Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rules For Love? part two

     This is the second half of me ripping apart someone else's writing instead of writing something of my own.  This is really so much easier.  The first half is here.  The article I'm ripping apart is here.  It is supposedly Beautiful Advice From A Divorced Man After Sixteen Years of Marriage but it is really just a bunch of shallow meaningless words.  He wrote twenty pieces of advice.  I took on the first ten in part one and will now start on the second ten.

     Eleven: Be present
     If you read part one you know there was a bit of a trend where I said his advice was good until he felt the need to explain it and then he reveals how shallow his view of love, and how chauvinistic his view of women, really is.  The trend continues.  He says that you should give of your time and attention to your wife which is one of those "no shit" pieces of advice that some men do need to hear over and over because it doesn't sink in.  Then he goes on to write "Treat her as you would your most valuable client.  She is."  Way to go man. The only people that have reduced love and marriage to a business transaction more effectively are those guys that run the Russian mail order bride websites.  Seriously, treat my wife as my most important business contact?  I don't think she wants me to get her shitfaced and take her to a strip club.
     Twelve: Be Willing To Take Her Sexually
     This one is so terrible that I'm having trouble deciding how to mock it.  Do I mock him for seeming to think that every woman enjoys the same type of sex or for thinking sex should be the same everytime or just for being a sexual zombie?  Yes, zombie.  Seriously, he says to carry her away with your power, consume and devour her with your strength, and penetrate her until she melts.  Sounds like the perfect description of zombie rape or a snuff film to me.  This whole list has been embarrassingly stereotypical of women but he outdoes himself with this section.  After sixteen years of marriage this guy hasn't even learned that women are people too.  Instead she is just a pretty thing that will "melt into her feminine softness" when you take her.  Obviously, this guy hasn't been having sex with the same women I've been.
     Thirteen: Don't Be An Idiot
     In breaking news science has discovered you also shouldn't be a moron or an imbecile. Did it really take him sixteen years of marriage to learn not to be an idiot?  That would explain why his writing is so horrible.
     Fourteen: Give Her Space
     This is again good advice until he attempts to explain himself.  Then he claims he's being poetic after writing a bunch of stuff that isn't poetic and mutters some patronizing bullshit about how a woman "gets lost in serving you, the kids, and the world."  Instead of just criticizing, this time I'm going to try to be constructive and restate his advice in a way that actually makes sense and that most guys might understand.
     Look some days she comes home from work, finds your dirty underwear on the bathroom floor, hears the kids screaming, and wonders why the hell she even bothered coming home. You know those days where all you want to do is have a beer and make everyone shut the fuck up?  She has those days too.  If you don't want her to to resent you too much you have to give her times where she has peace and quiet or times where she can escape from you and the kids and get out of the house.  If you don't do this often enough she will hate you more than she already does.  Here's the kicker, though.  Women sometimes actually feel guilty for wanting to escape their families.  Why?  Hell, I don't know.  I'm a guy so it doesn't make sense to me either.  Still, it means sometimes you're going to have to encourage her and maybe even force her to get the hell away from you and the kids.  An added bonus is that this gets her the hell away from you and the kids for a little while.  It's a win, win for everyone.
    There, makes more sense that way; doesn't it guys?
     Fifteen: Be Vulnerable
     After exhorting men to be strong for almost the entire list, he now says to be vulnerable. Makes sense I guess.  Sometimes a woman needs a strong man and sometimes she needs to know you're just as frail and faulty and human as she is.  Actually, she probably wants to know you're more so.  Still, he doesn't give any advice on how to know when is the time for which.  He seems to subscribe to the same theory most women do.  That men should be mind readers.
     I'll admit that I'm not the best guy to comment on this one.  I think that I've lost the women I've lost because of the moments I've allowed it to show how frazzled and weak I can be sometimes.  I don't think women trust tears in a man.  So maybe just on this one bit of advice this guy knows more than I do.  How's that for vulnerable?
     Sixteen: Be Fully Transparent
     This sounds nice but it is the worst bit of advice, for both men and women, on his list. Look, we all like the whole two become one mantras but I think we all know it's bullshit.  It sounds so romantic to say that you've lost yourself in someone but if you've lost yourself what do you have to give someone?  Everyone needs a private place inside themselves that is them.  You and your partner should trust each other enough to allow each other to have this.
     Seventeen: Never Stop Growing Together
     This is actually good advice but I wouldn't be me if I didn't mock his writing.  "The stagnant pond breeds malaria."  Really?  Really?  Dude, that disease you gave your ex wasn't malaria.  No one is buying that excuse.
     Eighteen:  Don't Worry About Money
     He actually says this.  He doesn't give advice on how to deal with money difficulties.  He says "money is a game, find ways to work together as a team to win it."  A game? Foreclosure is fun.  Being in the dark if we don't pay the electric bill will just be a fun adventure.  Just because we have to choose between Jane's diapers and John's shoes, we shouldn't let that get us down.  It's just a fucking game.  I wish I was rich enough to say this.
     This is the whole problem with his list in a nutshell.  His advice doesn't reside in the real world.  It lives in some clean tidy world where the only problem in a marriage is two people getting along and there are no outside influences whatsoever.  It's banal and trite and shallow and simplistic.  Love is none of these things.  How this is being called beautiful advice and being read by thousands of people is beyond me.
     Nineteen: Forgive Immediately
     So don't be human?  Don't take the time to be mad for awhile and get it out of your system?  Just say everything is okay and let the anger build up inside you until you're snapping over burnt toast of a crooked picture.  If it weren't for advice like this I could have just left this list alone and laughed at it without saying anything.  This, though, is another dangerous piece of advice that will ruin a marriage not save it.
