Tag Archives: family

Puerto Ricans and Ass Kickings

When I was 7 years old my family and I moved to a neighborhood on the South side of Atlanta. The first two kids I was introduced to were a big black boy who lived across the street named Courtney and a chubby Puerto Rican named Hector. We respected Courtney because he was a foot taller and 50 lbs heavier than the rest of us. We made fun of Hector because he had a big head and always smelled like barbecue sauce.  

My first fight was with Hector. He kicked my ass in front of the entire neighborhood. I remember refusing to fight while the “big kids” urged him to slam me down a nearby hill. He obliged and I tumbled down my neighbors lawn.  After a brief tumble down the rocky ledge the fight was over. My shirt was stretched and stained. My knees and elbows were battered. When the show was over I went home.

When my Mom saw my stained clothes and beaten body she was furious. Her “baby” had been beaten up by a “bully”.  She embarrassed me further by confronting Hector while I stood by her side staring at the ground. Hector held his chin high while my mother cursed him. “Never lay another hand on my child!”  The verbal abuse from the neighborhood boys stood as a constant reminder of the incident. 

The whole experience was terrible, but I vowed to never lose another fight again. My response was to publicly beat the hell out of Hector whenever the opportunity presented itself.  There were many, many opportunities.

That beating and the subsequent retaliatory ass-kickings I handed out taught me a lot about life and how to be tough. But mostly those childhood poundings remind me of how hard it can be to be a kid. 

The funny thing is Hector was my best friend. I cried when we moved. 

Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 3

When I was a kid we struggled to pay the bills, but my Dad was a crafty guy. He refused “real” work, but was king when it came to unorthodox ways to come by a buck. One of those unorthodox ways involved 1000 cassette tapes.

Derek gave my Dad two boxes of cassette tapes – Hip-hop albums. I have no idea why my Dad accepted such a gift, but he has never been one to refuse free stuff. No matter how strange or possibly stolen that “free” stuff might be. So in our damp garage set 1000 cassette tapes for what must have been years.

Then came the day. Sitting in the kitchen one evening our lights went to dark. My Dad peaked out of the window and waited for the technician to leave. Our power bill hadn’t been paid for months, but my Dad was just smart enough to know how to turn our meter back on. This time was different – the power company placed a tamper-proof lock over our power meter. With a note: “Please pay your overdue balance.”

After a day or two without power we had enough. The food in our refrigerator had become sour – and made the house smell like death, the Georgia heat was becoming too much to bear, and showers without hot water was the last straw. My Dad decided to pay. He devised a scheme.

The Scheme

My Mother and I sat in front of local retailers and asked for donations, any donation, in exchange for a cassette tape. Myself, an 8 year old kid and my Mother, a cripple in a wheel chair. We even had t-shirts from an old church youth group we had attended years before. The fact that the cassette tapes were riddled with vulgarities like “The Bitch is Back” written in bold letters on the front – didn’t seem to bother anyone. The donations flowed and our pockets filled.

Sometime people would give $1, sometimes $10. Sometimes the store manager would get suspicious and kick us out of their parking lot for soliciting. No one ever called the cops on a kid and a lady in a wheel chair though. The plan was perfect.

I even got my cut of the cash. Even though I was embarrassed – the thought of helping my parents pay the bills and earning $20 seemed too good to pass up. In reality what my Father had us doing was immoral, sad, and fucked up – but in a lot of ways that was my childhood. Lessons learned in the strangest ways – lessons that will stick with me forever.

My Daughter

Now that I’m having a little girl of my own I wonder how she will learn these same lessons? I wonder how she will learn what it feels like to truly contribute to the family and feel proud of that? I wonder how she will learn to appreciate electricity, paid bills, and hot showers? I wonder if she will ever really appreciate what it feels like to humble yourself, to give up your pride, to help your family. I wish I could grant her that knowledge without that experience – but I don’t think I can.

Read Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 2.

Why Women Earn Less than Men

Do men really earn more than women? Is that because of discrimination? I don’t think so – at least not in the way we think.

For example, my wife is an art teacher and recently accepted a part time job because we are having our first child. In contrast, I was just promoted and have a full time business consultant job. I don’t think this is marketplace discrimination, but rather expectations of gender roles we have accepted.

So is their discrimination in the workplace? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is the gender roles some people are unhappy about.

Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 2

We had all sort of people in and out of my house as a kid. My parents graciously accepted almost every type of person in their home (for better or worse). I remember at a young age my Father associating with men of all races, backgrounds, creeds, and otherwise good or bad morally acceptable characters. All of this had an effect on me. Some good and some bad. But there is no doubt that my experiences did two things:

1. Eliminated naivety
2. Gave me a unique sense of culture

Crazy Stuff

One day I remember clearly. There was a POUNDING on our front door. It was our neighbor begging my dad for my” urine. He had probation and a random urine test – “needed clean piss”. I was reluctant and a little embarrassed, but gave it too him and kept him out of jail – In the end I was obliged to do so – proud even. Looking back I can hardly believe I was ever in such a situation.

Another time I remember a guy opening a -full of drugs on our coffee table. He called me over and explained which bags were “nickels, dimes, and quarter” bags of marijuana – and how much each cost. He even let me smell “how sweet” his best product smelled. I thought it all seemed pretty normal.

Good Stuff

There are good memories too though. I remember my dad stopping to give a rugged looking black man a hand to change his tire. That black man looked at me and said “your daddy’s a good man, son.” I agreed. I remember when I was in middle school and my Father let two “illegals” from Guatemala live in our guest bedroom for almost a year. They were good men and taught me Spanish. ( I think part of my love for Central and South America is directly because of that experience.) He did it just because “they were good men trying to feed their families” and “couldn’t help where they were born”. Those are the lessons in morality and kindness that I think about often.

To this day the lessons I learned via my parents’ associations are second nature to me. For example, I have the uncanny ability to almost instantly judge a man’s character – despite his outward appearance. Also, I remain open minded to various opinions and cultural experiences. And, in general, I find that I am not at all racist (or any other “ist” for that matter). In fact, I love foreigners and learning about their culture. I have no doubt that is due to the type of household I grew up in.

Becoming a Dad

In less than six months I’ll be a Dad too. I hope I can incorporate these lessons into my child’s life – without the negativity. But can you really have these type of lessons without the heartache? Part of me thinks probably not. It’s probably a lot like trying to learn about love from a book. So, I wonder if these are ideas and lessons I will never be able to teach my child?

Read Part 1.

Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 1

Some of my favorite memories are hiking through the woods as a kid. My Dad and I would put soil in a bucket, capture a few worms, and take our smallest fishing poles with us. The poles were no more than a couple of feet long, but they were perfect for us.

My dad would park the car by the road and we would walk into the woods until we found a creek. “Creek fishin” we called it. We’d find these little “fishing holes” in the creek-side. A fishing hole is any area in the water that’s darker than the rest of the water. That means the water is deeper there (and what the fish like). We’d throw our hooks in the water and in a few seconds we’d have a tiny bass or brim on the end of our hook. If nothing found our bait worth eating, we’d waste no time, reel our hooks in and hike to the next fishing hole.

These are some of the memories I have of childhood. And in spite of all of the shit my Dad and I have been through in the past – these are the memories I try to keep with me. Even when I hate the man and have resigned to forgetting him completely – I beckon back to these memories. Ultimately, I think they are the memories that define my relationship with my Father. In a strange way – even when I choose to ignore it – those are the things he did right. Just a day in the woods fishing with your Dad.

Now that fatherhood is approaching in my own life I have been thinking more and more about those little things that both my parents did right. How those good things ultimately left me with enough confidence and desire to be the man I am today.

It’s almost incredible to me how a day of good can overshadow so much bad. How a little effort and encouragement can be spread so thin and make all the difference in who one becomes as a person. It’s a lesson I hope I can implement as a Father too.

Read Part 2.

I’m going to be a Dad!

All week my wife complains about having sore breasts. No big deal. Boobs get sore, right? She skips her period. Maybe it’s stress. A lot is going on at work for her – the end of the year for teachers can be rough. I’m not taking this seriously – I’ve heard it all before.

It’s Friday night and the wife walks in wearing a skimpy little number. Provoking me. Like an adolecent teen I jump at the chance for some lovin’. Uh, oh – awesome sex during what is supposed to be “that  time of the month”? Okay, I finally admit, this is getting serious.

I’m traveling for the next week. I have to know. Is there a little parasitic person in her belly soaking up nutrients? I WANT TO KNOW! This leads us to the midnight trip for pregnancy tests.

We read the instructions carefully. Too carefully. So carefully that it starts to seem complicated. We throw the instructions away. Pee on a stick – easy enough. Wait two minutes.

“Holy Shit, is that two pink lines?”

Buy second test – this time digital.

“Holy Shit! Is that a YES?”

Second test confirms pregnancy. Wow. I mean WOW. I’m going to be a Dad!

Game Changer

As you can imagine, I have a whole lot to talk about. Coming soon.

Why does my brain have so much to tell me at One in the morning?

What is it about trying to fall asleep that instantly sends my brain into hyper-drive. My thoughts rush through my brain at a million miles a second as I come to realizations, have brilliant epiphanies, and relive memories I haven’t thought about in years.

