Friday, August 23, 2013

An Open Letter To My Wife...



So, for those of you that know me, and for those of you that don't...I've decided that it is time for me to write an open letter to my wife...and I thought I'd start with what I consider to be a bullshit meme about living life with blinders on...  This is my attempt at humor, and hopefully my wife is already laughing...real life, where I live is where a nice crap sandwich gets passed around and everybody takes their turn dealing with the icky, non-talked about issues between people.  I need to connect with my wife, and as I do that,  some of you  can expect an ushy-gushy love filled letter...the rest of you are still laughing at my picture...  I arrived at the decision to write this letter after my latest session with my psychologist, who did not put me up to this, and rarely puts me up to anything, but endorses our general dialogue on life, love, the universe and trying not to mentally break minor children under your direct guardianship.

Dear Lovely Wife:  [business tone indicates the nature of this letter and pre-empts emotional state of wife as she understands the topics of this letter...and fears I'm about to divulge our darkest problems in a public venue]

I love you.  You know that.  You love me, I know that.  You've been in medical school for several years now and we are in the closing years of this project...project Dr. Cindy West.  This well run project has been successfully on schedule since its start, and the primary and secondary team members have performed admirably, we still engage in meetings on team structure and organizational improvements...namely in the management areas of the male parent resource and the minor members of the team.  Which, admittedly need work...all the time...and probably a project manager, team coach, or other adjunct member to help the team be more successful.  The primary project resource has performed above expectations at every level of the project, thus far, and continues to incite solid confidence in the external (and internal) stakeholders of this project.  

Project Dr. West, does not sit alone within our organization, as you well know...good grief, you know more than anyone on the face of the Earth.  Accompanying project Dr. West, an ever exciting story of love, grief, trial and tribulation of the Ongoing Life and Times of a Family Affected by Depression.  Which chronicles a superhero and his family's hilarious adventures through a life filled with joy, doubt, ups, downs, more downs, and hopefully less downward down's as life moves ever forward.  

It is on these two topics that I write to you today.  

Last night, we had a wonderful discussion about a vacation, its schedule, familial complications, and a husband / wife relationship that fights through imperfect circumstances to defy marital statistics about divorce.  
I arrived at two observations from our discussion last night, upon which I need to elaborate.

My historical shortcomings are well chronicled and documented, regarding scheduling, follow through, laundry, thinking ahead, and general 'checking out' when I feel I can possibly get away with it...  Depression, and our battle to live a happy successful life complicates things from time to time, and it is such a difficult topic to discuss.  You always have to be on your guard that any point in an argument or discussion, I will play the "Depression Card" and seek some type of sanctuary behind a diagnosed illness, when instead I should be moving balls forward and attacking life.  Which is a very recognizable fear, from my perspective.  I'm so glad, interestingly enough, that I'm the one with the condition, rather than it being someone "not me"...because I'm pretty sure I would bail on that person and tell them to get over their little mental issues about the sun not coming up tomorrow.  Your persistence in this matter remains well recognized and appreciated.  

Now, to get a bit personal.  

Being labeled with a mental illness carries real and imagined stigmas about a person's mental stability and frame of mind.  Everybody has had a crazy ass uncle, or relative that leaves you always thinking "WTH, does this person know they are this out of touch with reality?".  So, I open up my brain and let you know how I deal with this...

Having depression, is not the same as having Depression...one is a medical condition, the other is a dark cloaked character that loves his precious dark moods and underachieving mental state.  One I treat with medication, the other I have to keep a close eye on and beat the shit out of...when I recognize him whispering into my ear.  How I manage that process, reveals my grasp on my mental state, and the quality of my mental fabric.  

My ultimate fear:  losing touch with reality, under a tremendous amount of stress, and not being able to recognize that I'm losing my shit.  

So, to monitor this possibility, I generally start with a status report of my faculties, based upon externalized factors indicating my success rate of self efficacy...or how is it going, and how am I doing?  How's the house operating, are they kids alive, fed, and moderately mentally healthy...all that.  

I've not been close to losing my shit.  But, that's always where I start...because having a mental illness, means that it is my head that could be tricksy with me.  If it were my arm...I could assess it everyday by picking something up, and moving it around.  Inside my head, its a bit more complicated.  

That's all for the losing my shit factor...  I'm not worried about it, my mental framework remains as ironclad as most other people I know, and better than several people I know.  But, that doesn't mean I can't have depressive episodes and spiral downward...it does mean that I have to identify when that happens and get the cloaked bastard in my head out of my ear and start battling life a little harder.  This process, as described, does not account for my partner...you, being the most valuable asset I have.

My biggest challenge with depression remains making improvements in my life regarding character traits and habits (mental and physical) that I've accepted as unchangeable, and to commit myself to believing in a better tomorrow, and applying myself in a successful way to change myself into a better superhero.  The funny part about this process, has to do with the cloaked figure inside my head... which, after a hard day's work, says "you really didn't work that hard, you just muddled your way through a job that somebody else could have done quicker and better".  I know he's a lying bastard...but, I have to safeguard that my commitment to changing myself is solid, and not twisted...  otherwise I will exhaust myself physically and mentally chasing after an unbalanced model of success, to which I can never attain.

In summary, I start with the "losing my shit" checkpoint, and work towards, "Am I working hard at living life in the best way possible?".  

