Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Languishing and Catharsis

I usually don't take lunch, but I did today. A friend and I met for our noon-time meal at Buffalo Wild Wings. Joe and I have been friends for almost ten years now. We started out as co-workers with vastly different backgrounds and views on life, but time and common interests brought us together as friends. He's one of the few people from my old job with whom I still make an effort to keep in contact.

When I was going through my divorce, Joe was one of the people who always had time to listen patiently as I cried in my beer, time to lend support, and time to offer a prayer. Toward the tail end of my divorce, he had domestic problems of his own. It's a long, complicated story... the short version is that his wife has emotionally abandoned him. They're still living in the same house, but they're more like roommates than husband and wife. This has been the case for three or four years.

Joe's a good guy. He doesn't deserve to be treated this way. He warrants a wife who treats him with love and respect.. But he still loves her, and takes his marriage vows seriously. I believe that if she asked for a divorce, he'd give it to her, but I don't see him asking for the divorce because of the promise he made to her -- and to God.

As I listened to him today, I couldn't help but think of my own situation. Here's Joe, languishing in a loveless marriage. I, on the other hand, chose to end things and move on. I found my catharsis and continued forward with my life. Joe is leaving it in God's hands, and God is taking his sweet time... a stark contrast from my belief that God would forgive me if I made the wrong decision, which allowed me to handle things on my own.

In the end, I know that I'm happier for my decision. If I had taken the same path as Joe, I wouldn't have met Mrs. Right, who brings me far more happiness and fulfillment than what's-her-name. Joe and I made significantly different choices when presented with similar circumstances, and our choices both related to what God would think. Joe's philosophy is to "walk the talk" of unconditional love and forgiveness. My attitude was to realize that God understood my predicament, and to act on my own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Father's Eyes, Part II

A little over a year ago, I had an idea for a story and I posted the intro. Since then, it has incubated in my subconscious because I'm not sure exactly where it will go or how it will unfold. It's a narrative that's quietly waiting to be played out, but like I said, I don't yet know where it's going, and I'm not sure when or how it will end. The tale is unfolding in thoroughly unpredictable ways. It could be another year before the next installment reveals itself, or I could finish it tomorrow. What I do see is a Hemingway touch, with a minimal amount of setting, allowing the story itself to take the spotlight. Before you read this installment, please read the story's opening. Like I said, I don't know where this will lead, but maybe if you have some suggestions... maybe questions about the relationship with between the characters... whatever.

“You know Dad, if you wanted me to visit, you could have just asked. You didn’t have to get all sick on me,” I said, as my presence registered with him. I’ve always been a little cynical, and a bit of a smart-ass, so using humor to mask uncomfortable situations has long been second nature to me. But as soon as I uttered the greeting, my words were tinged with the regret of inadequacy. “How are you doing, Dad? Are you going to be okay,” I finished?

“I’m alive for now, and the fact that you’re here now is good enough. Look, boy… son… I don’t want to die, but if it’s going to happen I guess I’m as ready as I can be.” Taking a moment to let the words sink in, I pondered their implication and considered my response. Dad’s always been a stoic figure – a product of the proverbial Greatest Generation who was raised to keep his feelings to himself and always remember his role as the foundation of the family. Mom was the nurturer, and Dad was the bedrock, the source of strength, and the driving force.

His statement had a lot of implications. He knew that he may not be long for this world, but he still had the strength of spirit to know his place – to tell it like it is, to prepare me for what may come, but also to remind me that I’m his son and, in his own understated way to drive home how pleased he was to see me.

“Well Dad,” I responded, “I don’t want you do go, but if it’s going to happen, I guess I’m as ready as I can be.” I am my father’s son, I thought as my reply touched my lips.

They say when you die, your life flashes before your eyes. As I gazed at my emaciated father’s frame, I could have been dying, because my life passed through my mind in an instant. But it wasn’t my entire life… the memories flickering in my consciousness were limited to time shared with Dad… holding his hand as he took me to the park. I still see the vision through the eyes of a child. My small hand barely wrapped around his index finger, his face a mere silhouette attached to his body, outlined by the afternoon sun… the pain and confusion I suffered the first time he spanked me… the pride I experienced when he helped me land my first fish… the calming effect he had teaching me to drive… it was all there… the anger… the love… the pride… the pain… and today.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Politics of Divisiveness

I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of the politics of divisiveness. I remember seven years ago... how then-candidate Bush claimed to be a uniter, not a divider. Fast-forward to today and I honestly couldn't picture a more divisive political landscape. No matter how good the idea, if one party floated it, the other party hates it. And no matter how bad, the party that brought forth the idea blindly supports it as "the only way" to fix whatever the problem may be. Both parties are guilty of this. In my (cynical) view, the parties are exclusively concerned about maintaining solidarity in the ranks and perpetuating their own power, rather than caring for our future. I'm sick of it, and the American public is sick of it. I'd love to see things change, but I understand why they don't.

