just some guy. I wasn’t going-to-be-a-papa. Those words meant that I had joined the league of Fathers.

I didn’t join a fraternity in college. I was never part of any clubs in high school. Being a member of a group never particularly appealed to me. However, sharing the name “Dad” with millions of other men was all right in my book. I try to steer clear of the term “daddy” due to disturbing connotations from adult films and creepy old men with money in their pockets and young models on their arms. No thank you.

The third Sunday of every June is Father’s Day. In just a few weeks, I will be celebrating my eleventh. Strangely, there isn’t much hoopla surrounding the holiday. It didn’t become a national holiday until 1972. Mother’s Day, on the other hand, has been a national holiday since 1914. This is no surprise. Mothers become just that as soon as they learn they are pregnant. We dads often (even in our own eyes) don’t become fathers until we hold our children for the first time. To put it simply, we’re behind the curve.

There has been a shift over the decades in a positive direction, I suppose. The push to celebrate Father’s Day was originally proposed by a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd who was raised, along with her five siblings, by a widowed father. She recognized back in 1909 that a father can do whatever a mother can. I’m not saying we can do it well, but we can come close, by God. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I can braid my daughter’s hair. Granted, the braid falls out in roughly thirty-eight seconds, but there is a braid there for most of a minute.

With that said, there is a disturbing trend that still exists today. Go to any public men’s restroom in a restaurant or store. Look for the baby-changing table. I promise you, if it is not a federal building that must have one by law as of October 2016, you will be hard-pressed to find one. More times than I can count, I had to change my daughter’s diaper as a baby by first wiping up the disgusting bathroom floor in the handicapped stall and then laying down a mat I had to bring with me. Whenever I would ask these businesses why they didn’t have changing stations in men’s rooms, they always responded with an off-hand comment about them not being necessary in both bathrooms. Translation: Men are not deemed caretakers.

Likewise, taking my young daughter to run errands often resulted in receiving some semblance of a question from at least a couple women: “Oh, so Dad has to babysit today, huh?” I am far from some “snowflake” who needs a “safe space” from hurtful words. But I will admit that this question always irked me. Would that question be asked to a mother? No. A mother is watching her children. Caring for them. A man is seen as babysitting his children. The same rings true for fixing a child’s hair. My mad braiding skills notwithstanding, I legitimately rocked a pony tail like no one’s business (back when my daughter didn’t insist on having her hair down in her eyes at all times—now I know how my parents felt during my Grunge stage in high school). Women would look honestly surprised and tell me that I had done a good job “learning from mom” as though I could never have figured out how to pull strands of hair through an elastic band on my own without somehow decapitating the child. Translation to both of these examples: Men are not deemed caretakers.

I used to take great offense to these things. I used to ask myself, “How, in this modern day, are fathers seen as less than nurturing?” Seen as incompetent and uninvolved with child-rearing. Why?

The answer is simple: We need to do better, gentlemen. How many children are raised wholly by single mothers? How many fathers walk out of their children’s lives? How many fathers make other plans on the days they are supposed to have custodial visitations? How many fathers insist on being at war with their exes who happen to be the mothers of their children? How many fathers can’t list their children’s favorite colors or passions? What are the names of your children’s best friends? What size shoes do your children wear? What are they learning in school? How do you lower your children’s fevers?

A brutal reality was evident to me a few months ago. My daughter’s school held its annual Father/Daughter Dance. It’s an event that allows little girls to put on beautiful dresses and corsages to be taken on a date with the first man they truly love—Dad. As I stood in the gymnasium, I observed over a dozen fathers looking at their phones instead of their daughters. A little girl’s first date. A father standing with his face cast down into the technology in his hand instead of at the young lady who only wanted Dad to “see what I can do.” All around me, I saw fathers failing without even realizing it. To be there and to be present are very different things.

I am certainly not a perfect father. I could do better. I rarely take my daughter with me to pick up prostitutes or rob banks, but I could do better. Can you?

