Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tis The Season To Cope

The glass is half full. The glass is half full. The glass is half full. I keep telling myself that the glass is half full. But in telling myself this I feel like what I imagine Kevin Bacon must have felt during the post parade melee in Animal House; telling everyone that everything is fine and that there is no need to panic while on the verge of tossing his lunch ...the glass is half full indeed.

Yes...this is the season for coping....however it has been helpful to hang out with certain friends who, despite difficult circumstances, have been able to maintain a sunny disposition. I have one friend, who despite being unemployed for more than a year and having three small children living with her in a two bedroom apartment, is optimistic and has been able to look on the bright side of her experiences during the last year. She copes by exercising daily and by starting the day off by going to Mass. She tells me that her faith has sustained her and has helped her cope through this difficult time. She asked me what I do to cope...I told her...ice cream...lots and lots of ice cream.

I knew this was going to be a challenging weekend...between Christmas, a family gathering, and because yesterday was yesterday on Thursday I stocked up on ice cream...3 gallons worth. I polished off the last box at 12:30 this morning. By my estimate I have gone through about 7 gallons of ice cream in the last two weeks. This over indulgence in my favorite treat has led to the discovery that a diet based on ice cream and coffee can lead to weight loss....its amazing but true.

Ice cream cannot be the basis of any long term approach to coping with life's challenges. I have another friend who reads and attends yoga classes to deal with stress (I keep on suggesting martinis but she knows me well enough not to fall for that) and another friend who is on a one woman crusade to save the city of New Bedford. I don't envision taking yoga nor do I plan on trying to save Abington (sorry Abington but you are on your own) so I need to find my own way.

Part of my approach is acceptance...accepting that some things in life are hard and that there are going to be days that are going to be difficult. Two weeks ago I knew that Saturday and yesterday were going to be challenging days. I tried to plan accordingly by staying busy and doing things that help me get along....like going to New Bedford (which is like going home) and hanging out with a friend for a while on Saturday.

So with a few more potholes in the calender coming I know more coping is in order...while switching to martinis is not really an option so until I come up with a long term plan I really don't see the harm in eating more ice cream...gallons and gallons of ice cream.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Three Days Before Christmas

I am really trying to come up with a cheery posting....really.

After months of struggling I have decided to surrender to 2009 and admit that this was a really crappy year and that there is no sense in trying to dress it up and put a bow on it. So to cope I am trying to recognize and enjoy the little moments. Such as on Sunday when I watched Dr. Zhivago, or yesterday while working I stopped to have a cup of coffee at a Starbucks on the Cape or right now...writing...while the kids are still asleep and Joey and Spot enjoy a patch of sunlight while dozing on the carpet.

Enjoying moments such as these does not mean that I am putting off unpleasant things or avoiding the rest of my life. I know I have a difficult phone call to make later on this morning. I know that later today or tomorrow morning I am probably going to have to face a crushing disappointment. And I know... while looking at Joey...that very soon I am going to have to make a very hard, a very painful decision regarding my faithful friend.

Taking the time to enjoy these islands of peace while sailing on a sea of troubles helps...and this posting is an effort to remind myself of this.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unintended Consequences

I am forever telling my kids (my boys in particular) to think before they act, that the results of their actions could have repercussions beyond their intentions. I tell them this as they pass the football in front of the big screen TV, I tell them this just before they are about to dash into the street after a baseball, and I tell them this as they fight amongst themselves.

A part of what a kid learns are that his actions and his words have an effect on those around him. A part of our job as parents is to teach our kids to look both ways before crossing, look before leaping, and to think before speaking. This is a part of teaching them to consider as many of the possible consequences of their actions before the fact rather than worry about damage control afterward.

This is where I am at today. I am dealing with the unintended consequences of about forty five seconds worth of carelessness. A week ago I was careless and opened my mouth without thinking. As soon as the words left my mouth I knew that there would be a steep price to pay for my thoughtlessness. However, in my case, the price was not a damaged TV or a broken lamp but rather I may have cost myself my best friend.

I never intended this to happen...but I should have known that my actions carry repercussions beyond my intentions. I should have known better.

I miss my friend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

My Ex Wife

Its been a challenging few days here in Dadland... and there are a number of things I won't share with you dear reader but one thing I will tell you about...Sunday would have been my 17th wedding anniversary.

I have known my ex wife for more than 20 years and looking back over the time we have known each other we have had our ups and downs and more than our fair share of difficulty. We also have had more than our fair share of disagreement but through it all I knew I was dealing with someone who is a good and kind person.

Over the last few years we have developed a peculiar type of friendship. I admit, that there have been times I have not been as kind as I should have been to my friend, my ex wife. She is a good mother, devoted, attentive, and engaged in the lives of our children. She tried to be a good wife to me, however, I am afraid I let her down as a husband. I have tried my best to not let her down as an ex husband. I think, in her way, she has tried not to let me down as an ex wife.

This has been a difficult year for both of us. We have both had health and emotional issues with which to deal. Some of these issues are life altering. I recently suffered something of a setback (if you can call an unmitigated disaster a setback) with which I am still struggling. My ex wife, my friend, spent much of yesterday with me on the phone, talking to me, listening, and helping. This is something she has done many times over the past year. Anyone else would have told me to go to hell...in fact...she probably would have had every right to tell me just that.

I forget all too easily the good my ex wife brings into not only the lives of my children, but into my life as well. Its easy to let the acrimony that inevitably seeps into the relationship of former spouses such as ourselves taint, what has been for the most part, a sold, stable, reliable partnership. No...not merely a partnership...but a friendship, of a peculiarly special kind.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Ghosts....

Yesterday I worked up enough courage to get my Christmas tree and today I put it up. Tomorrow the kids and I will decorate it. My kids, my daughter in particular, is very concerned that I get a tree this year. As I have my kids with me for half the week that I would get a tree was never in question. How I would feel about the tree is.

My best friend's sister observed that Christmas comes with teeth....and I have found that for the last several years, just as I thought I was about to escape from the holiday season unscathed, Christmas comes, generally in the form of the ghosts of Christmas past, and takes a bite. For me, the tree, and the decorations, are fraught with memories, memories of those who are no longer here and those who have left. I feel funny for telling you this...but at age 42 I miss my grandparents terribly.

This year, just as I was thinking that I had a shot at emerging from this Christmas unscathed, but for a brief moment, I was careless and thoughtless. As a result, I have caused great damage and have done much harm. So this year, it appears that the Ghost of Christmas Present will be my companion for the holiday season. There is always next year.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Holiday Season; The Fuzzy End Of The Divorce Lolly Pop

I have wrestled with this topic for about two weeks....in fact...I have avoided this space for almost as long while trying to figure out how to approach this. So here it is;

This will be the first Thanksgiving that I will not be spending with my children.

When my ex wife and I first separated we agreed that we would figure out a way for the five of us to spend the major holidays together. And it worked...for a while...but last year it became apparent it was time for us to do something different. So this Easter we split up the day...I had the kids in the morning and she had them in the afternoon. The kids found it difficult but we thought that Easter would be the best holiday to start a new routine to make things easier for the kids during the Holiday Season.

The ex wife and I started discussing Thanksgiving about a month ago. For a variety of reasons we decided that it would be best for me to spend the morning with the kids and that in the afternoon she would take them to her brother's for dinner. The kids are excited to be spending the day with their cousins. In fact, one of them remarked that holidays are supposed to be spent with aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins.

To her credit, my ex wife is concerned and interested in how I am going to spend the rest of my day. My first choice would be to spend the entire day with my kids. But this simply is not possible. Divorce is hard, its hard on kids and its hard on their parents...but we...the parents...were the ones who failed to make our marriage work...so in our divorce its right that we make compromises to make things easier and better for the kids.

So my ex wife and I compromised to make the best of a difficult part of divorce. And with any compromise you give up something to get something....but sometimes compromise means that what you get is the fuzzy end of the lolly pop...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Integrity

There's a word for you...integrity. Its a rare trait and not many people have it. When you meet someone who possesses it, hang on to them and hang on tight. And when you run into some one who does not have it, well...its pretty hard to run from them as you would end up running from much of the human race.

Yes...I am in a cynical mood.

Over the last month or so I have been accused of having less than impeccable integrity. I have no delusions about being perfect...I know I am far from it. But I also know that even the appearance of being less than forthright can lead to trouble. For myself, I am there are situations where, with little prompting, I am ready to accuse someone in indulging in the same behavior that I appear to be exhibiting. This is where a deep breath is needed before I fly off the handle and be a hypocrite, which is the opposite of having integrity. This is the place I am at today.

I need to be mindful that things are not always what they appear and that my own behavior could easily be called into question on any number of occasions on any number of topics....and that I can't have the moral high ground while wallowing in the muck. I can't have it both ways.

People do want it both ways, myself included. But in trying to have everything you often end up with nothing...including your integrity.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Job

Yesterday I started my new job in earnest. Its a sales job. Its door to door. No...I am not selling vacuums (my dear friend has a terrific story about a Kirby sales call made to her home involving a vibrating attachment...but I will retell it only with her permission). I am selling something that people actually want; cable, Internet, and phone service from Comcast.

