Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Memories Ten and Nine: Brad Learns Lessons From Sports

     Brad has been calling more often lately.  He sent me a text of something he found on the internet that answers how much wood a woodchuck could chuck.  I sent him a link to a video that replaces Link in the Zelda games with Sonic.  We're having thirty and forty minute conversations about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Brad has already learned the male method of emotional communication.  We're telling each other we miss each other without getting all mushy and actually saying it.  Ten more days.
Brad Breaks His First Bone
     I picked Brad up from the afterschool program and he was limping a little.  They said he jumped off the monkey bars and landed wrong and may have sprained his ankle.  I watched how he walked on it with just a limp and no grimace of pain and thought it wasn't even a sprain just a twisted ankle.  That night his mom watched him limp around the house and she concurred with my assessment.  There's a reason the teachers and Brad's parents aren't doctors.
     The next morning his foot was very swollen and his mom took him to the doctor.  It turned out his foot was fractured longways across the top of his arch.  My first reaction as a father was to be proud that he had been walking on it without complaining.  They had him use crutches for a few days and then put him in a walking boot.  The walking boot probably wasn't the best idea.
     It was the middle of his first flag football season.  He was bummed out about not being able to play so I kept taking him to practice figuring he could watch and learn and at least see his friends.  That probably wasn't the best idea either.  When he was on crutches it was okay but once he got the walking boot on I looked up halfway through practice and he was out on the field.  The coach looked at me and smiled and shrugged and I smiled back and shrugged.  We're guys and it was football so playing through pain was a good thing.  It'll sound like a stupid thing to do to a lot of people out there but someday he's going to wake up and his back will hurt and his head will ache and he'll still have to drag his ass into work so he might as well start learning how to do it early.  I let him practice and told him not to tell his mother.
     He practiced for a month in his walking boot and even played in his last game a little.  Of course, his mother found out but I convinced her everything would be okay.  The one person I didn't want to find out, though, was his doctor because I didn't want to listen to a lecture so I told Brad not to say anything when we went to his last appointment.  The doctor walked in, looked at Brad, and said, "I know your foot is okay.  My son is on your football team and I've been watching you practice on it for the last month.  You're a tough kid."  Then he looked at me and winked.  The doctor was a guy, too.
Brad Wrestles With Losing
     That same year was when Brad started wrestling.  It didn't go well at first.  He liked it but he joked around and talked in practice and didn't do very well.  He always handled losing okay in other sports but in wrestling it's one on one and he couldn't blame anyone but himself.  After he lost his fifth match he was crying and I didn't show any sympathy.  I gave him a lecture about how if he paid attention in practice and worked his ass of he would get better.
     My tough guy act worked and at the next two practices he was focused and working harder than I'd ever seen him work at anything.  I was proud of my little guy but worried too. If the work didn't payoff with a win at his next wrestling meet the whole thing could backfire on me.  He deserved a win, too, after his hard work and I wanted it for him more than I've ever wanted anything for myself.
     I had heard my father tell stories about pacing in nervousness watching us boys play sports and about how it was more exhausting but rewarding watching us than playing himself ever had been and I'd always shrugged them off.  Now I knew what he meant.  As Brad shook hands with his opponent my hands were shaking.  Things didn't start off well.  Brad was taken down very quickly and I started to curse under my breath in between screaming encouragement.  Brad escaped and stood up and took his opponent down and my heart soared.  At least, it felt like there were wings on my heart and it was trying to fly out of my chest.
     The first period ended and Brad was ahead on points but my hands were still shaking and my throat was raw from screaming.  Brad started on top and maintained control for the whole second period.  He scored a few points for near falls and was comfortably ahead on points.  I didn't let myself get too hopeful, though. His opponent would start on top in the final period and still have a good chance to pin him.
     The buzzer sounded and just that quick Brad was on his back.  Inside I'm screaming "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit" outside I'm yelling, "fight out of it Brad keep fighting."  He didn't hear me because when you're wrestling you go to this place where you don't really hear anything but he did what I said anyway.  He fought out of the pin attempt and kept struggling.  His opponent had tied him on points now and that worried me.  I could tell Brad was giving it his all and wouldn't have any energy left for a sudden death period.  I watched the clock nervously as it ticked under twenty seconds.  Then suddenly Brad slipped free and stood up. That's one point for an escape and it broke the tie.
     The last few seconds ticked off the clock, the buzzer sounded, the ref raised Brad's hand, and I collapsed on the bleachers.  Once when I wrestled in high school I had been so exhausted after a match that I actually fell on the bench instead of sitting on it.  I was more exhausted than that after Brad's match.  Still, the biggest part of parenting is just continuing to do it even when you're exhausted so I went down to meet Brad as he came off the mat.  His mother and I hugged him and told him how proud we were of him and as big as his smile was ours were a little bigger.
     "I won, Dad," he said, "You said if I worked hard and paid attention in practice I would get better and you were right."
     I smiled as I hugged him again, breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself about my dad, "You were right too, Dad.  You were right too."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Memory Eleven:Brad Goes to Florida

     Twelve days until I pick up Brad and this will be memory eleven.  I'm trying to stay a day ahead because on that last day I'm not going to be worried about writing a blog post.  I'm going to be worried about going to get Brad.  On a personal note this was a dateless weekend and I was able to get a lot of things done that I'd been putting off.  I didn't like it, not one bit.
Car Rides, Alligators, and Ocean
     I should start out by saying that I have a lot of memories of our trip to Florida that I won't be talking about because they don't pertain to Brad.  Sherri, Brad, and I went to Florida for mine and Sherri's tenth wedding anniversary and it was beautiful, probably the last beautiful time in our marriage.  She was pregnant when we came home but we lost the baby almost as soon as we found out about it and....and this has nothing to do with Brad so we're moving on.
     The car ride down to Naples went pretty smooth most of the way.  I napped at the beginning and then made the majority of the drive overnight while the wife and kid were asleep.  It's always better that way.  We stopped in Tampa, Florida for breakfast and Brad ate like well Brad.  Then Sherri took over the driving and I expected to grab another nap.  I closed my eyes as she hit the interstate and listened to the sound of the automatic transmission not shifting out of first gear.  What a way to start a vacation.
     I freaked out a lot.  Sherri freaked out a little.  Brad, once we assured him that the vacation was going to happen still, didn't freak out at all.  Seriously, we had to walk from the mechanic to the rental car place, drive all over Tampa to find open car dealerships on a Sunday, test drive stuff, do the paperwork, return the rental car, and hit the road again and this five year old boy was just as calm as can be like this was the way vacations always went.  Of course, it wasn't thousands of dollars of his money that had been spent either.
     We made it to Naples, though, and the next morning we hit the beach.  I had wondered how Brad would react seeing the ocean for the first time.  Who he be scared at the size of it?  Would he be in awe of the natural wonders?  Would he be distracted by the young women in bikinis like his father was?  On first glimpse he didn't react any of those ways.  He saw a giant swimming pool and was ready to dive right in.  I had to physically restrain him while Sherri applied suntan lotion.
     That first day we frollicked.  There was water gun fights and seashell collecting and sneaky squeezes when Brad wasn't looking.  Brad learned to navigate and love the waves. I've never spent so much time in the water myself.  After the stress of the day before it was just what I needed, what we all needed, but I was also still pretty tired.  I was ready to leave several times but I would look at Brad and his eyes would be pleading to stay and I would look to Sherri for support and see the same thing in her eyes and I did what any man would do in that situation.  I sucked it up and did what my wife and kid wanted.  We ate sandy sandwiches for lunch and would've skipped supper if it had been up to Brad.  We were your typical first day in Florida tourists I guess; pruney and sunburnt and loving it.
     My friend Pat, who was letting us use his condo, and Sherri's sister and her family wound up visiting us that week and we had fun with them.  We shopped and dined and found a babysitter for Brad one night and drank but still we hit the beaches over and over.  I got burnt out on the ocean and as more of a distraction than anything one day suggested we drive down Alligator Alley to, of course, see some alligators.  When we first saw some Sherri was scared to even let Brad out of the car.  When his uncle was throwing bread to fifteen or sixteen alligators at one time, though, there was no holding that boy back.  We stood at the top of the bank and watched these scary creatures look so still and calm until it was time to snap those massive jaws with all those teeth at each other.  For me it was an awe inspiring sight.  Brad, well I believe that boy would've swam with those alligators if I would've let him. He's always had a short supply of fear.
     We had taken two cars that day and I wanted to hike in the woods some. Brad, though, rode back with the rest of them to go to the beach again.  That's how strong the lure of the ocean was for him.  He turned down hiking with his dad.  So I went hiking with my nephew, heard a frog that sounded like a pig, and ate with him at a Cuban restaurant and argued over who got the seat that was perfect for looking at the waitress's ass.  The coolest thing my nephew and I did, though, was stop at a little roadside tourist trap that was an animal exhibit.  My nephew got to hold snakes and a baby alligator, got to stand on the back of a ginormous turtle, and got to have various birds sit on his shoulders.  Of course, later that night when I showed the pictures to Brad he wanted to go there and I promised him we would before we left Florida.
     Our last full day in Florida Brad and I went back out to this tourist trap.  Sometimes it's best just to let the pictures tell the story.

