I Do

Many of my close friends, much like your own, could tell you about me, as your close friends could speak about you. Not those things random people see on the surface, or the seeming reputations we hold. But rather about our real selves.

I’m aware I have a reputation—as a never-married 38-year-old man—of a guy who fears commitment and avoids the thought of getting married at all costs. Granted, I spent more than a few years of my life enjoying non-committed “relationships,” some longer than others. Some much shorter than what would be considered relationships at all. I might have even broken a couple hearts, although it was never intentional or without remorse. In short, I am partly responsible for the reputation.

The point of all that is to explain one of those less-known aspects of my personality, known only to my close friends. I. Love. Weddings. I am a romantic.

Despite being a realist and understanding that unwavering happily ever after doesn’t exist, I do believe in mostly happily ever after. I hold contradictory ideals on love. I believe in love at first sight. I also believe that you can’t truly love someone until you really know them. I believe another person can complete you. I also believe that no other human being can fill a void within you until you have learned to first love and accept yourself. Love, as an ideal, is utterly imperfect. And that is why I love weddings. They are the result of that ideal tying everything together.

I had the pleasure this last weekend of being part of a wedding. Beyond merely witnessing it from the pews as a friend, I had the honor of being asked by the groom and the bride to stand up with them as a groomsman. Although I have missed many weddings due to work obligations in the past, I refused to let this one be another added to the list. This wedding was special for me.

Cory—the groom—and I met roughly thirteen years ago. I couldn’t tell you the exact memory of our first meeting. There was no grand event that brought us together. We had mutual friends and found ourselves spending time in the same circles. I liked him. I thought he was funny and seemingly intelligent. He was a nice guy. I enjoyed his company. He appeared to enjoy mine as well. I assumed that was how it would remain and nothing more. Two acquaintances who would chat casually when with our mutual friends.

At some point, Cory began working in the same bar as myself. I bartended while he ran the karaoke. The sad part of working in the bar industry is that after everyone else has had the chance to imbibe and go home, the employees find themselves wide awake, often desperately needing cocktails themselves, and with no place to buy booze or find company after hours. Thus, Cory and I began our many nights of sitting in the bar after hours, having beers we’d purchased and put in the well earlier, and talking as only two grown men alone in a dark bar can do. No girls to impress. No group of guys insisting on “man talk.” Simply two men who could discuss life, love, failures, and aspirations over beer and cigarettes without worry of judgment or ridicule. It was in the dusty, smoky haze of a bar with a horrendous green carpet that reeked of stale booze and shame that I found one of my dearest friends to date.

Tara (pronounced TAW-RUH…you’re welcome, Tara)—the bride—only came into my life about two years ago. She decided to compete in a karaoke competition in which Cory and I were rivalling team captains. Cory chose her for his team. Upon first meeting her, my initial summation was that she was pretty, quiet, and polite. Two out of three ain’t bad. Tara is polite. Tara is pretty. I’ll leave it at that. What I quickly discovered about her by seeing her through Cory’s eyes was that she was young, intelligent, and vibrant. Tara has a zeal for life and an infectious smile. She’s caring, religious, and old-fashioned by many of today’s standards. She also had an uncanny ability to steal my friend’s heart. That all made her pretty amazing in my book.

As such, I wasn’t about to miss this wedding. And to be included as a member of the wedding party made me feel even more exalted. It isn’t often we are able to stand so close to something truly special.

I’m absolutely not saying it went perfectly. It was a wedding. Which means there are too many moving parts for it to go on without a hitch. A flu plague attacked civilization that weekend. About 30 guests called or texted to let them know that they regretfully couldn’t attend because they weren’t able to keep anything down or up. One of the groomsmen ended up in the ER the early morning hours of the wedding day with kidney stones. The temperature was in the single digits. I lost the top button to my tux just before we began pictures and had to race to the store to get it fixed. Two of the groomsmen were forgotten at the church when we left to have said pictures taken at another location. After the photos, the same groomsman with kidney stones (and one of the two left behind) went airborne on a patch of ice and landed without a parachute. Yeah, he was having a very rough day. The bride’s father, while delivering a speech during the ceremony, had a bit of trouble pronouncing his own daughter’s name. There was a moment when it looked as though the unity candle wasn’t going to light properly.