No...this is not my dream job...but it is something for which I am aptly suited, requiring determination, guile, the ability to think on ones feet, and a certain imperiousness to rejection. Its also a job that is, to a degree, immune to the ebb and flow of the global economy which is a far cry from mortgages. People want to be entertained and they are loathe to give up cable TV or the Internet even in the leanest of times.

And these have indeed been lean times. I made the mistake that many people make in lean times. They. No. We, we loose sight of whats important in life and let the crisis at hand define who we are. We also let what we do define who we are. I was a mortgage broker and when that career began to evaporate I found myself adrift. Now I am the cable guy...wait...that doesn't sound right...but you get the idea. I had forgotten that work is what we do...not who we are. Its a means to an end and that end is the ability to live our lives and provide for our families. I work to live...I do not live to work. But work I must.

So last night, for the first time in months and months I slept through the night and I awoke with a feeling that I have not felt since the spring. I felt normal. A job and all that comes with it will do that for a man.

I can't wait to go to work tomorrow.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Head Up, Eyes Forward

Life is like riding a bicycle. Both are best done with your head up and eyes forward. Any other approach can be hazardous as I learned this morning when, after a momentary distraction, I took a spill on my bicycle in the middle of Route 18. Fortunately, this being a Saturday morning and there was little traffic on this usually busy road, I was able to get up and limp away and avoid an unfortunate encounter with anything other than asphalt.

Equally hazardous, but not quite as obvious, are the dangers of being distracted from one's own life. I constantly tell my kids to pay attention to what they are doing and to their surroundings. I also remind them that their actions have consequences for others as well as themselves. I should follow my own advice.

Adult life as has many distractions as those navigated by our kids. The Internet alone offers enough to keep us distracted from what is really important. I personally think that Facebook is a conspiracy to keep us adults distracted while the television networks capture our kids.

As for my mishap...my ringing cell phone distracted me. As I fumbled for the phone I had my spill. Re-injuring my leg (I hurt it about two months in a whiffle ball related incident...only men in their 40s get hurt while playing whiffle ball) I wheeled my bike home. As I was making my way home I looked at my phone to see who was calling. A client perhaps? Or maybe someone who just wanted to say hi. No....it was my ex-wife whom I suspect knew that somewhere, somehow I was having a carefree moment...

Seriously...my cellphone...as vital as it is to my life...has been a tremendous distraction over the years...It has interrupted vacations, time with my kids, and dates. And today it interrupted my bike ride and I have been couchbound since.

At least I have the Internet to amuse myself with.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Happy Anniversary

I have known her since I was 6 and him since I was 12. And they are celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary today. Wow.

I remember receiving their wedding invitation. I was living with three other guys while I was taking my Masters Degree. I had just started to date my then future ex wife. As I lived in Washington DC and they in Rhode Island I did not even know that they had been dating. I do remember thinking that they were a good match. And now, 18 years later, it would seem that they are indeed a good match.

Despite my seeing them only sporadically over the years the impression I have of them is that they are good friends. This impression has been borne out by a few mutual friends who are closer to them than I. They both know how to have fun, know how to take a joke, and have an advanced sense of the absurd. Looking back I think these attributes prepared them well for a life together.

For those of us for whom four months represents a long term relationship, my friends offer the possibility that having a lifetime partnership with someone is possible. Moreover, they offer multiple reasons as to why the idea of a life long relationship ought not be greeted with jaded cynicism but....well...maybe not with hope but at least with an open mind.

Happy Anniversary.

Friday, October 23, 2009

With My Morning Coffee

I can tell you right now that this post could get me into a lot of trouble....as trouble is the only thing that can happen when you let your mind wander without a leash.

People who tell you that you can tell them anything are usually the people you can't.

Lurking in the back of my refrigerator are new forms of life that evolved from the primordial ooze created in a long forgotten container of beef gravy.

Any day where you wake up on the right side of the dirt is a good day....most of the time....usually....sometimes....ok....any two days out of five where you wake up on the right side of the dirt is a good day...unless its raining then stay in bed.

I am told that its typical for parents to eagerly anticipate a quiet house when the kids are around and miss them once they are gone.

Following the example of a former girlfriend and current Facebook friend I went for a bike ride this morning. She told me I would feel great afterwards. I don't. No wonder we found that we were incompatible.

Melvern Taylor makes me hopeful and depresses the hell out of me all at the same time. It must be the ukulele.

You can put new wine into new skins... and I imagine you can put old wine in new skins...but I wonder if you can put new wine in old skins...

My son's Facebook page is worrying me....actually that I am faced with a whole new set of parenting issues is what's worrying me.

You know you have reached a certain age when you find yourself standing around a camp fire drinking beer with several other dads comparing colorectal surgery experiences.

Being a single dad can put you in certain odd situations. I found myself standing in the cereal aisle at the grocery store exchanging tips with three other dads who were stocking up for their weekends with their kids. I was able to spot these guys from the other side of the store as we stand out from the rest of the heard. After shooting the breeze with them for several minutes it was clear to me as to why I am more comfortable with moms as I don't feel nearly as lost and confused as many single dads appear.

Note to self; never run out of light cream again as my coffee sucks with 1 percent milk in it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

His 15th Birthday

I am in the middle of what I think of as the birthday/holiday season. From September to January I will have celebrated or have helped celebrate the birthdays of seven of my eight favorite people. Needless to say that with the holidays thrown in for good measure this is a busy time of year.

But not all birthdays need to be overblown events...the other night one of my best friends and I quietly celebrated his birthday. I decided to make him his favorite meal...hamburgers with potatoes. Its an easy meal to make, taking only twenty minutes. As I had a long day and that I knew that he was going to eat his special meal in one gulp I was tempted to go to the store and get something in a can for him...but...I thought...he had been a great friend to me this year and deserved something special.

So...dinner was made and it was consumed in one or two gulps before I could finish a chorus of Happy Birthday. My friend Joey is 15.

I hesitate to refer to him as my dog as I belong to him as much as he belongs to me. I know a lot of people think I am silly for feeling so passionately about an animal. In response I have decided not to take them or their views on the subject very seriously. I have found that a great test of someone's character is the ability to understand the bond that can develop between a man and his four legged companion.

After a close call earlier in this year my old friend is in fairly good health. His legs bother him and stairs are becoming more of a challenge. We no longer go for long walks. But each day I try to spend some time with him outside. I watch him sniff the bushes and the grass. He experiences each moment without a thought about the future and his lives a life without regret. While I know Joey and I are wired differently I have done my best to emulate him. I no longer mourn what we can no longer do together nor do I live in dread of that very sad, very inevitable day.

Today we sat together in the sun, happy and content.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bits And Pieces Left Along The Way

Oliver called me this morning. He had a problem and wanted my help. He had left a favorite sweatshirt at the home of a friend with whom he had a falling out. He wanted me to call this kid's mom and arrange an exchange of property; his former friend's football for my son's sweatshirt. I told him we should wait three days (to see if he could mend some fences) and then I would call the mom.

As I drink my morning coffee and try to plan out my day I find myself thinking about Oliver's problem. While he wanted his sweatshirt back I am sure that he was also a little distressed about leaving something something of himself behind and having something belonging to his former friend in his possession. Or maybe I am projecting the thoughts I have been wrestling with over the last several weeks as I drink from a coffee cup that does not belong to me while sitting under a painting left behind by a former girl friend a lifetime ago.

Tee shirts, sweatshirts, footballs, books, and umbrellas, hell...I even know of someone who has a box of my stuff waiting to be handed back to me on some fateful day...these are the bits and pieces of ourselves that we casually exchange along the way. We never intend to permanently give these items away, instead we lend them out, blithely intending to have the exchange of these trivial items continue indefinitely into the future. We also exchange less tangible, more important items along the way, such as affection, caring, concern, and friendship. These are also pieces of ourselves that we leave along the way.

This afternoon I am going to encourage Oliver to make up with his friend. Twelve is too young to learn the hard fact that not all friendships last and that sometimes we have to leave pieces of ourselves behind.

Friday, October 16, 2009

No Heat

Yesterday took forever to end and was compounded by the fact that it was raw, wet, and cold. A typical steel gray New England day. I was looking forward to my warm apartment, a nice dinner, and hanging out with Joey and Spot. And then I got home.

I noticed that the apartment was colder than usual. Yes...I do keep the thermostat down fairly low...but not to the point where you can see your breath. I tinkered with the heat and while I got the fan going I had no heat. No freaking heat. Tommy was not happy.

I called the landlord and was politely told that I would have to wait until the morning to get this addressed. I decided to reserve my ire for some future grievance as while having no heat for a night was inconvenient and uncomfortable, staying in a 57 degree apartment for one night was not the end of the world.