Happy Father’s Day, fellas. Let’s earn it.

What A Girl Wants

If you have access to social media, you know that it’s a wonderful world full of opinions and memes. Granted, “you’re” is usually used incorrectly in the majority of the memes and the opinions are often regurgitated false-truths that haven’t been fact-checked. Welcome to the Internet. I allow my “grammar police” self a lot of leeway to turn away in this forum. Likewise, opinions…well we all know that old adage.

However, in the spirit of posteriors, orifices, and ownership rights, I’m going to give an opinion of my own. Straight women: Stop.

In the process of waiting on a table this week, one woman had shown up before the rest of her party. This should have been a simple process. I greet her. I take her drink order. I make the drink. I deliver the drink. Just as she ordered her beverage, though, I looked her in the face and thought, “Wow, she has beautiful eyes.” They were striking. So striking, in fact, that as soon as I got to the drink station, I realized I had no idea what she had ordered. Feeling like the idiot that I sometimes am, I laughingly told my coworkers around me about my predicament. What came next was unexpected. One coworker said, “You didn’t say that to her, did you?!” The other coworkers seemed equally concerned. As though telling a stranger that she had pretty eyes would be on the same level of asking if I could sniff her neck. I had not said anything and, after witnessing the horror on the faces of my fellow employees, decided I should probably never interact with a woman again.

I did what any server does in the forgotten-drink-order situation. I went back with a tray of the three basics: iced tea, water with lemon, and Diet Coke. I apologized for being an idiot, told her I couldn’t remember what she had ordered, and then jokingly played it off that I might or might not be drunk. I did all of this while avoiding eye contact as adamantly as one would avert the gaze of Medusa. Apparently, I don’t comprehend language when confronted with pretty eyes.

What bothered me more than looking like a fool was the reaction of my coworkers. No, I did not compliment a woman I did not know. But why would that be such a terrible thing? In my fascination, I asked coworker #1. She explained that it’s “creepy.” That the woman would already know that she had pretty eyes and didn’t “need” to hear it from me. That every “creep” out there probably compliments her all the time on those eyes. I then asked if I it was better for a guy to be an asshole and insult her. She told me no. That attractive women “just want to be left alone.” Maybe my coworkers are in the minority.

Here’s the problem: My social media feeds are filled with memes and famous quotes posted by attractive, straight women. The running theme consists of “queens” deserving to be treated as such by their “kings.” They say there are no good men out there. They complain about “f***boys” and idiots. And women are creating more and more of those “f***boys” every day.

I completely understand that hearing compliments on your attributes by slobs with neck tattoos and straight-billed caps turned sideways must get old. It must make you jaded. So focus on genuine compliments. Those delivered without the man licking his lips. Those not telling you how “fine” your ass or “tits” are. If men aren’t allowed to voice genuine compliments, they are forced to focus on apathy. Men who neither share nor care are deemed to be the very assholes women are supposedly trying to avoid. Enter the douchebags.

My friends Jordan and Rebekah are a happily married gay couple. I involved them in the Pretty Eyes debacle. They both seemed baffled. Who wouldn’t like hearing they have pretty eyes? They admitted that being a straight woman inundated with constant compliments by guys must be tough. But then they hit me with the real problem: Women know exactly what they don’t want, and no clue as to what they do want.

As a man with three sisters, and who has worked in the service industry for years, and who has social media, I have listened to countless women complain about their love lives or lack thereof. All those attributes about men that they can’t stand. Let’s break down the popular negatives:

  1. He’s an idiot
  2. He’s unemployed
  3. He’s too negative
  4. He lives with his parents
  5. He flirts with other women
  6. He’s unattractive or too short or too tall
  7. He has no sense of humor
  8. He’s too clingy
  9. He wouldn’t make a good parent
  10. He does drugs

These are all valid arguments against grown men when looking for a relationship. These items are on my own “red flag” list when considering women. But, if there is a negative list, turning it around would be a positive one, correct? Thus, you should know what you want.