My point, and invitation to you, is that when I play the depression card, in a discussion...what I am actually doing, is inviting you into that conversation, and asking an extremely vulnerable question..."in your opinion, am I working hard enough on my character and life, and not misapplying myself and not recognizing it?"  As the closest person in my life, your input into that question, means more to me that most anything else in the world.  I don't base my confidence in myself, or in my abilities on your opinion...that would be codependent...instead, I am seeking external input, from an expert, regarding the baseline assessment of my disposition toward life, family, marriage, and work.

I'm not running away from you.  

I am running to you, naked, and honest, and vulnerable, in a world where I keep the shields up 99% of the rest of the time.  Because I love you, I trust you, and I need you...and at the most base level of communication, I don't want to fuck up what a great thing I have going...I want to remain the type of man that you would remarry today, tomorrow, and the rest of the week...we'll talk about next week over the weekend.  [Levity utilized here to lighten the mood after a fairly technical gushy point]

Secondly, on marriage, life and the divorcing of couples that once loved each other, and then for some reason don't make it...

This one fascinates me.  

You being a doctor, and me being the stay-at-home dad, with a job and flourishing career...makes for a difficult family and intimacy model.  [To everyone else: she just said...NOOOOO SHIT!]

You are a tremendously independent person, and to some degree, past my own social nature, I am as well.  However, we've built a model in our marriage based upon mutual love, admiration, and respect for each other.  So, with our hard as hell schedules, no sleep for you, perhaps too much sleep for me (in you and Malcolm's opinion), how do we maintain a marital relationship based on intimacy and love, when we are in a part of life that makes quality time very hard to come by...?

As we've embarked upon this journey (aka project Dr. West), I've noticed a few things about life, the universe and everything.  You view the world in a very independent way, but you live in a very partnered model. I view the world in a very connected way, but tend to live in an independent fashion.  

10 years ago, I could have never imagined being a single dad, with two small children, working, living, and being successful at it.  

10 years later, after being a de facto single dad for the past 5 years much of the time, I've noticed that I've developed a new mindset.  I'll call it the single parent mindset.  You are prone to having this mindset naturally, but don't act upon it, unless you need to...  I've had to develop it, and learn how to deal with shit as a single parent, because my wife isn't there to do it all for me, while I sit in the garage and piddle, or watch football and stay drunk all the time...Your mother did it, and my father did it, under differing circumstances.  

As couples drift apart, as we have openly admitted at times during project Dr. West, this mindset continues to develop.  It matures in one's head, from "I'd be shit canned screwed if I was a single dad", to "I could maybe pull this whole thing off, or at least fake it for several years".  

In some cases, not ours mind you, couples get to a point where they are "emotionally divorced", their lives simply diverge over a period of time, due to schedules, or whatever the hell screws them up....  but, the point is that they drift apart...slowly developing a "single parent mental model" subconsciously, because that's what they are, when the other spouse isn't around...we know people like this... it isn't us, but we are in a position in life where it can become us for short periods of time because of our respective schedules.  

The key, in my mind, comes when the single parent mentality matures.  Under normal healthy marriage circumstances, it is tucked back in the far regions of the soul, and thought of in reference to, "What if something tragic happens?"...or "What if something happens to me?".  

In other cases, the single parent mentality blossoms to a point where one parent says, "I don't need this shit anymore, I can do this better by myself, and have a much happier life that way."  

When the two parent mentality of marriage loses value, and the single parent mentality produces a utility and value point greater than the two parent mentality...divorce becomes a serious consideration.  Now, there a lot of other factors, and bullshit that go into that...but, that's my observation.  

In conclusion, I have seen that mentality develop in my head, over the past few years...which, actually is a great thing...getting back to the depression section of this letter.  I know that you are tremendously independent, and that you could pull off being a single parent.  I think I could possibly fake it for a few years.  

Regardless of that analysis, I still believe the marriage we have poses a far greater value to me, than any life I can imagine where you aren't with me.  I am still a much better person, because of you.  Beyond any of this reasoning, though, I still love you.  I still respect you, which is more than I can say about 80% of the whole fucking world.  You are a truly fantastic person.  You penetrate the bullshit of life in ways I can't seem to navigate, and challenge me mentally...which again, is better than 90% of the world.  Arrogant as that may sound, you are simply smarter than me, and I'm smarter than most...  [everybody else just let that go...]

In a very non-emotional way, and in a very emotional way, you are my wife.  You are my best friend.  I would never hurt you, and I will give my life anew everyday to protect you, and this life we've built as a family.  

The key to that last part being...it isn't a heroic giving of life...it's one bloody fucking day at a time, downgrading my own needs, desires, and wants...in order to continue investing in a marriage that currently finds itself challenged for quality time and intimacy.  

But...that's what I signed up for...and I'm good for it.

I'll have my people get with your people and we should do lunch soon.
Regards,
Scott







Saturday, July 13, 2013

Scarring Your Son For Life...For Dummies

I do the best I can as a parent.  Sometimes it is good enough, and sometimes it isn't.  If you are a fan of John Irving, and life's sometimes dark twisted humor, then you probably understand that all children are destined to become incredibly warped and scarred by their parents, regardless of anyone's intentions.  It has always been this way, and will continue to be this way...so, we might as well enjoy it and learn how to see the humor in the ultimate destruction of our children...right?  They'll turn out ok, whether they have our genes, or our nature, our worst fears and traits await us, like a mirror...patiently awaiting us to stare at our broken selves in their faces.  Wondering how in the world I could break such a delicate and beautiful thing, and twist it into something far more fun and infuriating to the average parent.  

If you caught some humor in that paragraph, this post is for you...  On the other hand, if you had visions of me dancing in the dark with Freud and whiskey, there are updated baseball scores here:  www.espn.com.

