Tag Archives: children

Thursday Morning Ramblings – 9/5/2019

Today is my youngest son’s 13th birthday. I have a hard time believing that much time has passed, but it’s true. He’s a wickedly smart kid, who has completely taught himself more about computers than I can fathom. Once upon a time, I built one from scratch to put that in perspective.

He also marches to his own beat, unapologetically so, and could not care less what you or anyone else thinks about him. He’s observant and perceptive, has a poet’s soul, and possesses a scathing wit. He reminds me of a better version of myself, and I hope he finds his way in this world more easily than I have.

Happy birthday, son. Your dad loves you more than all the sand on all the beaches on all the world.

That’s all for now.

A Disneyland Dad’s Retort

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The other day, I read an article on The Huffington Post that condemned divorced dads for becoming the “fun” parent. According to the author, an “Uncle Dad” or “Disneyland Dad” is a father who 1) is preoccupied with his own needs over those of his children, 2) does not adhere to the “rules” of the mother’s house, 3) focuses on fun over discipline, and 4) in general does not take parenting seriously. Now, before I get into my rebuttal, I would like to make a couple of points clear. I have tremendous respect for single moms who have to shoulder the entire burden alone. My sister spent many years as one of them, and as an educator, I saw hundreds of examples of these women. Their dedication to their children is dazzling. This post is in no way directed towards them. Also, in every conceivable way, I am for equal rights and stand with women on issues of equality. No one should confuse this post with those issues because my umbrage is directed at the condemnation that article leveled at fathers like myself.

For my purposes here, I’m going to focus on a generic custody scenario in which the mother has primary custody and the father has every other weekend and one weekday evening on alternating weeks. Also, for the purposes of this post, let’s completely set aside which parent first wanted the divorce because I only want to focus on the father’s perspective as it relates to being the non-custodial parent. Also for the purposes of this post, I am focusing only on fathers who do regularly have their children during the court approved time. We all know that there are plenty of men who are fathers only in biological terms, and those men do not deserve consideration here.

For starters, the author of that article condemns fathers who are late to pick up their children. She does acknowledge that one of the excuses is being “tied up at work” but goes on dismiss this reason as a form of self absorption. Typically, the non-custodial parent pays child support to the custodial parent, and I will be glad to tell you from firsthand, intimate experience how financially crippling child support can be. Fathers who are current on their obligation do so to their own detriment, and that burden can be quite taxing. It’s not that we don’t want to provide for our children, but rather the simple arithmetic that after child support, health insurance, and taxes, we are often left with roughly half of our gross income. Therefore, we gladly jump at any opportunity for overtime or bonus pay, not because we are “self-absorbed” but because we need the money. So yeah, maybe we do run a little late from time to time because we are finishing up an important project on Friday afternoon.  And maybe also because we don’t want to drag work home on our weekends with the kids.

Speaking of self-absorption, that’s another condemnation the author makes, fathers who are preoccupied with their own needs. My ex-wife has accused me of this crap, most recently when I expressed resentment over not being able to afford desperately needed dental work. How dare I put my own needs ahead of my children’s? Never mind that work thing and how important a decent smile is for public image. I was the bad guy for thinking only of my own needs (I still haven’t been able to afford the dental work by the way). Never mind the thousands of little niceties I do without to keep that child support current. Never mind the oil changes I delay to pay for the tire patch, or the worn out shoes I keep wearing so I’m not late on the electric bill. No, I’m preoccupied with my own needs if I do anything good for myself or answer an important email while the kids are with me or text with my girlfriend during that time in an effort to keep that relationship nourished. There is an impossible standard set for the non-custodial parent, one that supposes our lives should exist in an extended limbo where we are available at all times for the whims of the custodial parent and our children. I’m sorry, but in the process of rebuilding our own lives, we have to carve out our own existence in those long periods of separation from our children. We are not on hold.

