The Other Side

“I’m not sick, I’m just fine. Tryin’ to make the most of this limited time.”

– “Flicker,” Atmosphere (2014)

I’ve been on a bit of a writing kick lately. It’s nice to have something to say.

Maybe it’s the endless travel; maybe it’s Heidi and I crossing like ships in the wind. I arrive, she goes. She arrives, I go. The kids getting shuttled between intermediaries in the gaps.

The lonely nights, the solitary cocktails, give you time to think, to reflect. And so my mind, with no one else to talk to, has spoken to the screen.

It’s been nice to hear from so many of you – friends from different times and places – weighing in on these late-night missives. Concern, encouragement, bewilderment. All of it is taken to heart.

But you have to know, I hope you know, it’s not always so dark up there between the eye sockets.

Quite the contrary.

The me you see is mostly the me you see. Generally happy, optimistic, always ready – when time allows – to have some (lots of) fun.

And always moved by the unexpected.

Today, in the midst of a particularly good day, I got the normal stream of texts from Beckett as he walked home.

“Leaving” – when he left school.

“Crossed Broadway.” – when he crossed the scary four-lane mega road that separates the neighborhood his school is in from the one our home is in.

“Arrived” – when he got through the front door of our home.

But then, as I cranked the music back up at work, popped in the headphones, and set to wireframing a four-page registration webform for an upcoming event, I got this from him.

Keep in mind he’s 12. (And he wasn’t looking for anything – any favor, any item.)

(Punctuation and grammar as sent.)

“Hey dad I know I say this a lot to you, but I really really love you, I mean this so much. I know you say that you are not always the perfect dad, but trust me you are. You do so much for me and Brody and I and we will never stop thanking you. I really mean this, you are my best friend. Love you dad.”

I damn near started bawling at my desk. He’s never written anything like this before.

I responded: “Oh my gosh, Beckett. You’re going to make me cry. Thank you for saying that.”

He replied: “When I come from home from a bad day at school, it makes me so happy to see you (smiley face).”

Later that night, after he got home from baseball practice and I had picked up Brody from a friend’s house where she was being watched, Beckett bragged to her while they were sitting on the living room couch.

“I almost made dad cry!” Beck exclaimed.

“How?” Brody asked.

“With a text,” he said.

“I wanna’ see,” Brody declared. “Show me the text, daddy.”

So I showed her.

She read it.

“Daddy, that’s how I feel, too,” she said.

That’s how you win the day.

* * *

Tomorrow, I leave for a trip that’s become an annual milestone in my life – a five-day gathering with my father-in-law, his brothers, their kids and a few friends of mine – that’s known among the group simply as “Man Weekend.”

I’ve done some amazing things with these guys – whitewater rafted the middle fork of the American River as it shoots out of the Sierra Nevadas; soared over canyons tethered only by California’s majestic redwood forests on ziplines; gone deep into the red rocks of Sedona on ATVs.

The trip has mellowed out through the years. We’ve learned the excursions are nice, but it’s the company we enjoy the most. And so now we mostly gather – alternating years on my uncle’s ranch in Sonoma County and at Heidi’s family’s mountain home on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim – and play it by ear.

We hike, we play games, I cook. We drink at night and tell stories. And then we go our separate ways.

It always makes me happy. And despite the inconvenience of the timing, I always make sure to go. With all the surprises in life, I don’t want to die thinking I missed the last one – or one of the annual participants’ last ones.

Without fail, I do something stupid every year. One year, messing with his camera, I erased every photo from my uncle’s family trip to Hawai’i. Another, I drove a scooter at full speed at his house, missed the break handle, and jumped it onto his brand new front patio, breaking the tile and wrecking the front door.

There’s cursing, and yelling, and chaos. But we always survive, and come out a tighter unit on the end, with better stories to tell.

That’s what families do. We gather. We laugh. We mess up. We forgive. And we end up better, and closer, for it.

* * *

I took a break from these first two sections I wrote. Stepped outside and enjoyed the rapidly shifting desert weather. The 100-degree July nights have given way to 80-degree late September nights.

The air is pleasant and soft. It’s easy to sit out there, beer in hand, and get lost in day(night?)dreams. I do that a lot.

Maybe there’s nothing more to say, I think. Maybe this doesn’t have to drag on.

I could tell you about my son’s realization today that he has career dreams. I could tell you about my daughter waxing poetic this evening about her love of her theater conservatory class. I could tell you about Heidi, calling at 11 p.m. from St. Louis, to the delight of the kids, merely to say goodnight.

I could elaborate on all of those things.

But for once, the devil really isn’t in the details.

It’s in merely saying, sometimes the things we elaborate on don’t convey the whole picture.

Sometimes, man, we just want to let others know: everything’s okay.

But it’s more than that.

It’s more than that.

It’s something about thinking where you want to go. Seeing that place. Playing that idea in your mind every day until you get there.

It’s messy – this process of documenting.

Sometimes there’s no neat conclusion.

No answer yet as to where you’re going.

But you think it over and over …

… and before you know it, you arrive.

* * *

That’s what I tell myself.

I’ve not arrived yet; but I’m thinking it. Laying the foundation.

