Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You're a Man Now Kid

It gives me no joy to write this, though it may end up being cathartic. I would have been perfectly happy plodding along, loving those who love me, and not feuding with those who don’t.  But my life now includes a grandfather who doesn’t respect me. I've suspected this was true for a while, and I just received a letter from him which leaves no doubt. And it isn't just he who respects me so little that he must send a miserable letter saying as much. Since he can't write legibly, the letter was re-written by my mom and sent by the wife of an uncle. And though this will not be a feud, I can't ignore it either. Maybe you disagree with my writing this post, but I ask you to remember that I did not ask to be in this position; I would love nothing more than to have my family's respect. But I do not have it, and it is clear that I will not get it. That is not something I can control. Basically what I’m saying is, “I didn’t start it.”  

For starters, while the above-mentioned letter did come as a surprise, its contents did not. I have written before that there is a part of my family whose opinion is that they can never be thanked enough; who may occasionally do nice things for me, but in return will demand total submission and eternal gratitude. I realized this perhaps 10 years ago, and decided that I didn’t want to submit to those rules any longer. I struggled with enormous guilt, as you may imagine, but eventually I came to realize that a child should not have to find his own guardians, nor his own food, clothes and shelter.  Yes he should be grateful when his basic needs are met, but he should not have to perform for them. 

It is one thing to be taught self-reliance; it is another thing to be forced into learning it on your own.  Ever since I can remember I have known that I was going to have to work for everything I got. I will not be inheriting any money from my parents. I have been working and/or going to school continuously since I was 12 years old. I largely put myself through college (my dad helped with community college and bought me my first computer, for which I was and am very thankful).  After college I worked my way up to management in retail, where I worked long hours for years.  And my wife and I have worked extremely hard to build her law practice. It is true that I don’t do anything for her office anymore, but it is probably also true that it wouldn’t exist in its current capacity without the many hours I put in during its infancy. This is not a sob story, and I am not asking for your sympathy.   It is important to know, though, that I have worked very hard for everything I have, and continue to work hard to keep it. 

Without question the thing that I have worked hardest on is me.  If I totaled the hours that I have spent soul-searching, striving to be a better man, and working to control my inherited mental illness, I would arrive at a number easily measured in years.  I have overcome an abusive father and parental divorce. I have overcome years of bullying, which caused me to wonder around school in a funk so severe that I quit reacting to being shoved into lockers- I quit straightening my clothes and my hair; I would simply bend down, pick up my books, and carry on.  I have overcome criminally low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Do you think the segment of my family now demanding my gratitude noticed the trouble I was in for so many years, and offered help? They did not.  To be fair, one of the uncles who has no respect for me did drive 10 miles to our house every Sunday, at 5 in the morning, to help me with my paper route after my parents divorced.  For this he had, and has, my great thanks. But would you believe that this is still a source of great dismay to some in my family?  Yes, it is their opinion that I have not thanked him enough for all that help.  Maybe so; but I have made peace with my belief that it is not a 12 year old boy’s responsibility to find his own father figure.  My mother, lost in finding her own way after the divorce, could not help. I’ll admit that I think the least her family could do for me was to help two hours a week with my paper route.

I’ve never wanted to list all the shit I’ve gone through, and I will not start now.  Many people have gone through much worse than I, and, yes, it does embarrass me to carry on in this way.  But it is without question true that I have survived hardships, and done so largely without the help of the family that is now so disgusted with me.  Some would be proud of the life I’ve lived (my dad, for one, is, and he tells me so every time we speak.  We have a good relationship these days; he is a cute grandpa to my kids.) So why is this corner of my family so disappointed in me?

They have noticed, and are angry, that I have distanced myself from them. They accuse me of thinking myself to be “too good” for them, of being selfish.  I must say that I have brought up with them some of the things I’ve written here, with poor results. They are not interested in hearing that they have made errors; that they, perhaps, let me down.     

I am a big boy and I will accept responsibility for my actions. If my actions have caused them to lose respect for me, then so be it.  So it seems that we are at a point of disagreement that cannot be reconciled. Where they see selfishness, I see someone who has worked extremely hard at being a better man.  Where they see someone who doesn’t call or visit enough, I see someone who has been busy with jobs, building a strong marriage and raising a family.  Where they see someone who doesn’t ask about their health, I see someone who has been dealing with pancreatitis since October 2006; pancreatitis so severe that I have had six surgeries and seven hospitalizations, and few visits from them. Where they see someone obsessed with money, I see someone who has not asked for money or free room and board from them since he was 18; someone who has paid for his own college and at least $20,000 in medical bills.   

