Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Songs About the New World

Aerie and I arranged to get together last night and talk details for our divorce decree. We're doing our best to make this transition as amicable as possible. I've been saying and thinking that word a lot lately. Amicable. Amicable.

And now that we're not living together, and we're navigating our new lives apart and our new schedules as Joint Managing Conservators instead of, you know, whatever we were before, things really are fairly amicable. I look around me at the divorce stories that suddenly seem to be everywhere, and if divorcing well is a competition, I think we're winning. She's not taking out a Protective Order against me and fighting in court for full custody. We're not pitting our friends against each other or making them choose sides. She's not hiding money from joint accounts. I'm not stalking her, or playing mind games or threatening her with dastardly deeds. Neither of us is telling Thumper that the other parent is awful. He's not a pawn in some jacked up game between us. We're just... you know... amicable.

But with all this amicability flying around everywhere, and with the excitement of exploring my new life outside of all of the old roles and patterns I'd been living under for so many years, I thought that I was past the point of getting upset.  Yes, I really thought that after 23 years, I was emotionally over the hump, just six months after the word "divorce" was first uttered. I wasn't.

I've picked Thumper up and dropped him off at her house, that used to be our house. I've driven through the neighborhood before and been inside the house picking up clothes and furniture and piles of stuff. But last night, for some reason, it hit me harder. I saw neighbors walking and jogging through the neighborhood that used to be mine but isn't now, that I used to walk and jog through but won't anymore. The loop that I used to push a stroller around, past that playground we've been going to since Thumper was a brand new baby and I was a brand new stay-at-home dad. I stood on the porch and rang the bell. I didn't make myself at home and get a soda out of the fridge, or plates from the cabinet for the sandwiches I brought for us to eat while we worked. It's her house now, her stuff, her kitchen. I used the guest bathroom, not the master, and when I came out and sat down at the kitchen table to start working with her on details, I was a little shocked to find myself crying. The anger, the sorrow, the regret, the loss, they are all still real, no matter how much I want them to be memories now.

I hadn't been on the blog in quite some time. I saw I had an unpublished draft post from January, about the time the d-word first came up, that was entirely the lyrics to "Love's Recovery" by Indigo Girls. At the time, there still seemed a slim chance, but now our storm has passed and that slim chance is gone. A lot of the words fit, including the friends we thought were so together. So I'm sure I'm a cliché, 43 and divorcing, but the emotions don't feel so cliché now that I'm in them.



But now I'm just getting maudlin.

It's funny how things come to us sometimes all at once. I've never been much of a country music fan. I have a dear friend who's let me borrow her truck a few times through all of this moving of stuff, and a good many of her stereo's presets are country stations. Not wanting to jack with her settings, I listened to country music while I drove. I also worked a country music festival at my beloved arena not too long ago, and I thought some of those songs were downright toe-tappable. But still, I think of myself as too good to listen to country, really, and complained about having "Rock me, Mama, like a wagon wheel" stuck in my head. I think I'm too smart, I suppose. I have an ugly bias against it where words like "hillbilly" and "redneck" and "Deliverance" pop into my mind.

Then a friend posted a photo of what she saw as "a cool cat," and I was transported instantly back to 1979, when Hoyt Axton appeared on my favorite TV show, WKRP in Cincinnati. I still remember the hooks to "Jealous Man" and "Della and the Dealer" from that show, though honestly, I must've seen them over and over again in syndication throughout the '80s for me to have memorized them like that. But I instantly commented on my friend's picture, "If that cat could talk, what tales he'd tell about Della and the dealer and the dog as well. But that cat was cool, and he never said a mumblin' word." She probably wondered what in the hell any of that had to do with a cat she saw on a street in Italy.



Later, I read Film Crit Hulk's article about Disney's Robin Hood that mentioned Roger Miller's original songs, and I found myself again inexplicably contemplating a master of '60s tongue-in-cheek country storytelling. So today, while spending the rest of my lunch hour walking around and around the concourse of my beloved arena to burn off the brisket and sausage I ate, I plugged "Hoyt Axton" into Pandora on my phone and spent a little bit of a while with Hoyt, Roger, Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Hank Jr., Merle, Jerry Reed, and Jimmy Dean. I don't know why I'm on a first name basis with everybody but Jerry and Jimmy, but there you go. I didn't even know Jimmy Dean was a singer. I thought he just sold sausage. My mom met him in an Eckerd's drug store once. Or so my faulty memory tells me the story goes.