And in between the lunchtime ping pong, a midday conversation with a close friend, and the goofy texts you shoot off with contacts – and the unexpected ones from an offspring –  you reflect: this is what it’s all about. The daily stories you take to bed. The ones you never tell.

I can’t find the next line, but I know it’s there waiting.

Someday the truth will unfold.

But today there is this – a snippet – to something I’m reaching for.

Today, this is enough.




The Strike Out

“With the moonlight to guide you; feel the joy of being alive;

The day that you stop running, is the day that you arrive;

And the night that got you locked in was the time to decide;

Stop chasing shadows, just enjoy the ride.”

“Enjoy the Ride,” Morcheeba (2008)


Today, in a preparation practice for the regular fall-ball season, my son struck me out.

First pitch, letter-high, outside corner of the plate. Velocity faster than I could track.

Strike one.

Second pitch. Same location. Same velocity.

Strike two.

The kids on his team are buzzing. Teammates are watching. Beck’s confidence brimming with the count – it’s our first equipment on, head-to-head battle ever where he’s throwing full speed.

His old man’s haplessness at the first two pitches is clear.

He steps back to the mound, smiles in at me, adjusts his cap. Winds and delivers.

I can hit this one, I think.

I commit to swing.

An off-speed breaking ball, dropping hard to the outside.

I wave the bat frantically.

Strike three.

The kid made mincemeat of me.

* * *

You often hear: age gracefully.

But age doesn’t come gracefully.

Oh, the father in me can take great pride in this kid’s recovery.

Last baseball season – this spring, just six weeks after he was out of the hospital from stint number two with Guillain-Barre, was a lesson in patience; watching his muscles and nerves try to recover from the damage.

His determination to plow through 30-minute innings, loaded with catcher’s gear behind the plate, in 100-degree temps. The constant failure to make contact with the baseball when he was at the plate. The sluggish running – from a kid that was once one of the fastest on his team – those few times he did get on base.

Six months later, it’s all guns blazing again. His commitment to recovery. His fierce determination to be one of the best on his team paying off.

It’s a combination of grit, of a child’s ability to recover, his own unique blend of mind over matter, of a maturing body pulling all the pieces together to achieve a desired status.

Beckett loves baseball.

And he’s getting damn good at it.

Makes me proud.

But not being able to hit my kid’s fastball? Getting tricked by a breaking ball in the dirt?

That’s on me? Isn’t it?

My eyes don’t pick up the ball good in the artificial practice lights; my mind is a second slower in reacting.

It’s an allegory for all the things yet to come.

Slowing down, not ramping up.

Time slipping. Chances fading.

In career, in achievement, in life.

Opportunity is a finite thing.

* * *

Recently, the Cincinnati Enquirer ran one of the most compelling pieces of journalism I’ve encountered in a long time.

They sent 30 reporters and videographers across the city and its suburbs to document the devastating effects of heroin and opiate addiction.

Vignette by vignette, they shared the people, the family members, the first responders, the caring souls on the front lines touched by this epidemic.

I read the whole thing, in one swoop, lying on the couch, with my family laying nearby – swiping on their phones, carelessly watching some sitcom on the television.

As I read it, I couldn’t help but be brought back to my own friends, my family members, racked by addiction. Couldn’t help but thinking: how do I keep my own children away from this?

I wanted to pull them in: 12 and 10 years old and say, “Read this now.” And I may still do that.

But instead, I replied on Facebook to the friend who shared it with the world – how I found out about it – and said, “Thank you for sharing this. It made me cry.”

The next morning, a very close friend wrote me about his wife; and some medical things they’re going through. Scary things. Maybe serious; though hopefully not.

I contrasted this against my own age. The people I love. The things that I so frequently worry about.

There’s so much to take in; so much unknown.

It’s no wonder fear – for so many of us – rules our lives.

And when it’s not fear, not the unknown that racks us, it’s all the ways we could do better.

It’s the rehashing.

If only I had done X instead of Y.

In a life made of days and seconds, there are so many X’s; so many what if’s.

It’s a miracle some of us find a way to move forward at all.

* * *

Though I’ve learned to control stress, I’ve not learned to contain fear.

Fear that I’m failing to reach my potential; fear that my actions are dragging me backwards; fear that I’m constantly at risk of ruining the things that matter most – my friendships, my family, my health.

And I’m so fatigued by it.

Of the fear that something is always waiting around the corner – some new disease or complication for one of my children, or one of my family members, or for myself.

Early last week, sitting at the airport bar, waiting for a flight to Denver, my coworker asked me: “Do you like camping?”

I hesitated.

“I do,” I said. Then added, “I’ve taken my son once.”

I paused.

“Once … geez he’s almost 13.”

And from there began a real-life discussion of fear. Of a need for cell signals, and a close hospital.

I don’t know if these thoughts are even rational, but they’re indicative of the way fear alters you.

* * *

My last blog post, which some of you expressed trepidation about, was mostly about fear. Though, I was trying to get at something a little tougher to discuss in public, too.

The nature of attraction, of desire not just for others, but for a whole host of temptations.

