It is 9:13 AM on a Friday. Today is my dad’s birthday. He turns 75 today. Today is the official start of my final month of being a childless adult, according to the doctors, anyway. I will be a dad on September 8, if their predictions are correct. September 10 is my little brother’s birthday. He’s been dead for over fifteen years now. Next January 15, he will have been dead for just about as long as he was alive on this earth. My mom has been gone for seven years now, and my oldest brother, nineteen.
I should call my dad and wish him a happy birthday. Some years he hates his birthday, and doesn’t want it celebrated. Other years he seems to insinuate that I should have called him. I have grown more and more distant from my father each year since my mom died. It was especially hard for me to see him post an ad on Yahoo Personals the month after she died. They’d been married for almost 40 years. I suspect I, like a lot of people, would have had a hard time jumping into dating for almost a year after my spouse died, and I’ve only been married for a little under three years. I don’t know what’s wrong with my father. I think he’s probably just an extremely self-centered, emotionally immature man who only grew up as much as he had to in order to keep his marriage together.
Memories of my father seem to run in these weird cycles where during periods of my life when I feel like I need him the most, he’s the most distant. And, when he suddenly buddies up to me, I am the least interested in having a close father-son relationship. I am most terrified of the possibility that I will have the exact same relationship with my son. I am going to do everything I can to prevent it from happening. My wife plans to go back to work full time, and I am going to take freelance work that I do at odd hours when she’s at home or the baby’s asleep.
My dad chided me about being a househusband when I saw him on Monday. My wife and I were returning from Galveston after having our last childless vacation. We’d left my dog at my dad’s like we always do. I really was hoping my dad would be eager and excited to see the birth of his grandson. It is really his first grandchild. My oldest brother allegedly got his girlfriend pregnant thirty years ago when he left home before graduating from high school. That family came up to our house one summer looking for money, and a fat, friendly brother of the new mother said to me “I guess we’re brothers now.” I believe my dad ran them off and told them to never come back. My second oldest brother was married with child in 1992, and that child is already having her second baby. The lady from that marriage visited our house once before she had her child, and that was it.
My dad’s relationship with me is strange because I am his oldest and only surviving biological child. His two oldest sons were adopted, and they had an uneasy relationship with my parents their entire lives. Both of them wrote notes to my dad disowning him, and both reconnected with their biological parents and relatives, who actively communicate with my surviving older brother on Facebook. I think my dad didn’t know how to be a dad until my little brother was born. I think that my little brother’s death caused him to lose all hope that there could be something good about this life.
I don’t know.
I feel sometimes like I carry a little piece of a curse that someone put on my family. I don’t know where the curse came from. I think that perhaps I am simply put here to break that curse and not pass it on to the next generation.
But mostly, I had hoped that my dad would be more excited and want to be involved with my son’s arrival. I had hoped he would come up before my son was born, and help us put together our crib, or just offer some kind of moral support. I encouraged him several times so that he could understand how much I wanted this to happen, and he just got pissed at me and snarled that he didn’t want to leave his dog out in the hot workshed for hours during the day. He’d erected a large cage inside one of the spare bedrooms of his house for when the dog got too hot, but he apparently doesn’t want to try leaving her in there. He is a bit of a nervous Nancy about his dogs. Instead of training them properly, he prefers to pen them up and keep them on leashes. He lives on four acres in the country.
I think my dad is just mostly frightened of anything new and different, and can’t embark upon changing himself or his surroundings unless he has a new lady friend compelling him to do so. For years he said he didn’t want to visit me in Austin because he didn’t want to drive back in the dark. He lives an hour away from Austin. I thought perhaps that the real reason was that my mom disapproved of the two times I’d lived in sin with women I hadn’t married. But, after she died, he continued with this excuse, even while he would go to a night show at Esther’s Follies with some new lady friend.
