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.

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Who Are You?

It’s that time of year. Pumpkin spice has come back full force. Like the unknown member of a 90s girl-group who was cut from the ensemble for being too annoying. She’s here. She has her own reality show. And every White woman in the United States is bingeing.

I’m not a huge fan of Fall. I love Summer. Sure, the changing colors of the leaves is beautiful. And I’ll admit that it’s nice not to step outside after a shower and immediately wonder if I forgot to dry myself completely because my clothing is suddenly sticking to me. However, in Central Illinois, Fall signals the end of sunny days and driving with the windows down. Soon, the only person being serenaded by my renditions of the Meghan Trainor songs playing on my daughter’s favorite radio station will be myself and my daughter, if she’s lucky. Sorry, random drivers stuck next to me at traffic lights, you will be missing out on something extraordinary.

The only saving graces from Fall are Thanksgiving (one of my favorite holidays) and Halloween (a holiday I have come to appreciate again in recent years).

I loved Halloween as a kid. The idea of dressing up as someone else held within it something magical. And let’s not forget about the deliciousness and danger of candy that, according to my mother, had an extremely high chance of containing razor blades and/or poison. I would either end up with a belly ache or spend my adult life like a villain in a Christopher Nolan film. “You wanna know how I got these scars?” So intense and exciting.

At some point, the idea of dressing up and asking for candy seemed childish. I stopped. Later, Halloween brought with it a disdain as I was bartending and hated having to ask patrons to remove their fake teeth so I could understand their drink orders. Or remove their masks so I could properly match them to their drivers’ licenses. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the slutty versions of every character out there brought to me courtesy of Girls in Their Twenties. Nurses and police women and witches, oh my. But even that lost its appeal after a time.

Years back, I began to enjoy Halloween for a different reason. I had a daughter. And her choice in costumes has spoken volumes about who she is as a person. What I had not previously realized was that Halloween costumes represent who we are or who we would like to be. Sadly, this also means that some of my previous examples require nursing or criminal justice degrees and cosmetic surgery. Get to it, ladies.

My daughter, Madison, has always been a unique soul. It is hands-down my favorite quality about her. When she first started deciding as a young child what to be for Halloween, she stuck with what she knew. Cheer Bear cost me a small fortune online, but her ecstatic smile when she put it on made it well worth it. Next came the Disney princesses. Snow White and Belle hadn’t known beauty until they were represented by this little girl. She chose these because they were the characters in her books and movies. And then there was the shift. She moved away from cute and pretty to stronger female characters. Jessie from Toy Story, Batgirl, Supergirl, Princess Leia, and Rey from Star Wars: Episode 7.

This year, she wants to be a hot dog.

I love it. Weird, quirky, and hilarious in an off-beat way describe her personality to a tee. For me, this costume represents her as an even stronger woman. She isn’t looking for a prince. She can’t fly. She won’t save the universe from evil. She doesn’t need to. She has the power to make herself laugh, and uses this power without a care as to what is popular or “swag.”

I considered getting a costume for myself this year. But I don’t need one. While she’s in that costume, I get to be an unbelievably proud father. No accessories needed.

What If…?

A few weeks ago, I attended my 20-year high school reunion. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go initially. I had only gone to school with these people for those four years, having grown up in a different town. I didn’t think I’d have much to discuss with them. The crowd I’d hung out with in my early high school career weren’t going to attend—likely because most of them are surely dead or in prison. No, I did not hang out with the honor roll students. My crowd was morally ambiguous at best. My closest friends from my later high school career were unable to make it. Thus, I figured I’d be talking to only a couple others and wondering why I’d given up a Saturday night shift at work.

I went to my 10-year reunion when that had come about. There was a strange pressure to seem vocationally successful. Most of the conversation had revolved around that. What do you do? How much do you make? The prospect of going through that again was less than thrilling.

However, I spoke to a friend of mine shortly before the reunion. He’s slightly older and had opted out of going to his 20-year. He had been going through a divorce at the time of his reunion and felt like he didn’t have it “together.” Now, he wishes that he had gone. He helped make my decision. I would go, but would probably hate every minute of it.

