Thursday, December 17, 2015

Some Days

Some days, smiling is hard.

I admit I've let the cracks widen, despite an ongoing fight to keep the depression from squeezing in. I admit I've neglected to take care of myself in ways I know are not just good for me, but critical to daily self-care. I admit that I may not be able to handle this all on my own.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Worth It

Early 2015

So. Breathe.

Stop worrying about what's happening around you. Stop worrying about what anyone will think. This is about you.

That's what she told me: it's always all about me. How can I trust that sentiment? How can I possibly take care of myself when I always make it about everyone else?

The answer is to find balance. Between taking care of yourself and any/everyone else. And make good choices about who the 'everyone else' is composed of.

I do not need to care for those who don't care for themselves or abuse me, or both. Not the adults anyway. The children will continue to take advantage of me by failing to recognize what's been undertaken toward their care and feeding. That's just part of parenting, or so I'm told. But they are not the issue.

I do not know why I'm worth saving right now.

Anger Management

9 December 2014

So I'm dealing with a lot of shit today. None of which will be gone into for this post.

But one thing that's eating me alive about all this stuff is that I do not have a partner to share the burdens. My wife says she wants to be my partner, but I don't trust her with my vulnerabilities, doubts, weaknesses, or fears. I've been burned too many times when admitting wrongdoing of various degrees of severity to believe even small mistakes will go unpunished by some judgment or disapproval, let alone (what I'd really love to get) with a deeper love and understanding as a result of showing I'm a flawed human being.

This hurts me terribly. (unfinished)


2 June 2011

I am struggling with myself.

There was, long ago, a Great Time in my life. Actually, it was a terrible time in many immeasurable ways, and a time I'd never -ever- go back to if given the choice (unless said choice included wisdom gained between now and then, but that's always the rub, isn't it?), but of all the awful things happening in my life and family then, I can honestly and truly say I was at the height of my moral existence.

INTEGRITY was my watch word. I struggled with my deeds, constantly asking myself if I'd do this or that thing if I knew someone was watching, or if I knew anyone would find out later. Of course, there is such a thing as privacy, and nobody is perfect, and I negotiated an uneasy balance between what I thought was "right" and all the other stuff, the bulk of which was immense. It wasn't driven by an outward force such as religion, or even by fear of judgment by others, but by a personal quest to be the best person I could be.

(Yes I've seen Forrest Gump, why do you ask? Now shut up.)

In those days, I trusted and respected myself, and if any outside person didn't trust or respect me, it was only because they hadn't known me long enough.

Oh, how times have changed.

In the years since then, I have made awful choices, selfish and hurtful choices, shortsighted and destructive choices. Now, to be fair, I know that as everyone matures, they all do pretty much the same thing--just different versions of awful/selfish/etc. Everyone, I think carries this burden of youthful guilt, and it is as crippling to one as another, regardless of how each person's actual deeds compare. I do admit that I was a younger man once who believed I deserved something I wasn't getting. And maybe I did deserve it. But no truth to any such statement excuses how I behaved. I threw away friendships that should have lasted a lifetime, and took advantage of a beautiful person who loved me unconditionally.

Eventually I came clean. I made good the best I could. As a formerly integrit-ous person, I had some ideas about how to make things right. I put the pieces back together, and in the process I reformed myself and my relationships in such a way as to be healthier and more satisfying to all parties. I also tried to build in some resilience to future indiscretions.

Unfortunately, I am human, and so was my partner. And we acted as such. Barriers that were meager to begin with started to erode once taken for granted, and eventually collapsed and became overgrown with the weeds and bramble of relationship bullshit. These same vines choked both old foundations and new infrastructures not yet strong enough to resist. And so, over time, our marriage once again became a burden.

This, I hope, says little about the edifice beneath the overgrowth. Even the grandest structures fall to ruin once ignored. No, I'd like to believe that the breakdown occurred due mostly to our failure as partners to give attention where it was needed. Like a garden without someone to prune and encourage the age-old trees and tender new growth, or eradicate the weeds before the taproot takes hold, the ideals of our relationship sort of began to fall away, or at least blend in with all the trivialities of modern everyday existence: bills, work, oil changes, laundry, etc. The problem, I suspect, is that to tend such a garden, one must get one's hands dirty.

I can say for certain that in my little stone structure of a marriage, any acknowledgement or recognition of any potential problem (beyond the level of aforementioned trivialities) almost always created an uproar. It has never been safe to bring up dirty business, so any time there was dirty business to deal with, not only did we have to deal with that particular business, but all the bullshit that was brought up as a result of the business existing in the first place. Typically, dealing with the bullshit immediately became the more urgent topic, and so the original dirty business, typically, went unresolved.