     Twenty:  Always Choose Love
     Since when is love a choice?  I woke up everyday and chose to stay with my wife but I didn't choose to love her.  I didn't choose to love her when I started loving her, I didn't choose to love her everyday of our marriage, and I didn't choose to stop loving her when she finally hurt me enough that I couldn't love her anymore.  Love is an emotion and emotions aren't choices.  We can choose to acknowledge emotions or ignore them, control them or let them run wild, but we can't choose whether to have them or not.  Love is not something you choose or something you force and while we're at it, it isn't something you're in either. There is no such thing as I love you but I'm not in love with you.  That just means you're sorry you're going to hurt the poor smuck you're about to dump.  It has nothing to do with love.
     So that's his list and it's terrible but like I said it's far easier to destroy than create.  So I won't be the Joker who just wants to watch the world burn.  I will have my list in the next week or so.  It probably won't be beautiful because the truth is that love and marriage are often ugly.  It will be realistic and complicated lessons I learned from my marriage and divorce and it will be, at least, a whole lot better than this guy's drivel.

Rules For Love? part one

     There's this blog post going around Facebook.  You can read it by clicking here.  You should probably read it with a fresh perspective before I put my dos pesos in but before you go and read it I will tell you my first thought upon reading it.  Some of my posts have been much better than that.  Why aren't they being shared by complete strangers on Facebook?
     Are you back from reading it or did you just ignore me and not even read it?  You probably ignored me.  Most people do.  Anyway, I'm going to write a whole post about why this guy is full of shit and then a part two about what a real person with some depth to their soul and real problems might learn from a divorce.  Know, though, that what I think about that post can be summed up as it is full of shit and should only appeal to people who haven't gotten past the teenage/Disney princess view of what love is.  Understand that I'm not trying to insult the man who wrote it. I recognize why he wrote it.  I'm sure it was an immediate, unconsidered response to a breakup that he didn't want to happen and out of reflex he took all the blame on himself before he really had the time to think about it.  I have sympathy for him because I've made the same type of post.
     Still, someone has to fight the spread of these bullshit notions of love and romance that have lead to the ever higher divorce rates and I guess I'm the guy because I'm bored tonight. As I said part one will be a step by step breakdown of his list of twenty things he supposedly learned and why they are mostly crap.  Then part two, which given my recent track record will probably take at least a week to appear, will be my list of things that I've learned from my divorce.  They'll probably be mostly crap too but they'll be better and deeper than his anyway.  First, I have to tear his down, though, because I'm the kind of guy that likes to feel like he's always the smartest guy in the room.
     One: Never Stop Courting
     On the surface this isn't the worst advice except he goes onto to say that "you promised to be the man that WOULD OWN HER HEART."  That is literally, and I mean literally, one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.  No one owns anyone's heart.  If we're lucky we earn the right to have a place in someone's heart but we hold no ownership over it.  He also encourages men to never stop dating but that ignores the fact that most people hate dating. If you never stopped dating your spouse you would never fart or belch in front of them and anyone that thinks trapped gas makes for a good marriage has never had trapped gas.
     I can already hear the chorus of "but you don't understand what he's saying" but I do. Here's the thing, though.  The whole concept of courting is crap.  Love should be earned, of course, but it should be earned by being yourself.  I'll dress up when it's appropriate and I'll bring flowers at random times but for the most part if me being a good guy and a good father isn't enough for you to love me then I'm going to try to convince you otherwise.  I shouldn't have to convince you to love me and you shouldn't have to convince me to love you.
     The best way I can explain why this is crap is to tell you the best moments of my marriage; the moments that if there had been more of them it might not have ended.  They happened late at night when random conversation had kept us up for longer than it should have because we just wanted to be with each other.  They happened in early morning when I still had bed head, back when I still had hair, and I woke up with my arms around a woman in an old shirt filled with holes.  They happened when our son was being a total shit in public and our eyes met and we just shook our heads.  They were unplanned moments of humanity when we understood each other completely and they weren't planned and they certainly weren't courting.  If you think a good marriage is made of dinner dates and dressing up you don't understand what makes a good marriage.
     Two:  protect Your Own Heart
     This one isn't crap but I wish he would just say what he means.  Don't cheat.  Don't put yourself in a situation that cheating is even a possibility.  Don't share things with anyone else that you should only be sharing with your spouse.  Again, his advice on this one isn't bad but why do we have to talk about love and marriage in these flowery terms?  Why can't we just be blunt and honest with each other?
     Three: Fall In Love Over And Over Again
     He was making a lot of sense in this section of his post.  He talked about how people don't stay the same and they have to learn to reconnect with each other when they change. It was great advice until he wrote "Always fight to win her love just as you did when you were courting her."  Cough, cough, bullshit, if you know what I'm saying.  Love is not something to be won.  It's not a medal you get after a sporting event.  I will do things like give backrubs or take her out for a night on the town or babysit so she can have a girls' night out to show her my appreciation for her love but I'm not going to try to win her love and she shouldn't try to win my love.  Love is given freely and if it's not then it's not worth anything.  I don't fight for my mother's love or my son's love or my friend's love and I'm not going to fight for my spouse's love.
     Four: Always See the Best in Her
     Again, good advice until he keeps writing.  He says to focus on the things you love about your spouse until you no longer see anything but love.  Am I the only one that thinks this is crap?  It seems to me that he's saying don't see your wife as a complete human being with faults and flaws and a complete personality but see her only as someone you love that loves you.  It's chauvinistic shit as is most of this list.
