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Archive for the ‘Fatherhood’ Category

My summer officially starts today.  Work for the season is done, and my summer schedule, if not completely wide open, is at least the next thing to it.

Perhaps a fishing trip with my two girls.

The ice has just began to go out around the edge of the local lakes, and the winter starved fish will be congregating at the open edges for a fresh meal, perfect for little girls to perfect their casting and still benefit from the reward of a catch.

And tasty too.

So why do I have this nagging feeling of guilt?

No, it isn’t really about killing the fish.  While I hate the process of killing something (I’ve been known to release the first indoor mosquito of the season back outdoors), I find great reward in harvesting my own food.  The act of taking a living creature’s life- in order to nourish your own- is for me a spiritual and grounding event.  I hope to share that with my daughters- they need to understand our food often comes from a life taken, not just a meat counter at Fred Meyer’s (grocery store).

No, this has more to do with what I like to describe as a puritanical work ethic- either inherited genetically or beat into my being (not literally) by parents who spent most every free moment of my years growing up trying to get our family on firm financial footing.

I wonder now, a parent myself, if they ever just relaxed and enjoyed a day off?  Or if they, like me, spent all their “downtime” worried about not working?  They certainly didn’t take many down days- if that is any evidence of how much they enjoyed them.

Even though they often didn’t insist my brothers or I participate, neither did we experience the freedom of knowing at week’s end we would have fun time with Mom and Dad.

Mom, Dad- what was that?

Could you repeat yourself?

Oh, ok, I got it, you said :

” Do as we say, not as we do (or did).”

Easier said than done.

I read somewhere recently that unless an adult undergoes significant psychotherapy, they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes their parents made.  Unless my own twisted form of introverted introspection is considered psychotherapy- I’d say to my ten and six year olds I am well on my way to instilling a 7-day a week work ethic (and/or guilt complex- which is worse) upon them.

The truth is, I’ve tried the working-all-the-time-to-get-ahead thing.  It didn’t work.  It made me miserable, my family miserable, and took a toll on my health; not to mention a significant drop in productivity and creativity.  I’ve (we’ve) made big changes and in many cases concessions to move away from that, which brings us full-circle back to today.

How do I shed that snakeskin of guilt that threatens to keep me from enjoying a day (or weekend) off with my girls- without turning to mind and/or mood altering substances?

Once upon a time, a few beers might dull that feeling.  Today that’s neither a dependency I’m comfortable having nor a healthy one.

Oh, sweet oblivion, where is your sweet kiss?

It’s in the smiles of two young children, running on the beach, throwing rocks, teaching things my father and grandfather taught me to do,  enjoying the sun’s caress on a beautiful day, all the while swallowing back the guilt derived from the thought of others doing without and tasks left undone.

It’s in a Saturday morning, in the great state of Alaska, taking advantage of the natural beauty that still surrounds us, and the blessing to be free to enjoy them.

It’s in the thankfulness to recognize these things, and for the time to acknowledge each and every one.

Tomorrow I’ll pack the cooler, the girls.  We’ll go to the store and get those fishing poles I promised them last year- that Grandma and Grandpa sent money for last year.  We’ll get some worms, and suntan lotion.  And bug spray- a can of the non-toxic environmentally friendly kind and another of the paint peeling, genetic altering DEET containing kind (just in case the bugs are REALLY bad).

Then we’ll go fishing.

And I’ll leave everything else behind.  Even if only for a while.

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excavating Christmas

After several moves in the past year or two, we have ended up with a couple of unheated storage units haphazardly packed with everything from caribou antlers to furniture, drafting tables to fishing nets, sewing fabric to tarps (brown, not the classic Alaska blue variety).

Of course, mixed in with the above, is box after box of who knows what. (I know what, but given this is a “G-rated” blog I can’t say).

I might add, none of it is mine.

Except maybe those caribou antlers. And maybe the fishing nets……. Oh, the drafting table might also be mine. And that tarp sure was handy last time I went camping.

Anyways, on this not particularly cold Saturday (about 0 degrees Fahrenheit) I was charged with the task of extracting the Christmas decorations from those storage units. Not an easy task.

Accompanying me on this expedition were the intrepid Jolie and Ali, renowned explorers of the subarctic. Of course, neither of them brought hats or mittens and ended up spending the bulk of the time in the running car while I entered the realm of the lost and forgotten.