So I was smiling as I walked, 'round and 'round, both at the music and at my own folly. I've always known so many things that it turned out I didn't know at all. Like that my marriage would last forever, and that I hated country music. That the end of the marriage would be the end of the world. But nah. It's working out. I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Beginnings

It's been a strange and difficult couple of years here in Rodiusland. I went through a period of depression and lethargy stemming largely from my fear and uncertainty over my changing role in my family as Thumper moved through his early elementary school years. I didn't feel necessary as a full-time stay-at-home dad, but I didn't know how to re-enter the workforce or how to sell myself as a valuable addition to an employer's team after so long in a mostly domestic role. I didn't know what to do with myself, so I spent too much time doing nothing. It took me a little bit of a while to recognize that the feeling of being stuck, of not wanting to move, was a symptom of depression and that I needed to get help.

I'm coming out of that depression now, with the help of therapy, medication, and a full-time job that redefines my role significantly. I'm weaning off the medication, and I've moved on from my therapist with her blessings. She and I agreed I'm on the right path now, approaching my life and its difficulties and its opportunities with a new attitude. Aerie and I are divorcing, a further redefinition of my role. We nave not been a happy or effective partnership for some time, but we're working on breaking up that partnership as amicably as we can. Both of us are focused on Thumper and what's best for him as we move forward into an entirely new stage of our lives after nearly 23 years together.

I've missed writing about my life, but I didn't have much to say, and frankly much of what I had to say over the past 6 months was best said privately. I live my life visibly here and on Facebook, some would say too publicly for my own good. But, as has been said of me, I never could keep my f***in' mouth shut, so I couldn't stay away from this blog forever. I'm going to try to continue to use this space as a place where I can think aloud, talk about my life and my understanding of it, and keep my friends and family aware of and involved in what Thumper and I are up to and how I feel about it. I will also do my best not to talk publicly about things I shouldn't, especially as the divorce proceeds.

Honestly, though, for anyone out there who has wondered what became of me, I am finally in a really good place. I'm working at a place that I love and as part of a team whose purpose and goals I find valuable and worthwhile. I have my own apartment, and Aerie and I are splitting custody 50/50. We alternate weeks, which means I get lots of time with my my favorite person in the entire world. On our off weeks, we each have dinner with the little man one night, which means it's never more than a few days before he sees the parent he's not staying with that week. It's a great arrangement, giving me time to focus on him and time to explore my new life away from the woman who has been my wife, fiancée, girlfriend, and/or roommate for more than half of my life. It's a strange transition, but also an exciting one. There were plenty of hurt feelings, anger, accusations, and general unpleasantness through the first half of this year, but now, I feel like things are finally truly getting better for both her and for me, which can't help but make things better for Thumper. That we both love him and want what's best for him, I have no doubt.

So, uh... What'd I miss? What's new with you?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

5 Years

I realized today that this month marks 5 years since Thumper and I started driving for Meals on Wheels. Much has changed in those 5 years. He almost never comes with me now that he's in school. We're on our third Director and our second route, and we don't get to see our old friends any more, the clients who made a big deal over him, who let him play with their collectible model tractors, and their grandkids, and their dogs.

Most of our new route now consists of an "independent living facility," a giant apartment complex for seniors where resident volunteers take the meals from me and deliver them to the individual clients. The volunteers are incredibly nice, and friendly, and they're always happy to see the boy when he comes, but we don't get to interact with the clients any longer. When we were looking for a volunteer opportunity, and we were failing to find something that felt just right for us, I doubted that I would do well talking to strangers. We were still dealing with nap times, and we were at the very beginning of our playground adventures where he made me talk to people, and as always, my expectations were nothing like reality. Thumper helped to drag me out of my shell, and I quickly learned how to stand on the front porch of an 83-year-old woman and have the same 45-minute conversation with her this week as I'd had with her last week, and to cheerfully change her light bulbs and talk to the cable company for her. I learned to accept that she would drop off the list, as most of the clients do eventually, without explanation, her story never finished, at least for me.