That all sounds like the workings of some cheesy rom-com film. I swear to you, it is all true.


The turnout for the wedding was solid, the pews nearly filled with smiling friends and family. Luke—aka Kidney Stones, aka The Forgotten Man, aka Flying Groomsman—made it through the day with admirable smiles and Vicodin. The chill outside was lessened by the warmth felt when the bride and groom looked at one another. My tux was repaired just in time for pictures. The bride’s father not only managed to get out his daughter’s name, but delivered a loving and thoughtful speech. And all candles were lit beautifully.

And more…

Tara was utterly stunning in her tasteful and elegant dress, so unlike many of the gaudy monstrosities chosen by other brides. She and Cory spent the day laughing and speaking in intimate whispers that, while unheard, suggested bliss and comfort in one another’s company. Likewise, they both handled every “hitch” in the day with grace and level heads—most importantly, they did it together. Some friends who had not seen each other for great periods of time fell into old stories, new laughter, and created more memories. The bride’s father surprised her by playing a phenomenal recording of himself singing The Way You Look Tonight for the father/daughter dance, which brought tears of joy from more than just Tara herself. And Cory’s nephew, the ringbearer wearing a t-shirt reading “Ring Security,” celebrated Uncle Cory and Aunt Tara by dancing his ass off at the reception.

This is what a wedding is supposed to be. A slew of imperfections that result in a perfect day.

Am I incredibly grateful to have had a front-row seat to this?

I am.

Will I remember that day with a quiet sense of exuberance even years from now?

I will.

Do I have a little more faith that love has a way of finding us?

I do.

Hidden Treasures

We all have them. Those nameless, random mementos of past relationships. It might be an old sweatshirt, ticket stubs from a movie, a love letter, or even just a picture. Some of us have entire collections. Why do we hold onto them, years and sometimes relationships later? It’s because they remind us of times where, maybe for only a brief period, we were truly happy. That sweatshirt that smelled like the other person, sending us to sleep with a gentle smile on our faces. That movie where you first touched each other’s hands in the dark, feeling terrified and exhilarated at the same time, realizing that one simple gesture could say everything. That love letter that makes you shake your head in embarrassment from its contents, but reminds you of what it feels like to have another pour his or her soul onto paper just for you. That picture of the vacation you took that first made you feel like a co-adventurer in the world with another. What is yours? Or, maybe you’re like me and had a whole box. My treasure box. It held grandly written letters, photographs, dried flowers, and so much more. Mine no longer exists. It was the casualty of an old girlfriend who found it and didn’t understand that the box was not about those women of the past. It was about reminding me what young, stupid love could feel like. It was a staple to remind me to never stop loving with my heart, or to foolishly relegate the responsibility to my head.

Why am I writing this? Because that box has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve found myself weighing my heart against my head too often over the last few years. Too many of us do. We suffer heartbreak and put up walls. We become jaded and cynical. We run from feelings as if they’re the new plague. And why shouldn’t we? We’ve all experienced that sickness that comes with a broken heart or unrequited love. Wouldn’t it make sense to be calculated and rational, especially concerning that organ that is responsible for pumping the very lifeblood through us? In short, no.

A beautiful friend of mine met the man who would become her husband. He proposed three weeks in. Obviously, she turned him down. Still, like a madman, he continued to pursue her. Was he insane? Desperate? Foolish? No. He was a man who knew this was the woman with whom he could spend the rest of his life. The beauty of this story is multi-faceted. Not only did he not give up. She didn’t either. She stayed. And theirs was a marriage that inspires me still. She never walked across a parking lot…he always dropped her off at the door to walk through the rain himself. They danced. They laughed. They loved one another in a way that doesn’t allow room for the mind to ruin it. And he did, in fact, love her for the rest of his life.