     That evening, our last in Florida, we went to the pier in Naples.  We walked the pier, excitedly ran back and forth for glimpses of dolphins, and watched a beautiful Florida sunset.  Then we were leaving the beach for the last time or so we thought.  Brad had other ideas.  He wasn't in swimming trunks but he didn't care.  He was in the ocean faster than I could grab him.  So we spent our last evening in Florida swimming by moonlight for a few hours.
     My friend Pat rode back with us the next day and him and Brad talked and talked and talked.  They talked for a while about the Simpsons and Family Guy but even they two of them couldn't talk about television shows for more than a couple hours straight.  So they ended up talking about science and politics and my friend was surprised at what Brad would talk about and listen to and try to understand at only five.  He ended up telling everyone at work that my son was already smarter than me.  That's my friends for you.  When Brad finally fell asleep that car ride my friend said, "Great, now who's going to keep me up?" and promptly fell asleep himself.  I'm glad I was driving.
     Brad's most remembered quip from that ride was after I joked about driving them all into a tree.  Brad said, "Wait a minute.  That's okay for you guys.  You're all old but I'm too young to die.  I've got my whole life ahead of me."  That's my son for you.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Memories Thirteen and Twelve: Brad in the Woods and Learning About Girls

     Brad called me this morning on his way to Atlanta just to rub it in that he was going to a Cardinals game and I wasn't.  The Cardinals lost but I'm sure he still had fun.  Still, I'll give the little shit a hard time about letting the Cards lose the next time I talk to him.  Can you feel the love?  Anyway, thirteen days until I see my favorite tormentor again so onto memory number thirteen.  Of course, you can use the menu on the right hand side of the page to read any of the series you might have missed.  Twenty and fourteen seem to be the favorites so far.
Brad Is As Amazing As Nature
     We spend a lot of time in the woods.  It would be stupid to live as close to as many natural wonders as we do and not take advantage of it.  Ferne Clyffe, Giant City, Garden of the Gods, Jerry's backyard; we don't care where it is as long as there's trees or some rocks or at least some mud.  He's a boy with a man inside.  I'm a man with a boy inside.  There's brush to trample through and tracks to follow and boulders to climb and dirt.  The dirt is the most important part.  If we come out of the woods with our clothes clean.... well, I don't know what that would mean because we've never come out of the woods with our clothes clean.
     From almost as soon as he could walk we've been walking in the woods.  I always like to let him lead.  A hike in the woods for a boy should be all about discovery and you don't discover things by someone else pointing them out to you.  Also, this way when he gets lost I'm able to teach him lessons about finding his way in the woods.  Since he was small I've also been teaching him what little I know about animal tracks and deer signs and such. Right now he still thinks I'm kind of smart but it won't be long and he'll be teaching me.     He's shared my disdain for hiking paths for as long as I can remember.  Those man made trails are just a starting point.  It's never long before he veers off of them into the thick of the woods and I follow behind him with a smile on my face.  That isn't to say he just trounces through the forest without paying attention, though.  He often points out turtles and frogs to me and when he was in kindergarten he told me that we should never step on baby trees because, "little things can grow up to be great things."  I told him he had no idea how right he was.
      Rock climbing is in his blood, too.  I've been doing it as long as I can remember and something to climb is the first thing he looks for when we go for a hike.  I'm talking real rock climbing, too, no ropes or harnesses.  Just bare hands and rocks.  When he was four we made our first trip to Garden of the Gods and I began teaching him about finding handholds and footholds and finding the right way up a rock.  If you've never been there you should know that a fall at Garden of the Gods could be a sixty or eighty feet fall.  There were actually complete strangers scared of what I was letting my four year old do.  I should have told them to mind their own business but I just laughed at them.  For her part Sherri just said that if he fell I might as well throw myself of the cliffs too because she was going to kill me.  I just laughed at her, too.  Brad was never in any danger.
     Now that he's eight it's a different story.  I often explain boys his age to people this way; if there's not a chance of them getting hurt or hurting someone else than it probably isn't that much fun.  I'm usually joking when I say that but when we went to Garden of the Gods earlier this year I realized it's not as funny as I thought it was.  Brad went from giving other people heart attacks to giving me heart attacks.  I'd say his confidence exceeds his skills but the problem is it really doesn't it.  He's a damn good rock climber and he knows it so I didn't tell him not to do anything I was just constantly telling him to wait for me.  It was exhilarating in the way that only watching your child accomplish something he enjoys can be.
     A few days before he went we had been discussing books and he had wondered why I read Stephen King and enjoy being scared.  I told him that being scared can make you smile afterwards and feel more alive.  All day long during our rock climbing I reinforced this by telling him how much he was scaring me but pointing out how much fun I was having.  He didn't really get it, though, probably because he wasn't scared a bit.  Then there came a spot where I had to lift him over a gap in the rocks so he could get where he wanted to go so I did.  For the briefest of moments he was hanging sixty feet in the air from nothing but my arms and I felt him tense up in fear.  Then when I sat him down safely on the other side of the gap he laughed and smiled like a maniac.  I looked at him and asked if he understood know why I liked to be scared sometimes and he nodded.
     Here's a video I made of him on that trip to Garden of the Gods.  I'm not as out of shape as I sound in the video.  This was near the end of the day and my adrenaline had been maxed out for hours thanks to his daring ways so I was short of breath and energy and loving every minute of it.
Brad Wears A Tie And Learns About Women
     I decided to throw this one in here because it's short but it's one of my favorite memories of Brad.  He started tearing his room and the laundry room apart one day and his mom and I asked him what he was doing.  He explained that he was looking for his tie because he wanted to wear it to school the next day.  I laughed and asked him what her name was.  His face got red and he hid in his room.  I found his tie and took it into him.
     "How did you know Dad?" he asked.
     "Unless he has to wear one for work," I explained, "there's only three reasons a guy wears a tie.  A wedding, a funeral, or because he wants to impress a woman and you aren't going to a wedding or a funeral tomorrow."
     He smiled shyly and looked down at his feet.  He never did tell me her name.
     Speaking of Brad and girls, on one of the last days of school this year they had a day where they did nothing but play on the playground.  Assuming he had a great day I gave him hell about how I had to work hard all day while he just got to goof off.  He told me that his day had been pretty hard too.
     "What do you mean your day was hard?" I said, "Oh, poor you, you had to play on the playground all day."
     "I spent the whole day with a girl I like Dad," he told me.
     "And you didn't have a good time?"
     "I did," he said, "but I had to listen to her talk all day.  She told me what she had for breakfast and what she ate last night and what all her friends were doing and what movies she liked and she talked and talked and talked."
     I, of course, was laughing my ass off.
     "You aren't supposed to laugh Dad," he whined, "You're supposed to tell me how to make a girl stop talking."
     "When you figure that one out, son," I said, "let me in on the secret."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Memory Fourteen: My Two Brads

