Tag Archives: family

Cancer, tumors, radiation, priorities.

Sometimes I feel like this blog is nothing more but a venting place for me. I only bring mostly the bad stuff here. But so be it. I’m not writing for too many readers anyway, but there is something therapeutic about blogging, and it does make me feel better. So here goes- another super uplifting post.

My aunt has lung cancer. Today she starts chemotherapy to shrink a giant tumor so that it can be removed. She lives 500 miles away in Indianapolis, IN. I don’t see her much, but when I was a kid she was a shining star in my sky.

For a while when I was a little boy and still lived in Indiana, my parents couldn’t really afford to support me. My aunt took me in. She raised me. I remember her taking me to kindergarten, feeding me, hugging me and putting me to bed when I was very little. I remember her taking me trick or treating. Whenever I’m in the area I always make my way over to Mooresville, Indiana to drive through her old neighborhood and remember those trick or treat days.

Over the years I’ve lost touch with her. Too busy with my own life, family and job. And the distance doesn’t help either. Today I decided to call her and tell her I was thinking of her and wish her luck.

She seemed strangely accepting of the entire situation. While everyone else in her family is melting down, she is simply just her. She joked that the worse that can happen is it kills her, and if it doesn’t kill her then she guesses she made out alright.

If she doesn’t pull through, this will the second child my grandmother has lost to tobacco. Ironically, the stress of the entire situation has my mother smoking more than ever. I’m glad I never picked up the terrible habit.

After hanging up with my Aunt, I sat here a second feeling flustered over the mountain of work I have surrounding me this week. Where do I start? I need to set up easily half a dozen meetings, write a report, create Visio diagrams and a bunch of other mumbo jumbo that will probably be filed away and forgotten after I’ve spent the last three weeks preparing it.

What I should really be doing is driving to Indianapolis to be with one of the only people in the world who really cared for me when my parents couldn’t. Even my own grandparents couldn’t seem to find it in themselves to be there for my parents at that hard time in their lives.

But we have to set our priorities straight, right? I’ve got kids to feed, bills to pay, a career to think about.

Suddenly I don’t give a fuck about work. Suddenly it seems like a means to an end. Get money so I can give it to someone else.

I hope my Aunt is fearless today. I would be a terrible mess on the inside if I were her. I assume she is, but she’s doing a great job of not showing. She’s a real trooper. I still admire her just like I did when I was a little boy.

-Holden

 

 

Thoughts on Marriage

A few days ago Holden wrote an honest and raw post about the difficulties of marriage and children.  Equally, truthful and perhaps more revealing were the comments. Both of which inspired me to take a shot at articulating my own relationship situation.

My wife and I have been together for over 11 years (married for four of them). We literally grew up together. We attended the same high school and the same University . We shared the same group of friends.  And for the most part been together every day for the last decade. A relationship like this has its own set of nuances we have to work through.

First, there is no mystery between us. For the most part we know everything about each other. Not just philosophically, but we literally know pretty much everything. She knows what I had for lunch yesterday. That can be both good and bad.

For example, we do not enjoy the veil of wonder between us that I witness some of my friends in new relationships enjoy. There is no self-created amazement, and no pretending that the other person is a God. Then again, we know each other better than any two people on earth can know one another – and we still love (and like) each other.

Second, even though my wife and I grew up together  – two people probably couldn’t be more different and have experienced life more differently. My wife is an artist, she feels deeply and shows emotion, she is caring and empathetic. My wife is silly and enjoys vampire movies. My wife will take two hours to hang a photo and will spend two days in an art museum. I hang all of my photos crooked, I workout 4-5 days a week, I’m impatient, business minded, and quick witted. Fills gaps, I guess.

It is strange sharing your life with someone. Because even though we have agreed to share our life – we are still two separate people. Two people with different ambitions, different motives and goals, and different interests. We are two people that live in the same house, agree to have dinner together every night, but in reality have our own lives. Our own lives that belong uniquely to each of us. And even with all of these differences we somehow work them out within the parameters of our own relationship universe.

