DadBot v1.5 is… ONLINE

Snippets of conversations, and direct statement made to me by friends, girlfriends, and even a few adults during the time I was between 12 and 17 years old :

“That girl uses tampons, she’s not a virgin anymore.”

“A girl should NEVER take a bath or shower when it’s ‘her time’!”

“We did it while she was on her period, you can’t get pregnant then.”

“I’m a virgin, virgin’s can’t get pregnant on their first time.”

_____________________________________________

Getting through puberty was tough.

Being the single father of a young daughter was even harder.

Men are often assumed to be sexists, just because they are men and men often say or do things that are either subtly sexist or interpreted as being so.

However, I feel empowered to say that as a single father of a young daughter I often faced a not so subtle type of sexism directed at me from more than a few women who were revolted by the idea of a man raising a female child.

Over the years I developed a pretty thick skin about it, and learned to handle it in my own way. I faced family members who thought it was “unnatural” for a man to want to raise his daughter. I faced girlfriends and would-be significant others who believed that a man lacked the *ability* to make the right decisions necessary for raising a child. Especially a female child. I faced healthcare workers and school administration officials that refused to deal with me as the primary parent, even when presented with signed documents saying that her mother wished to abdicate her authority on these matters and the court had approved the arrangement.

It was a tough slog sometimes, but I managed to develop a certain toolset over time, that helped me deal with these individuals and these eventualities.

One of the tougher things about being the father of a very young girl was inevitable questions that any growing, curious youngster is going to eventually have about life, sex and the things they hear at a school lunch table.

Now, I know a lot of parents opt to allow the lunch table to be the the primary educator of their kids, and to some degree, I get it. These conversations can be hard, and when you’re a grown man and the questions are coming from a young girl, they can get more complicated, but I made the decision very early on that I would not be allowing other 9, 10 or 11 year olds to explain “the facts of life” to my daughter. This seemed like a recipe for outright disaster to me.

I also realized early on that when her mother abdicated authority on matters of school and health, she also apparently abdicated all responsibility for educating Mouse on… feminine hygiene. I had been assuming that there would at least be some downloading of the “basics” to Mouse, but I came to understand too late that this was a poor assumption. I knew the truth of this the day I was called by the school nurse to come and collect my hysterical daughter from her fourth grade class – “oh – and – bring a change of clothes.”

When I got her home, and got her calmed down a bit, I sat her down and asked her what she knew about what had happened. Her teacher and the nurse had explained a little bit, and told her this was a normal thing and that (to her absolute horror) it would become a regular thing. But… that’s as far as it had gone. She still didn’t truly understand. I pressed her about any information coming from her mother, but she assured me there had been complete radio silence on that front.

So.

I made a decision. I decided I wouldn’t cop out, and I wouldn’t sell her out, and that I’d hit her right between the eyes with everything she needed to know. Knowledge may be power, but to a young girl misinformation or the lack of knowledge can be an outright tragedy.

I told her about all the apocryphal crap and wives-tales and absolute bullshit she was going to hear from other girls, other boys, and maybe even some adults. I told her what to really expect, and told her to not be afraid to ask any question she wanted to ask, and I gave her a promise that I’d always be truthful, and I’d always answer. I tried to make her feel better about it by emphasizing what an significant milestone in actually growing up this was. I knew she had more questions. I did my best to make sure she know I was open to any of them.

Easy for me to say, I suppose. Harder for a daughter to look her dad in the face and ask some of the questions a young girl standing on the edge of puberty was going to have. Harder still for a dad to keep his composure and not feel like a complete idiot when answering. What do you do when you really need information but have a hard time asking your own dad weird shit, and all you ever get from your mom is “ask your dad”?

I had a solution for her.

I created a robot.

Meet DadBot v1.5

He’s knows everything. And I do mean everything. He knows the clinical names of all those weird sexual medical organs and fluids and stuff. He knows what is really happening to the pubescent and pre-pubescent bodies of both boys and girls when they start to change. He knows the truth about all things sexual. He knows the lies that boys will tell to get a girl to do things. He also knows the lies that some girls will tell to get boys to do things. He knows what’s real, and what’s bullshit. And he definitely knows what all the great nasty words really mean!

When you overheard something at school (or on TV), and you needed to know exactly what that nasty-sounding word really meant. You could always ask DadBot.

I’m can’t recall now exactly when the DadBot first came online. But at some point he became just another part of being a dad, and Mouse came to realize that if she picked her moment just right, she could access DadBot and get the answers she needed without being misinformed by kids her own age, brushed off by her mom, or completely embarrassed by asking her actual dad.

DadBot v1.5 looked a lot like me.

To access him, all you had to do was ask your real dad “Is the DadBot online?”

Almost every time this would cause her real father to freeze in place. His eyes would become blank, and cease blinking. His head would swivel from side to side in a smooth, mechanical motion, and his voice would become clearer and his words would become short and clipped and adopt a staccato pace.

You knew he was online when he paused a long moment and said : “DadBot. Version ONE point FIVE. Is. (long pause) ONLINE.”
Then his head would swivel to point at you, but not directly. His eyes were fixed in your direction, but not directly at you, staring unblinkingly and focused on a point somewhere just beyond where you were.

This was the time to get your really good questions answered.

“Uhm… today at school, a boy named Tyler called me a NIMBO. Can you tell me what a NIMBO is?”

Hmmm. I have a vague idea of what Tyler might have been saying, but I’m not %100 sure. Better dig for a little clarification.

DadBot’s head would swivel back and forth a few times as if thinking for a while.

“Context. Please.”

“What does ‘context’ mean?”, she asked the first time DadBot required it. After that she had it.

“Use. The. Word. In. A. Sentence. (long pause) Please.”

“Oh.. yeah… he said I looked like a real sex maniac, and I was probably a complete NIMBO!”.

Ah. Okay. Nympho. A 10 year old boy just called my 9 year old daughter a NIMBO. I got a house payment that says that little douchebag Tyler has not a one clue what he’s actually saying. But… DadBot v1.5 is up to the task.

“Negative. NIMBO. ERROR detected. IMPROPER terminology. PROPER usage is NYMPHO. Noun. Abbreviated form of. Nymphomaniac. A female person who thinks of nothing but sex all the time.”

“That’s just stupid.” She said, with a look that said why would anyone call anyone such a dumb thing?

Tyler would go on to be the source of a lot of consultations with the DadBot.

And over the years DadBot v1.5 fielded some real beauties.

I remember a long car ride one weekend. We’d been out adventuring, and listening to music and were heading home when there was a lull in the conversation. She was 11. Perhaps 12.

“Is the DadBot online?”

Dead Eyes. Swivel once. Swivel twice. Pause for effect.

“DadBot. Version ONE point FIVE. Is. (long pause) ONLINE.”

“I was wondering… when do girls… get… hair.”

Whew. Never know what DadBot is going to get, but this is easy. I’d been expecting this one. I’ll play it straight for a minute. For effect.

“Some. Girls. Are born. With hair. Some. Girls. Don’t get hair. On their heads. Until two. Or three.”

Frustration. “No, no no… I mean… when do girls get hair…” Looooong pause. Wait for it. “Down there.”

DadBot’s got this one. All day long.