With all of that said, I highly recommend everyone attend their 20-year. First off, we had more alumni show up than had at the 10-year. More importantly, the entire affair was different. We had all reached an age at which what you do was not nearly as important as who you are. I overheard discussions about careers. I even had a few myself. But there was a casual joviality present. My former classmates and I were not worried about who was successful. We were allowing ourselves to bask in the presence of one another. We were learning who each of us had become as opposed to what we had become. We smiled. We laughed. We told stories. We reminisced.

It was in that reminiscing that I began to wonder days later. How am I different from the boy that I was? What events changed me? What decisions did I make that altered my path? If I could go back and change anything, what would it be?

I lost my virginity at a young age. I had no idea what I was doing, let alone the importance and power of that act. Perhaps if I hadn’t lost it back then and waited until I could fully grasp the moment, I would view sex differently. Maybe I would have fallen in love with that woman. Maybe I would be happily married today.

When I went to college fresh out of high school, I majored in English with a focus in creative writing. I felt working long hours to pay for books and housing was too much of a burden on me on top of my classroom responsibilities. I was tired all the time. So, I dropped out. Having gone back later to earn my degree in Criminal Justice while working full-time and being a parent, that earlier workload seems miniscule. What if I had simply stuck with it? Maybe I would have gone on to live in a big city, writing for a prominent publication. Maybe I would be a successful fiction author.

At age 19, I was seriously considering going into the military. However, I began working at a restaurant that promoted me quickly through the ranks. I discarded thoughts of joining the military. I had a good job. I was respected and appreciated at work. I left the company years later and now find myself still serving and bartending. What if I had opted for the military instead? Maybe I would have risen through those ranks as well. Maybe I could have been a military man with benefits and a secure future. Maybe I could have gone on to work as a police officer or firefighter when I passed the testing, instead of losing points in the interview for having no military background.

At age 21, I met Sarah. She was the most beautiful and intelligent woman I’d ever known. She made me laugh. She encouraged my writing. She challenged me. I fell in love with her. After a few years of having been together, she was offered a career in New York. It was an opportunity she couldn’t allow to pass by her. She had to move halfway across the country. She asked me to come with her. Out of fear of the unknown and that level of commitment, I turned her down. Instead, we would remain friends and said if it was meant to be, it would. I still see her in my dreams sometimes. And it still makes my heart break. What if I had gone with her? Maybe she would have challenged me to be an artist with my writing in New York. Maybe I would have married the one woman who loved me for who I was and who also knew there was more inside me when I didn’t recognize it myself.

At age 24, I met Liz. Although Liz was also beautiful and intelligent, what drew me to her was her passion. She believed in living for the moment. She brought me adventure. I laughed with her harder than I have with any other woman. Together, we were a force with which to be reckoned. We drank. We joked. We made love. I loved her for the abandon she caused me to feel. All relationships that thrive from unbridled living, though, also struggle with brutal arguments. We had our fair share interlaced with the joy. When it ultimately didn’t work out, I found myself in a bad place. I drank too much. I slept with women for whom I felt nothing. I became slightly jaded. What if I had never met her? Maybe I wouldn’t be so cautious with women now. Maybe I wouldn’t prefer the company of movies at home over a couple cocktails in bars, enjoying the company of a lady.

I could have done any one of these things (and so many more) differently. Any one of those decisions going the other way could have changed me drastically from who I am today. I would be a different person.

Last night, as I do every night she is with me, I tucked my daughter into bed. She instantly shot her arms out from under the covers to put her hands on the sides of my face. She does this because I try to kiss her ears and make lip-smacking sounds. It’s a game we play. She tries to stop me. I try to sneak past her hands. She giggles, which is a rarity for an almost twelve-year-old girl. I then kiss her forehead and tell her goodnight.

It is because of that moment on those nights that I have my answer to the what would you change question. The answer is nothing.