I helped coach my son's baseball team.  During the end of the season tournament, my son was scheduled to leave on a trip with his grandparents, and would miss the last few games.  My wife reminded me, "Remember this is his last night to play, so make a big deal out it with the team and make sure he gets to say his goodbye's."

After the games, (they played two), I was walking back to the car with my son, and the head coach, when he said, "Well Malcolm, I guess that was your last game of the season."

Doh!   I suck so bad...Horrible Dad awoke from the back of my mind, "you dumbass, you are such a dumbass, oh my, this is hilarious, you are completely insane and intent on breaking your son's poor psyche, you are hilarious my friend".

Tears ensued on the ride home, and I listened to Horrible Dad, and worked to find Compassionate Dad, who was absolutely nowhere to be found inside my guilt ridden head...almost like he was saying "Yeah, I'm out on this one, you idiot".

Fast Forward...

Boy goes on trip with Grandparents and is gone for around three weeks.  He's having fun, hanging out with his cousin at DisneyWorld and enjoying life.  

I'm taking care of his guinea pig.  Frappaccino.

Frappacchino had been with our family for two or three years, and was the first pet my son bought with his own money, and cared for him (most of the time).  A fat little guinea pig, that did all the things guinea pigs do, which is basically nothing.

I had no problem caring for "Pig" as he had come to be known in family circles.  I fed and watered him, played with him a few times during the day, and we had a genuinely wonderful relationship.  I would talk to him about his secret spy missions regarding watching the dog, who loves to abscond with defenseless stuffed animals and sleep in beds when the doors are left open.  Pig's job was to alert me when this happened.  He was pretty bad at it, but enjoyed his job immensely, so I let his performance slide most of the time.  

Feed, water, play, discuss missions....coaching sessions, reprimands for cavorting with the enemy (I think he and the dog had an agreement).

About 5 days before my son would return, I noticed that Pig hadn't touched his food or water.  I wasn't too alarmed, got him out and played with him, he was spry and cuddly, and apologetic about letting the dog sleep in the bed, so I thought he must not be hungry, having gorged himself on food and water over the previous days.

4 days before my son would return, I repeated the check on the pig, who still hadn't eaten, but was still having a good 'ole time, as pigs do, whenever it is they aren't on duty watching for the dog.

2 days before my son would return...

I check on Pig, and he's laying there, spread out on his bedding, not looking too spry.  I pick him up and realize "Houston, we have a problem!".  His breathing had become labored, and his eyes were all crusty, and he didn't really want to move.

Horrible Dad: "You're gonna kill the piiiiiig!, you're gonna kill the piiiiig!  This is awesome, you are gonna kill your boy's pig, and it's gonna be all your fault, man, where is my popcorn and Dr. Pepper, I'll be right back..."

Compassionate Dad: "You got this, he's sick, but, you got the Internets, and you can fix this...if he's terminal, all you gotta do is keeping him alive until the boy gets home, take him to the vet, spend hundreds of dollars on a poorly performing spy, and if he dies, it'll be in your son's arms...no culpability on your part whatsoever."

I was pretty sure Compassionate Dad didn't like Pig, but he gave good advice.

I texted a 911 message to a friend, whose wife is a vet.  Then I took to the internets.

I checked my work schedule, since I work from home, the internet portal and my work portal are next to each other.  I dialed into a conference call and went to work on Guinea Pig Illness Diagnosis 101.  Which was pretty good, those guinea pigs have organized their owners and gotten them some web skillz.  I was able to quickly diagnose an Upper Respiratory Infection based on the symptoms.  Antibiotics needed.

Waiting on friend's vet wife. 

Working on conference call.

Internets:  Try to hand feed and water the ill pig, in order to keep its energy up.

Me:  Sitting in the living room, with a towel, Pig, water bottle (with vitamin C for all those sticklers out there), and a carrot...on a conference call discussing critical defects needed for an initial delivery of software to a very large bank in Eastern U.S.

20 minutes....tick-tock tick-tock....

Me: Sitting in living room, on conference call, now wet, pig shit on towel (and me), getting a little water in him, and he's trying to munch on carrot.

Horrible Dad: "You are actually trying to save him...[munch munch, nom nom, slurp]...I mean you can't make this stuff up, you think you're a vet or something, Pig is toast dude...just admit it, you suck, and you're gonna kill your boy's guinea pig...awesome stuff, you suck!"

Compassionate Dad: "Uhm, this is not going well, maybe the internets will have some more information or training that will help you become a vet in the next 10 minutes or something."  

I left Pig on the towel, (not like he was going anywhere), stopped to actually speak on the conference call for a few minutes, while I further consulted Al Gore's expertise on Guinea Pig URI's.  

Horrible Dad: "Did you catch that part about how URI's travel fast, and you have about 36 hours to get the antibiotics...Pig's dead dude, You killed the Piiiiig, You killed the Piiiig!"

Compassionate Dad: "You can still wait to hear back from the vet and get the antibiotics, just keep water in him and you have a chance."

Horrible Dad: "Yeah, or you can call 968-273-382533."

Compassionate Dad: "That's too many numbers."

Horrible Dad: "you-are-fucked....get it....get it....this is hilarious, why don't you move to Alaska or something, they need things killed there....I'm here all day folks [slurp]."

Me: I'm confused, angry, trying to work, trying to save pig, have pig shit on me, a dying pig, my boy's out of town, my software's in the tank...I'm living the dream.

I pick Pig up again, this time I give him some food pellets, since the carrot isn't working.  Great news, he's trying to eat.  He's weak, but he's working on the pellets.  