“Girls can get. PUBIC. HAIR. Starting as early. As age. 9.” Let that soak in a second. Cover the bases. “Or as late as. Age. 16.” Make sure she knows that all girls aren’t the same. “Every. Female. Is. Different. Some girls. Get. PUBIC HAIR. Early. Some. Do not. “

Over the years DadBot fielded some true beauties. Of course, the older she got, the more… ‘complicated’ the questions became.

Still.

The ability to ask her dad a question, without really asking her dad a question, became an important part of our relationship.

The DadBot was a way that she could pretend that she wasn’t really looking her own dad in the face when she asked what a “clitoris” was, and she also absolutely knew she’d get a straight, albeit clinical answer. She was smart enough to figure out kids her own age (especially boys) were either dumbasses who were using words that even they didn’t understand, or that they had an agenda that might make them less than truthful. Other adults were tricky business too. Mom refused to answer anything that made her the least bit uncomfortable, and teachers and other family members could raise alarms and cause other issues.

Nope. If you wanted the absolute straight, clinical truth, and didn’t want to worry about bullshit or setting off fire-alarms, you asked the DadBot. He never let you down.

I guess somewhere around the age of about 15, the construct of DadBot got left behind. I’m not sure if she grew out of it, or if I did, but it was about this time that she just started talking to me directly, and didn’t need the DadBot anymore.

Past a point she had the answers, mostly, and didn’t need him much anyway.

He’s packed away now. Been in mothballs for a decade or so and is stowed up in the attic, safely.

But he’s here, and he still works, and I’ll keep some gear oil and a fresh battery pack handy.

In case she ever needs him again.

Please, Don’t Forget the Fathers.

dontforget

Hello, Friend.

It’s been a while, since I’ve been able to find my voice.

In the time that has passed since I last spoke with you, I lost my father.

In the days to come, I’ll have a great deal to say about that, and it is my hope to not stay away so long anymore. I’ve found my voice again, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you in the year ahead.

But on this Christmas Eve I’d like to take a moment to share something new with you, and ask you a small favor.

Tonight, I’ll get to spend some precious holiday time with my daughter. She’s grown now, and I continue to admire the smart, tough, together, and beautiful young woman she’s become. She’s standing at the Home Plate of Adult Life and handling her at-bats in ways that make me really proud to be her father. Adult life is a known spit-ball thrower, and has a curve ball that can make the best of us whiff hard, but my heart soars when I see Mouse shaking it off, choking up harder on the bat, and going right back to crowding the plate.

I know it may seem odd to say,  but even though she will be here, and I’ll have time with her, and I’ll be surrounded by family and loved ones and happy faces, there will be a moment when my heart will remember Christmases past, and I will be briefly overwhelmed with sadness. The sadness will appear quickly, and pass just as quickly. But it will come.

You see, for many years, our holidays together were ruled by a printed sheet of paper. It was a hand typed sheet, titled “Custody Schedule”. Those of you who are (or have been) divorced, will know this paper well. Those of you who are lucky enough to have escaped the statistics, and have kept your lives whole may know of it may benefit from learning a little more about it.

The “Custody Schedule” was pinned to a cork-board in my home office for 15 years. It was declared by the Missouri Family Court that The Giant 50 Foot Rubber Japanese Ex and I would share custody of Mouse, and therefore each and every holiday would be on a “tick / tock” rotation, meaning that for each calendar holiday (Christmas Eve, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, etc.) I would have Mouse one year, and she would have Mouse the next.  Christmas Eve was considered one holiday, while Christmas was a separate and alternate holiday. This meant that one year Mouse would be with me on Christmas Eve, but with her mom on Christmas Day. The next year that arrangement would be reversed.

Over the years there were many lonely Christmas Eves, and lonely Christmas days as well.

Fathers, being men, often don’t let their feelings show. We do the stoic masculine thing and hide it all. Swallow it down and put on the brave face. But you should believe me when I tell you that we miss our children, as much or more than any mother. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

There were some long… lonely holidays for me. There were years when I had decided to take some time off from dating and learn more about who I really was as a person, and what I really wanted from life, and a relationship. There were years when my relationship with my family as a whole were strained. This necessarily meant that there were a few long, lonely, quiet Christmas days by myself, followed by longer, lonelier, quieter Christmas nights.

These times are long gone now, but the memory of them still remain. And this is why, sometime tonight, my heart will remember. Like a long healed scar, that sometimes throbs with the phantom memory of the injury from which they were born.

So…

Tonight, Friends. I’d like to ask you a tiny favor.

If you’re lucky enough to still have a living father, make sure you take a moment tonight to touch them, and tell them you love them, and take a long, careful look a their face, so you can remember it when they are gone, because someday, way sooner than you wish, they will be gone. Know that.

If you, like me, have a father shaped hole in your heart where your dad once was, take a minute to remember him, and the Christmases you shared, and the sound of his voice, and the shape of his face, and the gentle wisdom and the even gentler love of him.

Then, think of the other fathers that you know. Divorced, estranged, or distant, or perhaps even surrounded by family but still… alone.

Find it in your heart to please take a moment to reach out to them. Wish them a Merry Christmas. Tell them that they are in your prayers, or in your heart or just… on your mind.

They will tell you that they are “fine”. That everything is “okay”. That they are “all right”.

They’re not. But… don’t let on.

They need to put on the Brave Front.

They need to be seen as being Strong, and in Control, and Together.

It’s what we do.

Us fathers.

-Athair.

12/24/2017

 

The One True Christmas Gift

OneTrueGift

“Welcome to Adult Life” is my glib saying whenever my daughter bemoans her situation. She works in IT. 50-60 hours a week. All hours of the day and night. A downed server 2,000 miles away means a myriad of progressively escalating phone calls and corrective actions often in the middle of the night. Often in really bad weather. In fact, the worse the weather, the more incidents she must manage. She’s tired. Really tired. She’s over worked. She’s under paid.

“Welcome to Adult Life”. I say.

She rolls her eyes so far back in her head, I’m pretty sure she can see her own brain.

I always follow with a Daddly bear hug, and then produce some old chestnut dug from deep in a pocket that belonged to my father, and his father, and his father’s father.

“The price of success, is hard work.”

“Hard work reveals you have character.”

And… the one I never got tired of :

“Hard work without ability is a shame, but ability without hard work is a tragedy.”

She smiles. She gets its. Deep inside she knows I care, but she also knows that one of my prime Dad jobs is to keep her prepared for some of life’s hard eventualities. Part of her understands it’s in her best interest to keep that instinct in tact.

Sometimes it’s a few days between the times she calls or texts. Sometimes a bit longer. I watch her struggle to manage all of the responsibilities of Adult Life. Her school. Her money. Her relationships. Her Life. Through it all there is always a strong parental reflex at work. Like those old Three Stooges bits, when the doctor would bonk Moe’s knee with a little hammer, and he’d reflexively let go a mighty mule kick. When I see her struggle, my reflex is to help. Sometimes it’s a fight to keep from intervening. Sometimes she reaches out herself. It all seems to work out in the end.

She called this morning, to say she’d be here for Christmas.

Somehow, she’s managed to carve out a few hours. I know how hard this was for her to achieve. She’s worked all night for the last few nights. She’s exhausted. She has a boyfriend. And a life she hasn’t seen in a couple of weeks. She also has a responsibility to be fair and carve out time for her mom’s side of the family as well. Every hour she gives to me, is an hour she owes to the other side, or she’ll be seen as playing favorites. Something she will not do. There’s that character thing again.