     Five: It's Not Your Job to Change Her or Fix Her
     There isn't much to say about this one except EVERYONE SHOULD LISTEN TO IT.  There is a small problem with what he says, though.  He writes that if your wife changes you should love what she becomes whether it's what you wanted or not and this is true unless she becomes a drug addict or a gambling addict or abusive or a shitty parent or manic depressive etc etc.  Then it is damn sure your job to try to fix her or at least convince her to fix herself.  Much of my problem with this list of his is that it just isn't grounded in reality but in more of the Hollywood romance novel universe of what goes right and wrong in a relationship.  I'll talk about this more later when I address how this fool says don't worry about money.
     Six: Take Full Accountability For Your Own Emotions
     This guy actually says it's not your wife's job to make you happy and she can't make you sad.  Another of the stupidest things I've ever heard.  First of all, it is your wife's job to make you happy just as it's your job to make her happy.  That's what we should want to do for the people we love.  Of course, it's your responsibility to make sure you can be made happy, that there isn't something inside of you that keeps you from being happy, but I don't really think that's what he is saying.
     Second, of course your wife can make you sad just as you can make her sad.  This guy seems to be saying that you shouldn't address or talk about anything your spouse does that annoys or angers you.  That would be the opposite of honest communication and would therefore be the opposite of what makes a marriage work.
     Seven: Never Blame Your Wife If You Get Frustrated or Angry with Her
     If he was saying that first you should make sure it is something to be angry about and then you should see if there is a reason behind her doing what she is doing and if it is understandable then I would be all like right on man.  That isn't what he is saying though.  It seems to me that he thinks you should just be a smiling happy sap all the time and never share all of yourself with your spouse.  It seems to me that he thinks a husband shouldn't be a human.
     Eight: Allow Your Woman to Just Be
     This sounds like exactly the sort of thing that a half hippie like me would dig.  The problem is that he is saying this for when she's upset or sad and that's right some of the time.  A woman does want to just be held and know she's loved sometimes when she's upset and she doesn't expect her man to do anything about it.  Then other times, if you take this approach, she's going to get angry that you didn't do anything about her problems and tell you it means you didn't take them seriously.  Women, and men believe it or not, are complex creatures and you have to try to learn the signs of their wants and needs and react accordingly and even after years and years you won't get it right every time.  This guy seems to think all people are the same.  You can tell it when he uses the laughable term "the feminine spirit" as if all women are governed by some magic fairy in their behavior.  He doesn't seem to see women as people but just as women.  I'll bitch about this more when this guy talks about sex.
     Nine: Be Silly
     He talks about the importance of laughter and joking and on this one I'm obviously going to say right on man, I can dig it, and every other sixties cliche you can think of.  There is one thing I have to mention, though.  Sometimes you are going to be silly or your spouse is going to be silly and it's going to be the wrong time and you are going to get pissed off or pissed on.  You can expect to get everything right all the time and you can't expect your spouse to get everything right all the time.  Spoiler alert; that's one of my biggest lessons learned.
     Ten: Fill Her Soul Everyday
     Again, this sounds reasonable until the guy keeps writing.  One of people's biggest problems, and yes I include myself in this group, is that they don't know when to shut up. He says to ask your wife to make a list of ten things that make her feel loved and to memorize it.  Let me tell you guys a secret; if you and your spouse are making lists for each other that don't include groceries or chores your marriage is probably already doomed.  It is a person's responsibility to discover what makes their spouse feel loved and then to try to do it.  Asking for a list just takes away the fun of discovery.  Also, you should make your spouse feel loved in ways that will surprise them and that they wouldn't expect.  If I gave a woman a list of things that would make me feel loved it would be blowjobs, backrubs, and beer but believe or not left to their own devices women can do better that they.  Well, maybe.
     Then he ends it by saying you should make your woman feel like a queen and I swear I will keep beating this dead pet peeve of a horse of mine until it comes back to life so I can kill it again.  Sure, I'll make you feel like a queen.  We'll be in a loveless marriage arranged for political reasons and if you make me unhappy I'll have you beheaded.  Can we please put away the fairy tale bullshit people?

     So I lied.  This is going to be a three part post.  I'm going to split my response to his post into two parts.  Mostly because I'm tired of writing but also because I feel the need to say something.  I've realized that due to my sarcastic tone people reading this might think I'm down on love or don't believe in it but I want to assure everyone that is far from true.  I just get tired of trite lists like this and paper thin portrayals of love.  I have watched my parents fight and argue and get on each other's last nerves for my whole life and I don't think there is one thing on this list they've actually followed.  Sometimes things have been good for them and sometimes things have been bad.  Sometimes they've been good to and for each other and sometimes they haven't.  Theirs is a complex human love that has left even their own children wondering why they stayed married sometimes and at other times wondering how they ever lived as long as they did without each other. Here's the thing, though. They're still together and still happy.  Maybe even happier than they've ever been.  I wouldn't recommend their method of marriage for anyone but it has worked for them because it's real and they could give you some real advice instead of this cookie cutter trite nonsense that people like to peddle.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Memories Two and One: A Father and Son

     I'm exhausted from work.  I don't mean my body is sore and I'm tired and I need some rest exhausted.  I mean I had difficulty climbing the stairs in my apartment and the fatigue is eating away at my soul exhausted.  Still, supper must be cooked and homework must be done every night.  There's a pile of laundry that is mocking me.  Tomorrow, I have to sign Brad up for football.  Brad needs my time and attention.  I need to go buy some clear nail polish to put on my chigger bites that are itching like crazy.  There's a small discrepancy in my checking account that I should probably get to the bottom of.  The more I sit here and think of things I need to do the more things I remember that I need to do.  I should probably just say screw it all and go to sleep at a reasonable hour for my own sanity.  So I'm going to write instead.