  1. Intelligence
  2. Steady employment
  3. Positive outlook
  4. Supports himself
  5. Loyal
  6. Attractive
  7. Funny
  8. Confident
  9. Solid father
  10. Does not do drugs

That would seem to be a list of things straight women want from a man in a relationship. Certainly, some of the items might have stipulations. Steady employment at minimum wage makes it difficult to support oneself. Attractiveness is subject to interpretation. Confidence can spill over into outright conceit. There’s always a middle ground.

The point is that there are numerous men out there who fit these criteria. Where are they? They’re the guys to whom you bitch about other guys. So stop. Stop looking for “likes” on your female empowerment memes from women who perpetuate the cycle. Stop treating every man who wants to treat you well as though there is something wrong with him. Stop falling “more in love than you’ve ever been” every two months. Stop allowing men to ask you to “hang out” instead of taking you on a date. Stop telling men not to compliment the things about you they find captivating. Stop turning the good guys into the apathetic pricks you can’t stand.

And then start. Start realizing that having a door opened for you or a chair pulled out doesn’t mean he’s fake, but that he was raised a certain way. Start to understand that some men really are interested in how your day was. Start accepting that he might be mesmerized by your smile or your odd laugh. Start loving yourself enough to allow a good man into your life. Start being the woman who deserves better.

Secret Garden

I Was Hoping For A Pyramid.”

An epitaph inscribed on a tombstone in New York State. No name. No dates. Simply a single statement obviously decided upon by the witty individual buried in the ground beneath it.

I like this cat’s spirit. This is humor at its finest. Humor in the face of death. There are a lot of funny or biting epitaphs out there. Look them up. Some will make you smile. Some will make you cringe. This one happens to be my favorite. It is a clever acceptance of the triviality of our lives, even in how we leave them.

There is something alluring about cemeteries. They hold a certain power. As a child growing up in a small town, I spent more than a handful of nights walking the cemetery with friends. We weren’t vandalizing anything. We were there to play games like Flashlight Tag or Hide and Seek in the presence of fear and curiosity. We knew in our secret hearts that the place hinted at something we couldn’t quite grasp. For most of us, it was our first true exposure to mortality. And playing and laughing while surrounded by frightening and vague concepts gave a sense of immortality. Eventually, someone would hear a branch snap or the wind move something and the terror would kick in. Certainly, the dead were rising and taking us with them. Whoever had the misfortune of panicking first would be ridiculed by the other kids. We would team up to make more noises, hoping for a complete meltdown. What none of us ever acknowledged was that we were all just as scared as the first kid, but had each other and nervous laughter to give us courage. A million dollars says none of us would have ever stepped foot in that cemetery if we were alone.

Now that I’m a grown man (a term I use loosely), cemeteries hold a different reverence for me. I urge you to visit one sometime. I don’t mean on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day. Some random spring day in the middle of the week. A day where you might be the only one on the grounds. Take a walk. I recently visited two cemeteries in town. At the first, my grandparents are buried. But I pass both on the way to my daughter’s school. The second seems a little older and has exquisitely carved tombstones I’ve always admired. So, I figured I’d drop by. Take a walk. In both places, there is a lovely, solemn peace.

In the ground, just below my feet, were people. In those graves were individuals from every race, religion, creed, gender, political party affiliation, and social and economic background. Every one of them had a single common thread: They died. As will I. As will you. In the end, none of their differences mattered. In the end, nor will any of ours. Standing in the middle of a cemetery can provide an elegant understanding of connection. Our pasts lie around us. So do our futures. Ancestors have been there for generations. Someday (hopefully no time soon), I will join them. The same goes for my daughter’s grandchildren. The only thing that separates any of us is what we will bring to the world while we’re here, and what we will leave behind.

