Simplicity and Meaning

I’ve thought a lot about what I would want in a relationship. When we start out in life, we have no idea what to look for, and then as we get older, we begin to get a good idea. We set up expectations. Sometimes we get crazy expectations which would make it nearly impossible for anyone to fit the bill.

Young men often say they want someone who is a size four or under, they have to have a certain hair color, eye color, blah blah blah. Like any good plan, everyone has one until they get punched in the mouth. To quote Iron Mike Tyson.

I’ve boiled my list down to a few mandatory things, which I’ll share here.

  • Must be a good kisser
  • Must enjoy kitchen dancing (music optional)
  • Must be kind to animals
  • Not rude to servers and waitstaff
  • Must love to laugh (especially at themselves)
  • Must have their shit together

That last one is the kicker isn’t it?

Lately I’ve been trying to get my shit together even more. Some days I’m good at it, and others not so much. I recently started reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I got halfway through it in one sitting. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it tells the story of Viktor Frankl, who was a psychotherapist in Austria during the 1930s until he was rounded up with millions of other Jews and sent to death camps during WWII.

During his time in Auschwitz and Dachau (and other camps), Frankl made observations that sometimes the healthier people who were brought into the camps–bigger, stronger, better fed, etc.–were dying, whereas he, a doctor doing hard labor, was still alive. He attributes much of it to simply having a reason to live. The attrocities he saw on a daily basis became commonplace and after awhile all empathy was robbed of them. They fell to nearly animalistic impulses. But he held onto the belief that as long as he found meaning in his life, he could continue. Sometimes he held conversations in his head with his wife, whom he had no knowledge of being alive or dead. Some found meaning in art, which some still did as they continued the slog towards starvation and disease. A big one Frankl attributed to his survival was love. Whether it was love for the outdoors and a beautiful sunset, or the thoughts of his wife, or the love of his work. The man actually wrote notes for his books on scraps of paper while he was in the camps.

When people are exposed to stress and trauma over a long period of time, they become desensitized to awful things. They become cold. I have thought about that in my own struggles recently with my children, with court. I haven’t spoken about it much here, but the papers have all been signed. The loss of common sense in the whole thing. The disregard for logic or fairness…it’s enough to drive you crazy. It’s certainly enough to make you lose hope. My children are all gone now. Lost to parental alienation, and the courts facilitated this. It isn’t right. Remember what Mike Tyson said? I’ve lived that. I can see nothing but a hard life for all of my kids.

It was Father’s Day and not a single phone call or text. That was also done to hurt me (did it? Not really. I tend to agree with the Stoics on this one). They cannot go outside of their mother’s authoritarian control. Her only purpose is to cause pain in others, because they have to pay for her own demons, which she never dealt with. Showing love or compassion for me is forbidden. Believe me when I say I’ve been there and lived through it. Sometimes it’s just easier to do what she says unless you want to get hurt.

I started reading Frankl because of that situation. Because of the guilt associated with losing all meaning in your life. As a father–really any parent–our identity is tied to being able to provide for and protect our children. When our lawmakers take that fundamental right away from us, it is dehumanizing. We run the risk of losing hope. June is Men’s Mental Health month. A huge number of divorced dads commit suicide every year because of this system. A lot of dads turn to the bottle or drugs to cope. Really to numb that feeling inside that says they are unworthy of being on this planet. I’ve seen it. Hell, I’ve dabbled in it.

I keep hearing that “One day your kids will come around.” No. They won’t. There is no rule out there saying they ever will. No crystal ball predicting this. Sometimes, people are just lost to you. That is a harsh reality. Ask any parent of a drug addict or any parent whose child walked to school and never came home. Or any parent who sat in front of a doctor and heard the words “It’s too soon to tell, but we are going to run some more tests…” Telling someone otherwise gives them false hope, and over time, according to Frankl, that “reprieve” will cut you just as deep as the trauma. So, please, don’t tell me they will come around. You don’t know that. Nobody knows that.

You come to a point where you have to admit to yourself you did everything you could.

So, I’ve decided to look for meaning in other ways. I have my Work. I have my writing. I have my memories of good people who walked with me for a while. Many of them are gone, but I still carry that piece of them with me. That piece that I loved. Like Frankl, I have conversations with these old ghosts sometimes. At least the part of them who held my hand and told me I was worthy of love. I have dreams and goals. I have the rest of my life to live and I refuse to let myself die on my feet doing meaningless, unfulfilling toil, just because I am not allowed to live for anything other than children who have been indoctrinated to hate me. But, whether their mother likes it or not, I will always be their dad.