Before going on, I should add that when it comes to Christmas, I consider the Grinch and Scrooge as great failures. Once great fighters for the cause, they succumbed to temptation, celebrated Christmas and led many a young recruit away from crotchety obscurity.

May they be crucified upon Christmas trees.

Back to Saturday.

While I dove bravely into the storage units, mumbling about how the temperature inside the units was a good ten degrees colder, and the boxes and artifacts a good ten degrees colder still, the girls sat in the car arguing.

After 30 minutes of shifting boxes around, it came upon the midday clear, that Christmas sucks and I was cold.

Actually, after thirty minutes of listening to the girls fight while I froze trying to get “their” Christmas decorations out, I lost it. Let’s just say, if Santa was indeed watching there is one not so little boy who will be getting coal in his stocking for Christmas.

By the time I was done with my rant, it was clear to not only the girls but to anyone within a mile that we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas again until they had children of their own if they so much as uttered another word against each other.

Returning to the storage units, fully heated, I extricated the green and red tubs of Christmas décor, and lodged them ever so gently into the car.  (Sarcasm.)

About this time, a light went off in my head, causing me to duck and whirl about in surprise. (Those lights don’t go off very often, and always catch me by surprise.)

My Christmas shopping dilemma was solved. The solution was right in front of me, in those storage units. Inside, box upon box of forgotten possessions sat, waiting to be rediscovered………. under the Christmas tree.

I can wrap those boxes, stick them under the tree, and we can rediscover lost treasures!!!

It’s free!!!!

It’s easy!!!!

The kids will love it, after all, the one time they emerged from the car long enough to peek into storage they were trying to grab on to anything that looked like theirs to take back home. This way, they can have it all!!!

And talk about boxes of stuff. Jane will get more presents then she ever has. Boxes and boxes of fabric, sewing patterns, unfinished projects!!

Yeah!!!!!

I’ll let you know how it works out- I will save myself days of shopping agony!!!

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.

.

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Come to think of it, just guessing, I may need a place to stay for a while after Christmas.

After arriving home, and unloading the precious cargo, my two little helpers and I headed inside, me to thaw out, them to pick up the house before we could unpack the Christmas goods.

It took another day, but eventually they did just that. And, for the most part, they took my threat to cancel the next 18 years of Christmas seriously.

By Sunday night, the house was clean, the tree was up, and the kids were excitedly watching Christmas movies.

And I, believe it or not, had enjoyed it. It is, perhaps for a long time, the first time in recent memory that I enjoyed the process of decorating for Christmas.

It may have been the excitement of the girls, or just the process of spending a weekend with them, and at home, that wore down my resolve.

Or perhaps it was frostbite.

Or a thawing of the discontinuous permafrost between my ears.

In the end, the process of excavating Christmas had proved to be as much internal as external.

And in a year of change, why not one more?

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for a friend

Following your thoughts over the past couple of days,
And am myself swinging between thoughts and feelings of reconciliation and outrage.

Your sensitivity to the needs of the spirit move me,
The morning darkness,
The candles,
The songs,
And prayers.
And make me envious,
Of your skills and knowledge, and wisdom.
Don’t doubt you have those,
Despite the rhetoric from others that do not,
Their view of you,
Spoken behind closed doors,
Is not your true reflection.

In the meantime,
Cling to these days with your son,
He will keep you afloat,
When life threatens to pull you under.
As my daughters have done,
And do,
For me,
When my own shadow,
Threatens to obscure the day,
And the night.

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I woke up Thursday morning

And pulled myself from bed.

Struggling with issues at work

Left me exhausted even after sleep.

I got in my gas-guzzling truck

And drove the 20 miles to work.

On the radio

They spoke of hungry children in South Africa.

Who go to school on Thursday because they get fed

But don’t on Friday because they don’t.

My heart cried

But I didn’t.

Because I don’t.

I worked all morning

Progress.

For some.

I got back in my gas guzzling truck

And went to pick up our dog.

From its haircut.

It wasn’t done.

I walked the pet store.

Cat food for cats with sensitive skin.

Cat food for obese cats.

Cat food for skinny cats.

No food for kids in South Africa.

No food for kids who are orphans in South Africa

With AIDS.

Just cat food.

I picked up the dog.

She doesn’t like me

But she was glad to see me.

Her haircut cost more than mine do.

I put her in my gas guzzling truck

And drove 20 miles home.

Inside my heart cried.

But I didn’t.

Because I don’t.

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This morning began like most Saturdays.  I woke up early and got on the computer meaning to write but ended up only surfing the web.