As with the concept behind Chaos Theory and the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, changing the most seemingly inconsequential thing can change it all. What if I’d lost my virginity differently and was happily married? I wouldn’t have my daughter. What if I had gotten an English degree and become a successful fiction author? I wouldn’t have my daughter. What if I had moved overseas with the military and seen the world? Same. What if I’d moved to New York with Sarah? Same. What if I never met Liz? Most importantly, I would not have my daughter, because Liz is her mother.

Am I what most people consider to be successful? No. Do I sometimes struggle with bills? Yes. Do I sometimes get lonely when I have no one with whom to share my day? Yes. Do I sometimes think how nice it would be to live in a place where I could step into the ocean? Yes.

Would I change a single thing? No.

Because I have hands on my face. And a giggle in my ear.

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.

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!!

Paperback Writer

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a simple enough question. We’re asked that by teachers, parents, and grandparents all throughout our childhood. I still ask myself that sometimes at 37. In grade school, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Dinosaurs were just cool. And what boy doesn’t like the thought of digging in the dirt to find hidden treasures and the bones of ancient creatures? For a brief period, I considered being a stand-up comedian. This was mostly because I was the obnoxious class clown. My music teacher gave me part of a class to stand up and do whatever I wanted if I would just shut the hell up for the rest of the week. I won’t lie. My impressions of Goofy being beaten up by Batman were pretty on point. You know, if Batman existed before Bruce Wayne ever hit puberty.

Junior high and high school brought about the writer. College then changed the writer. In my early twenties, the writer took a back seat to Jagerbombs and Miller Lite. At 26, my daughter was born. Everything took a back seat to being a father. I wrote a little here and there, but never with any decent amount of vigor. I chose to see the world through the eyes of a writer, but one who pens children’s books and whose main character unfolds daily in front of his eyes. My story was one of wonder every time my daughter hit a new milestone or discovered magic.

It wasn’t until a short while ago that I made the decision to focus on putting pen to paper again. I have a notebook in which I jot ideas when they arise. My daughter has caught on to this. She asks me what I thought about whenever she sees me put my hands on the black leather binding. When I drive her to school every Monday, she inquires as to what this week’s piece is about. I adore these times. I get to share a little of what’s going on in my mind as well as any facts I learned in my research. I’m grateful to her for at least putting up the front of being interested in the physiological aspects of tears and laughter. Like a pro, she interjects with random “hmms” and “ohs.” Right before turning up whatever Shawn Mendes song just came on the radio. That guy has her in chains.

Last week, I picked Madison up from school and she informed me that she had started writing a story. Chapter one was finished and I was regaled with the beginning of the tale of Shadow and Glamor, two sisters who had been separated as babies when their parents split up. Mom kept Shadow. Glamor was taken away by Dad. Neither sister knew the other existed. Later in life, Shadow and her mother moved to a different town and Shadow started at a new school full of bullies. A girl stepped in to help Shadow with the female bullies and the two girls became best friends. Spoiler alert: The friendly girl was Glamor. The story is written in the form of a screenplay, complete with cues for the characters to sit or fall. Because Glamor was a mystery character, her name was listed as “????” until the climactic finale.

Mystery. Drama. Intrigue. One hell of a hook.

I’ve been proud of my daughter a multitude of times throughout her life. Parenting in the early years is filled with moments of joyful pride in our children. Learning to crawl. Learning to walk. Learning to speak. Learning the alphabet. When they say “please” or “thank you” for the first time without being prompted. Graduating from a baby in diapers to a child in cotton glory. A perfect score on that test at school.

None of those moments hit me quite as hard as listening to the story of Shadow and Glamor. There was an urgency and thrill in her reading of it. She was expanding on things during the course of narrating the tale. This wasn’t a milestone that I read about in the What to Expect books. This was the forging of a world through pure imagination.

Like a lot of children in today’s world, Madison got hooked on YouTube videos. Videos of other children playing with their toys and unfolding adventures of their own creation. It was slightly disappointing to see her so absorbed in the imaginations of others while (as I incorrectly assumed) not using her own. However, I realize I have a movie collection that rivals that of Family Video. And I too watch of lot of videos online. My videos are slightly different and would never be found on YouTube, but sometimes there are toys involved there also.