I cam to the realization that I am a dying species. I am the last of the human race that is likely to remember what it is like to write a research paper by hand and to have done said research from an encyclopedia.

I grew up in a house that didn’t have a computer until I was in high school. Since I didn’t have much experience or desire to use the computer I wrote all of my papers by hand. It was obviously inefficient, but we didn’t have a printer and something about hand written papers just felt right.

My senior year of high school literature my teacher assigned us a 10 page paper.  I remember writing several drafts, starting over, and starting over again. I must have written 100 pages. I doubt anyone younger than me will ever know what that’s like. They will take the delete button for granted.

These thoughts quickly lead me down the rabbit whole of my consciousness…

I remember my high school computer class. I remember making power point presentations that forced us to use every feature. I remember spending hours carefully crafting a power point about a car I thought was cool – huge rims and all. Just reliving little moments like that remind me how immature I was when I was 16.

Then I think of moments of adversity. Like the effort I put into sports and making good grades. I see the moments that built character and the tough spots that in retrospect probably shaped my thinking for life. I remember being a leader on the wrestling mat, I remember going another minute when I didn’t think I could. I remember beating a guy no one thought I could.

Still can’t sleep…

What kind of man do I want to be? I read an article today that said that a 75 year Harvard research study showed that relationships were the key to happiness. Good relationships. Do I have that?

Maybe I should work harder on having better relationships. I’m going hiking with Holden tomorrow. That’s good. I need to maintain that relationship. I haven’t spoken to my Mom in almost a month. I need to do better there. I haven’t spoken to a lot of people. Maybe I should make a list of people to call or email every week – just to maintain those relationships.

I’m getting older and I don’t know what’s really important anymore. I used to be so sure. When I was in middle school starting on the football team was all that mattered. In high school it was more of the same. Good grades, good athlete, wrestling, football, college, girls…pretty straight-forward.

College was easy enough. Get a degree, get a job, drink a lot of beer. Pretend to know more than you do. Check, check, and double check.

Now here I am approaching five years into full-blown adulthood and I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t believe in any personal God to throw my problems to. I am starting to understand the importance of family, but I’m not sure I have family worth investing the energy on. I have a great wife, a few great friends, and a career.

To be honest everything is great. Great – accept – I have that unsatisfied feeling in my gut sometimes. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s just that I always set my expectations so, so high. So high, in fact, that I’m not even sure where to go. I don’t know what’s next. Hints a guy blogging at 1 o’clock in the morning instead of sleeping.

Thoughts on Family and Happiness

Family, for me, is a conundrum.

On one hand I am fairly positive that family – if you dedicate yourself to it – is probably the most rewarding and fulfilling thing about life. On the other hand – opening yourself up to a group of people takes a lot of work and effort. There is love and belonging, but you are also subject to heartache, anger, and betrayal. There is unparalleled love and comfort- then there is your mom committing suicide and your dad’s methamphetamine addiction.

Family is Good

For example, some of my best memories are of when I was a chubby kid running around with my cousins during the holidays. I remember going to my Grandmother’s house and the entire family circled around the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I remember the butterflies in my stomach the night before because I couldn’t wait to eat serving after serving of home-cooked-southern-fried-everything. I remember the turkey and dressing, the potato salad, the sweet tea, the laughs, and the feeling of belonging. I remember my chubby face and bowl cut – never happier. There was no place on earth I belonged more.

Family can be a real bitch

In contrast I know all too well the feelings of betrayal and anger by those same bastards I call family. I remember the stressful Christmas’s when all I wanted is for my parents to get along. I remember the shit my childhood turned into. I think of the blame I lay on my Grandmother. I think of all the things that have resulted in long rants on this very blog.

Dichotomy

Then my thoughts turn to my wife. I see the amazing, almost disgusting, family she has. I feel such an awkward appreciation toward what they have. I see all the makings of true happiness and I am simultaneously annoyed by it.  Too many emotions my body has built no mechanism to deal with.

Dichotomy.

The most important thing in life and also the most painful – family. The decision to accept and forgive or to avoid and create new. Not knowing what to do – it makes you realize just how human you are, how fragile, even when you want to seem tough.

I’m not sure what makes a person truly happy in life, but the older I become the more I realize that family is an inevitable and necessary part of the equation. So in the end the only option is to embrace it. Embrace family.

But as smart as I think I am sometimes – I still have no idea how to go about it.

PeePaw on Dying

My wife’s “PeePaw” is 89 years old. Though I’ve barely spoken to him over the past decade I admire him. Once a year at Christmas parties or perhaps at a special event our paths cross and we exchange courtesies, but I’ve always known instinctively he was something special. One of the good ones, I guess.