Jane was out of town, so today it was my task alone to wake up our two girls; Jolie to attend art class, Ali to accompany me on my errands.

I woke them up a full hour before art class, certainly enough time to get ready to go somewhere.  I hopped in the shower, not expecting them to be ready when I got out but hoping they would at least be out of bed.

That part of the plan worked.  They were both up and about when I got out of the shower.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, they exchanged blows, over what I am still not sure.  As near as I can tell, Ali initiated the contact with some kind of push or shove to Jolie, who then retaliated with a harder than intended (or so she claims) jab to Ali’s stomach, knocking the wind out of her.

I had to sympathize with Ali, getting hit in the stomach hurts.  And I could tell she hurt, both her feelings and physically.   So, once I got Ali settled down I set about lecturing them on hitting or the physical expression of anger, on each other, and how it is simply not allowed in our home, or anywhere.  I followed up with a demand that they apologize to each other.

I left them upstairs, going downstairs to assemble the remaining gear before we left home.  By this time we were borderline on being on time to Jolie’s art class.  I could hear them speaking, supposedly apologizing.   In my mind, however, I envisioned them exchanging high fives and slaps on the back, celebrating another delayed departure.

“Way to take one for the team Ali!!!”

Ali “Did you have to hit me so hard?”

Jolie “Sorry.  But it worked great.  Maybe we should do it again before church tomorrow.”

Ali “NO!!!  I get to hit this time!!”

Yes, there is clearly a conspiracy in our house to prevent timeliness, regardless of the pain or suffering it causes.

Which brings me to the question, why don’t my children care about time or being late?

I consider myself fairly strict, not having much tolerance for bad behavior.  But somehow I have been ineffective in teaching my children the importance of punctuality.

The root of this, I’m guessing, is my disregard for time.  Time,  like money, is a modern invention of convenience.  Society tends to value both in terms of quantity, not quality.  Isn’t it, after all, the quality of time that we value?  Time spent with children, or family, in the beauty of wilderness, or hard at work on our life’s passion?  And isn’t money about quality of life, not more material possessions?

How do we teach or children to value money, not for the power or goods it gives them but for the opportunity it gives them to spend more time with family, or explore their spirituality, to show compassion, to expand their actions to things that may matter beyond the grave?  And how can we teach them that if they aren’t careful time will become money’s mistress, and in turn will do money’s bidding?  And when this happens time is lost for them, and can only be reclaimed through difficult and life-altering decisions.

I surmise that my children read my disregard for time and money, and know time isn’t something I’m going to come down hard on them for.

What I will come down hard on them for is disrespect.  What I apparently have failed to teach them is that by being late you are showing disrespect to the people you are meeting with, working with, or learning from.  Their time is as precious as ours, and should be treated accordingly.  I don’t expect the 4 year old to understand this, but the 9-year old most certainly should.

Despite this belief, I still find it impossible to be on time.  When I’ve got the kids, with Jane or alone, we will be late.  If I’m with Jane, with the kids or alone, we will be late.  When I am alone, then I may just be on time, though nothing is guaranteed.  Jane seems to have the same problem, albeit reversed.

I’ve resolved this is because each of us, while also being incredibly stubborn, is a contrarian.  Mix the 4 of us together, well, you get the picture.  For example:

Me; “Jolie, hurry up, we are going to be late.”

She slows down.

“Jolie, now!!!! we are going to be late.”

She slows down, more.

“NOW!!!!!!!”

I didn’t know it was physically possible to move that slow.  Glaciers have nothing on her. In fact, there has been more than one occasion where I wonder if any glaciers will still be around by the time she gets dressed.

Reverse psychology is hard to use when in a hurry, or when you are angry, as has been as effective as Dad throwing a fit.  Believe me, I’ve tried both, to no effect, unless it was increased slowdown, which I wouldn’t have believed possible if I had not witnessed it with my own eyes.

Then again, it could be that the tardiness is a reflection on our marriage, which is in many regards egalitarian.  Talk about complete confusion.  In general, there is no leadership.  Correction, there are multiple leaders, which goes back to the contrarian issue.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and I promise you in our house it will be done in four different ways.  Each effective in their own way, but chaos when combined.  Not that we’ve skinned any cats.  Together or separately.  Except for a polecat, but that is another story.

And so, despite my philosophical leanings and anger over being late, it may be that allowing our individual personalities to exist intact may be more important.  After all, as Evelyn Waugh so aptly put it “Punctuality is a virtue of the bored.”  I might also add, “of the employed.”  But again, that is another story.