For as long as I can remember, voters have held a "throw the bums out" mentality, but it only applies to the other politicians. The voters in one state want all of the politicians out on the street, except for their own. Either they believe that their own representative isn't part of the mess, or they appreciate that their guy brings home the pork. Regardless of what they believe, each area tends to vote for their own incumbent, which perpetuates the cycle across the board. Even I am guilty of this hypocracy to some extent.

Unfortunately, I don't see this changing any time soon. In fact, I see it getting worse. It's still a little early to know who the finalists will be in our upcoming presidential election, but the field is full of finger-pointers. The Democratic candidates blame the Republicans for all of our current woes, and the Republicans accuse the Democrats of being unpatriotic for not blindly supporting the status quo. Folks, I hate to tell you this, but we're all sick of your bickering and you've all got plenty of blame that you can personally accept. I, for one, would admire you a lot more if you'd admit your mistakes, offer a viable alternative that shows a willingness to compromise, and move on.

There is one aspect about the upcoming election that excites me... the diversity of candidates. This time, we've got a black man, a woman, and a Mormon... all considered serious contenders for the Presidency. In the end, I suspect we'll end up with another mainstream white man in the Oval Office, but the mere fact that we're considering such a wide range of candidates gives me hope that our society is willing to look past our own stereotypes to find the best person for the job.

As we consider our options for the next president, I'd like to voice a couple of personal observations...

First and foremost, we are looking for someone to fill a job. We are not marrying them, and we are not asking them to be our friend. We are employing them. We do not have to like them, and we do not have to trust them (in the personal sense of the word). We merely need to believe that the candidate we choose is the best person for the job of being president. I'll use Bill Clinton as an example. As a man, I think he is a reprehensible human being. He was dubbed "Slick Willie" for a reason. I would not trust him, and I would never leave him alone with my wife. But as a President, I think the guy did a tremendous job. If he could run again, I'd probably vote for him. As a society, we tend to vote for the person we trust with our gut. And in politics, it's been proven time and time again that you can't trust anyone.

Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. I will agree that if elected President, Hillary could tap into some of Bill's expertise. But if you think that electing Hillary will effectively re-elect Bill, you're mistaken. Hillary has proven herself too strong-willed for this to be a believable hypothesis. In other words, whether you vote for or against Hillary, do it because of her history... not because of his.

Barak Obama is a candidate who happens to be black. Not a black man who happens to be running for office. It's realistic to realize that he's black as you consider him as a candidate, but it's unreasonable to automatically rule him out (or in) based on this one single factor. Whether it's race relations, Iraq, or abortion, it's short-sighted to vote for or against a candidate based on a single issue. Part of the reason we're in our current mess is because we continually vote for our politicians based on one or two core issues and tune out the overall message.

Politicians are supposed to represent us. This means that elected officials should change their minds periodically, because the American public changes its mind. The Iraq war is a prime example. You may remember four years ago... the American people overwhelmingly supported sending our boys overseas, and the politicians reflected our desire. Now, the public has changed its mind. It's reasonable -- and should be expected -- that our elected officials would change their minds as well. In fact, I'm more wary of a politician who never changes his mind, because this indicates a person who is there for his own agenda, rather than remembering mine.

Look, we're in a world of hurt now. I don't claim to have all of the answers, and anyone who thinks they do is either full of shit or a megalomaniac. But one thing's for sure. You need to be paying attention.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Metaphor for Life

As you probably know, it's tough to move around quickly with a broken ankle. I'm wearing a boot instead of a cast, and I'm allowed to put weight on it so I don't have to use crutches, but my overall pace is quite a bit slower than normal. Everything takes a little longer. I almost have to plan my bathroom breaks because of the increased travel time required getting to the restroom, and I have to get up a little earlier for work, so I have extra time to hobble around the house, and because navigating from the parking lot to my desk takes some extra time.

At the end of work the other day, I began the long trek from my desk to my truck, bidding my co-workers good evening on my way out. I was about 1/3 of the way through the parking lot to my truck when one of my co-workers blew by me on the way to his vehicle and I was struck by how hurried his pace was compared to mine, and I saw the comparison to life in general.

