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Archive for Marriage

Jun
03

12-year gift: Fireflies

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Fourteen months ago, my wife and I bought this home. It had its flaws. It had its places it could be improved. It’s a slow and sometimes frustrating process turning someone else’s house into your home. It’s a work that is both in-progress and one that I know will never end.

Among the larger projects is the back yard, a sizable tract of land with just about every kind of tree and bush you could imagine. The back of the property is lined with 50-foot Leyland cypress trees, a couple of smaller magnolias, and some bushy cherry trees. There’s an arbor and yard swing that’s overgrown and looks like a misshapen green Fraggle. It’s a line that separates us from the rest of the world, a feature that has no price for me.

Nine days ago, my wife and I sat on our rickety deck at dusk and sipped a cocktail. As night fell and our security lights clicked off, the tree line lit up in an patternless series of light yellow blinks. Hundreds of them appeared and disappeared randomly in the big trees. Occasionally, one of the fireflies–lightning bugs as I called them as a kid–would slip out into the yard and flitter around the sky before returning to the trees. It was a light show better than any I’ve seen at any concert. And it belonged to only us.

When we bought this house, the real estate agent pointed out the big trees and said, “Those will sort of act as a natural buffer against street noise.”

I believed him, and didn’t think a lot more about the trees until this past week. My wife and I spent half of the past nine nights sitting on the deck watching the fireflies blink on, blink off, and blink on again. We sat. We whispered. We laughed. We drank. We laughed more. We kissed. We watched until our eyes wouldn’t stay open anymore.

Twelve years ago today, I pledged my heart and the rest of my life to the same woman–a smart, professional, gorgeous, fun, driven 20-something I wanted more than anything ever before. In the 12 years since, all of the things that made me love her have remained. Through the process of having two kids, dealing with a difficult husband, and enduring a weird career, she has persevered, but not without some changes.

Over the past couple of weeks, as we reconnected under the firefly light, I’ve further realized how lucky I’ve been. Not every man is so fortunate to see his wife and life change in front of him and have it turn out to be so perfect.

Sometimes you make a commitment. You dedicate yourself to an idea, a project, a concept, a house, or a person. That dedication comes necessarily with sincerity and love. It proves to be everything you ever wanted. Over time the sincerity, love, and dedication change, and you realize that the thing you wanted so much has changed, too. And if you’re lucky like me, it’s changed in a way that made it more beautiful than you ever imagined it could be.

Today, I have a yard full of fireflies and a beautiful wife of 12 years as proof.

Categories : Family, Marriage
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Mar
04

Welcome to the neighborhood

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The sirens from the fire department spooled up in the distance. The firehouse is barely more than a mile away. If we listened close enough, we would’ve heard the firefighters squeaking into their boots.

“Here they come,” I said and watched the black smoke pour out of my house. Within the next five minutes, every semi-conscious resident of my neighborhood would watch the fire engine scream toward the house at the top of the hill.

A few weeks had passed since the Willis family had made a spectacle of itself. It was well past time to do something incredibly stupid.

* * *

We don’t make fantastic first impressions. My kids are actually used to set noise ordinance standards. My wife is pathologically paranoid and thinks most strangers are, in fact, distant relatives of Ted Bundy. I…well, if you read this blog very often, you know I have a lot of issues. I’m lucky to put on pants when I leave the house (when I actually work up the courage to…you know…leave the house).

It’s been ten months since we left our last neighborhood, a place where we didn’t make the best first impression. We threw giant, loud Bacchanals. We hosted late night poker games. We owned a dog that bit more than she barked.

When we moved, we made a vow: “We’re older. We’re wiser. We’re more mature. Oh, and that dog is dead now. It’s time to be responsible neighbors.”

So, we moved into a nice, respectable neighborhood and promptly made a name for ourselves.

* * *

“Honey, that new Willis guy is running barefoot down the street. I think he has a jar of peanut butter in his hand.”

“What is that big thing in his other hand?”

“I think it’s a bone. My God! Could it really be a bone?”

“And why is he screaming?”

That was the discussion I imagined our new neighbors having as they looked out their window that night.

In fact, it was a femur. From a cow. I’d slathered it in peanut butter and carried it above my head as I ran screaming down the street.

Big Girl Dog had escaped for the third time in two weeks and it was on me to find a way to make a 38-year-old barefoot body catch a year-old yellow lab with a head of steam.

So, yeah, I grabbed a giant cow bone and started running with it. What would you do?

Clouds over Mt. Willis (courtesy Tim Whims)

No one has overtly attacked us in the new neighborhood. There was the old man who accused our dog of making a morning deposit on his lawn, but—in this limited case—our dog had an alibi, and old people can’t be held responsible for being confused.