She comes. She eats. She socializes.

She smiles.

She wanders over to me, when an opportunity to speak to me alone presents itself.

“I’m sorry Dad.” she says sadly.

“For what, kid?” I say, genuinely concerned.

“With the car, and school and all the expenses, I didn’t have a lot left over for presents this year.” I can tell she’s very upset.

“Understand this, Little Mouse.” I say. “You’ve already given me the very best present I could have hoped for.”

“What’s that?” she says.

“You. Present in my life. Here. Today.”

She hugs me.

“I love you, Dad.”

And of all the gifts under all the trees, that – is the gift I treasure most.

 

Merry Christmas, All.

 

-Athair-

 

 

 

Moving And What We Leave Behind

Alive

Alive.

This old house is so… alive.

It wasn’t always.

The house was 20 years old when the ex and I had first stood hand-in-hand as a couple and promised aloud to do all the things that would turn this humble house into a veritable mansion, worthy of Uptown People of Wealth.  I had grown up in this neighborhood. On this block. She had grown up only a block or two over. We wanted all the children we had planned to grow up here, where we had grown.

The many children we planned had turned out to be only Mouse by the time the divorce detonated.

In a bizarre miracle of fate, I found that I had ended up with this house when the mushroom cloud began to dissipate.

There was that terrible moment when I came to the stark realization that, although I had married my high school sweetheart for love, and companionship and all the “right reasons”,  I had, in fact, allowed my soul to be knitted to one who was… soulless.

There was also that terrible moment when I realized that the years and the plans and the promises and the memories were to about to coined into cold, hard, cash.  The marriage was not now, nor ever was going to be remembered for the things we’d felt, or the memories we’d made, but for what it had ended up being worth on Missouri’s Form 14.

In the end, this old house had netted out to a negative on the balance sheet. At the moment of the divorce it represented more debt than profit. With no apparent value, it was cast aside, like those worn and stained old mattresses you see lying on the side of lonesome back roads. Furtively pushed off the back of a moving truck in the middle of the night, valueless and unwanted.

This house became the place where Mouse “grew up”. She spent the vast majority of time with me, and in this old house. She “latch keyed” there every day as this old house was only two blocks from her grade school, and only a couple more blocks from her eventual middle and high school. This put her in my care and in this house every school day of her life over the next 10 years.

As the years rolled by my status as a completely broke divorced Dad kept me from investing in the house as diligently as good home owners usually do. The money simply wasn’t there for extensive professional repairs or even basic remodeling from time to time as most responsible home owners do.

Repairs tended to be “homegrown” and basic, and upgrades… well… upgrades were non-existent.

The years before the divorce didn’t bring the promised attention. The years afterward were necessarily more Spartan still.

In the decade that followed the divorce it fell into disrepair. I was doing well to keep the basics together. The plumbing. The foundation. Basic structural integrity. There was no money for anything more.

As I struggled and scraped to keep my head above water with the millstone of confiscatory child support payments threatening weekly to drag me to a watery grave, I found myself still paying for Mouse’s every day needs. I never understood how I could pay 4 figure child support, and still be required to pay for every doctor visit. Every school book, activity pass, or fee. All of her clothes. Most of her meals. Virtually every aspect of her care, I paid for outright. Then paid again every month in “child support”.

Outrage aside, this necessarily meant that there was no money left over for anything but the basics.

This old house stopped living and breathing sometime during the years that followed.

Although I did my best to keep it a home for Mouse, it became a crusty bachelor’s pad.

Who needed a working stove? I had a microwave. Good enough for Mouse and me.  The stovetop worked.  Most of the time.

The multi-colored kitchen linoleum was 35 years old, and looked like Walt Disney himself had upchucked on it.  The matted 70’s style fun-fur shag carpet in the living room was, I kid you not, Pepto Bismol Pink. While most of the neighbors had years ago transitioned to modern aluminum or vinyl siding, this old house wore her ancient asbestos shingles like a shabby housewife wore an old, loud, floral moo-moo. Where the rest of the neighbors had long ago installed the more efficient and attractive replacement windows, this old house wore her tinny old single pane abominations like the aforementioned housewife would wear her gigantic, 50’s style sequined cats-eye glasses.  The basement went unfinished, of course. The garage as well. The oversized yard, once the envy of the entire neighborhood, went undercared for and began to sport weeds, and crabgrass, and was lucky to even be mowed from week to week.

Slowly… this old house… expired.

Along with all the hopes and dreams that had seemed so apparent the day we’d stood hand-in-hand and taken possession of it.

Once a man has experienced watching while his feelings and beliefs are callously sold into servitude to someone else’s greed, it’s not surprising that he’s not in a hurry to put his heart or his dreams in Harm’s Way again anytime soon.

For the longest time, I had kept the entrance to my old heart boarded up. Graffiti covered boards fastened to a rotting frame with rusty nails.  It was as old, and dusty, and uncared for as this house had become.

And then…

Something happened.

Well… more precisely…

“Jamie” happened.

A “fix up” date, engineered by well-meaning friends would bring Jamie into my life. And Mouse’s.

Jamie took a look and decided to take the time to tentatively pry off those splintery old boards, and let the light shine into this old heart, and, by extension, this old house.

During the “girlfriend” years she would fuss, and decorate, and insist on small upgrades that made this old house less like some horny old guy’s “Love Shack” and more and more like a home.  A carefully selected lamp here. A nice little curtain there. A dab a paint over here. A dash of cloth over there.

A plant here. A plant there. Before I knew it there were plants everywhere.

Growing. Thriving. Prospering.

Like everything Jamie comes in contact with seems to do.

Plants. People. It didn’t seem to matter.  Everything she touched was better for her having touched it.

And I was no exception. Nor was Mouse. Jamie’s pure faith, love and feminine energy was the warm sunshine in all of our lives that our souls had been withering without for years, and that we had never really known. In that warmth and sunshine we began to grow.

And when the day came that I could no longer deny I didn’t like thinking about what my life would be like if it was deprived of that warmth and light, she answered my quietly whispered prayer for a more important place in her life with an even more quietly whispered “Yes”.

The day she moved into this old house with me, she sat my crusty, old, previously bachelor’s ass down, and gave it to me straight between my eyes.

If she were to be my wife, she needed to make this old house HER home as well.

This would mean…. “change” for me.

Those who know me, know my life’s motto all too well : “Change… is BAD.”

A crusty creature of habit known for being cantankerous and disliking change immensely, she made it clear she didn’t want to live in a crusty, decrepit, boarded up old bachelor’s pad.

Her heart needed a Home.

A real, living, breathing, Home.

“Good luck with that.” I remember thinking quietly to myself. This old house assumed room temperature loooong ago.

Then, I made the smartest decision I’ve ever made in my life.  I decided to get out of her way, and allow “change” to enter my life.

And… as if through some miracle… she slowly began go breath life back into this place.

In an amazingly short period of time, and for an amazingly small amount of carefully scrimped and saved for money, things in this old house began to change.

That old gaudy multicolored linoleum disappeared, and was replaced with a modern, attractive ceramic tile, complete with carefully selected matching grout. The ancient asbestos siding morphed into contemporary vinyl siding. The outrageously colorful (and outrageously filthy) Pepto-Carpet morphed into contemporary Berber carpet that just happened to be a color that actually was found in nature.  The prehistoric old Roper stove disappeared and was replaced by a modern GE Silver Line appliance that was smarter than most high school graduates.  It could turn itself on, bake a pie, then cool itself down and turn itself off apparently without human intervention.  In place of the 50’s style crappy metal windows new, energy efficient “double hungs” appeared. The savings each month on our energy bill more than paid back the cost of those windows in less than a year. With the tax breaks from the upgrade –  we actually came out ahead. I kid you not.