     This will finally finish my list of my favorite memories, so far, of Brad.  Those of you thinking I've been saving the best for last will probably think you were wrong after reading these last two but that's the way the chainsaw cuts the cheese.  This blog has had one thousand nine hundred and thirty page views so far and that amazes me and I thank all of you.  When it reaches two thousand I'm going to do something to celebrate.  I'm going to share my dating profiles from two different sites here on my blog, share how I'm thinking about rewriting both of them, and then open things up for suggestions from everyone that reads this as to which versions I should go with or if I should combine them or if I'm completely off base and have a lot more to learn about what attracts women.  My money is on the last one.
Watching Big Fish With My Boy
     This is a difficult memory to try and write about because I don't really remember details. There's a couple of snippets of conversation I can recall but it isn't much to talk about.  I can still see the love my son looked at me with that night, and imagine the love I looked at him with, but I can't adequately describe it.  I can recall the varying looks of confusion and awe and understanding that crossed his face as he followed the fantastical yet adult story of the movie and started to grasp the metaphors but the looks and the words of that night aren't why I love this memory.  It's the feelings of that night I cherish.
     It was a Netflix night and I learned something about myself that I would have never believed.  There is only so much pro wrestling and cartoons I can stand.  Still, it was one of my last nights with Brad before he left for the summer so I wasn't going to just take the remote from him and watch something he didn't care about.  Brad and I looked for something that would satisfy us both.  We considered The Nightmare Before Christmas but we've watched that at least a dozen times.  Thinking about it, though, reminded me of another film Tim Burton directed called Big Fish and somehow it seemed to fit the night perfectly.  I convinced Brad that he would love it and we started it.
     For those of you that haven't seen it the film is the story of an adult son, who isn't very close to his father, telling the story of his father's life, as his father told it to him, as his father lays in his deathbed.  He isn't close to his father because he feels like they never connected.  His father was on the road for work a lot and when he was home he didn't engage in real conversations with his son but instead told tall tales of his past and his work. The son feels like his dad's need to be liked and admired overshadowed ever getting to know his father or his father ever getting to know him.  I can't relate, thankfully, with feeling disconnected from your father but I can relate to having a dad who wants to get along with everyone and who tells tall tales.  I can especially relate to the tall tales of father having more truth and reason for being than you ever would have thought like the son in the movie discovers.  Anyway, I haven't described the movie well.  It's beautiful.  It's full of clowns and giants and witches while being anchored in complex adult emotions.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder why.  If you haven't seen the movie I highly recommend it.  It's Tim Burton at his best before him and Johnny Depp decided to ruin significant parts of pop culture.
     Brad was skeptical at first but it wasn't long before he was sucked into the story.  We sat on the couch and cuddled as he asked me questions about the movie and expressed amazement at it.  I enjoyed having my buddy and his attention but it was bittersweet because I knew I would miss it all summer.  It was also bittersweet because I knew he was enjoying the movie partially because I enjoyed it so much and that movie meant so much to him partially because it meant so much to me.  He's eight.  I'm too aware for my own good of how fast time flies and I know that soon he'll be completely his own person and I want that for him.  Still, I'm going to enjoy him wanting to be somewhat like me for as long as I can.
     We were a father and son watching a movie about a father and son on one of our last evenings with each other for awhile.  There was love there.  That's why I remember that night and the feelings.  There was a love of such intensity that I've never been able to replicate that level with another human being and I suspect I never will.  I hope Brad will, though, someday when he has a child of his own.  Brad and I both knew that he would be leaving soon and we were telling each other that it was alright.  We were letting each other know that the love and the friendship would still be there when he came back, that it would still be there while he was gone, and that it would always be there.  I was telling my son that he would always be special to me by sitting there on the couch watching a movie with my arm around him.  He was telling his dad that I would always be special to him by leaning against my side and cuddling with me, which he hardly ever does, and enjoying a movie I love with me.  We were expressing deep, heartfelt emotions without having to muck them up by talking about them and thankfully for both of us when the dad dies in the movie there's enough humor in it, and enough surprises at his funeral, that neither of us had to suffer the embarrassment of crying in front of the other.
The Next One
     Here comes the cliche.  Here comes the copout.  Seriously though, how could I have a favorite memory of my son already?  He's only eight.  There's a hundred more sports games for him to play.  There's high school for him to get through and learning to drive and graduating.  There's college or work or whatever kind of adult he turns out to be.  There's probably a wedding or two and a kid or two of his own in his future.  There's my son as a dad and dealing with me spoiling the hell out of his children.  There are vacations to be taken and smart remarks to be made and moments to be lived.  There are books still to be read and stories still to be written.  There are days left to be lived.  Since he's been back there's already been a few moments that could have easily made this list and he's only been back ten days.  Imagine what the next ten days or the next ten years could bring.  My favorite memory of my son is the next one and will always be the next one.
     I know he'll grow up too fast and I should live in the now but the now is always partially about the future for a parent.  When my mom or dad reads this they'll think of me and remember some memories of me.  Then they'll think of the future.  They'll hope I meet a woman sometime and that my next marriage will be my last.  They'll imagine me holding my grandchildren and hope that mine bring me as much joy as theirs have brought them.  Once we start to parent we don't stop and we parent for the future because no matter how happy our children are, and how happy they've made us, we want them to be happier.  So call it cliche or a copout if you must, I know it is, but my favorite memory of Brad will always be the next one because with each new memory I know I've done well by him because there is a new memory.  Then I'll smile and soak it up and then start looking forward to the next memory.
     In the middle of writing this tonight I put Brad to bed.  He told me that we need to find a way to get a new computer without a messed up keyboard so I could write my blog easier. Then he told me I needed to go to bed and finish this in the morning because it was getting late and he knows I've been tired lately.  I tucked him in and told him it was my job to worry about him and not his job to worry about me.  He told me he knows that but he was going to do it anyway and I told him I knew that.  Then we hugged and said goodnight and he sighed and shook his head when I sat down at the computer to finish this.  That's my new favorite memory of Brad...until tomorrow.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Memory Three: A Conversation With My Son About Homosexuality

     I fell behind and Brad is already home now.  It's amazing the affect he has on me.  I've had back to school to deal with while working almost sixty hours a week and yet I've been more relaxed and sleeping better than I have all summer.  Of course, that has lead to less late night writing sessions so it's been ten days since I've posted anything.  I'll try not to let that happen again but no promises.
