Archives for April 2011

A Father’s Burden

It is a sunny day in Los Angeles. Endless blue skies and snow covered mountaintops fight for your attention. The streets are filled with the usual assortment of cars, convertibles, SUVs, Hondas and assorted others jockey for the right to be the lead car on a street that won’t allow for speeds exceeding 35 MPH.

The boys and I are seated outside, cups of coffee in hand, sunglasses protecting our eyes from the glare. It is late morning and we have gathered to engage in our unofficial support group. Because you know that as men none of us want to admit that we need help. We don’t ask for directions and we don’t ask for a shoulder to cry on, even though we all want it. So we amuse ourselves with this clever fairytale that it is just friends getting together to talk.

That is a bit of an exaggeration. We are all forty somethings now. Every last one of us a father. Twenty years ago the conversations were different. They may have borne some resemblance to the current ones, in which we talk about women, but they were different.

Back then there wasn’t any talk about divorce. No comments about custody or concerns about dating as a single parent. No worries about how to pay for private school or rants about having to pay for summer camp during winter time.

And there most certainly weren’t comments about how bad the economy is or how we have become casualties of a situation that we can’t control.

No one talked about how to tell their children that mommy and daddy can’t afford to pay the mortgage anymore. No one had any thoughts or concerns that they might have to move back in with their parents. There wasn’t any thought that after having been a productive member of society for years they would fear having nothing to show for it.

Back then no one had the burden of supporting a family. It was only us and no one cared if your apartment was a dump and your furniture was worn out.

The sunglasses help to maintain the poker face that we wear. It is part of our suit of armor. A useful tool those sunglasses. Back in the day they helped provide cover to check out the pretty girl. Now they help to hide the look of fear and exhaustion that I see in the back of our eyes.

I throw out the idea of the new business and talk about taking control of our destiny. I say that now is the perfect time to take a stand and make something because no one else is going to help us. We don’t trust the government or expect our parents to save us.

We throw out movie quotes and laugh. More stories and ideas are shared. One confesses that he and his soon to be ex wife are sleeping together again. They have no intention of getting back together, but it is easier because they don’t have to worry about when to introduce the new person to the kids.

He laughs and says that his wife stopped giving head 13 years ago, right after their eldest child was born.  But now that they are friends with benefits it is a regular course on the menu. No one tells him that no one liked her or that we expected that one day they would split.

I thank him for giving me nightmares and he says I should talk. I ask him what he is referring to and he tells me that he walked in on me in college. I give him a puzzled look and he tells me about some party he remembers from 1987. I still don’t know what he is talking about and ask him if he is certain it was me.

From across the table there are a couple of loud guffaws and our buddy says that if I can’t remember shecertainly won’t. I smile and tell him that I am sure that he is right. Thank G-d that I have kids to prove my manhood. I must have figured out how to do it right a few times.

For a moment there is silence. It is sort of a melancholy silence. Good memories intermixed with painful realities. More stories are exchanged and suggestions offered. I tell them about the things that I find most challenging and give an outline for my plan.

I am optimistic, but a bit frustrated. I feel like I am in a tunnel.I can see daylight, but can’t quite get there. There are no road maps. It feels a bit like Let’s Make a Deal. I know what I have in hand. It might do what I need it to. It might be possible to make it all happen.

But the possibility of what could lie behind door number one nag at me. Little whispers suggest that it is time to  make a bigger move and to take a risk. But I am not certain yet and there is no Monty Hall to push me to choose now.

So I shrug my shoulders and decide to walk a bit further down this road and see what happens. The party is breaking up. It is time for us to get back to reality. There is work to be done and projects to attend to. We stand up, shake hands and walk to our cars.

The warmth of the sun on my back makes me smile. It has restorative powers. Hard to believe that somewhere across the country people are trudging through snow. Harder yet to believe that the pot of gold we seek isn’t located somewhere beneath these endless blue skies. All we have to do is find it.

Ideas for Fiction

Time to highlight one of my new favorite sources. It is a blog called Start Your Novel.

Twice a week, I post one or two small writing prompts, 50 words or less. Let’s call that a story-seed. The rest is up to you.
Take my ideas and run away with them. Go wild. They are freely given. This is an adventure in open-source storytelling.

I know I called the website “Start Your Novel,” but you can use my snippets for anything you please — short stories, novellas, RPG settings, comics, anything. Copyright is hereby waived. If somehow you make millions off an idea you got from me, good for you. Credit would be appreciated. That’s it.

Here is a snippet from his blog as well as the brief section I added

The Times and Trials of Remorse Brown
Who in their right mind would name a daughter Remorse? Although that wasn’t so bad; her big brother was called Regret, which is a sorry name for a man.

