Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fatherhood: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Someone once said that anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.

Well I say that whoever said that is wrong. Not just anyone can be a father. You have to be of the male persuasion. That is true regardless of the operation that my mother's stepsister "Ruby" had in the 1970's that turned her into her stepbrother "Rudy". So roughly 50% of the world's population can be a father and the other 50% have the potential to be mothers. These are good odds if you actually want to be a father or a mother. In addition, when I say being a father or a mother I really mean having someone to tag team with for the rest of your life as you raise your pride and joy(s), because parenting is similar to a cage match in pro-wrestling.

A little bit of background, I didn't know my father was alive until I was twelve, spent two weeks with him after high school graduation in 1976, and then two more times before he died in 1996. He was more of a sperm donor with visitation rights that he never exercised. My stepdad was better but only because he lived in our house. The examples of fatherhood that I experienced before 18 were less than stellar.

Okay, put the hankies down and quit feeling sorry for me.

At age 18, everything in my life changed, and it wasn't just my underwear. My conversion to the LDS faith changed my perspective when it came to fathers and that in turn changed my life. I have been surrounded by examples of fatherhood in the LDS Church, good and bad.

Grant Tracy was one of these good. Grant taught me to trust your children unless you had a reason not to. He showed me that by example when he didn't kill me and then hide my body when I kept his 17-year-old daughter out until 5:30am just before Stake Conference (pre-baptism) in May of 1977. Besides, he'd been down to my apartment and felt that the hood of her car was still warm. Many people thank their mothers for giving them life; I thank Grant for sparing mine. Thanks Grant, and I'm not saying it was her fault, I'm just blaming her.

Patience I learned from Bob Forrest. A teddy bear of a man with four daughters and one son. Sons are easy. One pre-teen and three teenage girls in one house, all with raging hormones, would be enough to make any grown man turn into a drooling idiot. Bob was a loving husband but he was also a great father who had earned the love and respect of his children with his example.

Bishop Kent Heaps and his family took me in for a year so that I could save money to go on a mission. Even though I'm still a work in progress at 50 years old he might have taught me the most. Late night discussions, powerful prayers, and his testimony, influenced a then 19-year-old boy and showed me how to be a husband and father. He was a living example to me every day. I may be one of the few people ever to get a Bishop's interview at 2am with the Bishop dressed in his pajamas.

I'm not sure what kind of father I've become; it really depends on the day or moment that you ask my kids. I was blessed with four children, one girl, and three boys. The first two came by way of a sperm donor, my wife brought them into the marriage, and together we had two boys. Whatever the mix, we are one family in this journey called life.

My kids love me but they don't necessarily like me all the time. I believe that's a fair assessment and I've learned to expect that as a father. To paraphrase Mr. Dickens "It's been the best of times, It's been the worst of times." I like to think it has mostly been the best of times. For without me there would never have been a King of Nintendo, no grape spitting contests for Family Home Evening, and I've definitely been around to say, "pull my finger". There would have been no frightened boyfriends, no one to flirt with their girlfriends, and no one to carry them from the car after a long trip while they fake that they're asleep. I've stayed up until one in the morning on a Sunday night to help complete the class project that they had two weeks to complete and procrastinated.

I was there when my little leaguer made a triple play (caught the popup, out, touched first base, base runner off bag out, throw to home, runner stealing home out), I cried like a baby in the MTC when my oldest boy went on his mission and I helped them buy their cars. I took my two oldest kids to their first rock concerts, agonized over the losses of friends and girlfriends, and I have fumed over new boyfriends. I have changed diapers over the years that bring a new meaning to the words "dirty bomb".

Fathers, as part of the parenting team, are one part of a human shield of protection around children. Slowly, as they grow older, we drop our shields a little and let them raise theirs to protect the new generation. Being a father is a bit like being Superman. Not that you're expected to leap tall buildings or stop speeding bullets, but they want you to. It's tiring, but we put on the cape everyday.