     One of the problems with falling behind on my list of memories is that we've made new ones since he's been back and I'm tempted to expand the list.  If I keep doing that, though, it would never end so I'm just going to try to finish it up this weekend.  Still, sometime I'll have to write about the conversation we had about his uncles this evening so I can showcase my son's wit and humor and poke fun at my brothers at the same time.
     One other thing I should mention is that Brad's great grandma on his mother's side passed away this past week.  She was a great woman and if any of my ex's family is reading this I hope they know they have my love and thoughts during this time of loss.  I miss you guys and hope to have Brad down there to visit you all soon.
Brad Says Fag
     His Uncle Jerry was giving him shit, surprise, surprise, and Brad was tiring of it.  Jerry has a strange ability to get under his skin like no one else and as much as Brad loves him he also wants to hit him too.  Actually, we all kind of feel that way about Jerry.  Instead of hitting him Brad called him a fag.  I didn't react the first time because I've learned the hard way that the surest way to make him repeat something is too overreact when he says it. Still, he said it a couple more times and I couldn't keep quiet.
     "Stop saying that word," I said without yelling but yelling with my tone.
     Brad looked at me quizzically and I realized something.
     "Do you even know what that means Brad?" I asked.
     "It means fat, right?" he asked.
     "No," Jerry said chuckling.
     "It means gay, Brad," I explained, "but it's a bad way of saying gay."
     "Well, it's not an insult to be called gay so why are you mad, Dad?" Brad asked.
     I hate it when kids throw lessons back in your face but I was prepared for this one.
     "You know how I told you never to say nigger?" I asked him.
     Just hearing me say that word made him realize how serious this was.
     "I remember and I don't say it," he said.
     "I know and I'm happy that you don't," I said, "but calling a someone a fag is just as bad.  Fag is to gay people like nigger is to black people."
     "I didn't know, Dad," Brad said sadly.
     "I know you didn't, buddy," I said hugging him, "that's why I'm explaining it to you instead of yelling."
     This wasn't really an enjoyable talk but it was kind of fun watching Jerry's expression change.  He went from annoyed that Brad was calling him that, to chuckling because he was amused at the situation I was in as a parent, to getting that I want to be a dad look on his face when Brad and I hugged.  This may surprise people about Jerry but he loves watching people learn and teaching people things.  I give him a lot of crap about his biological clock ticking because it gets under his skin but the moments when he's taught Brad something or seen me teach Brad something are the moments I can actually almost see his biological clock ticking.
     That seemed like the end of the conversation.  I had very bluntly explained something to Brad and he had listened and learned his lesson.  The conversation still nagged at me, though.  I had been waiting for a time to talk to Brad about homosexuality anyway.  It isn't any secret, I don't think, that I'm not a very religious but I promised Brad would be raised Christian and it's a promise I've kept.  Still, I knew some churches teach pretty hateful things about homosexuals and I'm determined that if Brad decides to be a Christian that he is going to take to heart the love and understanding parts of the teachings of Christ and not the judgemental, hateful things that some people have distorted them into.
     So later when we were riding somewhere in my truck, and I had him as a captive audience, I said, "Brad, you know how we talked about not saying that word about homosexuals?"
     "And I won't now that I know it's that bad, Dad," he said.
     "I know but there's more about that subject I want to talk to you about."
     "Like what?"
     "Has your church ever said anything to you about gay people?" I asked.
     "No. Why?" he asked.
     "Well," I said, "There are some churches and church people that say that being gay is really bad and they say really bad things about gay people."
     "Why do they do that?" he asked.
     "It does say in the bible that being gay is bad but it says that about two paragraphs above where it says having tattoos is bad," I tried to explain.
     "Why does the bible say that, Dad?" he asked.
     Man, I hate the hard questions and I'd brought these on myself.  Kicking myself I continued on.
     "I don't know and neither does anyone else," I said, "When you're older we can talk about a few ideas some people have about why the bible says those things but no one really knows.  A lot of people will tell you they know the mind of God but no one really does.  All you can do is read the bible, listen to smart people and come as close as you can to understanding but you'll never know for sure."
     "Of course, no one knows the mind of God," he said, "If they knew the mind of God that would mean they were smarter than God and no one is smarter than God."
     "That's what I'm trying to say and so because of that there will always be things we don't understand," I said, "like...let me figure out how to explain it.  I didn't choose to like kissing girls.  I just started to like kissing girls when I got old enough.  Just like some boys just like kissing boys.  Gay people don't choose to be gay.  They're born that way.  God made them that way."
     "Why would he make them that way and then say it's bad?" he asked.
     "That's one of those things we don't understand, Brad," I said, "I don't think he thinks it's really bad but I'm not smarter than God so I don't know for sure.  There's lots of things you won't understand that God does but there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on."
     "What's that?"
     "It isn't our job to judge people," I said, "That's God's job."
     "Yeah, they taught me that in church," he said, "We aren't supposed to judge people we're supposed to love people."
     "I'm glad your church teaches you that," I said, "and most churches are good churches that teach that so I hope you never hear anyone say hateful things about gay people in church.  Even if you don't, though, chances are that you'll hear a minister or somebody say those mean things on television or the internet and I just want to make sure you know that's not right."
     "What kind of mean things, Dad?" he asked.
     "I've heard people say that gay people are going to hell or that they're nasty or that God would want them all to die," I said, "and I just want to make sure if you ever here it you know that's not right."
