Have fun before they’ve grown up and no longer want to play.
Love, so both of you never forget the reason you came together.
Sing even if you’re off-key and people stare or start to laugh.
Cry when you have to. You should never be ashamed of your feelings.
Fight for the good. For your family, your friends, for anyone that needs help, especially when you know you’ll lose.
Give, not only when you feel guilty, when you’re being watched, when you have extra time or a bit more cash. Just give and give always.
Take a different route to work.
Call your parents.
Write a letter to an old friend. Not an email. Not a text. A real, hand written letter that’s put in an envelope, sealed, and stamped.
Believe, but remember that going to church doesn’t bring you closer to any god. That’s like standing in a garage and proclaiming you’re a mechanic.
Do good work. Smile. Hug and breathe deep and take naps and listen to music and birds and the sounds your children and wife make at night when they—unlike you—are able to sleep and dream and find peace in this world as you stand in the doorway balancing between in and out, day and night, the wet and the dry, and the beautiful beginning that leads to this—an unexpected end.
We were upstairs in the hallway. It was 3 a.m. We couldn’t sleep. She was clutching Lamby to her chest and holding my hand.
“You’re seven years old,” I said. “What do you know about the dark?”
She stopped. I couldn’t see a thing, but I could hear a plow truck revving and scraping, revving and scraping. I could hear the old windows rattling and feel the icy air creeping through cracks. She let go of my hand.
“I know where the light is,” she said. “That should be enough.”
I reached for her but touched only darkness. l knew she was there but could not feel her and I could not hear her. There was only the scraping of metal on concrete, the rattling windows, and the cold welling up all around me.
“Where are you?” I asked.
She flipped on the light and was smiling.
“Don’t be scared, Daddy. I’m right here,” she said.
I remember being six and standing in the cheese line at the fairgrounds with my Mom and brothers. It was a beautiful, bright day. There was so much light around. I remember the light so well.
All of us were wearing hand-me-downs or Salvation Army specials. There was more than cheese, of course—“provisions” is what they called it, and I remember powdered milk, cereal, and other necessities and my belly grumbling with hunger and excitement as we received the plainly labeled packages that would be rationed for weeks—but it was the cheese line, no doubt, because that’s what kids called it at school. Their Moms and Dads apparently hadn’t ever hit a bad patch for long enough to make them swallow their pride and stand in line to feed their kids. Nearly every day, I heard all about the lazy, good-for-nuthins that stood in line for food they did not earn or deserve. Kids learn a lot from their parents, I guess, so I got to hear firsthand from my classmates how lazy, stupid, and selfish we were—especially my old man. It ate me up to hear how awful we were for taking handouts and no matter what I said nobody gave a good shit that my Dad worked his ass off. When he got laid off, he did everything he could to provide. He worked odd jobs for those in our rural town that could afford to hire a helper. He fixed things for family and friends. He picked bottles and cans to cash in on the deposit money. And when things got tight in the fall and winter, he shot deer so we had meat on the table and waiting in the freezer. Dad applied for jobs, spent lots of time at the unemployment office, and was always busy never giving up. Eventually, he got hired back at the factory and made a very good living. One that gave us everything we would ever need. We weren’t rich by any means, but he worked for decades not because he liked ruining his lungs with shop air, and not because he wanted to lose his hearing to shop machines, but because he wanted to give his wife and kids a good life. And because he got a little lift in the form of a social welfare program. Hell, that little boost coupled with his tenacity and devotion carries on into today.
For the most part, I don’t fuck around. My wife and kids come first. And I do everything I can to make sure that ends meet and overlap so that there’s at least a little left over to give. But still, on a night like this—kids just put to bed in their cozy rooms, my wife sipping wine watching high def TV, and me at these keys sipping vodka and Sprite as nine bells call out from the church down the street—I know I’m not doing enough. None of us are.
Less than a mile away, there’s a third grade boy dreading going to school tomorrow because he’ll be teased for wearing hand-me-downs.