Eventually, you can imagine, we accumulated a whole bunch of these issues that were brought to the table just long enough to catalyze a heated discussion, and then be put back into the growing pile. The heated discussion, though usually brief, almost always hurts people's feelings and pushes them a tiny bit further apart, which then makes it even more touchy the next time a serious, but uncomfortable, issue comes to the table.

Maybe you can see where this is going. Maybe you can understand that it all becomes quietly overwhelming and exhausting after dozens of iterations.

Maybe you can predict the inevitable outcome. Not with the marriage, but with my oh-so-valuable integrity. It no longer mattered whether or not I tried to make a "right" choice; if the choice was in any way disagreeable, it became a problem. It no longer mattered if I tried to be vigilant in addressing our issues; all I ever really accomplished was creating a shit-stir and a reminder of our inability to succeed as a couple. And because it no longer mattered, I stopped caring about whether or not I did the "right" thing.

That has been the biggest indiscretion of all. That has been my greatest failure: not to any other person in my life, but to myself.

My focus shifted from success to survival. But by this time, there was so much more at stake than our parents' reputations, our mutual friendships, the joint checking account, the car note, my 401k, the mortgage... by now, there was a family to save or to ruin. Or just to keep together in the hopes that these precious little people we'd both dedicated our lives to would somehow rise above the faults of their parents, and be better people than either of us had become.

Now listen: don't get the idea that my partner was a terrible person. She was, in fact, an extraordinary person when we met. Independent, cheerful, successful, and all manner of other qualities I admired and wished to learn the secrets of. She was an unwitting victim to my unwitting negativity. Ours became a classic addict-codependent relationship, modeled after and shaped by all those of our preceding generations, in particular the marriages of our respective parents. I ruined her as much as... well, she didn't ruin me. I ruined myself. I was always in charge of my own actions. Just as she was of hers, so in reality and hindsight, she had also ruined herself.

Also, don't imagine me in the days of trying to make "right" choices, and trying to address relationship issues, as an innocent player. I had severe problems. It is probably an understatement to say I didn't always make for a pleasant partner.

All inevitable outcomes aside, it may surprise you to know that we're still together, still trying. We recognize something valuable in each other, and in our marriage, and work to grasp it in some way every day. Sometimes, we get a solid handful; others, our reach falls short. And in between those attempts, we are still playing the same old game of avoiding dirty business in favor of a peaceful dinner, or putting off some unpleasant discussion or decision so as not to ruin the weekend. And the weeds and vines continue to grow over what could, if properly tilled and tended, be a very beautiful thing.

what i need

July 27th, 2006

what i need is a place and an outward reason to cry. i have all the inward reason i need, now i just need an excuse. constant rejection and ignorance of my desires have been too long tolerated, and i am now unable to express my sadness in a healthy way.

i must resort to alternative methods i suppose, but ones not altogether acceptable, and possibly more unhealthy than not expressing my emotions. this is where it gets dangerous.

it hurts so bad, and what hurts more is that by the time i get to this point i'm so pissed nothing i say or do comes out right. i am not an asshole, but i am a hurt and angry and rejected man. how do you expect the tone of my voice to sound? HOW THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT IT TO SOUND???????????


I consider myself a partial failure as a man.

I say this for purely clinical, factual reasons, not emotional ones. Based on all the standards I grew up with, and have developed through various means to this point in my life, including positive and negative examples, I do not meet many of the criteria I would hold any other man to as a judgment of manhood.

I live in another man's house. I am dependent on that man for at least half of what comes into the house every month in terms of groceries, utilities, kids' necessities, gasoline, and various odds and ends. I have another house that I don't live in that consumes a good portion of my salary that I can't sell for a high enough price to pay what's owed on it. I have a decent job that pays well for my education level, but even if I wanted to, I now live so far above my means that, if I could choose one of the houses to simply disappear, I wouldn't be able to afford the living my family has become accustomed to on my own.

I can't keep my wife happy enough to feel satisfied enough to satisfy me. Maybe I'm a lousy, selfish lover, and she has no interest in bedding with me. Maybe she's not attracted to me any more. Maybe it's not me directly, but even if it's her there are lots of sources of stress I contribute to that, if I could take them away, she might feel some desire for me again. Maybe she has another lover. She certainly deserves a good lover; she's a good woman. Why it can't be me is something I have struggled with for most of our marriage.

I do take solace in my role as father; that is something I do consider myself pretty good at, even though I don't read, throw a ball, play games with, or see to my kids' spiritual guidance nearly enough. I'm imperfect in that way, and I don't feel I'm alone. But my children are happy, and smart, and well-mannered, and healthy, and while I know I am in most respects not responsible ONE BIT for any of these things, I realize I've been given charge over these gifts, and take this responsibility seriously. Why it is I can't pull myself together enough to actually provide for their material needs is something I beat myself up about literally every day.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Letter to My Kid

A thing has just occurred to me: we are not alike. Or rather, we are exactly the same, just at different times in our lives. But let me explain.