This has been a year of making do. Emotionally, physically, and financially. While my tenuous morale could have taken another blow last night as I sat in my chilly apartment, I decided that this was simply another challenge to overcome. As I write this this morning, while wearing three sweatshirts, I came to the conclusion that the lesson I needed to learn from this year were that perseverance and fortitude are virtues I needed to practice and that cunning and guile, which have served me well, can only take me so far. However, I think cunning and guile are what is called for to get my landlord here to fix the heat.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Dad's Day

There are days when all things seem possible...and then there are others when being able to make it through the day feels like a heroic achievement. And there are other days that are a mixture of the aforementioned...this was one of those days.

Wednesdays is one of the days of the week where I have my kids so rather than easing into the day as is my preference I need to hit the ground running. After a breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, and hot chocolate I dropped the kids off at school...yes...I did come to a complete stop before kicking them out of the car.

I worked until about 6:00...picked up the kids at their mom's and then back home for dinner (homemade soup and grilled cheese sandwiches), homework, squabbling kids, and my dog going number two on my carpet. Three loads of laundry later, one closed loan, a lousy movie, I found myself in a less than sunny mood.

I suppose more than anything else I am tired. And of all the things I am tired of I am tired of putting one foot in front of another. While there are sunny spots....breakfast with my kids was one of them....watching Ollie at practice was another...lately the burdens of parenthood seem to weight heavily.

On the bright side I renewed a dormant friendship and got some good advice that somehow made things a bit easier. My friend reminded me that life is supposed to be hard. And then there are times that are harder than others. Accepting this somehow makes it easier.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Safe

I just got done watching the Longest Day. This movie, which is about the D-Day Landings, got me thinking about my grandfather. Grandpa was not at D-Day, his big fight was at the Battle of The Bulge, but nevertheless the movie got my thinking about him.

While I always knew that my grandfather and I had a special relationship, that I always enjoyed being with him whether it was watching the Red Sox with him or sharing the newspaper, I never quite understood the bond I had with him. Now I know...I felt safe with him. I felt safe with Grandpa because, I think, I got unconditional love and acceptance from him. His house, with its smells, its sounds, and my grandmother's cooking, was a haven for me.

Sitting here, in my chair, in my home, I realize that there are lives where I play the same role that my grandfather played in mine. Whereas grandpa shared his appreciation of baseball with me which engendered that feeling of safety, I share food. I have learned that homefries can be every bit as effective as the Red Sox as a means to convey a feeling of safety and acceptance and affection.

It is a basic, almost primal desire, the need to feel safe. It was easy for me to experience this with my grandfather because....afterall...he was my grandfather...however...I know that to be able to count on something or someone for that feeling takes a leap of courage and of faith. While this is a leap I have yet to make I know that others have come to count on me to fulfill this most basic of needs.

There is a place, that I visit as a guest, which reminds me of my grandparent's home. The smells and sounds and the company are very different, however, the feeling I have when I am there is much like I had at my grandparents when I was a boy. I think this is why its my favorite place in the world.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Coffee

Imagining I am in my favorite place my mind's ear hears that magic word being softly whispered with a sense of urgency that is both startling and reassuring. Coffee....

My morning ritual centers around the coffee pot (or espresso machine), my coffee cup, and the morning paper (albeit the online version). So I wasn't very happy this morning to wake up to realize that I only had enough beans left for a double espresso. While packing the punch of three cups of coffee, an espresso somehow lacks the ability to comfort that coffee possesses.

Coffee is not just merely starter fluid for the day. Its a coping strategy. Much like a fire, its something hot, and comforting, and when enjoyed with friends, provides a primal sense of something important being shared.

Whether its in a white mug with a blue stripe served with half and half and sugar, or in a Dunkin Donuts styrofoam cup, or in my own favorite Christmas mug with a broken handle, my morning cup comforts, reassures, and braces me for the day ahead.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Waiting At Home

I spent much of the weekend away from home riding a roller coaster. Like any roller coaster worthy of the name, this weekend's ups and downs came in rapid succession. I am still tying to catch my breath.

After my roller coaster crashed I went home and greeting me at my door were Joey and Spot. After feeding them (my kids looked in on them during the weekend) I took Joey outside and we sat in the grass together...with his head resting in my lap.

Change is one of life's constants. Situations change, careers are switched, people come and people go...but Joey has been a constant to the point where I have almost fooled myself into thinking that he will be with me forever. His companionship...no...his friendship as seen me through more changes than I really care to think about.

We have been together for almost fifteen years and I love Joey more than I do most people. Our affection and loyalty to one another is something I rely upon too much, however, our relationship is something that has proven itself able to be relied upon.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Girl In My Life

I first met her more than ten years ago. From the moment I saw her I knew I loved her. She had piercing blue eyes that saw right through me and her face lit up whenever she saw me. I cannot imagine feeling the same way about anyone else. She will always have a special place in my heart

Circumstances are such where we do not have much opportunity to spend much time alone so we try to take advantage of those few opportunities when they present themselves. Last night we were presented such an opportunity.

I prepared a grilled dinner for us on the balcony and as we ate we talked about our week and what was going on in our lives. We then went out window shopping. When we got back home we shared our favorite drink together, hot chocolate with a giant scoop of chocolate ice cream.

My little girl and I share a special bond, a bond, from what I gather, many fathers and daughters share. While I love my boys dearly there is something special about my relationship with Fiona. It is a relationship filled with joy and rife with responsibility. Where with my boys I am responsible for teaching them how to be men, with my daughter I need to show her how men should treat her. This may be an antiquated idea, but its a responsibility I feel keenly, especially as she is starting to mature.

Opportunities such as the one we had last night are rare, and will become rarer still as she gets older. However, while she may not be a child forever, she will always be my little girl.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Betwixt And Between

Have you ever felt like you were inbetween two places at the same time? This is where I find myself and upon further reflection i think I have been in this inbetween place for a long while...so here is an half hearted attempt to find a different place

Liminal places, like rotaries, doorways, or life's turning points have a way of disorienting and causing distress and confusion. What is new offers exciting possibilities at the expense of what is familiar and comforting.

So...I have decided to try to leave my liminal place, where I am neither here nor there and I am betwixt and between. I have been here for a while...but being betwixt and between is not a place where you should spend much time. Its time to walk through life's next doorway.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Back to Work

Tomorrow, for the first time in seven years, I have to punch a clock...as it were...as I am going to work for someone else. That I have to do so is indicative of the state of the mortgage industry as I have much to much time on my hands for my own good. However, the idea of working for someone else feels like...feels like submission and defeat.

We sacrifice much to be well fed and well clothed. We sacrifice our freedom, our individuality, and our time. We end up giving our lives, as measured in time, to our employers. In exchange we get an income, some benefits, and the illusion of security.

To be sure, there are sacrifices involved in working for oneself, but these were sacrifices I gladly made. When I first started working for myself, on a commission basis, I remember telling the owner of the company I sub-contracted for my fear of living on a commission income. I remember his response..."we all work on commission whether we know it or not." That one statement enabled me to rid myself of the delusion that a steady paycheck was a symbol of stability...as someone who was laid off because of a corporate takeover I knew full well that as long as I worked for someone else I would never be the master of my own fate.

I was my own master...I could fashion my worklife in a manner that suited my needs and desires. If I wanted to spend the afternoon with my kids...I could. If I wanted to spend the morning at the beach...I could. In exchange I worked with my clients five nights a week. I made phone calls from baseball fields, dance studios, family gatherings, the beach, at midnight, and on Christmas day. I lived with my profession and in return I earned a nice income. However, more than the income I earned I enjoyed the freedom my profession brought me. How I worked, when I worked, and where I worked was entirely up to me....I was my own master. I was free.

But even the freedom I enjoyed was something of an illusion....as to do my job successfully I needed to match wits with the global economy...and I think the global economy is getting the better of me....S0....tomorrow...I will be in a cubicle...subject to somebody else's rules and somebody else's schedule. I know this is how most people live and they do so happily and willingly...but to me...it feels like I am submitting and surrendering my freedom.

Friday, September 11, 2009

$10.37

I have $10.37 in my pocket and I have decided to make it last until Monday. So this morning I took a quick inventory to see where I stood. I have plenty of cereal, meat, potatoes, eggs, potato chips, salsa, cheese, and cold cuts. I am short on peanut butter, bread, coffee, fruit, vegetables, light cream, and ice cream. I have half a liter of Pepsi and four bottles of beer. I am out of vodka. Gin will have to do.

My car has three quarters of a tank of gas in it which should be plenty until Monday as I am really not planning on going anywhere anyway. I have plenty of dog food and cat food so Joey and Spot are all set. And I found two cigars....just in case.

So I now know what I have....and here is what I decided I needed. I can hit the day old bread bin at Stop & Shop and grapes are on sale at another market. I will also need $3.00 for my Sunday paper (there is no sense in living like an uninformed philistine....). I figure I will have around $4.00 left after bread, grapes, and the paper.

