Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A daddy's time

Being a daddy to two beautiful girls is one of the highest honors in the world. I feel blessed to have two daddy’s girls in my life. It hasn’t always been easy being a dad, but it has definitely been one of the most rewarding challenges I have faced.

I’m the kind of daddy who takes time to sit and listen, to snuggle on the couch or in the bed, who notices when a favorite stuffed animal might be on the brink and searches the Internet to find a suitable likeness to replace it.

I was one of very few dads in Fishers (IN) who regularly walked his girls to elementary school or saw them to the bus on days when we couldn’t walk. I was the bus stop dad, standing on Estero Blvd every morning on Fort Myers Beach.

I always found time to invest in my daughters. And even when I wasn’t with them, I was always thinking about them—at work, at the grocery store or ballgame. Even now, when I’m setting up to play another gig on the beach, I’m wondering what they are doing so many miles away. I never went to the grocery store without picking up special items just for them.

I was their personal chef, their Xbox teammate, and their biggest fan. Well, I’m still their biggest fan because I think they are the most precious people on this planet. When I became unemployed, I decided to be a stay-at-home dad for a few years. I determined that I didn’t want to miss a single second of their young childhood. So I was the one who picked my youngest up from pre-school and kindergarten, helped both girls with homework, played hide-and-seek with them inside the house on inclement weather days and genuinely enjoyed spending time with them.

We have a special bond that can never be broken. But the physical distance between us is nearly unbearable. And while the Florida courts are supposed to give both parents equal footing, I’ve been awarded a paltry 54 nights a year with my daughters. Don’t get me wrong. I will cherish every last minute of that time, but 54 nights out of 365?

It wasn’t my idea for my girls to live 400 miles away from me. That decision was made for me. And the courts don’t care what sort of father I was/am to those girls, they only care about financial statements and unfounded characterizations. The best interest of the children wasn’t even a deciding factor, unless you believe like the courts (and most of society) that mothers know best.

This isn’t a knock on my ex-wife or even on the judge who presided over my divorce. It is an indictment of a system that fails great fathers every day. It calls into question state laws that presume to bring equal justice into our courts, but fails miserably all the time.

I don’t mean to sound bitter. I just needed to get this stuff off my chest.

I know or have read about plenty of no-good, deadbeat dads who don’t even deserve the title. I know many more, who like me have gone the extra mile to be an excellent caregiver even when they weren’t the primary breadwinner of their home. But what is more important? The cash I can bring home to my kids or the love, care and investment of time?

I’ve never been deficient in the latter, so why is it I get so little time with them now?

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Helen Keller Memorabilia Lost in 9/11

Who says you can't learn anything from television? I spend a lot of time watching documentaries on channels, like Discovery, History, Animal Planet, PBS, etc. I find most of them to be educational and entertaining. Today, while watching Pawn Stars on History Channel, someone came in with a rare letter signed by the late Helen Keller. It was authenticated and valued at more than $1200. During the show, I learned that most of the Helen Keller collection, once stored in a Manhattan building a block from the World Trade Center, was destroyed on 9/11. That fact was confirmed by this article (it includes a photo of a bust that was recovered from the rubble of WTC):

When I was a kid, there were TV movies and specials about the author and activist who was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor's degree. Helen Keller, who died 45 years ago this week, was also born in late June 1880. Among her many accomplishments, Keller fought for women's suffrage and labor rights and never let her disabilities hold her back.

This Google Image from shows Keller in her later years.
She lived to be 87 years old.

I hadn't thought much about her in recent years until today's repeat episode of Pawn Stars (Episode 59 from 2011 Season). It is sad that many of the artifacts from her collection have been lost for all antiquity, thanks to some radical Islamic terrorists. More surprising, though, is that I never heard about this in almost 12 years. As an avid watcher of CBS Sunday Morning, it is peculiar that this topic has never come up. In addition to the Keller collection that was lost on 9/11, there was also an archive of photographic negatives of the late President John F. Kennedy, taken by his personal photographer amongst the rubble. You'd think these losses would have received more media attention. (Note: I did find a CBS News story published on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 that was basically a reproduction of the story linked above).

It makes sense that so much was written and filmed about Keller in the 1970's as her passing occurred on the year of my birth, 1968. President Jimmy Carter even proclaimed June 27th, her birthday, as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. So there was definitely a swell of interest in her during the decade that followed her passing. Still, a large portion of the evidence of her life and impact on our society was lost and we heard very little about it.

Just glad I caught the re-run of Pawn Stars today. See, Mom, I DO learn something from "boob tube."

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boxes can't hold us, or God

A Box by King's X
Lonely days will come and go,
nothing new unless you're bold,
revolution #19
brand new wave of anger
Stain yourself with pumpkin pie,
liquid tattoo I got mine,
don't forget forgetfulness,
call it Deconstruction
There is no room inside a box,
there is no room inside.
Way down in the deep depress,
colder than the coldest yes,
we all know of loneliness
others to another,
just a place to run and hide
just a place to free your mind,
just a place to break the chains
and find whatever matters
There is no room inside a box,
there is no room inside.
When I first heard this song, I was going through a deconstruction, of sorts, questioning my faith and all the things I was raised to believe as Truth. From what I know about Doug Pinnick, the singer for King's X, I know that he was struggling with these same Truths. That could be what led him to write this song, but I cannot be sure.
To me, this song talks about the futility of trying to hem God in. It reminds me that you cannot place the Infinite in some tiny little box that fits your puny understanding of things greater than yourself. I don't pretend to have God figured out. In fact, it's the mystery of the Divine that keeps me interested in the pursuit of knowledge and experience.