Down 2nd Avenue, just north of the bridge, there’s a little girl that just wants a warm bath.
Somewhere in this sleepy lakeshore town coined as a “warm and friendly port,” there’s a man that’s made some bad decisions, but doesn’t deserve to be sleeping on a concrete slab.
Everywhere at every moment there’s a spirit that needs a lift and yet we choose to walk away. We judge quickly and embrace cynicism because it’s easy. We don’t want to think. We don’t want to feel. We just want to live our own little lives and don’t want to be bothered. And when we do this, we die a little. Oh, it’s imperceptible. It can be ignored. Shrugged off. After all, it’s our money and our own life we’re looking out for. We do a fine job of distracting ourselves from what’s really important quite easily. We buy shit we don’t need. We’re afraid to believe. And we follow like sheep. Donating to political campaigns and scrolling through Facebook all along the way. Little do we know, those little deaths all add up and eventually the light is pulled away.
You will make many mistakes. Some of them inexplicable even though you are a grown man with a career, car payments, a mortgage or three, and husband and daddy duties. You’ll say mean things to your kids. Kick the cat out of the way. Raise your voice to your wife. You’ll wake up drunk in places you don’t belong. And maybe even have a run-in with the law. Or God.
You’ll be a shit at least once or a dozen times in your life and you will know how awful you are when you see tears from those that you love. And no matter how right you believe you are, you’re wrong.
You’ll see this most clearly just before bed when you thumb wrestle your 10-year old son and let him win. Again. He is all smiles and feeling strong, which is exactly what he’ll need as he moves along and learns that a man should strive in his life to make people happy. To help. Sacrifice. And save. No matter what.
But it’s harder than it seems. Much, much harder. And trying to be a good man is one of the loneliest things you’ll ever do because nobody can ever really teach you.
To admit when you’re wrong.
Set aside your pride.
These are the great lessons we learn when we stick to our commitments. Embrace forgiveness. And honor our vows.
I heard a voice tonight. The kids were in pajamas. We had just said our family prayer and were playing tic, tac, toe, hit me high, hit me low, hit me three times in a row, buddy got hit by a UFO and what I heard was ROCK and so I played rock and I crushed all of their scissors and we walked up the stairs of this big old house and shared hugs and kisses and good solid intentions of seeing one another in the morning.
As I walked downstairs to the box of wine that helps me unwind most nights, I thought about my boy so nervous this morning before his big fourth-grade, year-end race. He was pacing, sticking close to me and SB while his buddies wrestled and threw around a ball and he told us that bubbles were popping in his guts and he wanted to know why it felt like he had to go to the bathroom even though he knew in his heart that he didn’t have to go.
“It’s nerves,” I said.
And he ran away to the bathroom in the school to empty whatever he could that was building inside.
Three minutes later, he was at the starting line, jockeying for position and I heard a voice say, “He’s got it wrapped up. Just watch and enjoy.”
He ran a mile in seven minutes and four seconds and beat out every other kid in his grade. The volunteer parents were impressed. They had been keeping track of the races all day. Our boy was the fourth fastest in school, just seconds behind the studs of fifth grade.
He took the victory in stride. He was humble. He knows that it is only a race and that running doesn’t last forever. That there is much more to come. And none of it can be known until we know it.
“He’s gonna be a star,” a voice said. And there was nothing I could do but believe it.
Poem’s audio below…honey, I even got a little throat clearing in for you at the end.;-)
I don’t post as much as some people do. That’s for good reason. There are too many dummies doing so already. People posting too much shit that is selfish, mean, hurtful, and downright stupid. For instance, I am happy that so-and-so helped a homeless person today, or saved a duck, or paid it forward in some way or the other, but the point of doing good deeds is to simply do them and not draw recognition to oneself. And yet, everyone is look at me. You, S.B., are not like that. Even at our wedding you insisted that all eyes NOT be on you. You just wanted to get married, to be together, and for everyone to have a good time. And that’s why sometimes you’ll catch me just looking at you. I’m amazed.