Where do we go from here?  I don’t know.  Here is what I do know:  I have done plenty to earn the love and respect of every member of my family.  If I have neither, then nothing I say now is going to change that fact.  I am proud of myself, for what I have done and for what I will continue doing. And many amazing people love me.  I value my time and my energy too much to go chasing after love where I’m not going to find it.

Last night, my wife, kids and I went out for supper to celebrate the fact that my blog now has over 100 followers. I proposed a toast, “To love, family, and 100 followers!” 

My four year-old loves toasts. “Cheers,” she exclaimed, and added, “I ‘pose a toast, too.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

She paused, not sure what to say. 

“What are you happy about, honey?  Or what do you wish for?" I asked.

“I am happy you’re my daddy.”


Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Break

I need a break. Badly. I sort of got one yesterday, when I went Christmas shopping at the Mall of America with only my wife and baby. The four year-old stayed home with a babysitter. Parents will understand why yesterday was something of a break; those without children will rightly wonder how going to the Mall of America on the busiest Saturday of the year, with a baby, could be considered a break.  As with everything, it is all relative, I guess.

So this morning my lovely wife, seeing the desperation in my eyes, told me to take off for a while.  I’ve been working on a political post for about a month, and need a couple of uninterrupted hours to get it done, so I decided that I would use my break to go to a coffee shop and write.

I approached my daughter, “Honey, I’m going to go out for a bit.”

“Where are you going, Daddy.”

“I’m going to go get some coffee and write.”


“Because I want to.”

“You can get coffee here.”

“I know.”

“You can write here.”

“Not really. It’s too loud and there are too many distractions.”

“Well…I’ll bring you coffee and I promise to be quiet.”

Now I pretty much knew that I wasn’t going anywhere, but I had one more sentence in me anyway, “Thanks, honey. But I’m going to go out. I’ll only be gone for a little while.”

“Okay,” she looked at her feet and whispered, “I’ll miss you.”

So… here I sit in the basement, covered with a blanket, a fire in the fireplace, the dog snoring next to me. My soul mate has the kids two floors above me, where I can barely hear them bathing.  Maybe I should have been firmer in my convictions. Maybe I should have gone out and finished that essay. And, then again, maybe not.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I had a strange conversation with Sadie, the official dopey dog of Unconventional Wisdom, this morning.

“Sadie, please stop crapping on the driveway.”

“Why would I drag my ass through the snow when there is a perfectly clear driveway I can use?”

“Because I said so?”

“Good one.”

“Because you’re a dog?”

“Keep trying.”

“Because I asked nicely?”


“Okay. I didn’t want to do this…because if you don’t, I won’t feed you.”

“The kids will. I eat better than most dogs if you only count what the baby drops.”

“Right. How about this:  Because when you crap on the driveway, I have to trudge across our whole yard to toss it into our neighbor’s yard; whereas, when you do it in your usual spot, I can fling it over with the flick of a wrist?”

“Fine. But you’ll owe me. Shall we say two nights on the couch?”

“The basement couch. And no farting.”

Old Grey-Beard

"Daddy, Santa doesn't have a grey beard, he has a white beard. You have a grey beard!"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Long-Shot Movie Idea

I have an idea for a movie that I think just might work. It’s about a bunch of seniors in high school who struggle with issues like:  coming of age, sexuality, friendship, acne, parental divorce, and drug and alcohol use. I would love for it to star Zac Ephron, Vanessa Hudgens, the Jonas Brothers, and Miley Cyrus. The trouble is, I just don’t think there is a market for this kind of movie.  

Dear Tom

Dear Tom,

I heard a rumor the other day and you are the only one I know who could verify it for me (I tried Snopes, and struck out).  The rumor was this:  All the men in Mensa have huge penises and are voracious lovers. Is that true?



Dear Smitty,

I have only been a member of that august club for a couple months. As such, I do not have enough data to confirm that rumor.  Based on what I do know, though, I cannot rule it out.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thought of the Day

Sometimes I look at my daughter, born in Guatemala, and my son, born in Florida, and think, "I'm really sorry for plucking you out of the tropics and dropping you in Minnesota."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thought of the Day

Sometimes being a good dad means telling your embarrassed daughter about the time that you, too, shit in your pants, and admitting that it wasn't so long ago.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dear Smitty

Dear Smitty,

I need help with the New York Times crossword. Do you know where Green Peter Lake is?