I mention this because love like that does exist, even after years of marriage. The saying claims that love is blind. I disagree. Blindness is a handicap. Love is awake and dreaming. It should be approached that way. Certainly, dreams end. But, every so often, we can close our eyes and find that dream again. Think about your treasure box. Remember that, although life doesn’t always go how we hoped, we collect incredible memories not from what we were afraid to do or say, but from all those moments we were both stupid and intelligent enough to set aside the real world in pursuit of something bigger than we felt we deserved.


I wrote that last piece a few years ago. I decided to include it in this blog because I have started a new treasure box. I was looking through it just last night.

My daughter, in addition to being a budding writer, has taken a shine to drawing lately. I couldn’t be prouder. As Einstein once said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”

Madison gave me one of her drawings a few days ago. As is her fashion, she snuck it into my bedroom and set it on a table. I hadn’t noticed it until last night. It came from her imagination and found its way onto paper. That paper found its way into my bedroom as a surprise gift. Certainly, it is worthy of finding its way to the Treasure Box.

The best part about that box is that I can never open it without looking through it. It is filled with talismans of incredible power. Art work from kindergarten and ticket stubs from zoos. A piece of hair from her first haircut and teeth that fell out long ago. A corsage from a father/daughter dance and homemade Father’s Day cards written in jagged script with misspelled words. On and on.

To open that box is to be transported back through time in my mind and in my heart. But, just as surely, it sends me forward in time too. To sift through those items is to observe the evolution of a life well-lived. Who she was to who she is. And it leaves me wondering who she will be.

An artist, discovering the use of color and shading in college? A writer, penning children’s books as an adult? A veterinarian, smiling calmingly into the eyes of creatures she loves unconditionally? What atrocious hair styles will she come home with in the name of fashion? How often will her remaining teeth flash in smiles? Who will put a corsage on her for her first school dance? How will her handwriting differ when she signs her driver’s license?

Someday, many years from now, I’d like to go through that box with her. I will pull out those items one by one and explain their places. Each item a chapter in her story. I have a feeling the completed work is going to be a page-turner.

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.

Do You Believe In Magic?

This piece was written originally two Christmases ago. I apologize to the handful of readers who have read this before. But I did say in my first piece on Of Vice And Zen that some of my old work would make its way onto this blog. Now it has a real title and a fun picture! As I sat down to write this week’s publication, I realized that I didn’t  have everything just the way I wanted it. Unlike my underwear and socks that will be put away days after I finished doing laundry, I want my writing to be completed wholly. In addition, I took my daughter to the doctor today (nothing serious), and experienced a moment that reminded me of this piece. She took control of the appointment, talking to the doctor in her own words. A helpless child was not standing in the room with me. I was in the company of a growing woman. It was a breath-taking and humbling moment. So, without further ado (I’ve always wanted to have a reason to say that)…

“How does that train not wake up his parents?”

This is heavy stuff. A question posed to me by my nine year old daughter while we decorate the Christmas tree and watch The Polar Express. This question inevitably leads to awkward answers we parents have to carefully supply to maintain the illusion of magic. Answers that often only lead to more questions and more awkward answers. Which then lead to more questions. I think I handled it like a pro. Vague, calculated responses that made me think a future in politics could be lucrative, assuming I actually knew anything about current events outside of my newsfeed. Don’t get me wrong; I would unfortunately rock any discussion concerning the status of the Kardashians or wildly inappropriate memes, but I’m not sure that knowledge would effectively run a country.

Regardless, I digress. What this random question triggered in me was a line of thought that brought a sadness. I came to the realization that this might be the last year this beautiful young lady believes in Santa. The rumors have already begun in her class. They revolve around rational thoughts leading to suspicions that their parents might very well be horrible liars who have manipulated them into being good (at least for the last couple months) by threatening the disappointment and passive aggressive wrath of a bearded fat man who spends an absorbent amount of time playing with toys and tiny slave workers.