Compassionate Dad: "Uhm I think he's trying to swallow them whole, no teeth moving...dude, do something"

Me:  [digging pellets out of tiny guinea pig's mouth]  I think I got it.

Pig shudders, or convulses.  

Me: [On conference call], "I'm gonna have to drop, I've got another...thing, to go to"

I take Pig to the bathroom, where he looks at me with his crusty eyes.

"Oh, no, you are not going to die on me...you have to wait two more days, until boy gets back, you are not gonna screw me like this."

Horrible Dad: "Oh yes he is, and it is all because you suck [chomp, chomp]...I live for this stuff."

Pig convulses heavily, it takes a minute for me to recognize this is what is happening...then goes limp, gasping for breath.

Compassionate Dad: "I think you better do something, you're losing him...this is where professionals would call in help from the crack medical team....do you know guinea pig CPR?"

Me:  No.  [Trying to give some version of CPR to Pig, trying to see if his airway is obstructed]

Horrible Dad: "This is awesome, I'm gonna call some friends, he's giving CPR to a guinea pig!!!  This is better than when you killed his fish over Christmas by turning the Thermostat down to Manitoba to save money...how'd that work out Pig Killer?"

[Text Message:  wife worked early, still asleep]

[Lots of cursing, Pig shaking, squeezing, more cursing, shaking, cursing]

Text Message to Wife: "we're screwed, Pig's dead"

Text Message from Wife: "yup"


RIP Frappaccino

Sunday, June 23, 2013

July 6

In a couple of weeks, I'll commemorate the 27th anniversary of the day my father passed this life, leaving me a completely clueless 15 (and a half), year old, wondering what would become of my life. 

I've encountered some lost years, before and after his passing, where the memories are faded and fleeting, like an old book where the edges have faded, leaving sentence fragments and bits of paragraphs.


I've encountered some low years, where I was ashamed of who I was, and who I was becoming, drifting without purpose, and internally injured without knowing how to tell anyone.


I was fucked up...pretty much beyond measure...and didn't really realize it.  But, that is youth, albeit youth amidst adversarial circumstances.


I've encountered years of digging, out of the holes I created for myself, wondering if I would ever see daylight again...longing for the searing heat of the Oklahoma summer burning on my face as it did when my father was watching me mow the lawn for the first time.  


I've come through years of dodging, trying every way I could to avoid the 'normal' path to success.  Trying to find ways to magically be successful, or to find an alternate route that was shorter than reality.


I've also awakened each day, with something deep inside of me that drives me like a nuclear reactor, pushing me, sometimes in the wrong direction...understandably without a compass, who would blame a ship for going in circles.


I've also known triumph of persistence, hard work, and patience that seemed as if it would crack my very skull with the anticipation of seeing a normal life.


I've walked across a stage that I fought after for so long, and that without the help of others, I would never have seen.  I looked for you that day, and you weren't there.


I found a woman, a most beautiful creature, that has torn me apart and seen me through being put back together.  A woman smarter than I, more driven than I, and more powerful than I am, in many ways.


I had some kids with that woman, and she...and they, are the most wonderful creatures, the most beautiful beings I've ever set eyes upon.



So, 27 years later...here's something that I have to say, read it if you like...but, surely, this for me...


My father can be summed up in a few words, which in no way, does justice to who he was on this earth...but, it's a start.  Mackey West was a man of values and principles.  His work ethic was called into question by my fore-fathers and mothers...which, quite honestly, I've not really heard much from in the way of positively describing people.


Yet, I remember my father putting himself to task, and sticking with his jobs...sometimes over a period of months, mind you, until they were completed.  Something I've always struggled to achieve.


He was a man of few words, but gave cogent thoughts, and relevant commentary within the many conversations I remember.  He was friends with people of other religions, political parties, and ideologies...and had a way of managing that aspect in difficult conversations.  At times, he would grow frustrated, but in conversation with his friends, that was infrequent.


Anger and frustration, toward his sons, were a different matter.  My father never raised his hand to me without cause, and I've never thought back on him with any thoughts of physical anger issues.  His words, though, were different.  He was a part of a generation that did not herald success, but internalized it, and moved forward focusing on improvement, or gaps in performance and character.  


He taught school, and was an administrator for over 30 years...around a quarter of a century at the same school, being a principal of the elementary school, middle school, and serving as the government programs administrator.  I really have no idea what the administrations he served, thought of his work...except in the past 27 years, I've really heard no particular sign of appreciation for his commitment or service...save that from the students, and parents of those he taught.  He wasn't a man that enjoyed recognition very much, so it seems appropriate that he quietly did his job, and internalized his successes.


To you Dad, here's what I have to say:


1. There was a ne'er do well dropout that came by school one day...wearing his army greens, and some of the kids jeered at him, making fun of his Army gear....calling him G.I. Joe.  At the time, I had a brother in the service, and truth at the time was that guys without jobs, and futures, joined the Army...this was true of my brother.  Before an incident could unfold in a difficult manner, I saw you standing on the steps of the school, hands on your hips, your "business" stance.  You must have seen from your office...I still see it clearly in my mind, enough to put the trees in their spots, the flagpole, and cracks in the sidewalk.  


Before he started yelling, you called to the G.I., by name.  You approached him, and held his head in your hands and spoke to him forehead to forehead.  There were probably a hundred of us, or so, on the grounds watching...and we heard every gnat, bee, and leaf rustle in the silence...you commanded that sort of respect.


I don't know what you said, but, then again I do...because somehow you put it into me as well...  