At some point in a relationship I think people begin to forget this. That our significant others have a life too. But it’s too important to forget. I don’t know what works and what doesn’t. I have my own fair share of problems and struggles. But the one thing that I keep coming back to, that I keep trying to articulate, is that we have to recognize, respect, and nurture the fact that the person we have committed to having a relationship is his/her own person. My wife is a person. Her own person.

I’m not sure why this small fact resonates with me. I think it reminds me that she has her own things going on – internally and externally. It reminds me to be a little more understanding. It reminds me to be patient and to be more supportive. It reminds me to be more compassionate and a better husband.

Does my wife hate being a mom?

I have no doubt that my wife loves our daughters more than anything in the world, but does she like being a mom?

Up until a few weeks ago, I was admittedly not around that much. I was on the road four days a week and locked in my office on the fifth day trying to wrap things up so that I didn’t spend the sixth and seventh days of the week also in my office.

Then suddenly, abruptly, I quit my traveling job for a local job. While I have a lot of great reasons and excuses for doing so, I really quit for two reasons- friends and family. I quit to work with my best friend, my co-author Atty during the day, and be at home with my wife and girls in the evening.

I figured, there is nothing more valuable in the world than spending time with those you love. But as of late, that time spent hasn’t been all sugar plums and sunshine.

Being home puts my home life into an entirely new perspective. Every day I come home to a frazzled, stressed out woman buried in dirty laundry, dishes and toys thrown in every direction. I’ve come to realize that my wife rarely seems all that happy. She sighs a lot, cries a lot, and complains a lot.

A big part of me wants to tell her to shut up and walk it off. To remind her that she doesn’t have to go to a job every day. But I guess maybe having a job would be better than being at home every day with the “damn kids” in her eyes.

My wife is a good mother. She’s attentive, affectionate and caring. But sometimes man, I just don’t know if maybe it wasn’t meant for her. If maybe she simply doesn’t have the nerves or grit to deal with it.

Someone who reads this might offer up kind advice and suggest I do things to ease the stress. But to be quite honest, I’m not sure what else I am to do. I cook dinner many evenings and tend to many chores after work. I encourage her have alone time every weekend. I let her go shopping, have weekend outings… hell, her friends and family dominate our social life.

But to no avail, the depressed attitude never seems to cease for very long. Sometimes I think maybe it is phase that simply has to pass. I convince myself that eventually the girls will both be in school, they’ll grow up and be out of her hair less and less… and maybe someday her attitude will brighten.

But to be completely honest, I want to tell my wife to quit being a fucking pussy.

To be boldly frank in this anonymous arena of thought, I want to tell her she has been given a great gift and opportunity. I want to remind her that some mothers are single and on food stamps. And that some parents are forced to work two mother fucking jobs, letting the microwaves serve up the warm meals and the TV tuck their little ones into bed while they’re working a second shift at the Shoney’s just to keep the lights on and rent paid in their dank little apartment.

But instead I find myself coming home, playing Gameboy and tuning it out. I don’t feel like battling her bad mood. I don’t feel like convincing her that things are great. I’m sick of being in charge of other people’s happiness. I have my own to worry about. Problem is, hers is directly linked to mine.

And now I feel like a completely insensitive, chauvinistic asshole. Yes, our kids are tough as nails. Yes, the life of a stay at home mom is tough, but so are all challenges worth taking on. What do you want me to say honey? Parenthood is tough! That’s why I opted to be the breadwinner in the relationship… alright, perhaps that was chauvinistic.

I guess the wise, emotionally adept, mature husband would sit his wife down and try to bring his wife to some miraculous realization that she’s actually got it pretty good. Ha!