With that understood, only a couple of families have gone out of their way to welcome us to the neighborhood. I can’t say I blame anybody, really.

You know, after the thing with the cops.

* * *

The police officer from Greer stood at the back of my car and pressed his thumb into the back quarter panel. From my spot in the diver’s seat, I sighed and looked to see if any of the neighbors were watching.

If you don’t already know, cops—especially those who think things might soon go bad—put a fingerprint on cars they stop. The idea is, if things get ugly and a guy like, say, me escapes after hurting an officer, that print could tie me to the cop. You know, for the future trial and subsequent lifetime incarceration.

So, that’s how my day was going.

I would really (really) like it if I could blame this on an overzealous or quota-filling police officer. I can’t, however, because the guy never even turned on his lights.

Half an hour earlier, my kid’s school had gone on lockdown after local police spotted a burglary suspect running barefoot away from the scene of the crime (and before you make the logical jump here, there actually is no connection to the scene with the cow femur—just one very stupid coincidence).

Because I’m a Willis and I had a free ten minutes, I decided to go have a look. Or, put another way, I decided to go do what I spent ten years telling my TV viewers not to do: I went and got in the cops’ way.

After checking out the manhunt scene, I decided to head back home. I tried to find a shortcut, and almost turned down a dead end road. Quickly, I pulled the nose of my car back onto the main road—just in time for the cop to see me pulling a move that made it look way too much like I was avoiding him.

I could take you through the whole story—seeing the officer speed up behind me, watching him call my plates in to dispatch, driving slowly and predicting how he would follow me through the next three turns—but it would take too long. Point is, after the third turn, I just pulled over so I could stop wasting the poor guy’s time.

So, the fingerprint, the careful walk up to my window, the listening to my really stupid explanation for what I was doing, which essentially boiled down to, “Listen, I’m a Willis, and we do this kind of thing, and I know I’m wasting your time, and I’m stupid.”

Five minutes later, the cop was handing me back my ID. “Who did you used to work for?” he asked.

“Um…Channel 4,” I said.

“That’s right,” he said. Which was code for, “I thought you were smarter than this.”

When I walked back in the house five minutes later, my wife looked at my face and said, “What did you do?”

Because, you know, she never does anything stupid.

* * *

The firefighters—yes the ones discussed above—came to our house because my wife accidentally spilled grease inside our oven. The resulting smoke set off the fire alarm, which notified the alarm company, which notified the nice (and, hell, sorta sexy, right?) firefighters down the street. When the alarm company called to see if we were okay, my wife let it go to voicemail. I still haven’t received a good explanation for that.

But, hey, it was Valentines Day, and it was a fun little story. The neighbors got a show out of it, nothing got hurt, and the kids got to see a real live fire truck in action. As long as it didn’t happen again, our neighbors would probably forget it before Easter.

* * *

There used to be this place in Jackson, Mississippi called Iron Horse Grill. They served a great stuffed catfish that my wife really dug. Because I’m the type of guy who forgets about his wife letting alarm company calls go to voicemail, I decided to make said catfish after my return from Brazil. I put my skillet on the burner, turned it on, and started chopping spinach.

I’m sure the discussion I was having with my wife was really interesting, but I couldn’t tell you what it was that distracted me from the fact the burner was turned up too high, the skillet sat on it for too long, and it was way too damned hot to handle the two tablespoons of butter I tossed into it five minutes before I heard the fire engines spooling up down the street. It had been eight days since the firefighters’ last call to Mt. Willis.

The neighbors didn’t come out to watch this time. The kids had already seen a fire truck in action. So, it was just my wife and the sexy firefighter on the front steps. She invited him in where I was forced to nod politely before going back to work on the spinach.

But as he started to walk away, I called, “Hey! If you ever have a fundraiser, feel free to stop here first.”

I didn’t have to say it, but, hell, it seemed like the neighborly thing to do.

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May
08

The moms in my life

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One woman kept me safe until I was old enough to keep myself safe. Another woman keeps me sane so I can be a good father. This is what moms do. They give all they have to make sure their children breathe, smile, and succeed. Their reward, near as I can tell, is the joy of being a mom. Sorta funny how that works, huh?

I’m not much of a gift-buyer. Below you’ll see the gifts I gave to my wife and mother. The first is a video of what it’s like around here when my wife is gone. The second is a picture of my mom smiling genuinely as she sits with my boys by the Reedy River.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the good moms out there. And thank you.

Waiting for Mom from Brad Willis on Vimeo.