Sadly, once the myth of Santa falters, soon follows the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the understanding that spinach can make one strong like Popeye, and the acceptance that Dad really did make that quarter disappear behind the ear. There goes the magic. I thought about this with immense disappointment. The passing from being a child of wonder to a person of skepticism.  But is that really the case? Not necessarily.

I smiled while I watched her put the last few ornaments on the tree. She has so many more moments of magic ahead of her. Are these moments about mythical people or creatures? No. But they will be no less powerful. They require an amazing recipe of hope, faith, joy, and unbridled belief in something bigger and far more mysterious in the world. I’ll touch on some of them. Feel free to add to the list your own magical moments post-fairy tale apocalypse.

  1. Although she’s already begun on a beginner level, she will discover her ability to cook, I mean really cook, her own dinner. Just a first step in becoming her own person who does not need to rely on Dad or Mom to provide sustenance. Small step? Perhaps, but there will come a moment when that kitchen will cease to be a bunch of cabinets and instead will have evolved into a playground of self-importance. How the magic will shine when I first taste one of the worst breakfasts I’ve ever had while smiling and nodding. Maybe I’ll go all out and do the whole circular belly rub to really drill the point home.
  2. As a father, I try to avoid thoughts of boys being in her life. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I suspect that she is beginning to realize that boys do not, in fact, have cooties. And someday, far before I’m ready, she’s going to find her first crush. The boy she draws hearts for. She’ll put his name inside that heart along with her own and a mathematical symbol. I would prefer the symbol be subtraction, but I don’t believe I’ve attended enough church in my life for that particular prayer to come true. That time, that first crush, is nothing short of magical. You and I, we each had one. Who was yours?
  3. The first real friends-date with no parents. Often, this is a time for a movie. She and her girlfriends will go to whatever awful movie is all the hype in the theater at the time. I like to think I raised her better and that she’d force them to appreciate Star Wars: Episode Nine, but those little teens are persuasive. However, the movie itself is pointless. This date is not about watching a movie. It is about freedom from those pesky parents. She will feel like a trusted and independent member of society. She need not know that Dad will probably be a block away with binoculars.
  4. If she’s anything like her father, she will explore the boundaries of the English language. I’m not referring to those words with multiple syllables. No. Those four letter words that often require random asterisks in written form so my grandmother doesn’t have a stroke while simultaneously shaking her head and planning an extra visit to church to pray for her grandson’s eternal soul. Those words have power. Using those words for the first time is to control the universe. Friends may ogle in surprise. Strangers who overhear them will look away in disgust (especially if they’re wonderful ladies like my grandmother). Parents will immediately become war-time torturers and interrogators at their mention. “I’ll take the soap out of your mouth as soon as you tell me who taught you that word!” Certainly, she won’t have learned it from Dad. Those words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and even entire sentences if used properly. Make me proud, baby girl, as soon you turn eighty and I’m gone.
  5. I will hold her arm as she walks stoically down an aisle surrounded by friends and family. She will look up and see the man she loves take a breath and wipe away a tear while he gazes at her. They will both say some things before he hugs her tightly. There will be no kissing at my daughter’s wedding. That day, that moment will make her believe in fairy tales again.
  6. A doctor or nurse will someday place a child on her chest. This child will have been conceived in a way that my church-going grandmother will understand better than me, as my daughter will have never so much as kissed her husband. But that child, that new life, will be a greater present than any given by ole Kris Kringle. Faith, joy, fear, hope, love. These are the center of magic.
  7. My daughter will decorate a tree with that child, much older now. She will talk about Santa and write his name on gift tags after the child goes to sleep. She will bake cookies and put them out on the coffee table to be eaten by herself (throwing them away would be both a waste and a dangerous breach of security should the child check the garbage in the morning). Diet be damned. Most importantly, she will again know the wonder of the mythical man who brought her so much joy in her youth, this time from a different viewpoint.