I still haven’t figured out what to contribute to the world while I’m here. Although, jokes involving foul language and genitalia are a strong front-runner. I like to think that distilleries making mediocre vodka are thankful for me. I do my part to keep them afloat.

Hopefully, this blog is my way of leaving something behind. In the realm of leaving a virtual footprint on the Internet, this is certainly a much better way of leaving an online trail than my other methods. When my daughter sees this someday, hopefully she’ll be proud. If she sees my other activity, hopefully she’s rich and can afford the therapy and surgical eye removal necessary. Seriously. I disgust myself sometimes.

As far as gravestones go, I ran across a couple that made me openly smile. Attached to one was a stone-carved seat, complete with a stone cowboy hat resting on the back. Family and friends can sit next to the deceased and look off to the west to watch the sun set together. Another gravestone was simply a bench with the last name across the top. It looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. I almost sat down, but the workers mowing the lawn were already glancing more frequently at the guy moving from grave to grave who seemed entirely too comfortable to be in that place. My favorite gravestone, though, was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t a grand stone carving that towered above the others. In fact, it sat lower than most. The writing on the front of the white rock was small and difficult to read. However, the rest was easily visible. The stones formed a box. In that box were colorful flowers. The tombstone was a flower bed. In a place associated with death, someone used his or her grave to promote life.

I don’t know exactly what I hope to leave behind in this world. But the answer is in that gravestone somewhere.

Forever Young

If you insist on absolute organization, or have obsessive compulsions, I suggest you skip reading this. What I’m about to say will “trigger” you, as my daughter would say.

Depending on the day, if you’re in my home and walk from the bathroom to the living room, you can gain up to fifteen minutes of your life back. This is assuming you actually have no plans involving other people who happen to wear watches that work properly. Those people would simply tell you that you’re late. Fascists. What is the secret to time travel, you ask? It’s very simple. Step 1: Purchase battery-operated clocks on sale. Step 2: Keep those same clocks well past their primes.

You see, the clock in my bathroom, despite being set to the proper time, will eventually speed up over months. When I compare it to the time on my phone, it will often be five minutes fast. On the other hand, the clock in my living room likes to slow down. After a few months, it will be up to ten minutes behind. Thus, the hallway in my home is like my very own time machine.

A rational person might conclude that the timing mechanisms within those clocks are off. They might tell me that I should invest in new ones. The truth is, my clocks just get me. When I’m getting ready for work (rushing through the process of all the hygiene matters designed to eliminate stench for the sake of the general public), there is almost always a moment in which I look at the clock in my bathroom and realize I actually have five more minutes. What an incredible sense of relief. Likewise, when winding down before bed, I can conveniently forget that the clock in the living room is ten minutes slow. It buys me just a few more moments with the characters in whatever show I’m bingeing. Hope is not an abstract concept. It is very real and exists in my hallway.

Much like my clocks, we all perceive time differently on occasion. I recently replaced the registration sticker on my license plate. For that, I got to stand in line at the DMV. For two hours I listened to two women discuss with each other the times they were “locked up” while the young child of another woman kept spinning around the posts that were guiding the line and bumping into my legs. After acquiring my sticker and stepping outside, I realized I’d only been in there for twenty minutes. If you have or have had children, you’ve been to school programs. You know the ones. You sit on hard, metal chairs or bleachers with no backs. The elementary school band begins to play their seemingly seventeen-hour set in which the wind section squeaks and the percussionists play their drums to the beat of a different song. How many times do you look at your program sheet thinking, “We’re almost halfway there,” while ignoring the children to concentrate on your ass that fell asleep two songs ago? I’ve never left a school program and told myself that it went by surprisingly fast.