-Holden

Kids Complicate Things

Turn on your favorite rap artist’s latest album and you’ll probably hear at least a line or two reminiscing about being an angry little boy whose dad ran out on him and his mother. I grew up around a lot of these broken kids. One kid I knew, who was only 14 at the time and already openly gay and sexually active was one of these fatherless victims, his father gone, his mom in her own drug induced world. That kid didn’t have a kitchen floor. Literally, the floor in the kitchen of his double wide trailer had rotted away.

Other kids I knew had dads who beat the shit out of them. I guess getting the shit beat out of you might be better than abandonment though. Perhaps something is better than nothing at all, contemplating the grand mystery of why you weren’t good enough to stick around for, for an entire lifetime.

I look at my own children today and they break my heart with love. They cause me to well up with such emotion that it almost incites rage in my soul when I hear about kids whose fathers have abused or ran away from them.

Last night I went in my girl’s room and laid with each of them as they slept. I rubbed their backs, buried my nose into their little head of hair and just breathed it in… then kissed each on the cheek and snuck off before I woke them up.

While I laid beside my girls, I thought about something I remembered the economist Steve Levitt, from the Freakanomics podcast, say while discussing the loss of his one year old son many years ago. He said that losing a child never gets easier, it never stops hurting, it continues to hurt every single day. You just learn to cope with it and keep living.

I feel Steve’s pain. I couldn’t stand it. It’s the one challenge I imagine not being able to overcome. It is the one thing that would drive me to the brink- losing one of my children.

So then how does a man walk away from one willfully? How does a father ever willfully harm his child?

It really takes a fucking pathetic puddle of puke to do so.

Having children and loving them deeply and oh so selfishly that it shakes you to the core is to feel the essence of life.

Maybe it’s biological, maybe it’s spiritual. I don’t care. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to feel it.

-Holden

Head of the Family

Having a kid has forced me to examine a lot of things in my life. I have to think about what I say, how I say it, and the inadvertent message I am sending to my daughter any time I act. It is an constant exercise of restraint, self control, and leadership. It is something I never gave much thought until she was already here.

Starting my own family has also forced me to reflect on my own childhood. The traditions we had, the good times, and the bad. And after a lot of self reflection I’ve come to realize that I am the launching pad for my family. I am the transitional figure who will likely set a new precedence for future generations to follow.

I don’t mean that in an egotistical kind of way, it’s just that I believe I am the first person in my family to recognize and accept this responsibility. My father suffers from addiction, my mother from depression, both from lack of education. Going generations back there is no figure that holds the family together. There are few traditions and no one I would call the “head of the family”.

I want my wife and daughter to have these things. I even want my parents and in-laws to experience these type of things. I picture the entire family sitting around a big dining room table on special occasions. Love, security, and tradition. There was a shortage of those things in my life and I want my family to have it.

So when I’m angry I take pause. When someone upsets me I stop and think. Instead of reacting I reflect on the big picture. Sure, I could probably say something to hurt this person’s feelings, but instead I’ll take it for the team. I’ll be the glue that holds this family together. I’ll swallow the insults, the ignorance, and instead be a leader. I’ll do all these things because I can and there’s no one else to do it. My reward is the result.

A Tree full of Sentiment

Composing the Christmas tree is a special ritual to my wife. To her, our Christmas tree is a patchwork of memories and sentiments, a mash up of emotions, experiences and feelings.

Every year my wife unpacks our Christmas ornaments and goes through the same dilemma of deciding which ornaments will make the cut to be displayed that holiday season. We have two large Rubbermaid storage containers full of ornaments, very many of them representing a memory… the birth of one of our daughters, a lost grandparent or death in the family, mine and her first Christmas together, or even the occasional ornament from a past relationship or friendship, all of them representing former days both happy and sad.

All filled with ornaments....
All filled with ornaments….

To my wife, these ornaments serve as an archive of her life, a personal museum or perhaps even a time machine of sorts, not dissimilar to a prized volume of family photos. I’m not a very sentimental guy, but I appreciate that she is. I have very little saved from my past to share with others. She makes me question if I should change that.

