Tag Archives: family

Thoughts on Maturing Relationships

Holden has written several posts about marriage problems (here and here for example). We have had a number conversations and email exchanges on the topic too. Unfortunately, most of the time I can’t offer much in the way of advice, but I’d like to point out a few things that have served me well during the decade-long relationship with my own wife.

1. The Couple and the Self

My wife and I started our relationship very young. We were immature and as result of that immaturity I do not think I had the ability or experience to distinguish between the two entities that exist in a serious relationship: The Couple and the Self.

My wife and I are both a couple, but still our individual selves. We have our own ambitions, goals, desires, interests, insecurities – but those feature sets simultaneously overlap and bleed over into our couple-self. Sometimes those elements of self and couple are at odds and sometimes they align perfectly.

The key is coming into a relationship with respect and love for the other person as an individual.

When I think of my wife I see a women who dreams of selling her artwork at craft shows, having the courage and self-confidence to make friends, traveling the world, sitting at the dinner table with family, and being the world’s best wife and mother. I see a playful and feisty women with insecurities and dreams – some of those the same as mine – others different.

Sometimes I have to muster the courage , trust, and patience to let her be herself – even if that means sacrificing a little of my own time to do so. She does the same for me in return.

2. Self-Examination and Leadership

I have always tried to be a leader and my philosophy has typically been that leaders do two things:

1. Lead by example, and
2. Lead with integrity.

Leading by example and with integrity requires that one examines their own behavior – not the behavior of their partner. It is an exercise in self control, self discipline, and honesty.

In my own relationship I’ve tried (and often failed) to lead with these qualities. And I’ve learned that my own actions and responses are independent of the actions of anyone else.

If someone screams at me I can respond calmly. If I am insulted I can respond with a level head. When it is someone you love doing these things an appropriate response is even more difficult. Leadership responses take a lot of self control, but are the job of any good leader. If you expect a certain behavior you must first exhibit that behavior yourself.

These lessons are fluid – not just one way. My wife, for example, demonstrates unconditional love. She is caring, devoted, and faithful. She has taught me those traits by example and I have learned a lot from her. She is an emotional leader in our household.

I like to think she’s picked up a few of my better qualities as well.

3. Speak-Easy

I learned a long time ago that I know my wife well enough that I can use words as deadly daggers. Words that can tear into her self-confidence, break her down, and make her fill like nothing.

I used to use those words with more frequency than I’d like to admit, but as I’ve matured and as my love has matured so has my use of words.

Sometimes I try to step outside of myself. When my temper is about to explode I take a moment to self-evaluate and to reassess my actions. I’ve learned (and sometimes failed) to speak-easy.

Over the long haul I have watched my wife’s self confidence return and our arguments fizzle out faster. Try to remember you love this other human being – even when you are at your most upset.

Life is short, and Marriage is hard.

My wife and I have had some rocky times as of late. It’s been rocky enough that there has been talk of divorce and I’m pretty sure my wife has even gone so far as to consult an attorney.

A lot of the discourse in our marriage has come from my wife’s complaints aimed towards me.

I am a man of supreme imperfection. I stress too much over money, I get too lost in my work, I freak out over little things sometimes, and I have a bad habit of letting tension build up in my to the point that I explode and say things I’d never day say to anyone I wasn’t in a legally bounded relationship with (aka marriage).

As of late, my wife has decided it is all too much for her. Over the last year I have tried very hard to step outside of myself and fairly assess my imperfections independently. I have admitted many of my faults and tried very hard to work on each of them. I still fall into the same old bad habits at times though.

Other times, I wonder if perhaps I am not really the problem though. My wife has been acting very strange over the last six months or so. So strange in fact, I wondered if maybe she was having an affair and all this lashing out at me was due to her own guilt fermenting inside her and her trying to offload onto me and make me as much of a bad guy as she was feeling like on the inside.   A bit of lowly eavesdropping has led me to believe this is not the case.

So what’s the problem then? Why is my wife always so damn angry at me despite all my communication and effort?

Life will end soon….

Yesterday I wrote a post talking about what women really want in a man.

That post was born out of the experience I had last Friday night while having a guy’s night out.

That night, I was flattered to death. One of the ladies told me I was a great guy that evening. I haven’t heard that in quite a while. I kind of shocked a shift in the perception I have of myself.

“What? You think I’m a great guy? What on earth would lead you to believe that?”

It didn’t inspire me to want to leave my wife or be unfaithful or anything of that sort. But it definitely made me wonder. Why were these ladies so smitten with me? All I’ve been told for the last six months is that I’m selfish, I’m cheap, and I’m verbally abusive. And I’ll admit, these things are all true of me at my low points. But everyone has low points don’t they? I’m not typically this person.

I was mowing the grass yesterday thinking about all this when it hit me:

“What the fuck man? We’re all going to die soon. We have all of what…. 80 healthy years on this planet if we’re lucky? That’s SHIT!” I gotta quit sweating this bullshit.”

So fuck it. I’m just going to keep trying to be a standup guy. I’m going to love my wife and kids and quit sweating the small stuff. Hell, I may even quit sweating the big stuff. I’ve spend so many years building myself up in pursuit of this ‘Two Cars in the Garage and a White Picket Fence’ American Dream that I forgot I was supposed to be happy along the way!

Last time I had an argument with my wife, I had to remind myself afterward that it could be so much worse. One of my kids could have cancer or one of us could be terminally ill, I could be handicapped and not able to provide for my family, we could live in a war torn country where we fear for the health and safety of our boys and girls on a daily basis.

This shit is small fries. It is time to let it go. If my wife is unable to do it, then fine. She can call her lawyers, take everything I own and go start new away from me. If I’m doing my best to treat her right and provide for my family then what do I have to regret? I will always be able to start over. As long as I have my health, I’m golden.

Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

-Holden

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.