Categories : Family, Marriage, Parenting
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Apr
18

To the man buying my house

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Dear Ben,

In September of 2000, I was 26 years old and had been married only three months. Scoop, a 13-pound dog that bit people for sport, was 18 months old and could jump from a sitting position high enough to grab a treat out of my mouth. I had no children. I earned $27,500 per year as a television news reporter and thought I was lucky to have it. Buying this house was the single most responsible thing I’d done in my life to that point, and I didn’t think more than a few minutes about the family that had lived here before me. I expect you will feel much the same way. I don’t fault you for that, but I don’t think I can lock up this place without making sure you know a few things that weren’t in the seller’s disclosure.

The back doorknob sometimes has to be jiggled if you want to open the door.

There is a small creak in the floor in front of the coat closet.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I overslept in the room where you will now go to bed. At 27 years old, I woke up to my mom’s voice on the phone. What she told me changed me forever.

My children built their first snowmen in the front yard.

There’s a woodpecker. He loves the house. He cannot be trapped. He cannot be killed. Learn to love him.

The scar on my chin is the product of orthostatic hypotension and the landing at the top of the stairs. My wife found me face down in my own blood and dragged me into what you will probably call the guest room. That’s what we called it at the time, too. The hardwoods in your new master bedroom were being installed and we were sleeping on a futon in that guest room. That room has since become my older son’s bedroom. I’ve slept in his bed with him. I’ve slept on his floor next to his bed. I read “The Night Before Christmas” to him in the same room. My entire family slept there for warmth during the great ice storm of December 2005. A few months ago, around Halloween, we built a fort and ate Three Musketeers bars on the carpet. In January, I yelled at my boy for mishandling the puppy, only to learn later that the trainer had taught him to do exactly what I had scolded him for. Through tears, my son said, “You weren’t here, Daddy. You were on a trip.” I became a different person that night–a better one I hope.

There used to be a stain on the carpet about three feet from the creak in the floor. My friend Chris was dog-sitting for us and knocked a plant off a table. The potting soil stained the floor. He worked for three days to get it clean. He only stopped when he’d done all he could. Chris died five years ago next month. Our dog died last summer. The carpet is new, but I still remember the stain, how hard Chris worked to clean it up, and how well he took care of a dog few people liked, but I loved with all my heart.

The wall in the kitchen is a little warped. It used to look a lot worse. Several years ago, a guest got drunk on tequila, fell into the bottom half of the sheetrock, and pretended to birth a child. We were all younger then. Between 2000 and 2005, this place hosted more parties than just about any house I know. They were raucous, irresponsible, epic affairs. People climbed trees like monkeys, threw up in the front yard, and had wrestling matches in the back. On any given weekend night, the street would be lined with cars and people. In 2005, we hosted Bradoween V. It was an orgy of food, drink, and insanity that ended with the realization that the partying days on Mt. Willis had run their course. Five years later, I’m still finding evidence of those parties around the house. I suspect you will, too. I’m sorry, and you’re welcome.

The back yard might seem a tad small to you, but you should know it was big enough to teach my boy to throw a perfect spiral. That basketball hoop in the driveway is where he learned to shoot a fadeaway. The living room is a gridiron, and the front and back doors are the end zones for Sunday in-house football games. Use them appropriately. And narrate your own play-by-play if you want to do it right.

The fireplaces in the living room and master bedroom have both been inspected by a professional. We used the one in the living room as late as last Christmas eve. We drank hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows. It was probably the happiest day of my life and it happened in your new living room. Oddly enough, we never burned a fire in the master bedroom fireplace. I’m not bragging, but it’s fair to say we never needed one.

There is small spot I had to patch in the upstairs bathroom tub. Both of my boys have been taking baths in there for some time now. I sometimes put the lid down on the toilet, sit, and watch them play in the water together. It was on that toilet I found my older boy a few years ago after he’d chugged nearly an entire bottle of children’s Tylenol. I don’t remember how much the hospital bill cost, but I can still see the boy sitting on the toilet. He was holding the two-tablespoon-sized cup like a shot glass, and his mouth was covered in pink liquid. It was one of the top-five most scared moments of my life.

The deck off the back of the house is two years old and is the most expensive improvement we made the to the house. A week after it was finished, my wife gave birth to our second son. His first picture at his new house was taken on that deck. He’s since used it as a pirate ship, baseball field, and construction site. As far as he knows, every child has a deck that is so awesome.

As you walk around the house, you might not realize that all four of us have laughed, cried, bled, and healed inside these walls. My wife and I moved in here as carefree, childless idealists. We leave as careful, pride-filled parents of two amazing boys who we’re teaching to be as carefree as they can be. We’re moving because we want more room for them to play and grow. Though it might have increased the value of the home, we could not leave the memories behind.

I can only leave advice.