     This memory is a little out of order, as if anything is in order, but a drive I took tonight made me remember that one of my favorite memories of Brad is actually from before he born.  I drove to Cape Girardeau, Missouri tonight for gas and smokes and I guess the loneliness of the backroads, the steady drizzle of rain, and where I was driving jogged my memory.  My best friend, Brad's namesake, lived in Cape for most of his life.
Telling Brad Brad's Name
     I knew before I even popped the question to Sherri what our son would be named.  I told her it was non-negotiable.  I had known Bradley Lepage since first grade and I was going to name my son after him.  He was my best friend and he meant so much to me that I wanted to honor him in that way but that wasn't my only reason for the name.  I wanted to honor my son by naming him after the best man I knew.
     Guys speak an emotional language women don't understand.  It's embarrassing and uncomfortable for us when emotions are naked and open and women make it worse by making a big deal out of it when we do show emotions.  So guys say everything by saying very little or nothing.  A gesture, a man hug, a fist bump, a shared smirk, a simple phrase, things like that are how guys show emotions to each other.  If someone asked me if I ever tell my guy friends I love them I'd say all the time even though I don't think I've ever said the words to them.  The thing is my guy friends would agree, too.
     Still, being a guy, I sometimes forget that some things have to be said.  Sherri didn't argue with me about the name.  She just asked if I had ever told Brad about my plans.  I told her of course I hadn't.  I would be able to tell him someday when I sat a baby named Brad on his lap.  Brad had muscular dystrophy, though, and as the years passed it became apparent that he would be gone before that baby boy arrived and Sherri decided we should tell him about it.  Sherri was wrong about a lot of things in our time together but she was right about a lot of things, too.
     "Brad we want you to know how much you mean to us," Sherri said with his arm around him, "If we ever have a son we're going to name him Bradley after you."
     There are a lot of cliches about beautiful smiles but if you took all of them and combined them into one mega-cliche they wouldn't come close to adequately describing Brad's smile that day.  He looked at me and said, "Really," and I was too emotional to do anything but nod.  Being a guy he understood and nodded back at me.  I waited a moment until I trusted myself not to cry and then I sat down beside him.
     "But why?" he turned to me and asked.
     I searched for a way to say it.  Brad meant the world to me.  Brad was everything.  If I raised a son that turned out to be half the man Brad was I know I've done a damn good job as a parent.  It was hard to imagine bringing a child into the hard and cruel world we live in but Brad was the reason I could.  He was proof that there are people worth living for and evidence that a child brought into this world can be a good thing for the world too.  Us being guys, though, we lacked the ability to talk to each other like that.
     "You're my best friend, Brad," I said instead as I put my arm around him.
     He looked at me, both of us with tears in our eyes that we wouldn't let fall in front of each other, and I knew that he knew what I meant.
     I hope he always knew what he meant to me.  I didn't say it but I showed it.  I helped beat up kids that picked on him in first grade.  I almost always dropped anything I had going to hangout and wrestle with him.  As a goalie on our soccer team I always made sure to cover for the mistakes he made as a defenseman because of his disability and I always gave him the credit when the other team didn't score.  I was by his side during his dad's funeral. When he moved to Cape Girardeau I did my best, with a lot of help from his family and mine, to still see him as much as possible.  When he finally succumbed to being confined in a wheelchair it was no big deal to me.  We went through puberty together playing video games and talking about boobs.  I included him in as many activities as I could and was only friends with people that would include him too.  I was honored to have him as my best man in my wedding.  As he health declined I would help him eat and help him drink when I saw him and I never made a big deal out of it.  During one hospital stay when I asked him how bad it had been and he answered bad I sat with him and kept him company and comforted him.  I'm pretty sure he knew.
     The cool thing is that Bradley Murray knows how much Bradley Lepage meant to me.  We talk about him quite a bit and he gets it.  He's only eight but he gets it.  Whenever I say that Brad Lepage and I use to do something together Brad Murray suddenly becomes ten times more interested in whatever it is.  I think he does it because he sees how it makes me smile.  That's the kind of boy he is and that means that so far he's living up to his name.
     On my way back from Cape tonight the rain stopped and I got to see a rainbow over the sun setting over a lake.  I guess this would have been comforting to some but it only made me sadder and lonelier.  I would say I wanted someone to share the sight with but that wouldn't be quite right.  I had been listening to country music and it's cavalcade of love songs on the radio but it wasn't a woman or any woman that I wanted to share the sight with.  I wanted to point the rainbow and the sunset out to one or both of my two Brads.
     I'm so happy there's only fourteen days to go until Brad gets home.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Seventeen Through Fifteen: Brad Learns About Math, Reading, and Earth

     I'm counting down the days until Brad comes home by sharing a memory of him for each day.  This post is numbers seventeen through fifteen, catching me up from yesterday and getting me a day ahead.  They all involve him learning and could have been grouped together but they're all distinct memories in my mind.  You can read previous entries in this series by using the menu on the side of the page. 

Brad Learns Math
     When Brad was just a baby I started counting whenever I would carry him up stairs.  One, two, three, four, five, six.  It was just a way to teach him counting and it worked.  It wasn't long after he was talking that he was counting each step with me.  Then he started counting things and I was one proud Daddy.  I would lay toys on the ground and point to them and say "one" and he would continue with two, three, four, five, six. I was prouder of this little thing crawling around on the carpet for his rudimentary counting than I'd ever been of myself for anything.
     This little head start in math continued and I introduced addition to him when he was only three.  He took to it like a Murray to food.  It became one of our car conversations. "Daddy, what's nine plus five?"  "Fourteen."  "Daddy, what's eleven plus seven?"  "Eighteen." "Daddy, what's three plus one?"  "You tell me."  Out would come the little fingers and he would count under his breath one, two, three..."Four, Daddy." "Good job buddy." Sometimes this would go on for an hour or more.
     It would try my patience, of course, but whenever it did I would recall a very early memory from my childhood.  I believe I was about four and I was outside in the yard watching my mom hang laundry.  I had just learned my directions right from left but I didn't understand that my right was always going to be my right and my left was always going to be my left no matter which way I turned.  Mom had explained it to me but I just didn't get it. So I would turn one way and ask Mom which was right and which was left.  She would answer and I'd turn another direction and ask.  Then she would answer and I would repeat it again and again.  I don't know how long this went on but in my memory it seemed to last for hours. The thing is my mom never got mad or frustrated.  She just kept answering the same question over and over and hanging and folding her laundry.  It's easy to get frustrated as a parent with the same question over and over but repetition is how children learn and whenever I got frustrated by toddler Brad I would always remember my mom with toddler me.  I wonder if Mom knew she was teaching me how to be a parent as she was teaching me my directions.
     As Brad entered school all the patience paid off.  He's always been ahead of his class in math.  Last year they had to do one hundred addition facts in five minutes and one hundred subtraction facts in five minutes and get more than ninety-five of them right to pass second grade.  Brad had these goals complete with months to spare and was on his way close to one hundred multiplication facts when the school year ended.  Watching him learn multiplication has been great.  I've been able to teach him all the tricks like anything times one is itself, anything times two is doubled, anything time five will end in a five or zero, anything times ten is the number with a zero behind it.  All that good stuff we take for granted.  When he understands one of these tricks his eyes light up and he says, "It's like a cheat code in video games."  I just laugh at the way his mind works and smile in wonder that it all started with counting while climbing steps.