Strange, cloth-like things began to appear over the windows. These new-fangled apparitions were apparently known to others as “curtains”.  Why someone would bother with such frivolous things was beyond me until I discovered that those long, thin metal strips across the windows actually weren’t dusty grey, they had… apparently… been WHITE all this time, and when you twirled the little stick thingy next to them… as if by some evil magic… they OPENED and allowed sunlight into your house. Plants apparently needed this to happen in order to survive.

There was also a suggestion that those big, dirt filled things in the back yard were actually oddly named “flower boxes” and were – much to my surprise – NOT a repository for cigarette ashes and sticks from the yard. One day I came outside to find… flowers… in the flower boxes. Like… real… living… flowers.  Not the plastic kind mind you – but – REAL flowers. In my her our yard!

Suddenly, and without warning, this old house began to BREATH again.

Where once I couldn’t see anything but decay, and decomposing dreams, Jamie brought color, and light, and warmth, and life to this old house.

Just as she had done to this old heart.

Like a determined doctor that refuses to give up resuscitating a long dead patient, she kept pounding on this old houses ribcage and puffing into its mouth until… like a miracle… it choked, and  gasped,  and sat bolt upright, chest heaving and coughing as it tried to expel a decade of decay and cobwebs from its dusty lungs.

“Alive.”

This old house is so… “Alive”.

This old heart is so… “Alive”.

Because of Jamie.

So…

Today… our lives are taking us in a new direction. A new home, in a new neighborhood awaits us.

And as I stand looking around at this warm, living, breathing space I have this huge lump in my throat, and my emotions are threatening to overwhelm me.

Jamie swept into this house and poured herself into it, and into me, and brought both of those crusty old things back to life.

I look around and see her hard work and faith in us everywhere, and I see the color and light and happiness she put back into all of us, and it’s hard to let it go.

In a day or two, I’ll have to hand the keys to this old house to a new owner and I wonder if they will ever know this place as we have. So much living was done here. So many memories. So many summer days. So many Christmas mornings.  So many storms weathered.

So much…. Life… lived here.

I fight the tears and I know, I know a new, bigger, fancier house awaits.

I know in my heart of hearts that Jamie will do for the new house what she did for this one.

And what she did for me.

And what she did for Mouse.

She will continue to breath life into it, and into us, and make us what we were always meant to be.

Alive.

Good-Bye, Old Girl

ripley1

February, 2006

My Old Guardian passed away this morning.

Ripley was a Good Girl – and I owe her a debt I cannot ever repay.

In the months after my divorce she chased so many ghosts out of this big empty house. In the evenings when I would come home from work, it was so comforting to be greeted at the door by someone who was so glad to see to me.

In the turmoil of the months that followed, my daughter Mouse often had trouble sleeping and became very, very afraid of the dark.

Nobel Ripley was drafted for service in the Little Girl Guardian Corps, and was posted at the foot of little Mouse’s bed. She performed her duty bravely – and chased the darkness from the room and the shadows from Mouse’s small and troubled face as she slept. Mouse slept soundly knowing that her big brave girl was watching over her from her post at the foot of the bed. I slept better knowing her sleep was less troubled.

When Mouse would go back to her mothers after our time together – Ripley would often mourn her, and pace endlessly in front of her empty room. If I’d close the door – she’d stubbornly sleep on the hard floor in front of Mouse’s door, as if to say “If you won’t let me in, then I’ll guard the door so nobody else can get in either.”

When my daughter would return from her mothers for our time together – stalwart Ripley would assume her place at Mouse’s side, and never wander far from it the entire time she was here. She took her service in the LGGC very seriously.

If I’d lose my temper with my daughter – and begin scolding her too seriously – Guardian Ripley would jump into service and interpose herself between me and Mouse as if to say “Chill Out Dad, anybody could have put Skittles candy in the VCR – it’s not that big of a deal.” It was hard to stay angry at my two favorite girls, especially when they ganged up on me.

As the years rolled on and my daughter began to grow – the two remained a unit, and when it became necessary for Mouse to start “latch-keying” at my house, it was a deep and abiding comfort to know that that absolutely gigantic tongue and happy snarffling would be there to greet her every day after school, and to keep her safe then too.

A couple of years ago Ripley got very sick. Cancer the vet said. A tumor on her insides. The operation would be expensive – and even if the doctor got all of it – it would be hard on her – and probably only a “temporary” fix. Once a Boxer starts with the cancerous growths – well – the prognosis isn’t good.

For a moment I worried because… money comes hard for a divorced dad, but as I watched my Good Old Girl sleeping peacefully beside my Little Mouse – it was only for a moment. I knew what I had to do.

She was okay for a little while. We had a couple of good summers after that – although she never fully recovered. Our long walks in the evenings and our endless play sessions with that damned old squeaky porcupine were over. Where once she’d prance the entire neighborhood with her head held up like she was somebody – now she confined herself to her overstuffed bed near the couch. Where once I had to be careful or I’d get a well-slobbered squeaky porcupine stuffed in my lap and then a head-cocked look as if to say “Yo! Food-guy! Time to play.” – now she contented herself just sort of mothering that matted old toy as if it was the puppy she never had.

She was a recalcitrant counter surfer, and an unapologetic toilet water connoisseur, and one of her favorite shenanigans was to wait until the evening for me to be in my study writing, then she’d softly get up from her bed in the other room and pad into my study nonchalantly and come over and stand next to me as I wrote – and then – like some old man in a locker room – she’d lift her hind leg and let loose a fart that can only be described as one her famous “face-melters”.

Then she’d quietly pad back to her bed in the other room where the air was fresh – and leave me choking in the great green fog.

I swear to G-d that dog snickered at me every time she did it. If I’d yell or make a fuss – Mouse would try to stifle her amusement and scold me for not appreciating the fact that Ripley just wanted to share with me. Then she’d giggle herself silly and give the wise-ass a jerky-treat.

A few weeks ago her back legs began to get shaky, and I told myself that she might just be sick. My nosey neighbor fancies herself a “dog-lover” and although I’ve exchanged angry words with her about it – she’d still often sneak Ripley table-food treats, something you just can’t do with a Boxer. She’d get horrible diarrhea and her back legs would wobble a bit until she felt better.

But… that turned out to be wishful thinking.

A trip to the vet confirmed that her cancer had returned, this time in her kidneys and liver, and her lower spine. I asked about an operation. The vet explained that my Good Old Girl was, in practicality, over 100 years old, and even if the doctor could get all the cancer (and she couldn’t) Ripley was much too old to survive the operation.

I spent the next few weeks giving her antibiotics, anti-inflammatory pills and steroids, and cortisone injections and a metric ton of pills trying to save her – even though the vet was very clear that there was very little chance that any of it would do any good at all.

Friday evening she didn’t sleep at all, and whined most of the night. Even though I put extra blankets out for her, she whimpered and shook most of the evening. Saturday morning when I woke to let her out, I knew it was time. She couldn’t move anymore at all. Her back legs were useless, and her breathing was ragged and labored. I carried her out to the yard to pee, and as I set her down, she gave me a long and serious look that told me that it was time. She asked me not to hold on to her any more.