Of course, time is perceived in both directions. I don’t go out with my friends often. The whole “adulting” thing gets in the way. Work, my daughter, and this blog are where I spend most of my hours. When I do go out to have a few cocktails and enjoy the company of my friends, those hours turn into minutes. (One might blame this on the alcohol consumed, but I enjoy subgrade vodka at home as well and it does not speed up time when I’m on hold with internet tech support, although it does make me giggle out loud at the Tech with the Hindi accent named “Steve.”) Timehop on Facebook is another great way for me to realize that time is a fluid thing. Six years will have passed from when I posted a picture of my daughter that I remember taking as though it were yesterday.

I recall being in my teens and thinking of my twenties as some distant event. Now, at thirty-seven, I have come to the conclusion that teenage me was a presumptuous little jerk. Time is a fickle bitch. It has taken the hair from my head and tried to move it to my ears. It kidnapped my baby with that unbelievable natural smell at the top of her head and replaced her with a training-bra-wearing young lady who rolls her eyes in embarrassment whenever I dance (In fairness, my Cabbage Patch isn’t the strongest). It assassinated my metabolism. And when I attempt to combat the lowered metabolism with a vigorous workout, Time reminds me that I am not a spry young man who need not worry about pulling muscles in his butt cheeks.

So, I keep my cheap clocks and find myself walking up and down my hallway sometimes with a drink in my hand and a smile on my face. In that hallway, Time is mine to control. My own fifteen minutes of fame. Little victories.

In My Life

“Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” –Dr. Seuss

It’s fascinating to me how relevant a children’s author can be. This is a hand-written quote that I keep on the door of my fridge. My daughter brought it home from school during Dr. Seuss week. Like so many things she has brought home from school, I treat it like a treasure. Sure, I keep the graded papers for spelling tests on which she got above perfect scores with the additional bonus words. But the best treasures are those little pieces of art that make it back. Dried, creepy macaroni faces and collages. Paintings done entirely with her finger- or handprints. Beauty, creation, and miniscule parts of her weaving them together.

I’ve been looking at this Dr. Seuss quote a lot recently. In two days, my young daughter turns eleven. She will no longer be a little girl. She will have graduated to a pre-teen. I already see the changes happening with her taste in music and personality. Where I used to be the person to whom she felt most connected, her life is beginning to revolve around her friends and those things outside my house. I can accept it. But I want to write this so she might have a treasure of her own upon which she can look when she’s older. My memories. My valuable moments.

Dear Madison,

   About a year ago I found the pair of underwear you hid in your closet. You’d obviously sharted just a little in them. Out of embarrassment, you must have tucked them in the corner so I wouldn’t find them in the garbage. That was not my favorite surprise gift. However, like a gentleman, I simply washed them and put them back in your drawer. You learned a true life lesson. You once drew a picture that said, “Everyone poops.” Way to keep it one hundred. There’s a whole book dedicated to that idea. The book that you won’t find is “Everyone sharts.” Never be ashamed. I have a much more intimate relationship with your fecal matter than you’ll ever understand. You were a shaker and mover back in your day. More than once, during diaper changes, you kicked poo into my mouth. Every time, I thought, “I can’t wait until she is potty-trained.” Those few-minute increments we had, though, are sometimes missed. You don’t need me like that anymore.

When you were a baby, I’d get home from work late at night and your mother would hand you to me immediately. You’d often been up crying for hours. To say your mother looked good would be a horribly untrue statement. Beetlejuice was before your time, but google it one day. Your mother had that hair style down pat. She would go to lie down for sleep and it was my responsibility to calm you. At the time, coming home to a shrieking infant was less than ideal. I had to pace with you for a bit, your head by my shoulder, causing partial deafness in my ear. I’d thump your diaper firmly while bouncing you and whispering, “Shhhhh…,” over and again. Eventually, you’d stop wailing and we would curl up in the recliner and I’d sing to you while we rocked. Looking back, those were magical moments. You’d stare at me while we swayed in the chair and then you’d fall into a deep sleep. Completely content in my arms. I couldn’t tell you the last time you fell asleep on me. Now I watch you have that with the cats. You understand the power of those moments without even realizing it yet. You’re a great mom.