     "Well duh, Dad," he said, "If I heard stuff like that I would know those people don't know anything about God because God doesn't want us to judge or be mean to anybody."
     "You know," I said to him, "You're a pretty smart fellow."
     "Yeah.  I get that from Mom."
     "You're quite the smartass, too," I said laughing.
     "Yeah," he said, "I get that from you."
     I'm sure some of you reading this are wondering why this is one of my favorite memories.  It's partially because it was parenting I knew was happening.  Most of the lessons you teach a child, good or bad, are lessons you don't even know you're teaching and you aren't trying to teach.  For the most part parenting is something you do while you're doing other things.  It's rare that you can actually point to a moment when you taught your child something important and you actually meant to do it.  So part of why this is one of my favorite memories involves ego.  I think I did some damn fine parenting there and it wasn't accidental or good parenting that happened just because I'm a good parent.  It was something I set out to do and it's a moment I can point at as a concrete moment that I can look at and say I'm a damn good Dad.
     It's about more than ego, though.  It's mostly about pride in my son.  He had just turned seven when these conversations took place and yet he was more thoughtful than most adults.  He learned the obvious things quickly and he asked thoughtful, considerate questions that made teaching the not so obvious things easier.  I love my little man.  I love the way his mind and his heart work and I'm pretty sure I never had to worry about him growing up to be a hateful person.  That's not going to stop me from doing my best to make sure he doesn't, though. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Memories Five and Four: More Video Games And More Wrestling

     Guys bond over stupid shit.  Most women look down their noses at sports and hunting and stuff guys bond over.  To that I can only retort purses and Twilight.  Enough said I believe.  Anyway today's post will be about the video games Brad and I have played together and the pro wrestling events we've attended together.  That will catch me up with only four days to go until I pick my buddy up.
Brad Is A Sixteen Bit Kid Living In An X-Box World
     I already wrote about how I motivated Brad to read with the Legend of Zelda but that was neither the beginning nor the end of our gaming together.  It started with Wii Sports, especially the boxing.  How my three year old son didn't break the television, or his hand, punching in with the Wii Remote I'll never know. He got discouraged at first because Daddy would always win so I let him when a couple matches because he was three.  I wish I hadn't done that because it wasn't long before he was beating me legitimately.  At the time I just couldn't put the energy into that he did.  I couldn't take a game so seriously.  I'm thankful that, although it took a while, having a son has reminded me that games can be serious business and fun at the same time.  In fact, they're usually more fun the more serious they're taken.
     From Wii Sports we moved onto some Mario games including Mario Kart.  I'm a Nintendo fan.  I can't help it.  I played Nintendo with my friend Brad and I was going to play Nintendo with my son Brad. Nintendo makes games that are fun and fantasy while the other companies are all about killing things.  That doesn't mean we didn't play what gamers would claim to be more serious games.  We spent a long time working our way through Resident Evil 4, thanks Jeff, and I'll never forget when I told Brad there was a part in the game that had scared me and he just had to watch me play it and pretend he wasn't scared.
     It was with the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time remake that he hit his stride as a gamer though.  He asked me if all games were that cool when I was a kid.  I told him not all but most and introduced him to Metroid and Contra and earlier Zeldas and Super Mario World and all the games my friend Brad and I used to play together.  He has a love affair with retro gaming now and spends almost as much time watching YouTube videos of the old days of gaming as he does playing old games on our WiiU Virtual Console.  He really wants to play Battletoads because I claim it's the hardest game ever made.
     I'm sure some of my non-gaming readers are wondering what the point of this is.  Well, the point is I'm reminiscing about good times with my son but there are other points to be made.  Brad isn't distracted by the flashy graphics of new games.  He values the old games because even though they might not look as good they're better made.  He's already learning to value substance over style.  He isn't fond of first person shooting games even though they're all the rage right now because he says he can shoot a gun in real life. When he plays a game he wants it to be something he can't do in real life.  So he already properly values imagination and he isn't afraid to go against what it popular and be his own person.  Also, even though he knows I'll play any game with him, he really loves to play the games his dad loves to play.  My little buddy loves me and I know I've got to soak that shit up while I still can.
     So when he gets back we've got to play through the Tyranny of King George expansion pack for Assassin's Creed III, buy AC Four, finally beat Super Metroid, play Earthbound, and keep our fingers crossed that an older Zelda game or Battletoads comes out on the Virtual Console while we await new Zelda games.  If all of that means nothing to you know that it means this; my son and I will be spending a lot of time together.
Brad Sees Wrestling Live
     Another subject that I've talked about before but seeing wrestling live is a completely different experience from watching it on television.  There are two major wrestling companies in the U.S., TNA and the WWE, and Brad and I have been to one show of them each.  TNA has this cool summer tour they do called BaseBrawl where they do shows in minor league stadiums and they came to Marion, Illinois a couple of summers ago.
     We don't watch TNA as much as we do WWE but it didn't matter because TNA has a lot of old WWE wrestlers and Brad knows his wrestling history.  I love how he wants to learn all about the history of things that interest him.  I have no idea where he gets that from.  There was some doubt about if we were going to be able to go because money was tight at the time but it was on my birthday and I decided there was no better birthday present to myself that doing something special with my son.
     We got there early and wondered around.  Brad was in awe of just seeing the empty ring.  We bought some souvenirs, including a toy championship belt for Brad, and Brad pointed out Velvet Sky's behind to me.  Thanks Brad.  We got her autograph and Brad was uncharacteristically shy.  Of course, so was I. Then we took our seats.