I will switch to espresso to stretch out my coffee and eliminate the need for light cream. I have a chicken in the freezer that I can roast tomorrow...and make a stock for chicken soup to have for lunch for a few days. And having gin in my martini instead of vodka won't kill me.

Now...I could easily go to the ATM for cash....but that is really not the point. The idea is to make due, to make something out of nothing, to stretch, to conserve, and to save. Yes...I admit...my little game is made easier by the fact that I will not have my kids until Monday and that I do not have a completely empty pantry. I also admit that I am doing this out of boredom and for the need for a distraction...

I wonder how much a ticket to Amsterdam costs....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bullies

I abhor bullies....to me they are amongst the lowest form of playground life...no...strike that...they ARE the lowest form of playground life. Regardless of the underlying reasons, taking pleasure from being able to intimate others its a perverse and anti social form of behavior that ought to be confronted wherever it is exhibited.

So there...now that I have climbed up on my soapbox I have a story to tell. My oldest son plays football. He is 12 years old and stands at about 5ft 5in and weighs around 140 pounds. He is a solid kid who knows how to use his strength. Moreover, he also knows how to use his brain. Oliver has encountered on his team someone who, for whatever reason, does not like him. Oliver plays offensive line and this kid lines up on the defensive side of the ball against him. They have been going at it for about a month. This kid has tried to intimidate, bully, and belittle my son. Oliver, to his credit, has handled this situation on his own and has told me about his reactions only after the fact.

Now...I have always advised my kids to use words rather than their fists to resolve conflicts if for no other reason than because unlike when I was growing up when conflict would escalate from words to fists, nowadays conflicts can often escalate from words right to knifes and guns. Besides, my kids are all pretty smart and should be able to talk their way out of most situations.

So I was proud of Oliver when he tried to ignore this kid and when that failed, tried using humor to disarm him and cut him down to size. From the sideline I could hear Oliver tell this kid "lighten up Br***, you are with your team so you don't need to be such an assh***." Maybe that helped escalate things, but again, Oliver was being pushed into a corner...and yes...my son has his Dad's potty mouth.

Finally, on Monday, Oliver had had enough. This kid had done something during a play that Oliver did not like. So on the next play, Oliver slammed his left forearm into this kids' chin and his left fist into his side. The coach knew what was going on and told me that he hoped that this would end things. As we left practice Oliver and I talked about what had happened. Oliver told me that he realized that for the bullying to end he needed to show this kid that not only could he physically take care of himself, that he could also hurt this kid. What I had witnessed over these last few weeks compelled me to agree.

So it did, or so it seems. Yesterday I watched Oliver and this kid talk about the Red Sox and their upcoming game against Scituate. You would have never known that they had been going at each other for a month. It reminded me that in parenting you are never dealing in absolutes...and that there are times when your child will have to stand up for himself and use his fists....the trick is teaching your kid when to recognize exactly when that time is.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Poked, Prodded, and Probed

I am cranky....and after what my doctor did to me this week without even buying me dinner you would be too. Not only did he not buy me dinner, he did not send me flowers nor did he kiss me on the forehead afterwards....

There are a group of doctors in Massachusetts who now know me in a way that no one else on the planet does. Actually....I am trying to make a joke out of what could have been a really bad thing....

Like a lot of guys my age, I walk around in a 40 something year old body thinking that I am still 15....then reality comes crashing in....or creeping in. I have not had a full physical in a few years and have never had my colorectal exam. I put should have had it last year but I never got around to it. Actually...I have been putting it off...until certain symptoms appeared about a month ago made it apparent that I needed to do something.

So after an exam earlier in the week revealed that "something" was "there" I was the lucky recipient of a special date with a special sort of doctor. During my date the doc found that the "something" were actually two polyps....

After they were removed and I woke up I got to hear a number of words that I had hoped to never hear...."your oncologist," "biopsy," and "precursor to colorectal cancer." After I threw up in my mouth I realized that they were going to check out the polyps to determine what was going on....and I got the news this morning...."precancerous cells" was the operative phrase.

So....I dodged a bullet. This time. What I offer in today's post is a cautionary tale regarding men's health and the dangers of putting off what really should be a routine examination...Don't screw around with this...otherwise you could end up in deep sh*t.

And I will let my doctor off the hook for not sending me flowers...this time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back To School

Backpacks are packed, uniforms are ironed, the summer reading finished (almost), and the lunches are made. My kids are going back to school today.

I know a few parents who have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of that yellow bus at their door...hell...I have a friend who I think has been looking out her door for that bus since the end of June....(ok...ok...since the end of July) but I digress. I am actually a little disappointed that vacation is over and that my kids are going back to school.

Admittedly, I am fortunate. I work from home and I can move my schedule around to accommodate my kids so I am able to enjoy the slower pace of life that summer brings. We did not take a lengthy vacation...and we went to the beach not nearly often enough...but we did enjoy late nights, late mornings, and many, many games of whiffle ball in the backyard.

My kids did demonstrate a bit of back to school anxiety over the last few days...heck I even experienced some of it myself. Yesterday morning I had occasion to be in Cambridge where Harvard's students have returned. I experienced some of that old anxiety I experienced in college just before classes started. So while I had to remind myself that my own school days have long since passed, I had a fresh reminder of what I experienced as I dealt with three jittery kids last night.

So...we are back to school...homework, lunches, schedules, earlier mornings...and no more midday whiffle ball games...I think I am more disappointed than my kids.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Living On Aspinwall Road


Every now and then I run across an article in the Boston Globe or the Providence Journal about people who live near an airport who are unhappy about the noise created by the jets flying overhead. Almost inevitably I find myself thinking "Who was there first, you are the airport?" While I can understand that the sound of jets landing and taking off could get a little old, I have to admit to having little sympathy for these folks as they knew what they were getting into when they moved near the damn airport....

On the other hand...I have a great deal of sympathy for those folks who moved into a well established neighborhood and over the years their neighborhood changes on them. The infamous Route 18 is a major north/south route running through Plymouth and Bristol Counties in Massachusetts. Every day I drive on a heavily traveled portion of this secondary road that has undergone a transformation over the past twenty years, moving from a primarily residential area to one dominated by commercial influences.

From time to time, as I sit in traffic in front of the few remaining homes on my section of Route 18, I find myself wondering about the people living inside. Were they happy living alongside a steady stream of traffic. Could they smell the exhaust from passing cars in their living rooms? Did they want to move?

I did not move next to an airport, but my neighborhood changed sometime ago. I do not know when Aspinwall Road became a one way street but it certainly is one now. Traffic goes down it but it never comes back the other way. Maybe it does not matter when it became a one way street. Whats important is that for some time I have not liked the flow of traffic. Its time to move.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Are You Ready For Some Football?

Men...rejoice! Football season is upon us.

Actually...I never really got our fascination with football. I mean...I watch it. I follow the New England Patriots, and my alma mater, Boston College but unlike many men, the Earth does not stop for me when they play. In fact, as I told someone over the weekend, I think I watched only two Patriot games in their entirety last year. An opportunity to do this or that always seemed to open up and I rose to the occasion and took advantage....such were my Sundays last fall.

However, it was on the Saturdays of last Fall when I gained a new appreciation for the game. My boys played organized football last year and again this year they are already attending preseason practices. Aside from the daily two and a half hour practices, it was a positive experience for the boys and me.

I learned that youth football has a different rhythm and tenor than Little League. Whereas in the Little League the players are treated like big boys, in football they are treated like young men. And more often than not, the boys responded well to being treated as such.

While I believe that baseball is our finest game and is a superior sport, football teaches things to young boys and men that baseball cannot. Football stresses the importance of preparation and it teaches the importance of responsibility. Football, by its very nature, teaches the virtues of teamwork and instills in the boys a sense of camaraderie.

Parents today find themselves in the untenable position of having to fend off elements of our culture that erode and undermine the values we try to instill in our kids. Exhibitionism, self indulgent excess, and unrestrained selfishness are celebrated whilst quiet preparation, sacrifice, and teamwork or either ignored or dismissed as values from a bygone age. Its a relief to me that we still have activities like sports, dance, and Scouts where our efforts are reinforced and enhanced.

So....football season is upon us...and while the Patriots and Boston College will get some of my attention, the Earth will stop when my boys play. My oldest has his first scrimmage tonight. I can't wait.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting Ready For School

With August more than two thirds over my ex wife and I have started to prepare for the beginning of school. We have divided up the list of items we need to purchase by September 1st, these include paper, notebooks, lunchboxes, backpacks, and uniforms. She has purchased most of her items. I will probably wait until the last day of August to purchase mine.

It is also during this time of year when we discuss our goals and expectations for the kids for the coming year. We talk about schedules and activities and routines that we will agree to adhere to in our respective homes during the school year. This, fortunately, is when my ex and I work well together. We agree that the kids need to have a consistent bed time and that both households should have certain rules in common. To be sure, there is much that we disagree on....for an example...my ex wife cannot understand why a roast chicken requires a quarter pound of butter before its put into the oven....disagreements such as these makes it obvious as to why we are no longer together.