Right after my mom died, he purchased a motorcycle. My mom had made him give his motorcycle up after I was born. He rode it for a while, and met a lady who also had a bike, but after they split up, he seemed to get really nervous about being on the bike. I could see why. He was in his 70s, and his reaction times were poor, and he wasn’t nearly as physically resillient as he used to be.
Oftentimes I find myself either completely hating my dad and hoping he will die, or loving him and thinking how horrible life will be when he dies. At the very least, it will be incredibly inconvenient. He’s wracked up some debt buying toys like the motorcycle and other tools and things for his random projects he picks up and stops. The house has been poorly maintained, and the inside looks like the inside of one of those hoarder houses, but not quite as jammed packed–but just emptier by degrees.
If he were to die today, I suspect that he hasn’t changed his will yet, from the time I was still a minor and my oldest and youngest brothers were still alive. I suspect that my remaining older brother, who has all but estranged himself from us, will suddenly appear and be very friendly, hoping to collect whatever is left of my dad’s money. I will have a newborn son to deal with, on top of needing to stay focused on my writing and doing freelance work, and have to drive a round trip of four hours each time I want to take care of business down there.
It would be a mess, and my dad knows it, and he just doesn’t want to deal with it. He has yet to buy a headstone for my mother’s grave. He insists on it being a dual headstone for the both of them, but I also think that he doesn’t want to think about his own approaching death or her death.
Mostly, all of this is not my problem, yet.
But, I think it will come upon me suddenly without the luxury of years of preparation. I don’t think my dad will wake up one morning and realize he needs to downsize and go live in a retirement community closer to Austin. It would be great if all that junk was gone and sold and most of the animals were gone by the time he dies, but I’m not counting on it.
I’ve tried to focus more on positive things, but I felt like getting that off my chest. My life has been mostly positive since the moment I decided to buy my condo and get involved with the church. I met my wife, dated her, proposed to her, married her, and went on several enjoyable vacations to NYC, SF, Mexico, Rome, Charleston and Galveston. NYC was just me alone, when we were still dating and not engaged yet.
I think I love NYC slightly more than SF. I love the sight of so many people coming together and going about their business peacefully. I love the tall buildings and the varied architecture. I wasn’t troubled by the fact that Times Square had been even more Disneyfied since the last time I’d gone there in 1997, when walking away from the main area got me a proposition from a prostitute–though people in the publications I eagerly read like The Village Voice said Guiliani had already Disneyfied it by then. I don’t have a problem with the vision of a cleaned up, commercialized America with a sanitized American dream of wings and football, as long as a diversity of people embracing the American dream becomes more realized. I don’t know that I have seen more diversity since the NYC trip than when I went to Galveston and stayed by the Pleasure Pier.
Working class people from all ethnic backgrounds walked up and down the seawall and visited the restaurants and the shops and the pier. They milled about peacefully and didn’t flash gang signs at each other or cause fist fights or disturbances. It’s this little snapshot of America that I wish all people in the media, politicians and people from radical Islamist countries could see. It is different than the picture that gets painted. The same goes for what you see when you go to Vegas, or any big city, really. For sure, there are still muggings and knifings and killing going on. There are places that I don’t ever care to go as a tourist. But, there are so many places where being a modern human being among tens of thousands of other people is totally working.
The optimism I get comes from me know longer carrying about any illusions that I will one day befriend all of these people, that I am some kind of Everyman who can get along with all people, everywhere. My role is more of an observer and appreciator of these things, and my lot is to be mostly alone, in solitude, and in my head. I am okay with this now. I’ve made my peace with it. I recognize that even when you feel like you can talk and act and look and think the same way as the very successful people in life, you are still missing little things that you haven’t learned to perfect yet. There are tics of body language and moments of silence or moments when you talk too much that go more noticed than you think they do. When you think you are communicating very clearly and successfully one thing, you are often shocked to find that someone has apprehended a completely different message from flashes of emotion across your face that you are hardly aware of.