First, a bit about my dad, the guy I grew up: a grouchy old dude who was always angry at something, unless he was drinking with friends. He'd been in the Army, then worked for GM most of his life. He had stories from the foundry, from sweeping floors in the admin building where John Delorean worked, from Army wargames and jumpschool, and slashing through jungles in Panama with a machete he still owned. He also told stories of fist fights he'd been in, guys he'd beat up for one reason or another, and I was always convinced the guys deserved it. My dad wasn't a large man, so this made him impressive and a little scary, even more so than his being grumpy all the time and his violent ways when he'd had too much to drink.

Now let me tell you about me as a kid: I was a wimp. Successful academically but not an athletic bone in my body. I was clumsy and awkward. Going to an inner city school district, I was picked on every day, something you can't even fathom despite all the modern awareness on bullying. I was beat up by girls and shamed by gym teachers. I considered myself a disgrace to my dad, who was by every measure I could come up with a certifiable badass.

I tried everything I could think of as a kid to meet his standards, but I was no good at any of the things he was interested in. I couldn't box, play baseball or football, or ride BMX, and having left school in 8th grade he couldn't help me do the things I liked. I made the most of the talent I had--academics--to make him as proud as I could, but I still never felt like it was enough. Not that my dad wasn't proud of me--he said it often, and he probably said "I love you" to me every day we ever spoke during his life. Back then, I knew nothing about the real reasons he would never be able to give me the approval I really wanted. But back then that didn't matter; the fact is I wasn't getting it.

At some point I realized my dad was not, in fact, super human. It's something every child realizes about their parents eventually, and it always comes with a broken heart. It didn't help that so many needs went unmet. Between my regular teenage angst and the bubbling tension always in my house, I spent the years between probably 15-30 hating my dad in varying degrees. It brings tears to think of it now. I left home at 16 just as my parents were losing their home to foreclosure (completely unbeknownst to us kids) and never really went back. When I was in their (new) home, my dad and I would usually butt heads.

In the meantime, I did "everything I was supposed to". That goes in quotes because it's a game, as you and I have discussed. I finished high school and started college, but I also worked full time and was in love with a girl I'd been dating too long and was too afraid to let go of. Doing all that while living in my parents' dysfunctional home was too much. I finally flunked out of college and decided I should marry the girl I was dating who had her life in far better order than I, figuring it was time I got it together and made a Man out myself, despite the challenges, which I was sure to overcome through stubbornness alone. I was 21 years old.

We bought a house, got a dog, and had kids, of which you were the first: our baby boy. My dad, of course, was ecstatic. He and I weren't at each other by then (he was far too distracted by conflict with my sister at that time) so there were many days he would hold you and I'd see a part of him I never knew existed. You may still remember his beard when he hugged and kissed you. But he was still the same old guy, and we had many differences, and struggled with boundaries. It felt like the same old shit to me, so I acted the same old way: I kept him out of most of my life except in ways I was in complete control of. Only writing that just now do I realize how cruel that was to him.

You began to grow up. You got a couple siblings who were similarly hugged and kissed by my dad and his beard, and similarly hustled out of the house before he had too much to drink. I kept on living my life as I had built it, never realizing you might have been imprinting on me in the same ways I did with my dad. I was so busy trying to fill the roles of Husband and Father I never paid much attention to those of Self or Son, or Brother to my own siblings. Only after all those relationships were strained did I realize the damage I had done.

You have never been a typical child. You and I were able to bond in ways I didn't with my dad, but you still seemed to have trouble meeting my expectations. I know now that's only because my expectations were too narrow, not because you were ever a failure. I imagine this was merely confusing to you, especially early on. It was frustrating to me, especially as you became more intellectually self sufficient and wanted to try new things and take risks online. You wanted access to information and devices I'd neither had as a kid nor understood as an adult. And you weren't athletic, which was only a disappointment because I was so afraid that when you started school you'd be picked on the same way I was, which is terrifying to a parent who grew up bullied.

You aren't grown yet, but you're well on your way, and handling it admirably. I think we have a strong bond, but we still have our "crucible moments." We are still clashing, but rarely because there's conflict. We suffer most often from misunderstanding. For 16 years you were our son, and now you reject gender. Know that despite every argument we've ever had over this I never, ever am rejecting you, or insisting you define yourself as anything different than you understand yourself to be. It's just not something I understand, and it hurts--not the fact that I don't understand, but the fact that you take offense, feel disrespected, possibly unloved. And because you get so, so angry at me. I am realizing now that your anger probably comes from my inability to understand.