I have the work of getting my shit together too, because the door swings both ways. I have a lot of trauma to work through. I don’t expect a partner to fix me, anymore than I would want to fix her. Getting your shit together means addressing the damage of the past and finding meaning in your life. Allowing yourself to love yourself and others. And seeking purpose. Meaning.

Today, I spent time with my dad on Father’s Day. We had good conversations. He made lunch and dinner. We aren’t very much alike, but time shared with him had meaning because these opportunities won’t last forever.

Having your shit together is a thin line on the horizon. It implies having done the work to no longer hurt yourself or others. It speaks to self-worth and boundaries. It probably means you are forgiving of yourself when you mess up and own your mistakes. And sometimes it means you can even harden your heart and walk away if you have to. It means you choose Peace over Drama. And you stop bleeding on others who didn’t cut you. It means honesty. It means allowing yourself to feel safe and asking good questions. It means tearing down walls and having better boundaries instead.

It’s also a pretty big red or green flag for those who work hard to get their shit together.

I hope I can find someone who fits this bill one day. Like many things in life, there are no guarantees. But I really do miss some great kissing and kitchen dancing. Until then, I will continue to find meaning. Fulfillment. Joy. Life goes on.

Distractions

Today was a good day to be distracted. In my post for this morning I talked about it being a big anniversary. My mom, Penny, and I went to Cheyenne to get building supplies for the house. I’m finishing up the trim in the kitchen this week and that is the nearest place with inexpensive supplies. We got to take our time. We even stopped at a few other places along the way. Downtown was crawling with kids and parents in costumes. Which was pretty neat to see. It’s been a while. Last year with lockdown happening, we missed Halloween. Well, I didn’t miss Halloween much at all.

Honestly, other than the kids we saw in Laramie and Cheyenne wearing Halloween costumes, this holiday still needs some time (a lot of time) before I am on better terms with it. As I wrote before, it’s the anniversary of the beginning of my divorce, as well as being the anniversary of my doomed marriage. My former spouse was a BIG Halloween enthusiast. She would start preparing at the end of September. We would decorate the house and using piles of leaves and styrofoam headstones, we would make the front yard into a graveyard. She would always go full-tilt on costumes for the kids too. Some years she would make them herself, and other years, she would buy actual vintage military uniforms and pins and buckles and everything else to really give the costumes details. We would go to Island Grove in Greeley, where they have a historical village set up. And every year, she would sweep the costume contest with all three kids.

One year, my youngest won for his Red Baron costume, which was a red triplane built around his wagon. His older brother won with an authentic doughboy uniform from WWI, and his sister won with a Florence Nightengale nurse costume.

As cool as the costumes were, a price had to be paid. Not only were they very expensive, and we already lived on a shoestring budget, but the hours of work she threw into them created a lot of stress at home. Usually with a fight that would flare up as she was putting the finishing touches on their costumes as we were walking out the door to the contest. Walking on eggshells because anything to disrupt the flow of making award winning costumes carried a heavy penalty. The biggest bummer is the kids usually didn’t get to trick-or-treat in the same costumes. They wore a hardier sustitute. At any rate, by the end of it, the kids didn’t get to roam the neighborhoods pilfering candy. We usually got a jack-o-lantern pizza at Papa Murphy’s and hot wings and the kids watched a movie downstairs and we tried to relax. For the most part, all the joy had been sucked out of it. There were boxes of old costumes in the basement that had been worn long enough to win awards and were never touched again.

And forget about the anniversary. Everything was prelude to the big Halloween show. We never celebrated our anniversary.

Those years are fading, and I write them down now and feel almost like they happened to somebody else. But sometimes an event will trigger something in the back of my mind. The ghost hunting shows (my ex was a TAPS member and the ghost hunting group had big events to do, and I stayed at home with the kids). It was at least 20 pounds of spuds crammed into a five pound bag. Then the holidays began with the extra expenses and exhaustion that came with them. As is the case for most of us. Combine that with my usual dread of growing up in North Park with Halloween usually being the first snow of a long winter, and it wasn’t particularly fun.

This year I’ll be alone for the holiday. I will probably keep my lights off and my curtains closed. It might be a while before I get excited about the holiday again, but I have hope that one day that will change. I haven’t even been to a decent Halloween party since college. Maybe I’ll throw one myself one of these days. With costumes and decorations and all that. My former girlfriend had stories of legendary parties she would go to in Portland, and it always made me wonder what that was like. Maybe one of these days!

Anyway, I got what I needed for the projects I need to finish, and I was out of the house, visiting with my mom and driving. Penny still hates my driving and threw up on my mom’s coffee while we went into a store. She was mostly stressed that the back seats were folded down so I could fit 8′ sections of trim in the Jeep.