Brad Gets Motivated To Read
     It was easy to teach Brad math but reading was a different beast.  I think I assumed that since it came naturally to me it would to him too.  He was always interested in stories but he always wanted me to read them to him.  Maybe I was just too good of a storyteller.  When I made him read on his own he would for a few minutes and then wander away.  When he entered kindergarten I knew he could read but I knew he wasn't at the level he needed to be or that I wanted him at.
     Things slowly improved in the first half of the school year but he was still behind his class when Christmas rolled around.  We knew it wasn't a question of intelligence as he was way ahead of his class in math so we asked him what was going on.  He said he just didn't like to read, he didn't see the point, and it was boring.  He couldn't have wounded his father more if he had announced he was a Cubs fan.
     I had an ace up my sleeve, though.  He wanted Nintendo's newest handheld system for Christmas.  Sherri and I discussed telling him Santa told us not to give it to him until he improved his reading but I had a better idea that wouldn't leave him disappointed on Christmas morning.  They had released a remake of one of the greatest video games of all time, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and since it was a very story heavy game made it the days before spoken voice on video games was normal there was lots of reading required in the game.  Santa got him his system he wanted and that game for Christmas.
     I hyped the game up to him.  I told him it was one of the greatest games of all time and that I remembered playing it for hours with my friend Brad.  I told him I would help him whenever he got stuck but that he would have to do all the reading in the game himself.  It took a bit for this to sink in as he would ask me to read stuff to him a lot the first couple of days but after I stuck to my guns and the story of the game sucked him in I could see him begin to enjoy the reading.  We beat the game in two months and by then end of the school year he was a grade level ahead in reading.  Now he loves reading as much as his dad does and I have Nintendo and the Legend of Zelda to thank for it.

Brad Knows Day From Night
     When Brad was five, in yet another car conversation, we got to talking about day and night.  One of my rules of thumb for parenting is to never underestimate what he can handle so in conversations like that I tend to answer above his level of understanding.  I explained to him how the earth tilts on axis and completes a rotation everyday and how it orbits around the sun and that's why there is day and night and why they last for different amounts of time in every season.  He listened quietly and asked a couple questions but it didn't seem like something that stuck.  It didn't bother me because it really was a bit much for a five year old. 
     Fast forward a year, and we're in a first grade parent teacher conference. The teacher is explaining how she knew Brad as a kindergartener and requested him in her first grade class and how she got what she asked for.  She said she loved having him in her class even if she wanted to hang him from the ceiling fan by his shoelaces sometimes.  She said it was his participation in class that made it all worth it even if sometimes he got a little advanced for first grade.
     I sort of dreaded what was coming next.  With my never underestimate what he can handle philosophy I had always let him watch things he shouldn't on television like the Simpsons and Family Guy.  I would just tell him the stuff he couldn't repeat and if he didn't understand something that he shouldn't understand until much older I would just tell him that I would tell him when he was older.  He accepted this and was always pretty good about not repeating what he shouldn't.  Still, it had always been an issue of contention between his mother and I and when his teacher said that I thought I was going to have to eat some major crow.
     Instead, his teacher tells us about how they were reading a book in class about day and night and she asked her students to tell her differences in day and night.  A few other students answered with things like one is dark and one is bright and the sun is out and the moon is out.  Then she called on Brad.  He stood up and started gesturing with his hands and explaining how the earth is tilted on an axis and makes a complete spin everyday and how it orbits the sun and that's why there is day and night and why they last for a different amount of time in different seasons.  I recalled our ten minute conversation from a year before that hadn't seemed to amount to much and wore my shit eating grin of fatherhood again.  I never know what is going to stick with him and when I might be teaching him something and that amazes me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Memory Eighteen: Bedtime With Brad

     I'm counting down the last twenty days until Brad comes home with twenty memories of him.  Twenty was my memory of the day he was born and you can see it by clicking here.  Nineteen was about his first word and how he's never stopped talking since then.  You can find that here.  This is the third post in the series.
Trying To Slee
     Bedtime with Brad has never been easy.  He's always battled sleep as if it's trying to steal some life from him.  He's a natural born night owl who enjoys being awake when no one else in the house is.  I won't even try to pretend that I don't know where he gets that from.
     When Sherri's maternity leave was over and she returned to work after Brad was born I worked midnights while watching our baby boy during the day.  It would've been hard enough but I was also going to school three days a week.  Obviously, I needed Brad to nap.  Of course, he never would without a fight.
     I learned quickly not to try to lay him in his crib.  His crib was a place to sat him after he was asleep.  I would feed him but that never made him sleepy.  Eating has always been an adrenaline rush for Brad.  I would try to play with him and wear him out but that's never worked for this Daddy.  Brad could always outlast me.  The old car ride trick would normally work well with baby Brad but I was often too tired to trust myself to drive.  I tried a few times to stick him in his playpen but he treated that place like a prison.  So the only option I was left with most days was laying him down beside me and hoping he slept.
     Most days he just didn't take a nap and I wouldn't get any sleep.  Daddy's eyes were too tempting when I took my glasses off to sleep.  He thought they were balls to be played with. If Daddy left his glasses on then the glasses were a target or my cheeks.  He loved to pull my hair as if I needed any help losing it.  When he laid down by Daddy it was as if he thought I was one big toy.
     So I would hold him and try to sing and rock him to sleep.  Anyone that has heard me sing knows that the only way that would work was if my singing hurt his ears so much he went to sleep just so he didn't have to hear it anymore.  I knew right away he had inherited his parents hearing troubles, though, because he actually liked my singing.  Baby Brad liked everything Daddy did.
     I'd rock him in my arms and sing, "Let me tell you a secret about a father's love..." and he would smile.  I'd hold him and sing, "Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee..." and his eyes would get heavy.  I'd lay him on my chest and sing, "Take me out to the ballgame, take me out to the crowd..." and he'd be asleep. Then I'd lay him beside me, with my arms around him, close my eyes, and poke, there'd be a little finger in my eye.
     So I would give up on sleep and lay on the floor and play with him.  I'd read him a book and play with his infant toys with him and roll a ball back and forth across the floor.  I'd enjoy my baby boy even though I was barely keeping my eyes open and I was watching the clock for when Sherri came home.  Then I'd sit him in my lap and listen to him coo at me and I would coo back and he would fall asleep.  I'd silently mouth, "Thank you," and slowly stand up.  I would gently lay him in his crib, take my glasses off, lay down, close my eyes, almost fall asleep, and Brad would start screaming.
     Most days when Sherri got home from work and asked me how my day was I would just hand her our baby, smile tiredly, and flop into bed.  The shit eating grin of fatherhood is my favorite Dad expression but my most common one is the exhausted smile.  Still, I miss those days when he wanted to play with Dad so bad that there was no way he would let me sleep. Sometimes now when I lay down to take a nap and he's so deeply involved in a video game that he barely notices, I wish that he would want to play with Dad so bad again that he wouldn't let me sleep.  Then I close my eyes and I feel a tap on the shoulder and hear, "Dad, I need help getting past this part, please."
     As he grew up he got better about going to sleep, of course.  These days he barely even whines about it.  He'll brush his teeth and grab a video game or a book and try to sneak it in bed with him.  He thinks he's clever but I always see what he's doing.  I remember sneaking a book into bed or sneaking out of bed to play Super Mario Bros., though, so sometimes I take them away from him and sometimes I pretend I don't see it.  I firmly believe parenting is as much about what you let your children get away with as it what you stop them from doing.  Also, as any parent will tell you if they'll admit it, sometimes you're just too tired to deal with it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Memory Nineteen: Brad Starts Talking And Never Stops