And it hurts, too, because I recognize that anger. It's the same feeling I had for a long time before I started using it to punish my dad for not meeting my needs as a kid. I punished him for over 20 years for something he neither understood when it was relevant nor could change after the fact. Maybe that's just how things work: parents are ignorant to how they hurt their kids when the kids are young, and then ignorant again about why their kids hurt them back when the kids are grown. If that's so, this letter is a desperate attempt to break that cycle. I am pleading with you to break the mold with me.

Because, as I stated in the first sentence above, we are the same, just at different times. This is true in both directions.

My dad was 28 when I was born, and I was 25 when you were born. My dad had been abused by an alcoholic stepfather. His mother didn't stick up for him, and his older sister bullied him. He lied about his age to join the Army at 17 to get away from them. My dad himself was an alcoholic who I was happy to leave at the age you are now in order to move to school. I buried myself in CAP and school and relationships. You have hated me at times in the same way I hated my own dad.

Now, I am no longer a 'wimp.' I am not the same person I was as a kid trying to navigate teenagery and early adulthood. I have my own stories about my CAP days and dorm life and the rock band in high school, and built many more with adult friends doing adult things. I've spent 2½ years using a gym membership to change what I see in the mirror every day. The tagline on my Tough Mudder page is "trying to become a badass." You are so much like me at 16 I can only imagine how you must view me, the man you've grown up with.

And I have pushed you to do and like the same things I do and like, or did and liked as a kid. I know you'd rather be streaming some cutting edge game you found on Steam for 19¢ than watching hockey with me, even if I only watch a few games a year. I know you don't fit into the mainstream social groups in school and I haven't always understood your friends. I know we've conflicted, sometimes in big, scary ways over some pretty fundamental issues. And I'm 100% guilty of having the "do everything you are supposed to do" talk. I still maintain it's part of being a parent, but I know that means nothing to you. You have the luxury of being able to dismiss that excuse, and I envy you completely in that regard.

It was not until he was dying before I began to know my dad man to man. Only then was he forced to give up drinking and smoking, and I finally met the man who raised me. Or rather, the Man beneath the man who raised me: the Real Mike S. Many of the same qualities I knew were still there: the good and the bad, but he was himself, finally, not the wounded kid who'd spent 50 years hiding from the asshole who would slap him at the dinner table. He was still a pain in the ass, as all dads are to all kids, and because he was in his 60's then, probably more of a pain than he would have been at 42, my age now. The age when I am reaching out to you to meet you, man to man. Or man to not-quite-a-kid-anymore. Or adult father to almost adult child. I am probably screwing it up again. But I am eager to have that meeting, whatever words we use to define it.

You will still hate me at times, just as I will still have an overwhelming desire to defenestrate you occasionally. I think that's how it's supposed to go, but unlike the cycle I want to break, some conflict is natural, and the healthy way to handle it is with love and mutual respect. I am breaking out of my own addictions because they have chained me too long to a way of living I know will lead to less happiness than any of us deserve. I don't want to wait until my life is almost over, or you move across the country, or my first grandchild is born, or it's too late for any reason, to realize I've been living in a fog and never really built the relationships that should mean everything to me.

You need to know that you have my respect, even more because you aren't quite ordinary. I am proud of you, and I love you, regardless of how you define yourself. These things will never stop being true. I've made many statements about how some things 'just are' true as a result of being a parent, but among them the truth of this last statement is timeless, coded deep in our humanity. And it's true personally, between me as your dad and you as my child. But even on top of that, if I just met you today, I would like and respect you. I'd wonder who the man was who raised you and imagine he must be proud of who you are becoming, of how you treat others, how you stand up for those unable to for themselves, and even how you view the world despite your dark outlook on life. You are a positive force in this world, and for that I can take no credit. The person inside you is yours alone, and I am priveleged and humbled to be a part of your life.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Walking the dog along the trail at dusk with my daughter, we stopped a minute to marvel at the light show the fireflies made. We watched in awe and silence, then talked about how it would have happened whether we'd been present to see it or not. Then we wondered what other beauty was happening right in that moment despite remaining unseen by any appreciative eyes.

Don't question the worth of a moment based on your perception alone. Don't question the usefulness of beauty because you can't see or recognize it. Don't doubt the amazingness of the life you're living without knowing what other lives you've touched and in what ways.

Nothing is permanent, and everything that is happening now must be enjoyed, dealt with, lived in... now. Because there's another moment right behind it that must be treated the same way. Are you prepared to miss it because you're still in some awful past moment? And if so, why hang onto such a thing, considering everything you could be experiencing in the present?

Not all of life is great, but one minute alone with my child on a dark trail was enough to remind me that no number of bad days will outweigh the beauty that surrounds me in every moment of every day. Stop and pay attention. I have missed too much already. What about you?