The sweetgum tree in the front yard will be beautiful in the fall. Roll in the leaves with someone you love.

The deck at 8pm on a summer night is a great place to read a book.

Ask Ms. Merry for a sip from her good bottle around Christmastime.

Chat with Ms. Delores when she walks by the fence-line at dusk with her two dogs. She is from Mississippi and moved here after Hurricane Katrina.

Yes, the lady who lives behind you has a Christmas tree on her sun porch. It’s been there–lights and all–for ten years.

The guy who lives across the street is a Jayhawks fan. Don’t hold it against him.

There is a boy who lives up on the hill named Christopher. I’ve watched him grow from a child into a teenager. He’ll wave back if you wave first.

When you’re married, sit up with your wife late at night, share a six pack in the back yard, and make a plan to conquer the world.

You’re young and don’t have a great many responsibilities yet. I wish you the best of luck in the place we called Mt. Willis. If you ever wonder if this house means anything to anybody, it does. If you need proof, just look at the pictures below. This house is not my life, but it has been home base for nearly every important moment since the year 2000,

Good luck. May your time in this house offer you as much love, happiness, luck, and prosperity as it did us.

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Mar
10

The man at the grocery store

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My wife is paranoid. She’ll admit it as readily as I say it, but she’ll call it “observant” or “careful.” She’s suspicious of people I’d pick up as hitchhikers or trust to give me a vasectomy. These are probably not the best examples, but my dad once picked up a hitchhiker when I was a kid, and I’ve never met a more risk-averse man (my dad, not the hitcher). My urologist told dirty jokes while he was cutting apart my netherparts, so I think I am speaking with some authority. My wife worries about life, and I live naively through things that should’ve probably had me killed or imprisoned a long time ago. The wife and I are a good personality fit, what with having kids and all.

My wife–a woman who will occasionally have a glass of wine but not so much that it stops her from keeping a keen eye on the ne’er-do-wells and kicking them in the balls if they get too close–can spot narcs better than most hardcore drug users. Just the other day she picked a narc right out of the grocery store. Every time my wife went to pick up some organic turkey breast or free-from-steroid-cow-milk yogurt, she’d spot the same guy roaming the aisles talking on his cell phone like he didn’t have a care in the world. I’d probably seen the guy a few times, too, but I tend to focus on the fatty pork products more than the people around me. It’s likely to end with me getting stabbed by a guy with a cell phone.

After what the wife considered to be a reasonable number of encounters, she did what any person of her ilk would do. She reported the guy for being at best obsessed with talking on his phone in the grocery store, and at worst some sort of celery-sex fetishist. The manager was impressed and told my wife in effect, “You just made our undercover security guy.” My wife, who isn’t one to hold her tongue, casually informed the manager that his security guy sucked and couldn’t work a detail at The Wiggles, let alone stop shoplifting in the peanut butter aisle. Intrigued, the manager pressed my wife for details. She passed on a few pointers on how the guy could blend in. The next time she went the store–a major regional chain–it had employed her suggestions. To put a finer point on it: she picked out a bad guy who was actually a good guy trying to blend in with bad guys and turned him into a better guy at blending in with bad guys he wanted to bust.

I decided my wife could forever be the security specialist in our house and that I’d just shut up when she started talking about how “that guy” looked “creepy.” I also decided not to tell her that I recently found myself on a dark street of a major city with a few thousand dollars in my pocket that I’d forgotten was there, or about the time I followed a man named Pablo–who I didn’t know–through the back alleys of a South American city to find a literally-underground after hours club that literally shushed us when we walked in the door so as not to disturb….well, I didn’t dare ask at that point. Point is, my wife wouldn’t have done these things, and I did, because I’m stupid and irresponsible. And fun. But mostly stupid and irresponsible.

I was at the grocery store today with my toddler, Dos. I was picking up some shrimp, andouille, potatoes, and corn. We vroooomed through the aisles in the cart (they call it a “buggy” in the south), played drums on the jelly jars, and chatted up the fish monger about whatever was happening in the world of seafood. I didn’t see the narc, because I wasn’t looking. I couldn’t force myself to do it. Every time I looked up, I was looking at food, my beautiful child’s smile, or one of the ancient men who wander the grocery store aisles at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon.

It was about these old men that I thought as I drove home with my seatbelt strapped tight across my chest. Every old man moved slowly, deliberately, and with no hint of a smile. They had lived to an age that any one of us would call respectable, and yet they seemed alone and unhappy. It made me unhappy to look at them. It was only by looking down at Dos in the child seat of the cart and hearing him exclaim, “Vvvvvrrrrrrroooom!” that I could find myself happy and oblivious, back in the blissful moment of being a thirty-something father who can shop for sausage on a Thursday afternoon with his mop-headed son.