Fortunately, as my kids attend a parochial school, so aside from the usual school supplies (pens, pencils, paper, markers etc...) back to school shopping is very easy and entails a trip to Old Navy and purchasing several light blue oxfords and several pairs of trousers...thank God I never have to hear in the morning "I am not wearing THAT!"

I have to admit however, that I am feeling no small amount of regret at the prospect of summer vacation ending. I enjoy the loose schedules, that lazy evenings, and the late nights with my kids that characterize our summers. Besides, making lunches, ironing uniforms, and checking homework is not my idea of a good time.

So this, the last week of summer vacation, I have imposed a bit of a schedule on myself and the kids. Bedtime is now 9:30 instead of whenever and and I am poised to get up my kids at 7:30 instead of 11:00....and we have to be at the beach by noon....or 1:30....or sometime....I am going to miss summer vacation.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Be Yourself

I am off the parenting hook this week as my ex wife has taken the kids on a short camping vacation in northern Massachusetts. Free from the day to day routine, I have been able to win for myself a little time to think and mentally prepare for the upcoming school year. As my oldest enters into his teens and my twins hit the bit one 0 I have realized that now, more than ever, I need to reinforce one two word sentence over and over again. "Be yourself. "

Two things happened on Monday that brought home to me the need to have "Be Yourself" the theme for the year.

Suffering from another bout of insomnia I found myself watching The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. In it, Williams and Lane play a gay couple who, at the behest of their son, attempt to pretend they are straight in order to impress a conservative politician to whose daughter their son is engaged. While the movie was very over the top, it did bludgeon home the point that if you try to be something you are not that you are only fooling yourself (and Gene Hackman).

The other thing happened at the beach where I saw two Muslim women, each wearing a full chador, enjoying the sun and surf. My first thought was "gosh...that must be terribly uncomfortable." The second was "this is what they wear so why shouldn't they have their time in the sun like the rest of us." Amidst a sea literally full of bared flesh, these two woman adhered to their culture's imperative that they retain their modesty and cover themselves in public...even at the beach....they have not caved in to our cultural expectations, instead they were being true to themselves (I hope).

As parents we ought to be in the business of raising individuals so one of the basic lessons we should be teaching our kids is to be themselves. To do so is to struggle against innumerable cultural imperatives that pressure our kids and ourselves, to conform, to cover up, and to act like everyone else. Failure to resist these cultural pressures results in us and our children being less than who we are. Success means that we have raised strong individuals, albeit at the possible loss of popularity. However, I try to teach my kids that anyone who does not want you to be yourself is someone not worthy of being your friend. Anyone who cares about you would want and demand that you be yourself.

While we all have to make compromises in order to get along and function in society...as life is a series of compromises...the trick is to avoid becoming compromised. After all, we all deserve to be ourselves and have our time in the sun.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Jump Starting My Brain

Its 11:00 in the morning and I have been up since 5:30. Today's major accomplishment has been taking Joey out before he did numbers 1 and 2 on the hardwood floor. Writing on my blog is the obvious next step.

As I wait for my second pot of coffee to kick in I decided to spend a few minutes emptying out a few of my brain's junk drawers.

  • Why is it that Facebook continually suggests that I add as a friend one woman I emailed five times I met once ages ago? Is Facebook trying to tell me something about this girl?
  • Conversely, why is not Facebook recommending someone I have emailed hundreds of times and seen dozens of times?
  • How come every half gallon of milk I buy goes bad for the expiration date. I keep my refrigerator at almost Arctic temperatures. I am also not the only person who has this problem.
  • That you can now buy eggs that come from chickens fed on a vegetarian diet makes you wonder what the other chickens are being fed.
  • I am very concerned that there are only 36 days left of summer.
  • Can you go through serotonin and dopamine withdrawal? I think you can...
  • I have more than 300 channels on my cable TV and I still end up watching Andy Griffith Show re-runs every night.
  • My fourteen and a half year relationship with my dog represents the longest unbroken adult relationship I have ever had.
  • My morning coffee is more important to me than my evening cocktail. Thank God.
There is more emptying to do....but the coffee has kicked in so its time to ride that caffeine induced wave of ambition for as long as I can.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Corn On The Cob

A Special Note: Pending Federal Trade Commission guidelines will require bloggers to indicate whether they receive compensation for mentioning products in their postings....so...not wanting to run afoul of Big Brother I want preemptively get into the habit of disclaiming any compensation for any product, event, or service I mention in my jottings....

For the first time this summer I indulged in one of the seasons true pleasures, corn on the cob. No, make that farm fresh corn on the cob.

I also indulged in another summertime pleasure...I cooked out on my hibachi. Yes, admit that I would have little trouble becoming addicted to the smell of charcoal and lighter fluid but there are certain seasonal indulgences that cannot be missed.

For some reason this summer has felt lacking. I have been to the beach (albeit not nearly often enough). I have been on vacation...ok camping...but its the same idea. I have played many innings of whiffle ball with my kids. I enjoyed an outdoor drink at the Bayside Restaurant in Westport and I have taken my kids to the Washington County Fair. Perhaps because June was a washout it has felt like that the summer has really never got underway.

And now...finally...now with only one month left....it feels as though summer time has arrived....and all it took was one piece of corn on the cob...and some lighter fluid fumes...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Washington County Fair

I visited my parents yesterday. They happen to live in the same house where I grew up and on my way to their home we passed the fairgrounds for the Washington County fair. My hopes that my kids would not notice the fair were dashed when Aidan shouted "Ferris wheel" as I drove by.

So...after visiting with my folks Aidan, Fiona, and I went to the fair. Run by the local grange, the fair has been an August staple in southern Rhode Island since before I was born. Aside from the carnival section (where my kids wanted to spend all of our time), the fair is primarily an agricultural event. Farmers from Washington County (better known as South County) and from across the region bring their livestock to the fair to compete in a variety of competitions. Yes...the smells from the lower end of the fairgrounds can be a bit strong.

Horseback riding competitions, oxen and tractor pulls, and a number of other activities are conducted in the main ring. My favorite one is the dung throwing contest where contestants throw dried manure for distance and accuracy. I am not making this up.

Along with the local granges and 4-H organizations, local fire departments and ambulance companies, many of whom are volunteer organizations, act as food and beverage vendors at the fair. By doing so they are able to do an impressive amount of fund raising. The food is pretty good and ranges from hot dogs and hamburgers to clam cakes and fried chicken.

Local gardeners also show off their produce. I won a blue ribbon one year for my string beans....my kids were completely unimpressed by this as were they uninterested in the livestock...they were all about the carnival...thank God they were unable to talk me into going on the Tilt A Hurl...I mean Tilt A Whirl. I would have surely hurled as I dinned on the Carolina Fire Department's johnny cakes (johnny cakes are pancakes made from cornmeal) and french fries from the Hope Valley Fire Department.

While I am not a big fan of carnivals...I love fairs...despite my initial hesitation about going. My kids had a great time, they were able to experience a wholesome bit of Americana, I was able to relive some very nice childhood memories...and I was able to avoid the Tilt A Hurl.

I never do this....but the fair is really a great thing and represents a piece of rural American culture that is fast disappearing http://www.washingtoncountyfair-ri.com/ Go to your local fair.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Wine In New Skins

I have gotten used to quiet Sundays. With the exception of a a two month interlude, I have had Sundays to myself for the better part of a year. No kids, no demands, no expectations, just me and 24 whole hours to myself. What will I do...

I have spent these Sunday's in a variety of ways...for the last few months my Sundays have more or less involved the Boston Globe, hanging out with my dog and cat, and a traditional breakfast of tacos and eggs....(I did not say traditional to where).

This morning is a little different as I spent this morning with my resume. I hate my resume especially now as I have found that my profession has evaporated out from under me and that I need to do something different...what I am not exactly sure of but seeing as how homelessness is not an option I had better come up with something.

It is at around this time of year I make peace with the year I am having and surrender to whatever message the Universe is trying to send me. Today, at 4:20 in the morning, I believe I have figured out what the Universe is trying to tell me...New Wine In New Skins...which more or less means...do something new, take new approaches, and give up on what isn't working. This, as I am sure you know, it easier said than done.

I think that a lot of us would rather hang on to what we know, even if it isn't working, rather than move on and try something new. I certainly am guilty of this....as I find that I can barely see straight after banging my head against the same wall for the past....hmmmmm...I have forgotten how long I have been banging my head against this wall but I have given up trying to break it down with my skull.

So...here I am with my resume...considering starting a new career...and contemplating life behind a desk in a cubical somewhere...frankly the thought is depressing the hell out of me but it is clearly time to do something different...which is going to be a challenge. However, I I know the hardest part will be giving up on what does not work...as old habits die hard.

New wine in new skins.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Post Vacation Hangover

Our little expedition is over and everyone is where they are supposed to be. The kids are with their mom and Joey, Spot, and I are here. There are many things left to unpack and clean up around here though. And I am not just talking about from the camping trip.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I am not a big fan of vacations. While I enjoyed being away and having my kids all to myself (although I will admit that there was a lot of coping happening on day one of the trip), I prefer the ebb and flow of my daily routine to "events" like vacations or holidays. I also dread the post vacation hangover.