Yes, I left certain moments out. I did this for two reasons. First, as I said, you should fill in your own. Secondly, some moments are not meant for a father to recognize due to his daughter’s lack of anything resembling romance, and the fact that all men in her life will be eunuchs.

I don’t know much, but I know this: I will hold onto the childhood magic as long as I can. However, when it goes, I won’t be sad. Look at this life, baby girl. Look closely. Pick a card. Any card.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

What’s your go-to song in the shower? What song did you dance to at your wedding? Which song reminds you of a loved one who’s past? Did you lose your virginity to a certain song? If so, what was it?

It’s surprising to me that I haven’t written about music before. Music is a big part of my life. I guess I consider myself a singer. I’ve competed in karaoke competitions for many years. I’ve even done well enough to win some money in a few of those competitions. When I clean my apartment, I crank up some tunes and go to work. I need a playlist while I’m showering. I have a great number of friends and family who are musicians and singers. Music is everywhere for me.

That isn’t to say that I love all types of music. Although I understand the draw of hip-hop and rap, it just isn’t my thing. I was at a bar Saturday night to celebrate a good friend’s birthday. What the DJ had going on was disturbing. There was a lot of bass and lyrics about putting middle fingers in the air or something. As music is concerned, it apparently did its job because girls with ill-fitting clothing were popping their asses to the crowds of guys with straight-billed caps who were licking their lips. It felt a bit like watching the mating rituals of some ancient Aboriginal tribe that should have gone instinct. People were “dancing.” I guess that’s the point of music. Me? I like songs with lyrical quality. Tell me a story. Make me feel something. You know, other than epilepsy. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

The magic of a song for me is how it can instantly transport someone to another time, another place, another set of emotions. Individuals with severe stutters can often sing without a hitch. I watched a video of a man with dementia who could barely respond light up and start talking coherently when he was given some headphones playing music from his past. Another video shows a street musician singing I Will Always Love You to a girl with Down syndrome. She had amazing moments where she lifted her arms as though she was conducting the music herself. Her disability almost disappeared in those few seconds. If you have ever watched cable, you’ve most likely seen those abandoned and abused dogs. That’s sad. Hearing Sarah McLachlan accompany the images is so much worse. Well played, advertisement. Well played. Whenever I hear The Gourds version of Gin and Juice, my mood is brightened and my mind goes back to being in my early twenties, working in Florida. Every morning, my coworkers and I would jump into the jeep and blast that song on repeat on the way to work. I swear it cured hangovers from Jägermeister.

If you haven’t noticed, the majority of the titles for my pieces on this blog are also song titles. Music, like my writing, is part of me. I see my life like a story that is being written as I go. And there is a soundtrack. I’m not sure it’s entirely fitting or appropriate for the situation, but there’s music, by God. I caught myself humming It’s Raining Men the other evening while cooking dinner for my daughter and me. I have no idea what that means. If it’s my subconscious trying to tell me something, the joke is on him. I can’t pull off the cowboy, Indian, biker, or police officer look. But I do look good shirtless in my utility belt. Hallelujah.

My life soundtrack Volume 1:

Track 1: American Pie by Don McLean—I had this song about the Day the Music Died on vinyl and used to play it over and over again in my bedroom when I was a pre-teen. His lyrics were poetic. They told a sad and brilliant story. This was the first song I ever sang karaoke. All eight minutes and thirty six seconds of it. I knew every word by heart. It was probably terrible. But an extremely drunk man stumbled up to me and told me that if Bruce Springsteen ever covered that song, that’s what it would sound like. Thank you, Super Drunk Guy, for encouraging me to continue singing. I hope you still have a liver.