     This is the second post in a series of twenty memories of my son that I'm sharing to countdown the days until I see him again.  You can read the first by clicking here.
He Starts Talking And Never Stops 
     This is going to start with his first words but is going to be one of the posts where I group a lot of memories of my son together.  There are going to be a couple of conversations I save for their own post but if I separated every memory of Brad talking this list would become twenty conversations with Brad.  I could easily fill another blog titled Shit Brad Says and it would probably be more popular than this one.  Just last night we talked on the phone for forty minutes about Zelda and other video games and how Krystal's doesn't compare to White Castle and pro wrestling and my bearded hero Daniel Bryan and how Brad says the new Superman movie feels like it was directed by two different people and more Zelda.  Like I said, Brad talks a lot to everyone he knows and to strangers too.  He gets this from his mother and my father.  The two families' gab genes combined to create a perfect conversation machine in Brad.
     I remember his first word very clearly.  He had been making the baby gibberish noises almost since he came out of the womb and him and I had several long conversations where I would pretend googoo and gahgah were legitimate responses to whatever I said.  Then one day while doing this he said, "Dada."  Sherri said, "Did he just?" and I answered, "Yep," without even letting her finish her question.  My shit eating grin of fatherhood appeared again.
     Of course, I was curious if this was just an accident or if he knew what he was saying so I looked at him and said, "BradBrad."  He looked back up at me, touched my cheek, and said, "Dada," again.  That was all the proof I needed.  From then on the "Dada" "BradBrad" refrain became a major part of our conversations. Very quickly after that he learned other words.  He added ball and dog before he added mama to the consternation of his mother. That started a tradition of pissing off his mother that I think he delights in to this day.  I have no idea where he got that from.
     Soon sentences came together and then before he could even walk you could sit down and have an actual conversation with him.  I've seen a lot of children whose parents had to force them to say what they wanted to eat so that they would learn to use their words but we never had to make Brad talk.  Often we were just trying to figure out how to make him shut up.  He was never shy about telling us what he wanted especially when it came to food.  "Dad, I want a drink."  "Mom, I'm hungry."  "Say please Brad."  "Okay, please."  These were the normal noises of our household before he was even sixteen months old.  He was a talking prodigy.
     I make jokes about shutting him up but truly I love talking to my little boy.  I stopped playing the radio whenever I was in the car with him so we could talk.  He would ask me math problems at three years old and I would make him figure the simpler ones out on his own.  He would comment on signs and colors.  He would shout "McDonald's" anytime he saw those damn golden arches and expect us to stop each time and get mad when we didn't. Even on long car rides we would talk for hours about things only little boys cared about like bugs and mud.  It really annoyed his mom.  Sometimes, it really annoyed me but I would do it anyway.
     Listening to him talk to other kids on car rides can be great entertainment in it's own right.  His grandma likes to say that "if one of them didn't know it the other one did" when talking about driving him and his cousins somewhere.  "They never shut up" is a common complaint I hear when he rides places with other children.  When I talk about our trip to Florida I'll talk more about how Brad and my friend that road back with us talked for almost twelve hours straight.  My friend is in his fifties but since him and my child talked mostly about Family Guy and the Simpsons I think I can call him a child in that situation.  Not that I wasn't right there with them but they even talked me out and that's hard to do to a Murray. I think only another Murray can really do it. 
     Brad and his mom liked to listen to the radio and sing in the car.  Unfortunately for Brad, he has his father's singing voice and not his mother's but that hasn't stopped him.  Their habit of singing songs embarrassed both his mother and I greatly once.  For a while his absolute favorite song was People Are Crazy.  When he was five, I think, he played soccer in a church league.  Halfway through practice they would sit down and have a devotional lesson.  Brad was always an active participant in these sometimes running his mouth when he shouldn't have been.  During one the coach said, "God is great," and my five year old son just couldn't help but add, "Beer is good and people are crazy."
     He will talk to anyone at anytime.  When he was little shopping trips were sure to be memorable or nerve racking.  When he was two on a shopping trip with his mom during the holidays he made sure to tell everyone he passed "Merry Christmas" which is as cute as it sounds but then when she had to go to the bathroom he crawled out of her stall to say "hi" to the lady in the next stall.  When he was three shopping with me he ran off from me while I was standing in the checkout line.  I didn't worry because I could still see him but I didn't notice the aisle he ran down.  He came running back with a box of Maxipads and said, "Daddy, daddy, mommy uses these."
     The funniest, so far, of Brad's embarrassing utterances in public happened when he was four and we were eating out.  Eating out with him is both an enjoyable and maddening experience.  It's enjoyable because when food is put in front of him he's all business and there is a rare quiet until he's done eating.  It's maddening because while waiting for the food he seems to think he has to make up for that time he's going to be silent by talking even more than normal.  That evening he was so excited about whatever he was talking about that he was standing on his seat when he looked out the window and got quiet for a second.  Then he tugged on my shirt and said, "Daddy, that woman has even bigger boobs than Mommy."  Of course, I looked and, of course, I got smacked for looking.  That kid knows how to get his father in trouble.
     Conversation with him isn't always funny stuff.  He's a deeper thinker than any child his age has a right to be and he's always been that way.  I can remember vividly when he was in preschool we went to visit his namesake's parents.  My friends' mom Linda was a schoolteacher and I think her teaching instinct kicked in and she wanted to make sure he was where he should be especially in speech development which was her speciality.  So she started quizzing him and talking to him and he would carefully consider her questions and answer them as completely and clearly as he could.  Soon they were just having a normal adult conversation. The look on her face as all this transpired is what really sticks with me. The schoolteacher in her was amazed and proud of the way Brad could talk to her but it was bittersweet for the mother in her.  Brad made her happy but Brad made her miss her Brad.
     He's an incredibly thoughtful boy.  You can tell when he thinks he's having a serious conversation because he'll pause and think about his replies before speaking.  We have very philosophical conversations all the time.  There are conversations about the differences between day and night and about homosexuality and it's religious implications that I'm saving for their own posts in this series.  I've always tried to talk to Brad like a small adult rather than a little kid and it has paid off.
     After my wife and I separated we were in family counseling mostly to make sure we would still get along for Brad's sake and we took him to a session with us to make sure he was going to be okay.  The counselor asked him if he was mad at us for separating and he said, "Yeah but I know there isn't anything they can do about it."  The counselor asked us if Brad was seven or twenty-one.  I don't know why we were worried about how he'd handle the separation and subsequent divorce.  He's done better with it than either one of us has.  Before he left for his mom's for the summer I told him I was going to miss him and that I didn't like the idea of him being gone from me that long.  He said, "Yeah but dad you see me a lot and Mom doesn't so don't you think it's fair that she has me during the summer?"  I went from a little sad that my buddy was leaving to proud of the thoughtful and good man he's already becoming in an instant.  I should be used to it but he's never lost the ability to surprise me, shock me, make me laugh, make me smile, and make me think when talking to him and I hope he never does.