And yes, sometimes we're grumpy, short with you, heartless, cold, unfeeling, and it seems like we just don't care. However, we think of our kids during every step of their journey, even as we slowly melt into the background as they live their own life...

And wait for them to have our grandchildren so we can get our revenge.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Gospel According To Styx?

Latter Day Saints are prophesied to be a peculiar people and I am certainly proof of that. Just as sure as I have a testimony of the Gospel, I also know that I'm not particularly normal either. My view of life on this earth leans toward the bizarre, which I think is a gift. I can't explain how I know it's a gift, I just know. Maybe it's self awareness.

Which brings up a question? There are people out there that look normal but sometimes when they open their mouth and start talking to me I start to think that I'm looking pretty good with my own brand of peculiar. Don't tell me that you don't know who I'm talking about, you certainly go out of your way to avoid them in the chapel, the hallway, and when you're leaving the building. These people are the reason that Caller ID was invented.

The other day I heard a familiar voice in the lobby and despite my best efforts I ended up having a conversation with her. Now I am peculiar but I am also polite. It's part of the gift that I have. I can be totally disinterested, but look interested. It's up to you to decide which I am.

Anyway, after exchanging pleasantries, she asked me a question about a common friend, specifically she wanted to know if he was alive as she heard he had recently passed away, you know, died. Well, after the initial shock of the question came and went, I did everything I could within my powers to not fall onto the carpet laughing. Then, I politely and forcefully confirmed that he was alive and well and living in Texas. As soon as I got home I did Facebook the poor devil to have him confirm his aliveness or deadness. He's alive, even though his Facebook page makes him look like a pasty ghost.

See, she was peculiar, just not in a good way.

I currently serve as a Membership Clerk (pronounced "Clark" if you're in Canada) and every Sunday I'm in the building prior to our block time doing clerky or clarky type things. Not that my brand of peculiar makes me more spiritual than anyone else, like say a High Priests Group Leader, but, I like to listen to the talks in the Ward that meets prior to ours. I turn up the lobby speaker and sort of eavesdrop on what's going on in their meeting. I hear some really great talks. And then an occasional "peculiar" jewel.

A little over a year ago as I was listening to their Fast & Testimony meeting, (one of our Bishopric members was hanging out in the office with me), we overheard one of their members compare President Hinckley (Prophet of the LDS Church at the time) to Dumbledore from the Harry Potter Books. I think that her words were "We have a Dumbledore that we can look to in President Hinckley.". The two of us looked at each other like "Did you just hear what I did?" Strange and peculiar! I was waiting for "and I know that Dumbledore is a true wizard". I memorized the name of that member in case it ever comes across my Caller ID.

Which brings us to Styx, the rock band.

During my short time at BYU-Provo, when it was just called BYU, I resided in the 104th Ward. We were so peculiar that we called ourselves the 104th Ward Generics. I remember going to Priesthood meeting and participating in the weekly lesson. Going to a BYU Student Ward Priesthood Class and calling that a lesson or discussion is being polite. Fifty members of the Melchizedek Priesthood, all returned missionaries, and a dozen or so Aaronic Priesthood holders in their first year of school, preparing for a mission. Fifty guys who had spent two years immersed in studying, teaching, and sharing the gospel in such remote places as Finland, Germany, and Australia, to such local spots as Portland, Oregon or Maine. They all had something to say, with their particular view of the principle and Priesthood Meeting was where the soapbox was available to stand upon. Of course, each RM had a served under a mission president that was going to be the next apostle or General Authority. It was literally controlled chaos with the teacher controlling the answers.

Our instructor, shall we call him Brother Dave for this post, was a great teacher, but he compared every gospel principle he taught to the rock band Styx. He never reached the point of playing their music for the lessons but every single concept and principle coming out of the manual could be compared to a Styx song or album. I loved the guy but wondered what kind of mission rules he followed.

Years later, I was listening to Styx and began to think that he might have been on to something. I thought about Styx, their music, and the Gospel.