Now I see that my daughter is not only using her imagination. She incorporates real life into her drama. And not only the fun parts. Her story is speckled with harsh realities. Broken homes. Loss of family. Relentless bullying. And underlying all of these realities is hope. She is a laugher. A crier. A dreamer. A writer.

As parents, we want more than anything to leave behind a legacy for our children. For some, that means leaving behind money or a business. For others, that means instilling them with religious or cultural beliefs. If we’re lucky enough, we get to see tiny flashes of those legacies shine through before we leave this world. My legacy? I want my daughter to look at this world as the wonderful, beautiful disaster that it is. I want her to realize that hope is not an abstract concept. Shadow and Glamor understand.

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.

Have You Seen Me Lately?

Tennis balls can act as makeshift silencers on the ends of guns. However, they also leave behind small yellow or green fibers that can be traced later by investigators. These are the types of things you learn when you love the art of criminal investigation and have been binge watching Forensic Files on Netflix. Forensics is a fascinating subject to me. It amazes me that everything we touch and everywhere we go, we leave something behind.

I once farted in an elevator before getting off. That was some serious trace evidence. At least the woman’s face suggested that as I exited and she entered. It would seem that she is not a fan of surprises. I hope her husband remembers that for any birthday celebrations.

My cats are pros at leaving behind forensic evidence. Perhaps they understand my appreciation for it. I can never murder a hooker in my apartment. Cat hair everywhere. Those assholes will have me in prison in a matter of days. One cat likes to eat too quickly and then leave half-digested evidence on the carpet. In the middle of the night. In the middle of the hallway. Where I walk sleepily in the dark to use the restroom. Where I will swear profusely while washing the evidence off the bottom of my foot. The other cat has what can only be a serious gastro-intestinal issue. I need only to breathe to determine that he has used the litter box within the last twenty minutes. And scratched the outside plastic of the litter box instead of covering the clues with the freaking litter because I raise stupid cats.

Right now, on my bathroom vanity mirror, there is a star, a heart, and a smiley face with the tongue sticking out. I discovered them when I took my shower today. They weren’t there when I stepped in. After the steam collected, I realized that my daughter had used her fingers to leave behind something to make me smile. I could have been an adult and wiped them away. I think they’ll stay there for a while. I’ve been awoken multiple times to myself hacking as a lone hair from my daughter’s head has found its way into my esophagus. She likes to jump onto my bed and talk to me about the latest characters she created on Animal Jam. Those little hairs always make me grin after the initial panic of staring death in the face. The trash can in her room always has a story to tell. Often, that story involves her sneaking an apple when I’m not looking and ravaging it in her bedroom. I don’t mind apples. When I find a boy in her room, I’ll put use to some tennis balls.

I’ve left behind a lot of evidence in my time. Sometimes I even get to solve a mystery.  Waking up Saturday morning to the empty remnants of a previously unopened box of Girl Scout cookies. This forensic trail generally leads to the vodka being much lower than it was when I got home from work Friday night. In my younger, more virile years, my bedroom was a wonderland of evidence pointing to poor decisions. A woman’s sock. A condom wrapper. And for some reason, a ski mask. Some mysteries are better not solved.

The truth is, the best things we leave behind can’t always be observed under a microscope or even with any of the five senses. Everywhere we go. Everything we do. We leave behind a part of ourselves. I held the door for a random attractive woman at a gas station years ago. She smiled, thanked me, and touched my arm for just a moment. I never got her name. I never saw her again. But she pops into my mind occasionally. It feels good every time. With just that two second interaction, she left something behind with a stranger. The idea of it is daunting.

I ask myself often what it is that I’m leaving behind. How did I affect someone’s life or day without even knowing it? When I meet someone, will I have a positive or negative impact? When I die, how will I be remembered? I think this blog is my way of trying to control a little of that. I am in no way a great philosopher. I have no delusions about changing the world with my writing. But just maybe I can help someone look at something differently. Maybe I can just make someone laugh when he or she is having a particularly bad day. Maybe my daughter will read my writing one day and understand her father a little more intimately than a lot of children ever “know” their parents.

Welcome to my crime scene.