The author goes on to blame the non-custodial father if grades are not maintained because homework is not completed. Typically, during those alternating weekday evenings, the father gets two to three hours of actual time with the child. Is that when the child should be completing homework? Doesn’t that idea contradict the condemnation of the father for being “tied up at work”? If one is going to criticize fathers for not focusing solely on the children during every moment of their time together, doesn’t that same standard apply to the child paying attention to the father? As far as weekends go, do most children spend their Friday and Saturday nights at the mothers’ residences riveted on their studies? I worked in education for 16 years. I know firsthand that the vast majority of students, regardless of home life, will wait until the last possible minute to begin their homework. To shift this blame onto fathers for their 6-7 days of the month with the children is ludicrous.

Along those same lines, the author blames fathers for self-esteem issues the children develop. First and foremost, correlation does not equal causation. Just because the father might appear to be the “fun” parent (more on that in a moment) that does not mean that he is to blame for his children’s issues with self-image. The current paradigm of most school systems to create a false sense of confidence in children by lavishing them with positive reinforcement and avoiding negative at each step deserves as much blame for self-esteem issues as anything, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. Fathers get 6-7 days a month with their children. That means the mother has 22-24 days, depending on the month. In this time it’s not possible that mothers could be to blame for their children’s issues? Only the “Uncle Dad” is to blame? Seriously? That just seems like an easy pass for the parent who does spend more actual time influencing the children’s environment.

But you know what? That’s pretty much par for course with that article as it places zero blame on the mother for anything. Maybe the mother is “exhausted and worried” because she’s an overzealous control freak who wants to micromanage every second of her children’s lives. Maybe dad missed that parent teacher conference because mom never told him which night. Maybe the teenage children are disappointed with their father because the mother has spent ten years painting a picture of him as a worthless bum, and the teen hasn’t experienced enough of the real world yet to understand the sacrifices the father has had to make just to keep a roof over his head and gas in his car to get to work. Nope, according to this article, only the dad is to blame.

The last point I want to address is the notion of “Disneyland Dads” having no rules. I take quite a bit of personal offense to this one. For starters, no one has a right to tell me what rules I can or cannot set within my home. My rights as a father are that in my home, bed time is when I say, not when my ex-wife says. That’s part of being an ex. You lose the right to dictate what goes on in my house. I’ll use my discretion as what games or movies my children watch under my supervision. Mom doesn’t like it? Sorry. I don’t like having limited time with my kids, but that’s my reality. You don’t like the kids playing outdoors in the dirt? Tough. My kids will get to enjoy and experience nature. They are my children too, and in my home, on my time, we have two rules: 1) Be safe and 2) Be happy. When in doubt, consult rule #1. Mom doesn’t like that the kids have to readjust to her rules when they return to her home? Oh well. I don’t like missing birthdays and holidays and having things scheduled when I can’t be involved and missing out on countless firsts and onlys. Just because my rules don’t look like your rules that doesn’t mean I don’t love my children more than anything or don’t worry for their safety every moment they aren’t with me or am emotionally damaging them. It just means that I have my own way of handling things, and maybe mom can be a little more considerate of me if she wants me to be a little more considerate of her because, unlike the narrative that author tries to push, life is about give and take.

Are there crappy fathers out there? Of course. But there are also plenty of crappy mothers. To attempt to shift the blame completely onto one side is not only irresponsible, it also creates a divisive wedge that engenders resentment. By this author’s definition, I am a “Disneyland Dad” but I know too well that I have suffered and struggled and fought to remain a vibrant part of my sons’ lives. I’ve endured more hardships for the sake of my children than I would wish on anyone, and I would endure it all again as long as they are safe and happy. I will not allow anyone, regardless of their intentions, to disparage my role as a father just because it doesn’t coincide with their vision of what a dad should be. My rights as a person and as a parent are just as valid as anyone else’s, and if my children end up resenting me because I fell short of their needs, then I’ll live with those consequences. But I’ll be willing to bet that if you look a little farther out beyond just the teen years, you’ll find some adults who come to realize that the sorry old dads did a little more than they were ever credited with by resentful moms and family lawyers.