This might be a stretch but could the hidden message in "Too Much Time On My Hands" be a subliminal message to those who don't fulfill their callings or even refuse to serve? Is "The Best of Times" a reference to serving a mission or eternal marriage? Does "Show Me The Way" really encourage us to choose our spiritual leaders as our examples? "Renegade" certainly is a song about the consequences of bad choices. The song "Music Time" has to be about Primary music, right?

Yeah right, I believe that like I believe that the Ward Clerks run the Ward (even though we're secretly plotting to do so).

Honestly, if Brother Dave ever called my house I'm pretty sure that I'm monitoring the Caller ID and passing on rekindling that friendship. I've pondered over the years about his lessons sprinkled with the music and lyrics of Styx and have come to the conclusion that Styx is really best left to the stranger and peculiar people in the church and the homeless guy that sleeps out under the Bishop's office window. And I feel the same about Dumbledore, Yoda, The Force, Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo. It's a nice try but I'm not getting on my knees anytime soon to gain a testimony of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Twilight.

I know that they aren't true and it won't take studying, pondering and prayer to confirm that.

My own beliefs? I'm firm in my testimony of the Restored Gospel, and my peculiar side is still working on a testimony of Santa, but I do believe in reindeer that fly.

On Dasher, on Dancer, on Harry, on Hermione ....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

She’s Gone.

Last Friday I came home from work and found her gone.

No note, no explanation, just an empty house. I saw it coming but still I was unprepared for it. My wife of nearly 25 years left me. I've got to admit I had a few questions, right after I got over the initial shock. She warned me earlier last week that she was going to leave, she wasn't sure when, but she was leaving.

I can't say that I'm surprised though, all the warning signs were there. The kids have flew the nest, she's been coming home later, and it seems that there were more things left undone around the house. As of late there have been more and more suspicious phone calls, always picked up on the first ring. There were times that I walked into a room when she was on the phone and there was always that uncomfortable feeling that I wasn't welcome. I've picked up the extension phone and overheard her talking with other guys, laughing at the things they say, hearing her tell them she loved them. And I didn't do anything, no confrontations about these other relationships.

But to be fair she's freely admitted being involved in a number of relationships outside of our marriage and although it was hard at first to find out that I'm not number one I was getting used to it, she always came home to me. But now, it's been three days and I'm walking around the house racking my brain and trying to see what I could have done better, what would have made me number one.

What if I finished my projects faster, been more considerate of how they affected her morale, was it walking around with my shoes on in the house, or sitting in front of the TV for hour upon hour? Did I drink straight from the milk carton one too many times, did I take her for granted, what if I just said "I love you" one more time than I did? I don't know, I just did the best that I knew how. Where is the owner's manual on being a husband?

And what does this freedom bring to me? No one to answer to for my actions, I can work as late as I want, eat what I want to eat, when I want to. I don't have a partner to be my conscience anymore. I can leave my clothes lying around when I'm done with them, clean the kitchen on my schedule, put a plate into the dishwasher without washing it first. I've already started leaving the toilet seat up. I bought a gallon of milk and have drank half of it without even using a glass.

It's the little things that I miss the most, the way she laughed at my jokes, ironed my shirts, tried to pull a joke on me but gave up the punch line too early, and seemed to have a knack for finishing my sentences. Twenty five years of what I thought was happiness gone.

I am so beside myself.

It's been three days and I'm an emotional train wreck.

Good thing she comes home tomorrow night from Spokane where she's visiting her other loves, grandkids number 7 and 8. Grandkids 1 through 6 miss hearing her tell them that she loves them every day on the phone or when she visits their house close by.

As for me, I've got to remember to put the toilet seat down when I go to work.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Spanish As A Second Language

The fall of 1973 was my first year in high school where I went to a 3 year high school. The three preceding years were spent in junior high where I learned three of life's more important lessons; never mouth off to someone in the 8th or 9th grade, how to remove yourself from a institutional size garbage can if you do mouth off to a 8th or 9th grader, and, how to get from a classroom on the west side of the school, to your locker, to a classroom on the east side of the school, in under 5 minutes.