Vacations provide an escape from the everyday...and as wedded as I am to the everyday I admit to finding it as something of a relief to not have to hustle after business or search for for a job. Now I have to jump right back into the reality pool. Something tells me that the water is cold.

Just as cold and just as jarring is that my kids are not here. Whether they have their kids or not, all parents are on duty all of the time. However, I suspect many divorced parents feel this way, that there is something amiss when the kids are not around. When I moved I had set up my life to be the full time parent. In April, when their mom got better, I had re-arranged my life be able to take care of my kids during the week and have the weekends to myself. Having the weekend to myself really never happened as I had to play chauffeur for my kids because my ex wife had not been driving. But she is now driving again so for this weekend my chauffeur's hat can remain on its hook.

So I am in the midst of a seventy two hour stretch that belongs to me and me alone. I have no idea what I am going to do.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Feels like Cape Cod. Sounds like Quebec

I was awake at 6:10 this morning. As I dozed in my sleeping bag I took stock of what needed to be done this morning to prepare for the trek home. About twenty five minutes later the people camping next to us started to stir…husband and wife were going about the business of making breakfast…and they were speaking French. Actually…of the four sites within earshot of mine…three of them are occupied by Quebecois. In fact, from a casual conversation from one of the park rangers I gleaned that most of the people presently staying at our camp grounds are from Quebec.

Our vacation was originally going to be spent in Montreal but because our government wishes to strip away our liberty under the guise of keeping us safe we now need passports to return from Canada (yes…I would rather be left alone than be “safe”). I let my passport lapse and could not get it renewed on time to go to Canada. So it is sort of neat that Quebec came to us this summer.
As I started my day I could not help but hear the couple next to me. Unfortunately my French is very limited but from what I could hear they were talking about eggs and how their kids won’t like breakfast….it’s comforting to know that picky kids are not unique to Anglophone cultures. As for the rest of the conversation that I did not understand...I am sure that it involved hockey, Molson beer, and cigarettes.

Yes cigarettes. If North Carolina tobacco farmers are concerned that declining numbers of smokers in the United States will cut into their business they need not be concerned. The Province of Quebec stands ready to support them. These people know how to smoke. At their camp sites, waiting for the shower, on the beach, and in their cars, our French speaking neighbors to the north are able to smoke for speed, distance, and accuracy.

Beach side smoking is something that always fascinated me as the beach struck me as the last place I would want to smoke. As an occasional cigar smoker and reformed social smoker, there are places where it seems appropriate to light up and places that aren't. It never occurred to me to smoke at the beach. Apparently, the beach is the perfect venue to smoke for our northern neighbors. See a middle aged man at a Cape Cod beach with his stomach draped over his Speedo holding a smoke….yup…you got it…he is from Quebec (or from Revere).

Actually…I am being a little unfair….ok…very unfair…the people from Quebec that I met on our little vacation were very nice, my neighbors particularly so. Endearing were their enthusiastic attempts to get by on their limited English (as an aside…I hope we as hosts were more tolerant of their limited English than the natives were of my limited French when I last visited Quebec). My kids found very amusing the conversation I had with the husband who wanted to know what the weather was going to be like today. He struggled with his English and I with my French…I think I told him to expect a blizzard today.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cape Cod On $40.00 A Day

Yes…the Pierces are on something of a budget this vacation…actually its not all that bad but I did decide to make a game of how little I can spend on this trip. It is a little twisted but a guy has to keep himself entertained.

Here are my ground rules;
  • That what I spent to get ready for the trip does not count. This includes groceries, camping supplies (a cooler, propane canisters for the camp stove, flashlights, bug spray, lots and lots of bug spray), as well as the reservation for the camp grounds.
  • That I have to average $40.00 a day. Some days are going to cost more than others…I just need to plan accordingly
  • We have to have fun. I could spend the day at the camp grounds reading and sipping coffee…I would enjoy myself but my kids would not. Besides…my daughter would try to tattle on me to her mother (where she gets the idea that that would work is beyond me).
So…with day four of the trip finished we are actually coming in below the $40.00 spending limit. Today we built a campfire, went to the Sandwich library, went mini golfing, visited a fish hatchery, went to the beach, had dinner at a clam shack, attended a Wareham Gatemen Cape Cod League baseball game, and went out for ice cream. All of this for a total cost of $48.00.

Tuesday we spent $12.00.

Prior vacations, whether they were to Nova Scotia or to Washington D.C. or to California were all about the destination. This trip is more about the four of us being together. We had great times on those trips but like a lot of people, I had to scale back on what I could do this summer….and in the process I think the four of us learned a great lesson; that what you do matters less that who you do it with.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Vacation

I am going on vacation....or as much of a vacation one can have while managing work obligations and a job search. Yes...I am seeking a new vocation so if you know of anyone looking to hire a frustrated mortgage broker with a PhD in European History point them in my direction. I also make great home fries.

But about the vacation...I have to admit that I am not a big fan of vacations. I prefer the ebb and flow of my everyday routine to picking up my little dog and pony show and moving it 40 miles down the road to Cape Cod. However, the kids want to go and a dad has to do what a dad has to do.

I can back off on the job hunt for a few days and work....well...some work is unavoidable. Hopefully the weather will be nice and the kids will behave. If they don't, well....I could always leave them to their vacation and I could go home. Would that be wrong?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Coffee


I AM OUT OF COFFEE...was my first thought when I sat up bolt upright at 2:15 this morning. I AM OUT OF COFFEE....what am I going to do in the morning? Oh my G*d...I AM OUT OF COFFEE. I am so screwed because I AM OUT OF COFFEE.

There are certain things I always keep in the house. They are; Pepsi, peanut butter, sourdough bread, cheese, milk, grapes, vodka, light cream, and coffee. Of these light cream and coffee are the most important because its the first thing I have in the morning and I really cannot start without it. I can go for a day without eating but heaven help me if I have to go without my morning cup of joe. I used to keep a can of hash in stock as well as there once was a time when that was a vital supply (heaven help me if there wasn't a ready source of protein in the house in the morning)...while some things change the need for my morning coffee remains.

I took myself out to dinner last night (Central Kitchen, Cambridge MA, mussels, fries, salad, two beers, $25.00 including tip...you have to go) and I found myself craving the this morning's cup of coffee. It did strike me as odd that after such a great meal I found myself jonesing for my morning coffee. So I was truly disappointed this morning when I realized I was out of coffee.


At 6:45 I got up and drove to the grocery down the street that opens at 7:00. As I found myself waiting outside for the doors to be unlocked I could not help but think of the guys I used to see on my way to work lined up waiting for the liquor store in Chinatown to open. Could it be that my coffee "issue" is as bad as their drinking problem? Don't know. Don't care. I am riding a wave of caffinated euphoria and I am not about to over think this. Time for another cup. Oh crap! I AM OUT OF CREAM!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Camping on Cape Cod

The kids and I are getting ready for a five day camping trip to Cape Cod. Strewn about my apartment are fishing poles, duffel bags, sleeping bags, a camp stove, two tents, and my infamous camping box. Inside the camping box are plates, pots, a frying pan, toilet paper, a sponge, matches, flashlights, and a cyanide capsule should I decide to end things mid-trip.

Yesterday I made the mistake of taking Aidan and Fiona grocery shopping for the trip. I do not know how this happened but someone they won control over the grocery agenda. While we have plenty of marshmallows, hot chocolate, ingredients for smores, and for some reason, three boxes of pop tarts, I have no idea what we are going to have during meal time. Maybe the four of us will have to live on smores and pop tarts.

This trip was originally going to take us to Montreal. I had hoped we would be able to do some camping and enjoy a cosmopolitan city as well. But, as with many people this summer, economic reality compelled me to scale back our vacation to more modest proportions. So a camping trip to Cape Cod it is. Besides, it will be nice not having to spend nine hours in a car with my daughter asking me "are we almost there yet?" Instead, I will spend an hour in the car with my daughter asking me "are we almost there yet?"

Dad has a new gig. I am the Mortgage Industry Examiner for the Boston Examiner. Check me out at http://www.examiner.com/x-18108-Boston-Mortgage-Industry-Examiner Tell your friends. Read often.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Beach

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fd_nopTFuZA

Ahhhhhh....the beach. I love the beach. The smell of the salt air, hot sand underfoot, and the sound of the ocean rolling ashore has always been a source of renewal for me. Unfortunately, until a few weeks ago, due to circumstance and some really crappy weather, I have had not had much opportunity to go to the beach this summer. But now I go as often as I can.

My first trip was about three weeks ago. The day had been difficult and fraught and the previous 12 hours had beaten the crap out of me. However, as I sat on the beach, the warm sun on my shoulders, winter had finally lost its grip on me and I felt like a new man (that I was next to a very hot woman also helped as well). Since then I have returned as often as possible.