 

Why I Struggle With The Holidays

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For the last six years, Christmas has been a looming black fog, an ominous two month event I must endure. From the moment Halloween decorations are replaced with Christmas ones, it begins as a sinking feeling in my gut. All the symbols that once meant so much and brought me so much joy, now serve as an extended reminder of everything my ex-wife stole from me seven years ago when she chose December 25 as the day to tell me she wanted a divorce. She and I both knew our marriage was over well before then, but the way she went about it, that level of a betrayal, left a deep scar that I get to relive every year.

The betrayal on that magnitude is what gets to me. While I may not have been the perfect husband, I never did anything to warrant such viciousness. I didn’t cheat, wasn’t abusive, didn’t spend all my free time with my friends, and didn’t drink or use drugs. I always held a job, usually two, provided to the best of my ability, spent quality time with my children, and sacrificed more than I can ever express to live up to my responsibilities. I had stood by her through years of fertility treatments and gave as much as I had to give to the marriage up until the last year or so. I freely admit that during the last year, I gave up and stopped trying to please her because I had grown to accept that nothing I could do would ever be enough.

I was in the floor with my sons, playing with their Christmas toys when she came out of the bedroom and told me that we needed to talk. It took her an hour of beating around the bush to get to the point; for a solid hour she hemmed and hawed and worked up the courage to tell me that she wanted to move to Florida to be with a man she had been friends with for years. I later learned that she had lied to me about the nature of their “friendship” for virtually our entire relationship. In the bedroom closet, I found countless cards and love letters and notes that he had sent her over the years. I also found countless places where she had sat and written his name over and over and over in notepads. However, even those added layers of betrayal pale beside the choice of Christmas as the day.

I’ll write another night about the kids and why I allowed her to take them to Florida. For this entry, I just want to write about the holidays and how I’m trying desperately to reclaim them as something new. But it’s so hard. Christmas had always been a big deal for the two of us. We had so many traditions that meant so much to me on a deeply personal level. Every year, I read aloud How the Grinch Stole Christmas and sang Christmas songs. Only in the last year or so have I been able to sing Rudolph to my kids again. Every year, we watched It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, neither of which I’ve seen since. Now, all of those things and trees and lights and ornaments and all of it seem like gilded lies.

That suckerpunch on Christmas morning was a harsh blow, and today, she likes to act like I should just forget and forgive because she has said she’s sorry a couple of times. No apologies will ever give me back the holiday spirit that was snuffed out that day. No apologies will ever give me back the years of being Santa for my sons. No apologies will ever give me back all the time with them I’ve lost and all the firsts that I missed. Only fathers who have experienced it firsthand can understand just how deep and painful those wounds are, and only parents who have lost Christmases with their young children can relate to those wounds.

It would have been easy for me to use that suckerpunch as an excuse to give up trying. Few would have blamed me. But that’s not my nature. Even now, with this neurological disease crippling my body, I refuse to quit. My whole life has been dedicated to the ideas that dreams are worth pursuing and that persistence is the key to success. If I ever give up on those notions, my life will have been in vain, so no matter how much physical and emotional pain I have to endure, I will forge ahead because my sons deserve that example to follow. This year, I will grit my teeth and get through these holidays and get through not having time with my boys because of this illness. It will hurt, and I will probably shed more than a few tears over it, but I will get up again. I will press on. And maybe next year, the holidays won’t sting as bad.

The Conversations We Need to Have

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Open and honest discussions of racism and prejudice matter. The cold, harsh reality in America today is that racism is alive and well. My Facebook newsfeed over the last few months has proven that fact to me and opened my eyes. Not so long ago, when America elected its first African-American president, I believed that our culture had made tremendous progress in overcoming racial discrimination, and in some ways we have. In 2008, I believed racism had been pushed to the fringes, populated only by lunatics and the truly backwards. However, ever since the protests and rioting over Michael Brown’s murder made national news, my eyes have been open to the fact that many, many people still harbor horrific racist views about minorities.