This morning, while I drove you to school, I interrupted Taylor Swift to bust out a few bars of The Muffin Man and Little Bunny Foo Foo. You looked at me with that face. While thinking about valuable moments, those two songs came to mind. We used to crank those bad boys in the car. The girl working the Dairy Queen drive-thru window got to witness a live concert years ago. You and I were in the moment. We were feeling some Muffin Man more than usual and we weren’t about to let that jam get away from us. Full voice. Heads bopping. We never even broke the poor girl’s gaze. You went with that glorious abandon right beside me. I hope we made her day. I know you made mine.

I can recognize the difference between Mozart and Beethoven only after countless hours of watching puppets move to their music on your Baby Einstein videos. I begged for the day that you would graduate to something different. Unfortunately, that graduation led to Thomas, Percy, Hiro, and all the other trains. Like any parent, I wondered how a child could be so enraptured by watching the same movie for the seven-millionth time. I didn’t fully grasp how incredible it was that you were loving something that much. Maybe it was jealousy. Now, when I pass Thomas and his friends in the toy aisle, I give a little nod. We might not be your first choice for entertainment anymore, but we know what it is to be loved unconditionally by you.

You still haven’t figured out the concept of closing your door when you’re changing. I have to make a conscious effort to not look anywhere in the direction of your room if I walk down the hallway to use the restroom. God forbid I see you in your underwear. You’re becoming a young lady who wears training bras now. I accept your aversion to letting boys see you in any state of undress. I expect you to remember this in high school and college as well. But there was a time when I had to dress you. I had it down to an art and there wasn’t a onesie out there that I couldn’t conquer. But what I wouldn’t give to go back for just one day and have those few minutes of dressing time. I might take my time instead of timing myself. During those instants, you would stare at my face and study me while I rambled on about what we were going to do that day. You might not have understood me, but you were an excellent listener.

You don’t ask if you can stay in my bed anymore. It was a battle when you were young. You used to sneak in early in the morning. Sometimes I’d make you go back to your room. Sometimes I’d pretend I didn’t notice so I could smile while fake-snoring. Now you have a full-size bed and prefer to sleep with the cats since they aren’t allowed in my bed. I get it. They’re cooler than me. But I still get to tuck you in for now. Occasionally, you won’t walk to your bed on your own and you make me pick you up and carry you. You’re not light anymore, but it’s worth it to get to carry you while you laugh. And I appreciate you fighting me when I try to kiss your ears. That little girl who giggles at my scruff still makes me smile. I’m happy she’s in there, if only for a very short time.

The point is that you’ve given me so many valuable moments. I wish I would have recognized some of them before they became memories. I look forward to making so many more with you as you become this amazing young lady.

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!!

Give Me One Reason

For this piece, I need you to bear with me at first. What I have to say is important and extremely personal, but a bit of back story is necessary to fully understand.

When I was nineteen, I started working for a successful restaurant chain. I found that not only was I good at what I did, but that I also had passion for my work. It sounds a little ridiculous when you’re talking about waiting tables. Most children never say, “I want to be a server when I get older.” Nevertheless, the company had heart, promoted fun, and took pride in making everything from scratch. In addition, it knew how to take care of its people. Before I turned twenty, I was training new employees in the store. Shortly before turning twenty-one, I was asked to travel up north to open a brand-new store and train a group of seventy-plus servers (that’s the quantity of servers and not the age bracket, although that could be an interesting restaurant concept…assuming there would be extra restrooms and expedient service wasn’t a top priority). I loved working with entire restaurant serving staffs. Sharing the chain’s passion and knowledge was incredible. The people laughed and listened. I could see the same glint in their eyes that was in mine when I had been in their positions. From that point, it only got better.