And then there are the religious geniuses—most of them blinded instead of enlightened—damning people because they are different, spewing evil, nastiness and ignorance. God hates this type of person. This group is going to hell. I follow my husband blindly. I am obedient. His servant. Blah, blah, blah. If they had any inkling of what it’s like to live a good life, they’d be living like you, S.B. You are the definition of kindness. You bring hope. You are the embodiment of strength and independence. And you make me and our kids believe that there are much greater things going on behind the scenes than what we engage on the surface. If people were as selfless and sensible as you are, they’d take more time out of their day to focus on others. The world would be a better place if it followed you.
There are the sickies, always posting how miserable they feel. I saw you give birth to a child, naturally, without shedding a tear. When you are sick, we never know it. You may take an ibuprofen if the pain starts to slow you down. But you’re never asking for attention. Posting about your sniffles or ever mentioning an ache.
There are the titsies—women that apparently can’t refrain from showing their cleavage. Oh, look at the new toaster I got with their boobies all squished together and most likely sharing their best set of duck lips. You, S.B., draw a crowd with your beautiful wide smile, your confidence, and warmth.
And finally, though there are more I could mention, there are the political gurus. We don’t have to go much into that, I suppose. I think most of us should probably follow your politics. Treat people with respect. Help everyone. Act, every day, as if there is an end that’s fast approaching. And that when it’s all said and done every single deed and every word we’ve ever written or spoken—good and bad—will be judged. Maybe not by God, but by everyone we’ve known. And that the tiny ripples of our life make big, big waves.
In summation, Happy Birthday, S.B. I thought I should post this and put it on your page because in the whole scheme of things maybe one person’s love for another will help balance out, and even defeat the shit—all the selfish, mean, hurtful, and downright stupid things—that so many others are putting into this world wide tangled web.
I watch street lamps, porch lights, more stars, and I linger outside in the dark maybe a little too long.
My son will be standing outside one night in July, drunk from big glasses of wine, tired from working too much, a little lost because he’s not quite sure how to grab onto and place the gift he’s been given, and he’ll want to talk to me, but I’ll be gone. Burnt out. Faded away. Just flashes in his memory. And he’ll be on his own and doing whatever it takes to keep his family happy. Even if that means setting aside every dream and hope and grand idea he ever had. And though he’ll be happy—animally happy most days—the ache will grow.
Awareness becomes unbearable.
Everything you believed in falls apart. Just breaks into brittle little pieces that are easily ground to dust.
And the cycle starts over again.
A star streaks through the forgotten sky. A man remembers.
Days gone by.
That weightless beginning. Surrounded by warmth. Fluid. Love.
It should be handwritten. Inked to paper. Set aside. Left for them to read—if they ever choose to read and learn to know how it used to be—but it has been a long time, another great distance, and when mood and moment synch there is often no other way than this.
Trying key after key.
Hunting and pecking until the letters meet, relate, make some sense, and push us.
The next moment. So we are clean and clear. Interested in this time.
Our small existence. In this small town. Where we live a life so simple and rich, so free and connected to the earth, that there is nothing about it that can be believed.
My kids are healthy. Happy. And they make me see that I am important. Somebody. I am the strongest. The smartest. The fastest. And there is nobody that can hug or help or love like me. Except Mommy. And she, I’ll admit, is better than me.
The artful act of pure joy.
And because she has given them to me—our boy and our girl—it seems there is nothing I’ll ever be able to do to make her know how much she means to me.
I cannot birth babies.
Keep the faith.
Bring as much good to the world as she does.
And still, she loves me.
To know this, to experience it, is amazing.
I have come a long way in a short while. I am lucky to be alive. The fists, the fights, the self-imposed, self-destructive nights after nights after nights have somehow landed me here. Home. Deep into the place I never knew I could be.
So worthy of words.
Handwritten. Inked to paper. And set aside. For when my endurance has run out and I am only stacks of pages left for you to read. Letter strung to letter. Key meeting key. So that you will know how it used to be.