It's still a satisfying part of my week, Meals on Wheels, but things are different now. The women at the Senior Center where we pick up the meals, those women he still calls "the dominoes ladies" because they play every day while they wait for lunch, are still so kind. They always ask me about him, and always make a big deal when he does come with me. When he was a year-and-a-half, they clapped and cheered for him when he banged on the old piano (the one that disappeared after the renovations from the kitchen fire a few years ago), and they gave him candy every week (he still asks me if Ms. Celia sent me home with anything for him if I mention that I drove Meals on Wheels today), and they gave him stuffed animals at Christmas and Valentine's Day. But the people have changed, again and again, and with Thumper at the ripe old age of 6 1/2, there's almost no one left who remembers when he first toddled through the door and helped me reach out and connect in a meaningful way.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Profanity

Aerie and I have been working on a reasonable profanity policy for Thumper. Or should that be capitalized? Profanity Policy? I don't know. Anyway, we want him to understand not only that they are just words, just sounds that our mouths make that stand for ideas, but also that they have powerful potential to affect people's emotions. It comes down to knowing your audience and knowing that some words will deeply offend some people, so it's best not to use them all willy nilly. Complicated stuff for a 6 year old. Mostly he just loves the thrill of being allowed to say forbidden words out loud in front of his parents.

Case in point: while driving 20 minutes to the cool toy store (that's the new, second location of All Things Kids, for those of you keeping score) to buy a birthday present for a friend, we listened to my iPod on shuffle. iPod on shuffle often leads to  interesting conversations. Today, "Little Lion Man" by Mumford & Sons popped up.

"Did he say a bad word?"

"Yep."

"Did it end with 'ck'?"

"Yep."

"Did it start with 'fu'?"

"Yep."

"Did it have four letters?"

"Yep."

"Oh, like [neighborhood kid] said. His mom got really mad, and I had to come home so she could yell at him some more."

"What did he say?"

"He said, 'What the fuck did you do to your face?'" [This after Thumper spectacularly wiped out jumping off the furniture and gave himself an angry red rug burn on his chin.]

"Yeah, that's why you have to be careful with words like that. You should always assume it's going to make somebody mad, unless you know ahead of time that it's not. Like you should never ever sing this song at school, OK?"

"I would NEVER do that!"

But he does get an incredible electric jolt of excitement out of being able to say to his dad, "He said, 'What the fuck did you do to your face?'"

Then "Andrew in Drag" by The Magnetic Fields came on, and things got even more complicated. Did you know that "shag" means some of the same things that "fuck" does, but people in this country don't use it very much and don't really consider it a bad word? I know! Language is weird!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Complexity

Don't tell me how it ends, because I'm listening to the audiobook of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. At first, I didn't think I'd get very far through this book because I have an unsophisticated desire to like somebody, anybody, in any given book. If there's no one likeable, I don't see much point in carrying on, and through the first hour or so, there was no one to like at all. Nick was unpleasant; Amy was unpleasant. But the more I listened, the more I realized that Amy was really only unpleasant as portrayed through Nick's eyes, and as we get to see more of her through her own diary entries, she's actually funny, charming, kind, and a generous and understanding girlfriend and wife.

Still, though, this book is depressing the hell out of me. Its depiction of marriage, even a marriage barely five years old that was born in head-over-heels, giddy, let's-drive-to-Delaware-to-have-sex-just-because-we've-never-had-sex-in-Delaware romance, is bleak. Its depiction of life for educated, east coast liberal young folk who end up through unplanned circumstances in a small Midwestern town, whose culture is essentially American suburbia, is bleak. Middle-class American married life in suburbia is the very definition of my life at this moment.

What disturbs me to the depths of my secret soul is Nick and his (mis)understanding of his wife. He attributes to her all of his own worst insecurities about himself and then resents her deeply for what (he supposes) she feels about him. She is baffled by his anger because she does not feel any of those things about him. She works hard not to be the nagging, needy, manipulative wife that she sees some of her friends become. And still, he sees her as exactly what she refuses to be, and his anger and neglect forces her to become, in painfully awkward moments, just that. Seeing each character through the first person, it's agonizing witnessing their complete failure to understand or even to try beyond a superficial level to communicate meaningfully with each other about that failure to understand. Amy says more to her diary about how she feels than she does to him; Nick says more to the reader as narrator than he ever says to her.

