26 May 2013

The Dad He Didn't Have to Be

My dad was born 26 May 1921, probably at home, in the middle-of-nowhere in Itawamba County, Mississippi, third oldest in a family that would eventually be eight.  He may have had a third grade education.  I never saw him read anything but a newspaper.  He could write well enough to get by; sign his name, keep his ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) logbooks back when they were books, multi-part carbons with line graphs and drivers could lie on them to cover up the fact they drove all night from Memphis, TN to Waco, TX.  As far as I know, the only fun things he did that didn’t always involve me was grow peppers & tomatoes, and watch a baseball game.  I don’t know his favorite team, but it was the South before cable got big, so it was probably the Cardinals or the Braves.

When Dad was 16, his father died of pneumonia.  At the time, it was deadly; nowadays, you go to the doctor, get pills and go home.  His older brothers was already out of the house, so it fell to my dad to provide for the family.  In depression-era rural Miss’ippi, that meant farming.  No, not farming, just picking.  The only farmland he ever owned was a thirty-by-fifty plot in our back yard.  So he enlisted in the Army, making corporal before being discharged with a low-percentage disability due to a training accident.  To my shame, that’s about all I know about his early life.  But he was a veteran, at a time when being in the army ran the risk of the bone-numbing cold of Bastogne, or the mosquito-infested tropics of the southeast Pacific.  He came home, got a job, married my mom; and bought a house, a car, and a Chihuahua.

At age 44, he and Mom adopted a roughly-six-month-old named Steven.  I don’t know what my original middle name was, but he gave me his; Arnold.  I hated that name.  I grew up in the mid-seventies, with Green Acres on TV.  When I graduated high school, I refused to let them say my middle name, calling me “Steven A.”  He was there, in the audience (Mom was too sick that day to go).  He never said anything, but I sometimes wonder if that hurt him.

They brought me home (I was already in the family, a grand-nephew or some such) and the Chihuahua was pissed!  He’d been the baby until I came along.  Mom said he used to snuggle up against me and growl.  Mom had babysat kids before, but they always left and I was staying.  I’m sure he thought: “I don’t know who this thing belongs to, but they need to come get it.”

Dad worked at Schering-Plough for 13 years, running the machine that made Di-Gel tablets.  In the days before OSHA, the room he worked in was a fog of chemicals, scarring his lungs and plaguing him with breathing problems for the rest of his life.  I saw him gasping for breath many times as a kid.  He had a nebulizer before they were cool.  After he left Plough, he drove an OTR truck hauling metal cabinets for SanduskyMetal Cabinets.

I never played catch with my dad.  He didn’t know how to be a kid.  He never got to be one himself.  Not to say he ignored me.  We fished, we camped, we watched rasslin’.  And he never had a problem telling me he loved me, and I knew he did.  In my early 20s, when I finally hit teenaged angst, we had plenty of arguments.  He actually kicked me in the butt, once.  In hindsight, I wish I would have tried harder to understand why he fought with me, maybe we wouldn’t have argued so much (not that it was a lot, but for all practical purposes “Spencer” = stubborn).

So why do I write a Memorial Day message about someone whose death had nothing to do with his service to our country?  Because his death had nothing to do with his service to our country.  Because he came home.  Everything I just wrote about us was possible because he came home.  How many stories like this never happened because someone didn’t come home?  Mine did.  In part, because theirs didn’t.

Happy  Memorial Day. And happy birthday to my dad, who would be 92 today.

18 May 2013

New Life

I haven't blogged in a while.  Over a month.  I typically don't blog unless I feel I have something significant to say.  Being a rather ordinary guy, that doesn't happen all the time.  And even when it does, "significant" is a matter of perspective.

But that's not to say nothing significant has happened lately.  In fact, these have been some of the best days of my life.

My regular readers (all three of you) have followed along as I've blogged about a nasty period of church dissension; moving 1,600 miles from home to a place where we literally knew one person within 1,000 miles;   finding new friends and a new church home; the implosion of my marriage, separation, and eventual divorce; going from owning a 4br/2.5ba house in the suburbs to a rented 1br apartment in downtown; from a house filled with three kids, a dog and a cat... to... a cat, and silence.

The circumstances of my breakup left my ex, and my kids, 250 miles away.  The continuing circumstances mean I only get to see my kids once a month; if I'm lucky, twice, or sometimes they stay a week or so, if school is out.  Tim has transitioned into a group home and I see him even less.  Yet, for him, and for my other two kids, life is better.  He has the care, structure, and support he needs.

For the past few years, I've concentrated on just being a Dad.  I dated a few times after our split, once for about 4 months, but I didn't really expect to find love again.  I reached a point where it was better to be alone than to settle for just anyone who would have me.  There was a certain safety in being alone.

But about four months ago, I decided to give it one more shot.  I signed up for a short Match.com membership.  I met a few nice ladies, but not the right fit.  Then I traded a couple of emails with a very pretty young lady.  I gave her my real-life email address, but didn't get an email.  I figured I'd said something to scare her away.  Not an unrealistic expectation.

Then I got a message on Facebook. She asked if I was getting her emails.  "Um, no..."   So she tried again, and I'm so glad she did!   I was so impressed that anyone would go to the effort of finding me when I was seemingly ignoring her emails.  I felt like an idiot, though, because in an aggressive attempt at spam filtering, I'd somehow managed to block EVERYTHING with a ".gmail" address.  We met for coffee, then a mexican lunch and bowling. We spent a Sunday together at Lincoln City, lunch at Mo's, walking on the beach on the most beautiful April day the Oregon coast has ever seen.  Not a cloud in the sky and calm winds.  I've never been to the beach without 40mph winds, and I don't know where everybody was, but we had nearly the whole beach to ourselves.  Maybe I just couldn't see anybody else. She's funny and sweet and highly intelligent, and... absolutely beautiful! I never imagined I'd find someone like her! Let alone someone like her that wants to be with me!

A few weeks later, I met her and her kids at the park, kind of a big step because there's a lot of creepy guys in the world that make it tough for moms to trust nice guys like me!  I admit I was a little nervous, but her kids quickly put me at ease!  They're awesome, and we had a great time!

This weekend, we passed another milestone event: our kids meeting each other.  By this time, I really wasn't worried; we both have great kids and I knew they'd get along fine.  The boys played video games while she took the girls to the store.  They later ambushed us boys in the parking lot with Silly String and inflatable "Avengers" mallets!

But as great as everything has gone, it only got better today!  We went to the Dallas Aquatic Center, a place I had always assumed was expensive (it was $12 for all 6 of us), so I had never taken my kids.  I had such a great time swimming with them while she got some work done.  I had the easy part; I just played, she had to be an adult!

I feel like I have a new chance at life!  Walking through the valley these past several years has been difficult, at times heartbreaking.  I've always said that if I could go back in time, I wouldn't go back any farther than 2003, because I wouldn't risk not having my youngest son, but it hasn't been an easy road.  And I wish I could take away the hurt and turmoil my kids have had to suffer.  But if I knew I had to walk every step of my road to be where I am today, well...
"I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten..."
I feel like I'm born again!