With two little girls romping around the house, she’s forced to leave most of her prized ornaments hidden away in the safety of bubble wrap and styrofoam for now, except for a few moments each year when she goes through and looks over each one of the relics of her past and recites the story behind most of them.

I think her ritual is rather neat, perhaps a bit whimsical, but always entertaining and a sign that the holiday season is definitely upon us.

Happy Holidays.

-Holden

Stolen Memories: I used to call this place home.

I grew up about 30 miles outside Atlanta, GA in a small, but booming suburb that is divided by a quickly developing city center and rural farmland. My house was about 10 miles outside the booming city center and sits on 4 acres of lightly wooded property, including a barn and several work-shop buildings. I called this place home for most of my formative years.

oldhouse - Copy

At age 18 left for college which was only 100 miles, but a lifetime from home. Slowly, trips home faded away until I never came back at all. My tree-house, bedroom, and my childhood slowly becoming a distant memory. Later my parents split up, my Mom moved out, my Dad took a Job in rural Alabama, and the house sat unattended for several years. Then my wife and I found out we are having a baby.

It only takes about an hour to get from our home in Atlanta to the house. I still have the key on my key-ring today. I unlocked the deadbolt like I never left. The windows in the back are boarded, the grass and trees cover the porch railing, and the formerly pristine field is covered in small trees and wheat grass.

The house smells old – a slight must of dampness and mildew from a place that hasn’t been lived in or properly maintained for years. There are boxes stacked from floor to ceiling in every room – evidence of my Father’s past hoard. Part of me can barely believe I used to call this place home, but other things haven’t moved an inch since I left.

I open the door to my old room, but there’s not much left that I can recall. Eight box-spring mattresses are stacked in the corner. I wonder to myself where the hell my Dad acquired such things –and why. These types of thoughts are fleeting though – I’m used to this. I open a few boxes until I find one with all of my old books.

Each book is exactly how I left it. Untouched and even in the same order I vaguely remember packing them almost a decade ago. My father’s hoard is strangely comforting in that way – it is almost like a time capsule of possessions stored in a former home turned storage facility, but still full of archived memories.

Five books and two old yearbooks are worth sharing with my daughter. I touch the wall and feel almost sorry for the old house – almost like an old dog you haven’t paid enough attention to for years. I lock up the house and take my stolen memories back home.

Puerto Ricans and Ass Kickings

When I was 7 years old my family and I moved to a neighborhood on the South side of Atlanta. The first two kids I was introduced to were a big black boy who lived across the street named Courtney and a chubby Puerto Rican named Hector. We respected Courtney because he was a foot taller and 50 lbs heavier than the rest of us. We made fun of Hector because he had a big head and always smelled like barbecue sauce.  

My first fight was with Hector. He kicked my ass in front of the entire neighborhood. I remember refusing to fight while the “big kids” urged him to slam me down a nearby hill. He obliged and I tumbled down my neighbors lawn.  After a brief tumble down the rocky ledge the fight was over. My shirt was stretched and stained. My knees and elbows were battered. When the show was over I went home.

When my Mom saw my stained clothes and beaten body she was furious. Her “baby” had been beaten up by a “bully”.  She embarrassed me further by confronting Hector while I stood by her side staring at the ground. Hector held his chin high while my mother cursed him. “Never lay another hand on my child!”  The verbal abuse from the neighborhood boys stood as a constant reminder of the incident. 

The whole experience was terrible, but I vowed to never lose another fight again. My response was to publicly beat the hell out of Hector whenever the opportunity presented itself.  There were many, many opportunities.

That beating and the subsequent retaliatory ass-kickings I handed out taught me a lot about life and how to be tough. But mostly those childhood poundings remind me of how hard it can be to be a kid. 

The funny thing is Hector was my best friend. I cried when we moved. 

Being a war horse.