I look around me and I see so many people who are either a) so grounded or b) able to shut those parts of their minds down that would lead them into temptation … and I’m amazed.

My entire day seems like a war between my impulses and my logical mind. From the second I wake up, until the second I close my eyes, it rages.

You’re too fat. You’re no good. You don’t deserve your life (have a drink). Everyone will figure you out. You lie. You make things up (have a drink). You’re a terrible father. You should be a better husband. You’re lazy (Have a drink.)

These things aren’t (always) apparent on the outside because, well, they’re not apparent on the outside of most of us who are able to function. It’s my sense that many of us wage these battles; and so I try to write about them openly, to let others know: you ain’t the only one going through this.

But we’re not use to such raw honesty.

My problem is: I have no interest in anything but it.

How can we get better if we don’t talk about what’s really there?

* * *

That includes being attracted to other people. Having complex feelings where friendship and attraction merge.

My whole point was: these things happen. It is a part of being human.

And don’t get the wrong idea here. I feel like I betray my daughter when I spend too much time with my son; that I betray my wife when I spend too much time with my computer; that I betray my family when I run off to travel or tackle some new opportunity that on the surface seems more exciting than a day at home.

I love the people in my life. Deeply love them. I feed off of their attention. The way my actions – for better or worse impact them – deeply affect my own moods.

There are many people in our lives – many amazing, interesting people, for those of us who are fortunate. How can you not help but feel the laws of attraction at play?

That’s human nature. I fight with it every day. I know others do, too. Some take it too far. Others walk the line. Some bottle it up inside.

I simply struggle with it – sometimes opening windows, other times preparing for a hurricane. Batten down the hatches and all.

But there was a deeper theme in that last post, too.

I kept referencing logic.

The beauty of the human brain is that you can feel all these things, know all these things and share them with others.

And then act upon them the right way.

That’s the place I’m fighting for: the center. Doing the right thing. Respecting all those in my realm.

Breaking free of the selfish impulse.

It’s not about the fact that the kid struck me out.

It’s about the fact that the kid struck me out.

There’s a subtle, critical difference in how you think it. How you say it.

To yourself.

To those you care about.

To those around you.

Dude, I Get Tempted, Too …

What if we just explore the idea of love for a second?

What if we add lust?

Where would that fall into your perfectly crafted sphere?

Get up. Lay down.

Perform all the things that belong in the middle of a normally middle-class existence.

Do this, do that. All because it’s right.

Maybe you’re better than most.

You have capacity for mom and dad, brother and sister, daughter and son – all perfectly coexistent and revolving around your id and ego.

Maybe you’re not capable.

All self-centered and calculating.

I won’t judge.

Maybe there’s no one else.

* * *

I won’t lie.

It takes work.

It’s hard to do what’s right.

My selfishness, my addictiveness, drives me towards lonely places where the only correct choice is the choice the most base level of my existence wants.

It takes logic to weigh the consequences.

Thankfully, logic delivers results that are deeply rewarding.

Results you take to bed. Results you wake up with and sometimes go, “Yeah, that made total sense.”

Results you wake up with sometimes and go, “Thank god.”

* * *

Let’s not mince words.

It’s a world of temptation; and these temptations come in so many forms.

I can’t name them all.

Pick your poison.

Drink. Drugs. Sex. Gambling. Knowledge. Power. Fear. Remorse. Regret.

Any of them can send you down a path; a path that’s hard to find the exit from.

I’ve dabbled in more than a few of those.

And I’ve only found the right way home through careful thought.

A lot of people I love will say they’ve found the way home through God. Through Jesus. Through religion.

That’s cool. I get that.

It just ain’t my path.

But I get it.

I could follow that path.

If I could find it.

If my foot would land there; and trust the ground to be stable.

* * *

The temptations are everywhere.

Flesh. Power. The promise of something more.

Is it money you want? People? Respect?

What is it you crave?

And why do you want it?

Where are you going with this endless unease; and why are you willing to throw everything you have away to get it?

You thought that question was for you?

I was asking it of myself.

* * *

I’ve held my daughter when she needs me; laid by son when he thought he was going to die; and through all of that, preserved the relationship with Heidi.

Through the normal ‘tween shit, through all the scary hospitalizations with my son, through the temptations that exist everywhere, we’ve come out on the other side.

If you had the privilege to sit in our home on a random Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., you’d have no clue what we’ve been through. The mountains we’ve climbed.

Sorry, I respect your pain, I respect your fear, but sometimes – as horrible as it sounds – screw you.

Do two stints with Guillain-Barre and tonic-clonic seizures.

Respect to all of you who’ve watched a love one suffer or watched disease and sickness rack up your children. — But to the rest of you: Man the f up.

I don’t have to apologize.

Eight years of sleeping with fear – of ripping apart my gut – means I get to be judgmental. You want to join my club? …

No. You don’t.

But here’s the crazy part.

I’m still human.

Longing for things.

For lust.

For love.

To feel alive.

And so I stray – here and there, to and fro.

In love – and in disgust – with the world, with that pretty girl, with you.

I don’t wanna’ die unfulfilled.

There’s so much to have.



You tell yourself that.

I’ll go to bed.

Logic, firmly in place.