All of which reminds me painfully of the early- to mid-2000's. I was Nick. I saw my wife as Nick sees Amy. I thought we were engaged in some sort of competition or battle because she absolutely refused (refused!) to concede any victories to me. So in turn, I refused to concede any to her. And things fell apart. And things got bad. And now, years later, they're much, much better, but the reminder of how quickly and easily even the best fairy tale love story can turn into a murder mystery (no, I never wanted to kill my wife, and no I don't know if Nick killed Amy! Don't tell me! I haven't read that far yet!) is a hard one to read.

So I remind myself by telling you this marital advice that should have been obvious to me much sooner than it was, and which should be easier to remember through the years than it actually was or is:

First, be nice. Be nice to each other. Behave as if you are in love, even if you're not feeling particularly in love right now. Acting as if you're in love can lead to feeling more in love, while waiting to feel in love does not necessarily lead to acting as if you're in love.

Understand that the only person whose behavior you can change is your own, and changing your own behavior can inspire a change in your partner. People are nicer to those that are nicer to them.

No one ever brought anyone over to their own side through passive-aggression, sarcasm, and open hostility. A clever retort in a heated moment wins you nothing.

I suppose I'll keep listening so that I can find out where that Gone Girl ended up, but it hurts me to think that Amy deserves better than Nick, because it hurts me to think that my wife deserves better than me, and that I've misinterpreted the sweet, loving, generous, and forgiving woman that she is, seeing her instead through the distorted lenses of my own self-criticism.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

People

Today, we went swimming with old Austin Stay-at-Home Dads group friends that we haven't seen as much since Thumper started school last year, then went to their home to hang out and make s'mores. We saw them at a playground play date yesterday, and as we stood on the bridge over the pond throwing expired baked goods down to the ducks, Thumper told his longtime friend, "I'm so happy to see you again." So we made arrangements to go swimming together today, and he loved seeing those kids again, and meeting their new dog, and I loved chatting with their mom and catching up again.

After that, we went to another ASAHDs family's house for a multi-family pizza party. My kid ran around and around and around their circular layout apartment (that, apparently, LBJ and Ladybird occupied in the '30's), and danced, and played, and I sat around talking, and drank a beer, and everybody ate round after round after round of incredible little pizzas with carmelized onions, rich cheeses, tomatoes, peppers, and a crispy homemade crust. We talked, and laughed, and reminisced, and shared experiences, and enjoyed the kids enjoying themselves.

And it occurred to me that this has been the summer of reaching out for us. We're doing much with many people, and it's been very satisfying for both of us.We've been reconnecting with dads' group friends that we lost contact with over the school year. We've been discovering new friends, for both him and for me, and for Aerie. We've been swimming, and going to birthday parties, and exploring new places. We've been camping, and climbing, and jumping off of high places, and as much as I thought I was fine with my own little world, I've deeply appreciated the degree to which it's expanded this summer. You people, you're all so special. I've loved how much you've made me push my own boundaries and reject my own shy, introverted social awkwardness. Thanks so much for this wonderful summer, and I hope it keeps on keeping on, right through the new school year. Smoochie smoochies!

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Heart of Love

Thumper and I were listening to "Black Flowers" by Fishbone in the car today:



I asked him, "Does it matter to you what color somebody's skin is?"

"No," he said, with a look on his face that made it clear he thought it was a ridiculous question. "Why did you ask me that?"

I said, "This song talks about the hatred that some people have for other people. Sometimes people hate other people because they look different than they do, or believe different things. Some people think that love and romance, like Mama and I have for each other, should only ever be between a man and a woman and they hate men who have love and romance for other men, or women who have love and romance for other women."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I think how someone treats other people matters more than what they look like or who they love. I hope you keep thinking like you do now and never start believing that different is bad."

"I'd never do that. I've never done that in my whole life!"

He clearly still thought it was a ridiculous conversation, and that made me happy.
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