I live in a family of women. Apart from the guys that marry in, it’s all women. And most of us that marry in aren’t exactly what I’d consider to be real men anyhow. The thing about women is, they need good men to look to when life gets hard (even regardless of what the most brazen of feminists might lead you to believe). In my family, I’ve unwittingly become that guy everyone looks to.

Being the guy people look to in the family is hard at times. Always having to hold it together, be the one to make the tough decisions, steer the ship or keep the train from veering off the rails and into a ditch is challenging. It seems as of late it’s been extra hard as we have encountered various members of the family developing serious health problems and others falling into difficult financial times.

Similar situations arrive in our careers and professional lives as well. Things go sour sometimes, clients get upset, managers get upset, and a need always arises for someone in-between to keep morale high, persuade people from quitting their jobs and to offer reassurance that next week, or next month or next whenever will be better- even if just long enough to get through the hell the team is enduring at the moment.

Sometimes I fall into a rough spot of weakness where I feel I’d rather find a dark corner in a bar somewhere then proceed to binge on chicken wings and beer until I’m drunk, bloated and overfull than deal with any of it. But there is always work to be done, problems to solve, hot heads to cool and teary eyes to wipe.

I should feel honored I guess. Honored that so many people around me seem to trust and confide in me for whatever reason. Honored that my sister and mother in-law would rather come to me than their own husbands with their issues. God knows I don’t feel worthy of the honor. I guess they do so precisely because I refuse to retreat to a bottle, drug, or just shut myself off and go looking to someone else to whine to.

Hell, fuck that, that’s for pussies. That’s for weak men who can’t deal with their emotions. Men who don’t have the strength to pull through. I’m a war horse, thick skinned, determined, brave and stubborn. War horses get rode hard, shot at, cut up in barbed wire and bombarded with shrapnel, mustard gas and bullets. We don’t stop until forced to do so. Until there is no more fight in us.

Being the war horse is tough, but it is what it is and we are what we are.

Good talk.

-Holden

How will we teach our children about the hard knocks of life?

Sadly, my time with Atticus has become more and more scarce as of late. We’re both progressing steadily in our careers, our lives more complicated with children and moody wives and a ton of other responsibilities in between.

At the same time though, I feel more excited about our friendship than ever. We’ve become dedicated pen pals, speaking to each other primarily by web chat, text messages, and curiously, blog posts as opposed to by word.

In Atty’s last post, Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 3, he wrote about yet another whimsical, simultaneously sad but hilarious tale of his father, a man who has scratched, jiggered and hacked his way through life one step at a time. And in doing so, this man has bizarrely instilled these strong core values in his son, all completely by accident!

I had a similar situation with my father as a child, not the part where my dad was a bit of a con-artist but the part where my dad was one of these guys always seemingly down on his luck as well and both unknowingly instilled a bunch of great values in us completely by accident,.

My dad instead taught me great lessons through back breaking labor. It wasn’t that he was a hard ass, or unfair. It was more that, our family wasn’t making ends meet, so on the weekends, or the mornings after he had just spent an entire night working the 3rd shift, we’d go to work doing all sorts of stuff.

I’ll never forget all the time spent riding around in my dad’s old rickety mid-70s model Chevy pickup truck. The floor board was rotted out in it, revealing the asphalt of the road below, it was prone to catching fire if we stalled at red lights too long and when we drove down the road, the smell of exhaust filled our nostrils! But it served our family well.

We used to cut and sell firewood, clean out old garages full of garbage for people, clean up construction sites, do landscaping and even built a fence once.  I never got paid, I just got to help keep the lights on and my belly fat and happy, and that was okay.

How the hell will guys like Atty and I repay the favor to our children? I’m afraid we might not have the chance, and it saddens me because those hot as hell summer and frigidly cold winter days spent working my ass off as a kid are what made me who I am today.

Regardless, it’ll be fun to figure it out with Atty, even if just by online chats, text messages and the occasional blog post. One way or another, I think we’ll succeed.

-Holden