Someone wished me peace today for a hard day, and at the time, I think they understood how much harder it would be on me than I did at the time. They were right. It was hard. I realize now that I had been distracting myself. Now that I am home and the quiet of the evening is settling in, I decided to get these words down. I needed to.

This time of year hasn’t been a season of costumes and parties and candy for a long time. Because of the events that happened at this time of year for the last 22 years, it has become something else. A time of reflection on the past. A time of hope for the future. Maybe it’s more in line with Samhain. The end of the harvest. The beginning of Winter.

And burying old ghosts.

Anniversary of Giving Up

Today marks seven years since I decided to give up on a marriage that was killing me. It was not an easy decision, though honestly, the marriage was not healthy from the beginning. But quickly into it, we had kids and there was always the threat that it would be difficult, if not impossible for me to spend time with them if I left. So I stayed. Like the old cliche says, I stayed for the kids. I tried to make things work as best as I could. There was a lot of fighting. But I held on as long as I could. Until I couldn’t.

Today would have been my 22nd wedding anniversary too. If you do the math, I filed for divorce on our 15th anniversary. Today is always a day to reflect that moment and look at how far I have come. I am not the same person. I’m getting closer to becoming the person I was before I was married. Though at 46, I’m not as spry as I once was. I’m working through decades worth of damage as well as arrested development. Starting over again is not easy, but it is worth it.

One of the things I am realizing now is that I am tenacious. Which is strange, because in my adolescence I was accused of being a quitter. I quit track and field (though the shin splints didn’t quit me). Come to think of it, it was just that one coach who accused me of being a quitter, and boy did those words stick with me. It just shows he didn’t know me. Like my marriage, I quit track because it was a farce. I stayed with other things. I was in several plays and musicals in high school. I was a State Champion in Knowledge Bowl (we went to state all three years I was in it–we one my senior year). I was in band from fourth grade until 12th, and went on to play in bands for years after. That coach was an idiot, because not quitting things is probably one of the core pieces of my character.

I’ve been accused of quitting on my older kids. I haven’t seen them in years. Which is hard. I still haven’t quit on them. I just know that right now they think they are doing the right thing, and one day that will change. It did for me. I’ll always be their dad. I’ll always love them. Once I love someone I don’t quit that either.

There are times in my life I have really struggled with the idea of giving up. It’s hard to give up, especially if I believe in something. Especially if I see value in it that others might not see. I’ve been told by friends and family on these occasions that nobody would blame me if I gave up some of the things that have been so hard. My tenacity sometimes makes me annoying. I’ve had friends give me the advice to just give up. I’ve done all I can. I’ve put in all the effort. What I’m doing–and I know this–is treating others how I would love to be treated. If someone is worth fighting for, then I keep fighting. To hell with that emotional bank account where people keep tabs of the things they’ve done for others. You just do it. Sometimes they can’t give back. I know there have been times when I couldn’t.

But wouldn’t it just be great to have that load off my shoulders? A friend of mine used to say that she hated people telling her how strong she was. When you are strong, they just keep giving you more weight to carry. It crushes your spirit, it takes its toll on your body. The weight is nearly impossible to carry. Which is why I tried to not add to her burdens with my own. I sorta missed the point though. Our friends, family, loved ones, pets, sometimes random strangers we chat with in line help us carry our burdens when we are doing it right.

I suck at asking for help. I’ve shouldered my burdens on my own for a long time. I have let in maybe half a dozen people at a time, and I don’t even share much with them. I talk mostly. I vent. And then I pick up my bag of shit and I keep walking. Uphill. Against the wind. And then I try to pick up the bundles of other people along the way. I walk (metaphorically) until I collapse. In a most spectacular way. I push people away. I tell them everything is fine. I shut down. But I get back up again. I always do, because I suck at quitting more than I suck at asking for help.

I don’t know if I am a good man or not. I hope to be one someday, but I try to be better than I was yesterday. I have flaws. Many. Anyone who has gotten to know me over the years has seen my good side and bad, and I’m grateful for the ones who put up with my shit and haven’t given up on me either.

Lately, it has been rough. I’m not going to sugarcoat this. Custody battles probably beat out death, loss of a limb, and any number of things for most stressful situations. I’m up to my neck in one right now. I’m managing. I’m really in the greatest fight of my life right now. I suck at letting people see that.

If you know me, or if you don’t, let me say this to you. Don’t quit. Please don’t. Keep fighting. Keep going. It is going to suck, but when it’s over–and you can rest–you’ll see it was worth it. I didn’t quit my marriage, I just started fighting for myself. Fighting for my kids. It was worth it. I’ll help you along the way. Even if I am just a voice in the dark or some words on paper. You aren’t alone. I believe in you and I always will.