I looked again to the old men to see if they were unhappy because they were truly sad, or only because they were having to shop instead of smoke a pipe and sip a whiskey on one of the last days of their life. I couldn’t tell, and I’m not sure I’ll ever know until that’s me pushing the cart.

It’s a tough paradigm and weird reality that forces us to be constantly on guard against evil, rising oil prices, and falling skies, and yet expects us to be first-world carefree and teaching our children that to live is to smile. It is, as near as I can tell, the hardest thing about being a parent. The responsibility is to first make sure the children are safe, and second make sure they are happy. Both responsibilities share a near-equal importance, but it’s sometimes hard to find that sweet spot in the middle of the Ven diagram.

The only thing I know is that it’s best for my children and best for me that I have my paranoid wife in the house. I’m fortunate that she knows how to have fun and watch out for the bad guys at the same time, because I’m better at the former than the latter. Just ask Pablo.

Categories : Marriage, Parenting
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Feb
25

In search of a married man

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Power-fetch at the soccer fields zapped Big Girl Dog of enough energy that she wouldn’t want to eat the walls again for several hours. We were on the half-mile walk trek home when the girl simply sat down at the curb and put her chin on the asphalt. Her concession to fatigue set in motion a series of events that even 48 hours later I find interesting.

Big Girl Dog is a 50-something-pound six-month-old puppy. She’s smart and talented enough that I have hope she’ll someday not be the F4 to my trailer park. For now, I keep her on a short leash–literally. The tether itself is six feet long, but there is a “traffic” handle less than a foot off the collar. We use that one.

As BGD’s head went to the ground, so followed her collar, her leash, and my left hand. So followed my eyes to my left hand where I saw a distinct lack of bling on my ring finger. The shock of that realization was only dwarfed by what I saw next. Before that’s revealed, however, we should make some mention of the male fear of losing his wedding ring.

Not to tread on any matters that may portray me as a sexist, but I think I’m fairly well-grounded in the belief that a woman’s fear of losing a matrimonial ring is set firmly in economics and sentimentality. A woman’s wedding ring is often attached to a diamond of some worth that was probably some sort of engagement symbol back in the day, and hence is worth a great deal more–financially and emotionally–than a man’s wedding band. For a man, there is little monetary worth assigned to a ring. It cost a fraction of the combo-engagement-wedding ring around his wife’s finger. No, for a man, the ring’s worth is made up almost entirely of…well, let’s just say it. Fear. Well, love and fear. But mostly fear.

Now, I know several men who love their wives very much and have no need to wear a ring. I, however, choose to wear my ring at nearly all times that I’m not performing some activity that may result in me losing the the thing. If you’re anything like me, you know that moment, that moment described by one of my friends as a sort of Christmas Story slow motion “Oh, fuuuuuuuuuuuudge…” sputtering that results from seeing a bare ring finger. Unless I simply to forget to put the ring back on after getting out of the shower or something, you’ll probably see me wearing a ring. At my age and nearly eleven years of marriage, I don’t need a wedding band for other women to know I’m married. I have the gray hair, paunch, and thousand-yard stare that evidence most long-married men. In eleven years, there have been only a few times I honestly thought I lost my ring. The worst was after a particularly ugly night in Monte Carlo (the ring was under my tube of toothpaste, of course). The most recent was 48 hours ago while walking Big Girl Dog.

There I stood in the oncoming traffic lane of a suburban street and looked for two horrible seconds at my finger. In that two seconds, I tried to recall the last time I’d seen my ring (I wasn’t sure) and the last time I’d been anywhere I could irretrievably lose it (five minutes before at the park, or, heaven forbid, 24 hours before in Brazil and under the influence of heated game of Wooly Bastards…don’t ask). Two seconds of panic is about all my 37-year-old heart can handle these days without some sort of unconsciousness and embarrassment, so imagine my relief when mine eyes saw the glory of that sparkling ring sitting among the leaves on the curb.

Relief in my world usually lasts the sixty seconds it takes for some other calamity to present itself. I picked the ring up from the ground and slid it onto my finger. It fit and at first looked identical to my own. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t–and forgive me for this one–put my finger on it. The biggest issue was that on my way to the park, I’d walked on the other side of the street. There simply wasn’t any reason my ring should be in that very spot that Big Girl Dog gave out and dragged my hand, eyes, and fear to my ring finger.

I wore the ring the rest of the way back home. By the time I’d reached my front door, I’d decided that my ring was sitting at my bedside and the one on my finger wasn’t quite thick enough to be mine. I confirmed my suspicions within a few seconds of getting back in the house. My ring was where I’d put it before I went to bed the night before, and the ring on my finger belonged to some other guy who at that very moment was probably trying to explain to his wife why he wasn’t wearing his wedding band.

