Now son…

I had a dream last night about my father. He and I were doing a late spring hike to the top of a peak in the High Sierra’s. Not all that safe a proposition as there was a lot of snow, and avalanches were a concern. As we went along, he counseled me with his “worried” voice. I know that tone, I use it all the time with my son when I think he’s about do to something stupid, and I want to help him make a good decision.

The dream left me with the distinct impression that he was even now looking after me, trying to keep me from doing stupid stuff (good luck with that). Even now, it is his voice I hear in my head when I’m about to do something dangerous, like ride a skateboard. “Now son…” he would say, and nothing else was necessary. The tone alone was sufficient to carry the message.

It’s been 8 months since he passed away, and I am now at the point where I am starting to miss him. Near Easter we realized we needed to cut down one of the trees in the back yard. I found myself wishing I could call him, and ask him to come down and help with the tree. Had he been alive, I’m sure he would have turned down such a request (his health was not all that great near the end), but I still felt the inclination.  Funny how after someone dies we try and fit them in our world anyway.

Vacation

We’re on vacation in another town, have been since Sunday. The vacation started out sucking big time, Trevor came down with a cold, and then Teri and I both got sick after he recovered. We spent the first three days at a nice vacation rental hating life. Finally we got well, and my parents arrived soon after. Since then we’ve been having a good time.

Tonight my parents went out to visit with some friends out here, and invited me along, Their friend is, among other things, a novelist, and a pretty good one; someone an aspiring writer like myself would like to meet. Well I turned it down because I was feeling still a bit tired, and wanted some more happy family time.

So we decided to go out to the pool and play some. When we got there we jumped into the jacuzzi to warm up before going into the pool. Not a bad idea when the outside temp is pretty low. There were a couple of guys sitting in there, so I said hi. We talked back and forth for a bit, and then the next thing I knew we were having a great conversation. Hank, his son Dan, and myself talked for a long time. Far too long as it turned out. As I write this they are likely being chewed out by Hank’s wonderful wife (he was quite specific how great she was), and I know Teri is rather pissed at me. Why? Well because I pretty much ignored my son, ignored his need to play, ignored anything and everything about being a dad, all so I could continue to talk.

By the time I got home, they had both gone to bad.

Well this is not all that new. I am gregarious by nature, not always, but sometimes. When I am in the mood, call it manic if you will, I can be quite charming. This is not to brag, it is not something I am able to always turn on or off. It is more like something I can do, if given the right circumstances. The funny thing is, I didn’t think I was in the mood to be gregarious, or I would have gone out with my parents. Teri would not have minded because she knows I sometimes go out with friends to do the same thing. But because I stayed, she was left assuming I would be around to help, and I didn’t.

No two ways about it, I blew it. Big time. Since she is asleep I can’t go in there and grovel on my knees which is something I rightfully should do, without waking her up, and making it ever worse. So tomorrow I’ll be doing a whole lot of apologizing to her and to Trevor.

Since I have the time to write about it now, it made me start to think about the process. What is it about talking with an adult that is so alluring to me that I can sometimes forget my son, completely ignore him, in order to talk to a complete stranger? I mean that is pretty bizarre, isn’t it? The guys I talked to were very nice, and our conversation was great, but they were not family, and it is not particularity “sane” to put talking with a stranger over the needs of being with your child. Yet I have done exactly that twice in the past two months, one time tonight, and the other time with a neighbor I hadn’t seen in a while.

In the proper context, this behavior, at least the socializing aspects, are normal and healthy. I remember living in an apartment in my single days, and meeting people all the time in the jacuzzi, and having fun talking until all hours. However, it is not cool to disappoint your family in the process, and I do not think it is, even though I just did exactly that.

What can I say? Sometimes I blow it. Fortunately, Teri loves me regardless, or in spite of, my mania. I am a lucky man for that.

Also, I hope Hank and Dan didn’t suffer too much for their sins. They were great men, and we had a good time talking.

On My Father’s Passing

Yesterday, my father died. It was not sudden. We had been expecting it since mid May when he was told he only had a few weeks to live.

Beside the grief, and all the family phone calls (why do my sisters and I need to savor every detail?), and such, there is something else I am feeling right now, at that is relief. You see, from this day on, no one will expect me to have a normal relationship with my father. And that is a relief.

You, out there. Yes you. Chances are, you have or had a relationship with your father. It may have been a great one (I hope so) or it may have been a crummy one with alcohol, abuse and all kinds of other ugly stuff, but you still have one.  You still have a relationship. If people ask about your father you can actually answer. “Oh, he’s in Antwerp, on sabbatical,” or “He’s at home watching Fox news right now, and cursing at the tv.” What your father is doing doesn’t matter, so long as you know. And that’s what you have, that knowing.