He hugged you, and then walked away, disturbed and glaring, but with a restored sense of self control.


I learned that there are few situations in life, where the right words, the right love, even for the un-lovable, can't remedy a situation properly.  I learned that you kept a high valuation of character within people, even when they hadn't earned it...and you had learned how to open that up and tap into it...making people believe themselves capable and willing to try once more.


2. You told me one time that I was being considered for an all-star basketball team....but that my play of late had been inconsistent.


What I realized later, was that I "had" been considered, and had been evaluated and came up short.  You didn't pick me up from that...you didn't encourage me through that disappointment, or point me on toward a better hope into the future.  Which is probably something I would do today... and perhaps, that was a fault of yours, but I know by the disappointment in your voice, and your anger with me...that you thought me more capable than most of the others, and that you expected that performance out of me.


I learned to own my own performance.  I learned that people are always watching, whether you know it or not.  I learned that to those that are given much, much is to be expected...from myself, first.  That I was the only one in charge of my destiny.  


3. An African American family moved into the small town, where you taught.  You pulled me out of class, and asked me to introduce the teenager, in my class.  You did this knowing that there would only be 2 African Americans in the entire school, and that it had been almost decades since that had occurred.  


You didn't know how to do that.  You didn't know what to do...it was the most vague instruction you ever gave me, and I could tell that you were nervous.  One of the two or three times, which I can remember seeing you nervous.


You did that because you knew I would know what to do...you trusted me.  You had taught me at home about Civil Rights, and how slow the country was to awaken to a proper understanding of how people ought to be treated.  You had faith in me that I could figure out how to do the job, and I think...or hope that I did.  


4. You remembered every student, and their parents, and where they came from...what they did, what their circumstances were, and you ingrained in me that I was to look at every person as a member of the family and economic situation from which they came.  You understood that some kids were smarter than others, which is to say that some people are very smart, and others might not be very smart.  You gave that to me...of all the things I see...I see that.  As my wife says now..."people cannot do, what they cannot do"...and to expect things beyond a person, is simply not a good model.  Each person should be gauged as an individual with extremely high value, regardless of their IQ.  As one of your friends said one time, "It may not take much of an IQ to lift a bail of hay, or haul the cotton to the gin...but, there are many more of the smartest people I've met pushing plows and herding cows...Scotty, you remember that, farmers make the world go round, and they may not be college smart, but they are some of the smartest people you'll ever meet".  I'll admit I had to take some time unwinding that one...  but, you put me around the right people, dad. They weren't polished, and certainly weren't liked, but I'm not sure you were well liked either...I know you were respected...but, I'm pretty sure you didn't give a rat's ass who liked you and who didn't.  I still need to learn that a little...maybe that's a bit of mom inside me that's always worried about what others think...I can own that.  


Dad, there are a list of things I hope for...a list that I've wanted to talk to you about, a few things that remain un-closed for me...and that I spend a lot of energy chasing, even decades later...


1. After I saw Saving Private Ryan...a movie you would have loved...  I always want to look at someone who knew you, and say "Please, Please tell me I'm a good man...that after I tried to fuck up my life, that I've lived a good life, and done right by people and worked a hard days work, and helped to make people better....that my Daddy would be proud of me."  No matter who says it, how many times they say it...I want to hear it from you...that I did ok, that you are proud of me, and that you love your grandkids...


2. I realize that inconsistency was a demon for you as well.  It must have been, because it pissed you off so much.  Nothing burns a man more than his own wounds...and no wrath burns more into the children of a man than a demon he can't defeat himself.  I've grown "ok", with this...well, not "ok", but I've learned that it will be a part of me for a long time to come...and that my persistence will play itself out in becoming a bit more consistent as I grow older.


3.  Why did you wear those cut-off baggy ass jeans that made you look like a plumber?  You only wore them at home, and in the summer, but for the life of me....that is one of the hardest reconciliations I've worked to match up...the crisp shirts and ties at work, and the "plumber cutoffs" that I remember.  


4.  Did you ever want to kill us as children?  I mean, to start over...with a fresh batch?  I look back at my childhood, and after mom passed away, I can't help but think that the four us helped your stress level to a point that it shortened your life.  I'd like to say that we all turned out, but that wouldn't be true.  Three out of four isn't a bad record...that with all the crap you had to put up with when we were younger.  One was lost, and regardless of what you did to help him, he never did find his way...  we buried him a few years back, and remembering the arguments and discussions from when it was just us three at home...  I can tell you it was bittersweet...because at least I didn't have to worry anymore...I didn't have to try to manufacture any more hope, where hope had been squandered time and time again.  There are tragic lives, and unfortunately, one of those tragic lives was one of ours...I'd love to have a cup of coffee and talk about that with you sometime.


5. You were there, you saw it, I traveled most likely, but I made the shot, and we won...we won it all that night...I glanced over and saw you smile...I never needed anyone since that day, to tell me I was good...I could have walked off the court forever that day...because I got even better, I got better than I ever thought I could.  I earned the respect of people that played for a living...got invites to play with people that I had to turn down...but, I could have walked off the court that day forever, and I would have missed the joy of playing for myself, and for the sake of the game...because I still look for you when I play.


6...one last thing...  Our family history...  It's sort of organized on mom's side, thanks to some Aunts and Uncles that keep track of stuff... but, on your side, there's only a couple left...  and the medical history that you all left us with makes a doctor's eyes alternatively flash and roll as we discuss the health history from your side of the family.  From mental illness, to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and nearly anything else I can think of...  did the West's just work hard as they could to log health problems for future generations? You wouldn't know this, of course, but in the past 27 years, health history is a bitch of an indicator for all sorts of stuff...it would've been nice if you guys had a family walk every now then 40-50 years ago...   