     We cheered the good guys and jeered the bad guys.  We joined in the crowds' drunken chanting and enjoyed the wrestling.  There weren't any great matches but they were some very good matches.  Brad's eyes were glued to the ring but watching him watch the action wasn't the most memorable moments of the night.  About halfway through the night they announced that for twenty dollars after the show with Kurt Angle in the ring.  As much as Brad liked "Our Olympic Hero" Kurt Angle it was the in the ring part that most excited him.  He kept staring at the ring and saying, "I'm going to get to go in there, aren't I Dad?" Sometimes as a parent, no matter how tight money is, you just can't say no.
     Before we got in line to get in the ring, though, we got Jeff Jarrett's autograph.  Brad teased this guy about losing his match that night.
     "I'm the best," Jeff Jarrett said, "but everyone has a bad night sometimes."
     "If you're so good how come you don't have the belt?" Brad asked.
     "I ought to slap the taste out of your mouth," Jeff Jarrett said in his meanest bad guy voice to Brad.
    Brad's eyes got huge and he looked to me for help.  He was trying not to show how scared he was.  Then the wrestler laughed and smiled and so did I.  Brad looked at us both for a second and then smiled too. Brad
and Jeff Jarrett fist bumped and then we were off to get our picture taken with Kurt Angle IN THE RING.
     There were at least a hundred people in line ahead of us but Brad was as patient as can be.  He talked trash with some teenagers for a bit over who the best wrestler ever was and ended the argument by screaming "and that's the bottom line because Stone Cold said so."  Everyone in line pretty much fell in love with him.  He has that affect on people.
    Then we got in the ring.  He took his time feeling the mat, softer than it looks, and the ring ropes, harder than they look, then he finally looked at Kurt Angle.  Kurt said hi and Brad looked at him, held his belt up, and said, "I got my gold Kurt.  Where's yours?"  Brad can be a cocky little shit and I'm being completely serious when I say I have no idea where he got that from.  Kurt was a good guy wrestler so his reaction wasn't near as entertaining.  He just said he hoped to win the title soon and then my son and I put our arms around a sweaty man and took a picture with him.
     The WWE is a lot different than TNA.  TNA is the minor leagues.  WWE is the major leagues.  WWE didn't come to Marion.  It was in St. Louis.  There wouldn't be any meeting the wrestlers either.  One thousand people went to the TNA show whereas thirty thousand people would be at the WWE show.  It was going to cost a heck of a lot more money, too.  Still when the WWE announced they would be doing their one thousandth episode of Monday Night Raw, their television show, from St. Louis Brad's uncle decided he would pay for Brad and his cousin Cort to go.  Thanks Phil.
     There was a special reunion of a group of wrestlers called Degeneration X and we got to chant along with their catchphrases.  You haven't lived until you and your seven year old have screamed "Suck it" along with thirty thousand other people.  Brad was amazed that during Kane's entrance, which involves fire shooting out of the ringposts, we could feel the heat even though our seats were almost at the top of the building.  He was even more amazed when the Undertaker made a special appearance to save his "little" brother Kane.  The show, though, was for us all about the main event.
     John Cena was taking on C.M Punk for the WWE Championship.  This was a big deal because John Cena was Brad's favorite and C.M. Punk was my favorite.  There's this odd dynamic in the WWE where John Cena sells the most merchandise and is their number one good guy but he's hated by half the audience; mostly males over twelve.  So the standard situation is that the women and children chant "Let's Go Cena" and the guys then answer with "Cena sucks."  Well, I couldn't help myself.  When Brad and his cousin Cort started chanting "Let's Go Cena" I had to join in the "Cena Sucks" chants.  I got some dirty looks and a few good natured punches from Brad and his cousin.  My brother, traitor that he is, joined in with the "Lets Go Cena" chants.
     We keep these chants up for, no exaggeration, over thirty minutes.  None of us had much of a voice the next day.  In the end my guy won when Cena was distracted by none other than The Rock.  Then my guy ran back in the ring and took out the Rock too.  The show ended with my guy holding the title belt while standing over both the fallen John Cena and the Rock.  If you don't think I give Brad hell about that until this very day you don't know me very well.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Memories Eight Through Six: Guns, Books, and Deerhunting

     Six days to go and I'm only on number eight so I have some catching up to do.  This weekend was worth it, though.  How often do you get the chance to get three people that have been friends for twenty years together?  We didn't paint the town and do anything crazy.  We just sat around and shot the shit and played with my friend's kiddos and watched movies like Wreck-It Ralph.  On one hand it was a bit bittersweet how very adult we've all become.  On the other hand if our high school vice principal could see us now, well that arrogant bastard would probably take credit for it so let's not talk about that.  On with the memories. There's going to be three this time and one of them is not like the others but that is often the case with my son who has more depth to him at eight than most people do at forty-eight.  Either that or I just care more about getting to know him than I ever have anyone else.
Brad's Got A Gun
     My son shoots guns.  He has since he was big enough to hold one with a little help.  He's had toy guns that loaded like the real things and he's been taught to handle them safely.  It was expected that he would shoot but it was never forced on him.  He's loved every bit of it and we've had to slow him down on it from time to time.  He's a boys' boy and he loves things that go boom.
     I don't remember the first time Brad shot a gun but I remember the look on his face because it's the same look on his face that he gets anytime he shoots.  There's Brad's look of intense concentration, brow furrowed and eyes narrowed and mouth set in a Clint Eastwood tough guy pose, that he gets whenever he really cares about being really good at something followed by the shot and then either a huge smile if he hits his target or a look of comical disappointment followed by grim determination if he misses.  He doesn't miss much, though.  It's a foregone conclusion that he's going to be a better shot than his dad.  He may already be.
     It's been a disappointment to me that he hasn't wanted to play baseball but shooting has pretty much replaced the father son bonding of teaching baseball.  There's working on the stance and teaching the little things that make the difference between success and failure.  There's using encouragement, celebration, or stern lectures, the carrot and the stick, depending on what the situation calls for.  Mostly, there's the time with him doing something with both enjoy and making memories that are bigger than either of us realize.