Everyone in our society is always moving so fast. And when we inevitably run across someone moving slower than us, we are invariably irritated at how they're slowing us down. Getting stuck behind the slow car in traffic... waiting on the co-worker to finish their share of a coordinated project... stressing out over the person in front of us with a full shopping cart at the supermarket... we can't wait to finish what we're doing so we can rip headlong into the next thing. And it's doubly frustrating if we have to wait on someone else.

As I pondered this, I stopped in the middle of the parking lot and looked around. The juxtaposition of my company's foundry and the natural grove of trees just past the fence didn't escape me. The sound of machines combined with birds chirping in the meadow sunk in. I thought about how man is so removed from our environment... we hurry, hurry, hurry around in our endless quest to mold nature to our satisfaction at an ever-increasing pace.

Fast-forward to this morning. I hobbled out to my deck, sat down with my coffee and enjoyed nature, taking delight in the slightly-too-warm sun shining on my face, seeing the soft breeze gently moving the tree branches and watching the ants endlessly bringing food to their colony. I want to be the tree, not the ant. I want to stop and feel the sun and wind on my limbs. I have no desire to be an ant, frantically working non-stop through life without noticing the beauty around me.

Fortunately, I tend to be balanced in my life. I like enjoying what life has to offer, even if that enjoyment has the occasional consequence, such as a broken ankle.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Not Exactly Like Riding a Bicycle

One of the little kid's friends is part of a community ski team, and this friend has been inviting us to go and ski. The team has open skiing every Sunday during the season for only five bucks per person. This includes skis and lessons. We went a couple of weeks ago so my kid could learn, and she did a great job. The one thing people kept asking is whether or not I was going to try it. I wasn't dressed for it and didn't bring enough money but agreed to go next time.

"Next time" was yesterday. I've never skied before yesterday, but they made it look incredibly easy. One of their ski boats has a metal boom hanging off the side of the boat, so you don't learn on the rope. I told the guys I'd never skied before, so they gave me the quick rundown and asked me if I was ready, and we were off.

That boom was the bomb! I was up in seconds and didn't fall once. After a few minutes they said I was ready for the rope. We went back to shore, they gave me a couple of pointers on using the rope and asked if I was ready. After telling them I was, the second round began... I watched the rope's slack disappear, heard the roar of the engine, and felt the pressure rise against my skis. I began to stand, got about halfway up and abruptly lost my balance.

As I tumbled I felt a twinge in my left knee and ankle and immediately knew the ski didn't fly off properly. I was pleased with the progress I had made, but also knew that I was done skiing for the day and a little pissed at myself for getting hurt the first time out.

The boat driver came back around and asked if I was okay. I told him that I twisted something and that I should probably take a break. I threw the skis into the boat and asked them to pull me on the boom, because I didn't feel like climbing into the boat. I laid on my back and kept my injured leg out of the water.

Once we got to shallow water, I hobbled to shore and knew my ankle was sprained for sure. The little 'un saw me limping and asked if I was okay. "Yeah," I replied. "I just hurt my leg a little and need to walk it off. Are you going to ski some more?"

"I think so," she responded, but all of the boats were out with other skiers. As I continued walking it off, my ankle hurt more and more. Little 'un must have seen how bad I was limping, because in another minute or so, she came and said "Dad, I'm ready to go."

"Are you sure kid? I'm done for the day, but you can go out again if you want."

"No, that's okay." I limped to the truck and we came home. As I drove home, the pain in my ankle got a little worse and I remembered spraining my thumb. When I sprained my thumb, I never went to the doctor and the thing never healed quite right. It's no big deal, but I've permanently lost a little mobility and strength in that thumb (maybe 5%). I didn't want this to happen to my leg, so I decided to go to the doctor. That, and the fact that my ankle hurt bad enough that I couldn't climb the stairs.

Wifey-poo saw me limping and asked if I was okay. "Yeah, I'm okay but I'm going to the doctor to make sure it's not broken."

"Do you want me to drive you?"

"No, I'll be okay and I don't want to waste the whole family's day. I'll be fine."

"Do you want me to bring you some food?"

"No, I'll be okay. I'll call you if I need anything."

As I drove to the doctor's office, I almost wished that I had taken the wife up on her offer to drive me. The pain kicked up another notch and since I couldn't find a comfortable position with my foot on the floor, I had to hold my leg in the air. By the time I got to the urgent care facility, my ankle hurt so bad that I had to hop in to the building.