I miss you Dad.  I think of you every 4th of July, because I know the 6th follows it every year.  I'll do my best to get down and polish things up for you, mom, and Mike this year.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Being Torn Apart


"Where does the love of God go, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?" sang Gordon Lightfoot, decades ago.

Yet, there's a ring of truth for that, yesterday and today, here in the Heartland, as we reach, bend, and stretch our minds to find the love and grace of our God in the aftermath of yesterday's disaster.  

Barry Trammel wrote of the ultimate horror, "Where are the children?" 

And I wondered about the children, who cries for you?  Who cries out for you, when the things most sedentary, safe, and secure that you can imagine, are literally ripped out of your grasp?

What do you hold on to?  When you grasp a tree, a tree you couldn't fall with a car, without hours of work with an ax...and it is ripped up in seconds, along with you?

What do you depend on, when you're in a building, that in a million years you couldn't pull down with your 3rd grade hands, disintegrates around you?  You watch it being pulled apart in seconds...the roof above your head is gone, the walls rumbling and crumbling in on you.  When you see a car fly by...in the air?

What do you do, when you are in a storm shelter, and the door is ripped open, or off?  You did what you were supposed to do!  You took cover, you got in the cellar, only to have the Beast overcome your safehold.

There are things in this life that we depend upon each and every day, things we cannot move, break, and destroy...and we learn that these things are safe.  Buildings, homes, schools, and cars...only to have that innocent perspective ripped away from us in a flash by Mother Nature.

You reach out mentally, from home, wanting to help, not wanting to watch TV, but being pulled, like a black hole to the only information source that can help you find out more....morbidly watching, rationalizing that maybe there's something good about to happen.

Because, for most of us, we understand the dangers...and then we forget.  The day before, I watched a nice and beautiful storm swirling around our heads, hoping to see my first tornado live...even as the NWS, located here in Norman stopped momentarily monitoring to seek shelter themselves.  10 minutes later, that beautiful swirl dropped a tornado that killed two.  Yesterday the Monster drove through Moore like a gigantic bulldozer...destroying everything in its way.

Then it isn't fun anymore, it isn't interesting...still fascinating, you watch the TV...literally staring at something that looks like a fake monster eating up a town...it is surreal, and somewhere in your head, you know that not everybody is going to be ok.  You slowly make the connection from 'awestruck' to 'serious and deadly situation'...and yet you can't quite meld the two together in a cohesive thought.  "Do I turn the TV off?"   "Do I keep watching?"  

I sent the kids outside, in the immediate aftermath...because of a quote I once heard..."you cannot unsee what you've seen".  Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I'll let a bit of their innocence escape to be stolen a bit later in life.

Then you realize it hit a school....two schools...and you see the pictures, and you hear the newscaster say "Oh NO...No....Oh my God"...and you do the same math in your mind...Not everybody will be ok.  There are people's children...that will no be ok.

My son forgot his lunch today, and I was barely able to hold it together as I walked down the hallway of his school to his room...imagining the walls being pulled, twisted, broken, with shit flying everywhere...I had to shut off for a minute.  I made it to my car, before I started to cry.

We ask "What do we do?  To cope?  How many times does the same damn town have to get hit?"...followed...by a sense of relief that it wasn't your city or town...Guilt, shame, angst, and amazement swirl around as you sit in your home, nice and safe.

You volunteer.  You give blood. You donate.  You see who you know that's affected, and help.  You move, that's what you do...numb with disappointment, grief, and serious violation of personal safety...yet spurned on by a sense of compassion, community and identity as an Oklahoman, or as most of our country today, an Oklahuman.  

Last night, before I went to bed...I watched as rescuers continued to dig through the rubble, looking for children and teachers.  I hoped...but, eventually you have to go to bed...there's another day to live tomorrow.  The practicality of life smacks you in the face, your kids have to go to school, you have to work, the world continues to turn.  It makes you want to scream "Stop for just a damn minute, World!!  Something very wrong just happened, and I'm quite ready to move on just yet!!"

As I tucked my kids in, they both told me that they no longer liked storms, and that the Joplin tornado hit in the middle of the night.  I told them that it was my job to keep them safe, and that I would be watching the weather, and that my phone beeped really loud when a warning came on....but, I was never able to shake the dad on TV, saying his daughter was still buried out there somewhere...it was his job too.

Frail, our grasp on life is...and control can be a serious illusion.

I don't know if the God I believe in hears tears as prayer, or if it even helped...but last night, and again today...

Who cries for the children....I do.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Is it wrong? Am I bad person?

Coaching my kids' teams for the past 5 years, I ask myself the following 5 questions after every game:

1. Did my team have fun?
2. Am I proud of my team?
3. Did my team work hard and learn or accomplish something today?
4. Am I proud of the other team?
5. Am I proud of myself, that I did all I could to make this contest fun for all kids involved, from both teams?

You see, my father taught me that I would never be average.  He taught me that while it was "ok" for others to behave in certain ways, I wouldn't ever behave in the same manner.  He taught me about a higher way of living, without ever addressing it directly.  He made sure that I paid attention to inequities, and used my interaction to recsolve them.  He taught me that it really was my job to be aware of situations, and that it was my responsibility to watch out for my fellows.  I don't know why.  I won't get a chance to ask him anytime soon, why he did that...but, thanks Dad, I finally got it.