Track 2: Crazy Mary by Pearl Jam (originally by Victoria Williams)—Riding shotgun in my oldest sister’s white Ford Tempo. The summer air blowing through the windows and those haunting minor chords telling a somber and powerful tale. I sat there elated and humbled that I could be included in this moment. Sharing a love for music with a woman who had been my arch enemy through early childhood. It was an acceptance into her world. Her showing a piece of herself to me without saying a word. Thank you, Kim.

Track 3: Goodnight My Angel by Billy Joel—The first woman I ever loved romantically. Kara Bohannon. My freshman year of college, I saw her at a house party from across the room. She was wearing a green sweater, blue jeans, and a brown leather jacket. I thought she was stunning and crossed the room to show my roommate “how it was done.” After saying something stupid about her having the best bellybutton I’d ever seen, she shut me down and walked away. She later found me in a ridiculously drunk stupor on the couch and tied my shoe for me as though I were an infant. In fairness, that would not be a far off assumption. It took me three months to find her again. She played this song for me and told me how her father used to sing it to her when she was little. I later shared the same song with my daughter when she was a baby. Thank you, Kara.

Track 4: A Whiter Shade of Pale by Procol Harum—16 years old. Sitting in the cab of my dad’s truck when this song came on the radio. He immediately stopped the conversation to turn up the volume. Among the smell of stale coffee and cigarette smoke, my father turned from the no-nonsense man talking work ethic to a lover of art. He sang along tentatively while I watched him go back into his own life soundtrack. It was like watching the metamorphosis of a caterpillar in front of me. I remember thinking right then how amazing the power of music was. Thank you, Dad.

Track 5: The Freshman by The Verve Pipe—The summer after my senior year, I went on my first solo camping trip with friends. No adults. Just a group of teenagers, a trunk full of illegally purchased alcohol, and so many ideas of bad decisions. During the two and a half hour drive to the campsite, we played this song at least twenty times. It always brings me back to sitting in the back of the car with my cigarette smoke blowing out the window and a chorus of voices wailing away. Think the scene from Almost Famous on the bus, but with less harmony and much more off-key. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Track 6: Long Day by Matchbox 20—Back when LimeWire was still a thing (because who doesn’t love giving their computers AIDS?), illegal music downloads were huge. The best part for me was finding an acoustic version of a song. A version I’d never heard. Sarah Fergemann, my girlfriend at the time, shared a love of Matchbox 20 with me. While I was at work, she downloaded an entire album worth of songs she thought I’d love and burned them to a CD. An exquisite acoustic version of Long Day was the first song on that CD. I own it still and occasionally go back to listen to it around all the scratches. It takes me back to sitting on her couch, talking about our hopes and dreams, and my first time getting drunk off wine. The leather-bound notebook in which I write my notes for this very blog was given to me by her to encourage my writing. That was thirteen years ago. I’m sorry it took so long, Sarah, but thank you.

Track 7: Angel Eyes by Jeff Healey Band—I met my daughter’s mother in a karaoke bar. I was the guy who took his karaoke singing a little too seriously. She was the girl who would hold a microphone in her hand, but sing into her Bud Light bottle. Not particularly on-key. I liked her anyway. It was in that bar that she would have me sing Angel Eyes to her. So many drunken nights in a bar surrounded by our friends. But even in the middle of all the shenanigans, that one song could make her stop and smile. And made me feel like great things would come of this. Which leads to track eight. Thank you, Liz, for both tracks.

Track 8: With Arms Wide Open by Creed—Before you judge me…never mind. Your judgment is valid. But this song was sung by me to slyly announce to the bar full of friends that I was going to be a father. Yes, it was Creed. But it didn’t take away from the lyrics. And it certainly didn’t take away from the fact that every time I hear the song, I go back to the moment I was told I was going to be a dad. Or the moment my daughter’s mother called me at work to shout the word “Madison” in my ear because she’d happened to come up with a name she thought we would both like. And that song plays in my mind every time I reflect on taking Madison out of the nurse’s arms to hold her for the first time. That simultaneously weightless and heavy moment. Responsibility and possibility crashing into each other.