I fought back the tears, and made the hard phone call, and arranged to meet the vet Sunday morning.

When the time came, I sat beside her and gave her favorite ear-rubbing, the kind that always made the magic legs beat on the floor, and I patted her face gently as she turned and gave me a look, the look said “Tell Mouse that I’ll be waiting for her when she gets to heaven, and that she can count on me to keep all the rabbits out of her yard until she gets there.” And then she went to sleep for the last time.

She chased so much darkness from of our lives, and I grieved because I couldn’t chase this darkness from hers.

I’ll be waiting for Mouse tomorrow afternoon when she opens that front door, and that gigantic tongue and happy snarffling isn’t there to greet her for the first time ever, and I’ll hold her and assure her that she didn’t go in pain, and that she didn’t go alone, and to help her remember the Gentle Soldier that stood guard over both of us for so many years.

Good-Bye, Old Girl.

 

Memories of My Father : The Limerick

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Memories of My Father : The Limerick

Circa Fall, 1976

My father was an authoritarian.

He ruled his castle with an iron fist, but he had a velvet touch. One of his most strictly enforced rules was that suppertimes were mandatory. I ate supper at home virtually every night of my life until I left home at seventeen. Dad worked hard for us, and my Mom is an old-school girl, who can not only storm-clean a house like a Navy Seal on Black-Ops, knit an entire afghan from memory with no written pattern, and sew whole formal evening gowns out of remnant scraps of cloth, but man can she cook.

I ain’t talkin’ Hamburger Helper either. I mean… she can cook.

We were, more or less, lower-middle-class from an income standpoint, but my parents were the children of the Depression Era generation, and Mom took shopping, budgeting, and saving to heights that will probably never again be equaled by any woman of my generation.

And suppertimes were the times when it all came together. Dad’s ability to bring home the bacon. Mom’s ability to serve it as a four course banquet. And our sworn duty to make sure we were all present and accounted for at evening roll call.

Back then, there were many nights I had other things to do, and I groused much about the rule. As did my younger brother as he grew older, and more social. But looking back now, I realize how important that time was to us all, and I’m glad my parents didn’t waver. Many of my most precious memories of growing up were made at that dinner table. Not surprisingly, my Dad is at the center of many of those memories.

I watch television today, and see the father figures of nuclear families portrayed (when they’re portrayed at all) as gruff, grunting, nonverbal bears who hold their children and wives in contempt.  Dinner times in those mythical television families are tense, dangerous moments.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth in my house.

My Dad, being the man he was, made those evening hours magical. You just never knew what shenanigan he might get up to, or who the target might be. Most evenings it was me, being the oldest son, and more able to digest his brand of humor. Sometimes it was my little brother. And just every once in a great while, it was Mom herself. Although scamming Mom was dangerous territory indeed. Thus the rarity.

As I said before, my Dad was not some out of touch, old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. He was, more or less, pretty hip. And watched contemporary news and entertainment events pretty closely. Although he didn’t like our music when we hit our teenage years in the 70’s and 80’s, he could certainly identify the artists.

His being as politically and socially savvy as he was really worked against us. It was easy to underestimate him, or buy into the 60’s garbage credo that young people shouldn’t trust anyone over 30.

As a teenager, I worked odd jobs in fast food restaurants, and got used to being perpetually broke. When a big name rock star would come to town, I could usually, but not always, afford a ticket or two. Dad had taught us to be industrious, and to save, and when they would come to town, we almost always had the money to buy tickets to their concerts, but often the concerts were sold out in a few hours, and tickets became difficult if not impossible to come by.

Dad was shrewd, and man did he know how to pick his moments.

He’d wait carefully, usually when supper was winding down. Mom was up clearing dishes, and we were relaxed, and at our most vulnerable. That’s when he’d strike. Like a cobra.

“You know,” he’d start. “Some fool at work came around today at lunch with some tickets to some concert he was trying to give away.” And then he’d shake is head, in that wise Dad way he had. “Said they were front row seats, and he was just giving them away. Said he won ‘em in some contest or something. Said he’d never use ‘em.” Then followed a long, pregnant pause as he waited for his fish to look over the bait.

I was too green back then not to bite. “Who for?” I’d ask, wide-eyed and unaware.

“Uhm,” he’d say, seemingly searching his memory hard, “Some country music guy. Sammy Haggard? Something like that I think.” Just far enough off the mark to lend him credibility.

“SAMMY HAGAR?” I’d practically scream. He just happened to be the hottest concert of that summer. And one of my favorite rock artists, even to this day. And he had sold out in record time in my area. Tickets were being scalped in the over $50 dollar range, even for the nosebleed seats. In 1977 “kid” dollars – that was outrageously expensive.

“Yeah,” he’d say, “that’s the group.” He knew that didn’t sound right. It wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to sound just like an older guy getting it wrong.

I was practically hemorrhaging.  He had held free front row seats to the hottest concert ticket of the summer in his hand, and had just let them slip by! As the veins in my temples began popping, I’d look across the table to see that telltale smirk spreading across his face, and realize I’d been had.

Mom just looked at me as if to say “Bit down on that one, didn’t you putz.” My younger brother had seen it coming, and hooked his finger into his cheek mimicking a fish hooked on a line. My humiliation was complete.

They’d get theirs. Sooner or later. Dad’s graphic illustration of life’s “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” lesson would be just as indelibly imprinted on them as it was me. Tonight was just my turn in the barrel.

Then, there was The Joke.

The Joke was where our Dad’s not-so-subtle brand of humor really glowed. Sometimes he’d tell The Joke, every single night for weeks. Sometimes he wouldn’t tell The Joke for months at a time. And sometimes, just sometimes, he would tell another joke, as opposed to The Joke. You just never could tell. That was the beauty of it. As they say in comedy, “Timing is everything.” They got that right.

Suppertime would be rolling along. Mom would tell about her day. Problems would be discussed, and solved if possible, or put off until they had “private” time if necessary. My younger brother and I would tell about our day, or talk of current events. The conversation was almost always pleasant, and interesting. Then there would be a lull in the conversation. The family members would be talked-out, or just busy stuffing their faces. That’s when he’d  strike.

“I heard a good joke today.” He’d say. We weren’t allowed to groan. We knew exactly what was coming. It was incumbent on us to play along, or face who knows what. Everyone at the table would look at each other, trying to determine who would be the one to throw themselves on this evenings joke grenade. As the butt of many of my father’s antics, I felt it was only fair that the job fall to my little brother. He would lower his head, and try as hard as he could to muster interest into his voice.

“Really Dad? Tell it to us.”

Dad would get that silly grin all over his face. “Well,” he’d say, “being as you insist.” Like I said, we weren’t allowed to groan.

“This termite walks into this tavern, and says ‘Hey! Where’s the bar-tender?’” And then he would chuckle loudly to himself, as if he’d just told the funniest joke in the entire world.

Now, some people consider this joke a “way-homer”. Meaning you don’t get it when it’s told, you get it later, on the way home. Others think it’s just plain stupid. Very few I’ve told it to actually think its funny.  And it may sound odd, but, when you’re hearing it from the same guy, for the 5,197th time, being told as if it’s the worlds funniest, and most original joke, it’s not just funny, it’s hilarious. Side-splittingly so. At least it was to us. We never let on though. We never groaned. We never complained. We always acted like it was the first time we’d ever heard it, and that it was really funny.