I have long believed that race is merely a mirage. I believed this long before DNA proved it right, and my reasoning was based on observation and experience. I’ve had the good fortune to have lived a rather diverse life among a myriad of people, and what I have learned from my interactions with people of numerous nationalities and religious backgrounds and cultural identities is that people are people no matter where you go. Some would offer you their last bowl of soup if you needed it; others wouldn’t share if their pantry was overflowing and you were dying of starvation before their very eyes; and still others would steal a life-saving meal right out of your hands. And like most everything, there are countless shades in between. The simple reality is you cannot tell who truly falls into which category until you witness their behavior in your moments of weakness.

In college, I discovered the writings of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington and immediately felt a kinship for these former slaves, not because of racial identity but because of the obstacles of poverty that they had overcome. As I studied their works, I began to see that race and bigotry are social constructs used to divide us so that we the populace never learn to cooperate as a unit. Skin color is such an easy divider, and it becomes so easy to say I knew “those people” would behave that way, no matter that you can easily find examples of other skin tones doing the exact same things and no matter what the examples might be. When people, human beings, get upset over circumstances out of their control, a certain element take it upon themselves to destroy other people’s property, usually stuff that belongs to some innocent bystander. Whenever social order breaks down, there will always be an element, irrespective of skin tone, who capitalize on the opportunity to steal material objects. That’s human nature, regardless of “race.”

I always knew that I wanted to write works that would attempt to break down racist thinking, and though I thought progress had been made, I also believed that there was still work to be done to rectify the centuries of slavery and now century and a half of social and economic discrimination. I also knew that as a white man from the hills of East Tennessee, I would have an uphill battle to write about race relations in America. To counter this stereotype (and yes, I live under the yolk of an oppressive stereotype about hillbillies, and no, I’m not making an attempt to draw a comparative analysis of being more or less oppressed than anyone else because that’s counter-productive), I chose to use Fantasy Action-Adventure as my medium for discussing race and discrimination.

The main character in my series is bi-racial and struggles to find his identity between two disparate cultures. Each race carries misconceptions and prejudices about the others, and from those mistaken ideas much of the tension grows. However, through the course of the series, the central characters learn to see each other as individuals, not as part of a “them,” and through this process they learn to work together to defeat their common enemies, those who seek to oppress. I’ve not discussed this facet of the series very often because I had always hoped my audience would find it for themselves. However, as we encounter this new era of racial tension, it is more imperative than ever that we as a society discuss these issues and listen to each other.

So now, I’m going to be something of a capitalist and ask you to buy the first book in my series and share it with the young adults in your life (Because it is fantasy and there is some bloodshed, I do not recommend the series to anyone under ten years old). I’m making this appeal for two reasons. First, we need to have these open and honest discussions about the racial problems that still exist in this country, and I’m a firm believer that fiction can be an excellent bridge to discuss difficult topics. My second reason is that I need to sell more books to be able to afford treatment for this neurological condition that is crippling my body. So if you would like a good work of fiction that examines the racial divide we are facing today and would like to help out a person in need, you can do both by checking out The Brotherhood of Dwarves. As always, thank you for your support.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0076OCAKG

Update on My Status

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I just want to thank everyone who has helped out with the GoFundMe that Dave Mattingly started to help me while I deal with this neurological issue. The outpouring of love and generosity has been quite touching.

I got turned down for TennCare, mostly because the state of Tennessee, in its partisan nonsense to go against the president on every possible issue regardless of what that does to its citizens, decided not to accept the Medicaid expansion money. But that’s a different post for a different day. The end result is that in this state there is no safety net for someone like me, so I’m left without a confirmed diagnosis and without medical treatment. Because of that, I’m trying a few different alternative treatments for relief of my symptoms such as acupuncture and herbal supplements. So far, the acupuncture seems to have reduced the spasms somewhat. It’s not much, but at least it is a start.