Track 9: Let Her Cry by Hootie and the Blowfish—I have a picture of me with hair. Well, most of my hair. In that picture, I’m leaning down over a baby and my mouth is open. The baby is smiling up at me. I’m singing Let Her Cry to my daughter. It was my baby go-to song. She loved it. So many times that I would come home from bartending at three in the morning, Madison’s mom would have hair pulled up in a messy bun while staring at me with bloodshot, tired eyes. Madison wasn’t an easy baby. Colic plagued her. She cried. A lot. When I would come home from work, her mom had been up with her all night. It was then my turn to take the devil spawn baby so her mother could get some sleep. It was one of my favorite parts of the day. Madison had usually just about worn herself out from crying. So she and I would curl up in the recliner and I would sing Let Her Cry while rocking her. She was often passed out within fifteen minutes. Those fifteen minutes were ours, though. The smell of baby skin and the sound of her breathing slowing down between the words. Her staring at my mouth through content and heavy eyes. Secret seconds that belonged to no one but us. Thank you, baby girl.

Track 10: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star—Potty training is long and tedious. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Taking ten minute bathroom breaks every twenty minutes or so just in case. Toddlers aren’t the most patient companions on these trips. Distractions are a necessity. Thus, Madison had a toy microphone that played a selection of song instrumentals. One particularly long day, we’d been on the toilet more times than I could count. It was the last push to get her out of diapers. The microphone went with us every time. I would sing along to every song on there. I was getting pretty good at London Bridge. I won’t lie to you. In the middle of it all, though, something just clicked for my daughter. She busted out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star as if she’d been singing it forever. It was a little off key. Some of the words were wrong. And it was the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. My daughter had crossed the threshold from a baby who bopped or hummed along to songs and became a singer. She looked in my eyes the entire time. I looked at her with my own content and heavy eyes. And the teacher became the student. Thank you so much, Madison.

I’m absolutely missing some songs to my soundtrack. It’s Volume 1. I can’t give them all away.

But, I’m interested in your own soundtrack. What songs punctuate the story that is your life?

Photo credit: http://media4.picsearch.com/is?KFUhTeglGbuf_B3c9Ony3Atr8nPsHNUVhylqO1QZeuk&height=259

My Funny Valentine

“It’s just a ridiculous Hallmark holiday.”

That statement fills up my Facebook newsfeed pretty regularly toward the end of January and into the first half of February. It’s also heard from the mouths of co-workers, friends, and random passers-by. Valentine’s Day seems to bring out in people a certain loathing disdain. Some claim it isn’t a “real” holiday. Some smugly say that we shouldn’t have one day to show our significant others that we love them, but that it should happen every day. Some believe it’s a holiday that ostracizes single people everywhere. Me? I like chocolate. It is delicious.

The origins of Valentine’s Day are a little cloudy, but the timeline is still pretty clear. What was once an ancient Roman holiday known as Lupercalia (February 15) was turned into a Christian day of feast (February 14) around 496. In the 14th century, the big V day was officially associated with love by none other than the famous author Chaucer. Celebration of the day continued into the 18th century. It was celebrated by people giving gifts and handmade cards that featured hearts and cupids. Hallmark was founded in 1910. I’m not a mathematician, but those numbers don’t add up. To all the “Hallmark holiday” people: please shut up. I mean that as politely as I can when talking to broken records who repeat inaccurate clichés over and over.

Has Valentine’s Day become commercialized? Sure. And of course no other holidays do that. “Man, I’m stuffed from that delicious feast at which I told everyone how thankful I was. I should probably nap before I wake up at the butt crack of dawn to shove and yell at people. Grandma needs that 75% off big screen next month. ‘Tis the season.”