Yesterday, I took Aidan and Fiona to the beach. This visit was as crazed as my first visit was peaceful. We have a rule when we go to the beach; Take as little as possible. Which means for us, one towel each, small cooler for snacks and drinks, one blanket, one frisbee, and that's it. I am amazed at people who pack for the beach as though they were going to climb Everest. I saw more than one parent, burdened with bags and backpacks and coolers, lugging wagons behind them with their little kids trailing behind. I thought of a great business I could start...beach Sherpa. When you arrive at the beach you could hire your own beach Sherpa who would carry your stuff to and from your car. Hell...with the way the mortgage business is going I just might take a stab at this myself.

So like many other simple pleasures, we over complicate going to the beach. We have taken the perfect combination of sand, sun, and salt water, and imposed upon it the logistical demands of a Himalayan mountain expedition. When all you really need is a towel, a bottle of water, and two great kids (or one really hot woman).


Dad has a new gig. I am the Mortgage Industry Examiner for the Boston Examiner. Check me out at http://www.examiner.com/x-18108-Boston-Mortgage-Industry-Examiner Tell your friends. Read often.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Dad

My brother, one of my sisters, and our families gathered today to celebrate my father's 77th birthday today. Whilst he has some health issues I hope I am as active as my dad is when I am 77. He still fishes everyday, he has an extensive garden, and he raises fruit trees. While I wonder if he is happy I do think he is satisfied in his retirement.

As I watched my Dad talk to his grandchildren and to my brother and sister I found myself imagining what my Dad's life was like when we as my age at 42. The sole provider of a family of five, my Dad enjoyed only a modest income. He lived frugally, he made due with what he had, and if what he had broke, he figured out a way to fix it. My Dad, as my former boss would say, knew how to get the sh*t out of buffalo nickel.

Now that I face all of the same issues I imagined that my Dad had to handle, I better understand some of the reasons why he acted towards us the way he did. The pressure of hanging on to a job, making ends meet, and providing for a family is enormous. Add cardiac trouble to the mix, my Dad must have been under a tremendous amount of pressure to ensure that we were provided for. While I do not think he dealt with that pressure in the best way, I am now able to see that he handled things as best he could.

While my Dad and I do not enjoy a close relationship I do admire him for what he has accomplished. I do however, wish I were closer to him. We both have sharp edges to our personalities and those edges often grind against each other. He is not shy about sharing his opinion about some of the choices I made in my life. But I learned a long time ago that I need to be my own man...a lesson I learned from my Dad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

At The Tilt'n Diner

I love diners. I like the shine of a diner's stainless steel components. I like the retro feel. I like that the waitresses call you "hun."

And I love the Tilt'n Diner.

I met a client at the Tilt'n Diner last night. Located in Tilton in central New Hampshire, about 30 minutes north of Concord, the Tilt'n offers a wide range of diner fare. Its always good and its always reasonably priced.

So I drove 2 hours to Tilton to meet a client. I had been courting her for months and last night we met to discuss disclosures. A divorced mom, she and I had much in common. I found that we talked more about life after divorce than we did about mortgages. We chatted for about an hour, she signed the disclosures, and she then left for home. I remained to have dinner.

As I sat in my booth I could not help but think of the last time I ate at the Tilton Diner. It was three years ago this summer. After having just moved out of the house I had taken my kids on a vacation to New Hampshire. They were still very uncertain about what their lives would look like after I moved out and their mom had moved back into the house. I wanted to assure them that things were going to work out ok.

For myself, I remember feeling anxious about having to support two households and about creating a new home for myself and my kids. As I drove home last night I thought about my kids and how they have fared the last several years. I am thankful that after some very turbulent times that their lives are settled, they have a routine, they seem to be as comfortable with their mother as they do with me, and that they are certain that their Dad will always be there for them.

I was also thankful I ordered the homefries. They were almost as good as mine.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ice Cream

It was at 3:15 this morning when I arrived at a critical decision that I am sure will effect the rest of my day; I decided to have a bowl of ice cream.

I was having trouble sleeping. That I am up again at 5:30 typing this posting is evidence further still that my sleep is not what it should be. I guess I have a lot of things on my mind and I am excited about the day in front of me. On most nights 3:15 is closer to my bed time than it is to the time I get up. So I decided upon my favorite sleep aid.

Something choc-a-block full of sugar may seem like a strange thing to have when one is having trouble sleeping. Not for me. I realize that for most people ice cream evokes images of ice cream cones eaten on bright summer days. For me ice cream is a comfort food, a reward earned at the end of a hard day. Yes, there have been times when I have abused ice cream (eating a half gallon right out of the box while watching an episode of House is a cry for help) but when used properly, ice cream can provide a comfort like nothing else.

The psychology of comfort food interests me but why ice cream does it for me I have no idea. I have been known to pass on it in the middle of the day, but after a long day, there is nothing better than sitting up late at night (or early in the morning) with a big bowl of smooth, creamy, icy cold ice cream.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My Brother

My brother is a regular guy who goes to a regular job. He has a regular house, with four regular kids, and a regular wife. He has a regular life.

I used to think that guys like my brother were...well....saps. While I worked my deals from my home, the beach or from California, my brother was at his desk. While I was dating artists, dancers, or soccer moms, my brother went home to his wife. While I got to enjoy being both a bachelor and a dad, my brother brother got to enjoy the privilege of being a great father and an awesome husband.

I was at his office the other day dropping off his boys from their visit with me. Along his sideboard are a bunch of photographs chronicling his family life. The images of my brother, his wife, and his three (now four) boys told the story of a loving family dedicated to each other. On his desk were the remnants of my brother's lunch. Apparently he had forgotten his lunch that morning so his wife made the 40 mile round trip to make sure he had something to eat. Keep in mind that this woman gave birth two weeks ago.

My brother will never be rich or powerful but he is one of the most successful men I know. Looking at his life I find myself wondering who is really is a sap.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Herding Cats Through Boston

Yesterday I gulped hard and decided to take my kids and my nephews to Boston see the Tall Ships. Now my kids are used to my eccentricities and were not at all surprised that I wanted to go and look at sailing ships. My nephews, on the other hand, did not know what to make of my idea.

I was more than a little nervous about going into town too but I gathered up my courage, fueled everyone up on an eggs and bacon breakfast, wore them out a little in the pool, made muffins, grabbed a dozen bottles of water, and we set out for Boston.

While driving to Boston I had made 4 rules for myself;

  1. We were going to stay in town for 4 hours. Not a minute more. Not a minute less.
  2. Consequences for bad behavior would be delivered calmly and swiftly. I promised myself that I was not going to swear like a fish monger in front of my brother's children.
  3. I imposed a $50.00 spending limit on myself (except for parking and gas). This meant no crappy souvenirs and no matter how badly I might need them, no oysters and martinis for me.
  4. I promised myself that I was not going to ask the kids what they wanted to do. I needed to run the show otherwise chaos would ensue.
I was able to keep rules 1 and 4 easily. We checked out several of the Tall Ships, talked about which ones were my favorite (most of us liked the Portuguese barque Sagres). We then made our way over to Fanieul Hall and had pizza from Pizzeria Regina. The kids watched a street performer while I called the office. While I was able to calmly deal with the minor incidents of misbehavior I knew that I had no shot at not swearing. Besides it was fun listing to my nephews giggle when I told a driver in front of me to get his head out of his ass.

My $50.00 spending limit went to hell went we went to the North End. Oliver suggested cannoli and hot chocolate at Cafe Vittoria. Up until that point I had spent about $25.00 on lunch, sodas, and a bag of Doritos so I figured why the hell not. I ordered chocolate chip cannolis and a round of hot chocolates for everyone and I got myself a cappuccino. We talked about Italy, and soccer, and poops (remember...I had 5 boys with me....poor Fiona, what she had to endure these last two days). The very nice waitress gave me the bill....$45.00. So with the $10.00 tip I left her (she earned it having to wait on my crew) my budget was blown to hell...by only $20.00 however.

Walking back to the car was a challenge. The kids were bouncing all over the place. Oliver, walking along side of me, said "Dad, after giving them hot chocolate and cannoli and expecting them to behave in the car would be like throwing five superballs into a phone booth and expecting none of them to bounce into each other." So we played red light green light in Columbus park to take the edge off of the sugar rush. I have a very smart kid.

Now breakfast is ready and the kids are stirring. By 5:00 t0night my nephews will be at their home and my kids will be with their mom. The idea of having a quiet apartment to myself is less appealing than I thought it would be two days ago.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Swarm of Locusts

Two Pounds of Pasta

3 pounds of Meatballs

1 loaf of Italian Bread

1 Salad

1 Batch of Brownies

4 Liters of Soda

1 Half Gallon of Ice Cream

That is what my kids and my three nephews consumed last night for dinner. It was a wild day here yesterday. I got my nephews at my brother's office at 10:00. Grabbed my kids from a sleepover at my ex brother-in-law's at 12:00. Brought them back to my place to find a pizza delivery guy at the door (the ex wife ordered pizza for us...more about the reason for her good mood in tomorrow's post). And then we had an afternoon of whiffle ball (in the rain) and swimming in the pool.