More than just a statement on God or faith, however, I believe the lyrics also speak to the deconstruction of one's self. Others may try to box us in, but the human spirit cannot be contained in tiny little containers, either. In fact, our bodies don't even do a very good job of hemming us in. Ever been around someone with a contagious smile or giggle? Or been around someone who is so charismatic, he/she enhances the atmosphere around them? I believe that is the spirit of the person leaking out of every pore of their body. It cannot be contained.

Yet, we are all guilty of trying to capture, analyze and label everyone like scientists. We want to fit everyone into tiny little boxes we can categorize and file away. And when they don't behave in the way we have preordained, then something must be wrong with them. We want God and others to fit in neat, rectangular boxes that we can carry and stow away for safekeeping.

How do those same boxes make us feel? Confined? Clausterphobic? Not understood?

That's where this song hits me the most. I don't want to be confined inside the small box of someone else's understanding. Unless they really get to know me or walk a mile in my shoes, they can't possibly understand me.

Boxes are confining. And unless we open the box of our small thinking, we'll continue to misunderstand others and the world.

I know from experience that my small thinking has caused me to be surprised by the world, and not always in a good way. When I thought I had things figured out--analyzed, categorized and arranged into boxes I could handle--I was thrown for several loops.

But back to the idea that our spirits--the essential part of who we are--cannot be contained in tiny boxes. I was recently reminded of this when I took part in the burial of my girlfriend's mother.

Her cremains were delivered to us in a small, retangular, black box. It wasn't Jean. It was just the ashes that her physical body had been reduced to. That body had not contained Jean for 10 days. Her spirit no longer dwelled there. And so when her ashes were placed in that box and we placed it in the ground, the lyrics of this song came back to me. "There is no room inside a box." There is no way that little black box could contain all that Jean was, her essence. That certainly lives on in some way, either in the spiritual world or in the hearts of her two children and grandchildren. The fact is, that box did not contain Jean. Her spirit was much too big for her own body, let alone that little box containing her ashes.

It served to remind me that I am more than this mortal body. And in the same way that I cannot be contained in some box, neither can God and neither can others. I need to keep my mind unboxed, as well, so that I can more easily accept new things and ideas. I can even accept that my girlfriend doesn't fit into the box that I try to contain her in. I can let others simply be who they are and accept the little surprises that life throws my way from time to time.

It's important to remember, "there is no room inside."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Three Chances at Life

Three Chances at Life

I don’t know many people who can honestly say they’ve had three chances at life. Mine came by way of four incredible people--first, of course, my parents. If they hadn’t met in high school and fallen in love, I would have never formed in my mother’s womb or drawn that first burst of air into my lungs. For the first two people I ever loved in this world, I am grateful. Next month, they will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. Later this year, I will also celebrate that many years of life…thanks to them. I was their firstborn son.

Chance number two came in the most unlikeliest of ways—adoption. I had not done any research, hired an attorney or contacted an agency. No, in fact, I had just come out of the darkest period of my life in 2001 and getting that fateful call in August wasn’t even the faintest blip on my radar screen. But it happened and without time to even catch my breath, I said yes to idea of adopting a six-week old, bald and blue-eyed beauty, my Baby Sweet. I didn’t realize what a difference becoming a father would make in my life, most notably on my heart. I’ve always said that my oldest daughter saved my life. And maybe that sounds a bit melodramatic, but as I said, the year prior had been the darkest year of my entire life. Adopting my daughter made 2001 the brightest year of my life, followed three years later by the adoption of my youngest daughter, a mocha-skinned, brown-eyed beauty with the thickest and shiniest main of dark, “stick-up” hair.

Then came my divorce, making the last half of 2012 another dark and gloomy year for me. Separated from my daughters by more than 400 miles, I cried many tears and fought like hell from slipping back into a blackness so dark it seems like there is no escape. That’s how I had felt 12 years earlier and I had determined never to go back there again.

Chance number three at life came after I crossed the item off my bucket list that read “Play in a rock-n-roll band.” While it wasn’t the band that saved my life, per se, it was befriending the bass player in that band who would later become my best friend and lover. She helped me to believe in love again, then she delivered. Speaking my love language so fluently, she swept me off my feet and made me a very happy man. Ideally, I would have custody of my daughters, then I could say I’m the happiest I have ever been. Still, I am very content in the love I’ve found, a love that caught me off guard and came as quite a surprise at the very end of 2012. I am so thankful to have found her and to have found real love.

Very few people get that many chances at life. I’ve had three and I thank God for each of them and for those four very special people--well, five--who helped to make my life complete.