Or was he? A missing wedding ring is a fantastic little mystery, as it turns out. I ran through the scenarios in my head.

The ring was stolen and then dropped by the thief.

The owner got mad at his wife and threw his ring out his car window.

The owner wife got mad and threw the ring out her car window.

The ring belonged to a dead man, and his widow lost it as he she wandered lonely and lost through my neighborhood.

A man’s wife left him for a lover, and the jilted husband spent months wearing the ring in hopes his wife would return, until one day he finally went for a long run, acquiesced to the terrible reality, and simply let the ring fall from his finger.

Or maybe there was just a guy walking his dog who dropped it when the pooch got tired and plopped down in the street.

The ring now sits in the drawer of the desk under this computer. My wife and I are making efforts to find the owner. I don’t suspect we ever will, but I hope we do. I really, really do.

Categories : Marriage
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Nov
24

Luckiest man

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I take compliments badly. Always have. A good friend told me many years ago (and he probably doesn’t even remember it) that when somebody offers me a compliment, I should learn to not over-think it. He said that I should simply respond, “Thank you.”

Today that same friend told me I was the most blessed man in the entire world.

This is the time of year we Americans are supposed to reflect on our lives and the things for which we should be thankful. Tonight, I sit at my desk with a couple fingers of Talisker. My new dog is snoring on the floor next to me. My boys are asleep in their rooms. I know few people who have such peace.

I have a wife who believes in me. It’s against against all better advice and 35 years of world-weary judgment, but she believes in me. She holds me when I’m scared, lets me go when I need to run, and kisses me when I come home. She holds up a house that would fall without her strength. She remains as beautiful as the day we met nearly 15 years ago.

I have two sons who make me wonder if anything in the world could be so perfect. They are too good looking to be my boys, yet they call me Dad. They assure that I back away from every ledge I’m tempted to toe. They’ve kept me from buying a motorcycle, bungee jumping off the Stratosphere Tower, and walking down dark foreign streets at night. In return, they’ve accepted my constant travel, and they run down the airport hallways to hug me when I come home. Without them, without their mother, without that unconditional love, I’d be a poor excuse for a human being, if I were alive at all.

I have a circle of friends who pick me up when I fall–figuratively, literally, and everything in between. They listen when I need to talk. They shut me up when I need quieting. Their talent inspires me to be better. They encourage talents I deny. They keep me sober when I need to be, and not when I don’t. I am indebted to each of them in a way I can only repay with loyalty and friendship in kind.

I have a brother who is my best friend and is building a family as beautiful as mine.

I have parents who love each other enough to have made life as ideal for me as it can be.

I have a home that, while not perfect, has for ten years sheltered everything I hold dear.

I have work that won’t make me rich, but supports my family and sates my need to put fingers to keyboard.

And I have a dog that is learning to be my best friend. I taught her to high-five, and if that’s as far as we get, we’ll be fine.

It’s at this point I’m tempted to point out that I’ve been very lucky, or in the poker vernacular, I’ve “run good.” (Don’t try correcting the grammar. It’s what it is). It’s at this point I want to apologize for my good fortune, childhood, education, and jobs. It’s at this point I want to demur and try to explain how it all happened. It’s at this point that I want to make some joke about how I ended up with my wife and how I know I’m punching above my weight. It’s at this point that I look at my past few blog posts and cringe to my bones.

But, after re-reading everything, I think it’s best to take my old buddy’s advice and just say…

Thank you.

Paris Mountain, November 2010

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Sep
16

Sunrise

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I’ve seen a lot of sunrises in the past three months. Some have been shame’s flashlight, burnt orange, Vegas disasters that made me curse myself and everything around. A few have been black, through-the-curtains assumptions, the product of a baby who insists on breakfast before birds insist on singing. Many have been slow, children’s-book-lavender movies over the Blue Ridge foothills, affirmations of my choice to get up early and get some exercise before the day began.

Sunrises always seem somehow prepared, something that’s being given to me, something that’s meant to remind me of something. It’s a mental, romantic construct. I have no doubt of that. But, I’m a mental romantic and have never claimed to be anything but.

I saw another sunrise this morning, one accompanied by two tired children, the sizzle of eggs on the stove, and the tinkle of Garcia and Grisman doing So What in the corner. I hugged the kids, kissed them both on the head, and then stood over the eggs with tears in my eyes.