I've got to say that the urgent care place was top-notch. They had me seen in less than 15 minutes after walking in the door... that's including the time to fill out the paperwork. I was very impressed with these folks. The X-Rays were a little uncomfortable though.

I won't keep you in suspense any longer. I broke my ankle. Learning to water ski isn't exactly like learning to ride a bike.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Reefer Dadness

A couple of days ago I was stumbling around the internet and came across this article, titled "Reefer Dadness." (I love the title.) The article is essentially a position paper, saying that it's okay for parents to smoke pot as long as they do it responsibly. The author talks about staying sober when it's kid time and winding down with a little ganja after the children are in bed.

The story hit a nerve with me. You see, I used to be a reefer dad but I'm not anymore. I gave up the herb for a variety of reasons. Drug testing at the job, worrying about potential custody battles with the ex, the potential for losing my home if I got busted and wondering about what to say to the kids about drugs in general all contributed to my decision to stop smoking pot. With current legislation and society's overall opinion of marijuana, there's no question that my decision was the right one, but I wish I didn't have to make that choice in the first place. As a former pot smoker, I can unequivocally say there's nothing wrong with smoking pot as long as you consume it responsibly.

Like the author of the original article, I generally smoked when the kids were in bed or weren't around, though there were a couple of times where I had to switch into dad mode while under the influence. Despite what the naysayers say, it's not difficult to parent when you're a little absent-minded. In fact, it's occasionally a better approach. For example, when the kids are fighting, you're a little more detached, so it's actually simpler to get the kids to stop arguing while remaining calm yourself.

One commenter in the article pulled out the old "What if there's a fire" argument. The person who wrote that statement has obviously never been stoned. Yeah, you're a little foggy-headed, and it's certainly difficult to do calculus under the influence (speaking from experience), but if there's a perceived emergency that requires your immediate attention, instinct kicks in and the fogginess disappears. In fact, I will argue that it's easier to handle an emergency under the influence because the panic factor doesn't really kick in.

I remember as a young stoner spending a lot of time on the High Times web page, where fellow potheads would talk about their desire to legalize marijuana. I read one story about a man who was allowed to legally smoke medicinal marijuana, and was inspired by his advocacy for legalization. I actually emailed the dude and asked what he recommended I do to further the cause. His reply? "The first thing you need to do is stop smoking it," explaining that my credibility is suspect if I advocate legalizing an illicit activity while engaging in it. I wasn't yet ready to give it up so instead, I gave up the idea of arguing for legalization.

Now, several years later, I've stopped smoking pot, but I still believe it should be legal. And most people I talk to about marijuana also believe it should be legal. I sometimes wonder how, with so many people believing that pot should be legal, it can remain against the law to spark up a spleef. But I always come to the same conclusion. There's big money in keeping it outlawed. The Federal government (specifically the DEA) and the alcohol industry have a huge stake in keeping the status quo intact. But I believe the government is incredibly short-sighted in their steadfast refusal to reconsider their position. Legalizing marijuana has the potential to revolutionize our economy. Think of all of the jobs that would be created... farmers could grow it... tobacco companies could package and distribute it... truckers could ship it... stores could sell it... and governments could tax it in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco.

Despite what the government preaches, marijuana is not evil. Yes, it's a drug. Yes, it has potential for abuse. The thing is, studies have shown time and again that marijuana is less damaging than alcohol and tobacco. There is a lower chance for dependency, there are fewer health risks, and there are even circumstances where marijuana has therapeutic or medicinal value. Why does the government insist on keeping it illegal?

As long as marijuana remains illegal, I plan to stay stay pot-free. The consequences of getting caught outweigh the pleasure of engaging in the harmless activity of getting high. But our government's position is completely baffling to me. I not only fail to understand their rationale, I completely disagree with it. Fortunately, this is America and I can voice my displeasure. By writing today's blog entry, I am exercising my right to disagree with our current laws... and rest assured, when a legislative candidate expresses a view similar to mine, I will certainly support the election of that individual.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bush Spends an Hour Saying Nothing

According to a news article on Yahoo, President Bush held a news conference today, where he spent an hour spewing forth political-speak. In other words, he spoke for 60 minutes or more, but really didn't say anything.

The President opened the news conference with a tribute to former first lady Lady Bird Johnson who died yesterday at the age of 94. Bush called her "an extraordinary first lady and a fine Texan" who "brought grace to the White House and beauty to our country."