Memory Twenty: The Day Brad Was Born

     Twenty days until my son Brad comes home from his mother's and it won't happen a moment too soon. Just today a friend of mine on Facebook asked if she was the only one that gets physically sick when her kid goes to visit the other parent for the weekend.  My response was that she should try a couple of months.  I don't think our reactions have anything to do with the other parent involved or not trusting them.  I don't mean to insult Brad's mom in anyway.  I know he's been well taken care of this summer.  It's just that he hasn't been with me and that's killing me.
     Still, it's just twenty more days.  I like to think of myself as a manly man who could endure twenty days of anything.  I'm really just a big baby, though, so to help me through the twenty days, and to celebrate his return, I'm going to share my twenty favorite memories of Brad.  I'm going to try and go in chronological order but since I'll be coming up with these off the top of my head some of them will probably end up out of order and I'll probably end up omitting a few things.  Also, some memories will have to be grouped together otherwise this would end up being a list of a hundred or a thousand memories.  I guess what I'm saying is this won't be a definitive list.  It's just me writing about my buddy.
The Day He Was Born
     There were things that made us think that day might be the day when we woke up that morning.  Those of you that have been through it know what I mean.  Still, we didn't feel the need to rush to the hospital or call the doctor or anything.  We were pretty calm for first time parents.  Mostly because she already had a checkup scheduled for nine in the morning anyway.
     The doctor said labor would happen naturally in a few days but that he wanted to admit her and observe her because of a few concerns and that they might induce labor that day.  I called friends and family and told them of the possibility and then we tried to pretend to be as calm and unconcerned as the doctor told us to be.  About eleven in the morning the doctor explained to us that he wanted to induce labor that day because the umbilical cord was pressing against Brad's throat.  He said that this wasn't doing any harm but he wanted to get him out of there before the umbilical cord could wrap around his throat and cause an actual problem. Brad's mom, Sherri, was of course more than ready for her pregnancy to be over with and was completely agreeable to this.
     I called my mom and told her there was no hurry but that they were going to induce labor so her and dad needed to drive down sometime that evening.  She laughed and said they were already on there way.  When they got there Mom asked Sherri how she was feeling and looked over the monitors.  Then she confidently declared that we would have a baby around eleven that night.  It was like she had been through this a time or two before.
     I smoked cigarettes with Dad and hugged Mom and tried to keep Sherri as calm and comfortable as possible.  Dad and I cracked a lot of jokes because that's how we deal with tension and nervousness.  Our jokes alternated between annoying Sherri and distracting and helping her feel better.  I would've felt bad about this but really that's all a guy can do for a woman in labor; sometimes annoy her, sometimes comfort her.
     The doctor wanted Sherri to walk so, even though she gave him a look like he was crazy, I helped her out of bed and we strolled the hallways.  A contraction hit in the middle of our walk and we had to pause. Sherri looked at me in the middle of the contraction and told me she didn't think she would live through this. I shouldn't have laughed but there was something about the look on her face and the complete sincerity with which she spoke that struck me as funny and I couldn't help myself.  Sorry Sherri.  I did assure her though, after I stopped laughing, that she would indeed live through it and I hugged her tight.
     As the afternoon turned into evening more family and friends showed up and I started to smoke more.  My smoking became less because of nervousness and more of an excuse to take people outside with me and get them out of the hospital room.  Sherri was becoming visible annoyed at all the people.  I hope they didn't take that personally.  I think rainbows and unicorns would annoy a woman in labor.  Myself and the nurses asked Sherri several times if she wanted the room cleared but she was too nice to say so.  Note to future mom's; while you're in labor is one time you can and should be completely selfish.
     I've heard a lot of stories about fathers having a hard time dealing with labor, and seen all the television jokes about them passing out dealing with it, but I didn't have those kinds of troubles.  During her contractions I would calmly hold her hand or rub her back and do my best not to show how much her being in that kind of pain concerned me.  The actual birth was too exciting for me to be nauseating.  No, the only time I had trouble was when they gave her the epidural.  They had her sit up and hold onto me.  They told me not to let her move when they stuck her with the needle as if anyone can hold a woman in labor getting a needle stuck in her spine still.  I hugged her close and buried her face in my stomach so she couldn't see my eyes widen when I saw that big ass needle.  I watched the needle go into her spine and I winced and reminded myself I was fortunate to have been born a male.
     The epidural did it's job though and she felt better and relaxed.  It may have did it's job too well though because things slowed down and she couldn't feel anything below her waist. Still, about ten o'clock it was clear Brad was coming.  This time the room was cleared of visitors except for me and my mother.  They had us hold Sherri's legs up and pull back on them when it was time to push because she couldn't feel her legs herself.  At one point they had to tell my mom not to pull so hard because she almost had Sherri's leg behind her head. My mom doesn't know her own strength in times of excitement but I really think she was just trying to make sure her eleven o'clock prediction came true.
     It's a good thing I'm not a doctor because as his head came out two inches then went back in one inch over and over again I wanted to just reach down and drag him into the world kicking and screaming.  I didn't though.  I just pulled on Sherri's legs when I was told too and kept assuring Sherri that she was doing good and would be okay.  She called me a liar with her eyes.  Soon the moment came when Brad was completely out of his mother and born.  It was ten fifty-eight pm.  He was either the most disgustingly cute thing or the most cute disgusting thing I had ever seen.  The nurses put him under a heat lamp and told me to rub his foot so he would cry more and gain more oxygen.  I gently rubbed his foot and the nurse scolded me and said I needed to rub harder like this.  She rubbed his foot hard and he cried and I wanted to hit her.  I knew that she was doing the right thing for him but I still wanted to hit her.  I learned the irrational protectiveness of parenthood pretty quickly.
     They cleaned him up and handed him to his mother.  I looked at the two of them and probably had the biggest shit eating grin on my face that I'll ever have.  I maintain to this day that those weren't tears, my eyes were just watering.  I stroked both their hands and basked in the beauty of the moment but something wasn't quite right.  Then I remembered the baseball with the Cardinals logo I had kept in my pocket all day and I put that baseball in his little hands.  Now it was perfect.
     All of the visitors were let back in and there were pictures taken and pass the baby was played.  Then we were left alone in the room with our child for Sherri to try and feed him and put him to bed.  She was completely exhausted, of course, and fell asleep holding him before he fell asleep.  So I took him from her arms and for the first time really got to hold my son.  I've never told anyone this but I as I talked to him and rocked him to sleep my eyes watered again.  It was the damnedest thing.  I don't know what was wrong with my eyes that night.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I Am A Friend

     What is friendship?  There was a time in my life that friendship was getting high and trying to answer pointless and unanswerable questions like that one and the all important question of what would happen in you farted at the speed of light.  Thanks to adulthood and drug testing, though, those days are over and now I'm not sure how to define friendship.  A Supreme Court justice once said of pornography that he couldn't define it but he knew it when he saw it.  I feel the same way about friendship.  Of course, if you think it's telling that in the first paragraph of writing about friendship I managed to mention drugs and porn, I won't argue with you.
     This past weekend a bunch of us old friends, and a few new ones, got together in remembrance of Jared Weaver, our friend who passed away last month.  It may sound strange but we had a great time in honor of him.  It could be called an Irish Wake or just a bunch of people drinking and telling stories but it was a night he would've loved and a night that did me a lot of good.  This isn't going to be a blow by blow account of the night though because there are parts of it I can't remember.  Is that what friendship is, the moments you can't remember?
     There was a point in my life that identifying my friends was easy.  Friends were the people I would die for who would die for me.  Like it does so much else, adulthood ruined this concept.  I can't die for anyone except my son.  Unless Brad is standing behind me, if a bullet is coming my way I'm sidestepping it.  I have to live for my son.  Sorry Mom and Dad but you're kind of old anyway.
     I think this is why Stephen King wrote, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve-Jesus, did you?"  Twelve is when friendship is distilled in it's purest form, especially for boys.  You're filled with hormones but can't quite direct them fully at girls yet and you're just starting to become a separate person from your family.  Then you find these guys who accept you and tell you this is normal and you would quite literally die for them.  Of course, none of my friends ever told me I was normal but still.
     My answer to Mister King's question, though, would be yes.  I do have friends like the ones I had when I was twelve.  I still have some of the same friends I had when I was twelve. Friends might be busboys in a restaurant but mine are a lazy group of busboys that never clear the tables and like to linger in the dining room eavesdropping on conversations.  I really mean, however, that I still have intense friendships like the ones I had when I was twelve.  When it comes to relationships, and friendships are just another form of relationships, I can't really do half-assed.  It's not necessarily a good thing.
     Friendships are relationships and they have a lot in common with romantic relationships; more than most want to admit.  Those similarities are why the term bromance was invented but I hate that term.  I think it's mocking of male bonding and while the new age concept of male bonding, let's hold hands and walk in the woods and mancry, needs to be mocked mercilessly; a true bond between men isn't something to be trifled with.  I think bromance is a word women invented because they're uncomfortable with and don't understand male friendship.  After all, women had to invent bff to distinguish between best friends because in their lives most friendships aren't a permanent thing.  So rather than acknowledge that friendship is something men do better they feel the need to mock our lifelong friendships as a sign of laziness or a lack of personal growth.  I just heard a buzzer that means I've hit my quota of sexist comments and I must end this paragraph.
     There is a saying that friends are the family you choose but I prefer to invert this saying just because I like to argue with everything.  I think family are the friends I didn't choose. Just like with my friends, there are certain family members I want to talk to about certain things and certain family members I'll talk to about anything.  Just like with my friends, I have fought like an asshole with some of my family, and they with me, and yet we've never let those moments come between us.  I count many family members, especially my immediate family but many aunts, uncles, and cousins, among my closest friends.  Basically, what I'm saying is Jerry, my friend, is a brother to me and my brother, I'm not saying which one that way they both think it's about them, is a friend to me.  There really isn't much of a line between friends and family to me.
     Of course, thinking about friends as family and vice versa really complicates the whole friends with benefits things but I haven't figured that out yet anyway.  Anytime I've had that sort of relationship it's never been long before it became one or the other; just friends or a romantic relationship.  I like to think this is because I inspire such intense feelings in women that they can't deal with anything in between like that.  I'm a pretty good friend to myself so I have no problem deluding myself like that to boost my ego.
     The topic of friendship was going to inevitably lead to me talking about my son.  Almost any topic will lead to me talking about my son but friendship especially.  Finding that balance between being a friend and being a parent is the most difficult part of being a father for me.  I know there are those that say that you aren't supposed to be your child's friend but I think those people are wrong.  How does a child learn what a friend is and how to be a friend if not from their parents?  I always make sure that if I do error in finding the line between friendship and discipline I error on the side of friendship.  I'll admit this leads to me tolerating a few things from my son that I shouldn't but if you don't appreciate smart alec remarks you probably aren't hanging around me anyway.
     There is a short list of things I pride myself on and being a friend is one of those.  I'm tempted to say I'm a good friend but to me there is no such thing as a bad friend.  If someone is bad to you then they aren't a friend.  So know that if you need someone to talk to or laugh with or especially if you have the urge to buy someone a drink; I am a friend.