I've watched two games in the past week, that ended up 46-2, and 40something-1. One of those games was a loss for me and my team, and the other was a win for our team.

I'm stuck trying to see why I feel worse about the victory, than I do about the defeat.

I think it has to do with the 5th question I ask myself...and it makes me tremendously troubled, and saddened, that it might have been my father that caused me to ask that final question.  I'm troubled that other people don't seem to ask themselves that question, as coaches, or players.

What do kid's learn when they beat another team 46 - 2?  What exactly did they "win"?

I'm a very competitive person.  However, I want competition to be just that...evenly matched squads, meeting to test their skills, as an exercise of body and mind, at a game that has little consequence in their life. I am very comfortable with the concept of winning, and of losing...there's no true shame in either.

I'm trying to figure out exactly what the other team "won".    And, as I grow older, I continue to come up with more questions for myself, than I have answers to give to others.

When did the stakes become so high, at such a young age?

When did playing sports as a child, become so serious?

Where are the adults?  You know, the ones watching the playground, like at school, that kept kids' from playing unfairly...that split up teams that were clearly unfair.  Does anybody remember teachers telling them that fairly matched teams are more fun for everybody, because it makes the game more even?

How many points are enough?  46-2, 66-2, 86-2?

At how many points, does a coach turn internally and ask themselves "what am I accomplishing by beating this team so incredibly badly"?

I realize that I think too much, and I'll admit that fact..and that I take the little things in life too seriously...I'll own that as well.

Doesn't anyone hear their father's voice inside their head say "That's good enough, now call them off and let the other team learn how to play the game a bit"?

I do.  I go out of my way to.  I do it because my father taught me to...

If the love of Christ were to be gauged on the playing surfaces of children's sports leagues... would we feel spiritual then?  Or just on Sundays when we get to talk about taking care of the poor, and not the team that played "poor"?

"Does anyone know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?"

Sung by Gordon Lightfoot...ignored by coaches of children...coaches that believe a foot on the throat of a child does them good, somehow.

I've really not learned to be subtle, or not to come down on myself as hard as the situation deserves...if you read my blog, then you know I've personally been guilty of this very thing that's bothering me now.

I suppose that I may come down too hard on others as well, and while it is because I know they are better than that, I'll not make that an excuse for calling them out.  Those games weren't subtle either, and I believe the responsibility lies within the adults that coach them...who volunteered to coach them.

Am I proud of how I helped all of the kids out there today?  Or, did I help to beat the ever loving crap out of an 11 year old...watch it happen, and intentionally prevent mercy from entering a situation?

I left today wondering if it was anyone's birthday, on the losing team...  wondering if any of them are going back to broken homes...  I know I sent at least one girl home to a broken home... a girl that said to me two weeks ago, "This is the greatest night of my life, I scored a bucket, and for the first time ever...I won a game."  Don't all kids deserve to win a little...or at the least not lose their dignity along with the game?

You see, little things make big things.  Big people make little people.  And...unfortunately, Big Dickheads, make littler ones, waiting to grow up...

I have two rules in life;  1. Do your job, and 2. Don't be a dick.

These kids are 8, 9, 10, 11...they're kids, for Christ's sake...If you need to prove something, or test yourself...let me know, I'll get my five, you can have your five, and we'll meet anywhere you like...but, as an adult, I'll tell you now...it'll only be fun for me, and your likely to get pissed.

I'll end with question #5...


5. Am I proud of myself, that I did all I could to make this contest fun for all kids involved, from both teams?

Feng

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

He may not have much...but damn...he gives it all...

I tend to fall on the under side of coaching and competitive discussions, and I've finally put to words where I stand on a couple of things...the memory of an old friend and my father drew me out to write this today.

I've struggled with the concept of competition for a number of years...which, in discussion we could split a room of little league parents and coaches, resulting in a small cataclysmic event in a short while.  

I was a hell of a competitor, and most will still tell you that I still am...This isn't about that competition...its about team competition.

The OKC Thunder slogan is "Team is One"...and a good one at that...I'm not a downer on slogans...but...

Team is something other than a slogan, and Trophies aren't things that just sit on shelves.

Team is about you, a picture of you, either now, or in the past.  And what came along with you through the winds of time. 

Team to me...well, that's what I've been thinking about.  Team is about a time with young men that are gone.  They're fat now, most of them, or most of us, anyway...anything but young, and the time has definitely passed us by.  Enough, though with my worthless nostalgia, and start with a little story:

You-shoot and Brick were two kids that played recently on a basketball team that I coached.  I name them appropriately, and imply no shame to them, only as a descriptive term and leave them nameless.  We had a non-competitive league, which I've heard other coaches remark about as developmental, or a feel good league.  Personally speaking, I'm a better player and a better coach than any of the men I've ever heard say such things.  I'm an aging athlete that has come to realize the value of elevating a human being through sports represents far more attainment than any all-star, or select team ever could.

Out team scored more points than a couple of others, but most days, we were on the struggling end of playing.  I was proud of the better kids on our team, because they learned, from me, that our team was about getting shots for everyone, including You-shoot and Brick [something I could have learned at a much younger age].  You-shoot generally wanted to find the most effective solution for the problem, passing to one of the better shooters...tremendously smart kid.  You-Shoot even took himself out once, saying he didn't feel well...until his dad made him admit that "the team had a better chance of winning if I sat down".  Brick, on the other hand,  learned the value system of our society at an early age describing his failure through the words, "I realize I won't score many points, but I want to learn to rebound and play defense".  His words betrayed him...he knew his failure would be imminent if he didn't score.  Defense and rebounding are concepts above our age group, though I laud his dad for working hard to show him more than scoring.  Brick and You-shoot struggled through most every game, but they clocked in, and played the games in practice and I made sure they had fun doing it.