Me, I didn’t know. Only it wasn’t just me. It was pretty much everybody, even people who lived with him. That “not knowing” thing was pretty awkward to. It meant I didn’t like to talk about him because every time I did I would have to explain to one of you “normals” why I don’t know anything about my father. Why the simple act of trying to call him on the phone could leave me shaking in frustration. Why he would occasionally hang up on me because there were certain topics that he simply could not talk about (with no way to know in advance which topic was the “bad” one). Why he never called (he called us twice in the 12 years I’ve know Teri). Why we never saw him at Christmas or the holidays. Why I finally stopped even sending him birthday cards.

You see, you could never have a relationship with my father. There was no “there” there.  You could talk to him, and sometimes have engaging conversations about something in his interest, but at some point you’d start to realize there was a limit. A line at which he would not cross; a lack of empathy or emotional commitment. Since I ride the bus frequently, I often talk to strangers. Talking with my father was exactly like talking with a stranger. The same rules, the same expectations. You could talk blithely about any topic, but not in detail, and not with any emotional depth. Poking fun at Obama was okay, but the same was not true for poking fun of prop 8. The weather was always a safe topic. We talked about the weather a lot.

One of the things we do in America is to not really deal with the issues around mental health. If you have a mentally ill member in your family, then that topic is not acceptable in public. People do not understand, or want to, as near as I can tell. They’ll give you pity, but not empathy. It’s too scary, or too weird, or too whatever. Well there is mental illness within my family, and thankfully I have some pretty ballsy nephews who are not interested in covering it up. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In my father’s case, he was likely a narcissist (the clinical term is Narcissistic Personality Disorder). I say likely as I really do not know, and mental illness are notoriously difficult to determine outside of strict tests. Regardless, the name means very little, the effect is what is important. Living with my father was like living with a stranger.

My sisters and myself tried all kinds of ways to get our father to care about us, to act more like a dad. They never worked. Its possible he really wanted to be more loving, and was simply unable. Worse still, because of his mental illness, he was unable to see himself as the cause. It was always someone else’s fault. So even if he could understand the underlying problem, he was incapable of seeing the only possible solution.

So I went for years without talking to my father. We hardly spoke of him at home, and my son only got to meet him by the slimmest of luck.  He never really knew the rest of his grandchildren, and worse still, he didn’t seem to care about them.

So now that he is dead, I’m in the rather envious position of no longer having to explain about my father. No one expects me to carry on a relationship with him anymore.  I don’t have to take parents aside and say, “we can’t really talk to him” when questions come up about grandpa (we’re lucky also in that we have two sets of  parents which are normal, and with which we have normal relationships). All I have to do is sadly smile as say, “I’m sorry, he’s passed away,” and the expectations end.

A Day at the Aquarium

Originally written on 5/25

Trevor and I went to The Aquarium of The Pacific down in Long Beach today. The drive was fast, both ways, the weather was nice, if a little cool, and there were about a gazillion people to share the experience with. Joy!

As before, the experience was outstanding. They really know how to run a place, and even with huge crowd, things went smoothly. Honestly, my only complaint is that the eating area is small enough that it can be difficult fiding a spot to eat. And if that is all I have to complain about, then that is saying something.

Trevor really loved a few of the exhibits; more than half our time there was spent at 4-5 spots. This was the first time he really got into observing at one place, which is a lot more interesting to me. You really get a better feel for an animal once you see more of it’s behaviors, and it gave me a goodly amount of time for people watching (one of my favorite pass-times).

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Yes that fish is larger than you!

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Jelly about to crash.

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Open up and say Ahhhh

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I just like the colors in this one.

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Don’t jump. Don’t jump.

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Cute kid. This is the only shot I did with a flash.

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The boys are back in town.

Why I Love My Son

There’s a dead bird on the mantle tonight, and tomorrow morning we’ll be burying it in the back garden. How it got there, goes like this.

Trevor was out playing in the front when he noticed a small house finch that wasn’t flying off like the others. He called to Teri, and she went out and looked. The bird was a bit small, and was not able to fully fly. It could flap it’s wings, and if put up someplace high, like on the bird feeder, it could fly/crash gently down, but that was about it. We put it in our butterfly cage, and brought it inside. It was getting late, and we have several feral cats around, so leaving it out was a clear death-sentence.

We tried to give it something warm to lay on (an old towel), and feed it some crushed up bird seed, but nothing seemed to help. About a hour later I found it dead.

When Trevor found out, he was very sad. I asked if he want to help me bury it tomorrow morning (something we’ve done before), and said yes. It was then that he suggested the back garden as the burial place, a touching idea as this is a nice place for birds to come to. By then he had tears in his eyes, and even though he was crying, he still was brave enough to make this suggestion.

I love that my son can care for a finch, to the point of tears, even though he’d never seen this particular one until late this afternoon.