I’m still not fully comfortable asking for help like this, but my current situation truly feels desperate. I don’t have my medical review for Social Security disability until December, and then who knows how long it will be before a decision is reached? In my current state, I can barely walk and cannot exert myself for more than a few minutes before I am completely exhausted. I’m also in serious pain every waking moment, which gets old. There are so many things I still need to accomplish, but I’m not even up to mowing my yard right now.

If you are able to donate to the GoFundMe, it would help me get through the next couple of months. My place currently has virtually no heat. The only thing I have that still works is one small electric heater that sits by my bed. My preference is to install a wood stove to keep the electric bill down, but it takes money to get everything I need for it. The ceiling also needs a lot more insulation before it gets much colder. A couple of friends have agreed to help me with the labor since I can’t do it myself, but the materials are beyond anything I can afford in my current circumstances. Also, I need money to continue with the acupuncture and to see a nutritionist who may be able to ease off some of the symptoms.

I’ve accepted that I will not get to have my kids for our regular time this winter because of my health and financial conditions, and everyone who knows me knows how much that hurts, but that’s my reality. For now, my goal is to focus on treating these symptoms until I feel well enough to work, and then getting back on my feet so I can see them either late spring or summer. No matter what, I will not give up fighting to get better because I still have too much to accomplish, like being an involved father until they are much older. If you are able to contribute, please help me through this difficult time.

http://www.gofundme.com/brotherhood

Late Night Update

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So, yeah, I haven’t posted an update in quite a while.

I guess the easiest way to do this is just to come out and say it: my neurological stuff is back with a vengeance. It started rather subtly about 9-10 months ago, and I honestly thought it was just the stress and strain of dual enrollment causing a few symptoms to flare up. I was already about 90% committed to resigning my position before the symptoms came back, and as I felt worse and worse, I knew I couldn’t physically handle the teaching load any longer. In the back of my mind, I kept telling myself that as soon as I got out of the stressful environment, I would feel better. All I needed was some time outdoors working in the sun. The semester ended officially on May 11, and for the first few days, I rested and relaxed but didn’t really feel any better. I’ve written before about how much I love working outdoors on the property, so I tried to dive back in and work myself back into football shape, as I like to say.

For the first few attempts, I noticed that my overall strength and endurance had declined quite precipitously, and I figured I had just gotten out of shape because of the harsh winter. I pushed myself a little harder but couldn’t get my body to cooperate. No matter what I did, I felt weak and fatigued, and the neurological symptoms continued to worsen. Also, I kept noticing that I couldn’t focus or concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I’ve written five full novels and dozens of short stories; concentration has never been an issue for me before now. All through May and June, I kept telling myself that I just had to get back into good shape and I would start to feel “normal” again. Last summer, I had promised Finn I would build him a fort to play in this summer, so in June I tackled that project. This time last year, I built my home in seven weeks, working mostly alone all day every day. Even though I was tired, I didn’t feel broken down. Just putting together that simple child’s fort, which is in no way elaborate, I felt completely desolated, and my forearms hurt in a way they never have before. Then, at the end of June, I went to get the boys for our summer time. First, the trip to Jacksonville and back nearly wiped me out completely. I’ve made that trip several times, once in a single day. This time, it took me three, and I was absolutely spent when I got back here with the kids. Trying to play with them became more than I could manage. Still, I kept telling myself that I just needed to get back into shape.

My eye-opener came on Independence Day. When the boys are here, I like to do it up right: a big cookout, fireworks, and lots of shenanigans. It’s our thing. I spent seven straight hours that day setting up, grilling, lighting fireworks, and cleaning up after. When I got into bed that evening, I twitched and trembled worse than I ever had before. The next day, my arms and legs literally hurt from the trembling. I don’t mean I had muscle soreness. That’s something with which I’m quite familiar. This pain was something else, and it’s the first time the neurological stuff has been truly painful. That’s when I had to accept that my symptoms haven’t been from the stress of my job or that I was just out of shape. The neurological stuff is back, and this time it’s worse than before.