Monday, July 8, 2013

I Am Watching Louie And You Should Be Too

     Most of the time when I have sleepless nights it's because I'm naturally nocturnal and I can only struggle against my nature for so long.  The other main culprits in the case of my stolen sleep are books.  If I'm not reading one I just can't put down I'm thinking about the one I just finished or wishing I could talk to someone about it or talking to myself about it. Rarely do movies have this sort of impact on me and even more rarely do television shows. I live with the characters in a book for a day or two for a short one and a week or two for a long one, longer still if it's a series of books.  A movie is over in a couple of hours and a television show even quicker.  Even a series of movies or a season of a television show don't add up to days.  It isn't just the time spent, though, it's where the characters reside and where the stories take place.  In a movie or television show everything happens on a screen. In a book it all takes place in my mind and my mind is a crowded, dark place.  Once something gets in there it has a hard time finding it's way out.
     Tonight, however, is one of those rare occasions where a television episode will be to blame for my struggles at work tomorrow.  I've mentioned Louie on at least a couple of occasions in this blog but I probably should have mentioned it more.  Any blog about single fathers and dating after a divorce should mention the show.  It's one of the few portrayals you'll find of that life anywhere on television and absolutely the most honest portrayal of it, or any other kind of life, you'll find.  I never thought I'd find a show I related to more than Roseanne but I have.  I'm late to the party on Louie.  The show premiered three years ago and I've just finished the first season on Netflix.  I don't know if I ever would have watched the show if it weren't for my last girlfriend so that's another positive I can take from that relationship.
     The episode that is keeping me awake tonight is the season finale of season one titled "Night Out".  I want to tell those of you that read this about the episode and my reactions to it.  Yes, this is going to be a sort of review of a three year old television episodes.  I know my readers like my soul baring stuff better, but as I told someone last night, I can't do soul baring all the time.  Sometimes baring my soul would just be saying I'm hungry.  Besides, I have a feeling if you read between the lines of this post, and possibly just read the lines themselves, you'll find plenty of my naked soul to satisfy your voyeuristic tendencies.  After all, this episode did affect me so deeply that I'm awake and writing this.
     The episode begins with Louie on a date that appears to be going well.  His date says she has something weird to tell him but that she wants to tell him because she really likes him. He wisecracks, "You do?  That is weird."  She tells him that she has a kid but she's always afraid to tell guys because they get weird about it. He asks the kids age and what grade of school he's in and his date is delighted that he's taking it so well.  He tells her he's taking it so well because he has two daughters of his own.  His date says, ""I just don't think I can take this on right now.  A guy with kids?  Yeah, I just..that's a lot."  I haven't had that exact reaction but I've had single mothers tell me they don't want to date a guy with kids of his own.  They want you to deal with their complications but they don't want to deal with yours.
     The next scene is an exhausted Louie reading a bedtime story to his girls.  He's bored and tired and it makes parenting look like a chore which, as any parent knows, it is sometimes but you rarely see it that way on television.  One of his daughters complains, "Daddy, this story is boring."  "Shhh," he responds, "It's supposed to be boring.  I'm trying to put you to sleep.  That's why it's boring."  That little moment reminded me of the book Go the F@@K To Sleep.  Every parent knows the feeling.
     The scene progresses with his girls begging him to sing a song and crying when he won't. Then it cuts to him doing a standup comedy routine where he's talking about putting his kids to sleep.  The best line is, "I just want the joy and challenge of fucking parenthood to end so I can eat all the ice cream in the freezer that they have no idea is there."  He also jokes about threatening to kill a bird in front of his daughters if they don't go to sleep.
     Then the show cuts back to his apartment after he's put the kids to sleep and there's a knock on the door.  It turns out to be a babysitter that he's forgotten he even arranged for. He tells her this and says he has nothing to do but he'll try to find something.  He walks out of his apartment building, changes his mind, walks back in, and tells her he has nowhere to go so he's just going to stay home but he'll pay her anyway.  The babysitter starts crying and lecturing him about his depressing life.
     "Do you want the girls to know that you're alone?  Do you want to teach them that a good man just has nobody?  You have to be whole for them.  You need to be with somebody that's going to care for you.  A man needs that.  And it's none of my business but I can't just sit here and watch you waiting to die.  Just get out of here, try to get laid.  Just have fun.  You need someone, you know?  If you don't give a shit about yourself do it so the girls won't have a depressing loser for a father.  Just go."
     I'm not quite as bad as he is.  I go out.  I go out quite a bit with Brad gone this summer. The thing is I don't really feel like I need to.  Sure, I would like someone but I'm actually more than content with a life of just being a dad and working and reading my books.  Most of my life I've wished for more solitude and now that I have a buffet of it in front of me I could happily gorge myself on it.  Brad doesn't need me to be like that, though.  An eight year old wouldn't understand.  Besides, if he thought he and my few friends and family were all I have in life he might feel pressure to take care of me and he shouldn't feel that way. He needs to know too that it is possible to have an emotionally fufilling relationship with a woman and maybe someday I can teach him that by example.  So I date mainly because of my son...and because I enjoy sex with others more than I enjoy sex with myself.
     Left with little choice Louie ventures out.  After wondering the streets for awhile and seeing kissing couples everywhere he ends up drinking with some fellow comedians.  They watch a couple of young, black comedians hit on women and marvel at their skill.  One comedian tells Louie, "You've got to be like that.  Be confident, black, handsome, not boring, don't wear that shirt."  Louie ends up asking the black comics if he can hang out with them and they promise that it's a big world out there and they're going to find something out there for him and get him laid.
     They end up at an urban dance club that Louie is obviously uncomfortable at.  The guys try to introduce him to some women but he can't hear them over the music so they're soon ignoring him.  He watches them approach some young women and decides to try their approach himself.  He awkwardly approaches with his hands out and the young women scream and slap him.  He makes his escape from the club as the guys laugh at him and wonders to an almost empty comedy club and asks to do a set.  He ends up rambling depressed about divorce comparing it to being freed from a long prison sentence where you get dropped out at the bus station with eight dollars and all your belongings in a brown paper bag.
     "I'm forty-two and I'm really good at masturbating.  I'm like the best masturbater on the planet Earth.  There is nobody better at that than me.  So I'm going to continue to excel at that.  I'm going to focus on that and raising my children.  I know it's not nice to say both those things in one sentence but they happen to be the two things that I do the best."
     As you know if you read this post I'm not the best at approaching women in public.  They don't usually scream and slap me but that's probably because I never get up the nerve to approach them in the first place. That's why I use internet dating sites.  As you can tell there's not much I'm afraid of saying when I'm on the other end of a computer screen.  I find myself wondering why Louie doesn't use the internet in the show but prehaps that's coming in the season I haven't watched yet.  There's comedy gold waiting to be mined in the internet dating experience.  Trust me, I know.
    After his set, Louie runs home.  He wakes up the babysitter, pays her, and lies to her about how he made out with a woman with big tits.  He doesn't lie very convincingly but she gets this look on her face like she accepts the lie because she wants to believe it.  He sits on his couch alone at four in the morning about to fall asleep when his daughters wake up. They're hungry and want to go out to breakfast.  He says, "You want to go out to breakfast now?"
     Then we see him sitting at an all night diner with his girls having breakfast in the middle of the night.  The whole night he's been trying to find some sort of peace and happiness and he finds it cutting up his daughters' pancakes.  A beautiful, funny song that Louis C.K. wrote himself, performed by a band called Sweetpro, plays as we just watch a father having breakfast with his daughters.  I encourage you to listen to the song.
     It's a beautiful song and a beautiful scene and that's when I started crying.  Don't worry Mom.  They weren't depressed tears.  Your baby boy is fine.  I just miss my son.  I'm know you understand that feeling.  I wasn't crying because I was missing Brad either, though.  I was crying at the joy of having a child and how well the show illustrated that joy.  Louie is an uncomfortable, awkward show that will make you cringe from it's unflinching reality as often as it makes you laugh outloud, and that's pretty often, but then when it has you off balance it will hit you with some genuine emotion.  It's brillant and if you like brillant, bald headed men with ginger beards you should be watching the show.  If you don't like brillant, bald headed men with ginger beards then why are you reading this blog?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I Am Thinking About Fatherhood In America