I’ll try to explain the importance of individuality the next time I’m late to a business meeting.

Of course, the theory that Jolie and Ali are conspiring is still valid.  It bears watching, especially as their intellects and  interests develop into more complex things than the desire to see Dad’s face turn red.

I’ll keep you posted.

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The other day while dropping Jolie off at the orthodontist for their monthly adjustment to my bank account, I came across an ugly but all too common site.

Cigarette butts.

Not just a few, but a pack’s worth. All right there, in one pile.

I found myself looking around for the cancer riddled corpse that left them there.

Nobody. Someone that smoked that much at one time certainly would perish, wouldn’t they?

I expected someone without the decency to throw their trash away would have hung around, hacking and wheezing in our faces as they collapsed into their soft deathbed of cigarette butts, not even showing us the common courtesy of dying in private.

But then, why should they. All their smoking life, they have fouled our air, tossed cigarette butts out the car window, sparks flying into the dry roadside grass, even as smoke from forest fires nearby roll into town. Outside the grocery stores, convenience stores, schools, offices, and yes, even hospitals. Cigarette butts. Everywhere.

If I stood outside a public building, throwing gum wrappers on the ground, would people look the other way. I chew gum like some people smoke, 10 packs a day. That’s a lot of gum wrappers. Chances are I would get reported and ticketed for littering. Or at least asked to clean up my mess.

That’s what was on my mind as I walked out of the orthodontist’s office, through the drift of butts and back to my truck. Thank goodness I have a 4-wheel drive or I may have gotten stuck.

Of course, the other thing on my mind as I left the orthodontist’s office was money. In my mind, the two came together in an instant of shear brilliance. Either that, or I slipped and fell, completely missing the cigarette butts and cracking my skull against the pavement, returning to consciousness dreaming of money, eyes focused on cigarette butts.

Pick whatever story you like, personally I like brilliance.

The light bulb, we should tax cigarette butts. More accurately, we should tax cigarettes and offer a rebate for butts. 10 cents a butt. Not only would it clean up the streets, but I could collect enough cigarette butts right there in the orthodontist’s parking lot to pay Jolie’s bill, and probably have enough to make a down payment for Ali.

I could just go home, get my wheel barrow, a rake, and maybe a broom. And rubber gloves. Certainly rubber gloves. I could fill it up and wheel it up to the counter, redeeming my 10,000 cigarette butts for orthodontia for Jolie.

On second thought, maybe I should get that law passed first. They may not want 10,000 butts until they are worth something.

So, I came home and did a little research on the Internet to see who had stolen my idea. Google “cigarette butt tax“.

Wow! Apparently I’m not the only one to regain consciousness staring down a cigarette butt. Some people were so moved by the event they even acted on it. While I found people with the idea, I didn’t find anywhere that had actually passed an ordinance. If anyone out there knows of one, please share it along with news of the tax’s effectiveness.

What did catch my eye was the alarming amount of waste the butts generate and the negative environmental impact they have. That raises the stake from a momentary lack of reason to something worth getting worked up about.

Please check out the following links for some facts on the problem and it’s environmental impact.

Now, back to idea of a tax. Taxes work. In this instance consider every smoker paying 10 cents more per cigarette funding butt cleanup. Redemption could be done through machines (maybe Diebold could retrofit all those ‘reliable’ voting machines they’ve been selling us) so that nobody would have to handle the butts when redeemed. Smokers could get their money back when they turn their butts in.
Think about it.

“Hey dude, I’ll give you five butts for that last swallow of Thunderbird. Ten butts if you got any I-90 left.”

It would be like a new currency. People would wander the streets picking up cigarette butts instead of throwing them down.

And I could pay for my daughters to get their teeth straightened.

Beautiful.

Pure brilliance.

(I didn’t really hit my head.)

(At least not that I remember.)

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Around 5pm yesterday afternoon Ali decided to test the seismograph at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with her head. Jane and Ali were at a meeting at Ali’s “pretty school” (preschool). Ali was running around in her socks when her feet suddenly exchanged places with her head. The meeting of skull and concrete floor resulted in just what one would expect, screaming and tears, but luckily no broken skin. Jane loaded up the car, meeting over, and headed home.