I saw a neurologist last week, and we’re waiting for authorization for a new MRI before we proceed. At this point, even though a lot of things are up in the air, I’m hopeful that we can find the right diagnosis and get me well. I’ll try to post updates on what we learn and what’s in store. As for now, please, send some positive energy my way.

I Will Refrain from Too Much Profanity

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I’ve held this in long enough, but today, I have to get it off my chest, and I’m voicing it publicly because I want the whole world to hear my side of the story.

You and your obese slob of a husband like to pretend that you hold the moral ground because you live in your little cul-de-sac, and you love to project that I am some kind of low-life deadbeat because of my financial struggles.  Well, let’s examine a few facts:

First, how about the years, yes years, the two of you sneaked around behind my back with your phone calls, emails, text messages, cards, and gifts.  You left behind quite the pile of evidence after you left.  Doesn’t your bible have something to say about coveting another man’s wife?  Or did my simple mind miss some clause exempting you two?  For years, you lied to me about your involvement with him, swearing he was just a friend, and me, in my sincerest naivety not wanting to be the kind of insecure man who refused his wife male friends, believed your lies.  Doesn’t your bible say something about uttering untruths?  Or again, did my simple mind miss something?  Perhaps, just perhaps, you two aren’t as moral as you like to pretend.  Knowing what I know now, if I were your husband today, I would keep a close eye on your online interactions and be quite wary of who you call a friend.

And how about the pretty little lies you told me at the beginning of our divorce?  Do you remember assuring me you would never ask for child support?  Do remember your smugness in saying that he had plenty of money and didn’t need any of mine?  Oh yes, you said that.  And from that lie, I agreed to certain provisions in the decree in exchange for your guarantee that I wouldn’t have to pay child support.  Of course, the moment the divorce was finalized, any chance of annulment or revision gone, you and fat boy went back on that guarantee.  And while I was at my lowest, most desperate moments, you slapped me with contempt of court papers.  At a time when I was living off peanut butter and little else, you and your slothful troll in your country club home hounded me for money.

You two love to paint me as some kind of scumbag because I struggle financially every month.  I would love to introduce you to a few mothers who deal with true deadbeat fathers to their children, men who not only don’t pay child support but have nothing to do with them.  You have been paid early every month for five consecutive years and are current for six years, and you cannot even begin to conceive the sacrifices I have to make in my daily life to ensure that money is paid.  You and the hefty gnome could not survive on what I have left over after paying for the children’s insurance and support, but I make do the best I can, so go fuck your self-righteous judgmental bullshit.  I have six years worth of phone records proving my involvement with my children, and they look forward to their time with me.  They know me, and I’m a permanent part of their lives.  If you attempt to restrict that time any more than it already is, we will pursue a new parenting plan that is far more equitable.

You love to throw out the time the boys got into poison ivy and the one time Collin picked up pink eye and whatever virus or bacteria that was, as if I intentionally made him sick.  How about all the times they’ve gotten sick with you?  Fat ass bringing home viruses from airplane flights, Collin missing 30+ days of school for strep, them coming up here this last trip so sick they could barely function.  I’ve never thrown that in your face because I understand that people get sick, especially kids and even more especially kids who aren’t exposed enough to the world at large.  The vast majority of the time the boys are with me they return to Florida safe, happy, and healthy, so how fucking dare you pretend like I don’t take excellent care of my children.

Now, you and that fat sack of cowardly shit hide behind a web of laws that cripple me at every turn.  Your lies and deceits pushed me into an imbalanced, unjust system that punishes fathers.  I’m sure in your diseased minds you believe your own self-righteous bullshit, but you cannot honestly say with a straight face that there is any justice or equality in what the two of you have done to me, leaving me to scratch out an existence on less than $400 a week.  But hear me and hear me well, your pathetic little apology was far too little far too late.  I had tried to let go of the hatred for you and that slothful, self-righteous sack of useless blubber, but this time was the final straw.  You provoked me.  Your greed and selfishness brought all my hatred and disdain for both of you back to the surface.  Now, you had best prepare for the gathering storm.