At twenty-one years old, I was traveling the country. Corporate paid to fly me to Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona, Florida, etc. Rumblings had started that corporate was looking at me for bigger things. After only a couple years with the company, I was promoted to Training Manager. I had a corporate job with a 401K. I was with a beautiful woman. I was moving out of Central Illinois for good. I was respected by my co-workers and friends. The sky was the limit for me.

I had failed to consider that this promotion was going to move me out of state away from all my closest friends and family. I was five and a half hours away from home. Shortly before I left, my car broke down and I had no money to buy a new one. The apartment that corporate had found for me was close to work, but also expensive. The beautiful girl who was coming to live with me decided that she couldn’t in good conscience leave her mother, who had issues in another state. Out of hurt, I ended the relationship altogether. The few friends I had in my new city, whom I’d met through work in the years before, were now no longer allowed to fraternize with me. Worst of all, although I was good at training, I had no clue what to do as a training manager. I received little to no direction from my department head. I felt like a fraud. This thing at which I was supposed to accel, I was instead failing. From that point, it only got worse.

The company went public and the passion of the company had changed. I proposed an idea to my department head as to how we could fix this. She told me that my idea was nice, but not feasible. As a result, I gave my resignation. I then found myself in a strange city. I had no money. I had no family. I had no friends. I had no significant other. I had no car with which to escape.

I started waiting tables for a different restaurant. To say it wasn’t as successful as the former chain would be an understatement. I was struggling. I couldn’t afford my apartment, or any apartment, for the money I was making. My days consisted of walking to work to make enough money so that I could walk to the Winn-Dixie on my way home and pick up a twelve-pack of beer. I would then sit alone in my apartment, drink most of a twelve-pack, stare at the TV while a movie played, and reflect on how far I’d fallen.

During those walks to and from work every day, I crossed an overpass. It began as something very subtle. It was like a whisper. “What if you just fell over the side?” Every day. Twice a day. I started to wonder if I would just fall and break my legs. Maybe my back. Would I have to lie helpless and hope a car would hit me? If I went over head-first, how could I guarantee that I wouldn’t put my arms up unconsciously to protect myself? These thoughts continued until they seemed like an old friend. Someone with whom I could have a conversation. And I did. Every day. Twice a day.

At some point, my mother randomly called me. She told me that I needed to move home immediately. She was sending money for me to get a moving truck. It wasn’t until I was home that she explained she heard something in my voice over the phone that she didn’t like. She couldn’t place it, but knew something was very wrong. I never told her that she probably saved my life. Thank you, Mom.

I’m writing this because I just finished 13 Reasons Why. It brought back a lot of that for me. Not the feelings of complete hopelessness and helplessness. Just reminders on how wholly we can embrace them. How a deluge of negatives can cast a shadow over any thoughts of better days. How tomorrow isn’t even a concept. Right now. This pain. This apathy. This desperation. This everything. This nothing. This.

If you’re feeling these things (or feeling nothing), I can’t tell you that it’s all going to get better. No one can. And not everyone comes by it the same way. Bullying has taken the headline these days. But “This” comes from so many places. I can’t say, “This, too, shall pass.” What I can tell you is some of what has happened in my life since I came home from the “This” that my life had become. More importantly, I can tell you what would not exist if I had ceased to do so. First and foremost, my daughter would not be here. Her smile. Her imagination. Her kindness. I have raised a daughter who is the very opposite of those bullies in the classroom. Despite all the ugliness and nothingness that I had inside me at one point, I created a brilliant source of light for this world. I would have missed out on thousands of bouts of laughter with good friends. Incredible sex with women who looked at me with love, lust, or both. Watching my family add in-laws and nieces and nephews. Overcoming my fears and riding roller coasters. So, so many smiles.

For me, intimately knowing “This” is what allows me to appreciate it all so much more than others. Will it get better? I don’t know. Is it possible to come back from nothing? Come meet my daughter and ask me that question again.

If you need help or just to talk, you can go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org or call (800) 273-8255. Sometimes, just a voice on the other end of the phone makes all the difference.