I’d jump in the lake…if I could find it.

Dear I’d jump in the lake…if I could find it,

I think I may know this. Are you talking about Lake Havasu, by chance? I know that’s not its official name, but I’ve gone there for Spring Break a few times, and I always end up with a green peter.

I hope that helps,


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Baby Manager

I was a lumberyard manager back in the day. I didn’t know it, but managing those clowns turned out to be great training for my job as a parent of young children.  One of my favorite tricks, when I had to ask one of the guys to do a job I knew he was going to hate, was to tell him he couldn’t go home until he got that task, and about 4 others, done.  The yard ape would always throw a fit over having so much to do. I would let him complain for a while, and wait for the horror of it to sink in. And when he was at his lowest point, I would let him off the hook, “Just kidding, just do X and you can go.”  With great relief, he would bound off and happily get the job done.

This same trick can be used to get a restless baby to go to sleep. Here’s how it works:  I start out by rocking the baby.  This hardly ever gets him to sleep. He wants nothing to do with being held, and he thrashes around, elbowing me in the face and kicking me wherever he can.  So we move to Phase 2; I put him in his crib and let him cry. Sometimes, he will cry himself to sleep. Usually, though, he’ll cry until I go get him (he’s lasted an hour before).  So I let him cry for a while; long enough that he is beyond desperate to be held. Phase 3- I go in and let him off the hook. I pick him up, and he is so damn glad to see me that he melts into my arms, and bounds happily off to sleep.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I was 9 years old when Metallica released, “Kill ‘em All”, its first album.  I started noticing Metallica t-shirts a few years after that. And I couldn’t help also noticing that people with whom I didn’t want to cross paths usually wore those t-shirts. In fact, though I had no proof, I was fairly certain that in order to be a true fan of the band, and to have permission to wear shirts sanctioned by the band, one must first eat the liver of his or her younger sibling. 

By the time they released “Metallica”, I was 17 and no longer afraid of the band nor its fans.  Sug and I were in St. Cloud, visiting a friend of his who was a year older than us, and in college, the first time I heard “Enter Sandman.”  We were at a party in the basement of a house appropriately nicknamed, The Pit. The basement was unfinished, except for the floors, which were unfortunately carpeted. The carpet, I learned, is what gave the house its nickname. It was soggy, sated with spilled beer and chew spit and who knows what else. A pit. In one corner of the basement, behind dog-kennel fencing, was the stereo. I don’t know exactly how big the speakers back there were; they were big enough, at any rate, that I was hopeful they would serve as heart defibulators, if needed. 

I was standing directly in front of those speakers, with my back against the fence, when “Enter Sandman” erupted. It felt like someone punched me in a kidney. I shit in my pants. A girl a few feet in front of me collapsed. I don’t know what happened to her but, since she was not wearing a HAZMAT suit, I assume she died within a couple days.  The lights next door flickered, plaster fell from the ceiling; the seismographs at the University sprang to life.  I regained my composure and stayed at the epicenter until the cops shut the party down.

The hearing loss I suffered as a result of that night outlasted my hangover. Still, as soon as I was able, I went out and bought that CD. 

These were my thoughts this morning when “Enter Sandman” came on the radio during our commute to preschool and as I turned it up just a bit and taught my daughter how to bang her head.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I don’t recommend having kids just so that Christmas is fun again, but if you are thinking about it you should know that it does work.  Tonight, as we bundled up and prepared to leave the Mall of America, the good mall Santa walked past us. This is one of those Santas that, if you saw him in shorts and a T-shirt at a baseball game, you would still recognize as Santa. But tonight, even though he was clearly on his way home, he was in full costume.  Our four year-old stared at him as he approached. Finally she gave him a shy, flick-of-the-wrist wave. He gave her a cheerful “hello” and complimented her smile as he breezed past us. He was out the door and out of sight before we finished getting coats and mittens on, though our daughter completed those tasks in double time.  On our way to the car I wondered aloud whether we would see Santa’s sleigh, and, if so, whether Rudolph would be in the lead tonight. The kid’s pace quickened some more, her eyes fixed on the gap on the outside of the parking ramp, searching for a glimpse.

A quick geographic note:  The Mall of America is less than a mile away from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. Knowing that, you will not be surprised to learn that, when we exited the parking ramp and looked into the northern sky, (where surely Santa and his sleigh would be expected to be) we saw flashing lights, including one which was red. 

“Look, Daddy! I see Santa! And Rudolph the Red-Nosed Deer!”  

And so did I.