But sometimes… sometimes… he’d throw in a ringer. He’d start with his patented “I heard a good joke today.” And when we’d bite, he’d throw out some equally inane, but totally different joke. His favorite was the one about the duck that walked into a drugstore, and asked for some ChapStick. When the clerk asked how he was going to pay for it, the duck told him to “put it on his bill.” This was the level of joke that he’d throw out. Always, always a “groaner”. You just never knew when he’d strike.

Once, when we were older, he pulled the granddaddy of all stunners. I was sixteen I think, which would make my younger brother in the eleven or twelve year old range. Old enough certainly to hear an “adult” joke.  On this night nobody was talking much. Dad came home in his typical, upbeat mood. Glad to be home and surrounded by the ones he loved. We, on the other hand, weren’t in such a good mood. We had done something to anger Mom, and had been taking and emotional beating for our sins.

Dad kept glancing from us, to Mom and back, wondering when the conversation would start, if at all, and wondering what we had done to upset our Mother. My brother and I kept glancing at each other, and then at Mom, wondering when she’d drop the hammer on us to Dad. The classic “You guys are gonna get it when you’re Father gets home…” carried a lot  of weight in our house.

You must understand though, that my Dad was truly one of the greatest role models a kid could ever had. He didn’t cuss. Not seriously anyway. The occasional “Damn,” Or “Hell” would slip out if he was really angry, but never anything more risqué than that. I was a grown man, well into my 20’s before I ever heard him say a significantly more offensive word, or saw him drink a beer. He wasn’t a tee-totaller, or a bible-thumper. He just had class.

And tons of it.

So, after about 20 minutes of almost total silence, Dad decided to break the tension. He sat his knife and fork down, finished chewing what was in his mouth, and stood reverently, clearing his throat to get our attention.  This was different, we thought to ourselves. We hadn’t seen this before.

When all eyes were on him, he cleared his throat once again, and launched into one of the funniest, and, Dear Lord forgive the man, one of the purely filthiest limericks anyone at that table had ever heard in their lives. At the top of his lungs. I mean, this from a guy who didn’t even break wind in front of his kids.

“Skaggy Mag… ” he began. In most sincere earnest.

“That scaly slut! Between her thighs the fungus lies, and worms crawl outta her butt!
Before I climb those scaly legs, and suck those festered tits…
I’ll drink a quart of buzzard puke, and DIE of the DRIZZLIN’ SHITS!”

My Mom almost fainted.

I did a spit take, having just taken in a giant mouthful of milk.

My younger brother’s eyes grew to the size of the big, flowery china dinner plates we were eating off of, and just sat with his mouth hanging open, mashed potatoes dribbling down his chin.

We all sat in stunned silence for a good 30 seconds.

Then, we all looked at Mom.

Good old Mom. Good old raised in the church and don’t take God’s name in vain Mom. Good old you can go to hell for cussing Mom. Would she blow a blood vessel and stroke out? Would she saw his head off with a butter knife? Perhaps she’d hold him down and choke him to death with a dinner roll. We waited to see which.

When she finally came out of her trance, her face began to twist up, but not with anger. It was laughter.  The tension was officially broke. We all laughed and laughed. Except Dad. He just sat there with a big, silly grin on his face. Which made us laugh even harder. Having not one, but two hormonal, moody, teenage boys stomping around the house brings lots of anxiety on a family. It had been a very long time since we’d laughed together that much, and that hard.

At one point Mom was belly-laughing so hard that she forgot about the high oil-soap shine she kept on those hardwood chairs, and she slid right off and onto the kitchen floor with a very un-ladylike plop.

When mom hit the floor, you might say she got “the wind” knocked out of her. The moment of impact bumped a small but very audible toot from her.

That was the coup-de-grace.

We were already laughing so hard our sides hurt, but when Mom hit the floor and cut the cheese, we laughed even harder. Mom just sat there, too weak from laughing fits to get up. We laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe.

Dad had once again proven that you just never knew what life was going to throw at you.

He had never done anything so outrageous before. And to my knowledge, he’s never done anything like it since.

But I’ll never forget that dinner.

I love you, Dad.

 

And So It Begins…

stageoffools

11:30 PM, November 26, 1991.

The hospital delivery room is nothing short of organized chaos.

People moving rapidly from place to place. Doctors in. Doctors out. Nurses here. Equipment there. Everything is oscillating madly, yet, with a purpose. All of the activity seems… directed. Like a virtuoso musician with a finely tuned instrument, the movement is unbelievably furious, but each individual movement is directed at a finely crafted purpose. No energy is wasted.

Somewhere in all of this directed confusion is my the woman who was my wife. She’s buried under layers of sterile sheets and fussy nurses.

I’ve slipped into a sort of walking unconsciousness. The world has gone to an otherworldly white color, and I’ve disconnected. My heart is threatening to hammer its way out of my chest. I’m certain I’m going to have a heart attack at any second. I can actually hear the blood running through me in my ears.

Somewhere, a disembodied voice from somewhere far away is prompting me to “Look! Look Mr. Athair!”

I’m completely frozen up.

Kind hands on my shoulder direct me to a station in front of a raised blanket, under which is the woman who was my wife’s lower body. As if she’s been cut in half in some bizarre nudists magic trick, and I’m being asked to watch her feet wiggle as proof she’s still alive.

But it’s not her feet exactly that’s wiggling.

There seems to be blood everywhere. There’s something coming out of her, and like those funny “guess what this is” pictures of everyday items at extreme close-ups, at first I can’t place it. Then it hits me that it’s a tiny head.  A tiny living head. Coming out of my wife.

The world starts to swim away, and I can feel my legs starting to give out.

More kind hands grab me, and hold me up. They were prepared for this, apparently. I hear an amused voice say “Called that one.” They had a pool going on whether or not I was a “fader”. Someone had just won it. They were ready.

More confusion.

More blood.

Time lapse memories. Not just a head anymore. Shoulders, arms, then legs.

“It’s a beautiful baby girl!” another disembodied voice says.

Still more kind hands. Grabbing me. Turning me around.

Someone is stuffing a pair of surgical scissors in my hand.

Someone shoves something that looks like a bloody eel in my face and says simply “Cut!”. My leg’s buckle again. Kind hands again. Someone takes my hand, and works the scissors for me like I’m a three year old. The umbilical cord snaps in two.

More disembodied voices.

“ Six pounds!”

“Nine Ounces!”

“Twenty Two Inches!”

“All ten toes!”

“All ten fingers!”

“No problems!”

“Completely healthy!”

“Wrap her up!”

A very young doctor grabs my hand like I’m an invalid. Shakes it profusely. I don’t remember seeing him here before. I’m sure he’s been here the whole time.

“Congratulations! What a pretty little peanut baby you have!”

The young doctor had unknowingly just supplied a nickname for this little girl that she is still referred to today.

A small, wriggling bundle is laid on my wife’s stomach. Peanut is crying. My wife is crying. I’m crying.

It’s been a long, wrenching trip.

This was not easy.

We had been trying for many years to achieve this moment.

There had been a lot of pain, and heartache on the way.

Years of work, and worry. The vague fear that one or both of us were infertile. Years of agonizing and “why?”. Medical tests. More medical tests.

Then a series of heartbreaks.