I arrived home at 6:30 with Jolie meeting me at the door to tell me Ali had just thrown up on our bed. I went ahead, came in, took off my boots (it was -40 something below) and went to find Jane and Ali. They were sitting upstairs, Ali wrapped up in a towel, conscious but listless. Jane explained to me that Ali had hit her head, had fallen asleep in the car, had gotten home and vomited, and was in general pretty much out of it. My first thought was head injury, or concussion. (I guess I watch too many contact sports.)

We went into parental crisis mode following the 2nd Child Rules.

1st Child Rules would have taken us directly to the ER. 2nd Child Rules result in a more seasoned approach. Jane headed to the Internet, to verify concussion symptoms and to confirm when you needed to be alarmed. I held Ali for a while so that I could see her firsthand. During that time she vomited again, and I returned her to the shower to get clean, again, stopping long enough to change a few of my own clothes that had fallen in the line of fire. Jane confirmed our alarm, and we decided a trip to the ER was in order.

Meanwhile, Jolie began to panic. Jolie is pretty sensitive, and can pick up on the tensions from us. As soon as she sensed our concern, and realized that Ali as more than a little sick, she went into tears.

“I’m scared.”

“Ali is so special, I don’t want her to be hurt.”

“I love her.”

We called our friends Laura and Scott, who agreed to watch her so we didn’t need to drag her into the ER with us. Poor girl. And what a great big sister.

We quickly dropped Jolie off, and headed to the hospital. I tried to keep Ali talking to me, but she kept nodding off. Nodding off may be a misnomer, it was more like fading in and out. We got to the hospital relatively quickly, navigating the ice fog and cold temperatures as fast as we could.

Before I go on, let me reflect on our first and only ER experience with one of our children, Jolie. When she was about 2 she had a fever spike, and we rushed her to the ER. The service was terrible, the nurses gruff, the doctor a young rooster that had something to prove (still does, in my opinion). They diagnosed it as an ear infection, then decided to go ahead and check for a bladder or kidney infection just in case. That meant a catheter. Not pleasant. Eventually, the fever broke due to alternating ibuprofen andTylenol , and we went home. But not before Jolie developed a healthy fear of doctors and of hospitals. And I can’t say that I blame her.

This time, the service and treatment were the exact opposite. The receptionist was friendly and helpful, as was the triage nurse. We were checked in quickly and without fuss. Ali was seen by a doctor and ER nurse right away. The diagnosis, concussion. Then the question came down to whether or not to give her a CAT scan to check for any internal bleeding in her skull. The doctor left it up to us.

About this time a billing agent came in. Again, nice, professional, and friendly.

“Do you have insurance?”

Just like 45 million other Americans, I said, “No.”

Meanwhile, a parallel discussion was running through my mind. “Do you want my extra kidney now, or can we take care of that later?” “Later would be fine, we generally don’t like to maim people in front of their children.” Back to reality.

“OK”, and she left to get some paperwork for us. She returned and had us sign a form stating we were financially responsible for the bill. She obviously wasn’t watching me when I signed “George W. Bush”.

We had rolled the dice, hoping to make it a few more months without insurance, trying to get some money built-up to be able to do so. When I left my previous job, I had been paying just under $900 a month for coverage. For a high deductible plan through a private carrier we were looking at $400-$500 a month. I have no idea what this trip to the ER will cost us, maybe $2000-$3000. That’s anywhere between 2 and 4 months of insurance that we’ll be putting off. On the other hand, if we had the insurance we would still be paying everything plus the insurance due to the high deductible. Frankly, you can’t win for losing.

It is sad to say that when we had to decide about the CAT Scan the expense entered our mind. Eventually, we resolved if we went home and something went wrong, we would never forgive ourselves for not having the scan done. So we decided on the CAT scan.

About that time Ali threw up again, and then the x-ray teach walked in to get us. I went with Ali, to hold her hand as they did the scan. She immediately began to perk up, even smiling for the tech. By the time we made it back to our room and Jane, she was almost back to normal.

Which is exactly how the CAT Scan turned out.

With that, we were sent on our way home.

But not before Ali threw up again. Something for the hospital to remember us by, I guess.

We did sleep a little better last night knowing that the CAT scan came out normal. But not much. Between checking on her constantly through the night and trying to relax from the evening’s worries, we didn’t get much rest.

This morning, she was still moving slowly, but during points later in the day had to be reminded to stop chasing the dogs and dancing. It’s hard to keep lighting in a bottle, after all.

All in all, Ali seems to be headed back to normal.

Normal.

What a wonderful thing normal can be.

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