     I haven't been his main teacher, though.  Almost anytime we shoot it's at his Uncle Jerry's and Jerry has been his main instructor.  He knows more about guns and shooting than I'll ever know if my lifetime so I defer to him.  Jerry is a large, burly man, nicknamed Big Ugly at deer camp, that has for most of the twenty years that I've known him sworn he would never get married and have kids.  Still, seeing him with Brad I can see that someday he will and I can see him realizing slowly that someday he wants to.  It's amazing to see this sensitive, patient side of my friend.  It's wonderful watching him make small corrections and talking softly to Brad and thinking about how to explain things and smiling like a father when Brad gets it right.  The moment that is clearest in my mind is one of the first times Brad shot with us.  We were trying to teach him to always stay behind the shooter while they were shooting but in his exuberance he kept running out right after a shot was fired to see where it hit the target.  I was getting quite fed up with this, it was life or death after all, and was starting to yell at him.  Jerry kind of shook me off and then he crouched down to look Brad in the eyes and put his hand on his shoulders.
     "Brad, if we can't trust you to listen to us we won't be able to let you shoot with Dad and Uncle Jerry," he said softly but firmly.
     Brad's eyes got big and he promised he would listen and he has ever since then.  It was a small moment but it was easy to see what it meant.  I wanted to sing in a mocking tone "Jerry's gonna be a daddy" but for once I kept my mouth shut and didn't ruin the moment. Even if Jerry never has a son or daughter of his own, though, he's making one heck of a second dad to my son.  Brad's a lucky little boy.  He's been blessed with two awesome biological uncles on my side, but please don't tell my brothers I'm talking good about them, and a some damn good uncles on his mom's side, too.  Still, after all that he gets the family friend uncle too and he's as awesome as Jerry is.  When you make friends with someone at twelve years old because you both smoke at way too young of an age you aren't thinking about friends being the family you choose and you damn sure aren't thinking that friends are the family you choose for your children but either I got lucky or my twelve year old self was a pretty good judge of character.
Brad's Got A Book
     I've talked about reading and wrestling already but one day they came together for Brad and I in a beautiful way.  I love wrestling and I love watching Brad wrestle but the wrestling tournaments can often be excruciating.  We have to be there by eight and Brad will usually have a match every two hours after that but it isn't exactly two hours.  It depends on how quickly the other matches go and how many wrestlers show up at each tournament.  So we pretty much can't leave in between his matches for fear of missing his next match.  Over the winter we spend a lot of Saturdays and Sundays in gyms filled with sweaty kids and grumpy parents for over eight hours at a time.  
     Brad and I pass the time with the most effective time killer I know; books.  One tournament in particular I remember looking up from my book and looking around at everyone else in the stands.  There were plenty of kids and adults with there noses in screens of one sort or another; smartphones or portable video game systems or tablets. There were plenty of kids and adults arguing with each other.  There were plenty of kids running around like lunatics while their parents slumped in their seats in exhaustion and defeat.  Brad and I were the only two people with books in our hands.  I got Brad's attention and pointed this out to him and he gave me a quit bothering me look and went right back to his book.  I smiled in recognition and then laughed when he had to go to the bathroom and almost fell three times because he was trying to read his book while walking there.  The expression he is his father's son never seemed more appropriate and I was able to take one of my favorite pictures of him.
     As much as I love that picture, it worries me a little too.  It's almost the perfect embodiment of my life.  A kid in a wrestling singlet, pushing open a door with his nose in a book, and not caring what he looked like to anyone else while doing it could have easily been me.  I've always sort of lived in between groups.  I played sports but I wasn't a jock.  I wasn't quite nerdy enough to be a full fledged nerd but I was geeky enough to not be anything else. Even now, when I lived around Belleville I was considered a redneck and now living in a more rural area I'm thought of as a city boy.  I hunt and listen to country music but I'm not quite country enough to attract the country girls.  I'm into politics and philosophy but I'm too aware that there's more to life than intellectualism to have a decent relationship with the more urban women around here.  I don't fit in completely much of anywhere and I don't really care what people think about it.
     That doesn't mean I want it for my son, though.  I love that he's confident enough to be who he is and not care but it doesn't make life easier.  I know full well that sometimes it's hard to feel settled or content when you live in between worlds like I do.  Still, Brad has a gift that I don't.  He has an outgoing personality, he's comfortable in groups of people, and he has an innate ability to connect with people and put them at ease around him.  Through some kind of combination of genes from his mother and my father he has the perfect personality to where he won't feel like he doesn't fit in anywhere.  He'll feel like he fits in everywhere.  So I guess I shouldn't be worried about him.  I should probably be jealous of the little bastard.
Brad Has Secrets
     I meant for this to be about deer camp but I can't write it without breaking the first rule of deer camp; what happens at deer camp stays at deer camp.  So I'll just say that Brad has fun with the guys and fits right in with Old Boy and Big Ugly and the Great White Hunter aka Goat Slayer and Big Gay Ray and Fud and all the rest.  Brad doesn't have a nickname yet but I'm certain it's just a matter of time.
     Of course, being guys, we all break that first rule of deer camp whenever the opportunity to embarrass each other presents itself but that's another reason I can't share the memories of Brad at deer camp here. Having the stories on the internet would kind of steal my thunder when I go to tell his first serious girlfriend about his first deer camp.  So I couldn't make a list of favorite memories of my son without mentioning hunting but I can't actually share the stories here.  I have to hoard them for the moments of maximum possible embarrassment.  Besides, one of the best ways to bond with a kid is to let him think there are secrets between him and you that can never be told.