Miscarriages. Three of them. One late term.

More years of worry.

Finally, this one, perfect, shining moment.

The years of work and worry were over now.

This little girl was no “oops”, or “surprise”.

This little girl was the answer to years of prayers and effort.

I went home that night, and prayed some more. Grateful prayers of thanks.

We had wanted nothing more than to be parents. God had granted us that wish.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I felt one great weight lift from me, and another great weight settle on me.

We were parents now. We had, somehow, miraculously, actually created another human being. And now… we were responsible for her. Completely, entirely, wholly, responsible for every aspect of her. Feeding her. Protecting. Nurturing her. Teaching her.

We had been granted our wish.

It was all up to us now.

And So It Begins.

 

ATHAIR’S NOTE :

This piece was written many years ago. The “wife” in this piece is, of course, my ex wife. Framed against the backdrop of a “high conflict” divorce, it seems particularly poignant that when all was said and done, all the years of “work and worry” would end in a way that would cause heartache and drama between several families for decades.

Memories of My Father : The Shed

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Summer, 1972

I’m from a long and prestigious line of aggravators. I say that with more than a little pride. Our family doctors have identified a gene that is carried, almost without exception, throughout the branches of my entire family tree. Teasers, practical jokers, creepers all.

My father is the undisputed ringleader of them all.

As a child I suffered much at his hands. And as ridiculous as it sounds, I have very fond memories of that suffering. I think I’m a much better (or at least a more careful) person as a result of some of the indignities he visited upon me. I sure can move quickly for a guy with short, chubby legs. That’s for damned sure.

My fleetness of foot is result of the many frightenings I endured as a youngster. I’m sure of it.

I grew up in a small, three-bedroom home in the Midwestern suburbs. It was small even by the standards of those days. But my mother kept that house spotlessly clean. She kept my brother and I clean and well fed too.

Out in our backyard my father had built a small metal shed where all of our lawn equipment, swimming pools, bicycles, and related gear were stowed, because we didn’t have a garage. (Back then most of the houses in the neighborhood had “car-ports” instead). And invariably, my younger brother and I would forget to lock our bikes up in the shed in the evenings when we were called home to supper.

After supper, we’d get sidetracked with homework, playing, and generalized family activities. Just before bed-time (and always after dark), Dad would always ask “Have you boys put your bikes away, and locked the shed?” Our hearts would sink into our toes. It may seem like a small thing to ask, but when your 11 and you lived with a guy like my father, he might as well have been sending us to the chair.

We would beg. We would plead. We would wheedle and weasel with every conceivable excuse. But on this issue my father would not budge. “You guys know the rules,” he would scold, “now go lock them up.” And with these words we were doomed.

I’ve often driven by that old house, and I’m amazed at how tiny that back yard looks to my adult eyes. When I was young, it seemed like acres and acres. The trip from the back door to the shed in the dark seemed like a miles long walk. In pitch-blackness no less. My brother and I could barely make out the dark shape of the small metal shed from where we stood on the porch. Like doomed men on the way to the gallows, we would collect our bikes, and begin the miles long walk through the backyard to the shed. In the dark.

As we approached, the shed doors would be pushed wide open. The darkness inside that shed was the most amazing, impenetrable black one could ever imagine.

My brother and I would take a deep breath, and try, as quickly as a human being could possibly move, to get our bikes into the shed, get the shed-doors shut (saying little prayers, begging Jesus the whole time not to let those rickety doors slip their guide tracks, which would force us to take the long minutes necessary to get them back on the rollers) and get those doors locked before whatever nefarious demons that were probably lurking in the darkness of that shed woke up, and came leaping out of the darkness to tear us apart.

My younger brother’s job was to stand with the pad-lock ready. The key, hanging from an old lanyard that I had made at some summer camp, was already inserted in the lock, enabling the fastest possible snap and twist. My job was to get the doors closed as quickly as possible without de-railing them. As the doors met, my brother would slam the lock through the handles, snap it shut, and twist the key out with a deft, practiced move. He was only 5, but man could he move when it counted. We’d practiced this maneuver more times than we could count, and considered ourselves Olympic Class shed shutters.

But there were nights when things didn’t go so smoothly. There were nights, especially in the summer, when things went very badly indeed.

My brother and I would be sitting inside, usually watching television or playing a game and always, always, always after dark. Our Dad would come in, and the minute we saw him we’d realize that we had forgotten to stow our bikes, and lock the shed. We’d curse ourselves for not remembering earlier. When it was light outside.

So off we’d go, shuffling our feet in our patented gallows walk. We’d pause at the back door, steeling ourselves for the run to the shed in the dark. Each of us silently praying for Jesus to watch over us, and, if he had the time, to please not let those rickety doors slip their rails. I look at my brother. He’s ready. I’m ready. And out the back door we go at a run.

Across the yard. Through the damp grass. Down to the shed, which stands gaping at us in the darkness as it always did. My brother snatches the padlock and jams in the key, his hands trembling a bit. “Hurry!”, he says, breathlessly. “Don’t worry.” I reply as always. I slide my bike into the darkness, between the ancient lawn mower, and the even more ancient wooden ladder. My little brother’s bike is smaller and slips in beside it with ease. He stands ready with the lock, practically on his tiptoes with nervousness while I grabbed the door handles and began sliding them together as fast as possible. 3 feet apart. 2 feet. 1 foot. Down to inches now. 6 more of them and the handles will meet. My brother hands slide under mine, ready to slip the lock into the holes, and slam it shut.

And then… the doors stop moving.

My brother goes to slip the lock in, but something is wrong. The doors aren’t shut all the way. The doors won’t shut all the way. It’s stuck open with the handles still an inch or so apart. I’ve been careful, the doors are still on their rails. Something must have fallen inside the shed, and is stopping the doors from closing all the way. Maybe a rake handle. Maybe an errant garden hose. Maybe a werewolve’s bloody claw.

Our hearts stop beating for a second. The doors will now have to be opened. The problem will have to be found, corrected, and the process will have to be started all over again, as precious seconds tick away. Precious seconds and a lot of noise rooting around in the darkness. We’re almost certain to awaken whatever monsters lurk in there now.

I slide the doors back open about a foot, and try to shut them again quickly, hoping that will dislodge whatever obstacle is keeping them from shutting. No such luck.

They stop dead on their tracks, still about an inch from being closed. I slip my hands inside the inch wide crack, and start feeling from the ground to the roof, looking for the obstacle, and hoping nothing bites my fingers off. I get near the top of the doors when my fingers find the obstruction. It’s soft, and hairy, and it takes a minute for my mind to register that it is also moving. I go to snatch my hand away in horror, but it’s too late. A claw-like hand has shot from the inside of the dark shed with inhuman speed, and wrapped itself around my wrist in a vise-tight grip, and is trying to drag me into the shed.

I try to scream to my brother to run, run for his life, but I’m so scared nothing comes out of my mouth. He hears me gasping, and in a shaky, 5-year-old voice asks “Wha.. wha.. whaaat’s wrong??”

That’s when whatever has grabbed me starts a long, low, growling noise, and pushes the shed doors open from the inside. I look for my brother, but that little fart is already in the house, screaming for Mom in a high pitched squealing voice. My insides turn into cold, white lead.

And that’s when I hear the laughter. The thing in the shed is cracking up, and its iron grip on my wrist lets go amid the gales and gales of laughter.