In our final game, we continued our strategy...which drew ire from my assistant from time to time...understandably...I was aiming at a much higher picture, and honestly didn't feel the need to communicate that much about it.  We scored as many points as the other team and played hard.  We worked the ball around and as you can imagine, You-shoot and Brick both scored a couple of times, by creating their own shots... which helped us come out a few points on top (though we supposedly weren't counting).  Both teams and the people in the stands jumped out of their seats each time one of them scored...they knew those kids, it was a small league.  That's a trophy.  That's a team. 

Team is about my high school baseball team... a bunch of guys, some of whom couldn't stand each other, coming together for a common cause.  Team was Alan telling coach we were hitting soft tosses, while we were really playing football in the gym, (go figure).  Team was Aaron apologizing for something he had done before the whole team to keep from getting kicked off...and Team was us forgiving him and welcoming him back.  Team was us learning that our coaches contract hadn't been renewed...and that he'd be leaving at the end of the school year.  Team was the guys that didn't really ever get to play much, but when they did...the whole bench wanted to see them hit and score.  Team was goofing off on the bus on the way back from games where we lost horribly...or distracting the coach at the quick stop, so one of us could buy tobacco.  Team, in a single scene, was a guy who wanted to punch my face in a few days before, talking me under a fly ball that I couldn't see because of the lights...right underneath it.  I never saw it until it hit my glove.  

You can go see the trophy we won that particular night, a trophy we weren't expected to win.  I'm pretty sure it still sits down there somewhere.  I don't need to go see it, I lived it.  I know what it meant then, and I know what it means now...that together, we can accomplish things that we cannot do alone.

I hope that is what our kids are learning in sports.  It doesn't appear that way from the outside.  From the outside, it appears that most of the teams I've seen are working very hard to find 5 Kevin Durant's and Russell Westbrook's to fill the court, or 9 Josh Hamilton's, Albert Pujols', or Derek Jeter's to put on the field.  

Who do they stand up and cheer for, when there are no Never-shoot's, or Brick's on their team.  When each weekend is another weekend tournament for yet another trophy?  What exactly are they learning about being on a team with people of different skill levels?  Are they learning the value of sacrifice of personal glory to give that light to another?

I learned quite a bit about life in sports...when I was a kid.  Some kids need help scoring.  Some kids are better than you.  Some the same as you...but grew up in a broken home.  Some kids had awesome ability, but never had owned a glove before in their life.  Some kids I knew borrowed uniforms from kids the year before.  Some kids had more expensive gear than our school could afford, and they still stunk.

I grew up as a Warrior, from my high school, and while the school has continued to grow well past the size when I was there...I still keep up with it when I can.  I look forward to seeing the people that helped me become better....a better me.  Becoming a Warrior was trophy enough for me.  I suppose that's the trophy I want for my son for participating....a better him.  He doesn't need a ribbon, nor want one...he keeps his little trophies, but doesn't really care for them much.  

I suppose I'm not asking for non-competitive sports...I think I'm asking for coaches that compete at coaching their kids...gauging their win / loss record on how far each kid progresses not on games won or lost.  Focusing on the kids..asking them, "did they have fun?  real fun?"  Teaching them to have fun when they lose.  Nobody goes undefeated forever..that's rule #1...and every coach should make it their mantra to make sure that no kid ever goes 0 and forever.

I got on this thought from a man known as Old Ben Parker...who once said to me, "Scotty, that boy ain't got much out there, and he's sure funny to watch....but, damn, he gives it all, every shot."

Of course he was talking about a father of four at an old man's alumni game...but I think he was talking more than just basketball....miss you Ben.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Blue..............................and pink

I shook your hand.  I'd have kissed your lips gladly.  I'm a married man, but it wouldn't have mattered...my wife would have kissed you too.

I was with the Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development.

But he couldn't hear.

He bought the tickets.

Though he couldn't see.

I was in your world for a few minutes tonight.  You welcomed me as a long lost brother, waiting to see me home again.

I was alive.  Again.

You were older than I thought.  But beautiful nonetheless.  I shook your hand.

You gave me more than you could imagine.

You gave me my God back.

You were only a part of the show...a mime...bangin on your drums...dancing...reminding me that I was alive once again.  I'm not sure what language you spoke, but I got it....deep within me, something moved...again.

The Three opened the world as they do many nights...bringing lights, color and sound...serving as tour guides for those that would go...and playing a show for those that won't.

I saw the Blue Man Group tonight.  As I promised a friend I would, the next time I was in Vegas...on their home turf.

I can't even describe to you what it was like for me, save that I found something I'd lost, and had forgotten...like Toodles losing his marbles.

My good friend, I think you knew I'd find it.  I can't stop crying.  I just can't, I don't want to...it is so much fun.

Few places in this world speak my language, and it seemed that I'd forgotten it myself.  But, I found it.  It found me, however you want to put it.

What I saw in the Pink Drummer, I don't even know.  I kept asking myself, why am I watching them, but looking at you.  They were the show, and they were awesome...maybe it was that you...you get to live in that world...being a part of my temporary.

I mumbled a prayer before it started...something about worship, because I see God in places others don't...and it was heard.

If you are ever in Vegas...the Blue Man Group won't do you wrong.

Even if you don't speak the language.

I asked my colleague if he liked the show..."Yeah, it was a bit odd and sort of different, what'd you think?"

"They speak my language."