I took time in the afternoon to pull dinner together. I had made the meatballs and sauce the night before and had picked up bread earlier in the day. I was concerned that I was making too much food. Hahaha....boy was I wrong. Those six kids descended on my dining room table like the world was about to run out of food and they needed to get their share. Dinner was wiped out in ten minutes. As it was evident that there was going to be barely enough food for dinner I had a bowl of raisin bran.

The kids played outside until 8:00 and then I threw them in the pool again. My six year old nephew had enough sense to fall asleep at 9:00. My daughter was asleep at 11:00. I had to have the boys shut off the Wii and go to bed at 12:30. They were awake until 1:00. My six year old nephew got me up at 5:45. He saw that we had Star Wars here and had to watch it at 5:45. He is letting me watch it with him, however I upset him earlier as I have seen the movie about seven hundred times over the last ten months and am able to recite much of the movie from memory. He would rather hear the actual actors say their lines rather than his uncle. So I have found another person who does not appreciate my talents.

So I am off to make lunches for our trip to Boston to see the Tall Ships. I am going to bring some raisin bran for me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Friendship

Lately my oldest son has faced a series of really grown up issues. The latest concerns a friend of his he has known since kindergarten. This is a really sweet kid who has been Oliver's best friend for years. He has stayed at my house, I have cooked him dinner, and he has been a constant in my son's life.

This spring this boy started to experience some difficulty which made him sometimes uncomfortable to be around. He reached out to Oliver and my son responded by sticking by his friend, spending hours on the phone with him and even visiting him in the hospital. I was very proud of him.

Recently I learned that this boy was hospitalized again, however, Oliver had not been in touch with his friend for a few weeks. I nudged and poked and prodded him until the other day when he told me why he had not spoken to his friend. Oliver told me that he was uncomfortable talking to his friend and that he (his friend) was not acting like himself.

I tried my best to explain to Oliver that people go through good times and bad times in life. I explained to him that to be a friend means to stick with your friends even when they are going through hard times. I was brutally honest with Oliver when I told him that the last thing his pal needed was to have his best friend run away from him.

We discussed his friend a bit more and he decided to call him. Right now Oliver is one a sleepover at his friend's home. They were both delighted to see each other when I dropped Oliver off yesterday afternoon. I am delighted that I have a son who sticks with his friends.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Keep That Chum Line Going Chief

Its the Fourth of July and I am watching Jaws...again. I like good movies for a bunch of reasons...the biggest being is that if you pay attention you are able to get something new out of the movie each time you watch them.

This time I realized that part of Jaws' appeal is that our perception of the natural order of things is turned upside down. Our place on top of the food chain is challenged by a great white shark. Instead of our plying the ocean for food instead we became food. The citizens of Amity are panicked and don't understand why the order of things have changed. The mayor (who is, next to Quint, is my favorite character) refuses to recognize that the great white had turned the tables on him and that his island's beach goers and fishermen had become prey.

Sitting here watching the movie I realized that I have become prey. A series of personal, financial, and professional setbacks has left me bewildered and confused. I had grown accustomed to having at least the illusion of being on top of the food chain. I ran my own business. I made my own deals. I set my own schedule. I lived life on my terms. I used to make life happen and now life is happening to me. I changed without realizing it, and a lot of blood, my blood, spilled into the water while I refused to recognize that I had become prey.

So, in a manner of speaking I am now off to hunt the great white. I am going to have to re-invent myself if I am going to reclaim my accustomed place in the food chain. I only hope I do not end up like Captain Quint.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Talk

Grown up questions from my kids are coming at me fast and furious this week. Here is one of the topics Oliver threw at me last night.

The inevitable has happened...Oliver has started to ask me about girls. He has always had an interest in girls but he is now at a point where he is seeking me out for advice. Why he thinks I would be a good source for advice is beyond me. My own track record with women is spotty at best. We have had THE TALK and have revisited the topic of sex from time to time. While I am about as comfortable as I am going to get about this I was unprepared for last night's chat.

Anyway... there are two girls who apparently like Oliver. One has been a classmate of Oliver's for a few years and the other is a grade ahead of Oliver and has known him for years. For some reason he feels as though he needs to choose one of these girls in whom to be interested. I tried to assure him that this was something he was too young to worry about and all he simply needs to do is be honest and be kind. He then asked me what I would do and how I would choose between the two

I tried to give him the pat answers I imagine most Dads give their sons in these situations. I told him that its important that that the person be nice, and smart, and funny. Oliver persisted. He wanted to know what was important to me. I tried to put him off but he chased me down a conversational alley and the only way out was to turn around give him what he wanted and then I could be on my way. Besides...Oliver approached me as a young man so I thought I owed him the courtesy of treating him like a young man.

Then I gave him the secret to the relationship universe. I told him that if he met someone for whom he was willing to do anything, sacrifice anything, made him feel capable of doing anything, who made him feel more comfortable with himself than he had ever felt before then he would walk around with the feeling that he had just hit a home run. I tried to convey to him the idea of what it was like to be with someone who made him feel like his best possible self and what a powerful gift that was. I also told him that is what is important to me...but that everybody is different and that with experience he will better understand whats important to him. I told him that I gave him an adult answer to an adult question but that as a teenager it was more than enough for him to like and care for someone.

I had realized that my son and I had our first conversation about love and that it was a more important conversation than then the ones about sex. And I think he got it and I think he understood that as a teenager there are some feelings that he should not worry about. He asked if I had ever felt this way before. I told him I felt this way about him, his brother, and his sister. Oliver told me that was not what he meant and I stopped him short as he was about to mention a name. Oliver realized he already knew the answer to his question. We spoke for a while longer. He then went of to bed. I remained in my chair to ponder.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rain...Again

Its raining...again. Of the last eight months this has been the cruelest month of all. After a long, cold, damp New England winter and a dreary, muddy spring, I had looked forward to a gloriously sunny June. I anticipated trips to the beach, bike rides, outside dinners, and hot nights sitting on my balcony enjoying homemade sangria. Instead I find myself craving pot roast, chili, and chicken soup.

So its monsoon season here in New England. Good weather days are measured by or not it rains and not whether the sun is out. If the reports from their mother are accurate I am going to have three full blown cases of cabin fever on my hands once my kids arrive here later in the day. I am not yet into my second week of summer vacation and I have already exhausted many of my indoor entertainment options. We have baked, played cards, played checkers, watched movies, painted, built birdhouses, and watched TV. I have access to an indoor pool but I think they are getting tired of that as well. I find that I am able to deal with cabin fever in January but not in June.

My parent pals find themselves in the same boat. A friend of mine whom I saw over the weekend has his kids engaged in gathering wood for his still (no typo here...he makes his own spirits...which is one of several reasons he is my friend). Another sends her kids out into the rain regardless of the weather (I would need a cattle prod to get my Oliver and Fiona out in lousy weather). I know a mom who is already in despair and another with whom I have not yet spoken to this summer whom I imagine is ready for the nuthouse. I am afraid if I drove past her house I would see a sign posted in the front yard "Two boys...Free to a Good Home."

Unfortunately, that is not a solution available to me as I have already tried it and failed to find buyers for my children as their mother insisted on being part of the deal. But seriously I think its time that somebody asks management to let up on the rain...at least for a week...or until I can sell my kids.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Its Not About The Fish

There are two children I know who would dearly love to go fishing with their dad. I know of their dad only by reputation but I find myself thinking of him from time to time. I hope he comes to understand that going fishing would not be about catching fish....it would be about spending time, away from the TV, with his children.

I don't mean to hold myself up as a great example of fatherhood in action as lately I have fallen short of the mark. However, I know my kids have their own unique needs for particular types of attention. For an example, what would work for Aidan my not work for Fiona or Oliver. With this in mind, I strive to engage my kids on terms that would enrich all of our lives. In this I fail almost as often as I succeed but I think the effort is almost as important as the results.

There is a lovely little pond near our home. Surrounded by parkland and modest homes, this pond is stocked with rainbow trout and is a favorite destination for casual anglers and afternoon fisherman. This pond, I have found, is my Aidan's favorite thing about where we live. He and I went fishing one afternoon last week. For almost two hours we stood on the bridge that transverses the pond and cast our lines. During that time we talked about school, baseball, fish, and cars. While we had a few nibbles we did not catch any fish. To my surprise, Aidan was not at all disappointed. He told me that going to the pond was not about the fish. My Aidan told me that he likes that we have a place to hang out and talk, that it was a chance for him to practice casting, and that he enjoyed being with me.

Lately, parenting has felt like work. I am coach, psychologist, playmate, cook, maid, ATM machine, mother, and father to my kids. With summer time here and the pace of life slowed, I hope I can better listen to my kids when that tell me that its not about the fish, that is about the time we have together.