President Bush next spent time discussing the Iraq War and the most recent assessment regarding the Iraqi government's progress toward political, military and economic reform. When asked about the American public's disenchantment with the war's progress, Bush acknowledged that Lady Bird Johnson was "an extraordinary first lady and a fine Texan" who "brought grace to the White House and beauty to our country."

Also discussed during the news conference was the President's decision to commute the 30-month prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush explained his position by saying "Look, the guy was named 'Scooter,' isn't that punishment enough?" He then continued by saying that Lady Bird Johnson was "an extraordinary first lady and a fine Texan" who "brought grace to the White House and beauty to our country."

Bush acknowledged for the first time that someone in his administration likely leaked the identity of undercover CIA official Valerie Plame. It was this leak that led to Libby's conviction of lying and obstruction of justice, and when this scandal initially broke, Bush promised to fire anyone in his administration found to have publicly disclosed Plame's identity. When asked about the leak, Bush replied "I've often thought about what would have happened had that person come forth and said, 'I did it.' I mean, would the American people have really expected me to fire my own Vice President... er, I mean the person who did it?" He then said "Did you hear that Lady Bird Johnson died?"

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Younger Kid's New Guitar

The Little 'Un got a new guitar a couple of weeks ago. While the big 'un was at summer camp, Little One helped the neighbor do babysitting and she did a bang-up job. In fact, the neighbors were so impressed that they commented to sexy wife and me repeatedly, paid little kid a lot for the week's work, and Mr. Neighbor gave Little One this guitar... it's a Paul Stanley signature edition Lyon guitar, made by Washburn... never taken out of its original box.

I'm still stunned by the neighbor's generosity, and my Guitar Goddess-in-training absolutely loves her new ax.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Weird Al

Last night we saw Weird Al Yankovic in concert and it was an absolute riot -- one of the best shows I've ever seen! He played virtually all of my favorites... Amish Paradise, Eat It, Fat, Yoda, White and Nerdy... the list goes on.

When I found out he was coming to town, I thought it would be a cool show to see, but it wasn't something I was looking forward to as an all-time great show. He blew away my expectations. For all of his major songs, he wore the costume that he wore in the videos... more clothing changes that I'd expect to see at a Barbara Streisand concert (not that I'd go see her). During the costume changes, he put Al TV interviews on the screen, and during one of the songs he came out in the audience.

He also did a Paris Hilton parody, to the tune of that Crash Test Dummies song. The crowd laughed, cheered and had as much fun as I did.

We essentially did the concert for the benefit of my brother-in-law, who is a big Weird Al fan. Heck, he flew in from California so he could see the show. After the concert we all got autographs from him... Weird Al, not my brother-in-law.

I really can't say enough good stuff about the experience. If Weird Al ever comes to your neck of the woods, I highly recommend that you check out the show. I promise, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Harley Grandma

I guess my mom's still got some thrill-seeking left in her. Grandma, as I affectionately call her, came down for a few days so we could see a play... a family ritual for the last four years -- about the time that the Mrs. and I started dating. While Mom was down, I asked her if she wanted me to take her for a ride on my bike and she quickly agreed.

Yesterday morning, I fired up the bike, gave her a quick tutorial on the ins and outs of being a motorcycle passenger, strapped the helmet on her and away we went. At first I wasn't sure if she was going to enjoy it, but within a few blocks she shouted "This is fun!" Shortly thereafter we took a quick spin on the freeway.

After stopping back home to check in with the rest of the family, I asked if she enjoyed herself, and mom couldn't suppress her grin and she immediately accepted when I asked if she wanted to ride a little more. Once I found out that her favorite part was the highway, I told her about a little scenic byway that I frequently ride and asked her if she was up for another half hour or so.

We got suited back up and were back on the road in short order. I was very pleased to hear her laughing like a little girl as we took the gentle twists and turns along the river road, and as she squealed with delight when we went over the occasional bumps in the road.

My brother had taken her around the block several years back when he had a bike, but mom said this was her first real ride on a motorcycle and there's no doubt in my mind that she'll jump at the chance to go out for another ride. As we removed our helmets and I pulled the bike into the garage, my mom took a little sadistic pleasure in announcing that "Your father is going to kill us both when I tell him about this."

Waddaya know, my mom is a closet Harley Grandma and I was the one to bring it out of her. I'm sure this is a moment she'll remember for a long time to come, and I'm incredibly pleased that I could be the one to give her the experience.