So, why do we celebrate it at all? That’s where the history gets muddled. Kind of like me trying to remember why I decided it was a good idea to eat an entire large pizza after drinking for eight hours. The most common lore behind Valentine’s Day revolves around a certain priest, St. Valentine, who married couples in secret after marriage had been outlawed by the Roman emperor Claudius II. Claudius worried that men with wives at home would be less effective soldiers, or that they wouldn’t want to go to war at all. When St. Valentine was discovered, he was executed for his acts. There is stipulation that he either fell in love with or had befriended the jailor’s daughter while awaiting execution. Before he was martyred, he supposedly sent her a letter signed, “From your Valentine.”

Regardless of how accurate the story is, it became a holiday that we’ve celebrated for centuries. If questionable historical significance is a problem, a large part of society might argue that a holiday celebrating a miraculous birth by a virgin leaves room for more explanation. I will admit that I’m unclear on the Valentine’s Day significance behind flying, naked babies wielding archery equipment. But I chalk that up to the same people who connected resurrections with egg-laying bunnies, and the births of saviors with rotund old guys using slave labor to build gifts for children. I’m a free spirit. I just roll with it.

Another argument against Valentine’s Day is that we shouldn’t have to have a certain day to tell us to show our love and affection to our significant others. I agree with that wholeheartedly. Love and appreciation should be shown every day. But what’s wrong with having one day to make it a really big event? I think of it as the Superbowl of love. I’d like to point out here that I just used a sports analogy. Be proud, Dad. It’s not all books, movies, and video games for this guy. Anyway, if we’re lambasting holidays because the meaning behind them should be celebrated and honored every day, we should probably get upset with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day. That would be upsetting. I’m kind of partial to Father’s Day. I would bet anyone who uttered out loud, “Mother’s Day is bullshit,” would be met with a few horrified looks. I have many friends who both serve and have served in the military. Although we should appreciate them every day, I like that they have their own holiday. My grandfather was a pilot in WWII. He’s now passed, but I love the idea of honoring our deceased ex-military collectively on one day.

Finally. Aww, the bitter single people. The day that forces us to avoid social media in an effort to not see sickeningly sweet posts about how happy everyone else is. The pictures of cards and candies. The plethora of engagements. Long soliloquies about how “my significant other is better than yours.” I get it. I’m one of you. I haven’t had a meaningful relationship in years. There’s the distinct possibility that my daughter is going to be the one to find my body one day. It will have been partially eaten by our two cats. I mean, if they panic when they see the bottom of their food bowl, I can only imagine what they’ll do when the food is gone and I’m not responding to their monotonous meows. I only hope they start with my love handles. I can’t seem to completely get rid of those bastards for anything.

The fact is, we need a day dedicated to love. Especially in these times. Why not do so by honoring a man who gave his life in the pursuit that endeavor? Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about being in a romantic relationship with someone. Nor does it have to be about commercialism. Here’s a tip, fellas. Listen to what your significant other has to say throughout the year. A gift that touches on something your partner mentioned she (or he) loves or appreciates doesn’t have to be expensive. It only has to be meaningful. Are you widowed? Spend the day going through old pictures that make you smile. Are you single? Adopt a shelter pet. Bring a homeless person food. Crash a singles party, have a few drinks, and hope for the best.

How will I celebrate? After I get off work tomorrow, I’ll be picking my daughter Madison up from school. She’ll probably have a Valentine card for me. I still have every one she’s ever made. I’ll have one for her too. We’ll exchange cards and talk about her day at school. Then we’ll go home and get ready for date night. My Valentine’s Day won’t consist of dozens of flowers or an expensive dinner at a five star restaurant. It won’t end with rose petals and lingerie. I’ll be exchanging poorly written homemade cards with my Valentine. I’ll sit at Olive Garden across from the most beautiful girl in the room. We’ll talk and laugh about whatever comes to mind. It will end with me tucking her in, telling her I love her, and listening to her giggle while I make kissing noises into her ear. My heart will be full. That’s a great day in my book. That’s a solid holiday. Happy Valentine’s, baby girl.