Out steps my father.

Again.

Oh yes.

This isn’t the first time we’ve been victimized by this man. Or the second, or the third for that matter. But, unfortunately we never see it coming.

To this day my brother and I wander aloud to each other about how Dad could have gotten out the front door, over the back fence, and into the shed before we had time to walk to the back door. The only theory that we can come up with is that he was driven. By the gene. The urge to aggravate must be so ingrained into his DNA that it gave him superhuman strength and speed.

As my brother and I became fathers ourselves in later years, this gene would manifest itself in our lives, and we would realize – in horror – that we were carriers too. My brother and I actually had entire conversations detailing how we were going to top The Old Man with our own kids. And did. We look at our children – ALL of our children – and know without any doubt, this gene lives in them as well.

No DNA tests necessary.

And those are stories that you can look forward to seeing here… soon.

 

Burn… I Surely Will

Roscoe5

ATHAIR’S NOTE :

I am a remarried divorced dad, and recently, had occasion to be at an unusual function that required the ex and my current spouse of many years to be in the same room, as well as be introduced to others. Now, my wife is a kind, and unassuming person, who is typically not catty, but, she’s watched for many years as my ex has endeavored to take the term “high conflict divorce” to new heights. It’s true that my ex has been the architect of a great deal of unnecessary conflict in my life and in Mouse’s, and by extension, hers as well. So… when there came a moment that I needed to introduce people to one another,  I started the introduction with “This is my ex wife _____” then I saw a devilish grin cross my wife’s face, and before I had time to introduce her myself she chimed in with “and I’m The Upgrade!”.

_______________

I… am an aggravator.

I… am from a long and prestigious line of aggravators.

My father was a master, and his father before him.

There is no body and no thing that we will not aggravate if we get the chance. From small children (who aren’t ours) in grocery stores, to old people, to our coworkers, friends, family, neighbors, etc. Nobody is exempt – not even our pets.

I also dislike old people. A lot.

The Upgrade surely knew this when she married me.

But I’m pretty sure this won’t be enough to save me.

I’m pretty sure, in fact, that I will turn on a spit in the fires of Hell for All of Eternity.

And it will be mostly because of The Upgrade.

You see… The Upgrade was one of God’s perfect Creatures.

A Presbyterian Sunday School teacher, devout in her faith, she rocks crack babies, manages her church’s youth group (has for years), and hosts a program for the homeless and displaced. She’s active in transitional housing, helping people who had once struggled transition to being productive homeowners. She’s active in her community and gives of herself tirelessly in all things. She embodied forgiveness and grace, and I’m certain that the Lord smiled to himself whenever he thought about her, and I’m certain that he heard her quietly whispered, selfless prayers.

You’ll notice I said “was” one of God’s perfect Creatures.

Not anymore.

Why?

Well…

Because of me mostly.

As I said… I’m an unapologetic aggravator. One of the more infamous tools in my repertoire is the “Toe in the Butt”. If anyone, for any reason, bends over at in my house at anytime, they will be subject to “Toe in the Butt.” This consists of me rapidly poking the individual foolish enough to present their derriere to me with my big toe while simultaneously making a disgusting farty noise. When the shocked victim recovers their composure I almost always follow with the comment “I NEVER get tired of ‘Toe in the Butt’”! Then I laugh derisively to let them know that it’s always a bad idea to bend over around someone who finds humor in things like this.

The unspoken rule in my house is that if you drop your keys… you should probably kick them all the way to the car. Because it’s very foolish to bend over in my house.

Aside from being a recalcitrant aggravator. I have a very low tolerance for stupidity, and can be pretty unforgiving in that area. There are people on this earth who make a profession out of being inconsiderate, and pushy, and I’ve asked God to make me His Sword in these matters. I don’t want to help them learn to be more considerate, I want to remove them from the gene pool, so that they cannot contaminate the world with their inconsiderate genes. As the Cohen brothers would say, “He’s especially hard on the little things.” (insert video of a furry little woodland animal being nuked).

I’m pretty much the “anti-Upgrade”.

But the other day… we were on our way to Trader Joe’s to do our Sunday grocery shopping, when an older gentleman in a pickup truck began to swerve into our lane. I morphed into my “Sword of God” self, and opened my mouth to berate the moron… when I was brought up short. Before I could utter a syllable, The Upgrade had the window half rolled down and was in the process of barking:  ”Jeezus H. Tapdancin’ Christ! You friggin’ GEEZER! Why don’t you take TWO lanes… they’re FREE afterall!” and then shot him a rude finger gesture. “Sorry, Athair.” she said unapologetically. “That Bird just HAD to fly!”.

I realized… in absolute horror… that those were my words coming out of The Upgrade’s mouth. That was my finger gesture. Almost a decade of “me”, has rubbed off. Maybe a little.

Worriedly, I tried to play this off for a bit. After all… the consequences for corrupting one of God’s perfect Creatures could be severe. It would appear that I was Whistling Through the Graveyard.

Later that night… as I was passing the living room on the way to my study… I caught a glimpse of The Upgrade. My Boxer puppy, Roscoe was wandering by her, and as he saw me – he paused for a moment and turned to wag his tail stub at me. I saw The Upgrade’s foot shoot out and goose the poor boy. He shot about two feet in the air. Straight up. When he landed he shot The Upgrade an astonished look… as if to say “What the HELL was THAT about?”. I heard her chuckle to herself “I NEVER get tired of ‘Toe in the Butt’”. Then she sniggered derisively.

I hung my head in shame.

I now know that when my moment comes to stand before the Father… I’m going to have to answer for this corruption. I always imagine that things will be going along pretty well during my time of judgment… I have… by the mass… been a fairly decent fellow (more or less). Nothing too nasty down on the books for me. If you don’t count a little harmless aggravating. I’ll be sitting there while the Father judges me thinking “I might just make this.” when He will clear his throat and say… “Now… about my girl.” He’ll look at me and point to the video playback of scenes like the above, and then give me that “Well? What do you have to say for yourself?” Look. And I know… it will be over then. I will be doomed to roast on a spit and endure all the Torments of Hell for having corrupted one of His most Perfect Creations.

Of course… there is a small ray of hope for me.

I have always suspected that God himself might just be an aggravator at heart.

I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like old people either.

 

Pictures From the Bottom of a Drawer

mouse_dad My dad was rummaging around in the bottom of an old desk the other day. He found this picture stuck in the corner of a drawer, waaaaay in the back, where you would never see if it you didn’t remove the drawer completely.

It set me back on my heels a little bit. Every once in a while you bump into and old memory that really tugs at you. I remember this afternoon well. It was summer, 1997. One Saturday morning I surprised Mouse with a trip to the Magic House. They have one of those big high voltage Tesla balls that make your hair stand on end. Well… presuming you actually have any hair (cough).  This picture cost me $15.00. I can remember grousing a little about it at the time. $15.00 for a Polaroid instamatic was… outrageous. Especially for a struggling divorced dad that had already popped for the tickets at the gate, and as those that live in the area know – Magic House ticket’s are far from free.

But… I got on my hip, and I paid their vig, and took the picture home, and put it in a drawer, and forgot about it.

Until my Dad slid it quietly into my in-box, with the lyrics from a Harry Belafonte , about how you turn around and she’s two, then you turn around and she’s four, then you turn around and she’s a young girl walking out your door.

Funny how the time slips away.

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