High school presented bigger challenges; 13 acres, longer distances to cover to change classes and to make it all fun we still had the same 5 minutes to do it in. It was easy to be in shape and skinny in high school. The registrations office seemed to find great humor in taking my 7 classes and scheduling them as if I was a ping pong ball. West, then east, west again, east again, west, well, you get the point. This alone motivated me to skip school a few times.

I took a language class, Beginning German, in my sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson High School. It seemed like the thing to do and the teacher was a favorite of mine, Mr. Mesler.

My problem was I didn't learn anything in Beginning German and my class grade didn't really represent the effort that I put out. I really deserved an "F" instead of the "D" that I got. And it's not that I didn't want to learn a language, I did. But I was pretty attached to English not so much as a first language but as an only language. I think I knew early in life that there was a way around having to speak a second language and that way was to not travel to a place where they didn't speak English. And it worked for a number of years. I have never traveled to a state or country that doesn't speak English and I have been out of the country. Now, Wales, a lovely little country on the West side of Great Britain, does have a second language, Welsh, but they also know English so I was covered.

This brings us to Spanish. It seems that I should have taken Spanish in high school instead of German. Why? Because German deli's are not as plentiful as Mexican restaurants where I live! And German deli owners, and this is just a guess, are real sensitive about losing two big wars in the last 100 years to us, and, less they be thought of as anything but patriotic, always have their menu's in English. Mexican food is just more popular. When was the last time someone said, "let's go to German?"

Mexican restaurants don't have the issue of their country losing two major wars to the Allies which appears to be the motivation behind having their menu's printed in Spanish. And that is my problem, at least one of them. I read the menu, read the description, and then order. And for the most part it all comes to the table looking like everything else I or anyone else in our party orders. Burro De Casa looks like Fajita's, which look like Enchiladas, which look like Burritos. It's all about the color of the sauce that it comes with.

Now, I used to think that Cinco de Mayo meant "The one day we party and not take a siesta." I remember sitting at the dinner table ten years ago on Cinco de Mayo and telling my children that it was easy to remember when Cinco de Mayo was because it was always on the 5th of May. My 11 year looked at me and said, "Dad, that's what Cinco de Mayo means." I thought back to 3rd grade Spanish on Public Television and realized that school was doing that boy good! On the other hand it took me 33 years to figure that one out!

Los Margaritas , the name of our favorite hangout, is really just English for "How much free chips and salsa can you eat before you gorge yourself on our regular menu!"

My alternate take on the Mexican menu is that printing the menu in Spanish is just a polite way of telling you how your digestive system is going to act once you leave the restaurant. I mean Taco Soup is just Taco Soup. But Chile Relleno translates to "bad gas is in your future". Mucho Flaco Burrito means "Gather the Blue Flame Club, we're having an Olympics." Fajita's that sizzle on your plate mean "SBD, silent but deadly, but only once your under the covers in bed and you're wanting to get frisky with the wife". Carne Asada is just another way of saying "we'll be driving home with the windows down kids!". I have a definition for "Pollo a la Parrilla" but this blog has some standards that even I don't like to test.

My last concern about Spanish as a Second Language is the hot plate. All Mexican food is served on a hot plate. It's a fact. And no matter how many times we are told by our server that the plate is hot, I mean for crying out loud people, he's wearing welding gloves to carry the plates, we never believe him. "HOT PLATE!", he/she announces as the food is delivered. And we still reach up and grab the plate and say, "Ouch, that is hot!". HOT PLATE in Spanish translates to "We just pulled this plate from a 2,400 degree kiln, you're going to get 3rd degree burns".

Spanish lessons, we could all use them.

AdiĆ³s! (Translated "Come back next week for the Nopalitos con Carne de Puerco")