The old thief espied their shack from afar, and counted his blessings.

There was a reason why he had lived to be an old thief who walked free of fetters and shackles and not one who lived in chains.

He never let ego get in the way of doing a proper job. Too many other men had made the mistake of trying to leave a signature behind and had paid the price for it.

Ego and the movie industry were responsible for that. Ego made you want to to show how smart you were and movies made you think that it would turn you into some kind of icon.

For a moment he paused to wipe his brow and considered the best way to approach the shack. A smart man didn’t get lost pondering why someone would name their children Regret and Remorse, at least not from 100 yards a way.

That sort of wool gathering was best done at home in front of a warm fire and with your favorite drink in hand.

What say you? Should I continue this?

Friday Night Wrap Up

For those who come less frequently:

A Deal With The Devil

There are a million tales of about people who have made a deal with the devil and what happen afterwards. Most of the stories that I am familiar with follow a simple storyline in which the ‘hero’ exchanges their soul for the chance to live their dreams. Inevitably they face some sort of life changing challenge and undergo some sort of epiphany in which they wish to go back to their old life because they suddenly appreciate it in ways that they had been unable to before.

I mention this because I am still in the midst of a transition that is taking far longer than I ever could have imagined. If you picture life as a journey than it is safe to say that I am approaching the crossroads and  am going to have to make some very hard decisions. Though I kid around and say that I make all decisions with my Magic 8 Ball the reality is that I won’t do that here because the stakes are high. It is troubling to me for a variety of reasons the majority of which lie in my concern for my children. The choices I make impact them in ways that none of us can predict.

As their father my job is to protect and educate them so I can’t help but be concerned about changes and transitions that will affect them. Because I love them I worry about some of this in ways that I never do for myself. That doesn’t make me noble, it makes me a parent.

It frustrates and concerns me because I feel like every attempt I make to try and gain a better sense of what could happen if I pick Door #1 is thwarted by the fog across my eyes. I am frustrated because I feel like I have an anaconda wrapped around my trunk and he is slowly squeezing the life out of me. This is not melodrama or hyperbole.

But if you know me than you know that I have a grip that would make a gorilla jealous and am stubborn in ways that mules can only dream of. If you know me than you know that I my nature is to launch my own campaign of shock and awe against the snake. You know that in my mind that sucker cannot possibly withstand the firestorm that I am about to unleash upon it. I will batter it senseless and turn it into boots and belts that I’ll sell to designer boutiques. Not only will I feast upon its carcass the money I earn from selling its skin will pay for their education.

Yet age has taught me to temper my response and consider options, opportunities and possibilities. Age has taught me that I can lose a battle here and there and that I need to be prepared for that possibility.  So when I speak of shock and awe the campaign isn’t limited to the physical aspect but the mental too.

So when my kids look at me and ask why I am lost in thought it is because I am letting my mind wander for a few. Letting it wander whichever way the current chooses to take it. Over the years I have found that to be a good way to release tension and to gain a deeper understanding of what is troubling me and potential solutions.

Don’t know if this provides any insight to outsiders but one day my kids will read this and remember that dad didn’t take a shortcut. No deals were made with the devil or at least none with the intent or understanding of who I was dealing with. And should it come to light that I have engaged with Lucifer, Beelzebub, Old Scratch or whatever you want to call him they know that I will take him out.

Because that is what I do. End of silly post.



Movies Used To Be Cheap Entertainment

I love going to the movies. I always have, the Drive-in, the theater, whatever. They are all good. Give me a big screen, padded seats and a great sound system and I am pretty happy. I almost never walked out on a movie. A bad movie is like a train wreck, it is hard to look away.

It used to be that the biggest challenge was trying to sneak in some food. I certainly didn’t want to pay through the nose for popcorn and candy, especially if I hit the bargain matinee. Those were usually somewhere between $3.50 and $5. What was the point of paying more for the food than the movie.

Back in college my girlfriend and I found a place that charged a buck a movie. For poor college students it was an outstanding find. We loved it and spent many happy hours there.

Alas I haven’t found anything close to that place in years. For a while the weekends provided the standard $5 fair, but that seems to have disappeared. More and more chains have raised their rates into the $7 to $12 range and shortened the time frame that they were available. Instead of having until six P.M. many theaters seem to offer the bargain for the first couple of shows only.

So what you have is a movie date that is just slightly less than it would be if you went to the standard evening show. Roughly this works out to be between $20-$25 for a pair of tickets and then another $10 in cheap snacks. Add dinner, parking and a couple of odds and ends and you have spent a couple of bucks.

I don’t mind spending money on entertainment but the cost of seeing a movie has made it more important to me to be certain that I want to see it. It is irritating to spend a chunk of change on a bad movie.