***

Three times this month, I’ve looked up from my computer screen with wide eyes and an unholy expletives in my mouth. Each time, I’d just learned that someone had died. The first was an old friend’s father who had been hit by a bus. The police said it was the bus driver’s fault. Next was a couple I’ve met in passing, but is well-known in my industry. Their four-year-old son drowned. The next was a college friend’s wife, hit and killed by a car while pumping gas on the way to pick up her kids.

These are not my tragedies. I can’t claim them. My only hurt is for the people I know who were close to the victims. It’s almost unseemly for me to even put any of it here, and I wouldn’t but for the fact that all three have happened so close together, and that I saw the sun rise again today.

***

A long time ago, my wife and I came to an agreement about what and how much of our personal lives I would expose on this little blog. Said agreement keeps me from embarrassing myself or others unnecessarily.

I don’t think I’m in violation of the rules, however, to explain that my wife is a worrier. Like my mother, my wife spends at least 50% of her waking hours worrying about something. It’s compulsive and more than a little frustrating for a guy like me–a guy who worries about nearly nothing…until it’s too late, the bad thing has already happened, I have to clean up the mess, and I worry about how I could’ve been so stupid to not have worried about it in the first place. It’s yin and yang, push and pull, and all the stuff I assume marriage is about (married just ten years, I figure I still have some time to figure out the rest). My wife worries about the kids, about her health, about my health, about the security of our home, about her friends, about her family, about people she has never met, about whether she’s going to be able to sleep, about why she’s not sleeping, about how tired she is, about whether the sky is falling, and about why she worries so much.

That is, in short, I always wake up expecting the sun to have risen. My wife lies awake worried that the sun won’t rise.

***

While I don’t worry much, I brood. I’m a pathetic brooder who has inflicted more than a few family members and close friends with endless discussions on the state of my life, job, and future. In retrospect, it’s all terribly embarrassing. I try not to do it, but that ends up making me look like one of those speechless, pensive people that can be just as annoying. Hell, half of this blog is just that…brooding, reflective, redundant.

Perspective can do a lot for a guy. It’s not been 72 hours since I was rolling around in a pool of my own wasted self-worth and inflicting my already-worried wife with yet another reason to fret (this time, that her husband was in danger of deep-end-diving once again). Suddenly, in the light of day, under a sunrise that three people won’t see, under a new day that won’t warm the hearts of the people missing the people they love, I can look across the room and see the reason my sun comes up every morning. One is a beautiful woman who props me up even when she doesn’t find time to do it for herself. One is a six-year-old boy who is growing into a little man and astounding me daily. The other is a toddling, smiling boy who screams “Da!” when he wants me and dances to Robert Randolph.

I realize, there is a middle ground between worry and carelessness, and as a team, my wife and I are working to find it. In any case, in the light of this day, we recognize how undeservedly lucky we are to have this life, that we haven’t been faced with losing what means most to us, that–in spite of all the mundane stuff that can tilt us–as long as the sun rises on these four faces, we can ask for nothing more.

Here are the things I try to remind myself every day, and that I hope the people I know and love think about as well:

If somebody loves you, love them back.

If you hurt somebody you love, make it right before you do anything else.

If you have children, hug them every night.

If someone is willing to be married to you, they should hear “I love you” every day, because being married to anybody is hard work.

Ask yourself every day what you should be doing, and then do that.

Do those things, count on the sun to rise, and live knowing you are prepared for the day it doesn’t.

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Aug
11

I knew I should be afraid

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I woke up this morning with an inescapable sense that I should be afraid.

It was still dark out, which meant the monsters still hadn’t crawled back under my bed after a night of child-noshing. The meat in the fridge was only a day old, so I wasn’t forced to face my latent paranoia that food poisoning is becoming an actual sentient creature. My wife was still in bed, so I doubted she was sleeping with anyone else (although I checked under the covers to be sure there weren’t any height-disadvantaged paramours doing their dirty work).

Nope, all seemed well as I walked into the dark garage. All was well, that is, except for the fact that I should’ve just stayed in bed. Nay, it wasn’t the fire ants at the park, the loads of work on my plate, or the ever-increasing evidence that I’m about to turn 97 (or something close to it). No, it was only that I should’ve been afraid and I wasn’t.

What should I have been afraid of?

Muslims, to start.

On this day, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslim folks begin their Ramadan fasting. It’s a religious thing for them, and probably just another way of showing us that they are only dedicated to overthrowing the American government. No daylight Mac-N-Cheese equals revolution, or so I’ve been led to believe. I wasn’t aware that’s what Muslims had in mind when they fasted from dawn to sunset, so I’m fortunate that Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association clued me in. In his call for all future mosques to be verboten in the U.S., he laid it out straight: “Bottom line: it’s suicidal for America to allow terrorist training cells to crop up all over the fruited plain. And each mosque is an actual or potential terrorist training cell…”

Thank heavens for Fischer. Really. I’m surprised we hadn’t thought of the mosque ban earlier. It should’ve been obvious after we started banning all the Christian churches in the wake of radical attacks by Eric Robert Rudolph, Tim McVeigh, and the like. Somebody really dropped the ball on the mosque thing. Just to be safe, I’m going to blame the gays.

