Tag Archives: family

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

Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 3

When I was a kid we struggled to pay the bills, but my Dad was a crafty guy. He refused “real” work, but was king when it came to unorthodox ways to come by a buck. One of those unorthodox ways involved 1000 cassette tapes.

Derek gave my Dad two boxes of cassette tapes – Hip-hop albums. I have no idea why my Dad accepted such a gift, but he has never been one to refuse free stuff. No matter how strange or possibly stolen that “free” stuff might be. So in our damp garage set 1000 cassette tapes for what must have been years.

Then came the day. Sitting in the kitchen one evening our lights went to dark. My Dad peaked out of the window and waited for the technician to leave. Our power bill hadn’t been paid for months, but my Dad was just smart enough to know how to turn our meter back on. This time was different – the power company placed a tamper-proof lock over our power meter. With a note: “Please pay your overdue balance.”

After a day or two without power we had enough. The food in our refrigerator had become sour – and made the house smell like death, the Georgia heat was becoming too much to bear, and showers without hot water was the last straw. My Dad decided to pay. He devised a scheme.

The Scheme

My Mother and I sat in front of local retailers and asked for donations, any donation, in exchange for a cassette tape. Myself, an 8 year old kid and my Mother, a cripple in a wheel chair. We even had t-shirts from an old church youth group we had attended years before. The fact that the cassette tapes were riddled with vulgarities like “The Bitch is Back” written in bold letters on the front – didn’t seem to bother anyone. The donations flowed and our pockets filled.

Sometime people would give $1, sometimes $10. Sometimes the store manager would get suspicious and kick us out of their parking lot for soliciting. No one ever called the cops on a kid and a lady in a wheel chair though. The plan was perfect.

I even got my cut of the cash. Even though I was embarrassed – the thought of helping my parents pay the bills and earning $20 seemed too good to pass up. In reality what my Father had us doing was immoral, sad, and fucked up – but in a lot of ways that was my childhood. Lessons learned in the strangest ways – lessons that will stick with me forever.

My Daughter

Now that I’m having a little girl of my own I wonder how she will learn these same lessons? I wonder how she will learn what it feels like to truly contribute to the family and feel proud of that? I wonder how she will learn to appreciate electricity, paid bills, and hot showers? I wonder if she will ever really appreciate what it feels like to humble yourself, to give up your pride, to help your family. I wish I could grant her that knowledge without that experience – but I don’t think I can.

Read Lessons in Fatherhood: Part 2.

Lupus

In a few minutes, I will touch down in SFO, San Francisco’s international airport, for the first time ever. I remember just a few years ago, I was sitting in a drab cubicle with a boss I despised and a job I loathed when my co-author, Atty had just landed in SFO for his first time ever. I wanted to be him so bad at the time… well not be him but to have these exciting experiences he was having.

That day stung but it triggered a massive change in myself. It made me decide I wouldn’t settle anymore. It made me decide that if I wanted something bad enough, I was definitely going to go for it, and what I wanted to do was have a cool job that paid me to travel.

Now I’m in San Francisco too, just like Atty a few years back. There isn’t anything special about San Francisco in particular, it just happened to be one of the first big places Atty got to go after he started his first job out of college. I remember how depressed I felt that I’d spent four years since getting out of college myself, doing a bunch of nothing. Working in unchallenging jobs with no chances for advancement, no change, no excitement, just a mundane existence of just getting by.

Fast Forward Two Weeks

I wrote those paragraphs above a few weeks back. I didn’t think them special enough to share at the time, they were just thoughts I jotted down on the airplane. A lot has changed very suddenly since then. In two weeks’ time my wife and I have discovered that she is chronically ill. My wife has lupus. Lupus is a strange sickness. It seems evasive, hard to define and obtuse. The sickness doesn’t manifest itself the same in any two people and there aren’t any direct treatments for it.

Essentially, to have lupus is to indefinitely feel like shit. It is an autoimmune sickness where your body is at war with itself. In most people, lupus isn’t fatal, but as a person gets older, it takes its toll on them, weakening the liver, attacking the joints, inflaming the skin.

This inspires me even further to charge forward with living our lives. Experiencing all we can while we are able to. Taking extra care to appreciate each other, our children, our families and our friends all the more.

We all will die someday and more than likely, the world will forget we were ever here. This illness serves as a reminder of that. It serves as a wakeup call of just how fragile, unpredictable and unstable this house of glass around us really is. It takes only one stray stone to bring sections of it crashing to the ground as shards of glass at our feet, impossible to put back together as is was before.

I am sad. I am also scared for my wife and my children. I don’t know what to do other than go to work and take care of them. Save for retirement, college, excursions around the globe, and live an upstanding life as a man of integrity and honesty.

Unfortunately though, this isn’t enough is it? Because let’s be honest, I am powerless in these matters, matters of chronic illnesses, unexpected accidents and all of life’s other curveballs. We can hedge, but nothing is for certain.

Love is a painful affair. I can’t help but wish I was in it alone sometimes. That is selfish. But to love something so much and face the thought of losing it forever is unfathomable to me. I almost think I’d rather be alone. No burdens and a burden to no one, but would that even be a life worth living?

I don’t think so.

-Holden

Why Women Earn Less than Men

Do men really earn more than women? Is that because of discrimination? I don’t think so – at least not in the way we think.

For example, my wife is an art teacher and recently accepted a part time job because we are having our first child. In contrast, I was just promoted and have a full time business consultant job. I don’t think this is marketplace discrimination, but rather expectations of gender roles we have accepted.

So is their discrimination in the workplace? I don’t think so. Perhaps it is the gender roles some people are unhappy about.