I confess that I should be doing some kind of work for my full-time employer. I am supposed to be more or less on the clock each week day until the end of the day on Tuesday. But, this is partly why I’m quitting–there just isn’t enough work from them for me to justify taking their money and pretending that I’m getting things done throughout the day. Of course, I could be proactive and go out and do research for them, and brainstorm new creative strategies. But, nobody listens to any of that shit. There are plenty of people in the Austin office and at agencies they’ve contracted to do that kind of work–and they listen to those people.
So, I’m sitting here doing the one thing I’ve consistently done on the producer side of things since I was ten. Admittedly, there is a bit of the consumer involved in it as well. I feel a sense of excitement and anticipation for the indulgence brought on by sipping coffee and just letting my thoughts spill out onto the virtual paper as they will.
I’ve discovered great optimism and hope in rejecting just about any ideology or belief system that someone around me is promoting as being the legitimate one. I shouldn’t say that. I should say that I’ve stopped caring about trying to make my own truth shoehorn itself into a particular group’s truth. I am not an Atheist or an Agnostic, but I don’t find a lot of great spiritual uplifting most Sundays at church. I get more spiritual uplifting out of writing, hikes and walks through art museums. I think I still like a lot about Eastern Philosophy. I’m too grounded in a scientific understanding of the world to think that the earth is young and we haven’t evolved from something else. But, I’m also skeptical enough of the evolutionary paradigm that I think the real truth behind our origins will be revealed as being more complicated and awe-inspiring than any Dawkins dittohead says it is.
I am probably most at peace with myself and my truth when I’m not confronting other living people’s worldviews. The truths of the ancient and classical philosophers are easier to assimilate or reject because there isn’t this immediate sense of one of them getting into a pathetic argument with me over it. I have a kind of truth that will never likely make anything I write become part of the canon, because the canon rejects any unironic mention of religious belief written after the Enlightenment.
The only thing that is really missing from my life is a true sense of purpose and happiness with where I am living.
I don’t like Texas nearly as much as I tell the Texans around me I do. The same goes for Austin and Austinites. I think the state is okay, but it’s not everything. I’m bored with it. I thought I’d feel myself to be a Texan after living here for ten years–I’ve been here fifteen, and I don’t feel any more Texan than the day I arrived. I wouldn’t say I miss Missouri, but I don’t look back on it with loathing like I used to. It, too, is an okay state with some good things to offer, but I wouldn’t call it home.
I would love to die in a town that feels like my home town.
I guess most people don’t get to do that anymore. We go where the work takes our parents, then us, and we die wherever death takes us. If we all got to live the New York City, Manhattan, Central Park life, we’d be in some other reality where the abundance of natural resources permitted such a thing to happen. Wouldn’t that be grand, if each of us could erect our own little piece of a place and time, and make ourselves the richest and best members of that particular reality?
Perhaps that’s what we are all doing. This current reality that I’m in belongs to some 1%ers. It doesn’t belong to the rest of us. But, each of us will get our turn at being WilL or Kate or both or Beyonce or whomever.
One would think that an omnipotent God could arrange such a deal. Of course, once we get the reality we call our own, how much time will we bother thanking God for it, or thinking about God at all? We’ll somehow think that because fate has smiled so kindly upon us, that we have earned the right to be infinitely rich in a big city full of people who are all poorer than us, and that God had absolutely nothing to do with it.
I finally got a hold of my dad yesterday, and talked to him for awhile. He finally talked to me about some of the experiences he had when my little brother and I were born. He wasn’t the crabby grouch that I left on Monday when I drove away with my dog after my last adult vacation. But, he probably won’t be as active a grandparent as I’d like him to be, either.
It is maddening for me to see other people and organizations messing up their business, and choosing to do so because they have no perspective. It doesn’t matter if it’s me watching my dad let his house collapse around his head, or any number of companies I’ve worked for in the past few years–for whatever reason, it’s easier for me to pinpoint all of the things they are doing wrong and create step-by-step programs for how they could improve, than it is for me to change much about myself.
Changing one’s self seems to be infinitely harder. Is it the reality of the actual work one has to do? Is it the whole forest for the trees thing?