God Bryan Fischer, help us, but the gays want to marry. The voters of California had their God-given right to vote (I’ve always wondered why God didn’t grant women and blacks the right to vote for so long) taken away by a light-in-the-loafers judge who declared Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. Again, this opened the door to people who love each other having the chance to get married. It’s heresy, this whole love thing.

That America ever let loose-moraled Northerners discover wedded bliss was a mistake of epic proportions. Now, not only the gays want to marry, but gay Californians(!), which I’m told is as much redundant as it is frightening. If Mike and Ike end up getting hitched in Bakersfield, the implications on my South Carolina family are uncountable. The civil rights we have worked so hard to grant to blacks will pale under the laissez faire approach regarding who gets to love each other. Our efforts to remove the flag of the Confederacy from our Capitol Dome might just seem quaint by comparison.

Of couse, Maryland Bishop Harry Jackson says don’t pay so much attention to that civil rights thing. And damn right he should say that, because we need to keep our eye on the ball. Jackson writes, “A marriage requires a husband and a wife, because these unions are necessary to make new life and connect children to their mother and father.” If somebody had made it clearer for me earlier, I might have been able to better protest the marriages of my friends who have chosen not to have children, or perhaps more importantly, the marriages of my friends who couldn’t have children for one reason or another. Sham marriages, all of them!

My foremost concern, of course, is about the psyche of the people who believe in God. I wasn’t aware, but if two women get married in San Diego, it would make people all over the country question their own faith. Who knew? Jackson knew. He writes, “It will create a conflict for people of faith (and nonreligious people as well) who fervently believe in traditional man-woman marriage and the law.” If people of faith are conflicted, how will this country survive?

Finally, if gays marry, Jackson tells us, it’s going skew our concept of what a family should be. Quoting here: “If gay marriage is allowed, the nation will soon begin to experience an increased degradation of the nuclear family — resulting in fewer kids being raised by both a mom and a dad.” Indeed, fewer, my friends, than the current number of children who are being raised by a single mom or dad after a death, divorce, imprisonment, or in-home estrangement. That is, if we see two people of the same sex in love, our country is doomed to fail .

I, however, have been able to work out a compromise that should keep us all from being afraid. See, I’ve recently been informed about the terror and security-destroying threat of a particular sect of sleeper cells. Where are they sleeping?

Cribs, man. Effing cribs.

My friend Elise reports from Texas that in-the-know State Representatives there have become rightfully concerned about the pressing issue of terrorist babies,–otherwise known as babies born under the rights granted to them by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution–who at conception are being groomed to overthrow the U.S. government. It’s a prospect so scary that I’m not entirely sure I want my kids sleeping in my house tonight.

But here’s the compromise: We let Muslims build mosques if they agree to only admit gay worshippers. See…if they’re gay, no babies, and if no babies…you got it, Mssrs. Jackson and Fischer…no terrorist babies.

I hope that helps you both sleep tonight.

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Jun
21

The St. John ache

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We sat at the corner of a beachside bar in St. John. We were spent from a day of hiking, swimming in Solomon Bay, and traveling for several days in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. We chatted with the men who’d served us drinks, some locals who’d befriended us days earlier, and whatever other tourists sat down for a cold one. The rain, a product of a tropical wave that had been threatening for days, finally started to fall. It came in torrents and rode droplets on the wind to our seats. We toasted the downpour and agreed that even if it didn’t stop raining before we left, we would still smile. We’d fallen in love with a tiny island and reaffirmed that we loved each other more than we did ten years before when we married.

Without warning, my wife stood from her chair and walked onto the beach. She stood with her arms outstretched and her face to the sky. Tropical rain soaked her hair, drenched her clothes, and washed clean her soul. I’d not seen her at such peace in ages.

We’ve left St. John now. We’ve been gone for some 22 hours, and the ache to return has already started to pulse. I have a lot I’d like to write about the last week, but paid work comes first. As a guy at a joint called Skinny Legs said one afternoon, “I work my ass off all year so I can come here for one week.”

When you get to enjoy this sunset every night, it’s not hard to understand how a guy could develop that attitude really fast.

The view from our St. John balcony--the sun setting over St. Thomas

Categories : Marriage, Nature, Outdoors, Travel
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