This past Christmas our family gathered like always, but I could tell that something was different with PeePaw. He moved a little slower, his complexion wasn’t quite as vibrant, and it was evident he was in poor health. Having noticed this I even mentioned to my wife she should be sure to spend a little extra time with him – he may not make it to next Christmas.

The Call

Then, two nights ago my wife gets a phone call. PeePaw is in the hospital. The third such time since Christmas. He’s a strong old man with high spirits so death never seems to be able to take him. She is informed, like the other two times, this might be “it”. So she visits.

PeePaw’s spirits are high and he has no delusions regarding his impending death. He faces it and even jokes about wanting to eat nothing but cake – and does – because he’s going to die soon anyways. We talk about travel, which he informs us he and his wife of 70 years did a lot of in their youth.

He shares stories of WWII, travels in Peru, Guatemala, and his personal favorite – Switzerland. I’m amazed at the detail of his memory, the anecdotes and witty stories he shares. This man, perhaps lying in his death bed, shares stories of a life well lived.

PeePaw is a millionaire too. But I’ve not heard him share stories about his days in the office or growing his business (of which I have never heard him talk about, ever), but rather the highlights of his life are stories of exploration, adventure, good food, love and family.

PeePaw is a wise man.

Religion and The Power to Change

Today my Mother called me. I hesitated to answer the phone because – to be frank – her phone calls annoy me. She always seems a bit whiny and I can never listen to her go on for more than a few minutes. I usually pick up the phone and put up with it – for at least a few minutes – just because she’s my Mom.

A call about my Dad

The call goes something like this:

“Daddy really wants you to call him.” She has referred to him like that since I was a kid. “He’s off drugs and called me crying, he really wants you to call him.” I’m annoyed at this point – like going to church is someone’s free pass to sympathy and forgiveness.  I want actions – not a crutch used to help someone to feel less guilty!

“I know, I know. I’ll think about it.” I tell my mother I will consider calling my Father, but the truth is I won’t. I will not even entertain the idea. The phone works both ways and if God can miraculously get him off the methamphetamine then it can help him use the phone to call his son – this isn’t my job.

I get off the phone with my Mom as quickly as she called.

Change is happening everywhere, it seems

I tell my good friend Holden about what’s happened and he shares a similar story. He describes an experience that occurred just last weekend between he and his Father-in-Law (who he shares years of bad blood with).

Dude, I have a pretty fucking crazy story of a similar nature of my own.

So, I told you my father in law has been going to the church of tongues, being ordained as a minister… etc.

Well, last weekend I go to my wife’s grandmother’s house to get a shovel to do some yard work and her dad is back there with a truck, loading it up with old limbs and stuff.

He’s trying to lift a huge ass limb, so I get a hatchet and help him cut it up, load it up, etc. We just exchange small talk and pleasantries. We’re civil to each other.

Then I ask him if he needs help unloading all that shit at the landfill. He says no but says we need to talk.

He proceeds to apologize for every shit thing he’s ever done to me, thanks me for taking good care of his daughter, applauds my work ethic and getting the MBA even with a kid, preggo wife and full time job. Apologizes about everything, tells me he loves me, hes proud of me…

I return all the same gesture, we shake hands and that was that. He didn’t say anything to anyone, I didn’t say anything to the wife, nothing has been said about it since..

I was floored. WTF. Wow. If the attitude sticks, I will forever be proven wrong about the guy. Amazing.

Religion Allows Change

Can religion really change a man? If so, how?

I think there is no doubt that religion allows for change. Especially for the stubborn or prideful (aren’t we all…). However, I doubt the solution is a malevolent one. I mean I somehow doubt the grace of God or Jesus’ hand touches a man’s soul granting serenity. That’s all hocus-pocus to me – but I’m being cynical.

Rather than the mystic – I think the change religion grants a man is more natural, more obvious, and surly as equally effective. My theory is religion gives a prideful man an opening to change his bad habits without losing face to himself, his friends, and family. It give a guy an out, a second chance, a clean slate – and a chance to feel okay about it!

Maybe Christianity really is about forgiveness – like it says in the bible. Except in reality I don’t think it is God or Jesus who is doing the forgiving – rather it allows you to forgive yourself and allows your family to look beyond your mistakes and forgive you too. That is very positive and very powerful.

Maybe for those of us who aren’t religious we can learn an important lesson about the power to truly forgive our fellow man and ourselves. Almost all major religions teach these same lessons – To lose one’s ego and to forgive – I think they’re on to something.