     A few days ago the Pew Research Center released an analysis that concluded the number of households headed by a single father has increased ninefold since the Sixties. The survey estimates that there are 2.6 million households headed by single fathers making up 8 percent of the households with minor children in the United States.  Almost one quarter of single parent households are headed by single fathers.  My situation is not as rare as I thought.
     Digging into the numbers, I found some very interesting things.  Single fathers are likely less educated than single mothers but also less likely to be living in poverty.  The wage gap works to our advantage here I guess but I wonder if there aren't other factors in play.  My guess would be that single dads were more likely to have already had a job when they became single parents than single mothers were.  Also, it seems to me that women are more likely to reevaluate their lives when they become single parents and do things like go back to school whereas men seem more likely to just keep on doing what they're doing just with less help.  I know that's been the case in my situation.
     Single dads are more likely to be living with someone else than single moms but the thing that really interests me is that single dads that are living with someone else are more likely to be living in poverty than single fathers that don't have a partner living with them.  I would guess this is because single mothers are the most likely partners for single fathers and, as I mentioned, single mothers are more likely to be living in poverty.  So moving in with someone is more likely to negatively affect a single dad's financial situation.  I'll have to keep this in mind.  I hate to consider money when it comes to romance but I think it's something I have to do now.
     Another recent survey form the same group suggests that the role of fathers in the United States is changing.  A dad is now expected to place more importance on educating their children on values and morals and providing them emotional support than they are the traditional fatherly roles of discipline and providing financial support.  Studies and articles like these always slightly mystify me because that just doesn't seem like a change in my life. That was my household growing up.  Mom and Dad both took responsibility for teaching their boys how to be good men and for paying the bills.  So when I became a father that's the way it was for me from the beginning.  I guess my old fuddy duddy parents were just modern and ahead of their time.
     This different focus of fatherhood in America today has lead to many working fathers dealing with the same work and life balance issues that working mothers have always dealt with.  The irony is that, as this article from Bloomberg Businessweek suggests, men might actually be better at dealing with those issues than women despite having less experience dealing with them.  It claims that men are more assertive when demanding time from their employers to spend with their children.  We don't ask for it.  We demand it and we don't feel guilty about it either.
     In my own life, I can say this has been absolutely true.  I've never had a problem saying no to overtime if it conflicted with something I've had planned with my son or something he's needed.  Conversely, if I've really needed the overtime to pay the bills I've never felt guilty for missing something at home when I've really had to.  Life is about choices and priorities and I just use my best judgement and go on with my life.  I don't feel guilty about not being able to do it all because no one can do it all and that's one of the best lessons I can teach my child I think.
     Of course, it's easier for working parents at my job than for most.  I'm not saying the company I work for is more understanding than most because they absolutely are not.  We're a union workforce, though, so the company has rules they have to follow on changing schedules, forcing overtime, and many other things that often lead to conflicts between work and home.  It's easier for us to say "No, I'm doing something more important than work today" without getting in trouble than it is for most workers.  That's one more advantage of unionization that America needs to wake up and realize.
     The article also touches on how modern fathers are often angered by their portrayal in culture.  It suggests that the idea that men are more fulfilled by parenting than work is more often mocked than accepted and that the stereotype of incompetent dad is still alive and well.  This article from a year ago in Huffington Post talks about the same anger.  More often than not, I'm disappointed in the touchiness, political correctness, and implied censorship that goes along with such objections to cultural portrayals and I have to admit I find Homer Simpson quite funny.
     Still, the problem with stereotypes comes when they become accepted as truth instead of being acknowledged as broad caricatures that public takes with a wink and a smile.  I think that has already happened with the bumbling dad stereotype.  It's very much just assumed in America that children are better off with mothers than with fathers and fathers depictions in the media have a lot to do with reinforcing that view.  The bigger danger in my mind, though, is that there are a lot of boys growing up without fathers and so they have no one to learn fathering from.  When they see this portrayal of dads in culture as the overwhelming view of fathers they learn that dads are less important and are expected to be less competent than mothers.  So the stereotype becomes self fulfilling in a way.
     I don't think the answer is to get rid of the Homer Simpsons of the television and movie worlds, though.  I don't like to restrict creative people like that.  I think the answer might be just to balance it out with more portrayals like Full House where the father struggles but ultimately does a good job raising children without a mother.  Of course, even on that show he had to have two other men move in with him because, of course, one man couldn't do it all on his own.  Art reflects life, so I guess I can only hope that as fathers change in society their portrayal in culture will also change.  For me personally I find the show Louie to be the most honest portrayal of single fatherhood and if you aren't watching it I suggest you check it out.
     The more interesting part of the Huffington Post article, to me, was when it compares so called new dads to traditional dads.  It says that fathers that describe themselves as new dads are much more likely to watch their kids alone, drive their kids places, talk to their kids about their worries and problems, and show open affection to their children than fathers that describe themselves as traditional dads.  Again, I was somewhat mystified by this because that's the way my dad has always been and it is the way I have always been as a dad.  I didn't realize any of this was new.  I suspect sometimes that's what is really changing isn't what dads do but their willingness to admit what they do and society's willingness to accept it.  I might just have a more positive view of fathers because of my experiences, though.
     Another part of the article I found interesting was when it quotes various studies that say many men defer to the women in their lives for parenting advice or don't ask anyone for advice.  It also says that only four percent would ask for parenting advice from their own fathers and that seventy percent of fathers feel like they could use more guidance on parenting.  That makes sense because if you don't ask anyone you aren't going to get any advice.  I'm firmly in the four percent that will ask my dad for advice.  I also ask my mom. They're who I'm most likely to turn to for parenting advice because they are, after all, the best parents I know.
     I am though, as you can tell, more likely than the average dad, and I think more likely than the average parent period, to read and write and think and talk about parenting.  This tendency has been something positive that has come from my divorce.  I've always been a good dad and I've always taken pride in it but before the responsibility for doing the parenting was placed almost completely on my shoulders I was more likely to just go with my instinct and wing it.  I wasn't really worried about anyone else's advice or view on parenting. Now I still go with my instincts most of the time because I have good instincts but I'm more interested in talking about and reading about being a father.  I'm refining my instincts based on the success and failure of others and their thoughts and advice.  Also, I've just had to branch out more after the divorce because I didn't have examples to learn from in some situations because my parents aren't divorced.
     I wish I had some final thoughts to tie this all together but I'm not Jerry Springer.  I just fell into an internet rabbit hole of sorts this afternoon and read a lot about parenting and thought I would share some of my thoughts and reactions to some interesting things I found. I'm just thinking about fatherhood in America and in my life a lot lately and if you know me then it is no surprise that I enjoy rambling on about a topic that interests me.